year of the dragon: 2012

Of course our flight out of Haikou was delayed. Nearly every experience we have with Meilan Airport, the scheduled time is never the actual time. Being an expat in China, things like this annoy you beyond belief because it just seems so typical. Of course me not having the foresight (typical), I neglected to consider this and only planned a two hour stop in Singapore.

We always love watching people’s behavior on airplanes. As soon as you hit the ground, there’s a mass un-clicking of seatbelts. My favorite is when someone stands up when the plane’s on the ground but still doing 300km/hr. You can hear the rage in the flight attendants’ voices as they yell at them to sit down. Without fail, as soon as the plane stops, it’s a race to the door  (While I’m complaining: a line-up ten rows back, for the bathroom, while we’re still ascending!)

Even though we only had 20 minutes to make it to the check-in counter, I couldn’t bring myself to race off the airplane. However, I will say that we didn’t do our usual, sit and wait and be the last ones off the plane.

We got to the check-in counter for Krabi 20 minutes after it closed. Flying stand-by, I have not gotten on flights before, but this was my very first time being too late to catch a flight (horribly disappointing).  With the Dragon New Year’s eve two days away, the flights over the next three days were full and we had to get a move on. We only had fourteen days to travel.   We paid an extra 610SGD (horribly painful) and after five hours in the budget terminal, we were on our way to Phuket.

Luckily, Avis had a rental car available at Phuket airport. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to find a decent hotel and stayed at the Airport Resort and Spa. Paid nearly $90 for a clean room with zero character, a very hard bed and a horribly installed shower head (nearly hugging the wall as you showered). Too tired to go out and find food, we completely overpaid for a cocktail and beer, and standard Thai curry dishes (B810). Not a great start.

After a more crappy than usual hotel breakfast, we were ready to hit the road and find a hotel. It was high season, so beach front was out of our price range (in fact, all the hotels we stayed at this trip were out of our price range — oops).  We were going after pool access (my point exactly [It’s hard though – after you get a taste for it in low season…).  We generally avoid Patong Beach, so we started heading East and then South.

I planned a route on the GPS for about half a dozen hotels scattered around the island (It was high season so lots of hotels were full and we didn’t consider them).

Checked out Club(baan) Yamu by twinpalms. B4300 baht for a one bedroom, two levels, with a kitchen, 20 foot ceilings in the living room, and the tallest electric curtains I’ve ever seen. For B5300 the penthouse with a jacuzzi on the balcony (unfortunately has a roof over top so not much direct sunlight). The private pool rooms were over B8000 but looked amazing. Beautiful, white rooms, a clean, modern look. The grounds were architecturally nice, very open and spread out. The place looked empty. It’s not near a beach or anything for that matter. What I would call an all-inclusive [the hotel has since changed management and name].

We stopped at Cloud 19, along the east coast.  It was full, but looked promising.  Also on the list was The Chalet Phuket Resort (located in a cute bay area – an alright place but a hike up a hill and a further hike down to the beach), Supalai Resort & Spa, Andaman Thai Boutique Resort, Access Resort and Villas and The All Seasons Naiharn Phuket (any Accor Group hotel [all seasons/ibis] is a trusted fallback).

Along the way we stopped for a coffee at a wine shop, deli and bistro, called Wine Connection  (it’s a chain all over Thailand). Cold cuts, cheeses and olives… the menu looked promising for dinner.

Around early afternoon we stopped at the Rawai Palm Beach Resort. It was having a soft opening. A soft open is generally pretty good value.  Pool access was B5900.  The room was nice. You essentially walk into the bathroom area with a massive stone tub (30 minutes to fill and a huge waste of water but I had to). On the other side was the bed, soft with 4 squooshy pillows. A few steps down was a sitting area with a  desk, a coffee table and fridge (high ceilings).  Through the sliding glass door, you walk onto a porch with two pool chairs and steps leading into a 8×10 foot enclosed private pool, with a small entrance to the main one (video).

  

We were trying to find the top rated Indian restaurant  in the area, one of three Indian places. Navigating the streets isn’t easy. You have the main “highway” and all the small arteries coming off of it. I set a course on the gps but of course we missed the first turn. I charted the next possible turn.

After searching, a number of u-turns, some back alleys which I’m sure have never seen a farang , the place was either closed or we missed it all together. Luckily, very luckily, after a couple turns we drove past La Chaumiere. We often stop at French bakeries but don’t often find a French restaurant for dinner (there was a French man in the kitchen, always a good sign).  Foutre, was it good! We nearly stayed in the city another night just to be able to order the duck confit again. I had a juicy pork chop with a creamy, rich mustard sauce and it was delicious (I’m use to trying to load on as much mushroom gravy as possible onto my mom’s dry pork chop). To finish it all off, tiramisu glacee and a creme brulee (oh ya – this trip we ordered two desserts after nearly every dinner). Real good. With a half liter of wine, well worth the 1190B.

We really binge ate every dinner. If I was a bit more self-conscious I’d be pretty embarrassed by how much food we’d order. of Parma ham, of chorizo, of goat cheese (me being the one who does the shopping, I should really have a better idea of just how much 100g is, but I didn’t. And 100g is a lot). A pizza and ravioli to share. And of course the best garlic stuffed olives. The great thing about Wine Connection is that it’s not only a restaurant but also a wine shop. It was the tipping point at its best. Another table had gone into the shop and chose a bottle to have with their dinner. Seeing it sitting there in the standing ice bucket, we headed into the shop.  The next patrons to arrive saw our bucket and headed in also. This happened until every table on the patio had a bottle of wine. 1500baht for dinner and a decent bottle of white.

The brilliant idea was going into the deli after dinner and picking up a package of those stuffed olives and two sourdough torpedoes.

Sitting in beautiful tropical heat, with a swimming pool at your feet, wine, olives, leftover salumi and sourdough bread for an afternoon snack. It’s the good life.

Sometimes we get stuck places and stay for a while. All that’s required is good weather and a few great restaurants. However, after two nights in Rawai we were ready to get back in the car. I was excited, it was a new destination and I love car days (I’m sure the fact that Kyle does all the driving helps). We were on our way to Koh Lanta. We were in need of some sand.

    

It wasn’t too far of a drive. We headed out a bit late that morning. 10:00. Stopped at the Wine Connection, the bank and a sports outlet to buy a frisbee (so annoying that we forgot to pack one). We were on our way. Compared to our usual, it was a short drive. The first ferry really isn’t that far beyond Krabi town. Two, five minute ferries,  and we were on the island.

We learnt last high season in Thailand, that’s is nearly necessary to book a hotel in advance (which, I guess, most people usually do anyhow). Last year, in Kao Lak it was the worst. We showed up and there were hardly any hotels with vacancies. Of course we kept hoping trying more and more hotels, driving up and down the coast. It was not great and we still had to take a crappy place.

So before arriving in Koh Lak, we pre-booked The Houben.

  

The Houben was great. Only 15 rooms so it was pretty quiet (still some small children around), but mostly couples. Old white guy with his hot enormously breasted Thai girlfriend. Tall white guy with his crazy hot ripped tattooed Thai boyfriend.  The place is run by a kind Flemish girl. The whole time Kyle thought she was flirting with him and I’m sure she was, but turns out she was gay and would have married me. The red-tiled infinity pool overlooks the ocean. The hotel being built in a high cliff, makes for great poolside sunset viewing. The hotel was as far south as I would want to stay, just up the street from the last 7-11. The beaches in this area are the best, quiet, clean and far enough from the more populated north. (vidoes of rooms,1,2)

From the hotel, you can walk to a very nice “public” beach. We often drove and lied on the south end if the beach. On the southern tip of the island, there’s a national park. The beach is nice but it’s certainly not worth paying for, even if it was free we wouldn’t hang out there. Between the Houben and north of the park, we went to two gorgeous more private beaches (video). Just south of the hotel beach was a cove where you must walk down the cliff to get to the secluded beach. Further south, there was a low lying area with one hotel and restaurant on the beach. We walked all the way to the end to spend the day, only a handful of people around. It was a grade A beach, beautiful clear water, white sand, low surf. However, it was the local monkeys’ route to the rocks at the edge of the cove. I hate monkeys. Of course we happened to be lying in the shade of the tree’s umbrella which the monkeys climbed and fought over.

  

  

Time for lime. I hate the word foodie but if you’re a foodie and want great food, this is not the place. Ok food, sure.  The chef is an American lady with 20 years of experience in Thai cooking. She does a six course tasting menu, set price of nearly 500 baht/person, with a different menu every day of the week. The cocktails (160B) were good but all the proteins were over cooked, really overcooked: prawns, chicken and fish. Also, it was the first time I ever had a chocolate dessert that I didn’t finish because it was simply not good at all. And I love dessert.  Overall, it’s a fine meal, standard. Certainly plenty of food, it’s just not amazing or memorable and definitely not worth the money.

Pizzeria Italia. The only real Italian we could find, meaning an Italian on the floor and one behind the pizza oven. Good food, we ate there a few times.  This is where we saw the best cliche, stereotypical Germans straight from 1982. Him with his thick mustache and finely combed hair sweeping across his head. Dressed in khaki slacks with a pair of loafers and a navy blue blazer. Her in an animal print, form fitting mini-dress. Back-combed curly fro and blue eyeshadow. Both With a cigarette in hand and a glass of red in the other.

(I can’t figure out where on the map this restaurant was, but somewhere in town in the north of the island on the main drag. )

L. Maladee is run by an american lady and her Thai husband. Its the top rated restaurant on the island and certainly the best restaurant we ate at. We sat at a small table and ordered way too much food for it to handle. We had 300g of jumbo prawns fried in a garlic tamarind sauce. Will definitely be going back for those. We had a Jackfish deep-fried. Good but have had better. I don’t remember the chicken satay, so that tells you. Kyle loves chicken satay but I find it’s rarely great. The spicy glass noodle salad, one of my favorite Thai dishes was good, we ordered it a tad too spicy though, and a little cheap on the seafood. Ordered 4 cocktails, which I’ll try to recreate this summer, just soda, lemon juice, simple syrup and vodka. 1390 baht.

  

After nearly a week in Koh Lanta, and a required 1 night hotel change which I must write about later, it was time to start heading north.

We revisited Keeree Waree in BanKrud, Prachuap Khiri Khan. It’s become our rest stop to cut up the long haul between Bangkok and the south. It’s such a a shame because with just a little more love and care, the hotel could be amazing. It has timeless wood bungalows, beautiful outdoor shower and high ceilings. The beach isn’t the best but the town is so cute that I love going back.

A storm was rolling in so we quickly packed up and took off. We found half a dozen hotels along the east coast and started hitting every one along the way.

La A Natu describes itself as a hotel and bakery. How could I resist. The rooms are interesting, meant to be like traditional village huts. It’s in the middle if nowhere but I think we’ll try and stay there this summer. It’s right on the beach, quiet and private. Homemade scones with strawberry jam and cream, very nice (just got moms scone recipe to recreate what we had).

We ended up at the Cher Resort outside of Huahin. Completely different design from any hotel we’ve seen in Thailand. The room was great, high ceilings, beautiful shower, grade A towels and bedding. To top it off, you had a fenced in “backyard.”  Complete with an outdoor stone bathtub, astro-turf and garden (video). I’d give the breakfast buffet a B. The hotel was on the water but there was no beach (I don’t think the beaches in Huahin are that great anyways {you’re in a city}). The pool was pretty small but nice, hanging over the ocean. Decent enough for a few days in the city.

  

    

We nearly didn’t have time to stop at Cool Breeze Cafe (formerly Tapas Cafe) which is a routine stop for us. Meat platter, calamari and white anchovies in lemon olive oil, are some of our favorites.

This is what peace looks like…

  

  

We felt like a change and had previously looked at Hotel de La Paix (Kyle kept pronouncing it packs – he was killing me).  The grounds were gorgeous, I’m sure the fact that the place was empty helped. It’s all natural materials and lots of green trees.  Very relaxing and peaceful, hence the name I suppose.

The room had the most amazing shower: twenty foot ceiling with a 3 by 2 foot rain shower head mounted into it.  Great use of materials, all polished cement and wood (video). Two swimming pools, one is adults only with a bar right there. Very nice, the waiter even brought over cold bottles of water while we were tanning. The whole place was wired. More importantly, one of the best breakfast buffets, A, served everything under the sun; however, possibly the cause of my food poisoning.

  

    

  

We hadn’t gotten our curry yet. We asked a tailor, yes he was Indian, and he recommended a place in Cha’Am, Aree Indian Restaurant. We headed up the highway. We found the place and talked to the tailor next door to the restaurant, yes they had a tandoor. Im sorry, but naan not made in a tandoor is not worth eating. We ordered our standard meal, mutton curry, butter chicken, naan and raita. We didn’t notice at first, it took a few minutes and then it was just weird. The restaurant was at capacity, and every single person in the place, besides us and the owner, was a white haired retiree. And mostly Scandinavians.  The restaurant was along a strip with shops and restaurants on both sides, and the whole area was like an old aged community. What I loved was how all the couples eating dinner, with a glass of wine for the ladies and a mug of beer for the men, sat next to each other rather than across from each other. The food wasn’t amazing but certainly good Indian. We went back another night.

We were originally only staying here one night and then over-nighting in Bangkok before we flew out.  It was gorgeous and sunny check out day so we decided to lay by the pool and just drive directly to the airport the next morning. Very good thing too, not too long after that decision, I had the worst food poisoning of my life. We were meant to do all of our shopping on our last night too. Thankfully Kyle was willing to go out and pick up some gifts and things for me. For hours and hours I couldn’t even hold down water. Medical marijuana: works like a hot damn for nausea.

The ride into Suvarnabhumi Airport wasn’t the most pleasant, but I was alright. I nearly had a foreigner freakout though when we discovered Avis had changed locations from directly in front of the Departures entrance, to a far off parking lot requiring a shuttle.  Perhaps I was just getting back into the swing of things for our return to Haikou that evening.

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