Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Tantalizing Thailand: Part deux

When the sun rose the next morning, we were in a completely different part of the country.  Outside our cabin window, fields and trees replaced the urban jungle that had been Bangkok, the hustle and bustle replaced with serene picturesque countryside beauty.  It was promising and getting there was half the adventure!
Just arriving near the water... this is what we are greeted with...

Let's catch the ferry!
Our 13-hour train ride turned into a 14-hour train ride and we missed our connection in Surat Thani (It appears as though train delays are quite common in the area).  The locals seemed quite used to it and were very efficient at sorting out all the tourists according to their destinations.  We were all lumped together and stacked in an ancient, musty-smelling bus and taken to the city to hop onto the next bus to Krabi, where we would then take a ferry to Koh Phi Phi.  Unfortunately, we also missed that connection and had to wait over an hour at the wharf for the next one.  So instead of arriving on the island at 1pm, as was planned, we finally got there at around 3pm... but the experience of ground transportation had been well worth it.  It may not have been as easy as a one hour flight, but to quote Robert Frost's the Road Not Taken: "[We] took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference"!  So as the ferry was approaching Koh Phi Phi, I could not help feeling alive and excited about the journey that had taken us here... the breathtaking scenery also helped! (For those of you wondering, I pre-booked our entire trip using this Thai travel agency.  Everything was done online and they delivered the tickets at our hostel in Bangkok.  It was smooth sailing from there!  If you have a more flexible schedule, another way to do it would be to just buy everything once you are in Thailand.)
Beautiful day to be alive!
Once our feet were back on firm land, we made our way to our hotel, PP Casita (yes, the only actual hotel we stayed at) and promptly showered before setting out to explore the island.  Koh Phi Phi is quite an interesting place.  For starters, there are no vehicles on the island, but it is not uncommon to see wagons filled with luggage and gear being pushed through the narrow streets by locals for a moderate fare.  Being a top tourist destination, it is also completely saturated with foreigners from all corners of the world.  Every street corner holds a scuba diving shop promising to have the cheapest prices and the best locations.  Restaurants, pubs, bars and shops line the beach side, each trying set themselves apart to attract customers.  As the sun was setting and the tide receding, we settled on the northern shore for a few drinks at various establishments before penetrating the heart of the island to go to Papaya, for some traditional Thai food.  The restaurant had been highly recommended in LP and it did not fail to disappoint.  The place was incredibly busy so we joined a Polish couple for an extraordinary culinary experience!  After dinner, we bar hopped, drinking buckets, beer and anything else that was on sale.  A midnight stroll along the beach before calling it a night made for a perfect ending to a long but amazing day!

Enjoying some drinks by the water!
Grub @ Papaya - Pad thai, green curry and rice!
Buckets on sale? Yes, please!
Just chillin' on Phi Phi island
Initially, the plan had been to visit Phi Phi island in order to go to "The Beach", made famous by the film of the same name featuring Leonardo DiCaprio.  Unfortunately, due to the delay of the previous day, time was running out and we opted to push it back to later in the week.  Instead, we rented some beach lounging chairs and sipped fruit drinks and pina coladas while catching up on some delightful reads.  I was totally enthralled by the third book of the "A Song of Ice and Fire" series by George R.R. Martin, while Jen was flipping through Stieg Larsson's "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo".  As morning gave way to afternoon, and time to leave this magical place was upon us, we gathered our things, hired a manned-wagon and jumped on the last ferry bound for Phuket, our final destination before returning to reality.

Please help me with this hangover fruit juice
Our room @ Bodega!  Clean and cheap!!
Arriving at the wharf in Phuket was quite an adventure in its own right.  As five ferries simultaneously docked, thousands of tourists flocked to the taxi stand to overwhelm the short staffed outfit.  After paying the flat fare price of a one-way to Patong (on the West side), we waited no less than one hour before having our number called.  Another 45 minutes to cross the island and we were dropped off in front of Bodega, our hostel for the week.  It is incredibly well located in the Patong (tourist-central) area but is in a side street far enough from all the noise and crazy antics of Bangla Road.  The staff at Bodega was amazing and extremely helpful with helping us book various excursions, including renting a scooter!  The only downside of this particular hostel is that breakfast was not included.  But they more than make up for it with their cheap happy hour drinks, friendly staff, and relaxing atmosphere!  That first night in Phuket, we walked down Bangla Road to check what all the craze was about before settling for a delicious pub fare dinner at Molly Malone's.  Some drinks ensued before retreating to our hostel for a good night's sleep before our next adventure.
Bodega lobby

The next morning, we were promptly picked up from our hostel en route to the John Grey Sea Canoe Adventure that we had pre-booked from home.  This whole-day excursion had come highly recommended on numerous online travel sites so we decided to check it out.  While quite pricey, it was absolutely worthwhile.  We chose the Hong by starlight option and it was definitely the best excursion of our 2 week vacation!  After picking us up, they drove us to the wharf where we met the staff and waited for the rest of the group to show up.  After loading us up on the boat, they served an all-you-can-eat fruit and salad lunch with local delicacies which we ate on our way to the caves.  The panoramic of the voyage was simply amazing, with islands of all sizes sprouting out from the sea to greet the eyes with a hue of colours that just can't be put into words.  Once at our destination, we jumped our our sea-canoes with our own personal guide to explore the many caves and lagoons in and around these tiny, yet gigantic islands.  We were welcomed by monkeys, bats and absolutely gorgeous weather as we paddled leisurely on the clear blue-green water.  Back on the boat, our guide helped us make a banana tree and leaf offering as the sun was setting in the horizon while explaining the meaning and history of the gesture and the material used.  A true scrumptious Thai feast was then brought up for our enjoyment before setting back out onto the sea-canoes one last time to light and put afloat our offering.  By this time, it was dark and the many lit-up floating offerings made for quite a beautiful, yet serene atmosphere.  The one-hour boat ride back to the wharf concluded this spectacular excursion before being taken back to our hostel by the lovely staff.  Exhausted, yet completely fulfilled, sleep caught us as soon as we hit the pillows that night!
Pictures can't reflect the actual beauty of this place
The caves are only accessible during low tide!
Hello Mr. monkey!
Making our offering
Cute kissing birds made out of a flower

The Feast!!!
Our Guide lighting our offering
On day three of our Phuket adventure, we hit the relax button.  After sleeping in, checking in to the online world (Facebook, email, etc) we grabbed a taxi to Kata beach where we lounged for the better part of the afternoon.  As dinner-time was creeping up on us, we made our way to Kata Thai Cooking Class where Kelly, the owner, walked us through the the ingredients and the preparation of four traditional Thai dishes, including my favourite, pad Thai.  The best part was definitely chowing down our sweet creations with two lovely Danish ladies who had also signed up for the class.  I am totally in love with Thai food and this culinary experience far exceeded my expectations.  Kelly is an incredibly friendly and enterprising person who runs her small class out of her house.  There are many options for lunch and dinner and a different menu every day.  She even drove us back after the class was over!  I highly recommend taking a cooking class if you have the time and enjoy eating, and if you happen to be in the Kata neighborhood of Phuket, why not check out Kelly and her cooking class!
Kelly teaching us about the ingredients
Our prep stations!
Famous Cabaret Ladyboy
That night, when we got back to Patong, we adventured back to Bangla Road with the specific objectives of 1. having a good time; 2. getting somewhat intoxicated; 3. Snapping a picture of the famous Ladyboys; and 4. Checking out a Ping Pong show (we had been talked into having to check it out despite our reservations... when in Rome...).  Just after settling down for our first drink at one of the popular ladyboys establishment, the music and the lights were turned off and the patrons asked to leave immediately (it had something to do with the police).  Disappointed, we tried the Irish Pub next door called Scruffy Murphy's, where we walked in on their unbelievably talented resident house cover band.  We ended spending most of the night here, being serenaded and rocking out to everything the group had to offer.  In the wee hours of the night, we finally decided to try and go catch one of these famous ping pong shows that everyone tries to sell you.  For the equivalent of about $90, we were brought in through a back alley into this very shady place, each served a beer and witnessed the most disturbing show imaginable... all in good fun of course.  But if you want to know what goes on in these Ping Pong shows, you'll have to go to one yourself cause there is no way I am getting into details!  Having attained all of our objectives, we headed back to our hostel after stopping to grab a delicious Kabob from one of the street vendors.

The next morning came way too soon, but there was still a lot yet to do and see!  After breakfast and a fresh fruit juice courtesy of Bodega, we rented a scooter and set out to explore other parts of the island.  We stopped for an elephant trek, then visited the southern tip of the island before crossing to the other east side of the island to check out the Big Buddha on top of the mountain (our scooter barely made it up).  We then chose a random local restaurant to have dinner before going back to the hostel and Bangla Road for one last sortie.

Last sunset
Getting ready for one of our many massages
On the last day, we finally got the chance to visit "The Beach".  We booked the tour through our hostel and it was simply amazing.  After checking out of  the hostel (but leaving all our stuff behind), they picked us up bright and early, drove us to the wharf and crossed the agitated water to Koh Phi Phi Don where we could find a slice of heaven.  Too bad that slice of heaven was heavily crowded by tourists brought in from everywhere.  While the island is a sanctuary and there is no human habitation, it had become the antithesis of what is was in the movie.  Instead of an isolated paradise, it is a busy, crowded and money grabbing machine made to lure in tourists.  After a quick 45 minutes on "The Beach", we left the bay for some snorkeling, sightseeing and relaxing on an real isolated beach.  Other than the fact that it is a must-see attraction, we were fairly disappointed about all the hype surrounding it.  By comparison, other excursions are much more worth it.  Having said that, we were still very glad to have visited the site of one of my favourite movies!
Later that day, when we returned to Bodega for our last short stint, we showered (they graciously allowed us to use all their facilities until we left), hired a taxi to the airport and took a red eye flight back to South Korea.  When the plane landed, it was officially the end of our "paradise on earth tour".  Looking back on it now, it definitely was the best vacation of my life.  And as I write this, I am looking forward to the next one!
Bye Bye Bodega/side street
Jen is ready to go

In any case, if you are planning on visiting any of these areas, please feel free to ask us questions!  We'd be glad to help you plan your trip with some recommendations!



  1. a ping pong show sounds seriously disturbing... and expensive!

    1. You would be absolutely right... It's definitely something to only do once... and then, only if you are really curious since they are advertised everywhere on Bangla road and you can jut imagine what they consist of. But a person we met at our hostel told us we absolutely had to do it, if only to say we did... Wouldn't do it again though... that's for sure!

  2. This post is really insightful. I'm going to Phuket in about a month. AND Seoul right after that! So glad I found your travel blog. Are you still updating it? Looks like the last post was quite a while ago in 2012. Anyways, thanks for chronicling your amazing time here!