Thailand

Le Bouchon is certainly one of our favorite restaurants in Bangkok. Just a tiny little space right off one of the city’s most notorious sex districts, you walk in and are immediately transported to France. Small space, dark, tables close together, and mostly great food. Sadly, I had steak tartare that wasn’t really all that great. Mark’s meal, though, and my escargot starter, were all great.

Yup, Bangkok again. This time just two days as we transition from Koh Samui to winter in the U.S. No need to do any intense shopping this time in Bangkok as we can do all the shopping we want in a couple days. So this was just an opportunity to go back to our favorite restaurants and hang out a bit. Thus not much to add here except a few pictures.

Next stop: Dulles National Airport!

Our favorite lunch spot is the unfortunately named Tummy Yummy. The name is silly but the food, service, and space are all great.

That’s me, just outside Tummy Yummy

With nothing really to do I spent more time than usual in Lumpini Park, a big green space in the center of the city. To see this you’d think Bangkok is some pretty, perhaps even slightly green city. You’d be wrong, but this was still a lovely view. The sad part is that with mid-day temperatures in the mid-90s it’s just too damned hot to enjoy it that much. Of course, as I would stroll through the park or sit and read for a while, I’d see guys jogging around the park. I like running as much as the next guy but not when it is in the 90s for God’s sake.

Enjoying the amazing waters in the Gulf of Thailand

Koh Samui, an island in the Gulf of Thailand, is one of our absolute favorites places, perhaps the best beach town we’ve ever been to. We keep coming back; we’ve been here twice before since we started this adventure and I’m pretty confident it won’t be our last. The water is perfect, the sand is perfect, the town is … well, good. And all a lot more affordable than other idyllic locations.

Planning a trip to Koh Samui has always been a bit of a struggle. The best beach, by far, is Chaweng Beach, and that’s where we want to spend our days. But most of the nicer resorts are spread out around the island. And then there’s Fisherman’s Village with neither great beaches nor nice resorts, but the best little restaurants on the island. This time, for the first time, we decided to stay right on Chaweng Beach at a hotel we’ve looked at many times, The Library. It definitely worked for us.

The swimming pool at The Library is tiled in red, which is a little weird. The overall effect, though, is stunning.

Here was the routine, then. Up early to run on the treadmill for 40 minutes or so. After stretching a quick dip in the ocean. Breakfast and then the beach, where I would spend the morning reading The Three Musketeers (I know, it’s about time!). Mark & I would go for a dip now and then and just marvel at how incredibly perfect the water was. Well, almost perfect. The first couple days the water was really rough and it was even a little dangerous to go in. After that, though, it calmed down and then it was pretty much perfect. When my only complaint was that the water wasn’t really cold enough to cool down you know things are OK.

Then it was off to lunch, sometimes after a taxi ride to Fisherman’s Village, sometimes just up the road a bit from our hotel. In both we found tiny hole-in-the-wall kind of places with great Thai food at really cheap prices, just the kind of places we love. And it was good that we found them: both of our favorite places from earlier visits – Eat Sense on the beach and Nirvana in Fisherman’s Village – were closed. The case of Eat Sense is a sign of how things are changing. When we stayed at other parts of the island we would take a scooter to Chaweng Beach and then get loungers and an umbrella from Eat Sense; as long as we had lunch there the rest of it was free. This time, though, the place was closed up. What happened? I asked one of the guys at our hotel and he explained that the Chinese bought it. They’re going to open their own resort for Chinese package tourists, but for now it’s empty. Yeah, that’s what the world is coming to.

That’s a pretty nice beach

At any rate, after lunch I’d head back to the beach for a late afternoon nap and swim while Mark would typically head out for a massage. While there are plenty of the, ummm, less reputable kinds of massage available, there are also seemingly unlimited perfectly legitimate massage opportunities, all at crazy cheap prices. One day after lunch in Fisherman’s Village he came back just gushing that it may have been the best massage he’d ever had anywhere, and all for about $10. Two days later we were back there for lunch again and afterwards he went to the same place. Sadly, the masseuse he’d had wasn’t in. Not to worry, though there are others. The result is that the earlier massage is now only the second-best massage he’d ever had. He could never figure out if the person doing the massage was a he or a she – gender can be a little fluid in Thailand – but whoever he or she was, it was apparently amazing. And did I mention that it was only $10?

Four dishes that make up lunch at Khaw Glong Too. Thank heavens for TripAdvisor which points us to places like this.

Meanwhile I managed to finish The Three Musketeers, so the novel and the island will always be connected in my mind.

We had seven full days on Koh Samui and each day we seemed to enjoy it just a little more. We’ll be back in a year or two. For now, though, we’re off to Bangkok for two days and then headed to the States to see family and friends. The plan is to spend two months stateside, by far the longest return visit since we started. Who knows, maybe we’ll decide we like the States again!

Mark caught me running while he was walking to breakfast. In front of me, through a big window, is a great view of the ocean.

The resort is called The Library and they have these simple statues spread all over the property. I thought it was cute.

That’s our room in the upper left. The design was a little strange – the stairs leading up were so small front-to-back that I would pretty much always scrape my heel when walking down – but the lighting was cool.

The water, the beach, the umbrellas

We had lunch at the hotel once, just to see what that would be like. The food wasn’t as good and it was a lot more expensive, but the views were fabulous.

Another shot from lunch

OK, one more shot from lunch at The Library

And another picture of me. And the water.

Of course, there was more to Koh Samui than just our little lodge. The rest of it was pretty colorful, too!

Mark at the Beach Bar in Patong, It wasn’t on the beach but it was fun, friendly, and reasonably innocent

After all that time in Northern Thailand it was time to head to the beach. Our favorite Thai beach is Chaweng Beach on Koh Samui but we decided to give the island of Phuket (pronounced poo-ket, not like some obscenity…) a chance. Phuket is Thailand’s biggest island and arguably its most famous. We’d been here once before, back in 2009 and we enjoyed it but we weren’t crazy about it. We figured we’d see if maybe we’d missed something.

Not really.

We stayed on the southwestern part of the island, just outside what Lonely Planet calls the “sin city of Patong”, home to go-go girls and hangovers. The “just outside” part is important: our hotel, another Le Meridién, was maybe a mile-and-a-half out of town. More importantly it had what was effectively a private beach. That is, beaches are public in Thailand and on most beaches there is a steady parade of locals trying to sell stuff. Thus the beach at Le Meridién isn’t technically private. Because there are natural cliffs on either side of the property, though, it is effectively impossible to get there except through the hotel. That – along with gobs of gorgeous white sand – made the beach pretty damned good.

Our beach. Take my word for it, the Andaman Sea is just outside the photo. It’s 7:00 AM and lots of chairs are already reserved for the day even though there will be no one sitting in them for hours still.

On the other hand there’s one thing I often hate about a place like this: the race to get down to the beach (or pool; our preference is the beach) early in the morning to reserve your chair. I just think hotels shouldn’t allow it, but they do. For us it’s not that big a deal once we learn the “rules” – we’re morning people anyway. So if I went down to the gym to run on the treadmill at 6:30 AM (it normally doesn’t open until 7:00 but they’d open it early for me just because I like to work out early; very nice touch) there wasn’t any problem getting chairs for us. Still, it’s a lousy system.

Most of our days, then, were just hanging out at the beach. For dinner we would take a taxi into town; it wasn’t that far but in the dark with no sidewalks it didn’t feel safe to walk. Taxis were surprisingly expensive for Thailand – almost $10 for the mile-and-a-half ride – but they were also usually pretty comfy. One night we ended up in this pimped-out van, complete with bar and huge leather seats. Very strange.

A couple of shots of our pimped-out van

Once we got to town it was kind of what you’d expect for a big party destination. With the help of TripAdvisor, though, we were able to find a nice Georgian restaurant (who’d have guessed that??) and later a good Thai place. And using our own intrepid skills found a fun little bar with cute bartenders who didn’t skimp on the pours. Nothing to complain about.

There were several tiny bars like this one in a small, semi-outdoor area on the edge of Patong. Friendly, decent pours, a fun place to watch the crazy world and chat with some of the crazy people in it.

On the other hand, though, nothing to convince us to come back either. From here it’s off to Koh Samui, by far our favorite Thai island, perhaps our favorite beach destination in the world. First, though, we had to get off Phuket, which required a taxi to the airport and then a reasonably short flight. The airport, though, was insanely crowded. Amusingly Mark had just emailed me a Bloomberg article about the impact Chinese tourists are having on increasingly overcrowded tourist destinations – a topic of some common observation on our part – that had Phuket as the cover photo. And here we were living and breathing in an absolutely, unbelievably packed airport. It was crazy.

Eventually, after only maybe an hour’s delay, we managed to get out of Phuket. Next stop Koh Samui, a place that is genuinely worth getting excited about.

The scene at Phuket airport. Insanely crowded.

On a calmer note, this is the view across the pool at breakfast. Definitely nothing to complain about.

Thai green curry with chicken and some stir-fried morning-glory. One of the things I like about Thailand – one of the little things – is how easy it is to get ice-cold soda water like that bottle in the picture.

And finally, like any beach party destination, Bob Marley is big here. Big.