Trip Report: Khao Lak, Thailand

Thailand Trip Reports

 Sunday March 30

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We had an 8am flight on Air Asia from Bangkok to Phuket, followed by a 90 minute drive north to the town of Khao Lak.

I was getting tired of crowded cities and was so happy to see the ocean when we landed.  We were ready for some beach time and …… scuba diving.

I had arranged taxi service in advance from Boss Cheaper Than Hotel Taxi.  Weird name, I know.  But his prices were quite a bit cheaper than regular taxis and he had excellent reviews on TripAdvisor.  We paid 1300 Baht (about $41) for the trip from Phuket Airport to our hotel in Khao Lak.

There was a bit of drama when we arrived at the airport because Boss was not there.  I was really surprised, considering his reviews and the fact that he has a huge fleet of taxis throughout Phuket.  I walked up and down the sidewalk in front of the airport for about 30 minutes looking for a “Boss” taxi.  I was followed the entire time by at least 4 taxi drivers asking me if I wanted a ride.  I kept telling them I was waiting for Boss, but none of them seemed to know who he was.  They were offering me rides for 1800 Baht, which is only about $15 more.  I had not paid Boss in advance and was just about to take one of them, when he appeared.

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No explanation was really offered and we were just glad to get out of the blistering 10am heat.  And after our previous week of scary tuk-tuk rides, it was nice to be in a nice, clean, air conditioned vehicle!

 

 

We had booked 5 nights at the JW Marriott Khao Lak Resort using 100,000 Marriott points.  I used 25,000 points per night and got the 5th night free.  The room rate was about $250 per night and it is now a Category 6 hotel requiring 30,000 points per night.

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Happy to finally get some pool and beach time!

We spent the rest of the day at the pool and ordered a very expensive lunch from the pool bar.

Later that afternoon we checked out the Kid’s Club at the hotel.  I was a bit disappointed with how small it was, but the minute we got there, Parker wanted to stay.

They had a small ball pit with a slide, a room to do crafts and a TV room.  Not much, in my opinion, but kids are easy to please.  Use of the club itself is free for guests, but you have to pay for their meals and any crafts they want to do.  You also have to pay to have them open early.  They seemed kind of taken aback when I asked about this.  As if, nobody has ever done it before.  They open at 9am and the dive boats leave at 7am  – so nobody with kids has ever dived there before?  At any rate, we worked it out and the babysitter was scheduled to pick Parker up at our room at 6:50 am on Tuesday and take him to the hotel restaurant for breakfast and then to the club.

Monday March 31

We spent the morning in the ocean with Parker.  He loved it.  The pool is actually rather deep and it’s hard for him to relax and have fun when he can’t touch the bottom.  The hotel gift shop was selling swim rings for $15.  You know I would never pay that.  We’ll just swim in the ocean instead.

In the afternoon we took the hotel shuttle into the town of Khao Lak to check out the Tsunami Memorial and the market.

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Khao Lak was the coastal area of Thailand hardest hit by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Most of the coast was completely destroyed.  They have rebuilt a lot in the past 10 years, but evidence of the tsunami is still all around.

Police Boat 813 was washed inland and beached 2km from the ocean, across from the Bang Niang market and has become a memorial site for the tsunami victims.

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We decided to eat a late lunch at a restaurant across the street from the market.  They had some good chicken satay with peanut sauce!

khaolak5And, of course, Parker got chicken nuggets and fries.  He was starting to really get back to his “old self” so I was happy to see him eating.

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The Bang Niang market is pretty big with lots of stalls.  We found all sorts of things for sale.  Including an Iron Man swim ring for about $2!

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Although their display of “knock off” handbags left much to be desired.

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Sad

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Bang Niang market

It was a really hot afternoon and we were anxious to get back to the hotel pool.  Instead of waiting around for the hotel shuttle to come back, we decided to catch tuk-tuk back to the hotel.

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A great way to spend the afternoon

Tuesday April 1

Today is the anniversary of our first date – 25 years ago!  Wow.  And what a day this will be.

All week I have been nervous about diving and my sinus congestion.  I loaded up on Sudafed and thought my head felt clear so I was ready to go.

The babysitter showed up promptly at 6:50am and we were off to the dive shop to catch the 7am shuttle to the dive boat.   It was a 25 minute drive to the pier and then a 2.5 HOUR boat ride to the dive sites of Koh Tachai and Koh Bon.  My fear slowly slipped away and I was excited about our first dive at Koh Tachai.

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The beginning of the dive to end all dives

The first thing I realized I should have done before the trip was learn how many kilograms 12 pounds is.  I had no clue and nobody else could figure it out either.  I ended up being underweighted for the dive, which could have been a big part of my problem.  I went in with only 4.5kg which is just under 10 pounds.  Believe me, that 2 pounds makes a HUGE difference.

I was surprised that I had no ear issues on my descent.  Like, none.  I also saw more fish on this dive than I have ever seen on any Caribbean dive, probably combined!  I saw my first clown fish! (Nemo!)  But the best/worst part was the end.

As we were ascending and approaching our 3 minute safety stop at 15ft, I started feeling pressure over my right eye.  Terrible pressure I had never felt before.  At the same time, due to my tank now being quite empty and only wearing 10 pounds of weight, I was not able to control my ascent.  I did not shoot up out of control, but I did ascend faster than I should have.  If I could have gotten my dive buddy’s attention I could have held on to him! But he (and everyone else) was distracted by the most beautiful site I have ever seen.  Not one, not two , but THREE  manta rays and a whale shark swimming right past us!  Absolutely incredible.

Wow.  I completely forgot about my ascent, my ears, my squeeze – everything.  I was completely in awe of these beautiful creatures.  Below is our video, shot with our Go Pro camera.

Worth an ear blowout?

When we got back on the boat,  the squeeze was gone and I was feeling a little fullness in my right ear, but I didn’t think it was that bad.  We had almost an hour on the surface so I thought I would be ok after that to do the 2nd dive.

The 2nd dive was Koh Bon.  We were told that sometimes the Green Monster makes an appearance at Koh Bon.  Yikes.  That doesn’t sound good.

Again, I had no problems equalizing on the way down.  This dive was rather anti-climatic after seeing the whale shark and manta at Koh Tachai.  But there were still loads of fish and clear blue water…until….The Green Monster.  The Green Monster is a dense, cold cloud of plankton that that surges in from the deep.  It’s COLD, it’s murky, it reduces visibility.  Just all around horrible.  The upside is that the plankton sometimes attracts mantas and whale sharks, but not today.  I tried as hard as I could to swim away from it, but that’s impossible.  I was freezing and so ready to get back to the boat, but at the same time I was afraid of another squeeze.  I had added some weight to my belt, so I knew I could go up as slow as possible.  And I did.  I felt some squeeze but not nearly as bad as the first dive.

When we were back on the boat, my nose started bleeding.  This has happened to me before, so I wasn’t overly concerned, but it was still scary.  I also started getting that full feeling in my right ear and made the wise decision to sit out the 3rd dive.

We got back to the hotel around 5pm.  I was happy to see Parker, but really just wanted to go to bed.  I was exhausted and my ear was starting to throb.

Wednesday April 2

Woke up to terrible pressure in my ear. We took Parker to the kid’s club and went to the town to try to find a doctor.  We passed a couple closed clinics (most doctors spend their days at the hospital and have office hours at night) and after about 10 more minutes of walking in the 100 degree heat, we found an open one.   You have to take your shoes off before entering the building and all the patients and the doctor are barefoot.  There is also no air conditioning in the building.

The receptionist and the doctor spoke minimal English, but we managed to communicate.  Dive, ear, owie.  He looked in my ear and said I had a middle ear infection.  I actually had a middle ear barotrauma…but who’s splitting hairs?  He gave me some amoxycillan and pseudo and sent me on my way.

To jump ahead a bit, when I got home I went to an ENT who discovered I had a cyst on my adenoid on the right side.  This was partially blocking the eustachian tube and not allowing air to pass through during the dives.

I spent the day in the room watching Netflix (thanks to Spotflux) and sleeping, while Matthew took Parker to the pool.

Thursday April 3

We had originally planned to dive the Boonsung Wreck today and I told Matthew he could go on and do it, but he decided to stay with me.  I was in considerable pain and I could not hear at all out of my right ear.

We went to the pool for a while, until it started to rain.  We took Parker to the kid’s club and we walked down the beach to a massage hut.  Matthew got a $12 massage that I thought looked incredibly painful, but he said was awesome.  I got a $5 blue manicure.

The ibuprofen was helping a bit, but I had to keep on top of it or the pain became unbearable.  I was looking forward 8 days…would I be able to fly home?

We ate most of our dinners at the restaurants just outside the Marriott on the beach.  They are mostly small shacks, but they served good and inexpensive food.

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Phen restaurant. My favorite.

This was our last night in Khao Lak.  I wish I could have enjoyed it more.  It was really a beautiful place.  I hope someday to go back.  I still want to dive the Similan Islands – once was not enough!

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Here is a list of expenses for this part of the trip:

  • Air Asia flight from Bangkok to Phuket for 3 people – $0  ($169 erased with Capital One Rewards Purchase Eraser)
  • 5 nights at JW Marriott Resort Khao Lak $0/ 100,000 Marriott points
  • Boss taxi from Phuket Airport to Khao Lak $41
  • Marriott Pool Bar lunch – $36 (ouch!)
  • Babysitting on dive day – $15
  • Parker’s meals on dive day – $25
  • 1 roundtrip and 1 one way trip on hotel shuttle bus – $11
  • 3 tank dive for 2 people, Koh Tachai, Koh Bon, Premchai Wreck – $420

There were many other charges for meals and massages that I paid cash for and did not write down.  But as you can see, the diving was the most expensive part of this trip!

 

 

New York City 2014

This was a Gatekeeper Paranormal team trip, rather than a “family trip”, but I wanted to share with you some of the fun things we did and ways I saved money!

For the past year we have wanted to experience Blackout , an intense, adults only theatrical “haunted house”.  When they announced the dates for Fall 2014 in New York City, we decided to go for it.

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Airfare from Cincinnati to New York can average anywhere from $350 to $550.  Most of those flights will involve a connection, likely in Charlotte or Chicago.  Delta has a nonstop flight from Cincinnati to LaGuardia, but the fares were around $450.  We didn’t decide to go until about 4 weeks before the event, so the likelihood of finding a low level award ticket was pretty low.

Two of my Gatekeeper team members work for airlines so I decided to use a buddy pass.  Flights from CVG to LGA are pretty easy to get on as a non rev and they looked good for our dates, so I took a chance.  I used to work for airlines myself and non rev travel was always a gamble, but it seems to be much worse now.  But in the end, this worked out great for me.  I paid about $115 for a roundtrip ticket and even got first class on the way home.

Finding a hotel was probably the most difficult part of the planning process.  We were 4 girls who wanted to share one room.  Not easy to do in Manhattan, especially on a budget!  Most of the rooms I could get in Manhattan with points only had one bed.  We wanted this trip to be as cheap as possible since it was relatively last minute, so I expanded my search outside of Manhattan.

A couple years ago I won 22,000 Hyatt points from a contest on Million Mile Secrets.  They have just been sitting there because I have never applied for a Hyatt credit card and honestly have never stayed in a Hyatt before!

I found the Hyatt Place Flushing/LaGuardia available for our 2 nights at 12,000 Hyatt points per night.  I transferred 2,000 points from my Chase Ultimate Rewards account (which was super fast and easy to do) and used the 24,000 points for 2 nights.  I reserved a room with 2 queen beds and a sofa bed.

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The hotel is brand new and within a 7 minute walk to the subway station.  The #7 train will take you directly to Times Square in about 30 minutes.  Again, not as convenient as staying right in Times Square, but sometimes to save money, you do what you have to do.

The hotel is in downtown Flushing, which is the largest urban center in Queens and the 2nd largest Chinatown in New York City.  The hotel caters to a mostly Chinese clientele and is also mostly staffed by Chinese.  The staff though, could not have been friendlier.  I was very pleased with the service we received.  Two of us arrived early (9:30am) and the girl at the front desk was very accommodating in getting us a room so we could relax and wait for our friends to arrive before heading into the city.

On our first day, we took the subway all the way down to Canal Street because one of my friends is a bit obsessed with knock-off handbags.  The knock-off trade isn’t like it used to be back in the day.  Back in the 90s, they had bags displayed on the street and then would hustle you into back rooms to look at the “really good stuff”.  But the police have cracked down on this and now it’s all secret back room dealings.  Ladies on the street will ask you if you want bags and then take you a couple blocks away to meet a guy who gives you a laminated cardboard sheet full of pictures of bags.  Most of them are in the $125 to $140 price range and the guys are not very interesting in haggling.  We walked away empty-handed and it was almost a wasted trip except for getting our $1 dirty water dog.

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We came back uptown a bit and walked around Macy’s – who already had their Christmas windows set up and decorations out.  On November 6.

Our 4th friend, Mandy, finally arrived around 6pm and we went to visit her friends who live in the Hell’s Kitchen area.  We had dinner plans to meet my friends at Dos Caminos on Park Avenue at 8pm.  Riding the subway was becoming a bit of a chore so we decided to check out Uber.

Uber is a ride-sharing service that operates like a taxi service – but much cooler.  They were (and maybe still are) offering a promotion where your first ride is free (up to $30).  After your ride, you are given a promo code that you can give to a friend for them to get a free ride.  Once they use their free ride, you get another.  There were 4 of us on this trip…you see where this is going?  No more subway!

Uber uses a cool smartphone app that lets you request a car, get an estimate of the fare and even track your driver’s location on GPS, and the fare and tip is automatically charged to your credit card on file or your PayPal account.

We requested a car to pick us up on 51st Street and take us to Dos Caminos on Park Avenue.  That is a distance of just about 2 miles.  The total Uber fare was $10.83, but cost me nothing because of the promo.  Looking back this was not the best use of my promo code because I could have gotten a $30 value ride.  But…it was still free, so I was happy.

Dos Caminos has some of the best guacamole I have ever tasted.  There was a bit of sticker shock to those of us used to paying midwest restaurant prices.  But it was a lot of fun to eat at a hip NYC restaurant instead of hot dogs on the street, and to visit with my friends.  Incidentally this was the largest expense of my trip, coming in at $65 for just me.  And no…I do not eat a lot.  But I did have two $15 Cadillac margaritas.

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$15 in a glass

After dinner, we met back up with Mandy’s friends at The Player’s Club.  The Player’s Club is a private, members only club for people of the theatre.  It is located in a townhouse that was built in 1847.

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photo credit: Mandy Loftis

 

We were given a tour of the entire building, including Edwin Booth’s private room that contains a human skull.  A fascinating experience.

We took a Yellow cab from The Player’s Club back to Flushing and the fare was about $45.  Wow.  Not bad when you split it between 4 people, but still quite a hefty fee.

On Friday we took the subway back into Manhattan and visited One World Trade Center. I have been to the site several times since the Sept 11 attacks, and it looks different every time.  I was there in December 2001 when there were still massive piles of rubble.  I was also there 3 years ago when they were just starting to build the museum.   It looks like the plan now is to complete a huge retail space in the next year.

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photo credit: Angela Johnson

We took a (free) (freezing) ride on the Staten Island ferry so my friends could see the Statue of Liberty.  I have seen Lady Liberty several times, so I stayed inside and tried to stay warm!

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Notice I am missing from this picture

The rest of our afternoon, before hitting Blackout, was spent shopping and eating.  We had pizza at Joe’s Pizza (my fave) and got some crazy delicious mini cupcakes at Baked By Melissa.  (the Cookie Dough ones are To Die For)

We then headed over to Central Park which was still awash in fall colors and absolutely gorgeous.

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photo credit: Mandy Loftis

We grabbed another Dirty Water Dog here.  Remember the one on Canal Street that cost $1?  The same dog up here is $4.  Location location location.  Eat your dogs downtown!

We took another Free Uber ride down to Houston Street for Blackout.  If you are interested in my review of Blackout you can send me an e-mail.  This is a family travel blog and there really is nothing family-friendly I can say about Blackout.  It is a crazy, intense experience and definitely for adults only.

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Gatekeeper Paranormal survives Blackout:House 2014

After Blackout we walked down the street to Katz Deli to warm up and eat some comfort food.

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We took our last free Uber ride back to our hotel in Queens.  Remember the yellow cab ride back to the hotel that cost $45?  The Uber ride was free…but came to $20 with tip.  Not a bad deal!

All together, my weekend trip to NYC set me back about $320.  Not bad!  Here is a breakdown

  • Airfare – $115
  • Two $10 Metro cards – $20
  • Cupcakes – $21 (yes…and I ate them all)
  • Chocolate Babka – $12
  • CVG airport parking – $20
  • Dos Caminos – $65
  • Blackout – $40
  • Cash spent on dogs, pizza, pop and souvenirs for Parker – $30

Up next – my trip report on Beaches Turks and Caicos and hopefully the rest of my Thailand trip reports.

I have taken a break on Manufactured Spending for the moment.  The $30,000 spend required for the Executive card kinda burned me out for awhile.  Too many trips to Walmart.  I will probably get back into it next month.

Happy Travels!