A Travellerspoint blog

Shopping, Silk and Snakes

sunny 32 °C
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We had arrived in Bangkok on Friday so I could catch up with my friend Lee, as she would normally be at work during the week. She suggested we meet at Chatuchak Market.

We took the Chao Praya River Express ferry from the nearby Phra Ahthit pier all the way to Sakarn Taksin which is the start/end of the Silom BTS (Skytrain) line. Then we took the skytrain all the way to the end of the Sikhumvit Line to Mor Chit or Chatuchak Market. I was very pleased with myself as my navigation was spot on and my timing was also pretty good. We arrived 10 mins before 10am, our agreed meeting time. At 10:02 Lee turned up and we started shopping.

Katherine was in heaven once again but for me it was a necessary chore. Chatuchak is a great place to pick up bargains and presents and we bought t-shirts, shorts, bags etc. Lee intended not to buy anything but of course, went away with a big bag of clothes. We ate lunch there (one of our few disappointing meals) and took a slow ride around in a golf cart train. It was a great way to rest our sore feet. It was very hot and after 5 hours it was time to go. We crossed the road and took bus 524 back to Khao San Road. The bus ticket collectors are very good at telling us where to get off though I followed the route with my map and always knew where I was.

On Sunday we decided to go to Jim Thompson's House. He moved to Thailand after visiting it at the end of the Second World War. As a former architect he had an eye for design and beauty and he revitalised the Thai silk industry. To get there we walked down the streets to the Golden Mount where we took a canal boat to his house.

While walking down the road we were approached twice by men who seemed friendly. They started asking questions about where we were going and how long we had been in Bangkok. The first one told us Jim Thompson's house was closed until noon as it was a Buddhist holiday and he pointed out three wats we should go to. I had heard about this scam so took my map from him and walked away. I doubt it was a Buddhist holiday and Jim Thompson's house was most certainly open at 9am, like it always is. The second man walked off when I said we'd been there a few days and I had visited Thailand more than once. Not as easy prey as we looked.

The canal boat ride was fun but slightly dangerous. Mainly from the disgusting, polluted waters. You can raise canvas sides to the boat to stop the spray coming in and it's a good idea to cover your nose and mouth with something. There are four ticket collectors who stand on the edge of the boat with their arms hooked through a rope. They wear crash helmets and I guess it's warranted when the boat picks up speed.

Jim Thompson's house was one of the more upmarket places we went to in Bangkok. All the staff were very nicely presented as were the gardens and house itself. You can only go through the house on a tour lasting about 35 minutes. There are fantastic works of art, ceramics, statues and wood carvings to admire in all the rooms. Afterwards we looked through an exhibition of embroidery by French artists but most of the pieces were very odd and the meaning was lost on us.

We like to do round trips so planned to take the bus back to Banglamphu area. While walking down the soi we were accosted by a tuk-tuk driver who was so desperate to take us he offered a ride at only 10B. We discussed it and decided to stick to our original plan, We had taken the tuk-tuks in Chiang Mai and Ayutthaya and it's less necessary in Bangkok. On one hand I feel sorry for them as they try hard to get rides and make a living. But on the other hand they are so pushy it is unpleasant. Anyway, we were having a grest time riding the buses (No. 15 this time).

Today, our last day in Bangkok we chose to visit the Pasteur Institute Snake Farm. We packed up and checked out early then walked to the main road to take bus 47. We saw a bus jam-packed with people on their way to work so were glad when our bus arrived reasonably empty. Again, I followed the route on the map so knew when to get off.

Actually, we were quite early arriving at the snake farm as the slide show isn't until 10:30am. We looked at the snakes in their cages and visited the Museum of the Red Cross in Thailand. The woman was very excited to have an interest in the museum and made us sign the visitors book and she gave us badges.

We still had time to spare so ordered an ice chocolate and a Smooch Chocolate to see what the difference was. The ice chocolate had larger ice pieces and the Smooch Chocolate was fought over as we both liked it better.

At 10:30am we went to the auditorium for the slide show. The slides are old but it is an informative lecture, if you can understand the words. The snake farm is the second oldest in the world. The oldest is in Brazil and started in 1901. The one in Thailand started in 1923. They farm the snakes for venom, some of which is sent to the equine donors in another city. The horses donate blood with anti-venom from the ages of 4 to 12.

When the slide show finished we trooped back outside to the arena to be introduced to the snakes. First up was King Cobra. He was placed on the ground within a couple of metres of us and was fearsome with his hood expanded. We saw several snakes including a pit viper. Some snakes we could 'pat'. They milked a snake and force fed it some chicken. Just like with human blood donations the snakes need to eat to retain their energy. It won't be milked again for another two weeks. At the end, we were introduced to the biggest snake they have, a python. I was the game person who volunteered to hold it. At 23kg it was quite a struggle.

We left the snake farm highly satisfied with our visit. We chose to return to our hotel by the sky train and river express boat. Then we relaxed until it was time to shower and get ready for the taxi. Just as we left it thundered and the most massive downpour we had encountered so far began. It lasted for the long, slow trip out to the airport. Luckily we had given ourselves plenty of time and soon we were winging our way back to the cool of New Zealand.

Posted by pythagnz 01:00 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

We Arrive in the City of Angels

sunny 35 °C
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Before we left New Zealand I tried to get Katherine to practise the Thai name for Bangkok. The shortened name is Krungthep aka the City of Angels. Today we had a tedious travel day from Koh Chang (Elephant Island) to Krunthep.

It was one of those bundle days but with more space between the rides. Our taxi arrived early a bit after 7:30am so the yummy banana pancakes we had ordered had to be squashed into a takeaway container (and this also explains why I left with the room key).

We spent some time at a pier waiting for our ferry ride. Periodically another taxi would arrive and deposit some more foreigners. We amused ourselves by watching a man put his catamaran into storage for the rainy season. He was an Englishman and ran a business taking snorkellers and others around on day trips. Unfortunately, we had to leave before we saw the excitement of the crane left his boat out of the water.

At the mainland we paid 10B for a short ride down the ferry pier to a place to wait for the bus. This is a restaurant out front and somebody's house out back. The bus left at 11:30am and we had a lot more waiting so we wondered why we had to leave the guesthouse so early. Never mind. It is the way of things.

About 11:10am they started preparing the bus and at 11:30am we boarded. We picked up some more passengers at another pier then headed to Bangkok. It seemed quite slow travelling but we picked up speed when we turned off at Rayong for the inland route to Chonburi. Some hot, sticky hours later we actually stopped for a break. Then it took another couple of hours to get into the heart of Bangkok. Katherine was right, grumpy by then.

We were dropped on a corner near Khao San Road and I navigated us to and along Soi Rambutri until we found Lamphu House, tucked down an alleyway off the soi. It is a very comfortable place and popular so I was glad I had booked ahead. We have a small and tidy aircon room with a balcony large enough to sit out on, which is unusual in Bangkok. There is no tv but they show DVDs on a plasma screen tv downstairs.

We ate at a guesthouse nearby and took a walk down Khao San Road. This was interesting to me because in all my visits to Thailand this was the first time I had been there. There were many people, lights, stalls. We just walked and looked. The only thing we bought was a postcard of a wat we had been to in Chiang Mai.

Posted by pythagnz 07:17 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Unseen Koh Chang

sunny 36 °C
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I read some pamphlets and gathered some information and decided on a couple of activities I wanted to do on our second full day on Koh Chang. Katherine had already decided that she wanted a rest day. Evolution Tour had a tour called Unseen Koh Chang but it wasn't offered on Thursdays. I reckon my self-devised Unseen Koh Chang tour was better anyway.

First I arranged for somebody with a motor scooter to take me around. Lots of tourists zip about on their own rented ones but I didn't want to combine learning to ride a motor scooter with the steep hills. One of the women at the guesthouse made a phone call so at 9am I had Dee as my guide. That's all I learned about him as he didn't speak much English and I don't speak much Thai.

The western side of the island is the more developed side as the beaches are better. One beach is called White Sands. The eastern side is undeveloped with stony beaches and mangroves. The middle of the island is mountainous and covered in forest. My plan was to see the eastern side.

Our first stop was at the Orchid Gardens guesthouse. Supposedly they have nice gardens to wander around in but it is a work in progress and their orchids have already finished flowering. They had a couple of monkeys that I said hello to.

Next we went to Nonsi waterfall. There are several waterfalls on the island and the more spectacular ones are in the National Park. I wasn't about to pay 400B to see a waterfall when they are so common in New Zealand so I chose to go to a less-known one. Dee didn't know exactly where it was and had to ask at the village how to get there. In fact, he didn't know the exact locations of most of the places I wanted to go to so I feel pleased that I showed him some little gems that he didn't know about.

Dee turned the scooter off the main road on to a dirt track for a few hundred metres until we had to walk. The waterfall had two tiers and we started by walking to the second tier. The water was fresh and cool and I dabbled in it up to my knees. I was intrigued by the first (lower) tier as the first metre of its pool was so deep it was a dark blue in colour but the rest of the pool was relatively shallow. I wondered if some of the water goes back underground as the amount of water leaving the pool is much, much smaller than the water going in.

We drove for some time before coming to our third stop, the village of Salak Kok. This is a traditional fisherman's village and the houses are on stilts over the water. We hired a kayak and went for a paddle in the mangrove forest. The interesting thing I discovered about the sea here is that they have one tide a day, not two like us. So every morning it is high tide and every evening it is low tide. I don't know if it gradually changes so that in the opposite season the high tide is in the evening. I have to investigate that. Anyway, what it meant was that the tide was going out.

We paddled out to a large estuary that runs to the sea and past more stilt buildings then up the western side of the estuary until we ran out of water and had to backtrack. The mangrove seeds popped loudly and there were many crabs. I was very happy with this activity. We ate lunch in the seafood restaurant that is attached to the kayak hire. It is like an ecotourist project to provide income for the community. Nothing was really explained so I just guessed.

I had read there was a new walk through the mangrove forest so we did that too. It was a short walk on a concrete walkway. There were 10 points which explained a little about life in a mangrove forest but I found them rather confusing.

Our last activity was trying to find a viewpoint. I think we kinda failed at that but we went to the end of the road where we found a dirt track which we walked for 10 minutes to a quiet beach with a hut at one end. Probably one of the fishermen lived there as there was a huge net hanging from a tree. We walked back to the motorscooter around the rocks and then it was a zippy ride all the way back to Blue Lagoon and Katherine reading in the restaurant area.

We had our dinner in the Blue Lagoon restaurant. They are quite slow but when you hear pounding in the kitchen you know they are making the food from scratch and it is worth the wait. The sun goes down and the lights come on. It is very pretty and we wished we could have stayed longer. The people here were very friendly and I felt terrible when I later discovered I had gone to Bangkok with the room key in my pocket.

Posted by pythagnz 06:49 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

We Cook up a Storm

or at least Pad Thai

sunny 38 °C
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We chose to participate in the Blue Lagoon Cooking School on the premises of our guesthouse. It cost 1000B for four hours, more expensive than the other cooking schools, but it was very good so we considered it money well spent.

Two classes are run a day and in our class there was me and Katherine. They didn't have an afternoon class but I did see them at other times with 5 or 6 students. I guess they are more busy in high season. They told us they quite like the odd free afternoon or morning, otherwise they are quite busy for most of the day.

The main teacher is Ju and she runs the cooking school with her friend and brother. They greeted us with a cup of special tea made from a fruit that is related to the orange tree. Ju introduced what we would be cooking - pad thai, a soup, a curry and mango and sticky rice (yum).

The format for all dishes was similar. Ju or her friend would give us some background, talk about and show us the ingredients, we would prepare some food (chopping) and then we would cook away. Actually, we followed their instructions and our main job seemed to be stirring the food in the wok so it wouldn't stick.

The thing I learnt about pad thai is that it came about after World War II. The government wanted to promote national unity so devised this dish with common ingredients. The pad means noodle and Thai means Thailand so together it means the noodle dish of Thailand. Of course, you can get other noodle dishes but this one is the national one. Originally it was made with shrimps but now they are expensive so often the pad thai excludes them.

After pad thai we took our dishes to a nicely-prepared table (table-cloth, water glasses, big bottle of water etc) and ate them. We were so full already as we had had a bread roll for breakfast from the nearby bakery. Completely unnecessary as we discovered too late.

Next we prepared two soups, tom yum (clear soup) and tom kha (coconut milk soup). I cooked the tom yum and Katherine cooked the tom kha. The ingredients for both soups is the same. They differ in that tom yum uses a shrimp stock base while tom kha uses coconut milk. They end up with quite a different flavour.

Ju introduced all the curries to us - green, red (panaeng, sour, jungle) and yellow. We chose to cook panaeng curry. I cooked it regular style while Katherine cooked it with spaghetti. Now our lunch was prepared and we sat down to our soups and curries.

Our stomachs were bulging and still there was mango and sticky rice to go. We had seen this in the market but not sampled it yet. It was one of the things on Katherine's list of things to eat/do before leaving Thailand. I want to know what she does if she doesn't tick off all items on her list. Does it mean that she needs to stay behind until she completes them? I think she would like to stay but not without me as I do all the organising, ordering and buying. Life is easy for her.

Ahh, mango and sticky rice. It was the best.

Thai Cooking School was great fun, very slick and well-presented. The two women who taught us were so nice and knowledgeable too.

We took another walk in the afternoon. This time a bit later than yesterday's walk so it was maybe 1 degree cooler. Not that we really noticed, it was just permanently hot. Meanwhile the ants in our semi-outdoor bathroom had made a nice covered tunnel to their new nest.

Posted by pythagnz 00:48 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Islands in the Sun

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We had a long, hot sticky travel day from Pak Chong to Koh Chang. First we were dropped off at the bus station in Pak Chong by the guesthouse. We were immediately seated on a bus for Saraburi, about an hour away. At Saraburi we (immediately) transferred to a bus to Chantaburi. After 6 1/2 hours we arrived in Chantaburi where we decided we had had enough so took a tuk-tuk truck to the River Guesthouse. A pleasant find, thanks to Travelfish.

Chantaburi is notable for being a city where gems are traded. But we were only interested in it's night market where we traded baht for food.

In the morning we took a tuk-tuk taxi back to the bus station and at 9:30 caught a bus directly to Leam Ngob, the village where the ferries to Koh Chang depart from. Confusingly, there are three ferry piers - the Koh Chang Ferry, Ferry Koh Chang and Centrepoint. We were dropped at Centrepoint where we bought a ferry ticket and were immediately hustled onto a taxi-truck for the 100m dash down the pier and on to the ferry. It was so immediate I left the bag of fruit we had bought from the night market in the back of the taxi, the third time we had left fruit behind.

On Koh Chang the single waiting taxi was already chocker so he called another taxi. We drove through a village, over a steep hill, through the popular and developed White Sands Beach, over a smaller hill to Khlong Prao Beach. He dropped us at Blue Lagoon and we had a 200m walk down a dusty, dirt driveway through a rubber plantation to the actual site.

The bungalow we chose was a fan-cooled bungalow (luckily with two fans as it was extremely hot) on stilts over the lagoon. I called it the Green Lagoon rather than the Blue Lagoon as that was a better representation of it's colour. We had two deck chairs on our balcony and could see the sea a 2 minute walk away. It was a very peaceful and relaxing place to stay though we fantasised about staying in a flash resort with a swimming pool.

After a wonderful lunch of kau soi we decided to take a walk along the beach and check out the lie of the land. Not the most sensible thing to do in the heat of the day. First we walked north along the beach past a couple of resorts with one or two nearly-naked patrons. We saw an undeveloped area so followed a path back to the road. We walked south along the road, past the driveway to Blue Lagoon to a small headland where we were able to gain access back to the beach. People must have thought we were crazy as the temperature must have been in the high 30s and most people use the much cooler method of motor scooters to get around. The beach was a more direct route than along the road so we soon back at our bungalow for a cold shower and a rest in our deck chairs.

The sunset was glorious.

Posted by pythagnz 17:28 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

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