Thailand is so over. I’ve heard this sentence (or at least the sentiment) from the hard-core backpackers. I’ve read harsh reviews on other travel blogs of how the country has lost it’s authenticity and therefore, its appeal. I even picked up on theses overtones while reading the Thailand-based thriller “The Beach”.  While I won’t argue the fact that Thailand was definitely one of the most touristy countries we’ve visited so far, I want to make the case for Thailand for something very specific that we all love: vacation.

Knowing we’d be approaching the 3-month mark of our travels which also coincided with meeting up with some friends in Asia, Seb and I decided to purposefully use our 3 weeks in Thailand to relax and enjoy – as if we were really on vacation*.

Karst views, white sand and turquoise water on Railay Beach.

Karst views, white sand and turquoise water on Railay Beach.

As the most visited country in South East Asia, with 27 million tourists in 2013, Thailand has done a commendable job in setting up a great tourist infrastructure. We were struck almost immediately coming over the border from Laos at how easy everything seemed: to communicated, to get around, to find things we needed, to understand what to do, etc. Despite the relative ease and confort, it remains incredibly affordable. The food is world-renowned and lives up to its reputation. The people are friendly and helpful with a decent level of English. The country itself has some of the most stunning natural landscapes we’ve ever seen. In short, this is the ideal vacation destination. Here’s why:

 

A street food vendor in Chinatown, Bangkok. We had the best tom yum soup - tangy, spicy and flavorful.

A street food vendor in Chinatown, Bangkok. We had the best tom yum soup – tangy, spicy and flavorful.

Fabulous food

Thai cuisine is remarkably good: it’s spicy, rich, full of flavor and suprisingly light at the same time. Stir-fried noodles and coconut curries get whipped up quickly with a spicy chili kick. Fresh fruit – cut into juicy chunks or whizzed up into a shake – is available everywhere. We ate our hearts out on the Bangkok street food scene, dining on marinated barbecue pork chunks that were melt-in-your-mouth good. A small neighborhood restaurant became a favorite lunch place during our week in the capital after tasting their exquisite Thai beef salad.

The availability and quality of Western food (burgers, pizza, pasta but also Lebanese, Mexican and Greek) was astounding. We really indulged ourselves here and even had a glass or two (or four) of wine for good measure.

All that being said, we are still partial to the tasty freshness of Vietnamese food.

 

Sai Thong Resort, Koh Tao - simple but comfortable bungalows in a perfect paradise setting for only $15 a night.

Sai Thong Resort, Koh Tao – simple but comfortable bungalows in a perfect paradise setting for only $15 a night.

Affordable Luxury

After months of sleeping in cheap guesthouses, we decided to do it up right with a nice modern hotel in the city. The stylish 800 square foot (75m2) apartment with roof-top pool and full kitchen still only cost us a whopping $40 a night. Even better was the luxury resort we stayed in on Railay Beach – our own cozy wooden house just a stone’s throw away from the soft white sand beach, and for less than the cost of a night in Motel 6 (or Formule 1) back home. Hour-long massages and beauty treastments cost a fraction of the prices we’d gladly pay in Europe ($8 instead of $75) and the delish Thai street food is only a handful of coins. Even on a strict budget, you can really indulge your senses here.

 

We went from scuba newbies to Advanced Open Water divers in about a week on Koh Tao.

We went from scuba newbies to Advanced Open Water divers in about a week on Koh Tao.

Available Activities

So Thailand has without a doubt the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen. But Seb and I aren’t really beach bums, and except for the odd afternoon dip in the ocean, we prefer to stay active. No Problem! On Koh Tao, we spent a week at Crystal Dive Resort (ask for the most excellent instructor, Neal Sanders) getting our Advanced Open Water PADI certification. It was one of the most surreal experiences in our lives. Other than the freaky dreams of finding myself underwater without a tank, we loved every second of exploring a whole new world under the sea (whoa, accidental double Disney reference there). For more land-dwelling folk, some islands are well known for the rock climbing or gorgeous kayaking. Our night snorkeling trip with the phosphorescent plankton surrounding us in glowing blue sparkles will be a highlight of our trip.

 

Easy and comfortable transportation by bus, train,  plane and boat - here the Gulf of Thailand.

Easy and comfortable transportation by bus, train, plane and boat – here the Gulf of Thailand.

Getting there and away

With so much to do and at such great prices, its a good thing transportation in Thailand is a breeze (and cheap). With trains, buses, ferries and easy flights, you have so many easy ways to get around the country (not to mention the huge range of local transport within Bangkok itself). Thailand’s night trains are by far the most comfortable form of overnight transportation we have yet tested, with the night ferry boat rides coming in a very close second.

So there you have it. It may not be the most original or authentically exotic place we’ll visit, but with all the relative ease, comfort and affordability, this destination goes to the top of our vacation destination list.

 

Fellow vacationers enjoy the stunning sunsets off Koh Tao.

Fellow vacationers enjoy the stunning sunsets off Koh Tao.

 

 

*”But…aren’t you already on vacation?” some may ask. Technically speaking, we aren’t working and we aren’t at home, so we can easily understand the confusion. As I have come to find out as a newbie backpacker, traveling is not vacation. Vacation is (usually) planned, thought-out, budgeted, and mostly spent doing leisurely things and relaxing. There are some of those elements in traveling too, but the length, budget and goals are different. Personally, I wouldn’t necessarily choose a 12-hour bus ride or to stay in a dirty-but-available guesthouse room on my precious vacation time. Some people choose to ‘travel’ on their vacations and that’s awesome. We are choosing to have a vacation on our travels.