As we disembarked the plane at the airport, sweet memories returned as the heat and humidity once again surrounded us constantly. We were fortunate as Amanda's dad and uncle met us at the airport as we had read taxi drivers take advantage of foreigners by overcharging for rides. Amanda's uncle is working in Thailand and can get by with some of the language. He showed us around the Suhkumvit area which is where most of the tourists are as well as the nightlife.
The traffic is terrible! It was about 20:00 and still bumper to bumper. There are many cars, but more scooters and tuk tuk's. It seems the right of way seems to go scooters, tuk tuks and then cars. Going into the oncoming lane is not illegal, and people actually honk their horns if you are going too slow and not going into oncoming traffic. Most honks are a little tap to make some noise and nobody is upset by it. The scooters weave between traffic to place them at the front of the lights. It is not uncommon to see families of four on a two person scooter all without helmets.
We looked at the Grand Palace, Wat Po, Black Buddha and Happy Buddha. Public transportation off the main sky train and subway system is chaos but simplified with hiring a tuk tuk for 30 baht an hour which is equivalent to $1 Canadian dollar.
Several people recommended booking some of our trip through Thai Booking (TBO) also known as Siam Master Travel. After we negotiated a cheaper price the travel agent changed two places we had agreed upon and we instantly knew this may have been a mistake. As it turns out, it was.
Enjoyed the rest of the day with Edmond (Amanda's Dad) and supper with her Uncle Stephen who took us out for supper at T & K market in Chinatown which was delicious and also a 'business expenditure'. It was refreshing to be back with family and not worry about finding places to stay, always packing up and sharing hostels with strangers. This was the first time we missed home.
We left for Koh Tao the next day on the VIP bus from Bangkok to Chumphon and ferry from there. This VIP experience was less glorious than Kay our travel agent/thief described for us. There were many VIP busses and patrons were separeted by a single sticker on our shirts. Our bus was supposed to make several stops but had not taken one for over four hours. This upset a German patron who had apparently been drinking all day and wanted a cigarette. The bus driver was not happy about the language and disrespect this German was displaying with his services. The bus driver actually swatted at the German's glasses!. Soon after we stopped and half the bus had a cigarette. We also wanted to stop as somebody had put toilet paper in the toilet and 'jammed' the flushing mechanism. Urine was spilling over the edges with every turn. The bus arrived at the ferry terminal two hours in advance, which was conveniently at 03:30 in a dark questionable place. Patrons stayed together, much as Zebras do in the wild for safety. The ferry ride was enjoyable and friends were made. A celebratory survival morning beer was in order.
Koh Tao is smallest of the chain of three islands in the Gulf of Thailand and is absolutely beautiful. This was our favorite of the three islands and we would return again. Our bungalow was just off the pier and less than a minute walk from the ocean. The water is crystal blue and everybody is friendly, except for some locals dealing with scooter rentals which we learned to avoid. We rented a quad and visited isolated beaches, saw some inner island and had a great time on the dirt road. The next day we enjoyed scuba diving which Koh Tao is world renown for as being cheap, safe and perfect water for. Our instructor's name was Meloto and he was fantastic. We went down to 15 metres and saw many fish including a big 'trigger fish' which can be very aggressive and attack divers who stray above it. We checked out Sairee Beach and enjoyed the town. One interesting change to the bungalows is that the whole washroom was tiles and the shower was just a fosset on the wall. It was possible to shower, sit on the toilet an wash your hands all at the same time.
We took the ferry to Koh Phangan and we had much anticipation which was met with disappointment. We were staying at Cosy Bungalows, which on the pamphlet was beach front and looked beautiful. This pamphlet was photoshopped. There was no beach. There were plenty of sharp, jagged rocks one could sunbathe on if they wished pain upon themselves. We were promised Ban Tai town was close, which was a lie. After walking for two hours we seeked refuge from the rain in Phangan Rainbow resort which was exactly what we were picturing! It was ocean front with beautiful beaches. It was clean. The owners spoke english but Noy, the wife and cook, was from Thailand. We attempted to call Kay and have her change our accommodations but instead she paid for a taxi for us to go to Haad Rin town the next day. At this point we were going to take whatever we could from her. The rain during our two day stay here was relentless. This provided is much time to socialize with others staying at resort. As it turns out, everyone staying at our refugee camp did not want to be there and also had been overcharged by travel agencies who underdelivered. Seems to be a common trend by foreigners. We left Koh Phangan with higher hopes for Koh Samui via ferry.
We arrived in Koh Samui with frustration once again. Our transfer did not work out and we called Kay who changed her story with every breath. She ended up paying for a taxi for us to our resort. It turns out we missed our mini bus transfer which nobody told us about. Once again, stickers on shirts are a poor way to organise anything. Our stay in Koh Samui was beach front and we enjoyed ourselves. We had a beautiful beach front supper to celebrate happiness and enjoyed a local pool party full of younger people from Isreal surprisingly. It turns out everybody from Isreal goes to Thailand after they serve their time in the military. Koh Samui was very developed. It was clean but not what we pictured our 'Thailand' experience to be. It is very nice and family tourist friendly, but we would not return.
We took the ferry and a 'VIP' bus without a toilet to Ao Nang which is on the west side of Thailand. This little beach area is outside of Krabi and quite nice. After complaining to Kay that PK Mansion where we were supposed to stay was dirty with bed bugs, she upgraded us to Success Beach Resort. Our transfer, who was actually there to pick us up from the bus terminal, had difficulty finding this place which was concerning. We drove past a beautiful large temple building several times, of which I made jokes of "I wish we were staying there" as it was too nice and Kay would never dish out our money for that. Well it turns out she did! We were met by two very nice ladies in traditional Thai dresses to help with luggage, give us fresh squeezed pineapple juice and show us our room. It was beautiful, clean, rustic and everything we could not afford in Canada. We were close to the beach, which seemed to be filled by locals. We enjoyed rock climbing in Railay Beach which was a highlight. Amanda conquered many difficult paths and we left the beach proud and sore.
The next day was October 28 which is Amanda's 24th birthday. We were leaving our beloved temple to do snorkelling around Koh Phi Phi. This day had many downs, followed by many ups. First of all our transfer forgot about us. The lovely Thai girls felt so bad it was Amanda's birthday and this was all happening so they surprised her with three home made pancakes with a happy face made with icing. It was an absolutely wonderful gesture. Secondly, it turns out the speed boat was dropping us off on Phi Phi after lunch so we would miss half the day. Thirdly, the boat was doing snorkelling after lunch. So we paid for a full day of snorkelling but were not getting anything out of it. The water was beautiful, beaches amazing and we were quite upset. We called Kay trying to have her arrange for us to stay on Phi Phi. This did not go well. She stated "I am done talking to you" and hung up. It is a good thing we went to the Tourist Police the previous day to report the company and her for taking money and then changing services provided. The tourist police, who conveniently spoke absolutely no english, eventually somehow explained they could do nothing. Leaving Phi Phi was upsetting as we had high hopes on Amanda's birthday.
We arrived in Phuket and it was very busy. We walked around Patong which is where we were staying. There was a main tourist street full of everything you could imagine. We enjoyed a birthday supper, drinks and listening to local artists cover songs. This was a highlight of Amanda's birthday. We socialized with the band after and had a great time. We actually had the lead singer negotiate a good price for us to see a ping pong show! we paid 300 baht for one beer each, which is equivalent to $20 Canadian total. This was an interesting experience and we left with more questions than answers.
The next day we enjoyed Fantasea, which is a local large scale production of the history of Thailand. This was part of Amanda's birthday present and it was a great show! There was magic, over 12 elephants, gymnists, and a love story. We left for Chiangmai with higher hopes than the islands.
Chiangmai was great! Our hotel was clean, transfer was on time and location was perfect. We did a 3 day 2 night trek with some of the nicest people we had met thus far. We started off our first day riding elephants at a local elephant camp just over an hour northeast of Chiang Mai. It was an awesome experience despite the fact that our elephant trainer was the only guide that was being very harsh with our elephant. It was so sad as our elephant was quivering everytime he would poke him with the bull hook, it made us feel that we no longer wanted to support them. On our trek the first day we hiked about 3 hours and the second day about 5 hours in the blistering heat. We hiked through some questionable areas which included balancing over a thin log to cross rivers and bush wacking through rice fields. This was the most calming part of our trip being able to see the true outdoors of Thailand. In our group we had some of the most amazing people we have met thus far, we all got along really well. Our guide Singa and "Happy Happy" (the cutest Thai man who was laughing and smiling all the time) really made our experience unreal. It is amazing to see how these people don't have much but are happy with what they have it really makes us feel that what we have at home we take for granted, our worst day is there best day.... The first night we experienced local tamarind and tobacco that Changde our first village host rolled for us, as well as their "Thai water". On our trek we also rafted down the river on bamboo rafts that were questionable at times, we visited two Karen tribe villages, swam in numerous waterfalls, and came across local drunk rice farmers!
The night markets here are numerous and vast. Many people sell home made products which is different than the markets in Hong Kong and any other part of Thailand. People are friendly and we spent much time lost in the crowds along many streets.
We experienced local Muay Thai boxing which was amazing! The athletes were as young as 15 years of age and every boxer respected the other. We watched this with friends we did trekking with. I suppose 3 days with them was not enough. We also checked out Tiger Kingdom, which entailed us being in a cage with full grown tigers. They were tame so long as the trainers had their bamboo sticks in sight. We petted and rested on their backs. We also experienced a cooking class! We made some of the most delicious food we have had thus far. We left with satisfaction and belly aches.
Our next adventure will be Laos. We depart at 15:00 and have high expectations.