Bars, Beaches, Buddhas & Ladyboys - 6 May - 21 May
Trip Start Sep 09, 2010
46Trip End May 28, 2011
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Today we are going to the island of Koh Samet for the weekend. I arranged to meet Jan at her school as we are going with about 20 other teachers. I got the BTS to Phaya Thai and although I had my backpack with me decided to walk the 500 mtr to the school instead of getting a taxi - thought the exercise would do me good. But it was in the middle of the afternoon and sweltering, and well having 15 kg on your back is just not a good idea. So arrived very hot and sweaty and not in the best of moods! We left in a hired minibus at around 3pm and headed off to Koh Samet. Samet is only an hour or so from my friend Lucy’s so instead of returning back to Bangkok with everyone else I am going to meet and stay with her in Ban Chang and then head off to Phuket.
The journey should be about a two hour drive, on a normal day from Bangkok, but this was a Friday, the traffic was busy and as we headed onto the freeway so the minibus broke down
The speed boat dropped us off at the beach - there is no landing ramp or pier so you have to jump off with your luggage into the sea and scramble onto the beach. And it’s not particularly easy walking in the sand with a backpack on so managed to get on of the lads to carry mine!! However all was not straight forward when we arrived at the hotel. We thought we were booked into Samat Villa - the majority of the accommodation is bungalow style and right on the beach - and where everyone else was staying
I didn’t feel very well though, felt sick most of the way in the minibus, maybe it was a bit of travel sickness but the insides of my stomach were all topsey turvey. We got changed and went out for a few drinks, but not a late night and didn’t get round to eating. I was just really tired so Jan and I decided not to join the others who were going clubbing over at the far end of the island and had an early night instead so we could make the most of Saturday.
Saturday 7th May
Got up quite late so thought we’d missed breakfast but when we went down just before 11am they were still serving, a result
The sea is so warm it was like soaking in a tepid bath - lovely but not particularly refreshing. It looked like it might rain the sky darkened over to the right of us but thankfully it stayed dry. My final treats of the day were a beer and a henna tattoo on my right ankle for 350 baht - £7. The foot pedicure was 250 baht - £5 and a back massage with oils not the hardcore Thai one was 250 for half an hour. Probably could have bartered them down to lower prices, but they didn’t have much work and it’s only a couple of quid after all. I think I am getting addicted to massages though - which isn‘t good as they cost treble if not more back in the UK
I like the feel of this island. It is not so busy with western tourists, there are Thais, families and young travellers, but it is certainly not a party island - well not where we are staying. I could imagine coming here by myself, especially during the week, and feeling very relaxed, comfortable and at ease with a book and a beer and no-one else. I wouldn’t feel uncomfortable at all about coming here and there are not too many beach places I could say that, but it would be lovely to spend a few days alone to de-stress.
Jan and I went for dinner at Samat Villas and enjoyed watching the young Thai fire eaters. We joined the others at Jeps Bar for a few glasses of red wine before they headed to Nagga which is at the other end of the island to party the night away once more. One of the girls got a bit worse for wear the night before and ended up falling asleep under a table on the beach. She woke up in the morning covered and I mean covered in dozens and dozens of terrible bites, not sure if they were mossies or may have been sand flies but they looked disgusting and must have felt worse, we heard later that there had been two cases of malaria on the island the last couple of weeks
Sunday 8th May
I got up by myself to have breakfast early as I met my friend Lucy who came to the island with her three young kids. I headed to Pudsa Beach which adjoins Silver Beach so is a 5 minute walk away. Lucy was already in the sea with her kids, Lily 7, Poppy 4 and Toby 2. The last time I saw them all was in the UK two years ago but they don’t remember me of course. We had a nice morning swimming and then Toby and Poppy has a snooze for a couple of hours. Lily and I headed back to Silver Beach to say goodbye to Jan and the others as they were leaving on the 1pm speed boat ferry. We had a drink and I paid for her to have a very pretty butterfly style henna tattoo on her shoulder…so it wouldn’t show at school and only 150 baht. We then went for a walk further up the island, but shortly into it the heavens opened and we got drenched running back to Pudsa beach. It was torrential rain for about half an hour and then it was all over, but it had been so heavy that a temporary stream appeared in the sand that ran directly from the small café we sheltered under right into the sea. The water was all churned up and had now turned from a turquoise blue into a muddy brown. Thankfully it stopped raining as we got the last ferry of the day at 4pm.
However, by the time our water taxi home arrived, the sea was pretty rough from the wind and we all got soaked stepping into the boat as the waves were rough and the water knee deep
Everyone is at school tomorrow. Lucy is a teacher at the Garden International School, where Lily and Poppy are also studying. Toby is still at home and they have a maid called Nid who comes every day to do the cleaning and looks after Toby - it’s what all ex-pats do here as it is so cheap - in comparison to hiring someone in the UK - Lucy pays Nid around 7,000 baht a month, which is a good salary out here and around £150. Unfortunately Lucy is now a single parent and has been looking after the three kids solo for the last couple of years - so it’s pretty full on and extremely tiring raising the children alone and working full-time
Monday 9th May 2011
A chill out day - the kids came bursting into my room at 6.45am! Lily has kindly given me her room to stay in whilst she shares with Lucy. Toby and Poppy share bunk beds next door. The kids and Lucy are all off to school for 7.30am and quiet! I got up at 9 and just as I got out of shower so Lucy arrives home unexpectedly to pick up a memory stick she’d forgotten for her assembly later that day. As she was back she took me to the local Tesco - yes you heard me right - to do a spot of shopping. Tesco has acquired the local Thai brand - Lotus - so instead of the customary red, blue and white branding we are accustomed to in the UK - the Thai Tesco/Lotus is dark green. Went for a coffee first and then managed to find my way amongst the aisles which are marked in Thai and English and found most of the items on Lucy’s list. I then got a tuk tuk home. But this isn’t the usual type - it was more of a van with the sides cut off - but cool all the same - I do love them….and it only cost 70 baht - just over £1
Tuesday 10th May
My blog has been temporarily shut down which means I can’t edit or publish it and no-one can view it. Not sure if this is a result of a couple of strange messages I reported getting a week or so ago. Nothing too dodgy just someone commenting on my Philae temple pictures from Aswan, Egypt, saying that they wanted to marry someone…not me but was slightly strange so I reported it to Travelpod which is the website that hosts my blog. Travelpod is so easy to use and I’ve managed to keep my blog up-to-date from every country I’ve visited
Wednesday 11th May
Had the use of Lucy’s car today a big 4-wheel drive Ford Everest - automatic so very easy to drive, and they drive on the left-hand side here in Thailand so the same as the UK thankfully. Lucy let Lily have the day off (she’s never ill) so we visited an area called Silver Lake and Elephant Land about half an hour way. Lily was there a few months back but loves elephants and so do I, so Luc thought it might be nice for me to have some company. We arrived around 10am after getting a little lost, but eventually after a few calls to Lucy, found the side road that then took us straight to Silver Lake. I think we were the first tourists of the day when we got to the Elephant Park. We decided to have a 30 minute ride and that cost 900 baht plus 100 for a photo
Lily was my translator for the day. As Lucy has had Thai maids to help her look after the kids, Lily is now fluent I think the locals get a shock when this sweet little 8-year-old blonde girl starts jabbering away to them. After the elephant ride we headed up the road to Silver Lake. Surprising this is actually a vineyard - and was quite picturesque but we didn’t stay long - we had a tram ride around the grounds but it was hitting midday and Lily and I were beginning to melt so we had some food at the nearby food stall, just meat and rice for 130 baht. We then made our way to the Wat Yansangwararam - a modern Thai/Chinese Temple which was pretty spectacular. It was located on Sukhumwit Road, about 12 km south of Pattaya and is set in a vast, scenic and tranquil location by a lake. It had a phenomenal collection of buddhas - a private collection - and there were some terracotta soldiers from Xian in China, that had been donated to the collection
My main observation of Thailand so far is that of a developed country more than a developing one such as Egypt and Peru for example and definitely not third-world. I’ve not yet seen signs of extreme poverty, but I know it must be there in the countryside I’m sure and I’ve heard that some people actually live in slums on the railway lines of Bangkok. I also haven’t seen signs of prostitution that you expect in a country that has a reputation like that of Thailand. However even in Ban Chang where Lucy lives which has a small ex pat community there are shacks along the roads which sell food by day and by nights are transformed with sparkly twinkly lights into brothels
I am reading a book called Bangkok Babylon by Jerry Hopkins which is a collection of stories about 25 of the city’s most colourful ex-pat characters…interestingly though they are all men. I sensed as I started reading the accounts and even being here just a few days, how Bangkok really is a man’s town. It is full of slim, young, beautiful and exotic looking women….as one of the ex-pats said in the book- how can a western woman compete? Here in Bangkok and other cities in Thailand any man can pay as little as 500 baht £10 to have an hour of lust with a beautiful woman, and as the most someone can earn from working in a paddy field is 250 baht a day you can understand why so many young women are pushed into prostitution by their families. However it is very sad that so many women find themselves having to sell their body to make a living. It seems to me though, that you can still come to Thailand and not see all the sex, but you can find it easy enough.
Thursday 12th May
Went for tea at Robsons restaurant near to where Lucy lives, which is right on the beach. Had a lovely traditional Thai meal and a nice large glass of red wine
We went to a Turtle Conservation centre at Sattahip, about 30 km from Pattaya, and 20 mins from Lucy’s. The centre is situated within a Royal Naval area. The navy and other voluntary organisations protect its breeding beaches, rear hatchlings to a safe release age and re-habilitate sick and injured animals. It is free but you need to show identification before you can enter the secure naval base. The centre includes four large covered pools which include various types and size of turtles from those that are smaller than your fist to the larger giant sized reptiles. I drove Toby, Poppy and Nid (the maid) as it was her birthday and we spent a couple of hours. It was great - the kids loved it and the baby tiny turtles were so cute. Poppy and I went to pick up Lucy and Lily from school and we then we went swimming as they have a 25-metre pool. I managed10 lengths of breast strokes - most I’ve done since I was at school over 20 years ago!
14th May, Saturday.
I don’t feel great, the lower part of my left leg is covered in red bites
Saturday 14th May Chatuchak Market - Bangkok
Lucy’s friend Jane kindly offered to drive up to Bangkok so we could visit the famous Chatuchak Market which is only open at weekends. There was a massive storm in the night but Jane still picked me up at 7.30am. She drove to the outskirts of Bangkok just over two hours away. We parked at the airport and then got a train into the city which connected up with the BTS line. It only cost 45 baht one way - £1 one way and took us to Phaya Thai - about a half an hour ride. We then took the BTS to the end of the line - Mo Chit where we disembarked in the torrential rain. The downpour was unbelievable, everyone was getting drenched. Instead of turning back we decided to go shopping at Siam Paragon a few stops away, which is a posh western style mall with designer shops such as Hermes and Gucci. We stayed a couple of hours and then made our way back to Mo Chit. The rain had abated somewhat so we decided to stay and have a look around. Chatuchak is huge. We had some food and also spent some time looking around the animal stalls. With signs saying ‘no photos’ we saw cuddly puppy dogs, cats, rabbits as well as flying squirrels and porcupines for sale. Of course you never want to see animals in a cage and I wouldn’t go back, but on the whole it was clean and they appeared to be well looked after, but I just wanted to take them all home.
We also saw a very impressive Thai ‘Jack Sparrow’ - Johnny Depp look-alike - you had to look twice to realise it wasn’t the real thing
Went into Pattaya, which is a popular resort area and busy with western tourists. Jane was treating Lucy to a facial for her birthday. We visited a salon in the Central Festival shopping mall. I looked after Poppy whilst the girls pampered themselves. We then went to the 5* Marriot hotel and had cocktails.
17th May Tuesday
I've been looking at how to get to Phuket to visit my uncle. There were a couple of options, mainly involving going back to Bangkok and get a train, bus or I could fly. Train and bus would be cheap but would take a couple of days of travelling either way. Then Lucy said she thought her local airport U-tapuao airport - 15 mins away - was now doing direct flights to Phuket - and she was right
Uncle Barry has a beautiful 3-bed apartment with a swimming pool - it is very secluded - with 24-hour security in the Thalang district of Phuket - which used to be the island’s old capital. I have my own private wing which is separate from the rest of the house. It has a huge bed, TV and walk in shower - it’s better than a hotel. Barry moved here three and a half years ago with his wife Jenny. They had holidayed in Thailand for the last 10 or so years and decided to retire out here, but unfortunately Jenny died a year and a half ago. I can though, now see why he hasn’t rushed back to the UK. Although he is still trying to sell it as he wants to downscale
Wednesday 18th May
Woke up to blue skies but by 10am a grey cloud which I thought would pass overhead turned into an almighty electrical storm, with flashes of lightening and huge claps of thunder which sounded like it was right above us. It was quite scary at times and after one clap the lights went out, it seems to have short circuited half of the house. We waited for the rain to stop but it didn’t so we still headed off to the Patong area about half an hour south. This is a busy, built up and commercial beach resort, with shopping malls, cafes, Macdonalds, Subways, bars and nightclubs. This is one of the resort areas full of farangs ‘foreigners’ whizzing around on scooters, you know it’s them and not the locals, as they are the only ones who wear crash helmets
Barry had to go to the bank so while I waited I has a facial. Lucy has one in Pattaya on Monday and it cost 1,200 baht, in the shopping mall here, there were three or four salons offering special deals. I got a facial for 45 minutes for 299 baht - £6. Not that relaxing as it was like being at a bus stop there were about 20 beds - mostly full of foreigners, packed in very close to each other, and one in one out. Most the beds were occupied and business was good, but there was little atmosphere - no music - only the sound of the Thai beauticians chatting to each other - or chatting up the men in broken English.
I am thinking about having my hair straightened/rebounded permanently. Jenny had it done in Bali - it’s a lot cheaper than in western countries. Annie recommended a salon in Surin which we popped into today to book an appointment for tomorrow. They said it would be 3750 inc vat, when I got to Patong two salons said they would do it for 3000. On our way back to Barry’s I popped into the salon and got them down to 3210 (around £70). So will stick with this salon. I hate my hair - the humidity causes it to go all frizzy and curly and wavy, so hopefully this will cure it…
Thursday 19th May
There was a huge rain storm again last night as I turned out the lights….here the storms don’t usually last that long but cause minor flooding because of the huge amount of rain that falls in that short time
Today it is a year since troops moved to clear red shirts from the streets of Bangkok - who were protesting in an attempt to get the government to step down. A rally is taking place to remember the 90 people who died last year. New elections are taking place on July 1st 2011. Thailand has had a few troubles over the past few years, ever time I’ve thought about coming there has been an uprising in Bangkok, and now there is conflict over a temple on the boarder with Cambodia. Always interesting times when you visit for a longer period of time more developing countries.
I had my hair re-bonded or straightened in other words. Got to the salon at 10am - I was the only customer there. It was a modern western style salon called Senses in Cherngtalay, Thalang. My stylist was called Patrick. The treatment took 3 hours. Firstly I had some lotion pasted and massaged onto strips of my hair - which was left to soak in for half an hour. Apparently this treatment was to make the hair more rubber like and stretchy so that it could be straightened longer. It was then washed off, not in a chair with my head back in a basin, I had to lie down and get it washed
Barry and I went to Patong for the evening. We had dinner and drinks along Bangla Road which is the strip where you go to watch the ping pong shows and ladyboys. It is full of bars and restaurants. It wasn’t particularly busy so we managed to get a bar stool overlooking the pedestrian road watching allsorts of characters and people of all nationalities - old, young and families - walk by. I saw a show called ‘The Ladyboys of Bangkok’ in Brighton a few years ago. I would have loved to have gone to a show whilst in Thailand, just for the experience but probably not ideal to do so with my 70-year-old uncle! So we gave it a miss. Bangla Road though is a lively and a fun environment - worth a visit just to see the ladyboys flaunting their svelte figures in skimpy and sparkly outfits trying to entice tourists to come and see their show.
Friday 20th May
Barry took me for a tour of the island, mainly concentrating on the southern part, the north part is undeveloped…but for how long I wonder
The Buddha was under scaffolding until recently, but now the beauty of the intricate and delicate carving is unveiled under a crystal clear blue sky. The concrete complex, which the Buddha sits upon, currently looks more a like a car park, but it is still being constructed and will be totally transformed over the next few years. Soon the development will be home to a collection of carved Thai houses and statutes. We then stopped for lunch at a café promoting the ‘best sea views’ and sat looking across the beautiful shoreline below
Saturday 21st May
Back to Bangkok today I ahve another flight booked for just £30 with Bangkok Airways. So if I had to sum who what I have seen so far of Thailand it would be Beaches, Bars, Buddhas and Ladyboys. What a combination - but next time I hope to visit and see more of the real Thailand, the countryside, especially in the north. But I definitely want to come back again.