Late December 2003/Early January 2004
We had a great time on our trip to Thailand. All of our flights were on time, except for one that was delayed for only about 20 minutes. We arrived in Phuket, Thailand after an overnight stay in Tokyo. It was warm and sunny. Our maniac driver, who was going to take us to Ao Nang (near Krabi) by van, met us at the airport. It was supposed to be a three-hour ride but it only took two hours. There were many scooters and cycles on the roads, sometimes with three or four people per scooter. A lot of families use them as their main transportation. The driver would pass them within inches, it seemed. We later learned that there are many scooter accidents in Thailand.
After we arrived in Ao Nang, our driver arranged for a long tail boat to take us to Railay Bay where we would be staying. With the tall rocks and cliffs surrounding the bay, it's impossible to make roads into it, so Railay Bay has no vehicles. With luggage in hand, we waded through knee deep water to board the boat. A long tail boat is long and narrow with a four-cylinder engine and a long shaft with a propeller at the end. Pivoting the engine, shaft, and propeller allows the boat to get close to the shore in shallow water when picking up and dropping off people.
Railay Bay was one of the bright spots and we'd return in a heartbeat. The beach was not crowded, the water was warm and clear, and the incredible rock formations were nothing less than spectacular. It's one of the most interesting places we've visited. The Railay Bay Resort was very good and the food at most of the restaurants in the area was exceptional, especially when you consider the price of about $2-4 per person.
The hikes near Railay were very good. We especially liked the climb through a massive cave that took us to an opening at the opposite side. The only way down was to rappel. We didn't have the equipment or experience, so we could only enjoy the breath-taking views from inside the cave out into the Adaman Sea. We were then faced with returning through the cave down five sets of ladders and some steep areas in total darkness using small $.75 flashlights.
We were surprised that the average age of the visitors at Railay Bay was under 30. There were lots of backpackers, climbers, and college age kids from Germany, the UK, Scandinavia, and Australia.
I got a really nice custom tailored suit in Ao Nang. It’s one of the best fitting suits I’ve ever had. Plus, it was about one-fourth the price of one off the rack at a men's clothing store here in the U.S.
An elephant trek through a jungle near Krabi was another good experience. The company did an outstanding job. After riding the elephants for about an hour, they let us feed them and watch them bathe in a natural pool of water fed by a stream. One of the guides also took us on a short hike to show us their production of rubber from the rubber trees.
The Christmas Eve Gala Dinner at the Railay Bay Resort was interesting. Santa's beard and hair consisted of a couple dozen cotton balls. He was the saddest looking Santa we have ever seen, but funny. The after-dinner entertainment included men and women performing traditional Thai dances. After that, three age groups of boys competed in Thai kickboxing. These guys really go after it and I'm surprised that none of them were taken away by stretcher. The sport is absolutely brutal. We were surprised to learn that it's Thailand's national sport and that many of the young boys do it to financially support their families.
After five nights, we packed up and went to a beautiful island named Koh Phi Phi Don. It was nice but much more crowded. All the little shops were pretty cool. We rented a boat and captain for a half a day and motored around Koh Phi Phi Lei, the place where “The Beach,” with Leonardo DiCaprio, was filmed. The previous day, we did two dives near the same island. They were okay, although the visibility was poor. At times, it was less than five meters, with the average at about 10-12 meters. The amount of sea life helped to make up for it. The Phi Phi Cabana Hotel was very nice and we had a good corner room that overlooked the pool and beach in the foreground and the sea and rock formations in the background. It was nothing short of paradise.
Food, gifts, scuba diving, tourist activities, and about everything else in Thailand is inexpensive for Americans. On average, we found most purchases to be about half the price of similar purchases here. An exception is custom clothing, which is probably about one sixth the price. Interestingly, wine was relatively expensive.
Phuket is a pretty wild place, but we were there for only one night. The following day (New Year’s Eve), we went to Bangkok where it was even more crowded with traffic and people, as you might imagine. Our hotel was situated directly across from the World Trade Center, the main site for the New Year's Eve celebration. The street in front of our hotel was the central location for the New Year’s celebration, so there was a temporary fence surrounding the hotel. Tens of thousands of people were packed in the streets and pressed up against the fence. So we chose to stay on the hotel property and watch the countdown and the fireworks from there. Interestingly, the television broadcast was the same as what we saw out our hotel room windows. The bands, located across the street from our hotel, played until 3:00 a.m.
On New Year's Day, we rode the sky train to the river where we boarded an absolutely jam-packed boat that took us to a stop near the Grand Palace. After visiting a crowded but very impressive palace, we walked to Khao San Road. We spent most of the afternoon there so that we could buy additional gifts and souvenirs. A taxi ride back to the hotel, which was a fair distance away, came to only $1.50. Two days later in Tokyo, a cab ride of similar length came to more than $30.00.
in a big city like Bangkok, we found the Thai people to be extraordinarily
friendly, cheerful, and helpful. Even the guys trying to sell us a boat
ride were really cool and not overly pushy.
We ended the trip with about 24 hours in Tokyo. We took a 70-minute train ride to Asakusa and arrived at our hotel around 9:00 p.m. We dropped our luggage in our room and went looking for dinner. We found a traditional Japanese restaurant, although no one spoke English, except for a few words such as “pork” and “beef,” so we ordered a couple servings of each. Several of the patrons were showing us their dishes and indicating how good they were. We sat on pillows at our table and grilled the meat on our own grill in the center of the table. The beef was excellent!
The next day, we visited the Asakusa Kannon Temple, as well as Kappabashi-dori Avenue where wholesale food supplies, including the infamous plastic dishes of food, are sold to restaurant owners. Before heading to Narita Airport, we visited Akihabara, Tokyo's discount electrical and electronic center.
We left Tokyo at 5:00 p.m. on Saturday, January 3 and arrived in Denver at 2:00 p.m. the same day. So, we arrived before we left.
— Terry Wohlers
Copyright 2004 by Terry T. Wohlers