Yesterday, I shared the first part of the week I spent with ThaIntro, where I discovered Bangkok’s culture and nightlife. Our group of 18 caught an overnight train South from Bangkok to Surat Thani. This is where the second part of my week’s adventure begins…
Day 4: Khao Sok National Park, aka Paradise
We woke and left the train at about 6am. From there, we travelled by car to get some breakfast from 7/11 (what became a bad habit on this trip!) and reached Khao Sok National Park. To get to the floating bungalows, we had to travel by boat for about an hour. This was my first experience of long boats, and it was pretty exciting! We stopped in a lagoon and jumped off the side of one of the jutting rock cliffs. The national park was truly breathtaking, and a wonderful introduction to the untouched areas of Thailand.
The bungalows themselves were basic but beautiful. They were made of bamboo, and each slept 4 on two double mattresses. The windows were tiny doors in the walls, but opened onto an incredible view. We spent the afternoon relaxing, eating amazing Thai food, and enjoying the stunning lake. I got my first taste of monsoon weather when the doors and windows simultaneously blew open in the middle of the night, scaring us all in the process!
Day 5: Let’s go to Koh Phangan
Day 5 began by leaving a very misty national park. It was raining and the boat ride was wet, and we were all thankful to get into a minibus to get to the ferry port. We were catching a boat to Koh Phangan, Thailand’s infamous party island and where we would be spending the rest of our time with ThaIntro before we were left to our own devices. The boat ride itself took a couple of hours, but the boat was way more luxury than I expected! We spent the trip sunning ourselves on the deck and chatting about life back home. We stayed at Friendly Resort, which felt like total luxury compared to the bungalows. From having more travel experience, I realise now that it was a pretty high end hostel and we were lucky to be staying there!
Koh Phangan was nothing like what I expected. We arrived in Haad Rin a week before that month’s Full Moon Party, and it was quite quiet, giving the place a sweet rural feel that is nothing like what was publicised. That is, until it became night time. Haad Rin transformed into a party town! We went out that evening for dinner at Same Same, a crazy bar and hostel run by two fantastic Danish women who fell in love with the island and set up a business there. We tried Sangsong, a Thai whisky that is known for its strength, in one of the island’s notorious buckets. I can only speak from experience, but it’s really strong and you won’t need much at all! We walked to the beach and spent the night dancing and meeting new people. Memories of doing the Macarena with my new friends on one of the stages will haunt me for quite some time!
Day 6: Boats, beaches and waterfalls
We spent the day exploring the island by long boat, visiting beaches and trekking to a waterfall. It was beautiful, and we had a mini adventure climbing up the back of the small waterfall, lead by our guide Pan. Pan was so much fun, giving us leaves to eat and sharing a crown he made from foliage with us to take photos with. I extended my stay at Friendly Resort up until just after the Full Moon Party, and started to make travel plans with two girls from my group. Aside from all the great activities I did with ThaIntro, the real benefit to me was meeting such wonderful people to travel with.
That evening, we had a briefing by our group leader about other places to go in Thailand, as well as how to get across to neighbouring countries Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. We also got told about the various add ons that ThaIntro offer to their participants. These add ons are small 3 day trips covering hostel expenses and activities. Sadly, the travel plans that we made didn’t accommodate enough time to do any of these add ons, but a few of my travel buddies did them and loved it.
We went out for a Mexican dinner, then met Wut, a tattoo artist living on the island. He was to become our new friend over the course of our stay in Koh Phangan. He’s a really talented guy, and spent the evening chatting to some of the group who were hanging out in his shop and drawing beautiful pictures on our feet.
Day 7 – My last day with ThaIntro
My week with ThaIntro was coming to an end, and our last day involved elephant riding and pampering ourselves! The elephant ride was so much fun, although it was absolutely terrifying at first. At the end of the ride, the elephants played with water and drenched us. It was a welcome relief from the hot island weather. After the elephant ride, we lounged on the nearby beach for a while then went back to the hostel to be pampered!
Our hostel had a spa too, so as part of the ThaIntro package we were treated so some herbal tea and a treatment. I had my first Thai massage and it was so relaxing. Others in my group thought it was painful, but I was aching from carrying my backpack (I had hugely overpacked!) and benefited from the treatment. Friendly Resort also had a pool, which we spent the rest of the day making the most of. We also had our first exploration of Haad Rin, the town that we were staying in. We went shopping, and the first of many in our group got a tattoo from Wut.
We went out for our last meal as official ThaIntro members and a very fancy restaurant by the beach. After the meal, we went to Same Same to make the most of the whole group still being together, playing drinking games and chatting. The rest of the night was spent on the beach, meeting lots of other travellers and having a great last night as a group. We ended the night in Haad Rin’s famous toastie shop. There’s nothing like having a quick toasted sandwich on the way back to the hostel!
Would I recommend ThaIntro?
Having travelled without a group since, I would still recommend ThaIntro. Although all the activities, (bar Khao Sok National Park floating bungalows which I’ve heard are hard to book,) I could have organised myself, probably for less, I wouldn’t have had the planning to organise such a full week. But, most importantly, for me ThaIntro was never all about the activities. I wanted to travel to meet people, and being in a group where you have to interact with the people around you is great for the more shy travellers amongst us. Having a group leader who can explain all the customs and spot scams a mile off is handy to have as an inexperienced traveller. Plus, because I would have been a 19 year old female travelling alone, my parents wouldn’t have felt comfortable unless I had gone with someone to guide me!
The real benefit of ThaIntro to me was the people I met through it. The people in my group were all lovely, and I wouldn’t have had such an amazing experience if it wasn’t for them. We also found each other all across Thailand once the group had split. I also met Wut and Som (a local travel agent) who were both locals on the island. Wut was a firm friend by the end of our time in Koh Phangan. Som, on the other hand, helped us out in a health crisis that could have gone incredibly wrong had she not been involved. If it wasn’t for ThaIntro, we wouldn’t have known her and had her help. Our group leader was great too!
So, if you’re travelling on your own to Thailand for the first time and you feel like group travel is for you, have a think about ThaIntro!
Disclaimer: I took my trip in 2011 and the ThaIntro itinerary has changed a little since then! I have no affiliation with ThaIntro. I’m just a satisfied customer!