Monday, July 5, 2010

Bangkok - Phranakorn Nornlen Hotel

Inside Phranakorn Nornlen hotel - an oasis in the heart of Old Bangkok

Unfortunately we didn't have much time in Bangkok; we flew out of Krabi and arrived in Bangkok around 1.30pm. The baggage service was a bit smoother this time around and the taxi service is a lesson in efficiency at Bangkok airport. There is a service counter where you line up alongside all prospective taxi drivers who must use a special ticket which features all their details, name, company details, taxi number, etc. That way if you have a complaint or forget belongings in the taxi they are easy to track down. It was a 30-minute taxi ride to our hotel which was located in the Thewet district which is considered a part of 'Old Bangkok'. We stayed just one night at the Phranakorn Nornlen hotel but it made a big impression on all of us. From the relaxed vibe to the welcome herbal teas we really felt at home at Phranakorn - we were already looking forward to staying there from what we had read online and from their website.

The Thai's make you feel very welcome

Inside the girls' room

Phranakorn is situated in a small soi (sideroad or alleyway) in an older part of town, very close to the river and a short stroll to many local vendors and shops. We arrived to a lovely welcome at the hotel and were all a bit peckish so decided to visit the noodle vendor down the street we spied while we were in the taxi.



Slurping some yummy rice noodles!

The old lady behind the noodle cart looked like she had been there for aeons; it was one of those small cart vendors that serve only one dish and many locals were sitting and slurping so we knew it was going to be good. A bowl of rice noodles and soup was only $25baht ($0.80AUD!!!). While we were there a fruit vendor wheeled his cart by and we got a fresh coconut for $30baht ($1AUD) and 1kg of lychees for the same! Nat saw that just next to the vendor was a hairdresser and she wanted her fringe cut so she popped in for a quickie.

Nat getting her fringe cut

From there with full bellies we went back to our hotel which was a 1-minute walk away. The day was especially special as it was 29 June and was Talia's first birthday. Phranakorn organised a birthday cake for us in advance so we had a small birthday celebration in the play area.



Chocolate ice cream-custard cake!

Phranakorn is really an oasis in Bangkok - the decor and ambience are unlike any other hotel we have stayed at. There are many trompe-l'oeil featured on the walls...


And their play area for the kids is second to none...





They even grow their own vegetables on their rooftop garden...



After a short rest we decided we should head out and caught a tuk tuk to the area around Khao San road which is a famous tourist street in Bangkok. We wanted to head to Paragon or a similar air-conditioned shopping mall but considering the time was around 6pm the traffic would have been chaotic so we decided to go somewhere close.

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Bangkok tuk tuk

Khao San road - spot the local....

Khao San road is pretty crazy; cheap clothing, trinkets and almost everything else can be found here and bargaining is essential. There are a heap of tourists but it is one of the most popular shopping streets in Bangkok. You can also sample items a little off the norm...





In the top picture from the back you can see scorpions, cockroaches, crickets, grasshoppers - basically anything you would normally squash with your flip-flop was fair game and for sale as a snack in-between a little shopping. How unfortunate it was that I was still full from the noodles we had eaten earlier... We did a bit of shopping and had a meal before retiring back to the hotel.

The next morning we had a great breakfast at the hotel - an organic vegetarian meal which consisted of minestrone, mushroom and avocado bruschetta and wild mushroom fried rice which was fantastic. I'm a bit of a carnivore but was thoroughly satisfied. They also had a full service expresso bar so after a couple of espresso's I was set.

Organic breakfast

Angie finished the last of the chocolate cake from the night before as well as a serve of hotcakes before a final play in the playroom. Our taxi to the airport was arriving so we said our goodbyes. Phranakorn-Nornlen is not your typical hotel (they don't even have TV's in their rooms) but if you're looking for something different and special we wholeheartedly recommend it.

There's even a monkey on the keychain!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Krabi Province

A few days ago we got back from a relaxing week-long break in Thailand. It was our first visit to the 'land of smiles' but i'm sure we'll be back at some point. We were all struck by how friendly everyone was - Thailand certainly lived up to its' reputation and every second person we passed on the street would tickle Talia's feet while she was snug in the baby-carrier or bend down to shake Angie's hand.

Sweet old lady in hairdressers in Bangkok

Our first stop was Bangkok Suvarnabhumi airport and from there we caught a domestic flight to Krabi. Macau to Bangkok - 2hrs 20mins.



We had roughly 1.5 hours to catch our flight to Krabi which should have been straightforward enough but had to wait 30 minutes to get our baggage (that's one downfall of flying a budget carrier - no transit service!). By the time we got to the check-in counter they said they had closed and had to call the captain if it was ok for us to still get on the plane. Luckily for us the AirAsia gods were kind and it was a serious dash to get on the plane. Bangkok to Krabi - 1 hour 20 minutes. From Krabi airport we caught a taxi (we shared with Erick, my colleague from Cirque who was also heading to Krabi) to Ao Nang, the beach-side town that is jumping point to the more beautiful areas in the South of Thailand such as Ko Phi Phi, Ko Lanta and Rai Leh (or Railay) which is where we were heading.


Krabi province is in the south-west


Railay Beach is a short 20minute long-tail boat ride from Ao Nang

We said our goodbyes to Erick (not for long though...) at the Ao Nang Sunset hotel where we had booked to stay the night. The Sunset was a basic, clean hotel and I chose it because it got good reviews on Tripadvisor and was a short walk to the longtail boats we had to catch to Railay. One thing I overlooked was that the Sunset did not have baths so Talia had to make do with the sink. She probably could do this for a few more months before she gets too big.



They had also prepared a babycot and extra bed for us in advance - the babycot was a throwback to the days when infants were 'imprisoned'; let's hope it's the only time that Talia is 'behind bars'.



We had arrived at Sunset at about 7.30pm so it was actually 8.30pm Macau time with Thailand being 1-hr behind and Talia was needing to sleep. We grabbed a quick meal downstairs at the restaurant joined by Erick (who had opted to stay a few doors down - the Sunset rooms were quite big for a lone traveler) and said our goodbyes as tiredness got the better of most of us. I noticed that there was a massage centre adjoining the Sunset so after I put the girls' to bed I thought what better way to start my holidays than with a Thai massage. It was getting late and as I chose the 1 hour Thai massage for $250baht (about $9AUD) I noticed the girls eyes roll and a grunt of dissatisfaction as she realised her day was not over just yet. For those that have never experienced proper Thai massage before it is not your typical relaxing massage. It is an hour of pretty intense bodywork, yoga-like stretches and other interesting techniques performed on the floor with the 'patient' wearing loose clothing. I've had it done only a couple of times before and never in Thailand so knew it was going to be an experience. A very interesting and provoking technique Thai massage employs is the 'blood-stop' technique. It is similar to a pressure-point blood-stop technique used by first-aiders to stem the bloodflow along a major artery. This is done predominantly done along the femoral artery and is held for approximately 30 seconds. From my understanding it is performed with the belief that you are 'unclogging' the artery of any unhealthy deposits. For those with a basic understanding of anatomy and physiology this is a mistaken belief and the blood-stop technique could be dangerous if held for long periods of time. 30 seconds is probably the maximum amount of time I would want my arteries pressed, unless of course I was bleeding out.

The next morning we headed out to Nosey Parker's Elephant Camp just out of Ao Nang for an elephant trek. The camp was set in forest at the base of some limestone karst peaks which are famous throughout Krabi. The plan was for Nat and Talia to hop on the back of a smaller elephant and Angie and I to ride a bigger elephant.



Angie was beginning to look a bit sheepish and as we were about to climb on the elephant let out an almighty growl - after that, there was no way Angie was getting on. All this while Nat and Talia were already on their elephant and had almost returned (Nat had enough already... it was a bit difficult with a infant strapped to her chest...). So in the end I jumped on the smaller elephant and went for a bit of a trek. The mahout (elephant rider/keeper) let me ride bareback which was pretty cool, albeit in a 'horsey' style rather than the 'lotus' style you can see the mahout riding in Nat's picture. We also got to feed our elephant some cucumbers which were much deserved after having us on his back!





From there it was back to the Sunset to pack our things to head over to Railay Bay via long-tail. Long-tail boats are the main method of transport in the waterways throughout most of South-east Asia. It was low tide so we had to travel around to the west end of Ao Nang to catch our boat. The long-tails cannot get too close to shore so you have to get knee-deep in the ocean to get in/out which is fun...well, for Angie.





Railay Beach is famous for its' karst peaks jutting out of white-sand beaches and is home to some of the best rockclimbing in the world. There are two main beaches - the East and West beach. The West beach is the more beautiful beach and is better for swimming while the East beach is mainly mangroves but is where more of the accommodation can be found. We stayed at Railay Bay resort which is on the West side and was fantastic. The staff were great and the resort itself is not world-class but the setting on the beach alone is worth it. It currently is low-season so you can get pretty good deals on accommodation but Railay beach is still pretty quiet this time of year - all the better for our relaxing holiday!

Our welcome!

Playing on our beach

The other end of the West beach

Morning beach

Beach at dusk





We were lucky the first few days as the weather was glorious. The last two days there was some rain in the mornings but it managed to clear up after lunchtime so we could still have our daily swims in the pool and beach. On our third day we did a day trip to Ko Phi Phi island - in retrospect we should have at least stayed overnight as it was a slow 1.5 hour ferry there/back so we only had a few hours at Phi Phi. Ko Phi Phi is a lot bigger and more developed than the Railay area but has a lot more staying and drinking options. Phi Phi was pretty busy with tourists but we managed to have a nice swim and meal by the beach, listening to Bob Marley played by Thai rastafarians through their loudspeakers.

Ko Phi Phi

One of the locals trying to win over Talia

On the ferry back to Railay

The ferry from Railay to Ko Phi Phi sets sail from the East beach and at low tide you have to first catch a long-tail out to the ferry as there is no jetty at Railay.

Railay East beach at low tide - notice the rockclimbing wall in the background

Other end of Railay East at high tide

Angie enjoying a Thai pancake, or roti

With all the looming cliffs around I thought I should do some exercise after eating and drinking for 4 days so got in touch with one of the local rockclimbing schools. They offer half or full-day courses so beginners like me are able to climb with no prior knowledge. It was really cheap for a farang- $600baht($20AUD) for a half-day which includes all gear and shoes. We headed out to the peaks of East Railay which you could see in the background in one of my previous pictures. The area was reasonably busy with a few other groups climbing the different routes. Unfortunately (or fortunately) I didn't get any pics of myself climbing but managed to climb the same route as the guy at the top in the picture below:



This was supposedly a 6b rated route, which is an upper beginner/intermediate level. I tried a 6c route which involved some difficult overhangs but only managed to get a quarter of the way up. It was a super hot and humid day and I was pouring with sweat even before I began climbing. I ended up using my shirt as a mock headband to stop the sweat from getting in my eyes while climbing.



One of our guides had to retrieve a carabiner from the 6c route so she decided to show us how it was supposed to be done - in her flip-flops!

Our guide climbing in flip-flops!

With very sore fingers and forearms I headed back to the resort for a cool-off in the pool. The next day was our last full day in Railay before we flew to Bangkok. We went to Phra Nang beach which is on the tip of the peninsula, only a 10 minute walk from West Railay. It is a beautiful stretch of sand which has a huge cavern at one end that punches through the limestone peaks.

Phra Nang beach - in the background is the cavern which punches through to the other side of the cliff

The other end of Phra Nang beach

From inside the cavern looking out to the beach - you can the girls on the beach in the distance

Another distinctive feature on Phra Nang is a small temple in one of the small caves dotting the limestone cliff. It actually is a 'Phallus' shrine for the local fishermen that believe a sea princess inhabits the cave and by offering her phallic objects representing fertility they will have a bountiful catch. It is very bizarre. Have a look:



The phallus shrine at Phra Nang beach - notice all the phallic offerings

We had a long swim at Phra Nang and then walked back for our last dinner at Railay. Angie made a friend in her final days at Railay - a little cutie named Mia - who with her family were visiting from Singapore. The next morning we packed our things and had one final swim before heading to the East side to catch a long-tail to Krabi airport. The ride was reasonably quick - a 15 minute long-tail to a pier and then a 20-minute car ride to the airport. Our time in magical Krabi had come to an end. Next stop - the charming Phranakorn-Norlen hotel in Old Bangkok. To be continued....