Phuket

Trip Facts:

Phuket is the largest island in Thailand. Situated on the West Andaman Coast, it is one of the most naturally beautiful places the country has to offer. What we found was a spectacular island with some beautiful coastline including white sand beaches, rocky outcroppings and outlying islands, and a mountainous interior. Sadly, we also found a place that continues to be overdeveloped, overrun, and polluted with vehicles and trash. We still loved it for the remnants of famous Thai hospitality and appreciated the natural wonder that remains there. Our 5 nights there started out with a recovery from a tummy bug that unfortunately made it hard for us to eat whatever we wanted (except coconuts!) and kept Tushar in bed for 24 hours with a high fever, but the R&R of beach time helped and we felt well enough to make a great comeback to full health and spicy Thai food.

Our hotel was the cheapest one so far – and fit the bill well. At 700 Baht(about $20) per night, it was a steal. We had a balcony, large fridge, and rooftop pool. It was about a 15 minute walk to the beach, which I only did one time before we got wheels.

Mopeds:

Mopeds are overywhere in Thailand – they are a cheap and quick way to get around. At only 200 Baht (about $6) per day to rent, it beats out trying to get taxis and is WAY more fun too. Just beware, after a couple weeks of it, your butt will hurt – if its not well padded! You are also more exposed to the wrath of Mother Nature (she’s pretty mad in Thailand sometimes) – more to come on this in our Koh Phangan post. If you visit, be sure to make note of or photograph any scratches prior to renting. As with most Asian countries, you need to constantly be aware of locals trying to make an extra buck off you. This is especially true in Phuket, where it seems the youth in particular, seem to resent tourists for taking advantage of the cheap travel and sadly (you see it quite often), the local women (more on this in the Bangkok post).

Kata Beach:

Kata beach is where our hotel was located. It is a medium sized beach town and the southernmost of three consecutive bays on the west coast of Phuket. It is more chill than nearby Patong, but large enough to offer a good range of shopping and dining options. The beach scene wasn’t crowded at all – but you could tell it does get busy in the high season (Dec-Jan) by all the beach loungers. We were there at the beginning of the low season – also known as the hot season – and the rainy season was right around the corner. We visited this beach and while swimming around, were bowled over by some large waves. I was quite surprised at this and then Tushar suggested we try to do some boogie boarding. I had never done it before but thought it was a fantastic idea so 15 minutes later we were paddling into the waves trying to wait for the big perfect wave to ride in. Well I guess I had some beginner’s luck and my patience paid off. I saw a large peak approaching – much larger than any of the others. I followed Tushars instructions to quickly turn around and paddle towards shore, building up enough speed to ride the wave in. All I have to say is WOW what a rush!! I must have done it all right that one time and the wave carried me in so fast. Seconds later, I was washed up on the sand with a massive smile on my face. It was incredible and I chased that rush for the rest of the afternoon but didn’t have the same luck or skill again. It made my day though! If waves are your thing, then the West Coast of Thailand is where you should head for in the region.

Kata is also home to a famous viewpoint – the scene graces many a postcard and you can see the three bays I mentioned earlier. We were there for the sunset and joined many other couples and youngsters there to do the same. It was a beautiful view – probably one of the best in the area.

There is also a large Buddha statue at the top of a hill in Kata that you can see from most of South Phuket – we didn’t make it there but could see the back of it from our balcony. We also saw it many times on the day we drove the moped in a large circle around the South side of the island.

Patong Beach:

Patong Beach is Phuket’s largest beach town and is filled to the brim with tourists, touts, and bars. Its one of those places that you either love or hate, depending on your style of vacationing. The beach is full of rows of loungers and jetskis, the beachfront road is jammed with Tuk Tuk drivers and aggressive sales people.Tuk Tuks are basically pickup trucks that have two opposing rows of seating in the bed that you access from the aft. They are a taxi alternative (similar to rickshaws in India) and the drivers constantly bug you into overpaying for a ride. North of Patong is home to some of the most scenic and least busy beaches on the island so we stopped by Patong for lunch on our way back from a gorgeous beach, Neam Singh. As usual, we were on the hunt for a relatively clean, veggie-friendly joint, but this proved difficult, so as much as we try to avoid the chains, we decided to settle for a Hard Rock Cafe lunch, popping both our Hard Rock cherries to satisfy our rumbling bellies! Once done, we were glad to leave Patong, only considering to return to check out their infamous nightlife, but failing to follow through because we were just not feeling it there.

Neam Singh Beach:

Neam Singh Beach is a tiny cove that you have to hike down a steep hill to get to. I found it after doing some googling for best beaches on the island. When we went, there were about 20 people there – mostly locals. We chatted to some kids that work at the lone restaurant on the beach and enjoyed some relaxing afternoon swimming. There was a local man charging for streetside parking before the hike down (we think he was a hustler) so we backtracked to a clearing and parked for free under a tree next to some local bikes. One of the things about traveling for 3 months is you learn real quick when people are trying to get money from you that you don’t owe them. Our guard is always up and rightfully so – especially in Asian countries where touts and scam artists are relentless. On the few occasions when we get good vibes from local people or sellers that don’t quote us inflated prices, we will gladly give them our business and not haggle hard – these are the people that we want to support. We’ll chat more about this in our Bangkok post.

Phuket Town & Cape Promthep:

One day we decided to drive to Phuket Town to scope out the scene and check out the bus station where we would be catching a ride to Koh Phangan from. On the whole, the town is polluted and probably good for shopping and catching a couple of small local attractions but it is mostly used as a transition point for tourists heading to other places or for local business people to acquire goods and resources. We didn’t stay for long but left after lunch to take a long leisurely drive back to Kata along the Southwest coast of Phuket. Cape Promthep is a rocky cape that extends off the corner of the island and offers spectacular views of Phuket and its outlying islands. The hike down to the cape is about an hour each way if you take your time and is well worth the effort. We enjoyed every second of it and snapped some great pictures in between watching crabs and waves breaking against the rocks. We unfortunately didn’t have water with us and were parched by the time we returned to the top. Each of us killed 2 coconuts – it was incredible and probably the most enjoyable coconut treat of many in our time in Thailand.

Mom Tri’s Kitchen Royale:

This restaurant is attached to the Villa Royale hotel. It has a prime beachfront location on Kata Noi beach (Yai means big, Noi means small) which is the smaller and nicer of two beaches in Kata. I read about this restaurant on Tripadvisor and without exaggaration, it was our best dining experience EVER!! The combination of food, ambiance, service, and views was incredible and blew us away. This place will always hold a special place in our heart because it was magical. We went there for lunch on our last day and were so blown away that we returned the same night for dinner. We spent time enjoying the property, snapping pictures and walking around. The prices are higher than most restaurants on the island, but still a steal if you look at what you are getting. It worked out to about $20 each for lunch and $25 for dinner. If you are on a super tight budget, you can go for happy hour 5-7pm daily just to check the place out and enjoy half price drinks. It would make a fantastic place for a celebration with some family and friends and we highly recommend visiting if you are ever in Phuket.

Jyoti got bitten by a horse!

We started our day by visiting the Happy Valley Tea Estate (which only exports their tea to Harrods of London, Japan, and Germany),we then visited the zoological center and saw a snow leopard. Later, we hung out with the owners of the “Hot Stimulating Cafe,” Lily and Rambubhai (aka Rambo). We had some nimbu nu serbert (sweet lime water) and masala chai. At 5 or 6pm we went to have some drinks with Rambo at a local underground speakeasy with a view of the North Himalayas. We met more cool local people and sampled local beers and some amazing gin from Sikim called Big Ben. On our way to grab dinner we passed a pony house where Jyoti tried to pet a horse and got bitten!

This morning when we woke up we decided that it be best for us to visit the doctor and have the minor wound checked out with rabies being our main concern. We have an appointment in 30 minutes. All should be fine!

As for the horse, I’m gonna go give it a piece of my mind after Jyoti gets checked out. I’ll snap a picture of the horse and poor lil Jyoti’s wound and post it on here later.

Phuket Pictures

We’re in Darjeeling!

Took the overnight Darjeeling mail from Kolkata Sealdah to Siliguri, 1st Class AC. All in all pretty comfortable journey considering it was 10 hours. We were considering taking the historic toy train from Siliguri to Darjeeling but at another 8 hours, we weren’t up for it so opted for a 2.5 hour shared jeep ride instead.

We reached the Revolver guesthouse (themed after The Beatles) and are staying in their Lennon room. We refreshed with 2 cups of Darjeeling tea and a Nepalese thali. Tomorrow we are planning on tasting more tea and exploring the town.

Stay tuned!!

Kuala Lumpur Pictures

Kuala Lumpur

Trip Facts:

Hotel

While the room was clean, air-conditioned, and chock full of amentities, we could very easily hear our neighbors. First, there was the man who coughed all night and day(poor guy), and then there was the French family who slept through their morning alarm for so long that I had to politely ask them to wake up and turn it off through the paper thin wall (they heard me!).  Because the hotel is located in the city, there was a minor ant infestation in our room, so there was a heavy odor of pest control, and it only got worse after we asked for more pest control. We were centrally located amogst the locals and near public transport. The hotel was located in Masjid Jamek, a predominately Islamic area with many mosques. Daily, we heard the beautiful sounds of the call to prayer as we walked around the shops or to the monorail station. The area was very fashion oriented with the latest in Islamic womens fashions,  very modest clothing shops.

Transportation

Overall, we were impressed by the Malaysian transportation system and by the level of public infrastructure in place, although navigating aroung can be hectic at times. It is quite easy to get around KL. We travelled from Singapore to KL via train and it was a fairly smooth ride the whole way, even though our travel car had broken doors on both ends so air conditioning was not as effective in the heat and there were bugs entering the cabin as we travelled through the jungles and palm plantations (these are EVERYWHERE). It was still a very pleasant experience travelling with the locals and through the various  villages so we would recommend travelling on the trains. As we enterred the city we disembarked at the Kuala Lumpur Railway Station which was a medium size station, and it appeared to be clean, and well laid out for the foreign traveller.

Our next mode of transport was taxi to our hotel. The good thing about getting a taxi from the railway station is that you prepay your taxi “ticket” at a counter inside the station, where the fares are standardized to protect the foreign traveller. We then waited in another line to get your taxi. The ride itself was great, fast drivers, but they still needed help getting us to our exact destination.

In the city, we generally used the monorail which was usually a short walk from wherever we were and we think its the best way to get around.  There are many hidden stairwells and escalators in all different directions, and poor signage, especially in English.  Depending on what time we rode it, the monorail was usually busy with lots of people. At night and especially on the weekend there were rowdy local teenagers (fun to see and generally harmless), and the rest of the time, it was still an entertaining ride.

Traveling by taxi can be quite hectic and it is common to be ripped off, especially at night with drivers choosing not to use their meters and instead charging you double flat rates.

Traffic in KL was a nightmare. It was an organized system of chaos with little regard for traffic laws. On our first night in KL we hailed a taxi and got stuck in bumper to bumper traffic for15 minutes, so we got out and took the monorail instead.

People

The vibe we received from the Malaysian people is that they have a lot to learn service-wise in order to compete with their Western and SE Asian counterparts to help gain tourism dollars. We experienced many locals trying to rip us off at almost every opportunity. Watch out for the tour bus operators who will make surprise stops at handicraft shops. As vegetarians, we were surpised at how difficult it was to find food without meat. We found many locals who said “Yes” to everything even if they didn’t understand so we learned to scope out the restaurant before eating.

Food

We tried hard to stay away from the big hotels and restaurants geared towards foreigners and eat locally instead. We wanted to eat and taste the same foods as the locals, but to our surprise, quality vegetarian Malay food was actually difficult to find. English was not common at the establishments where the locals hang out, so asking for and describing vegetarian food was quite difficult for us. Even ordering a vegetarian pizza and veggie wrap was difficult at a Pizza Hut (it was a last resort!). Malay food in general is a fusion between Indian and Southeast Asian dishes. You have curries and dals, as well as fish dishes, and noodles.

The culinary highlight of the trip was a restaurant called Annalaxmi which we visited on our last night in KL. It was recommended to us by Rajeshbhai, Jyoti’s cousin (Thank you!). It is affiliated with a temple, therefore both men and women must be fully covered. Since I (Tushar) was wearing shorts, they required me to wear a Dohti prior to being allowed to dine. Picture shown for your viewing pleasure 🙂

You eat what you want and pay as you wish, a very shrewd business model as most patrons over pay, including us! We thought it was a fantastic concept and we stuffed ourselves with everything in their buffet in addition to ordering 3 masala dosas. They also served the best rice in the world and it had noodles in it.  We both at a lot  – I ate the most I have ever ate in my whole life, ever! We were both in pain as we walked back to our hotel room. It was a good pain though.

Nightlife

Nightlife in KL can be very fun and full of energy but expect to pay the same as a night out in the U.S. or Europe for dinner and drinks at most nightclubs and restaurants. We visited the Traders hotel for drinks one evening, which is also the best place for a nightime views of the Petronas Towers. We paid 100 Ringit for two drinks, which is about $19 per drink, but you pay for the views, which were amazing.

Batu Caves

The Batu Caves were a beautiful sight to see. Situated about 30 minutes out of the city, the Batu Caves were formed a long time ago in the limestone hills. As we approached the site,we started to see the 270+ steep steps leading up to the cave entrance then we noticed the gigantic statue of Murugan, the Hindu god, which is massive! At the top of the steps is a Hindu temple inside of the main cave. We entered the caves and were instantly drenched in sweat with the rainforest-like humidity. The ceiling of the main cave is sunken in and there are rays of light which light up the inside of the cave. Looking up and out of the caves is a beautiful sight, a habitat of its own, which trees, monkeys, birds, and all sorts of insect creatures. Just about 25 steps down from the main Batu Caves is an entrance to the dark caves. You walk back up a different set of stairs and enter an area where you can see the entrance to the cave, but are restricted from entering furthur unless you do a paid tour of the dark caves. This is where you can go into complete darkness, at a cost. The caves are a few hundred feet tall and the perspective is quite impressive.

Part of our tour was a tour of the world’s largest pewter factory, based in KL. We walked through the factory floor and got to see the molten pewter before it was cast into a variety of items. Apparently, pewter mugs are the best for the drinking liquids from as the metal can regulate the temperature for up to an hour. We also took pictures with the world’s largest pewter beer mug.

Petronas Towers

The Petronas Towers are hard to miss seeing from anwhere in the city. Once the tallest towers in the world, their exterior consists of lots of glass and steel. The base of the Petronas contains a massive shopping mall with only the worlds finest(and most expensive) store brands, like Givenchy, Bulgari, and Harrods. To get a tour of the Towers and the walk across the sky-bridge connecting the two, it will take many hours of waiting in lines in the morning where they give you an assigned time, later in the day. This is just to be ushered across the sky bridge in 10 minutes so we decided to skip this given our limited time.

Elephant Sanctuary

The elephant santuary was one of the highlights of Malaysia. We spent a couple of hours going into the interior of the island, over a mountain pass, and through local villages before we arrived. We watched a short video on how the Malaysian Elephant Relocation Team moves and sometimes rescues elephants who threaten local Palm farmers due to their dimishing habitat. Elephants use the same migration paths forever so whenever another farm or palm oil plantation goes up, more destruction soon follows, as elephants will always follow the same migration path, even if there are farms in the way. Their need to stay in their herds makes it even harder for them.

Afterwards, we fed peanuts to the elephants. It was a wonderful experience. We saw some elephant tricks before we got to ride them which was very cool – and wobbly! It was an extremely hot day, apparently 120 degrees when a member of our tour group checked. We were lucky to be able to end our visit by jumping in the river, cooling off, and bathing with the elephants. We got to touch them and rub their skin(which is very rough). Jyoti freaked out a bit as one of the baby elephants wrapped his trunk around her legs. It was a refreshing end to a really fun day interacting with these incredible creatures.