A Travellerspoint blog

December 2012

The King and I

sunny 34 °C

The King and Sheila...
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The King of Thailand, (Siam), King Rama IX, is 85 years old on Wednesday and he is currently the world’s longest serving monarch. Bhumibol Adulyadej was crowned on June 9th. 1946, and despite numerous coups and changes of political regimes he is adored by his loyal Thai subjects. These pretty young dancers were practicing for the celebrations being held in Bangkok to mark the King’s birthday…
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...and the entire palace wall is being whitewashed...
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This is not our first trip to Bangkok, and four years ago we stayed at a riverbank hotel close to the vibrant tourist hub of Khaosan Road. When we arrived at the same hotel this time we were met by wide smiles from several staff members who remembered us. This is Joom, our hotel’s travel agent, who was delighted to have the opportunity to help us again…
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Bangkok is many things to many people – but it is never boring. There is an extraordinary vivacity to life in the city. Nowhere are our senses more assaulted – nowhere do we feel more alive, more sentient to our surroundings, than in Bangkok. The scents, sounds and sights of the tropics are so alien to us that our heads spin in wonderment. One moment the tropical air is perfumed with jasmine and frangipane while the next it holds the fragrance of incense or the delicious smells from a thousand kerbside kitchens. The city’s lively streets buzz with the voices of a hundred nationalities and a thousand locals hoping to sell their wares. The banter is always friendly and bargains are sealed with smiles. And in the evenings the tourist areas echo with live music from dozens of bars while neon lights and pretty lanterns light the sky, and gaily illuminated river cruisers parade past our hotel like a carnival procession on the Chao Phraya river.

The Chao Phraya is is no lazy river. Its fast flowing tidal waters pulsate with the throb of mighty diesels on the iconic longtail boats, it is pushed into bank-eroding breakers by lengthy caravans of giant barges...
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...and it is churned into a frenzy by the racing water busses that make Venetian vaporetti look as ponderous as rowboats.
The Chao Phraya is the lifeblood of Thailand, taking manna to the cities of the north while bringing the rice and the fruits of the harvest south but, just like its mighty American cousin, The Good Ol’ Mississippi, it is also a killer. Every year, when the cyclones hit, the river turns into a raging torrent and sweeps away homes and people alike, and every year the poorer of the riverside’s residents rebuild their shanty homes, their struggling businesses and their lives. The river is their life – they are the fishermen, the boatmen, the finders of flotsam and jetsam, and those who cannot afford anywhere more stable than a rickety house on stilts. But we do not blame them. The Bangkok stretch of the Chao Phraya is one of the most scenic riversides anywhere, and a 50 cent water bus ticket offers the best value afternoon cruise in the world. These are some of the many riverside shanties...
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Ancient temples and modern apartment buildings flash past ...
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while the ornate roofs of the Royal Palace make a glittering skyline…
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It is a thrill ride as the captain races between stops and then hits the brakes as the deckhand whistles instructions from the stern. Passengers leap on and off in seconds and, with a whistle, the captain hits the throttle. It’s lively, noisy, busy and fun – it’s Bangkok.

P.S. The King of Thailand is not alone in celebrating his birthday on the 5th of December. Congratulations and a big Happy Birthday to Sheila’s brother, David, on the same day.

Posted by Hawkson 07:33 Archived in Thailand Comments (2)

Hong Kong Reflections

overcast 23 °C

When a vibrant and bustling Hong Kong was handed back to China exactly 15 years ago everyone in the West worried that the ex-British colony would quickly lose its shine under communist rule. But nothing could be further from the truth. The world still comes here to shop, and there’s no shortage of upmarket global stores willing to help that happen. But the continual rise in the value of the Hong Kong dollar, and the huge numbers of mainland Chinese pouring in with cash in their pockets, means that prices have soared. Expensive skyscrapers are being jammed into every nook and cranny so the best way to see one is to look at its reflection in another…
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We only have three days in Hong Kong so we sprung for this glitzy waterfront hotelP1180147.jpg ...especially as they offered a great pre-paid promo rate.

However, some things haven’t changed in Hong Kong. The Star ferries that trundle back and forth across the harbour still offer a cheap view of Hong Kong’s famous skyscrapers…
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… and the iconic trams that have been running since 1904 still rattle around the island’s crystal canyons for about 25 cents a ride…
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Antique trams can even be rented for parties or weddings.
Everywhere we have been, from St. Petersburg to Moscow and Mongolia, and now Hong Kong, we have been beset with couples tying the knot in the most ostentatious, (and expensive), way imaginable. Here’s the happy group from just one of the ten weddings taking place at our hotel today…
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…But will they look this happy when they get the bill?
Here’s someone who happily paid the bill for our fabulous lunch in Hong Kong…
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This is our friend Innez whom James got to know in Toronto many years ago. Innez runs the PAL English Language school in Hong Kong and she is celebrating her 7th successful year of teaching kids, from toddlers to teens, how to learn while they play…
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While we love travelling the globe we also love meeting up with friends old and new on the way. We also discover many things as we travel so, in a way, we are following Innez’s philosophy – we learn as we play. Now we are off to play in Thailand – see you in Bangkok.

Posted by Hawkson 02:21 Archived in Hong Kong Comments (4)

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