Saturday, October 31, 2015

A Long Thailand Layover

Celebrating Christmas on a small tropical island seemed like dream but it turned out to be a letdown. And our low expectations for a quick layover in a big gritty city seemed unpromising but actually left us wanting more. Thank you Thailand for turning our expectations upside down.

Thailand wasn't our intended Christmas vacation choice. Our original winter travel destination was just Bhutan. But in the planning process we learned that we could only fly into Bhutan from a handful of countries; one of them being Thailand. Since we hadn't been to Thailand in a long time, we thought it was a good opportunity to extend our layover and get some much needed time relaxing on a tropical beach with great food.
And we're off....

We had no clue that Thailand is a popular Christmas destination for Europeans and Australians. Our last minute attempts to find a place to stay at the most desired beaches were in vain. Nearly everything was fully booked for the holidays. We finally settled on Koh Phi Phi because the island had a couple hotel vacancies, Q remembered it as a nice island from a trip eight years ago, plus it seemed like an easy destination from the Bangkok airport.
Christmas Thai style at the Bangkok Airport.

Koh Phi Phi Don

We took a short flight from Bangkok to Krabi, then two shuttle bus rides and then a ferry to Koh Phi Phi Don. On second thought, it wasn't an easy side trip but we were on vacation and there were plenty of Thai food stalls along the way to stop for snacks and fresh fruit smoothies.
Soaking in the sunshine on the way to Koh Phi Phi Don.

Unfortunately, it turned out that Koh Phi Phi smelled like pee. Yes, I said it, but it really did smell like pee in many places. The island was a disappointment. When Q had previously visited the island, it had been only two years after the devastating tsunami. Ironically, he remembered it being much nicer during the reconstruction phase. But this time around we found the place to be filthy and overrun with a younger crowd of party animals looking for a cheap way to get completely trashed. I didn't want to lay out on the beach because it was littered with cigarettes butts, glass bottles, plastic cups and straws.
Garbage was tossed just about everywhere including the beach and throughout the island.

Perhaps most disturbingly, many storefronts set up tables selling ingredients for mixed drinks inside plastic buckets along the sides of dirt roads. Anyone looking for a drink can buy a bucket, mix the ingredients including the ice and whatever amount of dirt, and then drink directly from the bucket.
Are we getting old or is it really incredibly nasty to drink out of dusty plastic buckets?

The combination of the Christmas season and the ten year anniversary of the tsunami caused the island to be nearly fully booked. Failing to plan ahead really bit us in the butts on this trip. We booked three nights at one of the last hotels available. There was a good reason it was one of the last places available. At 100 USD a night we got paper thin walls, occasionally running water, a constant sound of construction from the hotel next door, a rude receptionist, party music from across the bay until 3 am, and the suspected sighting of a bed bug on one of our twin beds. The saving grace were some of the nicer staff members, a reliable internet connection and a working air-conditioning unit.
We thought we found paradise - boy, were we mistaken.
The bright lights across the bay is where the nightly parties take place -
but they sounded like they were across the street from our hotel.

We tried to make the best of our stay and stuffed our faces with plenty of delicious cheap Thai food, gorged on fresh fruit smoothies, walked around the island and enjoyed several of the nightly fire shows on the beach.
Only Noddles is noted on Tripadvisor as having the best Pad Thai.
 Anna's Restaurant was another highly rated place that did not disappoint.
We dropped into a random restaurant and were pleased.
Fresh fruit smoothies at every meal... and in between them too.
Nightly fire shows are found throughout the island beaches.
I loved that some shows went along with the music.

Everything was going considerably well until we ordered fruit smoothies from one reputable western looking bar. Thank you Carlitos Beach Bar for the food poisoning. Our last full day was spent in our horrible hotel room praying to the porcelain God, which didn't flush because the water wasn't running... again.
Not even the toilet seat worked. It was small enough to fall into the bowl if you actually sat on it.
Trying to recuperate in bed without touching a bed bug.

By the time we left, we had decided we were too old to be roughing it like that. Next time we're in Thailand, we'll plan in advance and pay an extra few bucks to be pampered.
The Thai coast has some of the most beautiful rock formations. Better luck next time.
Made it back to the mainland.
Still getting over food poisoning, we decided to spend the few extra bucks and take a private taxi directly to Krabi Airport.


We made it back to the Bangkok airport in one piece albeit still shaking off food poisoning. We were joined by Q's mom for 36 hours there. Q and I had seen the major sights in prior trips and Q's mom was happy taking things easy without heavy sightseeing. We had rooms at The Royal View Resort, which is a nice hotel overlooking a peaceful park far away from the backpackers and tourist sights. It was exactly what I needed to fully recover from the food poisoning. Q had recovered earlier, so he and his mom checked out some very good street food vendors around the hotel. When it comes to street food, it's hard to beat Thailand.
No bed bugs in sight - just elephants.
Our hotel room overlooked this tranquil park.
Thai street food stalls catering to the locals  - always a good sign for great food.

On our only full day we started the morning walking around the city and checked a couple Buddhist temples. From there, Q and his mom attended a cooking class at Maliwan Thai Cooking. I decided to skip the class and continue to recover in our nice air-conditioned hotel room while indulging in some English TV.
As part of the food tour, Q and his mom took a tuk-tuk to the local market.
The local market.
How wonderful it would be to find this variety of chilies back home.
Pork tongue.
They also bought spring roll wrappers from this spot popular among the locals. 
Q's mom felt really bad the ladies constantly burn their fingers making them.
Back in the kitchen, chef and business owner Mae taught them how to cook Kaeng Phed Kai (Chicken Red Curry) among several other dishes.
Q and his mom in front of the feast they prepared at Maliwan Thai Cooking.

Before leaving Bangkok, all of us treated ourselves to a little pampering. I got a haircut and an amazing head massage, Q's mom got her nails done, and Q finally got one those (in)famous Thai massages. Of course all of this was at bargain prices compared to how much they would cost back home.
200 Bahts (about 5.5 USD) for a one hour Thai massage.

It felt nice being back in South East Asia. I forgot how much I enjoy the food, the natural beauty and the chaos. This short trip to Thailand really got us motivated to return - but next time we will plan further in advance so we can stay at nicer beaches.
A current 20 Baht note and one from a prior trip 10 years ago.
It's amazing to see how much the king has aged since my last visit. I hope it won't take us another 10 years to return.

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