I’m sure you’ve heard it before and I’m sure you’ll hear it again – one of the biggest perks of working at Thida is getting at least a week and a half or so off for Christmas and New Years. Most other schools in town only get New Years off, and my friends that work for other agencies and Thai schools are always jealous of this big chunk of holiday time.
For Christmas break, my husband and I were planning to go to Koh Lipe, an island off the west coast of Thailand, just about as far south as you can get before you hit Malaysia, but the break had other plans in store for us and we had to change our plans after having a spill on our motorbike right after the last day of school before the break. Nothing too bad, but we ended up with just enough scrapes and road rash to make scuba diving, snorkeling, and any contact with salt water sound like a terrible idea.
We ended up going to Cambodia and had a great time! We toured the magnificent temples of Angkor Wat, learned about the daunting history of the Khmer Rouge in Phnom Phen, visited lots of cool markets, ate lots of delicious Cambodian food, and spent more than a fair share of time on long bus rides over terribly paved roads. Oh, and we found DR. PEPPER in Cambodia at a little convenience store with Western foods. Who would have guessed?!
One of my favorite things about living in Thailand is how so many incredible places are right at my fingertips. Our plans to go to a beautiful tropical island didn’t work out, so we just hopped on a train and a few buses to Cambodia and got to see the largest religious monument in the world. Pretty awesome stuff.
sunrise over Angkor Wat on Christmas morning
Last weekend, Kristin and I ventured out to Koh Samui for the first time. We’d heard a lot about the island, especially about how touristy it is, but wanted to check it out ourselves. We debated spending the weekend in Khanom, but we didn’t care to drive in the rain, so we decided to take a boat to Samui instead.
We left Friday around 11 pm on the night ferry, and arrived in Nathon just after sunrise. We had reserved a bungalow online at By Beach Resort near Bang Por on the northwest side of the island. After what proved to be a difficult task of finding a tuk-tuk so early in the morning, we got a ride and plopped down on the beach until the staff arrived. They let us check in very early and we spent all day lounging on the beach and at the restaurant, and waited out the brief rainstorm in our clean, comfortable bungalow. The beach was pretty empty, and our only constant company was the resort manager’s puppies, who followed us everywhere up and down the shore.
We enjoyed good food and incredible fresh fruit shakes at the restaurant, as well as back up along the main road. Saturday night we hung out at the bar and chatted with the manager about Thailand. Sunday’s weather was absolutely beautiful and the gulf was as calm as a lake. We took advantage of this and paddled one of the resort’s kayaks out along the coast for some fantastic views of the island. We made our way back Sunday afternoon via the Seatran ferry to Don Sak and a (terrible) one hour bus ride from Don Sak back into Surat.
By Beach Resort is pretty far from the busier parts of the island, and is isolated even in the Bang Por area. This keeps it quiet, but also means there aren’t a lot of bars and restaurants easily accessible. For all we’d heard about Koh Samui being overrun with tourists, we found this particular area quiet, pretty clean, and only slightly more westernized than Surat, perfect for a relaxed weekend retreat.
I’ve done a lot of traveling over the past couple of years and I’m almost always on a tight budget. The longer you can make your money last, the longer you can travel for. When it comes to accommodation, the cheapest option is usually the best when you’re trying to stretch your money as far as possible. I’ve stayed in $5 guest houses, $1 hostels, and when I was trekking in Nepal a few places even let us stay for free if we bought our breakfast and dinner there. After a while, stains and filth become the norm and things like hot showers become a luxury.
After spending two weeks back in the States visiting family and friends, I got spoiled. I immediately got used to air conditioning, hot running water, and cable TV. While my house in Surat Thani is actually a decent place to live, I still wasn’t looking forward to the weekend I’d have to spend in a cheap Bankok hostel after my arrival. I guess my dad could somehow sense my pain and, as a gift, he gave me 200 bucks to get a nice hotel in Bangkok. Ecstatic, I booked two nights (the two-hundo almost covered it) at the Westin Grande a plush hotel right in the middle of Sukhumvit.
My girlfriend met me in Bangkok for the weekend and the hotel was great! Bell boys greeted us and carried our bags; there was a gym and a spa; the room was decked out and top-notch; and the best part of the whole thing was (aside from the heavenly bed) the rooftop swimming pool. We enjoyed the wine from the stocked bar in our room and made sure we raided the place for all the free coffee, tea, soap, and shampoo before we left. After two days and nights living in luxury it almost hurt to leave, but sometimes it’s good to treat yourself!