March 29, 2009

Sunday Walking Street

An absolute must do when in Chiang Mai. One of the major streets in town closes to traffic, and vendors line both sides and spill across the moat and into wat compounds. Loads of locals and tourists, and the energy is fantastic. Great deals on almost anything you can imagine buying, including fabrics, picked up several items. Snacked my way through - pad thai, sticky rice with mango, tamarind pods, durian ice-cream, shrimp sausage, etc. Am going to have to go on a diet when I get home!

On to Pai today - 3 hour ride up windy mountain roads. Glad I have my bonine.

Travelers Tales

My ear ache got so bad, decided to visit a doctor. Walked over to a local clinic and the doc said that I had an ear infection and asked me what I had put in my ear - umm am old enough to know not to do that by now I would hope. She put me on an antibiotic course and also gave me some ear drops - total cost of everything was less that $7. So maybe the US health care gurus could talk to these folks to help draft a national health care plan. And I am happy to report that am feeling much better today.

The Chiang Mai night market is nothing like I have ever seen before - it goes on and on. Loads of things to look at, buy and eat. Had some yummy seafood last night. And the guavas here are larger than pears and so very delish. Been snacking on those for energy boosts :-)

Explored a couple of wats today - Wat Chedi Luang was incredible. At a nearby Wat Pan Tao - with the largest teak building I have ever seen, I made a birthday offering for Sajan and Saffina - both have birthdays this week (Happy bday!). This ensures them both a better life and a better fate. How can one argue with that?

Off now to the Sunday Walking Market and to search for a good dinner spot. This is our final night here - we are headed to Pai tomorrow.

March 28, 2009

Old Town exploration

Walked around the Old Town part of Chiang Mai - inside the walls. There must be thousands of guest houses here - how do they all stay in business - and some have rooms as cheap is 150B (less than $5)!! There are wats on every corner - walked out to explore some of the larger ones - Wat Chiang Man and Wat Phra Singh - stopping in to peak at some of the smaller ones along the way. Also stopped in at the Arts and Cultural Center and Museum - really good overview of the city and its past. Of course snacked along the way - found a woman who makes the best fried banana fritters in town, and had an excellent dragon fruit shake. And tried my first mangosteen - yum yum. After a nap, feel refreshed and we're out to explore the night markets. Am looking forward to foodie and other treats.

March 27, 2009

Chiang Mai

Arrived in Chiang Mai after a 14 hour overnight train ride. We splurged on the 1st class a/c sleepers - good thing too. Other than waking up every time the train lurched (thought I was falling off the top bunk), was a smooth ride. Not sure if there trains are always late, or if this was an unusual event - we were almost 2 hours late - and there were some folks trying to catch a flight - ouch. The Ayuthaya train station was a tiny one. The board said that our train would arrive at 21:00 and leave at 21:01 - did not leave much time to get on!

Love Chiang Mai so far. Our hotel is in the quiet north-east corner and it's fantastic. We are pretty far north - the terrain is more mountainous. Could move here for an extended period of time too. I keep saying that this entire trip.

March 26, 2009

Relaxing day

Been on the go for several days, and needed a down day today. And to top it off my right ear is swollen shut and painful. And Susan broke a toe (again!).

So hung out in a fun place with a good book and enjoyed the pouring rain - picked a good down day. Am currently reading Mosquito Coast - am gonna have to see the movie again - the father is nuts! Picked up this book from my sis - books are hard to get here. Well, that's not entirely accurate. You can get loads of books - all nicely wrapped in plastic. Thought it was to keep the dust out - isn't that nice? Nope. Turns out that the books here have a nice color cover, but the pages inside are all photocopied - so the text might read in a slant across the page! Not sure that I could even get a blank bound book for that cheap in the states. Incredible. Once you get used to the fact that everything, and I mean everything here is "fake" the ingenuity of these fakers is rather remarkable.

Been enjoying the night markets - it's a nice time to be out and about and mingle with the locals and other farang. Almost time for dinner and then the overnight train.

March 25, 2009


Explored the ancient city of Ayutthaya these past several days. This is a world heritage site, and is simply stunning. Ayutthaya used to be the capital of Siam and a major port for traders from all over the world. Much of the ancient city was razed during various invasions, but what remains is still incredible. Very different wats than those that exist in Bangkok - and like much of the Mayan ruins - there are shops, homes, etc. right beside most of them.

Explored on foot in the day, and took a tuk tuk tour last night and to enjoy the wats by night. The only thing I did not enjoy was a visit to the elephant kraal - if you have never seen an elephant before, it might be interesting - I simply found it depressing.

We head on to Chiang Mail by night train tonight.

March 23, 2009

Bangkok days

Susan thinks I've lived in Bangkok for months - am such a good guide :-).

2 new places recently visited:
  • Jim Thompson's House - yes it seems rather touristy, but it is really incredibly well done. The man loved Thailand and almost single-handedly brought Thai silks to an international markets. His silks were showcased in the original King and I. He bought 6 old Thai teak houses and built this house right on a klong (canal) across from the Muslim silk artisans. The house is now a museum and the grounds are beautifully landscaped. The gift shop is enough to empty your wallet. He disappeared at the age of 61 (a bad age for those of us born in the year of the horse!), and there are various conspiracy theories about what happened to him. Easy to get to - right off the BTS National Stadium stop.

  • MBK - Have never seen a mall quite so large and jammed with people and stuff. Really quite an experience - there is even a hotel on location, in case you need a nap in between your shopping sprees. Quite civilized. Did not go in for the stuff. Went in for the food. Yup, you read that right - the international food court on the 5th floor is where you want to go to eat fantastic food in a clean, a/c space. Puts the food courts in the US to shame.

Headed north tomorrow - first stop the UNESCO world heritage site of Ayutthya.

March 20, 2009

What's for breakfast?

You know that you have arrived at a new way of being when you sit down to breakfast, and feel something crawling up your leg. You look down and it's the biggest cockroach you've ever seen. You calmly swat it way, order and enjoy the food anyway. This was how I started my day today.

March 18, 2009

Transit Day

Am in Krabi town waiting for the bus to the airport for my flight back to Bangkok.

Took a long boat (150 Baht) from Rai Leh East to the pier in Krabi - about an hour boat ride. Dropped off Saf and Hip at Ao Nam for their travels, so we had the first leg together. The funny thing is that there are no piers in Railay (notice that spellings often change when a Thai word is translated to English), so you gotta walk out (it was low tide) to the long boats. We bumped up (literally) against the pier in Krabi and had to disembark from the front - along the long nose of the boat - makes for interesting connections.

Opted to fly back to BKK - 1.5 hr flight- thus saving a 12 to 15 hour bus or train ride. Sorry to leave these beautiful islands, but plan to be back. Maybe on a boat - that would be the way to explore this part of the world.

Last night in Railay

Spent the past couple of days swimming, hiking, caving, reading, eating, napping, getting a massage ... life is good.

This is my last night in Railay. My parents headed back to India yesterday, and I part company with Saffina and Hip tomorrow. They will head over to the gulf side and spend the next 6 weeks making their way down back to Singapore. I head to Krabi via longboat, and then fly into Bangkok to meet up with Susan. Our plan is to head up north for the next 2 weeks. Cannot wait.

A lovely thing - there are fantastic thunder storms daily - about mid to late afternoon. You can see the storm approach over the water - usually last about 30 to 40 mins and bring heavy rain, ear splitting thunder, incredible ripping, tearing lightening, and a very welcome cooling breeze.

March 16, 2009

Fantastic Railay

Hard to really decide what I love the most down on the islands. Spent the past couple of days on the various beaches on Railay. We are staying on Railay East - not a good beach - mangroves - but fantastic views and right up against huge limestone cliffs. A good place to watch climbers - they come here from all over the world and I see why. Would love to learn how to climb - maybe will start getting the basics down when I get home. In the meanwhile, my sis and I eat tasty snacks as we watch the action. :-)

Railay West has a great beach, with amazing views. Only problem is that loads of long boats come in to drop and pick up passengers - and they sound like loud lawn mowers - kinda spoils the whole wa in my opinion. They do however make for great photo opps.

The beach on the southern tip - name escapes me at the moment - is my fave on this peninsula. White beaches, huge cliffs, islands near and far dot the horizon. When I explored this morning, I was the only one on the beach - the hordes descended as the sun got higher. There are a couple of altars to an Indian goddess - to ask for a good catch, fishermen of all religions bring phallus - big and small; ornate and simple to leave as offerings. Makes quite an interesting shrine.

Getting to Railay is an adventure. We were on the fast speed boat from Ko Lanta, and then had to transfer to a long boat as we neared the beaches. Quite tricky and certainly not OSHA approved. Love it here. And to top it all off, the food is simply divine.

March 13, 2009

Snorkeling Heaven

The more I see of Thailand, the more I love it. Have been down in the islands in the Andaman this past week or so, and it is stunningly lovely. Have explored the local reefs twice:
  1. Took a full day snorkel trip around Ko Phi Phi. Visited portions of the reef around Phi Phi Don, Phi Phi Ley and Bamboo Island. Wow!
  2. Yesterday took a day tour of 4 islands around Ko Lanta. The coral and fishes are much better in the Ko Phi Phi area, but it was a fun day swimming, snorkeling and eating (!) none-the-less. There is something wonderful about floating in azure seas with white beaches and having the horizon ringed by islands that look like huge shark teeth.
Compared to Phuket and Phi Phi, Ko Lanta is much more mellow. When my sis told the barrista that we were headed here, he asked her if she was into meditation. No. Why? That is about all there is to do in Lanta. I love the slower pace, lack of tourists and feel though. A piece of paradise.

Headed today to Railay - which has even more superlatives in the guide books.

March 11, 2009

So many islands, so little time

Yesterday was spent on a full day boat and snorkeling trip around Phi-Phi and nearby islands. Simply incredible. Too bad did not have a underwater camera to capture all the majesty of the coral reefs. Even got alarming close to a large barracuda. If you get out to these parts, you gotta snorkel. I could have really used a fish/coral guide - are there any underwater ones I wonder? All I kept saying were things like, ooh, pretty blue fish; ooh, pretty red striped fish, ooh ... well you get the picture. Loved every moment of it - other than the lunch served on board - a veggie sandwich which consisted on bread (man do they love their white bread in Asia) and a couple of cucumber and tomato slices.

Took the ferry over this morning to Ko Lanta. Another fabulous spot where I hope to hang and catch up on my reading. Have yet to get through one book since I started the trip - that has to be a record for me.

Here is something I heard on a podcast on the ride over:
He never loved his wife
His children were fools
He had no friends
- from a book called "In other rooms, other views(?). Gotta get that book.

March 9, 2009

Monkey Island

Today was spent kayaking to Monkey Island - lovely spot. The monkeys are quite ferocious - they attack anyone with food (or if they think you have food). That is what happens when people feed the wildlife, and the are surprised when animals behave in this manner. Some people never learn - they were out there feeding them. Lovely way to spend the day - a shady white sandy beach with turquoise waters and fishes. What more can one really ask for.

It is really hot during the day - am taking about 3 showers to keep myself cool. On the positive side, this intense heat generates huge thunder and lightening shows. Swung in my hammock on the little porch of my bungalow last night and enjoyed the show.

The Phi Phi islands are chock full of tourists. Many of the backpacker crowd moved on today to celebrate the full moon party elsewhere. Food is delish. I have found a little joint that makes the best pad thai I've had in Thailand so far. It is all the kitchen makes - there is a lot to be said for limiting your menu and doing something really well.

March 7, 2009

Another island down

Phi Phi Don is stunning - huge cliffs rise out of turquoise waters. Took the ferry over from Phuket town yesterday - a fun ride (never mind the rain) - so many islands, so little time. Would love to explore this region by boat. Maybe my next trip out to these parts.

I've been perplexed by many of the signs here - there must be something lost in translation. For example: "Please keep Phi Phi clean. No speedos."

March 6, 2009

A day in the life

  1. Up around 8, shower (cold!), breakfast
  2. Take local songthaew (local bus) to Phuket town
  3. Explore Phuket town
  4. Take songthaew back to Kata beach
  5. Read a chapter (Blind Assassins)
  6. Nap
  7. Late afternoon swim in Kata beach
  8. Another cold shower - not sure I can really get used to this, and how is this possible in this heat anyway?
  9. Dinner at a local joint - tasty, tasty, tasty
  10. Online - email, skype, blog updates, etc
  11. Time for banana, chocolate, coconut pancake
  12. Time for ZZZZZs

March 5, 2009

Another island down

Am on Phuket - another island I can cross of my list of world islands. Decided to fly down from Bangkok - faster than the train/bus combo and cost about $60 on Air Asia.

I was expecting lovely beaches - what I was not expecting were the rolling hills and all the greenery. This is quite a lovely island - can see why it is a destination for travelers from around the world. Picked Kata Beach as our home base on the island - some say that it's the best beach in Thailand. Spent the day in the water - fantastic - other than the jelly fish (?) stings. Whatever was causing the stings was cleared out as the tide went out - so quite fun splashing around this afternoon.

The more I see of Thailand, the more I like it.

March 2, 2009

Life is good

Treated myself to a massage yesterday - about $6 for one hour! Why have I not been doing this everyday since I got here? Plan to remedy that situation pronto.

Fun day exploring Chinatown and eating. Yup, eating does seem to the main aspect of every day - hard not to be when there is so much delish food around. Continues to be hot in the 90s, and this is considered the "cool" season here. What must the hot season be like? Glad that I have wicking stuff - cotton feels like wearing a wet towel - not very comfy.

On tap for today is a visit to Wat Arun. A massage to recover from the sightseeing, and then tasty food. Life is good.

March 1, 2009

Eating my way through Bangkok

Thailand has definitely made it onto my top 5 foodie destinations. (Others are: India, Korea, Malaysia and US). I cannot recall the last time in recent travels that almost every meal was a delight.

Had my first ever papaya salad today - OMG! My mouth is watering just writing about it. What an incredible combination of flavours in that one dish. Am having a ball exploring what is available at different stalls on the street and in the markets. My only food disappointment so far has been the Pad Thai - have had it twice and was not impressed. So am in search of the best Pad Thai - now that is quest my tummy can get into.

Today headed out to the big weekend market (Chatuchak) - I have never seen an market on this scale before - it is huge. And one can buy almost anything, albeit mostly "fake" goods - but the variety includes clothing, luggage, furniture, pets (as least I hope the dogs will be pets and not dinner), etc. I know most people go there for the shopping. in my opinion, they can have the shopping, I went for the food. And was not disappointed. A fave item (other than the papaya salad) was a durian popsicle. Awesome.