Not that things have been really stressful or frantic ever since school wrapped up for the year, and we have been forced to go on summer vacation, but the short voyage over to Koh Samet, things have slowed down considerably and I have been forced to slow down to meet the demand as well. It has been basically nothing more than beach living. It is the perfect way to enjoy summer, sit under an umbrella, order smoothies, read a good book, and when things get a little too warm, go cool off in the clear water.
In fact, I have not ventured very much further from my resort room than down to the beach by the reception area. I did take a fifteen minute stroll to the other side of the island for dinner one evening, and I did rent a kayak to paddle out to other beaches nearby, but I have constantly be coming back to the idea of relaxation.
I think it is important that this happens in everybody’s life. Too often we are told that we need to be constantly at work, and with the creation of emails, text messaging and the internet, it is even harder to get away from this responsibility. Our jobs now believe that because these leashes have been created for us that they can tug on them any time that they want to, but they need to know for the sake of sanity of humankind, it is important that they let us run out and be free.
Some times that means running for adventure and capturing what is out there to offer, but at other times, it is just as important to unwind from the stress and do nothing for a couple of days. Koh Samet is the perfect place to do the unwinding, and considering it has not amped up yet with its recent reopening, it is even more calm than it probably usually is. There are not crowds of tourists jostling for a spot on the beach. There are no large lines waiting for a table at the best restaurants. And there is nobody competing to outdo other people on their vacation. It is just a moment of pure relaxation, and I am glad to have been able to experience it for a time this summer.
Thailand has a lot of wildlife. It is everywhere I go, and now that the rainy season has started, it has come out of the forest and is not as afraid to show that it is out there. I have seen a lot of wildlife on this little road trip and I am expecting to see more as I go along.
The beaches have been filled with crabs scurrying all over the sand and through the clear water on the beaches of Koh Samet, a snorkeler can see schools of fish and even large clams hiding among the rocks.
I have seen rugby ball sized turtles just strolling down the sidewalks in my neighborhood, and after any rain a cacophony of frogs sings their serenade to anybody that gets too close to them. I have seen a couple of snakes, and a few monitor lizards with the longest one being about six feet from the tip of it tail to its tooth, but they are hard to get picture of because I really do not want to get too close to them.
But it took until this little road trip that I learned more about these little critters, geckos. These guys are pretty much all over the place. We’ve always had two or three of them living in our house that I have know about, and there have probably been a couple others that are a little bit better at hiding in the corners not frequented as much. They do a lot more than just try to sell me car insurance. I have been told that they eat a lot of the bugs that you do not wish to have in your house, and for this reason, we usually end up leaving them alone.
It was a nice surprise when I was greeted by a couple bigger ones in our last two hotel rooms. I waved at them and then let them crawl behind the curtains. What I did not know is that when they get a little bigger, they like to make noise to let people know about their presence. I know many of you are trying to think about what noise a gecko makes right now, and I would have been in the same category a couple of days ago. It was when I was woken up by one of them the first night of this trip that I realized what they sounded like. At first, I did not think it was a gecko that was making the noise. It sounded like a bird had somehow gotten trapped in our room, but it wasn’t persistent like a bird would be. They only chirped for a couple of seconds and then they were quiet for the next hour or so. But it was a little annoying to be woken up every hour as they moved from one place in the room to another spot.
I have since learned how to sleep with the chirp, but it alarmed me the first evening. In fact, I have come to enjoy the noise because I know that they are keeping me safe from all of those mosquitoes looking to suck my blood. It just adds to the cycle of life that happen is Thailand during the rainy season.
It is another sign that Thailand is returning back to a normal kind of life. Today was the one day we had been waiting for all summer long, the day when they reopened the national parks. Yes, there are a lot of cool towns and fun places to go in the big cities, but the magic of Thailand really comes to life when visiting the national parks. We have had a couple on our list to visit this summer, and the first one was the island of of Koh Samet. It is an island resort with pristine beaches and beautiful hikes through rain forests that is only a three hour drive from Bangkok, and a quick twenty minute speedboat ride from the dock in Rayong.
But we did not find ourselves in Bangkok this morning. We had been staying in Rayong for the past few days, waiting for this island to open up. The beach resort we were staying at was nice, but it was tucked in a corner of town that not many people visit, and there were only a couple of restaurants to enjoy in the area. The sun rarely popped out from amongst the clouds, and the time there was spent waiting for the next part of our trip. We were told that we would be able to catch a shuttle from the resort to the pier and from there we could take a ferry over to the island. We were so excited about the opening of this island that we had our bags out in front of the resort awaiting our shuttle.
Well, it turned out not to be like a shuttle like you would find in most parts of the world. It is what is called a song tol, which literally translates to two bench. They are very common in all of Thailand. Basically, somebody took a pickup truck, bolted two benches in the back of it, put a cover over those benches, and then started taxiing people around in it. Some are safer than others, but all of them are a treat to ride in. The one we took to the pier could not close its tail gate, so we packed in tight to make it to our next leg of the journey, hoping that we would not lose any luggage on the way.
This involved taking some type of boat over the short distance of ocean to the island. There are two different types of boats you can book to get over there. The first is the ferry. It runs about once an hour, takes an hour to make the short distance, packs people in tightly, but is significantly cheaper than the other option. This is a speed boat. It is a lot quicker, but will jostle you around a little bit more as it takes you over the choppy seas. It did cost four hundred baht per person for a round trip, but that breaks down to about $12 American money. It was worth the price, and all we have to do is call ahead two hours in advance to let them know when we are ready to return.
The views weren’t great on the speed boat, and I was with a couple of people that get seasick easily, but we were able to make it over with everybody’s stomach intact. It was pretty comfortable, and the excitement of making it to this national treasure that had been untouched for the last four months had the anticipation building up within us. It would only be a short time until we found ourselves doing some beach living.
When we arrived, there was one more quick song tol ride to our hotel, and then it was time to relax with soft sand, clear water and gorgeous skies. It was a little bit of an adventure to get to the resort, but it was well worth it. It is even nicer knowing that we are going to get to enjoy this island before the tourists start pouring into all of the hotel rooms here. It is Wednesday, and most people won’t be able to get out of their busy jobs from Bangkok until Friday. It is also a long holiday weekend coming up, and it will just add to the crowds. And even though there are a few people on the island right now, it is not enough to make it feel crowded. It will be a great stop for our longer road trip through this part of Thailand.
I now know why they call it the rainy season. There had been the occasional storm that came through our neighborhood that would cool things off and water the trees, but it would only last a couple of hours at most, and we could go back to our lives afterwards. Ever since I have made it to the coast, the rain has come a little more consistently and has stuck around a little bit longer. One nice things about it is I am no longer complaining about the heat, but I am also stuck inside waiting for things to change so I can go back to enjoying life. I had spent too much of the last couple of months doing that, and I did not want to continue this routine into my vacation.
But that is essentially what life is about. We continue with our routine while sitting at the edge of what could happen, waiting for that moment when things calm down and we can grab a little something from our existence.It might be a world wide pandemic that causes us to hide in our houses, but if we are honest with ourselves, there are a lot of those storms that keep us in our homes. It might be that work has kept us too busy, or the maintenance of our possessions prevents us from venturing out into the world. Sometimes it is something so simple as being so accustomed to the little world that we have made for ourselves that we do not want to see what else there is out there for us. But eventually we tire of those things are have to go out for a change or scenery and create a new memory.
Luckily for us, the rain did stop in the afternoon, and we were able to get some pool time before joining our friends for dinner. Now Rayong is not known for its big restaurants and fancy beaches. In fact, it has been barely surviving as a resort town only booming when it gets the overflow from Koh Samet. Add on to the fact that the island has been closed since March and Covid has kept people in their homes, it has not been kind to the establishments out here. A walk down the beach will highlight the many resorts and restaurants that have gone under during the crisis and the rainy season is allowing the jungle to take back what originally was its possession.
There are a few places that were able to weather the storm. One of these was Ken’s. This open aired seaside bar is owned by no other than Ken. He is a friendly guy that hangs out by the shore and points out his establishment to people who happen to walk by. I know that this is a technique that is every large city in the world as restaurants try to compete with each other, but with Ken it feels natural and he makes you want to come back and enjoy a meal there.
And this is what we did. The food was good, but nothing to write home about. It was the atmosphere that kept us there and will have us coming back for more. Ken and his staff coming set up a couple of tables on the beach right next to the surf so we could let its gentle cadence entertain us during our meal. Because it was that sweet spot in between the closing of Thailand, and the opening of it back up to tourists, we were able to have the beach virtually to ourselves. It was the perfect way to enjoy an evening meal.
And it was right when we were packing up to go home for the evening that the rains started to return. It was only a drizzle until we found the shelter of our patio and that was when the rains really started to come down. We had found that perfect time to enjoy the moment, and took full advantage of it while we could.
We moved on from Pattaya to Rayong. It is the city just on the other side of Koh Samet and this is the eventual goal of our travels, but it is considered a national park and will not open until July 1st. We thought we would explore this town as we wait for the island to open up, and there are enough little resorts right on the beach that will allow for us to have some fun before we hop on a ferry and travel across the span of water that hinders our path.
We thought we would have a nice day hanging out on the beach, and relaxing by the pool after our two hour trip between the cities, but this is when the truth of the rainy season came and reared its ugly head. I have heard that a lot of these outdoor activities are hindered because of the rain, and I thought that meant that the rain would come for an hour, dump down on us, and then move away to allow the sun to come back. That is the way it has been for us so far as we have lived in Thailand, but the rain was a little different yesterday.
It blew in from the sea and dumped on us during our drive, making what is usually an hour and a half drive into an almost two and a half hour affair. The threatening clouds, and the rumble of thunder never really left us for the rest of the day either. It really prevented us from enjoying what the water had to offer, but we would not be ushered inside to hide from what could happen.
Instead we explored the beach by walking up and down it. Though we never got in the water, it was still a fun way to enjoy the afternoon. There was nobody on the beach, and it felt like it was made just for us. The absence of the sun made the stroll the perfect time to enjoy the sea breeze and cooler weather. We were also look into the various resorts along the beach to see if we made the right choice in ours and see if there were any other restaurants we might want to go to while we were in town.
There were the usual things you would expect to see on a beach, and I will write about them more this week as we explore them, but there were a couple of surprises as well. There was the field with cows in them that you can find all over Thailand. This is a pretty typical site. The fields are found in really random places as well. There is one of these fields off of Ramkhamheang, a busy road in Bangkok, that seems really out of place among the big named grocery stores and auto shops, but it is a leftover remain of a time that could soon be forgotten.
There are always these relics all over Thailand. Most of the time they are houses that have been abandoned and they are just waiting for somebody to come in and clear away the weeds and give it a fresh coat of paint. It is a different story when you see an abandoned boat high up the beach that is a long ways away from any place that has seen a drop of seawater. It makes you ponder the story of how it ended up in this place, and whether it is being used as a decoration for some resort, but then I did not see any building near it to indicate that this was the case.
It was a little disappointing to not enjoy all of the amenities that the resort had to offer because of the weather, but there was enough around to entertain us and it made even the simple thing like a walk along the beach a great experience. I just hope that the weather breaks a little so I can enjoy the other aspects of this city, or maybe it is for the best because it just waiting to break for when I make it over to the island.
There is a famous restaurant in Bangkok called Cabbages and Condoms. I have never been there but I have heard of it. It is a non-profit organization raising money for women’s health and hoping to increase the importance of this issue in southeast Asia. I have been told that the food is really good and it is worthy of the cause by going there. I was therefore surprised when the place I was staying at in Pattaya, the Birds and Bees, was associated with this organization and had another one of these restaurants in the establishment. I, of course, wanted to dine here, not only because the food was supposed to be good, but the money raised went to a good cause as well. There was the added bonus that I could continue my lazy start to this road trip by not having to leave the resort grounds by eating here.
The food is really good by the way. It boasts of a big menu with many items to choose from, most of which are Thai, but there are enough western selections there as well. I will admit that one of the meals I had here was a hamburger since it has been January since I have had one, but the other meals were from the Thai variety. And though I have had better Thai dishes, these were by far not bad at all and the presentation was always spectacular.
I enjoyed the pineapple fried rice for lunch and it came in a carved out pineapple husk. It is a common thing to see in Thailand, but it was the first time that I got to enjoy it this way, and I would say that it is the best way to eat pineapple fried rice. I also had the khao soi, another one of my favorite discoveries since I moved to Thailand. It was good and spicy and the curry boasted the peanut flavor that brings me back to it time and time again, but it still can’t beat the khao soi that is made in northern Thailand. I have no idea why the best khao soi comes from this region and the further south you get in Thailand the worse it gets, but that is the case for a lot of foods around the world. It was still a good representation of the dish, and I could not complain about the meals we had while dining there.
It did not come home that we were dining at a place called Cabbages and Condoms until we got the bill. It came with a little extra that I thought we strawberry mints, but true to the name of the restaurant, they weren’t mints. The fine people at this establishment always wish to leave you with a little extra for your evening to make sure it is a safe one, and it is a nice gesture.
It was then that I really started to recognize how much they played up to the theme of this restaurant. They had condoms under glass at the tables. They had a picture of the Mona Lisa holding a condom explaining that this was the reason for her smile. They had a condom tree. And my favorite, they had dummies with clothes made out of condoms. Finding this out at the end of the meal made the experience just that much better.
The bottom line is that Cabbages and Condoms is a great restaurant. They have good food in a friendly environment, and if you are at the one in Pattaya, you get to dine directly over the beach. The money they collect goes to a great cause especially in cities where the focus of women’s health really needs to happen such a Pattaya. So if you ever have a chance to enjoy a meal here, I highly recommend it because it will be an experience you will never forget.
Summer has always been a time to travel a little and see friends, family and a little bit more of the world. Things are a little different this summer. People are stuck in their part of the world and because of that, the world has once again grown. We are not able to be the same small world community that we used to be by hopping on a plane and traveling to the various points in the world. We are now forced to explore the little corners of the world in which we live. Luckily, I have found myself in Thailand. First off, I have not explored much of this country and I am excited to see what it has to offer. Secondly, they have done a pretty good job of getting the Corona Virus situation under control and things are starting to open up again. The bars are still closed and the national parks start opening on the first of July, but the rest of the country has returned to back to a semblance of normal. Yes, there are more people wearing masks than normal, but it is a country that is trying hard to keep things under control so they can be prepared during the height of their tourist season and not let the economy slip anymore than it needs to.
Considering it is summer and I have not traveled outside of Bangkok since the pandemic gridlocked the world, I thought this would be the perfect time to see more of this country I have found myself living in. There was only one thing that an American facing this situation can think of, road trip. There are many towns, islands and cities within driving range of the big city, and the roads are not hard to travel on as soon as you get out of the city center. Even though I do own a car, I thought it best to travel by hiring a driver this time out, and we made our way to the first city on our list, Pattaya.
This city is one of the bigger tourist destinations because it is close to Bangkok, boasts some nice beaches, and has different levels of experiences depending on what you are looking for. We went thinking this would be a great place to meet up with other people we are traveling with, and get in some beach living before we make it to our final destination on this trip, Koh Samet. It would have been the first place we went to, but this island is a national park, and we had to wait until the first of next month before we could enjoy this spot.
Despite this, we were able to find a nice resort on the quiet side of town, Birds and Bees. It is a great hotel with comfortable villas looking out over a small beach with a pool and great restaurant attached to it. Our plans have not been anything more than hanging out at the pool while we are here, and enjoying some good food before moving on to our next destination, but it is nice to get out of the city and travel again. It reminds me why we made the jump overseas in the first place, and even though the first day was a little overcast, I have been able to unwind a bit and enjoy this summer. It just shows me that travel has changed for now, and if we are going to participate in this rewarding activity we need to think about learning more about our local terrain instead of exploring the various parts of the world. I’m sure that no matter where you are, there are those little corners that you have always meant to explore. Now is the perfect time to take advantage of it.
She is smiling even though I made a mistake for lunch. There is an amazing bakery and sandwich shop in downtown Bangkok that is a little off the beaten path, but during the year I have lived here, it has become one of my favorite places to visit. It is called Holey Bakery and they make maybe the best Cubano sandwich. It is kind of a pain in the butt to get to from our house in Samakorn, so I really only eat here while I am staying downtown. One of the things that I really wanted to do on this trip was having lunch there, and even though it still took a fifteen minutes cab ride to get there, I still made the effort to go there. Sadly, when we got there, their dining room was closed and they were only serving take out food. Considering there are no real locations around it that I know of to picnic, we were left no option but to order the food and head back to the little apartment we are renting. So we grabbed another cab, and returned back to where we started from. It made the trip feel like it was all for nothing.
Don’t get me wrong. We still got sandwiches and had a great lunch, but it was not the same experience as dining at Holey Bakery. I guess I should have expected such things during this age of Covid, and I should not be disappointed when things do not go the way I hope for. It is just life right now and at least I am allowed to go out on these expeditions in the hope for a great sandwich.
And for every thing that does not go my way, there is another experience that goes better than I expected. We have been going out to eat almost every night since we have been on this little vacation, and it has been nice to enjoy a meal delivered to you again. Yes, the restaurants are quiet because of the social distancing and they are still not allowed to serve a drink while you dine, but it is still great to have that option.
Most of the food we have gone out to eat has been from various parts of the world, sushi, Mexican, and Italian, but considering we are in Bangkok, it seemed only appropriate to go to a Thai restaurant. I know that many people would consider that counterproductive considering Thailand is known for its street food, and anything I could find in a Thai restaurant could also be found from a vendor. There is some truth to that. Many small carts will serve pad thai, curries, and grilled chicken strips, but it will never compete with the food and service we were able to get at a restaurant. And we found a great one, Soul Food, just off of Sukhimvit on Thong Lor. It is a tiny place on the right side of the street, but once you find it, it is really worth the journey.
We enjoyed the tamarind ribs for an appetizer before diving deep into a pad thai platter, and some khao soi. The pad thai was better than anything that could be served at a street vendor. They wrapped the noodles and spices in an omelet that exploded with flavor with each bite.
But the real treat was the khao soi. This is a traditional northern dish which I am not aware if any place outside of Thailand actually prepares it. I was really excited to see it on the menu. Even better than that, my dish could easily compete with the recipes that they make in Chaing Mai. It was definitely the best version of this dish I have found in Bangkok, and should be one of the reason that people visiting Bangkok should hunt down this place.
It just proved that in this new time that the world is going through, we don’t always know what we are going to get when we leave the house. But we should not let that discourage us. It is just an adjustment that we will have to make. Sometimes we will be disappointed by what we find, and sometimes we will run into something that was unexpected. The point is to continue to live life and not let the small things drag us down. If everybody takes on this attitude as we wade back into the waters of society, it make it a happier place for everybody involved.
It is a simple fact that many of us around the world had to face over the last couple of months. There is a certain amount of loneliness to it even though you may have the company of certain individuals. It becomes hard to have new conversations when nothing happens and you can escape to your screens, but even then, that becomes a chore. The four walls start to close in around you, and you wonder if you will ever escape your home.
It is hard, but there is one thing to keep in mind, you are not alone in this situation. Everybody has been locked inside their homes for the last couple of months, and they are feeling the same things that you are. It is a wonderful feeling when things open up again, and you want to rush out and experience everything again. You vow to yourself that you will never take anything for granted again, but even when you make it out of your house, the things you have hoped to see have changed.
There is still a distance between people. Some of the services you had loved so much are still not available. Stores and restaurants are half filled, and are not open for the same amount of time as they were in the past. You might even struggle to find a day when the place you want to go is opened at all, and some of your favorite places have shut down altogether. But you can’t stay in your house anymore, and you must experience something in your life, so you probably did what I did. You put on your mask and head out to the only places that are starting up again, the malls.
I know a lot of people travel around the world to experience the various shopping places that can be found in the larger cities. It is one of the things that attracts them to travel in the first place. And there are some great experiences that can be had in markets, but the big malls are usually places I like to avoid. I do not believe that you can find the little things that are unique to each corner of the world, and it is just another location where the bigger corporations are able to push their wares. But in time of Covid, it is the only place that is open, and as I have already explained, I needed to get out and experience life a bit.
It ended up going to two of the larger malls in downtown Bangkok, Terminal 21 and Central World, and it might have been because it was a Wednesday, and there is still a lot of concern about gathering in places, both of them were relatively empty. It was still fun to walk around the places and watch what people were out and about on this cloudy day in Bangkok. It was also a great time to stretch my legs and see a couple of the corners of this city that I would probably never have gone to. I did get to experience some fun artwork and got a really good meal at Din Tai Fung out of it.
But most importantly, it gave me hope that there is more than four walls to my life. It is great to know that there is a world out there, and though people might be cautious about jumping into opening up with two feet, it is nice to know that things are safe enough to slowly bring us back to being the social beings that we know we are. As we move closer to a solution to this world-wide problem, I hope we can take those moments of sanity and venture out to enjoy the things that we all enjoy. I know that the parks, and pubs, and tourist attractions are scheduled to open again soon, but for now, I will take what is offered for me.
One of my favorite things about going back to Colorado over the summer is hitting my favorite Mexican restaurants and enjoying the food that is really hard to find anywhere else in the world. Yes, the world has come to embrace Mexican food, but they tend to put their own twist on it, and if I really want Mexican food, I have to find a place that has true inspiration from Mexico. It doesn’t get the Colorado twist on the food, in other words, I cannot find green chili, but I good Mexican restaurant beings me back to summertime in the United States. Last night, I discovered such a Mexican restaurant in Bangkok, The Missing Burro. It is a little off the beaten path and is situated in a backyard environment, but it was worth the search. The food has that traditional Mexican flavor and though restaurants still cannot serve drinks, and a margarita would have added so much to this experience, it was a great night out. We were the only people in the restaurant for the three servers who were working, and the food came out quick in this nice relaxing environment.
This dinner took me back to my server days and what I used to have to go through in order to make ends meet, and it made me think what people in the restaurant industry had to be going through right now as they tried to keep their businesses open and still make money for the people who work well below the minimum wage in the United States. It made me realize that people needed to rethink what they should do before they go out to eat right now.
First, they need to remember that these servers are trying to make ends meet, and it is your tip that is how they get paid. They are going to have less tables to serve right now because of social distancing, and because of that, they are going to become more reliant on your tip. Be generous with it. Twenty percent should be the minimum right now. You should consider it part of your bill because it is the only way these people are going to make a living.
Second, the way these people make money is by flipping a table. They should be giving you a relaxing and enjoyable experience, but do not expect to sit at the table all night long while sipping on a refill of water. If you wish to catch up with people you have not seen for awhile, sitting at a restaurant is not how you do it. When you are done, you need to free up the table so other people can come in and enjoy their meal.
Third, this is not a time to bring politics into the situation. Servers will be required to wear masks. They are handling food and they are also in contact with various strangers every night. They probably consider them just as uncomfortable as you do, and they want to keep their job, so they will deal with the situation and make the best out of it. You do not need to berate them or the restaurant for them doing this. That will just turn the evening in a miserable experience for them and for you and for the other guests, so why would you want to be that guy? Just let it go. Until there is a solution to the problem, you should feel happy that they are trying to make sure that they are giving you a safe and hygienic experience.
Lastly, go out to eat. It is a great opportunity to enjoy life again. Try a new restaurant, maybe not a big chain because it is the small guy that is hurting the most right now. And you will find that things will eventually return to the world that you knew before all of this began.