Archive for November, 2013

List 47/52 – Family Accommodation in Thailand

Here is a list of every hotel, guesthouse and bungalow we stayed in during our time in Thailand. All these rooms accommodated two adults and two kids (aged 6 and 3.)

1. Hat Yai – Laemthong Hotel – $AUD25 – one double bed and one single bed with air-con, tv, fridge. Wifi in lobby and sometimes in room. Not clean and do not recommend. Read more here.

2. Koh Phangan – Lime n Soda – $AUD47 – buffet breakfast included, bungalow with two double beds, air-con, tv, wifi best in restaurant but did reach the room at times. Swimming pool with no shallow bit for kids. Good location near pier in Thong Sala. Friendly staff. Not the nicest beach. Read more here.

Lime n soda bungalow

Lime n Soda bungalow

3. Koh Phangan, Haad Yao – Sandy Bay Bungalows – $AUD69 – enormous bungalow with two double beds, air-con, fridge, spotty wifi, huge bathroom, sitting area on verandah, swimming pool with shallow sections, nice beach a few steps away. Read more here.

4. Koh Samui – Ibis Bophut Hotel – $AUD94 – two interconnecting double rooms, very comfy beds, air-con, wifi, wii player, free drinking water, three swimming pools, right on beach. Read more here.

5. Bangkok – Air BnB Apartment ‘Sunset by the River’ – $AUD86 – two bedroom apartment, air-con, kitchen, wifi, washing machine, swimming pool, two bathrooms, one with bathtub. Read more here.

air bnb apartment

Bangkok Air BnB Apartment

6. The sixth place we stayed in Thailand was our homestay while volunteer English teaching in Sisaket. More about that here and here.

7. Bangkok – Air BnB Apartment Baan Chaophraya – $AUD72 – one bedroom apartment with kitchen, washing machine, wifi, sofa bed in living room. Read more here.

8. Kanchanaburi – Pong Phen Guesthouse – 1000 baht ($AUD34) – large room with one single bed and one double, air-con, tv, fridge with free water and soft drink, swimming pool. Wifi good in restaurant but not so good in room. Read more here.

9. Ayutthaya – Baan Lotus Guesthouse – 800 baht ($AUD27) – triple room with three single beds, air con, wifi. Read more here.

Baan Lotus Guesthouse Ayutthaya

Baan Lotus Guesthouse Ayutthaya

10. Sukhothai – Baan Georges Guesthouse – 1000 baht ($AUD34) – good breakfast included, family room with big double bed and bunk beds, fridge, air-con, tv, wifi, free water, daily cleaning, great shower, swimming pool, rooftop terrace, free bus station transfers. Highly recommend! Read more here.

Baan Georges Guesthouse

Baan Georges Guesthouse Sukhothai

11. Chiang Mai – Thapae Garden Guesthouse – 890 baht ($AUD29) – one double bed and one single, fridge, air-con, tv, wifi, very cold swimming pool, free water, room cleaning every second day. Read more here.

12. Chiang Dao – Chiang Dao Nest 1 – 1195 baht ($AUD40) – bungalow with one double bed and an extra single bed, fan, free water, swimming pool, play area for kids, wifi in restaurant. Read more here.

our abode

Chiang Dao Nest Bungalow

13. Tha Ton – Sappaya Guesthouse – 700 baht ($AUD23) – shared bathroom, one double and one single bed, fan, wifi, DIY breakfast included, free water, river view. Read more here.

14. Mae Salong – Little Home Guesthouse – 600 baht ($AUD20) – bungalow with two single beds, tv, big bathroom, free water. Read more here.

15. Mae Sai – Navy Home Hotel – 1000 baht ($AUD34) – big room, two double beds, fridge, air-con, tv, free water, hotel looks like a ship! Read more here.

16. Chiang Rai – Chez Moi Handicraft and Homestay – 650 baht ($AUD22) – including cooked Thai breakfast, fan room with one single and one double bed. Read more here.

Chez Moi Homestay Chiang Rai

Chez Moi Homestay Chiang Rai

17. Our final place in Thailand was back in Bangkok at the same apartment as number 7.

Bangkok’s Grand Palace and the Flight to London

To finish off our three and a bit months in Thailand we had another six nights in Bangkok. It was our third stay in the city this trip and we spent it at the same Air BnB apartment that we stayed in last time. It was nice to come back to the same place where the doorman recognised us, we knew the area, and the apartment was just as we had left it. Even my washing powder was still there.

The main thing I wanted to do this time in Bangkok (besides shopping for shoes for the kids) was visit the Grand Palace. We chose to go to the palace on a Sunday. It was hot and it was busy. Much busier than I remember it being in 2004. Perhaps a week day would have been quieter? Anyway, we were there and we were on a mission to have our family photo taken in the same place as my mother and her family had theirs taken in 1961. First we had a little look around and tried to dodge the crowds. Lillian really enjoyed the murals.

mural gazing

Mural gazing

I really enjoyed the details.

flowers

Flower walls

And then we found the place for the photo. In 1961 my mother was almost 8 years old when she visited the Grand Palace with her family at the start of their big family trip. You can see more photos from their time in Bangkok here. The palace in 1961 was quiet. No crowds!

1961 and 2013 Grand Palace Bangkok

1961 and 2013 Grand Palace Bangkok

The day before we flew to London I did some shopping (alone!) and bought some books for the kids to help keep them occupied on the thirteen hour flight.

Surprise goodies for the 13hr plane ride tomorrow. The book bottom left is a comic about a novice monk!

Activity Books

I went to the Kinokuniya bookshop in the Siam Paragon shopping mall and happily stumbled upon these Thailand activity and colouring books by Nancy Chandler. They have great things like a hilltribe paper doll to cut out, masks, and word searches with Thai towns and places. I also got Edward a new sticker book about London. Sticker books are always popular. The Satima book is a comic about a novice monk that I couldn’t resist for Lillian.

The flight to London went well. It was a daytime direct flight with British Airways and was only half full so we ended up with six seats for the four of us. Because it was daytime we also had some spectacular views out the window. We flew right across Afghanistan and it was amazing to look down on that landscape, so mountainous and barren, and see tiny villages and wonder what those people’s lives were like.

snowy mountains Afghanistan

Afghanistan

When we arrived in the UK the sun was just setting and the plane flew right over the city. We saw the London Eye, the Thames and a beautiful sunset. Getting through immigration was a breeze and Dave’s mum was there to meet us on the other side. Two kids fell asleep (short-lived) in the taxi on the way home. More on our first week in the UK to come.

List 46/52 – Costs in Thailand

coin bowls

Temple coin bowls

At time of writing $AUD1 equals about 30 baht.

– Our cheapest accommodation: 600 baht

– Our most expensive accommodation: 2500 baht

– One way internal flights with Nok Air for four people: about $AUD200

– Visa extension for 30 days: 1900 baht per person

– Coffee: ranged from 15 baht for a cup of instant to over 100 for a coffee from international coffee chains. Usually about 50 – 70.

– Small bottle of water: 10 baht

– Big bottle of Chang beer: 65 – 90 baht

– Thai dish in a restaurant: 50 – 90 baht

– A serve of plain rice: 10 – 20 baht

– Condensed milk roti: 5 – 15 baht

– Banana waffles at market: 20 baht

– Loaf of bread: 37 baht

– Ice-cream: Thai style on a stick 10 baht, Cornetto 24 baht

– Short tuk tuk or songthaew ride: 40 – 80 baht (for 4)

– One hour songthaew between towns: 100 – 200 baht (for 4)

– Local bus between towns: 70 – 100 baht (for 4)

– Skytrain ride: 35 – 45 baht per person

– Taxi from airport to Bangkok: 400 – 500 baht inc. tolls

– Cross river ferry in Bangkok: 3.50 baht

– Laundry: 20 – 50 baht per kilo

– Nappies: 37 baht for a 3 pack, 150 – 180 baht for a 12 pack (pull-ups)

– Foot massage: 180 – 200 baht per hour

– One month data on sim card: 399 baht

– Entry to Grand Palace in Bangkok: 500 baht per person

Chiang Rai Activities – Ruammit Elephant Village and Chiang Rai Bicycle Tour

Ruammit Karen Elephant Village

I have mixed feelings about elephant tourism and was kind of hoping to just avoid the whole thing while we were in Thailand. I’m aware of the cruel ways elephants are tamed for use in tourism. However, when we were in the Hilltribe Museum in Chiang Rai there was a sign about the elephant village and why it should be supported, or at least not boycotted. Their reasoning was that this village relies on the elephants for their income. If tourists stopped riding the elephants the mahouts and elephants would be forced to go elsewhere, including Bangkok, looking for income. The village is a much better environment for the elephants than a city. I’m still not 100% comfortable with it, but this made me feel a bit better about giving in to Lillian’s pleas to ride an elephant.

the girls

Boat to Ruammit Elephant Village

To get to Ruammit we caught a taxi to Chiang Rai Pier and negotiated to charter a boat to the village. The boat cost 800 baht ($AUD27) and took an hour to get there (the price included one hour at the village and the boat back too.) The boat ride was great. Lovely scenery, happy kids, quite relaxing!

Ruammit Karen Elephant village

Ruammit Karen Elephant Village

At the village we paid 300 baht ($AUD10) per elephant (max two people per elephant) for a half hour ‘trek’ around the village. We also paid 20 baht for some food to feed the elephants afterwards. The ride was pleasant enough though bumpy! Our mahout sang or talked to himself or called out to locals the whole way.

reduce speed

Reduce Speed

There are surely better places to experience elephants in Thailand. I’ve heard very good things about Elephant Nature Park near Chiang Mai, but if you’re looking for something to do from Chiang Rai, the boat trip and elephant village are a good half day activity with kids.

Chiang Rai Bicycle Tour

I have no mixed feelings about this activity, it was awesome! We booked a half day bicycle tour to the White Temple with Chiang Rai Bicycle Tour. We paid 3600 baht ($AUD122) for the tour. This included pick up and drop-off at our hotel, snacks, water, lunch at a restaurant, and of course, the bikes and helmets. We were picked up at 8:30am and dropped back again at about 2:30pm. We picked up another Australian family and a British couple and were driven to the start of the tour where we were fitted for the bikes.

Mad and Ed riding

Photo by Chiang Rai Bicycle Tour

Dave and Lillian had a trailer bike and Ed had a proper bike seat on the back of my bike. It was actually my first time riding a bike with a kid on the back and it took a little getting used to. He’s heavy! Once everyone had their bikes and helmets adjusted properly we were off. We had four guides from Chiang Rai Bicycle Tour cycling with us, plus the driver who would go ahead and set up for snack stops.

snack stop

Morning tea stop

The ride took us through villages and rice fields and the scenery was beautiful. After our morning tea stop we called in to a school to use the toilets. We had a bit of a chance to say hello to the students which made us miss our schools in Sisaket!

harvester in action

Stop to watch rice being harvested

The ride was a mix of flat and hills, gravel and tar roads. Some of the hills were quite steep and a little hairy on the gravel roads but we managed with no major spills! Here’s a video taken by one of the guides which shows me huffing and puffing up a hill and then Dave and Lil cruising along.

When we arrived at the White Temple we had lunch at one of the restaurants there before looking around the temple. The temple is bizarre and unfortunately you’re not allowed to take photos inside. The walls are decorated with murals featuring everyone from Hello Kitty to Osama Bin laden. The temple is still being completed and we got to watch people painting more murals inside and doing mosaic work on the outside. There is also a separate gallery of works from the artist who designed the temple.

White Temple

The White Temple

hands with money

Hands from hell

We were all pooped by the end of the day but I highly recommend Chiang Rai Bicycle Tour. We haven’t done a lot of organised tours like this one, and it was a lot more money than we would usually spend on an activity, but it was well worth it. They were very professional, the bikes and helmets were all in excellent condition and we felt very safe.

List 45/52 – 4 Months of Trip Stats

We’re four months in and our time in South East Asia is nearly up! Here are the updated stats.

– Number of countries visited: 4 (counting the hour in Myanmar!)
– Days traveling: 125
– Places stayed overnight: 24
– Average number of nights in each place: 5.2
– Modes of transport: 9
– Total hours actually traveling between places: 76.5hrs
– Hours on planes: 11.25hrs
– Hours on trains: 19hrs 50mins
– Hours on buses: 27hrs
– Hours on minibuses: 11.5hrs
– Hours on boats: 7hrs
– Hours on sangthaew: 3.5hrs

Chiang Rai Night Markets

One of the good things about spending six nights in Chiang Rai was that we got to go to three different night markets! Here’s a little about each of them.

Saturday Night Walking Street

The Saturday night market is held on Thanon Thanalal which is the same street the Hilltribe Museum is on (also worth a visit). The main market goes for about four blocks and there is a shorter side street full of food stalls. There are lots of tables set up in a big open square area so you can buy your food at the stalls and then sit down somewhere to eat it. If you can find a free table!

We had a delicious dinner at this market: grilled pork skewers, sticky rice, papaya salad (made fresh while we watched), gyoza and some Thai dumpling-like balls with a peanutty centre that we first had in Sisaket. None of them cost more than a dollar.

Saturday Night Market Chiang Rai

Saturday Night Market Food Tables

We eventually found a table to eat at and I noticed that most people around us also had beer. There was no beer on display at any of the drink stalls near us so I thought they must have brought their own. Then I noticed the drinks man get someone a beer from a big esky under the table and so I called him over and ordered one for us too! I guess they must not be allowed to display them?

Saturday Night Market

Low tables on mats

We didn’t get much chance to look at the non-food stalls. There was a jumping castle and trampoline set up for the kids and we paid 20 baht each for a good long jump. It was a fun night out for everyone!

Sunday Night Walking Street

The Sunday Night Walking Street was on the same street as our homestay, Sankhongnoi Road. It was nice to be able to just step outside and be there! The Market is known as ‘Happy Street’ and was a bit smaller than the Saturday market but otherwise pretty similar. This time we had a good look at all the non-food stalls. They were quite crafty and I saw lots of stall-keepers sitting and knitting or crocheting things to sell.

Sunday Night Market

Sunday Night Walking Street

We had dinner at a restaurant on the street rather than market food and then Dave took the kids back to the room while I had a look around the other end of the market. I found Dave some new boxer shorts for only 39 baht. Bargain!

Chiang Rai Night Market

The Chiang Rai Night Market, like the one in Chiang Mai, is on every night. It’s just near the bus station in the centre of town and we went here on our last night in Chiang Rai.

There are two food court areas, one fancier than the other, both with stages and live entertainment. We ate over by the clock tower instead so we could catch one of the three sound and light shows that happen each night. The clock tower is about a five minute walk from the night market.

ooh pretty

Clock Tower Light Show

The night market has mostly souvenir type stalls. Lots of hilltribe embroidered things and t-shirts and hippy clothes. I bought Lil a hilltribe dress to wear for Christmas (will need tights and a long sleeved top underneath for UK weather!) and myself a new skirt. I also got a pair of earrings for a whopping 10 baht (30 Being near the bus station it was easy to find a tuk tuk to take us back home.

Chiang Rai Accommodation (and the Dangers of Expectations!)

(I seem to have a lot to say about Chiang Rai so I’m going to break this report up over a few posts. First up, accommodation! Markets, elephant village and cycling tour to come!)

Our final stop on our Northern Thailand adventure was Chiang Rai. We spent six nights there and I admit it took a while to grow on me. If we hadn’t already booked flights from there back to Bangkok we may have left sooner, but in the end I’m glad we stayed that long.

Chez Moi handicraft and Homestay

Chez Moi Handicraft and Homestay

I was looking forward to our accommodation in Chiang Rai, Chez Moi Handicraft and Homestay. I first read about this place back in February when Living Outside of the Box stayed there. Their posts about their experiences with the homestay hosts and especially how good they were with their kids sounded great. Anywhere that offers crafts and attention for the kids sounds good to me! However, things seem to have changed at Chez Moi since February.

Chez Moi Homestay Chiang Rai

Triple fan room at Chez Moi

There were only two staff members: the guy who took our booking over email and checked us in, and a Thai lady (and her 3yo daughter) who seemed to be the cook/housekeeper. The guy who checked us in spoke to us at check-in and then we didn’t really speak to him again until check-out. He spent most of his time hidden behind the computer in the shopfront (and later told us he’s a computer programmer.) The Thai lady and her daughter were lovely but spoke absolutely no English.

So we didn’t quite get the interactive homestay experience that Living Outside of the Box got. The website also says there is a cafe but it is not running any longer. Those expectations aside, this was still a good place to stay and I wouldn’t have been at all disappointed if I hadn’t been expecting something different. Expectations – dangerous things!

Chez Moi triple room

Our room at Chez Moi

At Chez Moi we paid 650 baht ($AUD22) for a fan room with a double and single bed. The room was quite comfortable, clean and decorated with cushions from the handicraft shop. The bathroom was shared (there were two) and off the kitchen which we also had use of. The rate included a cooked Thai breakfast which was usually an egg dish (omelet, scrambled eggs with tomatoes) and a noodle or rice and curry dish. There was also fruit, toast, tea and coffee available.

Chez Moi downstairs corridor

Chez Moi downstairs corridor

It was a very quiet and relaxing place to stay. For most of the week we were the only guests and pretty much had the run of the house including the upstairs library and living room.

Chez Moi balcony

Chez Moi balcony – where the cafe used to be

The location of the homestay is a bit away from the town centre and not in a touristy area. We ate at a few places nearby that only had Thai names. Our favourite being a sticky rice, papaya salad and grilled chicken place where we could feed all of us with two bottles of water and pay only 120 baht ($4.) We also ate at Vivien House Restaurant which was nearby, and though on the pricier side had really yummy pasta which was a nice change. They also had good Thai food.

The street the homestay is on closes to traffic on Sunday evenings for a night market which I’ll write more about later. A tuk tuk or songthaew to the city centre cost 60-80 baht each way.

I would recommend Chez Moi to people who want a bit more space than just a hotel room (ie. use of kitchen and living room), don’t mind being out of the centre, and don’t mind being left to themselves!