“Toto, I’ve got a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore”…This was our reaction stepping off the plane in to the Bangkok airport. We left quiet, orderly Japan and arrived in louder, unorganized Bangkok.
Although we and Thailand got off to a rocky start, we’ve grown to love it. The activities have been so much fun, and extremely reasonably priced. The food has been delicious and dirt cheap. Plus, not having to get dressed up for dinner every night was just what the doctor ordered.
The Thai people have been extremely friendly and are just as trustworthy as the other Asian countries we have visited. I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect because I had read some things about Bangkok and tourist scams that made me have my guard up (though I am sure the scams/pickpockets even in Bangkok pale in comparison to Europe).
Maybe you do need to have your guard up more in Bangkok, but I don’t know because we did not go there. In Chiang Mai and Koh Lanta, I have felt very safe.
On the planning, I decided to skip Bangkok and spend that time elsewhere. I do not have any regrets doing so, as all the tourists we came across said that we made the right choice skipping Bangkok and spending it in Chiang Mai/Koh Lanta instead. At most, I would spend a day or two in Bangkok if I was planning a trip exclusively to Thailand. Everything I read said that Chiang Mai is much more authentic Thailand and more like what Bangkok used to be.
We have again lucked out with the weather, having sunshine every day [knocks loudly on wood].
Communicating in Thailand (at least the parts we went to) has been relatively easy. Many of the popular tourist activities/tour guides speak decent English. Tourism seems to be a good way to make a living in Thailand because foreigners come here with the great exchange rate and spend money like it is growing on trees. That said, not everyone speaks English, and it still can be difficult to understand Thai people speaking English (because of the accent). Still, it has been far easier to communicate here than Japan.
Public transportation has consisted of Taxis and Tuk Tuk’s. Both are very cheap and a good way to get around. The tuk tuk rides we took were pretty fun.
Also for the first time since we left, we have seen many other Western looking tourist…Though they seem to be mainly European, then Australian and Canadian, and we only saw a couple other Americans. The Europeans are……interesting – especially at the beach location. Let’s just leave it at that they have absolutely no self confidence issues, when they probably should.
Raise your hand if you had heard of Chiang Mai, Thailand prior to reading about it here…I’m guessing that’s – at most – a couple of you. I had not heard of it either. The first I saw of Chiang Mai was some else’s review of Patara on a blog. At that point, I knew I wanted to do that – and that it would not be too difficult to get Alyce on board either (it wasn’t).
Once I looked more into Chiang Mai, I realized that there was a whole lot more to do there than just owning an elephant for a day. Still, that is what we were most excited about, and it did not disappoint.
We got up early – still full from our meal at Takazawa – and said good bye to the Park Hyatt Tokyo (and the general feeling of comfort with Hyatt’s for the next 9 days). As I mentioned before, it was a great stay.
The best way to get to the airport from the Park Hyatt was the limousine bus. It was pretty cheap, and we did not have to worry about lugging our bags around while making transfers on trains, which would have only cost about $10 less a person. Again, I should probably clarify that the “limousine bus” is just a regular bus; the buses that run to the airport are just called limousine buses in Japan. The downside to taking the limousine bus: it took nearly two hours. So we left the hotel at 6:15 a.m., missing our last free breakfast.
At the airport, we made it quickly through immigration after checking in with Thai Airlines. We had lounge access because we were flying business class, and the lounge closest to out gate was the United Lounge. A visit here was a clear reminder of how superior foreign airline carriers are too most domestic ones. Still, we were happy to have coffee, drinks, and a comfortable place to sit.
The flight itself was good, though not up to the standards of Cathay Pacific’s business class (at least the respective products we rode on each airline). The seats were inclined “lie flat” cocoon style seats. They were infinitely better than economy, but not as good as CX’s product. Thai did have a very good entertainment selection.
NRT-BKK was about 7 hours, and I was able to catch up on some photo editing while Alyce watched some movies and caught a brief nap. Our seats were on the upper deck of a Boeing 747, which was pretty cool and – as I understand it – somewhat of an aviation geek feat.
While our flight was without issue, our arrival in Bangkok was not (though again, nothing major). On the plane, you are told that you clear immigration in Bangkok and you clear customs in Chiang Mai. So – naturally – I wanted to go to immigration when we got to BKK. You were supposed to go to the area which was labeled “connecting flights to Chiang Mai” – which Alyce pointed out. I said we need to go to customs; I was guilty of overthinking it.
After walking about a kilometer through the warm Bangkok airport (on moving walkways), we finally found someone who could speak enough English to tell us where to go: connecting flights to Chiang Mai. Oh well, we got some extra exercise in, which we needed because we ate a lot in Thailand.
Finally, we cleared immigration and then needed to find the gate of our departing flight to Chiang Mai. Look on the board that lists all the gates and departure times – simple, right? Wrong. There were none of those boards in this area of the airport, at least that we could find – and believe me we looked.
We eventually fund a gate where they were scotch taping a printout of our flight number to the glass window. Jackpot. The boarding process was equally chaotic, but we were one of the first ones on.
At this point, things were a little tense; but we got a surprise we needed. Some Thai 747’s are only business and economy; some are first, business, and economy. The thing is that on domestic flights, they don’t sell first class. So, some business passengers get to sit in the first class seats. We checked in early enough in the day that they assigned us to the first class seats. It was only a 45 minute flight, so it wasn’t that big of a deal. But, it was still a pleasant surprise and made the 45 minute flight much more enjoyable.
Upon landing, things got tense again. A 747 holds a ton of people, so that means that there will be a ton of people waiting for their luggage…and there was a ton of people. Unfortunately, the only people causing a scene were some tough guys from America. They were pushing people trying to get their luggage (for “cutting” them). They weren’t young either; it was some bald headed, Boston sounding jerk. And unrelated, there were a whole lot of golf clubs on the luggage carousel. There must have been a tournament.
Clearing customs was very easy, and we walked outside to catch a cab to the hotel. There was some extremely chaotic “process” (I use the term loosely) going on to catch a cab. After attempting to figure it out we walked up a little bit and was able to hail a cab outside of the “process.” The driver told us we could do the meter +50 baht (for airport fee) or a flat fee of 200 baht ($6.67 US). I said $200 baht sounds great, get us to the Le Meridien Chiang Mai.
We were tired, and it was a long 16 hour day of travelling. But checking in was smooth, and our hotel room was nice – though nothing in comparison to our rooms at the Hyatts in Hong Kong/Tokyo. I also only have “lowly” Gold status at Starwood Preferred Guest hotels, which does not get you breakfast or drinks – though we did get free internet.
We had a very pleasant stay at the Le Meridien, and the location turned out to be excellent (right in the middle of the night bazaar). The hotel employees were also very helpful and friendly there.
With our only rough patch in Thailand behind us, we called it a night.
I originally had planned to hire a tour guide and explore the city the first full day. I was going to do cooking school our last full day. But I decided on A Lot of Thai Cooking School and then saw that she did not have class our last day in Chiang Mai. So I rearranged things because this school seemed to be very good, and I’d say it was worth it.
Kwan (the instructor’s husband) picked us up in the hotel lobby in a little van. He brought us to his house (after picking up another couple). There we met Yui, who had just arrived with another couple doing the course. Apparently one other couple was supposed to do the class that day but cancelled at the last minute.
This brings me to a note about everything we did in Thailand. No place we went required a deposit, and they all fill up – meaning they have to turn people away. So cancellations like this cost the businesses money. Further, no activity required a payment until the end of the day (cash only). I’m sure there are many times when people show up without cash. This is very different than many of the other activities I have booked in other countries that require full prepayment.
Anyway, we got started with the class and cooked Pad-Thai, Tom-yon-goong (hot and sour prawn soup), and then a Panaeng curry (your choice of red or green). The way it worked was Yui would show you how to prep the vegetables, then cook her dish, then let you try hers to see how it is supposed to taste. After that, you go and cook it yourself at your station while Yui walks around helping. Then you eat…
It was a ton of food, and everything turned out delicious. It was probably some of the best food we had in all of Thailand. Plus, Yui explained to us how she likes to do things in a traditional style to try to keep the true taste of Thai food (as opposed to some restaurants who will make it too sweet).
After cooking the morning courses, you load up in the van and go for a tour of the local market. Yui walks around with the group and explains what everything is, which was really helpful and interesting. At the end, you get 15 minutes to walk around and explore things on your own. Everyone in the group ended up getting fruit smoothies (which Yui recommended)…They cost all of $.50 a piece and were very fresh and delicious.
You then go back to her house prepare the afternoon meals: stir fired chicken with cashew nut, spring rolls, and mango sticky rice. Again, all courses were delicious. We finished all of ours and were stuffed by the end…so much so that we skipped dinner.
Yui then left to bring her daughter to dance class and Kwan brought everyone back to their hotels. I recommend A Lot of Thai highly. Yui spoke good English and was very friendly. All the food was plentiful and delicious; she gave you a nice cookbook to take home. Yui also struck the perfect balance between doing some prep work for you vs. having to do everything yourself…And it only costs $40 a person.
Another fun part of the class was getting to meet and talk to the other people. We did not come across many English speaking tourists in Hong Kong or Japan, but met many in Thailand. Here there was a Canadian couple travelling in Thailand and Vietnam; we saw them every other day in Chiang Mai. There was also another recently married girl from California who had spent the last 5 months in Thailand as a honeymoon. She was taking the cooking class three days in a row in an attempt to learn some cooking skills. The final couple were from California and retired from a Silicon Valley job. They were not old (mid 40’s maybe), but had decided to call it quits on the rat race and take life easier.
Afterwards, we went out to check out the Chiang Mai Night Market, which was located right outside of our hotel. This market had some neat handmade stuff for very cheap prices. Also, the people there were not pushy at all…literally, they would not ask you to come stop by their booth and would only approach you after you walked up to their booth and showed interest.
We walked around for a little while, then headed back to the hotel and called it a night.
On our 3rd day, we went to Patara – the thing that initially attracted me to Chiang Mai. Alyce did a great job summing up the day, but I’ll add some of my thoughts.
Overall, I give the day an A+. Patara was very laid back; they did not chastise other “less worthy” elephant places. They instead explained that most Thai’s truly love their elephants, but many of them had a serious problem when logging was outlawed in Thailand.
Elephants were used to drag cut down trees through the Thai forests. When logging was outlawed, the Thai loggers had no means to feed their elephants (nor earn an income). So with no money and an animal that eats a couple hundred kilograms of food a day, they were put in a tough spot. Many resorted to circus type shows to bring in some income.
They said this not to say that that behavior was good, but that there was a reason for it. Also, it did not automatically mean that those elephants were treated poorly.
Anyway, that brings us to Patara. They have rescued many elephants and are now trying to breed new healthy elephants. They explained that the Thai elephant population had been cut in half over the last 40 years, which is a whole lot when the lifespan of an elephant is 80 years.
Our day lived up to my extremely high expectations. Make no mistake – it is a tourist activity. But, it did not feel like a tourist activity (unlike Tiger Kingdom). They keep the number of people in the two groups a day very low. They also gear the day to truly get you involved and caring for your elephant….They probably come behind you and have to redo most things, but it makes your day much more unique.
If anyone one ever goes to Thailand, I can not recommend Patara highly enough. We had met an Australian family who had flown to Chiang Mai (from their beach house in Phuket) solely to experience Patara and it was worth it to them.
You get to interact with elephants like you would not be able to anywhere else in the world. Plus they feed you like kings and follow you around and take pictures of you with the camera you brought and their own cameras, from which they give you the pictures on a CD at the end of the day. They easily could have sold these for high price because who would pass up their pictures with elephants.
Another fun thing about this day was again meeting new people. There was the Australian family of four who rode with us on the minivan to Patara, along with another younger Australian couple. They were exactly what I had heard of Australians – very friendly and they love to talk (casually) about all the ways you can die in Australia. At one point, the dad mentioned in passing (while referring to shark attacks) that everyone in Australia knows “surfers are fair game.” The two young girls were hilarious as well.
Our group with the elephants had a Canadian couple that had five grandchildren…I can only hope I am adventurous enough (and lucky enough) to be doing stuff like that when I am their age.
Again, it was an all around great once in a lifetime experience. I have to imagine it will be amongst my favorite things of the trip. I know I’ll remember my elephant (Marie), and Alyce will always remember her’s (Tip).
After Patara dropped us back at the hotel, we walked back to the night market – this time to eat. We each tried a couple things, got a water and a beer, and stuffed ourselves for $10. The food was great and extremely cheap…Par for the course in Thailand. We then waddled back to the hotel and went to sleep.
For our last day in Chiang Mai, we hired a tour guide to take us around to the sites. I had read about brothers Joy and Sunny (obviously tourist friendly names) on the trip advisor forums. Tripadvisor is only one of the many things I use in travel planning, but I tend to rely more on the forums than the reviews.
Sunny and Joy were both very highly recommended, so I e-mailed them to see if either was available for our date. Mr. Sunny was, so I reserved his services for our last day (including the private minivan, all gas, and Mr. Sunny’s services as a licensed tour guide). All of this cost slightly more than a one way taxi ride in Japan.
The reviews were accurate. Sunny spoke good English and was very friendly. We started off the day wanting a coffee, and he let us know there was a good spot next to our first stop on this itinerary I created. We also were able to drop off some laundry before we left for the day.
Our first stop was Wat Chedi Luang. This is a temple located in Chiang Mai. It was crowded at the Temple with Thai people. Sunny explained how in Buddhism, days of worship are based on the cycle of the moon (not a set day of the week – like Sunday in Christianity). So, because of the moon, this was a day of worship.
Sunny also explained monks to us. He said many Chiang Mai men become moks for at least some part of their life. At one point, most fathers wanted to know that a man was a monk before he would let his daughter marry him.
He also explained that there was a more practical reason for becoming a monk: free education. Until more recently, only elementary school was free in Thailand; only the wealthy could send their kids to private high schools and university (as everyone calls college around here – tourists and locals).
If you were a monk, they provided room, board, and education. However, some of the rules were harsh. Monks do not eat dinner, which Sunny (who was a monk for 12 years) explained was difficult to get used to at first but ended up not being that bad. He also admitted that he may or may not have snuck in a couple Snickers bars his first year…I don’t know – I’m not looking to incriminate anyone on the blog.
After looking around (and having Sunny explain things), we headed out of Chiang Mai in to the mountains to see the Doi Suthep temple. This temple was very crowded with both tourists and Thais worshipping. To get there, you walk up a lot of steps. Outside the actual temple, some girls were performing a dance.
Inside, there is a large Golden Temple; the Thais grab a flower and walk around it while praying. We did lose Sunny for a second here, but we found him and moved on to our next spot.
Next on the agenda was Tiger Kingdom. Here, you get to go inside cage with live tigers and pet them/take some pictures. This was a completely different experience than the elephants.
At Tiger Kingdom, they are primarily a tourist destination. All the tigers are treated well (and are not sedated), but it was just different than the elephants. You walk in to a cage, pet the tigers for a couple minutes, then pose for some pictures, and move on.
Don’t get me wrong, it was very cool and something you couldn’t do anywhere else. Plus, as a huge LSU fan, I got my picture with a tiger. It just wasn’t in the same league as Patara.
Still, I’d recommend the Tiger Kingdom to people visiting Chiang Mai because it is so unique. I just don’t think we’d go back if we went to Chiang Mai again because it is kind of a been there/done it type destination.
After posing with the tigers, we made our way to the Chiang Mai arts and crafts village. There are many things to see here; we did the umbrellas, silk, and silver.
The umbrellas were probably the least interesting shopping, but the most interesting crafts part. You got to see all the people working on the umbrellas and exactly how much work goes in to each one. They are sold for about $10.
Silk was a more formalized tour process, but it was well done and explained.
After seeing how they make stuff, you can walk through their store. I knew I wanted to get a tie. Alyce could not decide what she wanted (if anything). After 20 minutes of hemming and hawing, she got a scarf.
Next, we went to the silver area. This “tour” was the least interesting…and they had a huge shopping area. Alyce got a couple things, and then we decided to head back to the hotel. We told Mr. Sunny thank and good bye the went and got ready for our only reservation in Thailand.
Dinner was at Deck1 restaurant located along the river in Chiang Mai. The restaurant was a really neat setting and is more expensive than other Thai places. The food was good, but not exceptional…You are clearly paying for the atmosphere (and to be clear, it is still very cheap when compared to US restaurants).
So, if you want to go there, know that the food is good – but nothing extraordinary. The price premium is for the atmosphere.
After a nice dinner, we caught a Tuk Tuk back to the hotel, which was a lot of fun. We had also caught one to dinner. Each way was about $3.
Back at the hotel, we packed and said goodbye to Chiang Mai, which we really ended up liking – despite the rocky start to our time in Thailand.
I knew for our second destination in Thailand, I wanted a beach location. Phuket (from everything I’ve read) is very developed and overly touristy. Also, it seemed to be further away from the good Scuba diving sites.
I considered some places along the West coast of Thailand (Khoa Lak) and the island Koh Samui, but Koh Lanta just seemed to be more of what we were looking for in our beach destination.
Koh Lanta is about a 2 to 3 hour drive from the Krabi airport – depending on how you catch the ferries. It is still a tourist beach location but is much less developed than Phuket. Also, some of the better diving site are accessible from Koh Lanta.
We chose Lanta Castaway for our hotel/resort. It was a nice little property – not as nice as some of the posh places we had been staying, but perfect for a beach location. And as an added bonus, the dive shop I wanted to go diving with was located on the property.
Lanta Castaway is located on a decent sized beach. There are several other lodging and dining options along this bay. Also, the hotel faces Westward, so you get to watch a really nice sunset every night.
Our room was the Beachcomber bungalow. It was the closest to the beach and had a sea view from our little porch.
The people in Koh Lanta were similar to the Thais we had interacted with in Chiang Mai – generally friendly and unthreatening. However, the other tourists on Koh Lanta were an interesting bunch.
The largest contingent of tourists consisted of Europeans. Their beach etiquette is obviously very different than our in the states. We saw lots of old men in speedos and old women wearing skimpy bikinis…I even saw one topless, though – calm down guys – I had to do a triple take to determine if it was a man or a woman.
After Europeans, there seemed to be mostly Australians, New Zealanders, and Canadians. I do not think we talked to another American in Koh Lanta.
Like Chiang Mai, most places could communicate with you in English, but sometimes it was hard to understand what they were saying…and vice versa.
The SIM card I had purchased in Chiang Mai (for $10, including a week of unlimited internet) at a 711 worked perfectly in Koh Lanta as well – though we didn’t really need it all that much. The resort had a great internet connection, which was included in the price of the bungalows.
I’ll do a brief daily breakdown of Koh Lanta. We mostly dove and lounged around. It was just what we needed, as we had been moving around and doing things at a pretty breakneck pace.
There are no direct flights from Chiang Mai to Krabi, so we had to connect in Bangkok. Our airport experience was much better this time around.
Chiang Mai airport is pretty small, but it had one lounge (Thai Airways) that we had access to. Getting through security is a breeze in Thailand. You do not have to take off your shoes, belt, etc. Nor do you have to take your laptop out. It is basically like security was in the US 20 years ago.
After clearing security, we made our way to the Thai Lounge. It was a nice little spot that got us a comfortable spot to sit, some coffee, and a wifi internet connection. Not much, but it makes a big difference when doing all this travelling.
Our flight to BKK went off without any issues. We sat in old style business class seats on a 747. The 45 minute flight flew by. Sidenote on international travel…In the US, air carriers are very generous with their carry on baggage allowances (and rarely even enforce the rules that are there).
International travel is very different. Most airlines allow only one bag and limit it to 7 kilos (about 15 lbs.). This is very difficult to comply with when you are traveling with what is seemingly 100 lbs of camera and computer gear that you don’t want to check…it’s not actually that much, but it is a lot.
Through Thailand, we have not had any issues with our carry on baggage. I had read that if your bags do not look overly heavy and large, you rarely have a problem (though it may be more strict in Australia and New Zealand). Anyway, that was something I was concerned with and has yet to be a problem. Neither had carrying my tripod in my carry on bag. They took it out and measured it in Japan – apparently it passed because I got to keep it.
Back to the flights…We arrived in Bangkok and went straight to the Thai Airways lounge by our gate. The main area was pretty crowded, but there was an empty (and very nice) garden area that you could walk to that was empty for some reason. It had all the same food and drink options, but maybe there were less plugs for your electronics. We spent a couple hours there catching up on blogging and waiting for our flight.
The flight to Krabi was on the first small plane (an A320) we had flown on since the US. The were no business seats, but the business area had the middle seat left empty. We would have been fine either way. The biggest benefit to sitting in business class on these short flights was lounge access and early boarding, which is nice when you don’t know the local customs for boarding and can’t understand what they are saying.
This flight was equally short and without issue. Our bags were some of the first ones off the plane; we grabbed them then made our way out where our hotel arranged transfer was waiting. The ride took about 2.5 hours and wasn’t too bad. But we were pretty worn out after another 12 hour day of travel when we arrived…Though the sea breeze quickly picked up our spirits.
We ate dinner at the hotel, which was good and very reasonably priced for a resort (as everything was at Lanta Castaway – even the minibar). Then had a beer and called it a night.
Ready for a day of relaxing, we took full advantage of our day with nothing planned. After sleeping in, we ate our included breakfast. It was good and a pretty wide menu selection – anyone interested in it can find it on their website.
The rest of the day consisted of some beach time, signing some papers for scuba, and a little snorkeling (there was not that much to see in front of the resort).
We finished the day watching the sunset and having a drink, while catching up on some computer stuff. It was a great way to finish our days.
That night we ate dinner at Moon Walk restaurant. It is a minute walk down the beach from Lanta Castaway and was very good/cheap (as was almost all Thai food we ate). Our favorite Thai dishes were Pad-Thai, Curry, and Lemongrass Soup. We were generally stuffed every night because we ordered two entrees (instead of soup/salad/appetizer). Still, we did not spend more than $25 on a meal.
After dinner, we walked back to the hotel and got to bed to get ready for our day of scuba the following day.
We got up at 7:00 to eat breakfast before we had to meet with the scuba company at 8:30. The dive shop was called “Dive and Relax.” They really were a well run organization. First, they were very prompt on responding to e-mails….Something I can verify not everyone is when planning trips.
They were pretty full on the boats everyday (most days they had two boats going out). Dive and Relax uses speedboats, so you can leave later and still beat the crowds in the big boats.
They cap the divers to guide ratio at 1:4, but Alyce and I had our own guide everyday but the last one. You are also given all the drinks you want on board, as well as a nice lunch between dives and delicious fruit on the way home. As most of you know, I don’t even really like fruit, but the pineapple was just extremely fresh, juicy, and delicious.
To sum it up, I’d highly recommend Dive and Relax.
Back to our dives…We met Pan (a Thai from the middle of Thailand) outside the shop, and he let us know we’d be diving with him for the day. He then explained to us how Dive and Relax operates, told us about the site, and answered any questions we had.
The previous night was a full moon, and it was windy. So, the sea was pretty rough, and there was a decent current when we were diving – nothing too bad. Our first day we were diving at Koh Bida (off of Koh Phi Phi); it usually takes 30-40 minutes to get there. It took us a little over an hour of pounding around in the rough seas. Fortunately, no one on board got sea sick.
The first dive did not have great visibility. Still we were excited to see all the different creatures…Clown fish, lots of eels, nudibranches, puffer fishes, and just a whole lot of sea life in general.
The second dive had better visibility and was really cool because of the amount of fish we saw. There were huge schools of (what they called) yellow snappers. There was also a lot of the same stuff we saw on the first dive. Both dives of the day lasted about an hour, and we maxed out around 20m depth on both of them.
After another bumpy ride back we finished the day the same way as the others…Drinks, sunset, and computers.
We walked to Rann (located on the street) for dinner. It was very good and may have been our favorite food in Koh Lanta; we went back our last night. We then walked back to the resort and called it a night.
After eating our breakfast, we met again with Pan – who informed us we’d be diving with him that day and our last one. He explained the sites we were going to. Today we were heading to Koh Haa. It is in a more southeasternly direction from Lanta and is less crowded because it does not get the divers from Phuket and Phi Phi that the site the previous day got.
The sea was still rough, so our 30 minute ride was closer to one hour again. These dives were similar to the ones the day before, but the visibility was a little better. There may have been a little more current. The only new thing we saw was the extremely venomous banded sea snake…No worries though, there mouths are not big enough to bite humans and they are extremely docile.
I pigged out on the pineapple on the way back again. At the resort, we finished our day the same as the rest, then returned to Moon Walk restaurant for dinner on the beach. It was good again, though we got there a little earlier that day, so we could watch the sunset from dinner.
We ate breakfast and met with Pan again for our last day of diving. Today we were heading back to Koh Haa. I was a little disappointed we did not get to go to some of the more famous dive sites in that area, but they are further away and are located in open sea…So it probably would have been even rougher. I guess it was best that we did not go given the conditions, but that was the spot to see Manta Rays and Whale Sharks – neither of which we have ever seen.
After two successful dives (and some more sea snakes) we rode back to the resort. It was much calmer this day, so each way only took 30 minutes. We were back at the resort about an hour earlier than the previous days.
We said good bye to Pan, who was an excellent dive guide. He kept close watch over us and pointed out plenty of sea life. He was also very friendly and spoke good English. This seemed to be the rule rather than the exception for Dive and Relax.
Our last night, I “splurged” (a health splurge) and had a pina colata while watching the sun go down. It was excellent…more fresh and pineapple tasting than most. After that and some Australian wine I had purchased from the market on the street, we went back to Rann for our final dinner. I had Pad-Thai and Curry; Alyce had Lemongrass Soup and Curry. It was all very good – and still cheap.
We walked home from dinner, started to gather our things, and called it a wrap for Thailand.
Though we did not get off to the best start with Thailand, we ended up really liking it. As a result of the favorable exchange rate and general low cost of living, your money goes a very long way in Thailand.
Just like Hong Kong and Japan, the people in Thailand were always courteous and friendly. Things were less orderly in Thailand than Japan and Hong Kong, but that could be said of most places. We never felt unsafe – at least as a result of the people, the driving was kind of chaotic.
Almost everywhere communicated well enough in English to get by. Some Thais communicated very well – like Yui, Sunny, and Pan…others knew the basics – like most waitstaff. All the menus were in English; we even had a table of French people next to us one night having to speak English to order.
I’d sum up Thailand as a great spot to vacation, especially for the more budget minded traveler. It can be expensive to get to and is very far away, but you can do a lot for a little once you are there…I can’t even imagine how much the Patara day would have cost in the US – if such a creature were even available.
All things considered, Thailand was a very successful stop. We really enjoyed ourselves. Every night we ate delicious food for next to nothing. We experienced thing we’ll probably never have the shot to do again, and we finished off the trip with relaxing and good diving.
So long Thailand…Next up: Singapore.