Saturday, 28 March 2015

Thailand .... the verdict !

Thailand is without a shadow of a doubt a great holiday destination, so much so that from my limited experience some places have become too popular, too overcrowded for my particular taste and in that I think the whole of Phuket Island is probably included. Places like the Similian islands or Phi Phi have become equally sought out day trip destinations and I would avoid them in the future.  North of Phuket International Airport there is still a huge tract of largely unspoilt countryside taking the 3 hour drive to Kuraburi. Khao Lak might not tick everyone's boxes but I thought it was a good mix between commercial and not. Birding wise it certainly isn't a hot spot but, as I found out, Laem Pakarang is certainly worth a visit. The Blue Lagoon was excellent value for money at around £65 B&B
With hindsight I would have organised my trip in a different way. I would have stayed at the Kuraburi Greenview Resort for longer, maybe 5 nights, and taken the opportunity to travel to the nearby National Park for a day out. The birding in this area was very good. Green view also operate the Surin Island trips so I would have arranged to visit the Surins from there asking them to mind my baggage until my return. This would have avoided the additional costs of getting off Koh Phra Thong which added about £45 to the cost of an overnight trip. Greenview Resort was excellent value for money at only £35 B&B even if the usually cold buffet breakfast left much to be desired . Evening meals and the price of a large beer where very competitive.
I would certainly have visited Koh Phra Thong just for the experience and should have taken advantage of the offer of an island tour which at £36 for two wasn't that cheap for a half day tour but when you evaluate the total cost of a holiday you do realise it's small change in comparison and increases the memories, particularly if you don't return.
As for Phrathong Nature Resort, would I return ? The answer is yes but probably for a shorter period, maybe a week which is enough to see and do all there is without  feeling the need for a return to more everyday luxury like a fresh water shower. The danger is of course that an attempt to revisit the same destination can lead to a totally different experience. Different fellow guests, different staff, different weather, oh and most importantly, further commercial development. My advice would certainly be go now, sooner better than later. Accommodation including breakfast was inexpensive, around £20 per night for the two of us but food and drink is a bit dearer due to transport costs, that is also reflected in the expense of getting to the resort too. I guess that overall it cost us £50 per day but that included our usually quite substantial drinks bill.
As for getting to Thailand, well Qatar have a poor record with us. In our last 6 flights we have had missed connections and long delays on three journeys, failed to have our luggage arrive on a fourth. Not a good record for this supposedly self proclaimed 5 star airline. The food is pretty awful of late too ! I would check around and compare prices but Emirates was an altogether better experience in our opinion. We will use Qatar again though... money talks and we still have a £300 credit to use.
Getting to Thailand is the most expensive part although currently flights to Bangkok can be purchased for £450, Phuket £500pp. 
Once in Thailand there are some bargains to be had too. The cheapest large 650ml Chang beer we found was 60 baht or about £1.20. The dearest on the Surins 65 baht for a 330mml can but you can understand the transport costs there too. A main meal was anything from £2.00 upwards but for a substantial plate full. Eating is cheap although street food isn't as cheap as you might be lead to believe from other travel writers.
If you fancy snorkelling then a trip to the Surins is a must but it's cheaper just to book an open return ticket and hire a tent when you get there. You can then order your food freshly cooked and hopefully hot. Although the food was plentiful, too much by far in fact, on a package it was always preprepared and cold on serving no matter what time you seemed to arrive. A cold fried egg is not a beautiful thing for breakfast !
In summary though I have nothing but praise for the part of Thailand we saw. I know that we merely scratched the surface and that my haul for birds was pretty pathetic compared to someone who took a full time bird tour and covered the whole of this large country but remember, I was considering my non birding wife and trying to bring compromise to the trip.
I know I'm not alone in my holiday needs so if you are another couple like us, we both recommend this trip highly.
For winter sun, great food, friendly people it's no wonder Thailand has become so popular.

 Some money saving ideas and recommendations for you besides booking the Surin Islands.
1) If your baggage is delayed inform them at the airport you intend requesting compensation for essential items. Makes life much simpler and we collected $95 at the airport on the way home.
2)If you ask a hotel to book you a taxi, particularly several days ahead and some distance away, like the airport, check your bill. I only checked mine when I got home to discover it was on the bill. No wonder the taxi driver gave me an extra deep bow and wide smile and pocketed what was now a £35 tip !
3) If you are asked if you want to pay in £'s or local currency when presenting your credit card to pay a bill always choose local. I couldn't remember which was best and opted for £'s. Another £25 wasted on one hotel bill alone!
Never mind, it's only money he said between gritted teeth !!!!
Hope this report is of use, thanks for reading.
cheers Dave

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