European Vacation?


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Koh Phangan is one of Thailand’s many islands.  We flew Bangkok Air (Fly Boutique, Feel Unique) in to its sister island, Ko Samui, and took a 45-minute ferry ride north to get to the island.  As far as I can tell the islands of Thailand (and especially Koh Phangan) are to Europeans what the islands of Mexico are to Americans – warm places to party for cheap.  But Europeans like to mix in “ecotourism” which doesn’t really exist here but is instead a nice marketing term for things such as hiking and elephant rides. We have run into Brits, Germans, Italians, Spaniards, Poles and overheard many other unidentified European languages.  But not one American.  This is almost entirely due to proximity as flight time from San Francisco is 18+ hours not counting connections.  Let’s just say lots of speedos and motorbikes everywhere.

Carrie found an amazing unit at a resort that overlooks the beach and ocean and was just updated.  Probably one of the best values on the island.  I write this before bed and look forward to a relaxing last day here tomorrow before we head for the Maldives. Today we did an “ecotour” that included an elephant ride, playing with an ultra-hyper monkey, and exploring nearly the entire island with random sightseeing stops.  The initial plan was to stop at beaches and snorkel but heavy rain interrupted those plans and instead we ended up meeting our tour guide’s extended family and making some random stops not normally made.  It was a full, fun day,  And even though I generally hate guided tours of any type (whatevah, I do what I want) this was worth it as the island has no public transportation (other than renting a motorbike and pretending to be European).  It also came with a homemade lunch that included spring rolls and massaman curry so there’s that.

The ocean water is like a hot tub on hot days and perfect on colder days.  Our resort has solid, cheap food and the entire Thai culture is very focused on tourism so people are very friendly and service is generally great.

If you view the pictures you will notice boats with bizarre engines attached to them that appear to be car/truck engines.

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I’ve been fascinated by this since I saw them on the rivers in Bangkok.  They emit plumes of nasty smelling smoke and oftentimes struggle to run but apparently get the job done. They are called long-tail boats and do indeed have car/truck engines that are adapted for marine use.  I would like to take one of these on Lake Minnetonka and see what happens.

After a very long travel day (over 24 hours) my next post will come from the Maldives. I’m looking forward to empty Malaysia Air flights…

Asia 2014

Bang(kok) for your Baht


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Within Asia I have visited Japan, South Korea, China, India and now Thailand.  Based on these experiences I describe Bangkok as a hybrid city with elements of many other large Asian cities but a distinct culture.  Bangkok has the organized chaos of Tokyo (lots of people who are all polite and queue up for lines), street food (and beyond) of Seoul, pollution and tourism of Beijing, and pockets of poverty and caring people of Mumbai.  It has the comforts of western culture (five-star hotels, luxury shopping malls) mixed in with the simple life of less developed countries.

We stayed at a boutique hotel similar to the Kimpton chain in the U.S.  Our room would have been hundreds per night in the states but was only $70/night for one of the best locations in Bangkok.  Food, lodging, massages and nearly everything else is incredibly inexpensive by American and European standards.

Bangkok is known for its many markets and we explored most of the largest including the Chatuchak Weekend Market (the largest in Thailand).  It’s very difficult to put into words how much crap (or merchandise depending on your point of view) is crammed into each section of a market that takes up many city blocks.  There are also food vendors nearly everywhere you walk throughout the city.  An added benefit is that Carrie and I love Thai food so it was not hard to stay nourished.

Our hotel was a block away from the central shopping district with one of the largest luxury malls in Asia.  This mall would compete very well with The Mall of America in MN.  Next to this was a mall full of counterfeit goods that I doubt was structurally sound and would certainly not pass a fire inspection in the U.S.  This is a perfect example of the paradox of Bangkok. Luxury malls next to counterfeit malls and BMWs next to Tuk-Tuks.

Pictures of The King of Thailand are more popular than Hangover 2 references (which are very popular – there is even an official tour).  Having reigned since 9 June 1946, he is the world’s longest-serving current head of state and the longest-reigning monarch in Thai history (taken straight from Wiki).  He was also born in America.

Everything I read said coffee culture is lacking in Thailand but I have found that to be far from true.  Coffee stands are ubiquitous and myriad options are available for iced drinks.  Pretty much every option includes sweeten condensed milk which is good for the taste if not for the diet.

I have never had a good dessert at a Thai restaurant in the U.S. so I assumed that like Japan sweet desserts are not a part of Thai culture.  But I assumed wrong – amazing sweet desserts like honey toast are available in every mall.  In fact, as much as I would like to say the best thing I had was Tom Yum or Tom Kha Gai soup…it was actually Sticky Toffee Toast.

After a day of exploring beautiful temples:

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we ended our stay with a head, foot, shoulder and neck massage (pretty much full body massage) that was part pain and part pleasure – just the way a Thai massage should be.  If Groupon ever makes it to Bangkok I can only imagine how many massage deals will be offered.  Our 90-minute massage was only $10.

In summary, if you save a modest amount you can retire to Bangkok to live a gluttonous life of eating and massages.  Maybe even at the same time.

Asia 2014