29 May 2012

Tour
Floating Market
River Kwai
Tiger Temple
Train

Up early this morning.  Anna still didn’t get breakfast!  But we were off to Damnoen Saduak the floating market.  We were a bit worried in the morning as a minivan pulled up and grabbed the people besides us.  Apparently it wasn’t our tour.  About ten minutes later a woman appeared and took our ticket.  We joined a larger group where coloured stickers were being handed out.  These were for coordinating the group, although there wasn’t much coordinating going on.  After about half an hour of chaos, we were loaded onto a lot of minivans and off we went.

It was a long drive out of the city, although the distance was less than 80km.  Our driver had an interesting way of dealing with traffic lights.  He would turn left, immediately do a u-turn and turn left again to go back onto the main road.  In this way we left most of the city behind us and entered the realms of the rice paddy’s and coconut plantations.  Our “tour guide” was on the phone most of the trip, and when we got to the market we were dumped out of the bus to be re-united with all the other colour coded tourists.

Anything for sale at the floating markets

Here we were told that we could hire our own longboat (extra) or walk along the sides of the market for about an hour.  We thought the boat was included in the tour.  As there was the choice of a motorised boat or local boat.  Apparently the motorised boat was for going along the canals after the market.  Stingy as we are, we chose to walk and find breakfast.  Most of the stalls were selling the same tourist orientated tidbits.  A lot of clothing, things made from coconuts (Some of there were really nice) and fans, fruit, food etc.

Eggbeater

Stopping for breakfast along the waters edge was nice, as it was cooked for us on a boat.  Although most of the stalls are along side the canal, there were many boats floating on the water selling the same things.  Further along there were stalls only accessible from the water itself, but most of the things on offer there ar the same as elsewhere.  Picking up some fruit we then sat on a half a bridge.  These occasionally stick out over the water, but only go half way.  They are used by people on the boats to get in and out if needed.  It was funny watching old women jumping over the rails, and working their way down poles to the boats.  I will post photos when I get a program to shrink them!

Boating along the canals

Back at the meeting point, we boarded our motorised boat.  These are different to the Lao boats.  They still have the long egg beaters sticking out the back,but have a jet engine attached to it.  Considering how fast they can go, its a bit of overkill.  The cruise was nice, and in full tourist season the markets are massive.  Houses built out over the water, with mailboxes at your landing.  Boat sheds at the sides and old rusty corrugated iron shoring up the sides of the buildings.  Still, you don’t need much for a house, other than four walls, a roof and a boat landing.  As long as its watertight.  Electricity cables strung along overhead, and you can guess about the sewerage.

Waterfront living

On our return to shore, there was more chaos, as some people were going back to Bangkok, others like us were going to the river Kwai and god knew about the rest.  So back in another minivan after moving our bags around and we were off to lunch.
Lunch wasn’t a bad affair with a selection of four dishes arrayed around the long tables.  Fairly sterile, and would have been better at a market stall.  However the tours get their cut for us eating there.  Again chaos for the minivans, and off to Kwai.

Brige over river Kwai

This was a real dissapointment for me.  We had 40min there.  20 for the museum and 20 for the bridge.  We couldn’t even get to the cemetary.  Tours 😦  We decided on the bridge first, as I didn’t want to miss it.  The bridge got bombed just a few times, and the two central sections have been rebuilt since the war with Japanese repartiation money and help?!?  So had to get a photo, and walk along it.  It was a bit disconcerting to see a small brightly painted train engine next to it to ferry tourists from one side to the other.  Alas, tourism kills the very thing people go to see.

Dissapointing museum

The museum was appaling.  A joke in every sence.  We had to pay admission (again not included in the “Tour” and they were very sympathetic to the Japanses, considering the Japanses killed over 80,000 Thais, Burmese, and Malaysians as well  as the P.O.W.’s.  The time that the POW’s were brought onto the bridge was to wave welcome to the allied bombers flying overhead.  An after thought was that it may have been to stop the bombing, and the allies were in the wrong to bomb the bridge with their own men on it.  (The awful arithmetic as someone has called it)

Back to the chaos of minibus hell.  Although we lost more people back to Bangkok, so it was a bit easier.  Onto the Tiger Temple. We had been told to do the day thing there, as you could do a lot more with the tigers without the tourists.  We didn’t listen did we?

Andrew with a tiger cub

At the Tiger temple our ticket was at least paid for, so in we went.  A bit of a walk to the tiger canyon.  This is dug out of the flat landscape, and is used to enclose the tigers during the day.  We hit the que where everyone was lining up to take their photos with the tigers.  You had your free photo with a tiger, or you could pay 1000 baht ($33) to have a group shot.  Stingy Remember?  We waited and expected one photo with one tiger.  So when my guide grabbed my hand and led me off sans backpack, I wanted a good one.

Anna with tiger

The chains on the tiger are about a foot long, and most of them were lazing about.  I was taken to the tiger, and approaching it from behind, crouched down and started stroking the surprisingly course fur.  It didn’t even blink.  5 or six photos later I was led away, expecting to be taken to the exit, I was surprised to be led to another 3 tigers.  The last one was a porno tiger (Bluey, our dog, used to lie on his back with legs spread, exposing himself to everyone, and the tiger was doing the same thing aka porno dog) so I was disappointed when someone hit the tiger to get it to roll over.  Pity.  Walking away we found the baby tiger and got another photo or two with it.  It was cute, and attacking a large seed pod.

At this time we were told to stay in the enclosure, as they were leading the other tigers back up for the night.  As we had 20min to meet up with the tour group we were a bit worried, as it took a long time before you could even see them approaching.  Only to have one stop in front of us and an annoying English volunteer say we could get another photo if we lined up.  No thanks.

Tiger temple bussiness

Overall the Tiger temple was disappointing. We expected a normal Thai Wat, with the monks walking around with the tigers on a leash. There is a Wat, but it is an ugly one hidden away in a corner. In the whole area we only saw 2 monks, but about 40+ “temple helpers”. The ones in pink t-shirts were the people that worked with the tigers, and the ones in green t-shirts were mostly American volunteers/salespersons trying to talk us into spending money on “special photos” and “special evening show” The park was badly maintained and it looked like they are trying to turn it into a fun park : The bathrooms are shaped liked rock formations etc.. It didn’t sit right with me that at a Buddhist temple everything seemed to be about the money…

Back for more chaos with the minivans.

The trip back to Bangkok was long and boring.  A quick shower or two, and we were at the train station.  The booking agent had said the driver would buy our tickets to Ayutthaya and we had an argument at the tiger temple about this, so we were pleasantly surprised when the driver did get us our 20 baht ticket!

As for the “Tour”  it was a massive disappointment.  A Thai tour is apparently just transport to and from the attractions.  There were no explanations of what we are seeing, no history, and no interaction between tour guides and group other than what bus we had to get into.

Thai trains had a reputation for running on time.  No longer.  The train was delayed for half an hour.  A quick dinner and on the train.  over two hours later we had traveled the 80km to Ayuttaya.

We were supposed to be met there to get taken to Baan Eve, our guest house.  A young teenager came up to us and asked us where we were going, so we said “Baan Eve”  Yes.  “Are you from the hotel?”  Yes.  “OK”  He tried to load both our bags on his moto (motorcycle) and didn’t have much luck.  Hummm,  Off he went to get a friend, and we jumped on the back of these two bikes.  Thinking nothing of it after Vietnam, Lao and Cambodia, where it is commonplace.  They drove us a long way.  A bit weird aS we had been told we could walk there.  They took us to the biggest hotel in town.  Opposite the girly bars.  On being told this was the wrong place they drove all around town looking for it.  We had the map, and name, but I don’t think they could read.  After crossing the same bridge three or four times, they stopped to get directions from a tuktuk. By then we had had enough.

They clearly did not know where they were going, they were getting upset and their driving got very dangerous. We decided to leave and try to find our own way. Now they got upset that we were not willing to pay them 100Bath! We thought it was a free ride, organised by the hotel.. and we are not paying for being dropped somewhere in town, nowhere near our hotel!

The tuktuk driver offered to take us for free, but as he was a friend of our bike riders, we did not want to go with him. 2 minutes after we started walking, a tuktuk came up and he took as straight to Baan Eve. He had been told that there were two pissed off tourists walking around with their bags, which was nice of the other tuktuk driver.

Unfortunately our host was already in bed (by now it was 23.15), but still came up to show us the (very nice) room and give us free waters.. Great to finally be there and relax.

AA

28 May 2012

No Breakfast
Tuktuk
Tickets
Hotel
Walk

We were up early this morning to check out the city.
On our way out of the hotel we had the usual, for Asia, “You want tuktuk?”  Unfortunately we said yes.  For 20Baht we thought it was a bargain.  I should have picked up the problem when the person doing the negotiations wasn’t the tuktuk driver.  I am blaming this on jetlag.

The day started out well, our tuktuk driver was nice and drove us to our first Wat (Temple).  The Golden Mount.  Apparently made by Rama the 1st.  A whole heap of logs placed in the middle of a swamp with a hill made over the top.  It has been rebuilt since the 1800’s and is now a proper hill with a lot of concrete.

Anna complained that our first day in Bangkok, and I had still found a hill for her to walk up before breakfast.  It was a nice view as we worked our way up, with lots of bells ranging from big ceremonial gongs through to little individual offering bells.  The shrine at the top of the hill had a massive gold leaf linga/stupa (decorative pointy thingy and Buddha.)

From here we went to a ticket office near the railway station to book an overnight sleeper train to Chang Mai.  After a while, this turned into a day trip to Damnen Saduak (the floating market), the river Kwai bridge, and the Tiger Temple at Kanchanaburi.  From there we were off to another city and then up north to Chang Mai.  Will not fill you in on all the details, so you will have to read up on it over the next 5 days or so.  – OUTCH!  We dont usually do tours, but somehow we ended up with this one.  Not jetlag this time, but missing breakfast.

So, still without breakfast we were off to see the golden Buddha at Wat Traimit.  This is in a large Wat complex with a 5 1/2 ton Buddha at the top made out of solid gold.  This was only discovered about 50 years ago, when moving to a new building by crane they dropped it, breaking off the plaster.
Although there were a LOT of tourists here it was still worth seeing.  The Thai temples are over the top with decorations, glitter and gold leaf.  Broken bits of coloured glass and pottery make up the decorations, with the painted gold everywhere it made the real gold plain by comparison.

Back at the tuktuk, we were driving through the streets, which were getting a lot more active than when we started in the morning, we were to be taken to a place where we would get a free beer.  The land of beer and honey turned out to be an exclusive tailors shop.  Taken up the steps after saying that we didn’t want a suit, we were thrust through the door into the waiting arms of about 3 staff.

I wasn’t having any of this.  Politely saying that we were not interested, even though we could go in sit and talk (I know this trick from Greece and Turkey) and have a free beer, we turned and left.  Working out the scam alluded to this morning, we started to realize that we may have been over charged for our upcoming trip (we are still actively trying not to find out more realistic prices) we wanted to go back to the hotel.  After a quick discussion with the driver we were rushed through the streets, now without conversation back to the hotel.  By this time it was about 2pm!  Anna still wanted breakfast.  I now needed a drink to go with it.  At the hotel we paid the driver his 20 baht, and hoped he got a good commission from the tour agency.

Found a nice street lunch and went for a walk.  The thing with Asian cities is that nobody walks.  ever!  Locals pay about 5 baht per trip in a tuktuk, however as a tourist you pay tourist tax and 40+ baht for the same ride.  This adds up.  $1 a trip is cheap, however 10 trips a day to see 4 things….  On our walk to the centre of the old city we came across a Thai that wanted to talk, he told us that we had been ripped off this morning.  There is a tourist booking centre set up by the government to stop this from happening, but we had been told in the morning that it was only tourist info and couldn’t do any booking there.  Also explained the tuktuk prices, and to only take tuktuks and taxis with yellow number plates as they were government licensed ones.  He also couldn’t believe we were walking!

After crossing a number of major roads (interesting, but not too bad) and a few cannals, that although a bit smelly looked fairly clean of garbage and even had floating plants in them, we made it to the town centre pillar.  (Lak Meuang) This is where all distances are measured from, and is a very special spiritual point in town for the animistic religions (pagan).  Across from there is the imperial palace, and although the king only visits rarely, it is closed off to the public, but we got a good look at its walls as we worked our way around it.

Then into Wat Pho, home of the reclining Buddha.  He is massive.  Big, long, golden, and looks really bored lying there.  15m high 46m long. As we were walking up to below his head we heard a plinking sound.  Plink.. Plink.. Plink. Plink Plink Plink.  Seeing a person there painting the wall, we thought it must be repairs or renovations at the back of the Buddha.  The woman painting the wall was doing very fine delicate work.  Rulers were involved for straight lines, and I swear her brush had only 3 bristles.  Onto the Buddhas feet.  Sticking up with really cool concentric circles for toe prints.  On the pads of the feet were 108 representations of Buddha, mixed in with elephants, dragons and other scenes.

At the back of Buddha,we found the plinking sounds.  You could buy a small dish of coins, and you would throw a coin into a long line of copper bowls.  Each bowl was a different size and made a different tone of plink.

After this we walked back to our street (Khao San) and explored the streets around, had dinner and called it a night.

Last night was fairly peaceful, but around 1am the Karaoke started up.  With how loud it was in our room, I would have hated being there as we were almost deafened.  It was also really annoying, as at the end of the song there would be a long silence.  Almost long enough to get back to sleep, before they started the next song.  The level then was ok, and they would build up the volume to a crashing crescendo at the end.  Just what you need for a 6am start!

AA

27 May 2012

Travel from Yass to Bangkok
Plane jumpstart
Bluey
Alcohol
Drive to Hotel
Dinner

Well, after an incredibly early morning (4am) we were up, gear packed into the car and ready to go.  Dad was on the ball and we left Yass for the foreseeable future.  At least we could take the laptop.  After spending most of the previous night getting it working.

The drive to Canberra wasn’t too bad, and there were only a few patches of fog on the road, although it did look like it was going to set in.  We made good time as there was almost no traffic all the way into the city.  At Jolimont we transferred from the car, said our goodbyes and boarded the bus to Sydney.  So far so good, although it was only early stages yet.

Driving to Sydney was completely uneventful, especially as it is a trip we have both done more than a few times, so we tried to get some sleep.  Considering the bus is more comfortable than the plane, we had a chance there, and managed a fitful doze.  Passing the time this way we made it to Sydney.  Murry’s coaches was a lot better this time round, as our bags both made it through intact.

At the airport we decided to que for our tickets, as there weren’t that many people in front of us it was good timing.  However the timing was too good.  The checkin for our flight wasn’t open yet and we had to wait for about twenty minutes.  So off to get some currency.  This shouldn’t be a problem as there are plenty of exchange places splattered throughout the building.  But they are all the same company.  The Thai Baht wasn’t a problem as everyone had it, but when we asked for Jordanian Dinahs we got blank stares.  Apparently no-one goes there, so they don’t hold the currency?  We were going there, and I am sure we are not the only Australians to go to Jordan.  After the guy rang a few desks we managed to locate the only exchange in the building with Dinahs.  A quick walk over and our problems were solved.
Back to check in as 20min had defiantly passed.  Got our tickets and found out that QANTAS now charges extra for the emergency exits (Premium economy) as well as letting you fly with only one bag in checked luggage.  At least we were prepared for that. (I could say something about the Irish here, but I wont)
Through customs we expected trials and tribulations enough to cause my dreads to fall out, but with a que that moved rapidly and a grin and wave we were through.  (It does help to have no liquids, laptops, explosives or sense of humour!)

After the standard walking,sitting and being bored in the airport we boarded the plane.  I would love to study the dynamics of Aircraft boarding patterns, as we had our seat allocations already, but when it is time to get on the plane, everyone flocks forward juggling for the best position.  Cutting in front of people, making up that extra place so they can be there ten seconds earlier to sit down and wait.  We sat watching this until it was just a walk over, present our ticket and get on the plane.  The other thing I don’t understand is the priority boarding.  First class and business get on at the start.  Fair enough.  However after they have sat down, cattle class is allowed on.  These poor people thst have paid a fortune for their ticket then have to sit there as Parents take their struggling kids past, jostling with three or four bags of carry-on and their duty free shopping.  At the same time as the cattle streaming past to the back of the plane, the hostesses are trying to bring glasses of champagne forward to the privileged.  Wouldn’t it make more sense to load on the cattle while I sit in my nice lounge and not have to watch these antics, or get my head smacked by the fake didgeridoo that some tourist has just bought at the airport?  OK I still wish I was traveling first class, but this does make me feel better when my nose is two inches from the chair in front of me because they put their seat back.

Sitting on the plane waiting for takeoff everything went quite.  They had stalled the engin.  At least it was before takeoff, however how do you jump start a plane?  There was a fault in the electricity supply from the terminal, so I envisioned them jumping into another 747 and driving it round nose to nose.  Getting out the jumper leads to give it that kickstart, and finding that the battery terminals are on the wrong side.  So moving that plane away and driving a baggage cart over to do the job.  Draining the battery of that car the first time you turn over the engine.  Then what? a series of cars all linked together?  No apparently they have a dedicated vehicle that has a massive battery on the back and they use that.  But still, what happens if they then stall after takeoff?

The flight wasn’t too bad for QANTAS.  I was sitting next to a guy from Cairns called Bluey, so had to show him photos of our dog, and we got to talking,  Food came around (Inedible) that was everything you expect from this airline and more.  Packed chocolate was good here.  Then we found out that we were next to the hostesses cabin, so we started ordering the little plastic bottles of wine that came with dinner.  After a few of these, we had to prove that we weren’t intoxicated by counting their fingers each time.  We were usually right.  So in this way the flight passed very pleasantly.

At Bangkok we went to get our visas to find out we didn’t need them, so on through immigration and customs. If we thought Australia was doing well, Thailand is a dream.  We were through there faster than the walk from the plane to get to the line!

On the other side we found a taxi to take us to our hotel.  Driving off I expected more traffic and chaos on the roads.  It wasn’t.  There was a nice new freeway that we cruised along, until we got close to our destination, then weaving through the streets to get to ours.  Finding out that it is a walking street and we were at the wrong end.

There were people everywhere.  Stalls were burgeoning off the curbs to take over the street and hawkers were everywhere.  Tourists were everywhere, and people pushing their street-carts making a way through this chaotic mess.  We had our bags….

It was funny though, as the police started coming up behind us, and everyone desperately started packing up and moving off to the sides to clear the road.  Only to unpack and trade as normal after they had passed.

So here we are.  Bangkok, Checked in and exhausted after a 17+ hour day.  Off for some Dinner.

Catch you all soon.

AA

Pictures will come soon, but with the meltdown of the computer, I have no photo editing programs and don’t want to upload 7mb photos.  We are working on this but it may not happen for a while.

Our First Post!

This will probably be deleted, but here is the first post of the rest of our blog!

At the moment we have just arrived back at Yass after a lightning visit to Abermain in NSW to see an old friend.

However Takeoff is T minus 4 days.  Looking forward to it and will fill everyone in on the details and the blog site as we get better at this.

Anna & Andrew

"AA Hit the Road"

OK, we are cheating for this one. It was taken last year before that big trip