|Thailand (December 19th, 2000 to January 7th, 2001)|
|We walked into Sungai Kolok, Thailand, from Rantau Panjang, Malaysia, on Tuesday, December 19th. After getting our physical body through Thai immigration and our physical possesions through Thai customs, we grabbed a mini-bus that took us to Hat Yai, in south-central Thailand.
A room at the Singapore Hotel, in Hat Yai, cost us 270 Baht(B), or about $6.30 US -- another great South-East Asian exchange rate. But before we crashed in our room, we explored Hat Yai and had a great, late-night Thai dinner.
Wednesday, December 20th, we went to look at Wat Hat Yai Nai, a huge reclining Buddha. A Buddist monk blessed both of us. Later, we went to see a multi-tier waterfall, outside of town.
Thursday, December 21st, we grabbed a mini-bus to Krabi. There isn't much going on in the city of Krabi, but nearby are some great beaches (but only accessible by boat). Right after jumping off the mini-bus into Krabi, we jumped on a boat that took us to East Rai Leh Beach. East Rai Leh Beach is basically a mud flat, but a short walk brings you to West Rai Leh Beach, which is pretty nice (the huge limestone cliffs really make the beach). We crashed Thursday night at the Sand Sea Resort.
Friday, December 22nd, we found an even better beach than West Rai Leh Beach -- Phra Nang Beach.
Accomodation wise, Phra Nang Beach is entirely occupied by the snobby snob Dusit Rayavadee Resort. But anyone can use the beach and it's only a short walk from Eat Rai Leh Beach to Phra Nang Beach. We basically hung out all day on Phra Nang and crashed again at Sand Sea.
Saturday, December 23rd, was another day lost on Phra Nang Beach. Phra Nang Beach is definitely going on our Top Ten Best Places In The World To Hang Out And Chill. Saturday night we moved to The Diamond Cave Bungalows because there were no rooms available at the Sand Sea.
Sunday, Christmas Eve Day, we paddled kayaks around the limestone cliffs off Krabi. The rock structures almost seem like they are melting above your head. It is truly an amazing sight and the beaches off Krabi have to be one of the most beautiful places in the world.
Monday, Christmas Day, we basked in the glow of the wonderous sun on Phra Nang Beach. Our beautiful surroundings took some of the sting out of missing our families and friends, but Christmas is one of those times that traveling can be tough. Yes, we have each other (and Little Bear), but Christmas is one time you wish you could teleport yourself back home for the day, see your family and friends, and then zip right back. When you are on the other side of the globe, that isn't too easy. But we want all our family and friends to know that our thoughts are with them this Christmas, just like any other, even if we are on the other side of the world.
Tuesday was another wonderful day on Phra Nang Beach. Everyday on Phra Nang Beach we were visited by a little boy. What a cutie! His mother gave massages on the beach and his father sold pineapples and drinks so he was there every single day. We actually bought a whole pineapple cut for easy eating from his dad every day. This 2-year old kid owned the beach and spent each day waving and flirting with the tourists and playing in the water while his parents earned a living. Tuesday night we enjoyed a beautiful sunset on West Rai Leh Beach and said our goodbyes to the beautiful beaches of Krabi.
Wednesday, December 27th, was a day of travel. We got up at 8:00 a.m. We were on a fishing boat from East Rai Leh Beach by 9:00 a.m. After a 45 minute boat ride, we left the waters of the Indian Ocean and arrived in Krabi. After we grabbed some breakfast and did a little shopping we were on a bus that left Krabi at 11:00 a.m. The 5 hour bus ride took us northeast across the southern peninsula of Thailand, to the east coast town of Khanom, which rests on the waters of the Gulf of Thailand. We were on a ferry leaving Khanom by 5:00 p.m. The 2 hour ferry ride brought us into Na Thon, the port town of the island of Ko Samui Right off the ferry we jumped in yet another mode of transport, a songtao (a pickup truck with long seats along the bed walls, covered by a tin roof), and drove from the west side of the island to the east side. After the 1 hour songtao ride, we checked into Paradise Bungalows, on Lamai Beach, and collapsed on our bed around 8:00 p.m, very weary from 12 hours of straight travel.
On Thursday, December 28th we upgraded our room to one right on the beach and away from the rooster coop which "cock-a-doodle-dooed" at 5:00 a.m.! Although almost 3 times the price of our first night's accomodation, our new bungalow is much better and we're going to stay here through New Year's so we wanted a place that was comfortable. We rented a motorbike and cruised the island to check it out. It's 25 km long and 21 km wide and takes a few hours to completely circle the island. We checked out Chaweng Beach which to us was too crowded with back to back tourists, mostly European. Then Lisa got her hair cut really short and we headed into Na Thon, the island's main town, to shop a little and check it out. Lisa found a heavy, wooden Buddha head (she is really into Buddhas right now) and Joel found some wooden containers topped with silver engravings. Most of them were topped with beautiful silver elephants, while the other is topped by what looks like a silver flower. For dinner we ate next door to our place at a place called Bill Resort which has tables and chairs right in the sand next to the crashing waves of the gulf. Our dinner of fresh red snapper and chicken curry was delicious as is most of the food we have sampled here in Thailand.
On Friday, December 29th, we woke up to a cloudy drizzly day so we decided to stay indoors and work on the web site at a cyber cafe.
Later in the day it cleared up, so we hopped on our motorbike and checked out Na Muang Falls. It's a straight up climb over rocky terrain. Joel slipped and smashed his elbow and his knee. The elbow swelled up to the size of baseball. We ended up not even making it to the top. When we got back to Lamai Beach, Joel decided to go for a swim. The waters on Lamai are definitely not good for swimming, at least at this time of the year. The current was strong and the waves were huge. One wave took Joel, slammed his face into the sand and flipped his back, in a reverse arch, over his body. His face was all scratched up and his back hurt like hell. It definitely was a rough day for Joel.
Saturday, December 30th, we went to see Hin Yaay and Hin Ta, the grandfather and grandmother stones, also called the Wonderful Rocks. Basically they are two rocks that look amazingly like the male and female sex organs. It is really bizzare and kind of a tourist trap, but it was worth a quick look. Later in the day we drove the motorbike to Wat Phra Yah, a huge gold image of Buddha, posing cross legged on top of a hill, on the northeast corner of the island. We got there just before sunset. The scene was surreal. We removed our shoes, lighted an incense stick as an offering to Buddha, and walked up the huge flight of stairs to reach the base of Big Buddha. Buddist monks in bright orange robes were walking around with beautiful music playing in the background. It was a great experience.
Sunday, December 31st, New Year's Day, we basically celebrated all day. We bar and resturant hopped all around the island, on our motorbike and had a great time. We did have a minor argument because Lisa thought Joel was driving the motorbike "like a bat out of hell". Right around midnight we ended up on the beach, watching huge fireworks displays fill the sky from every direction all around the island. People were lighting candles inside big paper bags and they would float up into the sky, with the immense ocean beating its waves into the shoreline. What a beautiful night and what a great New Year's.
Monday, January 1st, of the year 2001, we got up and packed our bags. After a quick breakfast, we jumped on a songtao at 11:30 AM, which took 1 hour to get us to Na Thon. After a two hour wait, we jumped on a bus that took 1 hour to get us to a private ferry pier. The bus we took to the pier actually drove right onto the ferry, so we didn't have to remove our luggage from the roof of the bus. The ferry ride was about 2 hours. At around 5:30 PM, it was back on the bus for another two hour ride to Surathani. In Surathani, after an hour wait, we finally got on the bus that was to take us to Bangkok. The ride from Surathani to Bangkok took nine hours. We arrived in Bangkok around 5:30 AM. We dragged our heavy packs, and our weary bodies, into a tuk tuk and wizzed across town to the Bossotel Inn. We were finally able to crash at around 6:30 AM and 19 hours of straight travel.
Why didn't we fly into Bangkok? Because, Confucious say "man who walk sideway through airport door, going to Bangkok."
Tuesday, Janurary 2nd, we went to Khao San Road. This is the backpacker, traveler hangout of Bangkok. It's a good place to get visas for neighboring countries. We applied for visas for Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos. To apply for all six visas (three for each of us), with three days of processing (one day for each), it cost us $263.00 (US). The plan is to travel through all three countries by land. On Janurary 7th, we will drive from Bangkok to Siem Reap, Cambodia (through Poipet). After visiting the ancient ruins of Angkor Wat, we will continue traveling through Cambodia to Phnom Phen. From Phnom Phen we will cross into Vietnam and travel to Ho Chi Minh City (via the Moc Bai border crossing). We will then head north through Vietnam, until we reach the northern most border crossing between Vietnam and Laos, Keo Nua Pass, and enter Laos. We will then travel west through Laos, making our way to Vientiane. We will leave Laos, via the Thailand-Laos Friendship Bridge. Then it is just a straight shot through north-eastern Thailand, back to Bangkok, returning Feburary 7th.
Wednesday, January 3rd, marks 6 months on the road! We left Boston 6 months ago, to the day, back on July 3rd. Six months -- in some ways it seems like a long time ago and in other ways it seems just like yesterday. Looking back, on everything we have seen and experienced, the people we have met and the adventures we have gotten into, is fulfilling. We certainly have a long way to go, but we have also come a long way.
On Wednesday morning we took a boat taxi up the Chao Phraya River to check out The Grand Palace. Travelling by boat in Bangkok is about the best way to go because at all times of the day there is terrible gridlock throughout the city. The ride on the river is traffic free and along the way you see temples and homes perched right on the river's bank. We got off the boat and started to walk toward the palace. On the way, we were approached by a man who asked us where we were going and then told us that the palace was closed because of a Buddhist holiday but he could take us on a tour of the city for 20 baht (which is a ridiculously low price -- something was fishy about this guy). We basically ignored him and found our way to the palace -- which was not closed at all! Some "touts" will try anything to get you to give them your money! Who knows where that guy would have really taken us? The Grand Palace is very impressive and there is a very strict dress code for entering. No bare shoulders (Lisa had to put on one of Joel's shirts), no shorts, and no shoes without straps in the back. It's not where the royal family lives now, but it is used for royal ceremonies and visiting dignitaries. We strolled through the many buildings in the compound in awe at the beauty of the traditional Thai architecture. Many people were making offerings to Buddha while others were busy taking typical tourist photos. There were so many beautiful statues, sequin covered columns, golden domes, elephant statues and Buddhas, we both took a lot of pictures because at every turn there was yet another "good picture" waiting to be taken.
After we had our fill of the Palace, we hopped in a taxi and drove to "The World Trade Center" which is a huge shopping mall. We walked around the stores and found a cinema so we checked to make sure it was in English and then caught the 3:15 P.M. showing of "Unbreakable". After the movie, we had a pizza -- sometimes it's as if we aren't even in a foreign country, but a little taste of what's familiar to us feels good every once and a while.
As Thailand becomes more Westernized by the minute, the tourist pour in and the jungles disappear. Easy travel, moderate prices, excellent food and service, great beaches and a wide variety of travelers have made Thailand a very popular travel destination as of late. So popular, you might begin to wonder if you are not really in a Western country.
After our "dinner and a movie", we took another cab back to the Bossotel Inn and called it a night.
Thursday, January 4th, we woke up late and took a water taxi to Wat Po, the Temple of the Reclining Buddha built by Rama III in the 19th century. The main temple holds a gold leaf covered Reclining Buddha which is more than 140 feet long and 50 feet high. It was truly amazing. We then walked through the streets of Bangkok, passing stand after stand of fruit, grilled meat, cake and other food vendors. We were also in a section which is home of a large Buddhist University so we also saw many, many monks draped in their saffron robes.
Friday, January 5th, we went to the largest museum in all of South-East Asia, the Thailand National Museum. This museum is a great place for an overview of Thai art and culture. All the periods and styles of Thai history and art are shown here. After the museum, we had another great Thai meal (and more than a few beers). Man, does Thai food have a kick -- very spicy! Friday night we picked up our visas for Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos and then headed back to "The Boss" -- our nickname for the Bossotel Inn.
Saturday, January 6th, we prepared for tomorrow's departure of Thailand and entrance into Cambodia. We have decided to travel very light for this portion of the trip. We are storing over half of our gear at the Bossotel Inn and then we will pick it up, when we return to Bangkok in a month.
We also decided it was prudent to load up on good old U.S. greenbacks. We have heard ATM's are hard to come by in Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos. U.S. cash will come in handy as it is the "unofficial" curreny in these areas.
Sunday, January 7th, we took a 6:00 AM taxi to Khao San Road. On Khao San Road we jumped on a mini bus that took us on a 5 hour ride to the Thailand-Cambodia border.