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After a very successful adventure in South America in 2001-2002, it is time for another big trip.

Once the travel bug enters the brain, it stays there forever.

Already a year ago I started dreaming about doing a trip to South East Asia.

And as I said last time "You know how these dreams come and are always there, but you never actually start working on realizing them.

Now is the time to do it."

Keep on tripping!

Wim, August 2004

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Thailand September 2004

Thailand

Last additions:

23/12/2004 Our second visit to Thailand during this trip "November beaches..."

Back in Thailand after one and a half month in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. First thing we do here is eat a nice Pad Thai, and a real Thai Curry for Sofie...read more

16/09/2004 Chiang Mai, second week in Thailand

Once we arrived in Chiang Mai, we headed for the Top North guesthouse, recommended by other travelers who hadn't been there yet... It took us an hour in this early morning to actually find the damn place, and then it wasn't that nice as we expected.... read more

 

10/09/2004 Arrival and first week in Thailand 

After 9 hours in a 'basic' airplane, 6 hours of waiting in what looked more like a social services building, and two and a half more hours... read more

    

Arrival in Thailand and first week in Bangkok

29/08/2004 After 9 hours in a 'basic' airplane, 6 hours of waiting in what looked more like a social services building than an airport waiting hall, and two and a half more hours in a 'decent' plane, we landed in hot Bangkok. It is midday here, which means it is 7 am in the morning for us. But it is ok. We did some sleeping on the Biman Bangladesh airplanes. I thought we would sleep in Dhaka as well, we would have to wait there for 6 hours. But the international transfer waiting hall was quite hot, with strange people looking at us as if we came from another planet. Sofie was wearing a top and this was not much appreciated by some of the local (mostly Islamic) population. We even saw some women dressed in burkas, and men turning there eye away from Sofies breast. But there are no real good facilities and only some hard benches to sit on. So we tried to sleep, and when we finally managed to, somebody woke us up for the breakfast in the Sheraton hotel !

At this continental breakfast (read 'two pieces of toast with butter') we met upLeaving Belgium (family seems to be quite happy ?) with some other Europeans on there way to Bangkok. Susan and Simon for example who are going to do an internship in Bangkok (www.suusandsi.nl). We also informed on our 'visa issue'. In Zaventem they said we could have problems if we haven't got a return ticket or a proof that we are planning to leave the country within 30 days. But all our optimism seemed to have resulted in good effect. The lady at the immigration desk was in automatic mode with her stamps and didn't notice that we didn't show our tickets (as requested). This is definitely a good start for this trip, everything went smooth and relaxed.

Mo 30/08/2004 So here we are, quite tired and in need for a bed. We decided to take a guesthouse in Banglamphu, where the all famous Ko San road is, a Ibiza style hotel, bar, restaurant and tourist shop street. Well, that is what I imagine Ibiza is like... Guided by lonely planet we go to New Siam guesthouse, a few streets away from the busy roads, close to the river. They show us a room for 390 Baht, with a bathroom and fan. But in the hall way they are working with a lot of noise (drilling stuff and hammering away), and that is exactly what we can't use because we are in need of sleep. They tell us they have a new and more quiet guesthouse, obviously called the New Siam II, just in the next street, which also has a tempting swimming pool. When we see the lovely pool and quiet room with a big hard bed, we don't hesitate a second and take it. Finally some rest for just 590 Baht (about 12 euro). Now the first phase of the trip is successfully completed, we can now officially start our South East Asian adventures !

Tue 31/08/2004 Yesterday we took it quite slow, and slept for about 4 hours in the afternoon. The shower and first swim were great, followed by a first Thai meal in a cool restaurant nearby. We see a lot of Asian people here and assume they must be tourists as well. But as they all seem to have the same custom of drinking whiskey, with a lot of ice, and even more water added to it, they must be from Bangkok. This street seems to be a popular hangout for the rich Thai students. The food is great to, although it might have been Asian meets Italian a bit, I found olives in my rice bowl !

This morning we got up quite late and went for a dive in the pool first. Then a banana pancake with a fresh juice. Mmm the juices really make me think of South America again. And this is only Bangkok, a lot more to come inland I hope. Today we decide to take it easy and explore Chinatown. It is easily reachable by express boat on the big Mae Nam Chao Phraya river and cost only a few Baht a person. Chinatown itself is a huge market with small walkthrough alleys, where you can buy almost anything, from socks to complete hand made suits, lollys to children's toys, alarm clocks till mobile phones...

cool glasses on express boat

Best thing is that people are not really looking strange at us. Quickly we locate some useful stuff and I buy some nice 'classic' sunglasses. After a while the market seems to be the same looking anywhere. We decide to get out and grab some food. Still unsure about what we can eat and what not we enter a small hotel restaurant and have some sweet and sour chicken with rice, a Belgian classic.

After we take the boat again all the way down to the last stop and back. Tired of the heat and strolling around we soon end up in the pool again. Later we go to the neighboring streets and discover the Wild Orchid Villa, a guesthouse with a cool open air lounge at the front, nice chill out music, and off course sweet cocktails...

We 01/09/2004 It is already Wednesday and we have to start thinking about planning some things. After a quick dive in the pool we gather some info and ask around for prices to arrange a visa for Vietnam. Our guesthouse is quite expensive, but the one around the corner does it for much less. Too bad that the embassy is closed this week on Thursday and Friday, the only earliest day to leave Bangkok is Monday. No prob, we will find something to do the next days around the city. We first planned to do some days at the beach, Sofie's favorite hangout. But the close ones are really not nice (Pattaya), one island has a malaria risk (and we don't want to start taking prophylaxis yet), and the beautiful southern beaches are too far away. So lets go somewhere else, Kanchanaburi and the river Kwai maybe, or the so famous floating markets at Damnoen Sedouak ? But first, another of Sofie's favorite hobbies, lets go shopping !

With a small boat on a very tiny river we speed towards Siam square, the commercial heart of Bangkok. On first sight the MBK shopping center only seems to have branded goods. But then we leave the actual mall, and find the small and cooler shops. First buy here, some sunglasses for Sofie, 3 dollars. Then some fake Diesel shoes, 6 dollars, followed by a shirt for Sofie, as she forgot that in temples you cannot show too much skin. We also buy a copy of the handy Birkenstock sandals. Made in Germany and very real, yeah right ! For only 200 Baht, that cannot be really real . But they feel and look alright so we switch our Teva shoes for these sandals. On the way back we also look around for some buys on Koa San Road, and I find the typical white shirt. I haven't seen locals walk around with it, but for somebody not used to 33 degrees it is quite refreshing. While we sweat out liters a day walking in shorts, these people wear jeans and even sweaters ? I think we need to get used to this life some more.

At night we notice that we still seem to suffer from some jetlag as well. At 2 am we finally try to sleep and when I want to close the window I stand in a pool of water. Half the room has flooded and we didn't even notice. The only thing was a rain shower of 30 minutes and the mosquito window was closed... So after some cleaning, we finally doze off at 3:30 am.

Thu 02/09/2004 It starts to become a real habit now. Wake up late (because we fall asleep late as well...), take a swim and eat breakfast in the guesthouse. Then do something farang in the afternoon. Farang is the word they use here for tourist, similar to giri in South America. But we feel kind of lazy and blame it on the jet lag. So lets take it easy and plan some real tourist action. Planning trips with a cocktail in the Wild Orchid VillaThe Wild Orchid Villa is the perfect place to read and plan some. As we have to wait till Monday for our Vietnam Visa, we could easily disappear from Bangkok for 2 or 3 days. We choose to go to Kanchanaburi, visit the bridge and rail road museum, and maybe see some local temples. We also want to visit the floating market in Damnoen Sedouak, which is 2 hours from Kanchanaburi, and because we don't want to do it with a package tour from Bangkok that arrives at 9 am, we decide to try to get to the village the night before. This way we can get up early and see the 'hopefully' more authentic market at 7am in the morning.

Ok, we need a bus to Kanchanaburi in the morning, then see museum and bridge, then maybe arrange transport to the temples, and then get back in the bus station before the last bus to Damnoen Sedouak leaves. First part is easy, just ask around in the different guesthouses for the price, one way in the air conditioned Toyota minibuses. We find tickets half the price of our own guesthouse. Most guesthouses try to sell us the package one day tour, but we prefer doing things our way... Lets see tomorrow morning at 10 am if we are right to do it this way.

After our planning I let Sofie bargain for some fake Diesel watches on Ko San Road. Bargaining is obligatory here, and the vendors expect it. So it is a game of giving and taking. Sofie gets the hang of it, she still knows the tricks we used 3 years ago !

We finish the day at Ko San Road, taking a small dead end side road where we drink a nice cocktail on a beautiful terrace. Next to it is a gallery with some award winning travel pictures. I see one beautiful picture of a sitting Buddha, exactly at a temple near Kanchanaburi. I start thinking we made a good choice and are really looking forward to the trip tomorrow.

Fri 03/09/2004 We need to get up early for the first time, as the minibus picks us up at 10 am. So a quick breakfast and check out, no swimming today. As expected , the minibus does a tour through the tourist part of Banglamphu district, to pick up farang at several hotels. So shopping around for the cheapest price is definitely a must do ! Once in Kanchanaburi, the guesthouse where we arrive would like to give us a room as quickly as possible. We ask for transport options to the two temples, and then to the floating market. "Only possible with tour" they all say. So we walk out the small street and locate other travel agencies. At Kwai Kayak we get the perfect answers. Busses to the floating market leave until 18h20 from the bus station. To got to the temples and get back in time might be a bit difficult. So the women proposes to drive us there and then back to the bus station. Including the river Kwai bridge and museum ? Great option, just the two of us, the women and her daughter. On the back of her pick up we do a great tour. Ok, the bridge isn't much, but the museum is nice. And already the ride to the two temples is fun. Buddha at Wat Tham SeuaThe girl explains us about a Chinese cemetery we pass, the dragon temple and the two temples we are about to visit. As we approach the sitting Buddha, we notices the darkening sky coming closer, it is about to start trashing really hard. We get back in the pick up just in time and on the way back to the village and bus station we see the heaviest rains yet. As quickly as it started, it disappears again. In the bus station a taxi drivers tells us which bus we take, and 5 minutes later we are on our way to the floating market.

Sa 04/09/2004 The moment we checked in in the 'only' hotel in the floating market village Damnoen Sedouak, we get an offer for a boat to see the market. This is the real way to see it, and 200 per person is a good price if we can believe Lonely Planet. So at 7am we are on the back of jeep on our way to the boat. A nice girl is our driver and we quickly float through the small channels with sporadically a house next to it. It seems we are to early for the market. We even stop at a so called sugar factory. In reality it is a handicraft bazaar where we can taste some sugar water made from coconuts... Next we finally get to the floating market , which as expected, lost all of its authenticity long time ago. There should be boats with locals, some selling food, vegetables, tropical fruits,... In stead we see tourists who buy, boats with handicrafts and tourist gadgets, large stalls with more of these thing next to the river. Floating market Ok, we did enjoy buying breakfast this way, eating coconut pancakes and custard apple fruit. But not much of real deals here. After 2 hours we finish somewhere at a fish farm. Ahum, at the side of the river they sell us a bag of smelly fish food so we can throw it in the water. And miraculous, some fish show up. And then the boat driver tells us that his next tour at 9am, with Bangkok tour groups, will have much more to see, as then the tourist peak hour starts and even more boats piled with bananas show up.

This is one of the biggest hoaxes yet seen by me and Sofie

At 11am we are already on a bus in direction of Bangkok, 3 hours later the swimming pool saves my day ! The rest of the day is relaxing and drinking fruit shakes.

Su 05/09/2004 We finally seem to have lost our jet lag. At 10 am we are doing our daily swimming exercise. We have planned to see the famous Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew temple complex. This is the major attraction of Bangkok. The palace and temples are linked to the royal family, who constructed them and still uses them for several ceremonies today. Wat Phra Kaew temples in Bangkok It is fun to wander around the complex, where Thai tourists outnumber the farang. The highlight here should be the emerald Buddha, in the main temple. We follow the custom of removing shoes and sitting down in the temple. Off course we imagined the Emerald Buddha to be something very impressive, but the size is more of the average garden gnome ! After this we walk around the grand palace complex, and make some superb snapshots... When we get back in Banglamphu, hunger strikes again, and we see a nice mini bar called 'Miniurban', Pad Thai for only 30 Baht ! Not bad so we settle down and get good value for money. Sofie is inspired and shoots away some cool pics in this cool bar. We must remember this one.

After all this eating and relaxing, it is time for some writing action. I find a place where they have a memory card reader and cd writer. 15 minutes later I have two cd's with the pictures we took so far, and I start writing this online diary. Price, 30 Baht per hour, that is about 60 euro cent.

Mo 06/09/2004 We are here for a week now, so it is time to move on. We put our backpack in the storage room of the guesthouse and take a taxi to the Teak Mansion, a beautiful building constructed completely in teak wood. Also here we have to take of our shoes before entering the museum/house. A guide explains us in Thai Classical Thai dance English (replace all r's by l's) which kings lived here, what they did here, and especially where all the artifacts, and international souvenirs came from. After the tour we walk around the building and join a group of school children to see the classic Thai fighting and dance performances. Its a big laugh and the perfect preparation for the long bus ride planned for the night.

While waiting for the bus we pick up our passports, enriched with an expensive 30 day Vietnam visa. Some more internet and mail and we are ready to take of in the VIP air con bus to Chiang Mai. An hour later then expected we leave with a bus, that indeed has air con, but where even a small skinny guy like me has problems leaving his knees. After a bad Jackie Chan movie (still better than Jean Claude) and a toilet break, lights go out and I manage to fall asleep. Bye bye Bangkok, see you in 2 months on our way south...

Tue 07/09/2004 Once we arrived in Chiang Mai, we headed for the Top North guesthouse, recommended by other travelers who hadn't been there yet... It took us an hour in this early morning to actually find the damn place, and then it wasn't that nice as we expected. Only 300 Baht for a room, but a really dusty and smelly one. I guess the recommendations came from some one who took the air con expensive version. But we could check in, swim and explore the city, we would only need it for one night of sleep.

So that is exactly what we did. First the pool, then a breakfast buffet and some explorations. This is a really more relaxed city. Lots of small streets or sois that are less busy, some nice vegetarian places (always a barometer for cosiness !) and cheap bicycles to rent. We soon discover some nice clean rooms with good beds in the CM Blue house, brand new and with a very good English speaking host. We also discover that the details of our Laos trip needs some closer inspection. Taking buses and slow boats will take us 3 days, of which some might be quite tiring. Doing the same by plane takes us 4 hours, transfer to and from airports included. And the price is just 30 percent more... Ok the 2 day slow boat trip might be interesting although hard, but we already plan to do a 7 hour boat trip on in Laos itself from Luang Prabang. So what the heck, we booked us the flight for 30 euros each.

We 08/09/2004 After a big swim, we check out and pick up our plane tickets on the way to the Blue House. A good real coffee, and some vegetarian Thai breakfast (fried rice), seems to have given us a lot of energy. Lets rent a bike and get to the tribal museum, the road should be nice to get there. Well nice means here, there is a concrete road. But they don't tell you about the huge amount of tuk-tuks, motor cycles and cars trying to get where they need to be as quickly as possible. So it doesn't really feel safe, and driving on the English side of the road doesn't make it easier either. So when we finally get there after some stops here and there and some sheltering from the rain, we notice that the place is already closed. Most museums stop visiting hour before 5pm. Because traffic has tensified in the meanwhile, and we are not very keen on doing the same dangerous maneuvers again, we are very happy when we see the typical red taxi entering the street. These taxis go wherever you go, or they kind of use a fixed route. You get in from the back, where you have two benches. We put our bike in as well, and he asks 60 Baht to go to the Tapae gate in the center. Ok for us, but then we notice he is still flagging people on the street to get more passengers. So when we arrive, one Thai boy is hanging tight on the back. Two neatly dressed girls coming back from there office are holding our bikes so they don't dirt there skirts, 3 more Thais need to get out before we can get ourselves and the bike out. But all are very nice and help us get the bikes out. 

As we still got some energy and I tried to convince Sofie already to join me on a climbing trip, we drove to the Chiang Mai Rock Climbing Adventures and booked us a climbing day at the Crazy Horse.

We got some nice food in the Aum vegetarian restaurant. When it started raining we needed to get another place for a drink as this one closed already at 9pm ? So we walked just a few meters to the closest bar called 'Out Back'. It felt liked we had entered an Australian little town where some neighbors characters had joined for some beers and chats. The most popular thing to do in a bar here is definitely play pool. Every shack that has a roof and beers, also has a pool table. We hear some funny music and sounds from the place next door and decide to have a look. Its a big hall , full of little bars, one next to the other, all with a pool table. In the middle of the place is a boxing ring. We grab us a beer and a table and start playing, meanwhile trying to find out what is so strange about this place. Then some girls go on stage (the boxing ring) and start some cabaret dancing, followed by a mellow play back song, and more cabaret. Also, Sofie seems to be the only Western girl around, while all consuming man here are non-locals, playing pool with local girls. This is a place where you can pick up one, and the cabaret and stuff is to make it look like a legal culture and dance show. Finally we understand it, and get a bit disgusted, especially seeing a lot of already-past-midlife crisis men hitting on young Thai girls. Time to leave...

Thu 09/09/2004 Sofie hanging onWe bring back our bikes early and quickly eat some croissants before heading to the Chiang Mai climbing office. A Japanese guy will join us and also the two dogs Black and Diamond of the owner. The dogs are strapped in, not to go climbing themselves but to carry there own food and water !

A taxi drives us an hour to the bottom of the crazy horse rocks. 'Son' sets up the gear on a bamboo platform next to the rock, helps putting our harnesses on explains how to make the knot in the rope. The first two routes are number with 5a and b, but Sofie and the Japanese guy need to get used to climbing and feeling safe with a rope as there lifeguard. On the second one Sofie doesn't seem to have any fear any more and I think she go to the top quickest of us all.

We have our pad thai lunch and have to wait while a monsoon shower rushes over. Half an hour later the rocks start drying again and soon we can go for the next climb.

The 3rd one looks a bit more scary though. Some difficult parts where the guide really needs to help me find the route. After the Japanese manages to get up with a lot of panting and power shows. Sofie got a bit nervous by then as this looks a bit scary. But she does it, and makes it to the top, her first 6a.

Should we do another one, a bit more difficult ? Japanese guy and I go for it, and with a good route planning before going up I manage to make it over the overhang to the top ! The Japanese guy has spilled his forces too much on the previous one and just gets to the middle. Sofie makes the wise decision of not trying this one.

Then we pack some ropes and start hiking to the back side of the crazy horse for  a 60 meter rappel. It goes down 40 meters to the side of a huge open cave, and the last 20 meters wall free. Just before the dropIt is quite nice, but a bit dusty and dark. After all that we get down to the car and notice that the dogs are still missing. When the rain breaks again 30 minutes later the dogs show up, it is no weather for them to stay outside. Son, the guide, just had a phone call that the office and nearby streets are flooded by the heavy rain that luckily didn't spoil the climbing. Once there the only way we can get back to the hostel is by wading through, up to our knees in the water...

After a quick shower we surely have deserved a nice buffet meal, with lots of veggies, and self service steak baking ! Well, not that big a steak, but it tastes good any way. When we try out whiskey Thai style it gets more fun. The girl from the bar shows us how they mix ice, Sang Shom whiskey and water. A whole set with a 30 cl bottle, water and ice cubes costs us only 150 Baht, about 3 euros.

Than suddenly a neighbor says we better lift up our feet, there is a rat sitting under Sofies chair. The first one to run out is the nice bar girl, she looks very though, but not when it comes to chasing rats away. The thing is huge and some local hero, who says he is a mountain trekking guide, chases it away and soon it is dead. The beast must have come out of its hiding place because of the rising water.

On the way home, after a physically and mentally satisfying day, we are surprised by an orchestra of what first sounds a bit like cows mooing. But a local says they are not, as we can't see them it makes sense. They are frogs, little tiny frogs, who are so happy with the rain that they cheerfully started singing !

Fri 10/09/2004 As expected we don't get out of bed early, then have a breakfast, and start wandering around. I need to do some writing, Sofie wants to read. We finally find a place where Sofie can sit outside on a terrace and I can do my work. But an hour later the girl wants to close the place. It seems rains have hit her street and house as they got flooded... Seems to be very local here, the monsoon rains. Luckily this is almost end of rainy season.

We end the day with a visit to the night bazaar, full of the same tourist stuff they sell in Bangkok, after we eat and retire early, still struck by the Thai whiskey...

Sa 11/09/2004 An early start and quick breakfast and we head of to GAP house, the place to do a Thai coking course ! It is only a one day course, and me and Sofie are the only ones interested today ! Perfect, a private course for 800 Baht, 20 Dollars each.

We first visit the market where we learn which vegetable is what, finally we know how 'morning glory' looks like. Buy coconut milk cream and see how it is freshly produced, and see some more tropical fruits.

Fruits

We start cooking with making green curry paste, then make a chicken curry, Tom Yam soup, fish cakes, fish soufflé, steamed rice, chicken with cashew nuts... Man, this food is good, and really quick and easy to make.

Cooking classes

The good thing about the course is that you eat it yourself. After lunch and completion of the cooking at 15h, we head back to town and drop of our pad foam containers with pad thai, spring rolls and steamed pumpkin in the room.

In the evening we get us some more whisky and ice form the local grocery store and settle us in front of the tv in the outside lobby of the guesthouse. We enjoy our meal and some good drinks, play cards and go to bed for the last night in Thailand for a while.

Su 12/09/2004 The flight leaves in the afternoon, so we have all the time to sleep long, have breakfast and pack our bags. In the airport there is not much to see or do so we can just read and wait before boarding our propeller air plane of Lao airlines to Luang Prabang.

Much to our surprise we are served a small snack and drinks ! It is only a one our flight, nevertheless Sofie is able to do a quick nap before we hit the Lao tarmac.

 

Thailand has been good so far. We have gone a bit over our budget, doing cooking classes, climbing courses, air plane tickets and stuff like that. But this is the beginning, and then you can't be too hard on yourself. I guess next time we are in Thailand, we will be more sensitive after cheap Cambodia... Lets hope so.

Keep on tripping,

21/09/2004

tripping.be