paulathai

adventures in Thailand


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LOW-COST TRAVEL

Some of you might wonder how I manage to travel so extensively on my limited income. Well, a confession—for my big trips my airfare or in the case of my current trip, my week-long package tour which included airfare, money comes from my small investment “emergency nest egg.” OK, I know travel isn’t an emergency but it is a major priority in my life.

I seek low-cost travel deals. Travelzoo.com and Gate1 Travel offer fantastic discounts. For example, the base price of my package from Gate1 cost about $100 more than the RT airfare alone from NYC to Thailand. Not bad for 6 nights in luxury hotels, airfare, all breakfasts, about 5 other meals, admission to many venues and a terrific tour guide. The flight, however, was from Los Angeles but I used airline points for my flights to/from the West Coast.

On the road in SE Asia my expenses work out to about $35 a day. For example, I was paying $13 a night to share a double with Paula #1 and now my beach bungalow costs only $10 a night. At New Bungalows and other restaurants on the beach food averages $2-3 for breakfast and $3-4 for lunch or dinner. While on Koh Jum I splurged twice and spent about $10 for dinner.

In Pai I averaged $21 a night at Bueng Pai Farm (the owner gave me an unexpected 30% discount) and my in-town bungalow cost $13 a night. Meals were less expensive than on this tropical island. However, if I walk into Koh Jum town about 15 minutes away, I can find meals priced about a dollar less than on the beach. Food costs are further reduced by drinking my own coffee on some mornings (free in Pai and Chiang Mai guesthouses) and having yogurt and fruit for breakfast or lunch a couple of times a week.

Transportation remains low in this part of the world. In Pai a motorbike taxi cost $2 and here it’s about $1.70 though for a shorter distance. My shuttle bus from the Krabi airport to the ferry and then boat ride to Koh Jum cost $18 whereas an overnight train ride from Ayutthaya to Chiang Mai (12 hours with my own sleeping birth) was a bargain at only $28. My Thai flights came in at $68 on AirAsia thanks to booking them last summer. Incredible price for a two-hour flight south (about 800 miles) and then north to BKK (an hour for about 300 miles). For the ferry back to Krabi Airport, a friend recommended traveling as the locals do–on a long-boat and then song tao (shared taxi with two facing seats in the back of an enclosed converted pick-up truck). That cost $10 total for a taxi ride to the dock, boat ride and song tao. In Bangkok I took a taxi from the local to international airport, about 50 minutes, and it cost only $14 with tolls and tip.

Tomorrow I’m saving money further in a method the same friend recommended. A method that most people reading this would not employ. When she heard I’d check into a BKK guesthouse about 7 or 8 pm and then have to leave there at 4:30 a.m. she asked, “Why bother with a guesthouse?” She and her husband, who spend 4 months here every winter, just “sleep” at the airport if they have an early morning flight. She said there are plenty of people doing it and that there are comfortable padded benches where many tourists catch a few winks. I did that twice during my three-month trip two years ago. Not by choice though–early morning flights in New Delhi and Tel Aviv necessitated it. Bangkok’s international airport is much, much nicer than either of those so, hopefully, it won’t be too uncomfortable.

3 DAYS LATER
Well, I won’t be saving money again by intentionally staying at the airport. Unlike my friends who recommended doing it, I was unable to sleep on the adjacent padded seats.I did manage to sleep for 90 minutes in a lounge where I paid about $18 for two hours which included a sandwich, small cake and beverage. Luckily I slept 3.5 hours on the plane from Tokyo to USA. My first night in the USA I slept from about midnight to noon the next day. Needed it after a 42 hour trip, door to door.

Gifts are very reasonable in most parts of the world, especially SE Asia.
Handmade purses made by Lisu women run $1 – $5, most scarves are $2 – $4, sarongs $2-$4, magnets a dollar or two, silver jewelry costs little compared to the USA, beautiful handmade jackets are $15-$40, etc.

As for the downsides of low-cost travel…often there’s no AC or heat which isn’t a problem this time of year…..sometimes a bungalow has a Thai (squat) toilet)….spending money on beer or drinks can increase daily expenses significantly.

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#2–sorry for repeat. PROS and CONS OF INTERNATIONAL KOH JUM

THIS DIDN’T POST TO FB THE FIRST TIME SO AM TRYING AGAIN.

The title of this blog describes a pro and a con since it includes the word international. PRO–the island and especially New Bungalow have an international clientele. One hears German, Greek, French, Dutch, Russian, Swedish, Hebrew, Finnish, British and Canadian English. Did you notice American English is missing? Haven’t met an American (other than my friend Paula #1) since Chiang Mai, a characteristic that pleases me.
The CON aspect of New Bungalow is a preponderance of German speakers–my least favorite language to hear–followed by the second most unpleasant to my ear, Russian. Two young Russian women occupy the bungalow across from me now that Paula has left and I’ve moved further back from the beach. The resort didn’t have an available “deluxe” bungalow ($20 for a single) so they put me in a standard one ($10). At least it has its own bathroom though the toilet is Thai (squat) not Western (sitting). Not my favorite thing but manageable for one night. Hopefully tomorrow there’ll be a more upscale place available.
A FEW MORE PROS:
1) The fabulous 3-mile beach with its golden sand, crystal clear water and pale green calm sea.
2) The lack of high-rises and big resorts.
3) The emptiness of its beach–considered crowded when more than two people are in the water and closer than a hundred yards.
4) Its great shells. Did I mention that Paula #1 decided to bring back a shell for each of the 175 students where she teaches? She thought the students would appreciate them a lot since Laos is land-locked. We had great fun collecting shells for three days. When she sorted out the 175 best ones a couple hundred remained. This morning I gave a baggie full of the leftovers to a four-year old Swiss-Greek

Sunrise on Koh Jum

Sunrise on Koh Jum

Setting full moon on Koh Jum--taken at same time as sunrise photo.

Paula #1 on our porch sorting the shells for her students.

Paula #1 on our porch sorting the shells for her students.

girl. If this blog will accept photos, you’ll see a picture of the shells on our porch table prior to sorting.
5) Great seafood. At our Weds. night dinner in town when the Mongolian singer performed, we had freshly-caught barracuda. We know it came from the sea that morning because as Paula and I walked through town around 10 a.m., the restaurant owner came out proudly holding the yard-long fish.

Sunset as seen from the open air dining room on Friday night.

Sunset as seen from the open air dining room on Friday night.

6) The variety of restaurants available–three within a 10 minute walk of New Bungalow plus several in town, about 20 minutes away by foot.
7) Monkeys! This morning as I walked back from an adventure (visiting the Muslim village about 4 miles from here), about a dozen monkeys greeted me. First time I’ve seen them on the island.

8) Incredible sunsets every night.

SOME MORE CONS:
1) Electricity available only from 6 – 10:30 p.m. in many resorts, including mine. That’s when the owners run the generator. It’s not as inconvenient as you might think. The bright sun provides plenty of light, there’s a breeze most of the time, and if I want to read late at night, my “miner’s headlamp” comes out to illuminate the pages.
2) Limited wifi due to the above. However, there’s a resort at the end of the beach, about a leisurely 10 minute walk away, that has continue electricity and wifi. One can buy a cup of coffee or beverage and spend hours overlooking the beach while on-line.
3) Tepid to slightly cool showers at New Bungalow and other low-cost resorts. Sometimes warm water comes out for the first five minutes thanks to the afternoon sun’s power.
4) Getting here requires a flight or overnight bus from Bangkok to Krabi in the south and then a 90-minute, crowded ferry boat ride followed by a brief long boat ride to shore.
5) The worst con—tiny jellyfish that sting, something that didn’t happen two years ago except when snorkeling at a nearby island. Someone told me that the mature, large jellyfish spawn in the shallow water and then return to the deep sea where local fisherman collect them for export to China. The discomfort lasts less than five minutes and rates about 2 or 3 on a scale of 1 to 10. Usually I get two or three stings during a dip. Today I tucked the skirt of my bathing suit into its bottom and after that no more stings happened. Hope this method works in the future.
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GOODBYE PAI

GOODBYE PAI
The mini-van is pulling out of the lot in Pai as I begin this blog. Goodbye Pai. We’re winding our way slowly down the main street, one of four commercial streets in this town of 5,000 residents. Let’s see if the typing can continue as we navigate the road to Chiang Mai with its 762 curves.

Prior to arrival here, I wondered how I’d fill five days in Pai. The instant I landed, it became apparent that five days would not suffice. Therefore, I changed my dental appointment in Chiang Mai from last Thursday to today, Monday, and extended my stay. During my ten days here I met at least six other travelers who chose not to leave on their original departure date. That’s what Pai does to visitors.

I’d forgotten the enchanting beauty of this green valley completely encircled by mountains. Everyday bright sun and cloudless blue skies greeted visitors. The town bustled with activity at night as the two main streets became pedestrian malls with hundreds of vendors selling their wares. During the day, I frequented my favorite restaurants, enjoyed massages and while at Bueng Pai Farm simply hung out in the many hammocks and lounge areas overlooking its stocked fishing ponds. At BPF I also braved the cool waters of its natural swimming pool which got chilly overnight when the temperatures plummeted to the low 50s.

We’ve just past the Memorial Bridge built by conscripted Thais during World War II to aid the Japanese. So now the curves begin and this blog will have to end for now. MORE LATER. [Addendum: No one got sick during the mini-van trip to Pai—hurrah!]
…..
ON THE WAY TO THE BEACH
It’s the next morning, Tuesday, and I’m halfway through the two-hour flight from Chiang Mai to Krabi. Air Asia is surprisingly comfortable, especially for a low-cost airline. By booking the flight way

Leaving BPF  with me and my luggage in the sidecar. Note Pai's mountains in the distance.

Leaving BPF with me and my luggage in the sidecar. Note Pai’s mountains in the distance.

back in August, I’m flying from CM to Krabi and then Krabi to Bangkok for under $70, including charges for a 20 kilo suitcase. Dirt cheap! My guess is that the first flight is about 800 miles and the second more than 300 miles. It’s definitely better than Ryan Air which I flew once from Athens to Bologna.

In order to qualify for the pre-paid 20 kilo checked bag, I had to remove 3 kilos (over 6 pounds) at the airport. Why? It’s not due to too much shopping for gifts (though there was some of that). I visited the used book store in Pai and got a handful of English books and graphic novels for my friend who teaches English in northern Laos. She’s

first of 3 incredible meals at Om Garden Cafe. Pumpkin & Spinach Curry with coconut on brown rice. Probably the best meal I had in Pai.

first of 3 incredible meals at Om Garden Cafe. Pumpkin & Spinach Curry with coconut on brown rice. Probably the best meal I had in Pai.

meeting me at the beach. Plus my friend Caro, who was storing some of my possessions, gave back a big empty suitcase. So I put my smaller suitcase inside the larger one, adding weight. After removing 3 kilos of books and a beach towel of mine that Caro had kept, I returned to the check-in counter. I told the Air Asia representative that the books were for English students in Laos and she allowed me to put a few back in, despite my bag weighing about 22 kilos in the end. Very nice of her….and I managed to squeeze the beach towel back in.

Since I’m talking about the flight, here’s a small world item. I know two people on board much to my surprise and delight. If you followed my blog when I lived in Thailand, you might recall an entry about an amazing Thai wedding I attended in Chiang Mai a bit over two years ago. Well, the groom and his business partner are on board. They’re filmmakers, one Italian (the one I know) and one American, probably on their way to Krabi to film in the jungle where they make many movies. The Italian’s twin daughters (age 5 now) go to the Montessori school in Chiang Mai which is where I met their mother. I expected to bump into acquaintances in Pai but not on Air Asia.

Yesterday in CM I had my second dental appointment–teeth cleaned and the permanent crown put in. Cost $600 for both as opposed to $1400 for the crown and $200 for a deep cleaning at home. The thousand dollars I saved nearly covered the cost of my week-long package tour with airfare from L.A.

After dropping off my bags at the dentist’s office I searched the area for a reasonably priced guest house. Looked at three sub-standard (by my standards, anyway) ranging from $15 to $22 and returned to a more expensive one ($37) for the night. That’s the most I’ve ever paid directly for accommodations in SE Asia although the places I stayed during the package tour cost much more, no doubt. It was a lovely room with TV with BBC, AC, enclosed shower, fridge, big fluffy towels and helpful staff. The front desk ordered a taxi to pick me up at 5:10 a.m. for my 6:30 flight.

Just one more thing about Chiang Mai, then I’ll end this blog since some friends have indicated they’d prefer two shorter blogs than one long one. Last night my dear friend Tiew, who owns RELAX Massage in Pai, met me for dinner. She had been in her hometown helping take care of her sick father and was away from Pai during my stay. Luckily, she was spending the night in CM on her way back to Pai. It was great seeing her. I would have been very disappointed if our paths hadn’t crossed during my visit.
[For those of you who followed my blog from the beginning, you

my favorite lounge area at BPF where I relaxed in the hammock while reading.

my favorite lounge area at BPF where I relaxed in the hammock while reading.

might recall in Nov. 2011 an entry about my wonderful visit to Tiew’s humble home in Fang. Her mother thought it was the first time a farang (foreigner) had ever visited her village. If interested, you can go to wordpress.com to read my earlier blogs about the traditional Thai wedding of two Italians and my time in Tiew’s hometown.]

Stay tuned for the next entry with more details about my stay in Pai and my upcoming adventure on Koh Jum.

LATER: Tried posting this on Tuesday night but it wouldn’t transmit. So now it’s Thurs. a.m., Weds. p.m. on East Coast and will try again.
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