Earlier in 2009 we crossed another ‘first’ off our list and we popped over to Thailand for a great break. Co-incidentally we had planned this trip to get away and out of the Dubai bubble and as luck would have it, I was made redundant just before we had planned to go away. When I say made redundant, I mean that in the loosest possible term as the company I was working for hadn’t paid any of us for a couple of months, so I said something to our ‘executive management team’ (again a loose term) I heard nothing back from them for about a week and a half and the next communication was that I was redundant! Anyone coming to Dubai in the IT industry, stay away from anything to do with a company called Kalsoft!
Enough of that, the end of my service with them came as a blessing in disguise and both Naomi and I were looking forward to visiting Thailand. A country that so many people have visited and lamented about, that we figured it was about time we went and checked it out for ourselves, we were also celebrating our 2 year anniversary, so a trip to celebrate was the order of the day.
We flew with Thai Airways out of Terminal 2 in Dubai and landed at Suvarnabhumi just outside Bangkok. We were staying at the Lebua State Towers, as recommended by a friend and as such a car was waiting to pick us up and take us to the hotel. I haven’t stayed in any other hotels in Bangkok, but the Lebua State Towers is an all suite hotel, which incidentally we booked through www.wotif.com. We arrived and were seated in the lobby whilst the extremely friendly staff took our passports to check in. The lovely concierge came back and advised us that they had put us on a high floor so that we would have a great view over Bangkok. She wasn’t kidding and she took us up to the 59th floor and opened the door to our suite! Amazing is all I can say really. Huge room (complete with small kitchen) and balcony and we completed the check in procedure in the lounge area of the suite before being left to settle in.
Effectively we only had 1 day in Bangkok, so as tempting as it was to just stay in the room and relax; we decided we would make the most of the remains of the day. We planned on visiting the Grand Palace, Wat Arun and Wat Pho amongst others. However, our timing once again wasn’t the greatest, as we were dropped off outside the Grand Palace a very helpful man advised us that it was now closed to tourists because as it was coming up to Songkran – Thai new year, the palace was only open to Thai’s going to pray that afternoon! However, the very helpful man pointed out a number of places on our map that we should visit before coming back to the Grand Palace a little later on. He even commandeered a Tuk Tuk driver and told him where to take us and to wait for us at the various spots – which he did, all for 200THB, the equivalent of 20AED or GBP3.50 and he was with us for about 3 hours! On our mini trip we went to a little known temple with a rather large golden Buddha in. We were the only people there apart from another friendly Thai man. We got talking to him and he was a pilot for Thai Airways – the Dubai –Thailand route was one of his! He told us a little about the temple and also recommended a very good tailor to visit. We parted ways and our willing Tuk Tuk guide, took us firstly to the place that supplies Tiffany’s with it’s diamonds and we picked up a little something for Naomi. Then on to the tailors! Bearing in mind we got to the tailors at about 2pm, and were getting on a flight to Koh Samui the following morning at 9am, I left that tailors having ordered 4 suits and 6 shirts and received a good price as I retold the story of the deal our Thai Airways pilot got!! Naomi had a dress and suit ordered too. And before we left the following morning we had had 2 fittings and the finished products would be shipped to us in Dubai via TNT, all included in the price!
We timed our visit to the tailors wrong as well as it turned out. It was a hot and humid day in Bangkok and whilst we were in the tailors the skies opened and dumped a torrential rain storm down on the city. At the same time, the ‘red shirts’ who were protesting in the city had moved their protest up towards to the Grand Palace and we were advised not to head that our way ourselves. Rather reluctantly we agreed, but as we only had that one day in Bangkok we were slightly disappointed not to get to see the Grand Palace. Our Tuk Tuk driver very kindly found us a taxi to take us back across town to our hotel as it was well out of the way for him. We got back into the suite and sorted out a reservation at one of the restaurants in the hotel – Breeze on the 52nd floor. One of our friends was actually on her way back from Koh Samui and happened to be in Bangkok that evening, so we met up for dinner overlooking the Bangkok skyline. We were lucky at this point as the rain held off, although a little breezy ? and we had a wonderful meal cooked by none other than Ken Hom, as he is the head chef at Breeze. We had planned to then go up to the Skybar and see Bangkok from the 63rd floor, but it had started raining again and we had our first fitting for our suits in our suite just as dinner finished, after which we headed out to one of Bangkok’s most famous streets; the Koh San road. This road is synonymous with travelers and backpackers making their way around Asia. I actually saw a sign advertising accommodation for 30BHT! There’s a real ‘traveler’ feel as soon as you get to the entrance to the road, there are lots of people in their gap year, travelling Asia, some that are just passing through and we met a guy that came 4 years prior for a break and never left. He got a job teaching English and now spends his time in Bangkok, teaching English and enjoying the atmosphere of the vibrant city. We spent a couple of hours out on the road, immersing ourselves in the atmosphere and then caught a crazy Tuk Tuk back to the hotel, as we had to be up early the next morning, a) for our 2nd fitting and b) to get to the airport to catch our plane to Koh Samui.
As promised, our guy from the tailor was in our hotel at 7am waiting to come up to our room to do our second fitting. I had my reservations about the whole tailor situation and I guess based on my experience of Dubai, didn’t expect to see the guy again before we left and then in a couple of weeks time a parcel would arrive full of clothes that didn’t fit! How wrong I was. After our fitting we had time to get some breakfast and then it was off to the airport again to catch the Bangkok Airways flight down to Koh Samui. As we had chosen, albeit inadvertently, New Years to visit, it meant that all of Thailand would have a public holiday and so flights to the islands were very busy and the early morning flight was the only one available. Bangkok Airways does fly 3 or 4 times a day down to Koh Samui and to some of the other islands too and if you research, there are a couple of other options too. I had also been warned by our friend that the seats are made for Asian people rather than anyone else and I might struggle (6’2” and 17 stone) However, upon boarding the plane where we were seated in the front row of economy, there was acres of room, much more than on some long haul carriers I might add. On the subject of classes as well, depending on your time of travel, there is really no need to pay the extra for ‘business class’, you would be separated from the rest by a curtain and we can still see you!! The only added advantage is that when you are leaving you have the comfort of the ‘business class’ lounge which is air conditioned, hence the reference to the time of year you might be visiting. Having said this, Koh Samui airport is one of the most beautiful airports I have ever had the pleasure of visiting and on your departure, there is a choice of coffee shops and restaurants to wait in, all air conditioned, so the need for the business class seat really is minimal.
So we landed in the beautiful island of Koh Samui and it really is an incredible little airport, from how you get from the plane to the waiting area for your luggage and then on to the pick up area, whether it is a taxi or a pre-arranged hotel pick up.
We opted for the taxi pick up, but you soon realize that depending on which hotel you are staying at, your hotel pick up will be basically the taxi driver that knows the guys that work at the hotel. It is true island life, where everybody has a connection with someone, but not to the extent that anyone that has visited Egypt will be familiar with, in terms of being fleeced at every opportunity by the concierge that has a friend who is a taxi driver, who knows someone that does trips around the pyramid, who knows someone with a papyrus shop…… and the trail goes on. No in Koh Samui, it all comes across as quite genuine and whilst we were there, we never once felt hassled.
Our taxi driver took us on the 25 minute drive to our hotel. The Kala Koh Samui, Kala means coconut and we soon pulled up outside our hotel, ornately decorated with coconuts. The Kala is situated just South of Chaweng beach and North of Lamai, right in the middle of the two busiest parts of the island, so the nightlife is not far away if you want it, but whilst you are in the hotel, it feels like you are in your own little oasis. It is quite inconspicuous when you pull up, and there is a huge door to go through almost directly off the main road. Once you go through though, you are met with the most amazing hotel lobby – open air, looking directly out over the ocean. We arrived mid morning and it was starting to really heat up, so the wait in the lobby wasn’t the most comfortable, but before long we were escorted to our room. A lovely room from which we had a glorious view over the side of the rock face that the hotel was built into and out into the sea. There is the option to go for rooms that have their own individual infinity pools and massage areas but you will pay for that privilege and to be honest, the ‘general’ infinity pool is more than enough. It sits down a level from the restaurant, covered delicately with lush green plants but letting enough sun through for tanning if you should wish. Hit www.wotif.comto find your great holiday deals, we stayed in the 5 star luxury of the Kala for AED1500 for 5 nights – currency converter below can help you see just how amazingly good value that is!
We decided that we would initially get a little jeep to explore the island and the hotel sorted that out for us and the car was delivered to the hotel the following morning. We also booked a couple of tours (elephant riding, waterfall visit etc) through the hotel and during the course of our stay all of them came off without a hitch, that may sound cynical, but once you have lived in the Middle East for a while, you become very skeptical about things happening the way you expect them to!
Oh, I also have to mention one of the very cool quirks of the Kala, which incorporates coconuts into the housekeeping routine. Outside the room is a little stand affixed to the wall. An umbrella hangs below it, and on top there are two coconut shells, one white and one brown. Rather than having a paper sign to ‘do not disturb’ and ‘please clean the room’, you put the appropriate coloured shell on top, so the hotel knows what to do!! Really nice touch I thought.
Dinner time – from the hotel we decided to take a walk towards Lamai as there was a recommended restaurant on the way – we could have jumped on one of the many pick ups that run along the main routes and for a quick bartering session, you can get to just about wherever you want, as they will stop like a taxi, you just sit on a bench seat in the bed of the truck. However, we decided we would walk it and 10 minutes later we were walking into The Cliff Bar and Grill. This is a highly recommended restaurant with great views from the terrace and some divine food on the menu – to top it off, they stock my favourite cider Magners and right next to the restaurant is a small club to head into after you have had your fill of tasty food from the vast menu. We popped in for a night cap and then made the short walk back up the hill to the comfort of the Kala. Another wonderful day on the island.
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