For the weekend, we took our long-awaited trip to Thailand, with Anna leaving work at 5pm, me leaving work at 5pm, and both meeting down in KL Sentral for our ‘coach journey’ to KL’s low-cost carrier terminal. Now, KLIA, the airport, comes purpose-located and consequently has acre upon acre of possible expansion room when the time comes further down the road – but the problem is, to provide them with this acre upon acre, you actually need to go ‘further down the road’ yourself, much much further down it in fact, to get there. In fact, the airport’s a good 70km from downtown, which is fine when you can take the high speed ‘KLIA Ekspres’, but when you travel to the airport’s low-cost carrier terminal, specially built for Air Asia passengers, then things get a bit more difficult. The terminal was basically thrown together purely to keep the low-cost airlines happy (imagine if Ireland had that kind of foresight?!) and isn’t actually connected to the city by anything other than bus. And so, it begins – the coach journey, and I do use the term ‘coach’ loosely since it certainly wasn’t ‘Super VIP’, was an event in itself. To begin with, I picked the absolute cheapest coach, the driver of which seemed to consider it perfectly acceptable to floor it the whole way, so much so that we were the ones passing out cars as opposed to the other way around, while the whole bus shuddered violently as it tried to reach warp speed. Then, every now and again, the seat would decide you needed more of a rest, and recline you back into somebody else completely by its own doing. But, we got there, and it was only 14 Ringgit return, and that’s all I care about really.
It’s unusual to think about, because most people who are probably reading this are sitting inside facing into a miserable Irish winter, but Thailand’s only an hour flight north of here, and yet somehow the temperature actually increases even further (when to be honest, KL’s perfectly hot enough as it is), to the point when just that tiny gap between plane and bridge into the airport is sufficient to tell you that you’re going to be doing lots of sweating. We flew to Phuket, then hopped into a van provided by our resort for our drive up to Khao Lak, a route which takes us right off Phuket island altogether (which I hear is for the best anyway) and about 60km further north. Now, I’m going to be honest and say I actually had no idea whatsoever until I just looked it up, that we had even left Phuket island but for the fact that we drove for so long I had reasoned that we must at least have passed onto a neighbouring island. In actual fact, we had driven back onto the mainland and continued our journey on up through Phang-Nga province, driving alongside some of the coastlines worst hit by the 2004 tsunami. We booked our flights and accommodation through ‘Air Asia Go’, Air Asia’s commendable effort at an online travel agency (as opposed to the ‘And would you like a hotel?’ effort of Aer Lingus/Ryanair back home!) and given the amazing deal we got, I really was expecting the accommodation to look absolutely nothing like the pictures we saw. So, we pulled up, got out, and almost immediately I became quite confident I may not have ever been to anywhere quite like it. Instead of having say, one large building, or a couple of different ‘wings’ or whatever hotels normally do, this place was literally broken up across a whole beachfront into different little huts. The reception, to begin with, led you down some very ‘grand’ steps onto a bridge between it and the restaurant, while a slope off to one side led you down towards our ‘chalet’. Opening the door may in fact wind up being one of my happiest moments ever – the place, for once, actually did seem to live up to the pictures.
What usually indicates a hotels overall ‘niceness’ for me though, quite often, is how scandalous the price of the minibar is – generally, in my head anyway, I reason that the pricier, more upmarket hotels know fine well that the people staying in them want convenience and have the readies, so therefore can be charged a ‘premium rate’ for their little can of beer. Hostels and the suchlike on the other hand, often seem to charge next to normal price for drinks, obviously reasoning that their ‘guests’ know how much they should be paying and would be willing to go out and buy elsewhere. The best part then, was that for a place so clearly able to charge whatever they fancied for the minibar, it was actually very reasonable. So, we did what anyone would do in our position after weeks of ‘minding the cost’ – cracked out some beers and turned the air conditioning right down until there was nearly frost coming out of the vent. The next morning, the place looked even better – our balcony had two deckchairs already out on it and faced into a neighbouring lagoon, while the breakfast, which I had initially not been too excited about (experience dictates that hotel breakfasts are often nothing to get out of bed for), turned out to be the absolute star of the show, with fresh omelettes being cooked to your liking, genuinely fresh food and as much of everything as you could stomach – something which I’d go on to test the limits of, over the coming mornings. After breakfast, we went down to the pool only to find that we had a serious amount of company – Germans, evidently, are huge fans of Khao Lak and were there in their droves, out by the pool sunning themselves before anyone else was to be seen.
But the pools – well, we quickly came to the conclusion that yes, we definitely are becoming pool snobs, something which’ll have to go by the way side whenever we get back to Europe – were absolutely amazing. Don’t get me wrong, I love having a pool in our building as we do already, but it’s quite small, can sometimes feel not so clean, and on other days can have a couple of people in it which, due to its size, makes it feel terribly cramped. Here though, the pools were all large, clean and often during the day, completely empty. To be honest, there’s plenty you can do in the area if you want to, from trekking to see elephants, to canoe trips, to pretty much everything else you can imagine but just for the sake of taking a rest from it all, I harboured absolutely no interest in doing anything other than sitting around, swimming, more sitting around, reading, and so on. In the evening, we went to the hotel’s own restaurant ‘The Oriental’, which was delicious but unfortunately not as reasonable as my sacred minibar – it didn’t matter though, because we were well on our way to completing a successful ‘dine n’ dash’; as the meal came to a close, and having already told the waitress our chalet number, we didn’t know whether we needed to sign something or not, and decided it was best not to ask, so we departed back to our chalet, via the pool.
Except when we were coming back towards our chalet, there she was – literally, jumping out of somewhere neither of us could see – receipt and pen in hand, looking for us to finally pay. We did, and I decided to retire back to the minibar for something slightly more reasonable in the shape of a can with ‘Chang’ written on it…
I’ll finish the rest of the trip next time round!