Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Thailand - Bangkok & Chiang Mai

 This blog post will highlight our time in Bangkok and Chiang Mai, Thailand. Our original itinerary from before we left the US had us only spending two days in Thailand. This was because we originally only allocated a month for SE Asia which wasn't too smart. Our revised plans have us spending a month in Thailand. We didn't really have too much of a plan for Thailand until we got to Cambodia and even then it was kind of vague. After a little research we decided to divide our Thailand experience between Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and the beach. I'll take the same format when writing my Thailand blog entries as well. I plan on breaking my entries up to at least two and maybe three. This is something I should have done with other countries such as New Zealand, Japan, & China where I wrote long never ending posts.

The first stop on our journey through Thailand was in the capital city of Bangkok. However, in order to get to Bangkok we had to travel from Cambodia overland. Fortunately it was a pretty smooth experience and inexpensive experience. We took a taxi from our hotel which really turned out to be the car of someone who worked at the hotel to the border. We then walked across the border after being stamped out by Cambodian officials. The border scene was a little crazy but not too bad. A lot of people moving around everywhere. They even have at least one and maybe two casinos on the border that might technically exist between the countries which I thought was a little odd. It was the first time I've actually crossed a border between countries on foot. When we crossed between Israel and Jordan you have to take a bus about a half a kilometer that crosses the Jordan river. Every other border crossing has been by boat, train, or plane. We then took a tuk tuk to the bus station in the town close to the border and were lucky enough to time it just right to board a bus for the 4 hour ride to Bangkok. In all we took 6 forms of transportation but only spent a total of $47 for two people. It was going to cost us $229 per person to fly from Siem Reap to Bangkok when we looked into a couple weeks before so this was a pretty good financial win for us.

row of Buddhas @ Wat Pho

Now that I have touched on the transport on the way in to Bangkok I can now highlight our time there. We spent just a total of three nights in Bangkok. The primary reason is that as we looked at our itinerary we knew that we were flexible and wanted to just try out Bangkok for a few days. If we wanted to we could spend more time there later on during our stay since we fly out of Bangkok to India on the 20th of February. This meant thought that we would try to do quite a bit in somewhat of a shorter time frame from what we're used to in SE Asia. I think we accomplished our goals and saw quite a bit for such a large city that neither one of us had been too.

During our first full day in Bangkok we hit the most popular tourist attractions. We visited the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew which are at the same location. I wasn't too impressed with the Grand Palace since it cost $11 and most buildings were off limits or closed. Wat Phra Kaew was somewhat interesting plus we got to see the Emerald Buddha which is a very special statue in Thailand. We then made our way over to Wat Pho. There are several Buddha statues and stupas located at Wat Pho but it is mostly known for housing the largest reclining Buddha in the world. The reclining Buddha is 15 meters high and 46 meters long. After lunch we took a ferry across the river to visit Wat Arun which is a a 200 year old Wat primarily known for being 66 meters tall. It was a little tricky climbing up it but it did offer some good views of the city. We spent the rest of the day making our way back to the Skytrain after visiting the Khao San Road area which included getting haircuts and purchasing some medications for my foot. We probably both could have waited a little longer to get haircuts but it is in the 90's most days in Thailand and it only cost around $3.50 per person. It was cheaper than China but more expensive than in Laos.

world's largest reclining Buddha - 15 meters high, 46 meters long

We picked up where we left off the next day. We visited the ChatuChak weekend market which is very large. We then hiked over to a former royal palace that was a part of our Grand Palace ticket. We then did a little more walking over to the river and took a river taxi all the way down to Chinatown where we ate dinner and strolled around for a little bit. We then located the subway and took it back to close to our hotel. We walked around just a little bit before finding one of the red light district streets between Soi 22 & 23. We didn't stop or go into any of the bars but just walked through. There is a lot of neon lights and scantly dressed women touting drink specials which I'm sure lead to other activities. It would have been a neat cultural experience to go into one of the bars but I really didn't want to spend the money plus we were both kind of tired after a couple hot full days on the town.

red light district in Bangkok - we just walked through :-)

On our final day in Bangkok we slept in and hung out at our hotel until it was time to leave for our night train to Chiang Mai. Alethea wasn't feeling too well so we decided to stay indoors. My thoughts on Bangkok are that is definitely a city worth visiting. It is a large sprawling city of over 9 million people. It is a good thing they recently built and are continuing to build their public transportation network because the traffic is notoriously bad. It is interesting to see all the modern aspects of a city with all the Wats mixed in with it. We plan on spending a couple more nights in Bangkok before we leave Thailand. There are still some areas of town we plan on exploring before we depart to India.

The next stop for us in Thailand was in the northern city of Chiang Mai. We decided to travel up to Chiang Mai via train. We spent around $20 a ticket to take an overnight from Bangkok. We didn't really have any major issues other than leaving 1 hour late and arriving 2 hours later than scheduled with no announcements as to why. I was a little surprised at this considering all the trains in Vietnam that we took left and arrived exactly on time and Thailand is definitely two or three levels up on Vietnam when it comes to modern infrastructure.

Chiang Mai itself is a rather small city of 170,000 people about 450 miles north of Bangkok. It is an old city that is over 700 years old. There are over 300 Buddhist temples. The city itself is somewhat modern and touristy but also laid back. The city has an old town section surrounded by parts of a brick wall and a moat. Inside the old town section is pretty quiet for the most part while outside the wall there is a lot of traffic and western influences such as Starbucks, McDonald’s, and Pizza Hut but we didn't see a KFC. We originally committed to only 3 nights at our hotel Baan Nud-Kaan but quickly decided to extend our stay to 9 nights. Our hotel was off a main street. It was quiet, plus we liked the owner Ms. Tao. They helped us out quite a bit with our bookings too.

Wat Chian Man in Chiang Mai

In Chiang Mai we slowed our pace down a little but still found plenty of activities to entertain us. We spent our first sightseeing day going on a walking trail we found in an informational book. We visited many Wats within the old city part of Chiang Mai. The first activity we did outside of Chiang Mai was go whitewater rafting. This was a first for me. We went on a 10 km trip that lasted about 2 hours. There were a couple class 5 rapids for those who know anything about rapids (I don't). I enjoyed it for the most part but it took me a while to get comfortable with sitting in the raft and going through the rapids. I also slightly twisted my knee during one stretch when I got pinned backwards while passing through some rapids but it was probably a good thing because it may have kept me from getting thrown from our raft.

us whitewater rafting outside of Chiang Mai

Next activity we did after taking a day off was attend a cooking class. This was the 2nd cooking class that I have participated in on our trip. I didn't really particularly enjoy this one though.. It wasn't the teacher's fault. She is very good and spoke good English. My problem was that it was a little over my head and I felt frustrated. I was under the impression that the class was Ok for novices like me to take and that there would be assistants to help us but this wasn't the case. Cooking is still something I want to be good at but I am very much in the learning stage and need to follow steps in a linear fashion versus watching a demonstration then trying to reproduce what I just saw. It'll take time but I'll get there someday.

Alethea @ a cooking class we took in Chiang Mai

The third activity we did was ziplining. This was something else that I have never done before. We went with a company called Tree Top Asia who advertises under the name Flight of the Gibbons. They have a course about a hour outside of Chiang Mai. The course is up in the hills in a forest with several tall trees to zip between. We spent two hours on their course going from platform to platform. Not sure how many lines we zipped. It was probably around 15 or so. The longest was 800 meters. Many of the platforms were 30-50 meters above ground. We also walked across swinging bridges and repelled down to two platforms. Our program even included a nice lunch and a side trip to a nearby waterfall in addition to transportation. Only slight negative was that the operator was about a hour late picking us up. Apparently, there was some type of accident with one of the vans although we never got a clear explanation. I would like to do this again sometime.

me ziplining 

This wraps up the first half of our time in Thailand. I've enjoyed it so far. Bangkok was a little hot, massive, & a little expensive. Chiang Mai was more like the rest of southeast Asia that I've been accustomed to meaning that it is more laid back and cheap. There are a lot of western tourist in Chiang Mai but it hasn't been too bad. I think every other tourist has been Australian. Australians travel about as much as any other country of people I've interacted with on this trip which is kind of amazing considering how relatively small the population is to other countries. Australia is close to the size of America with only 10 percent of the population.

Thought I would take a minute to include some thoughts on all the unrest in Egypt. I am really not surprised at all by any of it. Of any of the countries we've visited Egypt was the one that I felt something could happen and the one that I've felt the least safe in. Mubarak has been brutal in dealing with political opposition. Some of the tour guides we had in Egypt didn't care for him and some told us how they would love to leave their home country to go somewhere else. It will be interesting to see if they move towards democracy because they've never really had it. They have been ruled by the military since right after World War II and were occupied by Britain, France, & Italy for a couple hundred years and before that when they had kings. It could be kind of messy like in Russia. Anyway, ever since South Africa when a US consulate staff member recommended us to register with the US State Department's travel website I've registered and updated our status at each location, so the US government knows where were at. It is pretty simple and easy to do. You never know what might happen. Thailand has had a few protest over the last few years including a coup in 2008. Their military runs the country here for the most part.

Next up for us is some R&R on the beach. We're flying down from Chiang Mai to the island of Koh Chang in the southeast part of Thailand. We're at least going to stay there for a week. If we like it we'll stay there for another week or move to another island depending on costs before heading up to Bangkok. We don't have too many plans other than relaxing, reading, and maybe some snorkeling. I plan on trying to watch the Super Bowl somewhere. It comes on at 6 am on Monday morning the 7th. I haven't seen a single live snap of football the whole season :-(. Oh well....

Link to photo albums:

Daily Log

Friday January 21st
Walked across border
Took Tuk Tuk to bus station
Purchased bust tickets for 4 hour ride to Northern Bus Station in Bangkok. Only cost $15 for two people. Bus ride was smooth, good seats, even stopped to use bathroom.
Took taxi to Skytrain.
Took Skytrain 11 stops to Nana station.
Walked 1 block to hotel and checked in. Nice room (City Lodge Soi 9)
Ate dinner at local restaurant
Bought beer and candy at local grocery store.
Came back to hotel and caught up on online stuff before going to bed.
Impressed with how smooth all the traveling did. We spent a total of $47 to travel from Siem Reap to Bangkok when it was going to cost us $450 to fly. Glad we did it.

Saturday January 22nd
Long hot day of being a tourist.
Visited Grand Palace – kind of expensive at around $11 USD. Most building were closed or off limits.
Visited Wat Pho – very neat, world's largest reclining Buddha and many other Buddha's. Only cost around $3.
Crossed the river on a 3 Baht ferry to see Wat Arun – large royal pagoda with steep steps, Alethea got dizzy and was slow getting down.
Had trouble getting a taxi and walked 2-3 miles to the National Stadium Skytrain stop. Trains were very crowded.
Ate dinner at local Thai restaurant and then bought beers at grocery store.
Got a haircut for $110 Baht which cost around $3.80.
Stopped at a pharmacist who looked at my athlete's foot and suggested that I have an eczema and that Lamisil is not doing any good. She recommended some pills and cream to treat the inflammation of the skin. She then suggest some drops for my toe nail so it will grow back. I'll detail this out in another document and not in the blog :-)

Sunday January 23rd
Took Skytrain to Mo Chit
Visited ChatuChak Market – massive outdoor market. They like to dress up dogs. Saw some poor dogs.
Took Skytrain a few stops to N3 and walked a few miles to the Vinamek Mansion which is an old royal palace. They make you check your bags and pat you down. Security is tighter than most airports.
Walked a few kilometers to express and took it several stops down to Chinatown.
Walked around Chinatown until we came to a good Chinese restaurant.
Walked around after dinner to explore a little bit. One interesting thing is that after 6 pm the business shut down and the food vendors on the main 1 way 4 lane road take over one lane and put out plastic table and chairs for customers.
Walked to subway station. Took to Sukumvit station.
Walked down to Soi 23 and walked through without stopping the red light district. Pretty glitzy with a lot of neon. To see anything major would have meant going inside essentially a strip club and I didn't want to spend the money or the time since I was tired.
Walked back to our hotel on Soi 9 but stopped at grocery store 1st for some beers.

Monday January 24th
Slept in until about 9 am. Alethea head was hurting.
Ate breakfast around 10 am
Came back to room got online then packed.
Checked out at noon.
Camped out in hotel 2nd floor restaurant since it is over 90 degrees. Don't want to get too hot nor do I want Alethea' headache to get worse.
Ate dinner at hotel.
Took Skytrain one stop to subway which took us to the train station.
Bought groceries at train station. Waited in lobby area for about 45 minutes before boarding train.
Train didn't leave until 8:30 pm. It was supposed to leave @ 7:35 pm. No reason given.
Ate, read until 10 pm ish before going to bed.

Tuesday January 25th
Was awaken by two American woman talking very loudly in the bathroom area of the train around 2:30. They were practically yelling and probably not realizing how much their voice were carrying.
Didn't really fall back asleep until after 4 am. Woke up around 9:30 am. Did hear train attendant selling OJ around 7 am though.
Train arrived in Chaing Mai around 12:45 pm. No reason given for being 2 hours late.
1st taxi\tuk tuk person wanted to charge us 150 Baht to go to the our hotel. We were told 60 and found someone for that price. Tuk Tuk ride tool about 10 minutes
Walked down Soi 1 to our hotel Baan Nud-Kaan. Checked in and rested.
Walked around outside the city walls. Went to local restaurant.
Walked down to street. Alethea checked out a tatoo place.
Went to Night Market Area.
Circled back around to our hotel. Stopped at a market to buy a couple beers before heading back to our hotel.

Wednesday January 26th
Slept until 9 am when Alethea says, “are you going to lay sleep all day?”. Actually didn't sleep well at all. Woke up around 3:30 am and didn't fall asleep until around 5:30 am. Almost got up and read.
Booked activities while in Chiang Mai which including rafting, cooking class, and zip lining.
Dropped off laundry. Was actually washed and dried in a machine this time ($5).
Did a walking tour of Chiang Mai and visited multiple Wats including: Wat Chiang Mai, 3 Kings Monument, Women's Prison, Wat Phan Teo, Wat Chedi Luang, Wat Phra Sing
Ate lunch at a cafe run by women prisoners. It was actually good & cheap.
After the wat tour we went back to the hotel and editing pictures and did some online travel research.
Walked outside the city gates to a Lonely Planet recommended restaurant. It was good and cheap. Total was for two people was under $5.

Thursday January 27th
Woke up with the alarm @ 7:45 am. Ate breakfast @ 8 am. Finished by 8:30 am for morning pickup
Went whitewater rafting for the 1st time today. Took 1.5 hours to drive out to the site after picking everyone up from their hotels. We ate lunch first then broke off into our boats. Alethea and I had a boat to ourselves. Our driver's name was Ping Pong. We asked him if he was joking and he said he wasn't. I don't believe him. We traveled 10 km down the river for close to two hours. The water level is actually pretty low by their standards. They said they would stop in about 2 weeks due to the low water level. It was pretty fun but took me a little bit to get comfortable. My left butt cheek muscle was hurting and then my left knew got stuck and pinned back underneath me plus my lower back hurt a little too. There were a couple class 5 rapids per the guide. I did enjoy despite the discomfort. I would have liked a little more instruction at first vs. getting about a minute of tips and then you're in the boat going downstream. Scenery was pretty plus we saw people out on elephant rides. There were even some baby elephants out there too.
Came back to hotel by around 4 pm. Bought a couple beers from the 7/11 which are everywhere in Thailand then came back to the hotel and washed the shirt I wore rafting and then took a shower.

Friday January 28th
Today was designed as an off day between activities.
Slept in until 9 am.
Switched hotel rooms around 11:30 am to a room with no air. $5 cheaper a night.
Walked over to a shopping area and bought two t-shits for Alethea
Ate lunch at Night Market area.
Alethea got a Tatoo. Took 2.5 hours. Tattoo guy was 90 minutes late.
I went to Starbucks and enjoyed a caramel machiato. 1st Starbucks I went to since June of last year in Seattle.
Walked down to Dutch pub and shared a liter of beer
Went to Duke's and both ate hamburgers. Good but messy
Came back to hotel.

Saturday January 29th
Today's activity was a cooking class. The name of the school was A Lot of Thai. It is supposed to be one of the top rated cooking classes in Chiang Mai. Unfortunately, I did not enjoy it. I was given the impression that it was ok for beginners for me and their would be assistants to help like their was in China. This was not the case. The class was a little too over my head for me and there were not assistants. Alethea had to help constantly or the teacher did. Cooking is something that I want to learn but I have a long way to go. We cooked 6 dishes plus made a trip to a market. Our teacher was very good and spoke good English but she would cook a dish while we watched then we would try it. It was difficult for me because I couldn't remember the steps. I like learning things hands on but I am more of a linear thinker who like to have some instructions then once I master something I can try it different ways. I definitely should not have signed up for the class and paid $38 for the privilege of being humiliating one dish after another. We did get a lot to eat and I think Alethea enjoyed it.

Sunday January 30th
Pretty much an off day.
Slept in until around 8:30 am. There was group of people that came in late making noise that made it a little difficult to sleep but too bad.
Spent most of the morning working on pictures and blogging in addition to finishing the book Eat, Pray, Love. Not bad. Going to trade it for another book within a day or so.
Ate lunch at vegetarian restaurant close to our hotel. Not bad but not all that great.
Spent the afternoon online.
Around 5 pm walked around Sunday Night Market route. Very long market
Came back at hotel around 7:30 pm ish.

Monday January 31st
Today was an activity day. We went zip lining. It was the 1st I've done this. I enjoyed it. The operator was about 35 minutes late picking us up but everything else was ok. We zip lined several stations. Maybe around 18. We repelled a couple times and walked across swinging bridges. Our trip included a lunch which was good and side trip to a waterfall. We were back in our hotel room by 2:30 pm after starting the morning @ 6 am. Name of the program was Flight of the Gibbons. There website is
Alethea took a nap in the afternoon while I sat downstairs next to the hammocks and got online and had my daily beer.
Went to dinner at a De Stefanos. We were in the mood for something not Thai. I had a pizza while Alethea had a Calzzone.

Tuesday February 1st
No plans for today.
Alethea is working on her blog entry for Go Backpacking. Hope everything works out for her on this because this is something I think she is good at (traveling & writing).
Moved rooms from 302 to 305.
Edited my blogs.
Created some lists on Facebook.
Helped Alethea with her blog post assignment
Walked to a restaurant that was highly recommended but it was busy so we went to another that was at a hotel we thought about staying at. It was ok.

Wednesday February 2nd
Spent the morning working on Alethea's guest blogger opportunity with GoBackpacking. I researched how much bloggers get paid and helped proof read the entry. Bloggers get paid around $10 to $200 per blog post with the average being around $25.
Tried to go get a massage at the women's prison in Chiang Mai. They have a program where women who are within 6 mos of release and in good standing are trained to give massaged. Unfortunately, this is popular and when I got there they were already full booked for the day and today is our last full day. Shouldn't have waited until the last day to do this.
Came back to hotel and drank a cold one.
Went to dinner at place called The Riverside. It was a pretty good hike but the food was good. Little expensive. Total was $15 by far & away the most expensive meal we've had in Chiang Mai. 

Thursday February 3rd
Plan for this day is to travel via two flights from Chiang Mai to Koh Chang. Should be interesting once we get to Trat as we have to find a minibus to take us all the way to our hotel (Penny's Bungalow Resort -