Friday, March 6, 2009

Reflection on Thailand

I'm putting a full set on photos on Picasa so it will be easy to share. 

Although the blog shows last entries first, you can us the list to your right to go the earliest entries first. 

To wrap up this blog I have a few impressions to share.

We enjoyed the Wats which can be found everywhere. Wat Pho and the Grand Palace complex in Bangkok is something we will never forget. We don't understand all of the complex symbolism, architecture  and mythology, but there was no mistaking reverence for the images of the Buddha, which are everywhere. The images are to remind Buddhists about the path. And the wild creatures help ward off the evil thoughts that plague humanity.
The Grand Palace has a fabulous mural that must be 1000 feet long. 

We made two 3 day guided expeditions into the mountains to stay with the hill tribe people, mostly Karen who moved from Burma 100 years ago and settled in rough terrain. We walked through virgin forest, cut over forest, recovering forest, farmland and villages, following farm and hunting trails. The people live in the villages and farm land that is often several miles away, where ever they can cut and burn forest and get water to it. They subsist on rice, chickens, pigs and hunting. We saw a year supply of rice for a family stored in a raised hut of about 6X6X4 feet deep. We slept on bamboo floors in bamboo huts with blankets and it was cold.

Buses, long tail boats, pickups, trains, planes, tuk tuk (motorcycles with a side car) took us everywhere cheaply and efficiently, even if a little on the unsafe side (it seemed to us).  With no apparent regulations, driving seems to be "weave" style, with everyone taking care to to not hit each other as they raced around. 

Great food everywhere, I think everyone in Thailand can cook. We ate from street stalls, at guesthouses, and an occasional restaurant, with very few disappointments. Soups, curries, noodle and rice dishes, all very good and cheap, typically not more than $1 for an abundant plate of food. We did not get sick from the food.

Almost all of the rooms were spartan but comfortable, good beds, clean, and with a bathroom.
We averaged about $10.

The sea
We took several boat trips to the Islands in the Andaman Sea. The remarkable limestone spires and mountains rise vertically out of the emerald water. We stayed on Ko (island) Chang for three nights. This tiny place had nothing going on but guest bungalow operations, most with restaurants. Contex Bungalows where we stayed, is on a little beach, and the congenial family run operation made us feel at home, and the food was great. 

A caution: bring TP, because the toilet may not have any!!!

And here are a few downside impressions.

Air quality was not very good, except for a few days. Sewage seems to be largely unregulated, trash was pretty much everywhere. Towns kept things cleaned up, but rural areas could be fairly trashed out.  

We discovered an entirely different way of driving, which seemed to consist of avoiding each other as a driver would weave thru traffic, Out on the highway, it was typical for everyone, including buses, to pass on blind curved, and for oncoming to just move over.
almost everyone seems to have a motorcycle, and pedestrians have no rights, so watch out. Crossing streets was an adventure.

Petty scamming seem fairly common. In Bangkok, a favorite scam was for a well dressed English speaking Thai to approach tourists, who were looking at a map or seemed to be lost.
It happened to us twice before we cut these clowns off. They would asked where you wanted to go, then tell you that is was closed, or dangerous, and that they would take you to some really nice sights. If they could get you into a certain store, they got a commission. This is all described in Lonely Planet.

Another simple scam was short changing, or asking a high price for a taxi ride. We met two young guys who were charged 1600 baht for a 400 B ride from the airport.

For the  most part Thais people are friendly and helpful. For example,We got several rides in pickups, and the folks refused even gas money, and people always want to be helpful.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Bangkok, last day

Khao San Road, the Bangkok "Disneyland"
Wat Arun
Wat Arun

We are home after 30 hours of travel. Luckily, on the longest leg 0f 10 hours we had 3 seats each and could lay down and sleep. It is so nice to come home to this beautiful weather. 

But the brief wrap up is: from our little seaside town we caught the 5 am train to Bangkok. This was 2nd class and a little funky and noisy, but it was still fun to see things from a train. Brenda was feeling a little sick but we made it in about 5 hours and went to the little place we had previously booked. It is near a district that caters to western tourist bigtime. I thought of it as a little like a Thais Disneyland. Shops, bars, hawkers, masses of us. But Brenda and I had been out in the culture for 5 weeks and realized this was a good way to come down, so in the 1 1/2 days we went to Wat Arun (temple of the Dawn) and just walked around the area and did a little shopping, a little resting and some good eating. It was a good way to end the  trip, and to ease into the above 30 hour ordeal. We got a taxi to the airport, and off we went at 1:15 am on the 26th, and arrived at  2 pm on the 26th. 

Sunday, February 22, 2009

We are in the small seaside town of Prachuap Khiri Khan, away from the tourist buzz. The little, plain, cheap ($7) Attichai Hotel is on the main downtown street a few blocks from the  sea, the night market and train station. The town is on one of two pretty bays defined by huge limestone towers and islands. Took a walk to a fishing village which was really colorful, stinky, and fishy. It is one of the places where traditional boat building occurs. We've really enjoyed our stay in town, The people are friendly, the streets are clean, and it feels like old Thailand. 

Early morning we take the train to Bangkok and start wrapping this trip up. We'll have a day and a half to see a few things we missed.

Hot and humid and really nice.
serious hammock time on Ko Chang
Contex beach from the veranda and restaurant.

Ko Chang paradise

Sometimes things work out really well. We caught a longtail ferry to Ko Chang (ko=island) and found a simple eden on a tiny island (about 2x6 miles). Contex bungalows are on a small beach about a 1/2 walk from the "main" beach with more bungalows, but people come here to hang out because there is nothing to do. The resident population of 250 raise coconuts, cashews and rubber and run bungalow operation. We walked on the narrow roads and paths, swam, read and ate wonderful Thais food prepared by the sisters who own and operate. It has really been refreshing. There are no real bars, and only a small store.

Then, this morning on our bus ride to the next stop, after a 5 hour drive the driver and his sidekick neglected to tell us we had arrived. I realized something was up and sure enough they dumped on the highway 8 or 10 miles past our destination. So we started walking, and then a couple in a pickup stopped and happily took us into town. Just got here and have a room for 7$ in a clean little hotel. Gotta go to the night market now to eat.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

a flying lizard

The view from our bungalow at Khoa Sok

we found a little haven not overloaded with tourist or motorbikes at Khoa Sok NP. Our little bungalow is in a forest setting overlooking the Sok River. It is very nice and peaceful. We took a grueling hike in the jungle yesterday, 16K total, about 10 of it was on what is generously called a trail. Up and over, along ledges, climbing rooks, picking thru roots, but is was pristine and beautiful along the river, and nobody around. We could hear monkeys calling. Today we are doing the first day in a month of doing nothing but hanging around, reading, laundry and such.
tomorrow off on another adventure to a small island. Starting north towards Bangkok.