May 20 - 23: Thailand

Part II: Bangkok and Ko Samet

After an enjoyable morning at the Nong Nooch Park, it was time to head back to Bangkok. We arrived in Bangkok just before a horrific thunderstorm came rolling in. We checked into our amazing hotel, the Pathawam Princess. The service was extremely congenial, the rooms were fantastic and there was a fabulous fitness center and swimming pool. Additionally, the hotel is attached to a huge shopping mall. We waited out the storm and then we went to dinner. More curry, more seafood and this time we found mango sticky rice! Delicious. The next morning, Fran and Ben did some shopping while Bryan and Nancy returned to the airport to pick up Nancy's friend Julie who was coming for a 12 day visit.

Nancy boards the train to the airport. The train was a bit slower than a cab would have been, but at only a fraction of the price - only 5 baht (11 cents) versus 300 baht (7 dollars). We found Julie at the airport and headed straight back to the heart of Bangkok.
This was our second hotel room at the Reno Hotel in Bangkok - considerably cheaper, but much less cushy, than the luxurious Pathawam Princess.
Julie's room was a mirror image of ours, across the hall. She was holding up pretty well despite her long and uncomfortable flight from the U.S.
Later we hopped on the Sky Train (Bangkok's light rail system, much like a subway, but unfortunately very limited in scope) for a short ride to a river dock, where we were due to meet a boat for a river dinner cruise.
When we arrived at the dock, we noticed that there was a sign to call the restaurant for a free shuttle. So, we called and minutes later a boat showed up to take us to the Yok Yor Restaurant, where we had planned to depart for our dinner cruise. However, upon arrival at the restaurant, we found out that this was the OTHER Yok Yor restaurant without the cruise. Luckily, they were nice enough to take us to the correct restaurant up the river. We arrived at the restaurant, ordered tons of delicious food, including mango sticky rice! This is the last picture that anyone has of Fran and Ben as boyfriend and girlfriend.
During dinner, Ben who usually has a voracious appetite seemed to be pecking at his food. Nancy wondered why. Bryan didn't notice but Fran says that she also noticed he didn't seem too well. After dinner, Julie and Nancy made a trip to the back of the boat to wait ... for something ...
We returned to our table and suddenly Fran and Ben are now fiance and fiancee. Look at those beaming smiles! Congratulations to the newly engaged couple!
We're not newly engaged but we're happy nonetheless!
The next day we went to a fresh flower and fruit market. These pictures don't really show the magnitude of the market - Thailand has an absolutely unbelievable quantity of fresh flowers for sale. The market was impressive as well with many fruits and vegetables that we had never seen before.
Here's Julie hanging out with the smelly (not nearly as smelly as durian) jackfruit.
Cutting a durian. We didn't want to linger in this area too long due to the smell - we stayed just long enough to snap this photo and then we quickly moved away ...
Fran makes a jackfruit purchase. We liked jackfruit at first but somehow the taste became less and less compelling the more we ate it. Somehow the musty odor sort of gets to you after a while.

Later that day we went to the Grand Palace, which is the site of many historial government and religious buildings in Bangkok. The grounds were incredible - Thai architecture is among the most interesting and beautiful in the world. It looks otherwordly with its golden curved rooftops and strangely insect-like "spirit hook" features at each roof corner.

Out of respect for the Grand Palace, which is an extremely important place to Thai people, visitors are requested to wear closed-toe and closed-heel shoes, long pants or skirts, and bare shoulders are not allowed. Essentially, informal clothing is frowned upon and in some cases visitors are denied entrance to the grounds if their clothing does not meet Thai standards. Needless to say, we did our best to show the proper amount of respect to this sacred Thai place by wearing appropriate clothing, despite the extremely hot weather.

There's not much to say about most of these pictures - just enjoy the spectacular views that we were treated to on a beautiful sunny day in Thailand ...

That evening we walked from the Pathawan Princess to a Thai seafood restaurant. This was to be Fran and Ben's last meal before returning to the U.S.A. so we wanted to make sure it was a good one. Thanks to the concierge at the Pathawam Princess, we had a good one.

Nancy inspects the seafood to ensure that we get the best available.

Another beautiful spread of Thai food.

Fran devours a crab leg from the crab and shrimp roe dish that became Fran's and Nancy's favorite dish while in Thailand.

Everyone's smiling and full of good food.
The next day Nancy and Julie went to see "The Golden Buddha at Wat Traimit". This golden Buddha statue was discovered less than half a century ago when construction workers accidentally dropped the plaster buddha during a move and discovered a golden Buddha inside. The story goes that the plaster exterior was created to protect the buddha from invaders. Supposedly it is made of solid gold but we are skeptical as the security around the statue would not seem to indicate that the Buddha is worth the tens (hundreds?) of millions of dollars that it would be worth if it were.

May 23 - 26: Ko Samet

Ko Samet is an island off of the east coast of the Gulf of Thailand. It is southeast of Pattaya. We were told that it was a nice little place to go to and it wasn't very far away so we opted for some rest and relaxation and sun! We took a nice little bus from Bangkok to Ban Phe, a city on the mainland. Then we took a rocky boat ride to a beach on Ko Samet called Na Dan. From there we were just a songthaew away from a beach called Ao Hin Khok. It was a beautiful beach. The shores had very soft sand and it is possible to walk out very far into the ocean. There were quite a few establishments with bungalows for rent. After some walking around we settled on Jep's Inn. There we were surrounded with other vacationers mostly from other countries. The surroundings were fantastic, the music was pretty good and they even played a few good movies on their outdoor entertainment center.

The Ko Samet beach outside of our bungalow at night ...
... and in the daytime.

The first day at Ko Samet, Bryan rented a motorbike for three hours and went to explore the island. The island is not very large but in the first hour he managed to become totally lost in the maze of trails winding their way to different parts of the island. It was a beautiful and peaceful ride, however, with nary a soul to be found anywhere. As the second hour passed Bryan found his way back to civilization and turned back around to head out on the "long trail" that he had missed when he was lost, only to discover that it was the long trail that he had just come from! Without even knowing it he had explored all of the major trails of the entire island in search of the one "big trail". Oh well. Another hour of more difficult going through some overgrown jungle trails and he was back "in town" again with a much better sense of the size and the extent of the island.

This is the reservoir where Bryan first took a wrong turn and ended up lost for most of the rest of the day.

This frightening-looking sign warns of forest fire. Lucky there weren't any while we were on the island.
These bungalows were buried deep in the jungle. Accomodations like these are cheaper than those on the beach and much more secluded, but you need a motorbike and some patience to get anywhere.
Here's Bryan from arm's length. Nice hat!
A secluded beach on the southeast coast of the island.
Here's a shot from the handlebars. The going was pretty tough over some of the trails, which were sometimes criss-crossed by very deep ravines and lots of loose stones and sand. Bryan fortunately made it through without a spill although there were one or two close calls ...
Just off of the trail Bryan discovered a path to a bluff with some beautiful views.
Bryan managed to take these two photos of himself by balancing the camera on the back of the motorbike, setting the timer, and dashing away before the timer expired and the photo was taken.
Here we see the motorbike parked near a deserted bungalow on a quiet corner of the island.
Bryan returned from his adventure to find the girls relaxing on the beach.
Each meal was accompanied by a beautiful view of the beach. There were many restaurants with outdoor tables very close to the water, and in the evening when the tide came in the water would come nearly close enough to touch.


An interesting little tidbit about the section of beach that we were on: prior to leaving for Thailand we had read that Thai people dress more conservatively and in our travel book it mentions that Thai people find it obscene for women to go topless at the beach. But when we went to the beach on the first day, it seemed as if we had landed in the middle of a European beach. Many women were sunbathing and swimming topless. We just didn't quite understand the reason. We suppose it's so that they don't have tanlines. We even found this sign on the beach in front of our bungalow area.
But despite all of the indications of the inappropriateness of going topless, many women still did so, such as the one pictured to the left.
Nancy enjoys one of many plates of Pad Thai at Jep's Inn. For a small establishment that catered to Western palates, the Thai food seemed very good. Or, may it's because we have Western palates.
These statues depict characters from ancient Thai folklore.
If you walk all the way to the end of this beach and climb the small hill at the end ...
... you are rewarded with this breathtaking view of the sea.
Here's Nancy relaxing on the beach. Hmm ... there just seems to be something missing ...

Ah ... there it is ... the mango lassi ... a mixture of mango, yogurt and ice. Delicious! Nancy enjoyed 10 of these wonderful beverages during the three some days that we were at Ko Samet. Nancy says that they were the highlight of the beach!

For anyone who talked to Nancy about our trip to Thailand prior to our departure, you may have noted that Nancy was planning on going to Thailand to eat as many mangos as possible. So, when she arrived in Thailand and was having trouble finding mangos in Pattaya and Bangkok, she wondered what had happened to all the mangos. By the time we arrived in Ko Samet, she was already way behind in mango eating. So, when she found out that none of the restaurants in the area served mangos, she was devastated. She just could not survive four days without any mangos. Well, that first morning, she went on a mission in search of mangos. She walked from our beach to the next larger beach asking every restaurant in her path if they had mangos. One or two establishments had raw green mangos, but that wasn't what she was looking for. Finally, she lucked out. Someone suggested that she find the market near the boat docks. Unaware that this adventure would be so involved, she ended up walking over a mile away to the market, barefoot in just a swimsuit. But, she succeeded in finding her mangos. She bought a bunch of them and headed back to the bungalow. That night at dinner, she convinced one of the waitresses that they COULD make a mango lassi. She had to ask several waiters and waitresses before one of them agreed. She actually got to drink two of them that night. From then on, whenever they saw Nancy with a mango in hand, they knew what she wanted. Bryan even offered to go buy some mangos for her the next day so she would be stocked with mangos for the rest of the trip. What a nice guy!

This lucky dog is relaxing on the beach ...
... and this one, in his bungalow.
Despite the manually operated toilet (water scooped from the bucket next to the toilet "flushes" it), and the sand that accumulated in the bathroom ...
... Nancy is all smiles so long as there's a shower at her beckon call to wash sand, salt water, sweat, gobs of sunscreen and mosquito repellant off several times a day.
For our last dinner on the island we trekked up the beach under threatening skies and rising wind to a bigger restaurant. We were lucky to get seats away from the beach and under a roof, because the rain started pouring down minutes after we were seated. We only got a little bit wet and enjoyed our meal thoroughly.
Back to: Thailand (Part I)

On to: Thailand (Part III)

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