We spent the past month and a half in Bahía de los Angeles in the Sea of Cortez with extremely limited wifi, so we are woefully behind on the blog. Hopefully, we can still remember where we went in Thailand and whether or not we actually had fun (hahaha)! We do remember we ate a lot.
We opted to fly out of San Francisco to Bangkok because it was less expensive than a roundtrip out of San Diego. Plus, we took a few days to visit with my college housemate, McRitchie, and her hubby, Chris, and Rand’s college buddy, Stan, and his wife, Lorena. Super fun! Overall, the flights were relatively painless. They were long (~24-hrs of travel across the international date line), but we were fed and we had endless movies to choose from – I think I watched eight. The strangest part was leaving SFO at noon one day and arriving in Bangkok at midnight a day later (Bangkok is 14 hours ahead of PDT) without a ton of sleep (shouldn’t have watched all those movies!). But we’d made it to our $29 USD hotel, and in the morning we were greeted by our travel family, the Thailand Mofos, raring to go. We all sat down to our complimentary Thai breakfast of fried rice, noodles, salad, eggs, fruit and delicious brewed coffee (we all had several cups), and discussed our official non-plan for the upcoming month. An aside: One thing I didn’t mention above or in the teaser post was the cost of living as a tourist in Thailand. We emphasize the cost of the hotel room ($29 USD) because that’s on the high side of what we paid. In general, we spent between $17 and $23 USD for hotels and most included breakfast! Unbelievable.
First, Bangkok is huge. It supports an upwards of 8.3 million souls and is sprawling across more than 1,500 square kilometers (600 sq mi). There are parts of the city known to tourists, like the two we visited: Khaosan Road, a backpackers paradise, which offers inexpensive hostels, street food vendor after street food vendor, and restaurant after restaurant, catering to other Asian and western tourists, street vendors and shops selling dust collectors and brightly-colored souvenir clothing with elephant patterns, and strangely enough, shops to get tailor-made suits. Suits? Yeah, suits. We observed entire streets occupied by textile shops, which apparently translates into the notion that men need suits, even the tourists who are walking around in shorts and flip-flops because it’s 90-plus degrees with 90-plus-percent humidity. Oh, and of course, every other store front is a Thai massage parlor (with or without a “happy ending”), where patrons receive foot massages in chairs lined up along the walkway – in public! For all the world to see! What?! We didn’t get a massage on Khaosan Road.
But we did visit the Grand Palace, which was walking distance from our hotel. This gave us our first glimpse of the reverence paid to the King and to religion. Royal portraits of the King loomed large on the inside and outside of almost every building in the city. Some of the portraits on government buildings, for instance, were at least 50 feet high! And the entryway to many local jurisdictions had shrines to the King that stood 15-20 feet high. The King was King, and apparently, it is illegal in Thailand to bad mouth the royal family. Interestingly, many people love the King, but hate the President because they say he is corrupt. Strange how that happens in politics.
The temples within the grounds of the Grand Palace were almost overwhelming visually. There are vast gardens and an upwards of 35 buildings as part of the complex, all of which are meticulously kept. There are long walls with detailed hand painted murals telling the story of the history of Thailand – none of it could we understand without the aid of the brochure that came with our entrance fee. Despite our inability to understand the language or the artistry, we could still appreciate the beauty and complexity, and the labor involved. Amazing.
After a couple of nights on Khaosan Road, we ventured over to another touristy spot – Sukhumvit, which is referred to as the “cosmopolitan” area of Bangkok. Where we stayed, however, seemed to better be described as the red-light district. It was a little seedy and run down (but our $30 USD/night hotel was just fine – and a darn yummy breakfast was included!). Jeff, Rand, and Jason were reluctant to walk down the street unaccompanied by us women for fear of being accosted. It was disheartening to see the number of women working the streets – often sitting in groups on bar stools lining the sidewalks, casually touching a bare arm with a sultry look, or calling out to walkers-by offering massage and whatever else. But most striking was the ages of some of the women, or should I say young girls. Young. The sex trade is alive and well in Thailand even though, technically, prostitution is illegal. It makes my stomach turn to contemplate the inner workings of the “industry.” But there’s a reason so many women are working in it – it’s in high demand.
To take our minds off the debauchery taking place under our noses, we visited Terminal 21, a ginormous shopping mall connected to one of the train depots. It’s seven stories, each floor themed after a different major city on the globe – San Francisco, Rome, Tokyo – and there’s one whole floor, plus parts of others, dedicated solely to FOOD! Our kind place! We didn’t buy anything but food; everything else was U.S. prices, i.e., expensive. And we really did go there just to eat. It was mall food for sure, but it was Thai mall food and the whole excursion was quite an experience. (Note: After we left Thailand and before Jenn and Jason flew from Bangkok to the Philippines, they revisited Sukhumvit and had a wonderful time. They found the true cosmo part of the city. Apparently, the food was quite spectacular.)
A few nights immersed in the hustle and bustle of the big city had us longing for some quiet time on an island or two in the Gulf of Thailand. To get to an island or two, we opted to go by way of Phuket, the best known and biggest tourist destination in Thailand. To get to Phuket, would it be a plane, train, bus, or mini-van? One of the apps Jenn and Jason live by is Rome2Rio, which gives you every possible transportation option plus travel times between two locations. Based on R2R, we hopped on a plane from Bangkok to Phuket (we could have taken a 15-hr bus ride) for the quick 1.5-hr flight. By the way, the airfare was $95 USD for both of us. Seriously. Then, of course, there was the question of where on Phuket to stay – Patong Beach, an area known for its raucous night life, overdevelopment and huge crowds, and, well, debauchery, or one of the other lesser known beaches, such as Hat Karon. We decided we should see what all the fuss was about and booked an $18 USD/night room right on Patong Beach.
It was pretty much as described. Even during the monsoon season, there were throngs of people milling about and street vendors and massage parlors in full swing. There is an entire street blocked off at both ends, lined with bar after bar after bar, each one with “representatives” in the street with signs and promotions to entice tourists into their establishments. There’s lots of not-very-good live music, it’s crowded and loud and flashy and, to put it simply, debaucherous. Funny thing, though, we wandered the streets during the day and at dusk, ate street food to keep us occupied, but were back at our hotel and in bed before the night even got started. Haha! Despite not having seen Patong Beach’s night life at the height of activity, after a couple of days here, we were ready to go.
We took a cab from our hotel to the wrong pier and caught the wrong speed boat to Koh Yao Yai (Big Long Island), but alas, we made it. There were longtail boats as an option as well, which are native to SE Asia. Longtails are generally equipped with car engines with a long pole extending the drive shaft into the water with the propeller attached (see photos). They’re beautiful wooden boats, but given their open design and minimal freeboard, the charter speed boat was probably the better choice to stay dry (turns out their safety record is actually worse, however). The waters were mostly crystal blue, but during the monsoon season, there’s a bit more turbidity because of the runoff and winds that rile things up. So instead of crystal clear, much of it was crystal murk. But lovely nonetheless.
Koh Yao Yai is about 19 miles long, known for its sandy beaches, rubber tree plantations, and fishing villages. About 8,000 people live here and most are Sunni Muslim. Everyone with whom we crossed paths was all smiles and full of joy. This is also where we discovered my Thai-ness. Apparently, I look Thai, so everyone would talk at me in Thai and I would just stand there smiling. They must have thought I was, well, not too bright, because I never responded to their questions. This became a common occurrence throughout the rest of Thailand. Again, another good reason to take time to learn at least some key Thai phrases, like, “I don’t speak Thai – I’m American.”
Once we arrived on the island, we took an hour-long truck-truck (a little bigger than a tuk-tuk) ride to our $20 USD/night beachfront hotel. And unbeknownst to us, the proprietor had upgraded us to our own private bungalows just steps away from the swimming pool and an amazing view the beach. And, you guessed it, breakfast was included! As Jeff would say, “jackpot!” With bellies full of pad Thai and stir-fried morning glory, we went on a long, hot walkabout. The island was pretty quiet comparatively and many of the businesses were shut, but we still managed to what we were looking for – food! Street food and small family restaurants – the eating never stopped. We spied water buffalo, bananas and papayas growing in people’s yards, homes built on stilts, and gasoline for scooters being sold in quart bottles and dispensed by what appeared to be stills to make moonshine.
We decided to rent some scooters, fill ’em up with a couple quarts of gas, and tool around the island. We had a blast, with the wind in our faces, no helmets on (sorry, Jer!), visiting little nooks and crannies, checking out rubber plantations, and taking a dip at one of the palm-strewn beaches. Oh and getting stung by a jellyfish (OUCH!), which are known to occur in higher abundance during the monsoons. Lucky me. The scooter adventure was an all-day endeavor, which unfortunately ended with Jason getting a pretty serious case of heat exhaustion. This is a well-known thing among motorcycle enthusiasts – many suffer from it in places with toasty climates. Luckily, Jason is a tough dude and rallied back just in time for dinner.
Turns out this is the only island we visited (well, technically, Phuket is an island, too), as we all discovered that visiting beautiful beaches in the subtropics is something we’ve all been doing for the past few years – just on a different continent and on our own boats. Don’t misunderstand, Koh Yao Yai was amazing, but given our current living situations, the tenuous transportation safety standards, and the wind forecasts, we opted out of extensive island hopping. That said, it was a wonderful place to see, made so much more special because of the people we met – we’re so glad we did it.
That’s it for now…coming up next, we make our way back to Phuket Town and beyond.
Disclaimer regarding our videos: We totally slacked off! Since we were traveling with Jeff and Brenda, well-renowned vloggers on YouTube, our video footage is somewhat lackluster and our GoPro doesn’t have a built-in stabilizer! Dang it! So, admittedly, the footage isn’t great, but nevertheless, enjoy the and vids and the pics!! We’ve included those made by Jeff and Brenda, too!
Bangkok – The Thailand Mofos, Hotels, Walkabouts, Random Sights, and Cats
Bangkok – The Grand Palace, Temples, Spirit Houses, and Fancy Structures
Bangkok – FOOD and Markets
Koh Yao Yai
From S/V Adventurer‘s library: