Thailand 2006~Bangkok and Phuket
Nine Days of Fun and Food; Sun, Snorkeling and Scuba,
Cooking Classes and Culinary (Mis)adventures
In Flight and Day 1 Bangkok
Day 2 Bangkok (Canal Trip, Golden Mount)
Day 2 Bangkok Photos
Phuket Day 1-(Andaman White Beach Resort)
Phuket Day 2-(John Gray Sea Canoe)
Phuket Day 3-(Snorkeling and Scuba)
Phuket Day 4-(Cooking Class)
Bangkok Day 3 (Wat Arun)
Bangkok Day 4 (Aw Taw Kaw Market)
Bangkok Photos Day 3&4
Note; this trip was created in a different version (older) of this blog, so the links above will take you to those pages. If you’d like to leave a comment about this trip, you can do so at the bottom of this page.
Introduction and Planning:
I wasn’t really looking to go back to Thailand. Ok, well, I’m always looking to go back to Thailand, but I wasn’t specifically planning a trip when I saw the Cathay Pacific deal.
Every month, Cathay Pacific airlines has a “deal of the month” on their web site. This is usually something that is not advertised anywhere but their web site. I’m a “cybertraveler” member with them, so I get their emails announcing deals. I just happened to come across the December Deal which was for $722 LAX to BKK round trip for travel February 1-April 30. Oddly, someone had just asked me, “How do you decide where to go on your trips?” and I said, “Well, sometimes it’s a plan, or an event, but sometimes it’s just a deal that’s too good to pass up.” This one was just too good to pass up.
So, I said to David, “How about a week in Thailand over your Spring break?” He said, “Can we stay at the Peninsula and can we go South to the Andaman sea?” I said “why not”?
The tickets wound up costing $782 with taxes ($50 added because of the weekend return) and I was happy with this as this is what we’d paid for the same flight 4 years earlier when we went to Cambodia. Later, the same tickets would be over $1200 each. Cathay Pacific is based out of Hong Kong and is one of the best options in my opinion when flying to Asia. The flights are at good times (arrival time in the morning instead of midnight), they have individual seat-back video, and the food is palatable (unlike our trip on China Airlines). Plus, the price was hard to beat. Decision made; we would go for 8 nights in April. We’ll probably spend 2 in Bangkok, 4 on an Island and another 2 in Bangkok.
Cathay’s web site allows you to pick your seat when you buy the tickets online, so armed with my seatguru.com information, and prior experience on that flight, we chose our favorite seats; one of the 2×2 in the back of the plane so we would not have to share 3 seats with someone. After my bad experience in a middle seat last time, I vow to get the right seats this time. We will fly through Hong Kong with only an hour’s layover, so I’m a little nervous about that, and arrive in Bangkok at 10:20 in the morning.
With David’s only requests being to stay at the Peninsula and go South, I now have my task cut out to find the best rate for the Pen and decide which island to visit. The Travel Tyrant re-emerges with a vengeance.
I start my research with haunting the fodors.com Asia message board, chowhound.com international board, Lonely Planet’s Thorntree board for Thailand. I love the first had advice once gets with message boards. Guidebooks now seem out of date.
I pull out all my bookmarked web pages for discount hotel bookers for the Peninsula. Most are no longer there. Unfortunately, the cost to stay at the Pen has increased dramatically since 2002 and deals are not as good as they once were. I consider using Priceline, but apparently, the Peninsula never shows up and the most frequently won Riverside hotel is the Shangri-La which doesn’t really compare. So, I decide to bite the bullet and book the Peninsula somehow. I end up emailing the Peninsula directly and asking if they can match the lowest rate on a hotel discount site which includes breakfast. After a couple of negotiating emails, I get a Grand Deluxe room for $190 per night plus tax, including breakfast. This is better than through their online reservation system and feels safer than all the discount brokers, most of whom force you to pay in full upfront. By booking directly with the Pen, I can cancel up to 24 hours before arrival. Note; 2 weeks before we leave I check the Peninsula web site and the entire hotel is sold out for our dates which turn out to be the beginning of Thai New Year (called Songkran) and right before Easter Sunday.
It’s difficult to choose an island. We know we want to go to the Andaman sea side of Thailand for 2 reasons; first, we’ve never been to that region, and second, we want to support the Tsunami recovery with our tourist dollars. But where to go?
I am looking for the perfect beach bungalow. My requirements are very specific:
It has to have a view and someplace for me to sit and enjoy the view of the water and preferably, the sunset.
It has to have air conditioning and some sense of charm and style. No concrete block bungalows and bucket flush toilets; been there, done that.
It has to be under $75 a night and be located where we can see and do things and not be at the mercy of the hotel and it’s restaurant.
It will not be in a huge high-rise hotel complex nor in the center of a “backpacker mecca” filled with pulsing House and Rasta bars late into the night. No full-moon parties please.
First, I considered Phuket as there are still cheap flights ($75 r/t on Air Asia) to be had. But everything I read screamed “too touristy!” for me. There was one hotel I found, Baan Krating, which looked lovely, but I never got a response to any of my emails to them. Plus, from what I’d read, it’s very isolated and far from everything.
Then I considered Phi Phi, but it seems not to have fully recovered from the Tsunami and most of the nicer places were out of our price range.
Next, I looked into the area around Krabi, specifically Railey Beach. While this is not specifically an island, it has the island feel as it must be reached by boat, but unfortunately, none of the Railey Beach hotels have bungalows actually on the beach. I was interested in the Sunrise Tropical Resort, but was told all bungalows are in a “garden setting” with no guarantee of view.
The next option is the less-touristed island of Ko Lanta, south of Krabi. Many of the backpackers on the Thorntree board have called it “boring” but this is just fine with me. I’ve found the Narima Lanta which looks fantastic and has beach front bungalows for $70 a night. It does seem a little isolated, but I think that just means we’ll need to rent a scooter to get around. It’s not located as close to the karst formations (think the movie “The Beach” or of the famous “James Bond Island”), but I think we may be able to do a day trip there. It’s decided then, Ko Lanta it is.
I continue to debate with myself the merits of all locations and even go so far as to create a spreadsheet with pros and cons and costs of each location (the Travel Tyrant is now out of control). David bears this all with good humor.
Of course, plans change.
I’ve spent weeks, no months, agonizing over the “right” itinerary only to scrap it and change everything. Ko Lanta is out, Phuket is now in.
We gave up on Ko Lanta for a couple of reasons, the main one being the time of transportation. It was going to take us the better part of a full day (10 AM to 5PM) to get from our hotel in Bangkok to our hotel on Ko Lanta. When you only have 4 days in a place, giving up 25% of your time to get there just isn’t worth it. Going back to BKK would be the same trek, only backwards. Add to it, airfare double that of BKK-Phuket and it seemed to make sense not to do it. I briefly considered Krabi again, but finally decided on Phuket.
Next, the quest was on to find the perfect Bungalow. Hmmmmm….Phuket is definitely geared more toward the package tourist than the independant traveler. Also, quality hotels seems to be considerably more expensive than on Ko Lanta. For a while, I was considering the Katathani resort, with a room in the Thani wing, but they were sold out for our dates. I knew I really did not want to be anywhere near Patong beach, which, from what I’ve read, appears to be the Thai version of Waikiki with a little Las Vegas thrown in for good measure.
Finally, I found the Andaman White Beach Resort. It’s located on Nai Thon beach, only a 15 minute drive South from the airport. This is appealing because it lessens our travel time and the area is isolated from the tourist hordes at Patong or Kata beach. Of course it also means we may be stuck there for dinner a couple of nights. Still, it looks stunning and I secured a Beach Front Bungalow by emailing the hotel and asking if they would extend the dates on a special rate they had on their web site (2 nights for the price of one!). The deal also includes breakfast and r/t airport transfers. We should be able to get there from our hotel in Bangkok in time for a late lunch. This hotel turned out to be double the price of the one on Ko Lanta, but that’s because we chose a better room at a much nicer level of hotel. I figure the increased cost will be offset by the lower airfare and ground transportation savings by going to Phuket instead of Lanta. It meets all of my requirements listed above with the exception of #3.
Once the hotel was decided upon it was easier to book everything else including the flight to Phuket from Bangkok. I chose Air Asia and booked and paid for tickets BKK-Phuket R/T on their website. Had a bit of a scare as I put in all my info and clicked on “pay now” only to get an error message that my rate was not available! About a minute later however, I got an email confirmation with my e-tickets so hopefully it’s all good. The savings of flying them vs. Thai Airlines was almost 50%.
Next, I booked and paid for us to go on the John Gray “Hong by Starlight”tour. This looks fantastic and gets raves all over the internet.
Finally, I wanted to save a little money for our first two nights in Bangkok, so staying at the Peninsula both on arrival and departure was out. I decided to go with Priceline since I’d had good luck with doing that in Madrid. I haunted the Priceline message boards (www.biddingfortravel.com and www.betterbidding.com) for weeks and there were very few decent winning bids listed for Bangkok. Finally, I tried my luck and got denied in all three areas (for 5 star up to $85 a night). I tried again and won the Westin Grande Sukhumvit for $90 plus tax (comes out to $110 per night). This isn’t bad since their cheapest web rate was $165 a night. Plus, I’m a Starwood member so hopefully they’ll give us a decent room.
I’m now in the process of putting together my customized guidebook filled with recommendations for restaurants and sightseeing I’ve found online. I may not even bring a “regular” guidebook for this trip (that would be a first)! I have Fodor’s Thailand (my “payment” for having my Spain trip report featured on their website), the Knopf Guide to Thailand, and an old Lonely Planet Bangkok. Since our hotels are booked, and I have a pretty good idea where I where I want to eat and and the sightseeing I want to do, I’m not sure the books are necessary.
The last few days have been stressful; filled with preparations, packing and shopping. Not to mention the hours spent lathering on self tanning lotion trying to achieve a preparatory “faux” tan so as not to blind the locals with the whiteness of my legs. Or the weeks of attempting to lose 10 lbs before we leave. I wasn’t able to lose the weight, but at least now my legs are a shade closer to the old “flesh” colored crayon than to Arctic White. Hopefully people won’t run screaming into traffic.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a Travel Tyrant, so not only does all the trip planning and research fall to me, but the packing as well. Somehow, a few years back I took over David’s packing in addition as my own. I suppose this is for the best, less we arrive and I find I must spend the day with him clad in plaid shorts, floral Hawaiian shirt and flip-flops. He gets final approval on what he brings however. I don’t mind doing the packing, but we like to go only with carry-on luggage so the challenge is greater. It’s not a problem with my clothes, but his take up substantially more bulk. We each take one roll-aboard and one smaller “carry-on” bag. I manage to get almost everything packed a couple of days before we leave.
I booked a cooking class for us on Phuket with Pat’s cooking school in Phuket town. Hopefully, she will be able to somewhat customize the menu for us because I’m fairly familiar with cooking Thai food and I used to be a professional chef. I’d just like to learn something beyond the basics, beyond green curry and Tom Kha Gai soup.
Other last minute prep- I emailed the Peninsula and asked for a map we can give to a taxi driver when we arrive at the airport. I also got one from the Westin and the Andaman White Beach Resort should be picking us up on arrival.
My personal guidebook has come together filled with information on restaurants and sightseeing which interest me. This time it’s mostly Thai restaurants (since I love Thai food and can’t imagine wanting to eat anything else in the eight short days we will be there), recommendations for street food vendors, and markets. We won’t be doing any of the “typical” Bangkok sightseeing as we’ve already seen the Grand Palace, Jim Thompson House, Wat Arun, etc. I’d like to go back to Wat Po for a massage, see the Golden Mount temple, and take the River boat all the way up to Nonthaburi where there is supposedly an excellent market. I’d also like to check out the Night Market and the Chatuchak weekend market.
I’m ready, can we leave now?