Same same, but something different….
Thailand from bottom to top
This was the start to our train and bus journey through south east Asia
Filed Under: Thailand by Rob December 17, 2012, 09:58
After our trekking in Nepal, we needed a bit of a relax, so we were off to Thailand. We booked a few nights in Kata beach down in the south of Phuket. As we came in to land we got lovely views of the steep mountain island cliffs that make the area so famous.
Kata beach was a nice place, one of the quieter areas in Phuket, but still lots of tourists, mainly from Russia. We were nicely surprised at the hotel, although still on a budget, it was really nice, and probably the best rooms we’ve stayed in since we left.
We spent a few days there planning more of our route for Thailand, and also trying to fit in Laos along the way. Initially we weren’t going to Laos, but so many people we had met along the way said we must do it. So we managed to scrape 7 days together, although not really enough, it would give us a taste of it.
Our next stop was Ko Phi Phi island. We took the 1 hr boat trip over and we were greeted by lush green trees and towering cliffs once we got into the dock. A friendly guy from the place we had booked our accommodation met us and took us through the maze of shops, bars and restaurants in the Ton Sai village area, until we got to our ‘hut’. We spent 7 days on the island, relaxing, eating and sunning ourselves. Lovely sunset views over the white sandy beaches and superb Thai food. We spent one day out on the water in one of the traditional ‘long boats’, circling the whole island, snorkeling in the clear blue waters. We stopped at the famous the ‘The Beach’ beach which we had to climb through rocks and caves to get to, and some lovely other beaches and bays.
There was a little ‘hitch’ on the way home. If you don’t know, these ‘long boats’ are basically little wooden boats with a huge car engine on the back end of the boat, and a propeller sticking out of the engine on a long shaft. 1/2 between 2 bays out in open water and speeding along, we suddenly lost all power, although the engine was still running. The drive belt had snapped. Not to worry, the guy was an expert at stripping down the engine, fitting a new one and putting it all back together again, all within 30 minutes. And doing this balanced on the edge of the boat which by now was bobbling up and down quite a bit. Once back together and he washed all the grease off himself, which was all over him, turned the key and…. It started first time! And we were on our way again….
The 7 days flew by and then we were back on the boat to Kata Beach again. We spent 2 more nights in Kata as we had found a great tour to do. We took a Chinese junk boat up to Phang Nga bay. It was a full day and we were really lucky because only about 15 people had booked it and it was quite a large boat. Once we got to the bay, we swapped to a long boat just to tour around the islands. First stop was Khao Phing Kan island which is the island that starred in the ‘The man with the golden gun’. Remember the tall pointy island with the laser device that popped up on the top? We then continued on through the islands until we got to a floating village called Ko Panyi. We spent an hour walking through the catwalks over the sea. The market was very colourful and they had all kinds of weird dried fish ‘herbs’ for sale. We then got back to our main boat, and took a leisurely trip back home.
The next day we started our trip to Bangkok. Since the trains didn’t come this far south we had to take a mini bus to the southern most station in a town called Surat Thani. It took 4 hours to get there and we had some problems on arrival. The train station was 15km outside the city, and we had specifically taken the bus that would drop us off at the station, but once we got into the city, the guy tried to scam us by telling us that we should have booked the train ticket weeks ago, and he called them for us and they said there was only 3rd class left. However, he could arrange for us to go to Bangkok, instead on his bus…. How convenient for him We had heard about these scams so we said no, just take us to the train station. He refused, telling us he didn’t care what we said, he wasn’t going to take us. So we had to find ourselves a taxi to the station. Not the worst that could happen but we took that specific bus because it went to the station, even though we had a long wait for the train, so that we didn’t have to get extra taxis and buses to the station.
It was a 6 hour wait at the station, so we found a cafe and had some beers and food, after walking around the local market near the station. The train was 2hrs late turning up but when it eventually arrived we boarded and settled down in our 1st class cabin. Not really 1st class, but it had a door on it and our own basin with cold water.
We slept most the way and arrived in Bangkok 12hrs later at 8 am. As soon as we got out of the station we were met with a guy who wanted to get us a taxi. We bypassed him had headed for the line of Tuk Tuks on the side. We had to try these when in Thailand. We buzzed over the streets of Bangkok until we made it to our hostel over near Khoa San road, The Four Sons village.
We only had 3 days in Bangkok, so we spent 1 day around the city, traveled down the river on the local taxi boat, to the Royal palace, where to our surprise we saw Jorge on the steps outside who we had previously met the month before over in Jordan. What as small world it is. We then saw Wat Arun and Wat Pho.
The next day we did a tour up to Ayutthaya, to look at all the temples around that area. It was a really hot day and the humidity was very high at 94% so it was a very ‘sweaty’ day.
The last day, we did a tour to a floating market at Damnoen Saduak. Once at the market, we got into a very wobbly boat, that they piled 8 of us into. It was so low in the water, that the edge of the boat was only a couple of cm from the waterline. Had to keep pretty well balanced or we were gonna end up in the murky looking river water which occasionally jumped over the side of the boat to give you a good soaking. Probably a good idea that we go that Typhoid shot before we left the UK
The market was full of stalls on each side of the river, which was only a few meters wide and jam packed with other tourist boats and the locals who were selling stuff directly from their boats. We managed to make it around the whole course without tipping, but only just. We walked around the outside path for a bit, stopped to buy some lovely crispy pancakes from a old lady who was cooking them in her boat and then met up with the tour guides again. We then took a bigger boat along more of the river and then back to the mini van.
We then went on to the River Kwai, and the famous bridge across the river from WW II. Our tour was supposed to end at this point but because our mini bus had others in it, they had booked to also do the ‘Tiger Temple’, 30 more minutes up the road. Since we would have to just wait around for them to go in there, we decided to do it also. It was a bit like a safari park, apart for you walked through it. They had water buffalo, wild pigs, horses and lots of other animals roaming freely, and then we got to the tiger area. The tiger area was a bit different, even though they were all on long chains, we had to go in with a trained person, and we were told to always approach the tiger from the back and follow what our guide said. One of the tigers was more active than the rest roaming around, so they weren’t taking people close to that one, but the others pretty much just sat around. We got to sit next to them, even pat them, which was a bit too close for comfort, since they were 300+ kg tigers But it was a great experience, especially when we saw the little cub.
With Bangkok explored, we took another overnight train, this time to Chiang Mai, the old capital. We only had 2nd class this time, was about the same, but without the cabin walls and door. We sat in seats for the first few hrs, and then the train guy came down the cars and swapped the seats into beds, very good. In the beds opposite us was another travelling couple, Chris and Amanda from the UK and Australia. We chatted for quite some time, until they went off to eat some food, and we decided to sleep.
We arrived in Chiang Mai at 8:30 am, and grabbed another Tuk Tuk over to our guesthouse. Wasn’t a great place, but it did the job. We spent the day walking around the city, more temples and some delicious food. That weekend it was a big festival, the Loi Krathong. Where they light huge lanterns and float them up into the sky and float things in the water. As we were walking down the street some locals were preparing to launch theirs, took a few goes, but they managed it and they were up and away.
Next day we did a tour up to Chiang Rai and the Golden triangle, the area where Thailand, Laos and Burma all meet. We took a boat trip along the Mekong river, stopping off in Laos to the Don Sao island village where they were selling various local things, like whiskey with snakes or scorpions in it and local handy crafts. We tried a shot of snake whiskey and also what they called ‘Tigers Penis’ whiskey, but to be honest we doubted it was, since it being an endangered species, it was probably some road kill from as few years back. After the boat trip we drove over to the Burma border where we looked around the border town there. We could have gone over to Burma for 5 minutes across the bridge, but it was 500 Baht and we felt we needed more than 5 minutes to explore a country…. Maybe sometime in the future.
The next day we took a taxi over to the airport, as now we were off to Laos…..
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