Thailand – The Beaches

On arriving in Bangkok after a week In Chiang Mai we headed to our accommodation near Khao San Rd. Bangkok didn’t offer an abundance of family room options so we weren’t surprised when we were shown to our room to discover it was actually three bunk beds in what would have been a dorm. It wouldn’t have been too bad if the mattresses weren’t as hard as planks of wood, the shower wasn’t a hose above the toilet and the continental breakfast wasn’t a loaf of bread with old margarine and jam. The young ladies who ran the place also clearly preferred to be out partying or sleeping off hangovers.

Our time in Bangkok was split between visiting Khao San Rd and themed cafes. Khao San Rd is interesting and vibrant. We enjoyed leisurely dinners, shopping and getting henna tattoos. There is plenty of western food but if you are adventurous you can also snack on some fried insects or a scorpion. Themed cafes seem to be a relatively new asian phenomena. We walked past a Cat Cafe near our place, so naturally had to stop in for breakfast one day. It was great for my allergies to be sipping on an iced latte surrounded by 26 cats, but the girls loved it of course.

The other cafe we visited was a Unicorn Cafe. This was a complete assault on the senses. The cafe was covered from floor to ceiling with stuffed unicorns. The food was unicorn themed and you could even hire a unicorn onesie to dress up in. Strangely there were a number of adults who seemed to enjoy this. Bizarre.

After four sleepless nights in Bangkok ( the beds were THAT bad) we moved on to a beach side town called Hua Hin. We booked a beautiful apartment at the Dusit Thani Villas. We had two bedrooms, soft beds, ocean views and could enjoy all the amenities of the five star resort. This meant that we didn’t see much of Hua Hin but enjoyed everything the Dusit Thani had to offer from deck chairs around a huge pool, cocktails, complimentary kids club, badminton court and a gym. If we hadn’t pre-booked our accommodation in Koh Samet we would have happily stayed longer.

En-route to Koh Samet we stopped in Pattaya to break up the journey. We took the boat across which saved us 3 hours in a car but was a stomach-clenching experience. Pattaya isn’t the typical place you might visit with kids but lucky for us it was a Buddhist long weekend which meant the bars were shut. We were pretty thrilled by this given the proximity of our room to the neighbouring bubble massage parlour. I don’t even want to imagine.

Koh Samet was then about a 2 hour drive from Pattaya. We felt every minute of the drive as our driver snacked on what looked like dried fruit with seeds. He loudly cracked and crunched the seeds between his teeth the whole trip. I could almost see the steam raising from Murray’s head every time he reached for another snack. He handed us his card so that we could book him for a return journey. That was not going to happen.

Our last 11 days in Thailand were spend on the island of Koh Samet. Our boat dropped us off on the beach in front of our accommodation and our bags were carried for us up to our room. We were thrilled to have our own hut with beach views, a large veranda, air con, hot water and a daily cleaning service. We spent hours each day in the ocean where the girls learned to body-surf small waves. The pace of life slowed down considerably with us dividing our time between swimming, visiting the only coffee shop, replenishing snacks at the 7-11, doing some school-work and relaxing. If I had to compare Koh Samet to the island we visited in May (Koh Lipe), I still think Koh Lipe comes out on top. That said, Koh Samet was a very nice spot to visit. Thailand has been terrific. It’s easy, fun and there are lots of interesting things to do with kids. Next stop is Siem Reap , Cambodia.


Thailand – The Hills

Our month in Thailand seemed to fly by super quick. I think it is because Thailand is a fairly easy place to travel and is set up extremely well for tourism. The food is great, it’s easy to get around and there is plenty to do , especially with kids. We wanted to experience a mix of hills and beaches so we set out mainly to explore Chiang Mai in the north and Hua Hun/ Koh Samet south of Bangkok.

After a short hiatus to the UK for a friend’s wedding, I met up with Murray and the kids in Bangkok. We were also lucky enough to have Fi with us for a few days. Fi and I had traveled to Chiang Mai together 18 years prior so it was nice to create some new memories there again. We checked in to the Rainforest Boutique Hotel and were pretty happy with our new digs. It had a buffet breakfast and two pools so the kids were in their element. Murray, Fi and I enjoyed the cheap cocktails – it made up for the hard beds and unsavoury stench when the wind blew in the wrong direction. You can’t have everything and after a few cocktails you barely noticed 😉

Chiang Mai is an awesome place to visit for a few days or a few weeks. Although it’s a reasonably big city it has the feel of a hill-side town. We had one of the best days of our trip so far at The Elephant Rescue Park ( not to be confused with other similarly named but less ethical organisations). We deliberately chose an elephant experience that put the welfare of the animals first , did not involve riding and allowed us to get up close to these magnificent creatures. We were not disappointed. After changing into our ‘red pajamas’ we were taken to meet the elephants who had all been rescued (purchased by the retreat) from circuses and working sites. There were 7 elephants in total , a couple were still babies. The elephants were all untethered and keepers did not ride them. In fact they were free to wander around if they chose. We hand fed the elephants a breakfast of bananas then head out on a walk through the valley so that they could forage on some tasty trees. At times the elephants walked alongside us and occasionally they would wander off into the bush to tear some branches off a tree. The guides would also find some extra tasty leaves for the kids to pass to them. We walked around to a couple of water holes where we were then able to take a splash with the elephants and give them a scrub. The elephants genuinely seemed to like this experience and it was fun to see them splashing, playing and spraying water. This was a genuinely uplifting experience with animals that seemed to be well looked after and happy. We finished off our day with a shower and some lunch in the rice fields.

Besides elephants, there are a lot of other cultural experiences to enjoy in Chiang Mai. We spent a morning carving fruit into what could only be described as pieces of art. While we were busy carving the twins were given paint brushes to colour the fruit with food dye. Fi and I both acknowledged that Murray was king carver; he seemed to have the superior knife and geometry skills required to make the watermelon centrepiece. Fi and I were both pretty good at turning tomato peel into roses and Maya made some excellent cucumber butterflies. All in all we made a good team.

We also spent a day out at the Smile Organic Cooking School, a day at the zoo and lazy days wandering around exploring markets and temples. The cooking school gave Maya the confidence to create and taste her own curry ( which she declared delicious) and the twins became our sous chefs adding ingredients, stirring and tasting. The zoo was an interesting day out. We didn’t have hugely high expectations but we enjoyed feeding hippos, giraffes , pigs and deer. Some of the exhibits were a bit depressing and a lot of the zoo looked half completed. It is also huge and tiring to walk around.

We thoroughly enjoyed Chiang Mai and particularly for those traveling with kids found it an easy place to visit with lots of fun things to do.

Next stop – the beaches …

Koh Lipe · Thailand

Thailand – Koh Lipe – postcard perfect

We always planned to go to Koh Lipe but we had no expectation as to what we would find. As soon as we stepped off the boat into the sparkling blue water ( literally – there was no jetty) and walked up white sand beach to the immigration office ( concrete area with plastic chairs) we knew we had reached somewhere special.

Koh Lipe is only a stone’s throw from Malaysia but it is a world apart, being part of Thailand. Our ferry took us as close as it could to shore before we boarded a small Thai motor boat to bring us across the reef and onto the beach. We then stepped into the water and lugged our bags up the beach as we waited for the Thai Immigration Officer (guy in a plain T shirt) to give us back our passports. He didn’t seem to be in a hurry. Once he called out ‘Australia’ ( there was only one other Australian in our group) you were required to present yourself in front of him for inspection ( or ridicule) and he gave you personal directions to your lodging. I was relieved when he said to us “4 minute walk up beach , that way”. Phew, I was hoping 4 Thai minutes wasn’t the same as 4 Malay minutes, and thankfully he was about spot on.

Our first impression of our new lodgings was good considering our accommodation was on the cheaper end of the scale ( about $80/night for a 2 story bungalow). The bar and restaurant were beachfront ( literally sand under your feet) and the island’s main drag ( Walking Street) was a 2 minute stroll up the beach. Our accommodation was nothing flash – there was no AC , hot water or television , but the location and scenery more than made up for it.

Admittedly the days spent on Koh Lipe all blurred together. We swam in the warm blue sea, did some schoolwork by the beach, searched for hermit crabs, built sandcastles, ate pad-thai , went for walks and read books. When it was too hot to walk we caught the island taxis around and bought icees to cool off. The girls made hermit crab houses each day in the sand and held their little captives hostage until it was time to swim again. At night we ate seafood on the beach and soaked up the vibe of walking street.

For a little island in the middle of the Andaman sea it has quite a unique vibe. Mornings were fairly quiet with a smattering of people taking advantage of the cooler weather to swim, run and walk. Afternoons, the little island seemed to wake up with shop owners starting to roll up their doors for business. By night time walking street was jam packed with tourists and shop fronts offering souvenirs, fresh seafood and cheap massages. The bars along the beach also lay out mats, tables and oil lights and the music started playing. There are plenty of laid back beach bars and trendy modern pool bars. If you were lucky enough to catch a weekend ( or a full moon party) the music lasted until the wee hours. By morning the beach was swept, spotless and ready for a new day.

Now the idea of a 7/11 on the island might make you cringe but I can honestly say that I have a new appreciation for this franchise. 7/11 has been our saviour on more than one occasion when nothing else is open. The Malays don’t like to start their business day until about 1pm and it seems on Koh Lipe the Thai’s are similar. The 7/11 on Koh Lipe is open 24 hours and offers a wide selection of pretty much everything you need and plenty of stuff you dont need. They will make you a fresh cup of coffee ( or an iced drink if you prefer) , they stock pre-made ham and cheese sandwiches or croissants that they also put into the sandwich press for you, they sell cups of ice to keep your drinks cool and of course cheap beer and cider. Certainly there are some strange items for sale ( snail slime face cream, wt??) but overall 7/11 has come to our rescue more times than I can count. The other saviour was the best icee shop I have ever seen. It was our treat at the end of a hot day.

We finished off our stay on Koh Lipe with a snorkeling tour of nearby islands, a beach sunset dinner and night swim with shimmering plankton. I also checked out some ‘nice’ accommodation on the island for when I come back here again one day ( with a bigger budget). You can’t fly to Koh Lipe , in fact you can’t get here without getting your feet wet, carrying your own bag up the beach and waiting your turn for the Thai guy on the plastic chair to call your name , but it’s worth it. This place is THE postcard with the blue water, palm trees and white sand. Put it on your bucket list – you won’t be disappointed.