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Thailand Feb 2006

March 2, 2006

Kuoni did it for us again, another wonderful holiday.

Thai airways to Bangkok. A mad crush on the transfer bus from the international to the domestic terminal, then on to Phuket. Air conditioned people carrier with 4 others from the airport to Patong bay and the Amari Coral Beach Resort for 5 nights on B&B basis.

Lovely hotel but lots of steps, as warned in the brochure. Two pools with bars, four (or was it five?) restaurants and a pier. It was a good 10 minutes walk to the pier but well worth it as few guests went there so no problem finding a sunbed or getting served at its bar. Also, it was much better snorkeling off the end than from the beach. The water was deeper and clear and there were fish and squid to be seen. Best of all, Sue was able to see them and the coral clearly for the first time, thanks to the prescription goggles I bought her for Christmas.

Patong bay itself is still being reconstructed after the tsunami damage but it’s a very lively stretch at night with loads of cafes, restaurants, shops and, of course, touts trying to sell everything imaginable. The whole seafront is getting a new, very attractive pedestrian area, too.

On the last morning we woke and looked out from our veranda and saw our cruise clipper, the Star Flyer, moored out in the bay. After breakfast we were transferred to a hotel on the bay to complete the documentation for the cruise then a short boat ride and we were aboard for a week cruising some of the many islands close to Thailand in the Andaman sea.
The cabin, inevitably, was small compared to the average good hotel room but it had all the usual facilities. Capacity was 170 but only 102 guests were on this trip, with 70 staff.
The staff were tremendous, the food was extremely good (and we were on full-board!) though we never managed a full six course dinner, let alone lunch. The island visits were usually by one of the ships tenders, though the ‘zodiacs’ were also used and, for the ‘James Bond Island’ trip we were in a frighteningly fast speed boat. The swimming and snorkelling were good, sometimes from the island beach and sometimes off the tender in deeper water. Some guests went diving instead.

One of the islands visited was actually part of Malaysia so we were able to replenish our duty-free ciggy stock. This was the quay there.

Quay at Langkawi

Phi Phi island was a bit of a disappointment. It had a big build-up as having one of the best beaches in the world. The south beach was a disorganised marina/harbour and the north beach, at low tide at least, was a bit scummy with no useable swimming area and too many small boats getting too close. The top part of the beach was a line of parasols and deck chairs. The people were friendly and the choice of eating places was huge but parts were still building sites and there were too many touts trying to sell diving and boat trips.

Under 3,500 sq m of sail the ship was amazing. Sue and a few others climbed the rigging to the first level crows’ nest.

Later, several of us clambered out on the netting under the bowsprit – all while travelling at some speed. Engine power had to be used part of the time. The captain was Ukranian and told us how he had rushed the ship from anchorage and the guests from the beach when the first warnings of the tsunami had been seen on BBC World by one of the staff.

We were very sad to leave but then it was reverse procedure at Patong bay a week later, then off to the airport and back to Bangkok and the Holiday Inn Silom. Despite the enormous lobby with its 5 chandeliers and coffee bar you don’t suffer the impression of a big hotel; perhaps because there is so much space for the guests in its bars, restaurants and the big pool and sunbathing area on the sixth floor.

But this is Bangkok, with its carbon monoxide, lorry and tuk-tuk and motor bike filled streets, ‘controlled’ by a myriad of police all waving their flashing sticks and furiously blowing their whistles. Its narrow pavements are crowded with pedestrians weaving around food stalls in 35C and 85% humidity. It’s an experience but not something to do for any length of time unless you have to. We visited the night market and China Town and we took the sky train to the huge new Siam Paragon shopping centre. We trudged around some fascinating and beautiful temples and palaces behind Pan, the Kuoni guide and we took the river bus back to the hotel instead of the coach, stopping for a beer on the pier.

What a place. Visit if you can.

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