A Travellerspoint blog

Bangkok

and a happy birthday too!

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HAPPY, HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO PATTYWATTY!

Ah! Bangkok. Patty and Ren have wondered what this truly BIG Asian city with immense congestion, over-growth, wealth, indulgence, poverty, lady-boys-galore would offer us. We heard stories—good and bad—along the way, and we're ready for whateve the city will offer during our short 24 hrs on land.

ANd yes, Bangkok was the location for Patty's birthday – March 30th. Birthday activities were: touring and a movie. Touring was fine. We've little to say about it other than the Palace is cool.

Some images:
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But as our friends know, this tired Calforinia couple enjoys their movies and Wow! What a movie experience we had. Bangkok has a theater at the Siam Paragon called the Nokia Ultra Screen. There you enjoy a movie in first class luxury. The full size theater holds only 30 or so people. The leather chairs, arranged in cocooned pairs, are reminiscent of a top-notch first class flight chair. They're fully recling and come with a fresh blanket and pillow. Order drinks right from your chair. The setting was awesome and the movie was ok. We watched “My Blueberry Nights”.

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Other notables beyond the birthday:
+ The Siam mall was huge and full of high-end stores, fantastic food stalls (nothing crappy like what we might expect in a US mall) and excellent restaurants with white linen, cloth napkins, etc.. Patty's birthday dinner was, in fact, at the mall at an Italian restaurant. That was one of our favorite meals in the trip.

Here we are enjoyin it!
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+ We were taken-back by how ruthlessly crooked the tuk-tuk drivers are in Bangkok. Its a no holds-barred effort to cheat turists. And its not remotely suttle. The tuk-tuk driver with which we most engaged told us that the sights we wished to see were closed and that we ought to go somewhere else, with him, to take a river cruise. This after the usual questions: where are you from, what's your name, etc.. We walked away from him in disbelief over his misuided efforts. Other tuk-tuk drivers weren't much better. They quoted prices well above an AC taxi's metered rate. And they'd not negotiate. Very odd to us. And very different than our other stops in Thailand. The blame lies with (a) indifferent government that doesn't much mind how turists experience Bangkok and Thailand (b) gullible tourists and (c) rotten and dirty people who prefer to cheat rather than earn their living honestly.

Posted by dacostas 17:15 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Thailand North (continued)

Exploring the ruins in Thailand

Sukhothai and Ayutthai:
March 26- March 29

On the trail South, we decided to travel via bus through two towns famous for their temple ruins. Both have a small-sprawl city feeling. These are Sukhothai and Si Satchanalai (about 5 hours South of Chiang Mai) and Ayutthai (5 hours further South and just 90 minutes north of downtown Bangkok).

Lots of temple ruins in both locations. Dominant are Khemer runins from 1300 through 1500 or so. These are brick temples that may once have been Hindu but are recognized as primarily Buddhist ruins (Buddhism and Hinduism took turns as the dominant religion, but Buddhism is the winner over the past 400 years or so).

Some comments:
+ it was quite fun biking around these temples as there were fewer toursists and less cattle-style tourism industry—compared with Chiang Mai and Angkor ruins in Cambodia. Specially in Sukhothai and the neighboring Si Satchanalai. Si Satchanalia was particularly pretty and quiet.
+ Music to dine by? John Tesh instrumentals or something arranged by someone who must be his lost Thai brother... That's what you'll hear in pretty much every breakfast room in the large Asian-style hotels. Smaltzy, psuedo-romantic synth music inspired by a percussion setting from an electronic keyboard circa mid-1980s. And its loud. Very loud. Unfortunately it's not unique to these two locations; perhaps it was just more noticeable to us here.
+ The sun was HOT. Biking around the temples needs to start early because you'll be suffering by 10:30am or so. Seems like the sun is perfectly above your head for hours around the midday sun. And temperatures were peaking around 38-40 Celcius-- 100 or more Fahrenheit. The evening doesn't really relent much, either. Patty and Ren agree—AC is a must.

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Sukhothai pictures:

The ruins were amazing. Several pictures below.
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We biked around the ruins. The biking distances and terrain are easy. But man, that sun! Did we mention it was above 40 celsius?
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In some locations you could interact with the old ruins (ie., climb them, dance around on them, perform rituals on them, etc.) The incline on the first picture was quite impressive.
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The happy couple performing their own rituals:
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Later, crossing the Indiana Jones bridge:
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Ayuthaia pictures:
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One of the better know Buddha heads completely engulfed by a banyan tree.
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Images of the king are prominent throughout Thailand. All indications are that Thai nationals really do like (love?) their king. He is rumored to have done a lot of good for the country. Here he is hanging out among the temples.
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Posted by dacostas 17:08 Archived in Thailand Tagged air_travel Comments (0)

Sleeping Dogs of Asia

Can't miss'em. They're everywhere.

Certainly nonsense, but we like to share... we started our “sleeping dogs of Asia” photo collection in Chiang Mai. Chiang Mai's got'em. All cities have 'em. Seems that every Wat (temple) has at least two or ten muts just sort of hanging out in the shade. They're sometimes cute. Sometimes mangy. When they're not sleeping, they're walking. And they walk with air of certainty--as if they know exactly where they're going and what they'll do upon arrival. Just yesterday a dog passed us on the sidewalk. We were strolling. He was trotting. Seemed like he was late to his appointment. Hopefully, he made it.

pictures are coming soon... believe us!

Posted by dacostas 14:28 Archived in Thailand Comments (1)

Thailand North

Chiang Mai

It's with excitement that we arrive in Chiang Mai--particularly for Renato. He's been planning to visit Thailand for years. It was near the top of his list of travel sites, perhaps even at the top. Stories of pristine beaches and great spicy food—both available at low cost. What can possibly beat it?

We start our Thai adventure in Chiang Mai—the once upon a time Northern capital of the various different kings and tribes that were in area. Chiang Mai is a short 1hr flight from Luang Prabang. Or a 2 day boat ride down a brown, dirty river. No cabin. Just a seat. We flew. From Chiang Mai we'll be traveling south through Thailand until we reach the beaches of Koh Phi Phi, Krabi coast, Koh Samui, and more.

For those who know Chiang Mai from 10 years ago... it seems to have grown a lot. We believe its the 2nd largest city in Thailand. And it shows. It has all the quaintness and serenity of a sprawling, dirty Asian city with little planning and zoning policy as constraint. Vendors here have had years of dealing with westerners and tourists and it's rubbed-off on their general surliness. Their perspective: tourists are here strictly for the locals' profit. Their goal is to extract money from our wallets. Little consideration goes towards providing a pleasant experience for the customer (and perhaps winning return visits). And don't expect smiles.

There are several highlights, of course. They begin with Do Suthep temple at the top of Chiang Mai. Do Suthep sparkles with gold leaf. Things are of giant stature. It's a very cool temple. And it's very different than any of the old Khmer ruins you see in Cambodia, Laos or elsewhere in Thailand. Most memorable is the huge golden temple (maybe its called a 'Chedi'?) housing the most prominent Buddha statue.

Some pictures of Doi Suthep:
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Patty covered in gold?
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We also visited the winter palace, BhuPing palace, of the royal family. It's still a functioning location. US dignitaries have stayed there. There, you tour the gardens, which are quiet, lovely and very naturey. Quite a difference from the old concrete jungle that dominates Chiang Mai. Ren wishes he could enter one of the buildings. But ok, the flowers are pretty. This one`s getting ready to bloom.

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We really enjoyed the Sunday walking street. It's not just another market; it has a pleasant air to it. The food was great and cheap--lots of fresh stuff, and freshly fried stuff. You could pick and choose little items (almost a dim sum like approach) and sit down at your leisure to eat. We both really dug it. Plus, the casual shopping there was very pleasant. There's reason for it—the folks at the Sunday street aren't paying for the their booth all week long. It's a once per week business for them. Thus, they've less financial pressure and less interaction with tourists to frustrate them. And, it really shows. Many smiles around. Negotiation didn't frustrate them and banter was welcome. Both of Patty and Ren purchased crud that night.

Ren at the Sunday walking street feasting on a fine drink of `Birdy`.
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And the happy couple enjoying a foot massage later on the same Sunday.
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This is remarkably different from the “Night Bazaar” which takes place every night of the week. Vendors there are tired of tourists. There's no pleasure in the air. And there's less variety in the merchandise in the stalls. To their defense, these vendors are paying for stalls everyday, and this is likely to be their only business endeavor. It seems like they're under greater pressure. Just the same, neither of us cared for it. And the food we ate was below par. Well below.

Other highlight was our kitschy trip to see the hilltribes. There are several tribes of non-Thai (perhaps once upon a time from China) people who live in the borders between Thailand, Laos and Myanmar. They're not wanted by Myanmar—in fact they're running away to safety. While they're not allowed to be Thai citizens, the colorful tribes bring tourism dollars into Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai. Particularly the Karen tribe with the long-neck women (they wear coiled chains around their neck from childhood through adulthood giving them the appearance of elongated necks). As such, they're welcome by the Thai government. And the tourist agencies. The tribe folks are authentically tribe people. They remain farmers and the men work in the field while the women put on a show for the tourists. With support of the Thai government (?) there are some efforts to improve their quality of life. We did see some solar panels in a few of the towns we visited.

Some pictures:
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Ren bothering the local children...
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Images of the Karen tribe...
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Financially, our hotel cost has hit an all time low ;-) This isn't necessarily by design, but our little home away from home is clean, safe, in a reasonable location, provides AC, wireless internet access, and a tv. It just thoroughly lacks style. And, the beds are too soft. All of this can be yours for less than $40/night at the Sri Pat Guesthouse.

Posted by dacostas 14:17 Archived in Thailand Comments (2)

Laos: Part 2

Luang Prabang

The Basics:
Our next stop was at the Northern city of Luang Prabang. This is the ancient capital of Laos. Now its a world heritage sight.

Luang Prabang left us with a very different feeling than we had at Vientiane. It has all the quaintness and charm that Vientiane lacked. There's a main street with the standard selection of ok restaurants, tour agencies, shops etc. Along that street, a nightly bazaar takes place. There you get all the touristy junk anyone could want (surprisingly, none of the fake watches, purses – instead supposedly hand made fabrics and woven stuff that look alarmingly like haight-ashbury chatscke.) The part of town you visit has rivers on either side (its a small peninsula). One of the rivers is the Mekong and the other a tributary. There are handful of “wats” or buddhist temples throughout town.

Scenes in the city streets and its Wats:
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An amazing daily event is the "saffron trail" in the early morning when the monks receive rice from the locals.
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Do they really eat peanuts?

There are a range of small day tours to do outside of town. Several are of the outdoors adventuring type. However, we chose to visit an elephant camp. Both of us absolutely loved our time with the elephants. We traveled on elephant back. Drove the elephants (kind of), fed them and washed them. While it was silly, the whole thing was quite a hoot. Hands down one of the funner days of the trip.
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Getting to Luang Prabang:

We chose to fly from Vientiane to Luang Prabang. There's a 10-12 hour bus option as well. However, we read fairly negative things about the bus (shootings, terribly windy and bumpy route, did I mention shootings?) so we opted to fly. Once in Luang Prabang, we spoke with a handful of travelers (of the young variety) who bussed. It seems that the bus isn't all that bad. But, as I wrote earlier, busing isn't our thing.

Posted by dacostas 14:11 Archived in Laos Comments (1)

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