Sunday, November 27, 2016

Thailand Adventures--Spring 2004

On February 16th I departed from Seattle to Bangkok via Japan by using 65,000 United frequent flyer miles.  In Japan I transferred from United Air to Thai Air and arrived at 2am.  I just stayed at the airport until early morning and then took a taxi to Wat Po where you can see the reclining Buddha.  I had breakfast as the sun came up shining on Wat Arun across the Chao Phraya River. 

I took the ferryboat down to the Saphan Taksin Sky Train station.  I rode the Sky Train to the Nana Station and the Nana Hotel.

Although the room was not ready, they quickly cleaned it up and I was able to get the room by 9am.  I took a needed shower and took a short nap before exploring Bangkok.

For this trip, I had planned to visit Myanmar armed with my Lonely Planet Myanmar Guidebook (LP).  I first went to Thai Air where I wanted to pick up the airline ticket I had paid for when I was in the US.  Unfortunately, they had cancelled my ticket since I did not pick it up, but they were able to rebook me provided I extended my trip to Myanmar by one day.

I used this guide to find the Myanmar Embassy where I applied for a Visa for my March 8--18 trip there.  I went to a side unmarked door where I was told they processed Visas.  I entered this grungy office where a bunch of tourists and travel agents were sitting in plastic chairs which they continually moved toward the front seats and the processing window.  One of the travel reps showed me how to fill out the application forms including how to cut down my Visa photo and use the glue pot to attach my photo to the application form.  I continued to bump along the string and rows of chairs until I got to the window.  Once there, I paid the 810 Baht--$25 USD--handed over my passport and told to return the following day at 3pm.  

On the 19th I again returned to the Chao Phraya River boat and got off at Tha Chang pier where I wanted to take the local ferry boat across the river.  Instead several of the river touts told me that they could get me over there for 100 to 500 Baht instead of the 20 Baht that the LP guide had described.  I gave up on that plan since I had to get back to the Myanmar Embassy to pick up my Visa at 3pm.  I decided to take the tour of the Grand Palace.  On the way there, several touts told me the Grand Palace was closed, but they could take me in their tuk-tuks to other sights.  

Again, this scam was well described in the LP guide so I smiled and continued on to the open Grand Palace.  I was able to rent an audio tape that described all of the sights and temples found throughout the Grand Palace grounds. I noticed that there were very few Americans touring in Bangkok and most Westerners were Europeans or Australians.

At the Myanmar Embassy the line was long but it moved fast and I quickly got my Passport with a beautiful Myanmar Visa glued into my passport.

I headed to the Patpong area where there are lots of street vendors setting up for the night market as well as a number of bars, nightclubs, go-go clubs, and more scams.

It was then on to Soi Cowboy,another hot spot for foreigners, where the street was filled with beautiful women who were encouraging visits to their bars, go-go bars, night clubs, and food stalls.  After these bars closed at 1am, I walked back to my hotel past more street side bars and food stalls that had replaced the street shopping stalls and would stay open until dawn.

After this short stay in Bangkok, I took a 3 1/2 hour bus from the Ekamai bus station to Ban Phe followed by an hour ferry boat ride to Ko Samet Island with its National Park.  

The entrance fee was 180 Baht--$6. Since I was not sure where I was staying, I began walking and a local fellow gave me a ride on the back of his motor bike to the Ao Pudsa beach area.  After checking out a few places, I ended up at Jeps Bungalows at 400Baht per night--$13--for a fan and shared bathroom room.

I explored the several bays found along the west side of of Ko Samet and stopped for food and drink as well as lounging in the beach chairs and dipping in the surf occasionally to cool off.  As it was, I found myself taking about 3 showers a day to cool off and wash off the sand and sweat.

On the 22nd I rented a motor bike for 24 hours for just 325Baht--$10.  Ko Samet is less than 5 miles long and 2 miles wide so it was fairly easy to explore this island in a day despite the bumpy rutted roads. 

Along with lots of beach time, evening brought out the fire  baton shows all along the beach restaurants and bars.

I moved to a beachside bungalow at the Psuda Bungalows for 800Baht--$25-- where I enjoyed lounging on my porch reading novels and watching the procession of tourists walking by from beach bay to beach bays with occasional dips in the nearby surf.

After exploring the several beautiful bays and restaurants on Ko Samet, I then headed to Pattaya on the 25th.  Again I took the small ferry boat back to Ban Phe where I caught a mini bus to Pattaya.

I stayed at the Diana Inn for 750Baht--$23--per night.  The Walking Street was the big tourist draw where you could go lots of shows, street side entertainers, go-go bars, ladyboy bars and shows, night clubs, seafood restaurants, discos, and massage parlors.  I have never seen anything like this anywhere else in the world.

During the day, I enjoyed sitting in the beach lounge chairs under the palm trees and umbrellas that ran all along the beach front.  The skies were dotted with para sails and the seas were cluttered with jet skis and banana boats.

On the 28th, I returned to Bangkok on the scheduled A/C buses that took me to the Ekamai bus station and followed by a short ride on the Sky Train to Suk 11 hotel/hostel.  This was a travelers delight with private rooms with A/C and bathrooms for just 500 Baht--$16 per night.

I met up with Bill who I had traveled with on the Wilderness Travel  Indochine trip to Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.  Although he lived in Pennsylvania, he had basically relocated to Bangkok at the Grand Presidential Apartments for six months at a time.  As a retired dentist, he volunteered at Mercy Centre, which was located in the nearby slums of Khlong Toey, and specialized in assisting HIV/AIDs women and children.  They called him Khun Bill and he enjoyed this volunteer work and the only thing he did from his dentistry practice was to annually put on a class about the importance of dental hygiene with brushing and flossing demonstrations.  He also expanded his photography skills and had successfully sold a number of his photographs stateside.

After dinner at the nearby food court on Soi 5, we made it over to one of his favorite bars--the PeePee Bar--on Soi 7.  Years later this bar area was featured in one of the "Hangover" movies. 

On March 2nd, I took local buses to the Southern Bus Station where I took a scheduled bus to the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market.  When I got there about noon, it looked like the market was closing up.  I found a place to eat and then checked into the Noknoi Hotel at a cost of $11.  I signed up for a 2 hour boat trip early the following morning that cost $13.  They explained that this tour would be going through the floating market well before the many tour buses from Bangkok showed up.

The water tour was great and I ended up having breakfast while staying in my boat at one of the many row up floating restaurant boats.  Breakfast included fried bananas, coconut pancakes, coconut turnovers with onions, grapefruit, mango, and donuts drizzled with sugar and bacon grease along with some Thai iced coffee.

It was then off to the bus station to figure out how to get to Hua Hin.  The bus rep. gave me a bus ticket and then wrote three bus numbers on the back of the ticket.  I was told to get off the bus when it got to the freeway overpass.  When I did, I showed the bus numbers on the back of the ticket to a girl standing by and she directed me to cross the freeway to catch any of those numbered buses that were heading south. As soon as I got across, one of the buses stopped for me and I got on and indicated I wanted to get to Hua Hin.  It was a 3 hour ride that cost just 70 Baht--$2.  

The bus driver came back to me and said that I had arrived in Hua Hin.  As soon as I got off the bus, I was surrounded by mototaxi drivers offering me a ride to my Mod Hotel.  After a short ride that cost just 20 Baht--65 cents I arrived at the Mod Hotel which was elevated on a pier along the downtown beach area.  I would stay here for three days exploring this beach area favored by the King of Thailand.  Since I left Damnoen Sandauk, I have not seen any Westerners even at this hotel.

Our surprise chef.

Lots of delicious seafood.

Favorite snacks for Thais:  Bugs!

I stopped by the train station to arrange for a train ride back to Bangkok on the 5th.  The 2nd class ticket cost just 222 Baht--$7.  I spent the day walking the beach area and reading a novel while nursing my cold.  I enjoyed lots of seafood meals including crab cakes, calamari, prawns, and all types of fish during my two day stay.

I got up early for my train ride back to Bangkok and unfortunately the train was 2 hours late.  When it arrived I was shocked to see that it was not air conditioned, but rather all of the windows were opened and the seats were worn and split.  Fortunately, the weather had cooled off so it was not a sweatbox.

Once at the Bangkok Hua Lamphong Train Station, I bought a 3rd class ticket onward to Ayutthaya for 15 Baht--50 cents.  It was a short ride and when I got there, I ended up walking to the Phaesei Thong Guest Hotel.  After a cooling shower, the owner prepared a dinner for me as I sat on the deck hanging over the river.

On the 6th, instead of going on a formal tour, I rented a bike and made my way around the Ayutthaya island that was chuck full of temples and Buddha statutes including the famous Buddha head surrounded by the roots of the banyan tree.

Near sunset, I took this  amazing picture of two Buddha statutes with the setting sun glowing behind one.

I visited the nearby elephant reserve where they took in elephants that were no longer wanted by farmers and loggers.  They put on shows to defray the cost of keeping these elephants. 

Along with the elephant reserve, Ayutthaya features this shrine full of roosters which honors the former Thai King Naresuan.  When he was a prisoner in Burma back in the 1500's, he had nobody to talk to, except for a bunch of roaming chickens.  King Naresuan anthropomorphized them into feathery friends which got him through his ordeal alive, and later immortalized them in these statute form.

I jumped in one of these different shaped tuk-tuks for my ride back to the train station where I would catch a train back to Bangkok.

On March 8th I caught a taxi to the airport for my 10 day trip to Myanmar.  My Myanmar Adventures are described in a separate post.

Upon my return from Myanmar on March 18th to Bangkok I again stayed at Suk 11 Hotel until I took the night train to Chiang Mai and then a bus to Chiang Rai. 

After checking into the Mai Hong Son Guest House, I met up with Max Holland, who was my tour guide in my Himayala trip in 2000 and my Indochine trip in 2002, for dinner.  He described how he was building a compound for he, his partner and his partner's parents near Chiang Rai as well as describing some of the other tours he had led.  

I signed up for a two day trek( cost 1800Baht--$56) on March 22nd to spend the night with the Lahu tribe along with other travelers from Germany, Denmark, and Japan. 

We first took a long tail boat up the river for about an hour to an elephant camp where I and Schega from Japan took our one hour  elephant ride for an extra 180Baht--$5.60.

After a short jitney ride we began our trek through a Karen trip village to the Lalu village some three hours later.  It was a hot, sweaty uphill climb.

We were please to have this refreshing waterfall rest spot on our way to the Lalu village.

We came to this farmer with the honey bee nest that he planned to harvest for the honey.

Here is our tourist hut where we will spent the night, have dinner and be entertained by the local Lalu villagers.

The villagers have set out their crafts and jewelry for sale--I still have the embroidered belt.

Our two hosts who prepared our meals and laid out our bedding.

Most curious village kids.

Sunrise at our village hut.

This is one of the few villagers who is wearing some traditional garb.  Most of the others wear what looks like Goodwill hand-me-downs.

At the end of our trek, we were rewarded with this relaxing hot springs.

I returned to Chiang Rai and then stayed overnight in nearby Chiang Mai where I toured this walled city before catching a train back to Bangkok.

My Gaps Guesthouse view of the courtyard where they offer Thai cooking lessons.

Wat where the Emerald Buddha was kept until moved to Bangkok.

Lots of picture perfect vegetables in the local farmers market.

Once back in Bangkok, I arranged my night train to Surat Thani on my way to Ko Samui.  I arrived at 7am on the 30th and got a bus to the ferry landing where I boarded a boat filled with backpacker full moon party goers.  It was probably overloaded for the 2 1/2 hour ride.  Once on Ko Samui, I caught another minibus to the Paradise Bungalows near Hat Lamai

After a night at the Paradise Bungalows, I moved on to the Coconut Beach Bungalows where I got a fan cooled bungalow right along the palm tree line on the beach for just 500 Baht--$16.

 On the deck of the Paradise Bungalows

At the Coconut Bungalows.

I enjoyed some of the sights around here including the Namtok waterfall by renting a motorbike for the day.

Lots of entertain venues here including a Ladyboy show, foam party, and Filipino bands.

After several days enjoying Ko Samui, I took the ferry boat and then bus down to Krabi.

After settling in at the PK Mansion Guest House in the Ao Nang area of Krabi, I arranged for a speedboat tour to some of the surrounding islands. 

One of our stops was at this beach that was featured in the movie, "The Beach".

Here is where they harvest bird nests for bird nests soups.

We went by Chicken Island named after its appearance.

We then stopped by these islands are linked by a sand spit at low tide.

We then snorkeled nearby where we were surrounded by fish thanks to the fish food the tour guide gave us.

We had our last stop at Phi Phi Island for a delicious lunch before returning to Krabi.

It was then on to Phuket by ferryboat. We are transferring from the small ferryboat to the larger one.

Patong Beach in Phuket

Bangla Road Entertainment Area in Phuket.

Ladyboys are Dancing in the Bar Area off Bangla Road.

Thai boxing ring among the food court diners.

Lots of seafood choices at this food court.

After enjoying the beaches, food, and entertainment I headed back to Bangkok by flying on Thai Air at a cost of $67 USD. I spent my last few days of shopping and sightseeing at the weekend market and other places.

I bought this monk's bowl from one of the last monk bowl makers in Bangkok.

The Chinatown section of Bangkok.

I enjoyed seeing these happy mannequins at the weekend market.

Erwan Temple Dancers

Orchid section of the Flower Market

More street food delights.

On April 13th I boarded United Air to Japan where I would spend the next week traveling on the Japan Rail Pass before returning to Seattle.

Trip Cost
For 33 days in Thailand, the lodging costs were $598 or $18 per night, food costs were $785 or $24 per day, and travel costs were $270 which included $88 for the air fare to Phuket.  The total Thailand cost was $1,653---$50 per day, and included 80,000 frequent flyer United Air miles.

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