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Published: January 19th 2012
Chao Phraya River
Looking back towards the Kasem bridge from the river ferry.
Upon landing in Bangkok it was quickly obvious that we were in a city and world completely different from anything we had previously experienced. The same challenges that accompany traveling were compounded by the inability to speak, understand, or make any sense of the squiggles that make up the written language. And thus, it took us almost three hours from when we deplaned to figure out how to get through immigration and how best to get into town (and despite our attention to detail we still got completely ripped off).
On the skytrain ride into the city we were amazed at how the highrises and skyscrapers populated the land in all directions, unlike many other cities we have lived in or visited which seem to have one more concentrated area. We got to the appropriate station and embarked on our frist tuk-tuk experience. A 3-wheeled motorcar, these vehicles zig and zag through moving, stationary, and sometimes oncoming traffic. Without blindly trusting the skill of the driver and the safety of the vehicle one would surely wet themselves. We made it safely to our guesthouse and were pleased with the room that awaited us. Little did we know, it would be
Plenty of gold to go around.
the nicest room we would see all month.
As per recommendation from Jenna (Liza’s sister who traveled through South East Asia 5 years ago) we prebooked two nights at the Rambuttri Village Inn. The guesthouse was well-located on Soi Rambuttri, a relatively small but not-so-quiet street jam-packed with everything a tourist could want. Less than a minute in any direction we were pleasantly bombarded with stalls selling t-shirts, tank tops, fisherman pants, 7-11s, roadside foot massages, fish spas, restaurants that wouldn’t pass any sort of food safety code in Canada (yet we love them anyways), and heaps of other cheap trinkets that tourists seem to love buying. After settling in to the new pace of life and the sounds of a language so foreign to our own, we enjoyed our dinner on the street of our first of many thai-fare dishes. We were rather exhausted from our day of travel so called it a night pretty early, but were ready to take on Bangkok the next day. We woke the following morning and set out on foot – guide book in hand. Our plan was to head towards the river ferry pier and explore the area downriver, but as
we navigated through near-killer traffic we found rest (and a new friend) on a park bench. We were approached by a ‘government official’ (now unsure if he really was) who spoke great English and had heaps of suggestions of what we should do that day. We were quickly ushered towards a tuk-tuk with a new word, Pangbi = expensive
under our belts to assist with bargaining, and set out to one of the many temples in the city. Our driver dropped us off at the temple with a 455m tall Buddha and waited while we walked around. As we were soon to learn the temple in Thailand are plentiful and each as beautiful as the next. After wandering around, not entirely sure what we were looking at, we went back to our driver who was waiting patiently to take us to the next temple. After departing with our driver we decided to explore the rest of our planned route on foot. We got quite lost (as is seemingly customary for tourists in Bangkok) trying to find the river ferry to take us closer to the King’s Palace. We changed quickly (long pants, shoulders covered and close-toed shoes only) and made
The Close of Day One
The view from the rooftop of our guesthouse.
our way into the Palace complex. We were awestruck with the complexity and intricacy of each gold-shimmering building after the next. Incredibly ancient sculptures and multi-mirrored walls surround each building and added ample photo opportunities to our experience there. The complex is home to many buildings of equal religious symbolism and reverence but the “gem” of the palace was the temple that housed the Emerald Buddha which had been moved from Chiang Mai (in Northern Thailand) to Bangkok following a change in the ruling family. Although neither of us are Buddhists, it was evident that this particular statue of the Buddha was held with incredible reverence to those practicing the religion.
Leaving the Palace grounds we made our way on foot back to the backpackers district. We relaxed for a while and then set out on another adventure. We jumped in a tuk-tuk and embarked on a wild ten-minute ride to the busy shopping district of Bangkok, called Sukhumvit Street, to meet up with Paul Stoddart, an old friend of Matt’s. We met Paul and his girlfriend Laurie and enjoyed some Lebanese food (as much as we wanted to get into Thai food, the thought of a shawarma was
It's not much, but it was more than enough.
too good to pass up) before moving on to find some beverages. After testing a couple of street-side bars and catching up on old times we hopped in a taxi and made our way back to our inn. We had an early morning ahead of us.
With our introductory course in Bangkok transit completed, we managed to get to the airport with relative ease despite it being 5:30 am. It is always difficult getting around when unable to speak the language and the anxiety that accompanies this difficulty is magnified when traveling long distances. As we will slowly come to learn, things seem to have a way of working out. Thus, we were able to board a flight to the southern city of Trang, transfer to a mini-bus which took us to the coast, and then catch a high-speed ferry to our Christmas vacation destination of Koh Lipe.
We arrived to the island of Koh Lipe on the recommendation of Liza’s brother John who had turned a planned 7 day trip into a month because he couldn’t bring himself to leave. With no pier on the island we had to transfer from our ferry to a long-tail boat
Hundreds of them populated the beaches and waters of the island.
which took us to shore. We checked into our residence and were shown to our quaint bamboo bungalow. Although only measuring approximately 9’ x 9’, it had a king-sized mattress, a nice bed, a functional fan (not to be undervalued), and our own outdoor bathroom. We were quite content.
The next five days each followed a very similar pattern, which is exactly what we were hoping for when planning our vacation. Mornings started early and had us beach-side before 9 am. Nearing 11 am we would wander into town (town being the only stretch of paved road on the island, less than 1 km long) for some breakfast. Although we tried multiple places, we tended to frequent one spot more often than the rest and in appreciation of our patronage they shared with us the food they had prepared for their own meal one morning near the end of our trip. We realized then how much the locals tone down the spice for us tourists. Following breakfast we would make our way back to a beach to soak in some more sun. The island had three main beaches, each no more than a 10-15 minute walk from the others.
This picture could have been taken on any of the eight days we spent on the island.
The main beach ‘Pattya beach’ faced south and was densely populated with people, restaurants, and ‘resorts’. Our lodging was less than a 1 minute walk from ‘Sunrise beach’, which, predictably, faced east. Lastly, ‘Sunset beach’ was farthest removed from the main parts of the island and thus offered some peace and quiet during the afternoon. We would wander back into town for lunch and to take care of any chores or errands at some point in the mid-afternoon before returning to a beach to catch the remaining hours of sunshine. With all of the time spent in the sand, we both managed to conquer numerous books and acquire respectable tans. After sundown we would return to our bamboo hut for a shower and to put normal people clothes on before venturing out for dinner. We made a rule that we had to try at least one new eatery each day, which allowed for us to return to places we enjoyed and thus foster relationships with shop owners, but also forced us to try new things. Displayed in ice beds in front of many restaurants were the days selections of fish, crab, squid, prawns and lobster fresh from the sea and
We spent the end of many days on this beach.
though they were more expensive, we could not resist indulging on a couple of occasions. After dinner we would wander down to the ‘Tattoo’ bar, where a local named ‘Mom’ and his Aussie assistant named ‘Jordie’ would pass out beers and mix cocktails for the mostly tourist crowd. It was a great place to make friends, share travel stories and get much-needed travel advice. We got to know a nice crew of people and spent a memorable Christmas Eve spilling out into the street drinking beer after beer into the wee hours. It was also our barkeeper friend Jordie and the group of travellers we met at Tattoo that recommended we forgo our travels to the popular island of Ko Phi Phi and stay on Lipe, saying ‘if you like it here, stay here, because nothing else can match it.’ So with their advice our 5 day trip evolved into 8 days. As luck would have it, the extra three days we stayed were the sunniest and warmest of the entire week we were there. Each day passed similar to what was described above making it difficult to keep track of how long we had been there or how long
Lipe Beach Resort
Out front of the resort where we spent our last two nights on the island.
we had left. Eventually our time on Koh Lipe came to an end and we made our way back to Bangkok.
We were extremely grateful for John’s excellent advice and although this remote island has and will continue to grow more popular by the day, we would definitely recommend trying to make it to Koh Lipe if you ever find yourself in Thailand or northern Malaysia.
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