Tag Archives: Thailand

Bangkok

I can’t really say I visited Bangkok, but rather I stayed in Bangkok and visited temples. This sprawling, smoggy, noisy city of ten million people contains about fifteen percent of Thailand’s population and probably 80% of cars. With permanent gridlock it takes forever to get anywhere and I spent much of my time in transit. Motorcycle taxis that dart in and out might shorten travel time, but I did not dare try one.

2 December – an enjoyable chat on a long car ride

Siriporn, a friend of a friend of Judith’s, picked me up at the airport (we connected with the location feature of WhatsApp). After waiting for the airport police to document the scratch another driver put in her car, we spent most of the day on the road. Siriporn wanted to avoid driving in Bangkok until after commute hour, though as far as I can tell that never ends. Along the way we snacked on Thai fast food and shared stories about our lives, families, and spiritual practices.

She drove me all the way to Pattaya, a tourist destination on the Gulf of Thailand. It was crowded and dirty and we didn’t even get out of the car. Apparently, its reputation as a sex capital is totally deserved; I suggest staying far away. Our next stop was much more peaceful, a monastery where Siriporn volunteers. I met with Ajahn Suchart Abhijato, an English-speaking monk who has published a handful of YouTube videos and books about Buddhism; he gave me one.

We made a few brief stops, including a visit to Siriporn’s home. It’s typical of what I’ve seen in my lodgings, white walls and white ceramic tile floors, cool and easy to clean, but hard on my bare feet. She bought me some spicy Pad Thai, and we began the long drive back to Bangkok. It was after 8:00 pm by the time I reached the disappointing Airbnb where I stayed, near the Thong Lo BTS station. I was exhausted.

3 December – gaudy splendor

With the help of Google Maps, I planned my route on public transit: two lines of the SkyTrain (similar to BART, but cheaper and more crowded; fortunately, we don’t yet have annoying video advertisements playing on the trains), and a fast, bumpy boat ride with a driver who yelled at passengers. A friendly German tourist helped me find my way from the dock to my destination. It took about an hour door-to-door.

Wat Pho is home of the famous Reclining Buddha, a 46 meter (150 foot) gilded statue of the Buddha entering Nirvana. He looks very peaceful. It fills the entire building and is hard to photograph. I arrived shortly after it opened and had plenty of time to explore the lavish, colorful structures that fill the temple grounds.

I was not so lucky at the Grand Palace. My capris were deemed not long enough, so I had to buy a skirt to cover my calves, and busloads of tourists filed the grounds. Everyone wanted to see the 26” (66 cm) Emerald Buddha, I was relieved to see the line moving quickly; photographs weren’t allowed inside the temple so everyone wasn’t stopping to take a selfie or group shot in front of it.

After wandering amongst the fantastical spires and figures, I was too hot and weary to continue to other sites, or retrace my steps, so I sought out a café with WiFi, not as easy as elsewhere. I settled for a grilled sandwich and a delicious berry yogurt drink, and used the Grab App to call a taxi. I knew it wasn’t going to save me time, but figured it would be more relaxing. Unfortunately, the driver dropped me off at the wrong place and I didn’t realize it until he drove off. I walked to the closest SkyTrain station and got back that way. An hour-and-a half door-to-door.

I was looking forward to reconnecting with Judith and Siriporn for dinner, but sadly the Bangkok doctor told Judith that her bones are misaligned and he recommends surgery. She is making plans to fly home and has decided to spend her remaining time at a meditation center. It looks like I will be traveling alone for more than anticipated on this trip. Instead of dinner, I treated myself to a nice massage at a new place nearby using a 50% off coupon I found online.

4 December – Ayutthaya, an ancient city

I went to Ayutthaya and toured more temples today. Ayutthaya was the capital of Siam, as Thailand was formerly known, for about 400 years, until it was destroyed by the Burmese in 1767. In spite of the fact that half our time was spent in the van, getting out and back into Bangkok, I had a good time. I was the first to be picked up, at 6:00 am, and ate breakfast and napped in the van. My fellow passengers hailed from the Philippines, Germany, France, and Greece. I got back in the late afternoon, taking the SkyTrain for the last segment to avoid some of the endless traffic. A late lunch was included with our tour, so I picked up a snack at 7-Eleven, skipped dinner, and spent the evening in my little apartment, making plans for the next setp in my adventure, Chiang Mai.

Khao Lak and the Similan Islands

This coastal town was my starting point for a dive trip, where I completed nine of the thirteen scheduled dives. I was a concerned when the weather app showed thunderstorms every day for a week, but we only got a bit of rain. I was the oldest and one of the least experienced divers. Though certified as a teenager, until I went to the Great Barrier Reef about­ five years ago, I hadn’t been diving in decades. Since then I’ve taken a refresher course, been certified for nitrox, and gone on a handful of dives. This is by far the most concentrated diving trip I’ve ever taken. Most dives were near the 18-meter/60’ limit of my open water certification, though I dipped below 20 meters a couple times.

I then spent a day enjoying the beaches and sights around Khao Lak, a nice low-key location.

 

26 November – reaching Khao Lak

I took a two-hour ferry from Phi Phi to Krabi then a “bus” (series of three vans) to Khao Lak. This gave me more than enough time to finish Sightseeingby Rattaweu Lapcharoensap, a Thai American. This book of short stories gives a perspective on Thailand not seen by tourists. After I checked into my hotel, the manager gave me a ride to the dive shop to check-in and get fitted with gear.

After showering, I had an early dinner, then took a stroll on gorgeous Nang Thong Beach across from the hotel. I was enjoying the sunset when I got a message from Judith, she’d broken her wrist, apparently falling off a log while taking a picture! They transported her to Trang, a couple hours south of Krabi. For once our local phones worked and I was able to talk to her. I went to bed feeling bad that she was alone in a strange place with few English speakers.

27 November – three dives in the Andaman Sea

When I awoke I learned that Judith had her wrist set in the middle of the night. It appears to be a clean break, in two places, so she won’t need surgery. She is leaning towards continuing the trip, with a follow-up x-ray in Bangkok, where we meet in a week.

I ate a boring breakfast at my hotel, not realizing that I would be fed again onboard. There are sixteen passengers on a boat large enough to hold twenty-four. I’m sharing a cabin with a Thai woman named Ann on the main deck. We have our own bathroom.

It took us about three hours to reach our first dive site, Koh Bon, one of the Similan Islands. There were five of us in my first group, including two dive masters. We did three dives and while the coral wasn’t impressive, I saw many fish I haven’t seen before. The last dive was in the dark, my first, and possibly last, night dive. Even using a torch, I can see more during the day. I also feel bad about disturbing the fish, though I saw a couple we hadn’t seen earlier and several moray eels on the move.

28 November – two dives on Thanksgiving Day

The other two Americans, originally from Russia, reminded me that today is Thanksgiving; I had completely lost track of the days. For perhaps the first time in my life, I’m not eating turkey today. Thai food is delicious so I can’t complain, especially since I’ve already arranged a turkey dinner for Christmas when I get home. It’s quite an international mix onboard. Many of the crew members are German, which makes sense given the name of the boat, MV Bavaria. I also counted Italy, Switzerland, Holland, Poland, Portugal, Singapore, the UK, and Thailand among the countries from which passengers and crew hail. Lucky for me, English is the common language.

I skipped the early morning dive since I woke up congested, darn that troublesome right sinus! I was assigned to a different group today, only four of us, including our master, Heinz, and a dive master in training. Fortunately, my sinus cleared up in time for the second dive, a nice one at Tachai Pinnacle where the curious batfish came to greet us. We saw many different types of fish and a few corals. The next dive wasn’t as nice, the current, or currency as Heinz called it, kept us from swimming far and it stirred up the seafloor making the water murky. I skipped the night dive.

After dinner, delicious snapper, we had surprise entertainment. One of the crew members dressed in drag and did several musical performances in various outfits getting most of us up dancing.

29 November – three dives at Richelieu Rock

Dive, eat, nap, repeat. I did that three times today, skipping the third dive to rest up for the fourth. To that I could add shower and download pictures. I’m using underwater housing for my little Sony RX100 VI; it goes deeper and takes better pictures than the Olympus Tough, though cloudy conditions, in both water and sky have not been optimal for photography. I now learn that late February to mid-March has the clearest and calmest waters, during the hot season.

Of the first two dives, early morning was best, before other boats arrived with hordes of divers. This is apparently the most famous dive spot in Thailand. I saw a great variety of fish, from tiny to large, and more coral than at our earlier locations. The water was quite murky and the “currency” was stronger.

I also went on the sunset dive, enjoying the first half more than the second, confirming that I prefer diving with sunlight rather than darkness. Towards the end we spotted an octopus and while juggling my torch and camera, the later slipped off my arm. As I ascended I anticipated going without it for the rest of the trip and filing an insurance claim. To my surprise, it was in the bin of water reserved for cameras, torches, and dive computers. The ship engineer had spotted it pop to the surface, in the dim light, and swam for it. J

30 November – a wreck dive, return to Khao Lak

Both of the last two dives were to Boonsung, the wreck of tin mining platform that fell down right after installation and broke apart in the 2004 typhoon, the same one that wiped out the infrastructure on Phi Phi and caused me to cancel a planned return trip to India. It was our murkiest dive yet, so hard to see anything that I decided to skip the second dive. I avoided the lionfish and enjoyed seeing a variety of puffer fish, one of which swam around checking us out.

The boat returned to the dock after lunch and we were transported back to the dive shop. My hotel was only a couple minutes from there so I walked. It’s older and smaller than my last one, though closer to shops and restaurants. Someone carried my suitcase up to the fourth floor for me. I got settled, published my Phi Phi post, and went for a walk. The beach is further and not quite as nice the first one. I treated myself to a massage before going to dinner at the Loma Restaurant next to the dive shop, where we were offered a free post-dive meal.

1 December – sea turtles, rafting, and beaches

 I was served more than I could eat for breakfast: eggs, bacon, shrimp, and a half dozen types of fruit. I was then picked up for a half day tour. There were only two other tourists, a couple from Germany.

Our first stop was the Sea Turtle Conservation Center where four species of sea turtles are raised. When eggs are laid on the beach, volunteers guard them from predators, and when the baby turtles hatch they are brought to the center and cared for until ready for release back to sea. The center also treats sick and injured sea turtles.

Next was a bamboo raft ride through the jungle. My insect repellent worked; I heard no mosquitos. The snakes in the trees made me a bit nervous, but overall it was a pleasant, relaxing ride. Our final stop was a small waterfall. I had to wait for a few people to finish posing for dozens of pictures before I could take one. I waded in the coolest water I’ve felt in this country. Along the way I saw trees bearing guava fruit wrapped in individual bags and sap being collected from rubber trees; now I see where my latex mattress comes from.

I had a late lunch, Indian food, then Kai, the manager of the hotel, dropped me off at Coconut Beach. After a nice walk, I bought a mojito so I could use a lounge chair, and enjoyed a few relaxing hours reading and napping, with a break to swing on a swing hanging from a palm tree. Kai picked me and a couple other guests up and took us to Memories Beach where I wandered until sunset. Shh, don’t tell the world, if you are looking for long, uncrowded beaches with fine sand, and warm, turquoise waters, Khao Lak is the spot.

2 December – off to Bangkok

Kai insisted on sending me off with fresh lemongrass and other herbs used in Thai cooking. The taxi ride to Phuket took about an hour and a half, on the best roads I’ve seen yet. Unlike in Cambodia, the cars drive on the left side of the road here. When I went through security I found the hotel key in my pocket. Oops. Maybe I can mail it back from Bangkok.

 

Phi Phi Islands

I liked, but did not love Koh Phi Phi, where Judith and I spent three days relaxing and exploring neighboring islands. Paradise has been tarnished by thousands of tourists and the endless sound of motor boats.

23 November, 2019 – Arrive on Phi Phi

Another early start. We ate breakfast at our hotel and caught a 7:00 taxi to Rassada Pier in Phuket where we caught a speedboat to Koh Phi Phi. In hindsight we should have sat further back in the boat or taken the ferry; it was a rough ride. A longboat shuttled us to our hotel, Phi Phi Bayview, nicely placed a ten-minute walk from the crowded pier area and far enough to not be bothered by the party crowd. There are no cars on the island, though we saw a handful of pickup trucks and motorcycles.

After getting settled we walked to aptly named Long Beach. The rolling path is clearly marked, much of it on nice concrete blocks decorated with leaves, the rest a mixture of pavement, beach, and sandbags. We swam a bit, and read books on the beach. I got my first Thai massage, fully clothed without oil. It involves more pressure and twisting than in Cambodia, but equally satisfying. We have a lovely early dinner, broccoli with chicken and a berry slush.

24 November – longboat tour

 After a hearty Thai breakfast, included with our room, we took a longboat tour of neighboring islands. We paid extra to get a private boat with an English-speaking skipper who would tailor our tour for us. We got neither, but we did get an earlier start then the group tours and had a good time anyway. Our first and furthest stop was Bamboo Island (Ko Mai Phai). A fee is charged to go ashore, which is probably a good thing otherwise this idyllic spot would be covered with people. We spent an hour or so strolling the white sand beach and snorkeling a bit, then continued on to other spots, including Maya Bay. The shore of this tiny cove is now closed to allow it to recover from the hordes of people who descended on it after the movie, The Beach. At Monkey Beach, the monkeys clearly recognized water bottles; they grabbed them off shored kayaks, pulled of the tops, and guzzled down the contents. We were also entertained by a very active baby monkey, the first I’ve ever seen. We stopped at several places to snorkel, our favorite being near Viking Cave, where swifts’ nests are harvested for Chinese bird’s nest soup. I missed a section while applying sunblock and came back with two bright red crescents just below my bathing suit on the back of my legs.

It was early afternoon when we go back and I don’t recall doing much of anything for several hours. Later we walked into town, had an early dinner at a combo Indian/Thai restaurant, got a very nice Thai massage, and stopped for a cup of rolled ice cream, created in front of us on an icy slab.

25 November – Phi Phi Viewpoint

We started the day with a hike, taking a long circuitous route up the mountain, through the jungle, past an oversized mega resort under construction, complete with a manmade lake, to two of the three viewpoints. From there the shape of the island is clearly visible. Our route back  was shorter, down a few hundred steps and through the town. There are lots of happy looking cats on this island, with regular tails. They wander in and out of restaurants and shops, getting plenty of food.

After breakfast, Judith headed over to lounge at Long Beach, while I lounged in our nice hotel room overlooking the bay and finished my Angkor Wat blog post, a strikingly different location. When I joined her at Long Beach, we had another massage and early dinner.

26 November – goodbye Phi Phi

I didn’t get back to sleep after the 5:00 a.m. call to prayers; the singing sounded nice. Thailand may be primarily Buddhist, but this island has many Muslins. I took a short stroll on the beach, had one last yummy breakfast, then waded into the water to take the longboat shuttle to the pier where Judith and I parted. She’s heading to Koh Lanta, where she is meeting up with Jolene for a week of island hopping, while I’m headed to the mainland for a dive trip.