Archive for Thailand

28 Feb 2015

War And Peace

4 Comments Kanchanaburi, Thailand

 

 
 
 

We spent the first two nights in Thailand at the best riverside guesthouse in Kanchanaburi. We know this because the sign says: Best Riverside Guesthouse, so it has to be true. At 480 baht (about AUD$19/night including breakfast) it is not bad — warm water, a flushing toilet and aircon would have been a bonus. There is a toilet in the room, but I have no idea how it works. There is no flush button. By magic, I guess. There is a small bucket nearby. The room is clean, very clean. The Best Riverside Guesthouse is a floating guesthouse on the River Kwai; every time a boat passes, the room sways back and forth. It is lulling, soporific even. The outside walls are a lurid green adventure playground for all the local lizards. There is a small terrace over the river.

About four kilometres up the road is the River Kwai Bridge, the reason for our visit.

After recently seeing the excellent and harrowing film,The Railway Man, starring Colin Firth, and having that whistling song from the older 50s film The Bridge On The River Kwai stuck in my head from the moment we decided to come, we hit the road on foot.

The air was fragrant with Frangipani, however after four kilometres of trudging in 38 degree heat and high humidity, all the while feeling like being trapped in a sauna, all we could smell was our own sweat.

We arrived at the railway bridge drenched and walked across. It is a beautiful spot — serene. Even the chintzy melodic Thai music blaring from the local temple loudspeaker added to the calm. What happened before is impossible to fathom: the Australian, English, Dutch and other prisoners of war who suffered and died here in the worst possible conditions in Japanese WWII POW camps, slaving on the construction of the Thai/Burma railway.

On the way back we stopped at the JEATH war museum. It is in an odd building and the collection is poorly curated. On the ground floor there is a slapdash collection of instruments of war: bombs, guns, vehicles, etcetera, and terrible photographs, while upstairs there is a large life sized wall mural of all the pretty Miss Thailand winners up to the Thai year 2535 (1992). This juxtaposition is bizarre but somehow befitting — the beauty and the horror.

Then we visited the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery, which is also beautiful and lovingly tended as cemeteries go, with different species of flowering plants between each of the headstones — approximately 7,000 POWs died in this region.

Afterwards, whether from heatstroke or an overwhelming sense of despondency, we collapsed in a cool (of the temperature kind) coffee shop and had a tall iced coffee. A puddle of sweat formed on the floor at Paul’s feet. I could practically swim in it.

For our last night before we return to Perth, we have moved to a place that is not as clean as the Best Riverside Guesthouse, but it has a blue over-chlorinated pool to plunge into every 10 minutes, air-conditioning and the real clincher, a flushing toilet.

 

 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

25 Feb 2015

Sagacious Sapa Saunterer (and other small stories)

4 Comments Ha Long Bay, Hanoi, Kanchanaburi, Sapa, Thailand, Vietnam

Greetings from Thailand. A lovely ladyboy sold me a ticket on the bus to Kanchanaburi. It was only when she barked “110 Baht” that I realised. The taxi from the airport to the bus station took longer than the actual flight from Hanoi to Bangkok.

So here I am on the bus … all the curtains are closed to keep out the mid-afternoon sun and heat, so there is nothing to look at. I thought I may as well pop up a blog post about the last week or so in Vietnam.

 

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

Typical Hanoi Streetscape

Hanoi Water Puppet Theatre

Hard at work - Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi

Smiling not allowed

In the grounds of the Presidential Palace

Kiddie chairs everywhere

 

On Hanoi. Hanoi is lovely with its beautiful lakes, pretty gardens and wonderful French architecture. It is not as manic as Ho Chi Minh, but crossing the road is still an exercise requiring concentration and nerves of steel. It was Tet (the Vietnamese Chinese New Year) and lots of things were closed, however being a big city, meant plenty of things were still open. I like Vietnamese food. It is clean and tasty and not overly complicated. I have even acquired a taste for Vietnamese coffee made with sweetened condensed milk. It grows on you. And street restaurants are the best, sitting on tiny plastic kiddies stools and sipping back hot bowls of Pho. Yum! The simple things in life.

Ha Long bay is the most incredible seascape. I know EVERYONE goes there and at night when you are sitting up on deck with the hundreds of stunning Ha Long islands jutting up from nowhere, climbing skywards, and all around you are boatloads of people doing the exact same thing, it shouldn’t feel as otherworldly as it does; but it does. A surreal sensation swept over me. I felt almost spiritual. Paul felt like a beer.


Ha Long Bay

 

Ha Long Islands

Cat Ba craziness

Cat Ba bungalows are nothing special — it’s the location that is magic. They are basic huts on platforms, wedged on a sand beach before the mountain shoots up vertical and inaccessible. It is New Year’s Eve (my second for the year) and at midnight they plan to let off three tiny fireworks. We are sitting around a campfire on the beach after an afternoon of kayaking around the island. Midnight seems hours away and it is. When it arrives we are fast asleep and the three small fireworks are over almost as soon as they began. We barely stir.

Of the whole Ha Long/Cat Ba experience, cruising back to the mainland during a thick fog was possibly the best moment. Visibility was almost zero. The sea was like a sheet of glass and if not for gentle throb of the diesel engines, there was almost total silence — one minute an island appears, the next it is gone, disappearing in the thick fog.

Sapa — I had never heard of Sapa until I started doing research for this trip. And what a surprise! An overnight clack-clack sleeper train. Aren’t they the best? And then a 35km bus journey up a treacherous looking mountain in a mini-bus. We arrived at the Summit hotel and they fed us breakfast, allowed us to unpack our bags and pack just our barest essentials. We are off trekking.

Our guide, Sam, from the local Mong tribe assured us it was an easy trek, but I suspected she was lying. I have an innate ability to spot these things. About an hour into the trek when we are slipping on muddy footholds, crossing the narrow steep mud walls of rice paddies, and stopping for pigs, cows, oxen, wild dogs and ducks, it dawned on me, I was right. Every time we ask Sam how long it will take she adds another half hour to the time. She had a nice smile. I really wanted to believe her.

Five hours later when we arrived at the Homestay, which is more of a refuge than a Homestay: we share a room, fifteen of us lying side by side, each bed a hard mattress on the floor inches from the next. Most of us are dirty and tired, too lazy to shower in the so-so shower. But it was worth it. The Sapa landscape: the rice paddies, the mountains; the tribal villages; and even the village folk who have tagged along, smiled at us along the way and helped us when the trek got tough, then implored us to buy their handmade wares; they were all wonderful.

The next day we do it all again.

As I sit on the bus, Paul tells me it hurts to even think about his legs. Oh the moaning, will it ever stop?

SAPA

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

At the end of a long day nothing beats a piggy-back ride

 

 

02 Jul 2013

One night in Bangkok and the world’s your oyster

Comments Off on One night in Bangkok and the world’s your oyster Thailand

Arbitrary moose photo - why not!

 

The words to that 1980s classic, One Night in Bangkok are on repeat in my head. We had three nights, never mind. They went by in a whirl. Everything in Bangkok is fast, except for the street traffic which crawls painfully slowly. A five kilometre journey can take forty-five minutes. It is quicker to walk, but you will need a shower when you arrive. The riverboats are far more pleasant — they dock rapidly and haphazardly and then there is a mad dash to jump from a precariously tilted floating pylon on to the deck before they take off again. It's even more fun in the wet.

 

Dress modestly to enter - no bare shoulders, no knees

 

 
 
 
 

Very old Buddha in a Banyan tree

 
 

 

We have seen more Buddhas and temples than we can poke a stick at including two magnificent gigantic reclining Buddhas. We sought respite from the heat in mammoth shopping malls, air conditioned down to minus five. Now I understand the appeal of shopping.

One evening we caught up with Ian and Behia for some Thai food and then later found an outside bar in the red light district. The girls ordered ladies drinks, not realising these were specially priced drinks for ladies of the night. We watched all the pretty ladyboys and ladies of the night, and the lone travellers in for a big night who didn't quite know what they were letting themselves in for. For a while it was fun, trying to pick he from she, watching for the obvious Adam's apple. It is not so easy.

And now we are homeward bound. Bring on the winter.

 

16 Jun 2013

Fat happy Buddhas and the Wat Doi Suthep temple

6 Comments Thailand
 

 

There are several ways to get to the Temple and by taxi is far the easiest. We witnessed one poor fool trying to cycle up the steep ascent and tried not to think too much about our week ahead. Even went you get to the base of the temple there are some three hundred steps to climb.

But it's worth it. The light at Suthep takes on an ethereal quality. It is probably all the gold leaf; golden plump Buddhas, gilded elephants, dragons and serpents abound. Then there are the monks, young and old. The younger monks carry iPads and smartphones and snap away with the best of the tourists, while the tourists surreptitiously snap away at them.

 

 

Buddhamobile

 

 
 

Paul blessed as he is, is stacking up on blessings (because you can never have too many) and is amassing quite a collection of string in the process. The head monk took one look at me, admiring my fine stitch, my travel worn coat and reached for his scissors as if to take a snip. That's it … I'm out of here!

 

Our master chef instructor

 

Banana spring rolls - yum

 

A little bit more chilli

 

Speaking of fat happy Buddhas, we enrolled in an all-day cooking course in a small village outside Chiang Mai. To get there we took a private car, followed by taxi, train and finally bicycles, riding through a pleasant but sleepy village. We stuffed ourselves until we were bursting at the seams with six courses of food then piled into an overloaded utility for the hot sweaty ride home. Delicious!

 

13 Jun 2013

Tied in knots

3 Comments Thailand

The midnight horror: five hours on Jetstar, closely resembling a giant airborne coffin, then a couple hours waiting at Singapore, and finally a further three hours on Silk Air with breakfast, smiles, service and comfy seats. You get what you pay for!

Here we are in Chiang Mai. These last few months in Perth while Gillian works, attends meetings and sleeps; and Paul — what does he do? Coffee! I have been cooped up in a small drawer, counting down the days. Travel. Just the mere thought of the word has me trembling with excitement. Makes me feel all woolly, soft and fuzzy.

 

Our accommodation in Chiang Mai

 

 

 

This is our first Buddhist wedding, not to mention Anna and John's. Their day started early at around 5am to receive blessings from the monks, while we arrived around mid-point, and after a quick shower and change, we were whisked off in a van taking us to the temple. There was a lot of grumbling about the kneeling. Forty-five minutes sitting cross legged, kneeling, fidgeting, being careful not to point our toes forwards in the direction of the head monk. Heads bowed, hands clasped, peeking up and watching Anna and John being looped in string. After a while the chanting became mesmerising and for those of us just off long flights, soporific. Paul must have been nodding off, because the next thing I knew the head monk was smiling and splashing water all over us. Everyone refreshingly cooled. Me, saturated — alright for those of you who are non-shrink. It was only after the ceremony was over that we realised the few monks who were sitting serenely, motionless in the corner, were actually wax dummies. Anna and John looked beautiful and their innocence — not quite knowing what was coming next, added to the fun of the occasion.

Afterwards Anna and John released nine birds from a small grass cage they clasped in their hands; then beers in the street to amused onlookers, followed by the releasing of nine fish from a metal bowl into a nearby stream. I sense a theme here evolving around nine.

Then into the van again where we were taken to a small village.

More chanting. More string. A line of village elders knelt on the floor patiently beside us. Then in sequence each elder rose slowly and proceeded to tie knots of string on Anna and John, gave their blessings … and so on until it was our turn. Pretty soon Anna and John were covered in string. Finally led by the elders and a procession of string we all walked into the marriage bedroom, where Anna and John were officially knotted.

 

 
 
 

 

More ceremony … Music … An amazing array of food. All delicious.

I forgot to count. Were there perhaps nine elders?

We walked down to the gardens, the fragrance of Frangipani in the air. Our path was lit by lanterns. In pairs we were handed large (man-sized) hand-made hot air balloons — Fire Lanterns. I had watched one of the elders making them earlier. We hold them high while they are lit and on signal we release them. We do the same again and gaze skywards, straining our necks. Nine fire lanterns disappear slowly into the night sky. It is a fitting and beautiful end to a wonderful day.

 

 
 

Trust me there were nine