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An impulsive traveler’s plan-free trip to Thailand – The Washington Post | Gmx Pharm

On the southwest coast of Thailand, limestone cliffs soar above the seawater against a backdrop of swaying trees. Longtail boats – the only mode of transport to Railay Beach – are parked in the distance, neon pink and green flags flying from the bow. Sand bubble crabs dive above and below the surface, leaving their intricate designs at the mercy of the tide and flip-flops. I’m sitting in a bar on the beach, watching drops of water fall onto my ice cold Singha beer, contemplating the sunset glittering on the water. Painterly can not even begin to describe this. I just have one question: How did I end up here?

A few weeks earlier, I dreamed of going somewhere – anywhere – far away. I longed to feel lost in a strange city and soak up its sounds, smells and energy. This led to people casually browsing for airline tickets to Southeast Asia when a cheap ticket to Bangkok popped up. Later that month, I boarded a plane with a friend who booked her trip a few days after mine.

Jetting around the world on a whim has admittedly made me quite cocky, but it turns out I’m part of a bigger trend.

According to online travel company Skyscanner, demand has picked up in Asia-Pacific – and Thailand in particular – since coronavirus restrictions were eased in April. For example, in May and June it was the third most popular long-haul destination from France, where I live.

Alongside the surge in travel to the region, Matt Bradford, who analyzes trends and insights for Skyscanner, has identified short booking horizons – a window of 30 days or less between booking and departure – as a new behavior. He explained over the phone that in France in May and June, 39 percent of bookings made on the site were for departures within a month. (In the United States, it was 35 percent.)

Everything you need to know about traveling to Thailand

When the doors open at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport, it hits you: humid, sweltering heat. Within a minute my skin was covered in a slimy film of moisture and sweat that dripped down the back of my neck as we got into a cab. We drove past roadside dumpling shops, skyscrapers, and a seemingly endless array of stalls selling sex toy souvenirs.

The next afternoon, after a delicious lunch at Rung Reung Pork Noodle—a bone-dry plastic stool, a haven for porkballs, noodles, and broth—we head to Wat Arun, a temple built during the Ayutthaya era on the shore of the Chao Phraya River. Its “Prang” towers more than 200 feet in height and is ornately decorated with pieces of china and walkways that meander up and around it. As we were strolling around the grounds, a lady approached us and offered a boat ride around a nearby floating market.

Our boat driver soon took us through Thonburi’s network of klongs, or canals, lined with worn wooden houses, many tipping over on stilts that kept them afloat. A woman wearing a straw hat with bows on the ribbon slowly approached us on her longtail boat and offered bracelets, keyrings and floral hair clips. After we politely declined, she reached into her cooler and came out with a grin. “Beer?” While this wouldn’t normally overwhelm me with excitement, Bangkok had banned the sale of alcohol for 24 hours during its election, and a cold chang sounded pretty good in this heat. I bought one for me and our driver and we continued to drift through the canals.

I’m no expert on floating markets but let’s just say this one was a little disappointing; After a quick snack of fried quail eggs with soy sauce and sugar, we made our way back to Bangkok and spent the evening at a rooftop, paying for drinks with crypto, the bar’s only payment option.

Over the next two days, endless piles of sausages in hot oil would be splattered on street food trucks, 3am massages on Khaosan Road and strolls down the back streets of Sukhumvit. Then, after being seduced by travelers and locals raving about the south—generally urging us to avoid Phuket, the notorious destination for tourists looking to lose themselves in the black hole of its nightlife—we boarded a plane.

After the intense electric urban energy of Bangkok, Krabi – a southern province on Thailand’s Andaman Sea – was literally a breath of fresh air. We boarded a shuttle that made various stops in towns around the area. The driver played American country music as we drove past lush greenery on winding roads and passed a shooting range on the way to Ao Nang. A tourist, probably in her 20s, was talking to the woman next to her. “We don’t really have a plan,” she said.

They weren’t the only ones.

In Krabi, we set out by longtail boat to explore the offshore islands of Ko Poda, Ko Thap, and Ko Khai (or “Chickens”) in Phi Phi Islands National Park. To say our first stop looked like a postcard would be a gross understatement. If you’ve ever imagined being on a desert island gazing out at crystal clear waters in the shade of a mangrove tree on a white sandy beach, this was it.

There was no one else in sight as we dove into the calm waters, splashing about happily with goofy grins on our faces. I soon noticed a twinge on my upper arm. Thinking I was a hypochondriac, I ignored it. A few minutes later, back on land, my friend mentioned that her arm was on fire, but argued that it was probably because of the combination of salt water and sunburn.

Finally connecting the dots about our complaints, we strolled back to inspect the water. As it turned out, the deserted white-sand beach wasn’t deserted at all, but rather crammed with massive translucent jellyfish that washed up in the water and ashore, a minor detail we didn’t register on our way off the boat. However, our driver didn’t seem too concerned. When asked if the stings were dangerous, he laughed, shook his head and said, “No dead, no dead,” still giggling as he returned to the stern.

Marijuana is now legal in Thailand. What does this mean for tourists?

On our final night, we returned to Railay Beach on a longtail boat that banked dramatically against the waves, splashing water through the open sides of the boat. After wading through the water to get to shore, we dropped our stuff and headed to the beach bar. “Hotel California” played in the background as the sun dipped below the horizon, revealing stars and the huge surrounding cliffs glittering in the moonlight.

Then the electricity went out.

After a few minutes, the bartender made a makeshift glowing lantern by placing his cell phone flashlight under a bottle of Curaçao. Candles were lit. We asked for another round. “Why not?” he answered.

A walk through the pitch-black city revealed shadows of massage ladies talking softly while crouched together and looking down the path. Bartenders hung around outside, only their silhouettes visible in the dark. In a bar, candles cast a glowing light over a pool table behind the open windowsill, behind which an acoustic guitarist sings. We spent a few hours in this bar as the rain flooded the street outside.

Behind us, the bartender kept laughing to himself and repeating, “Why not?” – seemingly the unofficial catchphrase of the city – every few minutes. We couldn’t see the faces of the people across from us, only their shadows. Reality felt fused with some kind of dream world – in a good way.

Suddenly the light went on. Almost immediately, the place, which couldn’t have felt further from home, reminded me of the bars on Rue de Lappe, the notoriously rowdy party mile in my Parisian neighborhood, punctuated by neon lights and flaming gunfire. Acoustic music quickly disappeared behind the top 40 songs blaring out of the stereo, and fairy lights flashed aggressively on the walls. It was time to go. I left Krabi the next morning already feeling nostalgic as that night slipped from reality to memory on the journey back to Paris.

I am not advocating always traveling without a plan. We missed a lot. The one thing we really wanted – traveling north to south by train – wasn’t possible without booking in advance. Our floating market experience could have benefited from better research. We could have seen more sights. But if someone had asked me, “Would you like to take a rickety long-tail boat in high swells to that remote, out-of-power beach town where you’ll basically be stuck until morning?”

I would say, “Why not?”

Radziemski is a Paris-based writer. Keep finding her Twitter and Instagram: @lilyradz.

10/3 Soi Sukhumvit 26, Khlong Tan, Khlong Toei, Bangkok

Pork, bone broth and noodles are king here. It’s hot, full and delicious. Open daily from 8am to 5pm. Entrees from around $2.

Family Thaifood & Seafood

143 6 Ao Nang, Mueang Krabi District, Krabi

This is a no-frills restaurant that serves delicious, fresh classics and seafood. I’m still dreaming about the tom yum soup and the fresh passion fruit juice. Open daily from 10:00 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Entrees from around $3.

Ao Nang landmark night market

Ao Nang, Mueang Krabi District, Krabi

The stalls at this night market have many options, such as dried squid shells, classic pasta dishes, and freshly grilled squid. You can then eat at an open table. Open Monday to Saturday from 4pm to 10pm and Sunday until 10.30pm. Entrees start at around $2.50.

2RQ8+H64 Muang Mueang Krabi District, Ao Nang

This bar has a spacious terrace that opens onto the beach. Watch the longtail boats come and go and the paddle boarders row into the sunset. There is a full dining menu and the food is fresh and delicious. Open daily from 10am to 2am. A bottle of beer starts at around $1.50.

2RM9+HH5, Ao Nang, Mueang Krabi District

Delicious cafe with outdoor patio overlooking the water. It’s more expensive than most cafes in the area, but the coffee made with fresh coconut makes it worth it. Open daily. Coconut coffee from about $5.

tourismusthailand.org/attraction/railay-beach

A beach town with a laid-back vibe and stunning beachfront landscapes. It also attracts people because of its climbing. Although the beach is not an island, it is only accessible by longtail boat. If you are carrying luggage you will need to get it through shallow water to access the boats. Long tail boat ticket about $3.

Prospective travelers should consider local and national health guidelines regarding the pandemic before planning a trip. For travel health advice information, see the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention interactive map of travel advice by destination and the CDC’s travel health advice website.

Updated: September 17, 2022 — 12:32 am

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