Monday, March 22, 2010

Our Last Day in Thailand

Today is our last day in Thailand. Our plane back to the US leaves very early tomorrow morning (5:30am) and the plan is to simply stay up all night in order to catch a cab to the airport at 3:00am. I am not really convinced of the merits of this plan - but I have to admit it sounds better than trying to sleep for only a few hours. In anticipation of the very long day ahead we tried to sleep late this morning. Of course, we were awake by 7.

The one thing we were really looking forward to in returning to Bangkok was "old woman" coffee. Rich and I head out from Janel's house down the street to find our lady. Yeah! She is there! She gives us a warm smile and we order 3 cafe yen mai wan (iced coffee - not sweet). As she is working on them, we are eyeing the chicken that is grilling next to her. I ask her "alloy, alloy?" (delicious?) She answers "alloy mak mak" (very delicious, of course!) Ok - we'll take a couple of skewers of chicken. The skewers are each a quarter chicken (including feet) which she removes from the skewer and chops into pieces. We also stop at the fruit cart and grab some saparote (pineapple) to round out our breakfast.

Mmmmm chicken feet

The "hub" of the house

Back at the house we feast on our finds and discuss plans for the day. The only thing we actually NEED to do is to secure airport transportation for our early flight tomorrow. I am already a bit concerned about making sure we can get a ride at that time of day. I want to double check our flight time, but the house internet is on the fritz so we decide we will find an internet cafe somewhere during our wandering today.

Janel and Carlos want to take us to one of the places that they went to for a LookEast article - Patara Thai. It is in an interesting area of town and we plan to do some walking around. We head down the street and easily catch a taxi. We zoom into the Thonglor area and hop out onto a busy street close to the restaurant. We want to explore the area before lunch and make a valiant effort to do so. However, the heat is so oppressive (we had conveniently forgotten that about Bangkok) that we are dripping with sweat after about 15 minutes. Plan B comes into play and we decide to have lunch and then head to an indoor shopping area that Janel and Carlos like.

Rich admires the electrical engineering marvel that is Bangkok

When we get in sight of the restaurant, an attendant comes running from the parking lot with a huge umbrella in which to shade us for the rest of the way. Awesome!

Need some sun protection??

The restaurant is kind of an upscale Thai place. Very pretty and the staff is quite attentive. We alreay know that we want the crab curry. Janel says she has been dreaming about it since she wrote her article in January. We also order a salad with Chinese bengets (?), lemon grass/lime and a lamb satay to start. Janel has a lemongrass iced tea, Rich and I have a delicious lime iced tea and Carlos goes out on a limb and orders the Rosella drink. When it comes it is a beautiful rosy color and is served with a little pot of honey to add to it. He says it is very similar to Mexican Jamaica (hibiscus tea).

Janel's lemongrass drink

Carlos' Rosella (clearly the star of the show)

All of the dishes are delicious, but the suprise frontrunner is the salad. It has many different textures and tastes and we can't get enough of it. Janel is intrigued and vows to try more Thai salads in the future. The crab curry is, indeed delectable. We almost lick the bowl.

In order to get to Platinum (the wholesale, indoor mall) Carlos suggests that we take the Klong boat. He says it is much quicker than a taxi and it also sounds like it could be fun. We walk a few blocks to the river and wait at one of the stops for a boat to come by. When it arrives, it only stops long enough for passengers to disembark and others to get on - kind of. You have to be quick and step off the dock onto the side of the boat while holding on to a little rope all whilst trying to keep your balance and make it into the boat before it roars off. It really is a great way to travel and the scenery is interesting along the way. It is also shaded and much cooler than being in the street. (Have I mentioned the heat yet???)

Heading to the boat

Typical side street scene

Here comes the Klong Boat!

inside the boat

We finally end up at Platinum. You have to see this place to believe it. I think it is 6 stories of tiny wholesale-type shops selling mostly clothes and accessories. Tons and tons of stuff. Most of the fashions are for the younger set, but there are great bags, shoes, earrings, etc. at waaay cheap prices. I have no idea where all of this stuff comes from! We have fun just wandering and looking at No major shopping for us - Janel finds a cool pair of earrings, but I don't see anything that I just can't live without.

Can I live without this dog purse?

Which one is the "real" girl?

We decide we should head home and maybe take a nap before we go back out for the evening. Carlos has managed to get on on his cellphone and has confirmed our flight time so we will try to arrange transportation when we get back to the house. We walk back to catch the boat and Rich spots a chicken vendor. He immediately goes into a "chicken fit" and has to have some. This vendor was just pulling out some whole (and I mean WHOLE - complete with neck/head) chickens out of a vat to hang up and he also had some fresh fried chicken on the side. Rich orders some fried chicken. They are thighs and the vendor quickly bones and chops them for us. He bags them up for "take-away" along with rice and a couple of bags of the broth where he has been cooking his boiled chickens. Our entire meal that served 4 was 90bht (less than $3)

street scene

chicken vendor (notice the whole hanging boiled chickens)

our food is being prepped

This is a great area of street food and it is hoppin' since many folks are on their way home at this time of day. We enjoy the walk back to the boat.

street food scene - We will miss this a lot!

wires and people

When we get back home I insist that we try to arrange our airport transfer. One possibility is a random taxi driver named Tony that we had once when we were here at the beginning of our trip. We had an especially long ride that day due to traffic and after he figured out that we spoke Enlish he put on American music for us and then gave us his card. He told us if we needed a ride to call him 3 hours in advance - his English was pretty good. Ok - this seems like a shot in the dark to me to expect him to come to our house at 3 in the morning, but it can't hurt to call. Carlos is tasked with making the call. Tony answers his cell phone, but tells Carlos that today is a holiday for him. Carlos tells him that's ok - we really need you for tomorrow, but in the early, early morning. Tony agrees (!) and takes our information. Carlos asks him to call when he is on his way (so we will know he is coming).

We agree that the possibility of this guy actually showing up at 3am is about 30% and make an alternate plan. We figure that at that time of night, there will not be many (if any) taxis just randomly coming down Janel's soi (street). It is a pretty quiet area. So, if Tony hasn't called by 3, Carlos will get on his motorbike and zoom down to the area around Victoria (a well-known massage parlor!). He can snag a cab from there and lead him back to the house. Sounds like a plan (sounds like a shaky plan to me, but what else can we do?)

As a side note: During this entire trip EVERYTHING has gone so smoothly. All of our transport, hotels, tours, everything has worked beautifully. There literally has been no stress. I can't remember another trip where it has all gone completely as planned. There is only this one last little snag left and it could potentially cause a HUGE amount of stress.

Ok - naptime. It is about 6:30 and we plan to head out for dinner, etc around 8-8:30. Rich and I try to nap, but can't quite manage it. We end up downstairs reading and trying to make sure we have everything in order for our trip back home.

We all reconnect around 8:30 and venture out for the evening. (We forgot the camera, so if you only read this for the pics you are out of luck. . .) Our plans are to go to an area called "Na Na" (seriously) and hang out, eat, people watch etc. until very late. Then return home and take off for the airport. NaNa is a weird corner of Bangkok. It is quite Arab in influence. There are many restaurants, food stalls selling all kinds of Arab food (no liquour in the restaurants). Mixed in with that are lots of vendors selling knock-off watches, bags, clothing, etc. Added to that you have your sleaze factor (which is one of the reasons we came here to people watch). There are probably more prostitutes and ladyboys soliciting in this area than anywhere we have seen. However, it doesn't really feel sleazy or dangerous at all. You have Arab women wearning traditional garments covering them head to toe and then you have "ladies" wearing next to nothing right beside them. Very strange vibe.

We pop in a 7-11 (where else?) and grab a couple of beers for strolling. (it is ok to have alcohol on the street - just not in these particular Arab restaurants). We get a kick out of watching to see what happens with Rich. If we walk ahead of him a few paces he gets accosted by scores of "ladies." I asked him what they say to him and he says "nothing - they don't have to." It seems that if he makes even the slightest eye contact they are all over him, petting, grabing his arm, etc. Doesn't bother me - I told him that I figure at least 50% of the "ladies" approaching him are boys!

We stopped on the street and had a couple of kebabs that were great and then wind up meeting Janel's roomates - Penny/Chris - at one of their favorite Arab restaurants. It is really cool inside with gilded mirros and patrons smoking hookahs. We order baba ganough, hummus, nan (bread), a salad and a plate of lamb kebabs all to share. The food is delicious and we devour it. I can see why Janel and Carlos like this place. The food is awesome and cheap! Dinner for 6 persons was 600bht (about $18).

After diner we head into an area of bars where the people watching is ripe. We find a balcony seating at "The Cathouse" (yes) and we are literally in the catbird seat for viewing the goings on. You see it all here and it is quite a study. Not necessarily a place I would want to come to often, but it is an interesting side of the city.

It is about 1am and we grab a taxi and head home. We have some time to kill and need to stay awake so we decide to play a game. We play Apples to Apples for a while and have a nice chilled out time. As 2:30 approaches I am starting to get antsy about our ride. Then at 2:50 Carlos' phone rings and it is Tony! He says he will be here by 3:15. I still can't believe it. Sure enough he shows up right on time. He packs up the taxi and we prepare to say our goodbyes.

This is the hard part. We have had such a fantastic time traveling with Janel and have gotten so used to her being around. It truly breaks my heart to leave her. But, I know that we must go and we hug like there is no tomorrow. Thank you Janel and Carlos for showing us your Bangkok.

We tear ourselves away and drive away. It is a melancholy ride to the airport. When we arrive, Tony gets all our bags out. He thanks us for the business and then actually gives us a hug! It was very touching and a fitting way to say goodbye to the friendly people of thailand.

We have a long, long way to go today. Bangkok to Tokyo - 6 hours. Tokyo to Detroit - 12 hours. Detroit to Phoenix - 4.5 hours (and thos are just the in flight times). We are right now on the plane from Tokyo to Detroit and are probably at least halfway there. I think it is going to feel very strange to be back home.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Sparkling Sunday at Layana / Back to Bangkok

(Rich's 7th post)

Last night we spotted dozens of geckos perched on the exterior of the Layana buildings, more than usual maybe. On one building we spied a really big one, our friend the tokay, so Janel and I took some effort to snag a photo of it. Difficult to tell the scale in this photo, but his head is almost 2" wide. He's the size of a baby croc. I read that these guys have a nasty disposition, and if they ever bite you, they will not let go except by submergence in water. Kept my distance with the camera.

Our 'friend,' a big tokay

It's sparkling Sunday at Layana, and champagne is served with breakfast. We take a glorious beachside table and try to enjoy the meal, but the weight of leaving Layana today is undeniable.

Paradise with a champagne kicker

We need some provisions from the 7Eleven, and I'm the chosen one. Grabbing the camera, I head out to the street, and ask a Layana staffer which direction the closest one is. She indicates to turn south - cool - I haven't been down that direction yet.

A view out the Layana entrance to the street

A great place to stay

The walk turns out to be fairly far, at least 2 km or so, and I grab a few photos on the way.

A sign for the beach south of ours (ours is Phra Ae aka Long Beach)

As I walk, tuk-tuks zoom past me constantly and almost all of them give a little toot that means, "Need a ride, farang?" However, as long as I do not raise my hand, they continue on without further fuss.

The little motor bikes zip past as well. On my return walk, one of them loaded down with groceries drops 2 bags just as it passes me. At first I think they don't notice but eventually they slow down and stop 1/4 mile in front of me. I walk out into the lane and direct traffic around the bags so they won't get squashed, then retrieve them and hand them over once the motorbike returns. The mom gives me a huge smile and "korp kune ka-a-a-a!"

Once back at the room, Linda and Janel start prodding me that it is my blog day and I won't have any material to include in it. Meanwhile Linda works on a previous day's blog. It occurs to me now that it's sort of pathetic to be blogging about writing your blog, but desperate times call for desperate measures.

Feeling the blog pressure

A simple plan today - take a chartered mini-van to Krabi Airport, about 1-1/2 hours up the road, then fly back to Bangkok and regroup at Janel's house. While we wait, Janel and Linda adjourn to the beach for one final massage. Hello massa-a-a-ah?

Massage in progress

Massage in paradise

Great rates, too (A 1 hour massage on the beach is only $9)

While waiting for the massage-aholics, I adjourn to the bar. Heck, why not. It's afternoon somewhere. And this bar makes a mean caipirihna. They also provide me with a big bowl of crunchy snacks - perfect for whiling away an hour and gazing at the water.

We all meet up at the room. Linda is raving about the talents of the male masseuse on the beach. We dive in to repacking our crap, then settle our bill while Layana staff takes stuff to the front entrance. We wait around for a while for our van, and chat with the UK couple there who is also leaving today. This is their 4th visit to Layana, and we're jealous that they're coming back again in only 8 weeks.

We also talk with Michael, the manager. He personally attends every arrival and departure, and we've noticed that he hovers over breakfast and other activities daily. We're surprised to learn that Layana is only about 5 years old, because their operations are so well polished. He seems pleased to receive our accolades of the top notch product offered here.

As our more mundane travel commences, I become more desperate for blog fodder.

Ending where we started: in the Layana lobby

Mini van ride to Krabi

Waiting at the Krabi airport

The Kindle got a thorough workout this trip

We had no complaints with Air Aisa, the region's cattle car

Tall thin guy in a midget seat trying to blog

The flight from Krabi to Bangkok was short, barely over an hour. Unfortunately, our bags took almost that long to hit the carousel after we arrived.

Still, I must comment on the Bangkok Airport. Very new, only 3 years old, and one of the best laid out airports I've ever seen. Hundreds of check-in desks keep lines short. Very slick baggage handling machinery plumbed to each desk. Great signage everywhere. Massive multi-lane security process to keep lines short. Efficient security rescreening at the gate. No silly protracted boarding processes - everyone just gets on the plane (for goodness sake).

Long wait for bags at Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok

'First bag' my ass - where's MY bag?

Great taxi setup on the ground floor at Suvarnabhumi, too, assuming you are smart enough to avoid the taxi hawkers inside. Just go out to dispatch, grab a driver, and take off. All the taxis enter in one lane, park diagnonally, wait their turn for passengers, then take off forward into another lane. Excellent design - no traffic jams. The fare to Janel's house goes $5 to $6.

On the ride back, we make a pitstop at the 7 and score six big Singhas. Back at the house, it's good to see Carlos back on his feet and feeling well again. We also meet another roomie, Penny, and her beau Chris. The six of us dive in to some delicious noodles that Carlos has purchased, and spend a long evening talking stories and checking out our travel photos. The six beers go down nicely and call for another beer run just before midnight. To keep things moving, we set our photo folder on slideshow, but even that takes several hours with over 1,500 photos. Carlos, Penny, and Chris are good sports in being our audience for so long.

There is some method in our efforts to stay up late. We've decided to stay up all of tomorrow night before our 5:30am flight, and so we're already trying to stretch things out.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Can We Handle One More Day?


Our last full day at Layana. We are fully into chill mode and start out the day with breakfast on the patio. As usual Rich and Janel linger over coffee and conversation. I head out to stake our claim of beach chairs.

Nibblin' and Chattin'

I have previously determined my favorite spot under the trees on the beach and see that there are empty chairs. I summon the pool boy and he prepares three of them for us.

Our spot is being prepped

Janel and Rich wander back to the room for a bit and I get completely set up with my book and stretch out for a long read. Intermittently I look up to see what is going on at the beach and my surroundings. Not much.

My View (high traffic area)

Occasionally I drag myself out of the chair and take a quip dip in the warm ocean. The silence of my surroundings is broken with the Layana 2 speedboat comes in to shore. The speedboat is the preferred method of arrival/departure for Layana guests and its presence causes a mild stir. Everyone takes notice of who is arriving/departing. This morning's boat brings in a couple of happy guests. Everyone gets a full on greeting by the manager/staff complete with flower leis and fruity drinks.
Waitin' for the Layana 2

New guests arrive to a lei greeting

Excitement over. Janel joins me on the beach for a bit. We swim, read and repeat.

Tough life

It is nearing Smoothie Time and we move to the pool area. Rich joins us and claims he is going to take a hike while we are at the spa today. We cajole him into going to the bar and ordering our smoothly which he does quite nicely.

Time to order a smoothie for the girls

Today's smoothie is not that great - pineapple, banana, yogurt, orange and lemon (lime). It is very sour and we really don't care too much for it. Oh well - it looks good in the pictures. . .

That's a great-lookin' smoothie

Spa Time! Today Janel is having a 60-minute coffee scrub followed by a 90-minute Swedish Massage. I am having a 60-minute Balancing Facial and a 60-minute Foot Reflexology treatment. We already know the routine and fall into our treatments tables easily. My facial is great and the reflexology is "interesting." The therapist uses some kind of torture stick that she pokes, prods and rubs on my feet. Sometimes it feels good, sometimes not so much. However, reflexology is supposed to be good for all parts of your body (something about the feet are a map for your entire body, blah, blah, blah). I am not sure if I believe it, but I wanted to try it anyway. I will look up more about it later - when I am not so busy.

I return to the room before Janel and head out to the pool to wait on Happy Hour. No sign of Rich - he has been gone for about 3 hours by now. Finally, Janel joins me at the pool looking scrubbed, rubbed and happy. Happy Hour comes not a moment too soon and we order a Mai Tai (Janel's usual) and a Gin Fiz ("shaken hard and served fluffy").

It is around 5:30 and time for everyone else to vacate MY pool. They have all cooperated except for one girl who has the nerve to be swimming laps. Finally, the pool is all mine. Ahhhh. . .

MY Pool

We enjoy our first round of drinks, but are wondering about Rich. Surely he wouldn't miss Happy Hour. He does show up around 6:00 and says he had a great hike. He made it all the way into Saladan Town and saw a lot of the island. He even scoped out a place for dinner tonight (you mean you want to leave the resort???!)

Rich joins me in the pool, but does not order a drink. It seems he stopped for a small plate of fried rice and a couple of Singhas not too long ago. He is thoroughly satisfied. We float around for quite a long while and are so happy that no one has attempted to enter our pool.

We love our pool at sunset

Alone at last

I inform Rich of our bar tab at Layana

Best time of the day

What a lucky guy

What a lucky girl

Rich has convinced us to leave the resort area for dinner tonight and we agree to head into Saladan. We will need to walk to the end of the Layana driveway and start walking down the road. Rich assures us that a Tuk-Tuk will come along and offer a ride. Sure enough, we walk for less than 2 minutes and a tuk-tuk honks at us. We hop in and away we go for the 5 minute journey to the north of the island. It is an interesting trip with lots of small open-air restaurants and shops dotting the way.
Paying the nice tuk-tuk driver

Tuk-Tuks in Saladan

We wander for a bit checking out the various seafood restaurants on the water (on the bay, not on the beach). Most of them have their "catch" displayed outside so that you can choose the freshest. We settle on Saladan Seafood Restaurant.

"What's fresh today?"

We order soft-shinned crab in curry and Rich and Janel go up front to choose our fish. They have decided on a whole grilled sea bass. Perfect. We also order steamed rice and an omelet to round out our dinner. The crab arrives and is not exactly what we had pictured. We have been eating soft "shelled" crab where you eat the shell and all. Well. . . this is only soft "shinned" crab (whatever that means - we don't know how to find the shins on a crab!). It is in the shell and is smothered in curry sauce. The sauce is delicious and we crack and suck our way through the dish.

Our fish arrives and looks good. We dive in and start the pickin'. We have become experts on whole grilled fish this trip and while this one is beautiful, it is not as tasty as some others we have had. Oh well - we enjoy it anyway.

Sea Bass

When we are finished with dinner we grab another ride back to Layana. Our plan for this last evening has been set since we arrived on the island. We are going to purchase and set free a "Happy Balloon." There are vendors on the beach every night that sell and set off large paper balloons that sail out over the ocean and eventually burn out. You are supposed to put all your bad luck into them and let it go away from you.

We walk out to the darkened beach and soon find a balloon vendor. He lights it for us and we all put in any bad luck we may have. It is a cool feeling to stand on the beach together and watch it until we can no longer see it. It meets up with the stars in the brilliant night sky.

Igniting the balloon

Watching the set-up

Putting in our bad luck (don't worry, Rich touched it too)


Up and away

We feel like our load has been lightened considerably with the releasing of the balloon and we walk back to Layana in the dark. We know this will be our last night in this beautiful paradise.