A Travellerspoint blog

After the Rains Came Down

To The Riverside and beyond, from one end of Bang Niang to the other.

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After all the clouds and rain, moving day dawned quite pleasantly and we were excited to be leaving the big resort and moving north to the pretty little Riverside Hotel. We got all packed up and were collected promptly at 10.30 by the taxi driver in his 10 seater mini van. Only a mile or so along the main road, then you turn off again to drive through the village back to the coast. As we neared the hotel we entered a building site. Huge concrete construction, road blocked with trucks, machinery, and motorbikes. Our driver had to stand his ground and force the construction traffic to back up so we could get through. The entrance to the Riverside was partially blocked and the driver had to shuffle back and forth, inch by inch, to get into the drive.

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A huge new hotel complex is being built, Chinese money apparently, right up to the side wall of the Riverside, extending all the way to the beach at the front and right back to the road at the rear. Well over 200 rooms plus an underground car park. It towers over our poor little Riverside and construction is well underway with over 100 workers. The other side of our hotel drive, and opposite, all available land has had ugly temporary tin huts put up all over it and there's construction traffic parked all along the access.

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On arrival, we are given the choice of three rooms but chose our usual favourite. It turns out we are the only people in the hotel. We looked out of the window at the lovely view down the garden to the sea, with the river to the right and trying to ignore the concrete monstrosity next door, with its tower cranes and diggers. But, all has changed! The trees, or most of them, are still standing but the little beach bars and restaurants have all gone. We walked down, trying to find the path, now covered with tons of building sand, on to the beach. The beautiful beach is littered and untidy, the seas are rough with breakers tall enough to surf. Clearly the big waves have eroded the beach as many tree roots are exposed. Most of the big hotels along this stretch have had to build retaining walls on the edge of their property to prevent further erosion, often with big piles of rocks on the sea side. These rocks extend out into the sea at all but low tide. We walked up the beach to the first such impassible construction then climbed up on to the street and made our way along the beach road. We stopped for lunch then walked back the way we had come. We tried to swim but the waves were so rough we kept getting knocked over, and by this time it was clouding over again.

Back at out ghost ship of a hotel we showered and watched the storm. First the sky turned dark purple, then came the sheet lightning and thunder and end of the world type rain. It rained and rained, it went dark, night came. We were stranded. We couldn't walk to the village along the beach, it was pitch black and the path had vanished. We couldn't walk along the road as the building site and rain had created deep puddles of mud. Our hotel offers no evening meals..... so we stayed in with the trusty gin bottle and a bag of crisps.

The next day, after our lonely breakfast we packed a bag and got the owner to drive us to her sister's restaurant at the other end of the village. This has a tiny sliver of beach access, festooned with a few sunbeds, between two of the ugly concrete retaining walls I mentioned earlier. First we went for a walk up the street. At the very far end of the village we discovered that a little bar and some massage ladies had set up camp just above the high water mark and had spread sunbeds and parasols along the rather nice stretch of beach. So that's where they went!

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We returned to the restaurant and sat on some sunbeds waiting for the sun to appear, which it did, for about half an hour. Down came the rain, we retreated into the restaurant, we had a drink, we had a meal, we had a massage apiece and still it rained. Around 4.15 it eased off so we set off into the main part of the village to visit the big local market. Big mistake, the rain came down as never before, the kind of rain that hurts as it lands on your shoulders and bounces as it falls on the floor. We were soon absolutely drenched and eventually ducked into another restaurant for shelter where we spent two hours waiting for the rain to stop, which it didn't. We had another meal then paddled our way to the taxi rank where we got ripped off to the tune of 150 Baht for a ride home through the rivers of mud at the construction site. At one point, the tuktuk made such heavy weather of ploughing through a raging torrent that I thought we were going to be told to get out and walk, or wade, the rest of the way back.

So we moved hotels. We felt awful and the owner of The Riverside did everything she could to persuade us to stay, but with the weather forecast for more rain throughout the week we needed to be somewhere where we can walk to a decent beach and to a choice of restaurants, even if it is raining! We are now at the end of the beach with the restaurant and massages huts, at another small hotel where we have a big Wendy house with an upstairs bedroom. The view isn't quite as pretty as before - but we are on the beach (albeit with the retaining wall) and we've been enjoying glorious sunshine since we arrived.

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Right now, at 9.30 am I am on the beach, laying in hot sunshine under a parasol belonging to the inestimable Nong Prew Restaurant. The sky is blue, the sand is golden, the sea is calm and there is a ready supply of ice cold G&T..... what more could we want?

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Posted by GinSmugglers 05:33 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

What is a Resort?

Not what you might think, in Thailand...

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According to Wikipedia, the term 'resort' refers to 'a self-contained commercial property which attempts to provide for most of a vacationers wants whilst remaining on the premises, such as food, drink, lodging, sports, entertainment and shopping.'

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In Thailand, every small hotel that provides more than just a room to sleep in, calls itself a 'resort'. I recall little Ting Rai Bay Resort on Koh Jum, with wooden bungalows built into the mountainside where the facilities consisted of a restaurant, a fan or two, some monkeys and a rocky beach that disappeared at high tide. And our much loved Khaolak Riverside Resort which serves only breakfast and has no bar, but which does have an elegant swimming pool. These are what I expect a Thai 'resort' to be.

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When you drive north from Krabi, up into Phang Nga Province and over the mountain, the first part of Khao Lak you come to is Khuk Khak where the big hotels are hidden amongst pine clad hillsides which fall steeply away to the beaches. Keith had been interested to find out what lay beyond the roadside glimpses through the trees and booked us into 'Sensimar Khaolak Beachside Resort'.
The clue is in the name. Sensimar is a TUI brand. Resort means 'resort' as in Wikipedia.

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Our room, whilst comfortable, well maintained and well appointed, could be anywhere in the world. The hotel breakfast is quite lavish, even though there are no pastries other than croissants and they cannot do bacon. But, we feel trapped!

We don't have a TUI wristband, a Saga Privilege Card or a Cel Card. We are simply guests without portfolio. The bewildered wandering few that are not German/Scandinavian, or ancient, or both! We are confined by the treacherous rocks either end of our bit of beach or by the tortuous climb up to the main highway and the road to freedom! No nipping along the beach at lunchtime to a handy beach bar for a cheap drink and snack... no, we're cut off by the rocks, the high tide and the equally expensive and isolated hotels either side.

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In the evening without an All-Inclusive wristband, it's 700Baht each (£16) for the buffet in the white tiled, grey painted hospital kitchen of a beach restaurant! Our choice is to make the climb and venture out on to the main road where 700 Baht will buy a two course meal, with drinks, for both of us in any number of proper Thai restaurants.
In so many ways, I feel sorry for the Northern European guests who have chosen this place for their two weeks in the sun. A direct flight to Phuket followed by private transfer to this hotel then all meals served here. Only the intrepid few climb out of the confines of the resort, instead they stretch out their bodies in rows at the edge of the beach and then go home fourteen days later, even darker, wrinklier and more leathery than when they arrived. All they see of this beautiful country is the route to and from the airport.

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^ This is the enormous lift retro-fitted to the Sensimar!

The difference between two cultures was illustrated this afternoon when I went to swap our two wet beach towels for dry ones. Unusually, the towel kiosk was unmanned and so a queue of resort guests, clutching damp towels, had formed awaiting the return of the pool attendant. There was a large basket for wet towels and two big piles of fresh, clean towels. I walked to the kiosk, dropped my towels into the basket and picked up two clean ones. Sharp intakes of breath followed by much tutting as I walked away!

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Our weather has been mixed, always warm but often cloudy. Every time the sun comes out I try to remember to take pictures of our beach and then forget as I soak up the rays.

Posted by GinSmugglers 06:04 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Moving South

To Ao Nang, Phang Nga Islands and Khao Lak, in the rain!


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We didn't buy anything in Bangkok but by the time we'd stuffed our heavier travelling clothes into our suitcases, they were bulging at the seams. Even so, they are only medium sized ones, positively dwarfed by the luggage dragged around by some of our fellow travellers. Kim Tonks, if you are reading this, you could get into some of the bags we've seen, easy!
A fair few of these monsters trundled off the conveyor at Krabi (each one collected by a diminutive Asian) when we arrived to a mid afternoon downpour. A real tropical deluge. It is supposed to be the dry season but it seems that the weather gods have gotten their dates muddled.
We were well chuffed with our choice of hotel in bustling Ao Nang. The whole of the Phang Nga area is surrounded by karst cliffs and our hotel, aptly named 'Cliff Beach', clings to the side of a cliff affording us fantastic views out over the bay.

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We are on the top floor and the whole end wall is glass, as is the shower, so you can even enjoy the view as you carry out your ablutions.

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One of the things we like about Ao Nang, apart from the massages at 250Baht per hour, is getting the laundry done! In the hotel, to wash a shirt costs 75Baht, ironing, another 60Baht. On the Main Street, hand over a bag of laundry, shirts, shorts etc. Eleven items altogether, 66Baht, everything washed, ironed and beautifully folded. How could you not take advantage? Also lovely, when you've spent the day on a speedboat, swimming, snorkelling and enjoying the delights of Koh Phi Phi, Maya Bay, Bamboo Island, to drop of all of your wet sandy clothing and collect it clean the next day!

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En route to Maya Bay we passed Viking Cave, where swift's nests are collected for bird's nest soup!

Maya Bay is where 'The Beach' was filmed. In the film, the beach is hidden inside a 'hong island' only accessible through a cave like passage through the rock. In reality, although surrounded by cliffs, the beach is reachable by boat through a narrow channel. We first saw it prior to the 2004 Tsunami, a pretty, quiet, isolated beach. Now it's standing room only with groups of tourists jumping in the air, trying to time the shutter flash in order to recreate the iconic 'Beach' photograph. We tried, but my bikini top became adrift so that picture will be consigned to the archives.

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After Ao Nang we travelled 2.5 hours north to the Khao Lak region and the rocky beaches of Khuk Khak. Since we have been here, the sun has made only fleeting glimpses through the clouds. We sit on our so-called sunbeds, enjoying the warmth and watching the sea.

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The 'sunbed issue' here is interesting, any towels and bags left unattended on sunbeds prior to 10am are removed by hotel staff (allegedly). This means that some people lie on the beds until 10am then then rush off for late breakfast! We're OK, we're on the beach, washed and breakfasted before 9.00am enjoying what has proven to be the best part of the day.
In case anybody is wondering, Li'l Monkey is still with us, but he prefers the comforts of the room to gasping for air in a plastic bag when we take him to the beach!

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Posted by GinSmugglers 23:49 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Bangkok in Black and White

The city mourns.

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Bangkok is definitely a city in mourning. Four weeks on from the death of the King black and white ribbons adorn shop fronts and hoardings, huge pictures of the much loved monarch and messages of condolence are displayed everywhere. The people wear black, the only splashes of colour in the crowds are the saffron robes of monks and the bright clothing of a few unthinking tourists, oblivious to the feelings of the Thai people. The city is more crowded than I've seen it before with heightened security and crowd control at all the major transport hubs. The BTS Skytrain, which used to be a blissfully cool, pleasant way to travel is now as crowded and sticky as the Central Line at rush hour.

At the Grand Palace, long lines of black clad visitors queued to pay their respects as bus loads of Thais from all over the country continue to arrive. Free food and water stations have been set up along the street by the Royal Thai Navy, to cope with the volume of visitors waiting in the heat and humidity to see their King for the last time. Buddhist monks gather to continue their 100 days of ceremonial chanting. The atmosphere is sombre, we feel sad too.
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Even the weather is subdued, instead of the blazing sunshine we tend to expect, the first two days of our visit were as grey and dismal as the general mood of the city. We've also had a most spectacular thunderstorm which woke us on Monday night so we sat watching the sheet lightning from our balcony with its view upriver. Today the sun has made an appearance so we have settled at the pool to soak up some rays.

We haven't done very much since we've been here, mainly pottering about the local area and a trip up river yesterday. After our visit to the palace we had our first massage of the trip at the inestimable 'One Pho' then took the river boat down to the flower market for some colour. The fragrance of the jasmine hits you as you arrive but it's the piles of orchids that you see. We bought a bunch for 10 Baht, about 24p at today's pitiful exchange rate.
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We've checked out the main markets, still filled with T shirts and designer fakes, nothing new but all rather more expensive than in previous years.

As for our gin smuggling, we actually managed to buy 2 litres of Gordon's at Heathrow in PLASTIC bottles for £22. Our first shopping expedition provided the tonics and the limes so we are all set for the first week at least! Note his and hers G&Ts!
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Posted by GinSmugglers 05:53 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

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