Final paint - she really glows! - Pro Yachting lived up to its name, and sprayed the final coat of white paint on the coachroof and cockpit and LP looks like new! She has never looked so good during our ownership of her, what with new paint, new toerail and rubrail, and shiny stainless throughout. We hope we don't mess her up too much on our planned transit of the Red Sea next year.
Sharon and Stephanie arrive - On Wednesday afternoon we were on hand at Phuket airport to welcome them, complete with an official sign announcing: "Long Passages Deluxe Holidays - Welcome Sharon and Stephanie" . First stop after returning to the marina was a quick look around, and then to meet some friends at the weekly yachtie's Bar-B-Q at Scampi.
Phuket highlights to date - By week's end the visitors had been treated to a $0.50 lunch at 'Green Chairs', watched elephants and acrobats perform on-stage at FantaSea, and lounged at Patong Beach, one of the 'world's best 10 beaches' according to one survey. We drove around the island, ducking rain squalls as we went, visiting lighthouses, shopping malls, Buddhist temples, and beaches along the way.
Next week: Phi Phi Island and on to Bangkok and Chiang Mai
Sightseeing with S&S - This week began the serious sightseeing and travel for Sharon and Stephanie as they got their first glimpses of Thailand:
Ko Phi Phi Don - Known as 'Pee Pee', this is a resort island about 25 miles, or 2 hours from Phuket by fast ferry. The ride over was rough and a few passengers fed the fish or dug out the barf bags, but despite the 20-25 knot winds and 8' seas our guests breezed through with flying colours. For the next 36 hours they:
Simon Cabaret - Thailand has a very permissive culture, and transvestite shows are one of their features as the 'lady boys' strut their stuff. The premiere show in Phuket is at the Simon Cabaret, and we had front row seats as drop-dead gorgeous dancers and a Tina Turner look-alike vied with more masculine guys for our attention. Sharon and Stephanie capped off the evening by having their picture taken with one of the more fetching 'ladies'.
Sea Canoeing - After so much 'culture' it was time for a little outdoors activity again, so Sharon and Stephanie scheduled a sea canoe trip to Phang Na bay. 'Traveler's tummy' delayed Sharon's first outing so on successive days Judi went with Stephanie and then Sharon on 'John Grey's Sea Canoes' trip. This day-long trip started with a ride to the 'hongs' (small islands with a lagoon in the center) and canoe rides through the lagoons and caves of the hongs. They were magic trips and made us look forward to visiting the bay on Long Passages when she is back in shape.
Travel to Chiang Mai via Bangkok - With memories of Phuket still fresh in our mind, it was time to move North to see some of rural Thailand. We took a quick flight to Bangkok and shopped and walked for 24 hours with a break for the obligatory Mai Tai at the famous Oriental Hotel. Late on 13 July we climbed aboard a clean train for our over-night trip to Chiang Mai, and next week's adventures.
Chiang Mai - This moderate-sized city in the north of Thailand has lots of things to do, and so has developed into a fun tourist destination. The Night Bazaar sells beautiful wood carvings, stunning silk scarves and clothes, furniture of all varieties, 'antiques', fake Rolex watches, and lots of jewelry and knick-knacks. Our hotel (the Royal Lanna) was a short walk to the market, and a longish walk to the city center. Chiang Mai was the capital of the northern (Lan Na) kingdom of Thailand but crumbling city walls and moat are all that remain to remind us of a glorious past.
Elephant Camp - and more - On our first full day we did the tourist thing and went to an elephant training camp. The mahouts put a dozen elephants thru their paces showing how they could play drums, kick soccer balls, dance, and balance on 2 legs on a narrow log, and other antics - very impressive. More useful skills included dragging and stacking logs, one of the real uses in rural Thailand. Then it was our turn as we piled aboard a rustic seat and were carried into river and through the forest. It was a thrilling ride, at one point our mahout had to negotiate the right of way with a few drifting rafts, and hawkers had set up banana selling stations along the path so that we could reward our elephant. Although the pachyderm did not have any shocker absorbers, one hour did not seem long enough! After the ride, we were deposited on the river bank, and boarded a pair of bamboo rafts to drift back down the river. It was a very peaceful way to travel, interrupted only once by wading ladies selling handicrafts to the drifting tourists. This was then followed by a slow ox-cart ride to lunch and a stop at an Orchid and Butterfly Farm on the way back to our hotel. The elephant ride was definitely the highlight of the day.
Mae Hong Son - Judi organized a 2-day customized tour to Mae Hong Son, a mountain town a short distance from Myanmar (aka Burma). Our guide was a young Thai lady, Yu Pin, who helped make our trip a delight. There had been some recent mortar exchanges across the Thai-Burma border, but we were assured that Mae Hong Son was safe, so off we went:
Wats, Wats, and more Wats - Walking around Chiang Mai reminded us we were in a Buddhist country, with wats (Buddhist temples) scattered around the city. We visited several, taking pictures and enjoying the beautiful art-work and solitude inside each of them. We found woodcarvings and leather carvings that were better than in most of the shops or markets, and better prices, so we loaded up (and recruited Sharon to carry them back to the US).
Thai Cooking - On our last day all except Bob chose one of the hallmark attractions of Chiang Mai, a Thai Cooking Class. The school was The Master Thai Cookery Course and it was a fascinating experience. It started with a visit to the market to select ingredients for the day, and educate the 20+ westerners on the fine points of Thai produce. For three hours Judi, Sharon, and Stephanie listened, chopped, stirred, and tossed ingredients into the red-hot woks - sampling as they went. By the end of the lesson they retired, satisfied with their new culinary skills and their lunch. A great experience with wonderful instructors.
Back to Bangkok - We took the night train and by 0900 rolled into Bangkok's central station, 2 hours late and slightly bleary eyed. The trains are much cleaner than in China, and one can get a regular meal if desired. We found the bottom bunks to be much better than the uppers - wider plus a you can see out the window, unfortunately all were booked so we had to make due with uppers on this trip.
Weekend market at Chatuchak - Back in Bangkok on a Saturday, we had to visit the famed Chatuchak Weekend Market. This is a 40-acre plot with hundreds of stalls selling clothing, food, souvenirs, antiques, handicrafts, and miscellaneous other stuff. Thousands of Bangkok residents and tourists push by each other in search of the elusive ... whatever! After a couple of hours we faded, and returned to our hotel, with nothing but memories to show for a couple of hours at the market.
Next week: More of Bangkok
The Royal Palace - Our visit to this beautiful site was a reminder that Thailand is still a kingdom, and they really venerate their royalty here. Gold adorns many of the buildings, and we had to remove our shoes to enter many of the buildings. Although the current king (Rama IX) does not live here at the moment, it is certainly fit for a king! It has numerous temples, throne room, weapons museum and an interesting collection of clothing, uniforms, and jewelry.
Thai dancing show - Judi had tried to locate someplace with traditional Thai dancing, but the Tourist Authority of Thailand (TAT) had been completely useless. Finally she found a show at the near-by Sheraton, so we had an evening with a great buffet and lots of dancing. The performance included segments from the Indian epic Ramayana, similar to that seen in Bali. The dancers were so graceful and the musicians playing drums and gamels (similar to xylophones) were very accomplished - all of us enjoyed the evening very much.
Hard Rock Café - Souvenirs for those left back in the US are a serious obligation, so we had to visit the Hard Rock Café Bangkok for a juicy steak and T-shirts! The steaks and ribs were great and shirts were bought, although cheaper knock-offs are available on the streets for 75% off.
Meeting Stephanie's friend - Stephanie had met a lady on a flight from LA to Portland several months ago, and she said "call me if you come to Bangkok", so we did! We agreed to meet Tansee at Siam Center in the middle of Bangkok, later to find out she had to travel 1 1/2 hours to meet us since she lives on the outskirts of the city. She teaches Thai dancing and runs a Montessori school keeping very active for someone who, at 71, considered herself 'retired'. After lunch at a jam-packed Thai noodle restaurant, we had a delightful time chatting with her.
Ayutthaya (and more Wats) - From the 14th to the 18th century, Ayutthaya had been the capital of what is now Thailand. It was a beautiful city, surrounded by rivers with many palaces and temples. For 400 years the kings of Thailand reigned from here, fighting off attacks from Burma. Western explorers wrote about it in glowing terms, however in 1767 the Burmese attacked again, this time capturing and sacking the city. They beheaded most statues of Buddha, to demonstrate their power, and melted the gold from all of them. A bus took us the 50 miles from Bangkok and found all buildings in ruins, just like they were left in the 18th century, and this gave us a sneak preview of what Ankor Wat may be like. After walking through the ruins (with a side diversion where Sharon rode a scooter to one of the wats to try to locate a lost camera) we boarded a boat for a leisurely lunch as we returned to the big city.
Farewell and back to Phuket - The final days of Sharon and Stephanie's visit went by quickly as we visited the wat of the reclining Buddha in Bangkok, toured the canals of Thornburi (a section of Bangkok) and bought final souvenirs. After a suicidal cab ride to the airport area, we settled into the Comfort Inn Suites (dingy, but close to the airport) and set alarms for 0400 for an early flight back to the US for the girls, and a later flight to Phuket for us.
Highlights: Great trip, we saw and experienced so many things it is hard to pick the best, but we would have to include: