164_6445-4.JPGYesterday we departed Ao Nang in search of something better, but it seems we’ve found the opposite. It was a short boat trip from Ao Nang to Railay, a trio of mainland beaches that can only be reached by boat due to a limestone cliffs. Approaching Railay and hopping out of the boat into the pretty beach’s clear, warm water, made a pleasant first impression. Beautiful limestone karsts framed the green bay. We walked across the narrow isthmus from West Railay where we were dropped to the budget-oriented East Railay. East Railay, itself is not a very good beach, but its just a five minute walk to two spectacular ones. Unfortunately for us and like Ao Nang, we found the quality of guesthouses in Railay to be severely lacking relative to the rates they charged. I am fine paying more for quality, but it’s the worst feeling when we shell out a lot of money to stay at a junky place. In fact, even though our rooms in Ao Nang and Railay were mediocre at best, they were two of the most expensive rooms we’ve stayed in this trip. On the plus side, Railay was scenic, but the food and prices were disappointing. Despite those two factors, we would have left today anyways, due purely to the demographics here. Its only tourists here- no Thais except workers, no permanent residents or families, no regular stores other than souvenir shops, and no local food- its not a “real” place, just a destination for Europeans to be served in bars, clubs, and expat cafes.

This morning, we beat the crowds to beautiful Nang Phra beach and enjoyed the quiet beach. Nonetheless, one night in Railay was enough for us, so when checkout time rolled around, we grabbed our packs, waded out into the ocean, and tossed our bags into the next boat leaving for Krabi.


Low-tide at East Railay

Back to Backpacking


The context of this post: We woke up in a villa suite at a five star resort and went to sleep in dark cube with a bed in it.

164_6445-4.JPGThis morning, we bid farewell to my parents as they headed to the airport to catch their flight to Bangkok and eventually home. Joylani and I hitched a ride in their taxi, which dropped us off on the main highway. After waving goodbye as they drove off, we were back to our former vagabonding. It was only ten or fifteen minutes before we flagged down a bus that was headed to Krabi. We talked a bit on the three hour bus ride, but Joylani mainly slept as I thought (I think I still need a few days to process the past ten). We were back in form when we pulled into the Krabi bus station though, waving away touts and finding a sawngthaew to take us to Krabi’s main beach, Ao Nang. Arriving in Ao Nang, we reverted to our old strategy of finding a room in hot weather: Joylani stayed with the bags, while I scoured the town for a room. Most places were full (it was past 4pm), but I did find a couple available rooms and chose the one I disliked the least. It was terribly overpriced due to the high demand this time of year, but it was a room. Walking to and from dinner, we decided we’d seen enough of Ao Nang. Boats cluttered and polluted the beach, senior package tourists infested the touristy town, and the quality and service in the restaurants and our guesthouse was low, yet overpriced. We know standards and comfort will lower than they have been of late, but this is ridiculous. Tomorrow, we’ll be on the move again.

It’s Been Real Nice

joylani 130pxIt goes without saying that the past week and a half has been absolutely amazing and lots of fun. Luxurious hotels and great meals aside, it was just so nice to spend time with people we know rather than people we just met. We talked a lot, and ate a lot (those two things go well together), and enjoyed each other’s company. Our last night summed up the last several days with a fun dinner together at Mom Tri’s Boathouse topped off with good conversation, an amazing sunset, dessert, and, of course, a cigar.



Thanks mom and dad—and happy anniversary!



164_6445-4.JPGIt seems like my parents just got here and already its time for them to go. Sometimes I think our conception of time is all messed up because we’ve been traveling for so long. Anyways, as you’ve noticed, I haven’t written anything since my parents arrived except one entry at the end of each destination. I’m not sure why I haven’t written at all, but I think its some combination of spending more time hanging out and trying to use our time to do things we won’t be able to later. Needless to say, I haven’t written anything since we got to Phuket. Again, there’s not a whole lot to write about, since our time was mostly spent just hanging out. There are a couple highlights though.

Again, the hotel was a highlight. Not really an authentic Thai place, but it sure was comfortable. Big rooms, a big balcony, ocean views. It had several restaurants to choose from for any given meal, some baby elephants roamed the grounds in the morning and afternoons (with trainers) for the guests to take photos of/with and even ride if they chose too, several pools, complete with infinity edges and swim-up bars. One highlight was my dad telling the waiters wherever we went that it was Joylani’s birthday, in hopes of getting something. A couple times we got free desserts and once the waitstaff brought out a cake with candles and everything, while singing happy birthday.

We took a few daytrips from Mai Khao, where we are staying in northern Phuket. Seeing the beaches of Kamala and Kata Noi made me happy that we were staying in Mai Khao, since those southern beaches were so developed. Although our final dinner together in Kata was one of the best I’ve ever had, including the best scallops I’ve ever had. I can confidently recommend Mom Tri’s Boathouse as an excellent place to eat, in addition to its nice beach view which afforded us an awesome sunset view.

The best day trip we took was to Phang-Nga, where we hired a boat to take us around the bay. It was a nice boat ride and I think my parents were impressed, since they’ve never seen a landscape like it before. We saw “James Bond Island,” a karst in the ocean that was used as the setting of a 007 movie, although I cannot remember which one. We also stopped an island, which was a tourist trap more than anything else. Just a bunch of floating shops and restaurants attached to a small island. Nonetheless, it was a fun trip and it was nice to be back in a longtail again.


Phang Nga Bay

Without going into all the conversations and minutiae of our days, that’s about all I have for Phuket and my parents time here in Thailand. It was an awesome time and I think each of the four of us has unique reasons for enjoying it, so it was a well-rounded trip. I say trip, even though its really only a trip for them. Pretty soon, it’ll be back to “normal” life for us. After the past dozen days, I’m not sure how I’ll do reverting to our old ways. Yea, I know you readers are really sympathizing with me right now for “having” to return to independent travel. Anyways, its been awesome, but I think we’re all a bit sad its over.


Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad! And THANKS!!!

Elephants on the beach


“Well hello there, little elephant.”


“Hello,” said the elephant. (photos courtesy of Rob Shibata)

joylani 130px“There’s an elephant!” Matt’s mom, Nancy, stated. Oh, another elephant topiary, I thought to myself. Walking to the balcony of our villa, I looked out over the nicely landscaped garden and towards the beach. “Oh my gosh, it is an elephant!” I watched the pachyderm sit down as numerous hotel guests snapped photos. Matt’s dad, Rob, came to the window. He had trouble spotting it. Guessing what he might be thinking I said, “That’s not a rock.” “That’s an elephant!!?” he exclaimed. And that’s how we started to get used to the daily sightings of the two resident baby elephants. (As though seeing little elephants walking around a hotel is normal.) We’d see them throughout the day as we walked to and from breakfast, while lounging at the pool, or as they were being walked back to their elephant home at the end of the day. Be careful when you are feeding the elephants…



Elephants aside, staying at the JW Marriot Phuket has been great for its “hanging out” spaces. Whether it be our apartment-like villa, which has been the closest thing to home since leaving…Matt especially loved the sofa while I enjoyed a home-made breakfast cooked by Matt’s dad, or the creatively designed pools, the many delicious restaurants, or even the spacious hotel lobby—it was really relaxing to be marooned at the resort together. Not that we were really stuck there, since we made an outing each day, but it definitely was not a bad place to be.



Chiang Mai, part deux


Thought this was interesting photo- ever seen a tuk-tuk with an amp, dvd-player and screen?

164_6445-4.JPGChiang Mai was pretty different for us, this time around. Instead of a sanitary tiled cube of a room, we stayed in a boutique hotel tucked back in some sois. And instead of taking classes or going on treks, we contented ourselves with visiting wats, enjoying the food, and exploring the city. This was our second time here and we’re only spending three full days here this time around, so I don’t have too much to write. Mainly, we’ve just been catching up and hanging out with my parents. Chiang Mai is good for chilling out because there’s not too much to do.

Chiang Mai again.



joylani 130pxChiang Mai, I like it.  We had a great time during our first visit here in December, and this second visit has been wonderful as well.  It has been fun to show Matt’s parents places familiar to us, like the little market where we bought all of our goodies, just as it has been fun to do some new things around Chiang Mai together such as a visit the Royal Winter Palace and night walk along the river, and enjoying sawngthaew and tuk tuk rides around town.



Buying our favorite snacks at the market (photo courtesy of Rob Shibata).




During our walk we popped into a design shop where I saw this cute little lamp.  Unfortunately it wasn’t collapsible, so I settled on some elephant glasses to send home instead. 

Finally, the hotel where we are staying has been really fun.  It’s a smaller “boutique hotel” with just a few dozen rooms set around a beautifully landscaped garden and pool.  The staff are laidback but friendly and helpful (service at the Oriental was superb, but a little over the top with formalities such as excessive bowing, etc.), and the rooms have fresh and simple décor.  I think each room is different from the other in some aspect or another.  Between our room and Matt’s parents’, the wall color, artwork, lamp, and curtains are different.  But each room is spacious with a small couch, a wall of windows looking out onto the balcony with a nice little bench built into the railing. 


Our room.


It’s the kind of hotel where you don’t just enjoy spending the night, but where it’s nice to hangout during the day and relax.  One afternoon we all decided to try the high tea offered at the restaurant.  It was my first time having high tea and such a fun experience—they kept bringing out all kinds of little goodies and drinks for us.  We were stuffed.  High tea at the Puripunn was definitely different from the other “feast” Matt and I had in Chiang Mai…Christmas breakfast.




Christmas Breakfast vs. High Tea: both were good, but obviously High Tea was a bit more advanced.

Final Farewell to Bangkok


164_6445-4.JPGThis morning, we checked out of one of the world’s finest hotels (if I and numerous rankings are any judge): The Mandarin Oriental in Bangkok. Aside from seeing glimpses of my mom’s former life and showing my dad around, the highlight of our time in Bangkok has to be staying at the Oriental. Before we picked my parents up from the airport several days ago, Joylani and I swung by the prestigious hotel to drop our bags and check-in if possible. We walked up the manicured driveway with our backpacks (still with the reddish tinge they acquired in dusty Ban Lung), past the security booth and past the valets. Just before we made it through the doors, which were being manned by costumed men, a man in a suit with a phone cord coming out of his ear, asked us if he could help us. We said we were here to check in. He asked if we had a reservation. When we replied in the affirmative, bell boys quickly appeared and took our packs. Besides trying to convince the gentleman that we would be guests at their fine establishment, it was awkward giving up our bags. I mean for nearly the past 8 months, we’ve rarely taken our eyes of our bags, much less voluntarily given them to someone. We were in a state of shock for the first few minutes after we arrived: bell boys to carry our stuff, fresh flowers and juice upon check-in. Once in our room on the 15th floor, I flung open the curtains and we both laughed in disbelief at the unbelievable view. The call button for the butler (next to the bed) and plate of fruit were nice add-ons to a stellar room, with an amazing bed and bathroom. Life was different.

Besides enjoy the hotel, we spent most of our time in Bangkok sightseeing. Jetlagged, my parents slept most of their first evening in Bangkok. Day two was spent sightseeing with one of my mom’s old friends. Day Three was a marathon day, which included plenty of transport in my mom’s beloved river taxis and my dad’s first ride in a tuk-tuk. Yesterday, was a relaxing day spent at the hotel. Although we just stayed at the hotel yesterday, I think everyone’s had a good time here in Bangkok. For Joylani and I, it was awesome to see my parents and relaxing to stay at such a nice place. My mom has been pretty jubilant since they arrived and its interesting to hear all her stories and comments on the Bangkok of today and yesteryear. I think my dad is having a good time too- he gets to be a follower on a vacation for once, instead of the planner and director. Smoking his cigars and enjoying my mom’s excitement, while seeing a new place seem okay to him. Its been an awesome few days here and I’m looking forward to the rest of our time with my parents, but its almost sad that a third of the trip is over.


my mom visiting her old haunts


my dad enjoying new Thai experiences, like tuk-tuks


Joylani enjoying the luxuries of The Oriental

and I’m up top enjoying some mangoes and sticky rice :)

Life in a grown-up hotel

joylani 130pxI must say, not that I ever thought otherwise, but staying in a “real” hotel is quite lovely.  I’m glad they let us in the other day without a hassle, Matt mentioned our dusty backpacks, but we also were lugging a black garbage bag stuffed with trekking gear.  Everything here is gorgeous, the room is absolutely amazing, there’s a floor butler, fresh fruit and orchid in our room, and an amazing breakfast buffet.  The bed is soft and fluffy and covered with pillows. 



On top of all the perks, in the morning we have a wonderful maid who does up our room.  We return in the afternoon to find all our little junks (pens, accessories, clothes) that had earlier been strewn around the room and on the desk top are now positioned in pleasing arrangements.  It’s like having Dwight Shrute for a maid. 

The Grand Palace


joylani 130pxWe finally visited the Grand Palace compound today.  I didn’t think it would be that much different form the other ones we’ve seen so far, maybe bigger.  So I was happily suprised by its practically immaculate state.  Things seemed to be restored and well taken care of.  One of the most impressive sights inside the compound was this mural that ran along one of the wall of an inner courtyard.

courtesy r shibata

(this pic courtesy of Rob Shibata)
I think some restoration work had just been completed and the gold highlights on the mural were great.


Mostly we just walked around and gaped at the usual glitz and glimmer of tiles and mosaics with some other fun components thrown in.  Even though some of it borders on gaudy, overall the look is still tasteful.  It was just cool to see whole huge structures decked out in tiles and shiny things.



Jolly stone guards guarded entrances


And delicately patterned tiles adorned the walls.