A Travellerspoint blog

Thailand

Our Last Hurrah in South East Asia!


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We left Siem Reap, Cambodia and bused it nine hours to the Bangkok airport in order to meet up with four friends from home, Teri, Kiley, Adrienne (my PA school classmates) and Matt (Adrienne’s husband). We were so excited to see them! They made the long trip from the East Coast to spend a few days with us and see some of Thailand.

Their flight arrived close to midnight, so after meeting up, we headed straight to the Siam Square Lub’D Hostel for a good night’s sleep. The next day we ventured out to see some sights in Bangkok and even saw a few new sites for us, including Jim Thompson’s House and Wat Arun. Jim Thompson was an American entrepreneur who made it big in the Thai silk trade back in the 1970’s. Unfortunately, he mysteriously disappeared without a trace in Malaysia’s Cameron Highlands and his Bangkok home has since been turned into a museum. From Jim Thompson’s House, we took a canal boat to Wat Arun – a smelly experience. The Bangkok canals collect a lot of trash and water runoff, and are shockingly stinky as a result, so much so that even the locals attempt not to get splashed by canal water for fear of disease – sometimes I wish I could just bottle up the smells here and send them to you – don’t you :)
IMG_2388.jpgIn Jim Thompson's House
IMG_2418.jpgOur tour down the infamous Khao San Road, nicknamed the "backpacker ghetto"
4IMG_2450.jpgWat Arun
IMG_2438.jpgAfter huffing it up the stairs at Wat Arun
DSCN1565.jpgChecking out some Thai boxing
IMG_2460.jpgEnjoying our crazy tuk-tuk ride back to the hostel

After one full day in Bangkok, we jetted south to the island of Phuket and took a ferry to the secluded island of Ko Phi Phi (pronounced “ko pee pee” – we got a few laughs out of that one). I’ve been waiting almost our entire trip to find sugar sand beaches and turquoise blue water and this place seemed to have both in abundance! We spent the better part of three days soaking up the sun, floating in the Andaman Sea, watching amazing sunsets, enjoying delicious fresh fruit shakes, and catching up with old friends. On one day, we took a longtail boat to several nearby beaches and did some great snorkeling. The longtail boat even stopped at gorgeous Maya Bay, the site where the movie “The Beach” was filmed.
2IMG_0730.jpgOn the metro- catching our ealy am flight to Phuket
IMG_2794.jpgReally amazing scenery
IMG_2605.jpgOur beach :)
IMG_2635.jpgThailand's famous longtail boats
IMG_2594.jpgA fire dancer show we saw one night
IMG_2597.jpgOn our walk back from dinner
IMG_2540.jpgViews from out on our longtail boat day trip
IMG_2653.jpgAttempting snorkeling
IMG_2771.jpgReally fantastic sunsets on Ko Phi Phi

After saying a sad goodbye to Ko Phi Phi, we took the ferry back to Phuket and checked in to our hotel a short walk from Kata Beach, a beautiful crescent shaped beach with excellent people watching (including topless 60 plus-ers from Club Med strutting their stuff). In addition to more beach time, we spent one afternoon trekking through the jungle on the backs of huge elephants. Teri and Kiley’s elephant was only 14 (considered a teenager) and had a mind of her own. We’re pretty sure their elephant trainer was also drunk and thus didn’t seem to care that they often took the path less traveled and/or made their own “special path”. Towards the end of the trek, the trainers let us sit in the “manout” position directly behind the elephants ears and try to steer the elephants – an amusing experience.
IMG_2813.jpgOur stretch of sand on Kata Beach
IMG_2952.jpgThe view from our elephant trek- and Teri and Kiley with their elephant on the "road less traveled"
IMG_2918.jpgAdrienne and Matt with their elephant
IMG_2979.jpgThere's really very little of me "guiding" here
IMG_3005.jpgThese gibbons were hilarious- to me this looks like she's saying "yup, just relaxing, how's it going with you?"

Given how isolated Ko Phi Phi is, it did not have much nightlife, so we tried to take advantage of the nightlife around Kata Beach. On our first night, we happened upon a restaurant which had an extremely talented male singer/guitarist covering both old and new American music (it is amazing how popular American music is worldwide). Later that evening, we hit up The Boathouse, a beach front bar with pricy drinks but a great view. Our extremely kind waiter helped us purchase and setoff heart shaped, floating lanterns in honor of Valentine’s Day. Amusingly, Adrienne had to get a second one because her first one crash landed in the ocean seconds after takeoff.
DSCN1897.jpgA shot of Teri and I about to let our lanterns fly

For our second night in Phuket, we headed to the infamous Patong Beach. It has a reputation of being pretty seedy, but in the end it was more like a circus – tons of tourists, neon lights, lady-boy cabarets, shops, go-go dancing bars, etc. It was interesting to just walk around and get a glimpse of tourists behaving badly. We ate dinner at an Irish pub and thoroughly enjoyed singing along with the band in the bar – we may have even requested Journey :) We capped off the evening by stopping by a well known ice cream joint where the waitresses were dressed like French maids – it is Patong after all.
DSCN2055.jpgThe neon and cheesy in Patong
RSCN2072.jpgAt the Irish bar for dinner
RSCN2105.jpgDinner and drinks with an amazing view one night for dinner

We finished up our time in Phuket the next morning at a local spa. The girls and Matt got their first traditional Thai massages while I got a foot reflexology massage and Jeff had his haircut and feet eaten in the fish spa. For the fish spa, you sit with your feet in a big fish tank while special fish eat the dead skin off your feet – it is very popular in Asia and I don’t know how Jeff lasted the whole 20 minutes- seems like it tickles. We all flew back that afternoon to Bangkok where we enjoyed our last dinner together at a Japanese hibachi restaurant. It was amazing for us to spend time with friends from home and to share with them life on the road! It definitely made for some good times and great memories :)
IMG_3072.jpgGetting my reflexology on!
IMG_3065.jpgJeff enjoying the fish spa

It is hard to believe, but our three months in Southeast Asia has come to an end and we are leaving Bangkok for the last time. Our South East Asia guide book says the first time you come to Bangkok you feel overwhelmed and excited, when you return you’ll feel pampered and relieved, and when you leave for the last time you’ll feel sad to go. I find that sentiment to be extremely true! South East Asia was such a change from everything else we have seen on our trip – we really enjoyed it! Overall, the locals here are very friendly and respectful. It was extremely affordable which meant we were able to “live it up” more there than anywhere else on our trip. It is also a part of the world that is developing at a rapid pace and seeing the clash of new and old is fascinating . And even though I am thoroughly done with rice and noodles, I expect I will miss them soon enough :)

We are moving on to Australia next and we’ll write more from the “Land Down Under” soon!

Posted by geldere 04:48 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Island Hopping to ring in the New Year


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We left our cushy existence in Bangkok to head south down the Thai peninsula for some island hopping. We started our journey on an overnight train and arrived early in the morning in Surat Thani, our jumping off point for the islands. After a one-hour bus ride to the port and a three-hour boat ride, we finally arrived on our first island, Kho Pha-Ngan. All in all it took nearly 20-hours to travel from Bangkok to our beachside bungalow, but islands are usually worth the work. The islands here remind me a lot of St. Lucia in the Caribbean – green, lush, and mountainous. Our crescent shaped beach was located on a small bay filled with turquoise water. We spent three days lounging in beach chairs and swaying in hammocks. I somehow managed to get burnt even though it was pretty overcast most of time. And, like any good beach vacation, we ate our fair share of surprisingly delicious food at the resort (14 simple bungalows with one restaurant/bar).
IMG_0650.jpg On the ferry to the Islands
IMG_0660.jpgFrom the beach on Kho Pha-Ngan
IMG_0665.jpgJeff relaxing in the hammock
IMG_0667.jpg A view of our little resort and bungalows
IMG_0669.jpgOur small strech of beach

After our R&R on Kho Pha-Ngan, we hopped aboard another ferry and headed for our next destination, Koh Tao. While waiting for the ferry, we enjoyed some great people watching. Kho Pha-Ngan attracts quite the mix of travelers, from retirees and preppy kids, to hippie backpackers and those sporting the 90’s grunge look. Some of them also looked completely destroyed as Kho Pha-Ngan is home to the notorious Full Moon parties (though it wasn’t a full moon while we were there, but apparently a half moon is a sufficient reason for a rave).
IMG_0683.jpgOur ferry to Koh-Tao

We arrived at Buddha-View Dive Resort on Koh Tao several hours later. Jeff’s birthday gift was to get his Advanced Open Water Scuba Diving License and Koh Tao, a diving mecca, was just the place. We were also extremely excited to be meeting up for New Years with friends we made while traveling through Mozambique months ago, Tristan and Caroline from Switzerland. They are also traveling around the world and our paths have now crossed in Mozambique and Thailand, and will likely also cross in Australia and New Zealand in the coming months. We spent our first night on Koh Tao getting caught up with them about their travels since Mozambique (South Africa, Hong Kong, Nepal and India) and enjoying some local and relatively cheap Thai food.

After Jeff’s diving lessons the next morning, we all made our way across the island to a beautiful stretch of beach. The island is surrounded by reefs, which is what makes it such a great place to dive, but it only has a few patches of white sand. Nevertheless, we managed to find one and enjoy the scenery for several hours. It was New Year’s Eve that day and our resort was hosting a little shin dig with complimentary fireworks. The party included a massive BBQ with all the island specialties (shrimp, fish, corn, etc.) and we enjoyed an amusing band that changed the words to several popular songs by inserting scuba diving references. Once it hit midnight, the resort started setting off the fireworks, which happened to be right near where we were sitting. Drunk folks and fireworks are generally a bad combination, so I was glad that no one ended up blind (deaf maybe) and that all limbs were intact at the end of the show.
IMG_0693.jpgOn our hike to the beach
IMG_0700.jpgShark's Beach
IMG_0710.jpgRelaxing on the beach
IMG_0727.jpgThe vast array of seafood to grill-yum!
IMG_0728.jpgThe deck on New Years
P1040191.jpgNew Years with Tristan and Caroline
IMG_0758.jpgFireworks at midnight!

We awoke in 2012 and had breakfast at a fabulous little French bakery on the island specializing in chocolate croissants – delicious! Jeff had three dives scheduled for the day, including his first night dive. Unfortunately, the visibility on the dives was not amazing, but he can now at least he can call himself Advanced :) We parted ways with Tristan and Caroline as they headed north to Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. We have tentative plans though to meet up with them again when our paths cross in Australia and New Zealand.

We had hoped to get off the island on the morning of January 2nd, but between our procrastination in making travel arrangements and the weather, we were tragically stuck on the island for another day :) The south bound trains were fully booked and there was flooding in southern Thailand blocking road travel to Malaysia, our next destination. So to mix it up for a day, we decided to rent a moped in order to see more of the island. It was a fun and nerve racking experience all at the same time. For starters, neither Jeff nor I had ever driven a moped before, and it was surprisingly hard to balance and steer. On top of our inexperience, the island is also mountainous, so occasionally the moped didn’t have enough juice to get us both up and over some of the hills. Thankfully, we survived the morning but that afternoon the skies opened up, putting a definite kibosh on moped-ing from there on out.
IMG_0785.jpgOn our moped tour at the opposite end of the island
IMG_0791.jpgEnjoying the view
IMG_0804.jpgJeff on the infamous moped

Our time on the Thai Islands has come to an end, but we are not done island hopping just yet! We head to Penang Island in Malaysia next and will catch you all up when we get there! We hope you had a wonderful New Years and a great start to 2012!

Posted by geldere 18:14 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Sàwàtdii Khâ (Hello) from Thailand!


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We arrived early in the morning after a ten hour flight and headed straight to our hostel to nurse our jet lag after a sleepless flight. We decided to stay in the Siam Square district which is more centrally located and right off the subway system- plus it was close to all the malls! We spent the first few days hanging around the hostel so that I could get my continuing medical education done by the December deadline. In the evenings, we wondered around the malls and enjoyed lots of Asian cuisine. We’ve gone from kebaps and bread to noodles and rice- I am digging the change :) I was expecting total madness in Bangkok but it was actually really relaxed. It might have had something to do with our location but it was the first time on our trip where no one gave us a second glance. We were the most uninteresting things people had seen in a long time and no one stared- it was such a change from being a spectacle most places we go - very refreshing! My initial impression of Bangkok was that it is an extremely fashionable and modern place. The locals are unbelievably trendy and it’s like a fashion show walking around the malls. Plus, they have almost every American food chain here - we’ve been to Dairy Queen, Aunt Annies, Pizza Hut, and even Krispy Kreme where we got a hot and fresh donut right off the conveyor belt. It was an exciting moment :)
IMG_1266.jpg The mall in Siam Square
IMG_1271.jpg Jeff ordering fruit from a street cart

After breathing a collective sigh of relief when I finished my CME hours, we headed out for some sightseeing. Thailand is 97% Buddhist, so instead of mosques and minarets dotting the skyline, we are seeing temples and chidas. First stop, the Grand Palace, the former royal residence which is now only used for special ceremonies. On the same grounds is Wat Phra Kaew (“wat” in another word for temple), the home of the Emerald Buddha, the most important Buddha image in Thailand. It’s very interesting changing cultures and learning how the do’s and don’ts differ. For example, when you enter a temple you must remove your shoes (no change from mosques), but in temples you must never point your feet in the direction of Buddha. We then stopped by Wat Pho which houses the reclining Buddha and is the oldest temple in Bangkok. The ornate detailing on the inside and outside of temples is generally made with colored glass. For lunch, we caught a river ferry to Chinatown, one of the largest Chinatown’s in the world outside of China. One thing amazing about Thailand is that the food here is so cheap. Street food usually costs less than a dollar and a restaurant meal less than three bucks!
IMG_1279.jpg Gateway to the Grand Palace
IMG_1308.jpg Inside the Grand Palace
IMG_1335.jpg The famous and enormous reclining Buddha
1IMG_1374.jpgIn downtown Chinatown

After a few days enjoying the big city, we headed north to the mountains and more rural Thailand. We caught a morning train to Chiang Mai and were very impressed that they not only served drinks, but two solid meals airline style. The train also provided us an opportunity to see some of the flooding that has been making headlines lately. In downtown Bangkok, there is very little evidence of the flooding, only the occasional pile of sandbags and high-water near the river itself, but once we started north, the flooding became evident and many homes and fields were partially under water.
IMG_1387.jpg Multi-tasking at its best- a guy getting his hair cut at the train station
Chiang Mai is a small city in northern Thailand. Since our train arrived late (2:00 am), we slept in a bit and then headed out to see some of the old city. We stopped by multiple wats and even chatted with a Buddhist monk. We had the opportunity to talk with him for half an hour about Buddhism, what it is like to be a monk, and some of the 227 Buddhist tenants that he must follow (like doing away with money, giving away all of your possessions, sleeping on the floor, and never touching women). It was a cool experience and a chance to learn about the Buddhist faith, something I knew very little about. We ended the day with Thai massages, which are not for the faint of heart. The masseuse literally walks on top of you at times, cracks joints, and folds you in half. It is not the most relaxing type of massage, but we left feeling especially limber. Plus, massages here are so cheap. A one-hour Thai massage at a decent place costs just $8. I may have to get another massage tomorrow :)
IMG_1457.jpgVisiting one of the Wats in town- this was during their prayer time
IMG_1468.jpgPost chat with the monks
IMG_1476.jpgGetting ready for our Thai massage

For our second day in Chiang Mai, we wanted to get out of town and spend some time enjoying nature, so we signed up for a tour of the surrounding area. Our guide, Vick, first walked us around a rural, hill-tribe village where we saw baby piglets (makes me think twice about bacon). Then we took a hike through the jungle to a beautiful waterfall and swimming hole. Although the water was cold, we took a dip and were even able to walk up behind the waterfall. After a delicious lunch of yellow curry, we changed into our “Mahout” outfits (they looked like prison uniforms) for a lesson in elephant handling. We first spent time bribing our elephants into liking us by giving them dozens of bananas and then practiced climbing onto their backs. It was a pretty intimidating experience at first because they are so enormous. Jeff’s elephant was 18-months pregnant and had a mind of her own (who wouldn’t be after being pregnant for that long) and mine was a sweet, 55-year old grandmother. After learning a few basic commands, we rode them down to the river and gave them baths. They’re pretty cute when they roll around in the water like kids. Thankfully, we had a true elephant trainer with us at all times because we had very little actual control and were mostly just along for the ride. Spending time up close with animals that huge was a really amazing experience and one that will be hard to forget. Finally, we ended our day with a rafting trip. Thankfully, it was a mild, river rafting experience because our raft was made of bamboo and held together by strips of tire. How our poler did not fall in the river is beyond me. After a long day out and about, we headed back to Chiang Mai and ate our way through the food stands in the Night Market before crashing for the night.
If you want to check out us giving our elephants a bath click HERE
2IMG_1483.jpgA Rice Paddy outside of the village
IMG_1553.jpgThe waterfall outside of the village
IMG_1551.jpgTrying out the water- it hits hard!
9IMG_1563.jpgThe baby found out we had bananas :)
IMG_1568.jpg Fast friends
IMG_1616.jpgJeff testing out his Manout skills
IMG_1643.jpgTaking a stroll in the river
IMG_1647.jpgWhile bathing the elephants- it was fun!
IMG_1648.jpgJeff and his elephant hanging in the river
IMG_1662.jpgOn our bamboo raft- you basically sat in water
IMG_1688.jpgAt the night market- hungry??

For our last day in Chiang Mai we decided to take a Thai cooking class. With Nancy, our instructor, as our guide, we first headed out to a local market to see and learn about the different ingredients in Thai cooking. Then we headed back to the school where we all chose seven dishes to cook and eat (the best part of course). It was a fun experience thanks in no small part to Nancy who had a great sense of humor and had us all laughing throughout the day. Among other things, we made Pad Thai, spring rolls, and even curry paste that we ground up with a mortar and pestle. We left the school absolutely stuffed and with just enough knowledge to try Thai cooking at home. Any takers? :)
If you want to check out Jeff attempting Thai food click on Jeff at our Thai Cooking Class (in his defense there was supposed to be a fire!)
IMG_1699.jpgChecking out the goods at the market
IMG_1708.jpgAt our cooking school with Nancy showing us the way
IMG_1718.jpg

We are heading east to Laos tomorrow and we will write more from there!

Posted by geldere 19:47 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

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