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Virtual meanderings

Category Archives: Thailand

Hanoi: Young women on scooters

I’ll devote this post to something one notices a lot on the streets of Hanoi yet I did not include it in the previous post, saving it for a separate blog entry. Here it is:

Woman on a scooter, Hanoi

Courtesy: wanderingscotsman.com

Woman on Scooter, Hanoi

Courtesy: www.informatik.uni-bremen.de/~net/photos/vietnam/hanoi/

Woman on scooter in Hanoi 2

Courtesy: whitemonkeynewsbureau.wordpress.com

Women on scooters, Hanoi

Courtesy: whitemonkeynewsbureau.wordpress.com

These fotos aren’t mine but I too could confirm the massive numbers of dressed-up young women riding scooters in Hanoi. So much so that at one point I too gave in and immortalized this phenomenon: Read more of this post

Angkor IV: The life of a Khmer guy

We found our tuk-tuk driver (or rather he found us) at the famous Pub street during our first evening in Siem Reap. He was one of three drivers that approached us as we were coming out of a restaurant where we’d just had a “traditional Khmer dinner”.

The other two guys were older and could only say a couple of words in English. He was much younger, say 22-23-years old, and his English was above average. While it was obvious that he really wanted customers badly (there are thousands of tuk-tuk drivers in Siem Reap and in low season they struggle to find enough customers), he tried to not be pushy. I immediately liked him and asked Kara, my U.S. companion, whether she minded hiring him as our driver to Angkor on the next day. She did not object.

Siem Reap tuk-tuks are generally of the style of motorcycle and trailer.
Siem Reap tuk-tuks are generally of the style of motorcycle and trailer.

Courtesy: wikipedia.org
(note: the guy on the picture is not our guy, but similar age)

    The guy turned out to be 27 (by the end of our stay in Cambodia I began to suspect that Khmer people often look younger to the European than they actually were), yet he was not married yet. Just like the Khmer girl of my previous post did, he too went to English classes at some private school – and had to pay. He constructed his sentences in English with great care. Also, when trying to say something he often consulted a small Khmer – English phrasebook that he always held.

When we stopped at the Bayon temple at Angkor Thom, he took out another “book” that comprised of A4-sized sheets – photocopied and bundled together – to read while he waited for us. We asked him what it was. He said that he studied the book in order to become a tour guide (obviously a step up in the hierarchy). I asked to have a quick look – the book contained descriptions of the major Angkor area temples (who commissioned the temple, what was this king like, when the temple was built, etc). The information was good but unfortunately the quality of the texts was very poor – they were written in broken English with many grammar errors and wrong spelling. I told our guy that he would be speaking very incorrect English if he memorized those sentences and that he should try to find a better book. Read more of this post

Crossing by land into Cambodia – Part II (4 real)

If you missed the first part of the border-crossing adventure, you can read it here. This second part came out a bit long, and I am well aware of the fact that people resent reading “long” posts that – gosh! – contain a lot of text. But any additional shortening would do a disservice to the Poi Pet Thai-Cambodia border crossing.

Heaving read dozens of traveller reports at the TalesOfAsia website, undertaking felt more than ever like participating in “By Any Means” episode minus the filming crew, the bigger budget, the local interlocutors and the nonchalant attitude of Charley Boorman. I was no Charley, and Kara – who was going to be my company – was no Eoin McGreggor. Read more of this post

Crossing by land into Cambodia – Part I (the research)

     This is going to be a two-part post.

     First, some background: When I arrived in Bangkok, I had not any plans for my next destination (city or country). Those that read my earlier posts know that I eventually decided for Chiang Mai (but it was not so simple), and subsequently – for the Koh Phi Phi island. However, all that time there was the bigger question to answer – which country is next? Sure, it was to be one of Thailand’s neighbors – Myanmar, Laos or Cambodia. But which one exactly? When? How? Why? 

    For various reasons Myanmar fell off the list (will make it up next time). Hence, two contestants remained – Laos and Cambodia. As simple as tossing a coin. Or was it? The information about travelling in these countries I found online, at tourist bureaus and by talking to other travelers was patchy, inconsistent and – as I would eventually find out on the spot – plain wrong. Ask yourself the question – when was the last time you heard anything about Laos on the news? What about Cambodia?

    At some point I was even contemplating giving up Cambodia, but then I realized that returning home without visiting Angkor, despite being so near to it would be a total shame. Deal sealed: next stop – Angor Wat.

    So, crossing from Thailand to Cambodia should be trivial, right? After all, these are two neighboring countries, occasionally trading gunfire near the temple of Preah Vihear, but overall relations are friendly and cordial (when not trading gunfire near the temple of Preah Vidhear). Тhe temple is a UNESCO World Heritage site and each side has pledged that it’d rather bomb it into oblivion than see it fall forever into the hands of the other. It’s all about the BBB (whose army got Bigger Buddhist Balls). However, for the time being and for the forseeable future – the temple is standing proud in Cambodia)

    My options for arriving in Siem Reap (the town where Angkor is) were three: flying, taking a special tourist bus from Khao San Road or going at it all on my own.

    Read more of this post

Evening entertainment for Thai people.

I really wonder how often visitors to Thailand ask themselves how Thai people entertain themselves and where Thai people go for an evening out.

Lest we forget, is it only natural that they need a way to socialize and entertain themselves – or you thought they are only around to serve you or take your money? Because it is what some people believe, judging by their behavior. Restaurants and fast food chains such as McDonalds tend to cater to foreigners (as well as the globalized urban middle and uper-middle class). After all, the Thai tourist industry was built around catering for foreigners since its very conception. In case you do not know how tourism started in the Land of the Free – it was when American soldiers came to Thailand (a US ally) to relieve themselves from the Vietnam bombing raids and to screw the local women. Forgive me if I am being blunt, but this is how things are (the Buddhist deities have been busy at work ever since delivering justice to everyone involved). What has followed since is largely the logical evolution of the originating act.

So, where do the “common people go”?

McSpicy McDonalds

McDonalds - this is not where 'common' Thai people go

Read more of this post

All good things come at a price – a boat ride to remember

It was 8’15 AM. The final minutes of my stay on Koh Phi Phi were flying away. I was at the water-taxi stop at Long Beach – waiting for the water taxi to take me to the main pier. The passenger boat to Phuket would leave at 9, and next I’d take a return flight to Bangkok. I was leaving Thailand. Early next morning me and Kara, the American I’d met in Bangkok, were to leave for Cambodia (Angkor Wat, here we come).

Robert, the German guy with whom we’d shared the bungalow for the last 4 days was leaving for another Thai island later today, soon followed by the French couple – Charles and Adeline.

During the boat ride to the island four days ago the weather had been great, the ocean – smooth and the boat ride – a pleasure. But today it was very cloudy since early morning and rain was falling on and off.  Still, the waters at the Long Beach looked innocent. The first hint that it might not be so came at 8:30 when instead of the water-taxi, a Thai guy showed up on foot and told us to pick our stuff and follow him back to the next bay. His claim – the waters were too bad for the water taxi to dock at Long Beach. I’d heard the same story a couple of times already – especially when boat drivers did not feel like going to Long Beach to deliver just a passenger or two – so I did not pay much attention. Cursing silently that if they just kept wasting our time like that the Phuket boat could leave without us, we oblidged and duly followed. We walked the path up the old tree with the stairs carved into its roots – with our heavy bags and stuff.

Up the tree we went

Up the tree we went

Read more of this post

The Beach Boys

In the morning we got on Long Beach (our bungalow was 15 meters from the ocean, so we actually needed not walk far). If you ever wondered whether any of those touristy photos about Thai islands held much merit – I’ll let my own amateur photos speak:

Long Beach - a couple at dusk

Long Beach - a couple at dusk

Long Beach (look, Ma, no people)

Long Beach (look, Ma, no people)

     The welcoming morning sun, the refreshing clouds, the long stretch of sand virtually devoid of people, the feeling that the ocean and the goregous views are all yours…

    All yours… only because we were here out of season. We’d been told that during high season the beach you see empty on the photo was just as crowded as you’d expect (and prices were double what we were paying). But, wait! Didn’t I note in my previous  post that Koh Phi Phi town was bustling with foreign visitors – despite it being the low season for Thai tourism? Why were they not on these pristine beaches? Read more of this post

A dinner at Papaya (sans the papaya salad)

Getting from my Chiang Mai hostel to my Koh Phi Phi bungalow had taken a full 24 hours, and had been full of excitement. Here’s the breakdown for you:

Red truck ‘taxi’ from hostel to Chiang Mai bus station – 80 baht
Overnight bus from Chiang Mai to Bangkok – 660 baht
Taxi from bus station to BKK airport – 290 baht
Airplane from Bangkok to Phuket – 2800 baht
Taxi from Phuket airport to boat pier – 100 baht (after splitting the price in 4)
Passenger boat from Phuket to Ko Phi Phi – 500 baht
Water taxi to Long beach – 100 baht

Perhaps I should add  – being able to get some rest after all that – priceless.

It felt like participating in some episode of “By any means”.

By Any Means with Charley Boorman

By Any Means with Charley Boorman

In case you do not know the show, actor Charley Boorman is trying to get from Ireland to Australia – by any means of transportation. In the bottom of the screen there was a ‘types of vehicles used’ count, and it ended up well above hundred. Boats, cars, trucks, carts, bikes, scooters, animal riding, tuk-tuks, as well as some unique local designs that are beyound describing.

Read more of this post

The long way to Long Beach, Koh Phi Phi

This post came out somewhat long, but it is the shortest I could make it without compromising on the fun of getting from Bangkok to my destination Long Beach on Koh Phi Phi island.

Round 1

    I got from Bangkok to Phuket flying AirAsia.com (a low-cost airline carrier operating in several South Asian countries). Essentially, this flight was my giving up on my intention to only travel by land after arriving in Asia. It only took me a week to change my mind on that one. Reason: the recent experience with taking the bus from Bangkok to Chiangmai and all the other minor traveling issues.. The airplane ticket cost under $100, and the journey would only take a couple of hours (with the airport wait). And taking a bus? 14 to 16 hours (not counting other possible problems).

Approaching Phuket

Approaching Phuket

How was my flying? Excellent. The airplanes were all new, the service – good, the prices – reasonable (especially if you buy at least a week in advance, an art that I never seem able to master). Booking online had been fast and easy – no broken English, no last-minute surprises, no additional expenses.
Round one:  me – 1, friendly tourist agents – 0.

Now there I was at Phuket Airport, with little clue how to get to neighboring island Koh Phi Phi’s Long Beach. I knew that I needed to get from the airport to the boat pier somehow, take a ferry to Koh Phi Phi from there, and – once at Koh Phi Phi – take a so-called water-taxi to the Long Beach area itself. Three separate rides meant at least three chances to get ripped off. Now, bear with me and you will learn how successful I was navigating my way through those treacherous waters. Read more of this post

Getting around in Bangkok

    I am wrapping up writing about Bangkok. Next post will be about the islands in the South. So I thought I’d devote this one on something simple, yet essential – moving from point A to point B in Bangkok.
    Travel guide books showcase the ‘local flavor’ with photos of tuk-tuks and smiling Thai drivers. But – you should all know by now – this is the least recommended way of transport (unless you are some kind of rip-off lover)
The infamous tuk-tuk 'taxi'

The 'traditional' tuk-tuk 'taxi'

    Let me quote (again) the venerable www.bangkokscams.com:
We got scammed with the TukTuk, a guy in an official looking suit who spoke quite decent English was standing in front of the grand palace and told us it was closed until half past one, because the king’s sister had died. Since we thought Thai people respected their royal family we doubted he would lie about something like that – after three weeks in Thailand we are innocent no more. In any case, he got us an ‘alternative route’, conveniently hailed a TukTuk for us and after visiting the standing budha (which was actually quite nice) we went from shop to shop. I got scammed into buying a suit. I had actually been thinking about getting one made, but probably would not have done so if it weren’t for the scam. Luckily my suit turned out pretty decent although a bit overpriced, so I like to think I got away with it. We later met a British couple in Kanchanaburi who got scammed by the exact same guy, appearently he told them the same story word for word :)Even outside bangkok people think of you not as a person, but as a wallet with legs”

    Or revist what Issac, a long-time Bangkok resident, had to say in his letter to me:

If you stay in Kao San Road or go the sits in the old city (This is where Kao San Rd. is located) then watch out for scams. In particular, I would advise to never take tuk tuks (three wheeled open air taxis). They always try to over charge and they will take you to a shop (jewelry, suits, travel agent) instead of your destination. It’s the same price or cheaper to take a metered taxi.

   But there are a lot of those tuk-tuks out on the streets and Thai people can often be seen using those?!

    But… but are you Thai? Price discrimination between locals and foreigners is one thing (and it makes some sense), but blatant rip-offs and scams such as the Thai gem scam is another.

   So is there a way out of that? Yes. Bangkok offers many modes of transportaion (and I did use all of these myself). Read more of this post