Backpacking across Thailand – on a green passport!

Published: March 31, 2013
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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

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 (twitter.com/jalal_awan)

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