Travel Wishlist - Thailand, Scotland on Sunday Travel
It had been my intention to wear a life-jacket. I’m not a particularly strong swimmer so the thought of practising my front crawl technique in the open ocean wasn’t exactly appealing. It didn’t help that my wife had decided to skip this particular excursion for a couple more hours in bed, sleeping off one of the many mild hangovers we’d given ourselves over the course of three weeks as the nightly temptation to drink beer for £2 and cocktails for £4 remained consistently too strong to ignore.
Then the skipper/guide of this solo excursion disappeared from the end of the boat and into the depths below. Seeing as he already had my phone and earbuds in his dry bag, I took this as a sign that it was my turn to follow. There was no way for him to actually say this as he spoke almost no English, though the few words he did know were infinitely better than my attempts at Thai. Looking up, I saw that a group of 20-somethings had disembarked from their vessel without life jackets on. So I thought, ‘What the heck, you only live once.’ An ironic notion, as I was essentially putting that theory to the test.
Desperately trying not to think of how much water was between my scrambling limbs and the seabed, and how many exotic creatures inhabited the space in between, I was just about able to keep up as we entered the darkness of the Emerald Cave (known locally as Morakot Cave).
Visibility became poorer as the water got cooler – not a welcome combination. Starting to think this resembled a watery coffin and leaving the life-vest behind was maybe the dumbest idea I’d had in some time, I turned to see the guide smiling at me as I struggled in the water. “Up!” he said. It was then I realised that the water was shallow enough to stand and it was no longer necessary to perform a dreadful Michael Phelps impression.
There was also light at the end of the tunnel. This opened up on to an idyllic beach, walled off on all sides – the reason why hundreds of tourists every day venture through the darkness on the west coast of Koh Muk. It is the only way to access this special piece of tranquillity and is well worth the trouble.
When the tide comes in and fills the beach partially with water, the sun reflects colour all over the cave’s walls. It’s magical. And here’s the really special part: it was only about the 20th best thing I experienced during my time in Thailand.
It’s a truly unique country. The people are friendly, the weather remains an agreeably hot temperature throughout most of the year (just make sure to avoid the rainy season), the food is out of this world, and there is no shortage of attractions to visit or experiences to immerse yourself in.
We hadn’t even been there 24 hours before we were feeding and bathing Indian elephants at a sanctuary just outside of Chiang Mai, a wonderful city in the north of the country. While there we also let off lanterns on New Year’s Eve, trekked up through the mountains to see a 14th century Buddhist temple, and walked down a “sticky” waterfall. Although, only the elephants compared to the delights of the city’s night markets. The tat being flogged held little interest, but the food stalls and adjacent dining area offered a plethora of local and Asian culinary options, most of which were cooked fresh in front of you for a relative pittance. Balancing four plates each, we’d then make our way to a dining table, pick up a couple of large beers, and watch a Thai man with a guitar cover Beatles songs.
In the south, Ko Pha Ngan is one of the world’s most famous hedonistic destinations. It hosts the Full Moon Party, which tempts ravers from all over Thailand to sail in every four weeks. Recreational drugs are highly illegal in Thailand with possession likely to land you in jail, even if there are spots on the various islands which would suggest the contrary.
Ko Pha Ngan also possesses some sprawling, stunning beaches in which to relax and soak up paradise. The one outside our hotel had water so shallow and calm you could walk out for half a mile before it came up past your waist. It felt like you could take a leisurely stroll to neighbouring island Ko Samui. Not that it would be advisable. Ko Pha Ngan’s belligerent brother was the one regrettable choice we made on the trip, as staying there for three nights felt like we’d been dropped into a Thai version of Benidorm. Filled with boozed up tourists and EDM music, it reflected the warning we’d been given by friends who’d travelled Asia that Thailand had lost its charm due to its status as the No 1 “alternative” destination for westerners. But it was the only stop on our trip where we felt that was an accurate representation, and even then we still managed to enjoy a peaceful night on the beach drinking wine in beanbag chairs and were able to visit Mu Koh Angthong National Marine Park, where I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I have a knack for kayaking.
We’re coming to the end of this love letter to earth’s 22nd-most-populous country and I haven’t described snorkelling over the reefs in Koh Kradan, visiting the cat sanctuary in Koh Lanta, taking a thoroughly entertaining cooking class on the same island, or going into more detail about the 20 or so dinners that were in serious contention for The Best Meal Ever. One thousand words just isn’t enough to do it all justice. You’ll just have to find out for yourself.
The Foreign & Commonwealth Office currently advises British nationals against all but essential international travel. When restrictions lift, Qatar airways (www.qatarairways.com), British Airways (www.britishairways.com) and Gulf Air (www.gulfair.com) fly from Scottish airports.
A message from the Editor:
Thank you for reading this story on our website. While I have your attention, I also have an important request to make of you.
With the coronavirus lockdown having a major impact on many of our advertisers - and consequently the revenue we receive - we are more reliant than ever on you taking out a digital subscription.
Subscribe to scotsman.com and enjoy unlimited access to Scottish news and information online and on our app. With a digital subscription, you can read more than 5 articles, see fewer ads, enjoy faster load times, and get access to exclusive newsletters and content. Visit https://www.scotsman.com/subscriptions now to sign up.
Our journalism costs money and we rely on advertising, print and digital revenues to help to support them. By supporting us, we are able to support you in providing trusted, fact-checked content for this website.