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Trip, Whole Trip, Nothing but the Trip - Cambodia and Thailand

Trip, Whole Trip, Nothing but the Trip - Cambodia and Thailand

Mar 9th, 2006, 05:40 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Mar 2004
Posts: 158
Trip, Whole Trip, Nothing but the Trip - Cambodia and Thailand

Trip Summary:

Day 1: Arrival in BKK, Asia Airport Hotel
Day 2-4: Siem Reap, Golden Temple Villa (http://www.fodors.com/forums/pgMessa...0&tid=34767198)
Day 4-8: Phuket, Manathai Hotel (Surin)

Day 8-9: Chiang Mai, Baan Orapin
Day 10-11: Chiang Mai, Lanna Mantra
Day 12-14: Mae Hong Son Loop
Day 14-17: Bangkok, Bhiman Inn

Days 4-8: Phuket

Day 4: Arrived in PHK around 12:30 and rented a car from Avis. Drove to Surin beach, where we had pre-booked at Manathai Hotel (www.manathai.com), again through AsiaTravel.com for a rate of THB 2800 per night, including breakfast.

Let me start off by saying I cannot say enough nice things about Manathai - from the welcoming drink to the day we left they were fantastic! Absolutely gorgeous decor, beautiful pool, about 100 yards away from the beach, and the staff is out of this world helpful!! Moreover, they honored our discount rate when we ended up staying over one more night (had trouble finding a flight back to BKK). Only 2 downsides - I don't believe they have an elevator, and they do have three floors - didn't bother us, but if you have trouble with stairs, might want to request ground level. And there was nearby construction, so we were woken somewhat early by construction noise, although clearly this was not the hotel's fault. The Manathai is located on Surin beach, just a few meters down the road from the more exclusive Chedi and Amanpuri. Be warned, though, that there is not a lot else here - so your choices in restarants and nightlife is somewhat limited. Because we had a car, this didn't bother us any, and our neighbors told us they had no problem making due with tuk-tuks, etc. to get to livelier Patong or other venues.

We spent our first afternoon blithely lying on the beach, swimming, reading and sunbathing, and then went to Patong (sort of like a cross between New Orleans, Las Vegas, and the Caribbean), where we ate at the Sea Hag (appetizers were way better than entrees) and had our first foot massage, before wandering around the surreal glittering display that is Patong.

Day 3: John Gray Sea Canoe (www.johngray-seacanoe.com) Expensive, but worth every penny. We were a bit put off at first, by the fact that you didn't paddle your own canoe, since we'd both done lots of sea kayaking. But it was an excellent experience, yummy food, cool hongs - highly recommended.

Day 4: We wanted to see more of the area, so we drove up through the countryside to Phang Nga, we'd seen most of the karsks in our previous days excursion, so we didn't take a boat ride to James Bond Island, etc., but viewed the bay from the shore. Took a nature hike (~2.5 hours) around Sa Nang Manora – which was beautiful, and well off the beaten track. The manager of the park was so excited to have us there – he proudly mentioned that his daughter was working in the US, in Arkansas, the home state of Bill Clinton! We spent some time helping him translate some signs into English for the bathrooms. Returning to Phuket, that evening we ate at Baan Pa Rim, which is a gorgeous setting and yummy food – although pricey by the area’s standards!

Day 5: Spend almost all day on a snorkeling excursion, through a company recommended by our hotel – don’t recall the name offhand, but I can look it up if anyone is interested. We were very lucky in that only 8 people were signed up for the trip that day, and we were able to leave early, so we pretty much had Maya Bay (“The Beach” beach) to ourselves for snorkeling. Also went to Phi Phi Islands and a couple of other stops. The fish were fantastic – sea was quite rough, which made the speedboat ride a bit of an adventure, and unfortunately made it impossible to snorkel at our last destination. Our only disappointment was wanting more snorkel time, but since it was due to sea conditions beyond anyone’s control, we can’t really complain. And it was sort of nice, relaxing on the beach, instead! Ate dinner at Lotus restaurant on Bang Tao – lovely setting on the beach, wonderful for seafood lovers!!

Days 8-11 – Chiang Mai

Day 8: We couldn’t make our Bangkok Air Discovery Pass work to get us back to Bangkok in time to catch a flight to Chiang Mai, so we just gave up and bought walk up fares – flying One, Two, Go to Bangkok and then Nok Air to CM – love a country where the fares are cheap enough to do that! Both were fine experiences, though definitely a step down from the first class service of Bangok Air!!

We stayed at Baan Orapin (www.baanorapin.com/) for our first two nights – unfortunately, they were booked after that, so we switched to the Lanna Mantra (www.lannamantra.com), which we booked through AsiaRooms.com. Baan Orapin was wonderful – beautiful suite (THB 1,800, including breakfast), friendly owners, great location, yummy breakfast! Sadly, not on Nancy Chandler’s map – although we did love this charming document!

We spent our first day wandering around the city, following a walking tour of some of the wats, chatting with the monks at the Buddhist college, exploring the flower market (what do they do with all those flowers!?!) and enjoying the delicious snacks on the street. Had dinner at Huen Pen, on recommendation from a good friend – lovely teak house, our first taste of Northern Thai cuisine! Checked out the night market and explored some tailor shops, since my husband wanted to have a suit made.

Day 9: Spend the first part of the morning choosing fabric, etc. at the tailor, and then set about doing more wat touring. Had khao soi at Sri Pen for lunch – mmmm, delicious and cheap!! Spent the afternoon and early evening at the Sunday market, shopping, eating and getting a massage – if you can plan on being in Chiang Mai over Sunday, I’d highly recommend it. The market features local artists and vendors that are somewhat different than the usual Night Bazaar crowd. Plus, lots of delicious food, live music, and many locals.

Day 10: Baan Orapin had arranged a driver for us to go to Lampang, to visit the Elephant Conservation Center, and explore San Kampaeng Road. Although the driver was cheap, and very nice, this was somewhat of a mistake (we probably should have investigated on our own) because he spoke almost no English, and our Thai doesn’t extend much beyond please, thanks and hello, so we definitely had some communication issues. But we enjoyed the elephant show – although in retrospect we wished we had done the one day homestay program. San Kampaeng might have been better if we’d had more luck directing our driver – going from one emporium to another just wasn’t that exciting – but we did enjoy learning how saa paper and lacquerware was made, and watching the silverworking artisans – and we found the predatory atmosphere of the jewelry store to be amusing. We did, finally, manage to convey that we wanted to see teak furniture, and made our largest purchase of the trip – a teak bar, which I’m very excited to have arrive. Our driver than took us to our next hotel. Lanna Mantra was somewhat of a mixed bag – it is unbelievably beautiful, the grounds are breathtaking, and has a wonderful pool by the river. The staff is also very nice, and the rooms are large and well appointed. However, the location is less than optimal – it’s quite a distance to the Old City, and it is difficult and / or expensive to get there. There’s really nothing in the area where it’s located – nice if you’re looking for a relaxing escape, but we found it awkward, because my husband was having a suit made, and needed to be in CM frequently for fittings. Our other complaint was the neighboring rooster, whom unfortunately our room faced. Being awoken at 4 AM to the sound of loud, non-stop crowing, was not really the highlight of our trip! No alarm clock needed!

Day 11: We spent the day at the Chiang Mai Thai Cookery school (www.thaicookeryschool.com) – loved every minute of it!! Can’t wait to cook up a storm at home!!

Day 12-14 – Mae Hong Song Loop

For anyone considering this drive, I’d highly recommend this free online guide from Budget rental cars: http://www.budget.co.th/pdfs/worldclass_mae_eng.pdf We found it to be indispensable!

We started out a bit later than we intended, visited Doi Suthep, and then began the road to Pai, stopping at the Four Seasons Regent Resort for lunch. Wow! Unbelievable setting, world class service, delicious food. If you’re not planning on staying here, and have a way to get there (it’s quite a bit out of town) definitely go for a meal!!!

About the Mae Hong Son loop… If you’re at all prone to car sickness, or are a nervous driver, don’t attempt this drive! It has hundreds of sharp curves, narrow roads, hairpin turns – and all the while you’re dodging cows in the road, trying to pass slow cabbage trucks, and praying that you don’t hit the next motorbike that darts out in front of you. My husband and I spent much of the trip nauseous, and we’re not normally carsick – it’s just that curvy! It is also very slow going… It may only be a couple of hundred kilometers as the crow flies, but you spend much of it creeping around curves at a snail’s pace…

On the other hand, this was one of our favorite parts of the trip. The scenery is beautiful, and we enjoyed stopping at hidden spots along the way. On the way to Pai, we stopped at the Pong Duet Hot Springs – set in a beautiful park, we arrived in the late afternoon and had the place to ourselves. It was really heavenly – and a lovely setting. Checked out he bubbling geysers and soaked in the soothingly warm mineral baths. We probably should have stayed there, they had very nice A/C cabins for rent, and the view was spectacular. But we were determined to finish our loop – and so on we forged to Pai. In Pai, we stayed at the Muang Pai resort (THB 1,000, including breakfast) – this was pretty far away from town, and again had lovely grounds and a nice pool, but the cabin was pretty basic (http://muangpai.infothai.com/). Reminded me a bit of camping in the Adirondacks as a kid, actually!

We hit the road a little later than we intended, after spending a short time exploring Pai (this doesn’t take long!) and headed out to Mae Hong Son. On the way, we stopped at the Tham Lot – an amazingly, hugely enormous cave! You have to pay a guide with a lantern and a raft (THB 300) to explore it (takes about an hour) but it is definitely worth it – tons of bats, and mind-boggling numbers of fish (which for THB 10, you can feed, even if they are vaguely reminiscent of a more piscine Hitchcock’s “The Birds”). We also stopped at Tham Pla (Fish Cave), which is not much of a cave, but the meter long carp are pretty impressive, and are very fond of lettuce. On we drove, stomachs lurching, around many more curves and into Mae Hong Son at early evening.

I loved Mae Hong Son. A pretty little town, and I loved the area around the lake. This is where some early reservations would have done us some good – because we would loved to have stayed at the Piya Guest House, right on the lake, but it was full. My husband was all for renting the THB 100 backpacker room with a shared bathroom, whereas I was pushing for the THB 1100 stylish Mae Hong Son Mountain Inn – but we compromised on the THB 400 Mae Hong Son Hill Resort, where we had our own little A/C cabin, albeit not on the lake. Which would have been perfectly fine, if not for the swarms on ants that infested the place. But we had a nice dinner at Fern Restaurant, and the thoughts of creepy crawlies roused us out of bed early to watch the sun rise near the lake and out to an early start back to Chiang Mai.

We had a lot of ground to cover, so we didn’t take any of the side tours to see the Paduang (Long necked women), but we were determined to go to Doi Inthanon. So we breezed though Mae Saraeng (where we probably should have stopped for lunch, but the curvy road was still wreaking havoc on our digestive tracts…) We followed the back route (1192) into Doi Inthanon, which turned out to be the steepest, most narrow road we had ever encountered (makes the Million Dollar Highway in Colorado seem like a freeway). In retrospect, it might have taken less time to drive around the park and enter through the front road from Chiang Mai. Oh well. We stopped at the highest point in Thailand at the peak of Doi Inthanon, took a short nature walk and explored the royal pagodas. The gardens at the pagodas is breathtaking, and has already inspired me to start mulching here at home! We then visited the Vicharatarn and Mae Klang Falls, and headed back to Chiang Mai (finally, a straight, fast road, although a bit trafficky), where we scooped up the new suits and headed straight to the airport, where we bought walk up tickets to Bangkok on One, Two, Go (THB 1,600 each).

In Bangkok we stayed at the Bhiman Inn (www.bhimaninn.com), which was sort of similar to a Holiday Inn with Thai flair, but was you-could-eat-off-the-floor-clean (THB 1,400). We really like the location – in Banglamphu, close to, but not in the midst of the chaos of Khao San Road – right next to the water taxi, walking distance to the Grand Palace, and surrounded by artsy, up scale clubs where folk singers, students and musicians would hang out and perform in the evening. We checked out the nightlife, our first night there, samples the street fare and headed off to bed.

Day 15: Spent doing the typical Bangkok tourist thing – boy, was it hot!! Saw the Grand Palace, Wat Phra Khaeo, wandered to Wat Pho (where sadly, the reclining Buddha was covered with scaffolding), and had delightful massages at the Wat Pho massage school (which is now actually a couple of blocks away from the Wat Pho). Took the ferry across to Wat Arun – so many wats, and I still found this one stunning – on the way home, checked out the amulet market (to truly appreciate this, you have to read Travelers’ Tales Thailand, edited by O’Reilly and Habegger, which everyone should read before they visit Thailand anyways – but there’s a great amulet market story). Caught (although in no way really understood) the kite fighting at Sunam Luang. Then we headed home where we had a delicious dinner at Ton Pho, which was very close to the Bhiman Inn. Afterwards, I treated myself to a pedicure, while my husband caught up on his email, and then we spent the evening getting to know some locals while listening to music at a nearby restaurant / club.

Day 16: Slept in a bit, walked over to the Golden Mount (gorgeous views!), visited a few wats, including the very tall standing Buddha, and the flower market. Then went to the Chatuchak market where some serious shopping was accomplished – goodness, I could happily move in to that place!! Loaded up, hot and sweaty, we Sky Trained and taxied back to the hotel, where we showered and changed before heading out to a spectacular dinner at the Blue Elephant, and drinks at Vertigo, walking through the infamous Patpong district on the way. Although it was pretty problematic to get a taxi back to our hotel from the far edge of town, we did manage it, and caught the tail end of the anti-Thaksin rally at Sunam Luang. As an aside, this whole trip was a fascinating time to be in Thailand, given the political events – I know more now about Thailand’s government than I ever thought I would, and it was interesting talking to the various Thais we met about which side they supported and why.

Day 17: Our last day! Feeling lazy, we slept in again, and then headed to Jim Thompson’s house – which was much more interesting than I had expected. Took the Sky Train to the WHO snake farm – fantastic show, I’d highly recommend it – and then wrapped up the afternoon having a late lunch or early supper at the MBK center food court – an Asian shopping mall being an experience in and of itself. Sky-trained and water taxied back to the hotel, where we had a quick but yummy dinner at Hemlock, (also in the neighborhood), and grabbed our bags to head to the airport. We were quite early getting there, which turned out to be a good thing, because ANA had all sorts of problems with out tickets, and we barely made our plane. But made it we did, returning home with lots more stuff than which we started and wishing we were back already….
DoctorCarrie is offline  
Mar 9th, 2006, 06:39 AM
Join Date: Oct 2005
Posts: 194
Great report. You managed to do and see such a lot in your time there and I've really enjoyed reading about it.
Kippy is offline  
Mar 9th, 2006, 08:10 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 28,925
great report thanks....going back??
rhkkmk is offline  
Mar 9th, 2006, 01:01 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Mar 2004
Posts: 158
Well, we have friends getting married in Thailand this summer, so we certainly have an excuse...

We shall see - too many places on The List, and never enough vacation days or money!!
DoctorCarrie is offline  
Mar 11th, 2006, 01:06 PM
Join Date: Jan 2004
Posts: 1,183
Thanks for the report, I enjoyed reading it!
LA_FadeAway is offline  
Mar 12th, 2006, 03:14 AM
Join Date: Mar 2003
Posts: 6,664
Thanks for the report. I guess this means we can dispense with the deposition!. Somehow, after our first trip to Thailand, our list got put aside and we've been back several times. Actually, what happened was that our list changed. May never see Machu Pichu
Gpanda is offline  
Mar 13th, 2006, 08:40 AM
Join Date: Jan 2006
Posts: 30
Great trip report! Makes me more excited over our upcoming trip. We are also going to Phuket and will take your highly recommended John Gray sea canoe tour. In Chiang Mai, we will also be staying at Baan Orapin. Did you stay in the new building? How would you rate the rooms in the new building over the main building? I've read in another forum some comments about it being noisy in the main building coming from the street traffic but I haven't read any comments about the noise from someone who has actually stayed there. Any comments/review?
ryokousha is offline  
Mar 17th, 2006, 11:30 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Mar 2004
Posts: 158
We stayed in the new building, and found it to be very quiet - a few barking dogs next door, but maybe because we have a dog at home, that didn't phase us! I felt like the whole compound was fairly peaceful and quiet, though it certainly is on a fairly busy road so I can see how there could be street noise. But we didn't have any indication of this at all; I would happily have stayed more nights!

Although I didn't really see any of the rooms in the old building, our room was absolutely gorgeous, beautifully appointed and very comfortable. Have a wonderful time on your trip!!
DoctorCarrie is offline  
Mar 17th, 2006, 03:35 PM
Join Date: Aug 2004
Posts: 43
Loved your report. I definitely relate to a couple parts. First, I've gone to several cookery schools in Thailand and Chiang Mai Cookery School was hands-down my favorite. Also agree on Chatuchak. Every time I go to Asia, I try to route myself through BKK on a weekend day just to get a few hours there.
chiguy is offline  

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