A Travellerspoint blog

Thailand

Time to head back home

Goodbye South East Asia. For now.

overcast 32 °C
View Footloose in Laos 2012 on Grete Howard's travel map.

For a change the travel times on this trip have been very decent, so we had a couple of hours this morning to take a leisurely breakfast, laze around the pool and a last swim before having to make our way to the airport for the homeward flight.

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The problem with day flights is that you are chasing the sun constantly, so the flight did seem even longer than normal. We won't be rushing back to use Thai Airways again, as the seats really are not that comfortable because of the box under the aisle seat which i presume contains the life jacket. 14 hours of not being able to stretch your legs out does get rather tedious....

Back home again, this is the first time for at least 25 years that we do not have a single trip booked, which feels very odd. I am sure we will soon change that though.

Till the next time, and apologies for the late posting of the last couple of entries from the trip.

Posted by Grete Howard 03:15 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Don Daeng to Bangkok

The end is nigh...

sunny 31 °C
View Footloose in Laos 2012 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Time to leave paradise behind and head back to reality. An early start again this morning, for a 07:00 departure by Chinese Buffalo across the enormous sandbanks exposed by the low water level during the dry season. Even at that time it in the morning the sun is hot, and the temperature is already 31° C.
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The catamaran takes us further up the river this time, to a small village called Ban Muang, where another luxury minibus awaits us. I have to say that all the arrangements have come together beautifully on this trip, with no waiting for transport or missed connections at any time – quite something when you consider all the different modes of transport we've encountered during our journey through Laos.
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From Ban Muang a smooth road took us to Pakse and the international airport for our flight to Bangkok. An extremely small provincial airport, we didn't expect it to take nearly an hour to check in the five people in front of us in the queue. Getting hand written luggage tags brought back memories of flights in days gone by. At least seat allocation wasn't by little numbered stickers as I can well remember from our first flights in the 1960s.

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A brief touch down at Savannakhet, an even smaller airport, and we were soon in the nice new and modern airport in Bangkok. One word of advice – make sure your flight does not arrive during lunchtime! Only half of the immigration counters were open, and the queues snaked around the corner into the corridor, making slow progress – 3/4 hour to get through passport checks!

As we have less than 24 hours before the last flight home, we decided to stay near the airport tonight, at the Best Western Hotel. After all the exotic foods and various edible bugs on this trip I have been craving pizza for a few days, so that's what it had to be for lunch!

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A swim in the pool, nice relaxing afternoon, then drinks and dinner.

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Posted by Grete Howard 02:51 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Bangkok - Chiang Rai

Carnations, clock towers, cabbages and condoms.

sunny 36 °C
View Footloose in Laos 2012 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Time to leave the hustle and bustle of Bangkok behind and head for the airport for a flight to Chiang Rai in the north of Thailand.

Chiang Rai

Our hotel, the Legend, is a sprawling resort on the banks of the river, some distance from the town itself. Very well laid out with great attention to detail, it was a shame that we weren't to spend much time here. Two hours after checking in (a quick re-pack for the next couple of days and a wander around the hotel grounds to take some photos) we grabbed a couple of cycle rickshaws and headed to the clock tower.

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Having missed our friends Jen and Simon by five hours in Nairobi last July and by 200 miles in India in November, we were hoping to finally be in the same place at the same time in Chiang Rai. In an email arranging the get-together, Jen jokingly mentioned that Simon wanted to wear a red carnation and carry a copy of the Times, so we packed a couple of plastic flowers and a newspaper. With times being hard (pun intended), we opted for a copy of the free Nailsea, Clevedon and Portishead Times rather than the more expensive national paper.

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As Jen and Simon didn't know where they would be staying in Chiang Rai, the logical place to arrange to meet them seemed to be by the clock tower in the middle of town. Built in 2008 to honour king Bhumibol Adulyadej, the clock tower is an architectural delight or a grotesque monstrosity, depending on how you look at it. Three times each evening a sound and light show lasting seven minutes is put on for tourists.

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Having been here for a couple of days already, Jen and Simon had checked the place out and found a suitable restaurant for us, Cabbages and Condoms where the food is guaranteed to not make you pregnant. The food was excellent, the décor surreal with life-sized statues made from condoms, but the service left a little to be desired. All the food was brought to the table, but no plates, which we had to ask for twice before one arrived, and then ask again for another. Still only two of us had cutlery, and another request only brought one more set. Finally we had a complete collection of plates, cutlery and food. As is typical of Thailand, starters and main course dishes were brought out all at the same time.

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Posted by Grete Howard 08:18 Archived in Thailand Comments (1)

Bangkok

A day with a difference

overcast 30 °C
View Footloose in Laos 2012 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Damn jetlag! I've been wide awake since 03:00 this morning, and the 24 hour free WiFi went off at 04:00. As I really didn't fancy getting dressed and going downstairs to get today's log in details and password from reception at that time in the morning, I had little choice but to stay unconnected. Much as I love the internet and the way it has opened up the world, I am not sure how healthy it is to be this dependent on staying in touch with the current affairs and your friends whilst travelling – it felt like my right hand had been cut off!

Songram Niyomsane Forensic Medicine Museum
My main reason for adding an extra couple of days in Bangkok on this trip was to see the Forensic Museum, having stumbled across photos of some of its grizzly exhibits on the internet. We caught a river bus right outside the hotel to take us along the river and across to the opposite bank where the hospital is located. The museum is full of embalmed bodies (mostly babies in various stages of deformity) , wax filled remains and exhibits of ghastly deaths – a curious mix of gruesome intrigue and the surreal. It has to be one of more unusual museums we've been to. I found it hard to come to terms with the fact that these were not wax models, they were actual preserved human bodies. I am really not sure how I would feel if it was my loved one who'd died and was now being exhibited for tourists to gawp at! No photos allowed inside, but it appears that my hand must have accidentally rested on the shutter button at some stage....

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Jim Thompson House
A tuk tuk ride took us across the busy streets of Bangkok to Jim Thompson House. Jim was an American entrepreneur who settled in Bangkok and brought his love for architecture with him – purchasing several old teak houses from different places in Thailand and having them lovingly re-built as one large mansion in a small oasis in the middle of the city. Filled with antiques and curios from his various shopping trips in and around the country, Jim Thompson wanted to help preserve the local customs and culture. The house is now a beautiful fusion of different styles with elements of traditional Thai, European, Chinese and Buddhist architecture. Entry to the house is by guided tour only, although you can wander around the grounds at your own leisure.

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Jim Thompson built his home on the river side, and we walked along the somewhat scruffy canal-side path for a while, until we came to a pier. Jumping on the first boat that arrived, we had no idea if it was even going in the right direction, let alone to 'our' landing stage. The driver didn't speak any English (which is also the extent of my Thai), and didn't seem to have heard of the Navalai Resort. Hoping that we'd recognise the pier we wanted when we approached it, we found ourselves on the boat until we reached the end stop and everyone had to get off.
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As soon as we reached the road, we were approached by a tuk tuk driver who was offering some sort of deal for some gasoline vouchers, but as we had no idea what he was talking about and it sounded too much like a scam, we decided to walk along a little further. Trying to find our bearings not knowing whether we were east, south, north or west of the hotel, we were looking intently at the map when we were approached by a very nice local chap who spoke excellent English. Explaining about a government sponsorship this week to try and increase tourism and trade in Bangkok whereby the tuk tuk drivers get vouchers for gasoline for each tourist they bring to certain government shops, our new found friend negotiated a deal of 40 Baht (less than £1) for the two of us for a guided tour of the city and then onwards to our hotel provided we also visited to the approved shops.

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POST SCRIPT
I have been reading on the internet since returning home about this Petrol Coupon 'scam' and the outrage it is causing some people. Surely it is only a scam if you don't get what you expect? We knew what we were letting ourselves in for - the driver gets a reward (be it vouchers or cash) for taking us to shops. We then have a choice whether we accept his offer, and also whether we buy something at the stores (we did not).

Today is a Buddhist holiday, and our first stop was to see the Lucky Buddha where locals come to pray for success and good luck. We met a chap from Phuket who had also benefited from the government drive to increase tourism and trade in Thailand in the form of a free trip to Sydney, Australia with his family! Can't be bad!

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At the Wat Indharavihal Temple I was dismayed to see western tourists showing complete lack of respect for the Buddhist religion – whatever makes young girls think that walking around in a pair of skimpy shorts so minimalistic they were almost obscene and a strappy top with a deep, plunging neck-line is acceptable to wear in a place of worship? That kind of attitude makes me ashamed and embarrassed to be a tourist.

The temple is famous for its 32 metre high standing Buddha, which is covered in gold tiles and is very striking.

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Now it was time for us to fulfil our end of the bargain by visiting the participating stores. Not being the least bit interested in shopping we made each of the visits short and financially painless.

Back in the hotel I went for a wonderful Thai massage and reflexology while David checked in on line for our flight tomorrow and arranged transport to get us to the airport. The problem with a massage when you are suffering from jet lag is that it is all too easy to fall asleep...

Today's finale was the Calypso Ladyboy Cabaret, and what a show it was. Humour, tragedy, glamour, talent – it was a breathtaking extravaganza that had me looking at the performers in a way I never have. The ladyboys in Thailand are known as katoyes, they dress and live as women, and are largely accepted into society as a whole. Thais believe being a katoey is a result of transgressions in past lives and that they deserve pity rather than blame.

The show featured performers at every stage of their transformation from boys to ladies. They undergo hormone replacement therapy but some shows don't allow them to perform after the final op, as technically no longer ladyboys. There is no way however that some of those performers in some of those outfits were able to disguise their masculinity! These are some of the most beautiful women around.

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Posted by Grete Howard 03:14 Archived in Thailand Comments (2)

Bristol - London - Bangkok

It's been a long day...

semi-overcast 31 °C
View Footloose in Laos 2012 on Grete Howard's travel map.

We deliberately booked the Thai Airways flight over cheaper alternatives because of the promise of longer legroom but I can't say I was that impressed with the space in the cabin. There was a box under the seat in front of me preventing me from stretching my legs out. Eleven hours on a cramped plane is never comfortable unless you are travelling business or first class (which unfortunately my budget does not stretch to), and having a bad sinus infection does not help matters.

Arrival in Bangkok was smooth and easy (although I have never before been asked about my salary for an arrivals card), and we spotted the ladyboy with our name on a sing as soon as we excited the customs hall. She/he was an agent for several transfer companies and directed three groups to different waiting vehicles. We didn't expect a 13-seater minibus for the two of us for the airport transfer to the hotel.

The Navalai River Resort came recommended to us by my good friend Homer and it has certainly lived up to expectations. The room is spacious and overlooks the river, with a busy river bus stop right outside. Feeling a little weary, we decided to have dinner on the terrace of the hotel tonight, and the food was excellent. Shame you couldn't say the same about the service. When we arrived, the staff were super-friendly and falling over themselves to help/serve us; but unfortunately there seemed to be a changeover of staff half way through the evening and the service went from one extreme to another after that. We were totally ignored, even when asking for the bill. It would have bee incredibly easy to walk out without paying, as even when we got up to leave, no-one came over or tried to stop us at the door. The guy on the tills seemed equally disinterested when we said we wanted to pay. Needless to say we didn't leave a tip!

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We thoroughly enjoyed seeing the various craft plying the river outside the hotel though, from tugs towing four huge barges to luxury dinner cruise ships lit up like Christmas trees.

Posted by Grete Howard 06:12 Archived in Thailand Comments (4)

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