Monday, March 30, 2009
Thailand - from Kae Ora to Sawat dii kawn
We flew from Christchurch to Auckland, and ended up having a good night sleep on the third floor overlooking the runway at the Auckland airport(after the locals took their children home around midnight :))
Royal Brunei had excellent entertainment on board: "Slumdog millionaire" (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AIzbwV7on6Q)and "The express" (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SN9stKl8cYA) were my favorites.
Our quick stop in Brunei was lovely - just on the northwestern coast of Borneo, with just 365,000 people, education and health care is free, quality of life unparalleled in Southeast Asia. Reason: Oil :( Maybe next time we will have more than two hours to explore this culture and introducing solar :))
Our next stop Bangkok: Thailand's huge, noisy, polluted capital can be overwhelming, however the friendliness of the people makes up for a lot. 9 million share this city ... most of the travellers in our section of town: Banglamphu.
Asia: It took me a bit to get used to it again ... Thailand reminds me of India, mixed with Japan. Busy and colorful, not quiet as clean as Japan, but not as dirty as India. Dogs on the street, but no cows. Crazy food, but not so spicy that it will give you stomach issues. People that look different from me, but don't think I am a millionaire and should pay 10 times the local price. Public transportation is great and cheap, but not disgustedly dirty :)
The first thing that struck me was how cheap things are here ... The bus from the airport cost 150 bath (divide by 4 = not even $4), hotel less than $10 (last night I paid $2!!), lunch or dinner mostly less than $1, one hour Thai massage about $5...
The second thing was the difference in peoples behaviour when approached by a tourist ... I was used to being told "NO or I don't know" ... and the truth if I ask how to book transportation to Chaing Mai :)... so after we put in our paperwork for the Vietnam visa on Friday and checked out the very posh downtown mall (the largest and nicest I have ever been to), we were the "victims" of the first attempt to make money of us. A "friendly" local tried to give us some good advise about booking a bus ticket and a tuk-tuk driver took as to the "only place in town" were they don't charge commission: a TAT office (Tourist Authority Thailand) ... once I questioned the price being three times as high as in my guide book, we were thrown out because I was being too difficult :)) ... so watch out for the TAT offices. Seems to me that they are travel agencies trying to sell you package trips ...
Friday night in Banglampu is fun. A night market supplies one with all kinds of food and drinks, while being able to shop at the same time from the many walking stores that pass you. Loads of music and makeshift bars on the side of the road make a homey atmosphere.
At the local bar/club I met my first friendly/honestly nice local: a Thai girl who told me it was her Birthday, bought me a drink and ended up giving me her anklet ... very nice and very different from the stories I heard about Thai girls (supposedly only being after your money). Needless to say that the next day was rather calm (pretty much just enjoying our air conditioned room)
On Sunday we got around to do some sight seeing. Some ninety percent of Thais practise Theravada Buddhism, one of the two main schools of Buddhism in Asia. Therefore one will see a lot of temples and Buddhas and monks around :)
Wat Arun (the the landmark of Bangkok), Chinatown, Wat Pho (the reclining Buddha), Wat Tramit, the marble temple, all great places to go see, just to name a few.
We made it to the National Museum, but I have to admit that I wasn't too impressed ...
My favorite, and a must when you are in Bangkok, is the Grand Palace with War Phra Kaeo, which is the holiest site in the country and houses the most important image, the Emerald Buddha. The temple occupies the northeast corner of the huge Grand Palace, which dates back to 1785, but is now only used for state funcions, as the king resides in Chirlada Palace in Dusit. The buildings look almost unreal with all the gold and other shining objects all over them.
One should dress conservatively when visiting and have at least two hours to walk around and enjoy the beauty.
After a couple more attemps of locals to sell us overprices tickets, we simply went to the train station itself to by them ... so once we had picked up our visa on monday, the night train took us to Chaing Mai in just under 14 hours.