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Sunday, June 11, 2006

What an easy and painless way to get to Thailand (and I never thought I'd say that!).  I left Thursday afternoon for Milan airport (which is about 50 miles outside of Milan, so I never even saw Milan), and arrived at my hotel in Somma Lombardo.  What a quaint and quiet little Italian town.  Checked in and took a stroll around (mind you, this is Thursday night around 7:30 PM), thinking I would find a little neighborhood bar/cafe to have a glass of wine before dinner. . . and NOTHING was open!  I couldn't believe it!  So, wandered back to my hotel for dinner.  And, it was truly fantastic!  I had a seafood "salad" that was really a seafood platter, and some penne with scampi.  It was SOOOOO good.  Oh yea, and a bottle of nice Chianti.  After all that food (and wine), hit the sack.
 
Got up next morning, had a breakfast of Italian pastries and wandered into the center of town, where there was a castle (!) and a large church.  Toured around a little, then headed out of town about a kilometer to a shopping center.  Bought a shirt and a belt.  Back to the hotel for a nap before my 7:30 PM flight to Vienna (where I was meeting up with Mike).  All went as planned, got to Vienna a little after 9 PM to find my husband waiting patiently at the bar next to our gate.  Had a couple beverages, boarded our plane just before midnight, had some lovely airplane food (YECH), took a valium with a gin and tonic and SLEPT FOR SEVEN HOURS!!!!   That's the longest I've ever slept on an airplane!  Had an empty seat next to me (Mike was up in business class), so had plenty of room and was very comfortable.  By the time I woke up they were serving "breakfast", even though it was 2 PM in Bangkok, landed, picked up my tickets at the Thai ticket office at the airport in Bangkok for Phnom Penh, and got a cab. 
 
Our hotel here in Bangkok is very nice, it's a suite and I'll never stay anywhere else again (maybe), but it's that nice.  Would be great for an extended stay here, has a kitchen with a MICROWAVE, stove, frig, the works.  TWO tv's, so Mike's in pig heaven, and a huge walk-in shower.  It's cool.
 
Leave tomorrow morning for the Hilton in Karon Beach, Phucket.  Got a fairly good price on the room there, I hope it's okay.  Seemed cheap for a 4 star hotel.  We'll see. 
 
Oh, and contrary to all the weather reports we've seen, it's hot and dry here so far.  Walked for about 30 minutes down to this internet cafe and the sun actually came out and started baking us (the reason we stopped. . . I was in dire need of some air conditioning!!).  Hopefully, this trend will continue while we are here!
 
All for now, stay tuned for Phuket adventures!

Phuket and Samui Islands
 
General Information:  Phuket is an island on the west coast of Thailand, about 500 square kilometers.  Samui is across the peninsula, on the east coast, and about half the size.

It’s amazing what you will pay to leave Cambodia!  We knew the “exit tax” is $25/piece (the highest we’ve ever paid, except Costa Rica) so had budgeted appropriately for that, but then we found out that I had overstayed my original visa by 14 days (thought I had this handled, but apparently the $60 I spent to renew my visa was not enough), so had to pay another $75 JUST TO LEAVE!  Probably beat a stay in the Cambodian Penitentiary, but seemed a bit extreme.  Paid gladly and cheerfully, though!  Smooth and easy flights all the way.

 

All our pre-dreams of a vacation in Phuket and Samui ended up being “all wet”.  Arrived in Phuket, Thailand on Thursday night around 9 PM, in the rain (this will be an underlying theme of our 10 day vacation.  I guess Thailand hasn’t heard that the rainy season is over!).  Our hotel was decent enough, and we had a private Jacuzzi on our patio. . . unfortunately it wasn’t hot water, or even warm.  We thought it would be a nice place to spend our first night, but it just seemed cold.  Decided to save it for a day when we returned from golf hot and sweaty.  Ventured out to find a nightcap, which wasn’t hard as the streets were lined with bars!  Woke up to clouds, decided would be perfect day for golf, so played at Loch Palm Golf Resort.  There was a large tournament going on at Phuket Country Club, so we couldn’t golf were it was cheaper for the weekend, but it was a beautiful course, and we felt like we were cheating the weather playing in the clouds.  Had a few sprinkles, but nothing to stop play.  Fun caddies, nice course, good pace of play, enjoyed it thoroughly.  Came home and hit the Jacuzzi for a little while, then the rain started. . .

Decided to have dinner at the hotel restaurant, which wasn’t bad, but more Western food than I wanted for my first meal in Thailand.  Cruised out and about afterwards, starting at Molly Malone’s Irish Pub (of course!) on the beach, then cruised the Batang avenue, the Pervert’s Paradise.  Imagine a closed-off-to-traffic street, lined with bars.  Now, imagine five neon-lit, music pounding streets coming off this strip, about 500 feet long, lined with small individual bars right on top of each other, specializing in girls, girls, girls.  Each bar has at least one pole, where the girls stand on the bar (dressed, always, but pretty scantily at times), dancing and calling out to potential customers, “Hello, welcome, Happy Hour”.  Bar’s are themed, some of them Australian, Western (think cowboys and indians), Hawaiian, or innuendo’s like G-Spot or T & A.   Thai girls, like Cambodian girls, have their own twists on English.  One of my personal favorites is when you ask them anything, they say “Up to you”.  Saw a bar called the “Up 2 You Bar”, had to laugh.  Also, they love to say “Same same”, when they mean something is basically the same.  Lots of T-shirts that say this for sale, too.  On the back they say, “but different”, which is a favorite add on to this saying.  This is a pretty sleezy area.  Stopped into about 6 girly bars for drinks and entertainment.  Decided the ratio of fat, old guys to pretty Thai girls was about 1:5. . . Very entertaining, but probably not necessary to see this part of town again!

Saturday morning was also overcast, so we went for the more golf option.  Had two different caddies, and ended up getting “paired” up with a threesome.  An English guy named Geoff who has lived in Texas for the last ten years, and two Frenchmen, one named Phillippe and one Cork.  All were great guys and we had a fun round.  Had a bit more rain this day, but muddled through.  Afterwards, Phillippe mentioned that he was a member at Phuket Country Club and invited Geoff, Mike and I to play nine with him and Cork the next afternoon.  We gladly accepted!

 

Sunday dawned bright and sunny.  We were to meet at the driving range at 12:30, so we had breakfast, cruised down to the beach for some people watching and looking at the water, checked emails and grabbed a cab.  Our cab driver was Alec, and he was a cool guy.  Told us a bit about what happened during the Tsunami last year.  Surprisingly enough, Phuket has recovered quite well from the Tsunami, not much damage left to see.  Some new construction going on along the beach, but other than that, all intact.  Had about a half hour of hot practice on the driving range, and teed off for our 9 holes around 2 PM.  Unfortunately, we couldn’t play a fivesome, so it was Jeff, Mike, Phillippe and I and Cork played with the group ahead of us.  This was a beautiful 9 hole course, with 7 of the holes having major water in play.  Needless to say, I lost a few golf balls out there.  The sun shone all day, and we were HOT HOT HOT!  Too bad our golf games weren’t (except Phillippe, who is an excellent golfer and a pleasure to watch!).  Had a couple quick beers afterwards, and went to Central Festival in Phuket City to get me a new pair of golf shoes!  Geoff and Mike sat in the bar while I ran around the golf fair and mall.  Made plans to meet up with Geoff for dinner at a restaurant on the water called Papaya’s. 
 
Really good food, typical Thai heat.  Then, although I swore we wouldn’t, back down to the Batang area for a couple after dinner drinks.  Left Geoff there around 11 and grabbed a Tuk-Tuk back to the hotel. 

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A RARE moment of sun on Patong Beach

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Fishing boat at Patong Beach

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Fresh seafood displayed at street restaurants

Ever since we planned our vacation to Thailand, I had envisioned myself sitting on a boat cruising around the Andaman Sea, looking at the outlying, unpopulated islands of sheer cliffs and sandy beaches, sunshine reflecting off clear blue waters.  Finally, I had a chance to live it. . . sort of.  Monday was our boat trip to Pi Pi Island, Maya Beach, and Khai Island, about an hour cruise off the east coast of Phuket.  As we approached the harbor in the van, it started to rain.  Heading for the island in the Adaman Sea, we could see a large, black circular cloud hanging over our destination.  As the story goes, the weather started getting rough, and our boat was definitely getting tossed, but we arrived safely, and very wet.  Nothing like a boat ride in the rain.  First stop was the Viking caves and a sheltered, deep, wall faced harbor that was in the movie “The Beach” (with Leonardo DiCaprio).  I was already wet, and slightly chilly, so I decided to go for a swim with a few other brave souls.  Was really blue, clear water, but not as pretty as it could have been if the sun was out.  Jumped back in the boat and headed for Maya Beach, on the other side of the island, where most of the movie “The Beach” was filmed.  Spent about 45 minutes on the island, cruising around and looking, taking pictures, sitting on the beach.  Rain managed to stand off for almost all of this time. . . AMAZING!

Did a snorkel stop on the way around to the other end of the island, and saw Monkey Beach from the boat.  Stopped on the island for lunch at about 1 PM.  Had a buffet and were attacked by wild birds!  Not shy birds here, hope they were disease free. 

 

Back on the boat for another snorkel stop, then off to Khai Island.  This is a very small little island that is half beach, half rock, and good snorkeling.  Stayed there about an hour, then back to the harbor.  In the rain.

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At Maya Beach

The trip was beautiful, but I kept wishing we had done it the day before, as the scenery would have been so much better.  Hard to see the greens and blues of the water, and the surrounding islands were covered in haze, fog and rain.  Returned to Patong Beach, grabbed dinner off the street and ate, then barhopped our way home, stopping at the Harley Davidson bar were we saw a collection of awesome bikes and a 1964 GTO in mint condition and a 1969 Corvette Stingray!  Ended up at a bar near our house playing darts with an English guy we met, then home for bed at 11.

Tuesday we wanted desperately to go to the beach.  Woke to somewhat clear skies, but by the time we had breakfast and got our stuff together, started to cloud over.  Called Alec to pick us up and take us down the island to another beach when it really started to pour. . . and pour. . . and pour.  Decided a driving tour of the south part of the island was better suited to the day.  Alec would drive us to a panoramic vista, we would sit in the car and wait for the rain to subside, then jump out and take pictures. . . Finally, fleeing the rain, we headed across the island to Friendship Beach for lunch at a seafood restaurant that Alec recommended on the water.  Was good food, and we sat and talked for about an hour.  Drove back to the west side, more rain.  Decided to call it a day about 3 PM.  Mike started to get a cold.  Last night in Phuket, so out to dinner along the strip, then walking home.  As we were going home, it started to POUR again, so we jumped down a side street into the first bar we saw, the “James Dean and Friends” Bar.  Through the rain we discovered we were in the “gay” area of Patong!  Oh well, sat it out for about 45 minutes until it was safe to go out and walk some more.  Finally made it back to the hotel (after a couple more stops) around 11.  Early flight in the morning, Alec coming to pick us up at 7 AM.

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Southern Phuket lookout on Kata and Karon Beach

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Eastern lookout point

Drove to the airport in the rain, flew in the rain, and arrived in Samui in the rain around 11 AM.  And for five days all it did was rain.  I’m not talking about sprinkles or drizzles, I’m talking about full force pouring rain!  I’m afraid I have little to say about Samui, as we stayed holed up in our beautiful bungalow by the sea pretty much the entire time.  The Coral Bay Beach Resort and Spa is situated on 10 acres of very beautifully manicured jungle.  Our bungalow was HUGE with a great covered patio with lounge chairs (where we spent the majority of the time watching the rain).  Everyday they replaced our bungalow flowers with another exotic bouquet from the grounds. 

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Relaxing on our patio in Samui, Coral Bay Resort

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View from our bungalow

Ventured into town on Wednesday afternoon, Friday night and Saturday night.  That’s it.  It torrentially rained, flooded the streets, caused mudslides, and basically played havoc on the quite, peaceful island of Samui.  And, apparently, it had rained for 6 days before we arrived!  I can’t say enough about our hotel, it was GREAT, but what can you do in pouring rain.  Plus, Mike’s cold had worsened, and he wasn’t feeling up to much, anyway.  And, the last night we went into town for dinner and I got food poisoning, was up all night listening to the rain, Mike coughing and tossing and turning, amongst other things!  Had to leave at 9 AM for the airport, and I wasn’t sure I was going to make it.  Fortunately, I found an Imodium ID in my bag, and survived the six hour trip back to Phnom Penh.

Bascially, a very wet vacation, but nice to get out of Cambodia for a while.  Thank GOD for alcohol!  HEEHEE!