thailand yin & yang
There is nothing easy about it, the approval process is a week of solid homework, the flight is a grueling 22hrs, and upon landing there's still some Covid-hurdle-hopping left to do. It's rough...and it's precisely why I knew I couldn't miss the opportunity. Even before Covid, tourist restrictions and bans had begun to provide a much-needed break for infrastructure and popular locations throughout the country. To visit a bucket-lister is a beyond grateful experience. To visit one of the most trafficked bucket-listers in the world, after a 3-year calm, is something you just don't miss. Especially, in my case, when it's the destination that long ago placed the travel bug deep in the soul. I was headed to the yin and yang that is Thailand.
Upon arrival, and make it a night arrival, I was laser-focused on getting to the nearest certified airport hotel, taking my covid test, and getting to bed. The next morning some coffee and my intended negative test result to my email to go alongside my light breakfast. And I was off without a minute wasted. I used the Grab app for my ride and I was off-headed into town. With only one day in Bangkok, before heading south, I had to narrow down how I wanted to spend it. But the first step was to drop my bag at the hotel and I'll get to that gem in a bit. After dropping my bag I jumped back into my Grab ride and headed around 2miles south to the riverfront area of Bang Rak. From here I'd be on foot back towards the hotel. So why you might ask would I choose to start my only day in Bangkok here? And the answer is a simple one: Jok Prince.
Now, the way I saw it I only had 24hrs in Bangkok and it not was going to be spent hitting every tourist attraction. I wanted to walk the streets and find its life, eat with the locals and end the day in a great area for dinner and drinks. And that's precisely what I gratefully found on this route. Starting with a breakfast porridge at Jok Prince. Nothing fancy. Just a simple place, amongst simple people and a bowl of Michelin, starred porridge. It's fantastic, where else on earth would you find such a thing. Then it was time to hit the pavement north, or kinda-of-a zig-zag north through an endless display of the rustic
beauty of Bangkok. From Bang Rak, up to Chinatown, it's one of the most memorable art walks you'll ever stroll. The minute you head north from Jok Prince your creative eye will swivel at every angle. If it's not a cool rustic cafe, bar, or restaurant it's street art or a collection of creative shops like at Wharehouse 30.
But it's the old and gritty Thai structures remaining that house and surround all this coolness that is the real pleasure of this walk. Like my favorite mazed section right on the river at Baan Rim Nam with the old heritage structure next door. Within this very cool and rustic Thai urban jungle, you can seek peaceful refuge at the water's edge with a tasty fresh fruit drink. A great spot to enjoy before moving on. And just a short walk away you arrive at the gates of Chinatown. But before that, it was another special stop to sit and eat amongst the locals at Khao Moo Daeng Si Morakot. A long-standing original and the home to the legendary crispy pork meal--must. At this point the great move, and I'm still kicking myself for not, would be to grab a Tuk-Tuk and cruise through Chinatown and on to view a temple or two. I didn't think of it at the time.
Instead, I was back on foot, which is equally rewarding, and just taking in all that is Chinatown. And it is very much like how you feel it in a movie. Sounds and smells of all kinds, traffic, food stands, street sales, etc.. just all happening in the rush of the moment in every step. It's a sight to see, hear and feel. One I'll remember forever, the entire day for that matter. It was later in the day at this point so I headed a short distance back to my final resting area. At the edge of Chinatown and the perfectly-imperfect ender to the day. This little gem of an area, if you will, is the cherry on top of the day's unforgettable rustic exploration. And overlooking it all, home for the evening at The Mustang Blu. Once a "choose your own adventure" bathhouse, now equal parts a hotel, museum, and restaurant. The type of place I look for in every location, not just a hotel, but an intended, designed, and curated experience. A refurbished mood that's lightly dark and rustic yet elegantly playful. A complete supporting accent to an evening in the area.
After settling into my unforgettable curated room, and I mean that as in my top 3, I grabbed some much-needed r&r. Shortly I was up in eager anticipation for sundown and dinner across the street at Tep Bar. A dim-lit side-street nook, as they all are around here and picturesquely so. A very cool spot with solid cocktails, Thai tapas, and the ambiance you'd hope for on a night in Bangkok. After thoroughly enjoying my time I was once again in eager anticipation for my final stop for the day. Just down a darkly lit ally, I arrived at the doorstep of Teens of Thailand. I can't express enough how cool the scene in this area is and then to arrive at this epic cocktail bar. The style, the mood, and most of all the cocktail--A+. Call it what you will: hipster, up-and-coming, the new Bangkok, etc... you will love every minute of it. And with that, some deserved rest back at the Blu. Breakfast and off to Phuket in the morning.
Mornings at the Blu are something special. An old soul must do, and their complimentary breakfast, in their magical dining room, is a fantastic start to the day. I took my time but before I knew it was on my way to the airport. I scheduled my Grab ride to loop through the city to see some last looks of temples and such. The domestic flight process was a breeze and I was shortly catching a shuttle from Phuket to Patong; the one stretch I found the Grab app not to be of worth. Phuket would just be for the evening in my itinerary. So to rightly cap off the yin of Thailand, the street experience, I had to walk Bangla road. But before that, I checked in to a smooth little grab right around to corner at Lokal Phuket. Think retro Miami motel-style around a vegetative pool area and a great dining patio upon entry. By far the best value in the area and conveniently located next to dinner at No.6 Restaurant.
A street stall eatery with limited wooden table seating. Plan to wait and or enjoy alongside other in-the-know patrons--and enjoy. After that the sun had set, my fish had been eaten and I was Sabai refreshed. It was time to walk the walk. Bangla road is much like a competitive tourist area in Mexico on steroids, it's completely ridiculous and a must a least once. Along with, of course, continuing the walk around town. The nighttime energy, the fantastic smells coming from the restaurants, and the consistent buzzing of mopeds and tuk-tuks--it's really something. Although, some may decide to skip it entirely and if that were the case I'd suggest old town Phuket for the evening. After strolling for a while I made it back to my little garden sanctuary and called it a night. The next morning I enjoyed a lite breakfast on the clean and minimalist front patio as I waited for my next shuttle. And not just any shuttle, a dream-fulfilling ride to the pier where I'd be grabbing a ferry to Koh Phi Phi.
Within a blink, the yang of Thailand had begun and I arrived at the pier of Koh Phi Phi. Within minutes I was on a long-tail boat to my dream destination for the next 3 days. If there was any question at all, Long Beach is the spot, and where you stay is P.P. Blue Sky Resort Phi Phi. I did my research, I experienced it, and in my opinion the best value in the Andaman Sea. Can you find something more remote, of course, but you'll have to travel further south or deal with a resort. Long Beach is one of the best and Blue Sky villas are clean and refined minimal approach to beautiful insanity. A simple and kind breakfast is served every morning and next door the adjacent hotel has an ideal seaside restaurant and shop. Everything you need and nothing you don't. Also important, you are now set, dead center, to use the boat system to see all you wish with day trips or to move along. I wasted no time, set my bag down, and jumped in the beautiful ocean just steps from my villa.
The rest of the day I simply sponged on the beach and took a nap. I was more than just looking forward to my dinners, I was set. I had grabbed two bottles of Champaign in Phuket and within 100-steps I was sitting beachside, glass poured and a fresh Thai dish on the way. At a price you wouldn't believe. One of the best days of my life right there and then. The next morning I was up early for a 6am private ride to Maya Bay. The sun rose as we approached the island and soon after I was swimming alone in the first lagoon. When we arrived at Maya Bay there was one couple just leaving and I had the entire beach to myself. One of the most spectacular spots on this planet to myself. Goes without saying on the ride home I was feeling damn grateful, what morning. And just as I stepped from the boat to sand my host was eagerly awaiting to serve breakfast. That was a--good--cup of coffee.
The rest of the day I spent walking the island, up to the lookout view, and then into town for lunch at Garlic 1992 Restaurant. I was there for the spring roll but everything is traditional Thai approved. An extremely charming shack-like spot and what you'd hope to find on the backpackers created island. The beachside stretch back to Long Beach is a sight to see with several little beach nooks that will stop and pause you. Not a bad walk at all but surely grab a boat ride if dark. As you might guess the minute I arrived back I simply repeated as the day before. And gladly before I knew it I was having my final Champaign Thai dinner. Brings me to pause just typing it now, what an insanely wonderful location on the earth. The next morning I was up to walk the beach for sunrise and returned to my offered breakfast. I'd be moving on at noon and I was deeply questioning it, it really was that good. But after paddle boarding, some more beach sponging and a shower the journey had to go on.
Just a 30min speedboat ride away I was heading to Railey Beach for the night. A cool scenery change with the sheer rock formations backing into the lush jungle. My suggestion here is it's a must-visit for sure, but only for a night, and make the stay at Railay Phutawan Resort. It's in an amazing position and view of the island. Grab a view room and you won't regret it. Honestly, you could come and visit just to stay here. The pool, bar/and restaurant are the best on the island and the breakfast spread is amazing. I mean it, the views combined with the service and amenities it's massively underrated. The next morning, after an unforgettable breakfast view, I packed up and grabbed a boat ride over to Ao Nang. And that would be my final evening in Thailand. And I was--so--not ready for that but immensely fulfilled at the same time. So I just ended with lazy days around town after getting my covid test to return.
I grabbed a cheapy on the strip for the night, dropped my bags, and headed where anyone and everyone should at this point: The Last Fisherman Bar. And there I sat reminiscing the trip at a great beachfront bar. That evening I got ready and headed to my last dinner at the--must--in the area KoDam Kitchen. And what a wonderful traditional Thai way to end it. I had my own outdoor booth as it began to rain for the first time in my entire trip. And I simply thought, Hello, thank you...a perfectly imperfect ending to a dream come true adventure. The next morning I grabbed breakfast at Café 8.98 Ao Nang, a massage then flew to Bangkok and headed home. A sure return sooner than later to further south with my Leather slip ons.
Protip: Add a flight north to Chiang Mai before heading south. And add a southern boat trip to Ko Lanta and beyond with budget and time.
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