This article is written by Abhik Dutta

Seven years after my first trip to Thailand, nothing much has changed in the Kingdom. Most of everything that really matters to a tourist like me are still ‘same same’ and amidst the loud, thumping music of Go-Go bars in Soi Bangla in Patong, Phuket the old adage of ‘no money, no honey’ still holds good. At Dragon Bar, its midnight. The Australians are here. So are the Yanks and their brothers in arm, the Brits.

Go-Go bars in Soi Bangla

To be fair, I also see a fair number of Indian tourists, most of them representing Corporate India. Sent here on ‘incentive’ missions.  Some of them with a bottle of Singha beer in one hand and a bikini clad go-go ‘artist’ in the other. They have never had it so good in their lives! Smoke fills the room as does the thumping music. Sixteen nubile lasses are swaying to the music that the DJ (wearing a balaclava) is belting out. The poles from which they swing are greasy with their sweat and each time they bend seductively towards the hangers on, there is a loud yelp, followed by grins and more swigs from the bottle. The waitresses announce into your ears that they are thirsty and would like you to sponsor their next tequila. At 400bahts a shot, you realise that inflation has caught on here as well. So, you settle for ‘olange juice’ which costs about 150 bahts a glass.

There is an air of expectancy around the bar as word spreads that post midnight there is a ‘special’ show. The DJ pulls on a piece of cloth hanging above him, a horn blares, and the girls walk off the ramp. The music changes to something more refined, something more traditional, dignified and Thai.  But something I have never associated with go-go bars before. 5 girls, who are standing unnoticed in a corner, with flower bands on their head now walk in their stilettos and sashay onto the ramp..topless.

Over the next 5 minutes, they mesmerise the audience with their gyrations that would put a gymnast to shame. The finale is Shakira’s ‘Hips don lie’ and all the girls in the bar including the waitresses, mumble the rest of the words till they reach this century’s 2nd most famous line (after George Bush’s ‘you can run but you cant hide’) and in unison they all scream ‘Hips don lie’ and jiggle their shapely backsides. These are the only words they really know. The atmosphere is riveting. I stumble out into Soi Bangla. There’s a carnival outside. Its 2am. The pubs and bars are packed to capacity. Music rips through the moisture laden air. The street is full of tourists, skimpily clad girls, transvestites, prostitutes, pimps, curio sellers and even 2 men with iguanas. And this is mid-May, the start of the off-season, brought on early this year by the rains that swept in a month before time.

Phang Nga Bay

Lizard King in Soi Bangla   – A slice of paradise in Koh Yao Noi in Phang Nga Bay – There are only 2 ways to last here in Soi Bangla. You either finish your money or walk off with your honey. As an emotional high, its same same, but different here in Phuket. I wake up the next morning, the splendid views of the sea in front of me and the rain soaked beach of Patong to my right. The sky is grey and rain lashes at the window panes. The hotel, situated on a small cliff on the Southern edge of Patong has gorgeous views of the sea. One of the most badly affected beaches during the 26th Dec, 2004 Tsunami, there is now almost no trace of the tragedy that struck this peaceful place. But today is another day. In an hour, the sun miraculously peeps out from behind the puffs of cloud. We pack up quickly and check out of the hotel. A waiting car zooms off Northward to the Yacht Haven pier, a 45 min drive from Patong. Our last night  in Thailand will be spent on an island in the Phang Nga Bay. The resort, aptly called Paradise Koh Yao, on the Koh Yao Noi island is a 1hour speedboat ride away. They tell us that the ride would take us through some of South East Asia’s most spectacular scenery.

Koh Yao Noi island

The peaceful resort  Jeep drive through the wooded areas  At the pier, we are met by Jo, who in broken English, welcomes and escorts us to the waiting speedboat. Within a minute we are zooming across the Bay, the Marina growing smaller by the minute. The water of the sheltered bay is calm, like a lake, unlike the maddening turbulence I had encountered the week before on my way back from Phi Phi island, when we were tossed around like an omelette in the hands of a seasoned chef. Through a small gap between two islands, the speedboat bursts out into the open sea and in front of us is scenery so dramatic, so stupendous that we look on with our mouths open. In the distance, gigantic rocks rise vertically from the emerald sea.

They are of different shapes and sizes, some small enough to hold twenty people at most, others large enough to hold 2-3 villages. They pan out in the horizon, rolling endlessly and seamlessly behind each other till they fade from view. It is a sight I have only seen in travel books and tourism brochures, but nothing prepares me for this. The speedboat swerves past a few such islands, some so close that I fear we would dash into them. The rocky crags rise vertically from the waters, clumps of trees sticking out precariously from the cliffs, while sea-gulls and other birds dart in and out of the rocks. Some of these rocky islands have sublime white sand beaches, some only a few meters in length, and I wonder how many of them have seen human footprints.

The minutes go by and on the stroke of an hour, the boat takes a final bow and turns right around the northern tip of Koh Yao Noi island and there in front of us is this magical cove, with a glistening white sand beach nestling amidst dense foliage, one end of which is guarded by a vertical cliff of limestone. On the other side, in 3-4 tiers are the thatched villas of the resort. Welcome to Paradise Koh Yao, says Jo and dramatically sweeps his hand in front of him with a flourish. We are escorted to our room which has breathtaking views of the cove. Wherever we look there is forest cover that rolls down the hillside towards the beach. The resort is spread over 10 acres of greenery and has private pool villas as well as rooms with a private Jacuzzi all of which have magnificent views of Phang Nga Bay.

We hire a jeep and go about exploring the village. The first 6 kilometers of untarred, undulating road is rendered treacherous with the overnight downpour. We navigate past banana and eucalyptus plantations and reach the main village where we ask for further directions to the pier. The predominantly Muslim population are at peace in the afternoon, taking their noon power naps. Listless children make their way home from school, some dragging their ‘strolleys’ through the dirt roads. We make our way to the Southern end of the island in an hour’s time and more dramatic sea views greet us there. At the main pier, the daily ferry is just about to leave for Phuket, resulting in some last minute flurry of fervent activity as the late passengers run to catch the ferry.

We return to the resort by dusk to the sound of a million insects orchestrating an animal world symphony. Dinner is laid out at the Italian restaurant on the beach. Post dinner, I lie on a hammock tied to two coconut trees that hang on the edge of the water. The high tide brings the water below the hammock and the ‘flip-flap’ sound of the waves lapping against the sand lulls me to sleep. The next morning, I rise late and make my way towards the beach shack where I have seen canoes the previous day. After signing up for a 3 hour session, the yellow coloured canoe is gently pushed into the sea. Armed with a life jacket, a water bottle and my limited knowledge of canoeing, I venture forth into the emerald waters of the cove.

For over an hour I row gently around the bay, slowing down as I near a rock face, craning my neck to peer into the vertical limestone formations. Sometimes I glide under overhanging branches that dip into the water. I spot a monitor lizard make its way out of the water and slithering onto a small rocky outcrop. Birds flit around me, near me and high above in the sky. Apart from the sound of the gentle swell that taps the canoe, I hear nothing else. After a while I am tired and settle in the canoe, the oar resting gently on my waist.  The sun is up and it is hot. The resort is far away. Phang Nga Bay and its rock faces stand as silent sentinels in the distance.  So much peace. So much beauty. Sometimes it’s difficult to handle both. For the first time I notice the words ‘feel free’ etched on the oar. And as I shut my eyes and cling on to the moment, I truly feel free.

Minutes pass by. And then slowly but surely I start rowing towards the resort. Our boat leaves for the mainland in an hour’s time. We have a flight to catch. In a few hours, I will be in Bombay where life will be same, same but only different this time.

Abhik Dutta

12 Sept 2011

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Firdaus in Thailand

“We haven’t even started packing yet”, I screamed on June 14th 2009. You see it was like this – my family and I were leaving for Thailand at midnight on the 15th of June 2009. Here we were on the 14th, and not a thing was packed. There was a note of extreme panic and urgency in my voice. My parents just replied, “None of our holidays have gone wrong till now, have they?”

Till now?

Huh?

We Managed Finally

15th June 2009 11:31 – Tension, tension and more tension. I had been sick the whole day and had got a cavity and been taken to the dentist and had lost a tooth. I was shoving in stuffed toys and books into my bag busily. My mother was shoving in clothes, her own books and trying to lock the doors (unsuccessfully). My father was locking our bags, helping my mother to lose the house keys, putting all our bookings and tickets in a gray and black pouch, while I kept pestering him to unlock the bags so I could put in more books in it. (He refused once or twice then let me put in three books).

On the Plane

Finally, when the taxi reached the airport we all heaved a sigh of relief. The whole way the cab’s speedometer hadnt dipped below 105. We got a luggage trolley and put stuff on it and disaster! I was wheeling the trolley, and to my credit I bumped into people only seven or eight times. We got into the airport and checked in our luggage and then we went to the airport stores which were open at past midnight. Some night bazaar, huh, totally bizarre. I bought nothing but smarties and chocolates. Finally at 3:00 a.m. our plane arrived – Cathay Pacific. It left at 3:30. Our seats were A38, A39, and A40. There were three families with loads of children, who kept on yelling and crying. Whenever they would start howling my parents and I wished. (Well, never mind what we wished.) When I put on the T.V, after searching I managed to find Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. Finally, when we reached Bangkok we were surprised to see the colour of the taxis. They were red, yellow, blue, pink, blue+pink, green, green+red, orange and orange+yellow. For the first time in my life I saw Tuk-Tuks. They were like Indian autos but much bigger and very colourful and extremely clean and tidy.

In Bangkok

We took a blue+pink taxi from the airport to our hotel Sawasdee Langsuan Inn. It was an extremely cold day in Bangkok with chances of a light shower later in the day. After about three hours of being in the hotel we went to a shopping mall called MBK. It was an indoor mall but it was humongous and there was almost everything you could think of. It was there that I got my camera. After leaving MBK we went back to our hotel. After playing some games and reading a bit, we went out and had dinner. It was a carnivore’s delight. Soon after dinner I popped off to sleep.

Phew!

The next day at about 7:00 we took a tuk-tuk to a car rental store from where we had booked a Toyota Vios. We paid the money, got into the car, drove back to the hotel, checked out, got our luggage and away we drove. You wouldn’t believe the amount of wrong turns we took in Bangkok. We were sent to almost every street there was to go to. At 12:15 am we were still driving. Around us was complete wilderness, absolute darkness, no streets lights or (gulp) people, very heavy rain on all sides. We had no hope. We had almost given up. We seriously thought of spending the night in the car, at least I did. Then, all of a sudden, we saw a large pretty building which was a hotel. We went in and asked if they had any empty rooms. They did. In fact, they had only empty rooms. As you can imagine, the very minute I lay on the bed my eyes closed and I was asleep.

Another Day


In the morning when we looked around the hotel it was absolutely beautiful and scenic. It had a lovely private beach and as soon as I stepped on to the soft sand, it sank under my feet. I went absolutely crazy because I hadn’t been to a beach for ages. Then we went and had breakfast at the restaurant and I happily tucked in to the food because I was really starving. The truth is, I threw a most beastly tantrum and had to be coaxed into eating my egg. After that we got into the car and hit the road. The drive was really great, partly because of the view and partly because of the weather. We reached Phuket at around 2:00 (an earthly hour, thankfully.) We found a hotel at 6:00 (oops). It was a nice hotel, not located right on the beach but on a road going straight to it.

From Phuket to Phi-Phi

We had a great time at the beach. I kept jumping waves and swimming with them. My parents swam with the waves. At night we went to a nice open air restaurant (all the restaurants were) and had an exotic dinner (pizza for me, as usual). The next day when we woke up in the morning, we started packing our things because we were going on a ferry to Phi-Phi Islands. It was past ferry time and we were still on the road. We decided that we would catch the 3:00 p.m. ferry instead of the 9:00 a.m. one. We went to the Rasada Pier anyway to wait for the next one, and found that our ferry hadn’t reached yet.

When we clambered on to the ferry with everyone else, I noticed that the ferry had three levels. First we went and sat in the lounge, chose our seats and kept our luggage. We then went and sat on the deck admiring the spectacular view. There were many rocks with green seaweed on them. They were growing right in the middle of the Andaman Sea. When we first saw Phi-Phi we wondered how there could be any hotels on it because it was just one big rock. Then, when we got closer we noticed that Phi-Phi was like a ‘U’ with a lovely row of beaches inside it. Our ferry stopped at the port and we got off and did not know what to do. Suddenly we noticed that there were all these guys waving signs for various hotels.

We found one who was waving a sign for our hotel. When we went up to him he told us that his boat was coming since Bay View was on the other side of the island. So after waiting for some time, the boat came and away we went. The sea was very calm and the water was a perfect temperature. Just by looking into the water you could see lots of coral reefs. When we reached Bay View it was impossible for the boat to go right to the land. So, our boat guy lifted me up and when he was putting me on the land I tumbled out of his grasp and fell straight on the soft sand. It didn’t hurt at all. Then we went into the hotel and drank some orange juice. Then we went up the little island and got into our cottage.

Phi-Phi was amazing. It had lovely calm blue waters which looked as if they stretched for miles. The water rippled gently about with big rocks jutting out of unexpected places, as the never ending sea shone in the sunlight. Suddenly a happy feeling came over me and I started jumping around in pure delight. The wooden floor creaked as I jumped on it.

Phi-Phi and Phi-Phi Town

We didn’t do much that day. We just lazed around the beach and explored the hotel. We didn’t do any swimming. It was a calm, peaceful day for us to get our senses back after a couple of rushing and manic days and we were thoroughly relaxed. When it was time for dinner we went down to the beach and ate some really good Thai seafood (Pizza for me as usual).Then we went for a walk around the beach and found that it was a very lively little place at night. There were fireflies roaming around and the sea was gently swaying in the night breeze. We started to feel sleepy, so we went to the hotel and to bed.

The next day we woke up and went down to the breakfast hall and helped ourselves to a buffet breakfast. After that we went down to the beach and rested and I took some photographs of the sea. Then we went and had a good look at Phi-Phi town. It was a magical little place. There were little restaurants everywhere and it was very merry. After having a good look at the town, we went back to Bay View and just lazed around till lunch when we went back to town. We found this little place which had super seafood. I had a meal which consisted of only prawns. After lunch we went to the beach and swam.

Well, we didn’t do much swimming, because the water was so shallow. But we did wade out quite far into the sea. We saw a gigantic coral reef deep out in the water. Of course, after all that swimming we were really tired, so we went and slept till about tea time. At tea time we went into town and had cakes beside the beach. After that we went shopping. The shops were not like the shops in MBK where it was completely modern and air-conditioned. It had a very nice, quaint feel about it. The shops were open-air and the weather was simply superb. We bought lots of clothes and after reaching the hotel we went and looked at the other hotels on the island. Then we went and played beach volleyball and I kept falling on the sand. Once when I smashed the ball, I fell over the net. The amount of sand that fell on me was really unbelievable. For the next two minutes I did nothing but cough out sand. We went and lazed around watched a movie, played a game and stuff like that, till dinner. Dinner consisted of sour curry and a fish with a long name. (Pizza…you guessed it) After dinner it was bed. Oh man! Straight away.

Calm Wind, Blue Waters…Quicksand and Sharks

The next day after a huge breakfast we took a motorboat to our hotel, Zeavola. It was a very nice hotel because it was in a tropical forest. When you went out you were on the beach. The only problem was the mosquitoes. But it was not much of a problem anyway. Zeavola was not on Phi-Phi Don, unlike most hotels, but on Phi-Phi Leh. On a small island quite far away from Phi-Phi Leh there was another island which had a beach called Long Beach where there was quicksand and sharks. (Oops, I’m scared) But the sharks couldn’t go to far from Long Beach because there was some kind of underwater netting which the sharks could not cross. (Thank goodness) We spent the day at Zeavola in a very relaxed fashion. No tension, no boats to catch and lots of time on our hands. We found a nice little restaurant on the beach, ate, went back to the room and played a game and went to sleep.

Lost!

The next day after breakfast we went and saw normal fish, jellyfish and anonymous fish. At least anonymous to me, that is. At about 1:00 p.m. we left Phi-Phi hoping that Chaing-Mai would also be nice. The ferry took us to Phuket Rasada Pier from where we took our car and drove off. We spent the night at Phang-Na.

It was 12:30 p.m. We were goodness knows where. (Are we in trouble, or what??) We had been asking people the way to Ayuthaya, which was our destination and getting a volley of different directions from each person. Finally we ended up on a highway to Myanmar, (What next?) when my father said “I think we are going wrong”. He stopped the car and asked a man who informed us that we were on target for Myanmar and even drove us to the right highway. (Nice guy) Then we kept going and finally reached Ayuthaya. Well, you might think that after all that driving we deserved a good rest. But you thought wrong. For miles we found nothing but empty roads. Finally there was a hotel in sight. We spent the night there. Ayuthaya turned out to be a rather old, forgotten town, but lively at the same time. And as soon as I touched the bed I was asleep.

Chiang Mai

The Golden Buddhist Monastery Chiang Mai

After reaching our hotel, Holiday Inn at a reasonable time, we had a normal day. The next day we drove of for Shangri-La and reached in 20 minutes. It was a combination of old fashioned style and modern material, which was quite nice. The days at Shangri-La went peacefully, playing golf and tennis and swimming and having a good time. The staff was rather pleasant as well. Then suddenly I realized that the holiday was almost over and in 5 days it was back to Delhi. The night malls at Chiang Mai were quite interesting. You would ask a ‘took-took’ to take you there and then you could shop to your hearts content. After two days at Shangri-La we drove off for Bangkok. Goodness, how time flies.

The End of the Holidays

We reached Bangkok at 12. I said Bangkok, not our hotel Amari, so don’t think that we are on time. When we looked at the map we realized that Amari was on a 10 km road. (When will this ever stop?) The road went on for about half an hour, (Well, not so bad) and when Amari finally came in sight we were so hungry, that includes everyone except me, that we couldn’t wait to eat. So we stopped at a mini soup place on the road. My parents ate, but I only grumbled. (Bad boy, Dausi) So we went into Amari, soaking wet. Oh, I forgot it was raining outside. Now, where was I? Oh, right. We entered Amari, soaking wet, checked in and found that we didn’t know how to control the lift. Then we saw people were putting their keys into a slit and felt rather sheepish. Amari was quite a decent hotel. We spent two days there rather peacefully. A small restaurant opposite Amari had an amazing variety of foods. Finally, the leaving day came. We were all rather sober. The flight went quite comfortably all the way. When we reached Delhi, there was a large valley of clouds and mist below us. Staring at the clouds and mist I thought to myself – What a holiday, explored half of Thailand, seen such gorgeous places. Hmm, I wonder what we would do next holiday. Maybe we would have a look at the other half of Thailand.

But, that’s another story!

June 2009

Firdaus Mohandas is a nine years old, he shares his travel experiences of Thailand with candour and ready wit and provides a refreshing glimpse of Thailand.

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