I planned to have a Cinco de Mayo post but I came back from Playa del Carmen with the worst cold so I’ve been sitting at home partially narcoleptic, waking up just to drink tea and eat pho. So here is a post that has nothing to do with Cinco de Mayo or May the Fourth. But if you are planning on going to Thailand…
This is a bit of a throwback but as the travel posts seem popular I’d thought I’d dig through my old albums to find some pictures to share of a family trip we took to Southeast Asia a couple years ago. Sadly I had tons of pictures – including lots of food pictures – in my old point and shoot camera which was lost at Stingaree one week after my trip before I got a chance to transfer them to my laptop. Clubs are the worst.
So I’m sharing my dad’s pictures. He used a film camera and I love the nostalgic grainy way they turned out. Also I’m sharing some of my sister’s pictures which were taken on a regular point and shoot. One thing to note is that my dad is solely a ‘food is fuel’ kind of person. If left to his own devices he will prepare a single meal a day (“having to eat is a nuisance”) by putting a pot of water on the stove, adding pasta, chicken breast, and frozen veggies to it and then just boiling the sh*t out of it until its all cooked. And then he’ll eat it while standing over the kitchen counter reading The Economist. The gist of it is, there are naturally zero pictures of food in his pictures, except when its something weird like the pig face that looks like its smiling at you or the bowl of grubs we got served in Cambodia (next post lovelies).
We of course started in Bangkok. Bangkok is a crazy energetic city, with crumbling old buildings and alleys with stray dogs that back onto canals and luxurious high-rise buildings with penthouse bars and views of the twinkling city below. We stayed in a hotel that was in a location that more closely resembled the former of the two. The hotel itself was quite pleasant with a pool surrounded by tropical plants, a delicious breakfast (the banana pancakes doh), and comfortable rooms. I liked that to get to the hotel you had to walk in a narrow alley with the canal on one side and on the other you walked past a bar where men smoked and played cards on red plastic tables with Singha beer umbrellas and you could peek into houses with doors ajar, past bead curtains where an old school TV twinkled in the background and families sat on cushions on the floor and chatted in Thai. It felt more ‘real’ than being trapped in one of those steel and glass type towers where you shoes make loud noises against the marble floors in a lobby with a too large flower arrangement and too cold air conditioning. At the same time, despite the more dinghy surroundings, it did not feel unsafe at all, much like most of Southeast Asia.
Also had the best pad see ew of life (above). Cannot tell you where we found it, we were just randomly walking around Bangkok in the area by our hotel and this lady was preparing it on the street in front of the restaurant. It smelled amazing so we went in and sat on the rickety plastic chairs in the semi-deserted restaurant and had a second lunch at 3 pm.
In Bangkok there are many wats (temples) to visit and as our time there was limited we visited the main ones. If you go to Thailand or any/multiple countries in Southeast Asia there are going to be lotsssss of wats. We maxed out on wats in Laos and after that couldn’t really spend more than a couple minutes before deciding we’ve seen it all. Definitely plan your trip around other attractions too, wats are often crowded with tourists and after you see five the rest will start to look less impressive. Kind of the same feeling we got after one too many temple visits in Bali and trying to fit in 7 islands in our 10 day trip to Greece. Instead take the time to appreciate the more noteworthy ones and then move on to other attractions. I appreciated Bangkok more after spending time just walking around, visiting food markets, and avoiding the major tourist attractions where everyone is yelling at you asking if you need a tuktuk or trying to scam you with the oldest trick in the book, which is listed in every Fodor’s/travel guide ever: “Insertname is closed! But my friend here can take you somewhere else…”
If you have time in the city definitely take time to walk around and meander. We found an amazing shaved ice cafe and the (aforementioned) best little roadside pad see ew. You can wander around Khao San Road but its clogged with tourists and we found that the food was sub par and all the trinkets they sold were the same 20 things made in China.
Wat Arun sits on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River. The tower is covered in many tiny pieces of colourful Chinese ceramics. The best view is actually from across the river at sunset. And getting to Wat Arun we happened on one of the best ways to get around Bangkok. The subway is efficient and clean and tuktuks (although a bit gimmicky) are kind of wild and fun but the water taxis are affordable and serene. You get a lovely view of the city sliding by as you ripple through the muddy brown water and giant lilypads. Also happens to get you close to many of the major attractions as naturally most of those are close to the river.
Wat Pho is home to Thailand’s largest reclining Buddha statue. The statue is covered in gold leaf and the soles of the 46 meter long Buddha’s feet are inlaid with mother-of-pearl depicting 108 auspicious signs of the Buddha. This one gets pretty crowded. Also a good time to remind you that you must dress appropriately to visit temples. Your shoulders and legs should be covered, so we made sure to always wear t-shirts with sleeves and carry a sarong in our backpacks or as a scarf, which could quickly be tied around the waist for an improvised maxi skirt. Some of the larger wats (like this one) have sarongs/covers you can rent.
Wat Phra Kaew (The Temple of the Emerald Buddha) is on the grounds of the legendary Grand Palace and naturally is home to one of Thailand’s most noted Buddha statues carved out of a single block of jade. You are actually not allowed to take pictures inside the temple so we only have that one crappy, illicit shot above.
About an hour or so away from the city you have Tiger Temple, a temple that is an animal sanctuary of sorts. They have many animals including deer, peacocks and the star of the show, tigers. You can pet them and take pictures with the animals. Critics say the animals are drugged into a stupor for this purpose while the keepers say they are simply well fed and nocturnal to boot, which accounts for their calm demeanor during the day. At the time we were really excited to go, but knowing now that the animals might be drugged kind of made me want to research it more before deciding to patronize places like this.
The locals were super friendly and so polite. Although many speak English, naturally not everyone does. Even so when we needed directions it was not uncommon for whoever we inquired to take it upon themselves to walk us there. As I mentioned before I never really felt unsafe there, even in areas that were a little dinghy. Of course pick pocketing is always a risk, but I never felt like there was risk to my physical person. This is especially nice because unbeknownst to me during my stay there my American student visa expired and I had to re-apply for a visa at the embassy there. As this was the end of the trip my sister was on her way back to San Diego and my dad and youngest sister were headed to Vietnam, this meant I spent 5 days alone in Bangkok. Which is not too bad until you consider I accidentally booked a hotel in the red light district of Bangkok…definitely my bad. Apparently I look Thai which on the bright side meant I could walk around undisturbed if I dressed a bit more conservatively. On the down side tourists thought I was at my hotel for reasons other than its proximity to the American embassy…I felt much more threatened by the creepy drunk older white foreigners hanging around my hotel than by any local. Including the kind of unintentionally creepy but benign Thai gentleman who awkwardly followed me around Siam Paragon Mall for 20 minutes asking me to marry him. It was an eventful end of the trip.
KOH PHI PHI
After Bangkok we flew to Phuket and from there took a ferry to beautiful Phi Phi Island.
Koh Phi Phi is beautiful. It’s blessedly less developed than Phuket or Koh Samui but I feel like that is changing. The main island Koh Phi Phi Don is probably where you would stay as it has the only real town and many hotels. It’s shaped like an anvil of sorts with clear water on all sides. There are less accessible hidden coves as well as wide beaches where you can walk 300 feet into the ocean and the water only barely laps your knees. Ton Sai is the main center of activity with plenty of stores, restaurants, bars selling fishbowl drinks, myriad diving schools and plenty of hostels. We often went into Ton Sai but liked that our hotel was a bit further out in Long Beach. Long Beach is surrounded by forest but is home to just a handful (maybe two handfuls) of more sprawling hotels. We prefer non chain hotels and Paradise Pearl Bungalows was quite nice (for less than $60 USD a night for a room that slept 4). The rooms were expansive and airy with white linens, dark wood floors and a large balcony. The breakfast buffet had Thai, American and Chinese breakfast options. The beach in front of the hotel was never crowded and you could eat breakfast and watch the sun rise over the turquoise waters with not a single soul on the beach except for one of the many stray cats that seem to colonize Thai islands – I was partial to this little ginger guy that had no shame when it came to demanding some of my scrambled eggs.
On the island you should definitely make your way up to the Viewpoint (where the first Koh Phi Phi picture was taken). You go up the many stairs that constitute the tsunami escape route and at the top you will be greeted with an unparalleled view of the narrow sandbar that connects both portions of the island. There is also an industrious lady that sells juices and ice cream at the top of the view point. More than you’d pay for a juice in town but considering the only way up there is to carry everything up, the extra couple baht are more than well-deserved.
Also worth mentioning is the farmer’s market on Ton Sai. If you go past the stalls that more obviously cater to tourists, deeper into the market are stalls where the locals actually shop from. You can try some of the many grilled meat or seafood skewers, buy fresh fruit and veggies, and then have the best pad thai of your life at Song’s Pad Thai. This is not a ‘locals’ spot, her prices definitely cater towards foreigners. But it is the best pad thai I had in Thailand/ever. I never really got the appeal of pad thai until getting my shrimp and octopus combo pad thai here. Song is really sweet too, she let us take pictures of the ingredients so that we could try to find them back home (on my lost camera amillioncryingemojis) and you can decorate a piece of paper with your name or home country and tack it amongst the many in the ceiling.
Cannot confirm the veracity of that purported Kim Kardashian note but for those not fluent in Portuguese the lower portion of that note from some Brazilian guy reads “for the potheads out there there is a dude on the beach that sells the glorious weed”. No that was not our note.
One of the best things you can do around the island is if you are a diver, to go diving in the area. And if you are not a diver the all day boat tours that explore the other islands that are part of Koh Phi Phi is a must. There is Maya Bay the scenic beach that was the background (minus one photoshopped mountain) for the movie The Beach. Although it gets crazy crowded its still stunning and you can camp there overnight which I imagine would yield some lovely early morning pictures that aren’t so densely populated.
Another common stop is Monkey Beach (Ao Ling) in Phi Phi. It’s pretty self explanatory. Note that the monkeys are feisty little guys and you can get bit if you try to get a little too aggressive with getting in their faces to take pictures. My sister may or may not have been chased by a pack of monkeys…
The boat tour also stops at the incredible Phi Phi Lagoon that has the shallowest, most cerulean water. Truly out of this world. Sadly most of the pictures were taken in my lost camera. And the one below doesn’t really do it justice. It looks more like this.
All in all, Phi Phi was a perfect sized little archipelago. Although yes most of the menus are in English and Thai we were still able to find stalls that were frequented by locals in the farmer’s market that sold various little skewers and snacks. We also stopped a lady on a bicycle carrying various little bundles wrapped in banana leaf and cellophane. They were filled with sticky coconut rice and had a sweet banana center. I was fond of these and always had one eye out for the lady on her bicycle but sadly never did not run into her again. Although luckily the snow ice lady was quite stationary so we visited her on a couple occasions.
If you are traveling sans family + friends there are also various bars and a Full Moon Party to attend, although its not quite as large or raucous as the Full Moon Party in larger islands. We were in Phi Phi for it and everyone was surprised me and my sister didn’t attend as literally every other younger tourist was sporting multiple colourful wristbands, neon paint caked behind their ears and a throbbing hangover the next day. We were going scuba diving the next morning and hanging out with our dad, so no drinking for us.
The last activity I have to recommend is kayaking around Phi Phi. The water is shallow and clear and you appear to be floating a feet or two above beautiful coral reefs and their colorful inhabitants. We also found our own little hidden beach kayaking. It was only accessible by small boat and had a huge rock formation on it, with a cave that could fit a group of people – evident by the few littered bottles of empty beers and cigarette butts found inside the cave. We hung out at our secluded little beach for a while and then slowly kayaked back, constantly peering over the edge at all the life darting behind rocks and coral underneath the long, skinny shadow of our kayaks.
We were sad to leave Phi Phi but excited for lush Chiang Mai in the north of Thailand. As we took the ferry back to Phuket we passed an enormous school of jellyfish that appeared to be hundreds of feet deep and just as wide, all white translucent orbs gradually disappearing into the depths of the ocean. Another awe inspiring site in this impressive little group of islands. It really does ruin a lot of other places for you. In the years since we have gone to other beaches and then commented amongst ourselves if this was more impressive than Phi Phi – the answer is mostly no.