Thailand has always held a special place in my heart. I first travelled there in 1991, a wide eyed kid wet behind the ears with a bucket shop one way ticket to Bangkok. My grand plans of a short beach break before heading down to the east coast of Australia joining the 1000’s of Pommie pilgrims earning a right of passage didn’t exactly go to plan. I left Thailand eleven months later to return home penniless, emancipated and full of great stories, which my friends soon got bored with.

I returned a few times mainly to Bangkok and Koh Samui happy to be back in the land of smiles but feeling slightly disappointed at all the changes. The old story of development being good for the locals but not good for my sense of adventure. That didn’t deter me from joining the Imaginative Travellers Wilderness Adventure two years ago.

Arriving in Bangkok this time was different. I had a hotel booked so no lugging my pack in Bangkok’s suffocating mixture of exhaust fumes, heat and humidity looking for a clean bed. I had a group to meet too, this was also good, eating Pad Thai on your own looking for a fellow traveller to strike a conversation with can be hard work. There were 10 of us, a mix of Poms, Aussies, a Canadian, an American and a South African. We all met for dinner and shortly after my first Thai beer I knew this would be a fun trip

Bangkok to me means food and shopping and the best place to find both is the Chata Chuk weekend market. I headed there with belly empty and wallet full destined to reverse the two. The market is huge, really huge, 35 acres of cheap goodies huge and sells everything from furniture to genuine fake designer clothes. The street food is fantastic but remember the Thai’s like it hot. I left my shopping with the hotel to keep safe as I would be returning there once I finished the trip.

Off to Chiang Mai on the overnight train. I like travelling like this, sleeping while moving makes sense to me and the train is clean, functional, safe and fine. I think Chiang Mai is the perfect place to escape hectic Bangkok. It’s a peaceful, happy place and that reflects in the locals. Sight seeing will take you to the Wat Pratat Doi Suthep temple – stunning and golden on a sunny day. The next stage of the trip was trekking in the surrounding jungle, I decided I needed a massage before we set off.

A trek in the hills of Northern Thailand is a chance to escape everyday life and clear your head. The going is not too difficult for someone with fairly good fitness although if it rains the mud can be tricky. I was enjoying my own head space when we arrived at the first village of wooden homes, pecking chickens and lots of smiles, basic but I couldn’t think of anywhere else I would rather have been. Chan, our guide, was a local from a neighbouring village and before long he had us divided amongst our village hosts before the sun set and got too difficult for us city people to do anything without electric light. That night, with the noise of the surrounding jungle lying on a mattress roll on a bamboo floor, was maybe the most peaceful night’s sleep I have ever had.

The next day’s trek was shorter and we covered ground quicker, maybe we were getting used to the trekking but I think it was the excitement of the elephant ride to come that afternoon. Lunch was delicious but we were too busy watching the elephants wash in the river to notice. Elephants are brilliant creatures and being on one journeying deeper into the jungle is a fantastic experience.

The next morning Chan had us up early helping him and the village men build our rafts to take us down river to civilization. It is all part of the experience helping the guys and by helping I mean staying out of their way while they expertly craft our rafts. A serene float down to the nearest small town where our bus was waiting to take us to a hot shower and another massage.

We left Chiang Mai and headed back to Bangkok where we broke the journey up to the south with an over night stay in the city of angels.

I had heard a few good things about Khoa Sok national park, not too popular with tourists or backpackers alike due it not having a major bus stop. To get there you need to stop the bus by the 3rd banyan tree after 17th stream near the big hill and you will find a bakkie waiting to take you into the park. I’m glad we had a tour leader. The first night we slept with the birds in tree houses the second and third we stayed in raft houses on a man made dam. It is a truly beautiful area and a few of us spent the days swimming in waterfalls, flooded caves, kayaking and hiking and some of just sat back and took it all in.

How to finish this Thailand trip? On the beach of course. The islands around Krabi are what we visualize when we think of a Thai beach and they do not disappoint. The Thai’s have a word called sabai, loosely translated it means an inner happiness and contentment. I woke one afternoon from a napping on the beach and understood exactly what sabai means.