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Ko Muk (Mook)

While getting to Koh Ngai (Hai) was easy and cheap, leaving the island was a very different story!  Since it was low season (therefore very little traffic to and from the island except on tour boats that would take you back to Ko Lanta) the opportunities to leave the island were very limited.  Basically it all came down to “if and when” a local taxi boat operator wanted to take us to the next island .  And the price was not cheap either… Of course they could basically charge whatever they wanted (despite our attempts to negotiate) because hey, it’s an island.  You got here, but if you want to get off you’re gonna have to pay what they say to pay or not leave at all!

So it was one semi-stormy mid-afternoon that we decided to head out for Koh Mook (Muk) at the not so bargain price of 1500 baht.  It was just Anna and I so of course the price was pumped a bit. Had there been more people going it would have been cheaper for the individual, obviously.  Funnily enough however we did spot an older couple with a younger child who had arrived on the island in the morning and wondered whether they were staying or going on to Koh Muk.  Neither myself nor Anna were brave enough to approach them to ask whether they were staying or going, but as it turned out, they were on their way to Koh Muk, so had we asked them we could have possibly gotten a cheaper ride there… In any event…

We loaded up on our private longtail taxi boat and headed out on the stormy sea.  The two crew men (brothers- one driver, one look-out) were chatty and quite entertaining as we headed into what originally looked like a calm enough sea.  Pah-ah-ti (wrong spelling but phonetically sound and means “sun” in Thai) was the older and more “experienced driving boats” brother.  When we set out he said his younger brother needed more practice in rougher seas, so he let him drive first, but “not to worry, if the sea gets really bad I will take over”…   The closer we got into the open sea, no longer that sheltered from the neighboring islands, the rougher it got.  Anna wasn’t feeling so hot, but I didn’t mind it so much until Pah-ah-ti climbed from the front to the back to take over driving… Not a good sign!!  The waves got larger and more turbulent.  Sea water splashed over the sides and we were often hit with sea spray from the sides and front of the boat as it crashed into the oncoming waves.  A couple of times it was a bit worrisome (especially when the engine noise of the boat suddenly changed to include an ominous clanking noise) but eventually we made it to the north side of the island and banked onshore.

The motor on the boat was killed and Pah-ah-ti hopped out with us to help us ask whether there was any accommodations available there.  Being low season there too however, all the accommodations were closed and we were directed to go to the east side of the island to Coco Lodge.  Back in the boat we went, however when the engine went to start, well, it didn’t… The brothers fussed over it for 10-15 minutes (mostly by simply hitting the side of the motor with a wrench) until deciding there was something very wrong with the engine and that they would need a mechanic.  Thankfully the engine died when on land and not in the middle of the ocean when the odd noises started coming from it!  And thankfully it was low tide at the time, so Pah-ah-ti, Anna and myself were able to walk (with bags in tow) around the edges of the island, through the sea gypsy village and over to Coco’s Lodge.

Pah-ah-ti bid his farewells and headed further into town to get parts for the boat while Anna and I settled into Coco Lodge.  Now, throughout my travels in Thailand I had stayed at many very nice and cozy places that were also very cheap .  But none had even come close to the quaintness, comfort, style and class that we found at Coco’s Lodge.  The owner and his wife were unbelievably accommodating and the individual bamboo huts were immaculate and very comfortable.

I’m going to have to side track for a bit here just to further sing the praises of Coco’s Lodge.  The location (right on the beach and a 5 minute walk to the pier) was superb.  The food in their restaurant was absolutely delicious (from the massaman curry to the fruit pancakes for breakfast).  When it rained (which was quite often during our time there) the owner or his wife would come around to the bungalows and offer us umbrellas.  A cleaning staff cleaned our room EVERY DAY (something I hadn’t encountered anywhere else in Thailand).  All palm trees located above each bungalow were completely bare of coconuts, so none could fall on the roofs!  The beds were the most comfortable I’d ever slept on.  The rooms themselves had touches of personal details (like seashells lovingly placed in the bathrooms as decoration) that made the place feel like home.  The ever-increasing number of dogs that decided to live there during our stay were all friendly and lovable and while none actually belonged to the place, they would still give them food scraps from left over dishes.  Any time Anna and I were chilling for a long period of time in the restaurant after eating (due to adverse weather and not much else to do) board and card games were offered to us for entertainment.  In other words, just about anything and everything one could imagine needing in a place was offered there!  And all of this hospitality came at only 500 baht per night!!  It blew me away!  I 100% recommend Coco’s Lodge for anyone looking to travel to Koh Muk!!

Moving on however, the main reason Anna and I picked Koh Muk as our next island stay was so we could visit the famed Emerald cave.  Though we stayed on the island for the remaining time that Anna was able to visit (then I stayed on myself for another several days after she departed for Scotland) we never actually made it to the Emerald cave.  This was NOT because we were too drunk or hung over to, but rather because the weather never cooperated and none of the tours were running there.  See, to get to the Emerald cave, the tides have to be just right (low) and then you have to swim with a guide 80 meters through a cave until you reach the other end (the Emerald lake).  So with all the stormy weather we had daily, even with the tides being low, it just wasn’t safe to swim through the cave and visit the lake… Or perhaps lagoon would be a better description?  In any event, we did still enjoy our time there walking the island to the various points, enjoying cocktails on the beach (of course!) or just chilling at our bungalow, playing games and hanging with the dogs.

The island itself I will say was quite a conundrum.  It too had been hit by a tsunami years ago and while some parts of the island had recovered nicely, other more inland parts were very shabby and trashy.  One sea village a bit inland in particular had feet upon feet of trash piled under the homes (luckily on stilts) with seemingly no efforts or cares to clean up.  I will admit when we first arrived on the island, neither myself nor Anna were really sure we liked the place.  But alas, it grew on us.  And while we still marveled as to why no efforts were put (in some areas) into cleaning the place up, I guess it just became part of the character of the island that eventually you just overlook.  Last point, about Koh Muk: the beaches weren’t really all that to write home about.  This may have been due to the bad weather stirring up the ocean waters so they didn’t look clear, but also there were some areas where there were warnings about strong currents.  So needless to say not much swimming was really enjoyed while there.  Oh yea, and while there aren’t ANY ATMs on the island, there is one coffee shop that will allow you to withdraw money for a 7% (or maybe it was 10…) fee.  So just be sure you bring enough cash for your stay there!!

Sadly, it was time for Anna to get back on to mainland Thailand and head to Bangkok to get home, while I stayed on several more days catching up on blogging about our trip so far.  My next destination: Ko Lipe!

P.S. As some may notice, most all pictures were taken on one of the ONLY sunny days there, lol!

On to The Beauty of Koh Lipe

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Koh Tao Fight Nights

Muay Thai Fight Nights… Is there any better entertainment possible for an evening??  While I’ve seen fight nights in Sangkhlaburi over the New Year, it wasn’t until I started training in Muay Thai Kickboxing that I really started to not only appreciate, but also notice so many more details of the action.

On the lovely island of Koh Tao, fight nights take place every 10 days at the Island Muay Thai training gym.  And every 10 days I would stay up past my normal bed time of 10pm (hey, I was trying to stay healthy and get in shape so early to bed and early to rise was my schedule then!  That was until Anna arrived… but that’s another post!) and join in the fun of the fights.

Being a solo traveler does have its perks, as does training at the same facility where the fight nights are hosted, but in truth if the owner and trainers of Island Muay Thai weren’t as nice of souls as they are, I would never have had as much of a great time as I did in each of the 7 or so fight nights I’d been to since being on the island.  Why do you ask?

Ring side seating!!  Sitting beside the owner (Patone) in his elevated judges chair literally right smack on the edge of the ring.  The scent of deep heat oil was thick and awakened the senses, you could feel the sweat from the bodies fling your way as a punch or kick hit and ice was potentially flung your way during the round breaks as the assistants iced down the fighters.  There were even a few times where the fighters pinned each other against the ring and were pressing so hard against it that it seemed they may fall into my lap if the ropes didn’t hold!  All the action could clearly be seen and it just added another level of thrill to the sport!

Of course I never expected to be able to sit ring side.  But when I showed up for the first fight night and picked a spot in the top row of the bleachers sitting on my own I think the owner felt bad for me and invited me to sit with him, even offering to buy me a beer.  And again though I figured it would only ever be a one-time thing, after about 3 times it seemed to just be the way it would be.  It was a generous gesture and one I won’t soon forget for sure!  I also wasn’t alone in being ring side as others were also invited for the up-close fun, but I was just tickled to have been one of them 🙂  Though admittedly I do wish sometimes I would forget watching the fighters spit and (sadly) shed blood over the ring surface knowing that the next day I would be sprawled on the very surface doing my cooldown stretches or sit-ups, lol!!

Speaking of blood… Yes, Muay Thai is obviously a contact sport and there is always the chance for skin to be split apart and blood spilled.  I’ve never seen fights in Bangkok, but I’ve heard that aside from featuring (no doubt)the best fighters and having to pay a pretty penny to see a show, that the fights are quite brutal in that blood is often shed due to them being “glove-off” fights and the fights aren’t near as often broken up by the ref.  Here the fighters wear gloves and the ref often intervenes if it looks like an unfair hit (striking someone when they are on the floor) or stand-off (the fighters are locked into a hold where neither can really make a move) and skin breaking injuries only occur if an elbow has made contact.  Surprisingly most of the fighters don’t even wear mouth guards!  And while most fights I’ve seen result in the usual bruises, one fight night in particular resulted in a cracked tooth, 2 split shins, and 2 split skulls!!  Ok, obviously the skulls weren’t cracked (I hope!) but at least the skin on their skulls were.

Each fight night featured 7 fights in total, each going a max of 5 rounds or 3 rounds if women were fighting.  Winners were chosen within the first 5 rounds if they knocked their opponent out (or did enough damage that the opponent tapped out) and if the fighters made it all 5 rounds then the winner was chosen by the judge based on points they’d earned from each kick, punch, elbow, etc.  I still haven’t a clue how the point system works really (i.e. how much a kick or punch is worth in points) but perhaps one day I’ll get into that nitty-gritty:)

Pictures as you can tell are quite a bit hard to take in great focus… Of course that depends on the camera AND the user… But honestly while many more could have been taken, I found that my focus was diverted from the fight while snapping away because I kept trying to get that “perfect shot” and I didn’t want to miss a potentially great knock-out!

Sometimes the final fight would feature a falang (foreigner, i.e. non-Thai) fighter who had come to the island just to visit or continue training and they would be asked to fight in the upcoming event.  Those fights honestly were not my favorite to watch because they seemed quite poorly matched.  It always seemed the falangs were either really tall and ripped or just muscled to the hilt and they were up against a Thai fighter who looked at least 50 pounds (whether in weight or muscle) lighter and a foot shorter.

Probably my favorite of the fights was one that was cleverly fought.  It was against two Thai fighters and while one was getting in lots of punches and kicks, the other would either endure the hit or miss it by avoidance.  Into the third round it looked like the one fighter was going to eventually get pummeled over but he kept avoiding hits just enough to stay active and in a single split second when the intimidating fighter let his guard down, the other fighter let out a swing kick right to his head and knocked him out.  Ding, ding game over!!  It took several minutes to wake up the knocked out fighter too!  Overall, if ever in Koh Tao and looking for a fun night out, I highly recommend going to the Muay Thai fight night!!

Back to Thailand 

Songkran 2015

When we first arrived in Prachuap, we had only paid for 2 nights because the owner said that for the 13th (what would have been our 3rd night) all the rooms were booked.  You see, Songkran, the Thai New Year (also known as the Water Festival) was just around the corner so many Thai’s were traveling to their favorite vacation spots to celebrate the occasion.  So while for the first day here was simply spent lounging on the beach, the second was dedicated to trying to find somewhere else to be for the night of the 13th.  As we wandered the main road trying to find accommodations for the 13th (and were constantly told ‘no space’) we kept thinking more and more outside of the box with suggestions like “well, if it’s only for that one night that there’s no availability at the Ban Thai Hut, then we can just ask if we can store our bags there and sleep on the beach!  No worries!”.

As fate would have it however there WAS space at our hut, it was just that the price was going to be increased for the nights of the 13th and 14th.  Of course for Holidays they would up the price…  Even though the price hike was annoying, it was really a God-send that we didn’t have to go anywhere because on the morning of the 13th (when we would have had to pack up and move locations) we woke up to an absolutely HUGE thunderstorm that rocked on with lightning and thunder for most of the day.  We kept laughing at the prospect that we had thought to sleep on the beach… Lol!

April 14th was the official day to celebrate the Thai New Year.  However in most places, especially larger cities such as Chaing Mai and Bangkok, they choose to celebrate for an entire week.  Songkran, as mentioned above is also known as the water festival, and is aptly named because for the duration of the celebration days of Songkran people go crazy with water fights!  Buckets of water are thrown on passersby, cars, motorcyclists, bicyclists, basically anything with a pulse (though they don’t target the dogs thankfully!! :)).  If you aren’t hit by a bucket of water, you will be hit by a hose, or a water gun, or by a truck driving by with people in the bed of the truck chucking out water all around.  It’s absolute water mayham!!  I loved it!!!!

There are a couple of confusions surrounding the Holiday however…  Well, the first isn’t a confusion as much as a concern really.  But apparently the number of motorcyclist deaths DOUBLE each year during Songkran because of crashes related to people chucking water on them while they drive!!  I did see a news report from Bangkok this year however saying the death toll was down more than 20% from last year, so that’s good…

Getting into the actual confusion bit about the Holiday; Songkran is the Thai New Year.  Yet on January 1st, their year turns over.  They went from the year 2557 to 2558 on January 1st.  So………..  The question remains in what way is Songkran the Thai New Year?  I have yet to have this explained to me nor to find anyone who actually knows the answer to this (and I refuse to Google it just yet as I’m curious to actually find someone who knows).  What I have heard from some is that Songkran is more of a “last chance” for water “festival” meaning that mid-April marks the beginning of their dry season where not so much rain can be expected for months until the monsoon season hits…  Still confusing is that they also celebrate the Chinese New Year… So essentially it seems in Thailand that they celebrate the Western New Year (January 1st) when their physical calendar year also changes, they celebrate the Chinese New Year, AND Songkran which is their “actual” New Year and/or perhaps just a water celebration before the dry season…  Anyone else confused?

Moving along, the actual day of Songkran (April 14th) was overcast but not rainy and in this sleepy little town of Prachuap, it was rather low-key.  About a 5 minute walk from our place were 5 kids set up on the side of the road equipped with a hose, large buckets, smaller buckets (for use to chuck water) and several water guns.  When there wasn’t any traffic to pummel with water they simply turned on each other or scooped up small buckets of water to pour on themselves, lol!!  It was great fun watching them and all the smiles on the faces of those going by who were hit with water.  And it was even more fun watching the random truck pull up and start a water fight from the bed with the kids on the street.

We watched this activity for several hours drinking beers and chatting in between.  At one point I went back to the hut for my camera and saw some guys painting each other up with some festive paint (a new part of the Songkran tradition apparently) and after asking if I could take their picture, they proceeded to give me the blessing of slathering some paint on me too 🙂

Back at the bar where we were drinking, we met a couple for the UK who had been living in Prachuap for a while, and they invited us to “the wall” for some more drinks.  The Wall is literally the sea wall along the main road of Prachuap on the South side of the pier that splits the bay.  We had yet to go to that side, so took the opportunity (in our already quite intoxicated states as we had missed eating breakfast and lunch) to go.  We hoped in the bed of the truck and headed over to the wall.  I was furiously trying to take pictures along the way and totally neglected to think about the prospect that while the Songkran celebration was quite docile along our little local strip of the bay, it would potentially not be the same on the other side of the pier where it was known to be more touristy.

Just as we pulled up in the heart of the area we had to stop in the road because of traffic.  It was then that I realized how much celebration was going on and tried to as quickly as possible to put my camera away when I was hit from head to toe with a bucket of ice-cold water!!  Yup, they don’t care what you have on you, what you are wearing, what precious things you have that you may not want to get wet; if you are out and about, no matter your state, you will be soaked!!  They even have special bags they sell for phones and tablets so you can take pictures but keep them dry, lol!!  I was soaked and my camera also got hit through, but in the spirit of it all (I was warned it could happen) all I could do was laugh and enjoy the great cheer!  But needless to say the picture-taking came to an abrupt end!!

We got some more drinks and I purchased a roll of toilet paper to dry my camera with and simply sat on the wall chatting for hours!  The conversations lasted long after the sun went down until we were past the point of being in any way sober and were then in desperate need of food!  We parted ways with our “wall” friends and headed to find food and pass out accordingly.  Good times!  Another Happy New Year it was! 🙂

On to Wat A Cave!

Back to Thailand

The “Bum Gun”

Bathroom activities are certainly not at all among the list that many want to talk about, but I just have to talk about the “bum gun”…  That phrase was actually coined by one of the first volunteers I’d met while here, Megan from Ireland, who also was the one who taught and told me its real function!

When I first arrived in Bangkok and stayed at the hotel near the airport, I noticed that while they had a Western toilet complete with a roll of toilet paper, they also had a hose connected to a water pipe with a nozzle at the end of it that when pressed would squirt out water.  I thought it was a rather clever way to clean the toilet and flush out the areas under the rim when scrubbing the bowl out.  I had seen this arrangement in every other hostel/hotel bathroom I had been in and continued to think how clever it was…

Then I arrived in Sangkhlaburi… And while J’s Family Homestay, where I stayed for the first couple of weeks, had a bathroom with a Western toilet with the spray nozzle attached, they didn’t have any toilet paper in the bathroom nor a bin stored in there to be able to throw away toilet paper that was brought in… Hmmmm…..  That made me wonder a bit and was quite annoying really to have to bring in my own bag for used toilet paper.

A few days after being in Sangkhlaburi while drinking at Baan Job with Megan, Nyzil and Omar (a volunteer from Spain), Megan and I went to the bathroom together (as girls always do) and she made a mention how she really quite enjoys the bum gun as it made her feel so much cleaner!  “I’m sorry, what??  The bum gun??”.  “Yea that hose attached to the toilet”… Now I was really confused.  So… That isn’t to clean the toilet but rather for… cleaning… instead of… toilet paper???

Yup.  Indeed the “bum gun” is used in place of toilet paper.  Several seconds of squirting water in the areas required is all it takes to get you feeling fresh and clean!  Of course you had to wait a few seconds to dry a bit after using it, but it seriously does make you feel so much cleaner!  Suddenly it made perfect sense as to why several places had no toilet paper but always had the hose and squirt nozzle!  A word of advice that Megan also shared with me however was to always test the pressure of the nozzle before pointing it to yourself as it can sometimes be a bit strong.

So there it is.  My knowledge of the bum gun.  Use at your will:)  Oh and I have thought to take a picture to show you all what exactly it looks like, but really don’t want to be caught walking into a bathroom with a camera… I can only imagine what people would think in seeing me do that, lol!  Funnily enough the bathroom at the volunteer house doesn’t have a bum gun… Otherwise I wouldn’t mind sneaking in there for a shot of one.  We have an Eastern toilet and utilize Western methods of cleaning since there isn’t a gun there.   Honestly I do wish it had the nozzle as it really does make you feel cleaner than toilet paper!

On to More Muay Thai

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Modern Bangkok

I know this is a long time in coming since I haven’t been to Bangkok in over a month, but since I had a lot of not so pleasant things to say about my experience there, I wanted to mention some positives about the city.  In particular the public transport systems.

The three systems of public transport right in the heart of the city can pretty much get you anywhere you want to go cheaply, safely, cleanly and in style.  The Airport Rail goes from the Airport (imagine that!) directly downtown.  The over-ground rail and underground systems take you practically anywhere else you’d want to go within the city.

It took me quite a while to figure out how exactly to go where I needed utilizing these three systems and also a while to figure out the purchase of tickets for the underground rail (I literally stood there staring at maps and watching locals purchase before making my own) but once you get the hang of it, I wouldn’t use any other mode of transport.

And unlike Germany where it’s basically an honor system as to whether you buy a ticket for the train or not, since tickets on public transport trains are rarely checked, nothing gets past the systems in Bangkok.  One time I purchased a ticket for the underground (my first try) and got onto the train, but upon exiting my ticket wouldn’t open the gate for me to leave.  I went to the help desk, they took my card and scanned it and found out I hadn’t purchased the correct ticket.  So I simply paid the difference, they updated my card and out I went.

These three modern and clean systems were a real breath of fresh air compared to where I had been and I finally saw Bangkok as it had been described by those who love it: modern and sophisticated.  Again, now that I know about them, I won’t be using a taxi or tuk-tuk again!

On to Crazy Kanchanaburi Nights

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What IS That?!!?

I arrived in Ayutthaya by train from Bangkok.  Though it said it would only be just over an hour, as I’ve read from other travelers, travel times should never be trusted as it always takes much longer than stated.  The train was very basic.  No air conditioning, only windows and honestly reminded me of a school bus on train tracks.  People at each stop would hop aboard to sell water, bits of food, rice, etc for the journey.  Leaving Bangkok it was amazing to see how many people live and set up work directly on the edge of the train tracks.

Along the way a very friendly Thai woman started chatting with me and as it turned out she lived in Ayutthaya and volunteered to make sure I got off at the right place :).  Though they do have an intercom system on the train that tells you what stop is next, I was still very grateful I had someone to tell me for sure since my ears are not yet trained to hear Thai words correctly.

Just across the street and almost down to the end I found my hostel for the next several nights: Baan Are Gong GuestHouse.  Originally I planned to stay 3 nights, but extended to 4 as I just got so comfortable there!!  The people are very friendly, the accommodations are clean and the location couldn’t be better and easier as the train station is just down the road and the boat to get across the river is right next door!  I stayed in a private room on the second floor (fan only) and adored that everyone has to take off their shoes before going upstairs.

The only perhaps, let’s call it ‘culture shock’ that I hadn’t encountered yet was the bathrooms… They were shared bathrooms and there were several sets of flip-flops in front of the bathrooms to slip on before going in.  Inside the bathroom was a regular toilet, sink and mounted on the wall was a shower head and knobs.  But no shower curtain…  So when showering it’s literally like going into a standard single bathroom stall (except larger) and showering.  Water of course goes everywhere and there’s just no way to avoid that!  So it sprays all over the toilet, the sink and all over the floor.  There is a drain behind the toilet to drain shower water away, but if it gets clogged with hair, well you then have a mini-flood going on… Definitely was a first for me and I kept having to remind myself that all the water on the toilet seat was from the shower, not from people peeing on it… I hope anyway, lol!!

But all in all, I adored this hostel!!  They also have a little puppy that is just too darn cute for words and I just couldn’t help but play with him every second I got!  The woman who owns the place is very nice to talk to and she gave me some great information on places to visit in the country.

My stay in Ayutthaya included going into town the first night to watch the street festival in honor of the King’s Birthday.  One of the main streets was shut to traffic and they had stage after stage set up with live music, traditional Thai dancing, a muay thai boxing ring, and tons upon tons of street vendors selling everything from live fish (as pets), shoes, food, desserts, and my personal favorite to see: fried crickets and worms!  No… I wasn’t brave enough to try any, but it was awesome to see!!  A couple hours later once the sun set and the full moon rose high in the sky, fireworks started shooting off.  It was such a fantastic time!!

Other activities included spending the whole day wandering the streets of Ayutthaya visiting the tons upon tons of temples and temple ruins they have available.  From Wat Lokayasutharam (Buddha reclining) to the Phra Ram Park where several little Temples could be found, to Wat Maha That, site of an ancient Temple ruins, the Ancient Palace, Wihan Phra Mongkhon Bophit where one of the largest bronze Buddha images in Thailand can be found and so many more!  Though some of the Temples have been given the status of being World Heritage Sites, they do charge admission (50 baht) for foreigners.  Some people I came across took issue with that, but it’s such a teeny amount, I really wasn’t that bothered by it.

One funny here: as I was wandering through the park, walking through the grass in my flip-fops, I was thinking to myself whether there were any animals in Thailand to be worried about.  Before going to Costa Rica EVERYONE and their brother (mine included) warned about the fer-de-lance snake (highly poisonous and can kill you within a half hour!!) but I hadn’t heard a thing from any fellow traveler to Thailand of critters to beware of.  Just as I was thinking this, up ahead on the side walk was… Is that??… What IS that?!?!?… No…. Is that a komodo dragon???  Do they have those here???  Of course, my instinct toward animals not always being on point, I stealthily rushed toward it so not to scare it off, but yes I wanted a picture!!  Later I looked it up and it’s not a komodo dragon, but rather what they call a ‘water monitor’.  Interesting stuff!

I came across a local fishing for shrimp in the river, which was fun to watch for a bit 🙂

They also have an Elephant Village in Ayutthaya in the center of town where people could ride them down and back on the street.  I opted NOT to do this, but did buy a basket of food that I fed directly to the elephants hanging out at the ticket area.  I have so much more to say on this topic, but will save it for another post as it’s too long for this one…

My last activity in Ayutthaya was of a boat tour.  For 200 baht, the two-hour tour included a visit to Wat Phanan Choeng near the Japanese settlement that featured a bronze Buddha that looked larger than the one at Wihan Phra Mongkhon Bophit, then over to Wat Phutthai Sawan followed by the ever so beautiful and my favorite (especially at sunset!!) Wat Chaiwatthanaram.  The tour ended by continuing along the river until we made a full circle back to our Guesthouse:)

On to Animal Exploitations?

Back to Thailand

Bangkok ‘Gangster’ Scams

 

I don’t really know how close I was to the Palace because again there was no way to judge true distances on my map and to make things more interesting, maps posted along the street didn’t coincide at all with the map I had so I was kinda just going blindly most of the time…

At one point I came across a hilarious little squirrel.  People (I’ve noticed this elsewhere now too) hang little bags or full coconuts on the trees for the squirrels!  I didn’t know they had squirrels in Thailand before this!  He was adorable to watch as he dipped his head in the bag for a mouthful of shaved coconut, too cute!!

As I continued down the random street I was approached by a guy who asked where I was going.  The Palace, I said.  To which he replied that it was closed because the King was going to be there for his birthday.  What’s funny here is a friend of mine who’s been to Thailand said that these scammers always say the Palace is closed because it’s the Kings birthday… In this case, it actually was true, I just thought it was funny they always use that excuse!  Anyway, he insisted that the entire area was blockaded by police and there was no way to even get close to it.  BUT… he recommended several lovely temples each featuring Buddha (Golden Buddha, a temple with 8 different positions of Buddha, etc).  He said for 40 baht one of the 3-wheel taxis called “tuk-tuks” could take me around to 4 of them and bring me back!  That sounded like a good deal really… 4 Temples for 40 baht AND he would bring me back to where we started??  Sign #1 to not go- too good to be true.  But no, I thought “I could go on a little detour, rest my feet during the ride, see some Temples then walk to the Palace once we were back to start”.  Just as I got into the tuk-tuk, the guy asked where I was from.  I said the States, to which he replied “I love Obama”… I should have taken that as sign #2 to NOT trust this situation, lol!!

The first Temple was of the 8 Buddhas in different positions.  Unfortunately no picture-taking was allowed.  There was a gentlemen inside praying to one statue however that I found moving.  It wasn’t a Buddha statue but rather of a man depicted with sticks at his feet.  God of health is what the man said.  Pray to him for good health.  It was quite moving to wander around the Temple.  I’ve got more to say on that in a later post, but moving on…

I returned to the taxi after my walk around the Temple and he then told me that next stop was a Thailand factory where they make very good clothes.  Ok, I don’t need any clothes, but maybe it’s interesting somehow.  He insisted that these shops were good for the Thai people.  Ok… So we went.  The shop was, well, just a shop filled with tons of different fabrics and Giorgio Armani magazines with a variety of his clothing all ready to be tailor-made JUST for you!  As I wandered in, the sales vultures attacked asking me this and that and what would I like/need yada yada… I did one lap at a quick pace and headed out the door.  I did notice before leaving another gringo couple there signing papers… And as I headed out the door another tuk-tuk was pulling up with more gringos… Something fishy is going on…  Sign #3…

I got back in my taxi, the guy drove all of 10 feet then pulled over and stopped the cab:

Tuk-tuk man: You spend more time in there
Me: Um… I don’t need clothes.  They are very nice, but I don’t need anything.
Tuk-tuk man: Don’t matter if you buy, just looking, just LOOKING.  Must stay longer at next one for gas card.
Me: I don’t want to go to another one, I thought we were going to see Temples
Tuk-tuk Man: Yes, yes, Temples but factory first.  Must get gas card.  300 baht gas card for going to factory
Me:  No, I didn’t sign up for this, no.
Tuk-tuk Man: please, please, you do it for me so I get gas card.  10 minute, 10 minute just LOOKING

Sign #4… But he pulled the guilt trip… So ok, fine.  I can spare one more shop for 10 minutes so he can get a gas card.  So off we go… I wandered in and played my part listening to the sales pitch, flipping through the magazines “oh this is nice” wondering the entire time how/why any of these people think I have the kind of money to spend on those kinds of clothes with me looking like such crap after walking the streets of Bangkok all morning??  Anyway, I figured 10 minutes were up, so I left and got back into the cab.  The driver then turned to me and showed me on the map where we currently were (somewhere off of Nkhon Chaisi Rd WAY northeast of where we started) and proceeded to say “next factory is right here, then we go to Temples”.

Ok, I officially reached my limit.  “No” I very firmly said.  He tried his pitch to me once again begging and pleading but I had had enough!!  I told him to take me back immediately to where he picked me up.  He finally figured out I meant business, took on a sulky attitude, turned around and started to head back.  Thankfully I was paying enough attention to see that he was actually taking me in the right direction, but at a certain point we got stuck in traffic along Ratcha Damnoen Nok Rd and I just got out.  I payed him his 40 baht figuring the one Temple was worth that, walked across the street away from him and wandered the streets again.

As it turned out there was a ton of very interesting stuff along that road!  I’m not sure if it also was because of the King’s birthday or just coincidental, but according to some signs it said December 5th was also World SOIL day… They had tents upon tents displaying farm scenes, gardens, green growing, hydroponic setups, etc!  Very interesting stuff!  Also one of the tents was all about a gift festival. Not sure what that was exactly, but lots of fun stuff to look at and buy.

So really, had it not been for the scam I never would have been in that area to begin with to see all the random festivities.  But perhaps the part I thought was the funniest was when I was walking along Ratcha Damnoen Klang Rd where the Democracy Monument is located.  Yes, I was STILL trying to make it to the dang Palace, lol!!  I stopped at one of the street maps (which again didn’t look a thing like my map!) and another man came up asking me where I wanted to go… Repeat???  Thankfully not!  He was a professor at the University for Political Science and was legit!  He pointed the way to the Palace then asked what I had seen so far.  I told him “not much” just a Temple and random other parts.  I pointed on a map where I had been taken (by the scammer cabbie) and the first word out of his mouth: “Gangsters”!!

What???  Did I hear right??  “Gangsters” he repeated, then said “how many factory they take you to?”… Oh dear, lol!!!  I’d been scammed alright!  I laughed and said 2.  He shook his head knowingly and said that the police everyday get calls about that scenario or tourists walking into the police stations to file complaints about this scam.  I don’t know if the shops are part of the scam also, but I can’t say for sure.  He then went on to give me another couple good tips: Never get into a taxi (actual taxis are regular cars in a variety of colors; pink, green, blue with a “metered taxi” sign on top) if the driver does not turn on the meter.  If they try to negotiate a price with you before you get in, RUN!  Lol!!  His exact words folks!  The second tip was for the shopping areas: look at 10 stores before you buy!  Again, to avoid being overcharged or scammed on a price:)  Lovely guy and great information, I was truly grateful!!

I thanked the professor then headed on toward the Palace first running into the Royal Grounds where the side walk of the grounds were lined with police.  I asked what was going on and one guy said that in a half hour the King would arrive!  Seriously??  So I hung out in the gardens, which had a view of the Palace in the background (finally!!!) until the action began.  It wasn’t the King who arrived, but rather it was a very respected woman.  I’ve tried to look up in the papers something about what the event was all about but still can’t find anything.  Anyway, whoever she was, she was very heavily guarded and respected!  Everyone who approached her did so on their knees, never turning their back to her.  After viewing the event for a bit, I headed to the Palace (which was shut) then decided to just get back to the hotel.  At this point it had already been a 10 hour day and I was shot and ready for a shower!!

I approached some cops to ask the best place for a taxi pick-up to which they all lined up to hail a cab for me as I stood on the sidewalk (so polite and helpful!!).  I was taken to Phaya Thai (by a driver who did use his meter) which is the first stop in the Airport Rail system.  Last funny- I needed a cab from the Lat Krabang station to my hotel.  I hailed one and he stopped.  I showed him the card I had of the hotel and he nodded “yes”, so I went to get in and said “meter?” to which he then looked at the hotel card again and shook his head.  He pointed to his eyes and squinted as if to say he suddenly couldn’t read the address on the card… Scammer avoided??  Too funny!!

 

On to Temples and Monks

Back to Thailand

One Day in Bangkok

I didn’t know what to expect when first exploring Bangkok.  One thing for sure is that there are many different parts to explore.  I stayed in a hotel not far from the airport (Floral Shire Hotel) basically picking it because it was easily accessible from the airport AND they offered a free shuttle, so can’t go wrong there!  I stayed for two nights, which turned out to be a good call since I barely had any sleep on the flight over and was dead tired when I arrived.  So technically my first day there was spent catching up on sleep!

From the air Bangkok has the look of Houston (industrial and HUGE with lots of a large variety of buildings) yet as if it was set in southern Florida (tons of wet fields and watery canals/rivers giving the land a swampy look).  Upon landing, the air smelled like San Jose, Costa Rica (thick jungle air with the scent of a city nearby).  Honestly there were times I had to remind myself I was in Thailand and not back in Costa Rica as the plants and animals also reminded me of C.R. with loads of banana trees and geckos (love those little chirping buggers!!) crawling all around the walls and ceilings chasing after bugs.  Oh, and there was the veggie truck that came by each morning by the hotel advertising fruits and veggies for sale.  It brought a smile to my face once again being in place that felt easy going with simple living:)

Before going into my day there, I wanted to give my overall impressions.  Bangkok is an interesting mix of life.  There is obviously poverty there and it has a very dirty feel to it (literally dirty as you could feel the street on your skin after a few hours of walking around and at the end of the day my snot was black!   Too much info??  Lol!).  People are everywhere, all around working away or moving about, bumping into you (not rudely, just the nature of crowds) or simply minding their business with whatever task they are into.  Yet, for as sketchy as the surroundings looked and for the amount of people coming closely in contact, I felt safer there than anywhere I’ve been so far.  I can’t speak for all people who’ve traveled or will travel there, and I did get scammed a bit, but I never felt unsafe.  Strangely  there were times I wandered with my camera in hand (I NEVER do that!  It’s always packed unless in use) or walked through areas that at a glance you would think “don’t go there!!”.  But my senses never felt any danger or real threat, so I went where I wanted watching the life of Bangkok unfold.  That’s the feeling I came away with from Bangkok…  Before moving on I have to say I’m not at all a fan of the scent of Bangkok…  It’s fish mixed with dirt, car pollution, stale standing water, industrial oil and what smells like a toilet somewhere.  Not everything can be peaches! 🙂

Moving on to my day: as I’m not a huge fan of big cities, visiting downtown Bangkok took a bit of a kick in the rear.  I kinda dreaded having to navigate such a large place, especially given that the language was SO different than anything I’d been used to before.  As it turned out, one DAY in Bangkok was enough for me!

Before heading to town I did a bit of research on what to see/do and came across a website that outlined the top 9 things to do in Bangkok in one day… Perfect!  Sounds like a plan for me and it got me excited to head into the city!  So I jotted down all the necessary information (where and how to get there) and the next morning headed out.

That was about where everything went NOT according to plan… The first thing on the list was a floating market which thankfully also mentioned it’s only open on the weekends.  So #1 was off the list.  On to #2, the temple of dawn: Wat Arun.  I asked the receptionist to get a taxi so I could be taken to the Airport Rail station to head to town (as always I figured I would walk from there or get another cab if needed to where I wanted to go).  She however, suggested I just have the taxi take me into town (“much easier”).  Ok, fine.  Why not?  So I get into the cab and we start heading to town.  On the way he starts telling me about “boat”.  “Boat trip down river”.  I responded with “nice, ok” not realizing that he took “ok” literally and proceeded to take me to a boat tour place.  Once I figured out what was going on I insisted that no, I wanted to go to the Grand Palace (a teeny boat trip across the river from there would get me to Wat Arun).  He then said that wasn’t possible because the Grand Palace was closed to tourists due to the Kings Birthday being tomorrow (December, 5) which was actually true.  “Too much traffic there” is what he also stated.

We ended up at the Oriental Pier just north of the Taksin Bridge where they gave boat tours.  2000 baht for 1 hour… Which equates to almost $61… No thanks.  I would rather spend my time walking around than one hour on a boat taking typical tourist “picture, picture, picture” (how the tour lady explained the boat trip).  It also turned me off that she tried to negotiate the price with me.  To me, the original price is either worth it, or it isn’t.  I’m happy to pay the full price of something IF it’s worth it to me.  This wasn’t,  so I declined all the way.  15 minutes later after finally succeeding in explaining to my taxi driver that I wanted to pay him (375 baht in total damage) and just walk to town from there I headed out on foot.

I was definately NOT in the touristy part of town… I was in the Hangover Part II, back alley, so-many-car-fumes-in-the-air-you-could-barely-breathe part of town.  I was so off the map of where tourists “should” be that I never even ran into another gringo until I got to China Town.  It is amazing to see how people live.  Food markets and street food kiosks were everywhere lined right up along the edge of the sidewalks where cars and motorcycles (which by the way they also use sidewalks to drive on) zoomed past.  There wasn’t anywhere to be able to stop for a break unless you sat for food and bathrooms?  Hope you have a big bladder because you won’t find one for a while in that area!  But then again, as I said I was off the perhaps “normal” path for a bit.

I made it to China Town along Yaowarat Rd. where they were having some sort of itty bitty car show!  There were tons of people wearing yellow shirts that at first I thought were part of a tour of sorts but later realized yellow is the color of the King, so just about everyone was wearing a yellow shirt to honor his birthday:)  I ran into my first English speaker since leaving the hotel who confirmed I had been walking the right way for the Grand Palace (phew!!!).

Now, normally when navigating my way around places with a map and my feet I always think after the fact “gee, those distances were a lot shorter than I would have thought based on the map”… This is NOT so with the Bangkok map!  Everything is quite a bit further than the maps would lead you to believe…   One block on a map seemed to be 5 in reality, lol!  After about 4 hours of walking I was getting a bit tired.  According to the map I was ALMOST there so I kept trucking… And this is where the scam occurred…

Bangkok ‘Gangster’ Scams

Back to Thailand