“There are place I remember,
All my life, though some have changed,
Some forever, not for better,
Some have gone, and some remain”
The Beatles, ‘In My Life’
It’s a strange thing to be revisiting places where Fergus and I travelled 13 years ago. This time, instead of it being my first trip out of Europe, I came from 3 months in Nepal. As a result, rather than finding Thailand a dangerous, thrilling and alien land, I find it has a comforting, European, ‘second home’ feel to it.
And Thailand really has moved up in the world. The evidence is everywhere. Sleek, air-conditioned bungalows have replaced almost all of the bamboo huts we stayed in last time around. Where there were ramshackle beach bars, there are smart resorts with swimming pools. Where there were longtail ferries, there are speedboats. Where there were squatty pottys, there are flushing western style toilets. You can buy good quality western food, cheese and wine are available everywhere, the mobile phone signal, the wifi and the transport connections are better than the UK, and all in all it feels a whole lot safer, more modern and a lot less remote than it used to.
You can still find the old Thai style places, but you have to look harder. And I wonder how much longer they will last. Thailand is on the move and has no sentimentality when it comes to growing their economy and extracting dollars from tourists.
Our last island was Ko Mook, stood out for us as a favorite from our last backpacking trip. However, the coconut plantation we strolled though hand in hand all those years ago has been sold to a huge resort. Much of it has been cut down to accommodate the swimming pool, and the rest has upmarket bungalows built in rows through the trees. You can’t expect places to stay the same, and bringing our own tourist dollars here is obviously accelerating the rate of change. But it did make us feel a bit sad.
So it is with some trepidation that we approach what we have always dreamed will be the highlight of our time in Thailand. Our absolute favorite no 1 place was a tiny island in the deep south called Ko Turatao. As part of a National Park, it is protected from development, although this hasn’t stopped some of its neighbours (also under National Park protection) from developing at a pace. However, from what we can gather, there is still only 1 restaurant on the island, and all the accommodation (mostly tents) is owned by the National Park. You can now get to it much faster in a speedboat (it used to take almost a full day on a boat) and there’s a mobile phone signal, which will make it seem a lot less remote. But apart from that, it sounds as though it hasn’t changed a bit.
And I can’t wait to see it again.