Saturday, September 3, 2011

Phi Phi islands by speed boat

Finally, time to write! Now I get to tell you all about my trip to Thailand with my mom! (And Japan too.)

Tuesday, July 26th, I left Nabari at 1:42pm on the train to pick up Mom at Kansai International Airport in Osaka. I arrived at 4:10 and she came through the gate a little later. We embraced and then took the train thirty minutes to Spa World! On the way, who should call but my school! They didn’t trust me to clean up my apartment, so they actually went there to inspect it (for the third time). My supervisor called me to chastise me for leaving three dishes in the sink. What did she expect me to do, go all the way back and wash them? I apologized and explained that I’d been trying to get my book off to a publisher before I left, and that my clock was slow, so I realized last minute that if I didn’t run to catch the train, I would miss it. Yes, I shouldn’t have left the dishes, but she shouldn’t have called me! My contract was over! They weren’t paying me anymore, so they had no right to bug me while I was on vacation with my mother. I then asked her if she’d left the stuff in my apartment. She said she’d thrown most of it away. I got really upset, because I’d told her three times that I was coming back for those things in another month. Finally, I thought I understood that she had only thrown out the food. (The confusion lay in the fact that her English isn’t very good, and my Japanese isn’t very good, and between the two of us, communication just isn’t very good.) Feeling relieved (at the moment), we ended the call. But that story unfolds more later…

As I’ve said before about Spa World, they have an Asian and a European spa. Both allow no clothing, so the men and women switch off spas every month. In July, the women had the European spa, (the better one in my opinion) so we were in luck. Roman bubble bath with statues, Greek herbal bath (rosemary, jasmine, sage, and peppermint) Spanish waterfall, Mediterranean lounge, Atlantis (with fish tanks) blue grotto (milk and honey), gold cold bath, Finland cold, steam sauna, regular and super hot sauna, salt sauna (where you rub salt on yourself for exfoliation), and Dr. oxygen bath. Plus a pool, lazy river, water slides, work out gym, TVs, game room and restaurants, and message places on the other floors where you have to wear a bathing suit or clothes. They even have those Dr. fish that nibble the dead skin off your feet (costs extra, though). We could have spent a week there! Mom loved it. At first she was real self-conscious with everyone being naked, but pretty soon she hardly seemed to notice.

It’s only 1,000 yen ($12) per day if you don’t spend the night, but we decided to and it was only an extra 1,300 ($15.50). That’s cheaper than any hotel you’ll find in Osaka. Originally, we were going to go back to my apartment, but that actually would have cost us more in train tickets just getting there and back to the airport in the morning! Plus we would have had to have gotten up really early to make our plane on time, since it takes about three hours to get from my apartment to the airport. So we slept on the cushy mats on the floor. Much more comfortable than tatami, but bright and noisy. The next morning, we headed back to the airport for Thailand!

The next day was a travel day. It takes 5 1/2 hours to fly from Kansai to Bangkok. Of course we flew Thai airways, “smooth as silk,” with our own personal video screens. I spent the flight watching Mr. and Mrs. Smith and Arthur III. Airplanes are half so bad when you’re distracted. Here’s us at the Bangkok airport. A nice Indian fellow took our picture:



At the Bangkok airport, Mom looked like a little kid staring into the front window of a toy store. Two Muslim ladies in black burqas passed us, and then we saw a Buddhist monk in his orange robe ordering a shake from McDonald's. I had to tell her to stop staring and snapping her camera.

“We’re not in Oklahoma anymore,” she noted.

“Tell me about it,” I replied.

From Bangkok we took another 1 ½ hour plane ride to Phuket. We got in around 7:40 Thailand time, which is about 9:40 Japan time. We walked out of the airport and it was mass chaos. Our tour company, Asia Web tours, promised to have someone to pick us up, but as we pushed our way through the sea of bodies, we didn’t see our names on the signs the various chauffeurs held up. We must have gotten asked, “Taxi, Madam?” a dozen times. Finally I stopped and asked one of the other agency chauffeurs what to do, and he called the company for us. (Good thing I had the number written down and within easy access! ALWAYS have important contact info ready when you’re traveling.) Someone came to pick us up in fifteen minutes.

Our hotel, Ibis, was about forty-five minutes from the airport, but in a nice central location of Phuket city, and only a five minute walk to the beach. We got there around 9:30pm, no time to really do anything except get settled in and sleep. By that time, we were exhausted, especially since it was about 11:30 in Japan.

Our first day in Thailand we woke up around 7:00 and enjoyed a delicious buffet breakfast. They had everything from cereals, breads, eggs, bacon, pancakes, and French toast to more Asian style rice, noodles, vegetable stir-fry, and soup, and of course yogurt, exotic fruits, and juices. We got that every morning for seven days! It was great.

Here’s how our tour worked. My Malaysian friend told me I should really visit Phuket, so early on in the planning process for this trip I knew we would go there. Most of my research online was at http://www.phuket-travel.com/. It had all kinds of information about things to see and do, hotels, tour packages, restaurants, the works. I ended up choosing two three-day packages and a one-day package, because I had no idea that the main industry in Phuket is tourism, and it’s perfectly safe and very easy just to figure out where you want to go and get a taxi service there and get your tickets at the place. I honestly don’t know if that would have been cheaper than the packages, but tours tend to be crammed full of stuff when Mom and I would rather just absorb and enjoy where we are. I would say it’s better to go there, see what’s doable, and just plan each day as it comes. For most places you can’t do that without a lot of hassle (or have to buy tickets in advance), but in Thailand you definitely can.

We got picked up around 8:00am for the Phi Phi islands by speed boat, Phuket’s most popular tour. (It’s pronounced “pee pee.” One of the islands we passed by was "pee pee dung island.) The tour bus goes around to the various hotels and picks people up on a set schedule. They call the hotels if they’re going to be late. Usually they were on time. The driver was nice and let Mom and me stop by a bank to exchange some money, since every place had been closed when we arrived the night before. (Always check current exchange rates before you go anywhere; it wasn’t a problem that time, but it was later. I’ll get back to that.) We got to the boat about 9:00am. We waited for awhile and then climbed aboard. Our guide was French with a very heavy accent. I had to translate everything she and our Australian companions said for Mom. (Everyone on the boat was Australian.) I think a lot of Australians come to Thailand during the summer to escape their winter. For a country of only 20 million people, we couldn’t seem to stop running into them! The Americans go in the spring, I think, when the weather is said to be nicest and less hot. But the weather was great!

We were OK for the first hour, but pretty soon Mom and I got sick. Mom was worse that I was, I think. The guide gave us sea sick tablets, which took a long time to kick in and helped only slightly, but it was better than nothing. (Note: You should take sea sick tablets a good hour before you get on the boat!) I wish we spent more time at only two or three islands instead of spending so much time on the boat and going to five or six. But it was nice.

First we saw Viking cave, where the local people gather swift’s nests for the Chinese delicacy “bird nest soup,” which costs at least $100 a bowl. Too many tourists were going in their, flashing their cameras and scaring the birds, which really hurt the birds and the industry. So tourists aren’t allowed to go in there on pain of death. (There’s a guard who will shoot you if you do.) But we got to see the outside of it:



No one is sure why it’s called “Viking Cave.” There’s no evidence that Vikings ever went there.

Then we went swimming in a beautiful green water of Lho Samah Bay and Phi Leh Cove (I think that’s the place):



The cliffs are limestone, which react to the water to make it a gorgeous emerald/sapphire color.

Next we went to Monkey Island and fed the wild monkeys:

Here’s me feeding them:



Baby hiding behind mama:



Monkey with its tongue out:



Who gave this monkey coke in a bottle? It’s bad for it, but it drank it all right and seemed to love it!



Then we had a buffet lunch on Leamtong Beach at P.P. Erawan Palms Resort beachside restaurant. We moored about a quarter kilometer (1/8 mile) from the beach and walked through the crystal clear water to get to it:



We couldn’t eat much since we were so sick to our stomachs, but the restaurant was beautiful.



You can see that the interior of the island is tropical forest, and that’s something like a tropical myna bird sitting on the chair. They were everywhere, quite opportunistic! And the beach was immaculate white sand:



From there we went to the coral reefs around Hin Klang Island for snorkeling from the boat. Mom and I both took bananas and the fish swarmed around us! They were so beautiful, like gems sparkling in the perfect blue-green waters. Mom said she had a hard time keeping her face in the water at first while she breathed through the snorkel, but once she got the hang of it, she loved it!

Next we passed by bamboo island, named by Chinese traders, but it doesn’t actually have any bamboo on it; they only thought so from a distance. Lastly we stopped at Khai Nai Island. The snorkeling there was not so great because of the bad sedimentation, so I went for a little walk into the interior. I found something rather unusual:



What do you make of that? Toilet bowl garden.

If I were to do it again, I would take the slow boat maybe and ask them to cut out Khai Nai to give us more time at the other places. It was a great tour, but it took another 1 ½ to get us back to Phuket. I got soooo sick! I was hoping sitting in the front would help without the smell of exhaust and with the wind in my face, but it was very bumpy!

We got back to our hotel around 6:30. We watched the sunset on Putang beach. It was mostly covered by clouds, but I thought the clouds made the part we could see extra beautiful. Mom fel asleep with little white sand crabs scuttling all around her. I woke her up when it got dark about 8:00, and we went in search of a swim suit for me, since I forgot it back in Japan. I bought a beautiful purple one-piece with sparkles. The guy kept pressuring me to buy a sun dress, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as China or Africa. When I said no, he left me alone. No one followed us on the streets trying to sell us stuff. We walked down the street to see some of the night life. A car blared by with an advertisement on their loud speakers, “Tomorrow night, tomorrow night, Thai boxing!” There were men on top of the car in their boxing gear. People whizzed by on their motorcycles, three to a seat.

Mom felt really overwhelmed with all the new sights, sounds, and smells, so we headed back to our hotel around 9:00. We weren’t terribly hungry so we just stopped by a seaside cafĂ© and ordered a coconut, drank the water and ate the meat:



I once saw a rainforest show in Singapore. The lead actress was a Chinese woman with a British accent (as with many Singaporeans), and I’ll never forget how she said, “now I’m going to have some refreshing coconut water!” It was rather funny. (In case you’re wondering the difference between coconut water and coconut milk, that’s tomorrow’s lesson.)

So stay tuned for tomorrow!

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