We love playing the credit card miles and points game and are always on the lookout for an exceptional bonus or a great redemption deal. We charge everything to credit cards–every little bit adds up, but we ALWAYS pay in full at the end of the month. I emphasize the “always” because I encourage everyone to take advantage of the great freebies to be had by using credit cards, but only so long as you never charge more than you can pay at the end of the month. If you can’t afford to pay in cash, don’t charge it to a card. Period. Interest rates eat people alive and can cost way more than any perk you might get from accumulated points. That warning aside, here’s how we paid for two first class flights (one 5 hours long and one 12 hours long) with credit card points.
We left the condo at 7:15am on the day we chose to visit the top site in Bangkok, the Grand Palace. Everything I’d read said to get there at least 15 minutes prior to the 8:30am opening time to avoid crowds and to beat the worst of the heat. We arrived at our neighborhood Sathorn Pier just in time to catch a commuter boat to the Tha Chang pier which is the Grand Palace stop. Since everything went so smoothly, we arrived much earlier than we’d planned, exiting the covered market that abuts the Tha Chang pier at 7:45am. Although we had more time than we needed, it turned out to be an interesting experience to be there so early.
Bangkok has a pretty manageable list of must-sees. The Grand Palace is probably top of the top, but everything I’d read said to get there before it opens to avoid the massive crowds and highest heat. We were tired after our drive from Kanchanaburi to Bangkok (and a first-night-in-Bangkok stop at a brewpub David had to check out), so we really didn’t want to get up that early on our first morning in the capital of Thailand. Number two on my list was Wat Pho and its famous reclining Buddha. We knew it would be hot and crowded, too, but heat and crowds are pretty much a given for Bangkok and we weren’t going to miss the city hiding out in the air conditioning.
David and I rewatched the 1957 movie classic “Bridge on the River Kwai” before coming to Kanchanaburi to help with the mood change from beautiful, tranquil Tup Kaek Beach to the infamous “Death Railway.” The movie, like the novel it’s based on, is fiction, but it’s based on a real bridge (or bridges) and a real railway constructed at great misery and cost of life by POW’s and conscripted civilians forced into labor by the Japanese during World War II. Over 100,000 people died building the 250 miles of railway, also known as the Thailand-Burma Railway which connected Bangkok to Rangoon. Most of the dead were Asian civilians (“romusha”) and roughly 16,000 were Allied prisoners of war, the majority of whom were Australian, British and Dutch.
We took our final AirAsia fight of this trip from Krabi to Don Muang International Airport in Bangkok. Don Muang is Bangkok’s old international airport, now replaced by Suvarnabhumi as the city’s main international airport. Don Muang–the oldest operating airport in Asia and one of the oldest in the world, for that matter–is now primarily a regional and low-cost carrier hub. Most flights from Krabi go to Don Muang and that suited our purposes perfectly, given the airport’s location on the north side of the city. Our next destination was Kanchanaburi of Bridge on the River Kwai fame, WNW of Bangkok. I researched various ways to get to Kanchanaburi and decided a rental car would be ideal…if David was willing to do the driving.
Top on my list of things to do while in Krabi–other than lounge on a gorgeous beach with David and drink mai tais–was to dive the Phi Phi Islands (amusingly pronounced “pee pee”). The Phi Phi Islands consistently get top marks as a world class dive site. All dive shops I’d found going to the islands were in Ao Nang, and that was a 20 to 30-minute ride from our hotel, Tup Kaek Sunset Beach Resort. I’d made some inquiries prior to leaving the U.S., but was frustrated by their requirement that we come into Ao Nang at least a day before to “show our dive cards, sign forms and try on equipment.” This sounded ridiculous to me and I had no desire to take time away from a coveted beach day traipsing into a town I’d deliberately avoided and back…Not to mention the pointless expense added insult to injury.
I don’t usually do straight-up lodging reviews on Wanderwiles unless something really stands out. Tup Kaek Sunset Beach Resort is one of those:
I’d always wanted to visit the beaches of Thailand, but I originally didn’t think it would be possible on this trip because we’d be there during rainy season. I’d originally thought to go directly from Singapore or Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok, then travel through Thailand, ending up in Cambodia, from where we’d fly home. When Luang Prabang, Laos, found its way onto my radar screen, I discovered flights that allowed me to reverse my original circuit. Flying home from Bangkok rather than little Siem Reap had the added benefit of bigger and better Korean Air airplanes for our much-anticipated First Class flight home. (We would have had to forego First Class entirely and settle for Business Class on the Siem Reap to Seoul leg of our journey home.) So, after Kuala Lumpur, we flew to Siem Reap, Cambodia, and from there to Luang Prabang where we caught the Mekong boat to northern Thailand. This allowed us to push the south of Thailand to the end of our trip, and that meant we could add a detour to the far south beaches in November when the area would just be moving from the rainy to the dry season. Cheap direct flights were available from Chiang Mai. We had a shot a good weather and we decided to take it.
This will be a quick post, but I thought I’d throw it in. We left Chiang Mai via an AirAsia flight to Krabi, on the southwest coast of Thailand. This was our 3rd AirAsia flight and we felt pretty complacent since the previous two experiences were great.
AirAsia is a budget airline serving much of southeast Asia and has some strict money saving guidelines/rules about pre-printing boarding passes and luggage tags, luggage weight, etc. Since my suitcase was on the edge of the 20 kg checked bag weight limit, I’d taken to buying an extra 5 kg, which really is a lot of extra weight and, happily, can be pooled with tickets on the same booking, i.e., David and I had 45 kg between the two of us. We never came close to going over this, but for an online charge of about $4, it was well worth it not to worry about weight. Also, carry-on is ostensibly limited to 7 kg/bag–not much, but we’ve found they never weigh carry-on luggage, so it’s really a non-issue. The flights are cramped for leg-room, but on our longer (2 hour) flight to Krabi, I “splurged” for exit row and we had plenty of space. Even the pre-booked seats I got for our 2 previous flights (Singapore to Kuala Lumpur, and Siem Reap, Cambodia, to Luang Prabang, Laos) counted as upgraded seats and got us a “meal” (a “hot pocket” on the shorter flights and “assorted sandwiches” on the Krabi flight) and early boarding. Anyway, the airline had been cheap, clean, efficient and punctual.
Massages are a big deal in Thailand. We’d seen signs and brochures everywhere, often multiple storefronts per block. Prices varied wildly, with fancy places near expensive tourist hotels many multiples of the crazy-cheap prices quoted in small, local massage parlors. Some of these little places were “mass production” affairs where we could watch through windows or open walls as customers, side-by-side with each other in un-air-conditioned rooms, were manipulated and prodded… an experience which didn’t appeal in the least. Still, we wanted to try a real Thai massage and see just what that entailed. How was it different from a Swedish massage or an “massage with oil” which often cost twice the price of a “Thai massage”? We decided to dedicate some free time in Chiang Mai to finding out.
One thing we knew we wanted to do while in Thailand was attend a cooking school. After doing a little research, I’d decided Chiang Mai was the ideal place for this and had booked a day at Thai Orchid Cookery School before we left the States. Like so much on this trip that we planned in advance, there’s a sense of unreality when the day finally arrives…but here it was!
As promised, a brand new van arrived shortly after 9am to pick us up at our hotel. Another couple was already in the van and we picked up a third couple before continuing on the short distance to Thai Orchid which is located in the center-east of Old Chiang Mai. Cooking schools have boomed in Chiang Mai and there are a bewildering amount to choose from. I’d narrowed it down to two before picking Thai Orchid over a school far out of town located in a farm where you can pick fresh herbs. After all the driving we’d done the day before on our Doi Suthep-Blue Elephant day, I was happy with my choice. Moreover, Thai Orchid offered air-conditioned space for dining and classroom portions of the school, something the farm didn’t have.