Category Archives: Thailand

Bangkok, Thailand to Penang, Malaysia

7/18 – We took the sky train and the underground metro across town to get us to Bangkok’s main train station at Hua Lumphong in time to board our mid-afternoon train.

 

The reminder posted in the station’s restroom, which tickles me every time I see it!  We’ve encountered similar reminders throughout Asia.

 Jim had booked our tickets a week in advance to assure we would get an air conditioned car and lower berths on the 22 hour sleeper ride. 

   

We will miss Thailand!

On board, we met an American expat named Tom, who’s lived here for eight years.  He said he moved to Thailand because Miami was too cold!  

After a tasty dinner in the dining car and a peaceful night’s sleep on the rocking train, we arrived at the Malaysian border by mid-morning, and we all got off for our exit and entry stamps.  We don’t need a visa for Malaysia, and can stay for up to 90 days.

The train ride ended on the mainland in Butterworth, where we caught a ferry across the Straits of Malacca to the island of Penang. 

   

Georgetown is the big city here, full of shiny buildings and big shopping malls.  We are not staying in Georgetown, however, so as soon as we got off the ferry we boarded the 101 bus, which we rode for an hour and a half to the little town of Teluk Bahang, home of Penang National Park.  

  

We are staying at the Amal Inn for the next week, very convenient for exploring the jungles of Malaysia’s top nature park.   

 
Malaysia has Chinese, Indian and Malay cultures living in harmony, with three different styles of food and religion.  Today we heard the Muslim call to prayer for the first time since we left Turkey.  The town is small, but the park is huge!  The western alphabet is used here, and many of the signs are repeated in English, so we should be able to navigate easily here.  We’ve been told that Malay food is great!  Tomorrow we will explore. 

    
 

Bangkok, Thailand – Wat Pho and the Temple of the Dawn

7/17 – Today we took a ferry across the canal to visit the Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho, a tourist destination that just can’t be missed.  As with other wats, I found myself more attracted to the guardians outside the temples than to the Buddhas within. 

    
    
    
   

We waited on a long line for the opportunity to see the Reclining Buddha, a statue made of brick and plaster, covered in gold leaf, with foot soles inlaid with mother-of-pearl.  He sure is big! 

His feet:

  The back of his head:
His serene face:  
 
The long view:  

The wat also contained a school: 

   
And a sacred bodhi tree, started from the one Buddha sat under to attain enlightenment: 

 
Heads of state who have visited Wat Pho are showcased in a gallery.  Barack and Hillary were here! 

 

We rode the ferry back over the canal to the Temple of the Dawn. 

   
Here we saw some lovely gardens:

    
   
And some lovely temples. 

   
At lunch, we met Olivia, a pre-med student from North Carolina, and her Canadian friend, who are studying in Singapore for a semester.  So nice to spend time with someone who lives so close to home.  A beautiful day!

  

Back in Bangkok, Thailand 

7/15 – After a month at the beach, we are back in busy Bangkok.  While we are here, we need to purchase some things we couldn’t get on Koh Chang – Jim’s medicine, dental floss, rechargeable batteries for my camera and a new battery for my watch.  We found a pharmacy right down the street, then asked our hotel lady where batteries could be purchased.  Her answer, of course – the mall!  A taxi ride got us over to the modern part of town.  We walked among familiar shops, including a Dunkin Donuts and a KFC.   Did I take pictures?  No – you know what a mall looks like!

The lower level had a fresh food court, and there we saw a lady selling durians.  Now, you will remember that durian is either the king of fruits, or the smelliest fruit ever, depending on who you ask.  A notice on our hotel wall reminded me that I promised to try some. 

 

Now, we have been keeping our eyes open for a chance to score some durian, but unlike other fruits, which the street vendors are happy to cut up and sell, we’ve only seen durians for sale whole and unopened.  We don’t want to bring a whole one home and take a chance of stinking up our room.  All I want is a little bite!  So here at the mall, imagine my surprise to see durians opened and sold by the piece!  What’s more, the lady has a plate of durian pieces, and is offering samples.  This is the moment I’ve been waiting for!

 

I bent down and sniffed the durian skin – nothing.  I took a sample and sniffed it in my hand – nothing.  I placed it in my mouth and… yum!  It tastes very faintly like a pineapple, only creamy instead of fiberous.  Sorry to disappoint, but I don’t know what the “stink” is all about.  Maybe it gets smelly if you leave it out?  Let it get overripe?  If anybody knows, please share.  As far as I can tell, durian = nice fruit.

We walked all around the mall, surrounded by “stuff”, but after getting our batteries, couldn’t think of a single thing we wanted to buy, so hopped in a taxi and went back to the non-tourist side of town.

We walked down the street outside our hotel, looking for things to buy for supper.  So much variety! 

    
    
    
 

I’m partial to the Chinese steamed dumplings. 

 
We bought a bunch of stuff and had a smorgasbord feast, until I found a whole chicken foot in my ginger chicken and rice.  Gave Jim the foot – there are some things I just don’t need to try!
7/16 – The other thing we decided to do in Bangkok was to get Jim a new set of hearing aids.  We understand that we will save several thousand dollars here, rather than waiting til we get home.  I located an audiologist who was recommended and spoke English, and made an appointment.  The office is more than a taxi ride away, so we got directions for the Sky Train to take us there.

The Bangkok Sky Train is an elevated railway, fast and modern.  Like other metros we’ve seen in Asia, there are plexiglass walls that prevent the crush of people from pushing folks over the edge onto the tracks.  Like others we have ridden, the process was easy, from purchasing tickets, to changing trains, and getting off at the right stop.  Stops were announced in both Thai and English.  Easy peasy.  Happy to say that people queue up politely here, like in Japan, and don’t push and shove, like in China.

 
Jim got a thorough hearing test, and an extensive tutorial on how to use his new state-of-the-art hearing aids.  A productive morning!  

 

Koh Chang to Bangkok, Thailand

7/13 – As we wind down our last days on Koh Chang, here are some more pics of our adventures:

On one of our walks, we stumbled on a posh resort with a helipad and other things for the very rich.  We opted not to pay the entrance fee to tour the resort (see rich tourists in their natural habitat!), but did take some pics of the elephant statues just inside the gate.  

 
We stopped to have lunch at a roadside stand on the road to the resort- barbecued chicken wings, sticky rice and spicy shredded papaya salad.  The road doesn’t get any traffic except from the workers on their way to and from the resort. The proprietor had no English, but we let her know the food was delicious! 

 

This is called “hairy fruit”, or rambutan.  You slice open the hairy skin and discard it to find the sweet, grape-like fruit inside.  The fruit is just a thin layer over a very large pit, so bite down carefully!

   

7/14 – We woke early to get on the minibus to go back to Bangkok.  One ferry ride and nine hours later, we walked, exhausted, into our hotel.  Bangkok is one huge traffic jam, and the ride that was supposed to take four hours took more than double.  Our driver asked us to direct him to the hotel (!), then could not follow the directions on our GPS.  After the third try, we got out and walked.  Only a few days here, then we catch the train for the 24 hour ride to Malaysia.  Back on the road again!

Koh Chang, Thailand – When Monkeys Attack!

7/6 – So, here we are for a lazy month on a tropical island.  The days blend together, with walks in the mornings, swimming in the afternoons, and sea gazing in the evenings.  We read for hours every day, thanks to Overdrive and Kindle.  We are taking advantage of the great wifi to catch up on Netflix – we’re halfway through the third season of House of Cards.  We talk to tourists as they come and go – most are from Germany and Scandinavia.  We eat at little open-air restaurants – our resort has the best one, the Bamboo Hut.  Nothing happens here, and that is okay with us.  

 One morning, we hiked over to the Bang Bao fishing village to get some supplies. We bought some groceries, including a bunch of the little, sweet bananas we like so much. As we walked back toward our beach with our plastic grocery bags, we spied some monkeys by the side of the road. Please excuse the fuzzy shot, but how often do you see a monkey on a motorbike?  This monkey will become significant in a minute…

   

I joked to Jim that the monkeys were waiting for him to offer them a banana. All of a sudden, Jim yelled and swung the plastic grocery bag, which now had a big monkey attached, holding on to the bananas with all four feet and screeching! OMG! He was trying to steal our bananas!  I wish I could say I provided some assistance in fighting off the attacker, but truth to tell, I dropped my bag and ran backwards, leaving poor Jim to deal with the monkey.  He was not cute, and looked a lot bigger up close.  Jim kicked at it once as he dropped the bag, then kicked it again before the monkey let go of the bag, and scurried back to the other side of the road to join his mates. I was still yelling OMG! while checking to see if Jim had been scratched or bitten – who knows what diseases monkeys carry?  Jim was okay.  The big monkey hunched on the other side of the road with his buddies, hissing at us. He was mad!  I was afraid he would run at us again, so I raised my arms up over my head (making myself appear larger – I think I read this in an article about what to do if attacked by a bear) and hissed right back at him.  He and his monkey gang stayed on the other side of the road, and we power-walked home, pumped with adrenaline, Jim looking forward, and me looking back.

Sorry to say, there is no photographic evidence of this incident.   After the blurry pic, I totally forgot to preserve any part of this story for posterity, so here is an Internet pic of hissing monkeys: 

 

Here is the sign at our village that someone must not have heeded: 

 

See?  Didn’t I tell you this post would be exciting?

Koh Chang, Thailand – Bang Bao Fishing Village

7/2 – Every few days, we put on our shoes and walk the three kilometers to the nearest little town, Bang Bao, just for something to do.

 

Here there is a single street with several ATMs, a 7Eleven, and a pier crammed with tourist shops and restaurants.   

    

There are signs here in Russian, a testament to the Russian tourists who used to visit here. Since the decline of the ruble, the Russians aren’t traveling here anymore, and local businesses lament this loss. 

 
There’s a Rastafarian influence here, with several shops and restaurants.  

    
There’s a Turkish restaurant here – go figure! 

 

There is a wat here, but nobody was home except this guy: 

 
The pier is lined with big boats to take tourists fishing, snorkeling or scuba diving. 

    
 

The pier ends in a lighthouse, beautiful against the clouds.

   
From the end of the pier, we can look across the gulf, back to our bungalow.   Can you see it?


The water is turquoise and so clear! 

 

 I promise, there will be some action in my next post – stay tuned!

 

Koh Chang, Thailand

6/26 – We’re settled in at our waterfront bungalow on the southern island of Koh Chang.  We swim in the Gulf of Thailand (our beach is called Tranquility Bay), we read, we gaze out at the boats and the changing tides.  The crew rakes the beach every morning to keep it pristine, and tends to the tropical flowers throughout the day. 

    
    
  

 Our home-sweet-home.  The geckos scurry up and down the walls at night, chirping and keeping us bug- free.

 

The trees provide plenty of shade, right up to the water’s edge:   

There are three dogs that live here and keep the guests company. 

      

In the morning, the tide recedes, and exposes the barnacle encrusted dark rocks below.   Jim cut his foot on his first swim, before we realized the rocks were there.  Now we swim very carefully in the clear channel that is rock-free.

   

We are technically in the “wet” season, but we haven’t seen much rain.  Sometimes the clouds turn gray and we get a cloudburst, then the sun returns.  The temperature is in the 80s every day – the blistering heat is no more. 

 Our consciousness has slowed down, and we are relishing this opportunity to just be. 

  
I’ll check back when we have some news!

Koh Kong, Cambodia to Koh Chang, Thailand 

6/22 – We arranged transport over the Thai border with our Koh Kong hotel. A posh air conditioned van picked us up and delivered us to the border, where people pushed handcarts of goods and produce across the border.

 

Our van driver put stickers on our shirts and escorted us to the border, where the stickers identified us to the van driver on the Thai side.  We are back in Thailand for another 30 days.  When we were here in April, we explored the northern part of the country.  Now we will spend a month on the vacation island of Koh Chang, home of white sandy beaches and azure seas.  Koh Chang means Elephant Island, as it is shaped like an elephant ear.

 Another posh van, and a two hour drive got us to the ferry terminal.  We watched as the ferry pulled away from the dock, so we will have to wait a half hour for the next one.   

 

We shared the van ride with Kennedy Smith, a Scot who spends half his time here.  He loves the climate and the food, and has a Thai girlfriend.  (Newsflash:  if you’re an old white guy looking for a pretty young girlfriend, Southeast Asia is the place for you.  I stopped counting all the old men with sweet young Asians clinging adoringly to their arms.). Kennedy told us about the different beaches, and to stay away from the ‘walking street’ where the prostitutes were located.  The ferry ride took about a half hour. 

  

Koh Chang, here we come!

 

Our van ride was supposed to include a drop off at our hotel, but when we told our driver where we were staying, he added $15 to the fare.  We chose the most isolated beach at the end of the island, far from the other towns.  A half hour after dropping Kennedy off at his place, on a single lane road with exciting hairpin turns, we reached Klong Koi village.  

 

Where was our place?  We shouldered our packs and walked down the beach, as there is no road (and no sign!) for the Bangbao Beach Resort. 

    
 
So now we are settled in our cozy cabin for the next three and a half weeks.  We have air con, a good hot shower, and amazing wifi, considering where we are.  The best restaurant in the village is 20 steps away, and the clear waters of the Gulf of Thailand are right outside our door.  I think we’re going to like it here!

   
 

Kep to Koh Kong, Cambodia 

6/20 – Time to press on:  our 30 day Cambodian visa is about to expire, and we have set our sights on a Thai island that several travelers have recommended to us.  Our first step is to get from Kep to Koh Kong, the nearest town to the Thai border.  We purchased minibus tickets from the travel agent at the beach in Kep, and showed up at 7:15am the next morning for our minibus, which arrived a half hour later (no worries – bus times are merely suggestions here).  We made a stop in Kampot to pick up more passengers, then another stop after all the seats were full, then another!  We ended up with 13 people in a van with 8 seats – the two youngest backpackers were invited to sit with the luggage (our driver called these the VIP seats), and everybody else just squeezed together for the four hour ride without air conditioning. I had time to reflect that this was how I envisioned all our travel in Asia would be, and how amazingly modern most of our transport has been.

Koh Kang is a harbor town, right on the border of Thailand.  It is not a tourist town. 

 

We walked down to the water to watch the fishermen at work. 

   

This is definitely not a beach for swimming! 

 

There are wide promenades and statues that hint that this town once positioned itself as a place for visitors, but the sidewalks are being reclaimed by the local flora, and the area has not been maintained.

    

A schoolyard with statues: 

    

On to Thailand!

  

Ishiyama, Japan to Bangkok to Siem Reap, Cambodia

5/22 – Our stay in Japan was too short. Today we took the train back to Osaka, where we met Jim’s friend Carl for breakfast. Then it was on to the Kansai Osaka Airport where we arrived at noon. What to do until our flight at midnight? We went back to the posh airport hotel. They have a huge lobby with couches, easy chairs, strong wifi, and a piano that plays by itself 24/7. We settled in for a long afternoon and evening. I got a whole book read!

Midnight flight back to Bangkok, Thailand, then a layover from 4am until our Siem Riep flight at 10am. We got to see the sun rise from the Bangkok observation deck.image

It was nice to fly during daylight. Pretty clouds and blue sky.image

Getting off the plane in Siem Reap, the heat and humidity smacked us right in the face. Couldn’t wait to get back into shorts and sandals. The airport is very Asian.image

We got our visas at the airport, where the $30.00 payment was requested in U.S. dollars. As we only had Thai baht, we paid the equivalent of $35.00 each. Bring dollars if you travel here – the Cambodians use their own money as change only. 1000 riel is worth 25 cents. All prices are given in dollars, and the ATMs dispense dollars too. It’s been a while since we’ve seen Andrew Jackson on a $20!

We got a tuk-tuk ride into town, and passed several luxurious resort hotels, which look out of place next to the little shops and shacks on the dusty street. Due to its proximity to the Angkor Wat temples, Siem Reap hosts over two million tourists a year, and accommodates all comfort levels.image

Now we are settled in at the Banyan Leaf Hotel, with its lovely pool and sumptuous breakfast buffet, all for $20.00 a night. We had a lovely supper for $1.50, and a beer for 50 cents. You could live here forever!image