Thailand: a rich bundle of experiences!

1st Sep 2015
Photo of Thailand: a rich bundle of experiences! 1/1 by Priya Ray Chaudhuri

After just a two and a half hour flight from Kolkata, I reached Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport at 4 a.m. Thai Time. The airport is massive with moving walkways stretching for what seems like kilometres on end. Signage is great so visitors have no trouble at all in reaching the Immigration desk. One just fills up one extra form plus the arrival card from the flight and hands it over to the Immigration Officer.

Point to be noted: it helps to have passport sized photographs with you to affix onto the form otherwise there is the additional hassle of getting a photo clicked at the airport which (in my opinion) is best avoided. All that is required to clear immigration are: your passport (of course), return flight tickets, the forms mentioned and 2000 THB fee. I also had xerox copies of all my three accommodation bookings and 10,000 THB spending money to show if I needed to, but no one asked for those.

Day 1

Passport stamped, the signs lead out to the taxi bay where on the press of a button one is assigned a bay number and the cab parked there will take the passenger to their destination. Easy enough! My first encounter with a Thai local was my cab driver who had very limited English but still managed to tease me by mispronouncing my hotel name deliberately to make me laugh. From Suvarnabhumi to Sukhumvit is about a 30-40 minute drive on elevated fly-over highways which have intermittent toll booths. Having the driver take care of all the toll fees is a good idea on the maiden cab ride in the cab fare came to 820THB right to my hotel doorstep.

Photo of Sukhumvit Khlong Toei Nuea Bangkok Thailand by Priya Ray Chaudhuri

Marvel Hotel on Soi 22 Sukhumvit 30 is a modern apartment replete with amenities like a massage parlour, pool and gym. Our room (1422) was spacious and boasted a fine view of the Sukhumvit skyline. My co-traveller had already checked in and was in bed reading when I knocked on the door. Our joyous reunion was cut short by our need to sleep and we snoozed away till 10 in the morning. We had used Air BnB to book this room and got it for less than 1000 THB a night, as it was the off-season.

Day 2
Photo of Sukhumvit Road Bangkok Thailand by Priya Ray Chaudhuri

We woke up to what was a September day of clear skies and bright sunshine in Bangkok and promptly headed to the Emporium mall nearby for our first meal, a brunch, on Thai soil. On the walk itself we noted that our street was lined with numerous massage parlours and food places and there was a huge well-kept park. The mall was so tastefully decorated and well done-up that we ended up going on a photo-taking spree! Then we waltzed out again, this time armed with information from our concierge and a road-cum-BTS (Bangkok Tansit System: read Sky Train) map.

We walked back the way we had taken to the Emporium but this time we climbed the stairs to the Sky Train station. A few minutes of disorientation ensured because the Thai self-operated token vending machines would not accept our Baht notes and we had to change them at the counter for loose change to get the job done. We took a train to Chit Lom station and walked to Pratunam Market as this being a week-day the famous Chatuchak was closed. We explored streets lined with stores on one side and street vendors/hawkers on the other and ended up buying a few items of comfort-wear for both of us. Saw a few Thai cats ambling around the food stalls though these were not of the Siamese variety and looked just like our average strays.

Photo of BTS Skytrain Bangkok Thailand by Priya Ray Chaudhuri

We took a break from all the walking at a McDonald's on the way back to the Sky Train station but while we were enjoying our cold beverages and churros the sky grew overcast and distant thunder rumbled ominously. We abandoned our plans to visit Khao San Road at this point and quickly took a train back to our neighbourhood. The cloudburst was just about to begin so we hot-footed it to one of the many massage parlours and sat down for an hour long session of foot pampering. It felt heavenly and our tired feet thanked us for it while it poured outside.

It continued to rain as we ducked under shop awnings and umbrellas to buy various kinds of fruits and some quickly whipped up Pad Thai noodles and Chicken Satay sticks from a street vendor. Back to the hotel room and leisurely soaks-in-the-tub later, we were ready to sleep.

The next morning we got up early and got ready for a day's worth of sight-seeing around Bangkok. Our concierge had promised us a free ride to the Royal Palace so while we were waiting for the cab in the lobby we quickly grabbed a few bites from the complimentary breakfast buffet. Soon a mini van arrived and we were packed in like sardines for what seemed like an interminable ride through Bangkok. Almost an hour later the minivan shuddered to a stop and we heaved a collective sigh of relief at having reached our destination.

But alas! It wasn't the palace but a Gem & Jewellery Institute where a personal shopper tried very hard to convince us to part with our money in exchange for a pretty piece of rock. We politely declined and were then ushered back into the minivan for yet another long ride after which we finally reached the Royal Palace.

Day 3
Photo of Royal Palace Pak Khlong Chumphon Thailand by Priya Ray Chaudhuri

It was nearly noon by the time we reached the Grand Palace. At the entrance itself our apparel was deemed inappropriate for entry so we had to rent long wraparound skirts from a stall and drape them around our waists. I cannot even begin to describe the grandeur and beauty of the Grand Palace. It was a sight to be marvelled at. The Palace complex boasts of many buildings of different styles: some intricately carved wood, others gilded and studded with stones. There are long covered walkways with the walls depicting intricate battle scenes and narrating stories of the Siam of yore.

The well-manicured lawns house some topiary exhibits and the Wat Phra Kaew or the Temple of the Jade Buddha. As the story goes, while excavating the earth to lay the foundations of a royal building the workers happened upon the statue of the Buddha made of jade stone buried in the soil. This was taken to mean auspiciousness and was housed within a specially erected temple within the Palace complex.

Our awe and wonder at the sheer intricacy and magnificence of the palatial architecture turned into tiredness and hunger after a while. Gone were the thunderclouds, the sun was beating down on us as we headed to a cafe where we had an ice-cream tub each. We had a few more Wats (read: temples) to cover so we came out of the Grand Palace complex and walked around looking for the Wat Pho or the Temple of the Reclining Buddha. This was when we got scammed by a seemingly nice gentleman who told us that the Wat was shut and almost shoved us into a Tuk Tuk which took us on a short ride to the ferry pier. The driver asked us to take an expensive ferry ticket each to go see the Wat but we declined and walked down the road only to chance upon a blissful little eatery that cooked up plain white rice and chicken in green curry for us. Just opposite the restaurant was 'Wat' we were looking for ;)

Photo of Wat Pho Phra Borom Maha Ratchawang Bangkok Thailand by Priya Ray Chaudhuri

I could not capture the enormity of the reclining Buddha in bronze but we had great fun dropping coins in the bowls that lined the Wat.

By then we had decided we were going to find the Wat with the Siamese Cats. For that we crossed the Chao Phraya river in an inexpensive ferry boat ride and then took a TukTuk to the locality where google directed us. After that, we were at the mercy of the locals who did a great job of understanding our instructions which are best described as two Indian girls gesticulating wildly and making meowing sounds. In anticipation, we bought two huge bags of cat food to feed the felines we would soon meet. The mood was upbeat as we were directed to a deserted monastery where we met an elderly monk who was also treated to the same show of wild gesticulations and mewling noises to indicate our desired destination. He understood, walked us to a nearby house and fumbled with the keys. The smell of cat pee told us, from the outside, that we were in the right place.

Photo of Chao Phraya River by Priya Ray Chaudhuri

We were in Siamese cat heaven. There were easily forty to fifty cats...mostly Siamese who were taken care of by the monks. After spending a lovely hour petting and feeding the cats and talking to the monks who had almost no English it was time for us to head back.

Photo of Thailand: a rich bundle of experiences! by Priya Ray Chaudhuri

We stopped for dinner at the famous Khao San Road which they say is a must-do when in Bangkok. The street was lined with shops selling clothes and souvenirs with the occasional cocktail & beer joint breaking the monotony. As evening falls, blaring music from various restaurants compete with each other to win customers' attentions. It is a vibrant and lively neighbourhood for sure but I for one was glad we weren't living there like some of our other friends had on their visit.

Day 4

Next morning we caught the first flight out to Surat Thani and from there took a bus to the pier for a launch crossing to the idyllic island of Koh Samui. There are counters at the arrivals hall in the airport itself which allow you to purchase 2-in-1 tickets (bus and ferry) which makes life very easy.

Photo of Surat Thani Thailand by Priya Ray Chaudhuri

Our first glimpse of the green island rising out of the liquid onyx Gulf of Thailand was both exciting and calming, if there can be such a feeling! We landed and hopped onto one of the shared taxis which line the pier.

Photo of Thailand: a rich bundle of experiences! by Priya Ray Chaudhuri

We couldn't believe the opulence of our resort! For the prices, it was a steal. With a king sized bed, private balcony, pool access, huge bathtub and private was sheer luxury at budget prices. All thanks to off-season travel. We had a filling lunch at one of the numerous eateries outside the hotel and came back and stayed in the pool for a long time. At night we walked by the beach marvelling at the colour of the water. It seemed we were in paradise!

Photo of Thailand: a rich bundle of experiences! by Priya Ray Chaudhuri

The next day we got up late and had a leisurely lunch and some indulgent massages. We dropped into the Samui Mall and then walked around the town buying souvenirs for folks back home. In the evening, one of my friends who was teaching in Samui at the time, came to meet us and took us to the Night Market. We went by tuk-tuk and the moment we got off she handed us cocktails off a cart by the roadside! How cool was that!

We walked the market, fending off entreaties from sellers to buy stuff and clicking photos of the street food and this beautiful lady performing a traditional Thai dance. When we got tired of walking we had dinner at a gorgeous Italian place by the sea and came back to our hotel.

Day 5
Photo of Ko Samui Surat Thani Thailand by Priya Ray Chaudhuri

We were on "Island Time" we reminded ourselves as we rolled out of bed around noon the next day. We'd missed the complimentary breakfast but sleep was a luxury we weren't prepared to compromise on. Went swimming in the sea and then floated about in the pool. In the evening our friend took us to dinner at a different part of town and asked us if we wanted to see a Muay Thai boxing match. We were up for anything and the show was free as long as you kept buying drinks. However, just 15 minutes in and I wanted to leave. Two young boys, both below ten were throwing punches at each other and one was clearly losing. I wasn't comfortable watching, let alone cheering but the crowd (of mainly white tourists) was going wild. We said our goodbyes and came back.

Day 6
Photo of Krabi Thailand by Priya Ray Chaudhuri
Day 7

The next morning we travelled from Koh Samui to Krabi. We left at 6:30 a.m. and were in Krabi by lunchtime. Ferry to the mainland and then a car to our destination, tickets are easily bought at Samui from one of the many travel agencies. I must comment that the Thai highways are like grey silk ribbons. The drive is so smooth that we slept through most of it though the scenic views are worth staying up for. After Samui, Krabi seemed drier and sandier somehow but our room at the Ao Nang Cliff View Resort with it's rain-shower-head and tub-in-the-balcony cheered us up.

Photo of Ao Nang Krabi Thailand by Priya Ray Chaudhuri

This post would be incomplete without a mention of the mouth-watering, heart-lifting, soul-satisfying Thai food that we had all throughout. Every meal was a lesson in what contentment tastes like. Featured here, the lip-smacking Pad Thai noodles, stir fried chicken with cashewnuts, prawn in red sauce, a plate of clams and corn bread. The best bit: all of it was reasonably priced.

We walked up and down Ao Nang beach comparing the colour of the waters and texture of the sands of Bay of Bengal at Krabi to the Gulf of Thailand in Samui. We bought tickets for the 5 Islands Tour with Barracuda Tours the next day while roaming the beach promenade stores.

Photo of Thailand: a rich bundle of experiences! by Priya Ray Chaudhuri

In the evening we took a tuk-tuk ride to the Krabi night market which was again such a delight to just walk through. Delicious street food, local music, cheap clothes and souvenirs and plenty of people having a very good time. Dinner meant picking up a satay stick at one stall and nibbling on it while walking through the market, then picking up a mini-doughnut or a tall cocktail served in a bamboo stem glass and so on and so forth, till one was full. We enjoyed ourselves thoroughly.

Photo of Thailand: a rich bundle of experiences! by Priya Ray Chaudhuri

The best was saved for the last day! Our 5 islands tour! We met at the designated spot on the beach and were herded onto a boat that took us into the sea. There were at least 30 other people on-board with us. Our tour guide, Charlie was a funny chap who kept warning us about sharks and then saying that he was joking. The four main islands are Koh Poda, Koh Gai (Chicken Island), Koh Tub and Koh Mor; and the tour also stops off at the beautiful Phra Nang Cave Beach on the Railay peninsula.

There were a few high-points of this tour that I cannot omit. One was the fact that I snorkeled for the first time in my life! I was petrified of letting go but the life-vest (which everyone has to wear) buoyed me up and after a while I gathered enough courage to look into the nearly-transparent water and see schools of tiny colourful fish and some coral formations.

Photo of Thailand: a rich bundle of experiences! by Priya Ray Chaudhuri

The other was the incredible experience of walking, floating and rolling around on the sandbar that links three of the islands together. The water is just high enough to reach the ankles at low-tide and it feels surreal to watch the endless turquoise waters meet the horizon in every direction with no beach in sight. A memory for my lifetime!

Thailand will always remain close to my heart. The people were sweet and ever-smiling, the food was out-of-this-world, there is a wide variety of experiences to be had...we didn't even cover the Thai Highlands....which I promised myself will be another trip....soon! :)

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