Whaaaat? You thought just 'cuz I'm back in the good old U.S. of A. my blogging days were gone and done forever?
You thought wrong!
I don't know exactly what form this blog will continue to take now that I'm back on California soil, but I do know I've got a few more updates about where I went and what I saw in Southeast Asia, so get ready for a few more detailed entries about where to stay (or not) should you find yourself in those parts of the world. And moving forward, I'll continue to blog about whatever my little heart desires: travel, food, observations ... you know, life stuff.
But for now, let's get down to business, shall we? I now present for your reading pleasure a recap of the places I went and stayed in Thailand.
Thailand was not my favorite country in the Southeast Asian region -- it's super duper touristy, pricier than its neighbours, and the people there can be a little surly and unpleasant, if not just determined to scam you. I found travelling around a couple islands in the south to be way worse than the north, however. And my route was not 'normal'; most people tend to head from Bangkok straight to the islands, or up north to Chiang Mai, rather than make a run for the Cambodian border so they can visit Angor Wat at the hottest time of year. (Not recommended, btw.) If I had things to do over again, I would have skipped going straight away to Cambodia and would have gone to Chiang Mai and Pai, then made my way to Laos, and travelled all the way down the Mekong and entered Cambodia from the north. But, live and learn.
Where I Went
I started and ended my trip, plus found myself back here for a night before my flight to Colombo, Sri Lanka. Bangkok is hot, polluted, busy, and not the most pleasant of cities. I spent two days there before heading on to Cambodia and was mostly so jetlagged and overwhelmed the majority of my time was spent sleeping/seeking refuge in my air conditioned room trying to figure out what I was going to do with myself for the next four months. But I did make it out to see the Grand Palace, which was interesting, and a nearby Wat (temple).
Bus to Cambodia, Thai Ticket Major (takes you all the way to Siem Reap, rather than some buses and trains which leave you at the Poipet border to figure out the rest of the journey to Siem Reap on your own), $22
I had this dream of travelling all the way up the West Coast of Thailand and making my way around Koh Lipe, Koh Lanta, and Koh Jum before heading to Krabi for my flight to Yangon, Myanmar. Too bad when I dreamed these dreams I had no idea it would be monsoon season in those parts and render my fantasy null. Instead, I headed to Koh Samui and Koh Phangan, but to do that, I had to take a ferry from Pulau Langkawi, Malaysia, to Satun, Thailand, then a series of buses and minivans and songtheaws to the gross city of Suratthani where I spent the night. I stayed a gross 'resort' (hotel made of shipping containers) in the middle of nowheresville and headed off on a bus to the ferry terminal to Koh Samui the next day.
Meh. I found Koh Samui riddled with tourists and so developed it has lost a lot of its island charm. I mean, at this point, I'd spent time basking in the sun on underdeveloped Otres Beach in Cambodia, totally undeveloped Coconut Beach on almost-totally-undeveloped Koh Rong, and soaking in the sunsets on the developed-yet-super-chilled-out Langkawi Island in Malaysia. In Lamai, where I stayed, the actual town was filled with girlie bars and questionable massage parlours and a general sense that this was Europe's answer to Cancun. I did stay at a nice place away from the action and enjoyed having the pool and beach views all to myself.
Home of Thailand's world famous Full Moon Party, in which hundreds of thousands of aspiring ravers and drug addicts and party people descend on a tiny island to dance the night away once a month, I made a point to not be here during Thailand's world famous Full Moon Party. I got an awesome deal on a 3-star resort and found myself totally bored with not much to do, although I did rent a motorbike one day and scootered around the island and shelled out $53 for a day trip to nearby islands to snorkel with a hundred Chinese people who can't swim. This place is probably more fun with some other people to enjoy relaxing in the sun with, although to be honest, I'd probably find a different beach in a different country to do that.
I actually liked Krabi; the people (locals) were nice, for one thing, and not a bunch of crabby (har har) folks fed up with persnickety, demanding, drunk tourists. I stayed at a lovely guesthouse In Ao Nang and had a lovely little day trip to Railay Beach and did a kayaking trip through a canyon with a hundred Chinese tourists. Then I headed into Krabi Town for a night to get ready for my flight the next day to Myanmar. Krabi was one of the few places in Thailand that I actually really liked.
I returned from my two week trip to Myanmar by flying to Chiang Mai. I'd heard great things about Chiang Mai, how there were tons of expats there, how charming it was, etc. I guess I was underwhelmed, especially after spending two weeks exploring such incredible places in Myanmar that felt practically devoid of tourists by comparison. People go to the northern region of Thailand to trek, but all that was on offer in Chiang Mai felt super packaged to novice tourists, and having just done a 3-day trek through a lot of remote country in rural Myanmar, it seemed crazy to pay $70 for a day hike when I'd paid 38,000 kyat (less than $38) for 3 nights staying in homestays above water buffalo. The Chiang Mai treks by comparison were hardly even treks, they were hour-long walks in the jungle before riding on an elephant for an hour or gawking at a long-necked tribal woman ... I dunno, just didn't seem very authentic or cool to me. I'd planned on staying in Chiang Mai for 3 nights but skipped out after 2 to head to Pai.
Pai was my second favorite place in Thailand after Krabi. It's a little hippie town nestled in the mountains filled with beautiful fields and waterfalls and hot springs and such. I rented a motorbike one day and cruised around the area, which was really fun, especially because the roads were not crazy to drive on which made the experience feel fairly safe. The second day, I did a day trek to one of the waterfalls I'd seen before, which was fun, although super challenging in the second half of the day as we simply climbed up a mountain straight up through all kinds of brush and bushes without using a trail. I'd thought I'd spend 4 nights in Pai, but my guesthouse was kinda subpar so I left after 3 with a ticket that took me all the way through to Luang Prabang on a bus-slow boat combo ticket.
We spent one night in Chiang Khong as part of the bus-boat combo ticket to Luang Prabang. Basically, the ticket had us leave Pai around 6 p.m. and arrive at our hotel just across the border from Laos around midnight. The next day we were up at 6:30 am for breakfast and to board a truck to the Thailand/Laos border. We crossed the border, then took a bus to the Laos side, then boarded another bus which drove us for about an hour to the slow boat. The slow boat took 2 days to Luang Prabang, stopping one night in Pakbeng.
Where I Stayed
Bangkok: Buddy Lodge Khao San Road Sooooo this is the craziest thing to admit, but I actually didn't know what Khao San Road was before I went to Bangkok? For those of you living in the same world of ignorance as me, let me inform you that Khao San Road is basically the insane party street in Bangkok! It's filled with young Europeans getting absolutely smashed out of their minds on cheap alcohol, nitrous balloons and other illicit substances, and basically behaving as badly as they possibly can. Not knowing this, I booked a hotel room for my arrival in Bangkok because it was at least going to be open all night and my flight arrived at 11:50pm (actually it ended up arriving at 2 am because it was delayed). I arrived around 3 am from the airport and made my way down the insanity and into my hotel which was at least quiet inside (in part because I kindly requested a quiet room when I checked in). It was too pricey to stay in for the rest of my stay, so I'd arranged a hostel for the next few nights. ($40/night)
Bangkok: VX The Fifty Hostel Located way east in Bangkok, this hostel is a good, safe, decent little place, although it's pretty far from all the sightseeing attractions. It's located near the On Nut station on the BTS (Bangkok's elevated sky train/metro), which meant getting anywhere was kind of a hassle and required additional taxi rides. But it was near some shops and there's a really good cheap open air restaurant across the street and since all I really did was recover from jetlag here, it made for an OK place to stay for two or three nights. ($15/night, single room)
Suratthani: Hip Box 26 Boutique Resort Alas, this is not a real "resort" but a bunch of shipping containers converted into moldy, dank, tiny little private hotel rooms. Yes, there's a small little pool, but this hotel is way out on the outskirts of Suratthani and practically in a marsh, so there's also, like, rodents running around under the shipping containers and the feeling that you might wake up floating down a river. Also the word "resort" tends to suggest there will be food available, and the only food was found a good ten minute walk down an unlit road at a food stall that happened to be open. Thankfully I was just staying here one night en route to Koh Samui. ($11/night)
Koh Samui: Weekender Villas This place had some not-so-nice TripAdvisor reviews, but I liked this place a lot. Here's the deal with Thailand though: people are either paying way too much for not-so-great rooms, or (like me) getting a total bargain. I paid around $20 for my own upscale bungalow which, while simple, had everything I needed to feel comfortable: clean white sheets, dirt-and-dust-and-mold free room, good a/c, clean bathroom, quiet. Not, this was not some luxury hotel but there was a nice restaurant and bar area and a small, relaxing pool and a gorgeous beach that was great for kayaking at sunset. (The beach was very shallow and covered with coral so it was not a swimming beach.) I felt $20 was a pretty fair price for this bungalow, if not a pretty good bargain; however, I could see if you were paying $60 a night during high season, you might think you were overpaying for the accomodations. Personally I really liked this place although I was seeing it through the eyes of someone bumming around Asia for a while relieved to have a clean room for a few nights (I'd just spent the previous night in the moldy shipping container room). (approx $20/night)
Koh Phangnan: Salad Beach Resort I got a great deal on this resort which was super awesome and exciting until my cockroach visitor ON MY BED on my fourth and final night. So, yeah, beautiful resort, nice beach, nice pool, over priced restaurant, blah blah blah, cockroaches living in the bed and no staff around at night to, you know, throw a girl a can of RAID so she can sleep that night. Also since I was travelling solo I was a little bit bored at this place which was filled with families and couples. Note to self: visit romantic tropical islands with someone else in tow. Can I repeat that a cockroach crawled up from under the bed and between the pillows and caused me a sleepless night wondering how many other cockroaches were living in the mattress? Thank you. Please don't stay here. ($23/night)
Krabi: Baan Taveesri Oh, Baan Taveesri, you saved my life. Well, not really. But after a night in the moldy shipping container and the incident with the cockroach and, let's be honest, some not-so-great places before all this in Langkawi and Penang, this was everything I needed and more. White, fresh sheets. Furniture that's been well taken care of. A bathroom that's been cleaned -- really cleaned -- with everything functioning and new. This is technically a guesthouse, so there was no room service during the three nights I stayed. But, a small price to pay for a room that was big enough for one person to move around in and no cockroach visitors crawling across the brown sheets or worrying that I might die from mold inhalation during the night. This ended up being one of the best -- if not the best -- places I stayed in my whole trip. ($20/night)
Chiang Mai: Eagle House I should have known this place was too good to be true. I forget how I stumbled upon its website but it seemed so funky and cool, like the kind of place all these crunchy hippie types would be hanging out laughing at travel tales together. Maybe it was low season but I found myself one of the only people there. That, and everything seemed to be kinda broken: my doorknob, the towel rack, the toilet tank missing its lid. There were surcharges for everything from toilet paper to luggage storage and the bed was more stiff old coils than anything else. I was going to stay three nights but left after two. ($12/night)
Pai: Payi Resort This place was actually pretty good, but I'd already made a booking for the next two nights at Unicorn @ Pai on Booking.com which was non-refundable. There was no a/c but thankfully Pai cools off a lot at night, although none of the windows could be left open for ventilation since there was no secure way to prevent anyone (or anything) from coming in or out -- there was just a sliding glass door and a window without a decent screen. However despite all the nasty signs letting me know how much it would cost if I broke a glass on the concrete floor or damaged the TV, it was a good night's stay with fresh white bedding and a good shower. ($18/night)
Pai: Unicorn@Pai Resort Bungalows! A pool! Air conditioning! All for $10 a night! This place put the 'B' in basic, although I would give it more of a B- or a C. The bungalows were dirty and dingy and quirky and funky, with old carpeting and holes in the wooden walls and the bathrooms were a sight you'd want to un-see. Since nothing was properly sealed, the poor old a/c had to work like crazy to keep the room cooled. I pretended I was camping and stayed only two nights before moving on. ($10/night)
Bangkok: POD Hostel Cafe Designshop If you're looking for a safe, comfortable, clean basic room in Bangkok, look no further than POD Hostel Cafe Designshop. No, this is not where you're going to "find the party" and meet your new BFF backpacker buddies to go out on the town. This a modern hostel with private singles and dorms; I don't know what the dorms are like but the single room I stayed in twice was small but had a comfortable bed, nice bedding and nearby shared bathrooms that were kept clean and tidy. It's near Victory Monument which meant getting on public transporation was easy, and it made getting to and from the airport and train station a breeze. Recommend! ($18/night)