Sawasdee ka! I’ve organized plenty of trips for myself and my parents, but never actually constructed a real so-to-call “vacation”- which includes sun, a snug beach by the ocean, and some delicious exotic food. This year we opted for a change – and headed to Krabi.
For the cumulative cost of our trip we could’ve stayed at one hotel for two weeks, all organized for us by a tour company. They would’ve taken care of transportation and assigned us a guide that would’ve tried to sell us lousy overpriced tours and bring us to the airport four hours before departure. I thought a lot about it. In fact, I researched all possible travel destinations for November, everything that had a beach was closely examined. But narrowing it down was easy. 12-hour flight to Mexico plus two hours’ transfer? No thanks. No Caribbean for us this time. Red Sea, Egypt and all? Been there. Plus we are Europeans after all, and I very much prefer feeling comfortable in my shorts and flip-flops, and not like I’m violating religious laws of some country even if I’m in the most touristy area. I still remember being catcalled at in Egypt. I was twelve. We were in Hurghada where everyone wears mostly beach clothes. Yet still.
All the Seychelles-Maldives were unreasonably expensive. I mean, you’re stuck on an island and you have to pay tripled prices for your normal meals, plus for every getaway trip you decide to take. Some other time.
Sri Lanka was in the midst of its rainy season. Goa was perfect in terms of weather but couldn’t compete in quality-to-pice ratio. Besides, a few years back the water by the coast of Goa was tested by the scientists and proven to contain excessive amounts of bad stuff (mostly thanks to the careless sewage organization). And mom didn’t yearn for Goa. Not really.
That left us with Southeast Asia. I mean, it always ends with Southeast Asia, because it’s hard to compete with their sheer awesomeness.
Vietnam was checked off the list due to the rainy season – it didn’t really bother the south but mom wanted to go north. In the end, we decided upon the Krabi provence of Thailand. None of us have been there before, it was on the western side of the peninsula, well-shielded from the eastern monsoons that trouble Ko Samui and its neighbors. I knew it wouldn’t be sunny all the time, and to be honest, I liked the idea. I’m not a huge fan of exhausting humid heat. But I am one of humidity, after the draught of Moscow.
One of the reasons for staying clear of tour companies, along with finances and freedom of movement, was going to a place that lacked our precious countrymen. Your average Russian tourist is no better than an average American tourist. They can be loud, ignorant, impolite, and radiating negativity towards anything that’s not Russian. The only example of such species that we spotted on Railay today was a large family with kids and grandparents, and the grandma looked at the menu at a Thai restaurant and decided that she’d go back to the hotel and eat fried potatoes that she (!) brought along from Russia. The rest of the family ordered plain pasta. And only one brave person, the dad, actually got a Tom Yum. I mean, in such a family you gotta have balls to do this!
Our itinerary was planned this way. I thought about it and decided that it would be a shame to stay only at one place in Krabi, with so much beauty around. So I grabbed a pair of promotion tickets from Thai Airways (they gave us orchids at the end of the flight and provided a lactose-free meal for me – this is love at first sight!) for $500 roundtrip, and started digging.
In the end I settled upon two locations – Railay bay and Koh Lanta island. I first considered Koh Yao Yai island but it’s quite away from everything and there are very limited dining options, plus not the best beaches with capricious tides. Aonang got lost after I realized it was the most touristy area in Krabi, most likely filled with people who like to party. I personally like it a bit calmer. And that’s the right decision – I only got a glimpse of Aonang today but it looks pretty unattractive – the shabby buildings, cracked walkways, scraggy Thai dogs sneaking around. I figured it would be a good place to visit for some shopping or a fruit market, but I wouldn’t want to stay there. However, I’ll have a chance to judge – we’ll spend one night at Aonang, right before our flight to Bangkok, where we we also spend a day and a night before heading back to Moscow.
In total, our trip would take 15 days, and I’m really excited to see how all my plans work out. One thing is roaming through hotels at Tripadvisor and Booking and the other is actually getting there and being there. And I like the ride. So far, our journey today was flawless: the flight was surprisingly pleasant, the transfer in Bangkok swift, although a little confusing, the pickup service we ordered online was waiting for us at the terminal, the longtail boat that brought us to Railay filled up real quick so we didn’t have to wait, and our hotel was generally better than expected. And the mango smoothie. With Pad Thai. Yum.
So far, it’s an interesting experiment. And I’ve got a lot to say about the whole planning thing because it takes time and effort – to do the right research, read reviews, calculate the risks. It feels great to be independent from tour operators who tend to pack their clients into certain hotels and places. For instance, two years ago I went to Phuket with a friend – our first time in Thailand. We were on limited budget, so for us it was a killer deal – $2700, 14 days, 2 people, flights included. The hotel we picked was located on Naithonburi beach, which is kinda far from all the popular places like Patong and Karon. But in the end we got a few kilometers of singing white sand, gorgeous sea and complete peace. The hotel itself, Naithonburi Beach Resort, was very nice and deserved its great reviews. Except for one thing: it was packed with Russians, and just the kind I described above. I mean, I’m talking about people who come to the beach at midnight to put their towel on the lounge so that the next day no one would take it. They would also run you over on their way to grab a just-vacated lounge. Or bring some kind of a music player and get the horrible Russian chanson blasting (what we call “chanson” in Russia is, in fact, that genre that sings about prison life and philosophical insights tete-a-tete with a glass of vodka). Well, you got the idea. Russians also love arguing and yelling at each other. And in general, being angry once in a while. Yikes.
But the problem was solved easily: I hate plain sunbathing, my friend doesn’t really favor it either, so we never had any need of the lounges. We would swim far into the sea where not a single tourist usually went, and we floated on our backs and stomachs, swam and exercised and, I dare boast, on the last day of our stay swam all the way along our beach, which took us around two hours. Sports for the win!
So, when reading the hotel reviews, you need to sharpen an eye for details that might concern you, and the ones you know you could live with. A hotel full of averagely-educated countrymen? No big deal when the beach is huge and awesome and there are literally no bars and parties in the area to get drunk (so no drunken love songs by your window at two am). Google Maps help a lot. The best thing ever is to drop by the hotel you’re considering via Google street view. It’s not available everywhere, but I knew I found a perfect beach when I saw it. Booking.com does nice area maps as well, so if you’re plotting and independent trip you can see where’s what. I kinda depend on that for our Koh Lanta part as our bungalow complex is supposed to be right next to one of the island’s best hotels, and these guys usually pick the spot carefully.
We’ll see how it all turns out. As for now, swimtime.