Travelogue Thailand 2001
12/2/01 – 1/2/02: Thailand
The 1:00am flight from Perth to Phuket via Singapore is a really painful thing to do to oneself. I’m not sure what I was thinking when I booked it. Night flights are great because you don’t lose time traveling – you are in motion when you would otherwise just be sleeping. But I’ve been getting up around 7:00am to 8:00am every morning and am in bed by 10:00pm. So staying awake for the 1:00am departure was hard. Furthermore, Thailand is one hour behind Perth, so I’m going to have a one-hour adjustment anyway. Worse still, there is a three-hour stopover in Singapore in the wee hours of the morning, so I wont get a full nights sleep even if I sleep every minute we are in the air. Oh well.
Singapore International is a great airport. There are nice areas set up to watch HDTV televisions with various topical programming, useful stores (and silly ones), free internet kiosks, an interesting cactus garden on the roof, and they are setting up a full size audience-participation interactive game-show. I took advantage of my layover to stop in at the well-stocked electronics store to replace the various electronics that I lost or broke in Australia.
The flight to Phuket was uneventful on an old Thai Airways A320. At the airport I called a hotel in Patong to make a booking. Foolishly, I hadn’t made a note of the hotels phone number. It wasn’t in my Lonely Planet, but I knew I had it in my computer, so I pulled that out and looked up the number. An airport guard came over, fascinated. Clearly he had never seen anything like this before. He stood by me watching my every move as I booted up, found the right document, and got the number. It was a bit strange being hovered over, but it actually made me feel more secure having my own armed escort. Once having made my hotel booking I booked a taxi to Patong beach. The price is now 480 baht. One of these years I will find a cheaper way to go, but I just cant get excited about US$11 for a 45 minute private taxi ride.
Continuing my quest for the perfect Patong beach 1-star hotel, this time I am staying at the C&N Hotel, 151 Rat-u-thit Song Roi Pee Rd. 076-341892-5. The rooms in the new wing of the hotel are very good for its class. Clean and quite quiet. However, you cant make computer phone calls from room.
Look into dive trips.
Lunch at Number 6 Restaruant (not the one on the beach.)
Beach, massage from Pin and Pan on the beach. Tell me there are few tourists now.
Dinner, didn’t live up to past dinners.
Bed is hard as a rock, but room in new wing is very quiet
Why Grohe fixtures?
Lamp Sihng beach
Dinner at Chiang Rai Seafood Restaurant, formerly hidden down tiny nameless Soi off Soi Bangla
Seems like I spent the day taking care of stuff. Not sure where the day went. Booked Scuba Cat Trip, sent email. What else?
Dinner at Chiang Rai Seafood Restaurant, “mai fohn tok” == “my Fanta”
As with much of my Australian trip, everything feels like a shadow of former trips. You can never step in the same river twice.
Keep on thinking about the quote I just read “Travel, then, is a voyage into that famously subjective zone, the imagination, and what the traveler brings back is - and has to be - an ineffable compound of himself and the place, what’s really there and what’s only in him.” By Pico Iyer in Why We Travel from Salon Travel Magazine. To that I would add that it is the compound of the traveler himself at the point he is at in his life, and the place, at a particular time in its history.
Dinner: pork sates, Som Tam from a street vendor, chocholate & coconut pancake
Go to Scuba Cat, 2 hour drive to dock, onto boat, steam out to Similans. When I signed up for this trip there were only 5 other divers on this max 14 person boat. Now there are 13! I was signed up for one of the private double-bed rooms, but there are an odd number of women and an even number of men, so one of the women gets my private room and I am sharing a tiny twin-bunk room with a CPA from California. Hi ho. It isn’t really a problem, but it is frustrating, because its not what I signed on for. Vaguely annoying. The boat is redesigned since the last time I was on it. It does seem a bit more cramped. It would have been totally fine with only 6 of us. With 13, well, it is OK, but could be more elbow room. For the dive briefing in the living room not everyone can sit down, and the room gets frightfully hot with that many bodies in it.
Dives, start Nitrox course (about US$90 for the class, a deal!)
Finish Nitrox course
Man, screw diving in Western Australia. Dragging my own tanks down the pier to the boat, only two dives a day, small boats bumping out to dive sites, geesh. Here it is so easy, so pleasant, and the diving is SOOOO much better. If anyone ever tells me “you’ve got to dive at ‘X’ because it is great,” my first question will be “have you ever dived Thailand?” If the answer is “no”, then I am not interested in their opinion. But it’s not just that the dive sites are better, or that there is a staff of people here taking care of stuff, but there are other things too. In all the Australian dives I did, you have to surface near the boat. If you don’t, you swim back. Ten meters, one hundred meters, whatever, you swim to the boat, the boat does NOT come to you. Here, it is assumed that you will surface where you want to, and the boat ALWAYS comes to you. That is so nice. It isn’t necessary - I can do a surface swim - but it makes it that much better. I can put all my equipment on myself – I’ve done it dozens of times. But, here there are people that will zip me up, lift the shoulder straps on my BCD, put a hand on my tank as I go down the stairs to the dive deck, etc. etc. I don’t need any of that, but it is just that extra 10% that puts the experience over the top. It changes it from “wow, the diving is great”, to “wow, this whole experience is great.”
Of course, the main point of all this is the diving. For what I like to see and do, this place just puts WA to shame. Every dive here has been better than any dive I did in WA. Add to that diving with a whale shark. Not a mad scramble to snorkel with a whale shark along with 100 other people. There are whale sharks here. If you are lucky (and we were) then you can dive with them. And the odds aren’t that bad. Out of 8 dives at Richelieu Rock, I’ve seen whale sharks twice. That’s a whopping 25%. I’ve never done the Exmouth snorkeling with whale sharks experience, but based on how the manta dive went, I suspect I would give 100 Exmouth snorkels for the one whale shark dive we did yesterday.
Dolphins leaping (12 or more)
Last day of the dive trip.
There’s this guy Nils who is on the boat. He seems completely lost. Apparently he is a disaster. He is a huge fat guy, using a rented XXL yellow shorty wetsuit. The other day he apparently took someone else’s medium size full length blue wetsuit and was found struggling to put it on. The next dive he was trying to put on someone else’s BCD. Last night getting ready for the dive he put on his fins before his wetsuit, and then couldn’t figure out why he couldn’t get the wetsuit on. Every dive he is instructed where to go, and then he swims off in the opposite direction. No one will be a buddy with him, so the assistant dive master, Tobias, has to be his buddy. Appently every dive Tobias has to chase after Nils, grab him, and pull him back to where he is supposed to be. Surprising the guy hasn’t died yet. Oh, and he was the guy that grabbed the whale shark’s fin. Anyway, he is in the first dive group this morning. As my group (the second group) is getting ready, we look out and see that the first group is having trouble – Nils has lost his mask and Tobias has dived to retrieve it. We all shake our heads in amazement and continue to get ready. I put on my wetsuit, weight belt, booties, mask… uh, mask… where is my mask? I look everywhere. Guess, what. Nils took my mask. It came off because it didn’t fit him. Boy am I glad Tobias was able to find it when it fell off Nils. I had to dive with PJ’s spare mask. Geesh.
Anyway, the whole trip the guy has seemed lost and sad. I wonder if he is depressed, or something happened to him. Sigh.
Back in Patong, check back into C&N Bungalows.
Time moves at a different speed in Thailand. I’m not really sure how the day passed, but mostly I completely rearranged my luggage, took care of some tasks related to going to Bangkok, and spent a little time on the beach. Had one more fabulous meal of curried crab.
Fly Phuket to Bangkok on Thai airways. Uneventful. Staying at the President Park Executive Serviced Apartments, Maple Tower, 95 Sukhumvit Soi 24 02-661-1000. The President group seems to own an ever growing collection of serviced executive apartments in Bangkok. I had stayed at another of their properties last time. This building is newer and nicer, and my junior suite is well done with separate living areas, high-end Sony TV, kitchen, balcony, etc. However, I am on the 7th floor, and right next to a construction site. Thus, I am getting a lot of busy street noise and construction noise all day and much of the night. I’m not sure there is any street in Bangkok that is quiet, so room noise is largely a function of insulation. The large glass doors to the balcony of my room are single-pane, so the noise is pretty bad.
Visit with my friend Duke.
Not feeling well, I think I ate some bad pineapple on the beach yesterday.
Intended to get up and go to the cooking class at the Oriental hotel, but woke up feeling retched and nauseous. Got up, ate breakfast at the hotel, went back to the room and fell asleep for a long time. Finally got up and went to have Dim Sum with Duke and a bunch of his friends at the Ambassador hotel on Sukhumvit Soi 13.
Wandered about, went to Siam Center, had a dermatologist look at my scuba-diving induced rash. Cost 40b for the doctors visit, 300b for medicated cream. Wanted to go to the movies at the fancy theatre at Siam Discovery, but all they are playing is Harry Potter. Ding.
Still not feeling well, went to bed early.
Still not feeling well but dragged myself out to the cooking class anyway. Turns out that each day is a different subject. Today’s theme is different methods of cooking (deep frying, steaming, stir fry.) Great class, lots of fun, but seriously expensive and recipes are very complex. Most of the things we made would take all day to make if you didn’t have a staff in the back room doing the grunt work for you.
Back to hotel. Slept most of the day. In the evening I finally felt well. Went out for dinner with Duke and his girlfriend Suny at a place called “Food House” on Soi 18. Pretty good.
Though I felt great last night, it was back to blech this morning. Went out and bought a series of Flagyl in case I’ve gotten another bout of Giardia. If I don’t have Giardia, Flagyl is basically harmless. If I do, it is the only cure. Unfortunately Flagyl makes me feel pretty ill all on its own.
Had lunch at the Capitol Club next to the pool. Rooms that the President Park include use of the Capitol Club next door. Was told that the pool was closed for cleaning and repairs, but it was open. Read by the pool but fell asleep for a couple hours. I wish this would pass.
Made plans to go to Chiang Mai tomorrow.
Had dinner with Duke and Suny at an amazing place called Kuppa, 39 Sukhumvit soi 16, 02-663-0450. Sat on a porch swing next to a table covered with Thai fashion magazines. Place was filled with cool, hip, attractive young people having a good time. Had a fantastic salmon crusted in miso on a bed of <anis flavored celery-like plant>
Flew to Chiang Mai. Uneventful. Mike picked me up at the airport then drove me to the Empress Hotel where I got checked in and dumped the bags. We then went to a Wat, checked out the giant bhudda, the view, and the sunset. Later we had dinner <where?>, and sat at a bar for a while talking. Unfortunately I was limited to soft-drinks since Flagyl and alcohol don’t mix. We went to the night market where I shopped for things for my new house. While there were a number of nice things that I would have liked, none were worth the price when shipping was added in. I’m not sure my idea of furnishing my house with Thai crafts was such a good idea.
Feeling mediocre again this morning. I don’t know what I’m suffering from, but a good nights sleep seems to do harm, not good. The room at the Empress, while unexceptional, was very quiet and the bed was very comfortable. After several nights in my super-noisy room at the President Park, I realized this morning that I had become exhausted, never sleeping well. Here at the Empress I slept like a log. I think the President Park is off my list for Bangkok, and the Empress is on for Chiang Mai.
After dragging myself together I checked out of the Empress, and we moved my bags over to Mikes where I dumped a lot of stuff and filled a small travel bag for our driving trip through the mountains northwest of Chiang Mai. We did a beautiful twisty drive to the town of Pai, where we checked into a hot springs resort (name?). Pleasant place, lovely gardens, rushing river, hot springs, nice bungalows. But, the beds were very hard as were the pillows, and the Thai grounds keepers and maids wander around shouting at each other in Thai early in the morning. Perhaps it would be worth staying someplace more comfortable and only visiting the hot springs for a soak. Also, the nicest part of the resort is overrun with Israeli tourists who party and shout late into the night. Ugh. Mike had warned me about this, but I thought he was joking, or had had the bad luck to run into one rowdy group. But, no, I get the impression that this place is always full up with the very worst of ill-behaved Israelis traveling after finishing their army service.
Went to Café Del Doi Panoramic Lounge 66/1 Banthapai, Maehee, Pai 09-8519621, www.cafedeldoi.com. Great coffee, great fruit drinks, super view. Took a lot of photos of sunset over the valley.
Went to the Jazz Up Café for a drink. Listened to very cool music in this super-cool place. Pai is full of what Mike calls “artsy fartsy” stuff. Pai is a beautiful valley that has been taken over by back-packers and artsy-fartsy rich Thai kids. The two are self-reinforcing. What they are creating here is at once terrific, and yet very un-Thai.
Then had dinner at Mikes favorite European restaurant in Pai <name?>, which was very good. Then went back to the Jazz Up to watch the “live set” which was a young Thai guy playing amazing acoustic guitar. It was fantastic. Then off to the Be Bop, which is a pure backpacker bar. It could have been anywhere in the world. Even the band was white. Then went to a place called Déjà Vu. A very hip looking establishment, it is located on the edge of town down a terrible dirt road. It is almost inaccessible, yet manages to survive on hipness alone. We were the only people there early on a Sunday night and talked with the owner. He is being harassed to death by the police and wants to sell out. Hmmmm. Anyone want to buy and almost inaccessible bar on the edge of town that the authorities are working over-time to shut down? At one point I was strangely amused by his description of farang kids hurting themselves at his establishment. Kids regularly get drunk and fall off the dance floor onto the rocks below, and frequently get bloodied tripping over tables or stumbling into rocks and plants. The way he said it was as though it were in some way annoying, not like he had any plans to put a banister next to the dance floor or remove the other offending objects. Ahhh, Thailand.
Woke up very late and a bit stiff from the beds at the <hot springs resort name?> Still, I’m feeling a lot better this morning. A couple long nights of sleep have done me good.
We packed up and headed out, continuing our tour. Stop at the exceedingly dangerous Pai Canyon. Surprisingly a German tourist there was even wimpier than we were. In America such a place would be behind barbed wire with huge signs saying “warning: dangerous cliffs”, “keep back, unstable footing”, etc.
Driving through beautiful hills and valley with great vistas. Visit to another nice Wat with amazing views. Had a hard time finding the “21,000 rice fields café”. Finally found it, had horrendous service, which was a problem since we only had enough time for a quick fruit drink (which were excellent when they finally arrived.) Stopped at a rest-stop where a hill-tribe woman cheerfully posed for photos for me, then demanded that I buy something. Bought a sunglass case for 20 baht which I really like.
Stopped for lunch at a spot with amazing views. While we made and ate sandwiches we were set upon by a swarm of small flies, but they seemed harmless. Still they were so annoying that I ate while pacing back and forth to keep the flies at bay. As we were packing up Mike realized that his legs were bleeding. I too found that my arms and legs had innumerable small holes which trickled blood. Apparently these flies were some kind of super-mosquito, managing to chew a hole without the slightest ping or nudge. We declared them “vampire bugs” and ran for the car. Zooming off we realized we had some of them in the car with us, and stopped several times to hunt down and kill any remaining vampires. About 10 minutes later we were both itching like crazy as the bugs natural anesthetic wore off. I wonder if modern medicine knows about the substance these buggers use; the anesthetic effect was perfect.
Arrive in Mae Hong Son. Another Wat with giant standing Bhudda and another amazing sunset view.
Checked into hotel <name?> Odd sort of bungalow-resort at the edge of the woods just outside of town. Looked really pretty, peaceful and nice, though very rudimentary. Nice, but not in any way deluxe.
Dinner at Fern restaurant, excellent Thai food. Everything very good, catfish salad was exceptional.
Ugh. Wow does this hotel suck. As the morning traffic starts up with the rising of the sun, I learn that these rustic cabins are basically right on the highway, and their woven-thatched walls are as soundproof as a sieve. The bed is no softer than a sheet of plywood. Somehow the pillows manage to be harder still. I suspect they are stuffed with the same stuff they thatch the roofs with. To make matters worse, I spent the whole night vomiting. I don’t know if I got food poisoning from something last night, or whatever has been ailing me finally blossomed. I feel like I didn’t sleep at all. In the morning I was desperate for a shower but found only a trickle from the tap. Ugh. Met Mike at 8:30 and found that he was not sick at all, so it probably wasn’t food poisoning. Mike dragged me to the 7-11 where he forced me to down a stick-sweet electrolyte drink. An excellent idea, this helped me on the road to re-hydration. We went to the bakery café, where we were ignored for a long time. Finally I got a fruit drink and Mike got a great looking breakfast, the smell of which made me even more nauseous.
Mike made the excellent suggestion that I just check into the comfortable and quiet Tara hotel and sleep for a day while he would go off exploring. It was a good idea, but I just couldn’t bring myself to skip a day that could be productively spent seeing these mountain areas. We piled into the car and within a kilometer I was asleep. At one point Mike woke me up to see a really beautiful waterfall. Later I woke up for some incredible views, vistas, and rice paddies. Then I woke again to see the insignificant town of Mae Aw, a Chinese KMT community on the border with Myanmar. We had to go through lots of police and army checkpoints, but none stopped us.
Around 3pm we got back to Mae Hong Son. I had developed a huge headache and a fever, and felt delirious. Mike got me checked into the Tara in nice, clean, super-quiet room with a soft bed and cushy pillows, then headed back out again for more exploring on his own. I was asleep before I knew it. Some time that night I woke up and ordered consommé and tea from room service, which was excellent. I was awake just long enough to eat it, but not long enough to brush my teeth afterward.
Up late this morning, still not feeling well. Managed to eat some fruit and a bit of bread from the breakfast buffet.
Packed up and headed off, driving to Khun Yuam to see an area of fields of yellow flowers <name?>, which are used to make a natural insect repellent. However, November is the season, so it was only a faint shadow of the splendor that must be there at the right season. Then drove to Mae Sariang, which gets my vote for winner of the Thailand Tidy Town 2002 award. Everything was uncharacteristically neat and clean, with brand new, large, colorful signs, in English, pointing the way to each place in town. We ate a nice meal at the Riverside restaurant, then sat in astonishment as a huge downpour began, even though the sky was clear.
Drove back to Chiang Mai, checked back into the Empress. They offered me a rate of 2200b for a standard room, but I said “wait a minute, it was only 1700b four days ago.” They looked up my info and found that it had been 1650b the last time, “so of course we will offer you the same rate.” Oh, and last time they had upgraded me to a deluxe without telling me, “so of course we will upgrade you again.” No complaints here. My new room was a floor above the prior, but on a different side of the building facing towards the street. It turned out to be a lot noisier, even though it was 15 stories up. I got room service and then fell asleep.
Still feeling poorly. Went to Mikes condo, did some stuff with computers, had lunch. Went out to the road with all the crafts galleries to look for things for my new house. Didn’t find anything I liked. Someone seems to have left the “art” out of these “arts and crafts.” Ooops.
Went to see a movie but nothing good was playing, so we just had a Japanese dinner then called it a night.
Fly to Bangkok. Plane delayed 2 hours. I left my jacket at the Royal Orchid club in Chiang Mai. Ugh. Upon landing I filled out a missing luggage form for my jacket. They will try to find it for me.
Getting into Bangkok at 5pm on a Friday is really bad. Over an hour and a half to get to Sukhumvit in stop-and-go traffic.
Check into the beautiful Sheraton Grande Sukhumvit. Still feeling poorly, I want to be pampered for a while. Eventually I get a call from Thai airways. They have flown my jacket to Bangkok Airport where it is waiting for me. Whew.
Slept late, sat by the pool at the Sheraton, watched TV. Tried to eat a real meal, only able to nibble here and there. I think my big problem at this point is lack of food.
Dinner at Soda restaurant. The food has really gone downhill. The place is full of tourists, and the food is toned down to serve them. Sigh.
Another day doing nothing. I feel like someone has removed 25% of my blood. I wish I could eat. Ugh. Sit by the pool reading then eat half a club sandwich for lunch.
Dinner at Cabbages and Condoms restaurant (Sukhumvit soi 14), a place established to raise funds to help decrease population growth and the spread of AIDS. Beautiful setting, food was good but not great.
Went to the newly opened Ministry of Sound on soi 14. Fairly empty. 300b entry includes on drink. Good space, good sound system. Probably hopping last night.
Pretty much the same day again. Hard time eating breakfast. Sit by the pool reading. Then, at lunch, I felt hungry. I ordered a hamburger and ate it all in one sitting without feel nauseous. Woo hoo. The road to recovery. Lets see if I can do that again at dinner.
Went to the “Grand EGV” theatre in Siam Discovery Center to see “Monsters, Inc.”
Walked around Siam Square area, looked in shops, had a coffee at Fou Bar (soi 3). Coffee shops have sprouted up here like crazy. Thais don’t have the notion of saturating the market.
Read by the pool, Phantip Plaza, dinner at Cabbages and Condoms.
Read by the pool, do some shopping, find the Asian Motifs store at the Hilton on Wireless Road. Things weren’t as nice as what I had seen before in their temporary shop at the Sheraton.
Found the Laotian/Isan restaurant that I had been to before. The concierge at the Sheraton knew what I meant based on the description. Apparently it is famous. Vientiane Kitchen, Shukhumvit soi 36, 02-258-6171. My favorite leaves with fish dish is called Miang Pla Chon, Fried snakehead fish with aromatic herbs wrapped in leaves. Also had some cooked beef jerky, Neua daed diew.
Read by the pool. Dinner at Indigo, 6 Thanon Convent. Before was European and thai food and interesting fusion stuff. Now straight French Nouvelle. Very good, but not as exciting as before.
Lunch at Basil in the Hotel, Lord of the Rings at the EGV Grand Gold cinema. Brought my fleece this time, and not as cold as before.