Thailand

Best Beaches in Koh Tao

Chalok Baan Kao, Sairee, and Mae Haad

The three biggest beaches on the island. This is where you can go for a good meal, shopping, the majority of dive shops, lots of accomodation, and some spotty wifi. However, I would not recommend any of these for the actual beach. Dirty with murky water and lots of boats, these beaches are not great for swimming or snorkeling. Nor are they very relaxing and often the bars and restaurants play loud music. But if you are looking to go out at night, Sairee especially lights up with fire dancers and entertainment.

Note that you probably need a taxi or motorbike to get from one of these main beaches to the other.


Freedom Beach

This is a small beach off Chalok that can be reached by road or by walking to the far end of the Chalok boardwalk, taking a few steps through the water, and then walking on raised concrete pathways over the rocks. Here the trees hang low over the sand and are filled with hanging corals. The water is extremely warm, much like a hot bath, because of the shallow waters. This small beach can get a little busy on nice days.


Koh Nangyuan

The famous three tiny islands off the north end of Koh Tao. They must be reached by taxi boat, unless you book a tour. You can find a taxi on Sairee Beach and you can expect to pay at least 3,000 thb ($10) roundtrip person. Once you reach the island you will pay 100 baht and leave behind any plastic bottles and fins. In the mornings this beach is full of tours and day-trippers. Looking out on what is supposed to be clear blue water, all you will be able to see is the fluorescent orange lifevests of snorkelers. But in a few hours around 1:30/2:00 the beach will be much more empty and relaxing. In the mean time you can explore the islands on the raised pathways and climb up to the famous viewpoint. Bring sunscreen because the umbrellas sell out and there is little shade otherwise. Once the beach clears out, snorkeling and swimming is beautiful on any of the three beaches. Unfortunately the beach closes to all at 5 pm and you have to leave the island.


Tanote

A rocky beach on the east side of the island, Tanote is known for awesome snorkeling. There is a resident sea turtle that usually pops out of the big rock around 5 pm. I also had friends spot multiple sharks and stingrays at this beach. If you dive here not only do you see the beautiful reefs, but you can explore a sunken catamaran and motorbike that are now teeming with sea life.

 

Sai Daieng

This is a small beach next to Shark Bay. Beware of the extremely steep hills on your way here (on taxi or motorbike). You actually have to park 5 minutes above the beach and stumble down the on foot to reach this beach. But it's totally worth it. There's one dive school/beach bar, a restaurant, and a handle of houses. There were times I visited this beach in the late morning and I had it to myself. The water is clear and bright blue, but this is not the best beach for swimming because the coral starts shallow (maybe 15 feet from the waterline) and stretches across the beach. But this means it is great for snorkeling as there is so much to explore.

Sai Nuan

Actually Sai Nuan is two beaches, split by huge rocks. The first is good for grabbing a bite to eat or getting accomodation (there's a few bungalows), while the second is a better beach. Beach swings, climbable boulders, a deserted taxi boat, and tall palm trees make this an ideal place to spend a day. The snorkeling is pretty good and the water unmuddied. I saw a lot of fish here, but not a big variety.


Ao Leuk

My personal favorite beach is relatively secluded, but still popular. Between Sai Daeng and Tanote, it is not hard to get to as long as you don't mind steep hills. Sure there are bungalows and a couple beach bars marring the landscape. Yet nothing compares to the clear deep turquoise of the water. This beach is great for swimming, with a sandy bottom that slowly deepens. Snorkeling and diving are also fun here because of the coral reefs that line either side of the bay. Order a coconut at one of the two beach bars that offer umbrellas since there is very little shade here. Honestly, I often would sit on the beach, my book laying forgotten in my lap, my gaze caught up in the blue of the sea.

 

Bangkok for Next to Nothing

The metropolis of Thailand. Bangkok is so many things: old and new, extravagant and seedy, and absolutely gigantic.

When visiting, you'll quickly figure out that you can spend a lot of money here. A luxurious massage, a dinner at a rooftop bar, a nice museum and you've spent just as much as you would in a western country. So I'm featuring all the best things I did and saw in Bangkok that were either free or cheap.

Chatuchak Weekend Market

The best place to buy unique clothing and goods in Bangkok is this market. Get there early as it fills with locals and tourists quickly. Hundreds of stalls create a maze where you can find everything from original artwork to tapestries to jean shorts and vintage coats. Come hungry and ready to barter.

Queen Sirikit Park

A nice alternative to Lumpini, this park is green and has a nice little stream. The perfect place to stop and have a snack or watch people go by. Also there is butterfly garden on the grounds that is free to the public, I simply was too tired to visit.

Siam Museum

This museum is free after 4pm and they are open until 6pm. A friend and I stumbled upon it after being overcharged and taken to the wrong destination by a tuk tuk driver. We couldn't believe how cool this place was! All the exhibits were about the development and history of Southeast Asia. The museum had really good, straightforward information and so many interactive exhibits. You could play video games, go on pretend archeological digs, and more. This would be a great place to take kids, as well as being enjoyable for adults.

Wat Po (100 thai baht, about $3 US)

Wat Po is one of the major temples in Bangkok, so I thought I'd better visit. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this temple. Most notable is the gigantic reclining Buddha. He is so absolutely huge that it is hard to see all of him at once. The other portions of the temple grounds were really beautifully done and I even got to watch a painter working on a golden mural. I think if you see one temple in this city, Wat Po is a great option (Wat Arun, the other big temple, is currently under major construction, so I didn't visit).

T

Flower Market

Totally worth an evening's stroll. It is open 24/7, I went around 5pm right as it was beginning to get busy. Thousands of gorgeous flowers and some food and produce too.

Bangkok Art and Culture Center

In the Silom district, this modern building contains beautiful modern art. On the first four floors there are funky shops and hipster cafes and art bookstores. In the upper levels are free art exhibits. I was treated to a great print show. If you want to escape the heat and like contemporary work, the BACC is definitely a good place to pop in.

The Golden Mount a.k.a. Wat Saket (20 thai baht or 66 US cents)

Sitting on a small hill in the middle of the city is a huge gold chedi, a mound-like structure containing Buddhist relics often ashes of monks. Climb over 300 stairs to the top of the hill. Ring all the bells on the way and enjoy the magnificent view of the city. It is very important that you keep your shoes with you (instead of leaving them at the entrance when you remove them in respect of Buddha) because the roof where the chedi is gets extremely hot. If you don't have them you will probably burn your feet and hop around like a lunatic before running to a corner of shade and using a security guard's sandals in order to cross the roof to exit. So yeah. Remember your shoes.


MBK or Terminal 21 Shopping

Shopping is always interesting in Asia. You never know what you are going to find. But it is fun to try on some of the more outrageous clothes and find trinkets and small gifts for everyone back home at the smaller stalls and shops. One of the megamalls like I suggested give you the full Bangkok experience.

Notes on Transportation:

The skytrain (BTS) and underground (MRT) are super easy to use and cheap. They are both gloriously airconditioned, very clean, and quite safe. However Bangkok is huge and these do not cover all of it. Ferries and river taxis are great fun and help you get to other areas of the city. Just make sure you jump on a boat going in the correct direction and pay a few baht onboard. Taxis and tuk tuks should be taken with caution, they are often expensive and many drivers will scam you or take the long way. Ask for the meter to be put on in taxis and see if anyone else is going in the same direction--you can split the fare. The last way and often faster in traffic, is to take a motorbike taxi. Just look for a driver in a colored, official vest and settle on a fare. I found this the most convenient when I couldn't take public transportation and cheapest for a single traveler.

 

Chiang Rai and its Breathtaking Temple

Chiang Rai was not a destination originally on my radar. But a few people that I met in hostels and around Chiang Mai recommended that I visit. Luckily, I've been quite flexible and open while booking and planning this trip, so I booked a bus to Chiang Rai and a night in a hostel that later became two nights.

Chiang Rai was pretty quiet, even for low-season. However, I did greatly enjoy the night bazaar. This is the perfect place for shopping, entertainment and music, and food. I ate here both nights, there is a lot of variety for street food and it's bound to be cheap. Walking through the stalls and decide if you want a hot pot (where you cook veggies, noodles, meat, and an egg in boiling water with herbs) or pad thai or fried anything.

The main attraction for many who visit Chiang Rai is the White Temple. And there's a reason why.

I can honestly say this is the most beautiful temple I've seen yet. After so many temples covered in gold and glitz, decorated in a way that seemed opalent and borderline gaudy. The White Temple is not just a work of art, but a masterpiece. Formally known as Wat Rong Khun, it is a modern temple still in construction. It was designed by Chalermchai Kositpipat, a Thai artist, and work on the temple started in 1998. Completely white and accented with mirrors, the temple glows elegantly in the sun. I was drawn in not only by the startling color but also the extreme detail. In front if the main building sits a bridge representing the path to heaven, over a pit of hands and eyes and other carvings that represent hell. Take a look...

You could probably look all day and still not see everything. Each line and fixture have a purpose and the whole that they make up is stylized and gorgeous. Personally I probably could have just sat and looked at it all day long.

But there are some other things to see, like the golden toilet building--the most beautiful restroom I've ever seen, made this way to contrast the lowliness of human need against the enlightened white purity seen in the temple's other buildings. If you go to visit the White Temple you cannot miss seeing the art gallery featuring work from throughout the lifetime of Kositpipat. Here you can see traditional Buddhist drawings, movement-filled etchings, and sarcastic paintings.

All-in-all Chiang Rai makes for a nice detour. If you go, please visit the White Temple and allow yourself to be astounded.