Thailand Revisited

11 to 25 March

Our four month long trip to SE Asia begins in Thailand. We were last here in March 2007 and notice one or two changes. Here are some excerpts from my Thailand travel blog.

Bangkok

Having left Greece with just hours to spare before a National Strike would have grounded us, we arrived in Bangkok almost 36 hours after leaving Crete. We are, naturally, very tired so we are trying to put some of our negative feelings down to fatigue. Still, in the 5 or so hours since we arrived we can’t help noticing a few changes around here – not all for the better. Prices have gone up, ATMs won’t cough up without taking a little cut for themselves and the pound is weakening by the minute! What haven’t changed are the cell-like hotel rooms with walls as thin as paper and loos way down the hall. They may be just a bit cleaner. And those far away loos are western style with paper provided. But is that enough to label them ’boutique style’ and charge double? I don’t think so Sonny Jim! Then again, its only day one. The sun is shining, we get free WiFi and breakfast…….and surely Gecko Bar still does a cold Chang for 40 baht!

Contrary to what you may have surmised from this blog so far, we have actually dragged ourselves away from the computer screens once in a while and we are enjoying being back in Thailand and Bangkok. The food is as fabulous as we remembered – noodle soup in Chinatown, takeaway pad thai in Banglamphu eaten from the carton and washed down with iced beer in Gecko – yes the bar is unchanged and still our favourite. The best spot for watching weird people! If you are a weird person reading this, ‘weird’ is a compliment. We’ve wandered up Khao San Road, taken a river ferry down the Chao Phraya and eaten spicy green and red curries at a street food stall.

Some Additional Useful Information

We paid 500baht per night for 2 nights in a fan room then 650 per night for an air con with telly in Samsen Sam Place. Nice place, nice location, breakfast included. Clean loos and showers. WiFi. Big Chang is now 60baht in Gecko – still a bargain! Good cheap food from stalls opposite Gecko and in Samsen Soi 2 which is closer to the hostel. ATMs in Thailand now impose a charge of 150baht for every withdrawal. Only Aeon and HSBC have no extra charge.

Hua Hin

For any non Scots reading this blog the title for this entry is a well-known Scottish exclamation of surprise and wonder with a touch of concern. This perfectly describes our feelings as we were shown to our room in Jing’s Boutique Guest House and Spa (I kid you not). The term ’boutique guest house’ has been used in the loosest sense………..but at 350baht (7 quid) a night we’re not complaining.

I know, I’m back on the taboo subject of money again but, believe me, this time I’m not moaning, more trying to illustrate how we travel. For all you folks who wonder how we afford it, this is how.

It’s rather windy in Hua Hin. Maybe we should have expected this. We were aware, after all, that the town is currently hosting both the  International Kite Festival AND the Inter Continental Kite Boarding World Cup 2010. Still at least there’s a breeze. I’ve no idea what the temperature is but its hot. 

Hua Hin’s quite a nice place, kind of touristy but not on a par with Patong yet! Its got a lovely long white beach, night market, lots of top end hotels and resorts and air-conditioned shopping malls to escape the heat.

We’ve been pretty lazy, a walk along the beach and a trip to the railway station were quite exhausting. I have at last found time to work on my book again. As a couple of you have asked, I am NOT writing my memoirs or the story of our travels. I have written the first draft of a novel and will be rewriting it many times I’m sure before it sees the light of day.

We ate in the night market on our last night in Hua Hin and found ourselves being serenaded by the man at the next table who whipped out his mandolin when he discovered we were Scottish. Ignoring my request for Rod Stewart’s Mandolin Wind he played a tune he called Flowers of Edinburgh. I must confess I did recognize the tune having Scottish country danced to it many times.

We are off on the sleeper to Songkhla tomorrow, looking for a slower pace of life.

Useful information

We paid 350baht for OK room. Shared shower/toilet clean. WiFi. Best places to eat – Night Market and Food Court in Hua Hin Market Village.

Songkhla

The overnight train was late and slow and it shoogled all the way to Songkhla. It was around this time that Iain developed a problem with his big toe making it increasingly difficult for him to walk. I took on the task of scouring the streets of Songhkla for a hotel, leaving Iain in a coffee shop close to where the bus dropped us. This is where we spotted our first live rat – we’d already spotted a (not long) dead one in Bangkok.

On Sunday I left Iain to  nurse his foot and took myself off on a walk around town. I returned two hours later with a very red face, not from embarrassment but from underestimating the power of the sun. The sights of Songhkla don’t take long to get around so on Monday, the foot slightly improved, we:-

– watched monkeys play in their very own play park at the bottom of Khao Tang Kuan

– took the lift to the top of Khao Tang Kuan to see the Royal Pavilion, the chedi and views of town

– watched another monkey cheekily upend a bin and rake for choice morsels in the rubbish

– ate spicy chili prawns for lunch at Laem Samila (Samila Beach)

– saw the statues of the mermaid and the cat and mouse after whom the two islands off the shore are named.

Unfortunately, the Songhkla National Museum which gets rave reviews in all the travel guides, appears to be closed for renovations.

Today we went back to the Coffee Shop. There was no sign of the rat but I kept my bag off the floor just in case it decided to take refuge there. As I drank my (dire) coffee I browsed through an old airline magazine and came across an interesting section called English for Tourism. The very first phrase sounded more suited to English for Espionage. To me ‘The cold wind is coming from the north-east’ sounds more like something a spy would say to identify himself to a contact than an essential phrase for a Thai tourist!

Useful information

Found it hard at first to find anything – decent shops, guest houses or eating places. Took a bit of wandering around to find stuff. Didn’t help that we arrived at a weekend. We could have used a map! Eventually found night markets for food and slightly better places at the beach. Watch out – they give you extra stuff then charge you and even charge extra for ice.

We paid 450baht for a very nice room with WiFi, bathroom, air-con, telly and fridge. It was worth paying the extra here to get something a bit better. The bathroom was bigger than many of the rooms we’ve stayed in before. The hotel had no sign in English and I only found it as I spotted a ‘Rooms for Rent’ sign at the end of a lane off the street behind the National Museum – same street that Yoma Guesthouse is on.

Hat Yai

Hat Yai was anything but hassle free. If only we had had details of previous visits to refer to we might have avoided this. We have passed through here before and experienced similar hassles. So, the point of this post is to help us if we ever visit Hat Yai again and maybe to help other people who are doing the same.

We arrived on the local bus from Songkhla. Held up by road works and frequent stops to pick up and drop off, in retrospect a minivan would have been a better bet. It would probably have dropped us in the centre of town instead of a good way out. The bus dropped us outside a place where a man came out and said a minivan to Penang would cost 400baht. We were suspicious, this seemed too expensive. We decided to look around but could find no other agencies and no-one who could offer us any help.

We knew we were near the bus station but we didn’t want a government bus as it would drop us at the Malaysian border. We had forgotten that there is a row of travel agencies behind the bus station who are less likely to try to rip you off, having a few
competitors around. These people do minivans all the way to Penang and bus/boat packages to the islands. We ended up paying 280baht for the mini van to Penang.

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