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Thailand Bmnichol Halifax NS, Canada

Bangkok, Patong Beach and Phi Phi Island, Thailand - Brenda and Cynthia, Halifax, N.S. Jan 26-Feb 6/06

My friend Cynthia's son Graham is teaching English in Korea with his girlfriend Jessica; their contract will expire in July. He had asked his mother if she would like to go to Thailand before they came home. Since our husbands were not as adventurous as we were, we went alone. We were to meet up with Graham and Jessica in Bangkok. We made our flight arrangement through Flight Center. Graham and Jessica took care of the accommodations in Thailand.

January 26, 2006 - Our flights would take us from Halifax - Toronto - Chicago - Tokyo - Bangkok. Because we were going to Toronto, we didn't have to be at the airport three hours in advance. Our information from the travel agent said to arrive three hours before the flight. We arrived at the airport at 3 a.m. for our 6 a.m. departure; the Air Canada desk did not open until 4 a.m., we could have slept for another hour. We had already decided to travel light, so we were not checking any luggage, we only took carry-on bags. In Toronto we pre-cleared US customs and security. We were bused from Terminal 1 to Terminal 2. Air Canada partners with United so our flight from Toronto to Chicago was with United. Because we didn't check any bags, we didn't have to wait for luggage and proceeded straight to Terminal 5 to check in with Japan Airlines. In Chicago we took a train from Terminal 1 to Terminal 5. Because of computer problems with Japan Airlines check-in was pretty slow going. W! e were given our boarding passes for both Chicago and Tokyo. When we passed through security we had to remove our shoes; this was the only airport in which we had to do that. In Tokyo we were picked up from the plane by bus, transferred to the terminal and then took a train to the next terminal. At the Bangkok airport we were picked up from the plane by bus too. We had no problem navigating through any of the airports.

The Halifax, Toronto, Chicago departures left on time and arrived early. The Tokyo flight left 45 minutes late and arrived in Bangkok about 10 minutes late. All the flights were smooth with smooth landings. When we left Halifax the sun was just starting to come up. We basically followed the sun halfway around the world. We were over 24 hours into our trip before we finally started to see the night sky. We left Tokyo while it was still light; by the time we arrived in Bangkok it was dark, after all it was midnight. The flight paths from Chicago took us up over Canada, Fairbanks, Alaska and out over the Bearing Strait then south to Japan. Air Canada and United gave us a drink and a small package of pretzels. The Japan Airlines plane was a jumbo jet with an upper floor for 1st class and the cockpit. The plane was huge 67 rows, 10 seats wide. OK, you won't believe this, just before take-off they turned on the big screen TV. It was a live shot of the runway. The camera was on thr! ough take-off!! Pretty freaky. The entertainment system on the plane had a remote control, TV screens were in the back of the seat in front of us (like on WestJet). You could watch movies play, video games, watch videos, there was a navigation map, in flight TV shopping channel and Bird's Eye View. This is pretty neat; you can see in front of the plane and also switch to the ground view. Economy class on Japan Air is better than 1st class on AT. Warm facecloths, hot food, real food, good food.

We had a smooth easy entry through BBK airport. It took about two minutes at immigration while the agent stamped our passports. We had nothing to declare so we sailed straight through Customs. Graham and Jessica met us in the arrival lounge; we hopped into the waiting cab and about a half-hour later we were at the Plaza Hotel. There was no traffic at that hour of night. It was amazing that after 36 hours of traveling we were not tired. We sat up and chatted until 3 a.m. Graham had arranged a free Canal Tour for Cynthia and I for the next day. After the tour we would have to make a visit to a few shops, this worked for us.

January 28 - I had set the alarm for 6:30, but woke up at 6 and there was no way I could fall back to sleep. We enjoyed the free Asian continental breakfast and were picked up for our tour at 7:30 a.m. The tour took us by riverboat through some of the Canal's in BKK. From the canal you could see some of the Grand Palace, the Temple of Dawn, Wat Pho (Temple of the giant reclining Buddha) and lots of other Temples. We also saw people selling items, food, etc. out of canoe type small boats. We stopped for about 15 minutes at a craft shop. We stopped at another spot that had hundreds of Catfish. Apparently Catfish are good luck and couples that are about to be married visit the spot and feed the Catfish bread. The water was boiling with Catfish, big and small ones. Most, if not all the homes along the canal had small decorative houses (bigger than birdhouses) on posts in front of their homes. These small houses are called Spirit Houses. People place offerings on a platform to th! e spirits of the previous owners of the property. After the Canal Tour we were taken to a Gem shop/factory (it was the size of medium sized office). We toured the factory and ended up in the showroom, imagine that! Lots of expensive jewelry. Next stop was another jewelry store. This one was more in our price range. We also stopped at a rug shop. The man told us they would be happy to ship anything we wanted to buy, of course they would. We declined. The last place they took us to was a large shop with some handcrafted items. We met up with Graham and Jessica at the hotel and spent the afternoon shopping at the MBK shopping complex. Following tips I received from a travel forum, we went straight to the 6th floor. The 6th floor had everything you could imagine except furniture and appliances. There was a huge food court on the 6th level as well. We took a stroll through, some of the food looked good, and some looked just plain gross. The smell in a couple of the areas was pre! tty unpleasant. Lots of people were eating there. We returned ! to the hotel in the early evening, refreshed and went to a Japanese restaurant for supper. After supper we went to the night market at Patpong. Lots of vendors, something like the DR only on a much larger scale, barter, barter, and barter. The market was very busy and bordering it on both sides were bars. Lots of transvestites, pretty hard to tell the real ladies from the lady boys. Got to bed around 1 a.m., see the pattern here!!

January 29 - I woke up at 5 a.m. We had breakfast, checked out and caught our taxi to the airport. The Plaza Hotel was clean and in a good location. Close to shopping, nightlife, China Town, etc. Free continental breakfast, internet access available in lobby, mini bar, Asian showers (Asian showers - floor get wet when you shower, just pull a shower curtain across to separate the sink from the toilet/shower area.) Bangkok is not a city I would want to spend a lot of time in. Like most big cities it is noisy, dirty and smelly.

The flight to Phuket with Thai Airways was another pleasant experience. A one hour long flight and they served food right after takeoff. We arrived in Phuket, got a taxi and set off for Patong Beach, about a 30-45 minute car ride. We would be staying at the Anchalee Inn, the same hotel Graham and Jessica had stayed in in July. After checking in we changed into our swimsuits and headed for the beach which was about a 7-minute walk away. At the beach for $1.50 you can rent a lounge change and umbrella, the man who owns the chairs cleans the sand off and if the sun starts to shift he will come over and adjust the umbrella, unless you don't want him too. Beach vendors were selling drinks, fresh fruit, ice cream, hot food, henna tattoos, massages and lots of other stuff. If you were not interested you just told them "no thank you" and they moved on. The sun was hot; the water was warm, who could ask for anything more. We stayed on the beach until around 5 then went back to the I! nn to change and freshen up for supper. We went to a Thai restaurant called Monte's, Graham and Jessica had been there before. The owner recognized them and gave us a free round of drinks. The food was very good and really cheap, about $2.00 for a juice and meal. After supper we visited the OTOC markets. A shopping experience similar to shopping in the DR. All the shop owners were willing to "discount" if you felt the price was too high. Barter, barter and barter some more. Anyone that doesn't barter here will pay three times more for something.

We continued down the street and after crossing a few streets and turning a few corners we ended up on the street with all the bars. Quite the interesting place. Again it was really hard to tell the difference between the real ladies and the Lady Boys. There were people all over the street, which was closed to vehicles. Hustlers were everywhere trying to get you to come to their bar for the "show." Some places were open until 4 a.m.

January 30 - We arranged a taxi to take us round trip to the Khao Phra Thaeo National Park. We paid approx. $15. plus a tip. The taxi took the four of us approx. 35-45 minutes one way and waited for us to do our exploring. Entrance fee to the park was $6 each. This park is the location of the Gibbon Rehabilitation Centre, and the Tonsai and Bang Pae waterfalls. Khao Phra Thaeo is the last significant virgin rain forest on Phuket located in the northern part of the island. We stopped at the Gibbon Rehab Centre before continuing on to the waterfalls. After a short visit at the falls we continued on the path through the jungle. The trees and plants are quite interesting. There were vines growing from the trees that looked like the ones in the old Tarzan movies. We saw some beautiful butterflies, a yellow frog, lizards and some birds. After about an hour and half the trail was not as clear as we would have liked so we decided to turn back. It was quite a hike, just like bein! g in a sauna. When we got back to the Gibbon Rehab Centre the attendant commented that we had been at the falls for a long time. We told him we had gone for a trek in the jungle. He looked surprised and when we told him we had gone without a guide, he said, "you are lucky, it is very dangerous." He asked us if we saw any Gibbons, we hadn't, but we heard some, again he said we were lucky. I think the Gibbons we heard were the ones in the cages deeper in the forest. On the way out of the Park we saw elephants that were part of an Elephant Trek company.

Graham and Jessica went to the beach and Cynthia and I spent a little time in the pool tossing a beach ball back and forth. I swear the water in the pool was warmer than the air, but it was nice just the same. We had supper at an Egyptian Restaurant. The food was really good. After supper we strolled down the street and ended up on the street with all the bars (the same one as last night). There was a Dragon Parade happening. It was quite the spectacle. They even climbed a poll in the middle of the street. When we finally made our way off the street it was close to midnight so we took a tuk tuk back to the Inn.

The Anchalee Inn is a nice hotel located about 7 - 10 minutes up the hill from Patong Beach. The Tsunami did not reach the Anchalee Inn. Rooms were clean, mini bar, Asian shower, balcony, swimming pool, Internet access in lobby, safe boxes behind the check-in counter, in room phone, bar and restaurant next door. Approx. $35/night. Our room was on the 4th floor and was pretty quiet even though it looked out over the street. They have done a great job restoring Patong Beach. They are in the process of replacing/repairing the sidewalks along the beach road. At Patong Beach you can rent jet skis, go on Banana boat rides and rent boats. Patong Beach kind of reminded me of the DR. The vendors in the markets were quite aggressive bartering was definitely the name of the game. For example, I bought a pair of field glasses, the vendor started at 2500 BHT I got them for 650 BHT. If it sounds like we did a fair amount of shopping, we did. :D You couldn't help it, every where you w! alked (and we walked everywhere), there were shops. Crossing the street was a challenge; the cars and motorcycles do not stop for pedestrians

January 31, 2006 - Off to Phi Phi Island. We caught the ferry to Phi Phi Island at Phuket. Round trip tickets and transfer cost only $16.25 each. The ride from Patong to the ferry was at least 45 minutes and the ferry took about 1.5 hrs. They have quite the efficient system in place. Someone meets you at the ferry and puts a sticker on you. The sticker tells an agent on the ferry what type of passage you have paid for and they give you the correct ticket for your return trip. On the return trip, you pass the ticket back in and they put another sticker on you. This sticker tells the van drivers which van you are supposed to catch back to Patong. On the ferry you had a choice of seating, upper deck, covered deck or inside. There was a snack bar on the covered deck and they were also passing out complimentary drink and rolls from a lower deck. This is where I have to tell you that people in Thailand are not shy about picking through a friend's hair for "nits, yes nits." There! they were, two women working in the snack bar passing their time by picking nits. (We didn't buy anything from the snack bar)

There was a man on the ferry with brochures for the different hotels. He contacted a few places for us; our first choices were full. When the boat docked he took us to the Phi Phi Don Chukit Resort. There are no cars on Phi Phi Island so people walk wherever they want to go. They do have a few motorcycles with side bins. Some people hired these guys to carry their luggage to their hotels. On the way to the Chukit Resort Jessica stopped at two other places to see if they had any vacancies, both were full. We checked in at the Chukit and paid for one night. The room was quite nice, but the Resort was a little way from the center of the village. (A few years ago I had a dream about this exact place, very freaky.) We changed into our swimsuits and headed for the beach. Jessica stopped at the Chao Koh Phi Phi Lodge and they had a room available (on our way by fifteen minutes before they were full, someone checked out to catch the ferry). Graham and Jessica decided to take the roo! m, so now they had two rooms. We would try to get a room the next day, this resort had a pool and breakfast, and it was $6 cheaper than the Chukit. We were approx. a 10-minute walk from the Chukit to the beach. The Chukit Resort was clean, mini fridge with two waters, Asian shower, no phone, safe boxes in lobby, spacious room and patio. The room did look like it had just been re-done. Approx. $53/night.

Phi Phi Island is the neatest place, the one main street is only about 8 - 10 feet wide with shops on both sides. There are no shortage of shops selling clothes, jewelry, watches, money exchange places, Internet places, dive shops, massage parlors, restaurants, hotels, mini marts, juice bar stands and food stalls. At first glance you think the main street is all there is, not so. Take one of the side lanes and there are more shops, dive shops, restaurants, etc., etc. Turn the corner and keep walking, the lanes branch and you start to get an idea how spread out the community of Phi Phi is. The vendors allowed you to browse their stalls without crowding you too much (unlike Patong and Patpong). There were plenty of people offering boat taxis and excursions. We had supper at Hippies; again the food was very good. Around 10 p.m. the garbage trucks started their pickup. The motorcycles with side bins that people were hiring to transport their luggage double as garbage trucks. Yo! u had to watch for them, because they pretty well took up the whole road. I loved it on Phi Phi Island and would love to go back, too bad it takes two days to get there.

February 1, 2006 - Cynthia and I were up bright and early, we had breakfast at the Bakery on Main Street all I can say is yummmmy. After breakfast we checked at the Chao Koh Phi Phi Lodge and they had a room for us. While we waited for the room to be cleaned we browsed around the village for a little while. We checked out of the Chukit and moved to the Chao Koh Phi Phi. Our room was a 2-second walk to the pool. After lunch we rented a long boat to take us swimming and snorkeling at Phi Phi Ley. The snorkeling was amazing with more varieties of fish than I have ever seen while snorkeling before. We even saw a black and white sea snake. Angel fish, tiger fish, sea cucumbers, rainbow colored fish, striped fish, thousands of small silver fish (maybe sardines) and many other varieties of fish and various sea sponges and coral. After snorkeling we stopped at Maya Bay, the site of the filming of the movie "Beach. We had supper at the Tonsai Seafood restaurant. The Pineapple Rice s! erved in a hollowed out Pineapple was pretty good (we picked out the squid). Cynthia and I are starting to look like a couple of lobsters. Actually I look like a lobster with spots (either ant or sand flea bites, the same as Cuba last year, very itchy.)

February 2, 2006 - We had breakfast at the Tonsai Seafood Restaurant, we received a voucher from the Lodge for 120 BHT it was plenty to get a good breakfast. Off to Monkey Beach. When we arrived at the beach there were no monkeys to be seen. We walked the length of the beach without seeing any. On the way back to the boat the boatman started to call the monkeys and right before our eyes the trees started to shake and the monkeys started appearing from out of the trees. I stopped counting monkeys at twenty. There were a few with babies hanging off them. The babies didn't have their monkey hair yet so they looked like little hairy humans. We had brought bananas and pineapple for the monkeys, you had to keep your eye on them or they would climb right up on you and grab the fruit. After we left the beach we snorkeled around for a little while. At this spot we noticed the giant sea urchins with long black spikes. There were dozens of them trying to hide under rocks on the ocean ! floor. When we returned to the island Cynthia and I had lunch at the Phi Phi Pizza House. The pizza was really good. After some time on the beach we went back to the pool for a short swim then back to the room for a rest. While watching TV, I noticed movement by the top of the curtain, a gecko! Cynthia went to the front desk and managed to explain we had an uninvited guest in our room. A houseboy came and evicted it.

Graham, Cynthia and I decided to take a walk to the View Point. The View Point is the evacuation route for emergency purposes. It is 186 meters above sea level, 345 stairs then about ¼ mile of walkway still climbing. It was actually harder coming back down, can you say "legs like jelly." by the time we got to the bottom?

Graham and Jessica went back to Hippies for supper; Cynthia and I ate at the Thai Cuisine Restaurant. After supper we strolled through the village and did a little shopping. We stopped in one shop and had a nice chat with the shopkeeper. He told us about the waves coming three times but the looters and thieves came many more times than the waves. He told us that the waves came in the day and the looters and thieves came at night. The looters were from the island and the main land. Before turning in we had decided we wanted get some pampering so we treated ourselves to a manicure, $6.

Chao Koh Phi Phi Lodge was pretty well right in the middle of the village. Three to five minute walk to the beach. Pool, breakfast vouchers. Two unit bungalows, pool, in-room digital safe, mini-bar, shower with tub, HBO on TV. $47/night.

February 3, 2006 - We had breakfast at the Tonsai with our voucher from the hotel. We caught the early ferry back to Phuket. The van was waiting at the ferry terminal to take us back to Patong. We checked back into the Anchalee Inn for our last two nights in Thailand. Tip: make sure you are on a floor high enough up to avoid street noises if you get a room overlooking the street, and try to get a room without an adjoining door to the next room, can be noisy. Graham and Jessica went off to Monte's for lunch and Cynthia and I went down to the beach road and had lunch at a café outside the Shopping Centre. After lunch we spent some time at the beach and returned to the Inn around 5 p.m. We spent some time floating around the pool then went and changed for supper. We had supper at Molly Malone's an Irish Pub close to the beach.

February 4, 2006 - Graham and Jessica decided to spend their last day at Patong on the beach, we were beached out so Cynthia and I wanted to check out the Ocean Plaza Shopping Centre early. We were early all right; we got there two hours before the stores opened so we had brunch across the street at the bakery. The Ocean Plaza only opened at noon; of course they were open until about midnight. We shopped at the plaza for a little while then made our way to the OTOC market where we each bought a suitcase. I picked up a roll on medium sized duffel; Cynthia bought a knock-off designer bag. We had planned on buying one before we came back home. We knew we would need something to bring our extra stuff home in. After shopping we spent some time at the pool. We were sitting on the balcony when we heard a crash sound. Just across the street a motorcycle was lying on it's side. It only took a few minutes for the police to arrive. There are more motorcycles than cars in Patong and I! 'm surprised there are not more accidents. While we were watching the happenings across the street, we heard a dog barking. Around the corner we see a motorcycle with a dog in his owners lap and his paws on the handlebars. The dog is barking as they drive down the street; another dog barking followed them. It was quite the sight. More than once we saw a motorbike with a father, mother and two children all piled on.

We met up with Graham and Jessica and went to Ali Babas, an Indian restaurant for supper.

February 5, 2006 - Up at 5 a.m. Taxi picked us up at 5:45 and delivered us to the airport in plenty of time to make our flight to Bangkok. We said good-bye to Graham and Jessica as we each boarded separate buses at the Bangkok airport. We had about eleven hours before we had to check in for our flight home so we stored our luggage and caught a cab to the Grand Palace. We spent about two hours at the Grand Palace then walked about one km to Wat Pho, the temple of the reclining Buddha. The Palace was beautiful, lots of people. The temple of the Emerald Buddha is located at the Grand Palace. We had to remove our shoes and there were signs telling people not to point their feet at the Buddha. The mantle that the Buddha was set on was quite amazing, all gold and glittery. The Buddha was in its winter cloak. When we came out of the Palace we were bombarded with vendors selling everything from post cards, umbrellas, pictures, etc. etc. One vendor followed us about ½ a block trying ! to sell us an umbrella. He started at 500 BHT, when he got to 200 we bought one each. It was a good purchase; it kept the sun off our heads. It was hot hot hot. We found Wat Pho after we were led astray by a tout trying to lead us to the river to take a riverboat ride. We knew that we could get to Wat Pho by the street so we just turned around and asked someone at an information stand. Off we went down the street. We spent about an hour at Wat Pho then walked all the way back to the front of the Palace to try and catch a cab back to the airport. It took a few minutes but we were soon on our way to the airport. The taxi didn't want to use the meter, so we agreed on a price and off we went. It was definitely time to get out of Bangkok. We were ready to head for home.

The flights from Bangkok - Japan - Chicago were smooth with smooth landings. We had a nap in the Narita airport while we were waiting for our connection. The flight from Chicago to Toronto had a little bit of turbulence. The flight from Toronto to Halifax must have been smooth because we both slept pretty well through the whole flight. We arrived in Halifax seven minutes late. If I wasn't tired when I arrived in Bangkok 12 days ago, I sure was when I got home. The return flight was much harder on us than the flight to Bangkok.