Thailand
 
 
By Dimos
 
   
  Notes from a 2 week trip to Thailand in April 2002. Revised on March 2006  
   
  In my second trip to Thailand I realized why so many people go there for holiday : it is sunny, it is cheap, it is semi-exotic, the services for tourists are very good, the low prices make shopping interesting, the locals do not bother you, and the food is great! What more can one ask for? Not to mention that if you would like the company of a person who will accommodate all your needs without you having to accommodate any of his or her needs, you can rent such a partner for the duration of your stay. And as your holiday comes to the end, dozens of duty free shops with really attractive offers wait for you at the airport!  
   
  I recommend that you start your trip from Chiang-Mai. You should also visit the Temples of Angkor in Cambodia (you need to be there for a minimum of 2 full days)  
   
  Chiang-Mai  
  Once you arrive at the Chiang-Mai airport, look for the Hotel Association Booking desk. They offer discounts on some rooms.We strongly recommend that you stay as close as possible to Chiangklan Road. This is the road where the Night Bazaar takes place-where all the action is at night.  
   
  Inside the city  
  There are lots of Temples all over the place. Your guide book will tell you which ones are famous. For someone who has not seen Temples of Buddha before, they all seem great. Just keep taking pictures… In all Temples in Thailand you will have to take off your shoes. It is best if you wear sandals rather than sporting shoes (snickers) so you do not waste time putting-on / taking-off the shoes. The best way to see the city is by renting a bicycle (or a motorbike). You will find lots of places that rent motorbikes. You will find bicycles to rent on Mum Muang Road near the Phae Gate (in the East side of the island). With a bicycle you can ride on the opposite direction of the car traffic which is particularly useful if you do not know the city. With motorbikes, you will have to follow the cars.  
 
 
  Outside Chiang-Mai  
  You will find a variety of trips organized by Travel Agencies. Some are same-day, others include overnight stays at hill-tribe villages. The night life in the Bazaar in Chiang-Mai is far more exciting than staying in village in the mountain along with some strange tourists that may not even speak English. So, the suggestion is, do not stay overnight at a village.  
   
  What is a hill-tribe village?  
  To our eyes, they were two types of villages: (a) the ones with the long-neck people (those that have metal rings along their necks, legs, arms) (b) the "regular". Long-neck people are so interesting that they sell pictures of them in almost every tourist shop in Thailand. You must book a tour that includes a visit to a long-neck village. Probabilities are that the tour will take you through a regular hill-tribe village. Once you see one "regular" hill-tribe, you have seen them all. At the villages you will find lots of "hill-tribe made handicrafts". Well, most of them looked so similar that made us wondered if they were produced in some factory… Hill-tribe people do not speak Thai, but they can very well negotiate with you in English! They all have calculators to bargain with you (see section "bargaining") A tour guide told us that they are trying to teach them Thai so they move to the city. Considering that Chiang-Mai's tourist industry heavily benefits from trips to the tribes, I am not sure why will seek to eliminate these tribes…  
   
  Elephant riding  
  We strongly recommend it. Check with the agency to ensure that the elephant riding takes place inside the forest (where the surface is anomalous - uneven) rather than in a park (where the surface is flat). When the elephant goes down or up the hill or through a river, you wonder how safe you are! Have some coins with you to buy bananas from kids along the way to feed the elephant.  
   
  Bamboo rafting  
  Wear a swimming suit and do not take the camera with you unless it is water proof. You can give your camera to the tour guide who will take pictures of you (he stays on the land!).  
   
  Golden Triangle  
  This is over rated. The bus takes you to the river and there you have to pay extra for a boat-ride that takes you across to Laos. Once you arrive in Laos, all you see is 10 "shops" and two restaurants and everybody trying to sell you something. That is all. No village, nothing. We are persuaded that this has simply been set up for tourists and has nothing to do with real Laos.  
   
  Hot Springs  
  This is whole in the ground from where hot water comes from surrounded by 30 or so shops. We struggled to find something to take a picture of…  
   
  Ancient Temple (on the way to Chiang-Rai)  
  Some ruins of a temple. If there weren't some workers doing renovation work, I could bet that this was just another Temple.  
   
  Border with Burma  
  This is a small city with shops mostly for Thai people. Prices were much lower than in Chiang-Mai. We found a made-up shop under the bridge that connects Thailand with Burma and bought some memorabilia and really low prices. If you are looking for the most amazing bargains, this is the place to go!  
   
  Temple on the hill : Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep  
  There is a temple on the hill of Chiang Mai. It is fascinating. You will need about 2 hours there. You can book a taxi to take you there, wait for you and bring you back.  
   
  Tour agencies  
  Negotiate the price of the tours. They have big margin and they can give you a discount. You will see that the itineraries are quite general. You may end up visiting 3 tribe villages rather than 2 so that the tour guide can get some commission for taking you there. In our case, although the itinerary did not include Long-neck village, the tour guide on his own initiative took us there and charge us 500 Bah per person "entrance fee" to the village. We latter found out that the entrance fee is 250 Bah… Watch the drivers. They drive really fast. We kept telling our driver to slow down. Also ask that the mini-bus has air-condition.  
   
  From Chiang Mai we took the airplane to Phuket Island  
   
  Phuket Island  
  If you have not been to the Greek islands, Phuket may appear as a paradise to you. But if you been to the Greek islands, there is not much point of visiting Phuket. We stayed at Patong beach. We booked a hotel from the Hotel Association at the Phuket Airport. The hotel was close to the beach but far away from the town activity. The beach is great but you get interrupted every few minutes by someone who is trying to sell you something.  
   
  What is the town activity? There is one street full of bars and young Thai women inviting men to the bar. They get a percentage of the drinks and if you want, you can take them home or along with you for the rest of your trip…There is another street full with bars and young men inviting other men to the bars. Same story. What ever you like, you will never feel more wanted!  
   
  Phangnga Bay  
  From Phuket we did a day trip to Phangnga Bay. The tour companies pick up from every hotel. On the way to Phangnga Bay they will take you to a Buddha cave, a cave of low interest that has a Buddha inside. The fun part are the dozens of monkeys that run around. You can buy some bananas from a vendor and count in how many nanoseconds the monkeys will attack you to get the bananas. From there you will go to the port where you get to wear a life-jacket and board the boat. The boat cruises through some interesting scenery, you pass through a water cave of low interest and arrive to island where Jame's Bond film was taped, known as "James Bond island" (Ko Khao Phing Kan). You will stop there for about 20 minutes enough to take a few pictures and be attacked by the few shop owners who will try to sell you what ever they can. Then they will take you to Panyi Fishing Village, a Muslim floating village. These are houses, literally on the water. Take a few minutes and get away from the street with the stores to explore the village. You will notice that there is no furniture in any house. Everybody is sitting on the floor. From there the boat will take you back to the port. The bus will probably stop by a jewelry company where a sales person will shadow your every step trying to make you buy! Once you escape (good luck!), you can have a free drink at the bar.  
   
  The next day we took the boat to Ko Phi Phi islands. We bought an open-round trip ticket. Again the travel agency picks up from the hotel. There are two Phi Phi islands: Phi Phi Ley and Phi Phi Don.  
   
  Phi Phi Ley  
  Phi Phi Ley, is not inhabited. There are a couple of nice beaches like Ao Maya, but you will discover that all tourists are there along with the tourists boats that brought them there. There is also a Viking Cave with some paintings on the walls and bird-nests. The boat passed by the cave and we took some pictures.  
   
  Phi Phi Don  
  Phi Phi Don, is inhabited. There is only one village, Ban Ton Sai. There are no roads or cars in the island. The only way to go around is by tuk-tuk boats. We booked a room in front the sea on Paradise Beach, 10min by tuk-tuk from Ton Sai for 800 Bah. The room was as basic as it can get. The beach was great. But the water was not as clean as we expected (you will find cleaner water in any Greek island!). Because there are no roads, all the movement (of people and supplies) is conducted by the little tuk tuk boats. These boats, with old engines, drive about 50m from the beach. We stayed at Paradise Beach for 24 hours. During the day, there was one tuk-tuk every 5min crossing in front of the beach. This noise pollution was simply unbearable. In Ban Ton Sai you will find lots of bars and scuba-diving clubs and schools.  
   
  From Phi-Phi Don, we returned to Phuket. We flew to Bangkok.  
   
  Bangkok  
  Bangkok is one big crazy mixture of buildings, confusing and dead-end streets. You do not go to Bangkok for the beauty of the architecture, but for the unique feeling that this is your city too. Indeed, everybody feels welcome in Bangkok, a bustling 24-hour city where everything is available, you can do your shopping at the supermarket at 03.00 in the night, a city that combines the best of the developed and the developing World under conditions of amazingly good safety, good prices, cleanliness, politeness and civility. You need 2 days for a basic overview of the city visiting the sites bellow plus walking around China Town. Of course the more days the stay the more food you can enjoy! Photos  
   
  Transport in Bangkok  
  Taxis are so cheap that you should simply use taxis. Demand that they use meters. Refuse to ride a taxi if they do not use meters. Simply get out from the taxi. Tuk-tuk may look exciting to ride on but (a) they have no meters so unless you have an understanding of the price/distance they will overcharge you (b) they have no windows so be prepared to inhale the pollution. One tuk tuk driver reassured us that he knows our destination and it is very far and persuaded us with "I know, I know" that we should pay him 250 Bah. On the way back, we took a meter taxi and only paid 60Bah for the same distance… Many taxi drivers will ask you if they can take you to a clothing store or jewelry store so they can get a fuel coupon. We agreed a couple of times out of curiosity. We did not find anything worth buying at any of the shops that we were taken. So if you do not have time to waste, simply say NO!  
   
  Grand Palace  
  This is a MUST DO! Photos  
   
  Wat Pho  
  There is a school for Thai massaz here and they offer sessions for an hour at reasonable prices. This is a MUST DO. Photos  
   
  Jim Thompson's House  
  Should see.  
   
  Vimanmek Mansion  
  Not a priority to see…  
   
  Canal Trip  
  The only fun part is when the boat stops at some corner and someone sells you bread which you feed to the fish. You can see the fish fighting for it as the bread hits the water…  
   
  Ayutthaya  
  We decided to go there by local transportation rather than pay the 700Bah per person. The bus ticket costs 50Bah… We took a taxi to the North Bus Station. They have different levels of buses "basic" "air-condition" "luxury". We wanted to take the "luxury" but we think we made a mistake and we simply took the "air-condition". It was a cultural experience! The bus kept stopping and people kept getting inside the bus to sell us food, drinks, fruit… At some point we made it to Ayutthaya. One the way back we took the train. This was another cultural experience!!! We strongly suggest that you simply take the tour and pay the 700Bah per person rather than do it the way we did it.  
   
  Floating Market  
  Hugely over-ratted. We got a taxi to take us there, wait for us, and bring us back for 1000Bah. We arrived before the tour groups (around 8:30am). There were about 50 boats in the river. 45 of the were selling memorabilia to the tourists! Only 5 of them pretended that they were trading with each other. It was quite unbelievable that there were only 5 of them (we thought that we were are the wrong place!). The local understand this so they have put big signs "Floating Market"!!! Our trip in the river lasted about 1hour. By 9:15 the tour groups had arrived and the river was full with boats with tourists! So the tourists kept taking pictures of each other! We strongly recommend that you skip this experience.  
   
 

The Golden Buddha at Wat Traimit, Bangkok

 
  Must see Photos  
   
  Wat Arun in Bangkok  
  Must see  
   
  Bargaining  
  Typical process You ask "How much?" (pronounced "Taou-rai?") They pick up the calculator and type in the price You say you want discount (pronounced "lo-thai") They pass the calculator to you to type in how much you want to pay. At this point you think of the price that you want to pay, and type in HALF of that! Then they will type some other price lower from the original, you will type a bit more of your starting price etc. At the end just take out from your wallet the money that your are willing to pay and show them to her/him. If they are desperate, they will take them. If they are still being difficult, abandon the negotiations and walk out. 99% of the time they will come after you offering a better price!  
   
  When shopping do not engage in exhausting price negotiations unless you really want to buy the item. The shop owners devote time in these negotiations and can get upset if you walk away without purchasing it. You can not go from shop to shop bargaining because they have ways of communicating to each other…  
   
  You can get better prices towards the closing time and in shops that are away from the main shopping area (in side streets etc).  
   
  I was told that the silk in Thailand is better than in Vietnam (and of course Cambodia). I am not sure if it is better to tailor clothes in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) in Vietnam or in Bangkok.  
   
  Food  
  As the guides say, eat cooked food and drink bottled water. Depending on the level of risk you want to take, you can eat from the million food vendors on the streets. There are restaurants set up on the streets all day and also modern convenient stores.. (it looks like the Thai people eat all day...) Do not forget to try the local fruit.  
   
   
 
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