A Travellerspoint blog


Bangkok Gold

sunny 36 °C

It never takes much persuasion to get us back to Bangkok for a few days and it was a convenient stopping off place between Sri Lanka and Southwest China for a little R&R at our favourite riverside hotel.
Things have changed a lot since our last visit just a few years ago. The old city is fast disappearing under soaring skyscrapers, multi-lane highways and elevated light railways. However, some things haven't changed – especially on the wide Chao Phraya river that meanders sluggishly through the city. There are still a few of the ramshackle stilt houses squeezed in between pricey riverside mansions and fancy hotels...
The heavily laden river buses still race from pier to pier and will take you as far as you want to go for just 50 cents....
And the gaily painted longtail boats, with their engines culled from 50 ton trucks, still spew clouds of smoke as they leave everyone in their wake.
However, the legions of stinking two-stroke tuk-tuks have all but vanished from the city's streets. Gone too are the miles of carefully painted bike lanes that we saw on our last visit – no great loss as few cyclists brave the roads in Bangkok and they were mainly used as car parks and taxi stands. But the kerbside vendors are still here offering all manner of street food...
Perhaps the biggest change is that the last King of Siam has died. King Bhumidol the Great ascended the throne in 1946, two years before some of the exoticism was taken out of Siam by changing its name to Thailand. The old King of Siam died in October and will lie in state for a year to give all of his loyal subjects a chance to pay their respects. Huge signs proclaiming the King's passing can be seen everywhere and mourners, wearing black, arrive from all over the world and travel to the palace on the river buses...
Religion plays a very large part in the lives of most Thais and no one goes to the temple without an offering of flowers – usually golden flowers...
Marigolds are sold by the sackful in the Pak Khlong Talat market and hundreds of stallholders spend their days weaving fresh flowers into elaborate temple gifts...
Fruits and vegetables pour into the market by the boatload from far and wide and we spend hours marvelling at all the exotic produce and the industriousness of the workers. This young woman spends her days slicing ginger roots with a razor sharp blade...
The market used to be a waterside jungle of broken down stalls and rotting vegetation that was frequently overwhelmed by floods, but now it is housed in a bright modern building with all mod cons behind a flood barrier. It is clean, fresh and good for the workers, and just another sign that Bangkok is rapidly moving into the 21st century...

Posted by Hawkson 16:07 Archived in Thailand Comments (6)

When the Nuts in the Milk Incense

sunny 33 °C

Throughout our travels on a slow train to China and beyond we have been amused and perplexed by bizarre translations - often on very large and clearly expensive advertising materials. For example, this glossy advert appeared all over southern China...
And some of the menus have been a real hoot. How about this tasty, (but potentially chewy) Russian dish...
Of course, it is easy to make fun of foreign people, artifacts and situations. So, purely for your amusement ,and with no wish to denigrate any of the wonderful people we have met, here's our take on some of the funnier things we captured on camera...

James at the Hermitage..."I think it's possibly a 14th century Russian spittoon!"

This is clearly a Siberian Car Boot sale.

"Don't look now Olga, but I think another Canadian submarine has run aground."

"Of course I'm annoyed - you promised me a Fabergè egg."

This Chinese sign means...No Parking for Suicide Car Bombers.

While this sign was five hours by camel cart from the nearest proper road in the Mongolian desert and it warned of a potential hazard!

This is a Cambodian tandem...

And this is a Chinese tandem...

We are always intrigued by the differing eating habits of the locals and we like to try different things - but not everything...

Chinese mother. "Hey Zhou, stop playing with your food!"

"O.K. I know I'm cheap, but believe me I've got very skinny legs for a frog."

And finally...
"O.K. James. These are the kind of beach stairs I want you to build next year."

And after all that thinking and writing...
Look who's asleep on the job.

We're now on our way to the mid-point of our trip - the tropical paradise of Bali - where we have a lot of work to do down on the farm. Come for a visit in a few days and we will show you around our winter abode.

Posted by Hawkson 04:42 Archived in Thailand Comments (1)

The King and I

sunny 34 °C

The King and Sheila...
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…
...and the entire palace wall is being whitewashed...
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…
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...
...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...
Ancient temples and modern apartment buildings flash past ...
while the ornate roofs of the Royal Palace make a glittering skyline…
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)

Goodbye Bangkok

sunny 33 °C

Today is our last day in south east Asia and we would like to introduce you to many of the wonderful sights and people we have met here but simply haven't had time to tell you about.
Here is a common sight - unloading fish onto the fish dock.
All life here revolves around water; the sea, the rivers and most importantly the flooded rice paddies.
Here is a coracle rower from a floating village on the South China Sea.
Salt is also important because of the constant heat. This broadly-smiling salt seller in Hoi Anh posed coyly for this picture. 'How sweet,' we thought. But as soon as the picture was taken her face turned sour and she demanded money - not so sweet after all.
Here are some boatman on the Perfumed River in Hue, Vietnam. We spent three days dodging heavy showers in this ancient city.
This is a part of the massive citadel that stands sentinel over the river and was once the capital of Vietnam.
We have visited dozens, maybe hundreds, of fortresses, citadels, wats, shrines and temples. Some we have shown you, but others, like the fabulous, 12th. century, Cham Empire temple at My Son, never made it to the blog. Here is just one of the numerous shrines at this site.
Shrines of all religions vie with each other for attention. This is one of the more ornate.
Throughout our trip we have tried to capture the essence of life here, both in words and pictures, and have tried to bring you images that differ from run-of-the-milll holiday snaps. Here are a couple of photos from a group we call, "South East Asia in Close-up."

So, farewell to Bangkok and to South East Asia. We hope you've enjoyed coming along for the ride, and we hope that you will stay with us for a few more weeks while we bring you some of the off-the-beaten-track sights of England and France.

Posted by Hawkson 19:32 Archived in Thailand Comments (1)

Trains, Planes and Automobiles.

sunny 35 °C

The first leg of our long jpourney home has brought us back to Bangkok, the enigmatic city of ivory towers soaring out of the teeming slums, where our Asian experience began.
We arrived by Air Asia, our favourite local airline whose motto is "Now Everyone Can Fly." This was our fourteenth flight since leaving home, and we still have five to go.
Travel here is as enigmatic as everything else - clapped out buses, rusted river boats and ancient tuk-tuks ply the highways and waterways alongside luxury limousines, superfast hydrofoils and VIP coaches. But, old or new, they all run more or less to schedule. Yesterday's nine hour trip from our resort in Koh Samui to Bangkok by mini-bus, ferry, bus, plane and taxi, went like clockwork and, with one or two exceptions, was a reflection of our entire journey.
Numerous boats have played a key role in ferrying us from place to place, (we lost count after fifty), and now we are back in Bangkok for our last few days we will be taking many more.
This is one of the famed 'Long-tails', the 'Gondolas' of Bangkok. But the 'Gondoliers' of these stinking, snorting monsters can never be heard singing, "O Solo Mio." These craft are powered by monstrous engines culled from ancient buses and trucks and, as they churn up the waters of the Chao Phraya river at breakneck speed, they pump out evil fumes and raucus pop music.
We do not take the 'Long-tails'. We prefer the 'Vaporetti' - the sleek river buses that zip us from one end of the city to the other away from the madness of the roads.
But, hopefully, things are changing. In an effort to go green, the city now provides free bicycles to anyone brave, (or foolish), enough to ride one. Just pick up a green bike at one of the many racks like this one ...
... and ride it through the city on the miles of specially marked cycleways like this one...
Oh-Oh! Spot the problem? Yes - everyone, including the green bike delivery man, uses the designated bike lanes as free parking. Never mind - it's the thought that counts.

Posted by Hawkson 19:18 Archived in Thailand Comments (2)

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