Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Thailand - The End!

Okay, so this is what happened… I was polishing off my final Thailand post sometime last week, and the pictures and text got all mixed up. As I was hitting the "undo" button, the post went all the way back to a blank page… and then it did the automatic save thing that it does every few minutes…

Yep. Everything I had been writing for about an hour was wiped clean, and I just didn't have the emotional or mental energy to start fresh. Which means that now I am really behind on this whole Thailand saga and I already have another vacation to write about!

This also means that I will be doing a super short summary about the second half of our trip to Thailand- you're welcome :) 

Day 2 in Ao Nang/Krabi consisted of renting a kayak for a little exploring and workout, and then going back to the resort to wait for Chris and Angela to arrive. Once they got in we had a quick lunch and then headed back to the monkey area of the beach to show those two the cute and stinky buggers. We ended up having some drinks on the beach and watching sunset before walking over to Carnivore for dinner- this was our highest quality meal in Thailand and we all appreciated the change for a night. After dinner we were just in time for a cabaret by some really convincing lady-boys!

The next morning we woke up early and took a tour over to Railay Beach, where we did some rock climbing, had lunch, and checked out one of the most famous beaches in Thailand. We had to rush back so Cody and I could catch our taxi to our ferry to Phuket. Something happened with the whole ferry situation and we ended up loading about 75 people into long-boats with their luggage to be taxied out to the waiting ferry (in open water) so we could all load onto the boat to Phuket and the already full ferry could be unloaded of all the people going to Ao Nang/Krabi. We got a late start, but ended up in Phuket and at our hotel by late evening, and we just had a yummy dinner and passed out for the night. 

On the following morning we headed over to the Phuket airport so we could fly up to Chiang Mai! We got into the airport in the afternoon and then were taken to our next resort, Mai Siam. We were really looking forward to these accommodations as the whole resort is only three chalets owned by a married couple, and they had wonderful reviews. We weren't disappointed! That night, Pranee, the co-owner of the resort, cooked us the best Thai food we had all trip and we relaxed in our beautiful chalet. 

The next morning we woke up to a yummy breakfast and got a ride into town so Cody and I could check out the city and get our yin and yang ring-finger tattoos! After our super ouchie tattoos we just wandered around and explored some beautiful temples, and then found a place to eat and get out of the heat for a bit. Instead of staying in town for dinner and the night-markets, we ended up getting a ride back to the resort for another homemade meal by Pranee. 

Our next day was our last in Chiang Mai and we got to spend the day at the incredible Elephant Nature Park. This park is home to 38 elephants and hundreds of dogs and cats (You can check out tons of pictures on my Facebook of the day!) The owner made the Park as an escape for injured and mistreated elephants, who now spend their days doing whatever they please. We got to feed and bathe the elephants, and just hang out with them throughout the day. 

We grabbed dinner out once we got back to Chiang Mai and then stuck around long enough to walk the streets during the Sunday Market. We were totally exhausted and went back to the resort to rest up for the next day of travel.

For our very last leg of the trip, we flew back to Bangkok. After an interesting walk through what I like to call the mechanic-ghetto of China Town, we found our hotel and ate at the rooftop restaurant while waiting for Chris and Angela to arrive. We all had a relaxing night in as I was recovering from feeling kind of funky for a few days and Angela had been throwing up all day. 

Thankfully, we were all back to feeling fairly healthy the next day, and we were able to spend our last day in Thailand seeing the largest Golden Buddha in the world, getting more massages while Chris and Angela got some Thai tattoos, and then taking a ride across the river for some shopping and dinner at an unexpectedly fancy area of Bangkok. Then back to the airport at 3am for our looong trips back to home!

As I said- this is only a super short review of all the wonderful experiences we had, but hopefully you get the gist of it all! We were totally exhausted by this vacation, and as I said, I wouldn't go back and do it again- but I wouldn't go back and choose not to do it at all, either. 

Monday, February 10, 2014

Thailand (Part Two)

After Koh Tao we had no set plans. We knew we had to be on the West side of Thailand to catch our flight up to Chiang Mai in a few days, but we left some days unbooked and unscheduled on purpose so we could stay somewhere longer if we really loved it, or cut somewhere short.
Knowing that we would only have a few days on the West coast if we moved that direction immediately after Koh Tao, we decided to book one night in Koh Samui, and then move on from there to the Krabi/Railay Beach area (where I was wanting to go the most).
Here's a map of Southern Thailand- you can see Koh Tao, Samui, and Krabi to get an idea of what we were trying to do.

We booked our hotel in Samui very last-minute, but based on reviews, and the fact it was across the street from the beach and was connected to a popular bar, I was fairly excited that we were able to get two rooms. We left Chintakiri and hopped on the ferry over to Koh Samui, where we then found a taxi driver to take us about thirty minutes away to our hotel. Samui was not what I was expecting; it was packed with people, and cars, and stray dogs, and seemed to be in a state of chaos. After being in sleepy Koh Tao, I think we were all surprised to see this side of Thailand!

When we got to Rich Resort I was a little worried. It was down a back alleyway, and yes, it was across the street from the Swing Bar and the beach, but the hotel itself wasn't anything special. As we walked down the halls I got a peek into one of the rooms and it looked super nice; unfortunately, that ended up being one of the deluxe rooms and we just had a standard. Both of our rooms were sleepable, and clean enough to not be concerned, but they definitely weren't nice. Think of a worn out motel. BUT, they had working AC and a bed and that was about as much as we really needed. Although I was relieved we were only staying for one night.

The beach was nice and after a long walk on it in the evening we settled in for a fire show and mediocre dinner at the Swing Bar, before calling it a night so we could get a ride to the airport in the morning over to the other side of the country.

We took a quick flight over to Krabi Airport and were picked up by a driver sent by our next resort, Phu Petra. I couldn't have been more delighted once we arrived! This was a beautiful resort, although small and simple, it had a friendly staff and a great location away from the bustle of Ao Nang and Krabi town. Not only that, but our rooms were huge and gorgeous with a real bathroom! Including a shower separate from the toilet and a bathtub to boot! I literally jumped up and down as we were getting our tour- this was one last-minute booking to be thankful for, especially after a night in a not-so-nice hotel.

We kind of wanted to relax in luxury all day and not move, but with such a tight time schedule, we decided to make the most of our day and we took the free shuttle into town to explore.
We were surprised, yet again! Ao Nang was the busiest place we had been to yet- but in a different way than Samui. At first I was relieved to be somewhere that felt like any other beach town- the familiar is sometimes nice after so much difference. But then the crowded, touristy, more-expensive-than-the-rest-of-Thailand area got old pretty fast. It was one of those places that you couldn't even walk down the sidewalk because of all the people wandering and all the shop owners trying to sell you something. This was what the Thailand area of Disney would be like... Luckily, there was one major redeeming factor of Ao Nang (besides the large beach)- MONKEYS!

We wandered to the far end of the beach and ended up in monkey-heaven! These little creatures were quite the handful- they were actually kind of intimidating, but the little babies were super curious and friendly. We hung out with them for a bit, and then had to take a dip in the ocean to get the poo smell off of us. Those were some dirty, stinky monkeys. 

We ended the night by meeting up with EJ and Merissa who had gotten to the area a day before us and we had a so-so dinner on the main street. With so many restaurants to choose from, it was hard to distinguish the good from the bad! We bailed on the night kind of early, like the geezers we are, and rushed to catch the last shuttle home so we could just laze about in our comfortable room and sleep the night away….

( I feel as if I am being a negative-nancy in these posts- but its hard to give an accurate description of these places by only writing positively. Please know that we had a ton of fun and enjoyed every place we went- but there were also things about each place that were not so enjoyable, as well!)

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Thailand - Part 1

Alright, so, lets skip all the flying to get to Thailand, and our few hours in Bangkok sleeping, and move on to the real first part of our vacation.

We flew from Bangkok to Chumphon, so that we could ferry over to Koh Tao where our first resort was located. Chumphon introduced me to culture shock for the first time in my life. I also got my first Thai massage in Chumphon- it cost about $6 for an hour long foot, back, and shoulder massage. Here are a few pictures:

Huge market-- not a tourist market at all, we were out of place!

There were shrines like this all over 

The smell of all the raw meat was overwhelming

Once we finally arrived in Koh Tao, it was late afternoon so we went for a dip in the resort pool, ate dinner and had drinks at the resort restaurant, and then walked down the huge hill to town where we chilled at a Rasta Bar for the strongest Mojito ever, and then hiked back up the huge hill to our resort where we all crashed out- relieved to finally be at our first destination, if only for a few nights.

Pulling up to the dock in Koh Tao
The main street
View from the reception area of Chintakiri Resort

 Day two in Koh Tao started with breakfast and a trek down the hill to find some scooters to rent. Once all three couples had found a sweet ride, we explored the island, looking for a beach entrance somewhere. After riding around in the wrong direction a few times, we finally headed towards the pier we had been dropped off at the day before. There, we decided to rent a long boat for the remainder of the day for snorkeling, swimming, and sight-seeing. It cost 3,000 baht for our boat and driver to go wherever we wanted- that was about $90, or $30 per couple!
We stopped in Shark Bay to snorkel, then checked out another snorkeling area, then on to Mango Bay for lunch, and we ended at Koh Nangyuan- the most beautiful island/s I've ever seen. I was pretty burnt up, so we headed back to Koh Tao to cool off and clean up. We eventually went out to dinner and ended the night with massages- Cody and I got Aloe Vera massages to help with our awful sunburns!

Just a day out in the Gulf of Thailand

Longboat lunch stop

Crystal clear waters on Koh Nangyuan

The next part of our trip included an early ferry over to Koh Samui for a two night stay….

(To Be Continued…)

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Thailand (Introduction)

Oh, Thailand, I honestly haven't figured out exactly what I think of you…

Thailand is the most contradictory place I've ever been. One moment it is beautiful and the next it is ugly. There are surprises around every corner, and every town/city/beach we went to was different from the one before.

One way I thought to describe this interesting country was by comparing it to other tropical destinations also located in less-developed countries. For example, The Dominican Republic. When visiting the Dominican and staying in an all-inclusive resort you are spoiled from morning to night. Your room is spacious, immaculate, and marble-coated. You are waited on hand and foot, with drinks and food no more than a few steps away at all times. You feel utterly relaxed and taken care of- BUT, there is a feeling of "us" and "them" that doesn't shake. I personally feel guilty for the luxury I am living in and can only guess about how the workers of the resort and their families actually live day-to-day. The real way of life there is something carefully concealed and tucked away from the eyes of the resort guests.
Then there is Thailand. Imagine the same beautiful beaches of the Dominican (more beautiful in most cases) but take down that veil between the resort workers and the resort-goers. In fact, if we are talking about our trip specifically, you can just remove the resort completely and replace it with any level of hotel you'd like; from skeezy motel to beautiful chalet. There is something distinctly "other" about every facet of this destination.

My brother explained the cities like college campuses where the students are allowed to run everything top to bottom- including plumbing and electricity.  Everything functions fine, but nothing is exactly the way you feel it should be. The toilets take some figuring out (there was a "bum gun" or a tub of water with scoop, and no toilet paper could be flushed), as well as the showers (which are usually heated by a little electronic box which may or may not actually create hot water), and I was constantly a bit concerned that electrocution wasn't unlikely (all of their wiring occurs outside and with no casing, it all just kind of hangs from poles). 

If I told you I loved it, I would be lying. But I don't want you to think I hated it, either. Because I didn't hate it, not even close! What I can say with complete certainty is that I am incredibly grateful to be home, and to have a home like the one I have.

I could try all day, but I would never really be able to say what it is like to be in Thailand. Especially after a hurried two week romp of about six beaches/towns/cities. So what I will do is take some time over the next few days to write down an itinerary of what we did, and let you make up your own mind, instead…