Thailand (May 2007)

Soon after Aron and I were engaged to be married, we started planning the honeymoon. We had almost 18 months until the wedding, so we took our time choosing a location and researching activities. One might say we had too much time, as we proceeded to compose spreadsheets comparing weather, costs, water temperature, food options, and so on for places all over the world. But it all amounted to a wonderful trip, one that we’ll never forget. And isn’t planning part of the fun?

We felt that we had a pretty optimal situation: we had a budget of about $250/day excluding airfare, just over two weeks in which to travel, and we had international miles tickets with Star Alliance at our disposal. Better yet, Aron’s parents had offered to upgrade our tickets to business class. So we knew that this was a good time to take a trip requiring a long flight. We could afford to lose a day to travel and we could do it comfortably. We had pretty much ruled out Hawaii and Mexico already, as both of us had been multiple times with family, but these factors allowed us to confirm that decision.

So we headed to our adopted library at the Grove in Los Angeles (Barnes & Noble), and began pouring over The Travel Book: A Journey Through Every Country in the World. And a long list of inspired places emerged. But it had to be affordable—we wanted to stay at nice hotels and feel like all the activities possible were available to us—so we took Western Europe, French Polynesia, and any European holds in the Caribbean off our list. We wanted at least part of the vacation to be at the beach and hoped for warm water; May is still a little cold in the waters off of Croatia and Greece, so those spots would have to wait for another time as well. We also worried we could get bored with “just” a beach vacation, so we looked for places that would offer other sights—interesting culture, cityscapes—as well. We began to narrow in on Costa Rica, India, Bali, Fiji, and Thailand. Any one of these would be wonderful and I hope we’ll get a chance to visit each soon. Bali came highly recommended, but we (probably unnecessarily) let the American travel advisory keep us away this time. Costa Rica and Fiji both had high averages of precipitation in May—it seemed a little risky. So Thailand or India? Both have cuisines we love, and both would satisfy all of our other requirements. As for India, we have a few friends whose family lives there, and we’d always thought it would be nice to travel there with them sometime. Actually, I think both of us were really excited about Thailand from the start, and so, even though the inches of rain could potentially be high there too in May, we happily began to make the arrangements!

Our itinerary would include Bangkok, Chiang Mai and one beach destination. We decided on Ko Samui—an island in the Gulf of Thailand (East). Phuket, an island famous both for its beauty and its plight when the Tsunami damaged its shores (now fully restored), is in the Andaman sea. Ko Samui experiences better weather and calmer waters this time of year, while Phuket’s monsoon season lasts roughly March to October. We really worried for a while about rain, but heard that while showers were often downpours, they rarely lasted more than an hour. We figured we could always head inside for a cooking class or relaxation if there was rain. As it turned out, we only had rain one night after dinner, and one day in Bangkok while we were inside having a massage. We experienced wonderful weather! (I did hear that while we were in the North, it rained every day in the South—so we were lucky.)

Aron and I were both in school at this time, so we each went to our respective University clinics to meet with a travel doctor. It was up to us whether we wanted to take any anti-malarial pills. We would be traveling near the Golden Triangle (a risk-area) but not in any actual malarial risk-zones. And we wouldn’t be staying in rural areas. So we decided against it. We were advised to each finish out our Hepatitis series (we already had done this), and get a typhoid vaccine—mine recommended a series of pills and Aron’s doctor recommended an injection. Both doctors recommended we bring along rehydration salts and anti-biotics in case of any food poisoning, as well as bug repellent containing Deet. In fact, they specifically recommended a spray for our clothing, to be used before packing, and a time-release bug repellent. Aron, an eager doctor-to-be, added his seal of approval to these advisories and added some general first-aid supplies to our shopping list.

We had already purchased a Frommer’s, Fodor’s, TimeOut Bangkok, Wallpaper Bangkok and a map by Nancy Chandler (which we didn’t use); printed pages from, read archived Travel & Leisure articles and torn out articles from back-issues of Gourmet… I don’t want to think about how crazy all that must sound… so we began checking web-prices for our favorite hotel-picks. I found packagers like direct rooms, asia rooms and asia hotels to have the best prices, but it varied depending on the hotel. I also relied heavily on reviews posted on Trip Advisor (particularly the candid traveler photos) and the Frommer’s message boards for tips–adding to the insanity. I’ve listed our final itinerary below.

Direct Outbound Flight:
MAY 14, 10:30PM / ARRIVING MAY 16, 5:40AMHOTELS:
W, May 16-Sa, May 19 Bangkok: Marriott Resort & Spa

Su, May 20-M, May 21 Chiang Mai: Rachamankha

[Fly Bangkok to Chiang Mai (depart from Suvarnabhumi Airport), Air Asia 10:00am-11:10am] T, May 22-Su, May 27 Ko Samui: Tongsai Bay
[Fly Chiang Mai to Ko Samui, Bangkok Air 10:35am-1:10pm] M, May 28 Bangkok:The Metropolitan
[Fly Ko Samui to Bangkok, Bangkok Air, 11:15am-12:20pm]

Returning Flights:
May 29 SINGAPORE AIR#63, 11:15AM
Arrives SINGAPORE, 2:40PM
Arrives LOS ANGELES, 5:25PM


We arrived in Bangkok early in the morning (around 6am), but it was already noticeably hot and humid when we stepped outside of the airport. Our flight was into the new airport (Suvarnabhumi Airport–BKK) and we followed the clear signage toward the taxi stand after taking some cash (Baht) from the ATM. Our driver had been given the name and address of our hotel, but he seemed a little unclear as to exactly how to get there. As we were no help, he stopped at one point to call someone—they must not have been helpful either, because next he flagged down a a tuk tuk driver carrying some school children for additional advice. We found the whole thing pretty amusing, though we wished we could offer something other than pointing to a general location on a map drawn up in English. Not too much more time passed before we made it to the Marriott Resort.

There are two Marriotts in Bangkok: the JW and the Resort & Spa. The JW is perhaps geared more for the business traveler and is, as such, a bit more sleek, more contemporary. It’s located in the Sukhumvit area. On the other hand, the resort is located on the Chao Praya river in the Thonburi area and offers a bit more of an escape from the city and its sounds at the end of each day. In fact, one must take their water taxi, done in the traditional teak junk-boat style, to cross the river. The trip is short and takes one directly to a skytrain station; on the way back to the hotel, bottles of water and cool towels soaked in lemongrass are passed around. We liked the idea of being on the river, at a property with a large pool and a resort-vibe, so we chose the second location. And though I haven’t been to the JW, I can’t imagine being more pleased.

One of the highlights of staying at any Marriott property is that we get to use the Bruhns’ platinum member number—in other words, we get treated like better customers than we have actually been. At the resort, a special club lounge has been set up for such customers: breakfast (with juices, fruits, Western as well as Asian standards) is served there in the morning, tea in the afternoon and drinks with hors d’oeuvres in the evening. One can visit the main restaurant as well for a complementary (and even more extensive) buffet breakfast, but the other events only occur in the lounge. Also, when we arrived, we we taken over to the lounge for breakfast while a concierge who had been assigned to us completed our registration. While crossing the lobby, I noticed that the whole area smelled of lemongrass. Fortunately, some rooms had become available early, and we were able to go upstairs before too long. Our room was wonderful—large, with a balcony overlooking the river, it had a particularly sizeable bathroom, as well as distinct sleeping and sitting areas. A fresh fruit basket included lychees, mangoes and oranges, and was refilled daily. There was also a large selection of newspapers and a notice offering complimentary laundry and pressing services. It was going to be hard to leave. However, we left for the day pretty immediately. Tempting as it was to lay down or go for a swim, we were too excited to see the city. We thought it would be a good day to visit the palace as well as one of the temples, so we were careful to wear our long pants and chose a shirt that covered my shoulders. Passing by the beautiful pool area, we walked out onto the hotel’s dock and caught the next boat crossing the river.

The boat let us off at the Silom sky train station, where we could also catch a water taxi heading up—as we would do to get to Wat Po—and down the river. We did encounter here, however, our first and only unpleasant solicitation experience. A man in plain clothes began a conversation with us: said he recognized us from the hotel… did we check in this morning?… He works there along with much of his family… He hopes we have a nice visit… Oh, where are we headed today?… Wat Po? It and the Palace are closed for a special holiday… etc. We said we were going anyway, doubtful that he was correct, and when we arrived at Wat Po our suspicion was confirmed. We noticed the same man there on subsequent days. It was unpleasant because we had engaged in the conversation with him and yet he lied. That said, it was our only such experience. I’ve heard plenty of accounts of this happening to others, too, but while it seems a good idea to be aware and not to let someone talk you out of your plans or into a store you didn’t want to visit, I wouldn’t let this prevent you from being open and friendly to the people you encounter.

Wat Po is also known as the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, as it houses a 46 meter long, entirely gold, reclining Buddha. Made for Rama III in 1788, the soles of his feet are decorated with mother of pearl and display 108 scenes of the Buddha. One of the oldest and largest temples (80,000 square meters), its southern compound is devoted to a working monastery and its northern houses the Buddha and a massage school. It’s filled with brilliantly colored porcelain chedis, one for each of the first four kings of the Chakri dynasty. I also particularly enjoyed the large statues standing guard at the temple’s gates. Many of the buildings are laden with gold leaf and beautiful plaques, however much of the area was obscured by scaffolding as restoration was ongoing.

After visiting the Buddha, we paid a visit to the massage school. I had never had a massage, and wasn’t sure if I’d really like one (Would I feel uncomfortable? Would it hurt?) but Aron was quite eager for a massage after our long flight and I couldn’t not try it. We chose a 30 minute massage—the shortest interval available. It cost about $5. The room is quite different from what one sees advertised in fancy spas: multiple cots, a few ceiling fans, but its simplicity made the space un-intimidating for a novice like me. And the massage? It did hurt a bit, but in a wonderful sort of way. I couldn’t wait for another one! Afterward, they gave us some cold green tea in a juice bottle with straws—I sort of felt like a 6 year old who had behaved well at the doctor. The whole thing was fascinating.

The Wat isn’t far from the Grand Palace, so we decided to walk in spite of the high temperatures. The palace was incredible. A walled city built in 1782 by King Rama I when he moved the capital of Thailand (Siam) there, the grounds are immense and covered by beautiful, ornate buildings. Most of the interior spaces are off-limits to visitors (the exceptions being some which have been converted to small museums), but you can take in a lot just walking around.

The palace also has a notable Wat (Wat Phra Kaeo) housing the Emerald Buddha. Preparing to see it, we removed our shoes and took care to keep our head lower than the Buddha, our backs and the soles of our feet pointed away. The first requirement is a challenge for Aron who, at 6’8”, towers above most of the resident population. As amazing as the Emerald Buddha was, it seemed surprisingly minuscule after visiting the reclining Buddha.

The Chedi behind the Wat was especially beautiful, gold-leafed and done in a Sri Lanken style to house the breast-bone of Buddha. In fact, there were gold and brilliant shades of blues and greens and the entire spectrum, all over the place. The architecture was stunning, and I doubt I can do justice here to its detail or its history. One would benefit greatly from the assistance of a guide or a tour book when visiting.

Shortly after looking into the space where Anna had tutored Rama IV’s son, Aron started feeling the effects of the heat and worried he was growing dehydrated. We had brought two bottles of water with us, but had finished them already. So we headed to a small stand selling bottles of cold tea. This bought us a little more time, but it was clear looking at Aron—the normally unwavering traveler—as he, well, wavered a little, that it was time for a break. We found a small restaurant at the palace and sat down on the deck to share some bottles of water and some fresh coconut juice. We did a little more looking around, but left to get some lunch fairly soon afterward.

Following a recommendation from our Frommer’s guidebook (“Find this place. It is my favorite place in Thailand.”), we found this very simple spot called May Kaidee perched in what seemed almost like an alley. But the food was as good as any Thai food I’ve tasted—better than anything I’d had at much more formal establishments. We shared a large beer and each had curry for under $5 total. The massaman curry was incredible!

Our lunch spot was in the Khoa San Road neighborhood, so we decided to stroll around. Sometimes called the backpacker’s ghetto, I recognized the main street immediately from a Leonardo DiCaprio movie named after and based on the novel, The Beach. Indeed, it had all the hallmarks of a hosteller’s zone: plentiful internet cafes and ATMs; cheap, international eats; Rastafarian icons and lots of young westerners. Still, while at once almost disturbingly familiar, the area held its own distinct charms and we enjoyed the lively street for an afternoon.

 Next we made our way toward the flower market, skirting the edge of Chinatown. Walking into the market, passing by rows of marigolds and wreaths for temple offerings, I was awe-struck by the amazing smells and colors—and there were so many orchids everywhere! To be honest, I was pretty awe-struck by everything everywhere we went. The sounds, the sights, the smells (some good and some really bad)… it was all very exciting. We took a taxi back to the ferry port (double-checking before getting inside that the ride would be metered: “taxi-meter?”), and rode back across the Chao Praya to our resort.
In our room, awaiting us was a chocolate cake wishing us a “Happy Honeymoon,” some champagne, and our fruit bowl (which is refreshed daily). We held off on the dessert, however, and went back down to the lounge for cocktails and hors d’oeuvres. We had planned to go out for dinner, but decided to settle in for the evening instead and enjoy our first night at the resort. We took a swim in the pool and plotted some of our plans for the days ahead. The concierge in the lounge took down our dinner reservation wishes—one night at Bed Supperclub, one night at Spring and Summer—as well as arranged for us to take a half-day cooking class/market tour with the Blue Elephant cooking school on our third day.
When we travel, we tend to prefer to get a feel for the city over “hitting” every major
tourist destination. Sometimes, I feel guilty—shouldn’t I prefer to wander the Louvre to see the Egyptian collection over wandering the neighborhood of St. Germain to taste a macaroon, for example? But everyone has their own must-lists when traveling and mine is browsing the streets, window-shopping the bakeries and bookstores and whatever else might give me a glimpse into local peculiarities and predilections. So while it was tempting to see more of “old” Bangkok’s Wats or travel to Jim Thompson’s house, we opted instead to check out some of the more trendy shopping streets and discover new Bangkok. This time we took our main
cues from the Wallpaper guidebook and the Luxe Guide.
After taking the boat from our hotel, we took the skytrain from Saphan Taksin to Thong Lo and began to walk. One of the first things we passed or, rather, which passed us was a man on a bike pedaling (in both senses of the word) a bounty of cleaning materials—brooms, dusters, etc—made out of wonderfully unique materials. He was only the beginning of the mobile treasures we encountered, however: there were so many vendors along our route operating from carts for the mid-day shoppers and commuters. It was difficult to pass them by, and so we stopped at one selling bananas and plantains prepared to different levels of frying. These were a common option, and appealed to me more than the fried fish, fish balls or dried shrimp delicacies. We passed one vendor pushing a cart of sharply spiked Durian fruit, but decided to put the pleasure off as we were still nursing our fried banana.
Shortly thereafter, we arrived at Playground!, a high concept design store featuring the work of many local, upcoming designers and a bit reminiscent of Colette in Paris. The main floor is part store and part exhibition space. We also visited H1, designed by architect Duangrit Bunnag and a sort of curiosity shop in the same complex, as well as others. We did notice that many of the stores—most of which focus on minimalist furniture design—were closed. For the lunch hour, perhaps? We assumed so.
Though we hoped to save room for lunch, we couldn’t pass up another cart-driven treat. This time, the vendor was making a sort of crepe. He would take two balls of dough and press them together; then he would deftly spin them into a large saucer almost like he was making a pizza. His work surface included a groove, like a built-in wok, which must be very hot because the oil he lined it with immediately began to smoke and bubble. Next, he added a bright orange paste (which we later learned to be palm sugar) and laid the dough on top. The dough puffed up like, well, puffed pastry. He added bananas, a little cane sugar and, with our nod of approval, served it cut up with a dressing of sweetened condensed milk. It was so light, so perfectly caramelized, so delicious. We would look for such “wok-carts” with the many cans of Carnation everywhere else we went after this. We did come across them again (and mostly in Bangkok), but this was the only time we would see the two balls of dough combined in such a way so that pockets would form and such an airy crepe would be the product. That said, fried dough with bananas and sugar is never a bad thing.
After another hour or so of walking we set out for lunch. We passed many popular stands where bowls of fragrant soup were being passed out to groups of workers who would then season the soup with extra cilantro, basil, fish sauce and chili at picnic tables. We weren’t sure about the washing of the bowls—was the water hot enough?—and were feeling a little cautious with it only being the second day of the trip (it would be horrible to get ill at this point in particular), so we decided instead to head for a restaurant recommended in one of our guides. We had a wonderful lunch in the courtyard outside of the teak house that is Ruen Mallika (Sukhumvit Soi 22), with an especially beautiful and interesting appetizer of fried flowers, but I do think the street vendor might have been better and I might throw some caution to the wind if given the chance again.

When we returned to the hotel, we relaxed for a while and enjoyed the lounge.

That evening we had reservations for Bed Supperclub, where one eats dinner from the comfort of a long, white bed in a large, UFO-like pod which sits raised above the street. A fax from the restaurant had been delivered our hotel-room (4 pages!) specifying a dress code, reminding us to bring our IDs (no minors allowed), and mentioning some other policies as well. It was pretty amusing, but we sort of enjoyed the thought that our coming to dinner was worthy of a personal fax delivery to our door. The restaurant is divided into a dance club and the main dining room. We started in the latter and moved into the former. The menu listed lots of interesting cocktails featuring many of the fruits we’d seen at market stalls earlier in the day. Dinner was delicious—I recall having lobster and rock shrimp prepared with a fusion of Thai and European flavors. A DJ spun during dinner and various characters performed in a non-obvious sort of way: a man all in white sort of moon walked through the room, a tarot card reader set up a table in the corner, a masseuse performed foot massages to those who wanted them. It was an interesting scene!

The next morning we returned to the skytrain and went to the Blue Elephant cooking school. We got there about 10 minutes early and then it turned out that the start time itself had provided a 30 minute cushion. So we were a little irritated that we had left so early only to wait about 40 minutes. But other than that, it was a half-day well spent. About 8 of us followed our guide (whose English was flawless, by the way) to the Bang Rak morning market. She started by taking us to a coffee/tea stand where we each had the drink of our choice in a little plastic bag. Aron and I were thrilled—we love Thai style iced tea (sweet black tea with cream or milk), but hadn’t bought any because of the ice. But she assured all of us that this stand used purified water for their ice. As we sipped our tea, we watched a man making coconut milk and took in the piles of leafy greens all around.

Next we went to a dry goods/staples stand, and learned about the different varieties of palm sugar, the basic chili paste used in many dishes, and compared Thai basil with its Italian counter. We walked through the fish stalls and took note of the predominant species One stand I found both fascinating and a little off-putting was the one where a group of ladies scraped fish flesh into the ground material necessary for making fish balls.

And it only got, um, better. We went into another large area within the market wherein most of the meat is sold. As you can probably imagine, there were some sights I would have preferred to hold off on until after we cooked lunch. One which surprised me a bit was the stand selling water beetles—it’s not often that you see such large beetles, even less often that you see them sold at a food market. Our guide held them up for us to smell their undersides—like sweet citrus. Apparently they’re most commonly used to flavor soups and stews.

Some of the smells in this particular room were a little overwhelming, so I was a little relieved when we began to make our way back out of the market. That said, the tour was a completely enriching and fascinating experience, and I felt like we learned so much more about what we were seeing with the help of a guide than we could have possibly discerned on our own.

We took the skytrain one stop back to the cooking school and got settled in one of the classrooms with a demonstration kitchen. A folder of recipes using many of the ingredients we had investigated at the market, along with an apron, was waiting at each desk for us. We would be learning to prepare chicken satay, a beef waterfall salad, fish stew, and a shrimp curry. The head chef would talk about one dish, show us how to prepare it in the demonstration classroom, and then we would go into the kitchen to make the dish ourselves. We each had a station with the ingredients laid out alongside the necessary knives; each station had a gas stovetop as well. For the satay, we mixed the peanut sauce and a marinating glaze, then skewered the chicken. Then, assistants who were ready to help at any point would taken the skewers and grill them for us while we went back into the classroom to begin learning about the next dish. It was a nice blend of demonstration and hands-on experience.

After we’d prepared all of the featured dishes (they change each day), we went downstairs into the dining room and waiters served us what we had prepared (with little nametags affixed to each plate such that you were sure you were eating your creation). Though it sounds strange to say, considering we made the food, I truly thought everything turned out wonderfully and that it was one of the best meals we’d had thus far. And I’m sure that has less to do with us than with the ingredients provided. We purchased a cookbook so as to attempt to recreate the dishes back home, and the school gave us each a box with some sauces and spice packets to help with our efforts. Before we left, they also served sticky rice and mango. Again, the mango was one of the best—so sweet and perfectly ripe. The sticky rice was served warm with hints of coconut milk. The cost of the course was about 2800 Baht, expensive for Thailand, but a wonderful experience.
After lunch, we indulged in another massage, this time at Ruen Nuad on Convent Road near the Sukothai hotel (just off Silom Avenue). Formerly a little shack but now a wonderful space with 15 treatment rooms, this was our favorite massage spot in Thailand. After having our feet washed, we each slipped into the loose pajama-like clothes they provided and waited behind drawn curtains for our masseuse to arrive. This time we chose to have the full hour massage. As before, there were some moments where I thought I might need to ask her to move on (my leg just couldn’t handle the pressure a moment more) and then she would and it would feel great. Afterward, we took tea on the building’s patio.

One thing that is difficult about going out for a massage rather than having one at your hotel is that you have to re-enter the street life and within hours you feel like you could use another massage. They’re sort of addictive, I learned. We decided to return to our hotel and do some more swimming before dinner in a small effort to prolong the feeling.

Dinner was at Spring and Summer, where Spring is a house built in the 1960s serving modern Thai cuisine, and Summer is a chocolate themed café. Both sit back from the road with a wide sprawling lawn between. One can book a set of pillows for the lawn (winter lawn/bar) and be served by waiters wearing what look like painter’s overalls.
The place was filled with young (and seemingly affluent) Thais wearing the sort of high fashion we saw at Playground!.






The next day was Saturday, so we went to the enormous Chatuchak Weekend Market (“JJ”)—it’s open every Saturday and Sunday from 7am to 6pm and with 35 acres and it is completely overwhelming. There are stalls upon stalls of every possible thing you can imagine–over 15,000 of them. We tried to focus our browsing to furniture (some amazing but huge items are available across the road from the main market), new designers and food. I bought a shirt, but we were mostly successful in the food category—go figure. We had a map—which is essential—but the interior of the market is pretty disorientating. After about 4 hours and a nice lunch, we decided to move on.  
Getting a taxi back to the city was a bit of a challenge at first, but we prevailed and had him drop us off at a ferry stop along the river. It turned out that the stop we chose was not an express stop, so we waited for a while with a group of men who kept watching us with great curiosity. They didn’t smile until they saw the boat coming, at which time they all beamed and pointed—first at us and then at the boat—apparently very pleased and relieved to be able to help two travelers they must have thought were hopelessly lost.

We were very interested in taking a river tour, but felt our time was too spare to take the four hour khlong tour advertised by some of the boat operators. Instead we paid extra to hire a boat and driver from the Thonburi area to take us down to the River City shopping complex. At first the driver was reluctant to take just two people when he could take 6, which is why we paid a little extra. The boat was a longtail—a VW bug engine is attached to a drive shaft, which is long and motors a propeller; the boat itself it long and narrow with small wooden slats spanning its width for seating. We sped down the Chao Praya, slowing down only when crossing the wake of a bigger boat or when passing an interesting site. 

It was great to see the Grand Palace from the water; we could also see the Royal Ceremonial barges berthed on the other side of the river—one called the “Golden Swan” is carved from a single piece of teak and measures over 150 feet and weighs over 15 tons!
Other highlights included Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn), with its Khmer-style prangs covered in mosaics; children jumping into the river from pontoons; houses, some clearly done in a French colonial style, on stilts; and the busy, chaotic afternoon traffic on the river (though we surely traversed the city faster by boat than we could have done in a car).

When our driver dropped us off at the river-city complex, we looked into finding a recommended tailor for Aron to have a custom shirt made. Unfortunately the spot mentioned in the article I had brought along was closed, but we decided to seek out another top pick near the Siam Centre (a huge shopping complex at one of the major sky train stops). It came to about US$50—we would pick it up when we returned to Bangkok on our way out of Thailand. Something really interesting happened while we were walking around this bustling area: the national anthem came on (it plays in public areas everyday at 8am and 6pm) and every person stopped and stood still to pay respect. We stood and joined—it was so remarkable to see such a busy sidewalk suddenly come to a complete standstill and just as suddenly come back to life with movement and chatter.

For our last dinner on this leg of our trip, we wanted something more casual which might resemble more of a street food, so to speak. Our Time Out guide book suggested Roti Mataba, near the Santichaiprakharn park. We sat at a small little table in what seemed to be a converted closet with some teenagers who stared at us and giggled for a bit and ordered from a picture menu. Downstairs, one woman was making the roti before they were brought up to us—upon which we found that they were so fresh and so amazing. We had them with spicy curries and then with jam for dessert. Again the meal cost very little and it was delicious! They were closed the night of our return to Bangkok or we may have had to stop by again.


We left our lovely Bangkok hotel in the morning, and headed to the airport. For our peace of mind, we had booked our flights within Thailand before we left the U.S., this time with Air Asia. In typical fashion, we got to the airport far too early, but this gave us a chance to sample ginger and lemongrass sodas–delicious when drunk together! The flight to Chiang Mai was smooth and I would certainly use Air Asia again.

Once we arrived in the small airport, situated among beautiful mountains shrouded in a light fog, we made our way to the taxi stand and bought a coupon for a taxi which would take us to our hotel, Rachamankha
Like all the hotels we stayed in, we chose this one after great deliberation, and when we arrived at the hotel I could see that we would not be disappointedwith our choice. The hotel is modeled after the viharn (chapel) of Wat Phra That Lampang Luang in the neighboring province of Lampang and the staff clearly tries to maintain a certain sense of the serenity one would expect to find at a temple. 


The staff was small, but extremely eager to help us without being intrusive. After refreshing with cool lemongrass towels and cold tea, we were shown to our room. Along the way, one couldn’t help but notice the beautiful lanna architecture, the lovely flowers and antique the Asian artifacts all around. 

 The room itself was a throw back to another time. Tall, heavy, teak doors that locked with a wooden latch opened to reveal sloping ceilings, a large canopy bed and heavy teak furniture. They had noted before we checked in that we were “honeymooners” and had a bottle of champagne on ice waiting inside. The bathroom was well-appointed with wonderful smelling hand creams and hair products. In fact, Aron, has continues to slowly ration out the hand cream, keeping it in our medicine cabinet, he enjoys the smell so much (and so do I). I wish I had brought home one of the robes, myself.

Exploring the hotel, we found they had a lovely library room with a computer and internet access as well as a complimentary bottle of Brandy and some snifters available for guests. Had my husband known this back when we were debating whether to stay at Tamarind Village or Rachamankha, I am sure there would have been little question as to which hotel we should choose! The pool was equally beautiful and serene, but a swim would have to wait until later. 

Though most of the day had passed, we knew we had little time in Chiang Mai and decided to make the most of the remaining afternoon. As it was a clear day, we decided to visit Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, a temple about 45 minutes from the hotel and which can often be seen from they city as it sparkles with gold leaf. We had intended to take a taxi up to the site, but instead combined the trip with a hill tribe museum using the hotel’s car and driver. It was expensive compared to a taxi, but still cheap compared to U.S. prices.

After climbing some 306 steps, we were rewarded with an excellent view over the valley and a beautiful temple. Wat Phra That Doi Suthep was founded in the 14th century where a white elephant died while carrying a relic of Buddha. Compared to the other temples we had seen, this one seemed to have more Thai than tourists and it was interesting to see the ways that people practiced religion.

After exploring the grounds, we met up with our driver, who then headed further into the mountains toward a Hill tribe village.
The drive was enchanting; we were traveling through the clouds down narrow dirt and through dense shrubs and trees. As we arrived, we walked through a gauntlet of tourist stands selling cloths, bags, and other goods typical of the Thai markets. However, most were closing up for the day as we were arriving fairly late. So after quickly clearing this section of the village, we headed toward the garden.

There was a gentle stream that flowed down the steep embankment with all sorts of plants and flowers to the side. An old woman was smiling and gesturing sort of oddly at us, gesturing with her hand at her mouth. Finally we realized she was making a smoking movement with her hand. “Sorry, we don’t have any cigarettes,” I said. She smiled more, pointed at the plants on the other side of the stream, and repeated her motions. Densely, we shrugged and shook our heads. It took our driver to point out the obvious to us. The far hill was covered with Marijuana plants; “She wants to know if you want Marijuana.” We had been so distracted by the flowers and streams that we had completely overlooked it! We moved on to the
hill tribe museum next. This was interesting indeed; I think Aron found it especially so having spent a week trekking in Northern Thailand in 2000. Northern Thailand has many distinct ethnic groups, such as the Karen, Hmong, and Padaung (a branch of Karen who lengthen their necks with brass rings) and six others featured at the museum. The museum featured traditional tools, and discussed several cultural practices as well as the persecution these tribes have broadly suffered by southeastern Asian states.

Later that night, we walked a few blocks down from our hotel to enjoy a weekly night bazaar. There is a larger bazaar that takes place daily. The market was great: food stands of all sorts, including ones selling delicacies such as insects (no, they do not taste like chicken), in addition to more expected items such as satay.

The next day, we headed to the hotel’s restaurant: situated around a beautiful courtyard we enjoyed multiple courses of breakfast before heading off for our planned activities. We had arranged to go to an

elephant camp to which elephants rescued from inhumane conditions had been re-located.

We arrived just as the elephants were taking their morning
baths (and showers, as they would have it). It was amazing to see such powerful, large creatures being so playful and so obviously enjoying themselves. 

Next, the elephants put on a show, where they and their mahout (trainer) demonstrated both the tasks elephants were traditionally employed to do in Thailand—such as moving logs—as well as newer skills such as painting and playing soccer. Though impressive, I was happier watching them play in the water than performing for us. That said, we still maneuvered ourselves for a quick exit (our driver came over and pointed us in the right direction) after the show was over so that we could be first in line for the elephant ride. We climbed up bamboo scaffolding to a plank where we had easy access to the basket strapped onto the elephant’s back and stepped inside. That was the easiest part of the whole operation.

As soon as this amazing and huge animal started walking, I knew we were in for a rough ride. His giant strides would cause our seat to sway significantly back and forth. We held on to the edges, turned to each other and started to laugh! During his descent down into the river, I was sure we were go
ing to fall off. His movements pitched us to and fro, to and fro, to and fro… until he was fully into the river. Being with the very first elephant in line was excellent, as it allowed us to imagine that we were exploring the terrain alone, forging through the jungle on an elephant with our mahout. Looking behind us, however, and seeing all the elephants in a line, trudging through the river was pretty neat too. After our ride through the dense jungle, and then alongside crop fields, having twice crossed the river

twice, we decided our elephant deserved some bananas.

So before we disembarked, we bought some fruit at a stand conveniently positioned on stilts so it would be just at our height. I had intended to extend the ple asure of feeding him, but before I could untie the bundle, he had felt them out with his trunk and just as swiftly placed all 5 or 6 in his mouth at once. Incredible.

Our mahout had taken us on a generally circular path, but for the last section we switched to a Brahma driven cart (it seemed sort of funny, but it was all part of the package). The last leg of our trip was a bamboo raft ride down the river. We had some curry for lunch and made our way back down to the river. Before we got on the boat, our guides insisted that we wear the pointed straw Chinese hats they provided. We acquiesced and settled onto the bamboo, peacefully drifting down the river. Our “boat masters” polled us through the slow sections, offering us opportunities to do the same.

The hats that seemed so silly proved very useful when a gentle tropical rain began to fall. After an hour, we pulled over to a small ramp that lead up to where our driver was waiting for us. It was a delightful trip. The camp we went to has a good reputation for humane treatment o f their animals, and we never saw anything that would lead us to believe this is underserved, but one never knows what happens after the tourists leave and it is a concern. That said, the elephants seemed happy and certainly had a more full life than some we encountered in passing at other locations.

It was embarrassing, but our driver had actually let us borrow some money to purchase our entries; the camp only took cash and were a bit short. So after we stopped at an ATM, we thanked him heartily and said goodbye as he dropped us off in a shopping section of the city.

Chiang Mai is known for its wood crafts, especially its lacquer boxes, and Aron and I were excited to try to find some simple, sleekly designed ones like those they had at the hotel. To our dismay, all the boxes we found were designed for a different aesthetic and were heavily painted with flowers or animals. There were more stores further out and scattered around the city but we didn’t want to deal with arranging transportation and opted for an afternoon massage instead of shopping. We washed our feet, changed into the clothes they provided and split into our own rooms for an hour massage. After a wonderful hour, we were eager to get back to the hotel for a swim.

Back at the hotel, we enjoyed a delightful swim. The water felt wonderful and we relaxed by the pool for some time. Apparently, Angelina Jolie had stayed there a few weeks prior to our arrival, but we found the hotel to be very quiet and we almost had the place to ourselves. Aron enjoyed a quick brandy before we headed off to dinner.

For dinner, we had made a reservation at the restaurant at the Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi, just outside of Chang Mai proper. This was one of the newest hotels, built following recent movements toward vast, self contained hotels like the Four Seasons Tented Camp, Golden Triangle, outside of Chiang Rai. Our dinner was at Le Grand Lanna, a restaurant designed to mimic the experience of dinner at a nobleman’s home. It was a lovely wooden house, near the entrance, whose dining area was elevated with a view down to a reflection pond. The food was excellent, with a focus on traditional preparation and regional cuisine, and the service had the perfect balance of being available when they were needed, but not hovering or interrupting the meal. Some excellent live music accompanying performers dancing traditional Thai dances added even more to the evening.

After dinner, we set off to explore the hotel. Extravagance is clearly the rule at this hotel and a golf cart took us the drive up to the hotel to and to an exalted lobby (from where we could ask the concierge to call us a cab). We explored the lobby and looked off to some of the rooms, but barely scratched the surface of the property. Built to replicate a Chiang, a self-contained city, the 60 acre site contains multiple restaurants, self-contained wats, a working rice-field, and many different styles of individual rooms and cottages. There is also a cooking school, spa, and cultural center. It certainly seems a very luxurious option.

In Bangkok, we always opted for either a taxi or the sky train over the tuk tuks—a motorcycle fitted with a carriage-like seating attachment. They are a distinctive sight and a fun way to travel, but they can be less so in Bangkok where one is likely to be stuck in traffic (and its fumes). But in the walls of old Chiang Mai, we figured we could enjoy a relatively comfortable tuk tuk ride. It was a lot of fun to zoom past the old moat–which was used to protect the city from

the Burmese–in the open cab, and to get an up close look at street life and the other tuk tuks merging with us. We were dropped off at the Night Bazaar, one of Chang Mai’s biggest attractions, taking place every night in the heart of the city. Hundreds of years ago, Chiang Mai was a major stopping point for traders traveling between India and China; this led to the development of the market, which is still going strong. Today, one can buy just about any sort of forgery, from watches, to purses, to clothes at prices better than in Bangkok, though those with discerning eyes will quickly be able to tell the difference between these and the real thing. Of course, all the standard street market gear is available, but also for sale are a number of high quality wood carvings and other tribal wares (clothing, jewelry, umbrellas). Though the market technically goes late into the night, we found that many of the stores rumored to have the best goods had closed first, so don’t wait too long to visit. Chiang Mai offers several opportunities for cultural enrichment such as the Chiang Mai City Arts and Cultural Centre, the Hill Tribe Museum, and the Chiang Mai National Museum, but these would have to wait for another trip as it was time for us to fly south to Koh Samui.


Thai air offers direct flights between Chiang Mai and Koh Samui. I couldn’t help but feel excited flying into the island; the turquoise waters with interior jungle and the white sand beaches made for picture perfect views as we flew over. The airport was also everything you expect (or hope for) at a (cute) island airport. Trams picked us up from the tarmac and shuttled us to the terminal, a covered area with no walls and only one baggage claim station. We watched as a pick-up truck brought the bags over, backed up to the conveyor belt and unloaded before returning to the plane for another load. After picking ours out, we hailed a taxi to take us to the hotel.

We had chosen the Tongsai Bay Resort and Spa after much deliberation over whether to stay there or at Sala Samui, a slightly newer hotel with private pools for many of its rooms. Both are at the same end of the island, but TongsaiBay has a private beach, and we would have an ocean view and a large soaking tub to enjoy from our teak deck. The drive to our hotel took us past the busy main beach, Chaweng. Through the buildings we could see glimpses of the water and the sand, but the crowded and dusty main street made us think we had made the right choice to head for a more secluded location.

Arriving at the hotel, we were greeted, once again, with cool towels and cold herbed tea. The lobby was lovely, with large dropped lights in shades of pale oranges and reds. There was no a/c as the room was open to the outside, but there were many fans around which helped to make the high temperatures tolerable (it felt considerably hotter here, in the south, than in Chiang Mai or in Bangkok). Once checked in, we were driven to our room in a golf cart; another cart followed behind us carrying our luggage (yes, it was somewhat embarrassing). We climbed over some small staircases off the road to a private cottage. Opening the door to the room, were delighted to see rose petals on the bed and a bottle of champagne on ice. We were given a tour of the room and its features, but at times it was hard to pay full attention—I kept getting distracted by the view!


Stepping down from the main level, to the living room, we grabbed the ice bucket and the glasses and set ourselves up on the balcony. From our deck, you could see the entire bay and down to the beach where we would end up spending most of our time. On the deck and secluded from view, the deep soaking bathtub was equipped with great smelling bath salts, soap, shampoo and conditioner and was practically calling our name, but while there was still good light we wanted to explore the town’s main beach.

The hotel provided a free shuttle (otherwise one could take a taxi for about $10) a couple of times a day to Chaweng, and we just had time to catch the last one. The road was lined on either side with small stores selling tourist goods, as well as a few scattered bars and hotel entrances. We passed through one of the hotels and made our way out to the beach. Walking into the water felt heavenly; you could barely discern it, it was so warm. The beach was not too crowded, and had some nice looking bars for enjoying waterside cocktails. A few jet skis zipped far off shore and were available for rent. We strolled down the beach, checking out the hotels and noticing several that we had once read about.

We left the sand and returned to the road to check out where dive companies would be taking their clients, and inquired as to which tours were available to the nearby Ang Thong national marine park. In the end, we decided to go with Blue Stars for a trip to the marine park (primarily based on the boat speed to the park and the activities available once there), and Easy Divers ($43pp) for a 2-dive trip to Koh Tao. In between each activity, we would spend the days relaxing at our beach. By this point in the afternoon, we were thoroughly steamy, so we stopped for a cold drink before getting on the shuttle for the 20 min trip back to the hotel.

After getting so hot walking around town, it was wonderful to get back to the hotel and go for a refreshing dip. There were two pools available, an infinity pool where children were not allowed, and a free form pool with thatched umbrellas and a bridge crossing the pool (so one could sit in the water but not in the sun). Not wanting to miss out on anything, we explored both. This was both of our first encounter with an infinity pool and we loved looking out and seeing nothing but the ocean! The free form pool was also delightful, and we appreciated the option to stay in the shade. Ever since Aron did a dermatology rotation, he’s been a much bigger advocate of sun protection (rightly so) and we’ve both tried to consistently apply high SPF sunscreen and sit in the shade. We selected two lounges under a thatched palapa. Soon after we sat down, someone came over with towels and set up a small table between us with cold water and glasses. Despite our best efforts to stay protected, however, we were amazed (and a bit dismayed) when we found later that the reflection off of the sand had still burned the sides of our legs!

For dinner, the hotel had three options. We were going to dine beach side, but the main restaurant (up on the hill near the lobby) was offering a traditional Thai tasting menu accompanied by a live performance of traditional Thai music and dance. Though the hotel

offered a golf cart to come to your room and to pick you up, Aron and I love walking and figured we could walk the short 5 minutes to the lobby. However, I’ll admit that this wasn’t always the case, as we did get warm on the walk and found it difficult to cool back down during dinner. On this night we stayed hot from our walk for a good hour before a slight breeze picked up and we cooled off. We arrived just after sunset and found a table we liked and settled in. The tasting menu was delicious, with both familiar and new Thai dishes, mostly in the Royal Thai style popular in the capitol. Soon after we sat down, the entertainment began, which featured impressive dancing and music. As they finished their last piece, I noticed some lightening in the sky; a few minutes later I felt a drop or two on my hand. Not too concerned with the light, warm rain, Aron declined the waiter’s offer to come inside the lobby. “No! Big rain coming now!” she said. “Ok,” he replied, and we moved inside under the shelter of the roof. 30 seconds later the rain began to fall in sheets! Fortunately, we were done with dinner and the rain passed a mere 10 minutes after it started.

The next day we were picked up in a van to be taken to the docks for Blue Star tours. The Van ride was a harrowing trip, and though Aron has had similar experiences in other countries (lots of blind passing, bumpy roads, etc), even he noted that this was one of the most stressful car rides he’d had. We arrived at the boat and settled in for the 1.5 hour boat trip to the marine park. The boat offered some delicious fruit and some bad coffee, and having had to arisen earlier than other days, and having missed our hotel’s breakfast, we took advantage of both.

Once at the park, the company divided the participants into two groups, those who spoke

German (the majority) and those who spoke English. The German-speaking contingent took out the kayaks first, while we donned our snorkel gear. The water did not have the best visibility, and to really enjoy the little live coral there was one had to get very close to the coral. For that reason, it was nice that it was so shallow but while it was fun to be in the water, the snorkeling was pretty underwhelming.

Next it was our turn to use the kayaks. Aron and I shared a kayak and followed the guide out to some of the islands. We found it best to be either in the very front, or the very back of the group, as it seemed most people preferred to clump in around the middle, which of course led to a few crashes and less idyllic views.

After seeing the atolls from a distance, it was even more impressive to see them up close. Towering, in some cases, a hundred feet above the sea, they often had near vertical walls and washed out bases that allowed us to actually go underneath them (legend has it that pirates would evade capture by hiding next to these giants) The guides took us through a few shallow caves where it was easier to reach up and pull oneself along than to paddle. Aron and I took turns using the camera and paddling. Aron wanted to be the chief photographer, but I think that was just so that he didn’t have to paddle as much.

After an excellent tour, we pulled up onto a nearby beach in order to see where an interior saltwater lake had formed. It was a steep climb, mainly up but also down stairs that functioned to separate those who were in shape and those who were not. Unfortunately, swimming in the emerald waters is prohibited, but it was beautiful and we found it interesting to note the sea cucumbers and anemones visible on the lake’s edge, despite the lake having no obvious connections to the sea. Climbing back out of the lake, we made another brief climb to the ridge’s peak for an excellent view of the lake and the surrounding islands.


Back on the beach, Aron had a cold beer before we paddled to the next site. And after some paddling, the best thing was jumping out of the kayak and cooling off in the temperate waters. Before we left, we had some fun jumping off the upper deck of the boat.

The next day was a day designed for relaxing. We had breakfast as usual at the hotel restaurant with a view looking over the water. Though they offered made-to-order eggs, etc., they also had traditionally Asian options such as porridge and noodles. But our favorite feature was probably the fruit table. When we walked in to the restaurant, we were invariably greeted by an enthusiastic, effusive staff person, whom we came to know as “the crazy fruit lady.” She manned a three-table set-up of fresh fruit and blenders; you had only to point to a jack fruit, coconut, dragon fruit, lychee, or any other tropical variety sitting out, then request that she either cut it for you or blend it in a smoothie (or both), and she would prepare the most wonderful plate or drink for you! As we ate on this particular morning, we were amazed to look out to the tree trops and see two men climbing the trunks of coconut trees without any support or equipment in order to cut off the coconuts. The staff clearly regarded this skill as commonplace but, for Aron and I, it was astonishing!

We staked out our favorite spot under a palm tree at the beach. It was a lovely day, mainly spent reading books and magazines, punctuated by refreshing swims. The hotel has kayaks and a small sail boat on hand for guests and Aron went out with a staff person for a sailing lesson (all equipment and lessons were free of charge, or included in the cost I suppose is more accurate), while I grabbed a kayak and followed for a bit. Once they were clear of the cove, I headed back in and followed the shore of our hotel’s bay. I was able look up from the water and see the edge of our room’s deck.

For lunch, we stayed beach side at Floyd’s bistro and discovered what was to become the lunch for the rest of the trip: the chicken satay sandwich on multigrain raisin bread. It was amazing. Fortunately, Aron continued to try different menu items that looked interesting, and I would branch out vicariously; however, he inevitably try to steal half of my sandwich, always preferring it to the other things he tried.

That night, we decided to venture out of the hotel to the Fisherman’s Village, a smaller town than Chaweng, known for good seafood served fresh from the fisherman’s boats. We ended up choosing one of the several restaurants overlooking the water. Most had similar menus and looked equally nice. A common theme amongst these restaurants is for you to choose a whole fish from a table of ice, after which they prepare it for you as you like. Aron chose to do this, while I had the shrimp Curry. Both were very good, though I kept expecting the curries to be spicier—they were clearly tamed for Western palettes almost everywhere we went. All the restaurants here were open air and, without a fan, even a few iced cocktails couldn’t quite cool us off, so we were glad to return to our A/C-ed room. I should mention that we smothered ourselves in bug repellent throughout the day, and this contributes to some discomfort with the stickiness of the heat.

Alternating adventure days with our beach days, we were set to go to Koh Tao, Turtle Island, for some diving the next morning. We had booked with Easy Divers, and were picked up in a private car that drove safely yet efficiently to a small collection of huts.

Here we had a truly terrible breakfast of white bread and under ripe bananas. (We had gotten up early for breakfast at the hotel, but our ride was also early, so we left without seeing the fruit lady.) Fortunately, the trip went nothing but up from there. Twenty minuets later, the express shuttle pulled up and, after walking down a floating walkway, we boarded a large commuter boat. It was clean, fast and efficient, carrying a mix of back-packers and locals to Koh Tao and beyond. We got off at the docks on Koh Tao and knew immediately that this was going to be a great dive. Looking down, the water was crystal clear and you could see giant brain coral coming up from the bottom and reaching to the surface—it looked so much better than at the marine park, surprisingly. We knew we would share a boat with another company, but I hoped it would not be too crowded. I was very pleased when we pulled out of the dock with only 1 other client and 1 other dive master on board.

Though Aron has seen sharks many times while scuba diving and snorkeling, I had yet to see one, and was a bit nervous to see one on this dive. Seeing reef sharks is not uncommon in these waters, so I prepared myself for this possibility. Nonetheless, I was excited; and diving with just Aron and the dive master made the dive so much better.

Once in the warm, clear water, it was only a few moments before we were descending to the coral. Most of the reef lies fairly shallow, somewhere between 30 and 60 feet, which makes for better colors on the reef (the red light is absorbed as it passes through the water) and for a longer dive. It seemed as though thousands of fishes were swimming in and out of the coral as we approached. Christmas tree worms were plentiful and were fun to scare back into their holes. There were also many large anemone and clown fish—great to interact with. It was an excellent dive! We surfaced and made our way back to the docks for a Thai buffet. The food was good and plentiful, the restrooms facilities basic but workable. While our food digested and the nitrogen left our bodies, we walked out to the cove on the other side of the island and admired the light turquoise waters which had no greater depth than 5 feet for the entire circumference of the cove. After our walk, we got back onto the boat and headed minutes off the coast for the second dive.

We were enjoying the fish and the reef when I turned to see a turtle coming to investigate us. He left almost as soon as we saw him and I figured we had scared him off. We went back to enjoying the reef, but a few minutes later he was back again. We swam to keep up with him and were amazed at how comfortable he seemed to be with us. Hovering next to him, we watched as he snacked off the reef, a bite here and a bite there.

The ride back was easy; we slept and reviewed the photos we had taken, and then were dropped off directly at our hotel. Our dive master was excellent and we would definitely recommend this company for divers in Koh Samui.

Stopping at the concierge, we enquired about reservations for dinner at a place called Poppies which our guidebooks said had good food and which was described as romantic. We hopped into a golf cart for a ride back to the room (by this point we had learned how useful this was to keep from over-heating, and the staff never made us uncomfortable when we took advantage of the service), where we could freshen up, and relax in the tub before heading out again for the evening. The price of a taxi from the hotel to various destinations was fixed, which reduced the stress of bargaining, though it may have ended up costing us a dollar or two more. When we got to Poppies, we were greeted by the hostess and soon “Tongsai Bay Room 12” was seated by the beach. Torches and a beach-side location definitely added to the aesthetics of the location, but the live music, a terrible jazz cover singer, and bright electric lights definitely took something away from the romantic potential of the meal. The food was good, but pretty standard, and though it was perhaps a dollar or two cheaper than the food at our hotel, it was a wash after the cab ride. Though there were many more restaurants to try on Koh Samui, we decided that we preferred to stay at the resort and leave the food exploration for more exciting places like Bangkok.

Our last full day in Koh Samui was spent primarily on the beach. Inspired by our previous kayaking, we took a double out for a little exploration. Going left around the edge of our cove, we found a small and completely unoccupied beach. We paddled our boat to shore and enjoyed the peacefulness of the area. The hotel did not allow any motorized water crafts, so there was nothing but the sounds of the water and the breeze to fill our senses. After paddling back to the hotel’s beach, we took up station again at our favorite spot and did some more reading and napping.

Later, we had fun going out for a sail. Leaving the beach was slow going owing to the wind being blocked by the land surrounding our bay, but once we cleared the rocks we did make some progress. I think Aron had fun sharing with me what he had learned the day before. On the way back in we virtually inched through the cove. I joked he hadn’t really learned how to sail, but he assured me that we were just in a no-wake zone.

In the afternoon, we managed to move the 100 feet from our beach chairs to the beach bar. There, the hotel provided complementary drinks for a guest social hour. Though we had been devout attendants of this throughout our stay, this evening’s drinks were especially delicious: they had filled a large bowl full of fresh coconut juice and coconut meat, which they then served on the rocks and spiked with rum for those who desired it. Aron stuck with the gin and tonics or Thai whiskies with coke, I though the coconut juice was perfect! I am not sure how much we socialized during those hours, but we sure had fun!

Later that day, we had decided to treat ourselves to a massage called “Return to Prana,” specifically designed for couples. We passed the spa (and heard it calling our names) every day as we walked from our room to the beach, and thought it looked beautiful! At first I read the description to Aron in jest, but the massage caught his interest and we decided to treat ourselves. Though we considered other spas on the island, going to the hotel’s spa would allow us to return to our room without any of the stress or hassle involved in negotiating a return cab to the hotel. The staff was very welcoming and did their up most to be discrete throughout the experience, and we both felt very comfortable the whole time. The massage was unique and much more involved than the other massages we had experienced in Thailand. We were the only ones in the spa, and commenced our return to Prana with a herbal steam sauna, followed by an open air shower. A salt scrub with herbs individually chosen to “help woman and to help man” came next, followed by an open-air milk bath and tea with cookies. After the bath, we went back to the massage tables and were soothed with an aromatherapy Thai massage. It was pretty wonderful—all two and a half hours of it.

The next day, with great reluctance, we packed our bags and made our way back to the airport for our return flight to Bangkok.


We returned to Bangkok without a hitch; we felt like old pros as we walked directly to the cab pick-up spot and drove into the city. In fact, we had spotted the hotel when we were getting the massage at Ruen Nuad, so we had some idea where we were going this time. After negotiating the price (well, I guess we’re not such pros after all), we exited the cab and entered the very sleek lobby of the Metropolitan. We had debated the merits of staying at this hotel versus those of the classics like the Oriental or the Peninsula and felt, in the end, that our tastes were best matched with the more modern Metropolitan. The hotel clearly had an emphasis on style; the lobby was similar that of a W hotel, but a bit less harsh, perhaps. We checked in were shown to our room. They too had responded to our note that it was our honeymoon and had champagne on ice for us along with some assorted tropical fruit. The room was beautiful, as we expected, though very different than the other hotels we had stayed in; this one clearly had a more urban, minimalist aesthetic.

Having had such an amazing experience at Roti Mataba, we set out to try another recommended street food spot. This one was directly across from a Wat known for its cartoonish decorations. Unfortunately, the food here, while very good, was not quite as amazing. On the other hand, they had big, cheap beer to help cool us both down and it was nice to return to the drink prices of Bangkok after a few days of resort up marking. (And we needed the beer—it was hot! We couldn’t help but laugh as Aron’s shirt, whether from the heat of the day or the heat of the curry became more and more visibly wet while the locals seemed cool as cucumbers.)

We had so little time and so many interesting things left to see in Bangkok. We decided, however before we had even arrived that we would return to Ruen Nuad, our favorite massage location. Fortunately it was just a short walk across the Silom Avenue from our hotel. Given the great prices and wonderful experience we had before, we decided to do a one hour foot massage followed by a one hour traditional massage. We changed into their spa wear and sat back to

enjoy the warm, soft, soapy water and the masseuse’s technique. After an hour Aron and I moved to the individual huts where we were thoroughly worked out. During the sessions, the sounds of thunder and the pounding rain outside only added to the appeal (and it had all passed by the time we left). I am sure the fact it was to be our last Thai massage and was our last full day in Bangkok contributed to our feeling it was the best massage ever.

We headed back to our room to enjoy that post-massage bliss before heading back out for the

evening. We decided to roam the night market in Bangkok and seek out any last minute gifts or interesting objects to take home—surprisingly, we were only leaving with a shirt each at this point. The markets in Thailand all carry similar objects for similar prices, so there were few surprises (one of the few being a modern furniture booth). But the market looks great at night and there is still something exotic about being there. We finally had a chance to sample the infamously stinky and spiky Durian: this fruit has an odor so powerful that it was been banned by many hotels. Some even say it smells of rotting meat. Aron has a particular interest in trying new fruits, but as soon as we learned of its reputation, we both knew we had to try some. The purveyor of the fruit donned her heavy gloves to protect her hands from the spikes, and began to hack away at the fruit. Saccular, glistening fruit pods were exposed and collected in a bag. We found the descriptions of the fruit to be grossly exaggerated and thought the fruit quite nice.

Our last stop before heading back to the hotel for our last night was to the sky bar, Vertigo, at

the Banyan Tree next to our hotel. This bar is an open-air bar, 820 feet above the ground, offering amazing views of Bangkok. We enjoyed a cocktail as we watched the car lights trace lines across the city and felt the wind blow around us. Eventually we found our way back to the hotel to do a little dancing in the Met Bar and to enjoy the suite’s amenities on our last night.

The next day, before we left, we did had time to enjoy perhaps the best breakfast we’d had throughout the whole trip—and that would be saying a lot, because we had some amazing ones. The room’s price included a breakfast at Cy’an, the hotel’s restaurant. Lovely fruit bowls, granola and yogurt were set out amongst fresh cut prosciutto and various pastries, available for those who wished. But one was also invited to order off the

menu; I chose a wonderful waffle with passion fruit puree, mango and shreds of fresh coconut while Aron was tempted by the cinnamon French toast. Both were superb!

Leaving the hotel was a sad affair, as it meant the end of the trip. We took care to spend all of our baht excepting the cab fare, and made our way to the airport. Our only conciliation was that we would be flying business class on Singapore Air. We settled into the seats and kicked back to enjoy the amenities, drink some champagne, and reflect on the amazing trip as well as look forward to the wonderful life and union that lay in store.

There may have been some hesitation to choose to go to Thailand over more traditional honeymoon destinations, but after experiencing this amazing country, it is hard to imagine having gone anywhere else.

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