Wednesday, September 19, 2012

How I spent my summer vacation....

or really, how I spent turning 40.


After much debate and (no) planning my fabulous party that my husband wanted to throw for me...I knew I was going to end up with nothing, or doing all the work.  I didn't really want to do the party planning work, nor did I want to pay for a party that was starting to look like it would cost up there with my wedding.  Which by the way, I did on a budget. And it was awesome.  Like, end up in a magazine, awesome.  True Story.  But I digress...


Instead of spending all that energy and money on one night, I pitched the entire idea and went to Thailand.  Yep. Thailand.


All in all, we had a great trip! I was worried it wasn't enough time, but it really was, I was really missing the kids and ready to come home when it was time- I really think we got a good mix of culture and relaxation. 

I will also say, Skype is perfect for a trip like this. It was so nice to be able to see the kids, I think it helps with the missing them aspect, on both ends. 


So.... the flight there wasn't so bad, it was long, but those Korean Air planes are swanked out in the cheapseats, so it was easy to keep ourselves entertained. On shorter leg from Korea to Bangkok, the plane was 1/2 empty so we each took a row and tried to sleep more. We were not so lucky on the way back, those flights were kind of brutally long. Maybe because we had seen all the movies already. 

Bangkok Part I

We flew into Bangkok around 10pm, taxi'd it to the hotel I pricelined for 60.00 a night. I booked it for 2 nights before Kevin decided he wanted to fly to Samui late the next night, since it was Priceline, I was SOL on getting a refund. But it worked out ok, since we ended up using the room until like 7pm, which was great, so having that afternoon to shower, get ready, nap, etc was worth the second night rate. We stayed at the Holiday Inn Silom which was surprisingly really, really nice! They upgraded us to a bigger room, so we had a sitting area, computer desk area, really nice bath, etc. For 60.00 a night, it was a GREAT room! My only complaint is that it was about a 15 minute walk to the river, if I had it to do over again, I would stay right on the river (which I did in Part II), but this was still a good location and walkable. 

We got in late, had a late snack at the hotel (pricey, compared to everywhere else) then tried to get to sleep to get on Thailand time. We ended up waking up at like 6:30am, were out by 7:30am hitting the streets. Holy crap it was hot! Just hot and humid. I knew it would be, but I don't like to sweat that much, so I was happy when we got on the river boat to head up near the Grand Palace. 

Our plan was to spend this day in Bangkok doing the sites- the "must see" stuff like Grand Palace, Leaning Buddha, etc. We took the River Boat (it is like a commuter boat) to the stop for all the sites and it was littered with vendors. Most of Bangkok is like this and I didn't mind it, but this is where we got snookered a bit. One of the vendor guys was giving us directions but told us it was a "Buddha day" and the palace didn't open until noon. So he told us to take a Tuk Tuk to see the Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha), he would wait for us and then take us to the Grand Palace after. For like 3.00. What I didn't realize was this guy was also going to take us to the Jewelry store, suit store, etc even though we said no. We finally caught on and he begged us to go to the last vendor, he doesn't get his gas money if he doesn't get all stops stamped. We agreed, but it was kind of annoying. And the Grand Palace? Not closed. These guys tell you that to get you to take the Tuk Tuk ride to all the shops. We only learned this when later that afternoon we ran into a couple who was told it was closed in the afternoon by the same guys. 

Anyway..... So we walked around Wat Phra Kaew, Wat Pho, saw some shops, had lunch, had a massage, did the Grand Palace and took the boat back and then walked to our hotel. 7.5 hours in that heat, I was DONE. My feet hurt, I was sweaty and gross, I was crabby. I think it was too ambitious of a day coming off 22 hours of flying and about 8 hours of sleep over 2 days. I was starting to get cranked out and wasn't appreciating Bangkok, so I am glad we had another day on the tail end of our trip- because I didn't want to do anymore site seeing and we still had stuff on our list. 





Leaning Buddha- it was huge!  


Koh Samui

We flew to Samui that night, I will say- you need more than 30-45 minutes to get to the airport in Bangkok- we almost missed our flight and this was SUPER stressful. The hotel couldn't get us a cab willing to go to the airport, Kevin finally walked down to the main drag and 3 cabs told him they wouldn't go to the airport, we had to pay 50.00 for the hotel car to take us last minute and it took us 1:15 minutes to get there at 7pm at night. Traffic is THAT BAD- so whomever said plan at least 30 minutes? Double or triple that is my advice!!!!

We got into Samui (nicest airport ever!!!) and the driver was waiting for us. It was crazy when we showed up at Poppies, I was like huh? I was expecting this little resort on the beach and it was there, smack dab in the middle of a busy drag....it was funny, like Indian Restaurant (great by the way!!), 7-11, then Poppies, more shops, massage place, etc. It just wasn't what I was expecting from the pictures...... you can see what I mean: 





Our view over breakfast every morning:


We had a lot of fun in Samui- we went diving one day, took a Moto out another day, got massages every day, shopped, beach, pool, just had a lazy time. 

The diving- I will say, the diving overall was not nearly has good as I was hoping. It was funny, everyone we met diving had never dove the Caribbean, so I think that if they had? They would appreciate where we were coming from, because it just isn't nearly as colorful and beautiful over here. I feel this way about both the Gulf and the Andaman sea side. We are very glad we dove both sides, for perspective, but it would never rank up as a top dive spot to us. One thing that I was not thrilled about is the time commitment for diving vs. other spots I have been. In the Caribbean, you get picked up about 8am, 20-30 minutes to the dive site, get 2 or 3 dives in, back to the dive shop around 1 or 2pm, you still have your day open to you. Here, it takes over an hour to get to the divesite, in Phuket it took 2.5 hours!! It was just a long day. They also don't have the coral and reefs that I am use too- but the fish and schools are much bigger. Just larger fish, huge schools, etc.



Phuket

This was our first real issue of the trip. I was so excited for our hotel, it looked amazing and the reviews on TA were great. I am completely baffled at how these were the reviews, because this place was a disaster. It was obviously a condo that never got off the ground and was turned into a hotel. The check in process was random. They were asking me questions in (very bad english) about what I agreed to pay, they ran my credit card on a little machine like you see in a nail salon, we finally got up to the room and it was just weird. It was a nice condo in theory, but it was just damp and musty. It was very minimalistic, but not in a good way. It was like they tried to make it sleek and modern, but did a bad job. It had a kitchen but it was totally outdated. The bed was in the first room when you walked in, but there was no TV in that room. Which in a hotel, is standard. We like to lay in bed and watch TV, so while I realize this sounds lame to some, it was a big annoyance upon first walking in. Little things were bugging me, aside from the smell and the fact that when I sat on the bed or the couch, it felt "damp". Like it just never really dried out from the humidity. Plus, the curtains were snagged. Old ugly looking fan on the floor. It had the rooftop pool, but it was pouring (and late) so while I am sure it was nice, the room itself was such a disappointment, we decided to leave. 

Other things that were just weird. The internet wasn't working, so we couldn't call the kids. The "front desk" just said it was because of the storm but the internet in the lobby was fine, so I think they just didn't know. The girl who took us to our room kept asking me to pick soaps, and toiletries. I didn't understand what she was asking, but it was like I had to pick my "scent" of soap!? I had to pick my shampoo? It was weird. Normal hotels just leave that stuff in the room. 

I SPLURGED on this place. Like 350.00 a night. For that, this place wasn't worth it. Not even close. Kevin went down to the internet in the lobby and after about 30 minutes, we decided to bail and head to Phuket Marina resort. We still had to pay for the room one night, plus the car service. The manager wasn't very accommodating, but we just wanted to be gone. They called us a cab. 

It was pouring rain (really the only storm we had was this day/next day) and like 11pm at night. This "paddy wagon" shows up to take us to our hotel. Hello? I get that these are fine "cabs" or (phukets version of a tuk tuk), but this was not appropriate for a 40 minute drive to another hotel, in the middle of the night and during a huge storm. It took forever to get a real car, but all in all, when we got to the new hotel, we were blown away. This was a much better part of the island, I would highly recommend anyone coming to Phuket to stay in Karon Beach or Kata, vs. any other part. It is a nice mix of being close to the action, restaurants, shops walkable, but not in the craziness of Patong or the remoteness of Phuket Town or Rawaii (where Serenity was). 

In the new hotel, we got an Ocean Front room- it was similar to our Poppies Cottage but it was a duplex cottage, so in theory we would have people next to us. But that cottage was empty the entire time. But this room was spectacular. Little touches like a huge walk in shower with multiple shower heads, a soaking tub with little head cut out, gorgeous balcony and just so lush and green. The amazing news, even with paying the first night at Serenity (which I will be disputing on my CC), we still got this hotel for cheaper than the entire stay would have been at Serenity- the room was less than 1/2 the price and 100x better! Granted, no private pool, but whatever, it was worth it. 

They also let us have the room until 3pm on check out day, since our flight didn't leave until about 4:30 so that was a huge bonus! 




View over Breakfast:



Grounds....

Baby Elephant who lived at the hotel


We ended up skipping our first day of diving because of the storm, it worked out well because the hotel change caused some confusion, etc- and the weather was pretty overcast with a little rain on/off. We decided to go up and check out Patong Beach, which is the "popular" area of Phuket- the nightlife, the bars, restaurants, etc. Patong is not my thing, it is like the Times Square of Thailand, and you all know how I feel about Times Square. Good to see once, but not a place I need to see ever again.   But it was fun to check out....

We ended up only diving one day in Phuket, because we were worried about the weather (it turned out to be gorgeous the rest of the time) but the diving is even a longer day here- we really wanted to do Phi Phi island- and that is a 5 hour boat ride (round trip) and a 3 dive day- so like 8am until 7pm- LONG day, longer than I am up for to be honest- but the boat was nice, they serve food, etc. But it as a madhouse. Just a totally different diving experience than I have ever had, like 40 people on a boat, everybody had their own "group" they were assigned too- you had to go into the water in shifts- and people everywhere under water. Overall, while I am glad we did the diving here, it isn't a place I would recommend as a top dive place at all... I found the whole experience not worth the return on what we saw. Visibility was terrible, it got better as we went deeper, but when we first went in and started to descend, I couldn't even see Kevin 5ft in front of me- that was not fun. It got better, but still wasn't great. 

The boat ride out to Phi Phi was pretty though- we mainly did the cave area- it was interesting- when we were going by some of the caves, I noticed they had people in them- I guess they had to set up guards because people come in and steal the birds nests that are in the caves for the saliva of the birds. It is a delicacy in the Birds Nest Soup in China and goes for like 5K for a little vial, so the Thai govt had to start guarding the caves from thiefs. 



After a long day of diving, we decided to go up to Old Phuket town the next day and keep it more relaxed, we found a taxi driver who was basically willing to be our driver all day- for 1200 baht (about 40 USD) he was our personal chauffer- it worked out great!

We also hit the butterfly museum- which was really pretty fantastic!



Then he took us to the Look Out Point on the southern tip of the island near Rawaii beach- this area was great, very quiet little beach area mainly full of locals..... we walked along the beach and had a couple drinks at a bar called Nikita.



We drove back to the hotel for a nap and then went back to the end of Patong for our only "fancy" dinner out in Phuket. We went to the White Box, it was a great meal, but very pricey and the restaurant needs a little bit of a revamp to really pull off the prices considering you can eat a good meal for a fraction of the price most places.

Both of us were kind of kicking ourselves when we saw how gorgeous the weather was this day for not going diving and we had already seen Patong, so we were kind of like "what now?" but we really enjoyed this day and thanks to our taxi driver, we really felt like we saw the island and took advantage of exploring other areas a little off the beaten path. 

Phuket is really a much bigger island than Koh Samui, they even have an outlet mall!  I a glad we hit both coasts, it was definitely worth it since all the flights are only an hour and pretty cheap. 

Bangkok Part II

I really enjoyed this time in Bangkok, I didn't feel as pressured to see it all in one day and we had a great time..... We stayed at the Hilton Millennium, a GORGEOUS hotel on the river. I highly recommend it and wish I had stayed here the first time, it was worth the extra money (120/night) for the perks. I only have Silver status since I lost my Diamond status, but they still upgraded to an executive level suite with river views, executive lounge access (which means free breakfast, free happy hour and cocktails, etc)- so that was nice. We got in early enough to take advantage of happy hour that night so we had a few glasses of wine and snacks in the lounge- it was a circular room similar to the Signature Room, overlooking the city and river. 



The hotel arranged a private long-tail boat for us to go see the Thonburi Canals - it was awesome. We really, really loved this! It was a 2 hour boat ride thru all the canals, they have a pulley system that controls the flows in/out of the canals, it was interesting how it all worked. He let us stop and visit the Wat Arun, and then we hit a couple "floating market" sellers.... it just was a great way to see parts of Bangkok, houses that were really nice next to houses that I can't believe one good rainstorm didn't wash them away, but it was all very interesting and well worth the 1500 baht per person! 

Our boat: 





We ended the day at the cooking school that Rick Bayless blogged about his lesson there- we had a great time! It was just us ad another couple from France. 3 hours, totally hands on and we had a blast!!! 

Since we were the first to register, we got to pick the dishes- we decided on a Pad Thai, Lemongrass Coconut Chicken Soup, Red and Green Curry. 

Making Curry is HARD work man!!!! 

Hot and sweaty in the kitchen! 






We flew out that night around 11:45pm, the first leg to Korea was pretty easy, we both slept about 3 hours of the 5, but the flight from Korea to Chicago was BRUTAL.... I am still so tired and it is hard to get back on track. We ended up sleeping most days for a nap about 4pm-7pm, because we started our days waking up so early, we were beat then, but now I can't stop waking up at 4am!!!!!

The end. 



How did you spend your summer vacation?  











3 comments:

  1. That seemed like a pretty spectacular holiday, Michelle! I'm pretty jealous as all your photos look great and despite the interesting "hotel" in Phuket, it seems like you had a really good time!

    My summer wasn't nearly that exciting. haha. My husband and I went away to my parent's cottage for a week and a bit, which was lovely.

    Have you ever written about your wedding? Now I'm curious to see how you did it and what it looked like!

    ReplyDelete
  2. I haven't, maybe I should! But you can see the snippit here- I think it was too long for pictures still in the "press"- but if you scroll down, We are "Stairway to Heaven" the cocktail party wedding :)

    http://timeoutchicago.com/things-to-do/39976/its-a-nice-day-for-a-swiped-wedding

    ReplyDelete
  3. Event planners have extensive knowledge and also wisdom gained because of the experience regarding years connected with planning events along with parties.
    Event Management Phuket

    ReplyDelete

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