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Virtual meanderings

Tag 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

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

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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.

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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

Avoiding taxi scams

is there no end to the bs they come up with? like build mama and papa a house, they need money, they very poor. these girls in pattaya are at it all the time. buy me this buy me that. gold and phones anything thats pawnable they will sell. then ask you to replace them or buy them back so they can pawn them again, theres no end to the continuous give me money? they then move on swiftly because they dont want to lose time. so be on your guard at all times”

Hm, wait… is this about taxis and taxi scams? Well, no, but it sounded like an interesting start to the post – the source is a comment on the bangkokscams.com website (a recommended read).

After spending one event-filled week in Thailand, getting mildly ripped off here and there, as well as a bit harder for my bus ticket from Bangkok to Chiangmai – the environment strangely yet surely began to remind me of old first-person shooter computer games – the likes of Wolfenstein, Doom II and Heretic (if anyone remembers those).

No, really. Think about it – in either case you only have a rough idea of where you are going and how to accomplish your goal. You look for hints and hunt supplies along the way. Only, instead of monsters trying to eat you, you have smiling Thai people trying to make some money off of you.

No-meter taxi drivers in client search mode
No-meter taxi drivers in client search mode   

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Last day in town. What better than a…

… cooking course?
Mmm, Thai food, yum yum yum!
OK, before we get too ecstatic, let me say that one should not generalize about Thai cuisine. It has quite a few dishes that are tasty (to the European), and quite a few that are not. I had my share of both. But the traditional Tom Yum soup got me hooked like a hippie on LSD, like a teenager on extasy, like a… you get the point.

The delicious Tom Yum soup

The delicious Tom Yum soup

Courtesy: random blog

    When I was preparing this post, I fiddled with the idea of providing the soup recepy. But honestly, why do that if anyone can look it up online in 5 seconds – for example, here? The web abounds of posts that chew over the same story again and again – especially about travelling, and especially about Thailand.

It all started because I remembered about a book I had read. A unique kind of book, where cooking recepies were smoothly integrated into the book’s narrative, becoming a part of the story itself. This was even reflected in the book’s title – “Mock Faustus | Corrected Complemented Cooking Book”. I loved this book for its subtle humor and I was immediately tempted to sneak a paragraph about it into this blog post and claim to be following into its tradition. Wait, what tradition? Who on Earth knows about a Latvian book written in the seventies? Amazon? Amazon, take two?

Amazon says: “Currently unavailable. We don’t know when or if this item will be back in stock.” If I ever saw a sign trying to tell me “never”, that would be it. Not willing to give up without finding at least a small trace in English about the book, I dug some more online, and I was only able found this in a 2003 article from a Latvian “visual arts” magazine called Studija.

“It is strictly required that partridge pate be served only in shells collected in the Balearic Islands shortly before a typhoon,” as Marģeris Zariņš wrote in 1973 (“False Faust, or a Corrected and Supplemented Cookbook”). The hero of the book was an old apothecary, alchemist and pseudoscientist, a Latvianised Baltic German Jānis Vridrikis Trampedahs, who in 1930s Latvia enjoyed for his dinner treats prepared by a servant-woman brought specially from Scotland, each dish being served in the corresponding fine dishes to the sound of appropriate music – after which he visited the outside loo, as is usual in the small towns.”

So much for the book being a masterpiece and a modern classic. So much for its excellent unobtrusive humor. According to online search engines it is as if it never existed – such is the gradual fate of the culture of small countries. Oh, well…

So – cooking, cooking, cooking…

Unlike many tourist destinations I’ve been to, one-day cooking courses are a well-established offering all around South East Asia. All I needed to do in order to get enrolled was mention it to the guy at the hostel. One short phone call later, and I was all set for the next day. As usual, I was picked up from the hostel in the morning and delivered to the cooking course school (a school by day, a residential house with a beautiful yard where the school owners lived by night). Running the whole enterprise was a kind and smiling Thai lady with excellent English in her mid-twenties, helped by her younger brother (who was in fact the one to pick me up in his van in the morning).

      I do not need to tell you what I would eat that day – it would be my own dishes! (okay, I told you).  Within about six hours we would prepare six different meals – a soup, an appetizer, a salad, a couple of main courses and a desert.

    There is no way you could cook six dishes in a day from scratch! – you’d think. Well, in Europe maybe not. Asian cusine, however, is no French. In Asia meals are designed to be cooked fast. Meat! It is never cooked in big pieces that take a lot of time to get ready. It is always cut into small bits – and those take just a minute to cook/bake/boil. Same goes for just about everything – cut it to small pieces, and it cooks in no time.  In fact, the actual time to clean and slice all the ingredients and get the sauces ready takes 80% of the time, while the cooking itself – only 20% (is this another application of the 80/20 rule? I do not know).

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Goin’ Trekkin’

Have I ever ridden an elephant before? No. Have I done white-water rafting before? Sadly, no, but I definitely want to try it. Walking in the rain forest to reach that well-hidden waterfall? What about extras such as a visit to a hill tribe village and an orchid farm to part with some of my souvenir-designated money?
The answer to the question “Why go trekking?” seems too obvious  –  to experience things you had no chance to try at home, to get intimately close to the beautiful countryside, to enjoy the company of others, adventure… the usual marketing points.

The beginning of the rainforest
The beginning of the rainforest

Courtesy: tvidhyarkorn @ Flickr

   Yet, for me there was one more reason – a general one, in fact – coming into play each time I succumbed to participating in organized events. And that reason is… ok, you will need to read the post to the end to find out or jump straight to the last paragraph.
For the time being, however, let’s get back to trekking.    Read more of this post