I never thought that I’d be going to Thailand twice in the space of one month, but that’s exactly what happened as Chinese New Year gave us the opportunity of five days off, and our friend Dan was turning 30. Since you only turn 30 once, we all felt that it was an occasion that needed about a week of celebrations. It was high time we did some partying…
Flights were insane — the lunar new year is when Chinese people traditionally travel home to see their families and damn near everything was booked. But we managed to snag a flight to Bangkok on Air Asia (the most ghetto airline, ever), and decided to head south along the coast by car to Hua Hin, where the King has his summer palace.
As we arrived in Bangkok, met our private car, and cracked open some Singhas, I realised how even though I bitch and moan about my job, living in Hong Kong truly does allow you to live like a rock star. Travel all the time, stay in nice hotels that in the ‘developed’ world would cost an arm and a leg, feast like a king. And all at incredibly low prices. Maybe I shouldn’t bad-mouth the Big Blue Machine so much after all….
The ride to Hua Hin takes about two hours and a bit, and by the time we got to the Springfield Beach Resort it was almost 3 am. The hotel was quiet — nobody at the front desk either. We knocked on the office door and roused a young Thai guy who was clearly sleeping. The problem was he had no recollection of having received our online booking. It took a few calls to the manager for the guy to figure out what to do, and finally they put us in their most deluxe suites which were as big as my apartment in Hong Kong. Sweet. Like I said, it ain’t easy being a rock star.
Technically, we stayed in Cha-am which is the town in the bay right before Hua Hin. Quite a quiet area but a lovely long beach with a lolling coastline. After breakfast we decided to head into Hua Hin and check out the town and the beach.
I saw what my dad meant when he said that Hua Hin was a ‘different kind of place’ — it is very local, there are not so many foreign tourists as in the islands like Phuket or Koh Samui. In fact based on the amount of BMWs that we saw, it seems like Hua Hin is primarily a weekend playground for the wealthy of Bangkok. In addition the town is quite small and a bit old fashioned. We didn’t even see any girly bars with half-naked Thai women prancing around! Yup, definitely different.
The Hua Hin beach which was literally covered from head to toe in umbrellas and lawn chairs. Forget about getting a tan — on the beach everyone was lounging in the cool of the shade, drinking Singhas and eating delicious seafood. But hey, when in Thailand, do as the Thais. We settled down at a table, decided it must be happy hour somewhere in the world, and we should probably get started.
Hua Hin is also quite famous for its night market, and it did not disappoint. Lots of shops and stalls were selling touristy souveniers and art, and vendors, restaurants and pubs dotted the strip. I love street markets, just wandering down the road, checking out what people are cooking, watching the locals and the tourists, taking in the sights and the smells. That night the four of us ordered ten different dishes from one of the restaurants and drank six very large beers. Know how much it cost? A whopping 750 baht — roughly US $20. Unbelievable!
Even though I had to admit I was feeling pretty tired and felt like I needed about 12 hours of sleep, the next morning we were up at the crack of dawn in our polo shirts and running shoes, ready to head to the Pine Hills golf club for a morning round (just 9 holes). An interesting thing about golf in Thailand is that all of the caddies are female and are pretty much mandatory. So with four lovely ladies in blue, we teed off on the first hole and got the game going.
It was hot like hell, and there were lots of groups behind us, so we had to play fast, but it was a great time. I certainly can’t say that we played our best but we had a blast and kept our caddies in a constant fit of giggles, especially Seiji who was playing his very first round of golf ever and used every curse word in the book. He finally realised that contrary to popular belief, golf is not a lazy man’s game at all. Nor is it easy. I think however he will stick to fishing in the future.
After lunch at the golf club, we barely had time to drink three pitchers of beer and eat lunch before taking a shower and jumping in a car to Bangkok. We had decided that after so many days of lounging by the pool, sipping mimosas and getting Thai massages we were getting soft, so Dan suggested heading to the city for one night in Bangkok.
We stayed in one of the most notorious areas — the famed Khao San Road. After the peace and quiet of Hua Hin and Cha-am, Khao San was like a short of heroin in the jugular.
Known as the ‘backpacker’s ghetto’, its a long road of hostels and guest houses, overrun with long haired dreadlocked tie-dye wearing hippies, mostly from Europe. It is almost like a bad cliche, but fun to see nonetheless, at least for one day. The bars spill over into the street and the music is pumping, tourists are drinking beer at 9 am and seem very content, street vendors cook up a never ending pot of pad thai for the drunk and hungry, and stalls everywhere are hawking T-shirts, funky pants and musical instruments. What a fantastic place for people watching — it was like visual overstimulation.
But poor Colleen seemed to have come down with a bout of food poisoning, we think from the caesar salad she had at the golf club, and almost ralphed in the elevator when we arrived at our hotel. She spent the whole day and night in bed with Dan keeping vigil, like the good boyfriend that he is. That left Seiji and I to wander the streets by ourselves, eating, drinking and taking pictures.
Although Khao San was fun, by 10 pm the place was twice as crowded and three times as noisy, and since I can only take large crowds in small doses, we snuck a bottle of whiskey up onto our rooftop patio of the hotel, and Dan joined us for some drinks. From the rooftop we watched the crowds below, and had a very entertaining time spying on a couple sitting on the balcony across the road who were having some kind of an argument. It seemed apparent that she wanted to have sex but he clearly did not. My theory was that he was an exchange student at Bangkok University, and had fallen in love with a local katoi (that’s ladyboy in Thai) and now had to break up with her during her visit. Rough!
This trip to Thailand was definitely something different, and so full of contrasts. One night we were drinking in a tiny roadside bar on a dark deserted beach run by a chef from Vancouver who was squatting on the land, and the next night we were in the heart of Khao San Road, one of the busiest spots in all of Thailand, surrounded by hordes of tourists speaking a hundred different languages with piercings in every orifice. We saw a true Thai town, and a true tourist trap. It is great to know that even after travelling to Thailand three times, I still haven’t seen it all.