PAUL BENJAMIN: Writer, Editor, Supermodel

Thailand That I Love – part 1

As I begin writing this first post, I’m sitting on the porch of my beachfront bungalow, looking out at the Indian Ocean, the froth tinged pink with sunset. We didn’t plan to have a beachfront bungalow. Never even made a reservation at one. And yet here I sit.

This was my view as I started this post.

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The story of the beachfront bungalow will come in a later post. This first one is the beginning of our journey and all about the first few days in Thailand. For those of you thinking about visiting, I’ll tell you all about flying to Thailand (from Uzbekistan), where we stayed, and what we did. For those of you who may never visit, hopefully you’ll be entertained and enjoy reading about the fun side of the Foreign Service: travel to exotic lands we may not have reached from the States.

Getting to Bangkok isn’t cheap but it’s relatively easy. There’s a direct flight from Tashkent to Bangkok on Uzbekistan Airlines. The tough part is finding a seat. The flight starts in Tel Aviv and most of the seats are booked well in advance. We’d heard this was a rowdy flight and weren’t disappointed. There were folks passing big bottles of liquor back and forth in the aisles. At least, that’s what Lisa tells me. I slept through most of the six-hour flight.

This view (or something like it) was what we saw as we approached Thailand.

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Once in Bangkok, we grabbed our bags from customs and jumped on an Air Asia flight (the local version of Southwest Airlines) to Phuket, down in the South. From Phuket we took a cab to our destination on the far southern peninsula of Thailand: Khao Lak. In the cab, by the way, was the last time we saw Lisa’s cell phone that we bought in Vienna. I called the cab driver but he claimed he never found it. I’m glad we bought cheaper cell phones instead of splurging on $600 unlocked iPhones. Losing a 75 Euro phone sucks, but it’s not the end of the world.

We’d booked rooms for a week at the Hotel Bhandari in Khao Lak, just a block or two from the beach. The Bhandari is easily a four star resort. It’s the kind of place we would never afford in Hawaii, but in Thailand it ran $100/night. That’s not cheap in a place where you can find a nice hotel away from the beach for $50/night (or less if you’re on a backpacker’s budget), but it’s a steal compared to its equivalent anywhere in the states.

Upon arrival, we learned that they didn’t actually have rooms available at the Bhandari and had to put us next door at their connected-and-facilities-sharing hotel: The Oriental. In exchange for this “inconvenience” (the room was lovely) they were giving us a poolside room, free dinner for two at the hotel restaurant, two free aromatherapy massages at the hotel’s spa, and use of the pool as well as breakfast at either the Bhandari or the Oriental. It’s so nice to be in a country that puts a high value on customer service.

Here are some pics of the Bhandari and Oriental grounds.

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We spent one afternoon under this palapa beside a pond full of lilies. It was sunny then it poured rain for a while. After the storm I put down my book to watch the frogs and bugs living their lives in the pond.

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When you arrive at the spa, you sit on the porch below and have some cool, minty tea. The pic on the right is the view from the other side of the spa’s porch. After your massage you sit again for a cup of hot ginger tea. When they brew it strong enough, burns the back of your throat just right. Plus: hydration!

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Our first day in Thailand consisted of lots of laying by the pool and/or beach, drinking coconut drinks (often served inside a coconut so we could eat the coconut meat after drinking the refreshing beverage within), getting a massage (on the beach or at the spa), heading inside or under cover for an hour or so during a warm rainstorm, and eating delicious Thai food. Lisa vowed to eat seafood at every single meal and nearly succeeded in doing so.

Cold, fruity drinks at the Oriental pool.

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Below left: the pool at the Oriental. Below right: the really, really, really big pool a block away.

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It also bears mentioning just how affordable it is to eat, drink and be massaged in Thailand. Pool or beachside tropical beverages (in or out of coconuts) ran around $2 each. Main dishes at a food stand were around $3 (maybe $6 at a restaurant), and massages were either $9 on the beach or $18 at the fancy hotel spa. We got massages all but 3 of the days we were there, though many of them were free. More on the free massages in a future post.

Here’s a typical massage set up on the beach. The prices here may be outdated, as from what we saw the oil massages were 100 Baht more than others. 300 B is around $9 U.S. In this case, I was on the end of the tents with an unobstructed view of the ocean. It was as perfect as you’d think.

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And finally, here’s a typical beach in Khao Lak. In some areas the  surf was rocky but in others it was smooth as silk. Though there are plenty of sections of beach chairs that are for a specific resorts’ guests only, there are plenty of others connected to restaurants or bars. Grab a beach chair, order a coconut full of rum, have some pad thai and enjoy the view.

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To be continued…

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