Friday, April 7, 2017

Days 19 & 20- Bangkok then Home

I was feeling sick yesterday and had a restless night. No runs but it felt like I had a brick in my stomach and I had no appetite. Even the smell of food repelled me.

We went to a nearby cafe and had a light breakfast before going across the very busy street to Lumphini Park. This park is an oasis in the middle of this very loud, very modern, very populated and very busy part of Bangkok.

It was mostly locals in the park. One little girl (about 10), looked at us, gave us a big smile and said " Welcome to Thailand". 

There was a vendor in the park selling snacks and those Asian noodle cups that you just add boiling water. She helped me choose one that wasn't too spicy. She was very friendly and went out of her way to be helpful.

John and I sat at a picnic table beside the man-made lake in the park. Some older men were playing some kind of a dice game at a table nearby. Suddenly I saw what I thought was a big turtle swimming in the water. It turned out to be a monitor lizard and it swam right across the lake. We saw many more of these very large lizards, sunning themselves or swimming in the water.

We walked around the park and watched groups of young and old people doing tai chi and another group doing some kind of a slow fan dance. Another lady was instructing an older man on some kind of a slow sword dance. There was a couple of old men helping each other perfect their sword movement technique. People really make good use of their parks. 

We next took the BTS Sky Train (an elevated subway) to Siam Square, which is blocks and blocks of a never ending, busy, high end but delightfully air conditioned shopping centres.

We walked to the nearby Jim Thompson House. Jim Thompson was a wealthy silk merchant who fell in love with Thailand and moved six traditional Thai houses to his property (now central Bangkok) and put them together to create his home, filling them with Thai antiques. He disappeared mysteriously in 1967 when out for a walk on a trip to Malaysia. 

I learned a lot about silk production and the property was beautiful. I was not feeling well, so after trying to find some gifts for the guys, we went back to our hotel for a rest.

Next we grabbed the MRT underground subway (John loves to use subways/ trains in foreign countries) to Siam Nirimat which we had reserved tickets for. Siam Nirimat is a large Thai cultural park. We first went through a reconstructed village of all the traditional type houses of the different areas of Thailand. They had demonstrations and samples of everything from Thai food, shadow puppets, music, flower garland making,weaving and more. We even had a Thai bracelet tied on us for good luck and were given a Thai blessing. 

There were elephants, performers in traditional Thai costumes and lady-boys that you could take your picture with. I took John's picture with a couple exotic lady-boys and he took mine with the traditional costumed performers.

We then went to a large Thai buffet. I had taken an Eno and was able to eat.

We next went to the large theatre where we watched a spectacular show highlighting Thai history and culture. There were over 100 performers including elephants and goats and many special effects such as  pyrotechnics, awesome lighting, great dancing, flying performers, fountains and even a river that showed up partway through the show that performers swam in and floated lanterns down. It was awesome (Note from John- as awesome as it was, Kimberly still managed to fall asleep partway through the performance).

We grabbed the shuttle to the subway and made record time in getting to the Patpong night market where we picked up a few souvenirs before booting it back to our hotel.

We caught a cab to the airport at 11:00pm and our flight from Bangkok to Shanghai left at 3:00am. Needless to say, we slept all the way.

We are now in the Shanghai airport waiting for our next flight to take us back to Toronto. 

Once we got on the plane in Shanghai, we waited on the runway for two hours before beginning our 13 1/2 hour flight home. We are sleeping in our own bed tonight.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Day 18- Krabi to Bangkok- Red Light and Rooftop

Monkey cats were at breakfast this morning. They seemed to have increased in number and seated themselves on the two empty chairs at our table, attempting to get onto the table every time our attention strayed. 

We had a foot wash basin at our bungalow in Phi Phi which was really handy in getting the sand off your feet before going inside. It took me a bit, but I found a slightly out of the way container filled with water with a plant growing out of it so I would wash my feet in it every time we came back. The cats would often drink out of it as well. It was only the day before we left that John pointed out a sink and little hose beside reception.  Oops.

We fly back to Bangkok today. We actually didn't have to drag our luggage across the beach this time. We caught our long-tailed boat at the end of the floating, bobbing, never ending dock in front of our hotel. It was hard sometimes keeping balance.

We left Railay without doing one of its top activities...rock climbing. Based on my experience in February on the rock climbing wall, we decided it was best to skip this activity.

The long tail boat took us to another pier closer to Krabi where we were met at the dock by a driver with a van. He made us wear our seat belts and pointed out a sign that said it was the law and there was a 5,000 baht fine if you were caught without your seatbelt. He then picked up his wife and three kids; one baby, one toddler in diapers and what looked to be a five year old who bounced around the van the whole trip. None of them were wearing seat belts.

We felt we were cutting it short when we arrived at the airport an hour before our flight to Bangkok. We stood in line at security and finally got through only to find out we were in the wrong terminal. Fortunately it was a small airport and we ran to the correct terminal quickly. The check-in desk even bumped us up to premium class which on Nok Air (a budget airline where you pay for everything) means extra legroom, free rice crackers, free water and free coffee- you heard right, free water!  Take that all you poor souls in economy. Nok Air does have the cutest planes ever, all painted to look like different types of birds. Nok means bird in Thai.

Our flight went quickly and we arrived at our gate 15 minutes ahead of schedule. On the taxi ride into the city we paid extra for toll fees to travel on the elevated highway (which did speed things up), but once we got into the city, traffic was bumper to bumper and we spent just as much time in the taxi as we did in the air.

A note on Bangkok airport taxis: when you get out of the baggage claim area, numerous people will approach you for taxis. Normally taxis should be metered but lots of taxi drivers charge a much higher flat rate. We ignored the taxi drivers that approached us and went to the official taxi area that was well organized. You are given a number and sit down until your number comes up on the screen. Things moved very quickly.

For our last two nights John booked us into a swanky hotel similar to a higher end Sheridan called the Dusit Thani. It was only $120 Canadian a night which is a steal. I must admit, I prefer the more traditional smaller hotels. This one could be anywhere in the world except for the Thai decor theme and uniforms and the humongous picture of the late King over an altar filled with white flowers in the lobby.
After a quick rest, we explored. This area is much more modern, busy and loud than the first area we stayed in in Bangkok. I prefer the historic area. We checked out a shopping centre, went for supper and did the night market in the Patong district (which is also the red light district which we strolled through, often being invited to attend ping pong shows).

We next grabbed a cab and went to a rooftop bar called The Moon Bar which is on the 59th floor of the Banyan Tree Hotel. The bar is in fact on the roof, no ceiling above you, with amazing views of the city. The drink prices are outrageous and it was packed with people so we looked at the views for a bit then went to another less expensive bar on the 52nd floor that was also outside but with drinks half the price of those 7 floors up. This was a highlight for John.

Exhausted, we headed back to our hotel.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Day 17- Ao Nang- the Evil Monkey Cat

As soon as we got off the boat in Railay, I saw the signs "Do not feed the Monkey".

So the next day when I went to breakfast (without my glasses on), I was delighted to see a long monkey like tail coming out of a little shape hanging around on the ground near the breakfast tables. I yelled out "Look, John! It's the monkey." Only to realize it was a cat. John named it the "monkey cat"  and points it out all the time as my new discovery of a previously unknown species.

The monkey cat is at breakfast every morning. Yesterday it jumped on the lap of a Chinese lady while she was having breakfast. She screeched until someone got the monkey cat off her.

This morning it was my turn. The monkey cat jumped up on the table and tried getting into my breakfast. I briskly brushed it away by the throat and John said that if I'm not careful, I may get jailed for monkey cat abuse. John just showed me a picture he took that looks like I was strangling the monkey cat....I was not strangling the cat (John - yes she was, I'm married to a monkey cat abuser). 

On our way to catch a long tailed boat, we passed a number of regular monkeys on the roof of a restaurant. An owner came out to scare them away. One monkey was just on the ground playing with his privates. Really!

Once we got to the beach we bought our tickets, and waited for enough passengers to make a minimum load of six. I gracefully (not) got into the long tailed boat and we went to Ao Nang. Ao Nang is a short boat trip away and is a lovely beach town with lots of nice shops, places to eat, a beautiful beach and lots of spas offering massages. After some power shopping (only half an hour since John loses patience quickly), we walked down the beach boardwalk and I was tantalized by the happy hour 50% off massage and spa deals. So I had a one hour reflexology foot massage (for $8 Canadian) while John had a large Chang beer at a nearby beach side restaurant. After, my feet and legs felt so good I persuaded  John to have one while I had a pedicure ($6)....does life get any better?

Afterwards we sat at another beach side restaurant and took in the gorgeous scenery and people watched the afternoon away.

Then the afternoon rains arrived. It is amazing how quickly the rain moves in and sunshine turns to heavy showers. We went to the long tailed boat area to try and get a boat back to Railay. For some reason, it was never our boat until finally it was. It had stopped raining at this point.

After changing clothes at our hotel, it started to pour just as we were heading out to see the sunset. We grabbed our umbrellas and went out for supper instead. On our way to supper, a large monitor lizard ran across our path...very cool.

John had a G&T and I had a Mojito and we split a pizza (you can only eat so much pad Thai).  I think they forgot to put the mix into my Mojito. 

Tomorrow we will be dragging our luggage across the beach like these tourists because we will be catching a boat and then a plane for our last two nights in Bangkok.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Days 15 & 16- Railay and Islands- Don't Feed the Monkey

Breakfasts in Thailand are similar to lunches and suppers. Whenever we go to a hotel breakfast buffet, it usually includes some North American breakfast foods such as cereal, yogurt, omelettes, pancakes, french toast etc but there are also Thai dishes such as chicken and cashew stir fry, salads, rice and noodle dishes. I am quite enjoying our breakfasts.

There seem to be a lot of stray cats on the islands. They are everywhere along with signs saying "Do Not Feed the Monkey. 500 Baht fine." I wonder if it's one specific monkey that they have in mind....that must be one bad monkey.

In the morning after breakfast we walked under overhanging cliffs to the beautiful Phra Nang Beach. Surrounded by dramatic cliffs and edged with large trees that are perfect for keeping the sun off you, it was gorgeous. The warm waters had schools of tiny fish and needle fish. Some long tailed food boats were anchored at the shoreline offering ice cream, smoothies, fries, burgers, pitas and all manner of Thai food. The sand was soft, fine and light tan colored.

At one end of  the beach there were two small caves filled with all sizes of penises as offerings for help in getting pregnant and for good luck.

After a number of hours, it clouded over and started to rain, so we went back to our hotel.

 When it stopped we walked to the Diamond Cave. It felt like being in a natural cathedral. There were squeaky bats on the ceiling. It was huge and beautiful inside. We explored a bit more around the island and returned to the hotel when it started to rain again. After the showers we went into town for a late night supper.

For the next day we had been advised in advance that the Thailand Power Authority would be doing work in the area from 8am-7pm and there would be no electricity, running water or Internet during that time period.

We made sure to have our breakfast before 8am. While eating we watched the monkeys playing in the trees and on the roof of our hotel....I wondered if any of them were THE Monkey.

It was overcast today. We went to Railay West beach and hung out for the first half of the day. I love how the hundreds of ghost crabs did intricate designs in the sand with the tiny sand balls they bring out from the tunnels they dig.

We had lunch in town before meeting for a tour we booked from 12:30pm to 8pm on a long tailed boat to four local islands including Hong Island. Besides us, there were two sisters from Lebanon, two girls from Brazil and a group from Hong Kong. Because it was overcast, the water was murky so the snorkeling wasn't great. My highlight was to be the phosphorescent plankton after dark. Unfortunately, the moon wasn't that bright so the plankton weren't putting on their usual show.

On the bright side, at least it didn't rain today.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Day 14- Phi phi to Railay- Wheels weren't meant to Roll in Sand

Our last day on Phi Phi.

We got some life jackets and snorkels from the front desk and went to one of the roped in swimming areas. We were going to swim right out to the reef but we were told that there was a chance that we'd be run over by one of the long tailed boats that frequently run through that area.

Once in the water, we found the current a bit strong so we pulled ourselves along on the ropes of buoys that surrounded the swimming area.

The fish were still awesome. Schools and schools of convict tangs and lots of white colored fish, lots of brightly colored parrot fish, sea cucumbers, sea scallops, moorish idols, butterfly fish, damsel fish, wrasses and many bright ones that I couldn't identify.

My favourite was an area with anemones. I loved watching the clown fish swim in and out of them.

We had to be out of our room by noon. John hung around  our beach restaurant reading a book and I did the half hour walk on the path back to the town where I went to my favourite health store and bought more essential oils. Note to self: I need to buy a few more essential oil diffusers/vaporizers.

I definitely want to return to Phi Phi Island.

We took a long tailed boat to the main Phi Phi pier to catch our ferry to Railay Beach. Our ferry stopped at Ao Nang where we changed to a smaller speedboat to go to Railay. This was quite a feat because we had two big rolling suitcases with us, two back packs and a bag of wet bathing suits, water bottles and snacks. I was not graceful getting out of the big boat into the smaller one. Railay Beach is a peninsula that cannot be accessed by road so boat is the only way to get there. Railay Beach West is on one side of the peninsula and Railay Beach East is on the other side. 

The speedboat dropped about twenty five of us at Railay West Beach. I still had no grace and dropped one of my Mephisto flip flops into the water as I tried to hold my skirt up while getting out of the boat into the water. The boat staff carried the luggage and dropped them from on the beach. Our hotel was on Railay Beach East so John and I had to drag our luggage across the beach (luggage does not roll well on wet beaches) and down many unpaved paths with roots sticking up and through a few paved routes. Fifteen minutes later we arrived at our hotel, the Avatar Railay. Just as we got into reception, the heavens opened and it poured down.

Our room is gorgeous. We have the largest king size bed that I have ever seen (it is over 8 ft wide) and we have a deck with a huge lounge sofa that has steps going directly into a pool. There are nice touches such as a beach bag with towels.You get so much more for your money in Thailand.

We sat on the deck reading our books until the rain stopped at about 8 pm.

Then we went out yo get some dinner. In some places there were walkways with no lights. We asked a local man about a dark walkway and he said it would get us directly to where we wanted to go but to use the flashlight so that we don't step on the snails. With his accent, I thought he said snakes but he clarified that it was snails.

We used my cell phone flashlight. The snails were beautiful; they were large with  lovely pink shells , like an illustration from a fairy tail book. And the little toads were adorable. A chorus of high pitched peeps were accompanied by the bullfrog's base.

We ate at a candlelit restaurant on the west beach and watched lightning in the distance over the water.

I can't believe how wavy my hair goes here. Normally I have poker straight hair. Yet another thing I love about Thailand.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Day 12 &. 13- Phi Phi Island- The Long Walk and Underwater Magic

Phi Phi Island is stunningly gorgeous.

After breakfast at the resort restaurant on the beach, John suggested we go for a little walk to the Phi Phi viewpoint.

We got on the path and followed the signs. The path weaved itself up and up and up. In some areas the incline was quite steep which took a lot of energy to climb in the heat. We saw lizards and beautiful flowers along the way but it was quite hard work going uphill in the heat. Every now and then we would pass a sign saying "Viewpoint" with an arrow pointing the way which made us think it was just around the corner. An hour into the walk, cheery Kim had turned into angry and incredibly crabby Kim.

When we finally did reach the viewpoint, there were actually three viewpoints (but we missed one of them). The views were stunning looking over the lush landscape and the vibrant teal and emerald waters. Gorgeous.

The way down was a lot quicker and easier but with many steps leading directly into the town. We realized that it would have taken us half the time if we had taken the opposite direction from our bungalow and gone through the town and up the stairs. Oh well, part of the journey.

We went to a restaurant overlooking the water and had a nice glass of wine (me) and a large Chang beer (John) with our lunch.

We also stopped at my favourite natural health store and bought more 100% organic essential oils which are a really good deal in Thailand. In Canada it costs about $20-$30 a bottle where in Thailand it is $8 per bottle.

Back at the bungalow, we sat out front on the beach and relaxed. I got a kick out of a peacock that was chased past me by two irritated locals...not sure what offence said peacock had committed.

Late afternoon we went down to a bar at the end of our beach (Long Beach) that John discovered earlier to watch the sun go down.

The sunset was fine but the colours in the clouds were spectacular.

We met Sarah & Kyle from Minnesota and their friends. We spent a fun evening chatting as we waited for the fire show. John and Kyle in the spirit of international relations shared several buckets of rum and coke...yes they sell buckets that come with numerous straws for sharing.

The fire show started later than advertised. I was a little concerned because the fire thrower had really fuzzy, kinky hair which he had gathered up into a beach ball sized ponytail at the top of his head. I hoped that he hadn't used hairspray or the show would end with one horrifying grand finale.

After the show, John and I headed back towards our bungalow, stopping for a late supper.

The next morning, after breakfast, John and I caught a speedboat, the Rose Hanna, from our beach and headed out for an all day snorkeling and sightseeing tour of beaches, coves and snorkel areas on Phi Phi and the outlying islands.

Our first stop was Maya Beach which is where the Leonardo DiCaprio movie "The Beach" was shot. This beach is on an island close to Phi Phi so can only be reached by boat. Surrounded by huge cliffs on three sides, lush jungle, powder white sand and bright jade colored waters,  it is a stunningly gorgeous, idyllic beach except for the hordes of tourists all over it, us included. In hindsight, it probably would have been more enjoyable if we had seen it on a 6:30am tour when it was less crowded.

We next stopped at a sheltered bay for some snorkeling. Fish were plentiful and large schools of beautiful blue fish would come so close that they would practically hit your mask. The other joy of snorkeling here is the warmth of the water, just like a bath.

We stopped at another island called Monkey Island. There were lots of really tame monkeys that would come and sit on people's shoulders when they fed them. Some tourists were even giving them cans of coke. Not good for the monkeys or tourists.

We stopped for a boxed lunch on a nice beach on Bamboo Island before continuing on to Wong Long Bay which was entered through a narrow gap in the cliffs. The water was so clear, we could see endless schools of small fish clearing the way as our boat floated in and a beautiful large jellyfish pumping his way past.

We stopped for more snorkeling in another deep bay, enjoying the many fish, large sea clams and purplish blue things on the coral that would shut themselves up when any fish swam by. 

 Our last stop was in the shallower water, not far from our bungalow. We saw different types of sea life here. The bottom was scattered with sea cucumbers. There were bright blue damsel fish, many vibrant parrot fish and even a small eel. Some in our group saw reef sharks. So cool.

We were dropped off in town where (despite still being wet) we had supper in a seaside restaurant under the huge canopy of a very large tree. 

Early evening showers started and we walked back in the warm rain. The tide was out so we even were able to walk across some of the tidal flats thus saving us a few climbs up and down hills.