- 4 nights
- Padi Madi Guest House
Our hotel was the Padi Madi Guest House located on Sukhimvit Road. This is a shopping oriented part of town and a popular spot for tourists to stay. We were located steps from Thong Lo station and enjoyed the convenience of this as well as many jokes about the station names in Bangkok. The managers: Fred from France and his Thai girlfriend Pimmy were gracious hosts and despite many small issues with our room (leaky AC, tiny wet & moldy bathroom, & spotty power), we enjoyed our stay there due to their hospitality and helpfulness. Pimmy’s mum and brother also work there and were also very friendy. Even though her mum asked Tushar a couple of times if he was married in a flirtatious manner, I let it go without thinking twice but later noted this as one of many observations about the duality of interracial relationships with Thai women and how it ties in with the culture there.
There are many ways to get around Bangkok. To beat the intense traffic, choose the skytrain or the river taxis. Using a combination of these will get you close to most in-city destinations. There are also many taxis, Tuk Tuks, and moped taxis, which are best for short distances. The skytrain is efficient and runs until midnight – expect to mingle with all sorts of locals as well as Western business visitors and tourists who we found to be mostly male. The river taxis are a great experience and at only 15 Baht (50c), are economical too. However, on 3 of the 4 trips we took on the the river taxi, Tushar was overcharged by cheating boat conductors so beware of that!
Taxis are the most effective way to get around on wheels without being ripped off – the drivers use the meter so its fool proof. There were many times that drivers turned us down for rides though, likely wanting to avoid traffic hotspots or stick to their particular areas. Tuk Tuks are notorious for aggressive drivers that take advantage of tourists. Their prices should be the same as taxis, but you have to pre-negotiate with them because they do not have meters. They are also notorious for asking you to stop off at their “sponsor” shops, so that they can receive coupons for free gasoline. This is really annoying because when you refuse, they’ll drop you wherever you happen to be, often far from public transportation and main roads.
We were burned by a tout posing as a policeman. He approached us as we were walking to a shopping district and quite convincingly told us of a once every four years government tax-free sale on any and all Thai made goods, held at the World Trade Center. He was even kind enough to hail and negotiate a Tuk Tuk for us at a bargain rate. Well the Trade Center turned out to be a gem and silk showroom, with nothing good or cheap. We quickly realized we too are susceptible to being duped and tried to get back to where we came from to resume our day. This in itself was a huge hassle as we ran into some more shady Tuk Tuk drivers (who dropped us off in the aforementioned fashion) and a tonne of traffIc. Overall, once you stop trusting strangers and put up your guards, you can get on with enjoying the city. Alternatively you can take these experiences as a window into one aspect of visiting Bangkok and shake em off with a laugh. We did both depending on our moods.
Bangkok is undoubtedly a shopping destination. Famous for clothing, handicrafts, textiles, housewares, and especially fake designer stuff, people come here from all over the world to acquire on the cheap. Anyone who knows us knows we love to shop so were expecting to go to town on Bangkok. Overall, I would say our expectations were not met. The knock-offs we saw were not convincing, and the cheap clothes obviously of low quality, or just not our style. We did get some handicrafts and scarves, and Tushar got some simple cotton button-downs at a deal, and that was the bulk of our shopping there. I am sure there is a lot more to the shopping in Bangkok, we just didn’t see it. Big things we missed were the Chatuchak weekend market and the Floating market. The former is something we were sad to miss and probably would have swayed our opinion a little but we were not in Bangkok over a weekend so could not go.
The culinary side of Bangkok is incredible. Street food is everwhere you look, and some of the safest around. There are also many restaurants catering to your any cravings. Late night delivery services will bring you anything you desire and tropical fruits dominate the street stands. Durian, the famously stinky fruit, was in season during our visit, and my dad would have been sad if we didn’t taste it, so we went ahead and tried some. The taste was sweet, the smell wasn’t too bad (not like the rotting flesh smell from the one he put in my fridge during his last visit to Seattle), and the texture noticably firmer. I guess acquiring it fresh is the way to go! Score 🙂 We also tried some infamous street pad thai (yes vegetarians – just ask for tofu and no fish sauce) – it lived up to its reputation and was delicious and cheap.
The absolute highlight of our Bangkok trip was the Mai Kaidee Vegetarian cooking class. All I have to say is SAP SAP (Yum Yum). We cooked and ate 15 courses of food over the course of 4 hours. Mai Kaidee is a true entrepeneur who has built a brand around herself. She owns 3 restaurants, a cooking school, and has published a cookbook. We learned about Thai cooking from the ground up. The key ingredients you need for Thai food are galangal (ginger family), lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, and thai green chillies. We learned our favorite Thai dishes: Tom Yum Soup, peanut sauce, green curry, pad thai, and papaya salad. At the end of the class, Mai Kaidee first danced for us and then led us through some traditional Thai dancing and we all had a good laugh and entertained some innocent restaurant customers who probably also had a good laugh. Good times!
Bangkok is famous for its palaces and we had no intention of going to them all so settled for a few big hitters. The Grand Palace is a massive compound that houses a series of beautifully decorated buildings, including the famous temple of the Emerald Buddha (unfortunately closed for a service when we went). We enjoyed walking around the grounds, despite the crazy heat, and snapped some good pics of the property. One thing to remember is that you have to cover up when you visit the temples, and tha Grand Palace is the strictest of them all. No shorts and your legs and shoulders must be covered. If you are not dressed to their satisfaction, they have clothes to borrow in exchange for a small deposit. Tushar got some cotton jammies to wear over his shorts and I got a button down shirt over my tank top. I particularly enjoyed the incredible artwork on the walls which is laced with gold leaf.
This temple houses the famous massive reclining Buddha. I was really looking forward to this one because of all the various poses of Buddha, the reclining pose is one Tushar and I can relate to the most. It emphasizes the need for rest and rejuvenation, and exudes serenity and peace. The temple did however have a feeling of being too small for this gigantic representation of Buddha who seemed not to mind his cramped quarters.
Patpong is home to a night market and probably the heart of Bangkok’s sex trade. There is a very seedy feeling in the air as you roam around looking at fake watches and purses, while hearing booming (bad) house music fill the air. Men approached us repeatedly asking us to check out sex shows and gave us very vivid decriptions of what occurs inside these clubs. The streets are lined with scantily clad women (or what seemed to be women), trying to entice you into their club over a neighboring one. The area is one that seems to not sleep so after shopping unsuccessfully for a good knockoff watch, we parked up on some steps with a beer and people watched for a few entertaining hours. This was our last night in Thailand and gave us an opportunity to process a lot of what we had seen over the previous 2 1/2 weeks. We chatted about the sex trade, the attitudes we witnessed of the youth, the stories we had heard from the locals and European immigrants about how Thailand has changed in the last two decades, and our perceptions of public awareness of world issues here in Thailand.
Traditional Thai culture is wonderful. We experienced this from mostly older Thai people and through some of our better restaurant experiences in Thailand. The smiling Thai people are famous for letting go of their aggressions and embracing Sanuk (worry free enjoyment). Buddhism has a massive influence on this and the many temples are a testament to this. Thai hospitality is famous, as well as their massage, and there is much to enjoy on a trip here. We had a great time here and loved the beaches of Thailand and the spicy flavorful food.
The flip side of all this is what we perceived to be the overdevelopment of Thailand, as well as the obvious lure of sex tourism. Land is developed by multinational corporations, and new malls constantly erected. The youth of Thailand seem to hold some contempt for tourists, and there are a lot of people trying to take advantage of foreigners. There are many Western males coupled with Thai women and we noticed that they fall into two categories -relationships that appear to be genuinely loving (hand holding, affection and chatter) and relationships that seem to be transactional or shameful (pretending they dont know each other, old men taking young girls shopping). Thai people appear to frown on these relationships in particular. We think that tourists are often viewed either as dollar signs, or as perverts and there must be some effects that trickle down from these negative images. The things we witnessed had quite lasting effects, and made us feel some sadness for this aspect of Thailand.
- 5 nights
- Kata Beach Studio
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 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 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 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.