With my parents retired, they are constantly planning their next getaway to far off, and more often than not warm places. My mom gave me a hesitant Skype call the summer before we were planning to leave on our 6-month escapade, throwing out the possibility of meeting Kyle and I in Thailand right after Christmas. “Why not?” I said. I’d spent plenty of Christmases with them in Mexico and knew they could drink with the best of them. Here’s part one of “Their Take” on the parental unit’s adventures in Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore.
On December 28th, after a 13 hour flight to Shanghai, a 9 hour layover at the airport followed by a 5 hour flight to Bangkok, we finally arrived at Khao San Road where we would be staying for the next 4 nights. When you arrive somewhere like Bangkok, with all the pandemonium around you, it certainly helped having Jamie and Kyle meet us at the airport and show us around that first evening.
One of our favourite foods is Thai, so we couldn’t wait to try some of the local fare. Our first meal was outside the 7-11 on Khao San road eating a very large plate of Pad Thai each and sharing a large Chang beer, all for the grand total of $6. The entertainment for the evening was watching the lager louts from England (we’re allowed to say that as we were born in England) trying to eat scorpions and various other cooked insects after having consumed copious amounts of alcohol.
We visited the Grand Palace, the floating market and various other temples and Buddha’s around the city. Transportation was either by Tuk Tuk or taxi and was always cheap and easy. There was always a Thai man willing to give you directions if you looked in need of help (or even if you didn’t). Unfortunately, they did have a tendency to give you wrong information just so you could be diverted to another tour or place that was obviously one that had a monetary benefit to them! If they tell you the reclining Buddha is closed for lunch, don’t believe them.
New Years Eve on Khao San Road was quite the event. Our night started out with the advertised special of a cocktail bucket, which was just like children’s sand buckets and shared between two people was just right. We soon found ourselves up front in the dance area for the countdown to midnight and suddenly made ourselves a load of new friends. I think they were worried we weren’t going to survive the crush and took it upon themselves to look after us. Our lasting memory for bringing in the New Year will be all the different nationalities singing Auld Lang Syne – we had no idea there were so many verses!
The next night we lined up with all the other backpackers waiting for the overnight bus to take us to Chumphon pier where we would get the ferry and head to the Gulf of Thailand for the island of Koh Samui (us and a few thousand other young tourists who were ready to hit the beaches).
We had chosen to go to Chaweng beach, which, once again, is where most of the backpackers head. We stayed at the Evergreen Resort, which was a great location by the beach. The room was nice, very clean and it included breakfast every morning. Our first impression of Koh Samui was how commercialized and busy it was. We’d expected that in Bangkok but hadn’t quite realized it would be like that on the islands. Our own naïveté really, as we’d arrived at one of the busiest tourists times in Thailand. The town was hopping during the daytime and the beach bars were also hopping at night. We were just happy to be in the sunshine and warmth again and swimming in warm blue water (as well as eating all that lovely Thai food of course). We did take a guided tour around the island to see more temples and Buddha’s as well as one of the other beach areas, Lamai, which looked very nice.
After 3 days in Koh Samui, we’d bought our ferry ticket for Koh Tao which included being picked up at our hotel (our transportation included this on nearly all our trips and we were never let down once).
We’d chosen to stay at the Sairee Dive Hut on Sairee beach in Koh Tao, as it was an excellent location, right on the beach but just a few minutes’ walk into town. The walking path that runs parallel to the beach and around the market area was great although you did still have to watch out for the numerous motorcycles. This was where we were persuaded to rent a scooter and follow Kyle and Jamie around to explore the other beaches. Peter hadn’t driven a motorcycle in over 40 years, and I was just hoping that it was like riding a bike: something you never forget how to do! The steep dirt tracks down to some of the beaches did cause me to get off and walk on numerous occasions, but the beaches and scenery at the bottom were always worth it.
The day we took the long tail boat out to Nangyuan island was definitely the highlight of our stay on Koh Tao. As I said to Kyle when we stepped off the boat, “this is the sort of water I’ve been looking forward to.” It was crystal clear, fish swimming around and white, white sand. We also had some of the best Thai meals of our whole trip on Koh Tao, with our favourite restaurant being Su Chili.
We reluctantly said goodbye to Jamie and Kyle here, as they wanted to head over to Koh Phangan for the full moon party. Apart from feeling that we really were a little too old to go to this world-renowned event, we didn’t want to show Jamie and Kyle up if we actually outlasted them. We also really needed to get over to the west side of Thailand if we were going to see as much as we could of Thailand and Malaysia in the remaining three weeks of our trip.
We caught the overnight ferry from Koh Tao to Sarathani, leaving at 9 p.m. and arriving at 5 a.m. It was a pretty old ferry with one large bunk on either side and plastic covered mattresses, and kind of reminded us of sleeping in the ski cabins at Whistler back in the 70s. From Sarathani a mini-bus drove us to Krabi Town, where we got on the ferry for Koh Phi Phi. We arrived in Koh Phi Phi around 12.30 p.m., and the whole trip cost us about $30 each.
Koh Phi Phi
We weren’t too sure exactly how we’d get from the ferry to our hotel, as we knew there were no cars or taxis on Koh Phi Phi but, as stated on our hotel booking, we were met by someone with a sign for the Grand Chang Hotel. Our bags were put into a push along cart and we followed the teenage boy through the winding alleys of Koh Phi Phi for about 15 minutes until we got to the hotel. It definitely wasn’t grand but, after reading most of the reviews, we were relieved that our room was clean and fairly comfortable. One of the main problems we encountered in booking budget hotels on fairly short notice was that we had very few choices. The Grand Chang Hotel appeared to be almost completely run by ladyboys. We’re not sure if the mother was in the kitchen (she was the only female we saw there) but it was definitely rather different!
Koh Phi Phi had been highly recommended by numerous people and, from the minute the ferry got close to the island, we could see why. The topography is amazing with huge limestone cliffs plunging into crystal clear waters and magnificent bays. We could also see why the Tsunami 10 years ago would have caused such devastation and tragedy, as the huge waves came from both directions over the isthmus. The people in the small alleys throughout the town would have had no idea what was about to hit them and nowhere to go when it did; the chaos must have been horrendous. There is still a lot of re-building and clean up to be done but some of it seems to be on hold until government decisions are made.
The big highlight of this stay was the day cruise around the island, stopping at Maya Bay, Monkey Island, and Bamboo Island and ending up watching the sunset from out on the water. Maya Bay is meant to be one of the most spectacular beaches in Thailand, and we would probably agree if we could have actually seen more of the beach or bay. We’re not sure if there was a special on tours from Phuket, but there were about 50 very large speed boats lined up on the beach with at least 30 people on each. Added to that were the large number of long tail boats, making it hard to actually see the white sand or crystal clear water that the beach is renowned for.
Koh Phi Phi had its own full moon party on Loh Dalum Bay beach, which of course included rather inebriated people jumping through hoops of fire, skipping with fire ropes and limbo dancing under fire poles. Entertaining to watch but the smell of burning fuel, if not flesh, was a bit overwhelming.
This island was definitely a complete change of pace. We stayed at the Good Days Resort on Phra Ae Beach (Long Beach) after a pleasant, easy ferry ride from Koh Phi Phi. We’re still not sure exactly what the connection is between Sweden and this island, but the majority of people visiting the island seemed to be Swedish. At our resort it was mainly young couples with children and our daily entertainment was listening to Old MacDonald Had a Farm or Wheels on the Bus being sung in Swedish. It reminded us of the Swedish character in the old Muppets show. I think if you wanted more action, Klong Dao or possibly Klong Nin Beach would be better suited. This was also a great island for renting scooters and exploring as there are very few roads on the island. The main ones were quite wide with very little traffic and many fabulous beaches to visit. Once again, there were great restaurants everywhere and our favourite one on the main road in Long Beach was May’s kitchen.
We could have taken the high-speed ferry from here to Langkawi or the regular ferry, but the best deal was travelling in a mini bus that picked us up from our hotel. After two short ferry rides to the mainland, a highway ride to Satun and another ferry over to Langkawi, we actually arrived on the island earlier than if we’d taken either of the ferries (they left later and stopped at other islands on the way). The total cost was approximately $30 each.
The Final Verdict and Daily Costs
In Thailand, the average nightly hotel cost for the two of us was $83. Not as cheap as we had thought it would be, but that was mainly due to us booking everything only a week or so ahead. If you want to stay in good, budget hotels in the peak season, you have to plan ahead. Daily spending for two people (all food, beverages, transportation, tours, renting motorcycles and buying a few clothing items) was an average of $85. My biggest concern for Thailand is whether it can sustain the number of visitors it gets to these gorgeous islands. Environmentally it’s going to have a huge challenge in the upcoming years.