Saturday, January 15, 2011

New Years in Phuket, Thailand

After five great days in Chiang Mai, we hopped onto a Thai Airways flight and flew onto Phuket, Thailand on the southern tip of Thailand facing the Andaman Sea.

We were looking forward to a few days on the beach and welcoming in 2011 with the Thai! We did get three beautiful days on amazing beaches, but not many Thai people. We were told that 30% of Sweden comes to Thailand for Christmas and many others from other parts of Europe, Australia, etc. What was missing...were the Thai people.

We stayed on Kata Beach on Phuket, about an hour drive south of the airport. We didn't stay beachside, but up on the hill overlooking the beach. Here is our hotel, the Sugar Plum Grand Hillside.

These were the pools and our room was all
the way at the top of the hill

View of Kata from our room

Our Beach

Dinner on the beach the first night in Kata...may still have
the mosquito bites to prove it.
 Unlike Chiang Mai, Phuket is so much of a tourist destination, that I think all of the locals move out over the holiday to make room for all of the Westerners. The entire beach was Westerners and Downtown Kata in the evenings was hoppin'. It was completely different than what I expected from Phuket, but fun & relaxing.
View of downtown Kata at night
The beaches in Kata were European Beaches...tops optional and all!

Beach restaurants. We parked our butts on beach chairs for three days and didn't need to move for anything...not even for Thai food.

Where we parked our butts for three days...

Oh...I guess not really for three solid days. We took a break from the beach to ride an elephant. This is Molly, our elephant.

Phuket did not let us down for the New Year. Our hotel had a New Years Even celebration beginning with a huge buffet and some Thai entertainment.

Welcomed to the party with leis and drinks...good start!

 The buffets were amazing and never ending. Complete with chocolate fountain and the ENTIRE roasted pig.

Our entertainment ranged from this Thai dancers to a Thai cover band singing American Songs (to which he forgot or never did know all of the words). Summer of '69 was mostly just mummbling...and I think the lead singer was reading the lyrics from a book as well.

And then a short stroll down to the beach and the chaos ensued! Wow, there were fireworks EVERYWHERE. It was amazing. I cannot capture it in pictures here, but there were huge fireworks being set off every 20-30 feet down the beach, and only about 20 feet from where all of the people were standing. We actually feared for our own safety at several points throughout the night. Drunk people and fire never do seem like a great mix.

But the beach is where the party was happening, so, we stopped by the 7Eleven, grabbed some not-so-good Thai beer, parked ourselves back on the beach chairs we had frequented that day and watched the fireworks, welcoming in 2011!!! I am pretty sure I will never have a New Years Eve again like was a great way to end out Thai vacation.

Our final day on the beach was just as beautiful as the rest. More sunshine, more great food and drinks, lots of relaxing and a few dips in the ocean.

Sunset on January 1, 2011 on Kata Beach in Phuket Thailand! Ahhhh!

Merry Christmas from Thailand!

Mike and I took off for Thailand on December 24th and landed in Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand just before the stroke of midnight. Before I get started on our vacation though, I thought I would share a bit of geography and pre-emptively answer the geography questions you might have.

Thailand is a long skinny country on a peninsula that juts off Souther China. It shares the peninsula with Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos, Malaysia and Singapore. That is a alot of countries on one, relatively small peninsula. It is above the equator, so shares the same seasons with Korea and the US, but significantly South, so their winters feel more like summers to us. Note

Here is a map and the red line is the connection between Seoul and Thailand. Since Thailand is such a popular tourist destination, direct flights from Seoul are pretty widely available, although a rip-off during the holidays.

Here is a close up of Thailand. We flew into Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand and then flew out of Phuket in Southern Thailand. It was about a 2 hour flight between the two cities to give you an idea of distance on this map. Note that Bangkok is the capital city and you will find it in the center of the country. We didn't have a chance to visit Bangkok, but chose Chiang Mai as we heard it was smaller and more laid back.

Now that we have the geography lesson completed and you can picture where we were, let's start with Chiang Mai.

Chiang Mai is in Northern Thailand up in the mountains. It is a beautiful town, very well set up to cater to tourists. The people are kind, there are no large hotel chains and I think it was a great experience to feel the culture. We landed in Chiang Mai at almost midnight Christmas Morning, just in time to celebrate my birthday!

Chiang Mai is actually a walled city. The wall is still intact and
surrounds the city in a square. In fact, there is actually still a moat
inside the city walls.
Our first hotel in Chiang Mai was within the Old City walls. It was a quaint little boutique hotel called the Bodhi Serene. Doesn't look like much from the outside, but very nice inside the walls. It was a great location near the markets and temples, so we could walk and avoid getting hustled by the taxi cab drivers...they love to hustle tourists.

We arrived at our hotel about 1AM Christmas Morning and were greeted with fireworks in the streets outside out hotel, which continued throughout the night. Location of the hotel was great for sight-seeing, but not good for quiet nights. We would soon discover that fireworks are very poplar in Thailand and I don't think we had one night without them lulling us to sleep :-)

Our second hotel rocked. It was closer to the river, was quieter and so pretty.

They even did our laundry and gave it back to us in these great little packets for $2!

After a great night sleep in out first Thailand hotel, were off to out Thai cooking choice as my birthday present.

Thailand is full of cooking schools that cater to tourists. Other than Southeast Asia, I don't think cooking classes are a norm for vacations, but since Southeastern Asian food is just soooo delicious and a bit exotic to Westerners, taking a cooking class is pretty much a prerequisite for a Thai vacation.

And...ours lived up to the expectations. Our teach, Yui, was a Thai woman and the class was at her house. We have two other Americans (that live in India) in our class. Small world looms of the Americans grew up just 20 minutes from Mike outside of Pittsburgh.

Our class started at 9AM and we cooked through until 5PM with a total of 6 dishes and a trip to the local market in there as well. It was one of my favorite days and the best Thai food we had the entire vacation!

Enjoying out first dish of six that day...Pad Thai!

Preparing my Spring Rolls!

Yui on the right telling us about the fruits at the local market

Yui's house. The cooking school was called A Lot of Thai. I would
highly recommend it.

Mike preparing to cook Green Curry Chicken...yum!
The next two days were a mixture of massages, temples, lots and lots of eating and shopping in the local markets. It was wonderful.

Anywhere you go in Thailand, you will find massage parlors. I have no idea if all of them are legitimate, but both Mike and I indulged in a few massages...great deal for 2 hours of full-body massages for $20! How can you say no.
Every third store front was a massage parlor. In
Thailand, if you have a couple of comfortable chairs and
some space on the sidewalk, you had a massage parlor!
And...we ate. Warning: The following pictures may make you feel queezy or just leave you with a sheer curiousity of how we could have possibly eaten this much food in just 7 days!

My now favorite food in the whole world...
Sticky Rice with Mango. No joke here. It
melts in your mouth. Had it at every meal!
Pad Thai, Pad Thai, Pad Thai. Need I say more...

Thanks Mike for capturing me at most beatiful moments...with my mouth full of food.

Happy Mike! Why, you ask...Pad Thai, of course.

Happy Jen! Why, you ask? Fresh Coconut Water on the beach, Fresh Fruit Smoothies, Coconut Cream ice cream served in a coconut and curry masaman, of course! What more can a girl ask for?

No need to move from your beach chair in Phuket.
Pad Thai comes to you!
Thai Guy: "That will be $2 please."
Mike: "Gladly" 
Me, again with food in my mouth enjoying the
ribs at our New Years Eve Buffet
Yes, there was food, food and more food and it was delicious.

Then, after the food, there were temples and lots of them. I have hundreds of pictures of the temples and if you are interested in seeing more, check out our Picassa pages.

Here, I will just give you my Top 5 (kind of).

Mike and I both felt like this after all of our eating...
Full & Happy! Praise the Big Buddha!

And...we enjoyed this. Sleep with no alarm clocks!
Yeah for the Sleeping Buddha.

This was a NO! NO! at temples, but you know Mike...
he is quite the crazy one! Trying to make a fun picture
at the temples.

Buddha...and lots of them.

And...your final cultural picture from Thailand...a Buddha!
 I think over 90% of the population is Buddhist, so you can imagine how many temples they need.

And, finally there was shopping. Clothing for $2, jewelry for $4, Pad Thai for $1, scarves for $1, tshirts for $2. It was glorious and Mike so sweetly came along for the ride. Chiang Mai had three major markets and we did 2 of them. The Saturday Walking Street is where hindreds of vendors line up on Saturday until midnight to sell their goods and the Night Bazaar which appened every night. Both were just a few blocks from our hotels, so it was wonderful.

There was so much more to Thailand, but in order to not make this too long...I will leave you with some self-portraits of Mike & I throughout our vacation. Our Thailand Photo Montage!

And...Mike's favorite!!!

More about Phuket in Thailand Part Deux!