STE’s Holiday Editor, Tony Taylor, reports on his experiences on a Saga Holidays tour of Thailand.
To escape to warmer climes in January, think Thailand. But it’s not always wall-to-wall hot sunny weather at that time of year!
I had worked in Thailand on a number of occasions and had enjoyed several holidays there with my wife, so was looking for a tour involving places not previously visited.
The Saga Holidays tour Siam Island Adventure fitted the bill. The itinerary also suited us, involving travelling and exploring for a couple of weeks, followed by a week relaxing in one area.
On arrival at Bangkok airport, the Saga representative was waiting to provide transfer to the beach resort of Hua Hin, a 3 hour drive south-west. She warned us that the weather had not been as good as expected for the past couple of weeks, being rather windy with rough seas and cooler than usual.
We settled in to the Imperial Hua Hin Beach Resort, with the evening meal awaiting on arrival. A good hotel but very expensive drinks!
The first day we awoke to see a stormy sea from our room. We needed fleeces for our walk through the grounds to the restaurant for breakfast. That day included a tour around a pineapple plantation and a fishing village, with lunch at a beachside restaurant. Those who had not been to Thailand before found this very interesting.
That evening we took the shuttle bus to Hua Hin centre to do our own thing, refreshing memories of a previous stay and finding a pleasant restaurant with good food and reasonably priced drinks. We made our own way back by taxi.
The following day we travelled south by train from the sumptuous Hua Hin railway station (sumptuous because the King of Thailand uses it!) to Chumphon. The train arrived late; this was not a problem as the station was comfortable and the weather warm. However the train had air-conditioning which was at an excessively high level; it was faulty and couldn’t be adjusted! Fortunately, our fleeces were in our hand luggage, so although cold on the 4 hour trip, we did not suffer as much as most passengers.
We stayed one night at Chumphon before taking the 7.00am Lomprayah High Speed Catamaran next morning to Koh Phangan.
For an additional £8 we purchased very comfortable seats in the first class cabin for the 4 hour trip, as did most of the Saga group. Unfortunately the sea was quite rough and within 30 minutes a number of passengers in the cabin were sea sick. Those outside did not suffer as badly!
On arrival at Koh Phangan (‘koh’ means island) we transferred by coach to the Havana Beach Resort. This lovely hotel has large, comfortable rooms with balconies. The resort is situated on a clean, quiet beach. Meals could be taken in the restaurant or outside overlooking the sea. The wind had dropped and it was now much warmer, so our 3 nights at this hotel were very enjoyable.
The holiday included a day tour of this scenic island including a visit to the Chinese Temple. The tour was by coach rather than boat due to the windy weather; however later we were informed that this was the best day for weather for the past 2 weeks!
After lunch, 7 out of the party of 30 went snorkeling. I have snorkelled in better areas, but still enjoyed the warm sea and did find a few fish. On the way back we stopped at the Than Sadat waterfall; a 15 minute walk/scramble through the forest deterred some less nimble members of our party.
The ferry trip from Koh Phangan to Koh Samui was only 20 minutes over calm seas. We spent 4 nights at the Paradise Beach Resort on an all-inclusive basis. Again the hotel was very good, with spacious rooms, large pretty gardens, pools, and a beach bar and restaurant overlooking the beach.
On the included afternoon tour we saw some impressive scenery, a Big Buddha, and unique rock formations, known as Grandfather & Grandmother. Rather than take the optional excursions at extra cost, we opted to take the complimentary shuttle bus to Chaweng. A pleasant town and beach, but busy and noisy, so one day was enough!
We had extended our holiday to include an extra week at Kamala Beach Resort in Phuket, but were horrified by our first view of the beach packed full of sunbeds. However, although the hotel was large and busy, our adult-only area of the hotel was quieter, particularly by the pools, and there were always sunbeds available. The food and drinks were excellent.
We walked the beach in both directions, and found it rather limiting. Fortunately, we found we could hire a taxi for £60 a day enabling us to explore the island in comfort. The driver was pleasant and accommodating and provided suggestions on what to see and where to have our lunch. This was an excellent day out admiring the lovely scenery and seeing the Big Buddha, the Wat Chalong temple and the Sino-Portuguese old town.
We had chosen the Siam Island Adventure tour in order to see some new places in Thailand and in that regard it was very successful. The islands we visited were interesting and scenic. We enjoyed the beach parts of this holiday, although I doubt if we will return to Phuket as it was too crowded for our taste.
The weather was disappointing initially, but much improved as the holiday progressed and was pleasantly warm and sunny during our extra week – it was good we added that to the standard tour.
For those readers who have never been to Thailand, but wish to explore the country and see its variety and history rather than visit its beaches, then this tour would not be suitable. Rather, I would recommend visiting Bangkok and the Thailand-Burma Railway Centre at Kanchanaburi, followed by Chiang Mai and Chang Rai in Northern Thailand and maybe finishing with a few relaxing days in Hua Hin.
See other articles published on this site relating to Saga Holidays.
POSTED 12th JANUARY 2015 by TONY TAYLOR