Thailand: Where we slept

It’s inexpensive to travel around Thailand. You can stay very cheaply (read: $6/night) for a backpacking hostel in some areas. With the baby (& in all honesty, for our own comfort), we stayed in hotels, which cost us slightly more, about $30-45/night. Still, for this price, we felt it was worth the ‘splurge’.
We didn’t pre-book many hotels because we had heard you can get better walk-in rates, and we also didn’t want to be held to a particular schedule. Want to stay an extra few days in Chiang Mai? Great, just book it!
We did try to ‘walk-in’ and book a couple of times, but because we were travelling at the beginning of the busy season (Nov – Feb), most places were booked solid in the areas we were in. Plus, with baby, it wasn’t practical to be wandering around with our luggage and nowhere to stay. It also put us in a poor bargaining position, because we were evidently desperate. Anyway, we tended to research and book places online as we went. Here is a break down of the places we stayed in, some great, some not so great.

The Vismaya, Bangkok
$30/night in Oct

This was one of the places we booked ahead of time, as our first hotel upon arrival in Bangkok. This is a nice, modern hotel near the Suvarnabhumi airport. It’s fairly new, and I would recommend booking the airport shuttle offered through the hotel because it is cheaper, and we found that the taxi drivers didn’t know where it was.
We arrived at 7am, so we had booked our room for the previous night because we wanted to check right in and go to sleep. We later found out that the hotel guarantees early check-in, with an hourly rate surcharge (A really nice convenience if you get there way before check-in!).
The room was clean and modern. There was a shower and a tub, although the shower tended to have intermittent water pressure. I’ve heard it can be like this all over Thailand, but we didn’t encounter this anywhere else. Our only complaint with the room is that the air conditioning had to be kept at 22 degrees, which was downright freezing. So we wore sweaters in the room and turned off the air conditioning when possible.
The pool is kept very clean and the restaurant serves a variety of great food. The breakfast buffet includes both Thai and Western breakfast and is quite complete.
We enjoyed this place so much that we booked it again on our way out of the country.
The hotel itself is close to the airport but nothing else. People generally only stay a day or two before they head to their next location, it seemed. We stayed 2 nights in order to adjust to local time.
Oh, and room service is 24 hrs, which is great when you’re jet lagged!

Sugarpalm Grand Hillside, Kata
$40/ night in November

We stayed at this hotel for 3 nights. It is in a great location, walking distance to the beach and most Kata restaurants. The pools are beautiful (no. They’re gorgeous!) and every room is facing them. The staff are very friendly, and we had an effortless airport transfer. However, we would not stay here again because there was a dead cockroach on the porch upon arrival and the room had a musty/mildew smell that wouldn’t go away.
Based on other reviews, I’d say maybe other rooms don’t have this issue. Otherwise a nice hotel.

The Title, Rawai
$35/night in Nov

We stayed in Rawai to enjoy the scenery and food. We weren’t disappointed! The Title was a perfect location, right across from the beach. You can’t swim in the water here due to the mooring boats, but this didn’t bother us. It was great to walk out and see the long tail boats and speedboats lined up.
When we checked in, they couldn’t find our reservation, so we were finally upgraded to a room with a separate bedroom (ideal with baby!). Our room had a kitchenette, and I believe they all do in this condo-style hotel. Despite the kitchenette, we didn’t cook once, not even once, because food is so inexpensive all over Thailand!
The staff are helpful, the room is modern and clean (decorated in Ikea furniture, but new and clean). The pool is immaculate and so appreciated.
we booked 5 days and then extended our stay 5 more because we enjoyed relaxing here so much.

Roseate Hotel, Chiang Mai
$35/night in Nov

A little torn about how to review this room. We stayed for 5 days in November. At first, the room was clean, well maintained. However, we found the air conditioner quite bad at, well, cooling. It seemed to take hours to cool the room properly.
Then we noticed a horrible smell that just got worse as the days passed. We were very happy to leave by the last day due to this sewage-like smell. In the hotel’s defense, we never reported it.

Can’t complain about the staff, who were great, and the breakfast was excellent with both thai and western options. The location was walking distance to many great. Maybe you’d have more luck with a different room.

The Prince hotel, Chiang Mai
$30/night in Nov

This hotel is old, dated, in need of renovations, whatever you call it. It IS getting those renos, but the whole building is under construction and thus filthy. The hallways are disgusting, filthy and rotting. Our room was not much better. We had to ask for our room to be mopped and fresh linens. The replacement linens came back with just as many stains. The towels were no better.
The bathroom needs to be redone. It is ‘well used’ and not comfortable to get clean in.
I’m sure this will be a great hotel with character when the renos are completed. It’s just too bad we had to be here while in this condition. There seems to be no effort to keep the place clean while demolition is happening. The only redeeming qualities were the 2 lovely and clean pools with poolside bar, and kitchenette in every room. And the artwork. The artwork was pretty cool.

Galare Guesthouse, Chiang Mai
$30/night in Nov

This was probably the best value for our money of all the places we stayed in Chiang Mai. With its traditional Lanna style and homey charm, we felt quite comfortable here. We pre-booked this months in advance because we were staying during the Loy Kathong (lantern) festival, and hotels sell out. We got an excellent price considering this. It was an excellent spot to see the festival from a less hectic area. Walking distance to the Night Bazaar, and right along to Mai Ping River. We were able to set out a mat and watch the lanterns float in the river, as well as up in the sky next to fireworks. One should be warned, though, that Loy Kathong goes on for 2 – 3 nights, and can get pretty loud! We were missing our earplugs at 4 am when fireworks were still going off seemingly on top of our heads. This isn’t in the hotel’s control, evidently. It’s prime location also has downfalls. We would definitely stay at this hotel again.

Railay Princess, Railay
$60/night in December

This was the last week of our trip, and we wanted to spoil ourselves a little bit. We had wanted to see the iconic limestone mountains, and we certainly got that. This hotel is modern and well maintained, with a top notch restaurant and a pool with gorgeous limestone backdrop. We did have an issue when we got there that the room smelled musty/moldy. Since we were staying 6 nights, we decided to request a different room. The new room had a slight cigarette smell, like someone had smoked outside the window. Strangely, we still decided to stay and accepted their offer of a scented candle to freshen the room. The smell did go away, although now typing this I’m not sure why we didn’t complain again.
Anyway, the hotel was enjoyable and in a good location. We got what we expected and the staff were always very receptive. The room was well maintained by housekeeping, and the pool was always the perfect temperature.

Eating our way through Rawai, Phuket

Apparently Phuket Province is not known for its culinary creations.
However some of the best food we had while in Thailand was in Rawai. There were so many great spots to eat, I thought we’d break them down here.

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Anywhere along Rawai Beach

There are a string of restaurants,  many family owned, along the eastern side of Rawai beach road. The seating is along the water side, while the restaurants are across the road, so the waiters run your order over. The menus are huge, and we didn’t once order something we didnt like. Besides the food, the sea view is awesome, the breeze is cool in the evening and there is people watching on the street side, too.

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Gypsy Alley
At the very Easterly end of Rawai, next to the Pier, is a Gypsy fishing area. The fishermen display their catches for the day, you pick what you’d like to eat, and the restaurants across the alley will cook them for you. We picked up squid, clams and scallops. Each were cooked in different sauces or bbq’d according to their menu.

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Rawai View Café and Bar
This spot is a little off the beaten track, but worth finding. It is perched on the hill overlooking Rawai. The views of Rawai beach and surrounding islands are spectacular. The decor has a beach-hut vibe with a thatched roof and driftwood furniture. We ordered the curried beef and it was divine.

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The Flipside
I’d be amiss if I didn’t mention this restaurant.  It’s a chain, but is a great place to get delicious twists on burgers, fries and nachos. The staff are the friendliest we met, and it was a nice occassional break from Thai food.

Au Four et Au Moulin
Again another departure from the typical Thai fare, this French restaurant had excellent food. We ate here a few times,  ordering 4 cheese pizza (great), and lunch of sandwiches (excellent on baguette bread). They were also one of the only restaurants on the strip with a proper highchair that fit Evey, which was a relief from constantly holding her at dinner time!

Jet lagged baby: 6 days in

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We’ve been home from Thailand for 6 days, and I think we have finally overcome (the worst of the) jet lag with the baby. It seems that Westbound was even more difficult than going East (which took about 4 days).
With a baby as young as 8 months, it really isn’t possible to do anything differently but let her sleep when she needs to. There’s no keeping her up a few more hours so she meets her regular bedtime. There’s no waking her up at a particular time without epic tears. There’s no reasoning, and daylight doesn’t seem to influence her.
So, we’ve been going with the flow.
As we’re staying at my parents house (re: we sold our house and have nowhere else to go), we holed ourselves in a hotel for the first two nights to avoid major disruption.

Night 1: Absolutely no change from our Asia schedule. We were awake all night and had breakfast at the hotel restaurant in time for ‘bed’ at 7am. Then we slept ALL day, waking up around 5pm for dinner.

Night 2: When we got back from dinner, we slept again, hoping our exhaustion would allow us to sleep through. We were mostly right, but Evey was up for the day at 3am.

Night 3: Back at my parent’s place, Evey went to sleep at 3pm. This was fine, except she then woke up from 10pm – midnight (Chris’ shift), then again 2am – 4am (my shift). She then slept until 6am, and was up for the day.

Night 4: Back to bed at 4pm, with a wake up from 11pm – 2am (Chris’ shift). She slept until 6am. Despite the long shift awake, we start to feel she is getting back on track!

Night 5: This might have been the toughest daytime. Evey had many meltdowns and inconsolable tears. This is either a result of the jet lag and not sleeping properly, or teething, or both! We tried to push her bedtime to 5pm, but it was hard earned as she had a fit and cried alot. I didn’t even manage to get her into her PJ’s, just straight to bed. She woke up for about 30 minutes at 3am. We thought she might stay up at this point, but then slept until 7am. Consider this a huge success!

We’ll see if we are back on schedule now. Evey generally is a very scheduled child, and even in Thailand she took to her home schedule once she adjusted to the time change. The last 6 days have been very hard for all of us, with a combination of sleep deprivation and a frustrated baby. It really does make me think twice about travelling that kind of distance again! But we seem to be seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Here’s hoping tonight will continue to follow a more ‘normal’ schedule.

A Few Home Comforts

Now that we’re home from Thailand, we’re realizing that there were a few things that we were missing from home (aside from the obvious things like family and friends!). They are the simplest things, but we are relishing having them again. Here is a list in no particular order:

– a soft bed: beds all over Asia are typically quite hard. We got used to them, but must admit it is nice to be back in the land of pillow top!

– Peanut butter: We are unashamedly peanut butter and toast eaters. We didn’t find this is Thai restaurants, and only got to indulge when we stayed with my cousin for a few days.

– Coffee with cream: Most places we visited had creamer, and only occasionally milk. Chris is more of a cream drinker, so he is happy to have that again.

– Paying for things with debit: few places we encountered in Thailand were equipped to accept Visa or Debit aside from hotels. Carrying cash and being aware of cash flow became necessary, which we aren’t used to anymore in Canada!

– Seasons: Ok, we weren’t away long enough to see a change, but it was hot in Thailand and doesn’t get much cooler. Ever. We came to appreciate the varied seasons we have in Canada, even if it does hover in the cold longer than we’d like.

– Napkins: Many restaurants had either very small Napkins or simply toilet paper for Napkins. I found myself using tons of little pieces to clean up. It’s just nice to have full-size Napkins again. (Seriously, the little things!)

– High chairs for baby: I’ve mentioned this before, but high chairs are seldomly found in average restaurants around Thailand. This means eating with a baby on your lap, or trading-off who gets to eat while the other entertains baby.

That said, we’ve come back to Canada in December. In Montreal it is on average 8 degrees right now, and we are wholly underdressed for the weather. I can tell you the first thing we are missing from Thailand is the ability to go to breakfast in flip flops and shorts! Also, our breakfast at the airport hotel this morning cost more than a whole day worth of food in Thailand.
So, we win some and we lose some!

Heading home

We go home today, and I wish I could say it’s bitter sweet. In fact, we find ourselves very ready to go. It probably has a large part to do with having gotten colds, food poisoning and an overall exhausted feeling in this past week. Chris is still fighting the cold, and I can’t seem to kick my uneasy feeling with food. We’re sort of just hoping that this will be better in time for our trip home tomorrow morning. It’s going to be a long one!
But despite the exhaustion and illnesses, we can’t believe this adventure is almost over. We’ve had the special opportunity to travel slowly and get to know the places we visited. We got to know the areas, but also met all types of locals and tourists, to the point that we felt a little sad each time we had to say goodbye.
Travelling with baby introduced us to a different type of travel, as well. Evey opened conversations for us, and softened even the hardest looking people. We definitely got to see a different side of Thailand,  from the perspective of a parent. Yes, there were few sidewalks, and only about 30% of places had high chairs (maybe less). Yet it was still amazingly easy to travel with baby in Thailand. People here love babies, and take time out of their day to entertain them, fawn over them, and be generally accommodating. I’m not sure we could have done 6 weeks quite as easily anywhere else.

So as we pack-up and prepare for the grueling 20 hour flight home, we are satisfied and ready. Our wanderlust has been satiated for a while, I think. We look forward to our home comforts and enjoying Christmas with our family.

Arriving at Railay island, Krabi province, Thailand

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We’re into our last week of our adventure through Thailand.
We settled on returning to a beach location, escaping the congestion of both Chiang Mai and Bangkok. Further, we feel the heat less when we can dip in the sea or the pool. Evey appreciates it most.

We flew from Bangkok to Krabi town, where a van met us and transported us to a longtail boat off the shores of Krabi town. We had to climb onto a barge from the beach, then over a longtail to reach our designated boat. We were glad to have Evey’s lifejacket as we climbed over.

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The longtail carried us and 2 other guests at our hotel. One man was coming to Railay from Houston, Texas to go rock climbing with friends. As we approached the island, rock climbing seemed like a terrifying, though probably wonderous activity.

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The longtail pulled up to a beach area next to a long pier. A tractor with a trailer attached pulled up next to us and we unloaded. We had heard we might have to get wet climbing out of the boat, but this was not the case. The longtail comes as close as it can, and the tractor comes the rest of the way. We were delivered directly to our hotel entrance.

Our hotel is on Railay East, the pier side. The other side of the island is Railay West, where swimmming and the beaches are. The 2 sides are connected by a pathway with a concrete walkway, fully accessible with the baby stroller (a lovely relief!). The pathway is scenic, with limestone rockfaces, caves, and wild monkeys.  Plus, it’s only a 5 minute walk to the beach.

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The beach: how to even describe this beach? Limestone mountains, aqua blue waters,  and patches of shade for comfort. We didn’t actually swim in the sea today, but will head back there tomorrow.  We’ve been told that further up the beach there are longtail boats serving food, so we will check that out.

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This afternoon we settled for a dip in the hotel pool with infinity pool and even more breathtaking views.

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I can already feel that we will thoroughly enjoy our last week in paradise.

Saturday Walking Market, Chiang Mai, Thailand

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We’ve been having a good time visiting various markets. This evening we attended Chiang Mai’s famous Saturday Walking Street. It is a market setup south of the Old City, where the streets are shut down so that people can wander. It goes on for at least a mile in each direction, with lots of little streets filled to the brim with food and merchandise. The Satuday Market is in an area of town known for it’s silver, leather and handicrafts, so we were especially happy to see this one. It did not disappoint!
We took Evey in the carrier, as the market starts around 5pm, so it’s cooler, and the streets get too busy for a stroller.
We started off with a cold drink. We spotted a vendor making smoothies from Durian fruit. Durian is a specialty in Thailand. It is an odd fruit with a hard exterior and colourful yellow interior. Many of our hotels ban Durian in the rooms because of the pungent smell that is released when it is opened. We’ve been told once you get over the smell, though, the fruit itself is quite flavourful. So, we decided to give it a try.

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It was flavourful,  but maybe not how we had imagined. While not horrible, there was a dirt and rotting taste before turning sweet. Neither Chris nor I could get over that taste, despite sipping on it for a little bit to give it a chance.  We didn’t end up finishing the drink, and opted for beer with our dinner instead.
We found a little food court setup with seating.

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Tofu Pad Thai

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Deep fried Chicken

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After dinner, we continued shopping about and finally stumbled upon a Temple we had been meaning to visit: Wat Sisuphan. It has an Ordination hall entirely covered in silver, aluminum, and nickel embossed panels. It is a remarkable building, truly captivating under the evening lighting.

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Every inch of the building is hand-etched by the monks.

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Chris said the inside was just as captivating. Unfortunately for me, women are not permitted in certain special buildings at most temples.

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Here’s a man embossing some aluminum:

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As we made our way back to the entrance of the market, we found ourselves combating a wall of visitors. Quite literally hundreds of people visiting the market at the same time. We were happy to be moving out of this area. Evey relished in the oncoming traffic who waved as they passed. She regaled them with chatter and arm flapping. I actually had to hold her arms down so she wouldn’t get caught by passersby. 

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Overall a great evening, but they don’t lie in the tour books when they say ‘get there early’. The crowds are shocking!

Rainbows and Rainstorms

We walked along a dirt path next to the beach. The tide was low. Longtail and speed boats alike moored close to the shore. Landlocked after a warm day at sea. There were people far out in the muddied water, taking advantage of the low tide to search out crabs and other sea treasures. Young children back from school were digging in the sand, their uniforms getting wet from the sea water.
We pass several fishermen repairing their boats. The smell of paint wafts over us as a boat receives a coat after being refinished.
Some men toil away at fishing nets while others sit nearby eating dinner.
As we approach a row of small restaurants,  we notice one where a young child is crouched down in the dirt. Her mother is holding her pants down while she pees into the dirt next to the restaurant.  We smile politely as we pass. When the girl is finished, she and her mother wave to our daughter in the stroller.
We walk past several restaurants with meager store fronts, and priceless seating. Every seat is sea view, just steps from a row of fishing boats. We pass restaurant owners waving and making faces at our daughter.  We stop to chat with some. One has a 5 month old son, who drools and smiles at us.
As we make our way to a dead end, we turn right onto a paved road, then left. Up a road with no sidewalk,  the cars and motorcycles swerve to give us room. Maybe 25 meters and we arrive at a building advertising Massages: Massages ‘by blind people’. We are intrigued, but the shop seems to have gone out of business.
We arrive at a restaurant called ‘Rawai view Café and Bar’. This restaurant, perched on a hill overlooking the sea at low tide, has incredible views of the entire town and surrounding islands. We can even spot a Navy ship in the far distance. We share the view with only one other table of guests.
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As we order our meals, we see the skies darken and thunder sound. When ur meals come, the waitress asks us to move from the uncovered patio to under the thatched roof. We oblige and then watch as the staff hurriedly tie down all the furniture with heavy plastic sheets and clips. This isn’t their first rainstorm.
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From our covered viewpoint, we watch as the storm rolls in, moment by moment.
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The Navy ship and islands that were once visible disappear behind sheets of rain.
As we are enjoying some of the best curry we’ve ever had, the rain hits the Café in a thunderous way. We are asked to move tables inwards again, as the wind blows inwards.
The waitresses are apologetic, like there is anything they could do to help the weather. We are thrilled, and order another drink. Here we are, in paradise, watching mothr nature from a warm, dry, viewing gallery with delicious food and a whole bar to ourselves.
As the storm passed, a rainbow formed over an island. This rainbow probably only visible to the select few of us lucky enough to have this view point from the hill.
After about an hour, the storm receeded and we decided to walk back to our hotel. It was cooler than when we came, the rain moistening our skin as we walked.
We couldn’t have planned a better last night in Rawai.

Chiang Mai at daybreak

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Evey woke up early this morning, around 6am.
Our hotel in Chiang Mai has thin walls, so I took the opportunity to get out of the room and let Chris (& the neighbours) sleep in.
Evey and I strolled the streets for a little while, visiting a temple before it opened. The cool morning air, with so few cars whizzing by made it a great time to be out. We wandered by shops that hadn’t yet opened, before their merchandise took over the sidewalk space. We saw some monks performing their morning prayers.
By 7am we were able to catch breakfast at our hotel. Evey flirted with all the waiters and properly greased up the table with toast-fingers.
After breakfast we continued our roaming. We visited yet another temple, this one the oldest in Chiang Mai. A monk opening the temple stopped to make faces at Evey. There were some women near the entrance to the temple who had basket-cages with birds in them. I stopped to show Evey. The birds were doves, 3 or 4 to a cage, and sparrows, 5 to a small cage. One of the women explained that for 100 baht, we could release the birds from 1 cage, and this symbolized good luck. I was immediately torn whether to buy them all so they could be freed from their tight quarters. It was already getting hot in the morning sun beating down on them. I knew, though, that paying would mean more birds would take their place, so I declined.
As we walked on, we found some quaint side streets with coffee shops, hostels and stores just opening up. As we passed, I relished in the peacefulness of the morning. Evey must have felt it too, because she fell asleep. So I found a little coffee shop, ordered an iced cappuccino,  and watched as the city came to life before my eyes.

This was by far the best way to start the day. I think I’ll try to do this every morning while we’re here!