March 14, 2010
It was probably the best trip of all the 3 trips we bough in Thailand. There are several companies doing the same trip – taking you with a boat to 4 tiny islands where everyone jumps or walks down the ladder into the warm waters and snorkels until the the boats horn starts calling you back into the boat. The trip for the whole day costs only 500 bt, snorkeling gear included and two meals in between islands also – to gain more stamina and stay in the water longer.
Here is the port of Koh-Chang – Bang Bao – some 10 min drive from Lonely Beach. It took us at least 5 min to walk fast walk from the songthaew stop to the boat – and all that way was packed with stores, tables with goods and foods.
There are so many places to stay on the island – resorts, huts, inns, here are some huts right on the sea…
There was a Thai family on the boat and they were very willing to talk with us, foreigners and offer us some of their exotic fruit we never ever have tasted – they have hard shells with spikes and soft yellow meat with a pit inside. Sweet and sour, like most of the fruits, but a pretty strong taste.
This is not our boat , but our looked like this.
The Thai family was traveling with their dog, who was very friendly with everyone.
Here is one of the islands with several boats already anchored with their passengers intensively snorkeling…
The fish were outstanding…The ones over here – are the most ordinary ones which were usually gathering by boats to get some food – mostly bananas or bread. But it is a little dangerous to feed them (they would start biting on skin just a little if they stop getting human food) though the crew never instructed us in anything – feeding or not feeding, not stepping onto corals, not stepping the ladder with fins on, they just served us, were very pleasant and said nothing about nothing…
So the fish…it is a pity I couldn’t take the pictures of what I saw under water. Corals of different colors and kinds, lots of sea urchins with long black spikes and 5 white shiny eyes on the top surrounding the orange little round mouth also on the top. There were fish with very bright lips, with a cocktail black dress, very tiny neon blue ones, big ones of all rainbow colors -and all that on one fish. My head was spinning – the beauty of the underwater life was so harmonious, amazing and serene…
The last island was the biggest – it even had a pier and a resort – Koh Wai. it had a little attraction besides of snorkeling – a turtle nursery:
And that is it, the horn rang, we gathered to the boat and back we came to Bang Bao:
And there on the pier there was this poor dog…looking like a cow with 6 heavy boobs swinging…oh boy, they don’t fix their dogs and cats and lots of sad views in that area…
(to be continued)
The next morning it was a very strange rooster that woke us up:
Yes, Thailand is about roosters, they have a lot of them, for luck , for hens, for looks and for fights…And there are always wandering dogs around – very rarely, but sometimes they bark early in the morning. Luckily over there you just don’t pay attention, it is vacation! You just get up and go swimming in the sea. The point is that everyone on the island is slow and late – so going downstairs to have breakfast is not a good idea -you have to wait at least till 9 am looking into the fish pond:
and then go into the dusty street and down the dusty road with trash on both sides and coconuts lying under palm trees with no one interested to pick them and eat, you go towards the sea, app. 10 min walk, find a hammock in the Tree House restaurant (which is not on a tree…) to spend the part of the day till lunch:
In the morning it was tide time – the water was under the deck, so you sit in a hammock and hear the waves under you, as if sitting on the sea. It would be nice to have breakfast there, but it is included in our room price in our hotel and it is not a bad breakfast, so we decide to have dinners at the Tree House and lunches in another nice place on the shore.
They have good menu, as well as others, and they have good cold cocktails, some mixed fruits with ginger, so that was a very nice feature. They are a very hippie place, pretty quiet, especially nice in the dark when the evening comes – you may get some little breezes from the sea which is a big relief in those very hot temperatures and high humidity. Whereas there are a lot of restaurants in town, but in the evenings they “stuffy”:
This one is made only of wood and nails. No stones were used, as they mention it on their name. There are usually very few tables fro sitting regularly on chairs – most of the tables are on higher platforms and very low – we are supposed to lie by them or sit in a lotus pose. there are usually some hammocks by the tables – some guests may choose to eat in hammocks.
The next one restaurant requires a mention – it is called Om and it denounced this word in my eyes. It was just as an insult to this wonderful word. If I lived there – i would have no choice but to explode that thing…Their “rhythms” which they maybe call music were the loudest in the area and on Tuesdays they lasted till 4 am. All the shops close to them were exposed to that terrible ground and wall shaking every evening and I felt really sorry for them. But being so tolerant Thais suffer silently…
Speaking about music at night – there were restaurant that had good live music, local groups playing island tunes, lots of European girls, dressed with taste in cocktail dresses dancing, it was real fun. But that Om…it was something wrong with its owners.
This particular restaurant looked the shabbiest and one morning the owners brought the sign : Business for sale…
Our last morning there was Saturday and though they don’t acknowledge that Buddhists celebrate Saturdays more that any other day -all the houses and businesses were busy in the morning preparing an offering plate that they took to some temple:
This offering is by a tattoo parlor – tattoos are very popular there. And I can’t promise – being as against tattoos as I am if I had to live there a month or more – maybe I would end up getting one, at least a very little one…
This is another very strange store to my eyes – on this dust a fancy slab and glass walls for what…office suits and evening gowns…And it wasn’t only one store in the area…Lots of them. Which means – some business people don’t waste their time there, they buy clothes for work at home. I guess -the prices were so low, that it was worth making a small break in vacation. But those stores – I didn’t even cast a glance or check…I am out of that world for good.
(to be continued)
March 12, 2010
Koh – means “an island” in Thai. They have a lot of islands in their very warm seas…Hard to choose where to go. So we chose based on friend’s advice and the closest distance to BKK – we had to take a bus for a 6 h. trip. And the bus left by Khao San Road – very close to where we stayed. So that part of the trip was very nice. The best moment – we didn’t get into the bus. It filled up before us, so they gave us a mini van – they are more comfortable than their huge double decked buses and at least they go much faster than 40 mi/h, that is how buses go there… It took us almost 6 hours to make 300 km. Mainly because it stopped in the middle for a 1 h break – the stops are usually in special places with a cafeteria, free toilets, a lot of sinks to wash the travel dusts. Interesting thing about their toilets on the road (sorry delicate readers…) – they do have sewage of some kind, but no flushing mechanisms. Each cabin has a faucet on a low level directed to a little basin and a bowl in that basin – you have to scoop some water into the bowl and flush the toilet. And they all looked clean. So people behave well.
On the way we saw fields of rice, some palms and some kind of cacti that I later figured out were the Dragon fruit producers:
And here is how the fruits look on market counters:
I somehow spaced out and didn’t take their picture. Luckily we met a Lithuanian couple later in our trip and today Jurga sent me her picture of Dragons. As brightly pink as they are on the outside - their inside is white soft , crisp, very lightly sweet and sour mass with lots of black poppy seeds spread evenly.
Once we reached one of three ferry landings we got tickets to the ferry and marched down to it. But before that there was a short moment during which their catchy sales people try to get you to their trap. It is extremely hot and humid there, you are tired from the trip and they start telling you that it is hard to find an available hut or room on the island. You don’t know much about the accommodations, just assume that you will find. But for the first night – maybe it is smart to have one and at least to know which town in the island you are going…So you agree to pay them for the first night in some Siam Huts resort and of you take the ferry, an 45 min sail. Once there – there are lots of songthaews waiting, called taxis…Ya, right. They look to me like cattle wagons…The driver throws our backpacks onto the top, packs us into his wagon with one British guy left standing on the step and holding onto the rail…because Brits are used to it in their buses? Maybe. More because those taxi drivers are the greediest people of all we saw in Thailand. they belong to mafia, and it is not only my opinion. Their services are the most expensive and they don’t look well to do at all. They seem like they are under someone’s very hard arm. What can they do…
So they drive rather fast on very windy and hilly road for about 40 min and here we are thrown out by Siam Huts…right in the middle of a field of trash with terribly shabby huts sticking on stilts above the ground…Oh boy…We went to the office, took the key and were shown to a hut by the sea:
As much as the surroundings gave a a shock, the inside of the hut didn’t make us happy at all and leaving there our bags we went off in search for something better looking, something not so trashy… A tip: never ever pay for a room before you see how it looks! And don’t believe their pictures: there are never weeds and trash in pictures or are there?
So wee found this Ploy Inn in the center of the town we were in – the Lonely Beach, on the main street which looked like this, going down:
There is the fruit market behind those cars and motorbikes, and clothes and other beach item markets all over, as well as many internet cafes, travel agencies and massage parlors. Only the internet cafes and a pharmacy have AC. Others have the air from the street. And here is our street going up:
Our hotel had AC, it was very much needed and appreciated. It was clean, had good interior colors, a couple of ponds with fish for good luck and a little piglet in the yard who squeaked when I petted him:
This was our corridor on the second floor and a detail of our room to show that the drapes were well color matched with walls which I wouldn’t expect from a lodging in that price range and especially after we saw the hut…:
So it was nice to stay there for 5 nights, except on Tuesday…There is like a curse on Tuesdays – a bar not far away has a part every Tuesday. So never ever stay in that hotel on Tue. A party means – a super loud music, though it is hard to cal it music- they are basically computer generated super loud “bums”… You can’t cover your ears – the sound comes through grounds, through vibrating your body and it lasts till 4 am. But that was only one night . The other night sit wasn’t as loud and it would end at 12 am. So there are always pros and cons…We liked the room, the hotel, it had character versus even better huts that we saw later, but it had also the noisiness of the bars around. Thought other bars had island music or something softer, that you can call music. Very often even live music. And so few visitors…yes. there were very few tourists. considering how many places to stay and eat and to have fun there were. Our hotel had a very nice seafood restaurant – and it very often stayed empty…what a waste. I guess it is the worldwide crisis…
After settling we went to immerse into the never even before experienced such a warm sea -like a hot tub:
The water so warm – you can stay as long as you want almost not moving – and no feeling of cold or shivers…
the sun was setting rather fast, as it is usual in the South:
(to be continued)
March 10, 2010
On the third day in BKK we went to Grand Palace. Its magnificent roofs were seen already from the river once we were sailing towards our second stay area in BKK. It was so convenient to walk from there through the University of Bangkok grounds, through a long street of Thai markets – meaning stuff sold all over on tables and just scarfs on the sidewalk… The University, as every other respectable institution, had its own altar for offerings (I bet they are overflowing with flowers and foods during an exam session):
And then you see the fence – all of the temple grounds are fenced there, so why not the Palace:
That day was some Buddhist celebration, so we had to wait for a couple of hours wondering around until they decided to let people in. There is a dress code to enter the temples, which is understandable. No mini skirts, no shorts, no naked shoulders or toes. I knew that and I think I was dressed properly. Somehow one of the men by the gates didn’t like my socks in the slippers… I understand they weren’t very elegant or beautiful, but in that heat, humidity, with my feet all in blisters…He said: – no no, pointing to my feet. I said: -oh yes, yes, and went in . I guess – it wasn’t a serious thing. But the ones who were with skimpy clothes – had to enter a building where they could rent some scarfs to cover up.
And so we went into the compound grounds with a crowd, it was overwhelming…
This is the most sacred Temple in Palace compound and in Thailand – Wat Phra Kaew. It houses the Emerald Buddha, which was brought from the north of Thailand during history. It is of one piece of Emerald. It has three golden outfits that only the King or Queen can change during the change of the season – Rainy, Dry or Hot. And it is placed so high that lately the king being so old – can’t do it any more, so his son got the privilege. Nobody else, even senior monks can’t touch the Emerald Buddha…
But before entering this really very sacred space – there are so many distractions, so many wonderful forms, colors, ornaments, sculptures, my eyes were running here and there and at the end I figured out I will never remember it and never can enjoy this beauty fully – too much, at least for me…Too much for that day, too much for that space…
There was even a small version of Angkor Wat which is now in Cambodia and was the biggest Wat of Khmer empire:
That was pleasant to me, because before the trip I read quite a lot about Angkor, and planned to visit it, but once we experienced the Asian “winter” – no way, it was impossible to travel much in that heat. It is in the jungle which almost took over it, but now it is getting restored, cleaned from the evading trees and witnessing to the world about the grand Khmer Empire of the 8-12the centuries.
Those paintings are all over the walls on the covered gallery by the Wat, very many of them and all beautiful…
Lions – devils are guarding the entrance to the Temple – where you have to take off shoes – as to all temples, but the stairs here are much more elaborate:
And then there was a bowl with water and lotus buds- I heard a Russian speaking Thai guide telling everyone to use the lotus and get some drops of sacred water on your friends and yourself – good guidance! I would have missed the opportunity:
And then you get out of the Temple grounds and into the Palace world with its throne halls, etc, – very ornamental, very decorative, but no space left in my mind or imagination to “store” it. I am looking now at my pictures – and it is almost I am looking at them for the first time. Have a look and see for yourselves, who in the world, how many of those “who” and in how many ages could they build and create this phantasmagoria?:
and all this – in this unbearable, sweating, pounding heat…
(to be continued)
March 8, 2010
Transportation in Bangkok is easy – lots of taxis and tuk-tuks waiting for you everywhere. Metered taxis were all over and they can be relied on. They also have AC, a very good commodity while spending time in transport jams. But there are some tips with tuk-tuks – some kind of open carriages for two passengers made from motorcycles. Everyone needs business. So tuk-tuk drivers are especially annoying – -offering their service on every corner. But be careful with them – you have to talk before and agree on price, you have to let them know how many “crazy’ stores you agree to visit with them and be prepared to breath the polluted street air all the way. By “crazy” stores I mean the following: some stores make an agreement with them – tuk-tuks are supposed to bring customers and in return they get a stamp on their card in order to get free gasoline at some point after acquiring a certain number of stamps. Usually those are very unpopular stores, like suit stores – who for heavens sake is thinking about an office suit during vacation, let alone us- who don’t work in offices at all…or they take you to travel agencies, who are the very expensive ones, while there are hundreds around with better prices. So it makes you feel uncomfortable to be pushed into a store you are complete;y not interested in, and to pretend you are. Otherwise -the driver doesn’t get the stamp… Also – they are very small vehicles for people like us – hard to get in and out. So as you see – I am not a fan of them. Very often they catch you in the street while you are looking at your map, pretending they are some guy who knows the city and is willing to give advices. Try to avoid them, just simply walk away. because those ones are the most desperate. They offer you a super cheap price, then during the trip they mention that in reality the price is bigger and then they drop you somewhere, creating an unpleasant feeling – so better to rely on your feet and just go. Which would be not as bad if the blisters didn’t develop at once…or if the motorcycles were driving only streets not the side walks…or if the sidewalks were not densely covered with tables and goods for sale. But you can find your ways, I did, I walked a lot. To the extent, that sometimes I had to buy different slippers on my way – to get blisters on different toes. And it is my way of getting in touch with life there more. A tip for walkers – you can’t look up or to the sides, only down – the sidewalks are very uneven, steps, cracks, anything can get you in trouble…Once while climbing some steps and almost cursing them – so narrow, so close to transportation brushing to your side – here I see two men carrying a casket draped in green silk…and also climbing those narrow steps, etc…Life.
Speaking about transportation – river! it is booming with boats, shooting and roaring back and forth, across, sideways. never bumping each other, very skilled drivers. as well as the ones on roads. As I like analyzing maps I figured out that we can take a public boat from Shangri La hotel to Phra-Atit road, where we were heading to spend the next three nights – the backpackers – hippie area. The river is very wide and very full of dirty water. it was a good experience to use that boat and see the temples on the banks and the city from it while paying only the “bus” ticket. After that trip we lost any interest in going on an excursion boat trip in the river and canals – the water is so dirty and when it splashes on you – you want to sanitize…On the other hand – they push those boat trips all over in an annoying way and they are priced so inadequately.
Here is the Temple of Dawn – Tha Wat Arun. That boat stops in lots of places and is really comfortable for visiting several temples and places on the way. Therefore it is very popular among residents. The price – 13 bt. per ride. But if you want to get to this particular temple – you have to get out on the other side of the river – the stop is only there and take another boat, which takes you across the river for 3 bt. They have their system .
Here is how it looks like – people are allowed to climb to a certain height up the very steep stairs. But that day it was so hot, we preferred to stay in the back of it in the shades of big trees with exotic flowers coming out of their stems at the bottom:
and enjoying the surrounding buildings:
But that happened the next day. The day we moved – we had our backpacks with us. So directly to The New Merry V hotel in the hippie area. Or as they know it there – the Khao San Road area. It is well known for its cozy atmosphere, like a tourist friendly village. Little streets with many restaurants, hotels, massage places and, of course,- tables with goods and foods, and still many cars and motorcycles trying to pass those narrow streets, but no accidents. I took pics of the area at the end of the trip, they will be there, keep on reading .
This area is a walking distance to University, Kings palace, to lots of big temples, so we figured it is better for us to investigate the city from there.
The Big standing Buddha and temples around him:
There are carpets in teh temples and everyone is supposed to take off shoes and kneel or sit on the carpet. And to bring a lotus, flower leis, incense or money to Buddha. Sometimes they sell a bunch for 20 bt. – several sticks of incense, two candles, a lotus and a little paper slip with very thin gold foil to be glued to Buddha’s body or toe. Wherever everyone else is gluing those foils onto.
Here is a woman – evidently she has a very important wish! They sell little cages, even smaller than this with a lot of birds inside…for 100 bt. – you buy and save the birds lives, let them out for your wish to be fulfilled…but monks don’t support this cruel practice of easy money… Interesting philosophy – Buddhism as if teaches to dis attach from your wishes and desires…While there we mostly noticed people sacrificing, giving offers and visiting the temples mostly for the reason for their wishes to be fulfilled…But maybe it is a very wrong assumption from my side – ha, what do I know having visited it for so short and having no person with good English to explain me what is going on…
But this I can say for sure- they seem to be deeply religious, very sincerely, from their hearts. And that makes a really safe country to visit with a very tolerant atmosphere for us,” farengas” or whatever they call us. And it makes a difference while you travel – not to be afraid of thieves, to trust their word, etc.
Those decorations are incredible, I bend my head…it maybe not our taste, but the detail, the creativity, the imagination they have – I am humbled…
In another temple we walked around and found a viharn – monks’ area, they live there and maybe meditate:
each temple also has a set of chedis – they remind me of a cemetery with fancy tombs. Some of them are used as tombs where the ashes of well known monks are buried. But some, as i heard from one excursion leader who spoke Russian, are just built in honor of some kings, their relatives, well known monks. Maybe it is not so simple to understand it in our way – as we are used to understand tomb-like structures built around churches.
Here I feel like I am in the Land of White!
Those ones are built in quite a different style.
The next day we visited Wat Po – the temple of reclining Buddha – it is a very impressive and important temple -it is considered, that Buddha lied down and there and then he reached the Nirvana. Wat Po is next to the Grand Palace and can be recognized by a lot of buses parked by its side.
And here is the reclining golden Buddha and its toes and feet all encrusted with the sea shell- mother of pearl:
Hard to understand how it is – well, it was hard to get him all into one picture. One of the temples is built around this very big and long golden Buddha…
here are the big rectangular bottoms of his feet…
(to be continued)