Thailand 2015

January - February 2015
A 25-day adventure by Looking for 42 Read more
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  • Day 1


    January 15, 2015 in Thailand ⋅ ☀️ 28 °C

    After arriving at our hostel at midnight after being awake for almost twenty-four hours we weren’t quite sure what to expect from our first day in Bangkok. The guidebook promised loads of interesting sites but we’d heard some pretty bad reviews of Bangkok from family and friends who had been here (or who knew someone who’d been here). The reviews were of a disgusting noisy city filled with touts and pickpockets. I’m glad we didn’t listen to the naysayers because that’s not the Bangkok we found.

    We set out from the hostel at around 10am after I spent a few hours working. We are staying close to the river near the junction of China Town and Downtown. We decided to set off on foot towards Wat Pho and the Old Town district. We have these new Garmin Vivofit watches that tell us how many steps we’ve taken so we were keen to get some runs on the board. So we politely refused the many tuk tuk drivers, including those who refused to take “no” for an answer and wound our way along lanes and alleys. We came across many small markets where vegetables and prepared foods were sold. My favourite market was the flower market in China Town where flowers were stored on ice to keep them fresh. My poor partner discovered that being over six foot tall in Bangkok places you at risk of losing your head to all sorts of obstacles, such as the umbrellas that are balanced over walkways as shade coverings.

    During our 23km walk (that’s right, we walked 14 miles) around the city, we came across many green spaces. There are pot plants and small gardens everywhere. Flowers are blooming red, purple and white while leaves of all shapes and textures abound. It almost feels like there is a little bit of country on every city street. While the city is crowded and old, it would be unfair to say it is disgusting or filthy. There are certainly a lot of cats around though. There are pretty black cats, big fat ginger cats, painted cats with missing tails and everything in between. There are dishes with cat food tucked under bridges, showing that at least some of Bangkok’s citizens are feeding the cats. The river seems to be at the heart of the city. Boats rocked on the waves churned up on its brown waters as they raced to their destinations. The sound of water slapping the concrete banks was almost constant. The traffic on the roads was constant too but not as chaotic as it was in Indonesia. The cars all stayed in their lanes and the volume of motorbikes was moderate. The traffic was certainly more chaotic and heavy than at home but it was nothing like what I had been told to expect.

    Let me be clear though, there are touts and fraudsters at work all over Bangkok. In fact, I would say they are worse here than they were in Shanghai where I got stung going to a tea ceremony many years ago. The touts and fraudsters here play on the fact that foreigners view Thai culture as friendly and kind. Do not be fooled – if you are in a tourist area like Old Town Bangkok and someone starts to talk with you, they are not trying to help you. They have ulterior motives. Yes, you may enter Wat Pho and the Palace if you are not wearing trousers because you will be given the free loan of a robe or sarong. No, Wat Pho and the Palace do not close on Saturdays or Sundays or mornings before 2pm or afternoons after 1pm or whatever excuse the tout will give. And yes, you can walk down the street without a guide or tuk tuk driver. The touts were terrible around the tourist areas but disappeared as soon as we walked a block or two further away. These criminals are not just trying to make a living. They are endangering the tourist trade and the reputation of all Thai people. But don’t let them ruin your holiday … anticipate, be firm and politely ignore anyone who approaches you near a tourist area or who tries to dissuade you from going to a certain destination. So far the hot spots we have found include: Wat Pho, the Palace, Silom Road and Lumphini Park. If in doubt, ask yourself “why would this stranger want to be so helpful when I haven’t asked for advice”? And for heaven’s sake – do not carry your map out in public. Upload Google maps and use that because you can pretend you are updating Facebook instead of reading a map.

    Naturally, we visited many temples during our first day in Bangkok. I was quite taken by the gold. There was just so much of it everywhere in the temples. The roofs shone in the sun, the windows glittered and the Buddha statues shone. Over the course of the day we must have visited six or seven different temples. Wat Pho was as beautiful as expected. The laying Buddha was spectacularly huge and the temple complex was massive. My favourite section was the tiny garden with the fountain in it. This was a peaceful place in a heavily touristed place. I would definitely try to come here early before the tour groups arrive if I came again.

    My favourite temple was on the opposite bank of the river. Here you could climb steep steps to the top of an old Buddhist structure that reminded me a little bit of the Borobudur in Indonesia except that this was far steeper, smaller and more ornate. But the style was similar in that it was a tiered structure with steep steps and carved reliefs. The view from the top was spectacular and worth the climb. Though I do wonder whether the people who built it were short like the Thais because even my six foot tall partner found the height of the steps a challenge.

    On the way home we came across a garden with a lake and island. The garden was a reproduction of an ancient sacred mountain temple. It was the kind of place that isn’t mentioned in the guide books that you stumble across when you walk around taking side alleys. It was a small but magnificent place and we probably spent almost half an hour there.

    We ended the day with a full body Thai massage and a healthy street restaurant dinner complete with two serves of vegetables. I’d never had a Thai massage before so was a little shocked when I realised the masseuse was going to walk on my back (though it felt amazing) and when she dug her fingers painfully into muscles I never knew I had. And, with all due respect to every masseuse and physio who has ever treated me at home, I have never walked away from a massage feeling so good. I have chronic back pain and after this massage I felt as right as rain.

    Bangkok seems to be a city in the process of massive change. On the one hand there are cute little Buddhist shrines everywhere you look, whether it be inside motorbike repair shops, hung in trees or standing in front of buildings. There are dilapidated buildings rotting into the river and tiny laneways where people sell food from karts. There is even a market along the river in Chinatown that is constructed each night and then pulled down during the day. There are even men and women walking their wares on carts and trolleys through the street to sell at market. But if you walk beyond the main tourist areas and into the city centre, there is another equally vibrant side to Bangkok and it is very modern. Modern cars certainly outnumber the old wrecks and we even saw a couple of Lotus cars near Paragon, both parked and being driven.

    Speaking of the Paragon Siam, the shopping centres here are massive and glitzy. There are even doormen in uniform to welcome you into the complex. There are massive movie cinemas with different levels of cinema experience available from deluxe seating starting at $5 on a Wednesday through to daybeds and 3D cinema screens starting at about $15 on a Wednesday and increasing in price on other days of the week. The shops here carry normal brands like at home and are not much cheaper.

    We explored a few parks here today. They are beautiful and peaceful. It’s difficult to believe that just having a few trees and some grass can change a block of land into a haven when a city of 8 million people is bustling around it. We spent some time sitting under trees in a park and walking through others as short cuts on our way home.

    Religion is everywhere here as it is in so many places. Buddhism and Hinduism dominate. This brings an interesting sensory contrast to the Islam-dominated experiences I had in Indonesia. In Indonesia it was my ears that were constantly reminded of the locals’ faith. Here it is my nose when I smell the burning of incense sticks. Like the many stunning mosques I saw in Indonesia, the temples and shrines here are beautiful too. At a time when many Americans and Australians criticise the existence of religion as evil, I personally find it fantastic to see so many people peacefully filling their lives with faith and being unabashed about it. Besides, I like the pretty temples and art works that come with many of the world’s religions.

    Naturally, we also enjoyed some of the culinary delights on offer here in Bangkok. We ate bananas barbecued in their jackets, shared a chocolate brownie, dined on noodles with vegetables and chicken for lunch and dinner at street restaurants, indulged in chocolate fondue at Haagen-Dasz and sampled a crispy pancake for dessert after walking more than 20km (11 miles) again today. I don’t know what the highlight of the day was … it could have been the sights or the chocolate fondue or the 60 minute leg massage we relaxed to. Nope – no highlight … just a brilliant day.

    It’s taken us a couple of days but we are finally checking out Bangkok from the river. We are heading further afield to check out the Dusit area and decide it’s too far from our hostel to walk. The river is brown, wide and relatively fast flowing for it’s width. The ferry drivers have to work hard to hold their boats in place so passengers can jump on and off. And often the jumping is literal because there is no gangplank. The ferry is tied to the pier with a slack rope and held so that it stays pressed against the pier. Often the boat slips back, leaving passengers to jump a short distance if they don’t want to swim. We worked out the flag system and caught the cheap orange flag boat. The flags indicate which piers the ferries will stop at. There is a special blue flag boat for tourists but it cost 40 baht while the local boats (which stop in the same places) cost only 15 baht. The green flag boat is the express boat and doesn’t stop everywhere.

    The river is a bustling place. Boatmen whistle to drivers to communicate directions at stops. Brightly coloured longboats race around with oversized engines at the ends of their rudders. Small yellow fishing boats head out to sea. Wooden pole houses look like they are about to fall into the river only to be replaced by new concrete barriers and new concrete houses. It’s a bright, colourful and alive.

    There aren’t many people left on the ferry when we hop off at the Dusit flower market. The market is a bit dirty and feels dodgy so we leave to go to a wat we spied. The wat is beautiful. The exterior is white with a red roof and gold trim while the interior is purple. There is some water for sale here so we make a donation to get some.

    The temples here in Thailand are stunning. Later in the afternoon we walk through an area on the other side of the river near ferry stops 17 and 18. A small Chinese Buddhist temple stands on the side of the road. It’s simple colourings are a stark contrast with the elaborate wats. But it too is a peaceful place and the lady praying welcomes us to enter. There is also a wat nearby with yellow walls and red trim. It is totally different to the other wats we’ve seen with white or gold windows. The red windows are amazing against the yellow walls in the setting sun.

    But before we get to the afternoon, there is a lot to explore in the Dusit area. After hopping off the ferry we walk towards Dusit Park. Along the way, we see a sign that says “Police Museum”. Paul suggests we head in there to see what it is. It turns out to be quite a little find. The first building is part of a palace that King Rama VI built for his son. The building was designed by an Italian architect and was decorated in Prussian style after King Rama VI’s son was educated in Russia and married a Russian lady. The museum is free and a guide who speaks quite good English shows us around. First we watch a video, which is both interesting and gives us a chance to rest our feet after a long walk up the road. We learn a lot about the royals and their way of life through the mansion. It’s not as grand as the massive white palace across the road but still beautiful.

    The second half of the police museum is a new modern building that houses an actual museum about the police. The reason the two buildings are used together as a police museum is because King Rama IX is a great patron of the police and brought modern thinking to the police service’s management of traffic in Thailand. He donated a fleet of motorcycles and encouarged police to be trained to deliver babies, including issuing baby delivery kits to the police. The police section of the museum included some short films about police work and training, a display about the history of policing in Thailand, including weapons and uniforms, and some mock crime scenes. Having studied criminology at university, I found the exhibition interesting. As someone who believes in social justice, I thought some of the quotes should probably be hung in the staff entrance to every police station in the world, particularly those about the police role being to keep the community safe not being merely to arrest people. But I digress. There were no foreign signatures in the guest book that I signed … all the names and comments were in Thai but I would definitely recommend these two museums to anyone visiting Bangkok. They are literally across the road from the grand palace near Dusit Zoo.

    Speaking of Dusit Zoo. We went there too. Don’t listen to the touts outside the zoo – it is not closed and you do not need a guide. Just walk in and enjoy the animals. The first area we came to was the koala sanctuary so naturally I had to be ironic and take photos of my home country’s national icon. The zoo was quite large and was centred around a large lake where some huge catfish (amongst other fish) lived alongside water dragons and turtles. For about 10 baht you can buy a loaf of bread to feed the fish. The fish are pretty aggressive with each other when they are fighting for the food. As far as zoos go, this one is pretty nice to walk around. The animals don’t have a huge amount of space but what space they have is clean and animal-appropriate. The bears have a jungle space with a fish pond, the giraffes live in a sandy-grassy area with food branches hanging from tall poles to mimic trees, the monkeys have plenty of height and play equipment to swing from. It’s certainly not the horrible cruel cages I saw in the small zoo I visited in Korea. We ended up spending about two hours there just walking around looking at everything.

    We were going to catch a tuk tuk back to the river but ended up walking there and then across the bridge to the other side where we saw the Chinese Buddhist temple and the wat with the red windows. Here we walked along local streets where houses are built on stilts in the water. The thing that has struck me most about Thailand is the greenery. Everywhere we looked there were flowers and plants growing in pots. It certainly takes the edge off the fact that we were in a big city. We ended up walking another 20km today around Bangkok. It’s our final day before we head up to Kanchanaburi. I think we covered the city pretty well.
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  • Day 4

    Bangkok to Kanchanaburi

    January 18, 2015 in Thailand ⋅ ☀️ 28 °C

    After our three days in Bangkok it’s time to go explore something new. We could probably spend a whole month just hanging out in Bangkok walking it’s many streets, catching ferries, eating food and having Thai massages. But there’s no sense getting comfortable; Thailand is a big country with lots to see. And so we pack our gear and take the ferry up the river to stop 11: Thonburi Station. The walk from the pier to the station takes about fifteen minutes but we have packed light for this trip and it is no problem. There is a market across the road from the station but it is still too early for it to be pumping. It’s smelly and there are lots of big rats around. That’s just part of being in Thailand I guess.

    We had been told that the train departed at 1pm and that we needed to be at the station at least an hour beforehand to purchase tickets. However, the train actually departs Thonburi at 1:55pm and it is a quiet station where you can buy tickets quickly and easily. With about two hours to spare, we went for a walk to explore some more wats. We started by heading back to the river where neither of us know how we missed the “floating” wat when we first walked past. It was beautiful, sitting in the middle of a man-made pond of chrystal clear water. After returning to the station we walk in the opposite direction and come across another gorgeous wat that appears to be a school for young monks. Boys with shaved heads and orange robes buy soft drinks and pens from a little stand within the wat’s walls. Others sit talking with older people dressed in regular clothes.

    Back at the railway station, we watch men washing a train that will depart before ours. And then it is time to board our wagon. Seating is unallocated so we chose the soft seats in the front car, rather than the wooden seats further back in the train. From here I can watch the locomotive being coupled on too.

    And then we are finally underway. If it weren’t for the foreign tourists, this train would be very quiet indeed. A gaggle of girls from the UK and Australia (guessing by their accents and body language) fill most of our carriage. Half of them couldn’t even lift their heaving packs onto the racks, so full and heavy was their luggage. I know they might be traveling for a year but I simply can’t imagine carting a 70-80L backpack around with me. I have certainly learned a bit since Korea when I carried too much gear on my bike and am now down to a lightweight 30L pack that is easy to throw on the bag rack.

    The three hour train journey takes us past urban housing, mansion estates, rural farm land and wats. Kanchanaburi is only about 125km from Bangkok so we’re not really fully into the country because there are many towns along the way. But we still get a glimpse of rural Thailand with its rice paddies and banana plantations.

    We make two mistakes when we arrive in Kanchanaburi. 
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  • Day 5

    Lat Ya

    January 19, 2015 in Thailand ⋅ ☀️ 28 °C

    We make two mistakes when we arrive in Kanchanaburi. Firstly, we don’t take any of the taxis from the station and then don’t know how to identify them out here. Taxis here are not cars but mini trucks and motorbikes. Secondly, we thought our hotel was only about 5km from the city centre (or at least, that’s what told us) but it ends up being over 25km away in the village of Lat Ya. We end up paying two motorbike taxis 150baht each to get us there. They refuse to negotiate and it’s not until we arrive that I know why. 25km is a long way to ride a scooter with two big western guys with backpacks as passengers.

    We feel like we are in the middle of nowhere. But at the same time, I have learned that when your travels take you somewhere you don’t expect, they might just be taking you where you need to be. We are a little disappointed to be all the way out here with no idea how to get around and no transport. And then we walk down the road to a little restaurant that is marked on Google Maps. The menu is only in Thai and no one speaks English but there are pictures and we have a translation app. Before long we are tucking into an amazing meal of chicken, snow peas and fried rice. This has to be the yummiest meal we’ve eaten here so far. It’s a pity that I stop at another shop on the way back to our hotel and buy some milk that will cause me some intense discomfort later in the night.

    After wondering whether we’d made a mistake in coming all the way out here to what felt like the middle of nowhere we woke to discover that our hotel is actually a tranquil resort set right on the banks of the River Kwai. A buffet breakfast of Thai food and some interpretations of Western breakfast as available in the restaurant overlooking a quiet bend in the river. I was grateful for the toast with jam given my stomach’s delicate situation.

    Not knowing what to expect from the day, we started to walk into the town that we discovered is called Lat Ya. Close to our hotel we came to the Shinto Memorial Garden to commemorate all those who lost their lives on the Death Railway. The garden was a moving tribute to the Allied soldiers and local labourers who perished in that terrible time. Open to the public this garden is maintained by a private group of people who are not funded by any government and to whom no donations can be made. I felt deeply moved during our stay in the garden. It really brought home the important role that all sides in a conflict play in bringing peace. It is only when there is acknowledgement of wrongs and forgiveness of pain that all can be at peace in a place that has seen such violence.

    With no real destination in mind, we wandered the streets of Lat Ya. The township is relatively small and straddles a major highway through Central Thailand. It’s nestled in a basin between some mountain ranges so the days here have been hot. This town is in the midst of a transition from traditional housing and street shops to modernisation. There’s a large Tescos supermarket next to a new strip of shops that will probably open in the coming weeks. Near our hotel there is a new apartment building and an artist’s impression showing modern strip shops underneath. There are some large mansions in the side streets and shiny new mid-sized cars and SUVs in the driveways of even the more modest houses. But it’s still traditional at the same time with shrines, shops selling flowers and incense, and roadside food stalls.

    There is also a large Wat complex here that appears to be a school. As in so many other places we’ve been to this week, the gardens are immaculate and delicately designed to give colour, shape, structure and calm. Speaking of immaculate and delicate – Paul stopped at a barber shop for a haircut. Watching the barber work was like watching Mr Miagi from The Karate Kid meditate. He moved slowly and deliberately, making sure not to leave any stray hairs as he clippered Paul’s hair off. After the head hair was cut, he tipped the chair back and used a straight blade to shave Paul’s face, ears and nose hairs. And all for the grand sum of 70 baht (less than $AU/US3).

    We ended the day with dinner at our hotel. We weren’t sure what to expect but the setting was pretty, the menu had both English translation and pictures, and the prices were the same as we have been paying at street-side restaurants. My stomach was still feeling unsettled so I opted for French fries instead of rice (you know how it is after food poisoning, anything that even remotely resembles that which you ate immediately beforehand becomes totally unpalatable regardless of whether it was the culprit or not). The vegetables were amazing, the chips perfectly crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside, and the garlic pepper beef delicious.
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  • Day 6


    January 20, 2015 in Thailand ⋅ ☀️ 31 °C

    We weren’t sure what to expect from Kanchanaburi. When we arrived by train a couple of days ago, the town seemed small and utilitarian. So it came as a surprise when our mini bus drove past the train station and kept going for another 5km to the bus station to drop us off in the middle of a bustling regional city. The bus station area was crazy hectic with taxi trucks and motorbike taxis and unmarked “taxis” all vying for our baht. Having just arrived and being fans of walking, we politely declined all offers off “where you want to go?” and set off on foot.

    We decided to walk to the Chungkai War Cemetery and a nearby wat that had a cave system underneath it. The 5km walk took us past the city’s old gate where a woman was praying at a shrine. A small wat glistened in the middle of the road where it looked like it had been plopped despite the traffic. We walked across the river where houseboats lined the banks. And then we were out on the open road walking past rice paddies and wild gardens. It was hot on the open road. It made me think about how hard the life of the POWs and local prisoners who built the railway must have been; at least it was dry today.

    Chungkai War Cemetery is a moving place. It’s situated between the main road and the river just outside the Kanchanaburi city limits. There were no tourists there when we arrived and the few who turned up later were quiet and reverent. The number of unnamed soldiers buried here was moving. I think that would have been the worst for families who lost loved ones in the war: never knowing what happened.

    After leaving the cemetery we continued our walk further away from town towards a wat that had caves under it. The wat’s road entrance is relatively subdued. There is a slightly run down looking temple building and some cute puppies along with an old sign announcing the caves. The entrance from the river side is much more lively, with market stalls, a big gold Buddha statue and new signage. Obviously, this is the preferred entry for many tourists. But don’t be fooled by the low key road entry. The caves are worth a visit. The narrow passageways are dotted with Buddha statues and candles. The smell of incense lingers on the stale and musty air. In places we almost have to crawl through low hanging entrances and squeeze between closely spaced gaps. It’s at once adventurous and spiritual.

    Rather than walk the 10km back to the Bridge Over the River Kwai, we hire a longboat. I am sure we paid too much but am not a tough negotiator and he had all the power because we didn’t want to walk all the way. The boats massive motor pushed us quickly down the tree-lined river. It bounced over the small ripply waves that had been blown up by the wind and, at times, felt like a burst of wind would blow it over. It was pretty cool to approach the infamous bridge from the water and see it in its full glory. Sure, it’s not the original bridge (obviously because that was blown up in the war) and it’s not in the original location, but it’s what the bridge symbolises that gives it meaning. We joined the tourist throng on the bridge, walking across and back, before checking out the JEATH museum. The museum is actually in two parts: the war between Thailand and Burma, and the WWII museum. The museum depicting the war between Thailand and Burma is definitely the best part. A mural that covers five floors shows the story of the Kanchanaburi region as the focal point for a conflict that has gone on for centuries. There are painted murals showing Thailand’s kings and an interesting piece about how the Thais originally came down from Mongolia in the Khmer era, always moving further south to find a new land of their own before settling in this area. The JEATH museum itself was okay but seemed to be an eclectic collection of items all dumped into rooms without any real interest shown by the curator. It is a “more is better” approach, rather than a “select the best pieces to tell a story” approach. But it is worth a look if you want to see many artefacts from the war.

    Walking through Kanchanaburi’s seedy streets where white men of all ages sat in their drunken stupors, eyes glazed over and voices loud, made me feel embarrassed and ashamed. I can’t imagine what local Thais must think of our countries and people. Just as we in the west judge all Asians by those who live in or visit our countries, so too do the locals in the lands we visit judge our entire nations by the way tourists behave. Especially in places where it is unlikely the locals will ever be able to afford to visit our homes to see that we are not all red-eyed drunk and loud.

    After the shock of my first time in a real proper tourist strip, the Commonwealth War Cemetery was almost eerily quiet. The gardens and plaques are immaculate. The gardeners tending the garden worked with a delicacy and reverence that was touching. It was quiet despite the hectic surrounds. It made me sad to see such wasted life, especially given conflict and war continues today. Will we ever learn from our history or are we doomed to repeat it?

    After an emotional day, we took our first Thai bus ride back to Lat Ya. The buses here are colourfully decorated and filled with lots of fans to keep the air flowing. It wasn’t as hectic as I expected and, at just 15 baht a person, cost just one tenth of a taxi ride.

    We arrived back at Lat Ya just as the sun was setting to walk our final short 500m to the hotel.
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  • Day 7

    Death Railway and Namtok

    January 21, 2015 in Thailand ⋅ ⛅ 27 °C

    I had read that the Kanchanaburi to Nam Tok train ride along the Death Railway was scenic and interesting. I also read that it only took two hours and was a common day trip from Bangkok. Let me get this out there right off the bat – it was not terribly scenic or interesting. As for being only two hours? I had been lulled into a false sense of security: Thailand is still a developing nation and time is not linear here.

    We spent more than ten long hours on the train today. It is ten hours of our lives we will never get back.

    Yes, there were interesting moments, like watching the big trestle bridge go past as we rounded a bend in the river (note, this is only less than 5 minutes of the entire train journey) and watching a group of ladies doing aerobics in a railway station carpark. But the scenery was the same as we have at home and there were certainly plenty of better things we could have done with our day.

    As I wrote the first part of this post this we were still an unknown distance from Bangkok on the train back from Nam Tok. It was almost 8pm and we had boarded the beast at 10:30am in Kanchanaburi to travel out to Nam Tok where we hopped back on board to travel back to Bangkok via Kanchanaburi. The train was to arrive in Bangkok at 5:30pm, leaving us an evening of ferry rides, dinner, massages and a nice hotel.

    I guess this is all part of the travel adventure. One day when we are more experienced at this travel caper, we will look back and laugh. But I can tell you this: I am not a railway man. Give me planes, motorbikes, cars and bicycles any day of the week. I want to choose where I travel and when without finding myself stuck to someone else’s timetable (or lack there-of).
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  • Day 8

    Bangkok again

    January 22, 2015 in Thailand ⋅ 🌫 22 °C

    We have a 3:45pm flight booked from Bangkok to Phuket so decide to spend the morning exploring some of the streets near our hostel in the downtown area. It’s easy to leave our bags at the hostel because checkout isn’t until midday. This means we are unencumbered by our backpacks (light though they are). We are both fast falling in love with Bangkok. I’ve never enjoyed any city this much. There’s so many smells, sights and sounds. There’s places of hustle and places of calm all mingled into one. The local Thai food served at street restaurants is flavoursome and cheap but you can also find modern cuisine from all over the world in restaurants and cafes. Late model SUVs and sedans slip easily along the roads alongside brightly painted tuk tuks. It’s East meets West in a beautiful dance.

    I had spied a wat from a window at the hostel. It turned out to be a huge complex with multiple buildings, may pet cats and some huge pink (albino?) cattle. I loved the sign at the entrance to the temple that said “No pets” but inside were two big relaxed temple cats with collars on and all. Perhaps the cats didn’t read the sign. This wat was very much alive and ringing with prayer. It seemed like another place where monks were trained. Local people were in the temple praying and some went to talk one-on-one with a young orange-robed monk sitting in another building.

    Nearby a Chinese Buddhist temple was being renovated while the faithful prayed on roadside shrines. I love how the two forms of Buddhism coexist so closely in the same place.
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  • Day 8


    January 22, 2015 in Thailand ⋅ ⛅ 29 °C

    Late in the afternoon, a short (and of course delayed) flight brought us from Bangkok to Phuket. We had booked a hostel in Phuket Old Town. It was a good choice. The hostel is immaculate and our room seemed more like a luxury boutique hotel suite than a double room at a backpacker hostel. Phuket Old Town is relatively nice. It’s set up for tourism so there are more Western food options than Thai (and the Thai options that do exist are very Western-styled Thai too). I was still struggling to eat after a few bouts of food poisoning so settled for some fresh squeezed juice but did try a few bites of Paul’s tasty pancake stack with ice cream and maple syrup. We walked a good 5km around Phuket Old Town getting our bearings. It is definitely dirtier than the places we walked in Bangkok but still a pleasant enough place.Read more

  • Day 9

    Phi Phi Islands

    January 23, 2015 in Thailand ⋅ ⛅ 28 °C

    I’ve wanted to see the crystal clear waters of the Phi Phi Islands ever since I watched that Leonardo di Caprio film, The Beach. I was sure the water colour was Photoshopped and that there was no way this part of Thailand could be so beautiful. But today I would discover how wrong I was. The water really is this clear and the islands really are this beautiful. I should caveat this with a note that it took a lot of work to take photos that didn’t have hoards of tourists and tour boats in them. This is not a wilderness area. It is said to be the most touristed place in the world. But don’t let that put you off seeing and experiencing what all the fuss is about.

    Mum and Dad bought us a speed boat Phi Phi Islands day trip for Christmas. It was the best Christmas present. Our boat took us across the seas to Monkey Bay where we watched monkeys swimming in the sea (after they had been shooed off the boats). The boat stopped nearby to let us go snorkelling. Small fish came to the boat for the bread that people were throwing off. While there are signs everywhere to say not to feed the fish, the tour operators all sell bread for feeding of the fish. The snorkelling at Phi Phi was average with a lot of dead and damaged coral from over-tourism and tour operators just dropping anchor. But I still couldn’t help but feel excited to be here swimming in this place that I never believed to be real. The water was so clear and the cliffs rose around the bay.

    We stopped for lunch at the main resort of Phi Phi Island. The food was terrible (think the worst buffet at your local food court Chinese takeaway) but I guess the tour operator has to cater to the lowest common denominator, which is tourists who don’t like this or don’t eat that. After lunch we went across to Phi Phi Don where we drifted through a big lagoon. This would be an amazing place to swim. Many tours and privately-hired longboats were stopped here for that purpose. Just floating through was stunning and I can see why people might spend hours swimming here.

    And then we went there. To the place where The Beach was filmed. And I got to swim there. It was fantastic. The water was cool and clear and impossibly blue. Tour speed boats moved in and out of one side of the bay dropping off hundreds of passengers. On the other side of the bay, privately-hired long boats bobbed picturesquely. And right in the middle was the a large roped off swimming zone. I swam way out deep into the bay and luxuriated in the moment.

    Our final stop for the day was a tiny beach just 15 minutes from the Phuket harbour. I think every tour boat operating in the area uses this as their final stop. I had my first experience hiring a beach umbrella and chair. This is not something we do in Australia but the Europeans on our tour seemed quite comfortable with paying 150 baht each for the privilege. The good thing about this system of beach use is that you aren’t left sitting in the blazing sun on hot white sand like you are on many Australian beaches. It made it comfortable and easy to watch the goings on. I found the behaviour of some men and women from northern Asia particularly interesting: they were covering their skin in sand and burying themselves in it. It almost seemed as though this might have been their first time to a sand beach. I imagine people who live in places where it snows have a similar chuckle when I get excited about the cold white stuff.

    It was an amazing day and I feel like I experienced something amazing.
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  • Day 10

    Karon and Kata beaches

    January 24, 2015 in Thailand ⋅ ⛅ 28 °C

    What do you do when you are on Phuket Island? Why you go to the beach of course. The beaches here on Phuket Island are amazing. The water is so clear that you don’t need to use any Photoshop tricks to impress anyone back home. And at this time of year there are almost no waves so it’s like bathing in a big salty lake.

    We caught a songtow (truck-like bus) from Phuket Town where we are staying over to Kata Beach where we started our daily walk. Kata beach is beautiful. You can swim around longtail boats that are anchored along the beach or sit on mats under umbrellas that Thai people sell to tourists. The white sand is hot but the water is delightfully cool. I had a short swim while Paul tried to explain to a sunglass seller that he did not want to buy a pair of fake Raybans. The seller’s response was that it was only Chinese fakes that are forbidden from being imported to Australia; Thai fakes are apparently okay. Still, Paul had the pleasure of saying “no” to the insistent man while I splashed in the water.

    From Kata Beach it is a long walk over a headland to Karon Beach. The townships that sit behind the beaches here on Phuket are ugly, dirty, noisy and gaudy. Walking through them made us glad we are staying in Phuket Town instead of near one of the beaches. But the beaches themselves are stunning and it’s easy to see why the Thai people are capitalising on their beauty to bring in as many foreign tourists as possible. Most of the people we saw today seemed to be Russian and there were more signs along Karon Beach in Russian than in Thai or English. At Karon you can ride jet skis or parasail behind a boat. We settled for a swim while watching others take up these activities. The one thing I will give to the Phuket Island beaches is that they are large enough that it didn’t ever feel crowded. Yes, the streets behind the beaches are crowded and hot but the beaches themselves are stunning, large and restful.

    Given that one of the things I most wanted to do in Thailand was go to a beautiful beach, I think today was definitely a success.
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  • Day 10

    First class cinema experience

    January 24, 2015 in Thailand ⋅ ⛅ 32 °C

    One of the things I am learning about travel is that there’s more to a country than the usual guide book destinations. Countries modernise and change over time. Cycle rickshaws are replaced by car taxies. Street stalls are replaced by coffee shops. Crowded buses are replaced with budget airlines. And airconditioned shopping malls are built.

    While we enjoyed the islands and beaches of Phuket, after just three nights we are missing Bangkok and places that feel more like the “real” Thailand. We can’t get a cheap flight back to the capital so decide to experience an overnight bus. But that means we have a day to kill while carrying around our backpacks. There is a shopping mall not far from Phuket Town so we catch a songtow up there to hang out in the Temple of Air Conditioning.

    After my wonderful cinema experience in Indonesia, I am keen to check out what the cinema is like here in Thailand. American Sniper is showing in the first class cinema. I had read about these first class Thai cinemas online so we decided to pay the 700 baht ($25) each to experience modern Thailand. And what an experience it was. The pre-movie lounge offered mocktails and canapes. We were given delicious salty popcorn (you could also chose sweet popcorn) and a drink inside the cinema. The seats inside the cinema were plush and reclined right back. And did I mention that they give you a blanket. The funniest part of the experience was when the King’s song was played before the movie. Everyone has to stand up. It’s a rather odd experience for me but hey, when in Thailand.
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