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          Amazing Thailand
( 24 May - 13 June 1998 )

Chiang Mai
Mae Hong Son
Bangkok part 2
Kanchanaburi
Koh Tao
Bangkok part 3

The 24th of May was finally the day to leave for my first backpacking holiday. A long standing wish could be realized: destination Thailand, necessities: a friend, Rob who came along, a ticket, passport and as little luggage as possible consisting of a Rough Guide, larium pills and some clothes.

I started with the larium pills against malaria a couple of weeks before despite moral objects against taking heavy medicine with a remaining risk of getting it after all.

We flew with Air Lanka in about 11 hours to Colombo on Sri Lanka and after changing plane we arrived 3 hours later in Bangkok. Read on to see what great stories you get told there in order to get you somewhere and which impressions i got from the country.

 

Day 1 Bangkok


After reading a lot of stories on the net about the transport into town we decided easily on taking the train from the airport. Asking directions showed us the way to the airport hotel quickly and from there the signs were clear. Outside we got the famous kick from the temperature and humidity (it was about 38C, about 94F i think and a humidity of somewhere close to 90%). When we arrived at the little station about 200 meters outside the terminal we had to wait for the ticket-window to open and then we could buy a ticket for 5 Baht (that's about 0.12 US$, and 0.25 Dutch guilders). Very funny was that all the signs on the stain were only in Thai so on which side the train would arrive was a guess. Fortunately we met a Dutch guy who was there before and knew the way.

When we arrived on the station Hualamphong we were surrounded by tuk tuk drivers (motorized rickshaws) and taxi drivers of course. We decided before to go easy the first day and on the net i found and booked the Sawasdee Bangkok Inn near Kao San Road, the famous tourist ghetto in neighborhood of Banglamphu. After negotiating we took a cab for 125 Baht (about 3$) to the hotel. Looking backward that was expensive because later we took a tuk tuk for 60B. when we arrived at the hotel they couldn't find my reservation but they had enough rooms. after seeing the room we took a double, air-conditioned one for 450B (about 11$).

Rest of the day we didn't do anything because we wanted to rest a bit and get used to the heath.

 

Day 2 Bangkok

We wanted to go with the boat to the Wat Phra Keo temple and the grand palace. In search of the boat we were searching along the river Chao Phraya (we didn't look at the map quite well) and somebody started talking to us. He said he was a palace guard and in good English he told us after informing where we wanted to go to that the palace was closed until 1.30 for a prayer service.

He gave us some other tips, like the Wat Indraviharn that's known because of the immense 32 mtr. high buddha statue. He offered to call a tuk tuk for us and to tell the driver where to go. Besides this he asked without attracting attention if we were interested in suites and that he knew a good store to buy them and he told us to check it out.

The Wat Indraviharn was really impressive because of the height and because it was the first Thai temple we saw. After that we went to the Wat Banjamabophit a much smaller temple but fun to see because it was quite different from the first one.

Wat Bejamabophit

Wat Bejamabophit

After that we stopped at Tommy's Fashion. They spoiled us with a cold coke, which was quite nice because the temperature was quite high that day. We had to look at a lot us pictures of suites and they showed some examples and a lot of materials. After some discussion about buying a suit or not because i didn't plan to buy something like that during my holiday they convinced me in buying one. The price was good, about 125$ but i regret it a little bit only because they convinced me in buying. After the whole holiday i think if i doubted a little bit more they might have gone down a bit on the price.

The tuk tuk driver stayed of course because he wanted his ticket for free gasoline that we got from the shop after buying. He brought us finally to the grand palace. At first we were walking around the park Sanam Luang a bit when a Thai approached us. He told us that he was for holiday here in Bangkok, he was a teacher and that he wanted to visit the palace also. The palace was still closed and because of that he wanted to visit something else first. He was with a friend from Bangkok and the friend would bring him with his car. He offered us a ride but despite his kindness we didn't agree to go with him.

After that we were approached by another tuk tuk driver who said also that the palace was closed but this time for the whole day and he wanted to show us other things also. Step by step we learned and after that we went to the entrance of the palace and of course it was open.

This complex contains the Wat Phra Keo and the palace. The Wat Phra Keo is easily the most beautiful and holiest temple in Thailand. It contains the most important buddha image, the emerald buddha that is supposed to originate from Sri Lanka and the 15th century. The palace and the temple are the most important tourist attraction in Thailand but are definitely worth it because they're beautifully restorated. The official, free English tour around the complex was difficult to follow because of the large group and the guide didn't speak English very clear.

Wat Phra Keo bot       Wat Phra Keo Angkor Wat model        Grand palace Chakri Mahat Pasat     

       Bot                     Angkor Wat model        Chakri Mahat Pasat
Wat Phra Keo & grand palace

When we finished the tour and were leaving the palace we were approached another time by a Thai. This time it was for a boat trip along the khlongs (canals). For 400 Baht (about 10$ 2 persons) we had the boat for ourselves. The price was a bit high for about 30  minutes but who cares when the view is nice and you're for the first time in a boat with an open car-engine as driving-engine.

We agreed with the boss that the boatman would return us to Banglamphu. He did as he didn't know about that deal and asked for another 40B per person. Deal is a deal so we didn't accept it and he dropped us at the original place. We went walking back and what got us surprised we were approached again by a Thai and again for buying suits. We had enough of it and politely we said yes we take a bus and might see the store and we took a tuk tuk and went back to the hotel.

Khlongs boattrip

Boattrip along the khlongs

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Day3 Train to Chiang Mai

We wanted to the day-train to Chiang Mai in order to see a bit more of the country. In the hotel we asked at their travelagency about the train-times and if we should reserve seats. First train leaves at 8.10 and reservations were not necessary at this time of the season. Alright we left the hotel at 6.45 and of course first the negotiations with the tuk tuk drivers. We agreed on 40B and that was a really  cheap and sharp deal. He did it probably only because we were his first customer and the first one is said to bring luck.

When we arrived at the station we got directed to the right counter by 2 so called tourist guides. The man behind the counter couldn't sell us a ticket because the computer didn't work. We got suspicious (regretfully) and tried another counter but they gave us the same story. Then we got those guides on us again. They wanted to know where we went and if didn't want to go by bus. Eventually they talked in on some other tourists who went with them and we decided to follow and see what they offered. the offer was a bus-ticket for about 600B but then we had to go to the northern bus terminal and in the middle of the rush-hour that would take at least an hour.

We weren't happy on going with the bus for such a long distance so we decided to back to the station. We went to the information desk and there somebody told us in very good English that they expected the computer to work in about 15 minutes and the sale would go on.  Fifteen minutes later, 7.40 AM already they started selling again and we bought immediately tickets because the next train would leave at 15.00 and we didn't want to stay waiting for that. We bought tickets for second class air-conditioned and paid 480B pp. (about 12$ for a distance of about 600 Km).

We were surprised to discover that they serve two free meals in the train for those tickets (1 warm and 1 with cake and a donut) with coffee or tea and a soda. I won't see the Dutch railways doing that. After 11 hours we arrived in Chiang Mai and of course we got people all over us again with the question where we wanted to go and they all suggested different guesthouses and hotels. Based on the Rough Guide we decided to try something different and went to the Montri hotel. The price was high and scared us a bit (750B) but it was a big and clean room with airco so for one time we decided to take it also because because we were tired from journey and we didn't want to go on searching at 21.00.

After arriving there we wanted to go out and eat something. Somebody of the hotel told us that there was a Buddhist festival, Wat Ithanakin going on in the neighborhood. Around the temple of Wat Chedi Luang was the festival and hundreds of people were offering and praying. Right next door at the Wat Pan Tao  we met a monk, who liked to practice his scarce knowledge of English and that was nice, especially when he asked us if we believed in a god. When we told him we don't, he couldn't believe that's possible. Besides that he a very nice guy and told us some background about the temple and the people.

Chiang Mai Wat Tan Pao  
Wat Tan Pao


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Day 4 Chiang Mai

The next day we took a taxi to the Doi Suthep, a mountain of 1668 mtr just outside Chiang Mai and on this mountain you can find the Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. A bit negotiating with the driver got us at 300B. The original chedi (stupa or central tower where the ashes of important deceased people is kept) of the temple originates from the 14th century. The temple is beautiful but the view over Chiang Mai is even better.

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

Wat Phra That Do Suthep

After an hour we went with the taxi to the Mon Tha Than Falls. That's a small waterfall halfway of the mountain. The driver tried to drive us to it, but got stuck 1 to 2 km. before thanks to the holes in the unpaved road. The falls were a bit disappointing but later in the rainy season probably better. Anyway it is at least a place were you won't find may tourists.

In the afternoon we took a tuk tuk to go the Wat Phra Sing, probably the most impressive temple in Chiang Mai. Here we met the monk again from the evening before and he told us some things about the painting on the walls what was quite interesting. After that we went to the Wat Chiang Man, the oldest temple and only the big elephant statues and the buddha's behind bars made it interesting. The tuk tuk driver almost begged us to go to his brothers shop next. Again clothes. Because he was a really nice guy and we had fun with him we went along but didn't buy anything.

Finally we asked him to drop us at the evening market. Here we got some clean t-shirts and blouses so our luggage expanded already. I looked for a (fake) Breitling watch but couldn't get it below 1200B. It told me that's their bottom price because they let me walk away. Negotiating about prices is quite natural and expected but i find it hard especially if you see sometimes that they seem happy when they sell you something even it's probably with a low profit.

After that we went to the pub (choice out of the Rough Guide). It was on the other side of Chiang Mai and was definitely a wrong choice because nobody was there. When you're in a hotel you should ask the people there what's popular and don't base it on 3 year old edition of a travel guide.

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Day 5 Mae Hong Son

In Chiang Mai we decided to go to Mae Hong Son next, This is a little town in the north west near the border with Myanmar (Burma). We wanted a bit more nature and a small town and not to many tourists. We went by plane because we found out that's only 375B (almost 10$) for a distance of about 230 Km and 25 minutes flying and booked it through the travelagency in the hotel. When we arrived on the airport they had an information desk with somebody who had a list of all the guesthouses, location and prices. Very convenient because we could make our own choice and went directly to the Piya guesthouse in the center next to the little lake and two temples. The rooms were neglected but clean and for 250B a night per room quite alright.

 

Wat Chong Klang and Kham

Wat Chong Klang and Wat Chong Klam

In the afternoon we climbed the hill next to the village through an impressive amount of stairs. After almost 20 minutes and a lot of lost sweat you're on the top and the view over the village is magnificent. Also great to watch the planes landing a taking off from there. On top of the hill is the Wat Doi Kung Mu, a 19th century temple. When you go up a little bit more you'll find a new bot (central building of the temple) from where you have a great on the other side of the hill towards the hills in Burma.

 

Burmese hills

Burmese hills

We booked by the travelagency next to the guesthouse a sight seeing tour for the next day. In the evening we had dinner at the lakeside bar. Nice food, far too many Singha (local beer) a local band and a breeze over the lake made it a great place to stay in the evening.

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Day 6 Mae Hong Son and surroundings

We asked to see something of the area and to go to some not very known tourist villages so not the "long neck" villages (the well known women with stretched out necks because of the 10 to 20 heavy rings round their necks).

Through some very steep roads we went by car first to Mae Aew. This is a village about 2 or 3 Km. from the border and is inhabited by Kuomintang Chinese people (they were driven out of China by Mao and a part came to Thailand and Burma, the rest went to Taiwan). The guy from the agency with us told some interesting stories about this area and it's history. It was a part of the golden triangle and not so long ago they grew opium here.

Mae Aew

Mae Aew

After this village we went to another where hmong and shan people live. The hmong people originate from China and Mongolia and the shan people are originally from this area. We drank tea at the house of the head of the village. His daughter was a friend of the wife of the guy from the travelagency.

Pha Sua Falls

Pha Sua Falls

After the tea we went to the Pha Sua Falls, a nice but again quit fall that's probably a lot more exciting later in the rainy season. We finished the day at the Fish Cave. This is a typical tourist attraction because of a lot of fish come together at a cave where a river is coming down under a mountain.

We paid 700B pp.for the trip. This is not much but we didn't negotiate on the price. I don't know if that was possible because i have the feeling that is not appropriate to negotiate on such things just like food and drinks. Maybe it's my "decent" western mentality ? Anyway we had a nice day and the guy from the agency was good and very nice. Later that day we drank a couple of beers with him and his colleague and that was nice.

We decided to go back to Bangkok in one time because we didn't like staying in Chiang Mai again. Unfortunately it was not possible for us to go on a jungle trek so that's definitely a reason to go back here. Just to be sure we reserved a seat on the minibus for the next day (they have about 10 places) and we wanted to go by bus because the road was supposed to be spectacular to drive.

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Day 7 from Mae Hong Son to Bangkok

The bus left at 8 in the morning and did the trip to Chiang Mai in 6 hours (240km). Nice surroundings but it was a tough trip because it was very warm and the slopes on which the driver raced were very steep. The bus ticket costed 180B pp.

When we arrived in Chiang Mai we took a tuk tuk to the train station and there the first train was to leave at 16.40. We took second class tickets with sleeping berths. In the train the waiter convinced us to take a three meal course of 150B. Later i saw single meals ordered by Thai people so there must be another menu to order from.

At night you have to watch your stuff a little bit but everything went alright. We arrived the next morning at 6.00 AM in Bangkok.

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Day 8 Bangkok part 2

Another reason to go back to Bangkok is that we had to fit the clothes we bought. We went back to the Sawasdee Bangkok Inn because we liked it the first time. It wasn't a problem at all to get a room there at 6.30 AM. After a shower and breakfast we went to the store. Of course first a bit negotiating wit some tuk tuks. When we told that we wanted to go that store they offered the price of 20B if when we went to another store as well. We didn't manage to find one for a reasonable price that didn't asked to go to another store.

After fitting the clothes we made the appointment that if they didn't hear from us they would deliver the clothes at the airport because we didn't know by then when we would be back in Bangkok. When we left the next store the tuk tuk driver said he wanted to go to another store because they didn't give him enough gasoline tickets. We had enough of this bullshit so we stepped out along the way and walked away with paying him only 20B.

Fortunately we passed the TAT (tourist information) office and we finally got a map of Bangkok because we were lost a little bit at that time. When we walked back through Banglamphu we were approached again and this time by somebody who told us to go to the Thai export center because accidentally they were open for public just this day and they would sell good quality suits for good prices. Also this story sounded very convincing but we didn't fall for it. Slowly we were getting enough of all those stories and started to ignore them.

When we returned in the hotel i took a massage for the first time in my life. One hour was 120B and i liked it a lot.

Koh Tao

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second part with
Kanchanaburi, Koh Tao en Bangkok

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Bangkok part 2

Last changed: 18-10-98


1998: Jeroen promo
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