The travel bug bit me when I first went to Rajasthan in 2005. Since then, I’ve been to Rajasthan once more, Goa twice, Pondicherry twice, New Delhi, Agra, Mysore (I lost count), Kerala (a bunch), Coorg twice and few other places from where Bangalore isn’t too far.
All there is left for me to explore in India is the North-Eastern stretch — from Kashmir all the way through Nepal or Darjeeling. But I need to plan a heck lot for that given the logistics and the weather conditions. So when it came to thinking about traveling abroad, South-East Asia seemed like a logical first choice. After all, budget flights were aplenty and it wasn’t too far. The places I was initially planning on going were Thailand, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Singapore.
After much research, I scratched Singapore of my list. I realized how well marketed that place was. If you have never seen a world-class city before, I can see the appeal to some Indians but to me, it really didn’t offer me anything compelling. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure its an awesome place to live, but as a tourist destination, I wasn’t impressed.
Now, Hong Kong is yet another ‘city’ destination (like Singapore) but what a city it is!
I would go just for that view at night.
Then, there is Malaysia. Interesting mix of races, a nice city in Kuala Lampur and coastal destinations like Langkawi. Then there is Thailand, which was a ‘must-go’ after watching ‘The Beach‘ (mediocre movie, awesome soundtrack!). Of course, if I had the money, there isn’t a place on earth I wouldn’t want to visit (okay, maybe not Saudi Arabia and some countries in sub-Saharan Africa).
Back in the South-East of Asia, the other destinations I’d love to visit are Vietnam (all thanks to the Top Gear special from 2008), Bali and Cambodia. But the problem with destinations such as those are the cost of flights to get there. Because there are so many Indians visiting Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, flights are aplenty and the competition keeps prices reasonable. But no so for the other countries.
Anyway, back to my trip. My initial plan was to go on holiday for 2 weeks since I had 11 days of leave I had to use up before year end. I decided not to go to Hong Kong right now as it isn’t a cheap destination (read: getting there and hotel room rates) so I just thought I’d do Malaysia and Thailand first.
Then, something came up in Goa. I wasn’t really keen on Sunburn 2009 … until they announced Armin Van Buuren was going to be there! I LOVE AVB’s music. So I thought I’d keep a few leaves for that because I knew some friends who were interested in going for that as well.
I then cut my trip down to 10 days and started budgeting the cost of flights to Malaysia and Thailand. I started off with Tiger Airways as Air Asia had no direct flights from Bangalore. There was a flight from Bangalore to Kuala Lampur via Singapore (6 hour stop over) available for Rs. 13k (return, incl. taxes). I thought it was a good deal since I felt I could use the stop over time to use the Singapore Airport bus tour to see Singapore city instead of simply wasting time at Changi. But I later learnt that, even though that tour is free, regular Indian passport holders need to have a transit visa just to enter Singapore airport. So when I factored in the cost of Singapore visa, Malaysian Visa, the flight to KL and then from there to Thailand, it was coming to a bit much for just 10 days (the Thai Visa-on-arrival is free).
So instead, I decided I’d just focus on Thailand for now.
I went to all the popular online ticketing sites but ended up with a good deal from Yatra.com. A return ticket from Thai Airways for the dates I picked cost me around Rs. 17k. But at the time of booking, I saw a field for ‘Yatra Promotion Code’. So, I googled for ‘Yatra coupon codes’ and found a few sites that listed them. Some worked, most didn’t — but I eventually got one that saved me a good 5-10% off the ticket price. The final cost was Rs. 15,740 (incl. taxes). There was a cheaper flight from Sri Lankan Airlines but that included a very long stop over at Colombo airport which made the total duration of the flight 9 hours. The Thai Airways flight is a direct flight from Bangalore to Bangkok and back (3 hr 45 mins journey time).
The places I wanted to visit in Thailand were Krabi, Phuket, Chiang Mai, Kanchaburi and then Bangkok. I decided not to got to Koh Samui because the Full Moon party for December had already gotten over on Dec 2nd and I really didn’t want to stay for the one on Dec 25th & the New Year party. Plus, it can be dangerous if one is alone, which I was going to be. So I decided to keep Koh Phangan and Koh Tao for next time.
I paid for my Canon 7D on Nov 25th and booked my flight for Dec 13th, thinking 2 and 1/2 weeks was a long enough time for it come and for me to get the hang of it. I wanted to spend a few days in Krabi province — mostly Railay and Ao Nang. In Krabi I wanted see the Tiger Cave Temple, which 1200 stairs up on a hill is where, they say one can see the Andaman sea. Railay was pretty much a backpacker’s haven, also popular for rock climbing. Ao Nang is the sea side tourist town of Krabi and a base from where I would take the tours to Phi Phi island and the many other islands (like ‘James Bond’ island) . After spending at least 3 to 4 days in Krabi, I would head to Phuket, which was 2 hrs by road. After spending a day there, I would head to Chiang Mai (for the temples, the ‘Long Neck’ tribe) and then Kanchanaburi (for the Tiger Temple) and then finally back to Bangkok (for the Weekend market, the Grand Palace, Wat Pho and then shopping).
Well, that was the plan. But as you’ll see in the next few posts, things didn’t really go according to plan. And that sucked.
Other Thailand posts in this series: