(Thailand) Bangkok >>> Khao Yai N.P. >>> Surat Thani >>> Koh Phangan
7/9- Mall Hopping and Experiencing Food Court Paradise!
7/10- Touring around Temples, Cruising the River, and Partying on Khao San Road!
7/11- Travel Day up to Jungle Planet
7/12- Gibbons and Elephants in Khao Yai National Park!
7/13- Travel back to Bangkok Airport and Fly to Surat Thani
7/14- Bus and Ferry from Surat Thani to Koh Phangan
7/15- Adventuring around the island on our Scooter!
Mall Hopping and Experiencing Food Court Paradise!
+ At the hostel we did our laundry since it had been almost 3 weeks and it was only 10 baht (25 cents) to use the machine at hostel! Then we hung it out to dry in the huge upper floor of hostel that was just an unfinished concrete room with lines strung across it.
+ We spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon doing more work and research online. Even though we often despised spending so many hours with our faces buried into our devices comparing options and prices, it was one of the necessary components to long term travel. Especially if you wanted to stick to your budget.
+ We were often tempted to choose the easiest (and usually most expensive) options to save ourselves the hassle. When you have more time than money, we had to have days doing these types of things no matter how frustrating.
+ After a few hours, we finished making decisions and eventually booked transport down to Koh Phangan as well as our accommodation in Surat Thani. It took forever though! Ugh! Sometimes we feel as if we’ve gotten worse with this aspect of travel as time has worn on. We much prefer to only have a few options to choose from for accommodation as opposed to hundreds or thousands!
+ Since we were both hungry and eager to get out of the hostel, we got an Uber to the MBK and Siam Paragon shopping complexes.
+ While walking around outside, we stopped for a snack at the Hokkiado cheese toast stand and took pictures in front of the Hello Kitty House! There were lots of Japanese and Chinese cultural influences everywhere! Also hoards of Japanese and Chinese tourists too.
+ The Siam Center was a shopping center with a huge comic book store, pedal bike raft things, giant drones, even a very overpriced Outback Steakhouse! (The first one we’d seen since leaving home!)
+ The food court had a little bit of everything! Similar to food courts in Singapore, but cheaper. You could get any nationality of Asian food. There was even a shop with huge desserts that were close to $100usd! We also passed stands of small cute stylized popsicles, mini lava pancakes, and of course Liz’s favorite Milk Tea.
+ For dinner we decided on a Teppanyaki place (similar to Kobe’s Steakhouse back home) where they cooked our meals right in front of us at the table. Sadly they didn’t have all the fun theatrics that usually go along with it.
+ After dinner and a milk tea for Liz, we moved on to Siam Pargon. This shopping center was realllllly nice. All the stores were nothing but luxury brands that were way out of our price range even at home and definitely even more so now that we were traveling.
+ We bypassed all the shopping and went directly to the food court. This food court was even bigger than the one we had just left with tons of sit down restaurants serving every type of cuisine. After walking around inspecting all the different offerings, Corey got a really delicious and cheap McFlurry from Mcdonalds (we had to stop by and check out the Thailand menu!) and Liz got another Milk Tea. Yummmm caffeine!
+ Our last stop for the night was the MBK Center which was also supposed to have a good food court. Unfortunately we arrived just as everything was closing up (it was closing early due to it being a Sunday and a Holiday). The mall was much more run down, and physically stinky, but had tons of cheap electronic stores! We ducked into one that hadn’t shut its doors yet and bought 2 new phone chargers since ours are loose and wobbly.
+ We raced back downstairs to the McDonalds that was just outside to use their wifi and call an Uber to get home. They were just closing up, but we quickly got wifi and booked an uber to pick us up on the smaller street that was back across this highway. After requesting it we had to sprint across the street to make sure we didn’t miss it! Luckily we saw it driving past us so we hopped in!
+ All of these Uber pickups would be much easier if we had a Thailand SIM card, but every 7/11 we went in trying to find one was sold out of the ones we needed.
+ The Uber dropped us back at our hostel and we took showers and got in bed. We tried to book our accommodation in Koh Phangan, but got frustrated after a while of having a million options and not knowing where on the island we wanted to stay. So we just watched some 30 Rock episodes to cheer us up and then went to sleep.
Touring around Temples, Cruising the River, and Partying on Khao San Road!
+ First thing in the morning we decided on an area in Koh Phangan and then finally picked a place to stay. We seriously were getting tired of this aspect of travel as sometimes we felt like we were choosing the wrong place or hostel no matter what we did.
+ Not wanting to waste any more time inside, we headed out into the city for a full day of exploring.
+ First, we got an Uber over to a shopping complex near the Grand Palace where we ate some lunch. Then we walked the remaining mile or so over to the entrance of the Palace (which we discovered was on the other side of where we’d walked from, ugh).
+ When we tried to enter the palace, the guard wouldn’t let Corey in because he wasn’t wearing long pants. Liz had brought her sarong to wrap around her legs. So we went across the street to one of the stalls selling sarongs and baggy pants but they wouldn’t sell a sarong to Corey (as they were only meant for women apparently) and they wouldn’t let Corey try on any of the pants before he bought them. We were pretty sure they’d be too small and didn’t want to waste money but they kept shouting “No buy, no try!”. Such a stupid policy!
+ We were getting frustrated because the time to actually go into the temple and explore was quickly disappearing before closing and we didn’t want to leave without visiting since we’d made such an effort to get over here. Luckily a random guy on the street was walking around trying to sell a pair of elephant pants and let Corey try them on before buying. They were extremely tight, but they would work for this temple and after some haggling, we ended up paying only US $2.
+ In the Grand Palace, we saw lots of beautiful sights, including the Emerald Buddha, Gold and White Temples, and the Palace itself which had once served as the palatial residence of the King.
+ Before exiting, we saw hundreds of locals all dressed in formal black clothes entering the Palace grounds. They had been lined up for hours outside and were all coming in to pay their respects to the King. Interesting!
+ Next up was a short walk to another temple called Wat Pho. At the entrance to Wat Pho, the ticket guy reminded Liz to wear her sarong but said Corey didn’t need to wear long pants because “Man not sexy!” Lol!
+ This temple was different from the other one but just as interesting. The main attraction here was the giant gold Reclining Buddha that stretched out to over 47 meters long!
+ On the temple grounds, we saw lots of cute cats wandering about and we also saw some real monks dressed in their orange robes going to a temple room to pray.
+ It was only a short walk from there to the river where we found the ferry port and took a short ferry across the river where we would be able to catch a tourist boat. While walking to that other boat, we walked through the grounds of the Wat Arun temple. It was very pretty but still under construction so we didn’t spend much time there.
+ This tourist ferry would take us up and down the river. We chose to ride it South and rode it all the way to the terminus which dropped us off at Asiantique. Along the way, we got some great views of the city and noticed that all the hotels got bigger and fancier the farther South we got!
+ Here, there was a new fancy shopping center and outdoor mall complete with a ferris wheel, boutique stores, and many smoothie stands! First we got a watermelon/cantaloupe
smoothie (soooo good) but a little while later we finally tried some Durian fruit! We split a Durian shake and although it was tasty (very different from other fruits though!) by the end decided we had definitely had enough and didn’t need to try that again.
+ From there, we took ferry back North to a pier where we thought we could catch another boat to Chinatown but we learned they had all finished for the day. We were near the train station but unfortunately our hostel wasn’t anywhere along a train line so that wouldn’t help much. So we just started walking North and eventually found a McDonalds and used their free wifi to book an Uber to Chinatown.
+ We had high expectations for this area but found Chinatown to be extremely small and disappointing. We didn’t find any appealing street food, but did see some huge shark fins. We considered that practice to be horrible but the Chinese people clearly loved their shark fin soup!
+ This had been a very rushed and stressful day for numerous reasons plus we both felt like we were melting into a pool of sweat.
We wanted to end our day on a relaxing note. We saw a massage parlor and ducked inside to get some cheap foot massages. They ended up being super disappointing and put us in an even worse mood than when we started! Corey’s massage was only about 15 or maybe 20 minutes instead of the 30 we had signed up for. I guess you get what you pay for in Chinatown 😦 . Corey’s massage was the worst he’d ever had and we felt frustrated we couldn’t even relax during foot massages today!
+ Walked a bit more through Chinatown then found a Starbucks to call our 3rd uber for the day. This time we just got a ride back to Khao San road. Because it was already 10pm, the whole place was a crazy party atmosphere like we’d heard it would be. Very different from 2 days ago!
+ We split a bun (hoagie like sandwich) from a restaurant called Suzie Wong’s and then got 2 beers and walked around Khao San people watching. There were tons of food vendors selling fried scorpions and all sorts of other bugs (including tarantulas!) but we didn’t actually see anybody eating them. Besides lots of bars, we also saw multiple advertisements for sex shows and “ping pong” shows.
+ After that we walked down the next street which was one street back from Khao San. It was still plenty lively but much less insane and more our style.
+ Got a tuk tuk ride back to our hostel. Tuk tuks here are much bigger than the motorbike with attached carts we are used to squeezing into. These tuk tuks are the same idea but a much bigger bike (more like a Harley) and have a large “cab” big enough to fit 4 people!
Back at the hostel we happily took some showers which felt amazing after sweating non stop all day long.
+ Then we relaxed in our comically hard bed for a bit watching some shows on the tablet before our last sleep on Bangkok.
Travel Day up to Jungle Planet
+ Woke up, packed, showered, checked out of Thaitone Hostel and caught an Uber to the bus station. With all the traffic it took almost an hour to get to the bus terminal!
+ Ate a quick KFC lunch at the bus terminal. (KFC pops up everywhere! It’s so random!) Boarded a “VIP” bus up to Pak Chong. The ride up North took 3 hours during which Corey read a Thailand guidebook along the way and Liz checked all the highlights in another guidebook.
+ In Pak Chong we found the station where the blue pick up trucks gathered. A nice Thai man with a hot pink sweater and a huge smile pointed out the driver to us and made sure we got on the right truck. The truck slowly filled up with mostly school children and a few women. About 30 minutes later when the truck was packed, both the seats inside and people hanging on to the back, we all departed Pak Chong heading south towards Khao Yai National Park.
+ During the hour long ride that involved frequent stops to drop people off and pick up new ones (just like the collectivos in Latin America), Corey read another Thailand Guidebook. We were the only tourists in the back of this bus (Corey was the only guy) but we noticed how happy everyone seemed. They were all smiling and enjoying themselves (except the teenage girls whose faces were just buried in their smart phones watching YouTube the whole ride!).
+ We got dropped off along the main road and had to walk the remaining few hundred meters to the place we were staying called Jungle Planet. The name reminded us of the song “Jungle Boogie” and we had been singing it during the bus ride every so often.
+ Met the owner (Paphon) and checked into our nice big room with A/C (so welcomed!) and a mildly soft bed. No more sleeping on a plank of wood, hooray!
+ Hung out in the room for about an hour and then headed out to get dinner. Paphon offered to drive us so we didn’t have to walk on the dark and muddy road with packs of wild dogs barking at us. Very nice of him!
+ The restaurant staff didn’t speak any English and their menu also did not contain any words we could understand so with the help of Paphon, Corey ordered some mystery pork dish and Liz played it safe with Pad Thai. Both were decent but way overpriced considering where we were (the bill was also a surprise since none of the food items had prices next to them!).
+ Paphon even picked us up and drove us back to the hostel after dinner. After some showers, we spent the rest of the evening relaxing and watching the movie “Up in the Air” and a few episodes of Brooklyn 99.
Gibbons and Elephants in Khao Yai National Park!
+ Today’s adventure was a day trip into Khao Yai National Park with Paphon as our tour guide. We climbed into the back of his shaded truck and since we were the only guests staying at his hotel that night, we were getting a private tour!
+ Paphon briefly explained the agenda for the day and then we all drove into town for breakfast. There was a person grilling some chicken and pork kebabs that smelled delicious so we each got a few of those along with 2 packets of sticky rice. All for only US $1!
+ Next, we drove down into the National Park and before long, Paphon pulled the car over and pointed up into the trees. We climbed out to get a better view and saw the Gibbons he spotted. We ended up standing there for a while watching 2 different groups of Gibbons play around in the trees. The males were having a fierce stand off that involved lots of whooping and hollering and would sometimes swing rapidly from tree to tree just a few meters above us! They reminded us of really fast sloths!
+ Following that lucky encounter, we made a brief stop at the visitor center and then started hiking with a park ranger on a 2 hour journey through the jungle.
+ We saw a “Giant Squirrel” that was about 3 times larger than a normal one and had a black body with a yellow on it’s abdomen. We also saw a deer and a few hornbills fly overhead. The hornbills made the loudest whooshing sounds when they flew!
+ There were also lots of Orb Weavers and other humongous Banana-type spiders everywhere and we did our best to duck under and avoid them.One thing we could not avoid were getting a bunch of leeches on our shoes and pants. Thankfully Paphon provided us with big leech socks to wear that basically act as another border between your skin and the leeches. Although we had a bunch of leeches try to get us, none were successful. Hooray!
+ Once we finished the sweaty hike we were reunited with Paphon and climbed into the back of his truck again to continue onward.
+ While driving along, we saw some barking deer chasing each other around. They hopped so gracefully and looked almost like gazelle.
+ Immediately after that we saw a huge male Asian Elephant walking down the road towards us! Paphon backed up and out of the way so that the bull Elephant would not charge us or his car. The elephant continued to ramble down the road and we stood a safe distance away watching the huge creature forage for food and check out buildings to see if there was anything he could break into.
+ This elephant was so much larger than the Pygmy elephants we’d just seen in Borneo! After 20 minutes or so, we decided to move on.
+ Lunch was at a little cafeteria area in the far Eastern section of the park and while waiting for our food, we saw a big water monitor lizard. Over lunch we talked with Paphon and discovered he has been to Orlando! Many years ago he worked for Disney cruse line! Cool!
+ When we finished lunch, we went to the waterfall from the movie “The Beach” to snap a few photos. Since it was wet season, the waterfall was much bigger and more powerful than the one in the movie. Plus we weren’t allowed to jump off of it or swim at the bottom like Leo had done! Lame.
+ Paphon then took us to the Southern end of the park. Along the way we saw a few really large Sambar deer. They were much bigger than U.S. deer and we hadn’t even seen a male one yet!
+ Hiked out along a 1 km trail to the national park’s tallest waterfall. Since it was rainy season there was a massive amount of water and we were getting sprayed even though we were really far away. On the pathway we saw a really weird looking caterpillar, a ton of pretty butterflies, a regular type squirrel (just with big yellow/orange markings on his back), a big slimy snail (Corey’s favorite!) and a big skink too.
+ On the long drive back out of the park, we saw a massive Crested Eagle and a huge pack of Pig-Tailed Macaques roaming around on the road as if they were a gang protecting their turf.
+ Back in our room, we took showers and relaxed for a few hours until dinner.
+ This time Paphon took us to a different place a little further down the road and we both enjoyed our meals more than yesterday. Plus they were each less than half the price! Win win. The people were also very friendly! After the meal Paphon helped us to get the SIM card set up correctly in Liz’s phone while we watched some Thai soap operas with the 2 women who worked at the restaurant! They programs were just like the ones at home with ridiculous love stories and drama! The two ladies were intrigued that we were watching with them, they even turned the TV so we could see better! Lol!
+ The rest of the evening involved packing up our bags for the early departure tomorrow and then taking care of a few things on the internet. We were both tired when we finally laid down to relax in bed. It had been a fun-filled day!
Travel back to Bangkok Airport and Fly to Surat Thani
+ We had the choice to either sleep in and have to wait around for an unknown amount of time for a collectivo-truck to take us back to Pak Chong, or force ourselves to get up early and catch one of the many that would be passing by before 8 am. We reluctantly chose to be responsible adults and get up at 7.
+ So once we reached the main road, we stood there waiting for a truck to come along so we could flag it down and hop aboard. Our early wake up paid off and it was only 2 or 3 minutes before a truck pulled up and we hopped in for the hour long ride back to Pak Chong.
+ In Pak Chong, we knew there was a train option to get to the Bangkok airport, but it wouldn’t have gotten us there until almost 2 pm. Instead we opted for the minibus and it worked out wonderfully as the driver (while speeding like crazy the whole way) dropped us off right at the airport itself! What service!
+ We were actually a whole 7 hours early from when our flight would depart and we couldn’t even check in and drop our bags for another 4 hours! Luckily, there was a Priority Pass lounge on the “land” side so we headed there (with low expectations). However we were delighted to find it had a ton of food and drink options, great wifi, comfortable seating areas, and we were the only ones there! Sweet!
+ The next 4 hours flew by incredibly fast as we messed around on our phones using internet for the first time in a few days. Corey had a few different Thailand beers and some type of spicy pepper pork dish which was the best food he’d had in all of Thailand! Liz enjoyed some her coffees and somehow resisted using the fountain soda machine!
+ Eventually we had to say goodbye to our private slice of paradise and drop our bags and head through security. It was only a matter of minutes though until we’d reached the next set of lounges on the “air” side and settled in there for the remaining few hours until our flight departed. These ones were a little fancier with less food options, but the options they did have were more upscale.
+ Our flight was only about an hour long. During that time Corey finished Season 5 of Orange is the New Black and Liz wrote some emails out to friends we’d met on the road.
+ With our bags in hand at the airport, we hopped onto a shuttle bus to take us the remaining half an hour into Surat Thani. On the way, we met a really nice couple from Spain who were also headed to the islands and we talked with them using a mixture of Spanish and English the whole time. We amazed ourselves with how much Spanish we remembered during the conversation, even though it had been a whole year since we’d left Spain (or any Spanish speaking countries)!
+ After we checked into The Centrino Hotel around 9pm, Corey headed back down to the street to get some dinner for us and then ended up getting a haircut and shave as well from the little barbershop across the street. The barber spoke absolutely no English but by using a lot of hand gestures, it worked out pretty well in the end. It was probably the most thorough cut and shave he’d had in quite a while!
+ We were both exhausted and only stayed up using our devices until midnight before the sleepiness took over completely and we passed out.
Bus and Ferry from Surat Thani to Koh Phangan
+ Around 11:30 we checked out and walked 10 minutes down the road to the Raja Ferry office. We checked in and while waiting around in their air-conditioned room, we ate some fried chicken from a nearby food stand. It was really really good! The people of Thailand sure knew how to cook fried chicken!
+ It turned out we were the only passengers heading to the ferry port so we enjoyed a nice private van ride there and then waited around until the actual ferry would depart for Koh Phangan.
+ On the ferry we watched the movie “Priscilla: Queen of the Desert” which was really weird but not too bad.
+ We had expected the ride to be beautiful but the weather was bad with rain and gray skies everywhere so it wasn’t as picturesque as we’d hoped.
+ When we arrived, a truck from our Lime n Soda resort was waiting for us and drove us over so we didn’t have to walk in the rain.
+ Once we’d gotten checked in to our little round room, we headed out on foot to explore the little Thong Sala area. We looked at a few roadside shops and eventually found ourselves at the nightly street market.
+ We sampled a few different foods and Liz had herself her favorite milk tea too! Afterwards Corey had an hour long traditional Thai massage while Liz hung out in a coffee shop and did some shopping! For some reason Liz didn’t want a massage (is she an alien?).
+ Then we walked a different route back so we could see other parts of the little town.
+ Back in our lovely little air conditioned bungalow, we relaxed in bed and researched and emailed a few different scuba companies before going to sleep.
Adventuring around the island on our Scooter!
+ It felt glorious to sleep in without any obligations or the brutal heat and humidity waking us up (our first time since entering Thailand!).
+ We didn’t exit our room until the afternoon and the first thing we did was to rent a motor bike from our resort so we could get around the island easier. It was only $7.50 for the whole day!
+ Next we headed over to a restaurant we’d read about called Ando Loco to eat some really cheap and yummy tacos. At only $1/taco, they were a steal!
+ Drove to the south end of the island to an area called Haad Rin. Famous for it’s Full Moon parties but we found the area to be pretty dead and disappointing. Lots of stuff closed and the beach wasn’t facing sunset.
+ Enjoyed some happy hour beers while reading our books. Got free tank tops with the order!
+ Drove back up to the Thong Sala area. Went to the Saturday Walking Street night market. They had a bunch of food options. Liz got a cantaloupe Thai tea with jelly (delicious!) and some mango and sticky rice.
+ Corey was waiting at a booth to get some papaya salad (a Thai specialty) and the people working there knew he was waiting and even spoke with him a little bit. For some reason, they kept skipping over him to give food to Thai people who had walked up and ordered after him. The first few times was somewhat understandable but eventually after 20 minutes or so it really got on his nerves and he asked why he was getting skipped to which they replied “they our friends”. So they clearly didn’t care about other customers or have any kind of etiquette or decency so he left. Some people are just inconsiderate jerks, no matter where they’re from.
+ So instead of that food, he grabbed some satay sticks to go and then we headed over on our scooter to Moonlight Cinema.
+ We had read about this place in a little tourist book and today happened to be the cheap day. So it was only $1.50/person! To listen to the movie, they gave everyone wireless headphones instead of just playing it over loudspeakers. Great idea !
+ The dumb papaya people had caused us to be a few minutes late so finding a seat in the dark was tough. We settled into a spot though and after eating, say back to enjoy the movie “Life”.
+ After the movie we made a quick stop at the grocery store and then scootered back to Lime n Soda. It was so nice having our own transportation again!
+ The rest of the night we watched some Last Week Tonight episodes and prepared for our early scuba day tomorrow.