Friday, 10 October 2014

N 3.08.45 E 101.42.04 Border, Bangkok, Beaches and Beyond

The end of our Odyssey journey and the beginning of another. The last two weeks have been a bit of a rush across southern Thailand then into Malaysia.


The crossing from Cambodia to Thailand at Poipet ranks second only to Turkmenistan for frustration and time wasting.  It’s a very busy crossing between Siem Reap and Bangkok and Thailand didn’t make a lot of effort to simplify the processing of the hundreds of people arriving just before noon on a number of buses. After a long uncomfortable trip to get to the border, it was a 1 km or more walk between the two borders in the noon heat, then up a long flight of stairs to stand in a non moving line for more than an hour (it was noon and only one desk was open).  The entry process itself was not that bad (why Turkmenistan gets the nod for being worst) but it was then down the flight of stairs and another long walk in the heat to where Thai local buses pick us up for the trip to Bangkok.  Again, not enough room for luggage and seats to fit the southeast Asian body.  Over three hours from start to finish.  We arrived in Bangkok late.


We had two full days to explore Bangkok, and we quickly booked our tours.  It was nice to be familiar with where we were staying.

This "monkey with attitude" just outside the lady's loo
 was just one of many fun things to see around our hostel 

Travelling out to the bridge on the river Kwai with Wayne was an interesting experience.  We checked out the Commonwealth cemetery, learned that the majority of the graves are Dutch, British, Australian with a few other commonwealth soldiers as well.  American dead were all repatriated back home.  Then it was a quirky museum that one either needed to avoid or spend more time checking out the displays.  The bridge itself – it is still part of the Thai railway system with regular local trips.  We watched a South Korean army group also touring the bridge and cemetery. We rode from there over the death curve (the only wooden trestle still left in Thailand).  Then lunch and a bit of a walk around at a local park.  The cave we were trying to get at was closed due to landslides so we stopped at a local swimming hole and did some people watching.  It was nice to get out of a big city.

Cal with yet another photo op

thanks Wayne for the photo

South Korean army tourists

And Cal (right) taking a photo for tourists (left)

second world war dental chair and equipment
used by the Japanese at their work camps.

folded paper flowers from money.

An exploded shell looking rather artistic


this would be at home in the wild west

Yes, this fellow selling drinks on the train was wearing a Canadian DARE shirt.
He thought I was a bit odd wanting his photo

Swimming pool

Yes, the lifeguard is wearing camo

 We hired a tuk tuk to do a city tour the next day. We gave him a list of the places we wanted to see, starting with the Grand Palace and its wat. He wanted to start with a place in the north that wasn't on my top "to see" places so we agreed to start with Wat Pho at the far south. It was fantastic by the way. Then on to Wat Arun on the other side of the river. Also very lovely. Then off to Wat Inn that was recommended by the lady at the hotel. BIG standing Buddha, cute cats and it was free. By this time it was almost lunch and we were closer to the Zoo than the Grand Palace. Our driver took us to a local restaurant (we were the only westerners) for the best pad thai I've had yet. Then off to the Zoo - great fun, all sorts of cool animals and a gazilliion cute kindergarten children on a field trip. We could have spent longer.
Wat Pho.  Every one of the temples had a pair of guards.
Each temple was different

Just like in Vietnam, much of he decoration is old ceramics
 that were used as ballast in the ships
Style is different - this is older

The gold buddhas are impressive
but I found the characters more interesting

Wat Cat

They let us come in and see a service

Gerudas (bird like figures)

Lying Buddha.  Biggest in Thailand

Our Tuk Tuk driver


The railing up an almost vertical set of steps.
Pretty cool quilty pattern

Tower rapped with monk's saffron robe.
A sign that it is sacred and protected

Me going up the stairs that I later managed to come down
(backwards so I could not see how far down it was)


Captive lotus

Detail of HUGE standing Buddha
No admission was charged

another Wat Cat 

By this time we were touristed out and asked to go back to our hotel. Never did get to see the Grand Palace. Guess that was 1000 Baht saved but we had a fantastic adventure.  Did I mention how much fun it is when you have a good local guide? I love tuk tuks.  We’ve come to really love exploring cities in these open air truck/bike/motorcycle vehicles.  I don’t even cringe any more as they charge into busy traffic sprawls.

Peruvian penguin looking at the tourists

For the giraffes, there was an elevated platform
for us to get up close and personal
the giraffes believed everybody up there had a treat

this little guy was so busy and mischievous
Not real

Rather than taking the overnight bus to beach week, we stayed an extra day and took the plane (Air Asia) then bus and ferry to Koh Tao.  Lovely service from everybody involved.  Mini bus picked us up from the hotel at 4:00 am (a minute early so I had no time to wonder if we had been forgotten) and got to the airport with enough time to let me go back through check in when security wouldn’t let my sewing scissors through – first airport since Canada that thought the kids paper scissors were dangerous.  Getting to Surat Thani (airport the size of Grande Prairie), there was a huge sign saying where to go, helpful staff who gave us our bus ticket and put a coloured label on our shirt.  Walking out the door of the airport, everybody helpfully pointed us to the right bus! Same process on the ferry and with our resort pick up.  Wow is all I can say about how relaxed this  potentially crazy trip was.  Mind you, this is a huge tourist destination which makes me think that it needs to go right or people won’t return.

Beach Week

Thanks to Nicole with Goway in Canada we had a stellar week on Koh Tao.  A bit upscale she said.  Charm Churee Villas had it all - lovely location, superb service all around, great food.  Oh, yes, and the weather was great and the snorkeling was so good that it was tempting to spend the entire day in the water.  Sadly, one day I did that and spent a few sunburned days regretting my forgetfulness.
It was hard to go back to the long bus rides/indifferent accommodation/too little time to explore.

Looking ahead to the schedule for Malaysia, we decided to leave the group early and head for Darwin. Not being city folks, the idea of 24 to 36 hours in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore didn’t seem worth the travel time.  Again, thanks to Nicole who put together a changed flight package and extra days accommodation while we were with dodgy internet!

sargeant fist

the under side of water

The ship on the right is the "water boat"
Koh Tao has no drinking water so it comes
in from the mainland and is pumped into storage tanks

black tipped shark.  Photo by Cal
there was a "shark nursery in our bay
which attracted a number of dive boats

little barnacles on a reed that are reflecting

Playing with the camera.
View after dark toward shore

Anchor thing (place for boats to anchor to) near the
three rocks.  All sorts of cool growths made it look
like a creature from a sci-fi movie

Another "view from a loo"

Assorted rocks, shells and other found items

How laundry came back to us.  Washed, dried,
ironed, folded and arranged in a lovely basket

view from the water as we were leaving

And Beyond...

Six days through Malaysia didn’t really give us a sense of the country.  Malaysia seems to be very proud of its ethnic diversity – not Indian, or Chinese, or Thai, or European, but everything.  The majority of people are Islamic so once again we were hearing the call to prayer, seeing mosques and women with head coverings.  In Malaysia, the head scarves are lovely headpieces rather than simple scarves and coordinate with long sleeved tshirts and long pants.

thanks Wayne for the photo at Fort Cornwallis 

No, this is NOT a monk

read the story (above) about this cannon

There is always time for fishing

detail from a painting.  quilty inspiration here

painting just sitting in a back hall at the museum

Malaysian kite
You also see this on their 50 cent piece
(it's not a cent, I don't think)

VERY glad I didn't need this traditional medicine

Hand singer sewing machine used to
do free motion embroidery that I could not replicate
 the quality even with my
expensive electric machine

silk ribbon embroidery.  Hmm more inspiration

Perhentian Islands

We thought this was a barracuda.  It's a garfish.  They travel in
huge groups


Thanks, Wayne, for the artistic bubbles!

Finding Nemo (false clownfish actually)


turtle heading my way

huge flock of tourists following the turtle

A bit of retail therapy

What I shall remember:
Exploring Georgetown which shows the British influence around the same time as they were also colonizing Canada.  My, the Brits were busy folks!
Day snorkel tour on Perhentian Islands that was even more interesting and exciting than Koh Tao. Our guide was a local character with long hair who clearly loved the water – he was out in the water with us showing interesting things and giving direction of where to look for the “good stuff”.  The next day, early, he was dressed in his best to attend the Eid services across the channel with family in tow.
Saying good bye to all our fellow travelers and really meaning that I have enjoyed the last six months with them.  Genuinely wishing that I will meet them again.
The trip from Kuala Lumpur to Darwin via 8 hours in Singapore.  It’s hard to believe how easy international travel can be.

I’ve been struggling since we left Calypso in Calcutta to not be frustrated with the way we are travelling.  Too much travel and not enough exploring the way I want to.  Losing a sense of connection with the group as we all went our own ways.  Something that my friend Pauline posted on her Facebook page today made me stop and think about what I have been doing.

Our time in southeast Asia has not been as I had hoped.  It was a totally different process and the countries quite different from central Asia.  To be honest, I hadn’t done a lot of research before the trip to know what I wanted to experience. Without strong leadership, the group drifted apart to do their own thing.  I would definitely do things differently if I was in charge.

But, I am taking away a lot of positive memories and will choose to focus on that.  Southeast Asia is definitely on our “we need to go back” list.  Next stop, Australia for some more overlanding “downunder style”.

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