I haven’t worn socks in 7 days, and I have no intention of wearing them any time in the near future. 

I first came to Thailand in September 1996, crossing the Malaysian border in the South by bus on my way up the coast to Bangkok where I spent a semester studying ThongNaiPan 021.JPGinternational business as part of a business school exchange program.  Prior to arriving in Bangkok, I spent a couple of weeks in the islands (Ko Samui and Ko Tao) enjoying the island life and learning how to scuba dive. 

Ever since that first visit, I’ve been smitten with this incredible country; this is now my 3rd visit since I left in December 1996.  KoPhangan 021.JPGThe combination of its natural beauty (islands and beaches in the South and mountains and rice paddies in the North), ridiculously friendly people (Thailand’s nickname is the “Land of Smiles”), relatively cheap prices, peaceful Buddhist culture and arguably the best cuisine in the entire world make Thailand one of the world’s best travel destinations. This has not gone unnoticed by the masses in the past several years. 

While Thailand used to be a somewhat hidden gem for independent travelers and backpackers, it now attracts a much more diverse and moneyed crowd.  This has been a boon for Thailand’s tourist industry, but has changed the feel of parts of the country (e.g., Phuket and Ko Samui, which have several McDonalds, KFCs, Pizza Huts and Starbucks scattered around the island).

I was overwhelmingly surprised when I set foot on Thong Nai Pan beach on Ko Phangan island.  The beach is still pristine, the water is crystal clear and beach-front bungalows can still be had for less than $10 a night.  ThongNaiPan 010-1.JPGThere is also a secluded, laid-back feel here that would make Gilligan and the Skipper feel right at home.  During the day, the few people that are here lie on the beach and sip coconut shakes in the many beach cafes. 

It’s hard to know how much longer this will last.  Thailand will surely even get more discovered than it already is and the big companies will eventually come to this gorgeous beach.  However, maybe it will hold off a few more decades so I can enjoy this secluded part of the world just a couple more times.  Fingers crossed!