7th -9th April
Back in Thailand again, we intend to travel down the east coast after a stop in Bangkok, a three and a half hour drive from the Cambodian border.
Or so we think…just three miles away from our hotel, we are stuck in a massive traffic jam, making the fatal mistake of going over the underpass instead of under it. We finally arrive at our hotel an hour later.
On route along the highway, we pass small houses clustered together with corrugated roofs, which almost looks like a shanty town. It is a strange sight as they are right alongside newly built hotels and restaurants, contrasting an old against a new Bangkok.
The next day we have a day of shopping, jumping onto the Skytrain to the MBK Centre which is filled with electronic shops and a huge range of small shops and stalls.
We decide to pay Wat Pho a visit as we had heard it is less crowded, and more peaceful than the Grand Palace. Jumping into the little golf buggy our hotel provided, we are taken to the main road. From there we jump into a taxi, but the driver tells us the Wat is not open on Sundays so we ask to be dropped off by the river instead, pointing to the map. He seems to understand, then drops us off, not anywhere near the river, but in a completely different direction altogether. (As we later discover after walking the back streets for an hour or so!). Getting into another cab, our new driver reliably informs us that it actually is open today and after sitting in yet more huge traffic jams, finally arrive at the Wat nearly 3 hours after first leaving our hotel room. Hope it’s worth it…..
We enter the temple to find an impressive huge golden reclining Buddha 46m long and 15m high. This position represents the passing of the Buddha into nirvana (its death). The centre was also the first in the country for public education. The outer galleries have no less than 394 Buddhas, some made of stone, others engraved in gold. There are some unusual temple structures within the grounds, and we see a few very young monks as we wander around the colourful complex.
There is a stage show taking place outside today, complete with graceful doll-like Thai dancers performing in traditional costumes. We watch for a while then head for Khao San road, the famous backpacker strip. The road itself is quite compact and crowded, bars and cafes lining the sides, it’s definitely very touristy here. We stop for a drink watching the young and unassuming backpackers pass by, and get some steaming hot street food which is good.
10th -11th April
We have one final day of R&R then leave the following day making the 200 mile drive to Chumphon on the east coast, before heading for Phuket. We arrive late afternoon, finding a hotel near the centre of town. Venturing out later, we take a walk through the local market stalls and find Farang bar where we stop for a bite to eat and some drinks.
12th -15th April Phuket
We drive another 200 miles to the island of Phuket, Thailand’s most famous beach resort, located in the Andaman sea, and more specifically to the Amata Hotel in Patong. We had made a booking with ebookers the night before but when we arrive at reception, the hotel staff fail to honour the booking. A couple of hours later and a few calls to Ebookers, as compensation, they refund our money and give us a budget of £75 per night for alternative accommodation. We found Ebookers customer service to be amazing, they were very quick to give us a refund and offer the alternative five nights stay for free even though the cost was ten times more than the hotel we had originally booked for the night, even refunding us all of our call costs and taxi fares.
Not quite believing it, we find a 5* hotel at a 60% discount since it had only just opened and we drive to the other side of the island, where we arrive in paradise. It looks like a private city in the hills! Welcome drinks and steamed towels greet us, after which, we are taken to our room in a little buggy which zooms up the steep hill passing two of the gigantic swimming pools along the way! The room is huge and luxurious with a Jacuzzi, rain shower, 40” flat screen TV and a massive balcony overlooking the sea. It’s great to have a bit of decadence once in a while! To top it off, dinner and breakfast is all complimentary as well.
The next morning we wander down to a huge buffet of expensive looking food, including freshly made crepes and pancakes, fry up, a huge selection of cakes, and fresh smoothies, can we never leave?!
We have arrived in time for Thai new year and the accompanying water festival. As we drive through Patong, there are hoards of people everywhere, young and old, with huge water pistols, walking on the street, groups in the back of pick-up trucks, kids with buckets and hoses, and tourists, all completely drenched in one massive city-wide water fight!
Seeing a sign-post off the main road to a beach, we decide to explore further and end up turning onto a dirt track with lots of ruts running through it. As we approach the cliff, the track starts to descend very steeply down a rocky hill. We travel down about a mile until we reach the bottom, passing lots of dune buggies along the way; halfway down, even they re-route due to the dangerous steep drops. At the bottom, we get to a beautiful secluded beach, but it is private and not free so we head back. We worry that travelling back up, the car may lose its grip and wheel spin, but we manage to make it to the top with relative ease.
We spend the next few days making the most of our hotel, touring Phuket’s beaches, and snorkelling, finding a few secluded gems along the way. One evening we head to the bright neon lights of Patong where crowds of tourists are partying the night away! Patong is known as Thailand’s sin city and this becomes apparent as we walk down a strip in town with girls dancing on tabletops and pushy touts calling after us to come in and have a drink. There are also lots of lady boys everywhere, sometimes only recognised from their give-away height!
16th-19th April Krabi
Our next stop is Krabi, 200 miles down the coast. We find a hotel and take a walk to the nearby shopping complex and later for dinner have a stroll along the beach and tourist strip.
We decide to head to one of the nearby beaches, Phrang Pha cave beach which we had been told is the best for snorkelling from. Getting on board our long-tail boat, it is just a 20 minute ride, dropping everyone else on the boat first at Railay beach, which is renowned for its rock climbing. The beach we arrive at has a cave, but it juts out over the sea and you can’t swim through it, so we head out into the bay, snorkelling between the rocks. There is an abundance of fish here and we enjoy exploring for a while, before coming back in. Spotting a couple of moored long-tail boats serving food, we have lunch on the beach before the roller-coaster ride back to dry land.
The next day we take a cooking lesson at a local cooking school, where we learn how to cook mixed fried rice, massaman curry, papaya salad, and pad thai. The lessons are pretty short and we are only there for a couple of hours before being able to try out our culinary masterpieces. The result is that the pad thai is pretty inedible but the rest actually surprisingly good!
Later we head into town for some dinner, stopping near the main road for a couple of massaman curries and rice. There are lots of restaurants lining the main road which seem to be virtually empty but when we get nearer to the beach, it suddenly becomes more touristy and much more expensive!
The next morning, we leave Krabi and drive towards the Malaysian border. We spot a Toyota garage and stop for a service, which takes up the entire day. We begin to get slightly frustrated with them as they do not even have break pads for our vehicle, and only start working on it at 3pm, even though we were there first thing in the morning. At least they provide free wifi in the air conditioned waiting room…
We carry on driving towards the Malaysian border and decide to head towards the smaller border to the west, through a national park. On arrival at 9pm we find a very small border post, where everything seems to be shut. Noticing a light on, we spot a sleeping man in the customs office and think we may be in luck. A few taps on the windows wake the man, who informs us that the border does not open until 6am, so we decide to sleep in the car overnight so we can cross as soon as it does.
20th-22nd April Klang & Shipping
The next morning, we cross the border with ease; our passports and carnet are stamped without delay and we push on all the way to Klang, stopping at Talents motor park, a dire motorway hotel. However it’s handy as it is so close to the port, from where we can ship the car.
Martin spends the day working on the car, cleaning it, having new night driving lights installed and replacing the break-pads. The next day he heads off to the container yard with Abul, from Aseantex, to load the car into the 20ft container, having to remove the gas tank and roof box so it would fit.
We are told that the ship leaving on the 26th was full, and therefore the car would be leaving on the 28th and would be due to arrive on the 29th.
23rd-26th April KL
We have a couple of relaxing days in Kuala Lumpur and apply for our Indonesian visas. We had read that other people were refused entry into the embassy wearing shorts and sandals, and since the rest of our clothes are in the car, we spend the morning shopping for shoes and shirts! As the wet season is just ending here, we get stuck in a few thunderstorms and seriously heavy downpours during the day.
The next day, we head to the embassy; we seem to be dressed adequately as they let us through without a problem, paying $35 each for our visas and picking them up the following day.
We take a flight to Medan, Sumatra, in the early morning from KL International airport.
Martin & Nicole