Our first time going to Asia together was back in 2002. I had just turned 18 and Kyle had been working for the previous year. We were so young. Nowadays, all the backpackers in SEA seem like young American teenyboppers fresh out of high school. It was a different scene back then. Nearly everyone was older, late twenties, early thirties. I felt like such a kid. Now, there’s a lot of retirees (pushing prices up) and the majority of middle aged people are Europeans and lots of Russians. Also, there’s more Mainland Chinese tourists. Gotta love the Chinese tourists. It’s always interesting for us to figure out where they’re from, watch the family dynamics: grandma, mother, daughter-in-law; give them a story: coal mine boss, government official, tax collector. In the end, we always hang out with the 40-60 crowd. They’re certainly the most interesting and you can have actual conversations (as oppose to: where are you coming from/going next, have you been to the full moon party?). There are lots of retired expat communities. Also, lots of older people who just travel for a few months every year. The lack of North Americans is quite apparent. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining.
We returned to Thailand and Laos during the summer of 2010, our first time back since 2002.
This was our third time back since our first return. Summer of 2011, low season, and the summer, to my surprise, we got engaged.
We flew into Singapore (one of the few international flights out of Haikou). Great city: eating and shopping. The month of July is like December in Canada, for shopping. Huge sales all month at every store. The fact that the shopping was good and I wanted to do so much of it worked out very well for Kyle (and in the end me too of course). We always split up when we shop. I don’t shop with people unless they have a death wish (Meghan can vouch for this). So for two days while I was taking the subway all over town hitting the best outlets malls, Kyle was shopping for a ring.
There are so many places to eat, it’s hard to choose when you’re only in town for a few days. One stop was certain however, Anthony Bourdain’s pick for bone marrow . [we leave for Singapore again in two weeks and I’ve got all of Bourdain’s places mapped out. All we’re going to do is eat… and stop at Cotton On and Charles and Keith – then I’m good]
Koh Chang was the first place we went to in 2002 and our first stop in 2010. We love Koh Chang, and once again it would be our first stop in 2011.
During the previous summer, we scoped the place out and found the best beach, KaiBae. White Sands Beach is where we stayed in 2002, it was the only beach. We had to hike along the beach a few kms to some really basic bamboo huts for B100 a night. The town had a few shops, nothing really for restaurants and there was nothing beyond White Sands. In 2010, when we came down the hill into White Sands beach, the first building we saw: 7-11 (I’m not complaining, the 7-11s in Thailand are awesome. The first thing we do in a new town is find a Sev with a slurpee machine).
White Sands is the busiest town. It runs along the beach for a few kms. Lots of hotels, cafes, restaurants and shopping. I suspect the beach is nice but likely busy (be warned: the Mexican restaurant in town is pretty bad).
Getting around the island is really easy. Lots of scooters for rent, B150/day. There is also a fleet of truck “busses” which run up and down the coast all day long.
We always head to KaiBae Beach. The beach is quiet, beautiful and the least rocky compared to other areas on the island. There’s a decent number of restaurants, shops, massage places and of course a 7-11.
A few times we stayed in these nice huts on the beach, for which I can’t find the name. Renovated in 2011. Beautiful, secluded location on the beach (video), backing onto a small mountain. Summer 2010 we paid B650 for their superior hut on the beach. Summer 2011, they wanted B1500 for all the huts. They were nicely renovated, most with high ceilings, some up on stilts on the mountain side. Great sunsets. Major downfall to this place: no pool and huge fire ant colonies (breakfast not included).
We switched hotels to the one next door, south down the beach. Seaview Resort & Spa. The property is sprawled down the mountain side and there’s a cable car to take you up the mountain every morning for breakfast (the views). Nice hotel. There’s a nice new building on the south corner of the lot. It’s not on the beach but has amazing views of the sunset (B2140/night).
We also stayed in the bungalows, above the swimming pool: older and slightly less comfortable. The pool isn’t huge but nice and right on the beach. The hotel has the best beach. They built a little rock jetty on the north side so it’s created a nice little cove. Out from the jetty there’s a sandbar so at certain times the water’s super shallow and you can walk quite far out (great for frisbee). There’s also a small little island you can swim to. Also, other islands which you can explore on a kayak (B200/hour). Here the water’s so gorgeous, it’s our bar for comparing all other water (koh lanta comes pretty close).
Favorite restaurants: Saffron on the Sea is by far the best Thai food we’ve ever had. The chef also has a few bungalows for rent but her outdoor kitchen is the real jewel. Her glass noodle salad was packed with seafood: huge chunks of a white fish, squid and prawns. The deep fried whole fish with papaya salad on top was amazing. Also ordered the jumbo prawns done in a tamarind sauce. I would make a trip to the island simply to eat there again (*beach).
Emperor of India looks like your typical Indian place. Yet, such a sweet Indian couple cook and serve up great curries here. Good service, good food, gotta eat here.
Chowlay seafood down on your right hand side on the wharf in Bang Bao. This place is great, busy and on the water. Our next trip to Thailand is over a month away and I’m already thinking about the deep fried squid and Thai herbs. We ordered crab by the kg for 450 per kg. 1.5kg ended up being way too much but it was amazing digging into the leftovers for lunch the following day. We’d usually spend between 700-900 with drinks for some of the best seafood. If you take their business card and present it with your next meal, they’ll give you 10% off.
Ziva Bar had some good Italian. It’s not the most amazing but certainly good (we go back). However, we have yet to try the top rated Italian on the island. They were closed last summer when we tried to go but they’re apparently open all year, so I’m not sure what the deal was).
Kingky Gaga’s bar is our usual place to hang out. Kingky, Bee, Nam and others keep you well entertained and have lots of games too. Ultimate jenga is the best. Bring your own liquor from 7-11 if you like and they’ll charge B400 for bottle service.
From Koh Chang, we drove to Pattaya. Our first time ever stopping there. An alternative to stopping in Bangkok, we figured why not check it out. Also, that way we only spent half the day driving (280km) and the following day we could go straight to Ban Krut, Prachuap Khiri Khan (500km), avoiding the capital city. Pattaya was interesting. A busy city with a busy beach, lined with chairs, boats and jetskis. It felt like I was the only foreign woman there. Rarely do I feel uncomfortable as a woman traveler (Egypt was likely the only time I have ever had actual feelings about the topic), but I didn’t like Pattaya for that reason. We stayed at our go to chain of hotels, Accor, an Ibis.
Our little town of Ban Krut got a 7-11. Very surprising, but very convenient. Previously, the closest one was 20km away. Decided to go with Keeree Waree this time around. Onto Khao Lak, 460 km [along route 401 out of Surat Thani, 1, 2; the wild-life]. *The faster route. Continuing along Highway 4 on the West Coast is one-way and windy.
We were returning to Kao Lak. We had been there during the high season, Chinese New Year 2011. At that time, the area was packed. We had to stop at a dozen hotels, everything was full. We stayed two nights at a cute but expensive place on the beach, The Shambhala Khao Lak Resort. The family was really sweet and the wife did a great homemade breakfast. Waffles, pancakes, eggs, toast, bacon, a little bit of everything and it was yummy. It has a nice pool but small and they didn’t provide any chairs directly on the beach which was unfortunate.
Kao Lak is a good little area. The main highway runs parallel to the beach a few kms inland. There’s two main roads which run west to the beach and then each has a circle road running along the beach. This was the first area we’d been where there was clear evidence of the tsunami. All the hotels were new, and a couple lots which had just been left. One place on the water was a movie set, partly collapsed and debris everywhere. On many of the light poles along the beach there are memorial posters of tourists who went with the tsunami. Brothers and sisters, children and adults. It was really sad. In high season, the beach was packed and the waves were pretty big, lots of fun to play in but not frisbee compatible. The beach was really nice but lined with beachfront hotels, so not much in terms of privacy. This time it was July, low season, the town was empty. A few restaurants were closed for low season. Luckily the German placed opened back up while we were in town. Enjoyed our snitzel, sauerkraut and potatoes. It was so rich, so good.
This is where we earned the title of Sun Chasers. Heading south, we only had about half a dozen hotels to stop at. We went with the Khaolak Oriental Resort. We were the only ones in the place practically. Now thinking back, breakfast was busy, yet I never saw anyone in the pool (it was breakfast at this hotel where I had my Valium rage. B300 for 6 or 8 tablets, over the counter. It was fun, a body drunk but clear mind [warning, comes with moments of rage: There were no more bananas at breakfast. I was angry. Then I saw a guy with three on his plate, I was raging; Kyle: he pulled over so I could jump out and grab a map. Rather than the 30 seconds he expected it to take me, it took 90. He nearly drove off on me. Honestly])
It was great. Our room was corner pool access on the north east end of the lot. There was a bridge walkway over the pool, right beside our room. We hadn’t seen any real sun since the beginning of July in Koh Chang. The weather was pretty bad this summer. We had been waiting for a sunny day to get some tanning done. Kyle was waiting for a sunny day to propose. There was less than a week left before heading to Vancouver, he was starting to stress out to say the least. The day after Amy Winehouse died (I just always remember that), there was sun. I was determined to get some sun and Kyle was determined to propose. We lied on this wooden bridge over the pool first thing after breakfast and planned to stay there all day. A refreshing banana shake and a diamond. Love banana shakes. Love diamonds too.
Next was Casa DeLa Flora. Part of my engagement surprise. This will likely be nicest hotel we ever stay at. They were doing a soft opening, and upgraded us to a Duplex Grand Pool Villa. It was gorgeous. It was a surprise. They were concrete villas from the outside. Inside, three levels. They had a bottle of champagne on ice for us when we arrived. Kyle popped it, I jumped in the private pool and had a good buzz before 11am. The in-room expresso machine and the fresh milk delivered every morning was one of my favorite things. The whole place was outfitted with a Mac entertainment system. Having the tv monitor and a wireless keyboard, you could be on the computer while in the pool. The pillows, oh the pillows were like sleeping on a cloud. I think I had 5. I love sleeping in the open air and waking up to the noise and view of the ocean. They had the bathtub filled when we arrived, with orchids floating in it. They told us If we ever go out and want a bath when we got home, we could call ahead and they would start running it as it takes at least 30 minutes to fill. I can’t really describe how awesome it was. Watch the video.
The food was great too. Breakfast and dinner was included in the price of the room. No complaints, it was delicious. I could go back just to order breakfast. They had a bread basket with all these different breads and pastries. Smoothies, fresh juice and great iced coffees. We quickly learnt they would serve us breakfast in our villa. Every morning I would call it in and they would set it up on the coffee table. Breakfast was like a five course meal. Oh so good. Lying around your pool in the morning sun, coffee in one hand, a sweet buttery pastry in the other, following your morning routine of reading the news: that’s my ideal.
That’s something I love about Kyle: splurging every once in a while to have these amazing experiences. It is more than worth it and I think it’s something a lot of people wouldn’t do (even if financially, they could). It’s funny how I almost feel guilty about this. However, that’s one of the reasons why we’ve chosen this lifestyle, so that we can realistically afford to do these things. It’s ironic that I feel guilty at times about our lifestyle, because I feel that it’s awesome, yet I still have to defend it at times. Last Chinese New Year trip to Thailand, we discovered you could charter sailboats. What’s better than living on the water. We agreed that it would have to be done in low season when the price was cheaper, still expensive of course. Well, we leave in 3 weeks for our summer vacation in Thailand. I guess I’ve been complaining about money so much, Kyle’s took it upon himself and assumed the sailboat trip is out. However, I always set unrealistic saving goals for myself, and complain when I don’t hit my target. I think we should try and do the sailing trip this summer and it will most definitely be amazing.
The weather wasn’t great over the summer. We drove from Khao Lak to Phuket to find sun, we were sun chasers. It was our first time going into Phuket. We drove through Patong (had to catch a glimpse of Number 4 Restaurant. In 1996, my first time to Thailand, my family ate there nearly every day). The area seems like a gong show now, big busy avenues, totally commercialized. Nowadays, we drive around the town. We ended up at Karon Beach, nice sand, weird looking dogs. The town is still more developed than what we’re used to but likely what most others would enjoy, with more than enough restaurants and shops (we tend to stay where there’s too few but another reason to have the car).
4000 km. Toyota Helix. The best truck.