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Koh Phi Phi & Phang Na Bay

Koh Phi Phi Island & Phang Nya Bay

 Well if you are in Phuket for a short stay and do not take these 2 tours, you are surely missing out on a lot of nature’s versatile creation.

One of the days during our stay in Phuket we opted for the Koh Phi Phi Island tour, we had already booked the tour from an agent in the airport for a good bargained price. The day to Koh Phi Phi began really early, the tour guys arranged for pick-up and drop to our hotels, the pick-up happened at 7:00 am, too early after a mad night at Bangla Road. With swollen eyes and an empty stomach and several pick-ups later we headed off to the pier where our speedboat was waiting for us.

 After a complimentary coffee and snacks and a handful of ‘how not to die’ instructions in Thai-lish (Thai + English) language we were off to explore this side of the Krabi province, Koh Phi Phi is ideally a collection of 2 large and few smaller islands as told to us by the cruise guide.

One tip: The seats inside the boat are not allotted, it is on first come first serve basis, so if you are interested to not get charred and burnt sitting outside under the tropical sun, you might as well want to grab a seat inside the cabin area asap. I did the mistake of sitting outside for a better view and ride at the expense of my nose that got tanned severely.

The first leg of the ride is calm overlooking vast expanses of blue as far as one can see, just sea and the sky around and above, it is after a good half hour ride that we could start to notice the pinnacle shaped massive rocks protruding out of the blue, it does look like a place something out of Avatar.

 The boat stops at Maya Bay, popular for the shooting of the movie ‘The Beach’. Here usually they let us go snorkeling for a while with gears provided by them. Although snorkeling here was pretty disappointing as there was no coral nor much fishes around, maybe due to the disturbance caused by the boats. We were served juices and cold drinks in the boat, no restrictions on how many you have, water bottles were provided as well.

We stopped at Phi Phi Don for lunch, the menu comprised of noodles, soup, chicken for main course, vegetables stir fried and a couple of other items, washroom facilities and free water was available as well.

 After lunch and some more time we headed off to the Viking Caves and then over to the Coral Bay. We were given free time here to do as one wishes, while we were lazing around, we saw quite a many people with head down under water. We figured this place as the name suggests was famous for snorkeling, without wasting time we headed off to get our snorkeling gear.

 What happened after that was sheer pleasure, once we started to snorkel we realized this place was abundant with coral life and fishes of beautiful colors and sizes, the water level was waist high with a bed of sharp corals, so be careful to not set your foot anywhere without seeing or you might end up cutting your feet like I did. You can carry a piece of bread or fish food to attract the fishes towards you, something a lot of tourists out there were trying. The beauty of the underwater still remains alive in my eyes. What was lovely about snorkeling here was that since the water is waist high, its safe to snorkel on your own, there are no instructors to direct you or no time limit on how long you remain under water which was the best part.

As we headed back one of the helpers in the boat started throwing some food into the sea, until 2 minutes we could not understand why he was doing. Within 5 minutes we could see a fleet of huge sea birds, not sure about the name of the kind, following our boat and making sharp dives into the water, picking up a piece of food and flying away. Watching them was so liberating, it looked something like a scene out of a Jurassic Park movie.

After our journey back to the Pier we got dropped off back to the hotel, the tour costed us around 1000 THB per head.

Next day early morning we headed off to Phang Nya Bay, the main attraction being James Bond Island.

After a late last night we hardly managed to not miss the pick-up in the morning for the trip. Sleepy eyed and with an empty stomach we pulled ourselves out of bed and headed off to another day at the sea. Having slept on our way to the pier, we woke up directly at our drop off point at the pier. Luckily complimentary coffee and snacks was available as a relief. After a quick safety session by the leaders of the boat, we headed off into the sea. The sun had no mercy on us even early in the morning. We grabbed the front deck under the sun in the speedboat, although this time we were well equipped with loads of sunscreen. Few hours into the ride, we were wide awake, all the sleepy feeling was soon gone as soon as we spotted the rocks protruding out of the waters, quite similar to the scenes out of Avatar. A handsome layer of skin tan later we reached Panak Island, here we climbed into a canoe along with a guide who paddled us into dark caves and into hidden lagoons, the experience was spectacular, this was the first time I was doing something like this and it was such an adventure like experience. We were all handed a helmet with flashlights, it felt nothing lesser than a Nat Geo guy on cave discovery mission. Its fun when the othe canoes pass you by and usually gently nudge into each other, reminded me of striking cars in an amusement park.

We headed off to the world famous James Bond Island after this.

On reaching here first we noticed the 66 foot tall islet called Ko Tapu which seemed to be a tourist hit, as it was crowded with tourists posing for pictures in front of it.

Right across it is the famous rock jutting out of the green waters called the James Bond rock made famous by the scene from the famous 007 movie. We dint really stop here for too long, a few quick snaps later , which is difficult to manage as it gets crowded around the rock, we shopped a little at the local stalls around, it does make sense to buy a thing or two from the local stalls there as it is the source of livelihood for the locals there. We were back into the boat and headed off to the Naka Island.

Lunch was served in the mean while in the boat itself. Well the lunch episode is quite interesting, a good, tempting spread of food was laid out; noodles, a big sea fish grilled and dressed to perfection, vegetables, soup, desserts and quite a few other tempting items. Since we were to busy chit chatting, we thought to get lunch after 5-10 mins. It turns out that after 5-10 mintues, the food was gone, only the fish bones were left behind. The food was attacked by all our hungry co-passengers. Although we managed to eat, but quite a few items were not being refilled, like the grilled fishes. So bad luck for us, but good luck for you guys now that you know what to do..as soon as the food it laid out, go for it ;).

So we had to do without it. So yes, ‘when the food is served’ – Attack! 😉

Few snaps from the canoeing into the caves:

Quintessential Phuket

I remember watching the James Bond movie’ The Man with the Golden Gun’, and going all gaga over the location and the scenery. I wondered where on earth this paradise existed. Few years later the beautiful rocky pinnacle island became famous as one of the best tourist attractions. I have noticed that somehow when people plan on visiting Thailand on a budget trip, they usually opt for Bangkok and Pattaya. I guess they fail to realize what they are missing on by leaving out on Phuket.

We planned a trip to Thailand and reserved a good few days for Phuket. Having spent a few days in Bangkok we headed off to Phuket. We took an early morning 6:20 am Air Asia flight from Don Mueang International Airport in Bangkok to Phuket, which was pretty okayish for the price we paid, we paid around 2500THB as return fare, the flight takes around 1hr 20mins to  reach Phuket. The view from the flight itself is mesmerizing, the bluish green ocean below and the greenery surrounding the runway is breathtaking and refreshing. The Phuket airport welcomes you with fresh blooms in every corner, its exactly what your sleepy eyes need, we left for the Bangkok airport at 3:00am in the morning, quite natural we needed this dose of freshness to get the day started.

Al the airport entrance!

 Pretty much like in India, in Phuket too inside the airport very soon we were surrounded by travel agents trying to strike a deal for the inland tours. After talking to a couple of agents we started to negotiate with an agent, we were correct in our decision of booking the tour packages from Phuket itself because as we had expected they were much cheaper than the ones online. After bargaining a little we striked a deal: 2 tours (phi phi island and James bond island tour) plus the airport pick up and drop free, seemed like a good deal. Our taxi was a sleek Camry, with a uniformed driver, fortunately he knew how to speak broken English which was a relief, he later told us that instead of booking our tours from the agent we could have booked one from the Thailand tourism office in Phuket, (so for all you guys reading this, its advisable to book your tours from the tourism office, cheaper deal). The way from the airport to the hotel  is gorgeous, big palm trees lining the smooth rippling roads, quite a splendid ride I must say.

Patong:

At the Patong beach during sunset with grey clouds in the horizon

 

A shop in Patong selling everything in pink

 Our hotel was in Patong, the prime area in Phuket. After freshening up we set out to explore the surrounding. The place is beautiful with wide palm lined roads, the hotels are spaced far from each other, hence not congested, the rippling roads and the greenery around, quite a delight. We started walking and it took us just 10mins to reach the Patong Beach, the beach road is lined up with numerous restaurants and bars, shops and flee markets, we planned to survey the entire market on foot in search of beachwear, well the choices are so many that it drives you crazy. What type do u want? Hot, covered, tiny, skimpy, one piece, 2 piece, its got it all, the shopkeepers are a little reluctant to bargain, but do give in after sometime, one con: no changing rooms available so buy at your own risk. We also found a few good souvenir shops selling massage oils, soaps and candles of very interesting shapes and sizes, if you know what I mean ;). If your heart is set on either of it, go for it since these kinds are available only in Phuket. We walked past the beach road into Bangla Road, in the day time it is like any other road with happy tourists and bars and clubs, but Bangla Road usually comes alive at night. It took us a good 3-4 hours to stop, check, buy and go around the entire market and back to the hotel. But I must say I was very pleased with the collection and variety of clothes and accessories Patong market has to offer as compared to Bangkok. Although keep calm as I found the shopkeepers sometimes being arrogant and rude. Another good thing about the place is it has 7-Eleven store at every kilometer, and its quite a life saver, for anything you need on the go.

 Bangla Road:

As the evening set in, we got all dressed up and headed off to Bangla Road, it is a straight stretch of road about a kilometer long I guess, and as expected it was booming with tourists and music, some playing live, some playing on the road. The place was bustling with energy. Everywhere you look there were pretty females all dressed up, standing infront of their respective bars or clubs with a menu in there hand, having heard a lot about Bangla Road for a lot of wrong reasons, I would like to mention that I found the place fun and happy. It’s a matter of choice, if you do not show interest I did not notice anyone trying to get too pushy, which was good. It’s a great place to go dancing and let your hair down. Almost all clubs have a counter in the front with females doing pole dancing, some doing rain dance. But yes, you cannot just walk into a restaurant playing music and get dancing, you are compelled to buy something, maybe a drink or too, if not there will be a waitress nudging you every few minutes with ‘what would you like to have?’. So either enjoy the fun from outside, or buy a namesake drink to have fun inside the clubs. Food and drinks are usually good and quite surprisingly you can bargain in that too.

As you walk further, you will be greeted with a huge walking street projector, which is quite a hit there, as you walk by it you can see yourself in the projector, pretty awesome it feels.

 Further ahead you will see an array of clubs lined up with really flashy pink, red and blue lights which is the Tiger Club, usually it charges an entry fee but has really good music and cheap drinks.

Tiger Club in Bangla Street

Outside we saw a small group of street dancers showing their moves, on the other side there was a ‘who hangs the longest from a pole’ gets a free drink, and a lot of people trying to earn themselves a free one.

As the evening turns to night, we saw a lot of lady boys dressed in cabaret costumes take to the street; they no doubt look very loud, extravagant and glamorous at the same time. Clicking a picture with them or of them is usually chargeable @ 10-20thb.

An image of one of the performers from far

We also found a lot of what should I call them , agents maybe who invite you to watch the adult, nude shows in their clubs, 1st 15 minutes of the show and a drink free. We too went into one, I would only comment that the show is very very interesting and weird at the same time, I would suggest my readers to experience it on your own instead of reading it 😉 Once in and one drink down they offered us a 2nd one for a whooping 900thb, shocked we started to leave and as soon as we got out of the club, a waiter ran after us and offered to reduce the price to 100thb for the 2nd drink. That’s the kind of bargaining that happens there, so next time before paying for something, give it a try maybe you will end up striking a really super deal.

For drinks and food we tried something different, there are many open pink vans selling drinks and food on the beach road, its fun to eat there after an exhausting night in Bangla Road.

One of the open pink bar van

The people are usually friendly and helpful. I must say that Patong has a good equation of people from all countries, quite a cultural mix. Upon recommendation we also went to Banana Club on the Beach Road towards Bangla Road, unfortunately we found it very disappointing, there is 200-300thb entry fee which covers a free drink or shot, but apart from that the club was totally empty.

The big banana in front of Banana Club

It seemed like entire Phuket had headed off to Bangla Road 🙂 No wonder its the most popular place in the city!

What you need to know about the ‘Crazy markets of Bangkok’!

Seriously, there is just one word to describe the Bangkok markets: Crazy!!!
I had one night in Bangkok! Since I was staying in a hotel in the commercial side of Bangkok, it was the best chance to explore the market scene of the city. After checking into the hotel, and resting a while I set off to explore the markets in the afternoon.
Now what’s so crazy about the Bangkok markets?

Well there are several markets situated at pockets not very far off, but what’s crazy is that they all have different opening timings, few shut off at 2pm, a few at 4pm, another at 6pm and some at 8pm. So if you think of wandering into a market aimlessly it won’t work because you might as well find out that the market is closed or about to close. And that’s exactly what happened to me by the time I reached one market that was closing, I had to rush rush rush to the other one, resulting in waste of time and not being able to shop well.

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So if you are off to Pratunam market make sure you are there well before 8pm because that’s from when the market starts closing down. It’s a famous market for shopping of clothes, more like the fashion district. It stretches into alleys in circles like a puzzle maze and its very easy to get lost and keeping looping around the same alley, so my suggestion is start from one side of the market and proceed ahead if you do not want to get caught in circles. Pratunam stretches from alleys into a shopping center usually selling goods in bulk, more quantity, lower the price. Buy 3 instead of 1, you are sure to get a better price.

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Next up is Pantip Plaza, I wouldn’t say I was very impressed by the rates here, being an Indian and having shopped in India, Nehru Place market in Delhi, India seemed to be by far much better an electronic market than this one. Also what I noticed was that the shop keepers were a little impolite and moody, suppose they din’t want to sell their stuff to you, they would quote an absurd price, naturally leading you away. Nevertheless, its worth a visit, the market is vast and totally full of electronic goods. The plaza starts closing down at 8:00ish pm.

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After dark shopping head to Khao San market, it is one market that opens in the evening as stays up till midnight. I found Khao San market lively and friendly at the same time. The shopkeepers are polite, friendly and warm. Shop for souvenirs, gifts to your heart’s content. It also has several restaurants, and it’s a delight to see the variety of cuisines it has to offer.

Bangkok will never be the same without its thoroughly crazy markets!

One night stand with Bangkok

One night stand with Bangkok

What do you do when you have one day in Bangkok and want to make the most of it, how to come up with an itinerary that makes full use of the time. Not having the luxury of too many days leaves from work, me any friends planned a 5-6 days trip in Thailand, a perfect break! According to our itinerary we had 1 day in Bangkok! And trust me we made the full use of each minute! So here we go..
The Flight:
We had booked an early morning flight, well early in the true sense. Kolkata, India to Bangkok flight, departing at 12:05 am. We had a Spicejet flight that cost us really cheap, but this was the worst flight experience in my life. To start with the seats were unusually cramped up. For a 5feet 4inch figure too it was extremely difficult to sit properly due to excessively less leg space. The flight somehow managed to have all the unruly passengers at once. There was a huge group of middle aged men who were the loudest and the most uncouth, lets blame the mid-life crisis for that. Anyways the flight was on time never the less. We arrived at 4:00 Bangkok time. The flight duration was 2 hours roughly. After a smooth Visa on Arrival process that roughly took us about an hour, we were all set to step out into Bangkok.

The Taxi ride:

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Pink taxis plying on the road

 The taxi service was pretty smooth, after having booked a pre-paid taxi we were utterly pleased to be directed towards a striking Pink Taxi. What more would be so pleasing for a bunch of girls at 5:00 in the morning, more than a hot pink taxi. That just set in the right mood. The roads were empty, clean and the sky a gloomy blue. The taxi driver was a pretty old man with wrinkles with a very warm smile. Yes he did not understand a word of English. So we have to wake our sleepy brains up to try and explain him where we needed to go. We had a hotel reservation near Khao San road. Unable to understand us and vice-versa we showed him the hotel reservation printout, although he was unable to read it. He did take help from a passerby to read him out the direction. He had lovely Thai music playing, we did not understand the language but it calmed and relaxed. Our first pic in Bangkok was one with the pink taxi taken by the driver!
Morning in Khao San road:
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Board at a cafe in Khao San

We arrived at the hotel which was perfectly place on the main road, no alleys or hassles to find out the hotel, since we had reached

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Open air street side cafe!Lovely place

early at around 7:00 am. And the check in time being 12:00 pm, we had a lot of time to laze around until we got a room. So instead we munched on a few freebies kept in the waiting area, had some fresh coffee and headed out to explore what was around. The morning walk felt lovely, fresh air, empty roads, it was just the best start to a lovely day. We kept walking by closed shops, eateries and banks until we met a guy, whom we asked if there was any market place nearby. Fortunately we were a stones throw away from the famous Khao San road. We fastened our pace. And we knew we had reached Khao San the moment we could see restaurants with lazy tourists like us and colorful eateries, roadside stalls selling local food. The road sides were lined up with tables and chairs, with empty, some full with people busy enjoying there morning breakfast.

We walked across the several restaurants admiring the various unique decors, names and themes that each place had. The entire stretch of the road somehow had a unique freshness and warm feeling to it, very welcoming and bright.
We decided upon a unique place that caught our eye. It had a very welcoming living room type décor with super comfy sofas and waitresses dressed in pink, by now pink had already seemed to become the color of Bangkok. We ordered continental food but to our surprise it was lip smackingly delicious.
There were a couple of there tourists too who interacted with us, clicked pictures with us as well. Well the one think I loved about eating in Bangkok. You do not need to pay taxes. What a relief to be able to pay for exactly what you eat, also that almost all of these places offered free wifi. Sipping on some fresh juiceOn our way we could not stop having a few tall glasses of freshly made fruit juice.
By the time we were back in the hotel it was 11:00 am and were allowed an hour early check-in.
Chao Phraya River ride:
Chao Phraya River
Chao Phraya River
At the hotel we all took a quick one hour nap while the other was in the shower, that way we had our share of power nap while utilizing the time. We were ready in sometime and also set to explore the traditional side of Bangkok, also referred to as Old Bangkok. We asked the hotel receptionist for directions around old Bangkok, and they were really helpful to guide us with all necessary details and a map.
And we took off, admiring the many shops on the way and after making our self a quick coffee and ready to eat noodles easily available in the departmental store. Within 10 minutes of walking we reached the Chao Phraya River side. The hotel guys were so helpful in advising us to not take a tuk-tuk (local 3 wheeler transport) which would cost us around 100-150 thai baht, and instead go via the quickest and cheapest transport, the ferry which hardly cost ur around 10 thai baht. Not only that the ferry ride is too beautiful. The river side if full of big fishes which is amusing to watch.
Feeding some ferocious fishes in the river
Feeding some ferocious fishes in the river
Imagine yourself in a ferry and any direction you see there is heritage and tradition and the culture of the Bangkok. The ride itself seems like an attraction. One of the local guys helped us identify the ferry with a reddish orange flag as the one that would take us.
Old Bangkok:
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Reclining Buddha
Reclining Buddha @ Wat Pho
Old Bangkok is mesmerizing with architecture that is intricate and colourful. Old Bangkok is house to most of the famous attractions like, the Grand Palace, the inspiring beauty of Wat Phra Kaew, the traditional learning centres Wat Pho and Wat Mahathat, the latter widely considered one of Thailand’s first universities and a centre for meditation. Sanam Luang, a historic park next to the Grand Palace traditionally used for important Royal or Buddhist ceremonies, and the National Gallery. We deboarded from our ferry at the Grand Palace.
Grand Palace is an epitome of wonderful thai architecture. Its intricate detailed work and maintenance is commendable. It still hosts important ceremonies today. After Grand Palace we headed to Wat Pho.
 Wat Pho or better known as the Temple of the Reclining Buddha is a must visit just to witness the magnitude and massiveness of the place. Please be aware that all these places have strict dressing rules, women are required to not wear short or revealing clothes. Although Wat Pho has the arrangement of a robe incase you are not dressed appropriately for the place. But yet it is advised to either carry a cover up change or clothes like we did as advised to us by the receptionist or be dressed in not revealing clothes. You are also required to take off your shoes before entering. What strikes the most about the place is the massiveness of the reclining Buddha. The figure is 15 metres tall, 46 metres long, so huge it would make you wonder how it even got inside the building. The Buddha’s feet are 5 metres long and decorated in mother-of-pearl illustrations of auspicious ‘laksanas’ (characteristics) of the Buddha. 108 is a significant number, referring to the 108 positive actions and symbols that helped lead Buddha to perfection.* The rest if the area too is big enough and worth taking a walk through. There are many English speaking guides but I felt its better to gain knowledge about the place online than waste 200-400 TB unnecessarily.
While these 2 attarctions were on one side of the river, the next place Wat Arun was on the opposite side of the river. We again took the cheapest and quickest way out to the other side of the river by the ferry at 3TB, it opposite to Wat Pho. Make sure to keep Wat Arun at the end of the list since it looks stunning during sun-set when it lights up. When we arrived it was still sunlight. Same dressing rules apply.
Wat Arun: Temple of the Dawn
Wat Arun: Temple of the Dawn

Wat Arun is not only beautiful but adventurous too. The Temple has a unique structure and architecture. As you start climbing up the stairs of the temple the stairs start becoming steeper and steeper, and the stairs gets narrower. It does get scary at the heighest point, we did muster up the courage to climb up but trust me looking down the stairs was pretty scary. There is a railing to hold onto for sure, I would suggest don’t miss the climb. BY the time we got down, it was just about sunset, as we made ourself comfortable on the lawn on the banks on river Chao Phraya, the temple lit up. It was so inspiring as symbolic to us to be present there to watch it light up against the setting sun.

Wat Arun bu the evening..Gorgeous sight!
Wat Arun bu the evening..Gorgeous sight

After we were done soaking in so much tradition and beauty of Thai architecture and culture we knew it was time to enjoy the night-life. Since the ferry services last only till around 7:30 pm we had to make a quick chase to get back to Khao San via ferry, we were lucky to get onto the last ferry. The river ride is even more beautiful at night with the spires of the Thai architecture lit up all around. We go of and headed towards Khao San. Its transforms into a different place at night. Unlike morning it was bustling with energy and tourists of all kinds and places. The energy is infectious that it gets onto you. After an entire evening of walking and climbing we settled down for an obvious foot massage, very easily available at evry 10 minutes distance. Trust me the foot massage acted like an energy bar for me. As it it took away all the exhaustion. We set off to explore almost the entire stretch of Khao San, it has amazing clubs and eatries. We tried the local pad thai noodles and must say it was cooked to perfection.

20141127_201348 You can also find many vendors selling fired crickets, flies, scorpions, cockroach, but incase you are 20141127_201404not a fan of fried insects you can click a picture of them or with them for 5-10 THB. Now that’s business!

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Sea food platter! YUM!
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Street side delicious street side noodles

You can see restaurants, bars, clubs of all sizes, colors and styles, and most of them seem pretty inviting with great continental or local thai cuisine. Indian food is usually expensive there. For shopping I would suggest this is not the best place as its on the more expensive side. Shopping for souviniers is easy though as bargaining is possible. With this we ended our one day in Bangkok, we made the most of it and loved every bit of it.

Stay tuned for our next blog entry on the other side of Bangkok.
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