My trip to Thailand: A wonderful welcome and ‘a smile that doesn’t come from a place of take’
- Credit: Jackie Heffer-Cooke
So here we are, sitting in Krabi airport, having spent three totally glorious weeks in our favourite place in the world, Thailand.
My husband and I first came to Thailand in 2004 whilst on our year world tour. We meant to spend a month in Thailand but ended up sinking in for four. There was something about it, we just couldn't leave, well, until our world air ticket ran out and we had no choice but to return home. We vowed to go back and in 2011, when our children were 20 months and six years old, we returned and we fell in love all over again with our perfect holiday destination.
This is the third time we have visited as a family as four and we leave once again yearning for our next trip.
So what is it? How can I inspire you to take the long arduous trip across the world to this Thailand, Land of Smiles? Let's start with the most fantastic beaches in the world, beautiful snorkelling and scuba, guaranteed tropical temperatures (just watch out for monsoon season), Thai massage whilst watching sunset for £8 an hour, great fresh food which will awaken and amaze your tastebuds at around £3 a main course, and of course Chang beer - yes, already something for everyone.
It's tempting to book a package to Phuket or Koh Samui, you will have a wonderful holiday, colourful cocktails and white sandy beaches, but you may also slightly miss the point.
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To be in Thailand you have to find the islands and travel, that's the fun of it. Having been round most of Thailand our favourites are the south-west islands. Koh Lanta always ranking number one for us. Pra-Ae Beach - 'Long beach' - two miles of beautiful sand and warm crystal sea. The pace is soft, slow, warm and relaxed. There is plenty to do if you want it, from canoeing through monkey-filled mangroves, experiencing the colourful vibrant markets, to exploring uninhabited desert islands only reached by boat.
The beach itself is scattered with just the right amount of peaceful rustic restaurants and bars, strewn with Thai cushions - fabric the luscious colours which encompass this land of beach, jungle and spice. Lush rainforest greens, burnt orange glow of sunset, bright reds of bamboo stalks, olives of the geckos, yellows of the sands, the shades of greys and ambers of the limestone karsts.
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Then there's the means of travel, possibly a health and safety nightmare, but always such a thrill; songthaew - pick-ups with benches in the back, tuk-tuks - mopeds with bench-like sidecars, and the longtail boat - with noisy engines and long rudders propelling you along, crazy ways to travel, but you cannot help but smile for the entire journey as you explore the landscape around you whilst at the same time feeling the warmth of the sun on your slightly pink cheeks.
But the truth of why we love Thailand, when you are down in the deep rural south-west, is an attitude that's difficult to pin down - like your warm body in the perfect warm sea - it floats and drifts and encompasses you. It's an accepting openness, an understated willingness, a freedom, a welcome and a smile that doesn't come from a place of take, but from a place of give.
It's the people, it's The Land Of Smiles.
Every trip there are a handful of Thai people that our family will remember forever simply because they make your heart quietly melt. And that's what happens, for the entire stay our hearts quietly melt and we are simply blissfully happy, living in simple wooden huts, walking barefoot in the sand. We are so blessed to have found this place, and so happy our kids love it as much as we do.
One day, when we're older, we'll spend months of each year in Thailand, I hope our grandchildren will love it as much as we all do, something tells me they will.
For now, however, we'll start saving for the next trip...