Category Archives: Thailand

Goodbye Thailand

We spend our last three days in Thailand in (yet another) Bangkok apartment that we’ve rented via airbnb.com . It’s just across the street from the previous one we’ve stayed at, same great location at less than half the price … but without the pools and view that we had enjoyed so much when we were here a month ago.

We’ve decided to take it easy (which means even less sight seeing) for our last days here. A night out with a friend we know from California (Vertigo Skybar) …

… a movie with the kids (they hadn’t been to a movie theater in almost a year) …

… a canal tour with a long tail boat we rented …

… and a sun set drink at the Oriental.

Onward to Istanbul!

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Hua Hin

I wasn’t so sure about Hua Hin. From what I had heard during my earlier Thailand trips, it was “boring” and catered more to the older crowd. Anna argued that we are both (boring and old) now and we ended up renting an apartment for five nights.

The all-day ferry and bus trip from Koh Tao was uneventful (largely thanks to having an iPad fully loaded with movies for the kids) and we step off the bus in Hua Hin just as it’s getting dark. The apartment itself turns out to be quite good (the lack of warm water being made up by a very nice pool) and in a perfect location …just a hundred meters away from the beach and within walking distance to the markets and restaurants in downtown.

The main attractions of Hua Hin are the beach, the seafood restaurants and it’s night markets … and all three is where we end up spending our time. The beach is quite shallow and just OK for swimming, but it stretches forever and is the best one we’ve seen anywhere in Thailand for long walks.

The seafood restaurants are nothing short of fantastic! Our favorite is Chao Lay and we return twice for their fish and to watch the sun go down from their deck over the water.

All in all, Hua Hin turned out to be a pleasant seaside resort with a good mix of locals, Thai tourists, expats and overseas visitors. No wonder the king spends his summers here!

We wouldn’t want to stay here for a whole holiday, but it’s perfect for a few days and we enjoyed it a lot more than I had expected.

A few more pictures here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/uwefassnacht/sets/72157634922565513

Next it’s back to Bangkok for two days and then we’re off to Istanbul.

Koh Tao

Seeing the small island of Koh Tao again after 22 years was quite a shock. The ferry used to arrive on a beautiful long beach with a few simple bamboo bungalows, which has turned into a wild jumble of accomodations ranging from moldy concrete cells to higher end resort-style rooms. I remember a few longtail boats meeting the new arrivals … today it’s a cacophony of touts, trying to get you into whatever taxi and/or accommodation pays them the highest commission.

We had booked a simple bungalow, away from the main town and set into the hillside, overlooking one of the bays on the less busy east coast of the island. It turned out to be an OK choice and the next day we head down to the water for some snorkeling … which I remember to be spectacular. It’s not anymore. There are less fish, but what we notice the most are that the hard corals are mostly dead and broken … and the soft corals almost gone. I’m sure a lot of it is due to pollution or the warming ocean water, but a bit later we see what is likely the biggest factor. Around lunch time a flotilla of almost a dozen converted fishing boats arrive with day trippers. They tie up close to the best snorkeling spots and then proceed to spew out wave after wave of snorkelers. As we watch this, we realize that (amazingly) quite a lot of them don’t know how to swim … they are strapped into life vests, lowered overboard and then proceed to destroy corals that took decades to grow. Either by breaking them with their fins, or by simply standing on top of them and smiling for the camera.

Lara (indoctrinated by the marine biologist that we met in Australia) tells a few of them to stop killing the corals … but is overwhelmed by their sheer numbers and gives up. After an hour or so the first wave of day trippers move on to the next bay, leaving discarded plastic bottles and empty lunch styrofoam boxes behind. The next group of boats is already coming around the point, looking forward to their snorkel adventure.

Don’t get me wrong. The snorkeling on Koh Tao is still OK (especially in Hin Wong and Ao Leuk bay), but it’s not even close to what it used to be like.

After three nights on the muggy hillside (without much of a cooling sea breeze) we move on to a simple bungalow in a bay further north. Here the garbage problem isn’t much better, even our hosts just dump buckets full of trash between the large boulders above the beach. I’m not sure what they will do once all the cracks are filled up. To be fair, the amount of garbage generated by tourism must be huge, but there has to be a more sustainable way to get rid of it instead of just burning it or dumping it into the jungle. There are efforts to rid the island of plastic bags and one of the dive schools is organizing a weekly “clean up the beach” walk, but it feels like it’s too little too late.

After visiting all the snorkel sites (mostly via hired longtail taxi boats or a rented kayak), we move on to the main beach for our last week on the island. The quiet beach from years ago has turned into quite a party mile and we feel almost a bit out of place among all the semi drunk 20-something year olds with their “Koh Tao Pub Crawl” T-shirts on.

Our room (above one of the dive schools) turns out to be perfect. With a large balcony overlooking the beach and plenty of restaurants only a short stroll away … the only drawback (at least for us) is that the beach clubs keep pumping out their beats until long past midnight. The kids don’t seem to mind, but Anna is glad she brought her ear plugs.

And so we settle into a pleasant routine of not doing much of anything, except swimming, snorkeling, reading, eating and drinking.

On our last night we decide to try “Glow Scuba”, which seems to be one of the latest iteration on the snorkeling theme … there are now almost 50 diving schools on the island (which is only 8 square miles large) and they need a way to differentiate themselves. The concept is to go into the water at night (in complete darkness), armed with a blacklight torch and a special visor over the goggles. Some of the coral and fish are florescent and reflect the light back in various colors … quite fun!

Here are a few pictures I took during our ten days on the island: http://www.flickr.com/photos/uwefassnacht/sets/72157634806998251

We’re off tomorrow. Two hours on the ferry and then six on the bus … next stop: Hua Hin

Koh Samui

After leaving our apartment (and getting ripped off by a taxi diver), we arrive at Bangkok’s main train station just as it gets dark. Now that Koh Samui has an airport, we could have flown down to the islands (most people do), but we thought the experience of the overnight train and ferry would be more interesting for the kids. And they loved it. After settling in, we enjoyed watching Bangkok’s suburbs slowly go by, while having a bit of dinner and a chat with our neighbors. Just as we are getting tired, the attendants come through the carriage and convert the seats to beds. Of course, Finn and Lara opted for the upper ones, which suited us fine … we all fell asleep within minutes.

After arriving in Surat Thani the next morning we jump on a bus and then a ferry … getting us to Koh Samui around noon. All pretty smooth and easy.

Back in February, we had booked a house in Mae Nam (on the north side of the island) via airbnb.com … and like it as soon as we see it. A large porch (perfect for eating and school work), full kitchen, a sitting area and two breezy bedrooms. It’s a 5 minute stroll to the beach with easy access to restaurants and shops.

The island has changed dramatically (and for the worse) since I was first here, more than 20 years ago. Back then Chaweng and Lamai (the two nicest beaches on the island) had a few simple backpacker bungalows on them … now they are densely packed with resorts, restaurants, souvenir shops and bars. Mass tourism (the ugly kind) has completely taken over and package tourists from Europe and Russia are everywhere. As you can imagine, this mass influx has driven up prices dramatically as well. It’s still rather cheap compared to Europe or the U.S., but nothing like it was even ten years ago.

After renting an old jeep and driving around the island, we realize that we actually like our (Mae Nam) beach the best. Enough infrastructure to make it pleasant, not (yet) enough to be overrun by mass tourism.

And so we spend our days alternating between swimming, shopping at the local food markets, cooking, eating out and school work with Lara.

Truth be told, after almost ten days .. it’s getting a bit boring. The first few days it was a great change from the constant driving in Australia and from the hectic pace in Bangkok, but lately we are all getting a bit itchy to see something new.

Our original plan was to hop to the neighboring island (Koh Phang Ngan), but we changed our mind after talking to a few people. It’s main draw are the famous full moon parties, which are not exactly “child friendly”. I was there twenty years ago and they’ve only gotten bigger and rowdier since then.

Instead, we’ll head straight to Koh Tao (the smallest one of the three gulf islands), which is renowned for it’s diving and snorkeling. Unfortunately, it’s high season here by now, accomodations are filling up fast and prices are rising. So far we haven’t really found anything that looks good to us.

Here are more pictures from our first week in Koh Samui: http://www.flickr.com/photos/uwefassnacht/sets/72157634632062086

A Week in Bangkok

After two short flights from Darwin (via Singapore), we arrive in Bangkok’s new airport just after 8:00pm. I buy a local SIM card (unbelievably cheap) and easily find the driver, who was sent to pick us and get us to our apartment for the week. We had booked it via airbnb.com and are met by the (very friendly) housekeeper, who shows us around. The pictures on the web looked almost too good to be true … but it turns out that the flat is every bit as nice as advertised.

It’s in a brand new high-rise, overlooking the river and we’re up on almost the 50th floor. Four pools to choose from (one on the 40th floor), a great view of the sunset from the balcony and a private ferry to cross the river and get us to the Skyrail and Express Ferry. Fantastic place in a perfect location!

It feels unbelievably good to have a bit of space to spread out. The camper vans in Australia did feel VERY crowded after eight weeks and it’s great to have our own shower, bathroom and kitchen again. Not to mention the fact that it’s nice to be back in air conditioning and without mosquitos at night.

I think this is my fourth or fifth time in Bangkok, and I’ve always liked the city a lot. It’s not as modern (and expensive) as Singapore, doesn’t have a split personality (like Shanghai) and has plenty of historical sights (unlike Kuala Lumpur). Of course, we’re here during the completely wrong season. It’s hot, humid and we watch the gathering storm clouds every afternoon … every second day the wind whips up, the temperature drops and we get a monsoon-like downpour for a few minutes.

Even though we’ve seen them before, we visit a few of the usual tourist sights (temples, museums and markets) to show them to the kids.

To cool down, we also spend a fair bit of time (way too much if you ask me) in shopping malls. And then we’re back at the apartment in the afternoon and spend and hour or two at the pools or catching up on school work.

We are surprised how patiently the kids trod around the city in the oppressive heat without much complaining. Especially Finn, who actually seems to enjoy shopping (must be Anna’s genes!) and constantly wants to “look around” … while I’m just looking for a place to sit down and rest.

Obviously there is no shortage of great food in Bangkok and we alternate between street food, restaurants, food-courts, or just getting some take-away and enjoying it on our balcony … with a great view of the sunset.

Anna and I even left the kids with a sitter and went out for an evening by ourselves. The first time in four months that we spent more than a few minutes away from the kids … pure bliss!

The last week has been a good one and a real luxury for us. I’m sure we’ll be missing the apartment in the weeks to come.

A few more pictures from our week in Bangkok here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/uwefassnacht/sets/72157634429337284

Tonight we’ll take the overnight train down to the gulf islands.