This trip has been organized by Voyageurs du Monde (later mentioned as VDM). It was not a group trip so we were pretty much on our own, and thanks to the Routard travel guide, we were able to manage. While it clearly lacked in terms of organization, it really made me love this country, and I know I will see more of it in the future (let's say, in March 2013)
Our hotel in Bangkok was in Chinatown. Let's just say that with China the year before, we would really have preferred another place to discover Bangkok. Lured by the scales on the map, we decided to go to the Palace by foot, which with the heat and humidity wasn't a very good idea, but public transports, ie buses only in this part of Bangkok, didn't seem any more comfortable... Once at the Palace, the whole square was full of red shirts protesting, so we prudently took the entrance where the tourists buses were stopping. Finally in, a guy at the entrance looked at me, and when he saw that my shoulders and knees were covered, we could finally come in. The Palace is simply splendid, with so much riches in this typical Thai architecture.
When evening came, we walked prudently near the river, and found our restaurant, "The Deck" at the end of a narrow and ominously dark alley, but offering to its hosts a wonderful view of Wat Arun, the Dawn Temple.
So rather logically, the next day we decide to begin our tourist itinerary with this temple,
followed by Wat Pho, on the other side of the river, with the famous reclining Buddha, some golden Chedis (the other name for Stupas), and the masseurs school, where you can get a massage for practically nothing! But you should know that there is a lot of people waiting, so not possible on a tight scheduled trip.
For public transportation, I clearly advice the boats on the canal. Like in Venice, it's cheap and stops at all the interesting vicinities of Bangkok.
In the evening, we went to the business center of Bangkok, with its skyrail and the beautiful skyline by night seen from the Baiyoke Tower.
We then took the night train to go to Chiang Mai, and again, I clearly recommend the night trains to go anywhere in Thailand. It is a rather long country, and the quality is comfortable. Upon our arrival, we had ta wait 2h for the guide to show up, which represents the first fault in this trip. Instead of letting us discover Chiang Mai like they did for Bangkok, VDM sold a "secret address", that was basically a spartan hotel in the middle of nowhere, accessible after a 4h walk in the jungle, without any path per say. I will pass on the two days we spent there, as it is really exclusive to VDM, and nobody would have the idea to go there on their own. In a way, it was pleasant to be the only tourists around, it did make us feel special, but that's not what we wanted at that time. Nevertheless, the area was quite beautiful, and I don't regret having discovered it. We still did some touristic activities such as an Elephant tour, an ox cart tour, an a bamboo raft tour, before actually returning to our charming hotel in Chiang Mai. And luckily enough, it was Sunday, so we were able to look around the Sunday Market, and there, sincerely, you need to use all your will to not buy anything. I know I didn't.
The next day, we took the plane for Mae Hong Son, the city of the three fogs it is said. And here lies yet another of VDM mistakes: the hotel was indeed recluded, being 7 km from the city, with shuttle only 3 times a day. And the other mistake was: we had three days in the area. So a good idea could have been to rent us a car so we could do a bit of the road between Mae Hong Son and Chiang Mai. But no, as we didn't want to add some expenses to our already expensive trip, we had to do things on our own.
For the time being, we settled with visiting the town, climbing the Doi to a scenic temple, admiring the iconic temple of the city at twilight
and having a drink at the CrossRoads, a backpacker bar, very american, before the shuttle back to the hotel. As the manager was very reluctant to let us use the shuttle to see the area, we decided to take the bus to Soppong and decide what to do from there.
So we were able to take an early local bus to Soppong, where we were the only tourists, and took the road. I still don't know how the bus didn't explose with the steep parts of the road, but I was already to busy admiring the landscape, which was breathtaking. Paddy fields encircled by cliffs, the lush vegetation, the low angle of the Sun in the morning fog. It was really beautiful, but unfortunately, we didn't have the liberty to stop whenever we wanted, so we lost so many opportunities for great pictures. Arriving at Soppong, which only consists of shops along the main road, the idea was to rent a motorbike to some caves, but as we were the only tourists, nobody could understand us, and when even the signs were not replied, we realized that nobody wanted to rent us a motorbike... So there was not much else to do then admitting it was a fiasco and waiting for the bus back to Mae Hong Son. On the way back, we decided to stop at Wat Tham Hua, a cute temple where weird hippies were living, and we hitchhiked with a German couple whose travel agency, contrary to ours, was clever enough to rent them a car from Chiang Mai to Mae Hong Song.
Back at Chiang Mai, then Krabi, where the weather was really something else, hot and humid, and there awaits the last mistake of VDM. The hotel is on an island near Krabi, "near" meaning 1h of bus and 2h of Long Tail boat. The bungalow is charming, no doubt about that, but we're pretty much stuck, just as we were with the last two "secluded" hotels. We were still able to visit Koh Phi Phi and the Viking Cage, Emeral Lake and the famous Maya Bay. Too many people, but colorful fishes as we snorkel between boats... We went on to Phi Phi Don, then Bamboo Island and Mosquito Island, which were all very nice. The dive I did the next day between Bida Nai and Bida Nok was far more colorful (even though it's not the Maldives)
So, what could I advice the ones planning a trip in Thailand. It is a beautiful country, home to so many cultural pleasures such as food and massages, and relatively feasible on your own. Of course, you should be aware of the Red Shirts activities, tensions at the Laos or Malaysian borders, but really accessible to backpackers. The South is, obviously, but the North is too!