April 24 – May 21, 2018
Ah, Thailand! I’m writing this a little early as we’re still barely into our almost 4 weeks of travel in this beautiful country. But my initial impression? Outstanding!! Basically a neater, cleaner, only slightly more expensive Vietnam. That is an oversimplification of course but if I had to sum it up that’s how I’d do it. Culturally some noticeable differences and I find the Vietnamese more outgoing friendly. But on the other hand as I think about it I prefer the Thai’s more laid-back approach and once you say ‘No’ that’s the end of the discussion. In Vietnam, in a mostly non-pushy way, we’d often have vendors following us down the street. Ah well, I’ll save the rest of my more generalized opinions for the end of our trip. My goal right now is more about capturing the different towns and areas as we travel through them. So here we go!
Phuket – Phuket City
Okay, so the first thing that sticks in my head is that in Thailand the ‘h’ is mostly silent. So Phuket becomes ‘pucket’ and so on. But as for Phuket city itself, we had a grand time and it was a sincerely excellent introduction to this great little country.
First off it is a true city. The traffic, the congestion, etc. is like most of the other cities we’ve visited. But I can’t help compare & contrast to Vietnam as that we our most recent country and the first big difference I noted was the lack of horns. In Vietnam, EVERYBODY blows their horns! And it’s not a rudeness thing, it’s more about the way traffic flows in Vietnam. The road rules are very loose and so most vietnamese have adopted a habit of tooting as they approach intersections to audibly alert other traffic that hey, here I come! Of course, when you do this in a city it becomes a constant blaring of horns honestly. But not here in Thailand! Nope, despite all of the traffic the laws are for the most part followed. You don’t have scooters going against the traffic and on sidewalks. Traffic lights here are not optional. And with this adherence to the rules comes a lack of need to blow you horn every freakin’ 100 meters. Ahhh, blissful silence. Well, not silence because there is of course still traffic but at least a lack of unnecessary horns.
We lucked into a few things during our stay here in Phuket, mainly it being the anniversary celebration of the city or possibly Old Phuket Town. With that anniversary, which in all honesty I could never figure out what number anniversary it was and a brief google search isn’t giving me a clear answer, came a neat 3 day celebration in which a number of vendors provided free food and there were music and dance presentations as well as a small parade all centered around Holiday Park. This gave us the chance to try some neat new street foods we’d not yet encountered as well as observe some of the cultural celebrations.
Also during our stay, we of course hit a number of street vendors for food of different types and we quickly found two spots that we kept returning to. The first was Limelight Avenue and we absolutely adored this place because it allowed us a street vendor type experience but indoors. Now why that doesn’t seem like a big deal during the heat of the day – think lunch time – the idea of hitting an outside vendor and subsequently enjoying the food is a bit of a stretch for us. But being inside… awesomeness! And the food was not only good but only marginally more expensive than what we’d have paid at a true vendor.
Our second great find if you will was the Phuket Indy Night Market which was just next door to Limelight. Not only was this a true night market complete with vendors hawking cloths, hair stuff and other good but also of course true street food. And… drum roll please… they had live music every night and most of the acts we caught were quite good. Excellent, very cheap food, incredible variety, cheap beer, and live music, yes we found a winning combination!! And while we actually did quite a bit of looking with the 10 -15 blocks nearest our hotel we never found another setup quite like this that had all we wanted in the same spot and just a few minutes walk from our hotel.
Of course, during our time in Old Phuket Town, it wasn’t all about the eating and drinking. We did also have a fantastic visit to an elephant sanctuary and you can read all about that here – They Say Elephants Never Forget…
After our somewhat dismal time in Phu Quoc, Vietnam this was our rally time and while we truly enjoyed our days in Old Phuket Town. But it was time once again to get more of a beach vibe and so from Old Phuket Town we decided to head over and visit one of the nearby beaches, Karon.
Thailand – Phuket – Karon Beach
While it may only be a 30 minute ride from Old Phuket Town Karon Beach just as well have been another country in and of itself. A very different vibe in a very good way. Again, not that we didn’t enjoy the city visit but our time in Phu Quoc, Vietnam was expected to be essentially beach time that just didn’t work out that way for reasons noted in our entry for Vietnam. That having been said we found ourselves staying in a ridiculously cheap ($14.18 USD), very large room that was just off the beaten path and offered easy access to so much!
First off the quietness of the place. You need to realize that Karon is a little town that comes alive at night. With the heat of the day, the rhythm of this cute little area is that it really catches it’s stride around 6pm or so when the so goes down. That’s when all of the street vendors and bar hawkers start trying to lure you in earnest. Happy hours, cut rate massages, food discounts, yay!!! Oh, and of course it should go without saying it’s much cooler and you don’t feel like you’re in danger of spontaneously combusting like you were just a few hours earlier. Seriously, 6pm to 2am is prime time around here every night of the week and with that, if you do want to ease into bed a bit early you want a place that is quite. And Skipper’s Guesthouse, our place of choice fit that bill nicely while being just a 3 minute walk to our favorite hangout on this particular leg of our journey.
And what place was that you might ask? Why Kenny’s Aussie Bar of course! Okay, there are a ton of places along the main strip that offer live music. And that live music, well, it varies greatly in quality. Kenny’s has a house band that plays every night from 9pm to 1am and they rock it ever night! As you might imagine with 4 hour sets every night there are some repeats but they do a great job of mixing it up and throwing in some different stuff every night. And the band is a bit fluid, they’ll often have different guitar players or singers from night to night but they’re pretty tight despite the changeups and are a true entertainers. The two female lead singers who we saw perform individually as well as duet style were extremely charismatic and energetic despite the small crowds here during low season. And the male singer / lead guitar played well to the ladies! Oh, and as an added bonus the waitstaff are all fun to interact with as well and during our three different nights in this place we never felt pushed or used, and that’s a great thing! While the band will likely be composed of different members our next pass through we’ll still make a point of checking it out the next time we’re in town!
Let’s see, quite accommodations and a rocking music scene. Did I mention that they have a great beach as well? Seriously, Karon Beach is a wide, white sand beauty with green-blue waters that you can see your feet in even when you’re neck deep in the water – a true beauty! And nice waves, not the surf kind but the fun to play in kind. Life guards if you feel the need for that safety backup and as I think about it there is a propensity for rip tides in this area so justified I suppose. Now besides enjoying the sand and the waves, there was a particular tourist activity that I’d like to describe. For the tourists it’s pretty much a typical parasail ride with a little twist – you take off and land on the beach, not in the water. Not that’s pretty neat in itself but the real fun is from the spectator side and watching how they make this happen. Parasials if you’ve ever paid attention are these big round parachutes and they naturally stay pretty much behind the boat. That is unless you have some guy who literally jumps into the lines, sans any kind of harness, and rides the parasail all the way around. Now his job is really only necessary at the end of the ride and what he does is pull/stand on the lines on the beach side and this causes the parachute to steer in that direction. Yes, parachutes can indeed be steered if you didn’t realize it. And after guiding this parasail complete with strapped in passengers and not strapped in ‘pilot’ over the landing spot the boat pulling it slows down until the parasial lowers to an acceptable height and then stops which makes the parasail basically act as a parachute and just drop straight down at that point. And this is where the monkey boy no harness parasail pilot jumps onto the beach and shortly thereafter the passengers do the same. I’m not sure how this description is coming across but it’s quite the sight to see and pretty freaking dangerous for the monkey boy pilot how has no safety if he slips. And while the passengers are strapped in there is a certain additional danger to them with both the land side landing as well as having someone who I’m sure has had a good 5 minutes of training climbing around in the lines of their parasial for the whole ride. As a spectator it was quite the show, not sure I’d be willing to take the ride given the way they do things on Karon beach.
Karon beach was, for me at least, my introduction to the more risque side of Thailand. On one evening I was doing a solo stroll quiet late as night down the beach boulevard when a lass in a very short red dress stopped her scooter and got my attention. And while she didn’t speak any english her, uh, sign language was quite good and she very quickly made it clear what she was willing to do if I’d follow her down to the beach. Also walking past some of the massage places, alone versus with DJ, would occasionally get me an offer for a ‘sexy massage’ with a literal elbow nudge in the ribs and a wink. All were politely declined of course.
So suffice it to say Karon took our experience to the next level. And while we had access to the beach it was a bit more touristy perhaps than we were looking for. We did however, or rather I did in particular, really appreciate the live music scene and the variety offered here. Two stops and both were great, now it’s time for a ferry ride over to our next stop, Koh Lanta.
Koh Lanta – Klong Dao Beach
Wow wow wow!!!! We’ve had the pleasure of seeing some absolutely stunning sunsets from various places around the globe but dang!! Take any of the individual sunsets and they’d easily be in the top 5. Take however the 3 or 4 nights in a row that we were treated to stunners and we have a new favorite beach for sundown! Oh, and did I mention there is a fire show here every single night? For relaxation, at least in the off season, this is an absolute 10 on our chart. Great clean waters from the Andaman Sea, slow rolling waves, clean white sands, laid back music… shall I go on?
So besides the beach, which was our absolute highlight here and rightfully so, we did get around a bit. In all of our time here on the continent of Asia, we’ve yet to work up the nerve to rent a scooter, by far the preferred method of travel in the countries we’ve visited. But things were laid back enough here we finally bit the bullet and rented on not just one but two different days and explored the island. I can report with confidence we nailed the spot to stay for our time in Koh Lanta. While the rest of the island was quite pretty our little beach was decidedly special.
We did, besides our beach time, find some good shopping opportunities, of course, food as well and on one special ride that DJ was unfortunately with me for I had my first wild monkey encounter.
All in all a great 6 days or so, all so very laid back, in Koh Lanta!
Krabi – Ao Nang
Well, I had kind of figured out that Ao Nang might be very similar to out time in Karon Beach and I kinda nailed it! Very similar in the way the city was laid out, the nightlife scene, and most other respects. In fact, it was so close I don’t feel the need to go too much into our time here other than to perhaps point out a couple of differences.
The first was that the music scene wasn’t quite as good. There was more variety but the singing was, well, lacking. I realize that most of these folks aren’t singing in their native language and I’m still impressed with the quality of their work. But that having been said there were so many songs that were just… off… with some of the key words in the hooks & choruses getting slaughtered. It was fun but it you wanted true fidelity to the originals the Karon Beach beat the local talent here hands down.
Second was the presence of a Ladyboy community here that we hadn’t really noticed in Karon Beach. We did see advertisements there but here at least on the beach strip was a club where they performed and you could often see them out on the strip in full costume luring in prospective customers. Oh, and giving pics as well. I took one with a couple of the performers only to learn afterwards that a ‘tip’ was pretty much mandatory. I made a mistake here, I expected as much but failed to pull money out of my wallet before approaching and taking my pics. And while digging through my wallet for something I though appropriate I almost had one of the ‘guys’ jump in to pull out what he thought was appropriate – about 5 times what I had in mind. Nothing came of it, kept him out, but have been a real drag (get it??) to have my butt kicked in a foreign country by a guy in a full formal dress 😉
A good time but for my money, I think I preferred Karon Beach. But variety is what we’re here for so definitely glad we spent some time here and worth a revisit if we were to find ourselves in the neighborhood again!
Okay, you can’t very well visit Thailand and not hit Bangkok, right??? But for us at least it was a bit of a disappointment. Perhaps we just completely travel fatigued and home focused at this point but we did very little in our time in the big city. There are markets and all of the things that we’ve seen in other Thai / Vietnamese cities but not a whole lot new. And the prices here were surprisingly a bit more than in other areas of Thailand – not exactly what we expected.
Now if either DJ or I had been traveling single or perhaps looking for a different scene, well then that’s where perhaps Bangkok’s strengths come into play. It is for the most part a typical large asian city but there are definitely a few notorious pockets that I suppose a lot of folks visit the city specifically to hit. I’m thinking specifically of the Soi Cowboy area as well as Patpong street. I did visit those and even though it was very early in the day relatively speaking I was exhausted just walking down the street. Soooo many girls trying to pull you in, sometimes literally, to their places of work. Yes, you can indeed find anything for a price in Bangkok and these are the two areas that most tourists are aware of. Even though I grew up near and frequented Bourbon Street in New Orleans it doesn’t hold a candle to the openess or the brashness of the ladies and the local business fronts here.
I can definitely see where the appeal would be to perhaps younger, single men or women but unless that’s what you’re looking for there are many other areas in Thailand that in my opinion warrant attention and are much higher on the satisfaction scale.
And with that, it’s now time to head back home. Yep, after more than 6 months of being out of the country, we’re about to embark on 36 or so hours of continuous travel to make our way back to the states – a journey in and of itself!!