Phi Phi, Krabi: "Happy"
January 20, 2002
Dear Family and Friends,
Thailand was a wonderful winter adventure. After Bangkok and Pattaya, I spent few days in the North. I visited the Hill Tribes and drove through the mountains near Mae Hong Song.
The highlights were a beautiful botanical garden in a valley surrounded by coffee plants, a lovely waterfall park, and finally, a mudpack facial at a hot spring!
I was alone with two drivers. As we strolled through the villages and stopped for tea and meals, I felt like Sahib leading a safari. Much fun.
From Chiang Mai I flew south to Phuket -- a so-called “world-class” resort. So naturally I avoided it (big mistake). I immediately took a boat across the sea to Phi Phi Island (another big mistake). Phi Phi is quite beautiful but the town is overrun with young Scandinavians defrosting and partying on the beach. I was the only adult on the Island.
I decided to make the best of it, since I was suffering from a mild case of the Thai equivalent of Montezuma’s revenge. The beaches were sunny and inviting and the scenic view of the Swedish babes helped to cure my stomach cramps. After Phi Phi I took another boat ride to Krabi.
I recommend Krabi and the nearby beaches for your second honeymoon: fine sand, clear ocean water and romantic seaside bungalows. The most striking features of the beach are the sheer cliffs and outcrops of limestone surrounding the coves. A haven for rock climbers. No I didn't try. Maybe next time.
Northeast of Krabi is the Wat Tham Seua or Tiger Cave Temple, a famous forest wat. The main hall is built into a long, shallow limestone cave, on either side of which are dozens of monastic cells that are built into the cliffs and caves. A troop of monkeys roams the grounds.
Nearby is a jungle valley with trees that are surprisingly tall and wide. Outside the temple, a smiling lady read my fortune, in Thai. I guess it was a good fortune. I am here to tell the tale.
I had two great days in Bangkok. Jeff and I visited his university campus and we strolled through some totally Thai neighborhoods and markets, attracting stares and glances wherever we went. Two large Occidental men in a completely Asian world. And as I mentioned before, everyone is friendly and warm, especially at the food stalls where we sampled some local concoctions.
I decided against “six-hour custom made suits,” But I bought so many shirts I had to find another piece of luggage to get them home. Next year I'm going back for pants and silk table linens. Remind me to take an empty duffle bag.
I took a day trip to the old capital city of Ayuthaya. The main attractions are the ancient temple grounds and ruins. The Reclining Buddha is eight meters tall at the base and 37 meters long.
Transportation in Thailand is outstanding. Buses and boats and the Sky Train (the elevated subway in Bangkok) are comfortable and cool.
I took six different flights in Thailand. They all departed on time. Thai Airways and Bangkok Airways use Boeing or Airbus equipment. Security was thorough and efficient and considerate. (Pocketknife or scissors in your carry-on luggage? Not a problem. Leave it in a plastic bag with your name at security and retrieve it when you arrive.) I never waited on a line. The lines and inconveniences were - you guessed it- at MIA and LAX.
One evening I had dinner with Anita and Marc, the Dutch couple I met in Sofia last summer. They are traveling around the world and did they have stories to tell - especially the one about being in Pakistan on September 11! They expect to be in South America in about six months. We decided to have our semi-annual reunion in either Ecuador or Columbia.
My winter adventure in Thailand is certainly one of the best trips I have taken. Still I do not feel grounded in Asia. What does that mean? I felt comfortable and safe but not "at home" as I do in Europe.
Yet my appetite is whetted and I expect to return to Thailand and to travel to Cambodia and Vietnam as well. Perhaps then the reality of Asia will settle in. Perhaps my trip needs to be longer and more immersed in Asian culture. I am on the Internet planning my spring break. There is a lot to see.