Joined May 2022
  • Day20

    Farewell Bangkok

    December 17, 2022 in Thailand ⋅ ⛅ 31 °C

    We were not in the least motivated to spend our last day in the city, but made the effort and took the Chao Praya Expressboat to the Tha Chang station, where Willi had envisaged walking in the Grand Palace area. I was sceptical because my memories of that part of Bangkok were more accurate than his and we soon realised that we would be pestered by the tuktuk drivers if we did .

    So we got back on the boat and visited Chinatown instead. Chinatown has hardly changed. It is a busy, fumey, noisy area which smells of dried fish and sizzling oil. The arcades are crowded. Mopeds and hand trucks weave in and out of the visitors and customers. But these days there is a lot of electric light and even electric staircases in some places. However the dark, narrow living quarters above the shops are as depressing as ever.

    Back on the boat we were pleased to see that the sun had come out. So after a late check out it was quite pleasant to relax by the pool and reflect on this trip. Our conclusion being that we will be sad to leave this wonderful country, but will not necessarily return to the monster that Bangkok has turned into.
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  • Day19

    Doing Bangkok

    December 16, 2022 in Thailand ⋅ ⛅ 31 °C

    You wouldn't call Bangkok a beautiful city. But it has charming little nooks and is most certainly fascinating. One of our goals today was to relax in one of those nooks.

    In order to get there we took the skytrain, which is an experience in itself. The monorail hovers above main streets level with high rise buildings, but every now and then there's a gap which reveals chaotic street alleys down below. It's surrealistic!

    We descended about half a kilometre away from the Erawan shrine. The same Erawan shrine that suffered a terrorist attack 7 years ago. To get there we passed a series of luxurious hotels.. Anantara, St. Regis, the Hyatt to name a few.

    The best way to enjoy and to understand the Erawan shrine is to sit down on one of the many wooden benches, ideally in the shade, and watch. There is a continual coming and going of worshippers offering lotus flowers and garlands and incense sticks to the four -faced golden Buddha in the centre of the shrine. Now and again a devotee will pay for the temple dancers to come and dance for Buddha, accompanied by a sort of gamalan orchestra. It is very peaceful here, although the traffic operates on many different levels all around.

    Our walk to the Jim Thompson house started badly, as we began in the opposite direction snd discovered our mistake only after about 20 minutes. Walking along these busy streets is no pleasure. The traffic, the fumes and the noise is abominable. Basically you walk from one enormous shopping mall to the next. I was exhausted and foot sore when we arrived at this oasis.

    Down a street off the main road the museum is situated in a beautiful, peaceful spot surrounded by trees and plants. This is the house where Jim Thompson, an American who started and built up the Thai silk industry in the fifties, began his work. Just the ticket for a long sit down and later a Thai coconut ice-cream in the outdoor restaurant.

    Back at the Sathorn Taksin monorail station, Wiili and I wandered off in search of the Yannawa temple, which is built like a ship on the river. What a disappointment! The temple is more of less a parking spot for buses and the buildings are covered in scaffolding awaiting repair.

    On the way back to the Shangri-La we found a supermarket where we found most of the ingredients needed for tom kha gai and Thai green curry to make at home. But for dinner we opted to eat Chinese food at the high end Shang Palace restaurant on the hotel. After a shared plate of delicious Cantonese dumplings, we shared duck with plum sauce and sliced beef with a special pepper and black bean sauce.

    We had walked well over 18,000 steps and were beginning to feel it!
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  • Day18

    Bangkok and the Shangri-La Hotel

    December 15, 2022 in Thailand ⋅ ⛅ 30 °C

    The night was somewhat short. The fridge in our room was agonisingly loud and a whistling gecko trying to vie for attention and outdo the crickets made things worse.

    However were we were in a good mood on the way to Bangkok.... until the traffic jams started just before Bang Sue. This town is where the really high rise buildings start to sprout on the horizon. About 30 km north of Bangkok it boasts an enormous rail station which sprawls alongside the expressway.

    Trying to find the parking bay at the car rental station was a nightmare, but we managed. Getting a taxi to the hotel was much easier and within minutes of arriving, we were ushered into the very air-conditioned cafe by a spruce, charming young man for a delicious welcome drink.

    The Shangri-La in Bangkok is one of the most luxurious hotels I have ever stayed in. The public spaces are over-sized (and over-priced) but totally elegant. The rooms have seen better days but are also spacious and luxuriously furnished. The bathrooms cater for Western guests and have no useful toilet shower. It took us no time at all to get settled in, then we toured the hotel facilities and checked the times for the boat shuttle

    Actually we were keen to stretch our legs, so our first venture was to walk the streets surrounding the hotel, which are full of tailoring businesses and jewelry shops and massage parlours. But there are also local outdoor cafes and tantalising whifts of ginger and garlic filled the air. The rest of the afternoon was spent on two sunbeds overlooking the Chao Praya.

    The boat shuttle to the new shopping mall on the opposite side of the river left shortly after five, so we arrived at a good time to have a pre- dinner cocktail. The mall itself is pretty fantastic, boasting the highest fountains in Asia and various other superlatives. On the 6th floor we found a terrace restaurant which served a pretty decent Singapore Sling and I'm afraid we let ourselves be beguiled by the constant flow of French fries passing our table and ordered hamburgers..... which I never, ever, ever eat! The beat part of the evening was the enchanting view over the river as the sun dropped and the dark sky lit up the illuminations.

    We finished the evening back at the hotel, from where we were able to see two firework displays from different malls.
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  • Day17

    Lotus ponds and Khmer chedis

    December 14, 2022 in Thailand ⋅ ☀️ 28 °C

    Before we left our dream resort in Phitsanulok, I just had to photograph the beautiful lotus flowers and water lilies in the morning sun.

    The journey to Ayutthaya was almost four hours long, but we had slept so well and both felt totally refreshed. The highway views were also refreshing, especially on the rice plains, which were an ever-changing kaleidoscope of rice fields in various stages of cultivation and rural activity.

    It was cooler and less humid in Ayutthaya than two weeks earlier, so we decided to forego the prospect of extremely reasonable massages and visit the historical park, which we have visited several times before, instead. The light was perfect and the climate too. I think our pictures speak for themselves .

    In the second phase of the park, near the elephant kraal, Willi discovered several amazing birds: first an elusive kingfisher, then a colourful Indian roller, followed by a couple of hoopoes in breeding modus and finally a crane,which we have never seen before. Elated, we returned to Baan Thai for two (!) gin and tonics and dinner.
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  • Day16

    Goodbye Phrae, hello Phitsanulok

    December 13, 2022 in Thailand ⋅ ⛅ 24 °C

    In an open restaurant area in which three heavy long wooden tables were waiting for breakfast guests, twoThai ladies made us a European-style breakfast using Thai products, which is never satisfying. But gave us the energy to start our city wall walk.

    Whoever had mentioned on the internet that Phrae's city wall was mainly intact had got it wrong. From the night market we found the ramparts that led us alongside the moat on a cool leafy path with unwanted views into the prison yard. We admired the Buddhist poles at the place where the North city gate once stood and followed a very unkempt path until it suddenly came to an end. The road we had arrived at was in a quiet residential area with some attractive teak houses. This took us to a bridge crossing the lazy Yom river.

    Eventually we arrived at the beautiful Vongburi noble house, also known as the pink mansion, a teak building in the gingerbread style, built by the son of a former ruler. We strolled round, imagining what it must have been like to live here at the end of the nineternth century.

    On the way back to our hotel, we passed the temple which the same Vongburi family had built. This one of the sweetest temples I have seen anywhere! All in white and gold with a delicate pink design on the back of the main hall, the complex boasted a stupa on the back of a turtle. A reclining Buddha and, my favourite feature, a bronze statue of Buddha, the wandering preacher, that reminded me of Gandhi, were also featured in this lovely place.

    It took us about 2 hours 45 minutes to drive to our wonderful resort in Phitsanulok. The resort has hardly changed since our visit 9 years ago and for me it is The Perfect Hotel. Zen-style, complete with ponds with lotus flowers and waterways everywhere it is calm and calming. We snacked on prawn cakes and spring rolls with pork and a beer, then set off for War Phra Rattana Marharat.

    This temple is home to the Buddha image deemed the most beautiful in Thailand, the so-called Chinnarat Buddha. Nevertheless there were relatively few worshippers, so we were able to take our time and enjoy it. The temple is on the whole pretty photogenic, especially at this time of day.

    The sun was just setting as we reached another temple on the River Nan. It was full of stray dogs and this new temple is not yet complete, so we didn't linger. Instead we ordered a whisky and coke in the absence of gin at our resort and enjoyed dinner by the lotus pond.
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  • Day15

    Sandstone and ghost pillars

    December 12, 2022 in Thailand ⋅ ⛅ 26 °C

    Our drive from Nan to the sandstone formations Sao Din Na Noi took us along several rural roads and along rice fields in every possible stage of cultivation, from the shimmering ponds of silvery water aiting for the fresh plants to the last stubble of rice straw waiting to be burnt to make way for the new crops.

    We paid 100 baht entrance fees each and 30 for the car, which was well worth it if only for the use of the clean toilets. The area reminded us of Death Valley in miniature and the air was similarly hot and dry. We could not have had better light and wandered around for around 40 minutes mesmerised, taking pictures.

    From here we chose a strenuous drive through the Kuhn Satan National Park, which took us through some magnificent jungle forest again.
    Here we found enormous bushes of poinsettia. The views across the hills were fantastic.

    Finally we arrived at the Pha Muang Phi Forest Park, where more strange formations known as ghost pillars can be visited. We had the good fortune to meet a family with two Buddhist monks in their wake and one in them was all for having a photo taken with us.

    Phrae is an exceptionally quiet city and our boutique hotel, its leafy grounds set between two temples in a very tranquil street, is conveniently situated in the old town within the city walls. It was too hot to explore, so we made for the night market to see if we could have a beer somewhere.

    The night market area was not quite what we were looking for, but we happened to find a quirky restaurant with tables and chairs fashioned from old trees and ordered a Chang beer. They were offering barbecue meals to cook on gas ovens on your table, so we decided to give it a try and were pleasantly surprised. A couple sitting at a table nearby who we stopped to chat to presented us with a bag of small donuts purchased from the night market.

    Like the Thais, we had been up relatively early, had dinner early too and were ready to go to bed very soon.
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  • Day14

    Day trip to Bo Kluea

    December 11, 2022 in Thailand ⋅ ⛅ 27 °C

    After a really good Thai buffet breakfast this morning which included rice soup with pork meatballs, sticky rice baked with banana in banana leaf, guava juice, papaya and watermelon and a sort of Thai churros which the local people dip into sweetened condensed milk, we set off into the Khunnan National Park for a 2 hour drive up along the famous twisting and hilly 1081 road to Bo Kluea.

    Yesterday we had noticed signposts in Nan advertising the No. 3 curve and this lay right on our route. It is a double curve which resembles the number 3 and is a great attraction here. The viewpoint was absolutely full of cars parked in partly dangerous positions and a couple of good hmoured policemen were trying to keep the selfie - mad tourists under control, one of them roaring into a microphone.

    There were several viewpoints for the stunning scenery in the hills along the way and we arrived at the tiny village of Bo Kluea with its shops and restaurants and the salt pans which have helped to develop this region close to the Laotian border.

    The mountain salt is found in natural ponds and is extracted in flat pans heated over log fires in little huts throughout the village. This is sold to tourists in various forms, as soap and bath salts and body scrubs as well as for cooking. The local wampee fruit, black organic rice and herbs are also on sale . There are plenty of restaurants along the street.

    We were attracted by a stall selling feather light slightly sweet rice flour crackers and also bought some peanut cookies as well as some small salt products to take back home.

    Our journey back to Nan took us through the Doi Phu Kha National Park , through ancient virgin forest and with absolutely spectacular views but hardly any viewpoints for photographing them. And you wouldn't want to risk stopping on these twisting roads to take photographs.! At one of the rare stopping places about 20 cyclists who had made the 1,700 metres up the hill were resting before the downhill ride. Later we stopped at a temple and a chompoon phu tree which is allegedly the only tree of it's kind to exist in its natural habitat here in the forest.

    On our way back to our hotel, we stopped to visit a noble teak house in the city which has won architectural awards for the conservation of historical buildings. Here a lady explained how cotton was spun and woven and sang a song in the Lanna language to the sound of her phin, a local stringed instrument rather like a flute.

    Willi strolled over the walking street market when we got back, while I managed to stave off a migraine by resting in the room. With success!
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  • Day13

    Nan and its people, past and present

    December 10, 2022 in Thailand ⋅ ☀️ 31 °C

    We were dreading the journey to Nan. Only about 230 km but Google had warned us to allow 4 hours. Despite a toilet stop and one wrong turn, we took slightly less.The rural road was actually quite good, but there were a few roadworks because they are turning this curvy and hilly road into a four laned highway.

    The last 60 km were particularly steep and winding, but we arrived at our business hotel with no problems and settled into our comfortable, spacious room.

    Not for long, though. One of the reasons for coming here was to visit Wat Phumin, built in the 16th century by the Chinese Lu tribe who had settled here. Instead of the usual one Buddha statue opposite the main entrance, there were four Buddhas, one facing each door. But the most impressive feature of this main hall is the murals. Faded in places, the murals are basically in good shape and portray the life of the Nan people at that time.

    One of the most famous parts of the murals depicts a tattooed gentleman whispering words of love to a young lady - the famous Whisper of Love. There are quite humorous scenes including a pair of monkeys about to mate and a homosexual pair, each accompanying a young lady, but with eyes only for each other.

    In another part of the temple complex there were statues of strange beings torturing other beings. Heaven only knows what that signifies!

    Outside the temple complex we popped into the tourist office, where nobody spoke English, and came out with a tourist map that confused us completely. A walking market was being set up alongside the temple. We bought a few bananas and ate them in the grounds of the Nan Museum, where throngs of people were excitedly taking pictures in a small avenue of frangipani trees that were totally bereft of leaves and flowers.

    We felt too old to buy food at the market and eat it sitting down on the ground. So we strolled through the town completely lost, until a
    kind lady on a moped stopped and asked if we needed help. She put us right and we carried on over a large bridge to the Heritage Hotel on the other side of the river and enjoyed a beer on the riverside. For dinner we stopped at a local riverside eatery and had a lovely meal of chicken with rice and morning glory. We also did some people watching, observing that most of them came by car and what huge cars the Thais drive here!
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  • Day12

    Stunning Chiang Rai

    December 9, 2022 in Thailand ⋅ ⛅ 29 °C

    If there's just one attraction you HAVE to see in Chiang Rai, it's the White Temple, Wat Rong Khun.

    On our previous visit we were unfortunate with the weather and Willi was determined he was going to get to film the temple in sunshine this year. We got up quite early and it paid off. There was hardly a cloud in the sky!

    Completed at the end of the last century, it was badly damaged by an earthquake in 2014, but consequently restored and rebuilt by the original artist and architect Chalermchai Kositpipat.

    The main temple is all in white with mirror mosaic and in the sunshine the result is a filigree, shimmering fairytale building which in its eccentricity, at least, reminds one of Gaudì. There are also grey elements, like the sea of outstretched hands outside the ubosot, and silver and gold. The public toilets are designed like a magnificent temple, all in gold. There is also a natural section in the form of a waterfall set in rock and a Buddha in antique style with a backdrop of plants and trees. And there is a temple dedicated to Ganesha.

    It was difficult for us to tear ourselves away from the White Temple, but we wanted to take advantage of the light for the Hilltribe Village just north of the city and left just after eleven. There was just one tourist vehicle in the parking space and when we entered the village, we could understand why.

    Here the lack of tourism since Covid has had disastrous effects. The village seems deserted and the number of local people here depleted by about two thirds, I would think.

    We were "greeted" by people from the Akha tribe, who put on a fairly pathetic show for us, consisting of about 5 sullen old women in their complicated dress and headdresses and three men, who turned up one after another to beat out a rhythm with their percussion instruments. Instead of a smile, they grunted among themselves. A sign saying " Photo 50 Baht" put us off doing anything of the sort. We had just paid 300 Baht each for entrance fees!

    There was noone to be seen in the Yao village and nobody in the Lahu section. The Yawans were also not at home. Instead there were badly broken wooden shacks and very many skinny chickens. But in the Karen village, around ten ladies were weaving half-heartedly and/or looking after their young children. The Karen ladies are gentle people and did not mind having their photos taken. I recognised some of them from 9 years ago and it was frustrating not to be able to communicate with them and tell them that. We gave a small donation.

    I must admit we were a more than a little sad when we left the village. But our spirits were raised when we entered the Black House Museum. This is another eccentric project. It can be best described as a motley collection of artefacts, religious artefacts, farm implements, animal skins and bones, unusual North Thai buildings and works of all kinds by the artist Thawan Duchanee.

    The outside museum attracts both locals and "farangs" and was full of visitors. We treated ourselves to a coconut in my case and a fruit smoothie for Willi and sat drinking them in a barn full of baskets watching the people come and go.

    Today we had time to relax by the pool after being driven away from the swing seat on our small terrace by the mosquitos. What a lovely way to reflect on our busy day!
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  • Day11

    Doi Tung and Opium

    December 8, 2022 in Thailand ⋅ ⛅ 24 °C

    We woke up to a familiar sound heard in bungalow hotels around the world: of early bird gardeners brushing the footpaths with the regular swish, swish of brooms. During breakfast overlooking the River Kok, we sighted another coppersmith barbet. An auspicious start to the day, perhaps?

    Our first destination was Doi Tung, with its royal villa and botanical gardens. The villa was closed for an hour when we arrived at the popular hillside site, so we visited the gardens, at an altitude of 1,939 m. The gardens were not, by European standards, spectacular but the late Princess Srinagarindra, the present king's grandmother, who had inhabited the royal villa until she died at the age of 94, had realised that the area was suitable for many European plants and flowers which were unknown to the average Thai person. So she had had them planted here. The gardens are rather kitschy in a Disneyland sort of way, but lots of families were enjoying them and that is, of-course, the main thing.

    The sun was shy at first, but later we were able to take some pleasing pictures. Then we walked up to the villa, built in Swiss chalet style. We were requested to take off our shoes, sunglasses and hat and given an audio guide. This was really good and during the visit we felt we had learned a lot about the wonderful princess who had lived here and done so much for the people of Doi Tung.

    We had almost reached the bottom of the hill that takes you through the Doi "bazar" to the carpark, when we were asked to stop and the whole street came to a standstill. Silence dropped on the busy road. A princess was on her way with an amazing encourage.

    The Hall of Opium in Sop Ruak has a very good reputation and I have been looking forward to visiting for many years. It was worth waiting for. Apart from being very modern and full of the newest museum techniques it gave us a great insight into the history of world trade and particularly that of the British India Company. It explained the opium wars and described the devastating effect the consumption of opium had in Asia. And it became clear why North Thailand gave Princess Srinagarindra the nickname Royal Grandmother, for it was on her initiative that the peoples of the Doi Tung opium area were given education, health care and alternatives to the cultivation of opium.

    If the museum had impressed us, the Golden Triangle was a disappointment. The drop in tourism, mainly due to Corona, has left the stallholders with very few customers and the boat trip people with nothing to do. Very, very sad!
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