After leaving the Seychelles, I enjoyed a restful night in the upstairs cabin on a 747-400 from Paris and awoke eagerly anticipating our landing in Bangkok. My all-time favorite RTW stop (and the only country I have visited on every trip), Thailand is truly the ultimate destination.
From the bright lights and speeding tuk-tuks of Bangkok to the secluded and tranquil beaches of the south, Thailand has something for everyone – and everything for me. After spending 3 of the past 5 nights sleeping on airplanes, the first order of business was the famous $5 Thai massage.
When I arrived at my hotel, the beautiful Royal Orchid Sheraton on the banks of the Chao Phraya River, I was excited to see that they had finally completed a renovation. I’ve stayed at this property several times over the years and have always loved it for its perfect location on the river and sweeping views – but the rooms were a little tired.
I’m happy to say that’s no longer the case. I was upgraded to a lovely suite so newly renovated that I think the paint might still have been wet. What a nice surprise!
After a quick shower I was ready to hop on the tourist boat for a scenic and leisurely ride up to Khao San Road. Though it may be faster to get there in a taxi or a tuk-tuk, there is no cheaper or more beautiful way to go than by tourist boat. The boats stop at all the main tourist sights along the way and for 13baht (about 30 cents) you just can’t beat it for the view. Instead of breathing in exhaust fumes on the crowded city streets, you can inhale the (mostly) fresh air along the river.
I wanted to refresh my memory about what was on the streets surrounding the hotel (for dining and future massage purposes) so I decided to forgo the hotel’s conveniently-located tourist boat dock (Stop #3) and wander up the road a little to Stop #4. I had a map and I was confident it wouldn’t be hard to find – just follow the river, right? As I was walking through the chaotic city streets, I was approached by a girl I assumed was a tourist (she was obviously not Thai, at least) who was searching for Dock #4 as well. She didn’t have a map and wasn’t familiar with the area so I suggested she walk with me and I was sure we could find it together.
Her name was Helene, and as it turns out, she is French but living in Bangkok and working as a math teacher. Coincidentally, she was also headed to Khao San Road so after finding the dock, we got to talking while on the boat ride. She’d only been in the city about 2 months so was still learning her way around. She was in search of a bookstore to find guidebooks for Vietnam and Cambodia – two places she planned to visit while living in Thailand.
Khao San Road is known the world over as a haven for backpackers. The street offers everything under the sun from cheap lodging and food to clothing, books, laundry service – you name it. It also happens to be the place for some of the cheapest massage places in the city, which was my main reason for heading there. I also wanted to find the used bookstore I’d discovered last year with super cheap paperbacks since I was almost through with the one I was reading.
Sidebar: Paperbacks in English are often difficult to find when you’re travelling overseas. If you do find them, there is usually a limited selection at a hugely inflated price. So, when I discovered the bookstore last year, it was a great find. Travelers from all over the world have traded books here, bring in one you’ve finished and leave with a new one for pennies on the dollar. There are a number of great bookshops like this on Khao San Road.
So, my plan was to get a massage, pick up a new read and maybe grab a bite to eat. Since Helene was also looking for a bookshop, we decided to wander around together. After finding the books we were both looking for, I headed to the massage place and Helene continued shopping. When I was done, we grabbed some delicious pad thai from a street cart and ate it as we walked back to the boat dock.
After a long day on a plane and traipsing around Bangkok, I was happy to finally get back to the hotel…and start my work day.
Yes, I know, you all think I am living the life of leisure while on this trip but I do have clients at home (thankfully) and work must go on! Since Thailand is 12 hours ahead of US ET, that means I have to be available on e-mail from 8:00pm – 5:00am.
It’s like this – with 24 hours in a day, I figure that breaks down to 8 hrs of sleep, 8 hrs of work and 8 hrs of play. However, the tricky part is that for the vast majority of the trip, thanks to the time difference, work hours and sleep hours fall into the same time frame. Darn the luck!
So, that usually means staying up late and getting my work day started by answering the morning e-mails. Then sleeping for a few hours and setting my alarm to check e-mail again around 4pm in the US. Then, if there’s nothing pressing, I go back to sleep and try to get the rest of that 8 hours. Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t.
Sometimes I find myself in the lobby of my resort at 3am because it has free wifi and I am too cheap to spring for the $20/day for in-room internet (it really adds up over the course of a month so I only get in-room internet when there is no other alternative). Thank God for my cell phone – it saves me a lot of trips to the lobby.
The Chatuchak Weekend Market
But, I digress…for my second and last full day in Bangkok, I did what I always do when I find myself in Bangkok over a weekend – I headed straight for the enormous Chatuchak Weekend Market. I found the market on my first trip to Bangkok several years ago and have continued to return because I find new entire sections of the place every time I go. It is so large you could spend the entire weekend there and not see it all.
Last year I discovered the animal section where they had a huge selection of adorable puppies for sale (though I prefer the term “adoption”). There are a lot of puppies that definitely look too young to be away from their mommies but they all seem to be well-fed and taken care of when I walk through the shops and I have seen nice, normal looking families adopting them so I hope they are all getting good homes.
I headed straight for the shop with all of the huskies and watched some of them being bathed and blow dried – just the cutest thing you’ve ever seen. And there’s an entire section of the market devoted to “pet clothing” (which is a little ridiculous but oddly entertaining). I’ve included a photo montage of “baby husky getting a bath” and “small dogs in absurd clothing” in the photo gallery this week. You’re welcome.
After a full day at the market, I headed back near the hotel for another massage and some dinner before calling it a night (and being a Saturday night, I actually got a full night’s sleep!).
A Trip to Phang Nga Bay
I awoke fully refreshed after an uninterrupted night of sleep, got some breakfast and grabbed a cab to the airport for my morning flight to Phuket.
Just an hour’s flight south of Bangkok, the island of Phuket is an oasis of beautiful beaches and bays studded with limestone cliffs. I had booked a rental car in advance for my two days in Phuket since they are often at a premium during high season in Thailand (which this is).
A rental car was a necessity for this stop since I had decided to stay in the charming little beach town of Khao Lak – which, though charming, is about a 90 minute drive from the airport in Phuket.
There are so many different towns and beaches in southern Thailand it would take forever to see them all. For this year’s trip, I had decided to do a day trip to the turquoise waters of Phang Nga Bay. I had a loose plan of hiring a boat to explore the bay on my own but figured I’d sort that out when I go to the hotel.
After a relatively easy drive to the Le Meridien Khao Lak (2017 Update: This is now the Katiliya Khao Lak Resort) I arrived just after lunch. I was excited to learn that I had been upgraded to one of the hotels few “private villas.” Last year when I stayed here I had a lovely suite but a villa? Now we’re talking.
The villa was gorgeous and I spent most of the afternoon enjoying the hotel’s beach and grounds before driving into town for a massage and some dinner (and yes, my Thai days are always loosely schedule around my next massage – at $5, how can you not?).
When I returned from dinner, I spoke to the hotel’s concierge who assured me that I could indeed just drive to the docks in Phang Nga and hire my own boat for around $50 for the afternoon. Since the group tours were more than $100; that sounded like a great idea to me. Not to mention I generally despise group tours anyway.
So after another great night of sleep (still the weekend!), I had a leisurely breakfast and headed out of the hotel around 9am. The drive to Phang Nga took about an hour and I managed to eventually find the dock (sounds easy but trust me, it was cleverly concealed).
There were several boats to choose from so I felt like I had pretty good odds at cutting a deal. I eventually went with the guy who spoke the best English but negotiated him down to a little more than $30 (still a lot of baht) for a 3-hour tour of the Bay. Negotiations concluded, I hopped in the boat and off we went.
It was a perfect sunny day for a cruise around the bay and of course there were a ton of other boats out there. But having my own private boat was definitely the way to go. The craggy limestone cliffs that dot the teal waters of Phang Nga Bay reminded me a lot of Halong Bay in Vietnam. Just as beautiful but much better weather!
We cruised the bay for a while lingering around some of the more popular tourist stops – caves, limestone carvings, fishing villages, etc. Finally, we approached the most popular tourist stop in Phang Nga Bay – James Bond Island. Made famous in the movie, “The Man with the Golden Gun,” the movie had the location set in China but Thailand is its true home.
It was an extremely popular stop with the jam-packed tourist boats so the island was crawling with people. I got my photo op and headed straight back for my boat. After another hour or so of exploring the bay and breathing in the clean ocean air, it was time to head back. What an incredibly enjoyable way to spend the day.
I drove back toward Khao Lak for one final Thai massage before heading back to the hotel for a full evening spent luxuriating in my villa. Upgrades are gooood.
Another wonderful but brief stay in Thailand comes to a close and I am once again sad to say goodbye. Thailand is such an amazing country that I fall more and more in love with it every year. One of these days I really am going to stay awhile and see it all.
Up next, a one-night stopover in Kuala Lumpur before continuing on to Bali, Indonesia on Wednesday.