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Wish you were here: my dad is

Blog, Destinations, Thailand, Wish you were here

Wish you were here: my dad is

2 Comments 30 October 2012

Dear Readers,

After two weeks of hanging out in Bangkok and one week in Chiang Mai, we spent most of this week on the move. It started with our return overnight train from Chiang Mai to Bangkok on Saturday. We arrived in Bangkok Sunday morning to meet my dad and show him around the city for a few days, but only a few. By Tuesday night we were on an overnight bus to Krabi with a final destination of Railay Beach.

Now let’s go though it all in a bit more detail.

My dad is here! Yesssss!

Dad and I on his first night in Bangkok.

Those of you who have been following my blog know that Bob makes it out to visit me all over the world.

Yes, my dad’s name is Bob and I am Bobbi.

So far, he’s visited me in England, Fiji, Australia, New Zealand and now Thailand. As you can tell, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. My dad is just as adventurous as me and proudly at 60 years old, he’s still up to the same antics as well. On his last visit, he went skydiving over the Abel Tasman.

As usual, I was really excited to show him around Bangkok. I’ve spent quite a bit of time in the city at this point, so I knew the spots I wanted to take him, like the Jim Thompson House, The Grand Palace, Reclining Buddha, Khao San Road and Mandarin Oriental. We also spent a few nights eating kebabs and drinking buckets around the city.

Yes, he’s 60.

I hope it’s a genial thing.

After two days of exploring Bangkok, it was time to show him why Thailand is known for having some of the world’s most beautiful beaches. Our over night bus to Railay left out of the Southern Bus Terminal, which is about 45 minutes out of the city. The trip cost THB666 and taxi fair out there about THB240. Ric and I had to make a round trip to purchase the tickets and one last trip to catch the bus, so in hindsight, it probably would have cost the same, but saved us a lot more time if we had just purchased the tickets from a travel agent in the city.

Further hindsight made me remember why we were opting for train travel this time around in Thailand. Bus travel in Thailand is really good for the price and quite comfortable, but I find it impossible to sleep in an upright position. Plus the buses often make several stops at night. The only bad thing about taking a train down south for us is that the tracks end in Surat Thani, which is still two hours away from Krabi. In the end I would have rather finish the trip in one ride.

We arrived at the station to catch a taxi (THB500 for three) to the local port where we hopped on a long-tail boat to Railay Beach, which is on the mainland, but surrounded by limestone mountains therefore impossible to travel to by minivan.

From the moment I arrived in Railay, I was in love with it. In a nutshell, it’s really chilled out beach town, with a bit of nightlife and stunning scenery. The set up of Railay goes like this.

On one side you have Railay East, which is surrounded at sea by mangroves. Because this area doesn’t have the beautiful beach, it’s where a lot of the budget or midrange guesthouses are located. We stayed on this side at Railay Viewpoint Resort in a room with a private bathroom and fan for THB700 a night. The resort was really went maintained and has a large, clean pool with numerous lounge chairs around it. Also on this side of the are popular backpacker joints, like Bamboo Bar and The Last Bar.

Joy Bar is located right next to the beach at Railay East. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Walk on the sidewalk towards the most dominant limestone rock for about 15 minutes and you’ll reach Penang Beach, which is the most stunning place in the area. Gold sands outlined by jungle and limestone cliffs, topped with warm clear waters. This is where mega lush Rayavadee is located. Rich people may get this view from their room, but it’s at a price. Budget travelers staying elsewhere get to play at it all day for free.

Sunbathers and long-tail boats at Penang Beach. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Finally there is Railay West, which can be accessed by a path cutting through inland around Anyavee Resort. It’s the only pathway you are allowed to cut through from Railay East. At the T junction, make a left. You’ll pass Utopia and a local Thai Food restaurant. Utopia plays films every night and offers yoga on the beach a few times a day. Keep following the trail through a sort of Thai main street of shops (Walking Street) until you reach the beach. This is Railay West, the best spot to watch the sun go down while sipping pina coladas.

Sunset from Railay West. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Those first few days we went a bit mad with all the luxuries Railay has to offer. I think I had a massage a day at the spa at Viewpoint (THB250). Feeling a bit tired of Thai, we opted for pizzas at Joy Bar instead of the local cuisine. The wood-fire oven-cooked pizzas and calzones are the second best I’ve had in Thailand (Pizza e Vino in Chiang Mai wins that competition), but expensive compared to local food. One pizza costs THB220-250.

One free activity Dad and I took advantage off was a trek up to the viewpoint. Along the walk from Railay East to Penang, you’ll see arrows to the viewpoint that look like they’re just pointing at the tall limestone rocks. Look closer and you’ll see ropes. That’s how you reach this scenic lookout. It really wasn’t that bad, actually quite exhilarating and the view is well worth the world. Also located in this area is a lagoon that we didn’t make it to because it got too dark.

The view from up top at Railay Beach. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Our biggest splurge in Railay was spent on diving to Koh Phi Phi with Railay Dive Center (THB3500 for two dives, lunch and rentals). Our trip left at about 8 a.m. on Friday and returned at about 4:30 p.m. The reefs around Koh Phi Phi aren’t that colorful, but you see a lot of amazing sea life.

I’ve never seen so many sharks. At one point, we had about four black tip reef sharks actually circling us. We also saw a turtle, ray, eel, octopus, lion fish and loads of nudibranchs. Plus, we swam through a tunnel, which is always fun.

Underwater shot from Koh Phi Phi. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

The only bad thing about the day was that Dad and I either had food poisoning or ate something the night prior that just didn’t agree with us. It’s the first time I’ve ever thrown up on a boat. I have a new respect for people prone to sea sickness. I don’t want to name the place or the meal we think it was, because I’ve tried both before and they were fine. I just don’t think it’s fare to completely write them off.

But a little bit of Thai belly didn’t ruin our day. It was my first dive since the Philippines and I absolutely loved being underwater. We even passed by Maya Bay, famous for the film, “The Beach”.

Altogether it’s been a great first few days in Railay. and we still have almost a week left!

Love,

Bobbi

xxx

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Wish you were here: Chiang Mai

Blog, Destinations, Thailand, Wish you were here

Wish you were here: Chiang Mai

9 Comments 25 October 2012

Dear Readers,

When I last wrote you Ric was off to boys night and I was off to be made over before heading to my own night out with the ladies. I’m happy to report that we both made it back alive…barely.

I’ll share my half of the day/night. Since I started traveling three years ago, I’ve spent my money on little else other than traveling. Once a shopaholic, I’ve bought very few clothes over the last few years, nor have I visited salons or make-up counters. My focus has been on travel and I’ve happily devoted most of my spending towards that, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t yearned to be made over or hit the mall.

So I decided to take advantage of the exchange rate and spend a day splurging on myself while in Bangkok. Most of Friday was spent at Terminal 21where I felt extremely lost, which is weird considering I used to be a mall rat from Jersey. What should have been an exciting and feel-good experience was actually no fun at all.

Busy intersection by Terminal 21. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

I have a confession to make. I don’t like shopping in the malls of Bangkok. Part of it is that all the clothes are so small, definitely not made for the majority of Western woman. Beyond that I found the sales people to not really care at all about who steps into their shop. Most owners ignored me and one offended me. Maybe that was because they knew I wouldn’t fit in their clothes.

After hours of wandering and going up and down escalators, I finally found a knockout red dress. Next step, hair. I found a salon to give me a Demi Lovato up-do for THB500, about $US15.

Dressed and ready for the night, Flick and I headed to My Bar at Dusit Thani Hotel for what may be the best ladies’ night in the world. Get this: free drinks for ladies from 7-9 p.m. every Friday. We met up with a group of teachers from her International School in Bangkok, so any questions I had about teaching in Thailand were answered. After ladies’ night we headed to Soi 4, Silom which is filled with male strippers and gay bars.

It was a long and silly evening, but we made it home and didn’t leave home once the following day.

On Sunday it was time to say goodbye to Bangkok and head to Chiang Mai. We came to the city to visit Ric’s friend, so for that, I’m happy we spent as much time here as we did, but from a travel perspective, I found Bangkok actually got a bit boring. I don’t mind that it’s busy or that it’s a bit seedy in certain areas. I just felt like after a few days there wasn’t much more to do other than drink and party. At one point on Friday I thought, ‘I’m in Thailand, what on earth am I doing in a mall right now?’.

But everyone constantly goes on about how cultured and amazing Chiang Mai is, so I thought the next stop would have a bit more of what I expect out of Thailand.

I have to admit, I was a little let down by Chiang Mai at first. Before you call me crazy and stop reading, I’ll tell you I came around and loved it in the end.

Basically, everyone constantly goes on about how cultured the city is. So I was a bit confused to see Starbucks and McDonald’s in a Times Square sort of intersection on the drive in. I’m starting to come to the realization that there are few places in the world where one can escape this.

Busy Times Square-like intersection in Chiang Mai. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

What I found in the end was that Chiang Mai is a fun and laid back city to stay in and a great base for some really cultural experiences in the surrounding areas. The old city and streets around it are filled with beautiful wats, cool backpacker hang outs and an array of Western and Thai shops and restaurants. The city really grew on me and by the end I understood why so many people end up staying there for so long.

We arrived in the city on Monday at about noon. (Tip: always add an extra two hours to train journeys in Thailand. Our journeys to and from Chiang Mai were both two hours longer than scheduled and most people I’ve talked to say the same about their own.) From the train station we took a Red Song Tao to our hotel, which is the cheapest form of transportation in the city.

A single journey on one of these red utes with enclosed seating in the back usually costs THB20-30, but the drivers pick up other people along the way so if you’re in a rush it might be a good idea to splurge on a tuk tuk, which I never found costs anymore than THB80 from one point to another in the city.

We went on a bit of a hotel tour in Chiang Mai, staying at three different places during our time there. The first was B2 Tippanet. This location of the Thai chain received mixed reviews online, but I thought it was more than perfect for the price we paid, which was about THB500. For that price we had our own private room and bathroom in a really modern hotel. The staff was kind and the hotel is less than a ten-minute walk to the old city.

That first day was a bit of a daze. Ric and I didn’t have the best sleep on our train journey in, so our only real objective for the day was to eat and stay awake until 8 p.m. Eat, we did. Thanks to Nancy Chandler’s map of Chiang Mai, we found out about a THB150 buffet at White Elephant restaurant in the Chiang Mai Grandview Hotel on Chiang Mai-Lampang Road.

Honestly, I did not expect to eat so many buffets in Thailand. I think we’re up to about six at this point.

After our feast, we walked through Somphet Market. Around here is where most of the backpacker guesthouses and bars are located. We stumbled upon Moonlight Thai Massage which sells Thai massages for THB150. If the food didn’t knock us out, the massage did. After, we did a bit more wandering then headed straight to bed. We wanted to be well-rested for the next day’s treat.

Asia Rooms welcomed me to review one of their hotels on our trip to Thailand, so on Tuesday they set us up at Yantarasri Resort for two nights. I’ve already gone on and on about just how in love I am with this hotel, so I won’t bore you all with it again. But I’ll just say, a bit of old-world Thailand, an amazing pool and terry cloth robes are what made the stay for me.

The pool at Yantarasri Resort, Chiang Mai. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

When I stay in nice hotels I like to stay in them as long as possible, so we made the most out of our little sanctuary on Tuesday, only leaving at night to visit the Night Bazaar. It’s a great place to buy just about anything, but Ric and I were really just looking to shop around the food stalls. The massive market has carts and restaurants throughout it. We decided to visit it’s food court for Khao Soi, a chicken curry noodle dish common in Northern Thailand. I paid THB30 for the dish then bought some naan bread from an Indian stall also in the food court to dip in my leftover curry.

After that meal, we decided to be serious fat kids and buy two Nutella Waffles and a scoop of Ferrero Rocher gelato to dip them in. Yes, that happened.

The food court at the Night Bazaar in Chiang Mai. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

The following day we spent more time sunbathing and swimming at our resort. That night I met up with bloggers Diana Eldman of D Travels Round and Lindsay Mc of Travel Dudes at Pizza e Vino for, you guessed it, pizza and wine. Diana has been living in Chiang Mai for a few months working with Elephant Nature Park and Lindsay just arrived in the city but I don’t think she’ll be leaving anytime soon.

Diana knows how to pick a good pizza place. I love Thai food, but I do get sick of it after awhile, so a massive pizza and wine was just what I needed after three weeks in the country. By the way, good or even average wine is hard to find in the country, if you love it as much as me go to Pizza e Vino for a fix. Everything there, including my two glasses of red was delicious.

Wine and pizza turned into just wine at Ciccia’s House on Nantaram, another great hang out recommended by Diana. I loved talking with the girls about blogging and meeting all the locals and expats that came in and out of the restaurant. Diana really has found a wonderful expat community in the city. I had such a great night with those two gals. Give me good company and good wine, and I’m happy.

On Thursday, Ric and I reluctantly checked out of Yantarasri, but we did it in style. The resort rents motorbikes for THB250 for the day, so we left our bags with the front desk, hopped on a light blue vespa and hit the road.

Ric’s favorite thing and one of mine, to do in Thailand is to rent a motorbike and just go exploring. We didn’t really have much of an itinerary, but headed in the direction of Doi Suthep, a wat on top of a hill that offers great views of the city, since so many people recommended it.

Along the way we stopped at Mon Tha Than Falls (THB100 per person and THB20 per bike to enter). We passed Doi Sethup and headed to Bhubing Palace, the Summer home of the royal family which sits further up the mountain than Doi Suthep.

Mon Tha Than Falls. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

On the way up clouds surrounded us and within ten minutes it was pouring. We ate lunch near the palace and waited for about an hour and a half for the rain to clear. Wet season in Thailand is no joke. It costs THB50 to enter the palace grounds and THB15 to rent a piece of clothing. Shoulders and legs must be covered. The palace was being renovated and the gardens we covered for the rainy season, so I don’t think we saw the palace in all its glory.

Finally, we carefully drove back down the mountain to Doi Suthep and walked up 300 steps to the wat. It costs THB30 to enter and is well worth the money and trip. The grounds are beautiful and seeing monks walk around the center with flowers, you get a glimpse into Buddhism. We spent about an hour there then headed back to Chiang Mai to plan another motorbike adventure.

Monks praying at Doi Suthep. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Without fail, every time Ric and I rent a motorbike in SE Asia, we see a monkey. It’s almost always a short sighting in which I don’t have nearly enough time to capture the moment.

This time was different.

On our way down Ric spotted a grey gibbon at a lay-by from about 100 meters away. I screamed, “Pull over!” And he did. I should have known something was wrong by the ten people with their back against the wall refusing to move. As we pulled in, Ric looked for a parking spot and I got out my camera and took a photo. The gibbon started chasing us, so I screamed, “No, Ric! Go! Go! Go!”

As he swung around the gibbon continued to go for us, still on the bike, with a ferocious look in his face and stance. At one point, Ric slowed down and the gibbon started to gain on us. It was then Ric saw a Thai guard step out with a massive knife and sped off. The monkey chased us until we were out of sight.

Just a reminder that wild animals are wild and not to be played with or tested.

We rode away laughing hysterically, but that experience could have gone very wrong.

After making it back to Chiang Mai we attempted to reach Mae Sa Falls, unfortunately it closed just before we arrived at 4:30 p.m. Nature closes? So we headed back to the resort, picked up our bags and hopped on a Red Song Tao to our third and final accommodation in Chiang Mai, Eco Resort.

This was Ric’s pick and he might be in charge of all our accommodation from now on. The resort is located on Bumrungrat Road, on the other side of Mae Ping River from the old city. We booked it ourselves through Asia Rooms to test out the company’s booking process and got a serious bargain. For THB400 we stayed in a private room with shared bathrooms in another old-world Thai sanctuary. That price included entrance to the resorts massive swimming pool, breakfast buffet and unlimited wifi. That night we did a bit of bar-hopping outside the old city, but headed home early as the next day I was visiting Elephant Nature Park.

Front house at Eco Resort, Chiang Mai. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

That Friday spent at the park was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. I’m an animal lover and it’s quite hard to see animals being mistreated in a lot of tourist activities in the country. Elephant Nature Park is a sanctuary for elephants that were once used and abused in the country’s now void logging industry. It was beautiful to see the largest land mammal on earth in a somewhat wild setting. The park’s 32 elephants aren’t forced to ride around tourists all day, nor do tricks for people in city streets. They live free in a middle ground between domestication and the wild.

I’ll write much more on the experience in the future. For now, I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to interact with elephants in a way that benefits them and the animals.

Jokia went blind, because of abuse in the logging industry she once worked. Her story is heartbreaking, but she remains extremely gentle and sweet. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

After my day with the elephants I came home buzzing. Ric and I wanted to explore a new section of the city on our last night so we headed to the river where a few guidebook-recommended restaurants are located. As we both guessed, most of the restaurants along the river were a bit out of our price range.

We looked at about four different menus, visited a few high-end antique shops on Charoenrat, the road along the river, then started to look for a ride into town. Before we could hail one down we stumbled upon a hidden gem of a restaurant and guesthouse along the river, Regina.

Located in an old, teak house, the place looked like a natural Cracker Barrel upon entering, filled with 1950s vintage signs, old photos and dolls. It had a few small circular tables and chairs set up. Plus, I noticed a proper coffee machine behind the counter. Curiosity led us to our own private dining area on the river.

I think it’s the most romantic meal Ric and I have ever had; a wooden terrace with tables lit by candle light beneath, a few picnic tables along the river, lanterns and small ponds filled the space. The place is filled with friendly cats and the prices are perfect for people on a budget, think THB60 meals.

It was the most charming end to what I came around to see is Thailand’s most charming city, Chiang Mai.

Love,
Bobbi xxx

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Wish you were here: A week in Bangkok

Blog, Destinations, Thailand, Wish you were here

Wish you were here: A week in Bangkok

2 Comments 02 October 2012

Dear Readers,

So we never made it to that drag show last Friday, but the night definitely took us somewhere. After Ric and I taught Luke and Felicity how to play beer pong at the condo, we headed out to Bar 23 for cocktails.

Bangkok is one of the most surprising cities I’ve ever visited. It literally has everything. It has your dive bars and seedy sections, but it also has mega posh malls and fancy roof bars. I was stunned again by the cities versatility with Bar 23. As I walked into the dimly lit bar, that can be found on a desolate street with zero signage, I felt like I was transported to Brooklyn.

Hipster bartenders, notes in permanent marker written all over the walls and a mix of second-hand retro furniture. It seemed to be a favorite among 20-something Westerners living and working in the city. It’s another side of the very trendy city that I never expected to see. Plus they sell THB200 Long Island Iced Teas, so there’s that.

Needless to say, we did very little during the day on Saturday. But we did make it out to Soi 5 for one of the best kebabs I’ve ever had for only THB 60. Ric and I watched a video about this kebab vendor months ago, so the meal was a long time coming.

That was good food, but nothing could top our food experience on Sunday.

Since we arrived in Bangkok, Luke and Flick, friends we’re staying with, kept secret their plans for Sunday. They gave us little clues throughout the week, but we never would have guessed something this spectacular.

They took us to a buffet at the Grand Millennium Hotel, but this wasn’t just any stuff-your-face free-for-all. For starters, the Grand Millenium is a classy establishment with a few different style dining areas from a wine room to a very modern room with a wall of windows looking out to the city.

The spread at our table by 3 p.m.

Now to the most important thing: the food. Gourmet favorites from all over the world, this buffet wrapped around the restaurant. You could literally eat anything there: sushi, dim sum, tapas, steak, lamb chops, duck, cabanara, three different kinds of caviar, even cotton candy. And it gets better, not only is the food endless for three hours, so are the drinks. This includes wine, beer and cocktails.

The meat section at our buffet. Made to order.

The buffet is available every Sunday from 12-3 p.m. and costs THB1400 per person, but they sometimes offer a deal where for every two people another two eat free. I can’t imagine a better idea for a double date.

From the buffet we headed to the nearest sports bar to watch Liverpool play Manchester United. Ric is a big Liverpool fan and living on New Zealand time for the past year, this was the first game he’s actually been able to watch live since Cambodia in May 2011.

Most of Monday was spent recovering. Good thing we have a rooftop pool! We did manage to get out to visit a Mexican restaurant called Tacos and Salsa on Soi 18 at the end of our street. I was very surprised at how good the place was. It’s really hard to find good Mexican food around the world, but this place did it right.

On Tuesday, Ric and I did some major exploring. We started out in Lumpini Park, then headed to Chinatown. After visiting the area, I read an article about the top ten things to do in Bangkok, getting lost in Chinatown was one of them and we definitely did that. We spent at least 30 minutes walking past metal shops. Eventually we made it to China Gate or Odeon Circle and started walking down Yaowarat.

There are a few Wats and museums, including the Museum of Siam, in this section of Bangkok, but honestly just being there is enough to keep you excited. Wandering down dark alley ways, lined with street food at the bottom and laundry hanging on the balconies of apartments above, walking just a little bit faster as the smell of fish becomes too strong. Experiences like this are why I travel, to get a peak into a way of life completely different to my own and just take it in.

You can find pretty much everything in Chinatown from fabric to stereo equipment. We were on a mission for food and found the best pork buns either or us have ever tried. Ric is a bit of a pork bun connoisseur so that is saying something. I wish I could tell you where exactly the food cart was where we found them and I think the vendor probably moves around anyway. Below you can see a photo of the cart we visited. Yes those are green and purple bun as well: green tea and I believe taro buns.

Best pork buns in Chinatown, Bangkok.

After hours in Chinatown, we were both exhausted. I always I get more tired than usual touring Bangkok, I think it’s a mixture of the heat and how busy the city is. Good thing we headed home too, as it started pouring rain, minutes after we walked in the door. It’s rainy season in Thailand at the moment, so pretty much every day it will down pour for about one to three hours.

Luckily, the rain cleared up long enough for us to meet up with Two Oregonians at Suda on Soi 14. One of the nicest things about being in the travel blog community is that you pretty much have someone to bump into all over the world. We’ve been Tweeting with one another for a year at least, so it’s good to put a face with a name. Maybe we’ll see you guys in Chiang Mai.

We booked our tickets to Chiang Mai on Wednesday, which I am so excited about. That’s the one place I was really sad about missing on my last trip to Thailand. We traveled by bus around the country last time, but thought we would upgrade to trains this time around. Train tickets to Chiang Mai can be purchased at Hualampong Railway Station which is at the end of the MRT line.

For all those who plan ahead, The Man in Seat Sixty-One is a really great resource for transportation in Thailand, but you really don’t need to plan too far in advance. Just visit the station a few days ahead and book then. There is a tourist information desk at the entrance to help foreigners. They pretty much take you over to the counter and buy the tickets with you. We paid THB791 and THB881 for 2nd class sleeper. The difference in price is for top and bottom bunks.

After sorting out some travel plans, we headed to The Jim Thompson House. Originally from Delaware, Thompson was an architect turned secret agent (Office of Strategic Services, precursor for the CIA) after World War II.

He was stationed in Thailand in 1945 and fell in love with the country. He found the Thai Silk Company and to this day his name is still very big in the silk clothing industry.

He started building his home in Bangkok in 1958 and the house remains extremely well-preserved. Walking around the grounds and through his living quarters is like stepping back in time. The teak house was built in traditional Thai style and filled with Asian paintings from the 17th century, porcelain from his private collection and an amazing collection of Buddha statues dating back as far as the 7th century.

The main living quarters in the compound. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

There’s an old-world side to Bangkok that I absolutely love. It’s a bit lost amongst the sky scrapers and malls that cover the city today, so it’s nice to find little gems like this here and there. Entry costs THB100 for adults.

Taking advantage of the sun, Flick and I went for a walk around Benjasiri Park, a very well-maintained sanctuary in the city. That night we headed to Soi 5 for round two of our favorite kebab vendor then over to Soi 11 to visit the touristy, but still cheap and full of character, Cheap Charlie’s for a few drinks, then stopped at one of the many VW bus/bars along the street for a few cocktails. As you can tell by the design of this site, I’m a fan of VW buses, so I especially enjoyed these bars.

It’s not called Cheap Charlie’s for nothing. Think THB70 spirit drinks and THB60 Changs. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Cocktails served from a VW bus on Soi 11. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

The next day, Ric was the first victim of Bangkok belly. Eating food so different from your own and as many chillies as he does, it’s bound to happen. But it’s never any fun.

It’s Friday and the skies are just starting to clear up. On the agenda today is a complete makeover and ladies night with Flick, which means the boys are on their own in Bangkok. Uh oh…

Until next time.

Lots of Love,
Bobbi
xxx

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Wish you were here: Auckland to Bangkok

Blog, Destinations, New Zealand, Thailand, Wish you were here

Wish you were here: Auckland to Bangkok

2 Comments 27 September 2012

Dear Readers,

Hello from sunny/rainy Bangkok, Thailand! We made it here…eventually.

In the past week, we’ve touched down in three countries. God it feels good to be on the move again. After a few sad goodbyes to our friends in Mount Maunganui and lots of cider and dancing at Mount Mellick, Ric and I left our New Zealand home of seven months for Auckland.

We’ve lived in New Zealand for the past 14 months and only spent a few days in Auckland here and there, so we thought it best to spend some time touring the country’s biggest city before leaving. Though I must admit we did more eating there than touring.

An Auckland food montage: Ric at a pork bun cart near the Auckland Art Gallery (top left), Food Alley on Albert Street (middle), Teriyaki Noodles from Food Alley (bottom) and No. 1 Pancakes on the corner of Wellesley & Lorne Streets. Photos by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

I think we were really ready to get to Asia, because throughout our “last day in New Zealand” all we did was eat Asian food. It started with pork buns in the morning, continued with Korean pancakes as a midday snack and finished with Teriyaki Noodles at Food Alley on Albert Street (Thanks to Henry Lee at Fotoeins Fotopress for the suggestion). Each meal was cheap and delicious.

After catching up with one of Ric’s friends from Port Douglas over $NZ5 Heinekens at Father Ted’s, we headed to bed early to be well-rested for a full day of flying or so we thought…

We arrived at the airport the next day buzzing about the start of our five-month vacation. We checked in, ate breakfast and bought sushi for our meal-less 10-hour Jet Star flight to Singapore. We even boarded the plane. But after about 30 minutes of sitting on it and putting up with an awful screeching noise, the captain announced that the mechanical problem on the plane was a lot worse than they first anticipated and that we would have to get off for about an hour while it was being fixed. Nek Minute: “We’re sorry to announce that Flight JQ217 to Singapore has been canceled.”

I felt my stomach drop, but thought, we’re still on vacation and we’ll just get there tomorrow. Though the delay was gutting, I must say that Jet Star really looked after us. They put everyone on the canceled flight up in a nearby Holiday Inn and provided us with breakfast, lunch and dinner, completely free. Our hotel room had a king-size bed with goose-down pillows and meals were served buffet style. We were happy.

Most amazing bed at the Holiday Inn Auckland. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

The next day, it was time to try again. Everything went to plan. Jet Star even gave us complimentary meals on the plane. You usually have to pay for everything on the budget airline. After ten-hours we touched down in Singapore, where our excitement turned to exhaustion. I slept through our two-hour flight to Bangkok and still woke up exhausted.

Luckily Luke, one of Ric’s best friends from home, was waiting at the airport for us. It was great to finally meet him after chatting with him on skype for over two years. He’s been living out here with his girlfriend Felicity for the past year, teaching.

We’ll be staying with them while in the city and their apartment is absolutely amazing. Centrally located, extremely roomy, nice bed, even better views of the city and a rooftop pool. I don’t think life could get any better.

Nothing like a roof top pool in Bangkok, Thailand. Photo by Richard John Hackey

As usual, arrival excitement fueled my body through the night, as we dropped off our bags and headed out at about 10 p.m. for some drinks. After a few at a restaurant next door to their apartment, we got right into the nightlife and headed to Soi Cowboy, which is one of Bangkok’s seediest streets. I forgot how much fun it was to just sit in a bar and watch people here. Thai guys on motorbikes, decrepit 70-year-old men with gorgeous 20-something Thai girls, neon lights, food carts. You really never know what to expect at night here.

The view of Soi Cowboy on our first night. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Luke warned us with our fourth Chang beer how bad the hangover is from it, but we kept going anyway. He was right. I think that’ll be the last Chang I’ll ever drink. It’s worth paying a few baht more to not feel as terrible as I did the following day.

Our first official day in Thailand was spent lounging, wandering about MBK, eating as much street food as humanly possible and saying, “We’re here,” every ten minutes. I even fit in a one-hour Thai massage for THB200 (about $US6). It felt like my masseuse was pushing for cracks the entire massage. Finally at the end my back completely released, clicking for about ten seconds as she bent my body back over her knees.

Release.

At night we had a few drinks at home then took our first ride on the sky train to Soi 38, where everybody ordered something different from the 12 stalls on the street. I tried egg noodle wontons with crab meat. Another amazing meal less than THB100 ($US3).

I didn’t want the day to end, but jet lag completely took over my body. It was time for bed.

As I write this, I sit next to a napping Ric and keep looking out at what is by far one of my favorite cities in the world. Still on New Zealand time, we woke up at about 6 a.m. this morning and have already spent three hours just wandering around. I don’t know if it was the condensed milk coffee or the two bottles of water I drank this morning to counter an extremely spicy breakfast, but I feel absolutely amazing.

I didn’t think it was possible, but I love this city even more. It just feels like home. No schedule or plans, I think today we might spend a few hours sunbathing and swimming on the roof, visit a drag show later and just see where the night takes us. Like I wrote before, I don’t think life could possibly get any better.

Lots of Love,

Bobbi xxx

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Travel plans for the rest of 2012 and beyond

Blog, What I'm thinking

Travel plans for the rest of 2012 and beyond

10 Comments 26 September 2012

It’s hard to believe it’s been over a year since we’ve been on a plane.

While Ric and I have both technically still been traveling this past year, living in New Zealand, we haven’t really been on the move too much in 2012. So it makes me extremely happy to announce our plans to travel for the rest of the year and into the next.

After a lot of hard work and self-control, we’ve managed to save up for a five-month holiday that will take us pretty much around the world.

Part 1: Southeast Asia

Ever since we left Southeast Asia in May 2011, we’ve been trying to figure out a way to get back. Originally we wanted to spend six months in the region after New Zealand , spending every cent to our names and figuring out what next later. But we discovered another work visa available to us elsewhere.

So we’ll just have to settle for six weeks in Southeast Asia instead. I’ll take it!

Our first stop is Bangkok, where one of Ric’s friends from home is living. We’ll spend about two weeks in the city with no real plans other than to eat a lot of street food, have a few good nights out and make it to the floating market, finally.

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Next stop is Chiang Mai, a place we both missed on our last visit to Thailand. We’ll be spending about a week there. Two places we really want to visit are Tiger Kingdom and Elephant Nature Park, beyond that I think we’ll just soak up the city.

Then it’s back to Bangkok to meet up with my Dad. We’ll all spend a few days in the city and head South to Koh Lanta and Railay.

Since visitors from the USA and UK are only given a 30-day visa to Thailand upon arrival (when arriving by plane) and we have six weeks before our flight out of Bangkok, we have to do a visa run somewhere. Why not Malaysia?

Ric and I have never been there. Two places we’ve talked about visiting are Langkawi and Penang, but we are open to suggestions and recommendations, especially on Malaysian food considering that we know very little about it.

After the visa run, we’ll make our way back to Bangkok with a few stops along the way, then we’re off to the USA.

Part 2: USA

Ric and I both have to return home to sort out visas. It just works out that we’ll be visiting for the holidays.

After being abroad for two holiday seasons, I will finally be in America for my absolute favorite holiday in the world this year, Thanksgiving. It’s the time of year I want to be back most, so I’m extremely happy to not only be there with my family, but also to introduce Ric to his first real Thanksgiving.

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Most of the time spent in the USA will involve catching up with family and friends, but we will fit in a few visits around the Northeast, including Niagara Falls, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater and New York City. We might try to fit in a trip to Key West, but it depends on time and money.

Part 3: England

We’ll arrive in England just before Christmas. It’ll be Ric’s first time home in three years and my first trip home with him. He’s from a village called Bollington in Cheshire. I can’t wait to meet everyone he’s told me about and spend my first Christmas in England, which so many people have told me is amazing.

Photo courtesy of Bollington Photos.

Like with our trip to the USA, in England our only real intentions are to spend time with family and friends, but we’re going to fit in a few visits around the country. We’ll definitely be spending a few days in London. We also want to see Stonehenge.

Part 4: ?

I don’t like announcing plans that aren’t for certain, but something big is in the works, so stay tuned!

What do you think of our plans? Do you have any suggestions for the regions we’ll be visiting? Please share!

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What I’m thinking Friday, 13 April

Blog, What I'm thinking

What I’m thinking Friday, 13 April

5 Comments 13 April 2012

Travel is always on my mind. I read loads of travel blogs, watch travel videos, dream of destinations and even plan trips in my head when I have a spare time to zone out. So I thought, why not share these thoughts with my travel-enthusiastic readers.

This is the first edition of “What I’m thinking”, which is pretty self explanatory. In this weekly series, I’ll include two to three blog posts and videos that have got me thinking in the week prior.

Also included in these posts will be a random travel fact that I probably wondered about during the week and Googled the truth. Since I think travel is a lifestyle, not just a trip, each week I’ll write about something special I’ve discovered in my current backyard, wherever in the world that may be. Finally, I’ll ask a travel question that has been on my mind during the week.

Now that we’ve gotten through the rules, I’ll let you know what’s been on my mind this week.

What I’m reading

There has been so much positivity in the travel community this past week. I’ve been reading a lot recently about ethical travel. D Travels Round even hosted a chat on the subject last Friday. It’s really inspired me to think about how I travel and change it a bit to be more beneficial to the land and communities I visit.

While traveling I’m always on a budget or trying to save, but it’s important to give a little back too, whether it be with time or money.

Amanda at A Dangerous Business has teamed up with Plan and Intrepid Travel to raise money for Project SAMA. The project attacks gender inequality by making early education available to girls in rural communities.

In a totally unrelated posts, Man on the Lams wrote a post about some disturbing lego scenes he noticed during a trip to Legoland in Florida. The post is a good laugh. I especially loved his photos of the crazy cat lady and a lego-style Heimlich maneuver.

What I’m watching

Obviously, Casey Neistat’s “Make it count video” is going to get a mention here. The video has been popping up everywhere this past week and it should be. The filmmakers ten-day trip around the world is exciting and inspiring. I love everything about this video, the locations, the music and the quotes.

The next video turns my absolute favorite animated film, Up and makes it into reality. A clip from the National Geographic series “How Hard Can it Be” tests the Up theory. Can houses really fly with the help of balloons? Find out…

What I’m Googling

Table talk with a few Englishmen last night led us all to question, why do Americans call the English limeys?

According to Urban Dictionary:

“A word Americans use to describe an English or British person. Comes from when British sailors used to eat limes to avoid scurvy.”

http://www.lynpaulwebsite.org/

What I’m seeing

We’ve been living in Mt. Maunganui now for about two months, so there is still loads to discover in this area. This past week I visited Tongariro National Park with some work mates. I’ve been looking forward to walking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing for a long time.

Photo of Mt. Ngauruhoe by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Ric and I tried once about two months ago, but it was too foggy. The weather on my crossing this past week was perfect. I’m no longer aching from the walk, but I won’t be doing anything like that again any time soon.

What I’m planning

Ric and I have been talking about going back to Thailand since we left last May. We both fell in love with the country last year and I have a feeling it’s going to be a place we revisit several times in the future.

We spent almost two months in Thailand last year, mainly exploring the south, but there is still a lot more of the country we want to see. We are planning to visit again this year and base ourselves in Bangkok. It’s a great city and now one of Ric’s good friends is living there, so we’re looking at spending about a month in the city.

Since we’re visiting Bangkok for so long this time, we thought maybe it be a good idea to rent an apartment for the month rather than just a room at a guesthouse. I’ve started researching, but I would love to hear others’ advice on the matter.

What are good websites to search for affordable apartments in Thailand?

Should I wait until I arrive in the city to find an apartment or prebook?

That’s what I’ve been thinking about this week, now I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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Mandarin Oriental Bangkok: An experience

Destinations, Thailand

Mandarin Oriental Bangkok: An experience

2 Comments 27 May 2011

Any trip to the Mandarin Oriental in Bangkok, Thailand includes much more than what you come for or what you’ve ever imagined.

The first thing to lure me into the infamous hotel was a blurb in Lonely Planet’s Southeast Asia on a shoestring, saying Somerset Maugham, one of my favorite authors, stayed there. The Razor’s Edge author is one of the hotel’s many famous guests. Lonely Planet’s guide suggests readers visit the hotel’s Author Wing.

So I did.

From the moment I arrived, a simple tea at the hotel felt like something much more. Before finally settling for wicker seating in the front of the Wing, My friend and I peaked around the famous dining area to find a balcony where musicians play and a small library featuring classic novels in what looked like their original publication.

We feasted on our three deck serving of cakes and small sandwiches as we shared tea pretending we were living another life.

That trip to the Mandarin Oriental was on my second day in Thailand as well as second day of a two-month, backpacking tour of southeast Asia with my boyfriend Ric. Lucky for me it wouldn’t be my last trip to the famous hotel. In fact, I paid the place one last visit a day before leaving Bangkok for America. Closing the trip just as I started it.

But instead of visiting one of the hotel’s restaurants, this time I visited its spa. And trust me, after two months of backpacking-it was much needed.

Photo courtesy of Mandarin Oriental.

Photo courtesy of Mandarin Oriental.

Ric and I pulled up to the front entrance of the famous hotel by taxi to be greeted by a man in an old-fashioned, Thai military uniform. From the moment we stepped out of the taxi, the hotel’s 135-year history and glorious decor unfolded layer upon layer.

The doors opened into the hotel lobby, but seemed to open into another world. The entrance is brightly lit by a wall of windows, which stretch to its high ceiling. Wooden bird cages hang from the top and fresh flowers decorate the bottom.

At the entrance one member of the hotel’s team of smiling hospitality staff wearing traditional Thai dresses, asked how she could help. She led us to the Oriental Spa pointing out the hotel’s pool and a restaurant, among other things along the way. We arrived at the Mae Nam Chao Phraya River, which runs through Bangkok, and she informed us that one of the hotel’s ferries would arrive shortly to shuttle us across the river to the spa.

Photo courtesy of the Mandarin Oriental.
Photo courtesy of the Mandarin Oriental.

I could easily see Somerset Maugham, the author that first led me to this grand establishment, cruising around on the glossy wooden boat I was on now, occasionally leaning over to scribble something down in a small notebook.

Ric and I both could have easily spent the day wandering around the hotel and been happy, but we had something even better planned, 90 minutes of bliss at the hotel’s spa.

Wooden chairs line the balcony leading up to the spa’s doors where people can take off their outside shoes and put on hotel slippers. Not long after noticing the chairs, a fresh faced Thai woman in beige, traditional garb came out to greet us and start our spa experience.

She served us bale fruit tea, iced, then placed slippers on our feet and let us know about the service we would be receiving. We were scheduled for The Oriental Signature Treatment, THB 4,500, which is a massage featuring both Thai and European techniques.

After a short and pleasant introduction, our masseuses Siriporn and Chanya came out to greet Ric and I and lead us to to our suite.

As I said before, nothing at the Mandarin Oriental is just a service, it’s a total experience. The suite where Ric and I were to receive our treatment came with robes, a shower, which converted into a steam room, a welcome package with toiletries and more. Our masseuses gave Ric and I a few minutes to make use of the suite’s facilities.

After getting to know the room we laid down side by side on firm white pads and waited for our masseuses to re-enter.

Before starting the massage, my masseuse Chanya asked me to choose which oil I would like her to use during my treatment. I chose the spa’s invigorating oil, which smells of peppermint, rather than its romance oil which smells of lavender.

Starting at the feet, Chanya released two months of aches and pains that came from carrying a 20-kilo bag across three countries and the usual harsh care people have for themselves when their only concern is travel.

Photo courtesy of Mandarin Oriental.

Photo courtesy of Mandarin Oriental.

She worked her way up my entire back, not missing an inch. She followed that doing just the same to my front. Her style of massage at this point felt generally European, but the focus on pressure points was not something I had felt before visiting southeast Asia.

After a thorough massage, she went into the traditional Thai technique of stretching and cracking my hip joint, ankles and more. A mixture of the two types of massage techniques not only left me feeling relaxed at that moment, but invigorated over the next few days.

The spa treatment went way too fast. But our experience wasn’t over yet. At the end our masseuses gave us the choice of ginger or lemon grass tea. Once they served our choices they welcomed us to take our time in the room and leave when we were ready. It was hard to even move after feeling so at peace.

Obviously not everyone’s southeast Asian travel budget can include a trip to the Mandarin Oriental’s spa. But no trip to Bangkok is complete without just a visit to the famous hotel. However, if you can fit in something more than a visit, do it. A trip to their spa made my body forget it ever traveled southeast Asia, but gave my mind an experience it will never forget.

Thanks to the Mandarin Oriental Bangkok for sponsoring this post. Visit their website, become a fan on Facebook and follow them on Twitter. But most importantly, visit them in Bangkok at 48 Oriental Avenue in Bangkok.


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