Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Thailand Adventures--Fall 2005

The Vegetarian Festival was one of the highlights of my Thailand Adventures in 2005.  Although it was a Vegetarian Festival, it was not like one you would see at home.  As the parades wended their way through Phuket City there was lots of blood and many piercings on the Ma Songs. These Ma Songs were selected by leaders of the nine Chinese Tao shrines.  They volunteer their bodies to be used by the gods in exchange for being kept alive in the future.  As they pass by worshippers and shop keepers they seem to absorb their ills and problems.  The Ma Songs inflict piercings, cuttings, fire walking and climbing ladders with steps of blades.  Huge strings of fireworks are also set off and drums are pounded to ward off the evil spirits as well during these processions.



Following my stopover in Singapore ending on October 18, 2005, I arrived in Bangkok, Thailand.  I used 60,000 Delta Frequent Flyer miles which booked me on Alaska Air, Korean Air, and Northwest Air.  In addition to visits to Singapore and Thailand, I visited Room to Read operations in Cambodia and Laos and I carried an extra bag for the computer I delivered to the Room to Read Cambodia office.

From the airport, I caught a cab to downtown Bangkok at a cost of 500 Baht--$15--to the Suk 11 Hotel which also cost 500 Baht per night.  After dinner, I went to the Nana Entertainment Plaza where the featured show was at Angelwitch.

On October 19th I went to the Bumrungrad Hospital where I had an appointment with a cosmetic dentist to repair my severely chipped front tooth.  Upon entering this hospital I was struck with how much this looked like a 5 star hotel with its soaring columns of rose colored granite.  There were lots of folks from Middle East countries in their flowing gowns, burkas, and colorful headscarfs who had arrived in large Mercedes limousines.  The place oozed money.






I met with Dr. Pacharee, who was much younger looking than her picture on the hospital website.  After looking at my tooth she recommended that I have veneers put on either the 2 front teeth or all four upper front teeth.  she showed me how the outer two teeth were crooked and one was much smaller than the others.  By doing them in pairs she indicated that the finished work would look more natural than just doing one or an uneven number.  The cost would be about $250 per tooth here compared to the $1,000 to $3,000 per tooth back home.  She would also be providing me with some bleaching trays for my bottom teeth so that my bottom teeth would better match my new veneers.  With veneers, I would have to avoid bitting down hard on objects and definitely no ice crunching.  The entire cost including this consultation, mold making, X-rays, prep work and finish work with follow up adjusts was $1,200 including a cavity filled that she detected on the X-rays not a part of the 4 veneers that I ended up getting.  My home dentist commented on what a good job it was, plus they are still intact and look great.  Medical tourism at its best.  The savings on this medical work more than covered the cost of my two month travels throughout SE Asia.


Before   


After


I left for my Cambodia Room to Read site visit the following day with my return to Thailand on October 27th.  

I flew into Phuket, Thailand from Phnom Penh early morning,  and I immediately  I took the sontaung (cost $1) over to Phuket City to attend the Vegetarian Festival.  Once in town, I quickly found where this unique festival was being held.  I would check out this festival over the next six days. 

The Phuket Vegetarian Festival is an annual event held during the ninth lunar month of the Chinese calendar--this year it ran from October 21 to October 30th.  The faithful believe that this festival and its sacred ritual bestow good fortune upon those who religiously observe this festival.  Local residents of Chinese ancestry observe a 10 day vegetarian diet for the purpose of spiritual cleansing and merit making.  Sacred rituals are performed at most of the 9 Chinese shrines and temples.  These rituals include walking barefoot over hot coals, climbing bladed ladder rungs, and body piercing are performed by entranced devotees called "Ma Song".  Their task is to shift evil from the individuals along the parades and in the shrines and temples on to themselves.  Here a Ma Song is giving out blessings to the store owner and employees while taking on their "evils" and evil spirits that may linger around this store.




By doing this, they bring good luck to the entire community.




































There is also a lot of noise that accompanies the Ma Song along the parade route and at the shrines in the form of massive amounts of fireworks and drums which is intended to chase away the evil spirits.














Walking on hot coals area.




Although unclear, this festival began following a visit  in the 19th Century by a Chinese opera group who fell ill with malaria.  The group then adopted a vegetarian diet, prayed to the Nine Emperor Gods to ensure purification of the mind and body.  The entire Opera group was healed so people celebrated by holding a festival.  Since then the festival has continued and grown so much that people from China and other parts of Asia come here to celebrate.  Here is a website that provides the current schedule and activities: 
Vegetarian Festival link.

After the Vegetarian festival I took a James Bond Island tour by speedboat for $45 on November 1st.  On this tour we went to the island made famous by James Bond movie, "The Man with the Golden Gun" about 25km northeast of Phuket.  There were lots of dramatic limestone cliffs rising straight out of the waters. 

 

We visited a Muslim fishing village on Koh Panyee island.  









We rode an ox cart to an elephant compound where the elephant performed some tricks for us.  



We then rowed rubber rafts through limestone caves into mangrove forests.  





We got the privilege of stopping at a lapidary shop--probably the uncle of our tour guide. 

Upon return from this tour, I caught a Phuket ladyboy show.  One of the shows featured a half male/half female performance.  The other performances were of lavishly outfitted dancers.  After the performance, we could have our pictures taken---for a tip of course.





In the morning caught a Nok Air flight back to Bangkok for $50.  I spent the rest of the days touring around Bangkok trying to recover from my cold.


While in Bangkok, "Khun" Bill, who I had first met during my 2002 tour of Indochina, invited me to a special birthday party for two kids from the Mercy Centre hospice and HIV/Aids clinic where he is a volunteer.  I enjoyed seeing the staff,  kids and their mothers having a rare time of fun during their health struggles where some of these kids were either orphans or soon to be.  We ate, played games and then enjoyed the birthday cakes with candles.  Here is my 2013 remembrance of Khun Bill:  

http://rtjhunt.blogspot.com/2013/05/remembering-khun-bill.html







After touring Cambodia for a week including visits to some of the Room to Read projects, I returned to Thailand.  Beginning in Phnom Penh, Cambodia I took several moto taxis, buses, mini buses, and a ferry boat to Trat, Thailand.  As I got off the rickety min bus, some hotel touts approached us and I ended up staying at Pops Guesthouse and Restaurant.  It cost 400 Baht--$10 and the food at their restaurant was a tasty stir fry of vegetables, cashews, and chicken on a bed of rice along with a couple of beers.  Great food for this long varied travel day.

In the morning, I took a bus to the ferry boat landing which would take me by  ferryboat to Ko Chang Island.



Most of the beachfront hotels were either filled up or way too expensive.  I found the Tambol Jbina Hotel at 500 Baht per night--$15--near the motor bike rental shop a block away from the beach.  I got a 100 Baht discount per night for staying 4 nights there.

The following day, I rented a motor bike for 150 Baht--$4--for the day.  Ko Chang is the 2nd largest island in Thailand after Phuket.  It is 30 km long and 14 km wide with roads running mostly along the coastline.  Ko Chang turned out to be a lot more developed that I had expected with its clusters of high rise resorts all along the beach front near the ferry pier with clusters of resorts in the various bays along the west side of the island.

My first motor bike ride took me the the end of the road on the east side of the island where I periodically stopped for lunch and beverages like mango lassi, watermelon shakes, cashew chicken, coconut shrimp, crab omelets, etc.  I found the popular Treehouse Hostel near the end of this road where their restaurant is on a big dock over water and had a laid back hippy throwback look to it.



On the way back, suddenly the storm clouds built up and the rains came--slight at first, but then the deluge came.  I was totally drenched and the rain stung me so much I stopped to see it would abate somewhat.  The roads were flooded up to my moto bike axle, and the water ran red from the mud across the roads, so I decided to wait it out, have lunch, and use the internet cafe until the rain tapered off. 








Unfortunately I realized that I must have left my wallet back at the first lunch stop before the rains came.  I turned around and fortunately the rains had lessened.  When I returned, the owner had my wallet and she said she tried to catch me without success and also called my hotel since I had the receipt in my wallet.  I had over $200 USD in my wallet plus credit cards and drivers license.  I gave her a 1,000 Baht--$30 USD as a reward which she at first refused.  





It was a long wet ride back, but because the rain had stopped, my pants and shirts were mostly dry by the time I returned to the hotel.

After 4 nights at the Tambol Jbina Hotel, I moved down the east side of the island to the popular Treehouse Hostel. I got a small cabin with a mosquito net among the palm trees at the tree line to the pebbly beach.  I had to go to the common bathrooms for the toilet and showers.  Except there were no showers---instead there was a large stone bath where water was stored and you were to stand beside it, pour buckets of water over you, soap up and then pour more buckets of water over you to rinse off the soap.  The toilets operated in a similar manner with a large bucket of water and a smaller water bucket that you were to use to flush the toilet---at least it wasn't a squatter.  This was a unique experience.











While staying here, I toured the nearby waterfall and found a trail there that went to the top of the island.  Along the trail I came across this family compound in the midst of the rubber plantation.  This fellow was showing me how he processes the rubber drained from the trees.










After my stay, I returned the moto bike and then walked to the ferry boat pier.  When I got to the mainland, I got a 10:30 am bus back to Bangkok where I met with Dr. Pacharee for some final tuneup on my new veneers.

My next Thailand destination was Krabi which involved a night train to Surat Thani (cost $12) followed by a mini bus(cost $4) to a ferry boat (cost $1) and then son tang (cost 50 cents) to Ao Nang area of Krabi.  Once there I checked out a number of hotels and the rates were around 900 Baht and none were willing to negotiate the price down for multiple night stays.  I headed down to the PK Mansion where I had stayed before, and I got a 500 Baht per night without committing to multiple nights.  

There was a great jazz band playing at the Encore Cafe so I decided to have dinner there and enjoy the music as well.

Early the following morning, I took the PhiPhi Island speedboat tours for $38. During part of the tour to PhiPhi and other islands, we saw the devastation from the 2005 Boxing Day Tsunami as well as the reconstruction efforts.  We stopped at four separate island beaches and snorkeled at two of them where we were surrounded by colorful fish and beautiful coral.

Chicken Island is sticking up in the background.




Workers are harvesting swallow birds nests for bird nest soup.



The movie "The Beach" made this a popular tourist stop.



Notice the name of this boat.  Following the Boxing Day Tsunami in 2004, donations provided replacement boats for fishermen like this fellow.



Great snorkeling around here with the warm, clear waters filled with colorful fish.



The next day, I took one of the many long tail boats to Railey Beach for a day of exploring and lazing on the beaches there.  On the walk to the other side of the island, I watched the roped up rock climbers testing their skills on the craggy  karsts that paralleled the trail to the exclusive resort and bay.  The long tail boat returned me to Krabi just as the sun was setting which made for a beautiful ending of the day. Each of the long tail boat rides cost just 150 Baht--$4.







This Railey Beach shrine must be for worshippers who are praying for fertility because of the large pile of phalluses just to the left of this shrine.






These cliffs are popular for the rock climbing tourists.


As you travel further south from Bangkok, you find there are an increasing number of Muslim Thais along with their mosques.



It was then time for me to continue on to Phuket by taking the afternoon ferry boat at a cost of $13.  We first boarded a long tail boat along the beach and then transferred to the larger ferry boat for a two hour ride with a stop at Phi Phi Island before reaching the Phuket harbor.  A son tang ride got me to the Patong Beach area where I found a hotel, called "Cheap Hotel" for $13 per night which was one of those rooms frequently found above the many beer bars.  It had everything I needed:  TV, A/C, hot clean shower and bathroom, and comfortable queen size bed near the night life.  I enjoyed lounging about in the beach chairs on the white sugary beaches while reading my novels and nursing my cold.

It  was now the Thai 12th month of the full moon,  and people were preparing for the evening celebration of Loy Kratong by putting together candle lit palm floats decorated with food, deserts, incense, and flowers that would be floated out to sea for blessings.  They also launched fire balloons that filled the skies with what looked like, moving stars.

Large crowds of Thais and tourists headed down to the beach to celebrate Loy Krathong--a festival of lights.  The bar girls wore their finest clothes as they brought with them candlelit floating vessels made of palm leaves and decorated with flowers and small treats as well as messages.  This year it was especially poignant because of last year's Boxing Day Tsunami where 5,400 were killed and 3,100 were missing.  These candlelit floats filled the calm ocean as remembrances of friends and relatives lost in this Tsunami.  They also filled the sky with Komloys--Chinese lanterns---used to send off wishes, prayers, blessings for those lost and good fortune for those in the future.  The sky looked like it was filled with moving stars.  Loy Krathong has been observed annually since the mid-19th Century and marks the evening of the full moon of the 12th month in the traditional Thai lunar calendar.









This is a reminder of the party nature of Phuket.



And this is a reminder of the remaining damage caused by the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami here in Phuket. This beachside hotel lost all of its walls, windows and pool lounging and garden areas.



I took a cheap Bangkok Air flight to another resort island, Ko Samui for just $40 followed by a son tang ride for $4 to the Hat Lamai area after dark.  I ended up staying at the Sea Breeze Bungalow for 700 Baht since I could not find the Coconut Beach Resort.  It was a grubby, A/C, hot shower place with no view of the ocean.  Walking to town along the beach, I spotted the Coconut Beach Resort and arranged for staying there the following nights.






Storms seem to keep showing up throughout my fall stay.



After dinner I went to a show that featured katoeys---ladyboys-- which was lots of fun that I had gone to the prior year, and then ended the evening at the Siam Bar and Grill that featured an entertaining Filipino band that I had also enjoyed seeing last year.






I continued to get caught in these tremendous downpours, which lasted just a couple hours and then the skies would clear up.



On the day of departure, I was wakened by the night watchman at 4:25 am because my taxi driver had come to pick me up for my early flight back to Bangkok.  Even though I had set two alarms for 4 am, I slept through them.  Good thing I had packed up the night before so I was in the taxi on the way to the airport by 4:30 AM.  The Bangkok Air flight cost $60 and the train from the airport to downtown was 50 cents as was the skytrain to the Suk 11 hotel.

After spending a few days relaxing and touring Bangkok, on November 25th I took the train up to the Thailand-Laos boarder to Vientiane, Laos, where I crossed the Friendship bridge by tuk-tuk to the Immigration offices and took another tuk-tuk into town.

For the next 5 days I would visit the Laos Room to Read offices in Vientiane.  Check out my Laos Adventures 2005 blog entry for details of that trip.

I then took a bus to Luang Prabang and explored the area before returning to Thailand by taking a two day ferry boat ride up the Mekong to the Huay Xai, Laos--Chiang Khong boarder crossing by long tail boat.
This is the Laos side of the border.


On November 30th, I crossed the Mekong by long tail boat at a cost of 50 cents to Chiang Khong, Thailand. 




 After clearing Thai Immigrations, I caught a bus to Chiang Mai for $6 and then boarded the night train back to Bangkok at a cost of $17.  



These monks were loading up on Bahts at this ATM just before they got on my bus.



While on the night train, a bunch of travelers invited me to join them in the #2 club car where there was a party going on with travelers mixing with Thais--even some of the train workers. This helped make the long ride more enjoyable.










As soon as I arrived in Bangkok, on December 1st, I immediately made my way down to the Ekamai bus station to take a bus to Ban Phe and ferry back to Ko Samet and the Psuda Bungalows for my last week in Thailand before returning home.  I am still working off my cold and now my eyes are watering making it hard to read my novels and my nose continually drips.  I picked up some decongestants from a pharmacy on Ko Samet.  Hopefully rest here will heal me up for my long flight home.










This mother and her liter decided that my restaurant table was the best for rest.



After a few days of relaxing, I returned on December 5th by bus to Bangkok and again stayed at Suk 11.


I toured some of the more popular entertainment spots like Nana Entertainment Plaza, Patpong, Chinatown, Soi Cowboy, and the Soi 5 food court.  On the weekend I went to the Weekend Market and bought several souvenirs including silk scarves and a big brass Buddha.  I was able to take the sky train and light rail out  to the airport for my journey home.




Trip Cost
The total Thailand trip cost was $1,360 for a daily cost of $32. The travel and tour costs were $347 including two air flights that cost $100, lodging costs were $461 for daily average of $11 per night, and the food cost were $552 or $12.50 per day







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