Archive for April, 2011

Ayutthaya

Sunday, April 24th, 2011

After a third totally lazy day at Koh Chang it was time to move on. If we hadn’t booked the next three weeks worth of accommodation and travel we’d have probably stayed on Koh Chang another day or two.

The “hotel” proprietor, Sean, drove about six of us to the taxi stop and dropped us off. The taxi drove all the way back to the hotel to pickup a couple of people from the hotel next door and then all the way back to the main road and the 31km up the island to the ferry point. Happily this time there were no locals out chucking water around; Songkran is over for another year.

The ferry back to the mainland seemed to take rather less time than the ferry to the island, presumably due to tide or currents. After nearly two hours at the bus station our VIP coach advertising a whole range of services not actually provided set off for Bangkok. Six hours later we peeled our numb bums off the seats and ventured into Hualampong railway station in Bangkok for the train to Ayutthaya. According to the Thailand trains website a second class ticket is about 60 baht one way. We were surprised to get charged 490 baht for two then. No explanation and no chance of getting one. The train was described on the tickets as an “Express”. The only express aspect appeared to be that it didn’t actually stop at every single station en route. But it stopped at plenty of places in between, including level crossings and never once exceeded 40kph, frequently crawling along at walking pace.

All of the place signs, street signs etc. here are in Thai. Occasionally one has the same information in English. Few of the train station platforms did. We guessed which was the correct station from the elapsed journey time and the guard confirmed it. Actually once we were off the train the platform at Ayutthaya was one of the few with a sign in both Thai and English.

A tuk-tuk whisked us to our hotel which Hannah took an instant dislike to, thinking it doubled as a brothel. It just described itself as a traditional Thai massage hotel. Actually there was no evidence of it being a dual-use establishment. The room could have used a clean between occupiers but really wasn’t too bad. It was certainly a step up on the teahouses in Nepal.

At breakfast next morning we talked to a group of Brits who were moving on to Sukhotai. They recommended hiring bikes from the hotel and doing a river cruise in the evening. So we did. Centuries ago Ayutthaya was an independent kingdom in what would one day become Thailand. It was frequently attacked by the Burmese and sacked by them twice, most recently about 350 years ago. Before then it must have been a magnificent city. The Burmese ransacked all the wats and they were not repaired after the Burmese left. The city is built on an island and there are temples everywhere, some in large complexes. We cycled round several of them, visited the National Museum which houses several relics recovered from looted temples and took the river cruise to visit three more temples off the island. There are photos of many in my RTW2011 set at Flickr. My camera batteries gave out just before the final temple. Missing a few more temple pictures wasn’t a problem but I also missed out on the four foot long monitor lizards on the river bank. Shame.

On Monday morning we visited a couple more temples and were dropped off at 12:00 at the bus station for the ride to Sukhotai.

Just lazing around

Thursday, April 14th, 2011

We finished our massage course on Monday with an hour long practical exam in the afternoon. We both passed and have the certificates to prove it. That’s a good few CPD points for this year. Hannah is keen to go back to Bangkok and do another massage course. I don’t think I’ll be doing another one so soon.

On Tuesday morning we were up at silly o’clock to visit the flower market. The best time is supposed to be between 3am and 6am. We got there about 5am to be greeted by gorgeous sights and smells. The market is mainly wholesale but they’ll happily sell to individuals and tourists too. The flowers are stupidly cheap – two dozen roses for less than £1 for example. My photos don’t really do the flowers justice – the flash performance of my camera has always been a bit wanting – but there are a handful of the less poor ones on Flickr.

By dawn at around 6am the market was already winding down with some of the sellers packing up and going home. Afterwards we returned to the hotel for breakfast, checked out and caught our bus to Koh Chang. A six hour ride through country that changed very little once we were outside Bangkok. Six lanes of tarmac with a central divide and low rise domestic and commercial buildings both sides. Then a thirty minute ferry crossing from Trad to Koh Chang and almost another hour in a taxi to reach Bang Bao at almost the other end of the island.

We were soaked by the time we reached Bang Bao. It’s Songkran – Thai New Year – and the locals think it’s hilariously funny to chuck as much water over everyone else, but especially tourists as they possibly can. And the taxis (pick up trucks with a dozen unsuspecting victims in the back) delight in slowing down whenever passing a bunch of Thais with their oil drum full of iced water and plastic tubs and buckets for chucking it. Remind me to come back with a water tender and water cannon and repay the humour some time.

Hannah went off for another soaking yesterday and has gone snorkelling today. I’ve just been sitting in the shade on the decking with the ocean on my left hand side, listening to the waves, listening to Pugliese on my iPod, reading books on my Kindle and doing next to nothing. I thought about doing a couple of Happy Hearts Quest tasks but even that seemed like too much effort. Maybe tomorrow…

Thai much massage

Sunday, April 10th, 2011

Almost a week has passed since I arrived in Bangkok.

It was a long, tiring, hurry-up-and-wait day and a half getting from Kathmandu to Bangkok via Delhi.

Amusements along the way:

  • His’n’hers security and boarding queues at Kathmandu

Irritations on the way:

  • the foreign exchange desk at Delhi International terminal doesn’t serve foreigners
  • the shops at Delhi International terminal accept only GBP, USD or euros but give change in Rupees which are no use to me
  • Airbus 330 seats don’t recline; the cushion slides up and down instead making it almost impossible to get any sleep

I met Hannah outside baggage reclaim and customs on Monday afternoon and we took a taxi to our hotel. The ride was about 45 minutes and cost us 405 Baht including airport pickup surcharge and tolls. It was hot and humid but both less so than I was expecting. Result :-)

Our hotel is only a mile or so from Wat Pho (one of Bangkok’s largest and most famous temples) and is definitely not in a tourist area. We’re also about a mile from the infamous Khao San Road. Less than 100 yards from our hotel the area decays into slum with locals living under canvas at the side of the road and wooden or tin shacks propped up against the well-past-their-heyday buildings. We’re not quite the only foreigners in the area but there aren’t many others.

We’ve been eating from the local roadside food stalls. Dinner for two most nights runs to less than 100 Baht – about £2. We had our most expensive meal yet at lunchtime today. It looked like a Chinese dish from home and including a fizzy drink cost us 150Baht each.

Our first two days didn’t go quite to plan. We were both wiped out after getting here and too tired to try to start our Thai massage course on Tuesday. We wandered round the temples at Wat Pho instead and then tried to go to the Grand Palace in the afternoon but arrived too late and it was shut. We did manage to find out where to go for our course and that it would be better to start on Thursday rather than Wednesday. A Thai boxing match sounded like a good way to spend the evening but not at £40 each. On Wednesday I couldn’t post my trekking stuff (which I won’t need for the next three months) to New Zealand because the Post Offices were shut due to a holiday. We couldn’t go in the Grand Palace for the same reason. And we couldn’t find the river ferry points for the ride up river and weren’t prepared to pay £40 for a two hour scenic tourist ride. We rode the 3 Baht river crossing service instead (nice cool breeze on the river) and failed to find Wat Arun temple. We settled for another instead. Let’s face it, one temple full of Buddha statues and monks is much like any other. And my camera has been misbehaving (Canon EOS 20D Err 99) since Tuesday morning so no pictures for most of the week.

We started the Thai Massage course at Wat Pho traditional Thai massage school on Thursday and four days later are feeling pretty battered. They recommend having a Thai massage no more than once or twice a month and we’ve been getting up to three a day. There are only three of us in our group. There was a group of about eight Thai women who started on the same day but they’ve had a separate teacher and our two groups only worked together today. It’s the final day of the course tomorrow, with a practical exam in the afternoon. I hope we’ll be able to remember enough of the 160 step routine to pass the exam. Some of the transitions from one body area to the next are not intuitive or really obvious. One of the other groups graduated this afternoon, there was lots of clapping and cheering and big smiles all round. The number of groups running has been tailing off as the week progresses because the school will be closed over Songkran – the Thai New Year holiday which starts next Wednesday. On Friday and Saturday there were up to about 50 students working in the training room we’re using, all at different stages in the course.

I managed to get my camera to a Canon service centre after the course on Friday and was able to collect it yesterday. They seem to have fixed it so that was £50 well spent. Also I managed to get my trekking gear posted to New Zealand on Friday too so that’s five kilos less stuff to carry around for the next three months. The Canon service centre is in the MBK shopping centre, five floors and eight acres of retail therapy about an hour’s taxi ride away. The fourth floor was geek heaven – almost more mobile phone shops than there are grains of sand on the beach. Hannah was remarkably unimpressed by the thought of all that retail therapy but came with me on Saturday to collect the camera. When we came out of the centre there was some kind of free music gig in progress – “Wishing for Japan”. The band playing thought they were so rock’n’roll. Funny really given all the band members only looked about 15 years old.

Transport has been a bit hit and miss. The tuk-tuk drivers routinely have a laugh on the price they want for a journey. Having taken at least one metered taxi for most of the journeys we want to make we have a reasonable idea what the fare should be. If they won’t bargain down lower than that then we walk away. Many of the tuk-tuk and taxi drivers seem to have skipped doing “the knowledge”. Others don’t want to accept a fare because it’s rush hour, or going somewhere they don’t want to go, or simply not worth their bother. It averages about three or four flag downs for each journey before finding a driver who knows where we want to go and is happy to go there. Taxis are generally less hassle than the tuk-tuks, are more comfortable, safer and much less fun.

There are some new photos in my RTW2011 set at Flickr.

We’re off to Koh Chang on Tuesday for four days of rest, relaxation and recuperation after the massage course.