Thailand is an extraordinarily beautiful country that offers nearly everything travelers could ask for. On this trip, we made three separate visits – first, we spent the first week of our trip in the islands relaxing and recovering from a few hectic months preparing for this trip and for our wedding; second, we spent a couple of days in cosmopolitan Bangkok, relaxing and recovering from six weeks in India; finally, we spent our last week of six months in Asia savoring the amazing offerings of Northern Thailand before leaving the continent for South America.
Even though Thailand has clearly been discovered by tourists, it is still one of the top destinations in the world; it has some of the best beaches in the world, gorgeous mountains dotted with rice fields, a world-class city in Bangkok, arguably the friendliest people on this planet and probably the most interesting cuisine (especially if you like spicy food) you can find. Also— and somewhat unbelievably–it is still dirt cheap. Outside of 5-star hotels (which are – admittedly – very expensive), nice hotels can be found for under $30 and incredible meals are available for under $5. With all of this on hand, what more could one want?
Blog Entries We Wrote
- To see all the blog entries we wrote about this country, please click HERE.
Pictures We Took
- To see some of the pictures we took in this country, please click HERE.
Cities/Areas We Visited
- Ko Phangan – Thong Nai Pan Yai (Sep. 10-12)
- Ko Phangan – Thong Nai Pan Noi (Sep. 12-15)
- Ko Samui (Sep. 15-16)
- Bangkok (Jan. 9-11, 2008; Feb. 29-March 2, 2008)
- Pai (Feb. 24-27, 2008)
- Chiang Mai (Feb. 27-29, 2008)
Places We Stayed
Ko Phangan/Ko Samui
- White Sands Bungalows (Sep. 10-12): We’ll always remember our bungalow at the White Sands fondly; it was the first place we stayed during our six months in Asia! (It was also Shanna’s first experience with spigot showers and with geckos in the bedroom…) Two iguanas lived in the shower, but this place was literally a few steps from the beach so, at $9 a night, we couldn’t have asked for anything better!
- Santhiya Resort (Sep. 12-15): The fact that we were given “welcome massages” and a “welcome cocktail” within five minutes of arriving at Santhiya should have tipped us off that we were staying at one of the nicest places on earth. And we were. We paid about $100 a night to stay here, but we’re pretty sure the prices were at their lowest because the hotel had just recently opened. Our pictures of the infinity pool, which overlooked the turquoise Gulf of Thailand, are good candidates for our screensavers once we get back; it was amazing! The hotel has its own private beach and a dock you can swim to, and it’s walking distance from all of the other bars and restaurants. If you’re going on your honeymoon soon and you ask us what we recommend, we’ll most likely direct you here.
- Chaweng Villa Resort (Sep. 15-16): This place ($50ish a night) is very centrally located (just steps from the Ko Samui’s main strip). We liked our bungalow, which was situated in a nice garden just a few steps from the beach.
- Baiyoke Sky Hotel (Jan 9-11, 2008): Ahh, the buffet breakfasts here were fantastic, and the building is the tallest in all of Thailand (kind of a cool claim to fame, especially given that Bangkok has some pretty huge skyscrapers). The rooms (about $100 a night) had the sterile feel that’s typical of big hotels, but they were clean and comfortable.
- New Siam II Guesthouse (Feb. 29 – March 1, 2008): This place was in a great location, about a 5-minute walk from Khao San Road. At about $25 a night, the clean rooms were a great value. They even have a pool, though it’s pretty small…
- Oriental Hotel (March 1-2, 2008): The nicest place we have ever stayed in our lives, hands down. Someone should write a poem about the buffet breakfast, the pool is inlaid with gold tiles imported from Italy and every floor comes with its own butler–enough said. We’ll remember the Oriental for the rest of our lives and have vowed to return here on our 25th anniversary. We got a night’s stay here as a wedding gift–good thing, because the prices are too astronomical to even put in print.
- Baan Pai Village (Feb. 24-27, 2008): Walking into the beautiful, open-air lobby here, you’d never guess that its bungalows were only $25 a night. As you moved past the lily pond, however, and arrived at your room, you may begin to understand the cheap prices, though you’d still know you were getting an incredible value. While the walls are thin and the bungalows contain a gecko or three, the rooms are fairly comfortable and very centrally located. We’d avoid the breakfast that comes free with your room, though…
- Banthai Village (Feb. 27-29, 2008): We found this new place ($109) only after we tried to get reservations at its neighbor, Manathai Village, and found it full. All the better for us! Our huge room at Baan Pai Village was among the nicest we’ve had on our trip so far. The whole place is gorgeously decorated with modern flair, and the little pool is nice to look at, if not to swim in.
Places We Ate
Ko Phangan/Ko Samui
- Random Beach Cafes: Always cheap, always delightful…
- Beach Club Restaurant: A sign outside this restaurant claims that the Lonely Planet once deemed that it served “the best food outside of Bangkok.” If the Lonely Planet doesn’t actually say this, it should. The food here, from coconut-encrusted shrimp with marmalade sauce to spicy papaya salad to coconut shakes, is cheap and delightful. The fact that you get to munch while looking out at white sand and turquoise water doesn’t hurt, either.
- Santhiya Restaurant: The food at this luxury hotel is, not surprisingly, fantastic but expensive. We had some amazing green curry while watching a Thai dance show put on for all of us tourists.
- Bamboo Hut Restaurant: It seems like people probably find themselves a hammock in this laid-back shack of a restaurant and pretty much never leave. It looked to be the case for a number of our co-diners here…
- Big Jim Thai Food and Sea Food: The young staff at Big Jim’s served up some pretty good green curry and pad thai when we stumbled upon the place on our first night in Bangkok. There’s probably better to be had in this amazing city, though.
- Tang-O Thai Restaurant: Shanna’s brother’s friend, Skettios, and his Thai girlfriend, Tea, led us to this place when we all met for dinner. Cheap, spicy and pretty darn good, it seemed like one of those places you’d need a local to find.
- Polo Fried Chicken: This is one of our favorites, and we come here every time we’re in Bangkok. Derek discovered it during his days as a student here, and the fried chicken has been calling his name ever since.
- Chada Cafe: This little sidewalk cafe just off Khao San road serves yellow curry that’s cheap and delicious–just the way we like it.
- Centre Khao Sarn Restaurant: The snacks are fine and the drinks are cold, but the real reason to come here is for the amazing people watching to be had from its outdoor patio. The Khao San crowd kept us entertained for hours.
- Lanta Pizza: We stopped here for a late night pizza (which was pretty good) and realized that they play American movies–a nice bonus at the end of a hard day on Khao San!
- Lord Jim’s Seafood Restaurant: I guess the fact that this place is in the Oriental means that we probably don’t even need to say how amazing it is, but still… For one thing, they gave us an amuse bouche that came on top of a huge arc of ice from under which dry ice was smoking up in clouds. And the taste of the food was every bit as good as the presentation.
- The Curry Shack: It’s located in a shack and it serves every kind of Thai curry one could ever want at prices that allow you to eat two at a time. Really, what more could we ask for? Our favorite was Dana’s coconut curry; flavorful and creamy, it included huge pieces of fresh coconut.
- Unnamed village restaurant: We stopped here after we hiked up a mountain and came down starving. All of us had the special (ok, the “only”)–noodle soup with mystery meat–and it was pretty darn good.
- Baan Benjarong: This is supposed to be one of the best restaurants in Pai, and we’d recommend it as long as you’re prepared to wait a loooong time for the food. (We waited an hour.) It’s on the outskirts of town, so you can walk off your meal on the way back to your hotel.
- Poppies Restaurant: This was in our hotel, which was great news for us because we were always within walking distance of their amazing watermelon juice. The pad thai and green curry were pretty good, too.
- Apple Pai Mexican Restaurant: When you travel for a long time, you start to miss Tex-Mex food. (It’s one of the few things that’s really difficult to find outside of the US.) So we were really happy to find this place. It has great quesadillas and burritos, and it rents out rooms in which you can watch some of the hundreds of DVDs they have in their library.
- Herb Garden: Co-owned by an Englishman and his Thai partner, this fantastic place dishes up both English food (think crusty sandwiches with thick slices of cheese) and Thai specialties (think spicy curries). We loved it, and Ian, the Englishman, gave us some helpful travel advice.
- Riverside Bar and Restaurant: Packed with locals and tourists alike, this was the busiest place in town on the night we went out in Chiang Mai. The drinks were cold and plentiful, the seafood (and sausages (!?!?)) were tasty, and we got seats right on the water. They had a live cover band that was pretty amazing.
- Jerusalem Falafel: Who knew there’d be great Middle Eastern food in the middle of Chiang Mai? The falafel and hummus were great, and the halloumi salad alone would be worth going back for.
- Galare Food Centre: In the middle of the bustling night market, this indoor food court has all kinds of things (from Thai curries to sushi to fresh coconuts) on offer, and everything we tried was pretty good. (Surprisingly, the sushi was fantastic!)
Things We Did
Ko Phangan/Ko Samui
- Relaxed on the beach and beside the pool
- Read. A lot.
- Sea kayaked
- Received a plethora of massages
- Explored beach towns
- Rode ferry down Chao Phraya River
- Toured Grand Palace Complex, including wat Phra Kaew
- Visited Wat Pho
- People-watched on Khao San Road
- Sat by pool at Oriental Hotel
- Shanna and Dana rode elephants
- Toured nearby villages and hiked up mountain to waterfall
- Walking tour of city, visiting several temples
- Shopped at the night market
- Capital City – Bangkok
- Currency – Baht
- Exchange Rate – 34 Baht to $1 in September 2007; 32 Baht to $1 in January/February 2008
- We would like to thank the following individuals who gave us a wedding gift that we used in this country: Bryan and Rebecca Larson, Dana Bykowski, Amanda Koenigsknecht, Scott Wells and Amy Hall, Lindsay Kay, Shane Singh and Leyna McDonough, Stephen Duggan, and Jackie and Shamoil Shipchandler. We really appreciate it!