Robert Schrader in Thailand

The Ghost of Paradise Past

Five years ago I took a bus from Bangkok to Laem Ngop pier in the province of Trat and boarded a vessel of questionable seaworthiness, bound for a small island called Koh Mak. It was not only my first trip to Thailand but my first trip anywhere as a travel blogger – well, kind of.

I arrived on Koh Mak armed with an aging Dell laptop, a janky Sony point-and-shoot and a freshly-bought domain name, and while I was officially in the Trat archipelago for Chinese New Year break (I paid the bills by teaching English in China in those days), I went about my business with a sense of purpose, with a strange confidence in the inevitability of the future I had dreamed for myself, even if I was ambiguous about the path I would take to get there.

Last week, I had the pleasure of returning to Koh Mak (and visiting several other nearby islands for the first time) on behalf of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, the Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau and the Travel Blog Exchange, who will be hosting its first ever Asia-Pacific conference in Bangkok later this year.

It was a bittersweet experience. On on hand, it was sobering to walk, quite literally in my own footsteps, having now achieved a life that was very much a pipe dream back then. It was vindicating and it was validating, particularly because it wasn’t my first paid trip to Thailand – it was my third.

On the other hand, I felt strangely jaded the whole time. I was made to pack into two days what I probably would’ve spent two weeks exploring on my own, which is to say I had absolutely no opportunity to discover. My trip was instead defined by corporate resorts, chartered speedboats and the “brown person bows to white person” servitude that makes me detest the very notion of contemporary tourism.

I am of course grateful, both to the companies and organizations who invited me on this trip, as well as to the hotels, restaurants, tour companies and individuals who accommodated me on a complimentary basis.

But as I traipsed down one of my favorite beaches on Koh Mak, and waded out into the shallow lagoon where I’d taken some of my first-ever selfies long before the term “selfie” was ever coined, I wondered whether this was the sort of life I dreamed of when I was sleeping in a cockroach-infested cottage all those years ago.

The reason I started this blog, and the reason I keep it going, is to inspire independent travelers to follow in my footsteps. While I make enough money from my blog to fund the majority of my own trips, I can’t deny that as more opportunities for sponsored travel make their way into my inbox – and they have been – I will feel increasingly obligated to take them, if only as delayed compensation for all the hustling it took to get me here.

I’ll gather my thoughts on this issue and compile them into a future post, but for now I hope you’ll enjoy this visual journey through the paradise islands of Koh Mak, Koh Chang, Koh Rang, Koh Wai and Koh Kood.


About The Author

is the author of 1088 posts on Leave Your Daily Hell. Robert founded Leave Your Daily Hell in 2010 so that other travelers would have an entertaining, reliable source of information, advice and inspiration at their fingertips. Want to travel more often? Subscribe to email updates today!


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Katrina of The Two Week Travel March 30, 2015 at 10:22 am

I would imagine that it would be a completely different feel to a trip if you’re going on someone else’s dime with expectations that you see and do and say certain things about your trip. But you are quite literally living out thousands of other travel bloggers’s dreams, so that should make you feel a little better about it 🙂

The Kentucky Gent March 30, 2015 at 11:26 am

Looks like quite the beautiful trip. A friend and I are planning a trip to India for next summer, and I couldn’t be more excited!

Josh – The Kentucky Gent

marioboros March 31, 2015 at 2:44 am

ohmaygod, ur so inspiring mate, are u has been travelling to Indonesia? maybe Bali or Raja Ampat? trust me thats awesome

Tessa Cruz/Viajera Filipina March 31, 2015 at 7:22 am

Robert – it’s fascinating to read such raw and honest thoughts on this trip to a place you love dearly. It’s ironic that sometimes the places we once escaped to have the potential to be a new kind of hell if circumstances force it to be. Being at the starting point of my own journey in travel blogging, I often wonder if the mystique and excitement of traveling and discovery will wane when responsibilities and commitments come in.
You have such a gift in sharing the world through your words and images. If your work here is any indication, there is no doubt that you’ll always find a way to see things, whether old or new, in a fresh light again.

Robert Schrader March 31, 2015 at 7:42 am

Thanks for commenting here, Tessa! I appreciate your input.

Robert Schrader March 31, 2015 at 7:42 am

Nice! You know where to start your planning, I trust 😉

Robert Schrader March 31, 2015 at 7:45 am

I definitely understand that RE: other blogger’s dreams, and again I am very thankful for the opportunity, it just feels a bit disingenuous to get the VIP treatment when my blog is about how we’re all capable of the same things lol

The Beauty of Everywhere April 4, 2015 at 6:38 am

I love your writing. I’m new to travel blogging, and a way off from press trips, but it is something I wonder about. That conflict between travel and tourism, exploring for yourself versus a tourist board. I think it’s definitely possible to find a balance, as your doing. I hope to do the same one day!

Robert Schrader April 6, 2015 at 11:03 am

Thanks for your comment and, of course, for reading!

Peter Kim Dong-hwan April 9, 2015 at 3:10 am

You shouldn’t feel guilty at the sponsored trips; even bloggers have to eat.

ivy kriste April 9, 2015 at 5:46 am

Enjoyed reading and pictures. Expecting more from you

Robert Schrader April 13, 2015 at 6:52 am

More will come! 😉

Robert Schrader April 13, 2015 at 6:52 am

Very true!

Drive on the Left April 21, 2015 at 8:10 am

I can sympathize with your feelings about press trips. On one hand, they are free, so there shouldn’t be much to complain about. Yet, when you are traveling on the behalf of a company or tourism board, you can lose that independent travel spirit and have an much different trip than one you planned yourself. Sometimes better, sometimes worse, but still different. At least the scenery in Thailand looks quite nice still!

Robert Schrader April 26, 2015 at 1:38 pm

Yes, Thailand is always worth a trip!

Carson Chan May 5, 2015 at 2:06 pm

Thanks for sharing, Robert.

KyleOlsen14 May 6, 2015 at 6:12 am

The flower in the mouth picture… what inspired that? It’s great! I can’t believe sometimes that I have yet to make it to Thailand and I don’t even have a good reason for it. Phuket has been one of my main goals for years now, and then exploring all the areas nobody normally goes to at all, but I keep finding excuses why I can’t go and “maybe next year” I have gotta stop doing that. I think that just getting there at all is better than wanting to go and putting restrictions on how it happens. 🙂 Always glad to see more pictures from such a stunning place.

Dan Saba | Path XO November 4, 2015 at 11:28 pm

I’ve just discovered your site and I’m really loving the level of honesty in your writing. Not to mention you take beautiful photos of these places. Keep at it.

Robert Schrader November 6, 2015 at 1:43 pm

Thanks for your kind words, Dan! I hope you’ll keep reading.

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