March 14, 2015

Thai Memoirs : Soaking In the Gorgeous Beaches Of Krabi

The last 2 days of our trip to Thailand, which incidentally fell on a weekend, we spent in the small beach town of Krabi. Krabi is the lesser known neighbour of Phuket and hence this place attracts a smaller crowd when compared to its superstar sibling. But if one has pristine beaches in mind rather than active night-life and so forth, then Krabi region offers you some of the most breathtaking beaches in the world.

Bamboo Island
We boarded a late evening Air Asia flight from Don Muang Airport, (i.e. the older airport of Bangkok) with the journey lasting an hour. Once here one has an option of taking either a shuttle bus or a private taxi. The shuttle bus costs 150 Baht/person (from Airport to Ao Nang beach. 90 Baht from airport to Krabi town) and one interesting thing about this bus is that they drop right in front of your hotel. So pretty much this is a much economic solution for a smaller group when compared to taking a taxi which costs 600 Baht flat. Another important thing is that all the activity available in Krabi is centred around Ao Nang beach from where one can take boats to the various islands and beaches, hence its recommended to stay in the vicinity of Ao Nang beach rather in the Krabi town.

Monkey Bay

We were dropped by the shuttle bus right in front of our President Hotel in Ao Nang beach. This 2 star family run hotel was decent enough for our tastes ( but no lifts though, so one has to haul the luggage themselves over the stairs :P). We had close to 2 days to explore. The first must-do-item for every tourist in Krabi is to go island hopping. There are 3 packages with increasing distance and hence increasing price, which being the 4-island tour, Hong Island tour and Phi-Phi island tour in that particular order. Since we hadnt booked any of these tours in advance, we were in for a rude shock when most of the packages offered by the various tour operators were completely full. Finally we had to settle for a much pricey Phi Phi island tour in a speed boat which costed us 1600 Baht/person, organized by Barracuda tours ( Therefore if visiting in peak season do remember to book the package in advance. If not for our hotel lady we would not have gone for any of the package tours and might have gone for some lesser preferred alternative. 

Phi Phi Island
We were picked at around 9 am from our hotel and taken to the location from where the speed boats head towards the various islands. We had close to 30 people in the speed boat and it included people of European, Asian and Indian ethnicity. The Europeans were the first to board the vessel and they immediately occupied the part of the boat which is exposed to the sun, which they repented as the day progressed, with them getting baked and turning bright red thanks to the equatorial sun :P. We boarded the boat just behind the Europeans and occupied the best seat with views as well as protection from the sun, and surprisingly no one occupied our place as the day progressed. We were just imagining that if we were in India, some aunty might have come earlier than us and occupied it :D.  We were provided with an English speaking guide and it was quite funny to hear him trying to speak English in American accent :).

Maya Bay

The Phi-Phi group of islands are a 45 mins ride from Ao Nang beach on a speed boat. The initial part of the journey in the powerful speed boat was quite thrilling with the boat skimming and jumping over the waves. The route to Phi Phi island also takes one through the islands part of the 4 island tour, such as Chicken island and Tup Island(where Kaho Na Pyar Hai was shot) even though we didn't have a stopover. Our first stop was Bamboo Island and it was small but very beautiful island with crystal clear azure waters and white sand. Spent close to 30 minutes absorbing in the views. This entire region is dotted with rocky islands rising dramatically from the sea. The reason for this is that limestone which forms of the major constituent of these rocks is soft and gets easily eroded after getting exposed to the elements of nature. 

Philey bay

Liquid Emerald
After this we were taken to Lohsamah bay wherein one can do snorkelling. Were provided with life-jackets and  snorkel goggles, but surprisingly no guidelines was provided to the newbies. Since I had snorkelled for countless number of times it was not a necessity for me and hence was able to guide my wife too. The underwater activity here was good, with good number and variety of fishes. From here we were taken to Monkey bay wherein we again got an opportunity to snorkel. And I would rate snorkelling in here to be the best I have experienced so far. Huge number of fishes in various colour and size would swarm us and this experience was as good as a scuba diving session if not better.

Next stop was the main Phi Phi island also called as Phi Phi don. This island has places of accommodation and restaurants unlike the other islands visited, hence a logical choice for lunch. Had a lunch of spaghetti with hot sauce along with fresh cut fruits, which was part of the package. Post lunch we explored the beautiful shallow lagoon of the Phi Phi island. From here we were taken to Maya bay, which has become famous thanks to the movie "The Beach" starring Leonardo De Caprio. I havnt watched this movie yet, but now plan to do so. Maya bay is one of the most stunning beaches one can come across. A beautiful beach surrounded by steep limestone rocks in 3 directions makes it  picture perfect. Spent close to an hour in this place. But one complaint is that this place was crowded. Even-then the place was kept spic and span, unlike Indian tourist places which are frequented by huge crowds. We as a culture have a lot to learn from our distant neighbours. 

Rock Climbing
Finally we were taken for a drive through Philey Bay, a lagoon without any sandy beaches and surrounded by huge mountains on all directions. If felt as if one was entering a huge hall with no roof, an absolutely gorgeous hall if I have to describe it, with crystal clear green coloured water reflecting the afternoon sun like liquid emerald. On the way back we were taken to Viking cave, but we were shown directly from the boat and no landing was done. We returned back to Ao Nang beach at around 4 pm and were dropped to our hotel. Overall I would rate the Barracuda tours to be professional and good.

Wanderlust, Railey West Beach
After resting a bit, we again went back to the Ao Nang beach to witness a gorgeous sunset. Roamed around the shops of Ao Nang. We even got ourselves thai massage done from one of the numerous massage shops adorning the beach area. I found this massage to be quite painful, even-though my masseuse was an old lady, but on the other hand my wife found it to be very relaxing :).  Had dinner at an Indian restaurant which was pricey, but good enough. This was how we spent our first Valentines Day together :).

The final day of our stay in Thailand we were to explore the beaches near to Ao Nang namely Railey East and West beaches and Phra Nang Beach. Even though they are only 10 mins from Ao Nang beach , they are still isolated in the sense that they can be reached only by long tailed boats from Ao Nang. One has to take a shared long tailed boat which costs 100 Baht/person one way which either drops a person in Railey West beach or Phra Nang beach depending on where the majority of the people want to go. We were dropped in Railey West beach, and considering the awesome beaches we had witnessed the previous day it was just Ok. From this beach there is a walkway to Railey East beach, which can be termed as the least beautiful of the all the beaches in and around Krabi, with it nothing more than a big slushy spot. From Railey east beach there is a walkway to Phra Nang beach which I consider to be among the best and one not to be missed. Its not every other day that one would find a huge rock rising dramatically from the beach providing awesome aesthetic value to it.

Phra Nang Beach
One will find a lot of people engaging in rock climbing activity in and around this beach. Since we were short of time we didnt venture to try it out. There are various caves near the beach and we explored many of them and one of the most unique among them being the shrine dedicated to Phra Nang (which means princess) from whom the beach got its name.  This shrine is dedicated to the spirit of the princess who had according to legend drowned in the beach and is supposed to haunt it. There are a lot of lingas (male sexual organ) made of wood, given as an offering from the local fishermen folk in order to get favours from the spirit. This can be quite amusing for the non-locals and they have specifically mentioned on a notice board to respect the place and maintain its sanctity. 

Princess Shrine
Spent as much time as possible in this place and then it was time to return back to catch a 4pm flight to Bangkok and then a flight to Bangalore. From Don Muang airport we caught the free shuttle to Suvarnabhumi International airport from where we had to catch the flight back to Bangalore. The return journey back home was eventless apart from the fact that I had a minor accident and my thumb nail came off. So it was quite a painful journey back home, but I have no complains since it happened right at the end of the trip, so wasnt much of an inconvenience. Overall I found it to be a very pleasant country to visit. Ofcourse some of the locals might try to cheat you, but being a person from India, you are literally a pro in these matters, hence for South-Asians it is a no brainer :)

March 3, 2015

Thai Memoirs : Feeling The Vibe Of Bangkok

The next 3 days we explored the metropolitan areas of the Bangkok city itself. The first day we explored the areas of the Royal palace and its surroundings and the next 2 days was exclusively dedicated for exploring the various markets. Since I was expected to do atleast some work these 3 days, we were able to explore the city only post lunch time, which believe me can get quite exhausting too :). 

Siam Square
The first day we had short-listed the Grand Palace, Wat Pho and Wat Arun as the places to be covered. There was a shuttle provided from our hotel till Mo Chit , from where we can get a sky train/metro into the heart of Bangkok. From Mo Chit station we took a train to Siam square, home to various shopping malls and pretty much the heart of the Bangkok city. From here we took a Tuk-Tuk to the Grand palace which costed us 150 baht. Tuk-tuk is the thai version of Indian autos, but with more powerful engines and obviously more fun :).  We reached the entrance gate exactly at 3.30 pm and as mentioned in the previous blog, 3.30 pm is the time of the last entry for the day. Hence we were able to enter the palace in the nick of time.

The entrance fee for the Grand palace is a steep 500 Baht/person and surprisingly this is applicable only for the foreigners Entry for the local residents being free of cost. Obviously we were a bit pissed with this entrance fee since even in India the entrance fee disparity for foreign vs local visitor would be of the ratio 2 to 10 times and not close to infinity as in this case. Hence this infinite value had a huge contribution in pissing us off :P.


But since we had come all the way to visit this place, we paid the fee and by then got to know the special dress code applicable here wherein shorts and sleeveless tops are forbidden, which believe me is a tough thing to come to terms with, considering the very liberal society Thailand has come to be associated with. If you want to experience their liberal outlook just go to some of their beaches or market or rather any other public place as a matter of fact. The entire tour of the palace takes around an hour or two if done in a leisure pace. Once inside one would be bombarded with everything made of gold. Golden palaces, golden statues, golden stupas, golden thrones and everything golden one can think of. This palace is kinda new considering that it was built just a couple of centuries back, but it was quite impressive. There was a huge crowd visiting this place even though it was a normal weekday, so one can assume what it would be like on a weekend or a holiday.

One more advice for those travelling to Bangkok is to get a city map, which helps to move around, since very few people would be able to help you (in terms of language communication) to move from place to place in the cheapest possible manner. We planned our tours around Bangkok in such a way as to get down at the nearest metro station and from there either walk or take a local transport depending on the distance.

A monk meditating
From the grand palace we walked to the next attraction which was Wat Pho, which had the biggest Buddha statue we came across, in a Vishnu pose and quite imposing. Entrance fee is 100 Baht /person and in comparison to the grand palace, is less crowded even though it has its own share of golden buildings and other structures, therefore it is much more peaceful and serene. This is also the place where buddhist monks get trained. We spent quite some time in here at a leisure pace since  this place is open till 6.30 in the evening.

Leaning Buddha Of Wat Pho
The third and the final attraction for the day was the Wat Arun temple or the temple of the dawn across the Chao Phraya river. One has to take a ferry from the barge near to the entrance of the Wat Pho temple to cross the river which costs 5 Baht.  Visit to this place has to be planned around the sunset time in order to witness the majestic views of this building against the backdrop of the Chao Phraya river and the setting sun. Fortunately or unfortunately we entered the premise at exactly 5.58pm and the lady said that they would close in just 2 mins. But surprisingly she let us go without even collecting the entrance fees. Talk about strong ethics :).

Steep Stairs to Wat Arun
Wat Arun
We raced towards the top of the magnificent structure to get the views of surroundings. After the place was closed down we lingered near the banks of the river to view this structure all lit up against the night sky which was real pretty. From here we retraced our steps back to the Siam square by taking a tuk-tuk. Siam square was buzzing with activity. Explored a bit of the huge malls in this area and then returned back for the day.

The next 2 days we explored the markets of Bangkok , primarily the cloth/apparel/accessories markets which can make ladies go crazy :). Day one, we went to the Platinum Fashion mall which is walk-able distance from Ratchathewi and Ratchaprapop metro stations. There are floors and floors of clothes and accessories. Prices are reasonable but not dirt cheap. This place closes down completely by 7pm. From there we went to the night market near the Indra regent hotel. This market which is literally on the streets starts only at around 6.30 pm and goes on till midnight and the prices here are much cheaper than anywhere else. Also one can find some Indian restaurants in its vicinity if one is already homesick :).

Siam Square At Night

Indra Regent Night Market
The final day of sightseeing in Bangkok we decided to visit the Chatuchak weekend market which is considered to be biggest one of its kind in the world. This is walkable distance from the Moh Chit metro station. But since we went on a friday the shops were still getting setup and not the entire market was up and running. Spent some time in here roaming around the bylanes of the market and then when we were tired, we just chilled out in the park just opposite to the market where one can hand feed a huge group of "fearless thai" pigeons :P. In the evening we caught an Air Asia flight to Krabi from the Don Mueang Airport hence ending our sightseeing of Bangkok for the trip.

Chatuchak Weekend Market
Overall I found the vibe of the city to be very interesting. A haven for shopoholics and foodies(especially non-veggie kind :), veggies will have a hard time, so go prepared. ) , a regional hub of Buddhism and a  must visit place for architecture lovers. And it being just a 4 hrs flight from Bangalore, this is a place not to be missed. No wonder Thailand is the 10th most visited nation in the world.

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