A relaxing return to our favorite country
25.07.2011 - 01.08.2011 31 °C
Bangkok – Hua Hin – Ko Tao –Hua Hin – Bangkok, Thailand
Finding ourselves in familiar territory now, for the first time in our trip, I will keep this account of our time in Thailand relatively brief. Whilst we were able to spend time in new places much of our time was spent on mundane tasks such as obtaining visas, catching up on emails, planning the next stage of our trip and souvenir shopping.
Arriving on Monday morning at the Myanmar embassy, in monsoon like rain, a relatively short queue of fellow travelers were ahead of us. With two passport photos each, a photocopy of our passports and a completed application form the process was relatively quick and straightforward. Whilst we wanted to leave for Myanmar in just over a week we, as yet, had no definite travel plans. Deciding where we wanted to go and how we wanted to get there would take up much of our time in Bangkok.
The rest of our day was spent exploring the suburbs close to the Chao Phraya river. With the rain having stopped the very cheap ferry ride up river provided a perfect snapshot of river life as we passed by. On the now dry streets the hawker stalls were back in force. One sold ice cream sandwiches – a bread roll with ice cream in the middle – could that really taste good! Lunching at a small, informal restaurant overlooking the river we had excellent ‘hot’ Thai food and very welcome cold beer. Over lunch we could watch the boats that clear away some of the vegetation that happily floats down the river. Removing boat loads of plant matter their task was thankless, with little evidence of their efforts being visible after they left.
In a city with a preponderous of English speaking movie theatres for the first time since leaving the Baltic States we took time out in the evening to watch the latest Harry Potter. The number, variety and quality of theatres available in the Central district of Bangkok is impressive. Our ‘ordinary’ theatre seemed very new. Yet a variety of different style movie theatres offered comfier seats, waitress service, large couches and the like. Service and style that we have not seen since, strangely, a visit to the theatre in Panama some years ago.
The following day we left Bangkok for the three hour drive to Hua Hin. There we would spend a brief evening at the night market commissioning a painting from an artist in the downtown district whose impressionist work I admire.
Having visited Hua Hin before we had no need to visit the tourist sites once my picture was underway. Instead, we found one of the excellent street hawker stalls where we could settle down to freshly cooked Pa-naeng curry, fish cakes and other Thai delicacies. Sat on our small plastic stools we could watch a fascinating vista of both locals and tourist pass by as the night market worked its wallet opening magic on those would be shoppers.
Early the next morning we would leave Hua Hin to travel another four hours south to Chumphon. From there a ferry would take us to the laid back island of Ko Tao, set in the fabled Gulf of Thailand. Warm water and golden beaches awaited us.
Our journey passed uneventfully. The high speed Catamaran that took us to the island made the thirty mile trip in less than two hours. The slow, overnight boat would have taken six. Arriving at the islands main pier a plethora of boards announcing taxi for rent met us, with the associated cries of ‘over here’, ‘very cheap’, ‘where you go’ and the like. With transportation already organized we were soon at our small hotel far away from the madding crowds. Met by the turquoise blue oceans that were so reminiscent of the first half of our trip it was an easy decision to stroll along the beach, breathing in the salt air, contemplating nothing more complex than where we should have supper that evening. As it was a simple restaurant close to our hotel, overlooking the ocean, was to provide the perfect answer.
Unlike its near neighbor of Ko Samui, Ko Tao is still laid back, without the high rise, grandiose construction that one might associate with a popular beach island. Yet whilst the island was popular it attracted mostly backpacker tourists whose numbers did not appear to swamp the island. Although a few areas had some low rise tourist facilities, with every store offering boat tickets to another island or so it appeared. Scooters could be rented for five dollars per day to help navigate the largely dirt roads that covered this relatively small island, some eight miles square. For ourselves we opted to explore on foot, wondering along both the golden beaches and around small bustling villages. As we had hoped the island had little to offer the traveler except an enjoyment of the outdoors, in the form of hiking, diving, snorkeling and biking. After our long train journey it offered us a pleasant opportunity to spend a few days relaxing in a tropical paradise.
As events would unfold the expectation of relaxing became a little more enforced. Awakening the following morning I had obviously eaten something that did not agree with me. Whilst we were still able to explore a little the best I was able to manage was a walk along the beach to a secluded restaurant that overlooked the bay. With a fantastic view of both the rough seas outside the Bay and the rounded boulders that formed the Heads of the Bay only soft drinks appealed. With Trey feeling fine but being very understanding, acting as both nurse and helper, it was fortunate that my ailment only lasted 24 hours. By the following morning I was back to near ‘normal’ and ready for our planned departure from the island, to Hua Hin.
Sitting on the top desk of our delayed Catamaran an announcement came over the tannoy system that due to a low tide and a high sand bar all passengers needed to move to the front of the ferry. Duly moved we ground over the sand but were soon out on the open seas. Leaving Ko Tao the island had delivered what was promised. Maybe not in the manner expected but we had been able or forced to relax and felt all the better for it.
Arriving back in Hua Hin I was able to collect my now completed commission and very pleased we were with it. By the following morning we were back in Bangkok. Returning to the excellent St. Regis hotel we were welcomed almost like family. With a large suite overlooking the city we would spend a couple of days here visiting Chatuchak market (a most see spectacle for anyone visiting Bangkok) and attempting to visit areas of the city we have not been to before by foot, BTS and ferry.
In the evenings we visited very different but recommended restaurants, across the city. At ‘The Face’ at our concierges’ most excellent suggestion we sampled a wonderful sea bass in garlic and chili that was presented as though a whole fish but in reality had been completely boned. It looked and tasted spectacular. For desert we headed to a street hawker stall who only sold mango and sticky rice. Again, according to our concierge, the best in the city. As we were to find out no false claim. Akin to eating ice cream we enjoyed a large $0.60c bowl ourselves and took one back for our helpful concierge, much to his amusement.
The following evening on the recommendation of the hotel’s engaging Director of Sales we tried a locals restaurant within walking distance of the hotel. Translated as ‘The Home Kitchen’ the restaurant proved exactly that, offering fresh, quality Thai food and more than reasonable prices. Struggling to avoid both over ordering and over eating this was the sort of restaurant that makes Thailand so appealing. Everything was fresh, well cooked and so tasty. I suspect we will be back here on our return.