Delivering school supplies to Chiang Dao

Some of you may have noticed our page about helping the Hill Tribes. This is an initiative in cooperation with Pack for a Purpose. We collect supplies for the kids that are donated by our guests that use the extra space in their suitcases to transport their gifts to the Hill Tribes. We also take a portion of our profits and donate cash to the cause.

Normally we try to leave the people alone and let Khun Nim and Khun Thun deliver the items to the villages. I am not alone in being concerned about what happens when well-meaning tourists want to go to the orphanages and get their pictures taken with the kids. There are many articles discussing the details of this problem and the distortions it causes. Here is one...

Voluntourism tips: is it ethical to visit orphanages?

But we also felt that if we will bring our guests to the kids, we should at least document their generosity being put to good use. So last December, Qinlin and I went along for a delivery run of supplies to a school in Chiang Dao. I am so glad we did.

We arrived on the 60th anniversary of the school and were greeted by the English teacher, Khun Nok. Because of the celebration, the kids were playing volleyball instead of the usual studying. They treated us to a simple feast of spicy noodles. We got down to the important business of photographing some of the donated supplies with the kids and teachers at the school.

After playing with the kids, Khun Nok and some other teachers showed us around. They were very proud of their students' work. Besides the normal academics, it was enlightening to see some of the skills they were taught...

  • retailing - selling food and plants in a sidewalk stand
  • making brick tiles from sand and mud
  • arts and crafts that can be sold to tourists

Then they showed us the music room where they had a small assembly of traditional Thai and western instruments. We were treated to a short song.

At last, it was time to move on, but some of us posed for one last picture before we left. I hope I can meet one of these kids someday as he or she is beginning studies at Chiang Mai University.

Pack for a Purpose

We are proud members of Pack for a Purpose, an initiative that allows travelers like you to make a lasting impact in the community at your travel destination. If you save just a few kilos of space in your suitcase and take supplies for the projects we support in need, you’ll make a priceless impact in the lives of our local children and families. Please click the logo above to see how you can help.

The Star Throwers are a group of vacation rental professionals realizing their full potential on travelers, communities, and the world.

turkey dinner

Christmas in Paradise

What you get...


A full Christmas dinner with the trimmings prepared by a quality local restaurant will be catered to your villa.


We will provide you with a server that will stay throughout the meal and take care of your needs. She will also clear up afterwards and leave you with a clean kitchen and dining area.

Full Service

The Coolwater is not just a a simple vacation rental. We always offer daily maid service, twice weekly linen changes, and an on-site estate manager from 9-5.

Dinner Selection

turkey dinner baked ham


Either turkey and stuffing or baked ham



Prepared as appropriate for the selected entre.


Seasonal vegetables grown locally in Thailand

mince pie


Your selection of fresh desert from the local bakery

Guests that prefer a more traditional Thai meal can substitute with something from the Curated Meals section of our dining menu.

There is a five to seven day minimum stay for our villas during the holiday season.

To reserve your stay with Christmas dinner included, just click the button below.

Phang Nga Town

Road trip to Phang Nga from Phuket

Lots of people that come to Phuket take guided tours of the popular island or "hongs" nearby the main island. These normally involve a bus ride to the pier, a speedboat to the destination, some sightseeing, a return boat ride, and finally a bus ride back to the villa.

I have never been to James Bond Island which is one of the two most popular tours in the area. For those of you that don't know, James Bond Island is the newer moniker given to Ko Tapu since it was used in the movie, "The Man With The Golden Gun". Not my favorite James Bond movie, but the scenery is sure nice.

Ko Tapu at 007 Museum
You get the idea.

Anyway, I didn't feel like being locked into a tour boat. Why not just get in the car, drive up to the area, and rent our own long tail boat for a more custom experience?

I left with Khun Por, the estate manager, in her car at 9AM. You can see our starting location of The Coolwater at the bottom of the map. We planned to drive all the way north past Phuket Island into Phang Nga. You can see some of the stops we selected on the map as well. One of these stops is the Ao Phang Nga National Park where we can rent a long tail boat for a three hour excursion that includes James Bond Island. The plan was to tool around the area until about 3PM when we would rent the boat. That way we would arrive at James Bond Island in the late afternoon after most of the tours have left the area, allowing us to enjoy the island without the crowds.

Driving north, we crossed the bridge from Phuket to Phang Nga before 10 and started to check out the sites. We found that literally all of them were very close to each other. None more than 20 minutes from any other. But it doesn't matter - the drive is beautiful.

Phang Nga is a magical place studded with steep rocky mountains known as karst formations, just like Phi Phi Island and the others you see out in the Andaman Sea. Many, if not most of these formations have caves, and of those caves, many have been turned into temples.

Our first stop at Wat Suwan Khuha is one such cave temple. Very impressive. One thing I notice about Thailand, if there is any beautiful or impressive natural formation - it will be converted into a temple. This one was surrounded by stands where you could buy food and souvenirs. There were monkeys all over the place, ready to accept your unused snacks or to just scrounge the trash in general. I found myself pretty charmed by them.

On the way to our next destination, we passed a few rubber plantations and stopped at the side of the road to look. You can see in the picture that they cut a slice into the tree and carve a track for the sap to follow until it falls into the attached bucket. Khun Por says they collect the sap about three times a day. The trees grow for a seven year cycle before they cut them down and start with a new batch of trees.

One common thing about all of the places we went to was that there were no crowds at all. But at Raman Waterfall Forest Park, there were literally only three other people in the park, two of which arrived as we were leaving.

The park is beautiful. It has a nice open park at the entrance where you walk past a gazebo up a short trail that runs parallel to a stream that contains seven waterfalls. It is heavy with foliage that provides a welcome respite from the sun. The path itself is made of rock and well-maintained, as is the entire park.

Khun Por decided that the next staff outing for The Coolwater will be held here. Good choice.

Next we drove to Phang Nga town where grabbed some lunch at small restaurant called Mr. Satay. You'll never guess what they served - satay and only satay. Three kinds, pork, chicken, and shrimp. They were all excellent. I wish I could give you a web site or Google Maps location, but they are not marked. I can say they are on the West side of the main street (Hwy 4).

Two other stops in Phang Nga Town worthy of mention are Khao Chang and Somdet Phra Srinaganndra Park The park is especially nice - a meticulously manicured area that integrates the beautiful mountains of the area with some lakes and grassy areas. There are great paths, one of which goes through a cave of sorts that passes under one of the large rocks. The cave is not dark as the openings on either end are very close to each other. There are lots of places to picnic and we found we wished we had ordered our lunch to-go and eaten it here.

After our short stay in Phang Nga Town, we went for a casual drive to the north. We took Highway 4311 up until it we turned left on Highway 4 and returned south back to town. This is a nice one hour drive through the lush rainforest-covered mountains. Besides the wonderful scenery, we noticed that there were no tour vans on these roads and all of the traffic was the local residents.

Along the way, we stopped at Wat Khiriwong on Highway 4. It was not a planned stop, but it was too quaint to pass by and we had the place to ourselves - and the temple dogs - and the monkeys. Most of the photos above are from there. There is some sort of garden behind the rocky hill next to the place, however the entrance was closed when we arrived. Such a peaceful and quiet place. I will be sure to stop there the next time.

So you're probably wondering where the pictures of James Bond Island are. Well, we never got there.

By 3PM we were back in Phang Nga Town having returned from our loop north. That is when we got a phone call from a last-minute guest that wanted to stay at The Coolwater. It was time to call it quits and head back to the villas. We arrived home by 4PM.

This was a great time. A very easy and peaceful drive. Almost no tourists in the area for most of the trip. A chance to experience the local lifestyle in beautiful surroundings.

We're looking forward to our next journey north and hope we get to take a long tail boat that time.

Some of you may wonder how we knew where to go in Phang Nga. Just like you, we looked on the web. We found this article by John Everingham at It has a lot more information than I give you here and also suggests some other drives. Check it out.


What about the rain in Phuket?


A storm on the horizon.


Thailand has a rainy season that goes from May to October. And some people are put off by this.

But this really shouldn’t worry you, even when you see a forecast that looks like this…

phuket forecast

So even if the forecast says “rain every day”, it doesn’t tell you how long the rain will last.

The rain in Thailand is normally a monsoon. What that means is you may experience a one hour storm during the day (or evening). Then the sun comes right out and dries out the street within an hour. These storms are very easy to see coming because you will detect some wind before the rain arrives.

So about that forecast. Here is a picture we took yesterday (Tuesday on the forecast).

another rainy day

Another rainy day in Phuket

To be fair, it did rain that day. I could tell because the deck was wet when I woke up the next morning.

Phuket is a vibrant place to be during the rainy season. We live in Chiang Mai. But we do most of our stays in Phuket during the “rainy” season because the rain helps to keep cool.

I am not saying that it never storms all day in Phuket. Sometimes it does – but it is not the norm. Conversely, it does not monsoon every day of rainy season either. There are many completely clear days.

Of course, there is plenty to do while it rains, especially in our very comfortable villas, but here is some guidance from the experts at Phuket 101…

12 things to do in Phuket when it rains

One other thing. Our pricing is seasonal and our villas are significantly cheaper during this period – and the same is true of other hotels in the area. So I think you may find the economics of a summer visit to be quite attractive.

Pangtong Village

Helping the Hill Tribes

Click below to learn more.Pack for a Purpose

singapore air

Deals on flights from Shanghai to Phuket

Presently there are four airlines offering direct flights from Shanghai to Phuket. They are Spring Airlines, Juneyao Airlines, China Eastern Airlines and Shanghai Airlines. All of their flights arrive in Phuket in the middle of the night, and they land one after the other during the late night or very early morning. After an exhausting red-eye flight, travelers will discover the queues at the Phuket airport immigration stations may be very long. The staff working at the airport immigration stations are limited in the middle of the night. As a result, the usual waiting time at the Phuket Customs can be one to two hours, sometimes even longer, especially in the Phuket tourist season (from November to April the following year). So be prepared to wait patiently to complete the immigration procedures at Phuket airport.

To help our guests avoid this situation and plan a pleasant vacation from the very start, we would like to suggest some alternative flights to arrive in Phuket and return to Shanghai during the daytime. Our partner, Shanghai STM International Travel Services Corp (, offers the discounted flights on Singapore Airlines. The flight schedules and prices are listed in the following tables. The prices offered by the Singapore Airlines compare favorably to the direct flights from other airlines and the arrival times are much better.

Singapore Airlines has long been known as one of the world's most comfortable and safest airlines - and the beautiful and elegant Singapore Airlines attendants will provide you with five-star service.

Singapore Airlines Tickets Info
Price: 4070 RMB per person (includes tax)

Shanghai to Singapore
SQ825 00:35-05:55
SQ827 08:05-13:25
SQ831 14:30-19:50
SQ833 16:50-22:20
SQ835 19:10-00:30+1
Singapore to Phuket
MI752 08:35-09:35
MI754 13:20-14:10
MI756 16:25-17:10
MI758 18:30 -19:20
Phuket to Singapore
MI749 08:30-11:25
MI751 10:15-13:05
MI753 14:55-17:40
MI755 17:50-20:40
MI757 20:10-22:55
Singapore to Shanghai
SQ826 01:15-06:35
SQ828 08:05-13:25
SQ830 09:45-15:05
SQ832 12:45-18:05
SQ836 17:25-22:45


The prices above apply to guests of The Coolwater Resort.
Minimum of 2 passengers using the same departure and return schedules
Maximum length of stay is 14 days.
Please call for other great deals if the preceding terms do not fit your needs.

Booking Tel:0086 21 31260528
Address: Suite 5F/B3, No. 445, Jiang Ning Road, Shanghai, China, 200041


Oliver Lin

Shanghai STM International Travel Services CORP., LTD.

Add WeChat Official Account:1224928473
Free consultation on customized private tours, in-depth travel
Say goodbye to the online travel raiders

Connect to Oliver on WeChat


Go to Bagan – before the crowds learn about it

I recently made a post exposing how cost effective a vacation in Phuket can be. At the end if the post, I commented that one of the best things about going to Phuket is that is it relatively close to other amazing destinations in SE Asia.

Angkor Wat

One of the places I mentioned is Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat is a humbling place to be and I recommend that everyone go there at least once if possible. However the crowds are huge and really something to deal with. For example, in the evenings, people go to Bakheng to see the sunset. It was so crowded, I had to raise my camera above everyone’s heads, take a picture, and look at the picture in the camera to see what was happening.

There is a famous location known as Ta Prohn where a large tree grows out of and over the temple. I did not see this because there was a crowd of people trying to have their own pictures taken in front of it. I guess I was lucky they even lined up at all. Frankly, I think they should restrict access with a rope so that people can see it and take their photo without being in it. It was at Angkor Wat that I first grew a distaste for what are are now known as “selfies”.

Angkor Wat Photographers

Sunrise at Angkor Wat


Myanmar (also known as Burma) is a country that has been under travel restriction because of governmental issues. This restriction was recently lifted a few years ago. The result is that this country is only lightly affected by tourism – so far.

Bagan is an ancient city near Mandalay in central Myanmar. It is covered with 2200 temples from the 9th to 13th century. And it is certainly comparable to Angkor Wat. However there are no crowds. To be clear, Bagan draws travelers, but not enough to diminish the experience. My first morning in Bagan we went to a temple to see the morning sun. There was absolutely no one there. Within the hour, a few people arrived but when we left there were still only four cars parked at the temple.

By mid-afternoon, there was a healthy amount of people at all the popular locations, but again, it was really no trouble and very pleasant. This is true, even though we went in December, which is peak travel season for SE Asia.

Since Bagan has not had a lot of visitors in the past, there is a shortage of lodging. But they are working on that now and I wouldn’t be surprised if the supply doubles every year. But what is there is very nice and some are located literally inside the range of temples. You can walk to many of them.

I have taken some pictures of Bagan that are posted on our personal photo gallery. I am not a good photographer and I have never learned to post-process or edit down the gallery. But feel free to look at them and make your own assessment of Bagan. FYI, the first pictures are of the inn that we stayed at. Very nice.

bagan sunset

Click picture to see my photos of Bagan

To be honest, if this blog had any real readership, I would probably not even make this post. I don’t want to ruin it for myself. I hope to go back more than once. But Bagan is just too amazing and historically significant to remain the backwater it is now.

Go to Bagan now before everyone else learns about it.

Phuket coastline

Can I afford a vacation in Phuket?

Good question. Many people love to go an an annual vacation, but never consider the affordability of going to another country – or another part of the world. I decided to look deeper into this and found results that may surprise you.

As an example, I took a look at the price of a trip to Miami. I used my old home of California as the source. I also used dates in February for a reference.

Miami Beach

Miami Beach

A round trip from Los Angeles to Miami is $209.
A round trip from Los Angeles to Phuket is $465.

These are super-economy rates, but the price comparison math is pretty similar with the more expensive flights as well.

There is no visa requirement for a US citizen to enter Thailand for stays for one month or less.

Now here is where it gets interesting. I compared prices for 3 and 4 bedroom villas with a capacity of 6 to 8 people in Miami against our villas at The Coolwater.

A 4 bedroom villa at The Coolwater is about $550 per night.
In Miami, I found one or two $500 villas, but they were Ikea-furnished cheapies that did not look so appetizing. It wasn’t until I went up to $800 per night and higher price ranges that the homes looked comparable.
I also checked the price of decent hotels. All of them were so expensive I chose not to include them in this post.
None of the rental homes available in Miami advertised daily maid service and similar perks. Less than half of the places had pools. These are normal aspects of a stay at The Coolwater.

Conclusion: It costs $31 less per person per night to stay in Phuket with a private pool.
The math looked very similar at the 3 bedroom range.

Now, let’s talk about eating. Going out to eat in Phuket is as little as 1/3 the price of doing the same in Miami, or most any city in the United States. And you get top quality food – if you like Thai food. Western food costs more, starting at 1/2 the prices in the US up to 2/3. But if you come all the way to Thailand, why do you want to eat meat and potatoes? You can get that at home.

Want to party? Miami is an unfortunate example because drinks can be $10 and up.
Drinks in similar clubs in Thailand start at $6. But trust me, the partying is as opulent and extravagant as Miami.

Taxis and transportation are also much cheaper in Thailand when compared to a big city in the US.

Tours are hard to compare. In Phuket, you can take day-long boat cruises to the Phi Phi Islands and Phang Nga for about $90. Miami simply does not offer anything comparable. I was able to find 90 minute tours that drive by the affluent beach houses of Miami for $24.

I am not a golfer, but a cursory look at the fees showed that Miami courses seemed to be about twice as expensive as the many courses in Phuket.

Renting a car:
A compact car from Avis at Miami International Airport is $30 per day.
A compact car from Avis at Phuket International Airport is $42 per day.
– But we can get you a better price that should match the Avis Miami price.

Do the math. If you can afford to go to Miami, you can afford to go to Phuket. Depending on the length of your stay, you might even save money.

And speaking of Miami. maybe you want to consider the neighborhood. Does a trip to Miami, or Lake Tahoe, or San Francisco for that matter, provide you with a nice jumping off point to visit places like these?

Siem Reap (Angkor Wat): $140 round trip

Angkor Wat

Yangon: $210 round trip

Shwedagon Pagoda

Bangkok: $70 round trip

Royal Palace Bangkok

I’m just saying…

money bag

Best rates for Phuket Vacations

Regardless of the title, this post is helpful in getting the best possible rates in any hotel, villa, or vacation rental. It is not specific to Phuket or our villas.

While looking for a place to stay can be a chore, the most common and easiest thing to do is to use one of the online resources such as, Agoda, Ctrip, Expedia, TripAdvisor, Airbnb, and HomeAway. These services all provide a large catalog of places to stay and you can narrow down your searches by amount of guests, desired price – really anything.

You may have noticed that some of these services have begun to charge extra fees for the bookings. Some services such as Airbnb have always charged this. HomeAway just began this year. What might not be as obvious to you is that literally all of these services are also charging the hotel or villa owner a significant fee. They all charge at least 6% and many, if not most, charge much more.

Recently, I found an excellent article on the web…

Its ingenious name causes it to come up whenever anyone web searches for “guest service fees”. It is a long article that goes into greater detail than this. It is an interesting read and I suggest that you should at least skim it after reading this blog post.

But the point is to tell you how to get better rates. The following advise works reliably, and it works not just for our villas, but for any other accommodation. So learn it, live it, be it.

The trick is to find the direct web site, phone number, or email address for where you want to stay and book directly with them.

To do this, simply continue to search for a place to stay using your favorite online platform. Maybe even start the booking process so you can see the final price. But before you commit, look for some unique text in the description and search the web for it. You can also search for the pictures as well. (This is described in detail in the article mentioned above.) Probably the most obvious text to search is the name of the place. Often the text descriptions are literally identical to what is on the home web site for the accommodation. I know that the first words in our Airbnb text descriptions are something like “Baan Salawin at The Coolwater”. Search the web for that and you will come to this web site. Now you can book direct at prices that do not include the extra fees. Also, you have access to the phone number and email so you can ask as many questions as you like. You can get a more accurate feel for the place. This is often not possible with the online services. They do all they can to prevent the host and the guest from having direct communication. This is so they can protect and maximize their profit.

I can guarantee you that any rates you get from a direct booking with us will be better than what you get on the other services. And I am almost just as confident that our colleagues with other accommodations will do the same. Both the vendor and the guest get a significant savings. Now to be frank, if a guest tries to nickel and dime me down to extreme levels, I probably don’t want that kind of guest anyway. But I assure you that you will save money and the amounts are significant when you are talking about a $500 per night lodging.

Another strategy is to approach a smaller or local rental agency for villas.

You can find them by googling something like “phuket villa rentals”. You will see a bunch of them there. Many of these agencies are one or two people. They often have personal relationships with the owners of the villas. And because of that, sometimes they offer better prices for the same accommodation. But just as important is that they will monitor everything to make sure you get there ok and your stay is pleasant.

Food for thought.