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Oh Thailand, How We've Missed You!

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Like seeing an old friend again, we held our arms open to Thailand upon arrival. It seems, however, Thailand was unhappy that we hadn’t kept in touch – it gave us a half-hearted welcome in the form of a puny 14-day visa. What is up with that? Thailand, why must you do this to us?!

It all started almost a week ago, when we left Penang to cross the border into Thailand. For all the bitching we did about Malaysia, we really have fond memories of our time in Penang, mostly because of the food. On our last day, we literally had three entire meals of delicious Indian cuisine, and just couldn’t get enough of it. We loved spending time in Little India and it has definitely inspired us to go to the real India (it’ll be a toss-up between India and South America for the next trip – and yes, we’re already planning the next one). After contemplating our time on Penang, we feel that our ill feelings towards it were simply a case of misplaced expectations; everyone had told us that the food was fantastic and that we’d love it, and we did. But being an island, we expected great food and amazing beaches, but Georgetown’s sprawling concrete mess just wasn’t in line with what we expected.

Crossing into Thailand

We knew that the trip into Thailand would be interesting. Thailand’s four southern-most provinces are all majority Muslim, while the rest of the country is mostly Buddhist. After World War II made a mess of all of Southeast Asia’s borders, Thailand forced these provinces to join their country, and they’ve been violently seeking independence ever since. The three eastern provinces routinely have bombings and assassinations (of Buddhist monks and school children, no less), and it just generally isn’t a place you want to go. Luckily, the western-most province, while still being Muslim, isn’t quite as violent, and you can safely cross into Thailand, though you don’t want to spend much time there.

The trip into Thailand was yet another interesting experience for us, and again we broke our own rule: to always ask about the exact route a bus takes and if there are any transfers. We were expecting a full 10 hour ride from Penang straight to Krabi, which is situated in the non-violent central part of Thailand. However, just after crossing the border, we stopped at a city called Hat Yai, in the aforementioned southern province that you don’t want to spend much time in, and we were told to get out of the van and wait an hour for the next one. We were very confused and concerned. This place was about as friendly as our other least-friendly place, Probollingo in Indonesia. It looked somewhat like an Old West ghost town. We managed to find a bit of lunch, pass the time, and got on another bus.

Finally, approximately 30 minutes late, the next minibus arrived and they packed us in like sardines (which seems to be the case with minibuses). The packed van had arrived from Yalai, the lovely southern Thailand town where the insurgency is strongest, and bombings there are a routine event. Kenna and I were separated by a couple of Thais from Yalai, who claimed they were heading to Krabi for a vacation. They do this in these countries – when buses and vans aren’t full with tourists paying the inflated fee, they let freeloading countrymen on the bus who take up the good seats. It’s kind of annoying. Anyway, we became suspicious of these guys’ claim as soon as they tried to offer us a “cheap” place to stay with them,. We were only two of four white people on the bus (the rest Thais and Malays), and the the guy next to me passed out and kept sleeping on my shoulder. It was a fun ride.

The Visa Debacle

That night, Kenna randomly happened to look at our passport visas (which we never do) and noticed that they were only good for 14 days. This was odd, as everything we’d ever read said we got a 30-day visa. After a bunch of online research, we found that yep, it was true, but only if you entered over land (arriving by air gives you 30 days), and the Thais keep changing their mind – sometimes they’d issue you a 30-day, sometimes 14-days. This would have been nice to know beforehand – couldn’t the nice Chinese guy who sold us our tickets from Malaysia had told us? Or the driver? Or customs? We decided to overhaul our plans, and instead of staying in Krabi a few days, then going to Ko Lanta, Phi Phi and THEN Phuket, we decided to book it to Phuket, the location of the nearest Immigration Office. It put a serious wrench in our plans, but we figured we had only three options: 1) over stay our visa and feign innocence and likely get thrown in jail, 2) get out of the country in 14 days, 3) Go see if we could extend it. We opted for #3.

Not wanting to waste much time, we headed straight to Phuket the very next day. Upon arriving at the office, we went to an immigration officer and asked to pay for a visa extension. His reply: “You must pay 1900 baht ($65), and it only extends 7 days. We no do it today, too late. Come back tomorrow.” They didn’t do visas after 3:30 even though they closed at 4:30. It was 3:40. There were 10 officers sitting around with nothing to do. It would take them 5 minutes to take our money, stamp our passport and let us go. Gotta love the Thai government (or essentially all government, for that matter).

Being pissed off at the red tape, we started to formulate a new plan: we saw some places offering visa runs for about $30. We did some research, and found a place in Ranong that will take you for $10 to Burma and back in a manner of hours – so it’s a pretty sweet deal. We decided this was a much better plan – we get to add Burma to our list of countries and see more of Thailand (and places we hadn’t really intended on seeing. So, in essence, we missed out on Krabi and Ko Lanta, but we get to hang out in Ranong instead). Our visa runs out on March 21 – we’ll let you know how that visa run goes.

Karon Beach

Karon Beach = paradise.

Karon Beach = paradise.

After essentially wasting two days on immigration issues, it was time for us to relax and enjoy some beach time. It was Kenna’s birthday to boot, so we had some serious celebrating to do. We headed to Karon beach, a beautiful beach in Phuket. We took the public bus there (since we’re now in love with public buses cuz they’re so cheap), but failed to get off at the right stop. Consequently, we had a good hour-long hike with our really heavy backpacks to the place we wanted to stay, in the scorching heat of the day. Not fun. And to make matters worse, Google Maps led us astray, and our hotel wasn’t where it was supposed to be. Lost, tired, and frustrated, we went to the nearest hotel (which looked like a really nice place) and asked how much – it was more expensive than we’re used to paying, but I managed to get them down from $40 to $30 with the infamous line given to us by our friend Savannah “but I won’t be able to eat tonight if I pay that much.” It worked and it was awesome – the guy told us not to tell a soul because everyone else was staying there for full price…and this place was gorgous – we figure at least a 4-star. The best place we’ve stayed so far, hands down. Awesome. Happy Birthday to Kenna!

Prawn Angling

Just fishin' for some prawns...in a pool....

Just fishin' for some prawns...in a pool....

One interesting amenity our lovely hotel had to offer was a unique restaurant – they had a prawn angling pool, stocked with large prawns. You basically sit around a blue-coloured pool with a fishing rod and drinking beer, waiting for a prawn to take the bait. It was really fun – and only $4 an hour! Prawns are free! We managed to catch 3 in approximately an hour and a half…it got really addicting and we couldn’t stop ourselves. It was awesome. A few pro-star guys were competing and had been there for hours…and each had about 20 prawns in their baskets. We were happy with our three – we topped it off with some spicy thai dishes, and it was a true birthday feast. Kenna had a blast.

Beach days

There’s not much to say about our time in Karon beach other than we relaxed, somewhat of a novelty for this trip, since we’ve been going at a slightly insane pace. We spent a couple days roasting on the beach, boogie-boarding (with a cheap busted boogie board) and eating awesome Thai food. We love Thai food. Almost as much as Indian. :)

Koh Phi Phi

The view from our Bungalow. Amazing, no? (the stairs to get to our bungalow were a bit intense...we got in serious shape from it!)

The view from our Bungalow. Amazing, no? (the stairs to get to our bungalow were a bit intense...we got in serious shape from it!)

More to come on this for the next post, but here’s a teaser: we didn’t really think it would happen, but we’ve found a new favourite place on Earth. The Gili islands, our previous favourite place on Earth (ok, well maybe not really…Ao Tang Ne Pan Noi is actually comparable to Phi Phi in our books, but for the sake of argument, we’ll only compare things to places we’ve visited on this current trip), can’t hold a candle to this place. Beautiful beach huts (with fresh-water showers unlike Gili), spectacular beaches beneath perfectly vertical limestone cliffs – this place is paradise. Add in the uniquely Thai long-tail boats, Thai massage, and delicious Thai food, and it’s in a different league from the Gilis. Oh Thailand, how we love you, and how we’ve missed you. So much so, that we had to engrave you in our history books forever….

Carrying on the relaxing tradition, we did practically nothing the first day there, just relaxing on the beach, enjoying the beer and food. The second day, however was a different story….

(Have we hooked you yet? Leave your comments here…we’re only going to post the next one if we get enough interest from you guys! It’s already written…all we ask is no more passive reading! Let us know what you think!)


5 comments to Oh Thailand, How We’ve Missed You!

  • Stephanie

    As I sit here at my desk, at 8am, after a non-relaxing weekend, reading this blogpost, I feel nothing but absolute jealousy. I hope you guys are having a blast. We are excited to see you come home though!

    Steph

  • Cheryl

    I agree with Stephanie – reading your blog is a mix of pleasure and pain. It looks tres charmant, especially those cute beach huts! Did you guys know Annie Gariano is in Thailand right now? She went by herself for like 2 months.

    And Kenna, I will send you an email today to tell you about Tucson, training, etc. Sorry I have been slacking in the email department.

  • Meredith

    OMG! THAILAND! I NEED TO GO! YOu guys are having so much fun, I love it! Post the second day in Thailand! I’m dying to find out! Your blog posts really make my mornings! ;)

    xoxo

  • Betty Ryan

    Are you going to make us beg to read more? If so, I am begging.

  • David eliuk

    Post it. Post it. Post it. Post it. This will keep going until I see it. Post it. Post it

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