As competition prizes go, a pair of tickets to Bangkok is a pretty nice way to set you up with an adventure through one of the world’s most popular destinations.
That’s exactly what happened for Elle Makower, who struck it lucky following a chance visit to the opening of our new Clapham store in South London.
We caught up with Elle recently, to find out how her adventure in Thailand played out, and to discover more about her experience.
Elle, atop on of Thailand's most iconic residents; the Asia Elephant.
How did you hear about the competition and what made you enter?
I was walking down the street in Clapham and I saw that there was a new STA Travel store opening. I’d been into other stores before so I recognised the brand, and, since I was planning on booking some flights to Malaysia in the near future, I popped in. It was the store’s first day and there was champagne and chocolates to celebrate, and I was asked if I’d like to enter a competition to win return flights to Thailand. All I had to do was write my name on a card, so I didn’t see the harm. Thank God I did!
Had you ever won anything before, and how did it feel when you won?
I actually very rarely enter a competition, as I never think I’ll win and never had before this. I definitely will from now on!
It was the most surreal thing. I was about to go into a mock ‘A’ Level exam! I got a phone call to tell me I had won and I could not believe what I was hearing.
I had been in a panic doing some last-minute revision, and the last thing I expected was to hear news like this! Needless to say, I went into the exam on a high, and I actually did really well in it!
Had you ever thought about going to Thailand before?
I was planning on booking a trip to Southeast Asia, to Malaysia, as I’d heard such amazing things about it. Last summer, all my friends seemed to be in Thailand, so I was definitely considering going there, too.
Who did you take with you and how did you make that decision?
It took me absolutely ages to decide what to do with the tickets as all my friends wanted me to take them! I was planning my gap year and didn’t quite know how this would fit into my plans, but in the end I decided to just go to Thailand for a 2-week holiday and take my boyfriend with me as we’d travelled together before so I knew we’d get on well.
He’d been to South Thailand a few weeks before, actually, so he knew what to do when we got there, which made a big difference.
Did you have any preconceptions about Thailand? When you arrived, were these proven true?
I had a few ideas of what to expect from Thailand; the main thing being that it would be very cheap. Luckily, this was true!
I had read and heard a lot about the south of Thailand — the beaches and the Full Moon Parties and drunken students, but I decided not to do any of this; I wanted a laid-back holiday.
I’d also heard that Bangkok was a bit manic, and that was true, too! I liked the city for a few days, but was very happy to escape after that as it can be a bit overwhelming at times.
What were your feelings towards travellers before you went on your trip?
There is a bit of a misconception about travellers just being young people who go away for a few months, and don’t come home for several years, just wandering from country to country aimlessly.
On the Khao San Road in Bangkok there were a lot of characters who fit this description quite well, and even one middle-aged man, with one set of clothes, who said he had been in Bangkok for 30 or so years after just going there for a holiday.
But there were also lots of lovely travellers in Thailand who were travelling with a clear purpose, or taking a break from the world of work and who really gave travellers a good name.
How did you feel at the very start of your trip?
We flew in to Bangkok, which I expected to be completely overwhelming, but actually it wasn’t as bad as I’d thought. I didn’t know where to look as we were driving along in the taxi; there was so much to look at!
Unfortunately our trip didn’t get off to a great start as we were completely ripped off in the taxi from the airport, but we didn’t let this ruin our first day.
It was early in the morning when we arrived, but there were already plenty of people out and about on the streets and there was so much hustle and bustle; it was really exciting.
Tell us about how you split your time in Thailand.
We had 3 nights in Bangkok at the beginning of the trip, then took the sleeper bus north to the University city of Chiang Mai. After 6 days there, we came back down to Bangkok for another night before flying out.
We only had a relatively short amount of time in Thailand, and I didn’t think two weeks would be long enough to island-hop in the south, plus my boyfriend had just come back from there, so it was an easy enough decision.
What did you think to Chiang Mai?
I really liked it. It was much smaller and calmer than Bangkok, but there was still absolutely loads to do.
Did you do any activities there that you would recommend?
We did a great cookery course in Chiang Mai, called “The Best Cookery Course” – of course! It was brilliant; there were only 4 of us on the course, as it was low season, and we got to try so many different types of food.
By this point I was used to having one proper meal per day, so to suddenly cook up 7 courses was quite a shock to the system!
I’ve tried to recreate some of the recipes since, but I’ve never been able to match the amazing dishes we cooked up that day. Definitely one to remember!
Elle, cooking on gas! This was the last she ever saw of her eyebrows.
What was the best food and drink you tasted while you were away?
I absolutely loved Thai Green Curry. It was quite a surprise, as I’d always thought of it as being quite mild, but it was so spicy! It turns out that green chillies are the spiciest type, and they definitely don’t hold back in the traditional Thai recipes!
It was amazing to be able to eat on the street — and it was so cheap. Picking up gorgeous, juicy fruit as a snack in the middle of the day was ideal, and a Pad Thai for the equivalent of 50p for dinner — perfect!
I didn’t try any stick insects from the street stalls, although I did see someone eat a cockroach! I was slightly tempted to try some of it but when it came down to it, I just couldn’t face it.
Did you meet some nice people along the way?
We met some really nice people at guest houses, where we would sit around in the evening and watch TV. It’s really funny, all Thai people seem to support Chelsea — and they absolutely loved it when a big game was on!
We also made good friends with the tour guides on the trek, who were really friendly and would sing songs with us after a day’s walking. I don’t think we’ll manage to keep in touch with anyone, though.
What was the highlight of your whole trip?
Definitely the jungle trek, which we booked on arrival in Chiang Mai. It was amazing! It was challenging at times, as it was rainy and muddy, but it was such a brilliant experience. Every night, the whisky would go round the group to make sure our spirits were high, and we made some really good friends.
Some people join jungle treks like this on a whim and aren’t prepared for the walk; it’s worth knowing that you need proper footwear and clothing for the wet season, even though the hike isn’t that difficult. We walked at quite a leisurely pace, for about 5-6 hours per day, so it was do-able.
The only bad part about the trek was the scary wildlife! We saw huge spiders in their webs — not quite what you want to see when you’re camping in the wild!
Were there any low points?
Not at all! It was my first time travelling and I expected at least one big thing to go wrong, but there was absolutely nothing.
On the last night, we stayed out til 6am in Bangkok, and walked back to our hostel along the Khao San Road. You’d expect it to be slightly dangerous, being out so late in a foreign country, but it was amazing. The sun was coming up, there was no one about, and it was so calm — a brilliant last memory!
Do you have any useful tips for people who might be planning a trip to Thailand?
It’s worth researching standard prices before you arrive, so that you know how much a taxi from the airport should cost, for example. Don’t fall for tuk-tuk drivers when they offer you an incredible cheap fare for a journey; the chances are they’ll take you to a travel agent or tailor they’ve made a deal with, and you’ll be pressured to make a purchase.
My other tip would be to make sure you try the food! I wish I’d been a bit more adventurous with my food, as the options are incredible, and it all tastes so good (even if it doesn’t look it).
Do you feel that this trip has given you the travelling bug?
Absolutely! I’m on a Gap Year at the moment, and I really want to go to South America next. Even before I went away, I had the travelling bug, but now it’s even stronger!
I think travelling in Thailand showed me that it’s not that difficult; it’s a shock at first, but you can work it out. That makes me think there’s no reason I can’t tackle South America!
Would you travel with STA Travel again?
Yes! In fact, two of my friends are going into a store tomorrow to find out more about our next travels. The process was so smooth; no trouble at all!
Would you like to follow in Elle’s footsteps? We have some great deals on flights to Bangkok