Thailand 2019: Phuket and Phi Phi islands

Covid-19 is still having a free rein in 2020 and so the travel-deprived moi shall be content with memories of past holidays. My recent-most trip is almost a year ago, to Thailand with the hubby’s extended family, thanks to Banti mama. I find myself back in time on my second day in beautiful Phuket, continuing on from my last post (Thailand November 2019: Phuket).

The highlight of Phuket is the stunning coastline and the islands just off its coast. This day, we had a pre-booked tour to the well-known Phi -Phi islands. Ideally we would have chosen to stay a couple of nights instead of just doing a day trip like we did this time, well you learn something every day! Fortunately for all the older people in our group, we were booked on a huge boat and not a small long-tailed boat or speed boat, which had been a pain for the poor seniors. After waking up unreasonably early and driving almost an hour to the pier, we stood waiting for the boat to be loaded for another hour. Needless to say, we were (as in Krabi Thailand November 2019: Krabi 4 island tour), completely disgusted by the tour operators; all except Babu masi, who utilized the time to shop. (In retrospect, it might have been the smarter thing to do)

Ever-smiling Babu masi spent the wait time fruitfully

When we finally boarded the boat, we were even more disappointed to find our seats in the lowest cabin area that had tiny cubby-hole windows way above seat level. There goes the view! “Thomas Cook never again,” was everyone’s furious decision!

The ride to the islands is 2 hours and the airconditioning in the claustrophobic cabin ( unthinkable today!) was the only saving grace. Oh and the “Gujju” food bag! With no food service on board, we thanked our lucky stars for our smart vision in carrying the food bag everywhere (and for finding it at Bangkok airport!). Once you are stuffed silly, even a dull ride can seem less painful! Of course, there are mobile phones to while away the time.

Kids can always entertain themselves. Look at the bored/ sleeping adults behind!
The hubby needed no device, the kids had a blast playing with him and jumping over him!

However, even mobiles, running and jumping about could get boring and after some time with no beautiful sea scape to wow us, everyone slid into a slumber.

Finally, they allowed us to go onto the deck and there was a mad scramble to get out into the sunshine.

Karst islands rising from the deep blue sea and the stunning clear blue skies ensured that we never went back down
Banti mama enjoyed a chilled beer while the kids had icecream

If you travel by speedboat to the Phi Phi islands, you can get off at the island where the Leonardo diCaprio starrer “The Beach” was filmed, but the big boat tour only takes you to an island where you can snorkel and then on to the Phi Phi islands themselves. So a bunch of us and the 2 teens got onto another boat to snorkel while the senior citizens and the kids went onto Phi Phi directly.

It was my first time snorkeling and I really enjoyed it. Not having carried an underwater camera casing, I have no pictures but this is something I have to do again for sure. It was fascinating to see the pretty yellow and black striped fish and marvel at a rare blue one, and fun to be bobbing in the ocean, trying to stay within the ropes.

Tiny fish in the clear waters off the pier at Phi Phi

Phi Phi island is quite large, very crowded and touristy. And yet, it has a certain charm to it. Maybe it’s the beautiful color of the waters, the delicious food available, or just the chilled island vibe, but I felt that this would be a lovely place to stay at, especially after day trippers like us were gone.

Banti mama loved this island

Our tour included lunch at the main beach area, so we rushed through the market without stopping and had a very average lunch (the only 2 bad meals on the trip were those included in the tour). It probably was for the best as we quickly wolfed down the food and dove in to the best beach I swam in on this trip. White sands and clear blue waters, absolute bliss!

Sadly, we didn’t have enough time to enjoy our seaside bliss, as we had to head back pretty soon. We walked back through the market place, grabbing some slush and icecream on the way, wishing we’d stayed here instead of at the mainland. On the boat ride back, the seniors and kids had a bit of shut-eye, but we had a great time on the deck in the blazing sun, watching the beautiful scenery rush by.

My brother-in-law and sister-in-law getting very tanned on the deck

Back at the hotel, we roamed around our hotel area, making a mental note of places to eat at. We were surprised to see the large numbers of massage parlors in the area, and a little doubtful about what exactly was on offer. We finally decided to actually see for ourselves instead of slandering them without evidence & dived into one. I am happy to report that I had the best foot massage ever and nothing else happened. At least I think so, as I fell asleep!

While in Phuket, one must sample the nightlife, and so we headed off with our younger cousins to Bangla road, the neon lit, pedestrian-only vibrant center of night life in Patong Bay area. The party here is not only in the bars, but all along the road. The long day caught up with us, and we, the older lot needed to call it a day by midnight, which is actually when the ‘day’ begins in Bangla.

Since the last 4 days had been crazily hectic, we decided to just rest the next day and have really no plan but local sight seeing. The kids were desperate to swim, so they leapt into the hotel’s tiny pool, while we walked around our hotel and then headed for a long lazy lunch.

We simply took over the entire restaurant!
Beloved food of our teens

That evening, we planned to visit the local beach that was a mere 1.5 km walk from our hotel. As we set off, we were pleasantly surprised to come across the Phuket Patong Bay parade, with beautifully decorated floats and people dancing in their local costumes.

The kids joined in the parade and merrily danced along. The rest of us walked ahead to the beach to catch the sunset, the only sunset we saw at the beach on this trip.

My sister-in-law loved the chilled coconut water at the beach

As it grew dark, the floats lit up, and the dancers put up quite a show for us. This unplanned evening turned out to be the most fun filled evening for us!

My brother-in-law and sister-in-law posed with the prettiest lady in the parade

My niece spotted a Starbucks, and dived in. Kids and their fads! FYI, back in India, my house is 500m from a Starbucks! So much for trying the local cuisine, the curse of globalisation! All in all, it was worth getting in simply to enjoy some air-conditioning actually.

I loved these pretty wooden lamps

The entire beachfront ahead was lined by beautifully decorated shacks, selling drinks and a huge variety of food. But we already had our share of overpriced corporate cake & coffee so we could only gawk at it!

Filled to the brim, we walked back to our hotel. The next day, we had an early morning flight to Bangkok. Phuket turned out to be a surprisingly enjoyable place. Food was outstanding and despite the long distances, this large peninsula had enough to keep everyone entertained. And I slept happily, dreaming of this gorgeous sunset.

P.S. Many many thanks to Yogesh Shenoy for editing my very lacklustre post and making it a post worth a read.

Thailand November 2019: Phuket

September 2020 is when I thought I would be able to take my postponed North Italy trip. Of course, I’ve been living in fool’s paradise with hopes that just cannot materialize. With all plans of travel in 2020 dashed, it’s nice to revisit a wonderful, unplanned and unexpected trip to Thailand almost a year ago, courtesy hubby’s uncle and aunt, Banti mama and Renu masi. I’ve already relived the Krabi trip in previous posts, it’s time to move onto Phuket.

On the third day of our trip, we woke up early (again) for the long 4 hour drive to Phuket. I didn’t know the 2 places were so far apart, and was lucky that I had enough music stored on my phone to keep me company as we drove past groves of trees with no water in sight. Tired by the early morning, everyone else fell asleep but Coldplay managed to keep me up till we finally reached Phuket and planned a long day of sightseeing before reaching the hotel.

As always, included city tours are boring, with visits meant to lure the unsuspecting occasional traveler to overpriced lousy stores and over-touristy destinations from where the drivers get kickbacks. Luckily, we had our own list of places to visit that the kids would enjoy and were spared half of the unwanted destinations that the guide tried to make us visit. After a slow (but delicious) Punjabi lunch at a “dhaba” styled restaurant run by a Sardarji, we went straight to Tiger kingdom.

I really hate the idea of drugging an animal for letting kids and adults pose with them, but we had little kids with us who were too young to understand such concepts and were all charged up about touching a real tiger. Surprisingly, our teens were just as charged up and despite my entreaties, joined the kids in the tiger cub “meet and greet”.

Some day, they will realise their folly, till then, they will be happy with this memory
Delicious mango slush with mangoes while waiting for the kids

Any trip with kids has to have enough for them to do and Thailand certainly provided enough. Straight from Tiger kingdom, we went to Dolphin bay to see a seal and dolphin show. Even with my anti-animal torture sentiments, I loved the show. Dolphins are my favorite sea animals and it’s relieving to see how much their trainers love them, even while making them perform in ways they really shouldn’t be doing.

The highlight of the show was when we could actually touch the dolphins. Having never gotten close to a dolphin, I was the first to rush ahead this time and was shocked by how rubbery their skins were and still amazed by the beauty of these graceful sea animals. Sigh! I really don’t have the right to talk about kids’ folly!

From there, we were whisked away to a temple, only to have our teens groan away at that thought. However, Thai temples are beautiful and peaceful and we enjoyed posing outside and inside the temple.

I was impressed by the photography skill of the driver, who captured all of us with the temple
Ask nicely and y’all will be blessed!

Like all Buddhist temples, the architecture was ornate and detailed, but not a shade on those in Bangkok. We climbed up all the levels to the terrace with a beautiful view of the huge Buddha statue on top of a hill and the surroundings.

Banti mama and Renu masi really enjoyed the temples

It wasn’t just humans and drugged animals who posed nicely for us that day, some animals were naturally forth-coming for their turn on my lens.

It was getting late and dark as we left, but our driver was keen on taking us a viewpoint over Phuket bay, so we drove and drove up a long winding slope to reach a beautiful terrace with a great view.

As we watched the sun set and the city light up, the exhaustion of the day finally caught up with us. Having emptied out the Gujju snack bag, we drove to the hotel past glittering streets and high end boutiques. After some rest, we indulged in some street food (the best street food of the teen’s life, she’s drooling even as I type) and visited a night market for some unique food options.

Tiny tables lined the market
I have never seen so much sea food at one spread

Our teens went off with the hubby’s younger cousins, one of whom was once a chef in a 5 star hotel, to try local cuisine. And did their horizons broaden! For a change, my daughter stayed off pizza and pasta and tried something different, including even octopus and clams!

My sister-in-law and I, much less adventurous and vegetarian, had a blast sampling the exotic fruits and desserts available.

Ice creams and slushes made using delicious fresh fruit

Having had such a hectic but exciting day, we were happy to crash into bed early as we had another long day ahead of us, a full day trip to the famed Phi Phi islands. However, the exhaustion of writing has crept up on me just as the exhaustion after that long first day at Phuket, and so, the story will continue on yet another “locked down” day.

Thailand November 2019: Krabi 4 island tour

There are some places that one describes as impossibly beautiful, and they stay fixed in one’s mind as impossibly beautiful forever. For me, one of them is Krabi, more specifically, its islands. The soft golden sands with stunningly clear turquoise-green waters and deep blue skies have captured my heart. I have always loved beaches, but Krabi’s beaches are a class apart and I would love to go back.

It was our second day at Krabi and of the unexpected trip to Thailand courtesy the hubby’s uncle and aunt Banti mama and Renu masi (Thailand November 2019). We had to wake up ridiculously early (for a holiday) to go on the pre-booked 4 island tour. Thanks to the rain, we had rested enough the previous day and could wake up on time for a scrumptious breakfast and head off on time, sleepy but very excited.

DSC_6473

A sneak peek of the day ahead, shimmering through a gap in the trees

It is a different matter that once we were unceremoniously dumped by the car driver at the meeting point, there was no one to meet. We went to the waterfront, to the few shacks around, then back to the drop-off point, but found no one. Banti mama struggled to call the local travel agent, who didn’t take the calls. After more than half an hour of getting frustrated, we met someone who told us to wait near the waters.

IMG_20191029_072725m

Everyone was grinning at having found the tour organisers

Happy to find a point of contact, we walked right back to the beachfront, cheerfully stood under the trees, admiring the waters and wondering how there was no one around, while the kids shrieked for beach toys. As their mother went back towards the road for the toys, she noticed a large gang of people and approached them to ask about our tour guide. It turned out that we should have been waiting right there, by the road, instead of being misguided by one of their own people!

As we trudged the long walk back, the tour guide actually yelled at us for having wandered off and making everyone late. That was the last straw, considering that we had reached way before anyone else.

20191029_092927

However, it was impossible to stay angry for too long, as the tour group was led by an extremely entertaining woman. She proceeded to “orient” us for the better part of an hour. She had us in splits, not because she was funny, but because she was really silly. We could only thank our stars that she was not our boat guide.

20191029_094801

Traditional long tailed boats

We set off almost 3 hours after reaching the beach from where the tour started, and it was very hot by then. Still, we were very excited as we approached the line up of long tailed boats, till we struggled to clamber in. Note to all elderly and physically challenged travelers, approach these boats with caution. You need to wade into thigh deep water and hoist yourself over the edge to get in. Luckily, with a lot of effort, all 18 of us managed to get in safe and sound and settled in, and then we set off.

20191029_100055m

This neat orientation took half an hour to set up and was undone in 5 minutes!

Soon, the beach was a tiny speck on the horizon and beautiful blue-green waters surrounded us. A gentle breeze blew into the boats, cooling those of us not covered by the shade. Fortunately, the Gujju food bag had made its way onto the boat too, and we cheerfully chomped on theplas and chili pickle, interspersed with biscuits.

Once your tummies are full, everything appears more beautiful. The sea appeared greener, the skies bluer and the sun seemed sunnier!

20191029_100827

Even the clouds seemed, well, cloudier.

20191029_101458m

Even the grins were toothier!

20191029_101115

Happily, we leaned over the side of the boat and let our fingers trail in the water. The kids squealed as the spray flew over their faces, and we had to hold them down as they jumped about. Tall karst islands protruded from the waters, some with entertaining shapes.

20191029_102545

Soon, it was time to reach our first island of the 4 island tour, Phranang Cave on Railey island. As we moved in, we could see that this part of the island was packed with people and boats. Our driver expertly maneuvered between 2 boats, and hurriedly 2 adults, 3 kids and 1 teen jumped out and ran onto the beach. Before any more of us could hop out, the waves started tossing our boat towards the neighboring one. Our driver struggled to control the rocking boat and we to keep our balance. Unable to secure a safe docking spot, he finally moved away, planning to dock a little ahead.

But he hadn’t accounted for a new set of boats coming in. Before we could reach the shore, the landing area was full and we had no way to get off. Feeling panic stricken about being separated from our group, we considered jumping into the water and swimming to the shore, but the driver and guide wouldn’t allow us. Finally the boat had to back away, turn around some rocks in the water and stop on a part of the island far away from the rest of our family.

20191029_104101

We spent a lot of time just trying to get to the shore

IMG_20191029_091227

My sisters-in-law at the tail of the boat

The guide told us that we could only spend half an hour here as he had wasted a good chunk of the allotted time trying to get the boat to the shore. My mother-in-law waited back in the boat as it was a huge struggle for her to get on and off (actually she spent the entire day on the boat till the tour was over).

We rushed to find our children, who had thoroughly enjoyed playing on the soft sands and the clean waters. They dragged us into the waters for a good swim.

DSC_6450

The only picture I took with my SLR on this day. I shouldn’t have carried it at all

We had so much fun in the water that we didn’t want to leave this island, despite the scorching heat. But time was short, and leave we had to, so we clambered back onto the boat, to get to the next island, Chicken island.

20191029_115137

The boat pauses at the place where the chicken’s head is best seen

While the name got everyone hungrier, this island had no beach to land on. There was a small cove at one edge where snorkeling could be done. Our younger cousins cheerfully hopped into the deep green-blue waters, but the in-laws were too frightened to allow us (and mainly our teens) to get into the waters, so we couldn’t experience that.

20191029_120320

Bharti Sodhi, who came up with the brilliant family tee shirts

It was a very still part of the ocean, sheltered away by the island, with very beautiful shades of water.

20191029_121112

Once the snorkelers were safely back in, we headed off to the next island, the Tup island. This island is connected to another by a sand bank that you can walk on when the tide is out. I had really hoped that we would be there at such a time, but that was not the case. Instead there was enough water to stand in, and the sand below made it a gorgeous shade of green.

20191029_124642

We got off the boat directly into the warm waters

We spent a lot of time in this shallow stretch of paradise. The kids had picked up the snorkeling gear and were practicing with it.

20191029_125017

What fabulous shades of color are these waters!

The rest of us swam about, marveled at this place or just floated along.

20191029_124753

The hubby’s favorite island

20191029_125233

Print-worthy vistas

Had we not been on the tour, we wouldn’t have left this place, we loved it so much. But we were on a tight time frame and we really had to move onto the next stop.

Did I forget, lunch was calling?

20191029_133906

Our last stop was Poda island (lunch island for me), where we disembarked and rushed for food, turning our backs to the alluring sea. Lunch, however, was a terrible disappointment. After standing in a huge line, we got some over cooked unsalted vegetables and mushy glass noodles. It was basically food for a fussy toddler and we ate to fill some bit of the crying stomachs, but really hated it. So, we wasted as little time as possible on lunch and rushed to the sea instead.

20191029_134234

We just sat and stared at this view

Before we could swim to our heart’s fill, we were called to the boats as the waters tend to get choppy in the evenings. We hopped from boat to boat as there was no ladder on ours, feeling very happy indeed that my mother-in-law had stayed back on the boat. Here, we had a wonderful surprise, finally something to eat to our heart’s content, delicious fruit!

20191029_140720

Needless to say, we wiped out the boat’s entire stock of fruit in seconds. The long ride back, the full stomachs, and the exhaustion of the day caught up with us and nearly everyone slept off.

20191029_143633

We were very tired once we got back at the hotel, so we made good use of the pool (and its cafe) to recover and catch up with dinner and slept soon as we had an early morning drive to Phuket the next day.

We had had a wonderful albeit short time in Krabi. I would certainly call it the best part of my Thailand trip and would love to go back. However, I wouldn’t take the 4 island tour again and wouldn’t recommend it either to anyone. The islands are doable on their own and its better to choose the island and amount of time you have there rather than be at the whims and fancies of Thai tour operators.

Yet, nothing, not even the mass tourism of Thailand, can detract one from the abundant natural beauty of Krabi and that’s why I loved it. And till I go back, this is what my dreams will be made of.

20191029_124838

Thailand November 2019

Some holidays are unplanned, unaccounted for and served on a platter. You have to be lucky to get one of those, and lucky we surely were when the hubby’s uncle decided to plan a holiday for the extended family to (hold your breath) Thailand for his 60th birthday. Thank you Banti mama and Renu masi!

IMG_20191030_151540

2019-2020 was the year of minimal travel as the teen was in grade 10 and behaving as though she were giving the IAS or CA exam (the toughest Indian exams). We had already enjoyed a small trip to the golden beaches of Tarkarli (Tarkarli-May 2019) and a wonderful holiday in Bangalore with my sister and adorable niece in May of this year. I was busy researching destinations for the long holidays post-Grade 10 exams and having the hubby reject them all (sad face). That’s when Banti mama’s 60th birthday party got shifted from a Lonavala farm house to Goa to Phuket and Krabi. Great jump I say!

Banti mama plans trips at 10x the pace I plan them. He promptly hired Thomas Cook for a 5N Phuket and Krabi package and added 2 extra nights in Bangkok for good measure and booked the tickets before we could even get our heads around the idea. Leaves were sanctioned and the teen coaxed and cajoled to miss her precious classes. The Thomas Cook UK collapse certainly added a big set of flutters, but of course it all worked out.

mermaid color pixie (28)s

It only helped that I had colored my hair blue and teal a month ago for my 45th birthday. I was all set for Thailand! Frantic thepla and Gujarati and Punjabi snack shopping, and desperate downloading of songs and movies on mobiles took us to D-day where 14 adults, 2 teenagers and 3 kids assembled in matching tee shirts (courtesy Bharti Sodhi) at Mumbai airport.

20191027_222449

We had a stopover at Bangkok airport, where we walked almost 2 km and stood in a crazily long queue for visa on arrival and then another long walk and queue for security check before the domestic flight to Krabi. In all the sleepy haze and mayhem, we forgot the food bag at the counter and only remembered it at the gate, when we were very hungry.

Luckily, Gujju food bags have a sense of belonging and stay true to their owners. We rushed back to security, retrieved the bag and hogged and hogged before the flight. While on it, the teens and the kids were too excited to sleep, but the adults merrily caught their 40 winks.

20191028_093155

20191028_093716

Beautiful palm trees at Krabi

 

We loved Krabi best of all the places we visited. If I ever go back to Thailand, I will spend a full week relaxing in Krabi. Lovely beaches, clear waters and great food are all a direct flight away from Mumbai. However,I have no idea when that will happen, given the current mess the world is in and the many other places yet unticked on my bucket list.

Krabi airport is a long drive from the beachfront, but the lovely hotel with its huge rooms and pool livened us all up.

5 hotel (3)

20191028_115440

My coffee terrace

 

We freshened up and headed for a quick lunch, planning an afternoon trip to climb a thousand steps to the tiger cave temple with a great view. Hungry as could be, we ate and ate, while it suddenly started pouring, effectively cancelling all plans for the hike. I was so relieved as I wasn’t sure that I could climb a thousand steps!

The long walk back to the hotel in the now-gentle drizzle was very enjoyable, past the market area. We had fun peeking into the tiny shops with their charming wares.

8 pretty krabi by night (7)s

20191028_204119m

While the older people enjoyed an afternoon of shut-eye, the rest of had a great swim in the huge pool and delicious French fries, pizzas and cocktails.

5 hotel (13)

Too tired to walk to the beach, with a long day ahead of us the next day, we relaxed in the pool till night, where we headed to a night market right beside our hotel.

DSC_6405

7 aonang night market (15)

I love quaint market places with their myriad artefacts, wares and food. The different colors and smells, the hustle and bustle, all appeal to me. If there’s a night market where I am visiting, I will land up there. Luckily for me, this one was too close to miss and all of us went to see what was on display.

7 aonang night market (37)

The hubby’s aunts, Babu masi and Renu masi, are great fun and super enthusiastic

This tiny market was filled with stalls of tacky clothes, handbags, jewelry and souvenirs to carry home. As always, I was too busy clicking pictures to even pick up a fridge magnet for my sister, who loves them. That ended up as a repetitive pattern on this trip.

DSC_6410s

7 aonang night market (16)s

7 aonang night market (13)

There were lots of food stalls with small tables laid out and we wandered through all, hoping to finish dinner here itself. Sadly, most of the food was seafood, and most of us were vegetarians. There was even a Bavarian beer garden here and that was tempting for a few in the group but they held on for now!

7 aonang night market (7)

Sushi

7 aonang night market (41)

I have never seen fruits look more delicious!

DSC_6424s

Even though there was no food of our choice, there is always the universal favorite – icecream! A couple of cold stone ice-creams and delicious fruit slushes later, we headed off to the main Aonang beachfront for dinner at a multicuisine restaurant so that everyone could have food of their own different tastes.

The signboard was enticement enough and those that had held off earlier gave in now!

20191028_203508

20191028_210827

Banti mama with the love of his life

With a heavy meal in our tummies we walked back slowly, listening to the waves lap along the beach, deciding that we’d wake up early the next morning to walk along the shore at dawn.

20191030_072043

Needless to say, only two people went on that walk, Banti mama and me! Used to the solitude (Did I leave Banti mama behind? I really don’t remember!), I enjoyed the fresh breeze and the sun lighting up the entire beach.

20191030_070959

20191030_071418

What a great place for breakfast. Sadly, nothing was open

dawn walk through krabi (10)

Cute knick knacks outside a public restroom

 

Having started the day on a happy note, I headed back to the hotel for a delicious breakfast and later, headed off to the waterfront to some of the most gorgeous beaches I have ever been to, as part of the 4 island tour. But that tour deserves a full separate post, so here I sign off, happily dreaming of turquoise waters and golden sands.