|Travelogue: P&L’s Travels in Thailand||
(11/11/00 - 11/21/00)
By A Fearless Traveler
Our Bangkok flight was held up in Tokyo to wait for us plus 9 other passengers from SFO to board the BKK flight. We were the last people boarding flight, passing the snooty stares from the first class 'lounge' of the 777 aircraft. I must confess that the 777's first class looks incredible, just needs a Vegas lounge act to round it out.
After 28 hours of travel we arrive at our Bangkok hotel, the 'Bangkok Palace' at 23:30. Nothing special, but good enough at $35US.
We sleep in and call the 'final straw' of our Thailand trip, a married couple by the names of K. & T. In 1999 we debated whether to hit Thailand or Egypt. After receiving a great airfare to Cairo we decided on Egypt. During the ups and downs of Egypt (Feb. 2000), we met K. & T. in Luxor. After discussing our similar Egypt woes we discovered that they live in Bangkok, and have basically traveled the world. Anyway, our next jaunt was pretty much set into motion from that point forward.
So after numerous emails between each other, we find ourselves in Bangkok, Thailand, now Nov. 13, 2000. K. & T. have somewhat flexible schedules, but will go far out of their way to show us Bangkok during our days in the city, including housing us for 3 nights.
We meet K&T on Silom Road for lunch at one of their favorite Thai restaurants at the foot of the infamous Patpong section of Bangkok. Great to see them of course after nine months, but this exquisite Thai lunch sent us into heaven. Our dreams of feasting on REAL Thai food came true before our very tongues. The brutal hours sitting in a chair to get here have already paid off. We spend 2 hours feasting on six separate dishes while discussing the 5 day old US presidential election fiasco. I knew I wouldn't be able to escape this debate after seeing the foreign newspaper headlines before we left the States.
The four of us spend the next five hours cruising one of Bangkok's specialties, MALLS. We walk through the admittedly polluted streets and take the friendly Sky Train to hit 4 different shopping plazas. The final mall was Grayson Plaza containing two levels of wonderful handcraft shops. Approximately 30 separate shops with a wide range of arts. K.&T. negotiated in Thai for everything we bought throughout our BKK stay. We had no complaints about their LOCAL discounts.
Come 6:00pm we head to K&T's favorite street food district. Two full city blocks of sidewalk food. We thought our lunch was incredible, but this street stop was insane! Small pot boiled chicken, chicken sate with peanut sauce, noodle soup, cucumber salad, and another spicy sauce for the rice. We sat in a 'hole in the wall' restaurant after literally hand picking our sidewalk food, then served with the legendary Thai smile. Once again, we stuff our faces for one hour only to find a bill totaling 360baht ($9US) for 4 people.
Off we go to BKK airport for our 3-day stay on Phuket Island.
First of our 4 THAI AIR flights begins on a negative with a big fat Australian girl seated behind us resting her barefoot on the armrest between our seats. A nasty stare scares her toes away, no apology of course! I should have ripped her a new A-Hole! My anger would soon subside after reading an article in the Thai Airlines magazine written by none other than K. himself. K. is basically a freelance travel writer throughout Asia. LUCKY US in Thailand!!!!!!!!! K. returned from a trip to Ankor Wat in Cambodia the day before we arrived in BKK.
Landing in Phuket, our taxi ride from the airport to our hotel was frightening, reaching 80 MPH. We paid $12 for the 45-minute ride. Phuket airport is located at the northernmost tip of the island while most hotels and resorts are at the southernmost part of the island.
We eventually arrive at 'Pop Cottage Hotel' for our 3-night stay ($55/night). Our room has a large balcony overlooking the scenic Kata Noi Bay, unfortunately as of Nov. 1, Phuket hotels DOUBLE their rates!
Kata Beach is located 10 miles South of infamous Patong Beach, home of strip joints, brothels, gay clubs, and transvestite shows. Kata Beach is frequented by 30-60 somethings mostly from Europe.
The magnificent rock formations of this bay are made of limestone and randomly jet out from the ocean floor anywhere from 20-200 meters high and covered with green vegetation.
Two hours into the trip we hop into a 'longtail' boat for stops at the floating Muslim village of Panyee. Small collection of homes and shops built upon stilts with a Mosque on the premises. Ironically our guide tells us not to buy anything from the overpriced shops. Apparently the charter pays the village enough for the rights to visit the village. Very small town and not very noteworthy.
Next stop is the island of Ping Gun, made famous by James Bond's "Man with the Golden Gun". A 150foot skinny limestone rock is the photo op of this tourist filled desT.tion, but definitely pleasant to view.
Thai lunch back on board the Junk is great, but not spicy in order to accommodate the 'others' (shame). Nevertheless, we ate like pigs because Thai food is simply intoxicating!
Overall, wonderful day trip! No natural rock formations outside the Grand Canyon can compare with the rocks of Phangna Bay. Expensive by Thai standards at 5,200Baht + 200Baht tip = $121.00US for 2 of us.
We're somehow exhausted from lounging on a boat for 6 hours having food & beverage served to us throughout the trip. Room service back at our hotel and a couple of 'Chang' beers send us to bed.
Sleep for a few hours back at the hotel to hit two beachfront restaurants for dinner. First restaurant for exotic drinks and sunset photos, the second for hand picked giant shrimp cooked in the classic Thai garlic sauce with rice.
After drinks and a great dinner we of course look for nightlife, but with no nightclubs in Kata we settle on a street side bar. Phuket Island is composed of the extremes of Patong or the tranquillity of the remaining beaches. Taxi to Patong is expensive, so we're content with the pleasant atmosphere of Kata. We would hit the extremes of Thailand nightlife on our final night in Bangkok.
L. had a "painful" foot massage, but somehow "loved" it! L. paid $10US after 50% tip for 1 hour massage.
We check out of the hotel and have a poolside Thai lunch while we wait for our 3:30 taxi pickup for the airport.
Flight to BKK then another to Phitsanulok for our one day tour of Sukhothai National Park. Sukhothai was the Capital of Thailand from 1000- 1200 A.D. Sukhothai Park has 30 separate Buddhist temple sites which are well preserved. Decent room at the La Paloma hotel with free taxi pickup from the airport ( 800bht breakfast included). Hotel is full of German & French tour groups arriving in beautiful luxury busses.
Upon arrival we rent our guidebook recommended bikes from a shop outside the park. We decided never to rely on 'Lonely Planet' again after this recommendation. Once we examine the map at the park's entrance we realize that we would be peddling all day to see the recommended temples. Fortunately our bike rentals only cost us 40bht ($1US), bikes cost $20/day at California beaches! Meanwhile a few motorcycle driven carriages were cruising by with 2 people to each carriage. The guard at the gate offers to call us one for only 200bht for a 3-hour tour ($5.00).
Our carriage and "chauffeur" arrive 3 minutes later with a huge Thai smile. He seems to enjoy telling us stories in fluent Thai while laughing hysterically. We of course laugh along with him(?)!
We spend the following 3 hours experiencing an astonishingly beautiful park. We see 15 of the Parks 30 separate temples, 5 of which were 6 kms. outside the park's boundaries. We took about 50 photos of some of the most picturesque scenes we've ever come across. We pay our driver the 200bht + 100bht tip for a service we would have gladly paid 5 times for the convenience.
We grab a quick Thai lunch before catching a bus into Sukhothai City for a bus connection back to Phitsanulok. We meet a German couple during the 30- minute ride. The husband speaks decent English and has traveled the US. He claims San Francisco is his favorite city while Bryce Canyon was the most beautiful park on his US National Parks tour. He also gets 6 weeks of vacation each year, which is typical of his country's professionals (Damn the Euros).
We catch a bus to Phitsanulok & a tuk-tuk to our hotel for a 3-hour wait for our flight back to Bangkok. We are starving so we hit a nearby sidewalk joint for unbelievable food. Great chicken Sate, but we would be introduced to a wonderful Thai dish we are sure to eat back in the states. PAPAYA SALAD (Som Tam) is full of green papaya shavings, chilies, dried shrimp, tomatoes, peanuts, fish sauce, and soy sauce. The locals' giggles make us enjoy the meal even more (100bht = $2.30US).
Arrive back in Bangkok after an easy flight. Catch a taxi that wants to bargain without the meter being turned on. Knowing the scam we call him out. He turns on his meter and off we go back to K&T's apartment. Upon arrival the driver wants to charge us an extra 50bht, but frustrated with him already, we decided to put up an argument that only left him sitting on the trunk of the car with our luggage inside. I call T. from the lobby, only to have her agree with the taxi driver's story.
Fortunately we were able to ease our stress by joining the small 'party' K&T were holding. K&T's friend Hans was in town for one night and one day after a business stopover from Malaysia. We caught the three of them on their 4th bottle of wine. We helped them finish 4 more bottles. Spend the night talking travel, playing music, and discussing politics and religion.
Hans was raised in Holland, but now lives with his wife in Paris. Hans and K. met in 1985 while in China. K. climbed a mountaintop outside Shanghai to catch a sunset view only to find Hans and his wife inviting him to enjoy a bottle of wine. They've been friends ever since.
On the way to our next stop 'Wat Po' temple we come across an ironic scene. While driving through a busy intersection, our taxi driver yields to a Mercedes with a brightly painted scene of the Giza desert (Sphinx, Pyramids, etc...). Needless to say we all scream an array of expletives including "hit him!" Our driver was a bit perplexed. The incident brought back memories of our Giza scam and K&T's 2 hours of escaping from the midst of a Giza scam. Hilarious in the fact that it was because of Egypt that we were here in Bangkok.
Wat Po was very impressive. It's infamous for the 'reclining Buddha' which is huge, but photos cannot show its actual size (120ft x 45ft). The courtyard is the actual attraction with 12ft tall statues guarding the entrances, multi- colored temples, and over 30 golden plated Buddhas displayed in cases. Wat Po is 200 years old.
Next stop is a nearby canal side shopping market. One side offers fresh seafood & spices, while the other offers fresh plants and pottery. Hans was anxious to visit the floral market in order to add to his ongoing orchid collection in his Paris greenhouse. K. & Hans head down one side of the canal, while T., L., and I cross the bridge to the food market. The food market has an enormously strong smell, but it's expected from the cuts of meat, seafood & organs offered for purchase. I buy some dried Thai chilies. We meet K. and Hans on the other side. Hans bought a new orchid breed he doesn't currently own.
The 5 of us then hit a riverboat on the Chao Phraya River to lunch at McDonalds. Hans devours a Big Mac while we make jokes about France's hatred of McDonalds. Hans blushes and claims he is Dutch.
We then head to a local shopping district looking for a Buddha head for Hans before his 23:00 flight back to Paris. After about 6 shops we find one filled with many bronze pieces from $10US to $10,000US. K&T negotiate a Buddha piece down to $15US. L. can't stop looking at the piece after hearing the price, so after complimenting Hans on his purchase, L. sends the saleswoman to the back to retrieve another. As we left the store for more shopping, L. told Hans she would be following him for his taste in shopping. His look of amazement made us all laugh, he didn't understand the compliment.
We head back to K&T's place for an early night, bid farewell to Hans, then off to bed.
We buy a few gold pieces, bamboo placemats, and some beautiful handicrafts. The market was extremely crowded and unorganized with 'watch for pickpocket' signs. A few obvious bumps from behind, but my wallet is in my front pocket of course. K. elected to stay home, knowing the crowd and brutal humidity awaiting us. In the meantime his wife seemed to be in heaven while spending freely during our shopping venture (hilarious).
We take the nearby Sky Train to Grayson Plaza for lunch at Burger King (tight budget now). Much looking in the Grayson mall, but only a few items purchased.
We send T. back to her condo while L. and I head to the pirated software mecca of Phantip Plaza. Immense, crowded, and confusing selection of numerous shops. I spend 300bht ($8US) on an 2 software CD's, only one ended up working.
We decide to take a taxi to Sukhumvit Plaza to hit the shops we had seen the night before. Being a tourist spot, we can't find any good deals, so we decide to meet K&T at our original meeting spot of Sukhumvit & Patpong.
The 4 of us dine at their favorite Lebanese restaurant which they frequent often. I have the ½ chicken rotisserie while the others split a 10 dish meal from Hummus to pork stuffed grape leaves. P&L pay the bill in exchange for K&T's generous hospitality.
Hop in a cab while my conservative wife drops the bomb on K&T. "We want to see a strip club!" K&T didn't have much of a problem with L.'s request; neither did I. Off we go to the infamous Patpong.
Patpong is a risqué district made up of 3 parallel streets. The first street is mainstream strip clubs (prostitution flagrant), 2nd street is for Japanese clientele, and the 3rd is for gay clientele.
We head down 'mainstream' street to many prostitutes along the bars. We then duck into a joint at the end of the road. The club has about 15 naked women dancing solo on the center stage with a side stage of 4 transvestites with g-strings. One of the transvestites had an obvious bulge!
A few beers and a difficult urination in the men's bathroom with a transvestite doing his/her make-up in the mirror next to me, brings an end to our Thailand tourism.
Stayed up a few hours watching more CNN presidential coverage. Only 5 hours sleep!
23 hours later we arrive back to our two dogs going bonkers over our arrival (taken care of by L.'s mom).
4 Domestic flights = $350US
Total = $3,150US
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