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Our week in Phuket: highlights

Sawasdee-ka! Here is part two of our trip (click here for part one).

We had enjoyed a week of urban living and shopping in Bangkok – and were now ready for a week of winding down in Phuket. Cleaner air, slower pace, greener landscape!

Well … there’s just one thing you have to get through before you can relax in Phuket, in my opinion. It’s slightly chaotic (by NZ standards) when you exit the airport in search of a cab. In my experience people seemed gruff, and I was sharply reminded that here I was, foremost, a paying tourist. :-$

That said, once we located a suitable cabbie and arrived at our base for the week, those stressful minutes were forgotten :-) We stayed at Mangosteen Resort for the duration of our visit.

Our room and en suite bathroom were spacious yet cosy and relaxing – and there was a jacuzzi area attached.

Dinner at Rawai Beach

Our top highlight would be having dinner at Rawai Beach while the sun set behind us. It was absolutely beautiful (and personally I think it is a great spot for romance ♥). We ordered our dishes from a restaurant named ‘Nong Pla’, sharing sticky rice, som tum (papaya salad), some gorgeous fried scallops, chips, pineapple rice, tom-yum-goong (spicy soup with lemongrass and shrimp, one of my all-time favourites). Everything arrived hot and promptly, and we enjoyed our delicious dinner.

I rather like the unique system the restaurants on this stretch of the beach use – running their kitchens and restaurants on one side of the road, and setting up an ‘al fresco’ extension of their dining area across the road right next to the beach. Staff take your orders at your table, then whiz them over from the kitchen across the road when they are ready. Genius! All you need to take along is your appetite and a can of mozzie repellent :-)

After this we took our full bellies across the road to Baan Kanom to get cold drinks before heading back (highly recommend their chocolate frappe).

Songkran

Songkran is Thai New Year, and takes place in April each year. This year we both experienced it for the first time. Google “Songkran” and you will find many great photos and write-ups about it and its origins online. Basically we were quite blessed indeed as we rode through the local area on our little rental scooter and got thoroughly soaked by both locals and tourists standing on both sides of the road fully equipped with buckets and hoses. We were both glad to have experienced this, and also to have experienced a ‘tamer’ version of it than we might have at a more ‘touristy’ location.

Altogether a novel experience, one that will have you laughing and shrieking and, indeed, letting go of ‘bad luck’ to embrace the harvest of the present moment.

Breakfast

We ventured out most mornings on our rental scooter to eat. Most places cater both to the Thai and Western palate, which I love.

Amongst our favourites: Arlecchino, Boulangerie Chez Nous, Rawai Beach (right corner when you are facing the row of eateries), Baan Kanom. A very decent breakfast (along the lines of fresh juice, coffee / tea, a main dish such as muesli or eggs and bacon on toast, and fresh fruit) costs approximately NZD$10. A Thai-style breakfast (e.g. rice or congee with condiments) is approximately NZD$4-5 – worth every savoury, flavourful bite.

If you aren’t an early riser in Thailand it doesn’t matter either, for there is never a shortage of food and restaurants seem to be ever open for business. And if a big breakfast ain’t your thing – you can always opt for a fresh coconut instead (swoon!)

Massage

You’ll find it hard to escape massage places in Thailand – we had mostly positive experiences, bar one where I drifted off to sleep in the gentle hands of my masseuse while Jarred reported feeling like he had been “mauled by a toothless bear” … maybe what you get when you look too strong ;-)

While a full body massage feels and is luxurious, and a good cure for heavy shoulders and a stressed mind, I think targeted massages are often underrated. A foot massage in particular is quite rejuvenating and works wonders for tired feet, and is much more convenient!

It pays to (1) check for cleanliness and respectability, if those things are important to you; (2) decide if you wish to receive a Thai massage – including contorting and twisting; (3) tell your masseuse if you’d like your massage to be strong, medium or soft. And of course don’t forget to give a little tip directly to your masseuse before you go :-)

Phuket Fantasea

See, eat, watch, and experience it for yourself. Reviewers online seem to love it or hate it, and having visited (we got the buffet, show and pick up package) I understand why. Definitely an Experience!

None of the photos below are touched up – it really is as cool and lovely to look at in real life :-)

Phuket Walking Street / Lardyai

On our last trip we really enjoyed visiting Phuket Walking Street / Lardyai so we went there again on our last night (a Saturday) in Phuket. Alas the market was a Sunday market, not a weekend market, so we were slightly disappointed. However we still enjoyed a brief stroll through the very quaint and charming street.

We went to another market after this, on the recommendation of a shopkeeper – Naka Market. A loud, sprawling market which for this introvert woman is stimulating enough to keep one up for hours without a sip of caffeine, so Lardyai remains my (and our) favourite so far :-)

Below are some pictures taken on our last trip:

Travel by scooter

There are many places which offer scooter rental in Phuket, most we’ve seen price them at approximately 250-300 baht (NZD $10-12) per day. We opted to hire one through our hotel as other places wanted to hold on to our passports while we had the scooter. They likely have good reasons for this but I wouldn’t recommend handing over your passport!

Phuket has its potholes and quirky driving antics but all in all we enjoyed exploring the place via scooter and would recommend this over taxi, especially in the neck of the woods we were in.

Beach time

I’m sure no one needs to be told to spend some time at the beach! Warm, lovely water and plenty of Vit D are gifts for the soul :-)

Two other places we visited on our last trip (but not on this one) are:

Pum’s Cooking School

When looking up cooking classes last year I came across a recommendation for Pum’s Cooking School on the popular travel website Nomadic Matt (which by the way is an excellent resource for travellers).

We did “Pum’s Little Wok” class last year and were not disappointed – Pum made cooking easy and fun, introduced us to the basic principles of Thai flavours, and we had a little tour through a nearby market and a delicious shared lunch of our creations afterwards.

Market visit:

Yes, I almost lost my appetite for a moment there …

Jarred gets top marks from me for presentation and taste.

Wat Chalong

There is a strong Buddhist culture and influence in Thailand, and their many temples are testament to that. A few I’ve seen are exquisite in their attention to detail and design, including the well-known Wat Chalong

If you’re lucky you might get to witness the firecrackers:

And that sums up our highlights … hope you enjoyed reading it and that it gives you some inspiration to visit amazing Thailand!

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Our week in Bangkok: highlights

Sawasdee-ka! Recently we spent two weeks in Amazing Thailand – spending a week each in Bangkok and Phuket. Thailand is a popular tourist destination for so many reasons … my personal favourite things about Thailand are its tropical weather, exciting food, unpredictability and zany style. I’ve spent a few months in Bangkok previously so it was nice to return and show my husband Jarred a few spots I knew – and also explore a few new ones with him.

Since we’ve been asked more than a few times by family & friends what to do / eat / see in Thailand – I thought I’d compile a few of our highlights:

Chatuchak / JJ Market

Someone told me Chatuchak is home to 4,000 stalls – the official website though claims it hosts 15,000 stalls. Who knows how many there really are, but one thing is for certain: it is huge. You can spend hours here and not run out of new stalls to peruse. We came here by tuk-tuk on our first morning in Bangkok (you can also catch the MRT to Kamphaeng Phet MRT Station). One gets a little hot and dizzy exploring Chatuchak but you can always get a cold drink and explore the sheltered bits when you get tired of walking in the outdoor area. It is well known for being a market in which pickpockets operate – so ladies, wear a bag with a thick strap and which you can keep very close to you at all times; men, no wallets in back pockets! No thick wads of cash! Leave your passport and valuables in the safe at your hotel if you can.

If you’d rather visit a night market – try Asiatique The Riverfront (free shuttle boat service provided from Saphan Taksin BTS Station). There are many options there for stylish souvenirs, dinner and more. You can also enjoy a view of the city from their ferris wheel (which we didn’t take on this occasion).

Malls

If you’re not looking forward to having to trawl through the malls with your wife who’s eager to shop (not that I imposed such a thing on Jarred) – you may change your mind when you’re in Bangkok because they are good places to escape the heat and also to grab a bite in air-conditioned and clean surroundings. Bangkok is full of comprehensive and well-designed malls – the most beautiful ones are to be found in the city centre in the vicinity of the Siam BTS station.

 On this trip we spent most of our shopping time at Platinum Mall which you can access via BTS or by taking the khlong boat to Pratunam. Hubby bought more than me … haha! I didn’t take photographs at Platinum but it’s basically a fashion-focused mall where you can get anything from wigs to belts, cosmetic jewellery, handbags and elaborate gowns … some for close to wholesale prices. Vendors are accustomed to interacting with tourists. I find it best to just enjoy the experience of bargaining and try to strike a deal which is fair for both, or be willing to walk away as the next good buy is never far away!

Pictured below: Central Embassy mall

While we’re on the subject of malls … Siam Paragon (right next to Siam BTS Station) is a luxe mall, where you can enjoy delicious food and window shop for cars (check out Coffee Beans by Dao on G. Floor – relatively upmarket by Thai standards but always reliably great food, along with the luxury cars upstairs … )

We came here with my friend Håvard – good to catch up again :-)

Embassy Diplomat Screens by AIS

I wanted to surprise my movie-buff husband – and I was in luck, as Bangkok is home to the Embassy Diplomat Screens … a cinema which doubles as a pampering experience. You can book your tickets online as we did. Located on level 6 of the Central Embassy mall (close to Phloen Chit BTS Station) – arrive at least 30 minutes before your movie is scheduled to start if you can, so you can enjoy the lounge experience before you snuggle up in your cocoon seat or daybed for the movie. Best to pick a engaging movie to watch or you may find yourself waking up at the end with drool trailing off the edge of your open mouth ;-)

This is not the cheapest cinema ticket you’ll ever get – but in my opinion it is worth experiencing at least once, and preferably on a date with someone you like!

Waterways

Bangkok is the Venice of Asia, and one can easily forget it when catching the comfortable BTS train, feeling stuck in horrendous traffic or attempting to bargain with a tuk-tuk driver … but don’t miss the chance to explore the city via its waterways. Not only is it picturesque and refreshing, it is also a very inexpensive way to get around.

Khlong Saen Saep

For part of our trip we stayed at an Airbnb apartment in the Thong Lo area which was conveniently located right next to the Thong Lo pier. We loved it that we were able to catch a khlong boat to Pratunam (city centre) each day for 15 baht (approximately NZD$0.50), and arrive in 15 minutes!

Some find the smell and occasional splash of canal water offensive (though they have a good system in place to deal with sprays) less than appealing, but if you can get past that it is well worth it!

Chao Phraya Express Boat

One thing about the boats: they are speedy and great, but the system can be a little hard to figure out when you first get there. The easiest option is to purchase an all-day pass for the Chao Phraya Tourist Boat from Sathorn pier (close to Shangri-La Hotel / Saphan Taksin BTS Station). It costs just 150 baht (approximately NZD$6) and you can hop on and off as you wish at piers located very close to a few of Bangkok’s key attractions including Yaowaraj (Chinatown), Khao San Road, Grand Palace and Wat Pho.

If you do hop on this for a day … don’t miss …

Farm to Table

Get off at Pak Khlong Talad pier and take a look at ICP Flower Market en route to Farm to Table Organic Cafe, a 5-minute walk from the pier (use Google Maps). This little treasure serving delicious fare and handmade gelato is well worth a stop for lunch (and leave room for dessert).

Supanniga Cruise

Still on the subject of water and food (two of the best things in the world, no?) – there is a yummy way to enjoy the Chao Phraya River at a leisurely pace. I signed us up for dinner on a Supanniga Cruise … where we got to enjoy some Thai delicacies over a 2.5 hour cruise along the river. We got a perfect sunset and evening – and as a bonus, albeit to my embarrassment as well, we were the only passengers on board that evening with about 9 crew members attending to us! We had more than enough to eat (and the food was swoon-worthy!), the boat was nice and new, the crew took photos of us all evening on my camera, and we enjoyed our evening with them.

The verdict is also that I will probably not ever opt to privately charter a boat with a substantial crew as I simply feel too embarrassed ;-)

Street food

Bangkok’s street food is truly an attraction in itself. Hygiene isn’t always on the top of the list at some of these places, so choose carefully (or be willing to put up with the consequences) – on this trip I took us to Convent Road (a stone’s throw away from Sala Daeng BTS Station). Incidentally it is also very close to BNH Hospital should you require quality medical attention for anything.

We had some delicious chicken rice, a delectable banana and nutella crêpe (so crisp, sweet and hot!) and spicy chicken (not pictured).

Moon Bar

If you’re still in the vicinity of Sala Daeng BTS Station in the evening and it’s fine weather, enjoy a 10-minute stroll to Moon Bar at the Banyan Tree for a drink 61 storeys above ground level. There is an option to dine too at Vertigo (the adjoining restaurant). Dress code is smart casual – in our case we were unprepared, but they graciously provided a perfectly fitting pair of trousers for Jarred and a wraparound skirt for me. Seats are limited but it didn’t take us long to find a cosy spot. The view was breathtaking and our drinks were delicious (I recommend the Thai Sabai!)

Soi Thonglor / Sukhumvit Soi 55

Our Airbnb apartment was located very close to Sukhumvit Soi 55, which seemed like a very vibrant street from what I read about it through my Google research. We certainly enjoyed walking down it one night, taking in the sight of all the colours and exciting-looking restaurants, though we had unfortunately already had dinner that night. We did, however, take our time to explore a few gems …

theCOMMONS

We had our morning drinks at Roast – I can wholeheartedly recommend their iced espresso latte, a very creative and delicious way to enjoy iced coffee! We hung out for a little while afterwards downstairs in the common area, just people-watching and chatting. Enjoyed the concept and visual layout of this place – a thoughtfully designed community hub.

It also turned out to be a ‘beauty day’ for both of us … Jarred went to a hairdresser then chilled in the nail parlour while I had my nails done :-D

Later still after a dinner interlude, we returned to Thong Lo to visit the much talked about Iron Fairies bar. It was too dark to take good photos, but we liked the design and creativity in the place, the calm atmosphere, the great live music and how it felt like we had disappeared down a rabbit hole into another world :-) I hear the food and cocktails are good – perhaps something to try next time (this time we just had beer for him and Perrier for her, after a huge dinner!)

Sorabol

The aforementioned big dinner we had was at Sorabol with my friend from uni, Nam, and her boyfriend Trust. We took a cab there from where we were staying (if catching a cab and your cabbie needs more details around where it is, say it is close to K-Village). We had a great time catching up over Korean BBQ … seriously there are few better ways to feed a hungry tummy!

Thai fruit

Obviously eating out lots can leave one hungering for simpler, home cooked fare. For our days spent at our Airbnb Jarred made us delicious oatmeal in the morning which we enjoyed with fresh mangoes bought from a street vendor. Seems we had arrived in good time for the annual mango season … mmmmm … they were so ripe and juicy, almost sexy!

Uma

When we were planning our trip we were faced with a somewhat pleasant problem: WHERE to stay with the plethora of options available online! In the end we decided to pick a place each in Bangkok, where we would spend half the week. Jarred’s pick was Uma Residence which was very affordable at NZD$162.40 for 4 nights including a daily breakfast at the time we booked. Our room wasn’t huge, but it was very tidy, comfortable, well ventilated (something which we really appreciated when we got to our Airbnb apartment), and we really enjoyed hanging out by the pool before we headed out each day and when we got back in the evenings. They also had a complimentary cookie and coffee station which was a very lovely touch for guests.

In terms of location it is situated in the older Dusit area of Bangkok, very lovely and local, tuk-tuks and taxis easily available a few minutes’ walk from the front door, 9 minutes’ walk from a boat pier (which we only discovered towards the end of our stay). We’d love to stay at Uma again on a future trip to Bangkok.

It’s easy to spend a week or more in Bangkok with so much to explore – next time I’d love to take a cooking or massage class, visit the Floating Markets, Wat Pho, islands and other attractions in the vicinity of Bangkok, and re-visit Dasa Books, Lumphini Park and Talad Rot Fai … :-)

Have you been to Bangkok? What are your favourite spots / activities?