The Joy of Visiting Friends...

When friends are scattered far and wide it takes a little more effort to see them.  Sure FaceBook and Line make keeping in touch easier than in the past but to actually visit and spend time with someone you care about takes time and may include travel.  These days I really don’t have friends separate from my wife and we enjoy the company of the same people.

So every once in a while she will tell me friends are going to be in Bangkok or Chiang Mai and we are going to visit them.  I help out by booking tickets or hotels in Bangkok or driving through the mountains to Chiang Mai.  These are always exciting times and I look forward to a change of scenery and interesting conversation.

Our last trip was to Chiang Mai to stay with our friend Pom as she had a few days off from work in Bangkok.  Despite a high pressure job and a hectic fast paced lifestyle, she still finds time to spend with us and we really enjoy our time with her.  Her parents are great too and always make us feel welcome in their home.
Our host in a thoughtful pose.

This last trip went something like this.  After arranging for the care of our pets and house we got an early start.  We made one stop on the way to town to pick up something for our friend’s mother and then we were off on our roughly three and a half hour drive through the mountains to Chiang Mai.

The first stop was to drop off our stuff at the house and wait for Pom to come pick us up for a day of adventure.  I never know where we are going but she always comes up with interesting things to see, do and eat.  Our first stop since we were all hungry, was Woo - Cafe . Art Gallery . Lifestyle Shop.  While we were there my wife found a few new ceramics to add to her collection as well.





After a fair amount of driving around we found ourselves at a popular place called the Grandcanyon Chiangmai.  It is the kind of place you are unlikely to find in a more highly regulated country.  It is basically an old disused quarry which has filled with water and is now a tourist hotspot.  Access is through very narrow lanes, barely wide enough for two cars to pass.  There is no organized parking so you do your best to find a place in the dirk on the side of the road.  Some people are there to take pictures while others relax in the water and the more the adventurous launch themselves from the cliffs into the water far below.




From the Grandcanyon we went for a two hour massage in the Nimman area of town and bought some groceries at the Maya Mall.  For dinner we stopped at a local roadside diner near the house.

The next day it was my turn to drive and we headed for the mountains where four wheel drive was more appropriate.  The plan was to first visit The Giant Chiang Mai to have coffee in the giant tree house but they were closed for renovation and we had to change our plans.  We ended up going to Mae Kam Pong and having coffee at a small but popular shop, Chom Nok Chom Mai Coffee, perched precariously on the edge of the very narrow and steep road overlooking the forest below.


Not far down the mountain we stopped again for lunch in a tiny little roadside village.  Again parking was an adventure in itself as we struggled to find a safe place to park the SUV.



The Teentok Royal Project was our next stop on the way down the mountain.

Upon returning to Chiang Mai we decided to stop at the Dhara Dhevi Chiang Mai for a light snack at the bakery courtyard.



The next morning we had time for one more stop before the long drive home and ended up at the Anantara Chiang Mai right on the river.  Pom caught her flight back to Bangkok and we enjoyed our drive home through the mountains arriving home around sunset greeted by our cats and dogs.





Living where we do, these trips and a chance to see distant friends mean a lot to us.  Tomorrow we are flying down to Bangkok for a few days but after we get back to Chiang Rai I am guessing we might need a little down time.  Besides there is nowhere like home.

Top 10 Phuket Hotels 2016

This 2016 Top 10 Phuket Hotels list is again based on TripAdvisor hotel rankings, this list as they were in February 2016. I know these rankings change all the time and, well .. Trip Advisor ... are all the reviews really real? Well some of these hotels have thousands of reviews, so I think on average it should be about right. There are again a couple of new hotels in the list, but many of the top 10 are similar to 2015. For each hotel there are links for checking online rates and availability - I suggest using Agoda.com to book your hotel in Phuket. There are also links to reviews for each hotel - also mostly from Agoda where possible. Hotels get scores out of 10 on Agoda so you can easily compare, and reviews can only be left by people who have booked the hotel, but Agoda does not have any ranking lists, so this top 10 uses TripAdvisor rankings.

Top 10 Phuket Hotels 2016

1. Trisara Phuket Villas & Residences

Trisara

Trisara has amazingly been top of the top 10 for 3 years running, so I guess it's no fluke! And it's also not cheap :) Oh, I'd love to stay here a few days! Trisara has spacious private pool villas by a private beach to the north of Bang Tao beach in the north of Phuket island. Trisara is a "private, luxury, amazing view, relax and unwind" style hotel. Only 48 villas, lots of space, no crowds. There are also some "private residences" with 2 - 6 bedrooms, ideal for families or big groups, or even weddings. Or just for a relaxing getaway for a romantic couple. The location is miles from any busy areas, so you will need your own transport or get taxis everywhere.

Trisara - Online Booking
Trisara Reviews

2. The Chava Resort (Surin Beach)

Chava Resort

The Chava jumped into the top 10 last year at number 7, now pushing for top spot. Surin Beach always has something in the top 10. The Chava Resort is actually a collection of 2 - 5 room apartments (they call it an "apartment resort"), some are run by the hotel, some privately rented. Rooms are enormous, not normal hotel size, good for families and small groups. Again, it's a place with views, slightly up in the hills, not by the beach but really only a few minutes from the sea.

Chava Resort - Online Booking
Chava Resort Reviews

3. Andara Resort and Villas (Kamala Beach)

Andara

Up from 6 to 3 ... Andara is a 5 star resort, on the hillside near Kamala Beach with luxury villas. It was rated highly on my best family hotel list, and with individual villas and private pools, will suit couples as well as families. Andara resort is in the hills, not right by the beach. Some (not all) of the villas have superb sea views. There is a trend of non-beachfront luxury the last 5 years. Maybe because the beach areas - certainly the main beaches - are too full, and also because beachfront land is impossibly exppensive. If you want luxury and seclusion, it's there, but not necessarily right by the beach.

Andara Resort & Villas - Online Booking
Andara Resort Reviews

4. BYD Lofts (Patong Beach)

BYD Lofts

2nd place in 2014, 3rd in 2015, 4th in 2016 - BYD Lofts seems to be keeping up standards if you want something near the heart of Patong Beach close to the action and in the middle of the busiest beach area in Thailand - this hotel offers serviced apartments (again, you see - apartments, rather than just rooms), featuring a rooftop pool (and a view over the beautiful concrete jungle of Patong). There are one or two bedroom apartments of various sizes. I hardly ever visit Patong, it's not my style, but for sure Patong beach is very convenient for visitors, with huge numbers of restaurants plus shops/the Jungceylon Mall and tour agents near you. And bars and nightlife.

BYD Lofts - Online Booking
BYD Lofts Reviews

5. Point Yamu by Como Resort (Cape Yamu)

Point Yamu Resort

A quite new resort (opened 2014). And a great location, if you don't mind being miles from anywhere! A few years ago when Cape Yamu started being developed, we took a drive to explore the area. It looked terrible. A beautiful natural headland covered in concrete and cranes. Of course now it looks totally amazing and I'd be very very happy to stay a night here. Oh, by the way ... it's not cheap! Not at all! Cape Yamu is on the east coast of Phuket, and there are great views. There are 79 rooms plus 27 private villas. It looks amazing. Did I say that already?

Point Yamu Resort - Online Booking
Point Yamu Resort Reviews

6. The Shore at Katathani (Kata Noi Beach)

The Shore at Katathani

The Katathani Resort has been a fixture for many years at quiet Kata Noi beach to the south of Kata beach. The Shore is the newer luxury "pool villa" development, which opened in 2010 catching the popular wave of private villa style hotels - as you may see from this top 10! And these villas look great. They are all private pool villas, some with seaview (note: if you ready the reviews you can see that the view does vary from villa to villa). A great hotel for couples. Most of the reviews are from couples and I see lots and lots of honeymoon reviews. Well, you have to spoil yourselves once.

The Shore at Katathani - Online Booking
The Shore Reviews

7. Navatara (Rawai Beach)

Navatara

And the surprise new entry for 2016 .. I've not heard of this place, but it's been open since 2013! I can't keep up with new hotels! Navatara has just 37 rooms, is built "Thai style", some rooms have direct pool access, all rooms look pretty big! A small, Thai style resort away from the main beaches, but not too far - sounds like what a lot of people ask me to recommend! Not by the beach, about 500m from Rawai beach and a few minutes drive from Nai Harn beach and Phromthep Cape. A very nice corner of Phuket.

Navatara - Online Booking
Navatara Reviews

8. Amari Phuket (Patong Beach)

Amari Phuket

The Amari Phuket Resort has been open for a very long time. It was one of the first big resorts in Phuket, opening way back in 1984. For an olde hotel like this to make the top 10 is quite an achievement. Great location to relax at the far south end of Patong Beach away from the madness, but you can walk to the busy center of Patong in 15 minutes. A new "ocean wing" just opened in January 2016. They do keep on improving and last time I looked it, everything looked perfect. Yes, please!

Amari Phuket Resort - Online Booking
Amari Phuket Reviews

9. Pen Villa (Surin Beach)

Pen Villa

Pen Villa was a new entry on the 2013 list and then moved out of the top 10. It's back! Again, a smaller resort, away from the beach (Surin about 700m away). It looks quite simple from the outside, but certainly seems popular, it's a family run place and quite a bit cheaper than the rest of the top 10. Reviews on Agoda are good too.

Pen Villa - Online Booking
Pen Villa Reviews

10. The Surin (Pansea Beach)

The Surin

And to round out the top 10 another Oldie but Goldie. The Surin (formerly called The Chedi) reopened with the new name about 5 years ago, but The Chedi had been there for nearly 30 years already, with it's ridiculously good location on a private beach between Surin and Bang Tao beaches. And it's not ridiculously expensive. Actually the beach is not quite private, it's shared with the Amanpuri.

The Surin - Online Booking
The Surin Reviews

So, that's my Top 10 hotels in Phuket as of early 2016. Have you stayed at a hotel that's not listed, but you think it should be? So you better review it big time on TA,. Phuket, now that it's been on the mainstream tourism route for about 30 years, has a mix of old and new resorts, big hotels, small guesthouses, villas, apartments, hillside, beachfront, busy areas, very quiet areas... There is actually something here for everyone and any budget, but doing some proper research is important especially checking hotel location. Look at a map. In recent years many new luxury resorts have opened in more secluded areas and the trend is for sea view hillside (not on the beach) villas. Land prices and rents are so high that beachfront is a mega investment. Phuket has a big luxury market now, but at the same time small guesthouses and "backpacker price" places are flourishing.

Check agoda.com for hotel booking. Lots of reviews on agoda for most of the hotels listed here and certainly do read the reviews, but do think carefully also about what suits you - location, resort size, hotel style, price(!), do you want something for couples, or suitable for families / kids, close to the airport or close to nightlife etc. Some like it quiet and secluded, others want action. If you get it wrong, doh! If you have any questions, please do ask on my Jamie's Phuket Facebook Page. See you in Phuket!

Changes In The Village...

Things have changed considerably since I first started visiting this village.  One public phone has turned into everyone having a cellphone and access to a landline and the internet.

Once dirt sois and roads are now concrete or asphalt.  The trail up to the dam has not change much but what is growing along the way has changed a lot.  The reservoir has recently been expanded by building up a dike around the lower side of the catchment area.  I walked up there yesterday and was impressed with the innovative way they went about expanding the capacity of the reservoir.

Our road to the village has been in need of constant repair for as long as I can remember but they have finally begun a major overhaul to the worst five kilometer stretch leading up to our village.

Unable to rely on the dam for irrigation during the offseason, many of the farmers have dug their own ponds to provide water for a crop of pumpkins between the rice crops which are only once each year.

Everyone seems to have trucks and farm equipment instead of buffalo these days.  Nearly 8000 rai of land on the East side of the village was turned into a rubber plantation by the Chang Beer company and the trees have change to look of things considerably.

Here are a few photos from my walk to the dam yesterday.

Walking along the trail to the dam.

Rubber trees along the trail.

One of the few views which hasn't changed much.

The light color on the left is where they have raised a dike.

Our local yacht harbor.

The beginning of the work around the left side of the reservoir.

Looking back on one large section.

The low water level made expansion into this area possible.

An uprooted tree and a touch of color on the hillside.

Our house is barely visible on the left.

It is a bit of a mess for now but will be great when finished.

The flowering trees improve the look of our village if only briefly.
Our neighbor's pumpkin patch behind our house.

Market Day

Market Day in Wang Pho


Most of these veggies were growing out behind his house just the day before , he has a huge garden.
I swear this pork is so fresh , I thought I heard a loud squeal

These eggs are so fresh that when they start to run low they run out to the truck where the hens are laying more on demand.
After all the eggs are laid they then are sold here , minus all their feathers of course
Believe it are not , but some of these fish are still flopping around on the table .
It's been a while since I posted anything about one of my favorite things to do here in Wang Pho , doing the weekly shopping at our fresh fruit and veggie market and oh ya I don't want to forget the fresh meat and fish market too
.
I can't wait for the net to get sooo advanced that we will have scratch and sniff available on all the pictures . The one great thing about the fresh market is all the wonderful smells all mixed together . I would be amiss if I forgot to mention that on market days there is also a lot of already cooked food vendors at the market about 25% of the market is fast (Thai style ) food to take home to eat. Ciejay and me talked about it one day and we both agreed that if we really wanted to we would never have to cook at home ever, and fresh cooked meals are within 5 minutes ride or walk from our home , something to think about as we get older , ha ha ..
Sorry no scratch and sniff , but hope you enjoy the pictures . Malcolm
Do you have a fresh fruit and veggie market near you and do you visit it often ????
We have a huge Tesco Lotus that we could buy our fruit and veggies if we wanted to , but not only are the local markets stuff fresher , it helps our local farmer to sell their stuff and get a little income from all their hard work and it also keeps our little town from being a poor village