Thailand 2019


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December 7th 2019
Published: December 7th 2019
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November 16 and it is time to switch from Nepalese smiles and “namaste” to smiling Thai “sawatdee-kah”. But first I get to have another travel adventure on my flights from Kathmandu to Chiang Mai via Kolkata and Bangkok. The check in process with Air India was tedious to say the least and when it was my turn, the agent kept insisting that I needed a visa for Thailand. “No I didn’t” I responded, hoping like heck that was true. Eventually escaping upstairs to immigration and a second security check, I arrived in the gong show that was the departures lounge - people everywhere sitting on every available surface, waiting patiently for notification of which of 5 gates they had to go to. An hour after my flight was scheduled to depart it is finally my turn to escape the crowds, only to get onto a crowded bus that would take me to my plane - which was parked about 50 m from the terminal!!! Another long line to walk up the stairs, but now the women are put into a separate line which is very short - it is another security check (the third one since entering the airport) but this time, officers are going through everyone’s carryon and patting each passenger down. Another delay while any planes/pilots who were not certified to fly at night were given priority landing and finally we took off only 2 hours late - and almost immediately dinner was served - they sure don’t mess around!!!!!

Deplaning in Calcutta I responded “yes” to an agent asking “anyone for Bangkok or Singapore” - and off we went to a soulless tiled area where I was to spend the next five hours - the transit lounge- apparently passengers are not allowed at the departure gates until two hours before the flight. Thank goodness I had bought a packet of digestive biscuits with my remaining rupees in Kathmandu as this was no mans land - but at least there was a toilet. Finally I am told that Thai Airways will be issuing new boarding passes and I will be taken upstairs. But now I find out that Thai Airways wants to know all the details of my onward travel - how am I leaving Thailand - answer: by bus or ferry, not sure yet. Can you show us your ticket - no, because I do not have one yet. Do you have a visa - no, I do not need one. I DID have a copy of the ticket from Singapore to Vancouver and eventually they were satisfied and I was allowed to leave. But now I am really worried about what Thai immigration is going to say. Needless to say, arrival in Bangkok was harmless, my passport was checked and stamped with no questions asked and one more flight left to Chiang Mai where I will be meeting up with Kelly for the next six weeks adventure.

Chiang Mai is the largest city in Northern Thailand with a population of around 132,000. It was founded in 1296 and was capital of the independent Lanna Kingdom until 1558. The moat and some of the city walls still stand around the square mile old city which was where we were staying. The original plan was to explore for a couple of days and then head further north for some jungle trekking and further exploration. But quite frankly I am done with trekking in bamboo forests for now, so we decided to stay put and just relax. And it is so easy to do that in a city where the streets are one way and the traffic is calm and orderly and so polite to pedestrians. We walked for miles visiting (or just peeking in) numerous wats (Buddhist temple complexes) in the old city as well as exploring the various markets. I have to admit that most of the tourist items for sale were kind of junky but then, I have been to Thailand before and there was nothing I really wanted. A favourite place to eat in the evening was the covered Kalare night market with its many small stalls selling delicious and cheap Thai food. Excellent coffee everywhere too! We were told that the city was unexpectedly quiet for this time of year with few tourists - you would not have known this by the crowds that were at the Saturday and Sunday evening walking streets. This is when certain streets are closed to traffic and vendors set up along the pavement. If you get there shortly after opening (4-5pm) you can have a leisurely stroll and see everything but an hour or so later brings the hordes and it is like walking against a wall of humanity.

There are at least 300 wats (temples) in Chiang Mai (including the immediate vicinity) and we ventured out of town to visit Wat Phra That Doi Suthep which is 15 km from the city and stuck on the top of a mountain. It was a long slow trip in the back of a songthaew - a pickup truck with two benches in the back that is commonly used as a “bus” or share ride - on the plus side, it is breezy while on the downside are the diesel fumes. Anyway, once we arrived in the parking lot we had to ascend 309 steps up the Naga (serpent) staircase to the Wat and it’s beautiful gold plated Chedi. Actually there was a lot of gold here! As in every Wat, you cannot wear shoes inside and neither can you be in short shorts or skimpy tops although some people’s interpretation of the clothing rules was a little fuzzy!

Another excursion we took was a country side cycling and kayaking trip. This started with a 50km drive north to the Mae Ngat Valley where we had the opportunity to visit the fabulous Wat Ban Den - a huge temple complex with the most colourful and fantasmogorical creatures!!!! Quite different from the more traditional wats. A lot of money has has been donated here with resulting huge crowds of camera toting tourists (especially Chinese). After being wowed, we got on our bikes for an hours hot ride along little pathways and narrow roads through fields (rice, garlic). There was a yummy stop where we had deep fried bananas, pumpkin and potatoes. Then followed an 8km kayak down the Ping River - jungle met the river on either side but apart from a few birds we did not see any wild life. The river was pretty slow moving and 2 hrs was the perfect length of time to be paddling. Lunch was provided at the end before we were transported back to the city. At this point, things changed a wee bit. On the trip out, we had shared a bus with others who were doing kayaking only. For some reason they got to the end quite a while before us and were impatient to leave - so they went back in the bus while we were in the back of the open truck, which was fine until kelly noticed that the driver was checking photos on his phone
while driving. A bit of yelling later, the drive continued with the driver having both hands on the steering wheel!

Some trivia I discovered after trying to figure out the date!!!! Days and months follow the standard Gregorian calendar but the years follow the Buddhist Era which is 543 years later than CE (or AD) so 2019 CE is referred to as 2562 B.E here. Which makes sense of a packaging date of 60 and an expiry date of 63.

November 24 and it is time to head south to the town of Krabi (in the province of the same name) - you have to love it when the flights (Chiang Mai to Bangkok and then to Krabi) are only an hour long but they still feed you!

Lonely Planet describes Krabi as “Bustling Krabi Town is majestically situated among impossibly angular limestone karst formations jutting from the mangroves”. I am not too sure about that description as you can see only two karsts in the distance - but it was a very pleasant place to spend a few days. As it is a tourist transport hub there is no shortage of restaurants, cafes and hotels. There
is a distinctly Muslim influence here with many restaurants advertising Halal food - which is food that adheres to Islamic law including no pork or alcohol. A definite advantage in it being a regular town are the normal food markets - there was an evening market just up the street where we would buy fresh juice (my favourite is mango and passion fruit) for the following morning as well as eating at one of the stands - or buying deep fried chicken and prawns and eating it back at the hotel. A disadvantage was having to travel to get to a beach. A 30 minute ride in a long tail boat took us to beautiful but crowded West Railey beach (where you COULD see karsts jutting out the ocean everywhere) and where the water was everything you imagine it would be - Turquoise, luke warm and clear. While a 45 minute songthaew ride got us to Ao Nang, an over developed stretch of resorts and restaurants - but we had a great lunch there watching the rain pound down. This was typical of the weather pattern right now - sunny but windy in the mornings and some sort of rain
in the afternoons - sometimes a massive but short lived downpour, other times a lighter longer shower. But it remained warm, and this IS the tropics. There are many water based tours in the region, taking you to various deserted islands (except for numerous tour boats) but due to the weather pattern with potentially rough seas due to the wind, we stuck close to home.

A land based activity in Krabi is to visit the Tiger Cave Temple which is located on top of a limestone Karst, 5 km north of the town. And then there are 1237 stairs (very deep and very steep up a cliff face) to climb - we did this around mid day which was pretty stupid because of the heat and humidity. But lots of rest and water breaks and we made it! There was a huge golden Buddha at the top and great 360 degree views of the surrounding countryside. Back at the bottom again and we encountered a bunch of theiving monkeys - they came really close to grabbing Kelly’s ice cream!!!!!

From Krabi, a two hour ferry ride south took us to the island of Ko Lanta where we had real beach vacation for a week. We were here in 2005 shortly after the tsunami and I will have to check back in my diary to see which beach we stayed on. 2019 we are staying in the Klong Khong beach area which is about 10km from the north of the island and the town of Sala Dan. The beach here is not the greatest (very rocky so only swimmable at high tide) but lots of small restaurants and shops along the main (and only) road. However, we are only 2 minutes walk from the beach and only a 5 minute moped ride from “beautiful” beach which is mostly deserted til late morning (when we are heading back to our bungalow) and swimmable at any tide. All the “nice” beaches seem to be backed by fairly big resorts and during our exploration of the island, there are limited casual dining options as you head south. There are some truly beautiful beaches and the water is warm and crystal clear. We did learn however that there can be sea lice in the water here - tiny little jelly fish that sting and leave a rash. So far, no stings.

We
have rented a moped for 7 days and put it to good use exploring the island. Old Town on the east coast used to be the main port for trade - now many of the homes built on stilts over the water have been converted to shops or restaurants. It was a relaxing place to stroll around and one of the few areas that we have found decent quality products. Mu Ko Lanta Marine Park head quarters are at the southern end of the island. We went for a 2 km walk along the nature trail in the jungle there - very steep, deep stairs to start, stinking hot and muggy. The pathway was made from flag stones that were slippery in places - put me on my butt about four times!!!!

Every day there seems to a market somewhere on the island where locals go to buy fruit and vegetables - yesterday (December 4) we were at the Wednesday Market in Sala Dan and munched our way around delicious food stands (chicken skewers, fried chicken, chicken livers on a stick (that was an accident😳), sweet waffles with custard, sticky rice - the list goes on) as well as oogling all the fresh produce. The little restaurant at our bungalow serves the best Thai iced coffee (condensed milk, milk powder, coffee powder - no wonder we are not losing any weight) and we have had delicious dinners at small places across the street - pad thai, bbq fish, red curry, Tom yam soup. The beach is also lined with bars and restaurants and a popular pastime along the entire coast is to sit, relax and enjoy the sunset.

Some non typical Thai food ( but with a Thai twist) have included fish and chips (where the fish was stuffed with lemongrass, thick slices of ginger, whole garlic cloves and chillies, and served with a garlic chilli sauce as well as French fries) and pizza - chicken, banana and peanuts, Tom yam paste and seafood, chicken, chillies and Thai basil. All delicious.

Then there is the story of kelly and the lip balm he bought here that has an SPF of 30. What he did not realise is that is was Magic Lip Balm - went on white and turned bright pink!!!!! I wish I had not told him - ha ha.

December 7 and we are
leaving today just as huge flocks of Asian Openbill (I think) arrive and fill the skies searching for and riding the thermals. A beautiful sight.

Next stop Malaysia.

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