<< markandrupa

Thailand

october 2006

We booked our tour through Travel Indochina (an Australian travel agency) and chose their fourteen day "Thailand Discovery" road trip.  We also extended our stay by adding two extra nights in Chiang Mai at the end of the tour (well worth it - Chiang Mai is a lovely city).  The tour structure was different than our previous tours in that lunches and dinners were not included, but food in Thailand is incredibly cheap ($10 each per day to eat like a king) that we surely saved money this way.  We had a fantastic group of eight travelers and two guides and can highly recommend Travel Indochina to anyone wishing to visit Asia.

Photos

We took 1100 photos while in Thailand - check out a slideshow of our favorites.

Trip log

  1. Seattle - september 29

    Although we found relatively direct flights from Seattle to Bangkok (one stop in Tokyo), we were still in the air for more than 17 hours.  Although we slept most of it, I was able to catch a movie and read a bit of my latest Bill Bryson book - A Walk in the Woods.

    Northwest Airlines flight #27

  2. Bangkok - september 30

    We arrived in Bangkok very late, transferred to our hotel, and hopped straight into bed for a short night's sleep.

    Silom Serene, Bangkok

  3. Bangkok - october 1

    This morning we met our western tour guide, Lauren, for a short tour briefing.  After a quick breakfast we met our local guide, Noom, as well as our tour mates - Phil, Brooke, Jan, Glynis, Susan, and Fiona.

    First up on our itinerary was a private boat ride through the Thon Buri canals - wide waterways lined with a seemingly random mix of temples, hotels, restaurants, piers, and poorly built housing that barely held together above the wake-choked canals.  After a good hour long boat ride we headed off for our first temple complex - Wat Pho.  Wat Pho houses an enormous (30 meter) reclining Buddha statue, where the only vantage point that offered a complete view was near the feet looking back toward the head (otherwise the view was disrupted by a dozen or so large supporting pillars).  As we continued to tour the complex, four Asian teenagers held up a camera and appeared to be asking me a question.  I figured they wanted their picture taken so I reached for their camera, but it turned out they wanted me in their picture.  They took turns posing with me before offering a hearty "thank you" and wandering off.

    Our next stop of the day was the Grand Palace.  Although no longer the living quarters of the king, the buildings are still used for ceremonial purposes.  Also on the grounds is a temple housing the famous Emerald Buddha - a small (75cm) jade statue that sits high atop an elaborate gold pedestal.  The Emerald Buddha's outfit is changed three times each year by the king himself, and we found the Buddha in his rainy-season attire.

    After lunch we stopped by a small Thai history museum where we familiarized ourselves with an hour's worth of Thai history (it would have taken the better part of a day, I think, to read all the displays).  As a final experience for the day we made our way back to the hotel via public transportation - first grabbing a ferry boat down the river and then catching the skytrain back to our hotel.  The balance of the day was ours, but Rupa and I were beat and called it a day - enjoying a long afternoon nap and ordering room service for dinner.

    Silom Serene, Bangkok

  4. Bangkok - october 2

    Our second day in Bangkok started at a very leisurely 8:45am as we met our group for a visit to a Chinese wat.  During breakfast, however, I had noticed that most everyone out on the street was wearing a yellow shirt - local vendors in t-shirts, factory and service industry workers in yellow uniforms, tuk-tuk drivers in whatever they could find, and professionals in yellow button-downs under black jackets.  It turns out, as related by Noom, that in Thai culture each day of the week is associated with a different color, and Monday's color was yellow (the fact that it was Monday was also news to us).  We hadn't noticed a sea of color the day before - red would have been appropriate - but Monday's were particularly auspicious this year as the king was celebrating his 60th year on the throne.  As a way of honoring that achievement everyone was highly encouraged to wear their yellow each Monday of the year.  I had with me one yellow t-shirt and decided to save it for the following Monday.

    The Chinese wat was interesting - mostly for its seemingly random layout of rooms, as if it had been assembled from six or seven previously separate rooms and patios.  It was nestled snuggly among the moderate high-rises of Chinatown, and after a brief visit we took a short stroll through Chinatown, our only purchases being notepads and hairpins for the children at the rural tribes we would visit later on the tour.

    After Chinatown we paid a visit to the Jim Thompson house.  Jim Thompson was an American WWII veteran who moved to Thailand after the war and helped bring Thai silk to the fashion houses of Paris and Milan in the 1950s and 60s.  His house was constructed from a half dozen traditional Thai houses and was filled with traditional Thai artwork, and after his death in 1967 the house was left standing to be run as a small museum.

    Our next stop was lunch at the MBK center - essentially a modern market-style shopping mall with a large ethnic food court.  The rest of the afternoon was ours for shopping, but given the pouring rain and a lack a shopping motivation Rupa and I returned to the hotel.  We met the group again for dinner at a beautiful open air restaurant named Cabbages & Condoms.  A portion of the restaurant's profits are directed toward HIV prevention and research as well as other Asian health concerns.  The restaurant is also equipped with a couple life-sized mannequins attired in costumes made entirely from condoms.

    Silom Serene, Bangkok

  5. Bangkok to The River Kwai - october 3

    This morning we left Bangkok and drove west - heading to The River Kwai for a one-night stay at a remote floating hotel.  Our morning stop was a floating market at Damnoen Saduak, where we first grabbed a long tail boat for a speedy, yet scenic, canal ride.  Later we boarded a more leisurely paddle boat to peruse the canal-side shops.  The most entertaining shops were the floating "food carts", where vendors (often elderly women) would paddle their boat while grilling kabobs and steaming rice.

    We continued on with a relatively uneventful drive - until we stopped at a 7-eleven for snacks.  As our driver attempted to back out of our stop the transmission gave the bus went nowhere.  After some brief troubleshooting we all boarded a large local tuk-tuk for the 10 minute drive to the jetty where we were to board another long tail boat for the transfer to our hotel.

    The 15 minute boat ride was lovely, as the surrounding river valley was mostly untouched wilderness.  The hotel itself was also something to behold - a long chain of 10 or 15 barges anchored near the side of the river.  Each barge housed 4 rooms along the shore side, with the river side being a long interconnected hallway complete with hammocks and tables and covered in plants and flowers.  We relaxed for a few hours before dinner, and then after dinner caught a traditional Mon culture music and dance performance.

    The River Kwai Jungle Rafts (Floatel), Kanchanaburi

  6. Kanchanaburi - october 4

    After fighting off a dozen or more bees for our breakfast toast and jelly we hiked up to the local Mon village for a quick tour.  The village was quite pleasant, but strangely empty.  Our only stop was the school, which consisted of a large open air shelter house with blackboards, various educational posters, and a shiny new water purification unit.  Here Lauren made a new friend - a young village girl entertaining herself while her mother straightened up the grounds.

    We left the jungle rafts around 9am and were back at the jetty shortly thereafter.  To our great surprise we were greeted by our original bus drivers - they had fixed the bus overnight and were ready to go.  Or so they thought - on the relatively steep embankment from the jetty to the freeway we had to evacuate the bus twice just so it could make the climb.  After this the drivers agreed to get us a new bus the next morning, as they weren't certain our currently bus could handle our upcoming drives through the mountains of northern Thailand.

    Our next stop was the Hellfire Pass Memorial, dedicated to the more than 100,000 people (POWs and local Thai) who died building the death railway across Thailand during WWII.  We took a 1 hour audio tour of the pass, although we didn't make it the full 4km which would have taken an additional 2-3 hours.

    After lunch we caught a local commuter train for the 2 hour ride to Kanchanaburi.  Much of the route follows the original death railway, and along the cliff walls you can still see the carved out support holes for the original trestle.  The landscape itself was quite lovely though, with round, forested mountains lining the horizon and fronted by a mix of corn and sugarcane fields.  Every ten or fifteen minutes we would pass a temple in the distance - there are some 30,000 temples in Thailand.

    As the train made it way into Kanchanaburi we crossed the actual River Kwai Bridge and disembarked on the opposite shore.  There were actually two River Kwai bridges - the first was built of wood while the second, constructed only months later, was built of concrete and steel.  Although the allies bombed the steel bridge during the war, only three or four of the sections were destroyed (and then rebuilt after the war).  Our final stops of the day included a small POW museum and the Allied War Cemetery, where 5,000 Australian, Dutch, and British soldiers are remembered.

    Dinner was a lovely affair as we dined at a beautiful open air restaurant along the river and in view of the bridge.  Party barges floated by as we ate, and we returned to the hotel in tuk-tuks.

    Pung-Waan Resort and Spa, Kanchanaburi

  7. Ayuthaya - october 5

    We had a bit of a road trip this morning as we made our way to Ayuthaya.  The partially flooded landscape was dotted with small road-side markets constructed much like a Shurgard storage facility topped by two or three floors of housing.  Our only stop of the morning was at Bang Pa-In, a sprawling complex of royal palace buildings nestled among beautifully landscaped lawns.  The most elegant building was the Chinese inspired Wehat Chamrun Palace, while the landscaping award went to the elephant topiaries.

    Our first afternoon stop was the small Ayuthaya Center museum, which had a series of wonderful model layouts of the historic capital's temple complexes.  Later in the afternoon we visited two of these complexes - Wat Phra Mahathat and Wat Phra Si Sanphet.  Both were in ruins (destroyed by the Burmese in 1767) with much of the base layer brick exposed, but amazingly three large stupa were still standing at Wat Phra Si Sanphet.

    U-Thong Inn, Ayuthaya

  8. Ayuthaya to Sukhothai- october 6

    Another road trip today as we made our way north to Sukhothai.  After a two hour morning drive we pulled into Lopburi to visit the Monkey Temple - an outdoor temple where hundreds of monkeys roam the grounds and the city streets beyond.  The monkeys were everywhere - on top of buildings, balancing on electrical cables, hanging from railway crossing gates, and bounding across city streets en-masse.  They were also quite friendly - ready to hop on your back at slightest of invitations.  No fewer than four times did I get a monkey on my back as a knelt down for pictures, while one ambitious young monkey shimmied up my leg.

    After a half hour with the monkeys we climbed back aboard the bus for another two hours or so until lunch in Phitsanulok.  Along the way we continued to pass flooded field after flooded field, and at one point our bus forded a stretch of flooded freeway (I'm not so certain our previous bus would have made it).  Lunch was ready when we arrived, so we ate rather quickly and soon after found ourselves at a small museum browsing daily artifacts of traditional Thai farming culture.  We also stopped by a small Buddha casting factory and hopped back aboard the bus for another hour drive to our hotel in Sukhothai.

    Pailyn Hotel, Sukhothai

  9. Sukhothai to Chiang Rai - october 7

    Lots of road time today as we finished our drive to Chiang Rai.  However, we started off the day with a pleasant bicycle ride around the historic temple complex in Sukhothai.  We spent the rest of the morning on the bus, with the exception of a 7-eleven rest stop.  We picked up our first Tim Tam here (a candy bar treat popular in Australia) and decided to hold judgment until tasting a dark chocolate version.  We also checked out the local Lays potato chip selection and found exotic flavors such as seafood mayonnaise, grilled lobster, salmon teriyaki, nori seaweed, and Thai chili paste.  Back on the bus I finished up A Walk in the Woods and began Mai Pen Rai - an entertaining look at 1950s Thai culture from the perspective of an American housewife living abroad.

    The landscape was changing now, and the incessent flooding of previous days turned into fields of lush green rice glowing in the morning sun.  After lunch and a wat visit in Lampang the scenery changed again as we climbed into the forested, cloud streaked mountains we had thus far only seen from a distance.  We continued driving until well past sunset, arriving at our hotel around 7pm.

    Wiang Inn, Chiang Rai

  10. Chiang Rai - october 8

    We began the day with a late morning departure for the Thailand-Burma border, and by the time we arrived an hour later a respectable rain had settled in.  Under normal circumstances this wouldn't have been an issue, but today was the first day after lent and a long line of monks were out collecting alms from hundreds of locals massed along the access road.  Perhaps two hundred monks of all ages had formed a single file line as they slowly progressed from one temple to another just a few hundred yards down the road.  Our bus pulled up about a half mile short of the border and we finished the journey on foot - ducking from storefront to storefront in an attempt to keep dry.

    Our second morning stop was the Hall of Opium - a large, intricately designed museum dedicated to the history of the opium trade.  Opium trading was particularly devastating in Asia during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as the British exploited opium addiction in Asia to fund its spice and tea imports.  We spent a good two hours here, which was quite considerable given the 30 minutes we bestowed upon the Thai history museum a week prior.  We then broke for lunch at the actual Golden Triangle, where a short climb offers a hilltop view of the Mekong River as it transitions from the Burma/Laos border to the Thailand/Laos border.

    We returned to Chiang Rai around mid-afternoon, where we picked up our insanely cheap laundry (30 baht/kilo, or about 37/pound) and spent an hour catching up on email and news before dinner.  Dinner was at a local pizza restaurant, which was interesting more for the excitement pizza generated among the Aussies and Kiwis than for the Thai-flavored pizzas themselves.  After dinner we stopped by a Swensen's ice cream parlor where we ordered some of the largest sundaes I'd ever seen.

    Wiang Inn, Chiang Rai

  11. Northern Hill Tribes - october 9

    We didn't cover any great distance today, but we spent quite a bit of time on the bus as we wound our way through the cloud covered mountains of northern Thailand.  Our first stop was a visit to an Akha village.  The Akha are one of Thailand's many hill tribes, and the village we toured appeared rather traditional.  Our stops included the school (where the children sang songs for us, including Frere Jacques) and the village leader's hut (notable for its electric rice cooker).  Back on the bus we had planned to stop by the caves at Chiang Dao, but the rain had made the slippery caves too dangerous for a visit.  Instead we headed straight for lunch, which was quite fortunate given the upcoming turn of events.

    We arrived at a charming roadside restaurant positioned on a riverbank.  The moment we entered we were told to take our restroom break right away as the restrooms were flooded by the quickly rising river.  As it turned out the entire lower level of the restaurant (kitchen and storeroom) were also being flooded so we quickly placed our orders and proceeded to watch our frantic hosts move box after box from the storeroom to an upper level office.  By the time our lunch arrived the kitchen was a foot deep in river water - had we stopped at the caves it is unlikely we would have had lunch there.

    We arrived at our lodge by late afternoon.  The lodge was run by the Lisu, another Thai hill tribe, and we started off on a short walking tour of the village.  The village was more modern than the Akhu village, with concrete streets running through town and electricity strung to each small home.  Cars and motorbikes were also quite common among the 400 villagers.  After our tour, as we sat down for dinner, a rainstorm moved in and the lights cut out.  Our hosts scrambled for a few minutes gathering together enough candles for us to continue with our meal.  After dinner we joined a few local tribe children in a traditional song and dance.  We relaxed with the rest of group by candlelight for a while, and just as we were all heading off for bed the lights came back on.

    Lisu Lodge, northern Thailand

  12. Chiang Mai - october 10

    The highlight of the day began right after lunch with a visit to a nearby elephant camp.  We were greeted by a number of smaller elephants and their mahouts (elephant trainers), and I took one up on his offer to ride an elephant trunk (Rupa did too).  We then proceeded to board a larger elephant for a 30 minute ride.  The ride was a bit uncomfortable as the elephant shifted its weight and adjusted its gait for different terrain.  We rode through the nearby town for a short stretch before heading out cross country.  Along the way we passed a number of elephant feeding booths where resourceful locals were selling elephant treats.  After the elephant ride we switched to an ox cart, which we quickly found was even more uncomfortable than the elephant.  Back at the elephant camp we were treated to an elephant show, where a dozen or more elephants and their mahouts performed a series of stunts including soccer, basketball, hula hoop, balancing, and painting.

    Our itinerary next called for a river rafting ride, but high water prevented this activity.  Instead we made a brief stop at an orchid and butterfly farm.  Orchids grow effortlessly in the humid Thai climate, and hundreds of blooming orchids hung suspended at eye level along the paths.  The butterfly farm was a bust, though, but for a single lonely specimen.

    We were headed to the night market for dinner and Noom arranged cyclos for the 15 minute ride.  A cyclo is a small one person carriage powered by an attached bicycle rig.  We were clearly a sight to behold as street vendors and tourists alike gazed at our 10 carriage procession as we wound our way along busy city streets.  Dinner at the market was delicious, and Rupa finally managed to catch up to her first authentic Thai sticky rice with mango desert.  We wandered through the market and back to our hotel, stopping by an internet cafe along the way.

    Amora Tapae Hotel, Chiang Mai

  13. Chiang Mai - october 11

    We'd been eating Thai food for almost two weeks and today we were going to cook our own at the Thai Naan cooking school.  We were signed up for a lunch session and our group quickly settled on spring rolls, green curry and larb gai.  Our instructor led us to a small local market where he briefly lectured on the various eggplants, mushrooms, chili paste, and rice used in Thai dishes.  We made our way back to the classroom with fresh ingredients and spent the next two hours prepping, cooking and devouring a fabulous Thai lunch.

    After lunch we bussed over to the handicraft factory stores for an afternoon of shopping.  Each store focuses on a specific craft and combines a small demonstration factory with a large shop.  We stopped in at the silk, silver, and umbrella stores.  At the silk store Rupa picked up some fabric to have tailored into a couple nice outfits back in Chiang Mai.  She also bought a fabulous(ly expensive) silk scarf, out spending our cumulative dining costs for the entire trip thus far.  Our final stop of the day was the beautiful Oriental Hotel where we had afternoon cake and coffee.

    Once back at the hotel Rupa headed for the tailor and I spent some time with my pictures.  For dinner we foraged the nearby street vendors for a wonderful meal of Paad Sie Yeu and Spicy Pork and Garlic (all for $2 US).  After dinner we caught up with Fiona and Susan for a game of Canasta, where we eked out a win by a mere 100 points.

    Amora Tapae Hotel, Chiang Mai

  14. Chiang Mai - october 12

    Our last day on tour began with a bus ride to the top of Doi Suthep (a nearby mountain) to visit to a temple complex dating from the sixteenth century.  Shortly after we arrived a pouring rain rolled in, but we continued with a seemingly shortened visit before boarding the bus for the ride to our last temple.  We were hoping we'd be able to talk with a monk or two at this next temple, as they have a "Monk Chat" program installed, but unfortunately we didn't find any available monks.

    After the easy morning we had a group lunch where we said goodbye to Noom.  He was headed back to Bangkok with the bus and was in for an 8 hour ride.  The group parted ways for the afternoon, and Rupa and I ran a couple errands and caught up with our trip log.

    Before dinner I gave the group a short preview of my pictures.  We then grabbed a line of tuk-tuks outside the hotel for a short ride to the Riverside Restaurant - a hip dinner spot with live music.  We stayed well past dinner as we filled up on Singhas and rocked to a couple of quite decent cover bands.  For the ride home we all filed back into tuk-tuks and our drivers dodged and weaved their way back to our hotel.

    Amora Tapae Hotel, Chiang Mai

  15. Chiang Mai - october 13

    Although we weren't switching hotels until later morning we woke early to share breakfast with and say goodbye to our fellow travelers.  We had enjoyed everyone's company and only wished that they were coming to China with us.

    Just before noon we transferred to Manathai Village for two more nights in Chiang Mai.  Manathai Village was a virtual oasis located on a quiet side street just a few blocks from the night market.  The small hotel offered 30 rooms spread across a half dozen small, traditionally styled buildings.  The center courtyard featured a bar and pool and was ringed by small "canals" and extensive flora.  If I hadn't known better I'd have though we had transferred to a small seaside resort.  To top it off the hotel offered free internet access from its library, allowing us ample opportunity to catch up on email before heading off to China.

    Once settled in we booked early afternoon massages.  This was our first experience with a traditional Thai massage and our only regret was not booking one earlier in the trip.  Instead of buckets of oil and extensive kneading a Thai massuese assumes a variety of postures as they push and pull your muscles and ligaments into position.  At one point our massuese literally threw our outstretched backs across her body to the sound of a dozen vertebras popping into alignment.  We enjoyed our massages so much that we booked a second round for the following day.

    After a brief stop at Rupa's tailor for one final fitting we worked our way down Thae Pae road to pick up our laundry.  Along the way we stopped at a tiny little restaurant called Time Thai for a late afternoon lunch.  The walls were plastered with hand written recommendations from hundreds of foreigners who had found this little gem, and our Phad Sie Yeu and Tom Yung Ka bore them out.

    We spent the evening walking the market and picking up souvenirs.  We also stopped by for one final round of mango sticky rice.  Finally, we picked up Rupa's finished outfits and grabbed a tuk-tuk back to the hotel.

    Manathai Village, Chiang Mai

  16. Chiang Mai - october 14

    What a luxurious morning!  We slept in 'til 10am and grabbed a wonderful breakfast in the hotel's stylish restaurant.  We finally made it onto the street around 1pm to drop off a load of express laundry and grab a tuk-tuk to Central Airport Plaza - a modern four-story shopping mall.  The mall was roughly organized by product category (clothing on one floor, electronics on another, etc) and filled with a mix of local shops, single-brand stores (Samsung, Nokia, Apple, Wrangler, Lacoste) and western food chains (Dairy Queen, KFC, Pizza Hut, Starbucks).  We collected a few souvenirs and hired another tuk-tuk back to town to collect our laundry.  We stopped in at Time Thai again for a quick lunch and then enjoyed our second massage in as many days.  We spent the rest of the evening roaming the night market.

    Manathai Village, Chiang Mai

  17. Chiang Mai to Beijing- october 15

    Another long travel day as we leave Thailand to join our China tour.  Our alarm sprang to life at 4:45 and by 5:30 we were on our way to the airport for our flights to Beijing.  Both flights were uneventful and we arrived in Beijing well-rested and with all our bags.

    We arrived in Beijing at dusk and the 40 minute hotel transfer was a bit surreal - the combination of fading light and dense haze sapped the urban landscape of color and detail.  Buildings 200 yards away were cloaked in white haze those a mile away were barely perceptible.

    Once checked in we met our tour leader, Kip, and the rest of our tour group for drinks in the hotel lounge.  After a brief intro we grabbed a good dinner at a nearby restaurant and called it a day.

    Gloria Plaza Hotel, Beijing

Travel Tips

  1. Traditional Thai Massages are fabulous.  Get one.  Every day.  For two hours.
  2. You can generally find cheap laundry options outside your hotel in the larger cities.  The rate is about 30 baht/kilo (37/pound)
  3. You can eat very well on about $10 US per person per day.  If you eat from the markets you can probably manage on $3 US per day.
  4. Tuk-tuks are great and cheap for local transport - they are essentially chauffeured go-karts.  Negotiate the price first though - there are no meters.
  5. Take your hotel's business card with you everywhere you go.  Many tuk-tuk drivers won't understand the English name and the business card generally has Thai instructions and a map on the back.
  6. ALWAYS negotiate prices at markets, and even some stores.  Many vendors sell the exact same wares and the markups can be 300%.

Souvenir List

  1. Elephant keychain
  2. Elephant ride picture, framed in elephant dung paper
  3. Silk Scarf
  4. Tailored silk dress and blouses
  5. Oriental Style T-Shirt
  6. Oriental Style notepads
  7. Singha T-Shirt
  8. Oriental Style accessory box
  9. Shoes
  10. Necklace
  11. Green curry spice
  12. Dapper shirt
  13. Silk table runner
  14. Jim Thompson business card wallet
  15. Duffle bag
  16. Lights 35*8