|Bangkok … good things come in small packages.|
I have been to Thailand so many times, but it never, ever, ever fails to disappoint. It has a bit of everything … well, it has a lot of everything and that’s what has us going back over and over again. We had done so much with Denisse in the five months that she had already been with us, and we figured wrapping up her overseas sojourn with a little bit of what we love best … globe trotting … would be a great note to end on. Thailand here we come! Note to self … secretly excited that we would be missing the Easter hullabaloo, with all of its overpriced chocolate and commercialism!
Departure date: March 24. We had only booked the ticket ten days prior, and needless to say, we were all excited. We ended up getting a great deal on Royal Brunei Airlines. It was the first time we had ever used this airline, and I was quite impressed. Having said that, let me be in honest in saying that we chose them simply because they had the best last minute deal. Thanks to Alex and his many hours of hard work; after trawling the travel web sites and cross-referencing with the individual carriers he snared us a ripper deal. Where were we going and what would we be doing? We had ten days to work it out!
|Beer Thai Style!|
We were flying in and out of Bangkok, and we had just over two weeks. We knew we wanted a mix of temples, shopping and beaches as we wanted to give Denisse a taster of a few things. We booked our first night in Bangkok at the tried and true Lamphu House; we often go there when in Bangkok, but you need to get in early, as it’s often booked out! It’s situated in Soi Rambuttri, just a stone’s throw away from Khao San Road, which is not only Bangkok and Thailand’s backpacker mecca, but also arguably South East Asia’s. In the twenty years or so that I have come and gone from this area, I have seen it grow from a somewhat sleepy backwater to a thriving, pumping backpacker mega-centre. A lot of the changes have saddened me, and I often wonder why tourists insist on forcing their customs (or lack of them!!) onto others. Instead of seeing people sipping a beer or two with their mates, night after night, I saw slobbering people with their umpteenth can … of whatever … which of course was sold to them by a Thai person, trying to earn their keep! I have come to understand that I cannot change the world, but I am affronted by these situations and feel that I must say my piece! OK, so I understand that I can’t change the world, but I’d certainly like to!
|Typical Bangkok scene.|
Dad took us to the airport as usual (what would we do without Dino’s taxi service!). We would have a brief stop over in Bandar Seri Begawan in Brunei, before arriving in Bangkok at around 8.30pm. You may recall that we had a few days in Brunei a couple of years ago on our way through to Borneo and Malaysia. Upon arrival in Bangkok, we made our way directly, via taxi, to our hotel. I always get that same buzz upon arrival in Bangkok! It’s like a heart-flutter, I’m home, type of feeling! Apart from my second home Ecuador, Thailand also holds a very special place in my heart. I sat in the taxi, smiling to myself feeling very content … here I was doing what I love most with the person I love most! Big sigh … I felt so content!
|Infamous Thai tuk-tuks.|
Bangkok is almost an insult on the senses! Different sights, sounds and views invade from all angles! Bright lights, rich aromas, honking tuk-tuks weaving in and out of traffic … bring it on! It brings out the adrenalin junkie in me! We jumped out of the taxi, and made our way to Lamphu House. Upon arrival we were greeted by Pensiri, who we know well from our many other times of having stayed here. It just felt all so familiar. We dumped our bags upstairs, and took Denisse through one of our favourite stomping grounds. Welcome to Bangkok Denisse!
Khao San Road is pretty overwhelming for a first-timer … street vendors selling clothes, shoes, trinkets and many other things. Oh the street food … yum! Vendors have been peddling their version of Pad Thai (one of Thailand’s best known dishes) for as long as I can remember. It costs between 20 and 30 baht (32 baht = approximately AUD $1.00) which is a bargain by most (western!) people’s standards. Then of course there are the banana pancakes … I do it with condensed milk, Denisse does it with nutella! Sublime! Of course we got Denisse to try both on her first night. I have always said that my preferred food is street food, in whichever country. I find the tourist haunts both expensive and unimpressive, food wise!
|Physically spectacular, Phi Phi island.|
We had decided that we were going to hit the beaches as our first stop. Where to and how did we pick? We are generally not into super-touristy places but we had never been to any of the islands in the Andaman Sea. We picked Ko Phi Phi, which was actually decimated in the 2004 tsunami. The day after we arrived in Bangkok, we took an overnight bus to Krabi, from where we took a slow boat (something between a ferry and speedboat) to the island. As we neared the island, the views were arresting. A picture perfect view of azure waters, the famous long boats … and a squadrillion people! As it states in the Lonely Planet Thailand’s Islands and Beaches travel guide, “Ko Phi-Phi is possibly the most beautiful place you (and thousands of others) will ever see!” Spot on!
|Ko Phi Phi.|
I cannot take anything away from Phi Phi’s beauty but I was saddened by its obviously having become a hedonistic stomping ground for foreigners … at the cost of the destruction of the locals’ culture and lifestyle! But hey, we all need to make money, and these islanders are no different. What you may or may not know is that this island (as a few others in the area) is Muslim. I saw very little regard for the people’s customs here and certainly not a lot of when in Rome do as the Romans! Ladies, I know you want to bronze your boobs, but seriously, go back to where you came from, and do it there! Wrong time, wrong place!
|Ko Phi Phi viewpoint.|
|Ao Nang Port, on the way to Ko Yao Yai.|
After trawling the ‘laneways’ to find a place to stay (no roads on the island … yet!) we eventually ended up at a place that was far enough from the noise but close enough to the action. Alex looked after our backpacks and Denisse and I went looking for a place to stay. I could already see that she had ‘that backpapcker in her’. We weren’t done with her yet! Over the next few days we swam, sunbathed, hiked to marvellous bays (along which I would stub my toe and later find out that it had a fissure!), went snorkelling and climbed to Phi-Phi viewpoint. Oh, and ate! Like Alex, food is Denisse’s best friend! Let me be specific, good food! The views from, well everywhere, were simply spectacular! Unlike Denisse and Alex, I am a morning person, and the first time I went to the viewpoint was by myself, early in the morning. Although not that long, it was steep, and upon reaching the top, I looked like I’d run a marathon. As it was relatively early (and steep!) I was thankfully not surrounded by throngs of people. Looking across the bays (yes bays) I could only gasp at the sheer beauty. Yes, it was one of those travel OMG moments! I then went walkabout behind the peak, where it was deserted and where I was also rewarded with some more phenomenal views. These are the moments that have shaped my life! These are the moments that will never allow me to be able to ‘get the travel bug out of my system’. These are the moments that I secretly hope to encounter on each and every trip I take! Oh, and fir the record, I did do the hike with Alex one evening, but I wasn’t able to drag Denisse along.
|Ao Nang Port, near Krabi, on the way to Ko Yao Yai.|
Where to next? We weren’t really sure, but we wanted to show Denisse a quieter and more tranquil island. From Phi-Phi we made our way across to Krabi, on the mainland, where we would spend the night before moving on … to where, we were not yet sure. As the boat neared the mainland, we were afforded with yet more arresting views; mind-bogglingly beautiful karsts (limestone rock formations) jutting up from everywhere. Upon arrival, we caught a tuk-tuk into town, and the driver ‘kindly’ showed us a possible place of accommodation. It looked and smelt like a dungeon. No thanks! He didn’t seem too happy, but ces’t la vie! Again, whilst Alex kept watch over the backpacks, Denisse and I looked for a place to stay. This time we found one rather quickly; it was clean, friendly and set up in an old, traditional teakwood residence. We spent the afternoon wandering around the town, and the evening eating at the night market. As always, I find market food to be the most authentic and tasty food around! I just do not do the ‘western over-rated and over-priced’ food thing.
|Unadulterated Ko Yao Yai.|
After some umming and ahing we decided that we would go to Ko Yao Yai. Despite its proximity to the world famous Phuket our research showed that this island was not touristy and untouched. Ko Yao Yai and Ko Yao Noi are actually joined by a tiny isthmus, and we chose the former as it appeared to be the antithesis of touristy. In fact, even finding tickets to the island was proving to be difficult, but we persisted. The short ride from Krabi to the island was, yet again, breathtakingly beautiful, and we were very soon standing on Chong Lad Pier, with only two other tourists! We wanted an uninhabited island? It certainly looked like we were going to get one!
|Chillin’ out on Ko Yao Yai.|
Awaiting the boat, was a songthaew ready to take us to our accommodation. And our accommodation was? Good question! We picked the place closest to the resort, as it really did seem like this was a deserted island, and that transport may be a problem. The number of roads on the island and the places they reach are very limited. So, off we went to Twison Beach Resort. Set on a laid back sandy beach, this became our home for a few days. For those of you who aren’t into resorts (like me!) don’t let the name put you off! The accommodation was just a group of bungalows set on the beach and the restaurant (the only one around!) was a lovely open-air wooden structure where you could eat, chill and watch the sun rise and set. This was true paradise. So, apart from eat, sleep, sunbake and relax, we did not do much else. Whilst Alex and Denisse are experts in the art of relaxation, I filled in my time with several walks around the neighbourhood as well as some runs on the beach (I found out pretty quickly, however, that my fissured toe was not enjoying the runs at all!)
Ko Yao Yai was captivating. Its mountainous backbone was spectacular and unspoilt shoreline unique and special. With a population of around 4000, the majority are Muslim fishermen and their families. The main mode of transport is actually motorbikes, as it’s the easiest way to get around with so few roads. I found the locals to be helpful and friendly, but I could not help but wonder how long before tourism would wreck this!
|With Alita on the ferry to Phuket pier.|
We were soon making our way back to Bangkok, but had to catch a boat to Phuket Town. We met a lovely Thai lady on the boat called Alita, and chatted all the way back to the Phuket Town pier. Upon arrival a songthaew was awaiting to transport the passengers into town, with the final destination being the bus stop. We quickly jumped on and said our goodbyes. We all gave Alita a big hug; although the trip over had been short we felt like a new friendship had been forged. We waved Alita goodbye. She waved back and left … only to reappear with a cold can of drink for each of us. I got out of the songthaew and hugged her again, and we all thanked her for her kindness. Again, these are the moments that shape my travel experiences and life.
|On the way from Ko Yao Yai to Phuket pier.|
It took us around 40 minutes to get to the Phuket City bus stop. The town seemed very crowded, busy and chaotic. It looked like it had lots of character, with what appeared to be old Chinese buildings. It felt like the kind of place you’d want to walk around, discover, explore and get lost in. It was not what I expected really. Phuket for me conjures up images of hedonism, debauchery and old, fat western men slobbering over young Thai beauties! It’s a place I have never been to despite my many trips to Thailand.
It was hot and humid (as was our entire stay in Thailand!) and we had to wait a few hours before catching a bus to Bangkok. Whilst not precious, the air-con variety are a must as otherwise we’d be melted puddles upon arrival. The wait was, needless to say, hot and sweaty, and the probably too cold bus was a welcome relief! Rugged with jumpers, socks and sarongs to keep us warm, we were off!
|Ayutthaya here we come.|
We really wanted to take Denisse to Sukothai, the first kingdom of Siam established around 800 years ago. It is approximately 420 kilometres north of Bangkok and has some truly spectacular ruins. We decided, however, that Ayutthaya would be a better bet, as at only 85 kilometres north of Bangkok, it is a fair bit closer. Founded in 1350 it became the second capital of Siam after Sukothai, and is still home to same pretty impressive ruins. The next morning, upon arriving in Bangkok, we took the next bus out to Ayutthaya … yes please, with air con!
Next: Fun and falls in Ayutthaya and our beloved Bangkok!
Dedication: To my beautiful and intelligent niece, Denisse. I am so proud of the articulate, thinking and compassionate young woman you have become. Continue to be yourself, do what you think is right and not follow the masses … that’s what makes you so special! Oh, and you ROCK as a backpacker! Love you!
Dedicacion: Para mi inteligente y linda sobrina, Denisse. Estoy orgullosa de la manera en que piensas y articulas tus pensamientos y de la mujer que has llegado a ser. Continua siendo tu misma, haz lo que sientes que es justo y no seguir a las masas … eso es lo que te hace especial! Ademas, eres uns MAESTRA como mochilera! Te amo!
” Do not argue with an idiot. They will drag you down to their level and beat you with experience”.
|On the way back to the pier, Ko Yao Yai.|
|Beach to ourselves, Ko Yao Yai.|
|Thai iced-coffee … yum!|
|Leaving Ko Yao Yai.|
|On the way to Ko Phi Phi.|
|Ko Phi Phi.|
|Beer ‘n’ bee.|
|Leaving Ko Phi Phi.|
|Alex and Deni on Ko Yao Yai.|
|Deni living it up on Ko Phi Phi.|
|More unadulterated bliss, Ko Yao Yai.|
|The beach to ourselves, Ko Yao Yai.|
|Fisherman’s boat, Ko Yao Yai.