For once in a long time, I actually was able to get to the Vancouver airport early, but since my flight left after midnight, that was not too difficult, even for me. The Cathay Pacific 747-400 left YVR on 1999-05-04 02:05, a Monday night, actually the Tuesday morning, and headed almost straight for Anchorage, where I believe all trans-pacific flights head. After a lunch about two hours into the flight, I went to sleep, and then I was up for a breakfast before arrival in Hong Kong. In the newer planes, there is a live flight map, which shows your position, air speed, ground speed, etc., and on the Cathay plane, each seat had a separate digital TV with remote, so not only could I do that, but I also played hangman, and watched my neighbour play a game I never had seen before, something like vertical checkers, that I guess is called Connect Four.
We flew right over Japan in the morning, and I was able to view quite a few cities, notably Nagoya. I could see how Japan was built up quite a bit, as there were lights almost everywhere. After leaving Japan, we flew near Formosa, but it was mostly clouded over.
The plane landed on time in light rain at the new Chek Lap Kok airport in Honk Kong at 06:30 on Wednesday morning. The new airport was quite impressive, and very vast and empty. There were no lineups anywhere, and the customs agents were sitting doing nothing, as we probably would have been one of the first flights in that day. My connecting flight to Bangkok left at 08:00, so I did not have long to wait at all. The new Cathay Airbus 330 to Bangkok really impressed me, as it took off in only about 1/4 the runway, and flew almost straight up. The power was amazing, but then the plane was mostly empty. The one thing about planes in to Thailand, is that they seem to all fly mostly empty, and I cannot understand how the airlines continue to make money. Before our plane landed in Bangkok, I could see that there was flooding everywhere, and water was even over some taxiways. The previous day there had been a huge rainstorm that had flooded out canals and highways, and caused a lot of damage. After landing, I had a brief perfunctory trip though customs, and a quick walk over to the domestic terminal, as I only had an hour between flights.
The ferry to Phi Phi took about 2 hours, so that I finally was drinking a Chang (elephant) Beer at Charlie on the beach at about 15:30 in the afternoon, which was just like an overnight trip to the beach, but it was actually about 34 hours after leaving home. We stayed at Charlie last fall, and I liked it, as it was in my comfort zone for places to stay. The staff were really friendly, and they cleaned my room well each day. Phi Phi is actually pretty small, so there is not a lot of room on the island. One bad thing about the beach, is that the high tide almost completely covered it, so there was no place to lay, and that also meant that the sand was usually never completely dry.
The restaurants in Phi Phi had changed a lot in only the six months that I had been away. There were new staff, and most the places that were good before had slipped, and some that were only okay before were much better. A big change was the Italian pasta restaurant, which had been so tasty in the fall, but was a big disappointment when I ate there in the spring. The best one was the BBQ joint, where one night I had some excellent BBQ squid. I like squid, and it was usually much cheaper than the other seafood in Thailand, especially the fish, which could be more expensive than back in Vancouver. I figured with all the cheap and fresh fish that I get in Mexico, I didn't need to indulge, especially when seafood and shrimp were so plentiful and delicious.
All I did in Phi Phi for two weeks, was R&R, which mostly included reading, eating, and drinking Chang beer by the beach. There were enough people there, but Andy, the manager, said the crowds were off big time that April due to inclement weather, as the monsoons had arrived about a month early. It rained some on me, but generally it was not too bad, and I was able to get some beach time in almost every day. I walked once in awhile up to the lookout, which also functioned as my exercise along with the fabulous view. The ocean water in the Loh (bay) Dalam was extremely warm, and one day I measured it at 38 C. A few days later, I went out snorkeling in the bay with an Aussie I met, and I was absolutely amazed at all the colourful flora and fauna on the reef.
After about a week, I decided to buy a plane ticket to Bali for June 4, as I had decided that there was never a better time to visit, and I was way closer to Bali than when in Vancouver. I went to the Siam U.K. agency, and the agent obtained a ticket for me from Phuket to Bali, and back to Bangkok for about C$640, which I thought was a little expensive. After another week, and feeling it was time to move on from Phi Phi, I took a ferry boat to Railay Beach, which was recommended to me by many people. I left Phi Phi in the sun, and I was rather comfortable sitting in the air-conditioned cabin in the rather nice ferry. The ride was fast, and I could see, as usual, the clouds forming around the mainland. By the time we arrived at just outside Railay, it was raining pretty steadily, but that was just the beginning. We had to transfer from the ferry onto a longtail boat, as the bay was too shallow for the ferry. Luckily(?), the long tail boat had a canopy, so we did not get wet in the boat. We took the longtail boat closer to shore, however, we then had to get out and walk about 500m over muddy tidal flats in the rain to get to the beach. It was a totally miserable experience, which was exacerbated by the knowledge that I had just left a perfectly good place in fine weather.
After arriving on the beach, I walked up into the first restaurant, and asked where the "Sunrise" was. The restaurant happened to be the office for the Sunrise, so taking Barry's word, I just paid the 150 baht, and went to find my cabin. What a shithole! The place was absolutely messy, dirty, and run down, and had no towels, sheets, or mosquito screens. After watching some frogs eat flies in the rain, right outside my window, I decided that I didn't need the experience, so I vacated the place, and went searching for hopefully something better. I walked down a sidewalk to Railay Bay Bungalow, which was on the peninsula's opposite side, and I was immediately impressed, as for 350 baht per day, the place was at least 20 times better, even though it was only 'cleaned' once in three days I was there.
That night, I went over in the dark on the east shore to Cocos,which was recommended to me by the Australians in Phi Phi, and I was totally impressed. I would say that it was the best restaurant I ate at on the whole trip, even though it was very rustically furnished. The food was absolutely delicious, and served in ample portions. For two nights, I ate noodles along with mussels, which came on a huge plate, and were almost too plentiful to eat. They cost about 40 baht. Another night I ate squid, which was absolutely delicious as well, being charcoal broiled similar to the ones I had on Phi Phi.
After four days at Railay, I had enough rain, and I thought that Koh Samui on the east coast may be in the rain shadow, and possibly a bit drier. So one morning, I took the long tail boat to Krabi, and then the bus on a very wet ride to Surat Thani. In Railay, I had bought an 'express' ferry ticket to Koh Samui, however, we ended up taking the same excursion trip on a hour drive down the coast to the regular car ferry. As we approached Koh Samui, I could see that my predection was correct, and the island had relatively clear weather. I took a pickup truck taxi to Chaweng, and got let off near the Chaweng Beach Gardens, which I had already decided to stay at, as it was the same place we stayed at last fall, and the price and location were opportune.
I found a nice Internet and dress shop run by two young girls, and I usually would spend at least half an hour there each night. The connection was not the best, but it was adequate to check the WWW and my e-mail. One problem with my e-mail, was that I had to telnet into my account at unixg, and use pine on the server to read and respond to my mail. That does not work very well overseas though, as the latency just about drove me nuts. I think that I may find away to load a small mail program, possibly DOS based, on a floppy to carry around.
I had one interesting experience one night when I went for a walk, and I was snatched to go sit at a girlie bar on the main street. I went over, as I felt sorry for the girls, for there were no customers, and they were all standing around looking bored and and broke. I again was playing the Connect Four game for a few hours. About four in the morning, a few white guys came walking fast down the street with a bunch of local guys with sticks following them. The girls in the bar got all excited, and told the white guys to run really fast, as I guess that they did not realise that they were potentially in big trouble. The girls said that the Thai men weren't very nice, but that they did like the foreign men.
I once wondered why I saw so many German guys with Thai girls when I was in Thailand. The answer, I finally discovered, was that German women could either sink a Titanic, or frost up a branding iron without too much effort. The best example I saw was one day I was laying beside a fairly attractive Allemania on the Chaweng beach, and a few different guys came by, and fruitlessly tried their admittedly weak ploys. She basically use the 'ignore' strategy, and that seemed to work well. After awhile, I saw a group of six young guys come onto the beach, and boisterously start hanging out. I knew right away that they were from the lower mainland, as about four were East Indian, yet showed western manner and spoke Canadian, eh. I went and talked to them, and they were from Richmond. After a bit, they all went a got a massage from Mama San, which was funny, because they were talking about what they did during the massage, and one said that he was building a house, and another guy said that he built a whole mansion. Mama San gave very thorough massages. One of the group came along later, and he was a big macho white guy. Fairly readily, he noticed the German girl beside me, and came sauntering over for the kill. I could barely suppress my smile, as I knew what would happen, and sure enough, depite his best effort, he was soon easily dispatched. I cannot ever recall seeing German girls getting picked up, but it must happen.
When I decided to leave Samui on my scheduled date, I purchased a ticket from a local agency for Bangkok Airways. They were the only airline that flew into Koh Samui, because they built and owned the airport, which is right next to Chaweng Beach. One result was that the airfares to Samui were about double the going rate. For example, if you flew on Thai from Bangkok to Surat Thani, which was about the same distance, the fare was about 3000 baht, but on Bangkok Air to Samui the fare was over 6000 baht. As most the passengers were well off Germans and other Europeans, the fare was not significant, especially when the alternative was about a full day's travel. My ticket over to Phuket was 1600 baht (C$65), but when I got to the airport, there was an additional 400 'tax', and I let them know that a 25% 'tax' was rather excessive.
The ATR 72 plane to Phuket was mostly empty, and when we landed, I was able to get a taxi right away, and ask the driver for a beach near airport. He drove for a very short while, and then left me at a deserted beach town, Nai Yang. I checked with the only bungalow around, and although it was expensive (824 baht), it was better than driving around, and the place was nice and clean, well furnished, and had a tile bathroom and hot water. I guess that's how the upper crust lives. I walked up and down the deserted beach, then later had supper at nice seaside restaurant, which there were plenty of.
I got a taxi in the morning for the five minute ride to the Silkair(Singapore Airlines charter subsidiary) plane. A whole bunch of really rude Germans were all smoking in the departure lounge, as the provided smoking room did not accommodate everyone. On the plane, I could view all the way down the Malaysian peninsula to Singapore, where I had about a one hour stop before my next flight. One neat think about the Silkair's in-flight magazine, was that it had a whole feature on selected destinations, and one highlighted Nai Yang's diving, where I had just departed that morning. I guess that it had more happening in the tourist season. Another neat thing about the article, was that it gave the seasonal weather for each location, and the best season to travel. For Phuket, it declined to state a 'good' season, but rather stated that it was always nice, whether it was raining or not. That reinforced my opinion that it can (and does) rain at any time in southern Thailand.
When I arrived in Singapore, I had a mission to try and reschedule my ticket, as Cathay was having labour troubles, but after easily going through Singapore customs, taking the little train to the other terminal, and checking with the various airlines involved, I found out that I could not change airlines with the tickets I was issued. I was rather miffed at that, because the ticket had cost a lot (C$634), and not having any flexibility was a pain. Altogether, I spent over $2400 on airfare, and if I were to do it again, I would plan it all a little better. A 30 day Cathay Pacific around Asia pass with 15 stops is only $1600 from Vancouver. After my investigative excursion, I then went up to the boarding lounge, where there was an altercation between a passenger and the gate agents and security. The passenger in his carry-on had a Durian, which are absolutely rancid smelling, and he was adamant about taking it on the plane, as he said they let him on in Bangkok, and the airline was adamant about refusing him. Needless to say, the unruly passenger was an Australian. I think it was fairly resolved, as I never saw him or his girlfriend board the Singapore Airlines Airbus 300 for my trip to Bali. Singapore Airlines deserves its reputation as the best airline, as the service was first class, and the food was even better, on par with an expensive fine restaurant.
Check out this Bali slide show. It's all there.
The Bali airport was denoted as Denpasar, which was the big city on Bali, and about 15 km away from the airport, but actually the airport was right next to Kuta, the primary resort town. After departing the plane, I was first through customs again, which was totally trivial. I then went looking for a bathroom, but the only one was inside customs, so I walked right past customs and into a bathroom. Exiting, I walked right out past customs again, and told the replacement guy that I had already gone though. I looked for a bank machine, and then saw that the only one was inside customs, so I walked past an empty inspection station, and got some rupiah. I figured, from all the stories that I was told, that one million rupiah (C$180) would be enough for a week or so, but the machine only gave me 600 000, so that's all I got. I then walked right out of customs again, and out to a taxi. For all the faults that Indonesia may have I sure do admire their immigration and customs service.
I had the hotel address for the Mekar Jaya in Kuta to go to, which was right beside the bungee jump on Poppies Lane. The taxi driver shortly had me traveling down ever decreasingly narrow streets, until I was at the bungalow. If you ever see those really small oriental vehicles, they are mostly too big to actually get around much. The streets in Kuta are usually just wide enough for a small car to fit in, and often are not. I personally think the whole place would be better off as a car free zone, but the Balinese appear to like driving. The actually have pretty cosmopolitan desires and dress very well, considering that their average income is only about one dollar per day.
I checked into a relatively clean and big room for 45 000 rupiah, and I was impressed. I then walked around the streets, until I found the beach, and I walked down the beach for towards the south. The beach was totally unimpressive, as it and the water were very dirty, and fairly crowded. After the walk, I went back to my room, and I discovered that my initial impression was mistaken, and that while the room was clean, there was no toilet paper, soap, or towels. After, I went out for a late supper, just down the lane, and I had an excellent meal where the staff were very friendly, and tried to sell me a tour around Bali. I held them off, and after a short downtown tour, I went back to my room, were all night I was attacked by mosquitoes hoards . I found out the room had no screens either, so then and there I decided to find room that would be more appropriate, and I also threw out Barry's recommended hotel list. After a few hours, I realised that all the affordable rooms were similarly priced and fitted, with nothing in them. I figure that it must be an Australian thing, as I have never seen that before. All the hotels that had what I was looking for were expensive, and priced in American dollars, which is a sure sign that they're a rip off. After a walk around, I hitched up with a freelance guide guy, who said that he would help find me a place. We drove to about four different hotels, before he dropped me off near the Hard Rock at the Yulia Beach Inn, which had rooms with exactly what I wanted for about 125 000 (C$25) per night, which while rather pricey, was the best deal in Kuta, as the rooms had screens, towels, nice bathrooms, and hot water.
After checking in, I was able to go down to the beach which was only about 400 m away, and about as close as any hotel was to the Beach in Kuta, even though they are all called "beach hotels". I found a place on the beach that was not too filthy, and on the level a bit. That was the start of the constant vendor harassment that occurred that day. I ended up buying a sarong and some shorts, for about 100 000, and I knew that I paid way too much as right away I was surrounded by more vendors.
I got the idea that the whole junket was just a promotion for shopping, which the guides get a kick-back on. As I hate shopping, it was not too successful for them, but I did tip them well. At the trip's end, we stopped for gasoline, and although the Indonesians do not make very much, gasoline was cheaply priced at about 500 a litre, which was about ten cents. Indonesia has substantial oil production, so they were probably able to sell gasoline near cost.
One neat thing about the Balinese, was that both boys and girls were usually only given one of four names, Wayan, Made, Nyoman and Ketut, which mean one, two, three, and four in Balinese. Number five starts at Wayan again. Another neat thing was their proficiency in English. Almost everyone I met, including the little children, were competent speaking English. When you consider that English was their third language, after Balinese and Indonesian, it was even more impressive.
One day Made took me out to the restaurants on the beach (Jimbaran?) past the airport. It was rather odd to see so many restaurants on the beach, and I guess that it must be popular with the tourists. I ordered some beer and 300 g of squid, but when it came, it must have been only about 100g, as I had ordered 300 g in Thailand a few times, and it was usually more than enough to eat. I then understood that the whole place was just another tourist trap, and I could not understand why the Balinese tried screwing everyone, as I cannot see repeat business, but maybe they don't count on that.
Balinese food was rather uninspiring and dull, and I never did find a good meal, especially on par with any Thai food, which was always excellent. One night, I did eat a better Balinese meal at a restaurant where they showed feature movies from video discs. Since I never had seen "Trainspotting", and it was highly recommended to me, I thought it would be opportune to see it in Lovina, which it was. However, I do not think it was an appropriate dinner movie.
After staying awhile in Lovina, I was ready to move on, and since my original flight was scheduled to depart Bali for Singapore on Monday Saturday, 1999-06-14, I thought it might be nice to spend a few days on Lombok. I asked Edy about a taxi, and she arranged to have her brother-in-law drive me on Saturday to the airport for 1000 rupiah. I did investigate taking the ferry over, but it would have been a long drive, and a long ferry trip making it a whole day trip. The journey was very nice back over the island to Denpasar. The road was, as usual, very narrow, and pretty busy. Near the summit, there was a monkey preserve, where many monkeys were begging for food near and on the road. It was neat to see so many monkeys out in the 'wild'. When we finally did get to the airport, I finally found an airline, Merpati , that flew over to Lombok, as Garuda did not. However, the little airline had a full flight for 12:30, and the next one was for 17:00, so I put myself on the wait list, and immediately formulated and executed plan 'B', which was to go to the international terminal, and see if I could get back to Bangkok, and then on to Vancouver right away. I checked with Singapore Airlines, and they had space, so I then went to Cathay, and after checking around for a long time, he booked me from Bangkok to Hong Kong, but said that since he could not confirm me on the flight from Hong Kong, that he was sending a message to have my seat reserved. So, since it was clear sailing, I then checked in with Singapore Airlines, and I was shortly on my way to Singapore airport, where I played around and sent e-mail from the extremely fast Internet store.
After I arrived in Bangkok, and talked to several hotel tour salesmen, I took a cab to a nearby hotel, the Jumbotel, that the cabbie never knew about. It was not a bad deal, close enough to the airport, and right beside a big hospital. In the morning, I walked around, then I took a taxi back to the airport, where I attempted to check in with Cathay. The only problem was that they had canceled my flight, so I was stuck in Bangkok, as the alternative flight would not arrive in Hong Kong in time, and the Canadian Airlines flight back to Vancouver had left already. So after the Cathay bosses discussed every thing at length, I was sent upstairs and was given a guaranteed flight for the next day, and coupons to stay overnight downtown in Bangkok, including transportation. I then went downstairs to the limo place, but after some discussion, I was sent back upstairs, as the wrong coupons were given to me, so I had to get the correct ones. I then went back down to where I was before, but they sent me over to the next terminal to the Thai Airlines taxi and limousine service. What surprised me there, was that two separate employees were fairly persistent in trying to sell me a fully 'escorted' private city tour. After the taxi dropped me off at the real posh Ameri Watergate Hotel, I went up to the check in desk, and I was shortly joined by a nice looking Thai women who helped facilitate my check in. Normally, the bellhop would go up to my room with me, but after I was finished checking in, the Thai women escorted me up to my room to show me how to work the lights and different things. She then asked me if the was "anything else that I wanted?" When I negatively responded, she repeated ."are you sure there isn't anything at all I can get for you?" I decided against some luxury, as I guessed that the services offered would probably be exorbitantly priced, as even a regular massage was listed for five times the going price down south. What was striking, was all this pimping was under the full auspices of the national airline, who also owned the limousine service and the hotel. I cannot imagine Air Canada providing the same service, even though it would help out their share price.
In the hotel, I ate two fabulous meals, both at the buffet. For the first one, I just ate as much sushi as I could. For the evening meal, I also ate way too much, but the food was absolutely excellent and available in quantity also. I recently found out why my visit was so nice, as the hotel rooms were listed at US$184 a night, and I don't imagine the meals were budget either. In the afternoon, I went out on the street, primarily to replace my shoes that were stolen in Phi Phi.. I went a block over to a huge and busy mall, but considering that there was a big sale on and that it was very crowded, the prices were all comparable to Vancouver. I walked out on the street a bit, and it soon started to really rain, so I ducked in a small restaurant and had a few beer while waiting out the rain. Afterwards, I walked down the street some more, and found a shoe store, where I bought a pair for 350 baht. I then walked across the street and into an older mall, where they had quite a selection of almost anything a person would want. After that, I went back up to my room. From my room I looked north, and I could see many unfinished high-rises, which looked pretty ugly. I read in a newspaper, that there were about 25 big unfinished buildings in Bangkok, and besides being an eyesore, they were also a safety hazard.
In the morning, the limo driver was waiting at 06:00, so I was finally off to the airport, which at that early hour only took about 20 minutes. I was able to get checked in, and I was over an hour early for my substitute Thai flight to Hong Kong, which was supposed to leave from gate #2. When I did go to the gate near boarding time, I read that they had changed the gate to #77, which was a long assed haul to the airport's other end.
The flight back was neat, as I could see all Vietnam. We flew over the coast near DaNang, and I was really amazed how much straight and sandy beach there was. I think that was where 'China Beach' was, and also the little town where all the kinky Aussie women went to. We came in low from the west to land at the new Honk Kong airport, on the new runway that had only been open about a week. This was the same one where the China Airlines MD-11 crashed in August.
After a few hours, at about 15:30, I got on the rescheduled Cathay 747-400. There were some young women sitting in my seats, who were very apologetic and accommodating about sitting in my seat and other's. I figured it out after a long while, as a whole flight crew were sitting around me, probably dead heading to Vancouver for repositioning. We flew right over unclouded Taiwan, and it was very interesting to see the island, as it was actually very mountainous and totally undeveloped, except for the western coastal plain, where most the development and population appeared to be. The flight was an easy overnighter, and we landed in Vancouver about 10:30, and sure enough, I was directed into Custom's secondary. Right away, I made a big fuss, and asked to see the supervisor. After my persistent questioning, he inadvertently admitted that my name was on their computer, so at least I knew why I was having problems. The one advantage about pressing my concerns, was that the search was fairly fast and I was outside in Vancouver sunshine about 15 minutes later.