16 June 2012

Arrive in Bangkok
Weekend Market

Sleeper bunk. Not bad but bring an eye patch

Again we wake up on the train. It is hard not to.  About six in the morning the hawkers come on board walking up and down yelling out what they have for sale.  People start moving about and the Thais get their beds remade to chairs. Not too bad a night. The train is a few hours delayed, but this time we don’t care much, as we have not much planned for our last day in Bangkok.

We drop our luggage across the road from the railway station at a very friendly coffee shop. We are hungry so have breakfast there. As Andrew had 1 beer too many on the train, we finally gave in and had an American breakfast. A bit of grease, bacon and eggs seemed more attractive than noodles again.. The coffee shop owner was wonderful, supplying us with free teas and massive amounts of free fruit.

Where was that stall again?

We thought the weekend markets might be a nice end for us in Thailand. Yet another Market, but this one is supposed to be special.  Maybe pick up some cheap shopping. The markets are north of downtown Bangkok. We went by public transport, as the metro station is around the corner. It is a fairly new system and really easy to figure out. We just took one line from one end to the before last station at the other.
We were expecting a standard Thai market, just a lot bigger. There are supposed to be 15.000 stalls. As it turns out, most stalls there are proper little shops. Well maintained and decorated.  Each has its own individuality and personality.  A bit of normal market stuff, cheap clothing, toys etc., but also a lot of young designer gear, paintings, sculptures and other artsy-fartsy stuff. It had a really nice feel about it. We picked up a few pieces of clothing, but no big items, as we can’t travel with them now.  Having said that, every postal agent and freight company in the world was represented, and if we were serious it would have been easy to get that 5 metre statue of a giraffe back to our Wharehouse in Yass (Mum & Dad, be warned there is a massive buddha’s head on its way 😉 )
Lunch was easy. The middle of the markets is one big foodhall. You find an empty seat and within a few minutes the standard fried rice will arrive.

For dinner, we decided to splerge and eat at the nice restaurant around the corner from the coffee shop.  It was a really nice meal, and we arrived just as the rain started.   And it pored.  Still, the shower was over by the end.  We also found out that where we had eaten was the restaurant attached to the dive of a hotel we had stayed in before we went south! It must have been under different management, as it was fantastic.
Having now discovered the MRT, we decided to use it to get to the airport, as seeing about a quarter of the market had tuned into an all day event. This was a bit trickier as we had to change lines. We had to go above ground, cross the railway tracks, a big road and some construction work to get to the station. There we took the express straight into the international airport. It all went a bit quicker than expected, and we arrived before the checkin counter was even open.  Although we were not complaining.

We did the standard checkin, passport check, scan etc, which went really quickly and efficiently.  Then we went looking for diner. Food is always expensive at airports, but here it gets a bit ridiculous. Meals that in town are about 40 Baht, start here at 200 Bath! We grab a sandwich… From Subway.  I know. Still, it was half the price of a fried rice or noodles.  There is something to be said for the set prices of the big chains.
Boarding into the plane is a bit delayed, but we are finally allowed on. We sit there for a while and take off.  Knowing the reputation for middle eastern airlines we were expecting a lot from Royal Jordanian Airlines.  Even if it is a partner with QANTAS.  It wasn’t the worst, but is on par with our great Australian airline.  All in all it was a boring plane ride. Not as good as we were hoping from Royal Jordanian, but not bad.


15 June 2012

Back to Trang
Walk around

Up at 6.30 to be ready for our moto pick up for the 7.30 ferry. Early..

Again issues with Language.  It is quite amazing how our hostess has these issues.  This time it was over our transport back to the barge.  This is supposed to have been organised and paid for when we booked.  However as we hadn’t booked the return ticket through her, she wouldn’t supply the ride.  After having to make a bit of an issue about it, she did organise for someone from the ferry to come pick us up.
We make it there just fine and watch the locals load on their latest catch. For the markets in town most likely. After that the motorbikes get on and all other goods. The passengers then scramble over and through all this to make their way down stairs for a seat.
We have a prepaid voucher for the ferry and the drive back to Trang in a minivan. At the end of the ferry trip, they take this voucher off us. Leaving us wondering how we will then get a minivan. We have already resigned to having to pay for the minivan again, as we have no proof of payment anymore, when our bungalow lady shows up. (apparently she was on the same ferry) According to her, the driver knows and will come to get us. Ok, we don’t really believe much of her anymore though.. We are proved wrong to be so suspicious, when 10 minutes later our bus appears and the driver does know. All is good. We are back in Trang at about 9.30. We have a long day to go, our train doesn’t leave till 17.30.

We can leave our bags at the agent we booked our island through and set of to explore Trang. This town is famous for its coffee, so that’s our first stop. Trang has a very mixed population, chinese/thai/malay/indian/etc. The chinese do proper filter coffee. So far most coffee in Thailand has been instand nescafe. Andrew was very happy with the chinese brew. It helped to wake us up.
Trang is not that big and pleasantly average. Some older buildings, a lot of newer ugly stuff. Pretty soon we of course hit the markets. Fruit, veg, dried fish things and all the other unrecognisable things the Asians like to cook with.
Here a lot of shopfronts have a birdcage hanging with a “good luck” birdie. We had seen this a lot in Cambodia, but not so much yet in Thailand.
We come across a lot of shops, a Wat, and for the first time quite a few churches. We also visited a Chine temple, a joss house. This one was Beautiful. It was obviously old and the people there where very proud of that. At least a hundred years. The place had a nice feel about it. Still very painted up and heavily decorated, but because of the age and lack of repainting, it all look at little less garish and more friendly. Also we had a bit of trouble figuring out what they actually they worshipped here. There were buddhist statues mixed in with Hindu ones, and beside that there seemed to be a lot of ancestor worship.

We had been walking now for a few hours, we are starting to look out for lunch/dinner. Our stomaches are a bit off from some island food, and this is making us very picky. A lot of foodstalls here precook everything and keep it for hours on end. This is the type of meal we had on Koh Mook, that we blame for our quiziness now. We just want some thing freshly cooked, a bit safer… Maybe a fried rice or something? This turns out to be hard to find. We have made our way all around town, back to the train station when we finally find a decent place. By now we are hungry. We wolf down this meal and get one to go for on the train.

We pick up our bags, board the train and it leaves on time!
We do the same thing as last time, and head for the dining car for a beer, when our seats get turned into beds. After a beer or two and a couple of games of backgammon, Anna decides to turn in. Andrew stays for one more beer and a bit of karaoke with the train staff.

14 June 2012

Sleep in
Walk up hill
“Snorkel” Beach
Walk over rocks

Today we slept in. We have a quiet island day planned.  This was why we were here in the first place.

We picked up some snorkeling gear and were heading for the next beach over. It was interesting that yesterday our hostess had trouble with us asking for snorkels, but today after having booked the boat trip they appear without incident (for a fee).  We were told it should be easy to walk over the rocks along the coast from our beach to get there. It is supposed to have great snorkeling.

We set off, but pretty quickly realised that it was not going to be an easy walk. The rocks are jagged and pointy, with the water coming right up to them.  We managed to make it past the first cliff. Here it becomes apparent that the beach is further than we thought, and we wont be able to get there without getting seriously wet. There must be an easier way. People do go to this beach.. There was two options.  Swim right out past the rocks, or go inland.  We decide to go a bit inland and see if we can make it through the jungle. There are some tracks so we are hopeful. They mostly turn out to be for the rubber plantation we are walking through. The locals working along the way seem a bit surprised to see us, and the dogs didn’t like strangers. Asking, we are told to just follow the path. The path is sometimes very hard to find. It is all overgrown and since we are now going steep up hill, also a bit slippery. We are in our flipflops (thongs) and these are not the greatest shoes for this. We are getting creepers stuck between our toes and spiders up our pant legs.

Once at the top, we think, we might be able to see easier where we are going. unfortunately at the top the rubber trees run out, and so do the faint tracks we had been following. Now we are making our own way down. It is actually better than going up hill. After a while we can clearly hear the surf. We seem to be running out of hill though. We are  starting to think that this beach might have a cliff side and we still wont be able to make it. A bit depressing, because that would mean going all the way back up and over again. Lets just push through and see. We find a gully going down and decide to follow that. This leads us straight to the beach. Yay! This bit does not look very inviting. No sandy beach, just sharp rocks. We do some more rock climbing, till Andrew sees a place where the rocks look smoother and he decides to have a go. He snorkels about a bit before coming back in. That’s tricky with the rocks, but he makes it with only a few small scrapes and managed to completely miss the oyster beds. No fish..
Where we are now, we have a clear view of the coast line and there is no sand beach. This side of the island is only rocks. Not suitable for snorkeling. It may be, but it is hard to get out far enough to find out.  Swimming back in was quite difficult as the tide was pulling you back out.  Andrew was not keen on going too far from the coast just in case anything happened.  Even then without knowing exactly where to go, you could be a few metres from the best reef in the world and still miss it.
We made the most of it by search the beach for all the shells. There are quite a few interesting and beautiful ones around. There is also quite a bit of garbage at the high tide mark. Lots of lost flipflops..  It could be a graveyard for single thongs in places.

When we’re done we take on the rocks again. We really do not want to go back over the hill and since we are now wet from swimming anyway, we might as well. A few tricky bits, but we made it through just fine. The most interesting things we got to see were a few silverfish type things running around the rocks, crabs, and little fishies.  Some of these fish could jump, and if you startled them, the fish would use its front fins to launch itself out of the water and into the next pool.  The best thing had to be the sea cucumber.

Back to our hut for a relaxing afternoon. As promised we went back to the Hilltop for dinner, but as we are leaving early tomorrow we had not much time for chatting.

13 June 2012

Book Boat
to Pier
Boat Broke
Emerald Cave
Koh Kapang snorkel
Back and town walk

Today we decided to give in and book a completely overpriced long tail boat to do some sightseeing. As we are stuck on the island, the locals have figured out you can basically charge anything, and even in low season there isn’t much haggling possible. The lady at the front desk booked us a boat for pick up at the nearest beach for 9.45, to take us to the Emerald Cave and then to the nearby island Ko Kapang for some snorkeling.

We grab the stuff we want to bring, and wait patiently at the beach. The boat is about half an hour late, when a guy from our bungalows shows up with his moto. Apparently the waves are to big, and we need to go to the other side of the island, to take the long boat from the pier. The waves are not that big.. but ok. We load in and scooter across.
Our long boat is a pretty standard one, and we are happy it has a roof, as we were a bit worried about getting burned. We are in and ready to go. we wait.. We look at the crabs climbing the pier.. We wait. What are we waiting for? We ask the young teenager (our driver we presume) why we are not going yet. He does not reply. We ask if there is snorkeling gear in the boat for us to use. He is starting to look confused. Ok.. he does not speak english at all. Suddenly our motorbike guy’s head pops up, and he will be our translator. “Where do you want to go?” Wait a sec, we thought everyone knew the plan, as there had been multiple phone calls between our hostess and the boat, last night and this morning. We talked him though what we were expecting, and he told our driver in Thai. There seemed to be a problem with visiting the cave, due to the “big” waves. And the snorkeling was not a good idea, as the water was not clear. What are we doing here then?? As by now it is mid morning and we don’t just want to go back, we ask if we can just go and try anyway. everybody seems okay with this, but we are still not leaving. After a bit a twenty year old guy enters the boat and it becomes clear that he is our driver. He has brought fuel and the snorkeling gear. Yay! We are off!

Pass the Hammer please.
What? Its still on the beach?

We make it out about 200 metres, when the boat stalled. (Oh, this day is not going well) There seem to be some issues with the fan belt. A few false starts, a bang or two with a hammer, and our crew decides to go on without a fanbelt, as it is the only way.
We cruise along side the island admiring the steep rock formations. Every now and then we got to see the very rare and elusive Thai Walking fish.  This is related to the flying fish, but instead of jumping through the air, it walks along the water.  The first one we saw jumped up and used its tailfin to walk along the wavetop for about 10 metres.  This was brilliant.  The second repeated this trick, then jumped through the air, landing on its fins and continued on again.

When we get close to the Cave we start seeing all the other tour boats. We had not expected this, as our island is mostly deserted. These are people taking tours from the mainland. We jump in the water wearing lifejackets. Have you ever tried swimming with an oversized lifejacket? Floating is good, but it is hard work swimming. It takes a while, but we make it to the cave entrance. The water level is high. During low tide the longboats go though the 80 metre cave, but at the moment there is barely room for your head. Anna decides against going in, as she is worried she will knock her self out hitting her head against the rocks with the next big wave. She stays to bob around. Andrew and our young guide are heading in. Unfortunately our guide did not bring a torch and feels it is too dangerous to go though without light. He really should have thought about this sooner..
So we did not get to see the Emerald bit, but it is supposed to be a beautiful little lake at the end of the tunnel. It gets its name from the colour of the water.

Looking good down there

Our long tail moves onto Koh Kapang. The most beautiful island around. This is the best snorkel spot. There are quite a few big fishing boats around, and the deserted island turns out to have a big resort on it. A bit less idyllic then we thought. But we came to snorkel, and under water should be good.
When we jumped from the boat the water was murky and we couldn’t see anything. We decided to try closer to shore. Suddenly there was a massive school of little yellow fishies! Anna had some issues with the snorkel mask and went back to the boat to try a different set.


The coral was not very colourful, but there were fish everywhere. We saw clown fish, gropers, cucumbers, yellow fish, green fish, silver fish etc. Giant clams on the bottom and sea-urchens.Some of the fish got a bit fresh and started nibbling at us.

We made it back to the boat, and although the cave had been disappointing, the snorkeling made it all worth it.

Island Life

The boaties dropped us between our beach (hat farang) and the pier, in the mangroves. As we are close to town, we decided on a walk and start looking for lunch. A lot of places look like restaurants, but as it is low season, they are all closed. The town itself is not too bad. Most of the houses are built on pillars and it looks like the big tides come in a long way. Unfortunately under (and around) the house is where the people keep their rubbish. It is kinda reminding us of Mimili. Not sure if they even have a garbage collection service on this island. And looking around, some of these Muslims are very heavy drinkers 🙂

We started asking around for a place to eat, and it turns out that everything is closed for off season.  There is one place open.  The Hilltop.  However we did find another place that was serving pre cooked food.  We took the risk.  A Thai Green Curry which was spicy but good.  Then walked back to our side of the Island.

Here is where we find the sunburn.  Andrew had gotten dressed and put sunscreen on.  However took his shirt off to snorkel.  Big mistake.  His back was as red as a canned beetroot with no cream or anything.  Still it was worth it.

We had stopped in at the Hilltop to see when they closed as we walked back.  Apparently they are open for dinner.  We were just being fed a line to get us to eat at another place (wich was good), so we decided to go back there.

A fantastic feed with a hostess that was really friendly and enjoyable company.  She was complaining that people only come from the town side of the island (paying 50 baht each, each way) and no one walked up from our side.  We explained to her that we were told it was only open for lunch. She was not impressed.  There was also another couple that were staying in the main resort next to town there.  Even the restaurant in this resort was closed.  It was a very pleasant evening.

To top it off, we had picked up a bit of grog before we went out there.  There was a clear spirit that is probably made from rice.  This is a Thai alcohol that we had to try (we have been drinking Hong Thong, a local whiskey).  It was very hard to drink straight so we started mixing it with softdrinks.  There were a few combinations to try from Red to fluorescent green.  You can see the results in the gallery.

12 June 2012

Arrive in Trang
Book to Koh Mook
Bus and Ferry
Swim Beach

Thai Transport.  Gurr.  The train was late.  Thais used to have good transport.  They ran on time and everything.  Now they don’t.  Not as bad as Cambodia, but still.  We were supposed to arrive at 8:00.  Right.  We were in after 10:30.  Bleary eyed and in desperate need of a toilet.  This train wasn’t even the worst in that respect.

At the station we were pulled up straight away by a woman with a booking agent and guest house.  We were still delirious from the train ride so we followed her.  Every instinct that was still working was saying “RUN!”  but no.  We followed her to the guesthouse/agent.  At least it wasn’t that far away.  Here we were subjected to the where are you from?  What are you doing in Trang?  Can I help you?  She pulled out her maps, and our plans on going to Krabi flew out the metaphorical window.  Did we say we wouldn’t be suckered into another tour again in Thailand?  Now we know why the trains are late.  Make them vonerable.  Oh well, whats done is done.  We booked a hotel on Koh Mook.  It wasn’t where we wanted to go. Andrew had wanted to show Anna the island mountains sticking out of the water.  Krabi is the spot for this.  Yet here we are booking three nights in a resort owned by a foreigner.  Hadfarang Bungalows.  Foreigner Beach Bungalows.  They looked ok, and where 300 baht a night.  This is reasonable.  It is a two minute walk from the beach.  Has Wi-Fi for our updates (she called to confirm this one) and a restaurant that has reasonable prices.  Well, we only wanted to chill on the beach for a few days before we leave Thailand, so why not?  Booking agent.  That’s why not.

After arranging all this we dropped our bags and went back to the station to book our return ticket for the 16th overnight train.  This way we only have to spent the day in Bangkok, and not another night.  Anna had a suspicion and wanted to check the tickets.  No worries.  We fly on the 17th.  As we were booking the ticket we both realised that the plane was early in the morning.  About midnight.  This ment that if we booked our ticket to arrive on the 17th, the plane would have already left.  We asked the man at the station to wait, and ran back to check our tickets.  A good thing to.  The plane did leave just after midnight, so the day up our sleeve was gone.  Just like that.  Oh well, at least we picked it up before we had paid for the train ticket.  Back at the station.  Booking for the 15th, to arrive on the 16th.  We are upper bunks again.  However we at least know about the dining car this time!

That ate up our free time in Trang, and we were back to the agent to catch our mini bus out to the ferry.  This drove us around for a while, then boarded a ferry itself.  Service.  No, it was just to cross the river.  After a bit longer a drive we were dumped at the pier to go out to the island.

Leaving the Mainland

We boarded the boat, and it seems like things are done here quickly so you cannot look around at prices before you are wisked off again to somewhere.  However the bus was early.  We sat on the ferry for a while, then got sick  it.  We were not going anywhere.  We unloaded ourselves, and went to sit on the pier itself.  Looking at crabs, and a morsel of food floating around in the water.  There were fish eating it.  I think they are a form of pike as they have a very long snout.  Almost as long as the rest of the body.  At the end of this was a yellow blob.  Not sure what that is for, other than to attract prey?  Still they were fun to watch for a while.

The boat was about ready to go.  Sitting in the back we could see the engine.  This was against all australian OH&S.  To get the bilge pump working the guy just connected some loose wires and twisted them together.  To fill the fuel tank, he removed a wooden board and just poured the fuel into a big container with the engine going.  I know we are strict in Oz, but this was something else.  The ferry started to move away from the pier and out towards the ocean.

Throwing stones into the water can be fun if you are god. We just manage pebbles

There was a fantastic view.  There were the mountains covered in jungle.  There were the hills popping out of the water, and the sandbars.  The only problem was that it was a bit hazy and anything in the distance was shimmering to inexistence.  On a clear day with blue sky and green water it would be stunning.  On a clear day with brown sky, brown water and a salt haze over everything it was still impressive.

The ferry ride was not that long,and soon we were pulling up at a large concrete jetty that jutted out into the water for about 500m.  There were bikes at the end waiting for people, or produce.  There was a bike there waiting for us as well.  This was to take us to our bungalow.  It had a very basic sidecar that was held together by rust.  Still it fitted Anna and I with our bags, and we raced off around the island.  The road to where we are staying is only about 2.5km long.  It goes through the fishing village on the quiet side of the island, past the clinic, and over a saddle in the hills.  At the top of this the road ends.  Right beside the hilltop restaurant.  (Apparently it is only open until 5pm.)  Past this the road turns to a muddy goat track, and the guy on the bike showed considerable skill in negotiating it.  At the bottom of the track we reached Hadfarang Bungalows.  Our home for the next three nights.  They showed us to our room.  It didn’t seem too bad on first appearances, so they left us to settle in. It is a fan room.  Double bed.  Powerpoint (we had worked out by now that this is essential if you want updates, even if they are sporadic we still need to charge things to type them.)  the bathroom had a western toilet (essential)  It also had a lot of mold, still this is Thailand, and we are yet to have a mold free room.  If you want to pay 1000 baht a night it may be different, but at the 300 mark you cannot avoid it.

Collecting Rubber. Our Bungalows needed a better income stream so have their own plantation around the “resort”

Here is where Andrew goes to the toilet.  I am sure you don’t need a blow by blow description.  Needless to say the room is a sauna.  Really.  If you want to sweat for a bit go stand in the bathroom for 30 seconds.  It is HOT.  There is no ventilation, and did I say it was hot?  The second issue.  It is a western toilet.  Fine.  Did we look to see if it flushed?  No, you do kinda assume that it will.  It doesn’t.  You need to fill the bucket and use a bowl to flush water down the loo.  I did work out a trick though.  Stuff using the bowl three or four times.  Just fill the bucket and use that once.  Then there is the issue that the tap on the basin leaks into the garbage bin.  Ok, so that one isn’t a big issue, but I am describing the room after all.  Finally the shower.  Its cold.  The water is a murky brown.  It looks clear coming out, but the water itself leaves more dirt on the ground than you wash off your body.  Anna said that as seasoned travelers (if such a thing exists) we should know more and ask better questions.  Andrew thinks that as seasoned travelers we have put up with worse in a lot of places and we can deal with anything.  Still, for the price, we had expected better.  This is no $2 shack on the waters edge.  This is supposed to be a proper bungalow.  And the worst thing?  What could that be? you are asking yourself.  The worst thing is that we are here to relax, sit around, go swimming, have a few drinks, and lie in a hammock and type updates.  Kinda cool really, when you type it.  So the worst thing?  No HAMMOCK!  Seriously we booked a place with a private balcony, stating that I wanted to drink Thai rum and lie in a hammock, and THERE IS NO HAMMOCK!  SERIOUSLY!

Well to make the most of it we now needed lunch.  The restaurant of the place we were booked into was closed due to off season.  There was the hilltop still open till 5, but that’s a bit of a walk.  There is another guesthouse nearby, so we stopped off at their restaurant.  It’s only open after 5:30.  Hence we had to go to the proper resort right on the beach.  This sounds really nice.  The restaurant is on the sand looking out over the water itself.  If there hadn’t been green gauze spread everywhere making it impossible to see anything.  Still we could hear the waves, and they were open.  We got the menu and saw the prices.  Holy Sugar!  It is a resort, I know.  Still.  1000% markup on any restaurant we had been in.  35 Baht for 5 baht water.  90 baht entrees that should have been 10.  Mains.  Well, needless to say they were expensive.  still, it’s an island and we are hungry with nowhere to go.  What do you do?  After ordering, we had to wait for over an hour for the food to arrive.  The service was horrendous, or non-existent at best and they even managed to get the order wrong.  This is after having it repeated back to us.  (We know language barriers, and have had interesting meals due to this, but today was something different)

Hadfarang Beach view

So the beach.  The beach is nice. Across the water is Koh Kapang, a different island, and on the side we still have vertical rock formation  in the water. A few lucky locals still have a shack hide out on the left end of the beach. We walk a bit that way and decide to go for a swim. The water is surprisingly warm. Anna is not that used to the waves, and keeps getting almost knocked over, even though the waves are not that big. (beginner surf waves) It was fun the mess about in the water for half an hour. We lounged around and studied the hermit and ghost crabs. The resort staff is going around clearing the beach one leaf at a time, a good way to keep people employed. We enjoyed having a whole beach to our selves!
For dinner we went to the place that’s only open after 17.00. This place at least has reasonable prices. Dinner was good, and we discovered there were 2 other couples at this side of the island. A Dutch-Thai couple and a mother-daugther team from Canada. As this seems to be the only place open for dinner, we guess this is it for the tourist here.

11 June 2012

China Town
Chinese Temple
Phra and Talk

The morning started out well.  That jackhammer eventually stopped and we could get some sleep.  On reawakening we went down to check out.  They were kind enough to keep our bags for us while we went for a walk around the city.  Well, Bangkok is a big city, so we would only get to see a few blocks of it before we had to return to catch our train.

Chinese Josshouse in Bangkok’s Chinatown

House in Chinatown

We started out, had a quick breakfast around the corner from where we stayed and went towards China town.  The first thing we encountered was a joss house, or chinese buddhist temple.  This was very ornate and beautiful.  They were in there doing repairs and repainting the walls, so we didn’t want to disturb them.  From there we walked into the back alleys and housing area.  We were looking for the markets, but this was still interesting.  You could see the colonial influences on the buildings with the ornate balconies and the terraced housing styles.  The railway station itself was designed by dutch architects, this was more generic european.

We found a bigger temple a few blocks away, and this one we could go into.  Having been Watted out over the last two weeks, it was fascinating to see the differences with Chinese buddhism.  There were the standard images of Buddha, and other enlightened monks, but these were surrounded by chinese dragons (The equivalent of Naggas) Phoenixes and other references to chinese mythology.  Instead of having the story of Buddha along the eves of the building, they had the monkey story (The bringing of the dharma to China).  As we went further back into the temple, the wall paintings turned hindu and more traditional, yet the temple was still very overtly chinese in nature.


After wandering for a bit we eventually found the start of the markets.  Well, I say start, because this is where we started going through them.
The street was narrow, and while there were proper shops on either side of the road, most of the road itself has stalls from end to end.  Like all Thai roads there is road then building.  Footpaths are non existent. This makes it interesting when there are stalls on either side, us, about ten Thais of different ethnicity, a moto coming one way and a guy with a full trolley coming the other way, and we are trying to move forwards to see what is in the next stall.  There was no personal space, and what you had was quickly taken up by someone else if you were not fast enough.  In this way we made it through the first street.  Luckily for us we have had some practice in Asian markets.  If this was our first, it wouldn’t be fun.
Most of the street was taken up by the same things.  We passed a huge amount of stores that only sold shoes wholesale.  No retail.  This section was massive.  About three streets worth.  Another area specialised in fabrics,and everything could be bought by the roll or metre.  Here there was a White woman, very seriously shopping for the correct fabric.  Fair enough, but on passing her husband seated on the other side, it looked like he had been there for a while, and was resigned to sitting there a lot longer!

Please Buddha, I always wanted a Paper Lacoste Poloshirt

Another section of the market was dedicated to offerings for temples.  This was a bit excessive.  Seriously, you could buy a paper Toyota to give as an offering the next time you go to the temple.  There was everything from incense, to candles.  Fake Paper money to Iphones and even model houses.  These are all used to appease ancestors of to beg Buddha to provide you with one.  The merchants here know how to spin belief.

On diving in and out of these market streets we gave it up.  There were trinkets here and there.  If you wanted a ring to go in any part of your body you could get one.  Gold?  There was heaps.  Fake gemstones galore (and probably a few real ones mixed in).  Bags, Bags and more bags.  Yet in the whole market there was nothing we wanted to buy.  If we owned a house in Bangkok, we could have fitted it out well, and cheaply.  Yet we need to think about our baggage weight when flying.

You want straps? We have a street for it.

From there we just wandered.  We ended up at the memorial bridge.  Before the bridge we went to another Wat.  Ratburana.  This has a rather pretty prang, and there was a guy that stopped to talk to us.  He had been a monk when he was young, and also again in his early twenties (he wasn’t that much older than us).  He was very open in talking about Buddhism to us.  This was great as we were talking about the different styles of Buddhism from Thai to Vietnamese, Burmese and Chinese.  All of which are active in Thailand.  He also said that the whole tenants of Buddhism were being corrupted by older cultures.  The Brahmin or Hindu culture and Chinese culture of creating temples and giving offerings.  The image of Buddha himself is only about 1000 years old.  It is a lot like christianity adopting pagan rituals to co-opt them into the religion.  I asked him about the offerings, and he said that someone that is strong in the teachings of buddhism doesn’t need to do it, but these older cultures make it almost essential.  The same as tradition outweighing laws.  Buddhism is about inner peace and acceptance, yet with the new prosperity in Thailand, the effects of californication, and people wanting more and more, they are asking Buddha to provide it.  The same with Ancestor worship.  It isn’t helped by the kings.  A long time ago, a king decided to make a magnificent temple.  So now every king, and member of the royal house has to do the same thing.  Each one bigger and better.  This is their path to a better afterlife.
It does explain why an old hermit in the middle of the mountain now has a magnificent shrine that has images everywhere.  It was not the monks intent, but the traditions by the un-initiated that have caused this to spring up.  The focus should go back to the teachings of Buddha, and not the trappings of society.  I agree with him there, and think this is the same with all religion, and not just Thai worship.

View from the Bridge

From this interesting conversation we went for a close up view of the bridge.  In reality it is nothing special.  There is a highway of clover leaves leading up to and away from it, then a four lane bridge built over a number of pillars crossing the river.  I could spin some romantic drivel about how the bridge was built by Rama the Something to promote reconciliation and remembrance.  However it is a bridge.  It connects two parts of the city together.  Walking along it you get a view.  Mostly this was of a newer bridge just down river.  However you get the boats going back and forwards.  The jetties and piers.  The beer cans floating down in the strong current etc.  Its a bridge.  Really.

Bamboo water seive

Now came the hard part of our day.  We had to make it back to the station.  Pulling out our trusty map (we had already discovered how trusty before) to work out where we were.  This was easy.  We were at the bridge.  That bridge.  Yep.  There is a road that follows the river downstream then curves inland to meet a main road right outside the station.  Simple.  Even the map cannot screw that one up.  We walked along the river for a bit, and when it moved just inland it was still fine.  There was a canal there that we were following, and it was still the same road.  In the canal there were a couple of bamboo rafts.  These were being used to collect the detritus of the river, and another section to collect the styrofoam from the waterways.  It is amazing how much garbage there is in the water here. Bangkok may be cleaning up its act, but they still need to know what a garbage bin is.  And then how to empty it, other than straight into the water.  It did make for a good photo though.

There are crocodiles in the sewers here!

A bit further along we saw a Bangkok crocodile.  This was a massive lizard that was swimming along the waterways.  It was almost big enough to be a crocodile.

We continued following the road, and it curved inland like it should.  Then curved some more.  Eventually we ended up back at the chinese markets.  Now, if I didn’t say it before, these are Huge.  Entire city blocks are dedicated to making the street maps that say where all the stalls are.  Needless to say this still isn’t big enough, and they are yet to produce the map.  So you can imagine the city within a city that we had just walked back into.  Madness.  Noise, Jostling, Bikes, People, More people and bikes.  OMG!!

Bangkok Railway Station – our second home

Still we made it though, pulled out our trusty map.  Found the roads we were at and recalculated a new path.  The road name ended,but we continued on.  It was supposed to be a straight line.  New road names, New intersection.  Recalculate.  Move on.  New road names, Recalculate.  Realise it is rubbish and throw map in bin.  In this way we made it back to the railway station with at least half an hour to spare (after dinner in a muslim corner stall.)  The reason I mention this, is the Americans that stopped there for dinner as well.  I don’t know how they found it but points for that.  The fact that it is clearly muslim and they asked for beer?  Then left when it was explained they were muslim and didn’t serve beer was [insert word here])

The train.  What can you mention about a 12 hour train ride.  It is Thailand so you expect it to be late.  It left on time.  That was a first.  There was some filming of something going on at the platform, and as we were wheeling our bags down to find the carriage we were on, a person took personal offence to that, and decided that we were ruining his shot.  So he told us to keep moving.  We hadn’t stopped!  Finding the carriage we loaded ourselves on and eventually the train left (on time as mentioned).  The conductor came round and checked our tickets.  He was a bit surprised that one of us was in the wrong seat, but made no issue of it as we were both top bunks, and the lower bunk hadn’t arrived yet.  We hoped they wouldn’t at all.  At this stage the seats were still up and the bunks away.  We had heard horror stories of people in the bottom bunk wanting to sit up all night, and the person in the top having no choice.  This is not quite right.  If it is a Thai in the top or bottom, they will dictate when the beds are made.  A bit later our bottom bunk people got on.  Darn.  A bit of confusion over seating and we were moved to the other side of the train.  Still we could sit together.  We think it was an elderly mother and son.  This wasn’t a problem until they wanted to go to bed at 7pm.  Oh well.  Seats were moved to create a bed, and the top berthwas dropped down.  There goes us sitting and talking.  We asked one of the railway guys on our car if we could sit anywhere else.

Disco on Wheels

He directed us to the dining car.  I wish we had known about it last trip.  Making our way there through other carriages was easy.  How lost can you get on a train anyway?  This was great.  The windows were open, so you got the breeze.  There was a table to play backgammon on and we could get beer.  About 11pm we decided to turn in (well the bar closed then).  We found that you pay for the fun.  The beer was about three times what it should have been, but still it was worth it.