I came back from an amazing holiday in Thailand about a week ago. I have only had time to blog about it now as I spent the last week absorbing all I could as a new hire for ThoughtWorks. I will leave my first week at ThoughtWorks for another post. This post is a recap of my time spent in Bangkok and Phuket.
Day 1 – February 1
I packed light and didn’t have much luggage, so I caught a train to the international airport. It cost me about $10 using my student card, so it was a lot cheaper than catching a taxi. I am going to miss my student card when it expires in March. Until then I intend to make the most of it!
After checking in with Thai airways I had about two hours to kill before boarding, so I proceeded to perusing through all the Duty Free stores. I walked into a bookstore and almost bumped into George Gregan (Wallabies Captain for those that aren’t rugby union fans) in the fiction section. I thought twice about saying hello, as I figured it would be best to leave him alone. You can never know how highly strung these players get before a game. Just as well, cos after he left the bookstore he went to sit by himself in an empty lounge at a boarding gate. Anyway I ended up buying Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Legacy to read on the plane and the beach in Phuket.
The plane trip took an agonising 8 hours in the claustrophobic spaces of economy class. Although I enjoyed the friendly service and in-flight movies. I watched Flushed Away and The Guardian. Both were enjoyable enough to pass some of the time, although I spent most of the time reading my book.
I arrived in Bangkok in the afternoon there, and caught a taxi to the hotel. I was lucky enough to share a cab with two other people that were also going to the same hotel. So I only had to pay 100 Baht instead of 300 Baht. I was told that it would cost up to about 400 Baht using the metered taxis between the airport and the city.
I met up with my girlfriend Kimmy at the hotel. Kimmy arrived at Thailand that morning via a business trip to India. We stayed at the Asia Hotel as it is central to a lot of places in the city. It is also connected to the Sky Rail, and is within walking distance to some of the biggest shopping centres that I’ve ever been in. After dumping my luggage we went out for dinner, explored the shops around the hotel, then went back to the hotel to get some sleep for the next day.
Day 2 – February 2
On Friday we got up early and had breakfast at the hotel. A buffet breakfast was included in the accommodation package, but it wasn’t that enjoyable. The bacon and eggs were cold and rubbery, and the toast was stale. Luckily they had cereal.
After breakfast we made our way to the Emporium at Phrom Phong. Again, the convenience of the hotel is that it is connected to a Sky Rail station, so Phrom Phong was only a few stops from where we were staying. It cost about 25 Baht each for the train fare, which at the time was less than $1AUD.
The Emporium is a shopping centre full of brand name labels. We had a look around at some of the shops before meeting up with Kimmy’s international work colleagues. We enjoyed a nice fusion Thai lunch with them. The best part about working for a global company is that you make lots of friends around the world, which as we found out makes travelling a lot more enjoyable when you can tap into local knowledge.
Kimmy’s friends suggested that we should visit the Grand Palace, and warned us that we needed to wear more respectable attire such as pants and a shirt. So we went back to the hotel to change then caught a taxi to the Grand Palace. When we finally made it through all the traffic, we stepped out of the taxi only to be greeted by a tourist guide. We had no idea whether he was affiliated in some way with the Grand Palace, but he informed us that the Palace closed to the public at 2pm for the buddhist monks to pray. He suggested that we visit a few other sights that were “free” to the public, and that the best way to get there would be by Tuk Tuk. We were quite naive in believing that anything in Thailand was “free”. He took our map and circled three locations, then called over a Tuk Tuk driver, gave the driver the map and told him to take us around for 10 Baht. We were a bit apprehensive, but a Tuk Tuk ride for 10 Baht sounded too good to be true. So with nothing better to do Kimmy and I hopped into the Tuk Tuk for what would be an interesting trip around the eastern part of the city.
Riding in a Tuk Tuk is quite an experience, especially in Bangkok traffic. The Tuk Tuk is like a home-brewed motorised rickshaw. Little was spared on safety when the Frankenstein contraption was built. There were no airbags, no seat belts, no A-pillars, and definitely no side-impact protection system. I suddenly felt that I was finally realising some value in the travel insurance that we purchased before the trip. Luckily our Tuk Tuk ride wasn’t as hair raising as the amazing Tuk Tuk car-chase scene in the Thai action movie Ong Bak.
Our first stop was the 32-metre (100-foot) tall standing Buddha of Wat Indrawiharn. The Tuk Tuk driver said we can take our time, but wanted reassurance that we would return for the next leg of the journey. We spent about 15 minutes looking around, and taking photos of the statue. There was a small temple below the statue, but we didn’t venture in. I think we were concerned about returning to the Tuk Tuk so as not to worry the driver.
When we returned to the Tuk Tuk, the driver needed to go to the toilet, so we sat in the back of the Tuk Tuk waiting for him. During this time we conversed with a local Thai person that was sitting at a table at a sidewalk eatery. He introduced himself as a journalist. He seemed interested in learning that we were from Australia, and told us that he spent some time in Sydney, particularly at Bondi and Kings Cross. I had to laugh as I wasn’t sure if he knew that Kings Cross was Sydney’s red light district. Anyway he told us a few interesting things about our Tuk Tuk trip after telling him about what we got ourselves into. He explained that the government were doing some tourist promotion whereby Tuk Tuk drivers can claim free fuel for the week if they reduced the cost of riding around in a Tuk Tuk. That explained the cheap fare. He also said that there was a promotion going on at a clothing factory outlet at our next stop. At least what this guy said kind of verified what the tourist guide at the Palace suggested we should do. This at least put our minds at ease about being fleeced by the driver. At this point the driver returned, and after a quick goodbye to the stranger at the sidewalk eatery we were on our way again.
We pulled into the factory outlet after a short trip from the standing Buddha. It wasn’t really a factory outlet but a store for tailored suits that copied styles from brand names such as Armani and Hugo Boss. I didn’t really have many work clothes as I had just finished 9 years of uni, and most of my work engagements were quite casual. So I decided to purchase some pants. I had no need for a suit as I knew ThoughtWorks were quite casual, plus I was quite concerned about the quality of the final product. All they had in the store were rolls of material and folders full of cutouts of modelled suits from fashion magazines. Anyway I convinced the salesperson that I had no need for a suit, and that pants were enough for my line of work. So I picked out three materials and paid 5000 Baht. The conversion to Australian dollars was roughly $200 AUD, which I thought was cheap for three pairs of pants. In hindsight I probably should have bargained the price down further, but I figured I was still getting a good deal. Especially since I would have to pay close to $200 AUD for one pair of pants in Sydney! So I trustingly handed over my credit card and was told that my pants would be delivered to the hotel the next day. On that note we were ushered out of the store and back in the Tuk Tuk. For the rest of the day and the next I was quite worried about whether this moment of madness with my credit card would come back and haunt me. At the same time I was also wondering if my credit card had any anti-fraud protection.
Before our final stop at the Wat Saket and the Golden Mountain, our driver wanted to take us to his sponsor’s jewellery store. Alarm bells went off in our heads, but we obliged. We spent a good 20 minutes perusing the jewellery store when we got there. One of the salesmen latched onto Kimmy, and was showing her all sorts of rings, necklaces and earrings. I felt relieved when we left the store as I had heart palpitations over how much damage my credit card was going to incur at this store. Especially since the jewellery wasn’t particularly striking, and the quality of the gems were questionable.
Once we got to our final destination we paid the driver 40 Baht and parted company. Kimmy and I then proceeded up the Golden Mountain. It was more of a mound than a mountain, but we still had to climb up a number of steps till we finally reached the temple at the top. From the top you could see an unobstructed panoramic view of Bangkok, which was absolutely stunning. After taking in the view we decided to walk back to the hotel. It was a good two hours before we found our way back to the hotel, but we got there in the end.
At the hotel we went to the travel desk to see what sort of day trips we could do for the next day. We liked what we read about the ancient city Ayutthaya so we booked it. Satisfied with the day trip that we booked we then went out to experience some more of Bangkok’s night life.
We wanted to head to a night market that one of Kimmy’s friends from work suggested. It was suppose to be near Lumphini boxing stadium, so we figured we might check out Muai Thai boxing whilst we were in the general vicinity. Up until this point were quite lucky in hopping in taxis and tuk tuks where the drivers speak english. The driver of the taxi that we hopped into outside the hotel that night didn’t know a single word of english, nor could he understand the map that we had. I was also unable to pronounce the name of the place that Kimmy’s friend gave us, but the way I said it kind of registered something with the driver. He said “Silom”, and we figured that was the proper way of saying “Suan Lum” which was what I was trying to say, so we agreed and off we went. Little did we know that Silom was not where we wanted to go, even though it was kind of near the boxing stadium.
We hopped out of the cab in front of a shopping centre in Silom. We noticed a few tourists in the area, so we figured it would be a decent place to look around. The first thing we did was find a place to eat. We had soup noodles at a place called Noodi, then went on our way exploring Silom. We were trying to find our way to the boxing stadium, which was a prominent landmark, then find our way to the Suan Lom Night Bazaar. Instead we found our way to the Patpong night market which featured your typical knock-off Rolex watches, DVDs, and handbags. The market is setup along an alley with the stalls in the middle and seedy night clubs in the surrounding buildings. It was quite difficult to avoid the smuttiness of the place, everywhere you look someone was trying to shove something in your face to draw attention to the product they were trying to sell. Even when you walked with your head down trying to avoid eye contact with the vendors, some guys would discretely hold cards with “Sex DVDs” written on them at waist height so as to catch the attention of those with their heads down.
Kimmy found a salt and pepper shaker at a stall, and decided to buy it for a friend. She figured she got a good price for it after haggling the price down, but everywhere we went it was still a lot cheaper. Afterwards we tried to find our way to the boxing stadium, but we got lost somewhere near Sofitel Hotel in Silom and since it was late we hailed a cab and went back to our hotel.
Day 3 – February 3
On the Saturday we got up early for breakfast, then met a driver that would take us to the rendezvous point for our day trip to Ayutthaya. The bus trip to the ancient city took about 2 hours from Bangkok. When we got there we stopped off at some old temple ruins and historically significant structures. The tour guide informed us that Ayutthaya was once a great city of Thailand for 400 years before the Burmese invasion in 1767. Many of the monuments and structures were destroyed during the invasion, and later by looters. We walked around the grounds taking photos, then had a fresh coconut whilst we waited for the rest of the group to find their way back to the bus. As I watched the coconut lady shave off the coconut meat with a spoon that was resting in a glass of dirty water I knew then that I was going to get the most out of my Typhoid and Hepatitis vaccinations that I received two weeks earlier. Nevertheless I didn’t suffer any consequences, so either the vaccinations worked or I had a stronger than expected constitution.
Once back in the bus we were on our way to the highlight of the trip, to see the Elephants of Ayutthaya. This was the best part of the trip as we got to ride on an elephant. Elephants are such humble creatures, and I can understand how they were the late Steve Irwin’s favourite animal despite carrying the moniker as the Crocodile Hunter. There was even a big poster of Steve Irwin at the elephant enclosure. Obviously they must have taken some funding from Irwin’s Wildlife Warriors.
After the short but enjoyable ride on an elephant we passed through the gift shop on the way out. It was amazing to see the kind of things they were trying to sell. The prized gifts appeared to be paper made from elephant dung, and a giant dung covered with gold leaf. I wasn’t so quick to whip out my credit card for these souvenirs as it would have been tough getting the dung paper and the golden dung pass customs in Australia.
After everyone was out of the gift shop we were on the bus wiping our hands with the courtesy towelettes that the tourist guide so graciously provided. We were heading for a buffet lunch at a hotel near the main river that passed through Ayutthaya. Lunch was satisfactory, but not that great. At least I had a chance to try a bottle of Thailand’s Singha beer, which is a brew similar in taste to a Heineken.
A boat ride along the river followed lunch. The scenery was quite spectacular, especially in the areas that featured squatter type housings along the river. It certainly makes you feel appreciative of your lifestyle back home. The boat trip came to an end at the giant reclining Buddha, Wat Lokayasutharam. They weren’t kidding about the Buddha being a giant! Looking into the temple I could only make out a giant nose. Parts of the monument was covered with scaffolding as it was receiving some minor repairs and maintenance. The giant Buddha was the last stop in the day trip. After which the tour bus made its way back to Bangkok dropping us all off at our respective hotels.
After a short rest at the hotel we made our way to Siam shopping centre, which was only one train stop away. Once there we ate dinner then did some shopping. After buying some jeans Kimmy and I went to Swensen’s to indulge in a big icecream sundae.
By the way the tailor did make good on his promise to deliver the pants to the hotel by midday. I had to collect them from the hotel desk, and immediately tried them on when I got back to the hotel room. I was really impressed with how well the pants fit me. They looked exactly how they were portrayed in the magazine cutouts that they showed me. In fact I was so impressed with them that I considered buying more, but I didn’t have time left to do so. If you are ever in Bangkok, then I highly recommend going to Chao Phraya Suit at 716 Krungkasem Road, Pomprap Saitruphai to get measured out for a suit or two. They recommend buying more than one as it works out cheaper for them to reuse a template to cut out the material to your exact measurements.
Day 4 – February 4
On Sunday Kimmy’s friends from work arranged a half day trip to Koh Kret. Which from what I understood was a man-made island, in other words a land mass with a river dug around it. We drove to Koh Kret, parked the car, then boarded a ferry to cross the river to Koh Kret. We walked around a bit sampling the many types of street food that included deep fried flowers (possibly orchid leaves), cold drinks that were flavoured and coloured using a syrup made from flowers, and other weird and wonderful foods. I personally wasn’t game to sample all of what was on offer, but I tried my best.
We were basically passing the time until the tour boat was ready. The boat took us around Koh Kret along the river. There were a few interesting sites, and a number of stops along the way to visit some riverside shops that specialised in curries and traditional Thai sweets. The sweets aren’t your typical sugary, chocolately treats, but more of an eggy savoury treat. It was certainly different to what westerners perceive sweets to be.
One of the stops we made was at a Buddhist temple. We made an offering to the Buddhist monks and participated in a small ceremony with a friend of Kimmy’s. As part of the ceremony we had to pour some blessed water into a bowl whilst each of us were touching the rim of the bowl. This ritual meant that we’ll be able to find each other in the next life. Also the offering to the monks will bring good luck our way. It was certainly a lot of fun. Afterwards we went down to the river to feed the catfish. It was quite a remarkable site with all these catfish swimming over each other to feed on whatever food was thrown their way. With the constant feeding it was little wonder that these catfish were the biggest that I’ve ever seen.
We stopped off at a nice restaurant on the way back home. They were preparing a wedding when we got there, so we had to have a quick meal. It was a seafood restaurant so there were a lot of shrimp dishes, fish, and a couple of curries. The food was especially spicy, but very tasty. It was the best Thai food that we came across for the whole trip. It was certainly the most traditional Thai food that we came across.
When we made it back to Bangkok we were shown around the Weekend markets, which is the biggest outdoor market in Thailand. It was quite amazing! You could easily get lost or spend hours finding your way around the labyrinth of stalls. We didn’t buy anything, but the experience was worth it.
In the evening we planned on seeing the Calypso Cabaret show at the hotel we were staying in. Apparently it is a main attraction for the Asia hotel, and one that was recommended to us by Kimmy’s Mother and Grandmother. The show features a cast of kathoeys, otherwise known as ladyboys. Some of these kathoeys were quite committed in that they had breast implants, reduction of the Adam’s Apple, and genital reassignment surgery. The show itself was really quite bizarre. It isn’t for everybody. Some of the audience members walked out, probably from feeling conflicted with their own sexuality or they just couldn’t put up with the loud shrill of the accoustics. It was certainly “artistic” if you are in to that kind of stuff. For me, I just enjoyed the “freak show” aspect of it.
Day 5 – February 5
On Monday we checked out of the Asia hotel and caught a cab to the airport. The ride to the airport seemed shorter than when I had arrived in Bangkok, but it cost us about 400 Baht, which was a lot more than what I paid to get to the airport. The taxi meter showed that the fare was just over 300 Baht, but if you choose to go along the tollways, which are a lot quicker depending on the time of day, then you can add another 80 Baht or so to the final fare. Fortunately for us we were able to get to the airport earlier than expected. When we checked in Thai airways put us on an earlier flight to Phuket as we had arrived quite early, and there were spare seats on the earlier flight. This meant we’d be an hour closer to lying on Patong beach sipping cocktails.
When we landed at Phuket airport we collected our luggage and made a bee-line towards the taxi rank. We noted though that a limousine service costs 900 Baht to most places in Phuket. We found out that a meter-taxi costs 450 Baht to Patong beach. I found it a bit strange that they actually have metered taxis in Phuket as they don’t bother to use the meter. When we arrived at the Montana Grand hotel the taxi meter showed the fare to be 320 Baht, yet the taxi driver insisted that the fare was 450 Baht. We obliged and paid the guy as we were excited about being in Phuket.
The excitement ceased when we walked into our hotel room. The room was quite disappointing. It smelled of mildew, the bed linen was damp, the pillows were dirty and the shower head in the bathroom leaked. The leak was so bad that the entire bathroom would get saturated after each shower. This probably explained the mildew and the damp linen, or at least that was what I wanted to believe. Kimmy asked reception if we could change rooms, so they gave us a key to check out the other room. Although the other room was so bad that we ended up going back to our original room.
We wanted to go to the beach, but we needed beach towels, so we walked about 100 metres from the hotel to a local market area that I noticed from the taxi ride in. I thought we would be able to get a bargain there. We walked around and finally found a stall that sold beach towels. I asked how much and the guy told me that it costs 600 Baht, but would give it to me for a special price of 550 Baht. I told him that I wanted it for 500 Baht, and the guy said “OK”. I was about to pull my wallet out and pay the guy when Kimmy pulled me away from the shop and told me that she didn’t feel right over how quickly the shop owner agreed on the final price. So we left ignoring the unkind words of a hustler that had lost a naive customer. Adjacent to the market was a brand new shopping centre. We found a Carrefour inside, which is a big department store like K-Mart. We bought a few supplies like toilet paper, biscuits, and bottled water. We also picked up towels for 100 Baht each. I felt relieved that Kimmy pulled me away earlier, otherwise I would have been kicking myself for paying 500 Baht for a towel!
It was dark by the time we got back to the hotel to drop off the groceries. So we decided to head out for dinner. We walked up and down the main road in front of the hotel looking for a place to eat. We settled on a pub that was trying to attract people with a free BBQ. The BBQ took an hour to prepare, so ordered a couple of cocktails and waited. I ordered a Mojito and Kimmy ordered a Singapore Sling. Both drinks had copious amounts of alcohol in it, which was perfect for getting over the crappy hotel room. The BBQ was just a couple of chicken satays and salad, nothing special, but it was free and we weren’t complaining. After our meal we went for a short walk before retiring to our damp bed in our crappy hotel room. We actually lined the bed with the towels that we bought and slept on those. If you’ve ever read Douglas Adam’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy then you know that a towel is “the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have” for the following reasons taken from the book:
You can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Betaâ€¦wet it for use in hand-to-hand combatâ€¦wrap it around your head to ward off noxious fumesâ€¦any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the Galaxy, rough it â€¦ win through, and still know where his towel is, is clearly a man to be reckoned with.
Day 6 – February 6
The next morning we woke up and had breakfast at the hotel. Another disappointing buffet breakfast. The hotels in Thailand need to learn to cook better continental breakfast meals. I stuck to fruit and cordial. The milk had a strange yellowy colour so I had to go without my coffee for the day.
After breakfast we went down to the beach. We had no way of knowing how to get there but were lucky enough to come across a bunch of Japanese tourists that were dressed for the beach. They obviously knew where they were going so we followed them. They took us down an alley way that connected to the main strip of Patong beach. It was certainly a sight to behold. The beach itself is much bigger than Bondi beach back home. The beach was neatly laid out with three rows of deck chairs and beach umbrellas that went from one end of the beach to the other. The deck chairs are split off in sections and each section is manned by an army of cabana boys. You have to pay them 80 Baht to lie on one of their deck chairs. We weren’t sure if you could lie on the beach for free, but even so it was difficult to find a spot on the beach that wasn’t taken with a deck chair.
After spending the day at the beach we went looking for a tourist agent to organise a day trip to one of the islands around Phuket. We found a day trip to Phi Phi island for 1000 Baht each so we booked it for the following day. We then walked around looking for a place for dinner. From memory I think we were after a seafood restaurant, but we were enticed by the free margaritas at Coyote which is a margarita bar and mexican restaurant. They were offering free margaritas, so we decided on mexican food. I had the Chimichangas and Kimmy had the Burritos. The food was great, and we enjoyed the margaritas.
Day 7 – February 7
We woke up early to go on our day trip to Phi Phi island. There are two main islands that attract tourists in Phuket. The first is Phi Phi island which is where The Beach was filmed, and the second is James Bond island from Goldfinger. We couldn’t find a tour that went to both islands so we decided on Phi Phi island as we had both seen The Beach. Kimmy is not much of a James Bond fan, and hadn’t seen Goldfinger, so it was pointless seeing James Bond island. The reason you can’t see both islands in one day is that James Bond island is north of Phuket, and Phi Phi island is too the south. Going to both by boat would mean not being able to spend any time at either of the islands.
The trip to Phi Phi island was a very good package for 1000 Baht. It included transport to and from the boat, snorkeling, and lunch. Snorkeling at Phi Phi island was probably the highlight of the day trip. The boat dropped anchor in a cove and we spent 40 minutes snorkeling. There wasn’t much coral on the sea floor, but there were plenty of brightly coloured fish. When we went to shore we had lunch, then spent close to 2 hours walking around the island. The island is packed with foreigners, and most of them looked to be very keen scuba divers. The 2 hours went by too quickly and before we knew it we were on the boat heading back to our hotel.
In the evening we finally found a seafood restaurant at Patong beach. We ordered Tiger prawns and Pad Thai noodles. The Tiger prawns were gigantic! They were almost the size of a lobster, and probably cost as much as one too.
Day 8 – February 8
Our last day in Phuket was spent lying on the beach again. It was the perfect way to cap off the end of the trip. If you ever go to Phuket, then I highly recommend that you take a pair of sunglasses and a book to the beach. On the beach you are constantly harassed by hawkers pacing up and down the beach trying to sell you their wares. Making yourself look preoccupied with something certainly reduces the number of hawkers that bother you.
On the beach I witnessed an amazing feat of negotiating skills that completely trumped my effort with the beach towel. I was eavesdropping on a conversation between an old eastern european tourist and a local selling bags. The bags were kind of cool in that you can unzip it and it unfolds into a much larger travelling bag. The hawker started at 1100 Baht. The tourist said he was interested in the bag but didn’t want to buy it on that day as he didn’t have that much money with him. This went on for a bit, and each time the local was dropping the price. Eventually the tourist conveyed to the local that he only had 200 Baht. The local seemed to think that it was futile to continue bargaining, so he took the 200 Baht and gave the bag to the tourist. Obviously the bag would have cost a lot less to make if the local was willing to part with it for 200 Baht, which is like $8 AUD. Nevertheless the tourist was able to walk away with a fairly good deal. It was certainly in stark contrast to the pommy tourist on the other side of us that was getting fleeced by every hawker that walked by.
The evening was spent dining at a restaurant on the main strip of Patong Beach. I think it was called Port or something like that. It had a pirate/nautical theme, live band performing, really good mojitos, and decent food. All-in-all it was a great place for our last night in Phuket.
Day 9 – February 9
We were getting sick of the buffet breakfast at the hotel, so for our final day in Phuket we had breakfast at a cafe called Au Bon Pain, which is kind of like a Starbucks, but with french pastries. The pastries were awesome as they were fresh out of the oven. After breakfast we strolled back to the hotel, collected our gear and waited for the taxi service to pick us up. The taxi back to the airport cost us 500 Baht. We prepaid the taxi on the previous day at some tourist shop, as the taxi service at the hotel cost 600 Baht. We weren’t issued any receipts so we were very trusting to hand over 500 Baht, and expect the taxi to turn up at the hotel the following day. Anyway, the taxi did turn up, and it was a lot more comfortable than the taxi that we arrived in. So from my trip in Thailand I realised that the Thai people are very trusting. Once you make a deal with them they seem to honour it.
We flew from Phuket back to Bangkok where we were in transit for 2 hours. During this time we bought some duty free, walked around the massive airport, and had a quick meal at Burger King. After lunch we boarded the plane, and 8 hours or 150 pages of my book later we were back in Sydney.
To end this recap of my holiday I would highly recommend everyone to visit Thailand for a holiday. It isn’t a place for everyone, as the smog and crowds in Bangkok, and the hawkers in Phuket may not appeal to everyone. However there is plenty to do, and it really depends on how you make the most of your holiday there. All I can say is that Kimmy and I had an awesome time in Thailand!