Archive | January, 2013

Best day so far!

29 Jan

What a day! Have you seen 'The Beach'? Today I saw it!

Phi Phi is in reality two islands – Phi Phi Don Island and Phi Phi Lay Island. The former is inhabited, while the latter is a nature reserve. As soon as you set foot on Phi Phi Don Island, you're met by longtail boat-drivers and tour agencies offering to take you on round-trips of the islands or directly to the destination of your choice. Today we went for a full-day trip of the two islands, which proved excellent value for money and the most fun we have had so far in Thailand.

The larger boat we had chosen turned out to come with an additional benefit to the toilet. Too large to go to shore, we were simply asked to jump into the water whenever we were to visit a new white sandy beach. BRILLIANT! Whereas the agencies using longtail-boats or speedboats seemed to keep their people well within the boats most of the time, we got to swim and go snorkeling at four different places – including Maya Beach, where they filmed 'The Beach'. (People not too keen on swimming were given kayaks.)

While Maya Beach is supposedly the highlight, mine was rather a small moment of snorkeling outside Monkey Beach (the name is literal – the beach of monkeys!). Suddenly, while underwater, I felt two hands on the palms of my feet. My boyfriend had spotted a large group of small yellow and blue fish just ahead. And that was when I realised what he was about to do. With a small helpful push, he steered me straight into what seemed like an endless amount of tropical fish. HOLY MOLY, I love this place!!

Thankfully, for the ones of you finding these updates a bit over the top when it comes to sunshine and how lovely this place is, I also have some other juicy news saved up:

  • Our new unisex perfume at night is DEET 50%.
  • Also, it can be quite irksome if sunblock gets into our eyes.
Phi Phi in a minute and more fish than you can shake a stick at:

 

Postcard from Phi Phi

29 Jan

'If I came back here, this is where I would be staying'. A group of four had stopped just in front of our deck chairs in the sand. One of them was pointing to a number of small bungalows on stilts, each overlooking Ton Sai Bay. We grinned at each other as the group continued their walk along the rocky beach front, most likely on their way to the coral beach around the corner.

'Oh, this is nice' has been on repeat since we came to Phi Phi three days ago. The place delivers what the postcards promise. Perfect tropical days with unstoppable bright sun. Limestone cliffs shooting straight down into the turquoise ocean. Stunning white beaches lined by jungle and palm trees, water so clear you may simply stick your head below the surface to spot ten-folds of brightly coloured fish, and suitably starry nights. You get the idea, the whole shebang.

But, Phi Phi is also a major party place, and that's the reason the group stopped just next to where we were sitting. Phi Phi Sunset Resort, where we have been staying, is situated towards the edge of Ton Sai Bay.

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Though not completely shielded from the blasting Opa Gangam style at two in the morning, the distance and the nearby jungle cooperate well in blocking off most of the sound.

The cherry on the icing though, is the free longtail-boat trips. Only reachable by longtail-boat, the hotel offers free ferrying services until 10pm. The first time we came back at night-time we both gasped when Thai, the driver, shut off the engine. The longtail boat glided into shore to the sounds of chirping crickets, monkeys and waves breaking on the rocks.

 

I suppose we have to leave Phi Phi sooner or later. Maybe later.

 

Lessons learned in Bangkok

25 Jan

So, here we are, in a ferry on our way to the Phi Phi islands. A flat-out brilliant place if one is to belive the three-quarters Thai postcards that seem to be photographed there. But so far, all I can see is deep blue bliss. The scenic way of getting to the pier in Phuket from Bangkok starts with a 15 hour train ride to Trang. We cheated. We opted for the 1.5 hour AirAsia flight for 80 euros a person instead. To properly rub in how poor backpackers we are, the first persons we met by the ferry in Phuket were a Dutch couple in their sixties who had CYCLED down from Bangkok. Well, well. Next time.

Nonetheless, here are a few tips and things we figured out while in Bangkok:

  • Pedestrian crossings are just stripes on the road. Think of them as decorations rather than a signal for cars to stop. In order to cross what is normally a four or six-lane street the key is to wait for lots of Thai people. Lots of them. At one point you will be so many that you can simply start walking and force traffic to stop.
  • Sidewalks are not for you, they're free game. Watch out for scooters.
  • Best of all, go to the cinema. Obviously because the cinemas are ultra luxurious, but mostly because of the pre-film film. Before your film, the royal anthem is played along with a film of the king, talking to the masses, holding the hand of a poor person kneeling in front of him, and going down a river safari-style camera in hand. While this is played, you have some time to reflect over the massive billboards with photos of the king across Bangkok and the national halt twice every day at 6pm and 6am. At these times, the royal anthem is played – on the streets, in shops, in schools – and everyone stands still. Offending the king or any other member of the royal family or criticising the monarchy itself is an offence, lese majeste. A journalist was sentenced to 10 years in prison this week.
  • When you do go to the cinema, remember to nip by H&M first. They sell woollen scarves… Think of the cinema as a big fridge and dress accordingly.
  • Find a hotel next to the skytrain, an elevated train that takes you between skyscrapers in the new part of the city. While the skytrain will often cost the same as a taxi if you're travelling with someone, you avoid exhaust fumes and traffic jams.
  • If you're in Bangkok during the weekend, make sure you visit Chatuchak market. YouTube it!
  • If you are wondering if you're a proper backpacker or not, head to Khaosan Road. We went there for an hour or two one evening. I told my boyfriend to take me home when if I ever become one.
  • Take a boat trip. The major (5-star) hotels along the river provide small boats for their guests and aren't difficult about giving people who are lost a lift as well to the larger ferry stop? (No idea what this is called – this was yet another random boat we took.) When you get to the larger water taxi/ferry stop, find the free ferry for Aquatic – a stylish Thai version of Covent Garden.
  • And the best for last. We found the best Pad Thai yet in a small side street opposite State Tower:

Tailors, Siam Square and my wedding dress

24 Jan

As many of you know, our big trip took a happy turn this Christmas. We got engaged (hurray!) and all of a sudden we were doing things in reverse with an exotic honeymoon before the wedding. And today, ahhh, I found my dress!!

Earlier this week the Internet told me that the Japanese quarter of Sukhumvit was the place to go for wedding dresses. Unfortunately it didn't tell me the likely price tags. I had almost given up on the idea of making a dress in Thailand until Sunny, one of my brother's Thai friends from university, entered as my wedding dress fairy.

This afternoon she took us to her tailor shop. Even for a tailor newbie, I think I can say I struck gold! In a matter of minutes of Sunny's translation, the tailor had sketched my perfect dress. Being there with a Thai person, I even received the Thai price (everything here comes in two prices – one for the Thai and one for the falang). So, as any sensible person who has just in effect saved money, I ordered two dresses more.

Sunny also introduced us to Siam Square, where she showed us a great and reasonably priced tailor of suits. (If you're in Bangkok looking for one, the details are: Peter Kelly, 412/16 Siam Square soi 6. I'll add the details of the dress shop later – all I remember now is that it's below Ekemai BTS.)

A week into our trip, we've also realised that guidebooks should not be relied on. Siam Square barely features in them, though the place should (as this review points out) be given a special chapter called 'the hub of all things cool'. In addition to the massive Siam Centre, which includes both South East Asia's largest aquarium and an Imax cinema, the area includes ten-folds of tiny streets with trendy or quirky shops, cafees and restaurants as well as a street market.

 

A boat ride with monks

23 Jan

'Next time, I'm choosing your food', my boyfriend says, staring down at the plastic plate in front of him. Pork in sweet coconut sauce with shrimp, according to the English translation. I see no shrimp nor pork, but rather two halves of a tiny crab – resembling those we would look for on the beach as children – and some grey mush with bits of white onion. In front of me, on the other hand, there's a bowl of nicely smelling green chicken curry. His food. He's simply a bigger person and backpacker than me.

Ok, back to earlier today. After a morning swim, we took a taxi to the Old Town where we ticked off the Grand Palace and the Temple of the Golden Buddha. Three hours of an incredibly warm and sweaty walk around glittering gold and colour-mosaic buildings.

Starving at this point, we followed Rough Guide's advice to head down to The Royal Cremation Ground: 'This area was originally used for the cremation of kings, queens and important princes. It is the place in Bangkok to eat charcoal-grilled squid and have your fortune told by the mor duu (seeing doctors)'. Yes, those two sentences are next to eachother in the book. Obviously we had to go.

Well, we walked until our feet were black and I realised that I still don't eat street food. (Spending a day outside in this city is like smoking a few packs of cigarettes. I'll happily eat street food in a village, but not meat that has spent hours outside in Bangkok's 30-something degrees and pollution.)

Since we for some reason believed the riverside would be lined with restaurants, we headed there instead only to find an explosion of food stalls. The smell of barbecued seafood, curries and grilled meat in all thinkable varieties made the area pleasingly sweet, though also warm and sticky as we tried to make our way through the narrow corridors in a shuffling queue of people. Still optimistic about finding a riverside restaurant in the area, we followed the people in front until we stumbled upon a small ferry. 'Want to take it?' 'Do you know where it goes?'. I didnt, so we took it.

Three baht each – equivalent of next to nothing – and we were ferried across the river along with two young monks.

On the other side awaited even more food stalls. Still not eating street food, we made it up from the riverside to a more quiet road of only three lanes that we could easily cross.

And this brings us back to the restaurant – the only place with food served inside we had seen for the past two hours. While I still can't deal with street food, I believe at this point I can make up for that by choosing boldly in the menu. Well. Looking down at they grey mush, I realised that when in doubt always go for the green curry.

Food aside, I think it's safe to say that few tourists go to the area where we were. At least that's how I interpreted the finger our taxi driver swirled around by his temple when we finally hailed one from the street.

But you know what? I loved that boat ride. While where we ended was not ideal, I love the possibility of simply on a whim decide to go onboard a boat to see where you may end up. I'm no longer wearing a watch, I don't have deadlines and I do not have an office to be at five days a week. No over and over, repeat and return. Today I took a random boat trip with two monks and my boyfriend. Who would not enjoy such a day?

And here's some photos of selected street food. One day, that pig's ear will be mine..

I'll have a coconut though! This photo is for Trude!

 

Bangkok – first impressions

21 Jan

We came to Bangkok last Friday and so far our backpacking adventure has been flashpacking – the only 'backpacking' about it has been that our stuff is in rucksacks.

Bangkok is sensory overload, which explains why this update – telling you that we have arrived and are absolutely loving this travel already – is slightly delayed. Taking the time to draft up our thoughts means popping our eyes back into their sockets for a while and not seeing yet another layer of this bustling 8 million-people strong city. But now, next to the rooftop pool of our 23 euro a night hotel it's finally about time to rub it in and say hi to everyone!

Bangkok is rumoured to be a complete chaos. We wouldn't know. We spent the weekend with Ton, my Thai brother in law. Five lanes of honking drivers of tuk-tuks, cars and mopeds – each treating said five lanes as their real life car video game – becomes a relaxed tourist attraction when your driver seems like calmness itself. Most tripadvisor hotel reviews say you need to get a room not facing the road in order to be able to sleep. We woke up to bird chirping and the odd chicken. Sightseeing these days has been a breeze – it's been a luxery city weekend with superb local guides who drove us from place to place and from restaurant to restaurant in an airconditioned car. When the weekend didn't seem able to get any better, Ton announced that his mum would come over on the Sunday morning to treat us to breakfast (read: five-course dinner, including green chicken curry, barbequed pork and grilled fish). (After this trip, going back to cereals will be tough!)

Now, where can I begin to describe this city? So far Bangkok is 34 degrees, having to shield one's eyes from the sun though not getting burnt because of pollution which shrouds far away buildings in what appears to be fog. It's a city where food is everywhere – varying from dirt-cheap street food in stalls lining every street corner to superb restaurants and food courts in glitzy malls putting the ones in London and New York to shame. It's a cost level so low that we're having five courses for each meal and have preemptively started to walk all stairs we see in order to not get obscenely fat while in Asia.

It's a city where you would not like to live, but not like to leave either.

All photos above from Chinatown.

The Gulf of Thailand is a mere 20 minutes away in Ton's airconditioned car.