Backpacking across Thailand – on a green passport!

Published: March 31, 2013

There is a magical appeal to Thailand's pristine waters and sleazy streets. PHOTO: JALAL AWAN

While our group of five was contemplating on whether to hit the Maldives, Seychelles or Bora Bora for our hard-earned annual leaves, a cursory look at our budget and the tempting rupee-baht conversion rate made the decision all the more easy!

Trip Advisor’s pricey recommendations notwithstanding, the vibrant streets of Bangkok and breezy beaches of Koh Phangan provided an alluring escapade from the noise and din of a fertiliser complex.

From an array of water sports to top-of-the-line garments for shopping aficionados, all night beach parties to umpteenth resorts lined with deck-chairs and sun umbrellas, there is a magical appeal to Thailand’s pristine waters and sleazy streets.

With such a lot to offer, it was difficult planning all the ‘must-dos’ for the 10 day trip.

Failing to plan is certainly planning to fail and the immigration officials whisking away flustered tourists of all hues put the fact in perspective.

It reminded me of a hard-to-digest one-liner from an agitated blogger who attributed his unfortunate experience at Thailand’s Suvarnabhumi airport to his green passport saying,

“I just wish for a moment I was not Pakistani. I’m not being unpatriotic. It is the most sincere feeling I’ve had in a while.”

On the contrary, we had a hassle-free check-in perhaps because our papers, reservations et al were complete. Immigration officials’ at most international destinations are sensible and trained people- a Brit or Russian hopping queues is as likely to be reprimanded as anybody, and for good measure. And they didn’t ask us to turn our pockets over at the immigration counter too since we had a bank statement ready.

Another word of advice as you embark: pack smart and pack less. You don’t want to haggle your way through immigration lines, bus-rides and cruises as you explore the numerous islands that dot the Thai Kingdom.

Thailand is rightly called the land of smiles and it’s possibly the zephyr that surrounds the isles; tourists from all over the world seem to embrace and pass on the trademark ‘Thai smile’.


Photo: Jalal Awan

As we pondered over Google maps for the nearest Halal food joint at the airport, we were approached by courteous passers-by volunteering assistance and even offering free rides to the taxi stand.

The vast majority of travellers confine their island time to a select few of a core of around 10 to 15 main islands dotted on the fringes of the Andaman Sea, leaving the other 500-or-so for next time, presumably.

Primary pullers of the backpacker crowd at Thailand are undoubtedly the islands on either side of the country’s southern-most stretch, Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao to name a few.

Koh Phangan’s account is incomplete without the mention of the world (in) famous full-moon party, a debauched booze-fest of music and dance combining tens of thousands of young backpackers, and bootleggers, from all over the world.


Photo: Jalal Awan

Up North, Phuket is one of the gems of the Thai tourism industry, with some of the best islands and sophisticated resort developments. But a visit to Patong and the infamous Bangla Road, you realise that it’s not just the sun and sand after all.

There’s another, albeit risqué, aspect to Phuket: nightlife- the lesser said the better!

Scuba-diving, snorkelling, parasailing, rafting and safari rides are must-dos while staying at Phuket. Scuba-diving in particular is an awe-inspiring experience- the impressions from undersea adventures completely exceeded our expectations.

It’s an amazing excursion to a whole new breath-taking world!


Photo: Jalal Awan

As we travelled by land, air and sea to our final abode in Bangkok’s Siam area, we met jet-setters and adventure virtuosos from (almost) all over the world.

We found people associating Pakistanis with almost everything from Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s singing talent to Bin Laden’s soon-to-be-turned-amusement park hideout, ‘Arab Spring’ to ‘cricketer-politicians’, mountaineering haven to turban-clad fanatics of tribal bad lands.

With calamities like the Lahore inferno, it’s sometimes difficult to relate the brighter, cheerful aspect of life.

Some handy facts, however keep probing inquisitors at bay: per the Economist World in Figures we’re amongst the top 15 nations in Physics (hats off to the likes of Hoodbhoys, Khans and Salams), top 30 in child prodigies (case in point, Arfa Karim Randhawa and Malala Yousafzai), top-something in number of refugees accommodated, top 10 in wheat, sugar, tea and cotton producers, top 20 in mineral resources and the list of positives is endless.

And last but not the least, despite stereotypes; we are a resilient nation, ranked 16th in the Happy Nations Index compiled by the New Economics Foundation (NEF) from sources including UNDP and Gallup.

So cheer up guys!

Read more by Jalal here or follow him on Twitter @jalal_awan



Jalal Awan

An electrical engineer working at Engro, the writer is an avid freelancer and an aspiring entrepreneur who takes keen interest in politics and current affairs. He tweets at @jalal_awan (

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • BlackJack

    Good stuff. No unnecessary romanticism but a cheerful blog from someone who seems happy and confident to take life as it comes. Such Pakistanis do well wherever they go.Recommend

  • Muhammad Muneeb Shaikh

    I have been to Thailand twice but unfortunately i didn’t find Thai ppl as much friendly as to the other eastern countries such as China/Korea/Japan. However i love going to Thailand as one can meet and make so many friends of different nationalities, and yes how u interact with other ppl can actually help in changing the perception of Pakistan. Recommend

  • Namra

    Great stuff, eloquently described! I was in koh phangan in Jan’s full moon. Wish I’d bumped into you guys- high on hash foreigners don’t appeal much!

    Keep writin’, you’ve a readership out there in cbm!Recommend

  • Sonia K

    Thanks for the info- really needed it :)Recommend

  • Optimist

    Try to dress smart casuals.
    I have been to 40 countries on Green Passport. I have never flet being discriminated.
    If you are of shabby appearance and stare at airport buildings in amazement, even the US passport will not help you being picked up by security/immigration.

  • Parvez

    I enjoyed the honest way this was written.
    Have had the pleasure of holidaying in Thailand and suggest a beach resort if your with family and children, called Hua Hin a few hours on an excellent road out of Bangkok.Recommend

  • Traveller

    It would have been nice if you had included some more specific details about your trip. For example, hotel rates, restaurant recommendations, excursion operator names and rates. And included the associated web links. That would have made the article more informative and useful.Recommend

  • The Khan-Waterloo,Ontario

    Honestly, i do not understand where people experience discrimination. I have traveled to nearly country in the west, South east Asia, Middle east and South Africa and i have yet to experience discrimination. Although i do wish for visa on entry in some countries but that is too much to ask for Recommend

  • gp65

    Well written. Upbeat and factual.

    MAssages in Thailand are the best I have had in any country in the world. Also a ride on the Ayuthaya river is something I enjoyed. Did you go there?

    Unlike India and Pakistan where eating out is for the affluent and eating at home the norm, in Thailand only affluent people who can afford cooks, eat at home. In most normal families they pick up rice and curry from some road side stand and bring home to eat. This is because most women are employed outside the home. This is also a reason that raod side stallas are well regulated from hygiene perspective.Recommend

  • DocAli

    Very well described. Me and my wife read it through and tweeted you Jalal, hoping you’d help us plan our trip to Thai and Langkawi(Malaysia), considering you guys planned and visited almost every part of thailand on a 10-day(sic) tour! Hats Off!

    Kudos to budding ‘engineer writers’, we want more… Recommend

  • Faraz


    Blockquote> We found people associating Pakistanis with almost everything from Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s singing talent to Bin Laden’s soon-to-be-turned-amusement park hideout, ‘Arab Spring’ to ‘cricketer-politicians’,.Blockquote


    Man, high after thai? Are you sure you think the Green Passport still holds respect? Maybe in the Ayub era, maybe in the days of yore!Recommend

  • Namra


    Ever been outside Lahore/Karachi or, your cave for that matter?Recommend

  • Mayra

    Nicely written, with slight exaggerations. Anybody who’s been to Thailand can relate to every word of it!Recommend

  • NameshK

    @JAlal Awan:

    Boom Boom? ;)Recommend

  • Observer

    Thanks for letting me decide.


  • Waqas ur Rehman

    So, you people missed Phi Phi and Similan Islands. Probably missed Ang Su too?Pity.Recommend

  • Faraz


    I’ve been to more places than your years, perhaps. My comment didn’t mean to ridicule anyone. However, having worked with foreigners and lived in a foreign land has made me realize the actual reality of the stereotypes that the likes of you make. One doesn’t have to be a genius to figure out the worth of a Green Passport. This was perhaps the writers first ever trip abroad and so he carried stereotypes that you share. Peace.Recommend

  • MPA114

    Since when is ET publishing Travellogues?Recommend

  • Youths’ voice

    Well written article!
    Just a Question: Can you get an on-spot visa of entry into Thailand at the destination airport, or do you have to get one from Pakistan? I’ll be visiting Bangkok for 2-3 days for a UN conference, just wanted to know if a visa could be granted when i reach Thailand on my Pakistani Passport?

    Thanks again.Recommend

  • sidra

    you missed visiting Chiang Mai… Its the best place in thailand for rafting, jungle zipline and microlight flights. Also if you plan vacations with their festivals this city is the best place to experience festivity during sky lantern festival.Recommend

  • sidra

    @sidra: if you have a blue official passport you can get visa on arrival… otherwise on green passport you have to get it from here. And it doesn’t take more than a week to get a thai visa.Recommend

  • zafar

    well written, a nice readRecommend

  • Optimist

    Sorry , I meant formal wear you knowRecommend

  • Faraz


    1979 to be preciseRecommend

  • sidra


    Yes, I agreeRecommend

  • AntiLiberalLahori

    Engineers should be restricted to field-work. On vacatin, more field work. sight seeing is a management graduates thing. Period.Recommend

  • Parvez

    @Parvez: ET, kindly note this second comment under my name is not my comment. Someone is using my name………kindly check this and put a stop to it.Recommend

  • gp65

    ET: This post was not mine but from my impostor. Please post my protest. I have been a very regular poster and I do not ever insult people like this post seems to do.

    @Youths’ voice:
    Grammar Nazi are patrolling the streets

  • AntiLiberalLahori

    What was the total expense for the trip btw. Can I take my wife to thai on our honeymoon if ive a 200k budget?Recommend

  • Parvez

    @AntiLiberalLahori: Suggest Malaysia – Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Langkawi ( day trip from K.L ) the hotels are reasonable and good, the beaches great, the shopping good, lots of stuff to see and you will not have a problem with food…….Cost will depend on you but its money well spent.

  • AntiLiberalLahori

    Hmmm. Yes, langkawi sounds great but Koh Phangan and Koh Samui seem like must-visits too if youre planning like, a 10 day trip.Recommend

  • Tomorrowland

    Hats off, Jalal you’re an inspiration! Keep writing.Recommend

  • ayesha bano


    Can anyone Kindly give me sufficient information

    about A One Week trip to TURKEY.

    How much money do we need 4 one person

    Which places to Visit Hotles wd facilities

    n Nominal Charges.