Published: January 15th 2011January 15th 2011
So far being in Thailand this time has been different than my previous trips, as I have been seeing the country from more of a backpacker perspective where as before I had the opportunity to stay with and spend all of my time with local Thai people. I spent my first five days in Bangkok hanging out at a very nice hostel called Nap Park. For dorm beds, it has been the nicest by far that I have ever stayed in. The hostel is situated just off of Khao San road, a stretch probably about 4-5 blocks long of cheap hotels, restaurants, massage parlors, and shops. There were more tourists than locals on that stretch of road which kind of surprised me briefly at first, as I am not used to seeing that. My 3rd day in town, I started hanging out with Pom, a local girl I first met in Thailand 10 years ago. She grew up with my really good friend Steve whom I went to college with. We met up at Siam Square a couple of times, and went around the city hanging out at various sites, such as Wat Arun (The Temple of Dawn), and the National
Museum. Over Christmas, I relocated to a small hotel near her house out in the suburbs a good hour outside of downtown. I liked it out there as it was completely a local scene which I think provides a more authentic experience.
After Christmas, I returned to Nap Park to meet up with Pamela and Pat, two of my friends from Belgium that I had met while rafting in Uganda back in August. They also met up with a few of their friends from back home. We all went out on the town one night and ended up in a rooftop bar called The Nest (anyone who knows me well knows I'm a big fan of rooftop bars). The number 1 rated rooftop bar in the world, called Sirocco, is in Bangkok, but we could not go there as none of us had the right attire (very formal). We also did some more sight seeing and hit some good restaurants and street food. Pam and Pat had plans to meet up with their friends at Phi Phi island for new years. I already had plans in Phuket, but it was on the way to Phi Phi so the three
of us took a bus down together. It was supposed to be an 11 hour ride, but ended up being 16. We started off in a really nice double decker bus, until we got to Surat Thani at 4 am. We ended up having to wait until 730 am with at least a hundred or two other suckers like us before our next bus took us the rest of the way to Phuket.
When we got to Phuket, we spent our last night together going to a large tourist area called Patong. There we went to a street called Soi Bangla which was the center of the nightlife with many bars and famous for its lady boys, which are girls that used to be males. Some of them were difficult to tell they were not females, scary. There were also a lot of pickup bars where lonely foreigners would go to pick up young girls that some would make their girlfriends, part time girlfriends, or even wives. We also went to a ping pong show, where local girls would show off some of their talents. This area was very interesting to say the least.
The next morning my
friend Amy picked me up from my hostel. I went to college with her, and had not seen her in 11 years. She is one of those friends where all the time in the world can pass, and when you finally meet back up again its like no time has gone by at all. After school, she moved to Japan to teach English and then migrated to Phuket about 4 years ago. Paul, a friend of hers from Australia that she taught English with in Japan also arrived at her house the same day. She was nice enough to take us both in. She took us around to many local restaurants and bars. She had a scooter, so Paul and I each rented motorbikes so we could get around as well. We all spent new years at a party at her house, and right before midnight we went to a beach to watch the fireworks and bring in the new year. It was really cool because there were lanterns floating in the air basically made out of white garbage bags. At the bottom was a large ring going around the opening and tied to the middle of the ring, a
circular object that you would light on fire. You would hold onto the outside of the lantern until it floated away. There were hundreds of them in the sky. During the rest of the week, we spent most our time being beach bums at various local beaches near her house.
The next week, while Amy was working, I decided to take a boat to the Phi Phi Islands for a couple of nights. I've always wanted to go to Maya Bay to see where they filmed The Beach, a movie from the late 90's. I took off early one morning and caught a 1.5 hr ferry ride to Ko Phi Phi Don, the northern and biggest of the two islands. Pulling into the bay there were massive limestone cliffs overlooking the water. To the south you could see Ko Phi Phi Lay, the island I was most interested in seeing. As soon as I got off the ferry and walked into town, I immediately noticed that this was going to be another Khao San road, completely jam packed with tourists. I was more interested in hanging out in a chilled environment, not somewhere that feels like I am on
spring break. Within the first 30 min of being on the island, I checked into a cheap hostel for one night, booked a 5 hour tour of the island I wanted to see for 250 Baht, and purchased ferry tickets for the next morning to go to Ko Lanta, an island Amy recommended being much better because it was a lot less crowded and more relaxing. The tour was nice. It was on a longboat which is a long wooden boat with an unusually long motor. There were about 10 of us in the longboat. There were also probably about 10 other longboats that went along with us. First we stopped at Monkey Bay, which was a small beach tucked between massive cliffs and full of monkeys that people would feed and tease. It wasn't very big, so it looked like we were invading this little beach with our army of longboats. Next we went by Pirates Cave, which was getting some work done, so you could not go in. After that, we went to a cove where we swam for a while. That area was really nice and not overly packed as we were ahead of the other boats.
Next we went snorkeling in Loh Samah Bay, and then we went into Maya Bay where we spent almost 2 hours with probably 200 other people. I guess it used to be a great backpacking spot. I could definitely see the potential. There were a few trails in the jungle. They had a camp ground in the back which would have been cool to spend the night, as all of the tourist boats eventually go back up to Phi Phi Don after sunset so you do get a feeling of seclusion at night and in the morning. These islands were probably the most beautiful I have ever seen with their vertical drops and tropical feel. It is definitely a cool place to visit, but I would recommend going during the off season and taking a chance with the weather, not right in the middle of the peak tourist season like I did.
The next morning I got up and took an hour ferry to Ko Lanta, which is a larger island with miles and miles of beaches. They are not white sandy beaches (they have brown sand) like those at Phi Phi, nor do they have the massive cliff
Longboat to Coral Island
Front: Paul, Roxy
Back: Amy, Rin
shoreline, but they do have a much more relaxed feel to it. I found an inexpensive bungalow just off the beach. There are many lodges like the one I stayed at, all of which seem to have chill atmospheres. Most have a beach front bar and many host live music. Lanta has several beaches that are separated from one another so you can get a feeling of seclusion if you chose to stay at one that is in a gap between two beaches such as I did. Apparently the word is getting out about Lanta, so hopefully it stays the same for a while, but I'm sure it wont be that way forever. The lodges were fairly full as I caught the New Year's Eve Phi Phi traffic that migrated over to recover from their festivities over the holiday.
I spent the next day traveling back to Phuket, having a two hour sit at Phi Phi on the way. When I returned to Amy's house, we spent the rest of our week doing our old beach bum routine. Most nights her boyfriend Rin would cook for us which was awesome. Amy's friend Roxy also spent a lot of time
with us. She is from South Africa and was over in Phuket teaching English. After spending a couple of great weeks with great friends, I decided to head back north to Bangkok. This time I found an overnight bus that went straight through to avoid another night of drama. I got back into town and found a nice hostel near Siam Square just off the sky train which made it a lot easier for me to get around. There I met my friend Rachael who I had met in Nepal. I took her out to my favorite rooftop bar and street bar. The next day my friend Tai picked me up and brought me to her family's house. I always stay with her family when I travel to Thailand. They are an extremely nice family and are always very accommodating towards me. I was very happy to see them again at catch up. I spent three nights in their home and then headed back to Khao San road to meet up with my cousin Katie from San Jose who flew in with three of her friends. They are on a three week trip here. I also met up with Chris,
a friend of the family who is currently teaching English in Saigon.
It has been great spending time in Thailand again. It is nice to be able to return to a place you like and not have to worry about running around to see all the sights. I came here to relax and visit friends. Tonight Pom and I are taking a night train to Vientienne, Laos and plan to spend a week heading up to Luang Prabang and back. After that I plan to return to Bangkok for a couple of nights and then go to Japan to visit a couple of friends for a week or so. Then it will be game over. I will head to LA. I will write one final blog about the end of my trip.
There are more photos below