We are open tomorrow from 9:00 am. Call 020 7590 0610

The Other Side of Thailand

Article content

20 January 2015

Alex Robinson heads south to discover secret spots and hidden pleasures.

Pictures by the author  

Folds of emerald green mountains stretched before me to a misty-blue horizon. A line of trees stood silhouetted against the sky, high on a distant ridge. Below them was a wisp of falling water, which dropped into a pool, spilled over and fell again into the forest. In the eerie stillness of the tropical air, I could just make out the far-off sound of its cascade.

"A Chinese painting in motion," I thought, drifting into a Taoist reverie. "Ripples, following ripples, trickling don the hills, from far off fountains to where their waters flow into the sea..."


Long-tailed boat, near Koh Muk

A cry shattered the silence and sent my head spinning round, scowling - at Bau who was shouting at me from further down the path. And gesticulating.

What did he want? How could he destroy this Zen-like moment? Did the man have no poetic feeling?

"Tigerly?" the guide shouted again, and rushed towards me, deftly skipping over the buttress root of a huge rainforest tree. He was pointing at my lower neck.

I ran my hand over the spot. It was wet, sticky, and yeuch... bright red.

My God I was bleeding! What was wrong with me? Ebola? No, I'm in Thailand. Haemorrhagic fever, then? Vampire bats?  Zen-like calm turned to panic. I felt faint. I was miles from anywhere. I could die out here in this godforsaken wilderness!

"Tiger-ly!!" said Bau more softly, smiling. By now he was right next to me. He brushed his hand over my dripping neck and plucked off what looked like a fat, brown worm.

Tiger-lee. Tiger leech. And it was gorged with blood.

Bau plugged the miniscule wound with a piece of cotton wool from the first-aid tin as my blanched face quickly turned red.

He handed me water, slapped me on the back to ease my discombobulation. I recovered my composure, grinned apologetically and we set off again up the path - past that glorious view and into the heart of Khao Luang National Park.

Mahathat Worawihan temple, Phetchuaburi

My journey to southern Thailand had begun with a bet in a London pub. I was lamenting the lack of unspoilt country in Thailand's once beautiful south.

"It's all tourists, tacky hotels and spa resorts," I proclaimed pompously. "I won't go there anymore. I like to travel away from the crowds."

As I rambled on about Samui and Koh Phi Phi's glory days, my Thai friend giggled. I was wrong, she said. Southern Thailand was empty.

"Take the train from Bangkok to Trang," she said, "Get off anywhere you like."

So I did.  And I hadn't seen a tourist since.

I began in the royal retreat of Phetchaburi, set in hills pocked with effigy-filled caves and steepled with Khmer-style temples decorated with fang-toothed demons in stucco and serene, gilt buddhas. A grand palace built by Rama IV sat sentinel on a rocky hill in the centre of the city. It was here that the English schoolteacher Anna Leonowens taught the royal progeny English. I imagined her looking out over the rainforest-covered hills that surround Phetchaburi and thinking of her own daughter Avis - far from Siam in an English boarding school - estranged from her mother by the very job that paid for her education.

From Phetchaburi I caught the train south to the capital of southern Thailand - Nakhon Si Thammarat - founded as the ancient capital of the 7th-century Tambralinga kingdom, which dominated much of the Malay peninsula and traded with India and Tang-dynasty China.  The city was steeped in history and littered with magnificent monuments. I watched classical Thai dance performed under the crumbling old city walls and a canopy of shimmering stars, and wandered round the giant chedi at Wat Mahathat - one of Thailand's holiest and most opulent Buddhist temples. And I joined a brightly-coloured parade of dancers, drum orchestras, blackened demons and beauty queens on flower-covered floats, as they celebrated the festival of the Tenth Lunar month under a baking November sun.

It was in Nakhon Si Thammarat that a group of university students told me about Khao Luang. It was one of the most beautiful stretches of rainforest in Asia they said - so wild and untamed that tiger and forest elephant still roamed its steep valleys and high ridges.

Bau and I reached the crest of our ridge and made camp by a rushing stream in a forest glade coloured with dozens of creamy orchids. I slept uneasily, dreaming of tigers. And tiger leeches. I woke repeatedly - at a rustle in the undergrowth or a strange whirr or chirrup in the pitch black of the forest night.

By the time we returned to Nakhon late the following morning, I was ready for some soothing sun and sand. So I climbed back on the train for the Andaman coast in Trang and a boat to one of Thailand's least-known archipelagos. I saw just a handful of intrepid German backpackers on my crossing from the mainland to cliff-cragged Koh Muk island. And they were sitting on crates of UHT milk destined for the island school.

My beach villa at the Koh Muk Sivalai sat right over the sand - with a magnificent view of limestone peaks and turquoise sea. I looked north to an empty horizon. An hour's boat ride would bring me to the beach bars of Ao Nang in Krabi - where tourists cram the sand and aquamarine bays buzz with long-tail boats. Here all was peace and stillness. And I thought again of those lines from Edwin Arnold: "Ripples, following ripples, fast or slow - / The same yet not the same - from far-off fountain / To where its waters flow / Into the seas..."

Related offers

Supertrees at Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

The Allure of Asia on Seven Seas Explorer

20-day luxury ocean cruise from £11,615 pp incl. flights

cruise offer

Free 3-night pre- or post- cruise land programme
Book by: 30 June 2024

This voyage is the ultimate introduction to Southeast Asia. Sailing aboard Seven Seas Explorer, you’ll swap sun-kissed islands and vibrant coral reefs for the urban delights of the region’s city greats.

Buddha statue next to waterway at Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Charms of the Mekong with AmaWaterways

14-day luxury river cruise holiday from £4,430 pp incl. flights

cruise offer

Save up to £750 pp off
Book by: 30 June 2024

Enjoy a luxury cruise along the Mekong River between Ho Chi Minh City and Siem Reap with AmaWaterways, discovering culture-rich cities and hidden gems with plenty of local flavour.

Incense, Vietnam

Thailand, Cambodia & Vietnam with Seabourn

17-day luxury ocean cruise from £7,495 pp incl. flights

Sailing between the high-tech cities of Singapore and Hong Kong, explore the sun-kissed islands and coastlines of Southeast Asia in depth and in style on this luxurious Seabourn Cruise.


Cultural Highlights of Thailand & Krabi Beach Break

17-day tailor-made journey from £3,405 pp

From cultural highlights and historic sites to the sheer indulgence of one of Krabi's finest resorts, this is an incredible introduction to the best of Thailand.

Fullerton Hotel, Singapore

Fullerton Hotel, Singapore

Grand & elegant hotel

This grand neoclassical landmark was heralded National Monument in 2015; this heritage hotel is a gem that spectacularly dominates the cityscape on the banks of the Singapore River.

Grand Copthorne Waterfront, Singapore

Grand Copthorne Waterfront

Contemporary hotel

This spectacular 30-storey hotel is excellently located along Singapore’s pretty waterfront, and overlooking the Singapore River, offering four excellent dining options and fresh, streamlined bedrooms.

Why book with Wexas Travel?

At Wexas, we specialise in bespoke travel experiences. Our itineraries are just samples of what we can arrange, and can be changed depending on your precise needs, finances and ideas by our experienced destination specialists.

Contact one of our consultants on 020 7590 0610 to discuss how we can tailor your holiday.

Learn why Wexas is the leader in creating luxury holidays. What is tailor-made travel?

Expert advice & support

Visit us in our London office

Let our travel specialists curate the perfect holiday:

  • Inspirational ideas based on experience
  • Established for over 50 years
  • Tailor a holiday to your precise requirements
  • Personalised quotes and documentation

Every step of the way

Every step of the way

Our services are with you from start to finish:

  • Dedicated personal consultants
  • Free airport lounges on qualifying bookings
  • Care and guidance pre, post and during holiday
  • Full financial security: ABTA & ATOL protected