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Trip Report Bangkok – Railey Beach – Sydney - Tasmania A great trip!

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We travelled in a group of 4 then 5 aged between 19 and 55 from Rome, Italy.
Part 1 Bangkok
After much preparation and Fodor consulting we boarded our Thai Airlines flight from Rome to Bangkok on 27th march 2009. The flight was happily very uneventful though the plane seemed rather old and scruffy with just a central screen for films and the food was pretty awful.
Immigration at Bangkok was very smooth and we quickly managed to leave half our luggage in deposit and catch a cab to our hotel the Navalai River Resort at Phra Athit Pier. As expected it was too early to check in (8 am) so we immediately went off to visit the Royal Palace avoiding the crowds. The Palace is definitely worth a visit and although quite hot (you have to be quite covered up) it was by no means unbearable. We decided to walk back to the hotel via the mahatma idol market and look for a place for lunch but all the places suggested by the Lonely Planet guide had closed down!
We eventually checked into our rooms. The Navalai is a 3 star hotel and looks it from the outside. However once inside the clean, smart minimalist décor, the size of the rooms and bathrooms and the friendliness of the staff made our stay very enjoyable. Admittedly we had the nicest rooms with big balconies from which you could enjoy the goings on of the river. There was also a perfectly nice outdoor pool on the top floor where we enjoyed a nice rest after lunch. The food in the outdoor restaurant was very nice and all in all I would definitely recommend this hotel. The location is also excellent for visiting the old part of the city.
In the afternoon we hopped on a ferry to the Oriental Hotel for coffee but were not allowed in because of short trousers on our men. We enjoyed the ride on the river though and took a taxi back to the Kho San Road. We found this to be far from the seedy backpacking hell described by some travelers. It was all very clean and lots of nice little bars with live music (mainly Neil Young!). We had a few drinks and then a decent meal at Tom Su Kung’s – nice ambience but food could have been better.
A well deserved good night’s sleep. Only negative point construction work going on on both sides of our building!
For this reason alone we were not too sad about our move the next day. Following advice from Fodorites we had booked 2 nights for the price of 1 at the 5 star Banyan Tree. Before this however we went to visit the Dusit Palace and Gardens and a few other temples on this side of town knowing that once we hit the CBD there would be no going back! The Teak Mansion is not to be missed and we all enjoyed the other exhibitions and gardens too.
At about 2 pm we collected our bags and taxied to the Banyan Tree. The hotel is very smart with an 80’s kind of look though built in 2002. We had super suites with enormous bathrooms full of amenities but somehow we didn’t like it as much as Navalai. Too much of a corporate feel. Could have been anywhere in the world. Not to mention breakfast at 1400 baht! However it is a fine hotel with a lovely pool and the rooftop Moon Bar at night is quite spectacular (srtict dress code!).
We taxied to Siam Square for a look at the shopping malls and ended our day in the charming Les Lys restaurant where we had a delicious meal in a lovely garden.
Day 3 – once again excellent advice from Fodorites - we took a cab to the Jim Thompson outlet where, much to the chagrin of our son, we spent hours buying lovely things at bargain prices. We then relaxed in a long tail boat down Klong Om which was not very exciting probably because most people were out at work and very quiet.
In the evening we attempted to take a taxi to Sukhumvit but the traffic was so bad we eventually took the Skytrain. The Banyan Tree is not very well located for transport. Strolled around some of the malls and finally arrived at the restaurant we had reserved - Hazara which was probably the best Indian meal I have had outside India. Beautiful surroundings, amazing dècor . We were shown round the other 2 restaurants Thai and Japanese (all part of the Facebar complex) really quite stunning. Almost too New York but as I said the food was fantastic. Highly recommend.
This ended our 3 days in Bangkok. Tomorrow flight to Krabi for Railey Beach.

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    Great start to your report. Your river hotel sounds interesting. We love to watch the river traffic flow by. We took the JFK-BKK Thai Air flight and had the opposite experience. New plane and all the amenities, even in coach. Surprised to hear about the Rome-BKK flight.

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    Part 2
    We flew Thai Airlines to Krabi and were met at the airport very efficiently by the Railey Beach Club driver who in half an hour drove us to Ao Nang. There we had a long tail boat waiting for us and in ten minutes we were at the club. Our house Baan Khun Marcia (N. 10) was absolutely delightful as was everything else about the Railey Beach Club. Friendly and quick check in, lovely grounds, good maintenance and beautiful houses. Ours had a big deck with hammock, two good sized rooms with fantastic mosquito nets. Lovely outside bathrooms (one with hot water which we hardly used). A good sized kitchen and even an indoor living room (2 extra beds here). We were so happy we had chosen this place over the hotels as none of them were very inspiring. Too close together and too many rooms for my liking. In fact the whole of Railey beach surprised me by its tiny size. I was expecting a much bigger place but it takes no more than 5/10 minutes to walk from one end of the beach to the other or from Railey West to Railey East.
    We had dinner at the Flame Tree restaurant which is in the tiny “commercial centre” of Railey with some fun shops and a very laid back atmosphere. I even managed to have a dress copied by the local tailor! Most of the other tourists seemed to be Norwegian or Scandinavian. A lot of young people and families.
    Next morning we walked to Railey East which was a big disappointment. There is no beach just mangroves and the place is pretty filthy. It seems strange that they are building more hotels and even some very luxury ones in this place. It is too small and the hippies and backpackers seem to be trying their best to make it seem a bit of a dump so it doesn’t become too expensive! This means that the West beach is really quite crowded because as well as day trippers from Ao Nang you have everyone from all the hotels east and west on this beach. In fact it was only really nice early in the morning and late in the evening.
    The setting of the beach is very spectacular with all the overhanging rocks and little islands. The water is very green reflecting all the vegetation and quite warm. I have definitely seen better beaches and sea in other places but there is something really special about the setting. At sunset all the little bars and restaurants light up and everyone chills out on the beach with a drink watching the amazing light effects. We ate in every restaurant on the beach front and most were ok. There is one really upmarket resort Rayavadee but I certainly wouldn’t recommend it as the price was outrageously high for having to share the same bit of space with everyone else. In fact the so called private beach Phra Nang is even more crowded because of all the boats coming in.
    We also visited Ton Sai in a Kayak. This is an even hippier version of Railey East and you can go and drink a beer and chat with some rastas but you have to pick your way through the rubbish and the water smells of sewage. Drinks and food are much much cheaper here and the aim seems to be to keep the families and older tourists out by never cleaning anything up. We saw a huge big toe being dropped in the sea by a helicopter. When we told them, our kids said what have you been smoking ?? but they were shooting a commercial. It was all a bit surreal in this place. They were scuba diving that day but were unlucky as the water was not very clear and there was little to see.
    We also did the 4 island hop to Chicken, Poda, and Tup islands. These would have been spectacular but there were way too many people. The boat ride was fun though.
    A couple of times we went to Ao Nang for shopping and dinner. It’s a lively little town with a good atmosphere and some great restaurants.
    All in all we enjoyed our 6 days in Railey beach though with some reservations. Our kids enjoyed the laid back night life while for us the best thing was staying in the privacy of the club and going to sleep with the amazingly loud sounds of the jungle. The worst thing was too many people and very few locals.
    And now nice and tanned we are ready for Australia!

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    Part 3 Sydney
    We left Krabi in the early afternoon and flew to BKK to connect with our Sydney flight. Here we also collected all the luggage we had left behind at the airport on our way from Rome. It worked perfectly and it was great not to have to lug around winter clothes in the Thai heat. The cost for leaving our bags in deposit for ten days was approximately 30 euros so well worth it.
    The Thai Airlines flight to Sydney was on a much nicer and newer aircraft and we arrived in Australia reasonably refreshed after 11 hours. As expected it was too early to check in to the Meriton in Pitt street when we arrived so we went straight to meet our son at Sydney University. We were very impressed by the uni and all the beautiful old buildings as well as his lodgings and Newtown which is fun and full of atmosphere.
    When we eventually checked into the Meriton we were extremely pleased with our choice. In the beginning I had booked the York apartments at more than double the rate of the Meriton and I was a bit worried about the fact it was so cheap. However the 2 bed apartment was perfect (though somewhat lacking in charm). Spacious, very clean, high floor with a terrace, nice sized bathrooms and great kitchen. And a pool! For 230 AUSD for 4 people what more could you want. The location is also excellent with plenty of supermarkets, shops and restaurants nearby. Almost walking distance to Circular Quay too.
    We ate at Wildfire at the Passenger Terminal the first night and had a great table with view of the Opera House. We were all starving for steak after Thailand so this was a very good choice.
    Next morning we took Boutique Wine Tours to the Hunter Valley. We visited 4 cellar doors and enjoyed the trip very much. Unfortunately we weren’t able to choose any of the wineries ourselves but the choice was good enough. Even though our guide was not particularly friendly we had a good time and I would recommend this tour company.
    Thanks for all those who recommended The Boathouse on Blackwattle Bay for dinner. The kids loved it and that fish pie was sooo yummy!
    Next day was beautifully clear so we went up Sydney Tower for some amazing views. Then Darling harbor and museums. The last day was spent in Bondi Beach where the water was freezing but nice and warm outside. We then re-packed our bags for the umpteenth time with winter woollys ready for our early flight to Hobart, Tasmania.

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    We arrived nice and early at Hobart airport on a beautiful sunny day,picked up our car and park pass and headed for the Tasman Peninsula to check out some of the sites I had read about in the 20 or so books I had read about Tasmania prior to leaving. (Thanks fodorites for all the suggestions! )My initial impression was that everything was on a somewhat smaller scale than I had imagined eg the famous blowhole. We enjoyed the trip however and even managed to see some Devils being fed before heading back to Hobart . Here we checked into the Henry Jones Art hotel which was all it promises to be and headed off to Fish frenzy for a great fish n’ chips dinner. Short walk around Hobart by night and nice drink in the bar before bed.
    Next morning – Salamanca Market. Fun but quite similar to other craft/food markets around the world. Another beautiful day so we were quite keen to set off for Cradle Mountain. This turned out to be a much longer drive than expected and the route we chose was not particularly picturesque. We filled the time in the car reading our travel diary from our long trip to Oz five years back and having a few laughs! We reached Cradle Mountain Lodge at about 7 pm almost too late to see anything except we did see our first Wombat which we got very excited about. The lodge was ok but we found it quite spartan for the price though the location is great. We ate reasonably well in the posh restaurant .
    Plans for the next day were to walk round Dove Lake. Unfortunately it was pouring with rain but we decided to go anyway. The walk was about 2 hours and we got quite wet but at least it was not crowded!
    In the afternoon the weather was much better and we walked all the other circuits (Enchanted Walk, King Billy Walk etc) around the lodge for a total of about 12km which wsn’t bad going for a rainy day. Dinner in the Bistro was fun.
    After a huge breakfast we set off again for our next destination – the Freycinet peninsula. We went the Mole Creek route this time which was much more interesting. Stopped in St Mary’s for lunch which has a lot of interesting eateries (Happy Belly Deli!). Eventually arrived at Bicheno in time for a nice cuppa at the White Dog cafè and a walk. The route up to Bicheno was very spectacular with lots of beautiful lagoons and beaches. We easily found our hotel the Freycinet Lodge which was quite similar to Cradle Mountain Lodge though slightly nicer. Our bungalow was right by the gorgeous (sleepy?)beach with amazing sunsets that turn the stones to a deep red. We ate in the lodge restaurant as we couldn’t face any more driving. The high point of dinner was sighting a spotted Quoll !
    Woke up bright and early for the obligatory trek to Wineglass Bay. After the 40 minute walk uphill in the heat it is a bit of a disappointment to have to push and shove to get a photo of the bay on an overcrowded platform. We decided to go all the way and walk down to the beach and across to Hazards then back to the parking lot. No one could face going back up to the viewing platform. The kids swam in Wineglass Bay and Hazards Beach but for us it was too cold. The 17km walk was very nice – we had brought a pic nic but not enough water still we made it. We even had enough energy left on the way back to go to the lighthouse at cape Tourville which actually has much better views than Mount Amos we thought.
    That evening we ate a well deserved meal at Coles Bay’s Madge Malloys. Definitely one of the culinary highlights of our trip. Unforgettable fish – as good as the Boathouse on Blackwattle Bay in Sydney. Highly recommended.
    After some close encounters with Possums on our terrace we went to bed quite exhausted.
    Unfortunately this was our last night in Tasmania and we drove off quite sad to be leaving this beautiful bit of the world. We made several stops on our drive back to Hobart including a long visit to Richmond and its gaol and other historic buildings.
    At this point I realised I had left a much loved gold ring in the Lodge and without much hope I e mailed the hotel. The next day the service staff mailed me to say they had found it and it has been shipped to me. What wonderful honest staff!
    All in all we enjoyed our trip to Tassie very much. The scenery, the wine, the food and the people we met were all great. If I were to do it again or give advice to other travelers, with just 5 nights I would skip Cradle Mountain. It was a beautiful place with some interesting animals and vegetation but for Europeans like us who frequently travel to the Dolomites it was not sufficiently interesting or different to justify such a long drive. I think we would have enjoyed spending more time driving around the Tamar valley and Launceston.
    The highlight of our last few days in Sydney was a visit to the Royal Easter Fair – now the scale of that for a European farmer is really something to write home about. So many sheep and cows and so beautifully groomed. But this is another story…….

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    Thanks for your report. I appreciate you posting back about your experience at the Navalai, as we've not had a report on that hotel. Your reaction to the Banyan Tree is interesting - I've heard others say the same thing!

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