In Thailand we also became a bit older because 2012 is year 2555 in the Thai culture! (543 years is the interval between Buddha’s entry into Nirvana and the Birth of Jesus). As the crossing was such a breeze the idea was to push through to Khao Yai National Park, but with a flooded road and darkness setting in, we decided to stop in Prachinburi at a service station with a 7/11 store and a huge food market. It was a noisy night but good enough. Sawadee from Thailand. When we crossed the border from Cambodia we had to start driving on the left-hand side of the road again. This felt very strange for a few hours.
Since August 2010 (Crossing from Kenya into Ethiopia) we have been driving on the wrong (Australian) side of the road. Thailand together with Malaysia, is South East Asia’s premier tourist destination. KFC, Pizza Hut, McDonalds, Shell etc., everywhere. Perfect National Parks with camp grounds, perfect roads but we must pay a higher price for food and drinks. Once we arrived in Bangkok we drove into an international city full of exotic sights, world class shopping, a mix of the old and the new; from century old temples to state of the art public transport.
The week started with a drive into Bangkok, and being Sunday night it did not take long before we came to a halt in the famous Bangkok Car Park. Having said that we did find the drivers well behaved and it did help that we are now well used to the Tuk Tuks and motorbike drivers. We had received GPS co-ordinates for a park in the centre of Bangkok where we could camp for a few nights. But unfortunately, when we arrived, we were told that we were now no longer allowed to do so. We were told of a very good guest house where we could park our truck, and this was not far from the Skytrain on the Eastern side of town half way between airport and city centre. It didn’t take long to find the guest house and when we arrived we were surprised to find out that for 1000 Baht we not only had a nice room and WIFI, but also a pool and breakfast was included in the price. The guest house was called the Cottage, and there was plenty of room for our truck. Having been to Thailand before, and many times to Bangkok, it was a more relaxed visit this time, visiting some of the places we have not been to for at least 15 years. i.e. the Floating Market (It has now become the floating souvenir shop markets), the King Palace, the Emerald Buddha, the reclining Buddha and of course shopping for next year’s clothes. The weather was not very good, and it was very humid and hot, with huge downpours and sunshine competing. We combined this with some R&R near the pool area.
Bangkok nightlife is famous and has a reputation for being wild and rowdy. Famous names such as Patpong Road, Nana and Soi Cowboy are known worldwide. But at the same time, it also has trendy bars, restaurants, jazz clubs, live music, and superb night clubs. Patpong is one of the best known red-light districts in the world. This is where Thailand’s GO-GO culture started. It has even been immortalized in a James Bond chase sequence.
The area is home to over 100 neon lit strip bars offering naughty shows, Go Go bars and pole dancing entertainment. Go Go bars feature women dancing on stage and on tables, and serving drinks and when you are willing to pay the owner a modest fee, you can also take the woman out of the bar. We are sure that the Patpong shows go hand in glove with the police department. For me, Patpong means ‘adult’, but for Clary, Patpong means ‘night market’. At night this teems with hawkers and humble stalls selling souvenirs, T shirts, shoes, Polo shirts, handbags, etc. etc. Three Polo shirts (Ralph Lauren) 5 USD for the good hagglers. Lucky for me I hate shopping and love a drink or two. Bangkok is a must city in South East Asia to visit and to witness its night life, even if it is a once in a life time experience. Nothing has changed over the years. Whatever your father has told you about Bangkok is still the same today.
Our First stop after we left Bangkok was Kanchanaburi the town on the river Kwai; world famous for the saga “Bridge over the River Kwai.” Once we arrived we immediately realized that this is a popular stop for Bangkok day visitors as we were greeted by about 50 busses parked all around the bridge. And this is the low season! We were unable to find a nice and quiet camp spot close to town, so we tried Pongphen Guest House that had been recommended to us.
We could park the truck, but they demanded we book a room, and for 14 Euro or 18 AUD we said yes. Five minutes later we dived in a perfect cool pool. We watched satellite TV and within two hours where up-to-date with the happenings around the world. Next day we travelled to Hell Fire Pass also called Konyu Cutting. In 1942 the Japanese forces were fighting the British in Burma with an aim of being an offensive against India. To supply the Japanese troops in Burma, the Japanese needed a more secure supply route than the vulnerable sea-lanes between Singapore and Rangoon, so they decided to build a 415-km long railway line starting just outside Bangkok, through the jungle in Thailand, to Burma (now Myanmar). The railway took 18 months to build and it came with a very high cost in terms of human suffering. The Japanese needed manpower and assembled a multi-national workforce of approximately 270,000 Asian labourers, and over 60,000 Australian, British, Dutch and American prisoners of war. After we visited Anzac cove/Gallipoli in Turkey two years ago, Anzac Day will never be the same again for us. Neither will be the movie the “Bridge over the River Kwai.” Next week more about the Dead Railway Line, which cost the lives of around 90,000 people. We continued to the border of Burma from here, but we found that this border has been closed for a few years now. We returned to Kanachanburi to visit the various museums and the war graves. This week we extended our stay in Western Thailand for another few days exploring the area around the bridge over the river Kwai. It was hard to imagine today that in this area 250,000 Asian workers and around 60,000 Aussie, Dutch and British prisoners of war worked in absolute unliveable conditions. In 1943 the workload increased dramatically as the deadline of August 1943 drew near. Eighteen-hour days had the men working late into the night that was lit up by torches. People more dead than alive and the outbreak of cholera gave the name Hellfire pass its name. Of the 60,000 POWs 12,399 (20%) died; and 90,000 Asian workers died mainly due to lack of proper food, no medical facilities and the ruthless treatment by the Japanese guards. We visited the manicured cemeteries in Kanchanaburi where British, Dutch and Australian POWs are buried; it again begs the question, “did we learn from all this?”
Next, we moved south for five or six weeks of beach and Island hopping. Our first stop was Cha-Am a little-known resort town situated about 150 km south of Bangkok. The beaches are long and deserted. Then we went on to Hua Hin, a tourist town with a mix of Thai and expats from Bangkok who spend their weekends there. Cha-Am is the cheap town with hotels charging as little as 600 Baht for a room. Hua Hin is much more up market and caters for the wealthy Thai people. We learned very quickly that the Thai people always swim dressed and never wear bathing suits. In Cha-Am and even in Hua Hin you will hardly see Thai women wearing bathing suits since Thai people consider it indecent. Hua Hin, Thailand’s Royal Beach Resort, is the oldest and most traditional Thai beach destination with the charm of a still active fishing port. Unlike most other Thai holiday destinations that cater for foreign tourists, Hua Hin caters for the Thai upper class and mostly expats. Besides its great 5-mile-long beach, Hua Hin provides the highest number of world class golf courses anywhere in Thailand, while it is yet virtually undiscovered as an international golf destination. Many of Bangkok`s rich and famous have built their holiday homes here. we camped a short distance away from Hua Hin at Suan Son, an area owned by the Thai Army. It is a very nice and quiet beach and it is typical of Thai beaches. However, during our stay, we were woken at night by the Army and we were told to leave the area as it was not safe. We refused to leave as it was late and told them we would leave in the morning. Unhappy, they tried scare tactics. We told them to get the Lieutenant (he would have been asleep) and whished them good night. Next morning our beach was invaded by the army, so we decided it was time to leave. But first we had to become Thai residents, and organized a postal address in Thailand for me to obtain a motorbike licence and driving test; pass on some money and the next day my motorbike license was ready to be picked up. We love the deserted beaches or those visited by the local population as it gives the feel of being in Thailand, instead of some overcrowded beach in Spain or Italy. The only problem we have with the local beaches are the many dogs, not aggressive but intrusive and disgusting looking and if they smell food they will sit nearby and stare at you with hungry eyes. Our next stop and last for the week, was Bang Saphan a 20 minutes’ drive south of Ban Krut, with beautiful gold sandy beaches, mainly locals and some expats but no tourists. The beach even features a little beach bar with WIFI where you can have cold beer while watching the waves. An excellent place to spend a lazy afternoon. However, development is heading this way so not sure how long this will last? Time to cross over to the West part of Southern Thailand. we travelled across the mountains from the East Side of Lower Thailand to the West Side of Thailand. At Nong Pak Wean we hit the natural border with Myramar (river Pak Chan). Today we were stopped 3 times by the Thai Army, but more as curiosity and only once were they looking for Miramar refugees, in the rear of our Motorhome. In Ranong (border town with Miramar) we visited the emigration and customs office to extend our temporary import license for the truck so now our Visa and Import license for the truck are both valid till 3 December. Our first night on the Andaman Coast, we camped on a lovely beach overlooking the Surin Islands. The weather forecast was for lots of rain but so far, we have been lucky. October is the wettest month in the region, so we hope the fine weather will stay with us. This area has magnificent natural beauty both above and under the water. The off-shore islands have stunning coral reefs, and abundant marine life in clear warm waters. As we travelled further south, we were confronted with the effects of the 2004 tsunami. Our first beach camp had signs everywhere showing us escape routes in the event of an earthquake or tsunami. The area surrounding us still had many demolished houses and small guest houses as a reminder of this terrible event. Heading further south, we found an area with miles of untouched white sandy beaches, azure blue warm water and a tropical jungle with waterfalls as a backdrop. We parked our truck right on the beach under a variety of palm trees for shade and we felt like a modern-day Robinson Crusoe and friend.
As we sat on the beach that night we said to each other that this is what heaven would look like. During the next 2 weeks, we did absolutely nothing apart from beach walks and some exploring of the remainder of many houses all destroyed in the 2004 Tsunami. Local fisherman told us that the wave was over the trees when it hit the beach (this would be around 12 meters high) and more than 20 meters of land disappeared. It all is so hard to imagine when we sit here and look at heaven. Around 20 km south of here is the small town of Khao Lak. It has resorts, and many small guest houses, and we were surprised to see so many German-Scandinavian and Italian and French people. To give us some mobility we hired a motorbike (4 Euros per day) and returned to our secluded beach camp to do some more hard work. It had to happen! Yes, we had to leave our deserted beach! 2 weeks of doing nothing except beach walking and lazing in the sun had to come to an end.
We had already been warned about the tourist madness in Phuket, so we were prepared. Once we left, it was only 100 km before we crossed the bridge onto the island of Phuket and another 10 km to our overnight stop. As foreigners, we are charged 400 baht for the night! No facilities and Thai nationals only pay 50 baht.
We decided the next night to find a guest house with enough parking for the truck. Phuket means Crystal Mountain and it is the most developed island in Thailand. It is 50 km long and 21 km wide. The terrain is incredibly varied with high mountains (highest peak is 529 meter), rocky headlands, long sandy beaches, tropical vegetation and rubber plantations. There are in total 17 sandy beaches, some of which are still untouched by the tourist industry. We hired a motorbike and did some exploring. At night we explored Patong Beach. Phuket beach resorts are not recommended for those in search of solitude, but suitable for those looking for a lively holiday. This is a party island and Patong is the party capital. There is a wide variety of beer bars, discotheques, cabaret shows and go-go bars. There is no recession here! Thailand is a land of bargaining and it didn`t take long to get our day tour to Ko Tapu Island reduced from 1800 baht to 900 baht included lunch. We felt sorry for those tourists on the same tour paying double. Ko-Tapu Island became famous through the 1974 James Bond Film “the Man with the golden gun” it was the scenic topography that helped make the film into a firm Bond favourite. It also turned the previously unknown Phang Nga Bay into a major tourist attraction. Enroute we did the other tourist attractions which included a monkey cave; then with the long boat to a floating Muslim village on the island of Koh Pannyi for a visit and lunch. The locals nick names this island “Bin Laden Village` As we arrived on James Bond Island, the weather changed as a huge tropical afternoon storm approached. The island local traders were pushy but what really surprised us that no one was selling anything of interest to James Bond fans! No replica golden guns, no postcards of the film, not even a DVD of the film. Instead the usual junk! For us, two days on Phuket was enough.
FAR SOUTH THAILAND
We really miss our bush beach camp and white sandy beach where we spent the 2 weeks before we arrived in Phuket. The magnificent white long beach, tropical vegetation, crystal blue sea water, its relaxing tropical lifestyle and local fisherman supplying fresh fish, is something that is truly memorable and is a real part of an overlander trip around the world. From Ao Nang, we took a five- island speed boat trip to the world-famous Phi Phi Islands and Maya Bay where the movie “The Beach” was filmed.
When we arrived on the islands, it was one huge circus of boats juggling for position and the nice deserted beaches shown on the tourist brochures, were not to be found. Keep in mind this is the low season! Imagine what it is like when it is in the high season. Nevertheless, the scenery is perfect, the water is clear and blue, and the beaches are white. We always knew that Thailand`s islands are some of the most visited places on the planet, but we never expected the huge number of people we encountered in the off season. What needs to be said about Phi Phi that isn`t already known? Despite the crowds, Maya Bay where “The Beach” was shot is as stunning a vista as ever, but there are plenty of other coves within easy reach. We had a swim at Pileh Lagoon, nature`s grandest swimming pool, visited Monkey Island and its macaques and snorkelled in waters so clear you can see further than 50 meters. In all, we had a relaxed day and met some very nice Brazilian people (Paolo and Elisangela) but this was enough for us and we left the next day in search of some more deserted beaches. We and headed off to the island of Koh Lanta, which can be reached by using two ferries. Let`s not forget that the island of Phuket, Phi Phi and other well-known islands are just a few of the 100 or so islands dotted about the region. We decided to explore Koh Lanta first and it only took an hour before we found our deserted beach. We found paradise in the shape of a rustic bamboo beach restaurant that served the best noodles we had tasted since Laos. We walked on sand so soft that the sand puffs up like talcum powder when you walk on it. We wondered if we would ever like to stop travelling. The rest of the week we did absolute nothing. This region is also renowned for pristine islands which litter the coastline and provide an ideal paradise setting. As we are now bordering Malaysia, it is also home to most of Thailand`s Muslims and Islamic influence and the Imam from the small fishing village nearby wakes us every morning. “Chao ley” (sea gypsies) have also lived here for generations, in small sea faring communities.
Southern Thailand is probably the most diverse region in the kingdom. It is a place of dense forests, imposing mountains and deep caves. It is also a place of rivers, waterfalls and lakes. Most of all it is home to some of the world`s most glorious islands and beaches. Thailand is blessed with natural beauty and its islands are amongst the most scenic and beautiful in the world. White powdery sandy beaches, clear water, and wonderful scenery. We will be back.
Our time in Thailand has come to an end and tomorrow we cross into Malaysia. Thailand has been a place of beauty and wonder, forests, mountains, history, rivers and waterfalls. Thailand`s islands and beaches are the destinations of choice for hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. For many, Bangkok, Thailand is the ultimate travel destination. A heady blend of modernity and tradition, Bangkok has something to offer everyone. It is a city where skyscrapers and modern buildings jostle for space, against the Bangkok skyline. It is also very much a city of entertainment and fun. Above all, Bangkok is a city of extremes. Of course, Bangkok`s nightlife is legendary and offers an unparalleled range of entertainment – bars and go-go shows, almost everything you could possibly want is available here. Cha-am and Hua Hin are both beach locations within easy reach of Bangkok, while north of the capital Ayutthaya has every manner of cultural and historical site a visitor could wish to see. West of the city is the Bridge on the River Kwai; East of Bangkok is made up of plains and hilly regions, the Chantanaburi mountain range forming a natural demarcation line between Thailand and Cambodia. In this region you see many tropical fruits such as rambutans, durians, mangosteens and pineapples being grown.