Thailand by Campervan: A new way to experience Thai culture

Thailand by Campervan: A new way to experience Thai culture

When you think of Thailand, what comes to mind?

Maybe gleaming golden Buddha statues in chalk white temples. Or idyllic beaches with karst cliffs edging bays full of clear blue water with a white sand rim. Or spicy street food on a steamy Bangkok soi…

How about campervans? No?

I have rented campervans for family vacations in Hawaii and New Zealand, and loved the experience of driving wherever we wanted and camping near the beach.

But Thailand? It’s so easy to get around Thailand, whether by train, bus, minivan, songthaew, taxi, scooter, or tuk tuk. And nice hotels are cheap and easy to find.

The cutest tuk tuks ever in Trang, Thailand

But then again… there’s the waiting for the transportation. The stress of sitting powerless in the back of a stinky, sweaty minivan as the driver swerves across the center line around a blind curve.

And then again… wouldn’t it be nice not to have to lug a suitcase or backpack from one hotel to the next in the steamy heat of Thailand?

Wouldn’t it be great to stash your bags in a nice air conditioned campervan, and let the very considerate and safe driver be responsible for getting you where you want to go, when you want to go there?

Campervan Thailand is a new company with a fleet of shiny new RVs available for rental by the day, week or month. Their smallest camper sleeps 4, while the largest can sleep up to 8. They include air conditioning, bathroom and shower, sound system, microwave and refrigerator, and the beds are some of the most comfortable I have come across in my travels. In fact, when I recently traveled with a group of bloggers in the campers and we were given the option of sleeping in a hotel one night, we all chose to sleep in the vans.

The smallest camper rents for $200 per night, the largest for $400 per night, with discounts available for weekly and monthly rentals. Though the rental price of the campervans is not cheap, it could make sense for a group traveling together, especially if you’d like to get far off the beaten tourist path.

You can drive the campervan yourself with an international driver’s license, and the company will give you a 30-minute lesson on how to drive. But unless you are comfortable reading Thai road signs, you might want to hire a driver.

Thai traffic sign

 

On a recent trip, our driver not only drove us carefully and safely (which means a lot in Thailand) from central Bangkok into the countryside, he assisted us out of the camper on arrival at our destination, kept watch over the locked van while we toured around, and when he converted the benches to beds in the evening, he also turned on the air conditioner to cool down the van for us. It would be well worth the additional $50-70/per day for these conveniences. (The driver sleeps in a tent near the camper overnight.)

The infrastructure for RVs in Thailand is minimal; there are no campgrounds with power and water hookups like those you would find in the US or Australia, and very few campgrounds overall. Instead of chain campgrounds like KOA or Top Ten, Campervan Thailand works with a network of small hotels or guesthouses with space available for campers to park. The hotels charge a small fee for use of their power and water hookups and use of their facilities. These hotels are charming, small, and offer a glimpse into native Thai culture.

Campervan Thailand by the river at Baan Suan Krua

 

On our recent trip, one hotel brought in a masseuse to perform traditional Thai massage for us. Another invited us to participate in a very special Thai tradition of making a morning offering to a monk who paddles down the river every morning collecting donations.

Morning offering in Thailand

 

As in other countries, one of the greatest benefits of RV-ing is being able to go wherever you want, whenever you want. If you need help figuring out where to go and how to get there, the staff at Campervan Thailand will assist you in developing an itinerary.

On our trip, we explored the Samut Songkram and Ratchburi regions southwest of Bangkok, where we

 

    • joined clam-diggers in the mud in Klong Kone

digging for clams in Thailand

 

  • took in a traditional shadow-puppet show at Wat Khanon,

Shadow puppet performance at Wat Khanon

 

  • visited Chok weavers in Baan Koo Bua,

a weaver of chok fabric in Thailand

  • watched local potters craft their wares in Ratchburi,

Thai potter

  • made flower garlands from a special clay in Amphoe Bang Khonthi,

 

  • and shopped in local markets in Mae Klong and Photaram.


Campervan Thailand will deliver their RVs to any major city in Thailand, so you can explore anywhere from the mountains to the coast (though there is a 500km per day limit on how far you may drive the campervan). Our friends from Tieland to Thailand include lots of detail about renting a campervan in Thailand on their blog. And you can read more about my adventure on Huffington Post.

Thai beach near Ao Nang

 

 

Welcome to Buddha Land

Welcome to Buddha Land

Oh please don’t tell me there’s a Buddha theme park in the works, I thought.

I spotted a brochure with this title at the Thailand booth at the DC Travel and Adventure Show not long ago. I feared it just might be something dreamed up by an enterprising Thai or expat to suck up a few more tourist dollars.

So I was happily surprised by what I found inside: an entreaty to tourists to respect the Buddha as they travel through the country.

Specifically, the brochure says that Buddhists would really prefer that tourists not:

  • Get tattoos of the Buddha
  • Deface or disrespect images of the Buddha
  • Use statues or images of the Buddha as decoration in the home
  • Use the name of the Buddha in a disrespectful way

I’m sure you can think of several examples of each of these rules being broken, and probably by people who did not at all intend disrespect.

Thai culture and Buddhist tradition dictate that the human body is dirty, so putting an image of the Buddha onto human skin is disrespectful. The feet are especially offensive in Thai culture – so much so that exposing the soles of your feet to someone is considered as vulgar as raising your middle finger would be in the US. In Thai temples, visitors are instructed to be sure to sit with feet pointing away from the Buddha images. So putting an image of the Buddha on a rug where it will be stepped on is taboo.

Using a Buddha statue for decoration is a no-no, unless you elevate it and place it so that it is revered. Similarly, the Buddha should not appear on clothing, or on jewelry, unless worn in a devotional way.

The Buddha Bar is on the list of examples of what not to do. And naming your dog Buddha is just asking for trouble.

I was surprised to see a full-color brochure on this topic at the Thai Tourism booth, but maybe I shouldn’t have been. There’s never a shortage of stupid and irresponsible tourists, and there’s also a rising Buddhist Fundamentalist movement in Asia. The recent conviction of a bartender from New Zealand who promoted an event in Myanmar with a drawing of the Buddha as DJ resulted in a sentence for 2 ½ years of hard labor. Myanmar is not the same as Thailand, but it is just next door.

In tourist areas, you will certainly find images of the Buddha available on t-shirts and other souvenirs, and figurines available to take home for decoration. Even in Thai establishments they might have a whimsical Buddha figure on display, but more often than not you will also find a more formal shrine on a shelf or high table.

All this is to say that although you might be accustomed to seeing the Buddha everywhere, some Buddhists find some of those portrayals offensive. Just think about it for a minute before you co-opt images from any religion that is not your own.

If you have a Buddha tattoo, I am certainly not judging you. I’m sure there was a time I thought that would be the height of dedication to an admirable dude. I am just passing along this info in case it matters to you.

Thailand Photo Essay: Koh Jum

Thailand Photo Essay: Koh Jum

Koh Jum is a small quiet island in the Andaman Sea, located between Krabi and Koh Lanta, and accessible only by boat. There is no ferry dock, however. The ferry from Krabi stops just off the island and is met by longtail boats. The luggage is tossed from the ferry to the longtail boats, followed by the passengers (not tossed, but there is a bit of unglamorous effort involved). It is little more than a long strip of beach dotted with small hotels. The beach is sandy, clean and full of shells. When we visited in January, we found it full of Swedish families enjoying the gentle surf, inexpensive beach resorts, and quiet.

Photo Essay: Koh Jum, Thailand

Unlike some of the other nearby islands like Phi Phi and Lanta, Koh Jum does not have a commercial center full of tourist trinkets and western restaurants. There are small hotels, one or two larger resorts, and a number of bungalows on offer, ranging from $15 to $75 per night. You won’t find the high end resorts you might find on nearby islands, but you also won’t find the wild full moon parties (or at least, they are a bit milder on Koh Jum). We found it a perfect escape.

A treehouse at the rustic Freedom resort at the south end of Koh Jum

A treehouse at the rustic Freedom resort at the south end of Koh Jum

We enjoyed exploring the island by beach, and discovered the charming Freedom Hut Resort on the south end of the beach.

Treehouse bedroom at Freedom, Koh Jum

Treehouse bedroom at Freedom, Koh Jum

There were a several bungalows to choose from. One built on the rocks by the beach, another further back in the trees, and one spectacular one built IN a tree by the beach. They were kind enough to let us explore one day when they were between guests.

The treehouse bathroom at Freedom Hotel on Koh Jum, Thailand

The treehouse bathroom at Freedom Hotel on Koh Jum, Thailand

The bungalows were rustic, but thought and care was put into every detail, like the sink in the treehouse.

A restaurant in Koh Jum offers fresh seafood.

A restaurant in Koh Jum offers fresh seafood.

Exploring the road (yep, pretty much just one road from north to south) we found some very welcoming restaurants serving the freshest seafood you could imagine.

Banana tree on Koh Jum

Banana tree on Koh Jum

My office on Koh Jum

My office on Koh Jum

We could not have picked a better escape for our family. We took long walks on the beach, played cards, read books, and loved being unplugged for the duration of our stay. (When we stayed in January 2013, there was only one resort on the island with internet access. There may be more now.)

Frolicking in the Andaman Sea in Thailand

Frolicking in the Andaman Sea in Thailand

I’m off to Thailand!

I’m off to Thailand!

Are you ready? Am I ready? I’d better be, as I’m setting this to post as my flight departs from Dulles, so I am on my way!

family travel blogger in ThailandI was invited on a press trip with 29 other bloggers to promote Thailand, or more specifically to promote the TBEX travel blogging conference that is taking place in Bangkok in October.

I am pretty much over the moon with excitement. I’ve been writing on this blog for five years and this is the first press trip I’ve been invited on. And it’s Thailand! Not only one of my favorite places we visited on our round the world trip, but one that is, y’know, kinda far away. Like 20 hours of flying time.

And speaking of flying time, they are flying me there on Emirates Airlines, which is consistently ranked as one of the top airlines in the world. I’ve been looking at their website and already I can see why. The first thing that jumped out at me was the free wifi on board. Free. Wifi. For the duration of at least one of the 10-hour flights. That is big. I might actually get to do some writing while I’m on board. Though I think I should probably try to sleep at some point, since I’ll be leaving on Tuesday morning and arriving in Bangkok Wednesday evening.

Which is why, when they gave me the option of adding a few days onto the five day press trip, I jumped at the chance. So when I arrive Wednesday night I’ll hop straight onto another plane to take me south to Krabi, on the Andaman Sea. Now I can go back and explore some areas I missed on my last trip, visit some friends we made on that trip, and have a little solo adventure. And I’ll have a few more days to work out the jet lag.

After a couple of nights back in Bangkok, I’ll be traveling with some other bloggers by campervan to see some Thai villages in the Ratchaburi and Samut Songkram provinces, with an itinerary packed with activities from a flower-garland making to Thai wakeboarding. Wish me luck in keeping up with all the 20-something bloggers on the trip!

I know I am really lucky to be included in this trip, and I’m looking forward to sharing it with all of you.

Be sure to follow along on Instagram, where I’m posting as AllOvertheMap, and Twitter, where I’m tweetthemap. And of course Facebook.

Don't forget to leave a comment

 

Instagram Beach Lust

Instagram Beach Lust

The sun is so bright it sets fire inside your eyelids.

You dig your feet under the scorching sand on the surface to the cool damp layer beneath.

The waves, the birds, the giddy squeal of kids, join in a crashing, ecstatic lullaby.

Ahhhh… if only it were not February, snowing for the umpteenth time this winter. If only you could peel off those many layers of thermals and wool and run splashing into the azure waters of the Caribbean, or Andaman, or Mediterranean Sea.

Until then… there’s Instagram Beach Lust. A few beach photos from our round-the-world adventure.

Be sure to visit some of the other participants in the Instagram Thursday linky, like Destination Unknown. And join the fun with your own Instagram Travel Thursday post.

You can find me on Instagram @alloverthemap.

The sisterhood of the traveling backpacker pants

The sisterhood of the traveling backpacker pants

We first came upon them in Turkey.  The droopy drawers, or Ali Baba pants, or Hammer (as in MC) pants appeared in every tourist market we came across. (And there are a lot of markets in Turkey. Home of the Grand Bazaar, after all.)

We didn’t think much of it then. There are actual Turkish people who wear something akin to these pants, so it seemed like a logical souvenir one might pick up.

But then we saw them again in Malaysia. And Thailand. And Cambodia. And Vietnam. And Peru. And Colombia. On pretty much every backpacking twenty-something in the hostels and buses we shared. And on no native person anywhere.

So where do these pants come from? And why do backpackers always seem to have a pair?

These pants do have a history – maybe even more than one. They are similar to the serouel worn by the French Zouave troops who fought in North Africa in the 19th century, which came from the sirwal worn in the Arabian peninsula for thousands of years, the Patiala salwar worn in the Northern Punjab region of India, and the shalvar worn in Turkey, Greece and parts of the Balkans. These are all baggy pants gathered at the ankle, sometimes the entire calf, draping and billowy above.

The Zouave uniform, the Turkish shalvar, and the Serbian national costume

The Zouave serouel uniform, the Turkish shalvar, and the Serbian national costume

There are similar pants worn by Mao and Hmong hill tribes in Northern Thailand, Laos and Burma. These are made of patterned fabric and often have a pocket and ankle cuffs made of a stiffer embroidered fabric.

The pants that are now in seemingly every market in every tourist area on earth are a simpler version of these indigenous trousers. They are made from a lightweight, drapey fabric in solids or bright patterns. They are gathered with elastic at the bottom so they can be worn long at the ankle or pushed up above the knee so it looks like a skirt. There is often a panel of elastic and a string at the top that would allow them to be worn as a jumpsuit, either strapless or tied around the neck. They are comfy, to be sure. So comfy that they are considered sleepwear by natives in much of India and Southeast Asia.

what is up with those pants1

The fact that thousands of Western backpackers roam the streets in these pajama pants must be pretty amusing to the locals. They are probably just relieved that people are covering themselves. The look is completed with flip flops, a tank top (preferably one with a Chang beer logo) and lots of bracelets and maybe anklets.

The pants are truly ridiculous. And utterly impractical in the land of squat toilets. But they are awfully comfy, and until they appeared in H&M this year in the US, they made unique souvenirs. Backpackers, for the most part, know they look ridiculous, but also can’t resist their siren call

I’m not here to judge. In fact I’m wearing a pair as I write this post. And I bought a pair for each of my siblings. With a matching pair for my sister’s baby girl. It’s adorable.