10 things that surprised me the most about Thailand

Whether you decide to attend Thailand’s annual Monkey Buffet Festival, or explore abandoned airplanes in Bangkok’s Airplane Graveyard, this corner of the earth never fails to surprise. Home to 1,430 islands, a giant water-throwing festival, and some of the world’s stinkiest fruit, this diverse country certainly offers variety. Even though a flip flop or two may get lost en route, plenty of hilarious memories will be yours to take home.

Two of our amazing STA Travel staff, Jack and Rosie, flew to the land of national parks and opulent temples to experience it all first-hand. Here are ten things that they didn’t expect from Thailand…

1.Getting splashed at Songkran Festival

Surprise number 1, Songkran. Songkran Festival will come as a very wet shock to any unassuming backpacker visiting during April. Songkran marks the Thai new year with a splash, and symbolises the washing away of sins, ready to start anew.

Our top tips? Invest in a waterproof pouch for your valuables, and a solid water gun. Those wishing to stay dry will be safer indoors (but what’s the fun in that?) Be prepared to get VERY wet. And don’t take it too personally if locals cover you in soap or flour every time you step outside.

2. A Klong River boat tour in Bangkok

Bangkok Boat

Bangkok isn’t just about drinking whisky buckets on Khao San Road and feasting on the best street food in the world. We saw a totally different side to this lively city with a Klong River Boat tour. On one, you’ll learn about the local communities that live along the canals of the Klong, aboard on a traditional Thai boat. A well-deserved respite from the hectic energy of the city.

3.The riverside neighbourhood of Talad Noi (or ‘Talat’)

Bangkok Riverside

We also got off the beaten track and explored the riverside community of Talad Noi, one of Bangkok’s oldest neighbourhoods, and the official Chinatown of the capital. The roads of Sarn Chao Sieng Kong are filled with old car trinkets, abandoned vehicles, and laid-back locals. Wat Pathumkongka temple is adorned with golden Buddhas, and Trok San Chao Rong Kueak street is peppered with Chinese street art. Our top tip? Make your way to the Hon Wong Kung shrine, and take a pitstop at the Sol Heng Tai Mansion.

4. A rainforest walk in Khao Sok National Park  

Khao Sok River view

Stick your head up on a walk amongst the dense rainforest of Khao Sok National Park and you’ll spot monkeys navigating the bamboo trees above you. Look down, and you may see elephant footprints, as rumour has it that wild elephants also share the same footpath you’ll be walking on. After getting suitably sweaty on your walk, stop off at the waterfalls for a much-needed rest (and *cough* wash).

5. Pretty awesome hostels

Ko Pha-Ngan swings

We couldn’t believe the standard of hostels in Thailand. Goodtime Beach Backpackers is located right on Baan Tai Beach in Ko Pha Ngan. Equipped with everything from volleyball nets and hammocks to paddleboards, you’re in for a whale of a time. You’ll also find a sand bar, a 24-hour pool for your midnight swims (or daytime, you know), and communal spaces for the social butterflies amongst you. Also, it’s an amazing place for solo travellers looking to mingle, with regular parties and chances to meet other backpackers.

6.The Secret Mountain bar and rooftop pool in Ko Pha Ngan

Ko Pha Nghan pool views

Travellers come to Secret Mountain bar for the view, and man is it worth it. This undiscovered gem offers a rooftop swimming pool and bar with an incredible vista for only 20 baht (50p!) per head. Grab lunch here, and head over in the early afternoon for a chance to enjoy this entire haunt to yourselves.

7.Snorkelling in Koh Tao

Ko Tao Snorkelling

One of the best ways to see Ko Tao island has to be on a snorkelling trip. We had the chance to visit islands including Koh Nang Yuan, Aow Muang (Mango Bay), Hin Wong Bay, Aow Leuk and Shark Bay. Snorkels at the ready, search the seas for kaleidoscopic marine life and request a stop off at the famous Koh Nang Yuan viewpoint. Insider tip – avoid heading on this tour at peak times, as you may have to queue for this sought-after photo opportunity.

8.Chilling out on Sairee beach at sunset

Ko Tao sunset

We didn’t think that Thai sunsets could get much better… then when we were on Koh Tao, this happened. We headed to Sairee Beach’s chilled out bars to soak it up in all of its glory. There are also tonnes of foodie options on this beach if you are looking to staunch your appetite.

9.The beautiful colourful boats of Koh Tao

Boats of Ko Tao

Not only is Koh Tao worth it for all of the amazing snorkelling and sunset opportunities, it’s also filled with colourfully painted boats. Perfect for sneaky photo ops pre – or post – snorkelling adventures!

10.And more temples.

Thailand Temples

It is estimated that Thailand is home to around 40,717 Buddhist temples, so maybe it’s no surprise we saw a few whilst we were travelling. But we didn’t expect to feel so inspired by the array of impressive architectural designs, intricate interiors and golden trimmings. Some of the country’s most famous temples – such as Wat Pho, with its giant golden Reclining Buddha statue – reside in Bangkok. Crucially, remember to cover your shoulders and wear long trousers on entering a temple. And, take off your shoes!

If any of these ideas have inspired you to check out Thailand, head to our Thailand travel guide where you can browse a range of epic itineraries and learn about all of the travel essentials in this country of marvels.

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