One Night In Bangkok (sing it)

The last night of a holiday is often the worst – longing for the trip to continue, trying desperately to make the most of what little time is left, feeling sad. Not us! I think it was one of my favourites.

Before we got to Bangkok I discovered that our flight home had been delayed about 8 hours, which meant that we were leaving at 5pm Saturday and getting back 8:30 Sunday morning rather than late Saturday night. A bit of a bummer because I had work the next day but it did mean half a day spare to go back to Chatachuk markets – my favourite!

We got into Bangkok late in the afternoon on Friday and I’d booked us a hotel near Don Muaeng Airport – DMK (the one we’d be leaving from) but our flight got into Suvarnabumi (BKK). Fortunately there was a free transfer bus, we just had to show proof that we were flying out of there. Lucky we took the bus because it was quite a long trip. From the airport we took two taxis to our hotel, the Pool House Service Residence. I have no idea why something so shabby had such a fancy name, but the pool itself was fine, even if the rooms had quite a lot of ants.

As we drove through the streets near the hotel Songkran was in full swing. Techno music blaring, hoses and buckets full of water being thrown over mopeds full of shivering girls and boys – it was a much livelier Bangkok than we’d seen in the more upmarket areas. It felt more fun.

After we settled in and had a swim we decided to go out and find some food. We took a few turns and were walking down a street when we hear ‘Hey! You! Where are you going?’. We looked over to see a bunch of people in the front courtyard of a house sharing a meal. One of the men is calling out to us in a friendly way so we went over. I must admit that seeing how open my brother and Matt were to meeting new people in Vietnam really made me think about taking advantage of friendly locals and getting into conversations. We told him we were looking for somewhere to eat and he said that there wasn’t anything in the direction we were heading, and he took us a few doors down to a street food place full of locals. He explained to the cook that we had one vegetarian in the group and sorted us out and told us to come back to his place after dinner for a drink.

Dinner was pretty good – meat and vegetables in various combinations with rice. The price was especially good at around $2 for a plate. Sledge found his too spicy, but apart from him we all enjoyed it and decided to head back to the man’s house. It turned out to be a great idea and he introduced himself as Yu, a Malaysian man who had lived in Miami and married a Thai girl. We met his wife, An, and his family-in-law. He had a friend in Adelaide so we talked about Australia a bit and shared stories, some of which were downright hilarious.

We headed off after about an hour and a half, not wanting to outstay our welcome. It had been a pleasure to get to know someone who could answer our questions about Thai culture and was so kind and generous.

The next morning Luke, Lauren, Charmaine and I took an Uber to Chatachuk and met up with Lucas (he was working in Bangkok for the month). We only spent a couple of hours there but found some good bargains and saw bits of the market we hadn’t seen two weeks ago. It was just as hot and stuffy as the previous visit but I felt as though I wasn’t as tired – maybe we’d started to acclimatise. Charmaine certainly enjoyed it more without the thick brace she’d had to wear for her shoulder.

Among other things, I bought jewellery, wooden serving spoons, an apron made of Thai fabric and a really long shirt/coat thing that I’ve noticed a few people in Asia wearing – will they become a trend here? We happened upon a row of more designer-style stores that had great stuff. Chatachuk is fascinating in that there’s rows and rows of cheap, shoddy things but then you stumble across a store where everything costs hundreds of dollars US. You never quite know what a pricetag is going to read.

We headed back to the hotel in time for a swim and a shower before jumping in the transfer van for the ride to the airport. We had a three hour flight to Kuala Lumpur then eight hours back to Australia, through which I slept soundly. I felt pretty good by the time we got off the plane, although I did manage to leave my passport onboard and had to run back and get it. We had all got through customs at different times and so only Charmaine was waiting for us by the time Luke and I got out of the airport. It felt a bit strange not to say goodbye to Kupp, Lauren, Sledge and Toby, but we were talking the whole day on messenger, so it didn’t really matter.

I was certainly sad to have the journey end but I was happy to get home to Penny and give her lots of pats, and to get into my own soft bed and go to sleep (even if it was covered in dog hair). While we were away we discovered that Lauren and Luke were born one day apart so I demanded we start planning their 40th in seven year’s time. It’s good to have goals!

Unboxing my boxes and messing up the house!

Till next time!

Koh Samui: 3D Art, Temples and Songkran

Astonishingly (or so it seemed to me), it turned out that there was another 3D gallery in Samui that was quite a lot like the one Luke and I visited in Bangkok, so we all jumped in a taxi and headed to the northern end of the island to see it. Once again it seemed that we were the only people who knew about the place, which was fantastic. So was having a group of people rather than just the two of us – Luke and I got to be in a few photos together.

After we’d been through the gallery Luke and Kupp decided to go to Chaweng Beach and check out the Songkran celebrations. Songkran is Thai new year and a water festival. It used to be celebrated by dabbing others faces with water, but thanks to tourists and young locals, it now means that people stand out on the streets with buckets, hoses and water pistols, shooting anyone and everyone. Toby had gone out earlier in the day on the moped he’d hired and gotten thoroughly doused multiple times.

Lauren, Charmaine, Toby, Lucas and myself wanted to check out a temple complex that wasn’t far from the gallery so we walked to a nearby beach for a late lunch (made later by the incredibly slow service) before fortunately finding a taxi that could fit all of us in and had a driver who spoke reasonable English – the first we’d had in Thailand. He took us to the temples and then waited while we looked.

I can’t remember the name of the complex, but there were a number of gilt temples that were fairly new. There were a lot of chickens and dogs around and fish food could be bought for ten baht. I was looking forward to feeding the fish, but when we walked over to the pool it was murky and didn’t smell great. When we threw the food in these huge, ugly catfish swarmed to the surface – it was nightmarish! There were also turtles competing (poorly) for food so we tried to throw it towards them but the hideous fish were everywhere.

We jumped back in the taxi and headed back to the Tesco Lotus on our way home, after being warned by Luke and Kupp not to join them. Apparently the water fighting was intense and both the boys had had to buy waterproof phone bags, having barely got out of their taxi before someone threw a bucket of water on them. So we avoided the beach, bought some supplies and looked for another taxi outside the supermarket. There was a man in a hi-vis vest who asked us if we wanted one. He was standing next to a minivan so we said yes. A moment later a tiny little hatch pulled out of the car park and we looked at it in astonishment. We were supposed to fit five of us plus the driver in that? Yes, apparently so. Charmaine ended up perched on the back seat between my knees and Lucas, and as the car ride went on she slipped further and further down until she gave up and slid into the tiny footwell, laughing as she went.

I cooked dinner a few times while we were there, but on the last night we went down the mountain to a restaurant called ‘Dr Frog’s’, which turned out to be really nice. The menus were comically large (not intentionally) and they served a range of European and Thai food. After so much Asian cuisine a pizza was nice! After dinner we headed back to the house and watched The Hangover II – the one set in Bangkok. It was much funnier to watch with a group of tipsy friends in Thailand – or Thighland, as we pronounced it after watching the film.

In the morning we packed our bags, said our sad farewell to the pool and piled into the minivan for the last time.  Next stop: one night in Bangkok before flying home!

Koh Samui: My Actual Birthday!

If Lebua had been the ultimate luxury in hotel experiences, then the place Luke found for us on Airbnb was the house equivalent.

We were picked up by a driver at the ferry pier then driven quite a long way down the east side of Samui and then turned off the main road and up, up, up some hills, where the landscape changed from hustle and bustle madness to quiet luxury and secluded villas peeking between palms.

Our property seemed to occupy almost the highest point on the hill and we were greeted by Joy, one half of the couple who maintained the property. She and her husband Sa lived in a small unit near the gate and were there to clean, tidy, cook and help us with whatever we wanted.

The house was on multiple levels and we walked into the kitchen and lounge and were greeted with views of ocean and green hills and, inside, a large number of balloons and a ‘cake’ for my birthday! Luke had asked if they could do something birthday-ish and it was lovely!

 We quickly sorted out rooms and then the property manager arrived. He took our deposit then said goodbye as he was off to Dubai the next day. We learned that the people who owned our villa also owned all the surrounding ones. It’s hard to imagine having that kind of wealth.

The house had five bedrooms, each with it’s own bathroom. A pool room and gym were also included, but the best part was the infinity pool that looked out over the ocean. We spent many hours each day lazing around it. Bliss! And all for $150 Australian (each) a night. This also included a deluxe continental breakfast laid out at our chosen time by Joy, who then made our beds, did our laundry and generally tidied up after us. It did feel strange having that level of service but I daresay I’d get used to it if could afford it all the time!

On the first afternoon we discovered the only drawback to the place – it was definitely too far to walk and a taxi down to the supermarket and back was $40. Not so bad split between 6 of us though, and so we headed to Tesco and stocked up on food and drinks so we could stay home if we liked and just relax.

That night Luke organised for Joy and Sa to cook us dinner and they provided a beautiful Thai spread with about 10 different dishes. That was the night of my actual birthday and I could not imagine a more beautiful place to spend it. After dinner we made some drinks then jumped in the pool and Luke and I had a late night swim together. It was just delightful and I felt very fortunate to experience this lifestyle – if only for a week!


Koh Phanang

We took the ferry from Koh Samui to Haad Rin, the site of the infamous full moon parties. It was a steaming hot day (as always) and we all had big bags to drag or packs to carry – except for Charmaine with her sore shoulder. Sledge carried her bag and his everywhere we went, which was extremely kind of him.

The ferry ride was about an hour, then we walked through Haad Rin to the other side of the headland where we caught a taxi boat to our destination, a couple of beaches up. The place we were heading is a little legendary amongst our friends. Luke and I had not been there before but Nicolette had, and our friend Ben was already there. For years people we knew had been going there to chill out and party. It’s a relatively quiet beach with cheap accommodation and only one proper resort. Few of the cheap places can be booked ahead – you just have to turn up and hope there’s room. Due to a miscommunication about whether or not others had booked, Charmaine had found one place that would take reservations and booked rooms for us, Lauren, Kupp, Toby and herself. The others wanted to wait until we got there. The place we had booked was set along the headland beyond the beach, with a string of bungalows perched along a boardwalk on rocks.

When we arrived on the beach we found that the place we were staying was at the furthest point from anything else and that end of the beach had the worst piles of rubbish. It didn’t look terribly inviting, but we hauled our bags along the sand then the boardwalk and check in. The managers, Peter and Demi, were a lovely couple and were the most redeeming feature of the property. Despite being only $20 a night, our rooms felt like poor value. There was no aircon (we didn’t expect any, fortunately), the floorboards were far enough apart to make dropping your phone onto rocks below a real possibility, there was no hot water – and no water pressure, the toilets were flushed by using the bucket that was under the tiny shower hose, which meant waiting ages to get enough water to actually properly flush. I wish I’d taken a photo of the bathroom, but I only got one of the bed.

The mosquito nets had holes, the window had no glass or flyscreen and the taxi boats zoomed past all day and night with their incredibly loud motors. But none of these things mattered hugely or were terribly unexpected. The one thing I had trouble coping with was the hardness of the bed. It genuinely felt like a board with a blanket or two thrown over it. I sleep on my side normally but couldn’t because it was so hard – but my back was sunburned pretty badly so lying on my back was painful. It wasn’t a great start!

On the up side, the deck where we ate breakfast (and then spent half of each day lazing and reading) was quite lovely. It had a view of the beach and many fish swam around the rocks below.

 The food and drinks were cheap and Peter and Demi often came and sat with us and chatted. In fact my favourite evening on Koh Phanang was when everyone else went out for dinner and I stayed back and had a long talk with Demi and heard about her life and how she’d ended up in Thailand. Up until that point I’d not been particularly charmed, but talking to Demi was lovely and I started to see why people I know liked hanging out in such a chilled place and getting to know people from around the world. There seemed to be many nationalities there, mostly people a fair bit younger than me. I think that I probably would’ve loved a place like that ten years ago, but on a short holiday where my goal was to be comfortable and relax, it wasn’t really what I was looking for. Also, Demi said that the place was in decline, with rich people buying up property and plans for development, along with richer tourists ruining the scene.

We did a couple of things while we were there. On our last day, for a special birthday lunch, we went to a place called ‘The Sanctuary’ at a nearby beach. It was a yoga retreat that excelled in pretentiousness but had a good restaurant with two menus, one with healthy but normal food, and one with a special diet for people who’d been fasting and having enemas. It was entertaining to watch the crowd – so many rich hippies! – and laugh at the menu items. My fish tacos were delicious!

After that we walked over the hill to the next beach where there was a day party happening. Gentle electronic music and about 100 people, all swimming and dancing and having fun. It was a very pleasant way to spend an afternoon, but I couldn’t help wondering what happened to all the rubbish at the end of the day. If our beach was anything to go by it was just left where it was.

I can totally see what about this place appeals to people. It’s cheap, the crowd are interesting and young, there’s no sense of commercialism and the water is beautiful – pure aqua and super warm, with few rocks or seaweed. There was something in the water that did bite or sting though – we never really figured out exactly what it was, whether spores or bugs, but nearly everyone felt it even though it left no mark. After a few days the lack of aircon didn’t matter and I got used to the Indian-style seating (those triangular pillow/cushion things) and never feeling very clean, but I think it just wasn’t the right time for me to enjoy a place like that. It’s the kind of place people go to escape reality and party, whereas I was on a short timeline and wanted a comfortable bed and things to do. A few of us decided we’d rather book somewhere nice in Koh Samui, so Luke found an Airbnb place online, and after our four nights were up, we took a taxi boat then the ferry and headed back to the bigger island, waving goodbye to the larger part of our crew.

The last photo is of is the rock where the taxi boats pull up at our accommodation.  Somewhat precarious!

Koh Samui: One Night On Chaweng Beach

Before I start, thanks for all the comments and reads, my apologies for not replying for a week. Going back to work was like stepping into a tornado but now I have a long weekend to catch up on the trip before all the details disappear from my memory.

The next destination after Bangkok was Koh Phanang, which is a small island south of Bangkok, and north of the larger island of Koh Samui (‘koh’ means island). Here’s a map for those who are interested (I always like to be able to visualise where places are):

Because it was Zane and Leah’s first big trip overseas, I thought it would be good to spend a night on Koh Samui before catching the ferry to Koh Phanang as Samui is bigger and livelier and worth seeing for comparison to Bangkok and the quiet beach we were heading to.

We flew from Bangkok via Bangkok Air and arrived at Samui airport an hour later. Samui airport is one of the world’s most beautiful. 

There are lush gardens around all the waiting areas and everything is open-air. There’s fish tanks in the bathrooms and it just feels so laid-back. The departure lounges for Bangkok Air also do free food including popcorn – my favourite! Anyhow, the trip was uneventful and Luke organised a couple of taxis to take us to our hotel for the night – the Chalala Samui Resort.

The place was nothing fancy, basic little bungalows with ensuites and aircon, a pool, bar and restaurant right on Chaweng Beach (if you’re curious, I think it was about $40 AUD a night). Sorting the rooms took a bit of time but then we all jumped straight in the pool and set about enjoying the happy hour prices at the bar and relaxing in the sun.

I relaxed a little too hard and got my first and worst sunburn of the trip while lying on a lounger reading a magazine. It wasn’t awful, but it made sleeping on my back a bit difficult for the next few nights. Samui was such a lovely change from the rush and pollution of Bangkok. We sat in the lukewarm pool, drank cocktails and began planning a future, mid-winter trip back. I could do it every year, just to lie in the sun, swim and relax. The Chalala was at the northern, quieter end of Chaweng so it was an easy walk down to the strip of shops and bars but far enough away to be quiet.

In the evening we walked down the street to see a ladyboy show at Stars Cabaret – the same place we went last time with Luke’s family. The songs were good but the show felt shorter and I was extremely disappointed when no boys were dragged onstage to dress up and perform (last time Luke and Brendan went up and I laughed so hard I cried).

After the show we crossed the road and walked down to the Ark Bar to see what was going on but it was very quiet, with people lying on loungers watching a fire twirling show and not a single sax solo to be heard. We did laugh at the fact that the song playing was ‘Apache’, as Luke had been tormenting me with it before we left home and then there it was, playing at the trashiest resort on the island.

Luke, Kupp and a few others hung around but Charmaine and Toby and I walked back along the beach to the bungalows for an early night, trying not to break our ankles falling into the dozens of pits left by hotel staff when the umbrellas for beach restaurants are taken in for the night. Always take a torch if you have to walk home after dark!

In the morning Nicolette took the lead for the next part of the journey and we packed up our gear and headed to Big Buddha Pier for the ferry. I only just noticed the guy in this photo checking out his own muscles. Stay classy, Samui!

Next up: Koh Phanang!