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Thailand (part 1) recap

I got back from my Thai Thanksgiving Thrip more or less on time. There’s a lot to say but I’ll try to keep it interesting (brief). I didn’t keep paper notes so this is just from the top of my sun-addled head.

Gulf Air was a shade better than mediocre, if only because of the moderately spicy meals. As I hadn’t booked with the rest of the group I was sitting on my own for both flights, left to seethe to myself at the usual reclining assaults on my knees and typically indifferent economy service. But I got there and back in one piece.

I didn’t like Bangkok much. We stayed at the River View guesthouse, which has reportedly raised its prices since receiving guidebook recommendations. The rooms were nice, but the restaurant had some of the slowest service I’ve ever seen and was expensive for Thailand. The river view was nice: the flooding of the way out in the mornings (tidal?) was cool at first but not so fun to schlep through the second or third times. The location in Chinatown was a good distance from almost everything else in the city: good in that the location was quiet (except for very vocal birds in the early morning), and bad for other purposes. Public transport is a mess: taxi drivers don’t read English, and some don’t read Thai or maps either. Tuk-tuks are… well, tuk-tuks, and the system of short-hop ferries along the river is very confusing to those of us stuck in the Roman-script world.

We saw some wats (Buddhist temples). The heat and humidity (still ridiculous in late November) left the larger impression on me. The wats make for some cool scenes but the difficulty in getting to them made up for it. Bangkok was not a total loss, though: street food through Thailand is wonderful, especially the fresh fruit (solid and juiced). There was kite-flying. There was Thanksgiving dinner (red curry!) at a very nice (atmospherically: food was so-so) restaurant near the infamous backpacker ghetto of Th. Khao San. Khao San was fun to look at but might not be so fun to stay on. In Hong Kong terms, it’s like a long hybrid of Lan Kwai Fong, Chungking Mansions, Wanchai…

We took a fantastically cheap 15 baht train to Ayutthaya, the capital of an old Thai kingdom, where we saw… more wats. These were more fun, though. We saw most of them in a three hour tour organized by our guesthouse: normally a warning sign. Our guesthouse (Baan Lotus)’s proprietor, though, had pretty good English, a very interesting backstory, fair dealings, and a grandmotherly manner which had us convinced quickly enough. The tour was great, and the parade of wats was broken up by a fun few minutes feeding/tussling with elephants. After the tour we finished with a meal at the night market near the guesthouse.

The next morning, we made a quick run out to a market where everyone else shopped and I gawked. Then we set off on our mass transit adventure: a trip to Ko Chang, an island off the provincial capital of Trat near the border with Cambodia. The train was about an hour slower than it was supposed to be, spending a lot of time bogged down in Bangkok. After some good cheap food in the Bangkok train station’s food court, we took the MRT (a dead ringer for the MTR, down to the arrows outside the platform screen doors) across the city to transfer to the BTS “Skytrain” which took us to the Ekamai eastern bus terminal where we caught a second-class government bus to Trat. Simple, right?

One notable thing about the MRT: its single-ride tickets are issued in the form of RFID tokens, tapped on a reader to enter and inserted into a slot to exit. Though we are all jaded to the chip-tapping world of Octopus, tapping a one-time-use token caught us by surprise. Checking Wikipedia (instead of doing real work) it seems that this method is used in Guangzhou too, with smart tokens being much less expensive than smart multiple-use cards but retaining the increased life.

Once in Trat, we were… stuck in Trat. We arrived around 7 p.m. (Thai time is one hour behind Hong Kong, at GMT+7, 12 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time), about an hour after the last ferry had left. So, instead of going to Ko Chang, we spent the night in Trat. This probably wasn’t a bad idea: prices were much lower in Trat, and there were plenty of neat little restaurants. In the morning we got up early to take the ferry to Ko Chang, a prehistorically slow combination car/passenger ferry. The ferry pier is separated from Trat town by a 20km, very dusty ride in converted pickup taxis.

Ko Chang was the site of a very, very lazy day. We spent the first four hours or so on the beach, ate lunch for a couple hours, and spent the rest of the afternoon on the beach until it was time to head back. There are plenty of activities on the island, scenic waterfalls, elephant treks, you name it, but we deserved some relaxation. We had a bit of a scare but did manage to make it back to the pier in time for the last ferry back.

Back in Trat, we’d re-rented one of the guesthouse rooms for the day (at a shocking 100 baht) to store our bags. This let us get much-needed showers to wash the salt gunk off. Dinner was at the Cool Corner, which (true to the name) was exceedingly cool. I want all of the music selection (and a little of the pad thai too). Everyone else got massages before dinner, but my shoulder sunburn was already presenting itself so that will have to wait for next time for me.

In another close call, the 11 p.m. bus back to Bangkok was full. We managed to book space on the 11:30 (which we didn’t know existed) and had a decent ride back, arriving at the Eastern Bus Terminal around 4:00 a.m. After some inaction we decided to take taxis (insisting on the meter) to the new, shiny Suwannawhateveritis airport, which has ripped off many of HKG’s design elements (not that I’m complaining). Spending the rest of our baht and submitting to the cash departure tax, we made it back without too many events.

I didn’t take many pictures for myself, preferring to let others handle the dirty work. I should have some of those soon.

Overall: the group was great, and so was the exchange rate. I can’t complain too much, especially when I don’t have any pressure on my (seared) shoulders.


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