Refuse in Thailand. What the brochures don’t show.

One really sad thing that is obvious in Thailand is the refuse & pollution everywhere. It’s overwhelming & something we did not expect here. Refuse is everywhere, whether it be city or countryside, town or beach. It really seems like the locals have no idea that they are being swamped by refuse. Everywhere we went, we saw tourists looking for dirt bins to dispose of their refuse. Yet, these are difficult to find & often just a refuse bag lying around somewhere has to serve the purpose. Even along the tourist beachfront strips, there is generally a stinking dump of accumulating refuse to be found.

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It’s actually really sad as it seems that it’s up to the Western Tourists to educate the local people on the fact that this refuse is going to destroy the beautiful country they have on offer here. From various discussions with visitors that have been visiting Thailand for decades, it also seems that the changing tourist visitors that visit also have a influence as more Chinese and Russian tourists start to frequent Thailand with little regard for the environment, where this in general is of concern to the European & Western tourists who are far more aware of their responsibility in protecting & preserving this beautiful country they visit. The neglect & filthy canals & rivers flushing out the stench of city rubbish into the sea with each high & low tide change, was the one really disappointing part of our trip & something we would like to raise awareness of.

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Stray dogs living the beach bum lifestyle in Thailand

Our perceptions of the proverbial “dogs life” that many stray animals may have may have changed somewhat over the last few weeks that we have been in Thailand. We have seen a great number of seemingly “stray” dogs, loafing about in the streets & especially on the beaches. The difference in Thailand however seems to be that these dogs are always fed by whoever they choose to hang around with. Whether it be a Phuket service station where the petrol attendants care for, or a Ko Lanta “beach bum” dogs that seems to “belong” to the caring staff at the local resort.

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What does seem obvious though is that these dogs are all extremely friendly, relaxed & happy to play with one another, play in the surf, run around playfully encouraging the beach goers to give them attention & taking long naps in the cool of the beach brush & palms.

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It seems that the philosophy of the people has rubbed off on these dogs, in there calm, relaxed & “zen” ways. Also, they never seem hungry & are even quite choosy of what they accept when offered treats by tourists. They may just be living the life they choose, coming & going as they wish.

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711 in Thailand. The Westerner’s refuge.

It’s unbelievable how many 711’s there are in Thailand. In every place we have been, there is a 711 every few blocks & they’re always busy. Get to a major bus terminus & there is a 711. Basically they sell items like sweets, cooldrinks, toiletries, fast foods, dairy products etc. Things that we regard as everyday. In Thailand however, it seems these items are very different to the items & foodstuffs we are used to in “The West”.

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While on the road travelling in Thailand, the reality is that sometimes you are sick & tired of noodles, rice, seafood & Thai food. Often we just want a toasted sandwich or a chocolate milk or a Coca Cola, or whatever. The other thing about 711’s is the temperature inside!! Wow, always freezing cold with air conditioners working overtime. In a place like Bangkok or Phuket City this is a place of refuge. So often with sweet running down our backs, we have walked past a 711 sliding door opening out onto the sidewalk only to be engulfed by ice cold air flowing out. What else can one do but enter this cool “heaven” to browse the much missed western good & foodstuffs at leisure while enjoying a much needed cooling off. 🙂

 

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Getting to and from Bangkok and getting around in Bangkok.

Wow. Complex, confusing, frustrating & infuriating. That sums it up.

We arrived in Bangkok early morning after an overnight trip from Phuket via bus. There are a number of long haul bus services running between the major centers like Bangkok, Phuket, Chiang Mai, Krabi & many more. Usually these buses come in 3 categories, ie, economy, 1st class & VIP. We used VIP as with my length, seating is always a problem. There are various companies who run these, some better than others.

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Beware however. I have heard people say that they purchased VIP tickets at one of the travel agents in town & only received seats on terrible, sub standard buses while paying VIP ticket prices. It seems that the only way to ensure that you recieve the tickets you pay for, is to go to the bus terminus from which your bus is to depart.

Now this is where it also gets tricky, as not all companies run all routes & not all routes arrive and depart at the same terminus.

Let me explain: We arrive at Bangkok from Phuket at Mo Chit Station in Bangkok. Totally clueless as to where we are, we need to find a way to get to our hotel in Bangkok near Khaosan. Taxis & Tuk-Tuks try to rip us off, so eventually after settling down, we ascertain for locals that there is a “number 3” public bus that departs from another terminus just behind the main one. They point us in the direction which is basically a dingy enclosed, dark street market “maize”.After negotiating various bends & turns with little in the way of marked directions, we exit to see the public bus terminus. If you figure these out & the routes they run through town, they are great. Around 14 baht (less that 7 rand), to cart you all over town for about a 40 minute trip. With our driver reminding me of a kamikaze pilot, jamming the lever into gears while bouncing over canal bridges while missing smaller vehicles of all shapes & sizes by mere inches, this is the way to go & took us to meters away from our hotel.

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In Bangkok itself, we tried a number of times to find out from Tuk-Tuk drivers what they would charge us to get to a specific place. In all instances, they either quoted ridiculous amounts or as in most cases, they where continuously haggling us to take us to specific tourist sites and of course trying to convince us to stop off at a certain tailor to make us a suite, or some or other vendor or business where they wanted to scam us. In one instance, we arrived on foot at one of the gates of the Grand Palace which we wanted to see. A neatly dressed person who was chatting to the guard, told us that the Grand Palace was closed and would only open later the day. He then went on trying to persuade us to go on a sightseeing trip with him so long to make up time. We refused and took the long walk through town & came back hours later, only to realize that the Palace had been open all the time & that we had wasted the day generally trying to avoid being scammed. Really frustrating. By the time we got to the Grand Palace, it was swarming with bus loads of Chinese tourists, so we gave it a miss.

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Then there are the taxis who either quote ridiculous prices too, or don’t really give any clear indication as to whether they use their meter or not. Either way, we either could not figure out what they would charge us or that they would be very expensive so we chose not to use these at all. there are thousand of Tuks-Tuks and taxis in Bangkok, yet it seems that most of our energy & day was being used up by trying to avoid scams or by trying to figure out how to get around.

Of course there is the Skytrain & the Subway, as well as water taxis, all of which we never experienced, as Bangkok was not a place we wanted to hang around in.

We left Bangkok for the more laid back & friendly Chaing Mai. On the return trip however, we needed to stop in Bangkok again. This time arriving at Mo Chit Terminus, then not being able to leave from there but having to go via Minibus taxi to the Southern terminal where we needed to buy a ticket to Krabi. So after a whole day per bus from Chiang Mai to Bangkok, getting to Mo Chit at night, rushing across the length of Bangkok to the Southern Terminal per minibus (about 40 baht per person, very reasonable), then rushing to get find & book an overnight to Krabi where we arrived and entire day later. Exhausting.

A massive problem remains the fact that just about nobody understands a word of English if you are arranging these things yourself. One of the buses we were rather lucky to get overnight was through a company called Sombat Tour. This bus was in a class way better than the others we used. They have massaging seats, on board entertainment, stewardesses and midnight meal stops at their own depots along route. Unfortunately their website is in Thai only (see: http://www.sombattour.com/html/home.php), but you can book them at the terminals of the routes they have & rest assured that one can clearly see their professionalism, safety standard & service is great, so we would look for them again if needed.

And then of course one can hitch a ride according to may backpackers. We have only done this once as a three up on a small motorcycle, but all sorts of vehicles will get you around.

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Washing and “ironing” while backpacking

We’ve got into the routine of wearing the same old 2 or 3 pairs of clothes everyday. After all, who cares & who knows us here. We’re not on a fashion parade & within 10 minutes of leaving an air conditioned room, the sweet is pouring off one in any case. Talking about air conditioning. I hate it. It messes around with sinuses, it makes one prone to colds & all kinds of respiratory sicknesses & lowers one’s tolerances for heat & temperature fluctuations. BUT, over here, one needs it. Or at least a powerful fan to stir up the hot, humid air.

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One thing that the air conditioners in the hotels do well. That is, dry clothing. Somehow or other we manage to find a way of hanging the washing off the air conditioner units each night after having done the washing in the bathroom basin. Next morning, it’s fresh & dry & ready to wear again. Or, to make it easy to browse through one’s backpack, simply seal the neatly folded clothes in ziplock bags. This also helps keeping clothes less crinkled & helps to manage our clothing with virtually no effort. 🙂

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The “Land of smiles”.

This sure describes the Thai people. Friendly & spontaneous without the jaded edge that often comes along with a difficult line of work. An example can be found with the working girls of the party district of Patong. One would expect them to have an antagonistic & jaded attitude at foreigners gawking and taking pictures of them, all the while not intending to make use of their services. Yet, they are all to happy to pose with husband and/or wife & even seemed genuinely interested in where we came from and to chat & pose with us. This seems the general trend with most of these girls who’s work must be exhausting as they try & sell their service to often offensive, rude & drunk foreigners. yet these girls keep their respectful attitude & stay friendly.

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This seems to be the case with vendors & even taxi drivers who stay friendly & helpful even after you have made it clear that you will not be using their services. A taxi driver would help you find a bus & direct you to them just to help. In the streets & party area of Patong, Bangla Road, it seems the only problems are usually caused & created by the foreigners, as it is the foreigners who also abuse alcohol. The Thai people we have come across don’t seem very interested in abusing alcohol.

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I wonder if that may be because the fact that alcohol is sold on any day, at any time & in just about any place, with local 711 even carrying a good range of booze. An interesting observation we made after a few days here.

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Food markets and street vendors. To eat or not to eat…..

Although everyone has told us that food is cheap in Thailand, if you need to eat everything from restaurants & cafe’s & keep on doing this throughout a whole month, you will be spending too much of your budget on food. Anyway, that’s what we are starting to realize. Also, when in Thailand, one would like to eat the way locals eat & at the places locals eat. But what about fears we farangs ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Farang ) have for eating food from the streets? On Sunday, we said “to hell with it” and started munching some of Phuket’s night market foods. A crazy, noisy, sweltering hot, smelly & rather unhygienic looking market, with the strangest, most colorful selection of things we fail to recognize. No matter, we had a bit of this & that and what we thought would be the safest. No stomach issues & way nicer & cheaper than the Western shit that McDonalds & the likes dish up around here anyway. We’ll try & eat more local as we go along & our confidence grows.

Janneke overwhelmed by the choice on offer. No need for cooking when everyone else is trying to sell you whatever is edible (& sometimes less than edible me thinks).

Janneke overwhelmed by the choice on offer. No need for cooking when everyone else is trying to sell you whatever is edible (& sometimes less than edible me thinks).

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Rows, upon rows of colorful food. Extremely busy with cooks sweating to get their foods out onto the tables as they prepare most things there & then. And vendors smiling & trying to entice everyone to try their wares.

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Wat Chalong

“Wat” meaning temple. This is said to be the most important of the many temples in the Phuket region. Although we are not familiar with the traditions, rites & ceremonies of the Buddhist faith, I personally always feel reverence & a peacefully calm in these beautiful monuments built in honor of ancient spiritual leaders. I am sure we will come to appreciate some more as our trip continues.

Read more about Wat Chalong & others here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wat_Chalong

Someone needs to look after the backpacks while I explore the temples.

Someone needs to look after the backpacks while I explore the temples.

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Getting to grips with transport in Thailand

WOW. That is the most difficult part. Firstly the language difference makes it almost impossible to explain to locals what & where you want to go. At hotels it’s OK, but from hotels to other main routes & place is expensive via hotel shuttle. Once they drop you off at a public bus stop, the picture changes. Buses of all shapes & sizes come rushing past. Who knows which ones to stop? Who knows where the end up. We are aware of one thing & that is that the taxis are expensive & everywhere you go, the drivers rush out to offer friendly advice & of course convince you to drive with them. We want to travel like the locals do as much as possible. Little trucks with “cattle rail type sides” & open roofs are great, cheap & a nice way to meet the locals. These are called Songthaews & are a great way to meet the locals & other backpackers.

Our first of many Songthaew trips. Cheap & cools with airflow helping in the sweltering Thailand heat.

Our first of many Songthaew trips. Cheap & cools with airflow helping in the sweltering Thailand heat.

There are millions of automatic motorbikes on the roads. It looks as if they are driving with no concern for roadsafety, but that’s where we are all wrong. I ride a 1000cc Kawasaki back home and have been doing so for many years, yet I am a terrible passenger. Yet yesterday, myself & Janneke took a lift from a young Tai who wanted to earn a few Baht. ME & JANNEKE. THREE UP from Phuket to Rawai as we missed the last songthaews on a Sunday evening. I kid you not!! No helmets, bikes, cars & all shapes & size vehicles milling in & among one another. Guess what? We felt as safe & as confident as is possible under the circumstances. Even enjoyed it. What fun & another 1st. 🙂

Now we have rented our own one for a few days to get along Phuket Island’s Western beaches.

Baggage & all fit nicely on this. At less than 200 Baht/day (+-R78), we think we'll use this locally once we are exploring a region.

Baggage & all fit nicely on this. At less than 200 Baht/day (+-R78), we think we’ll use this locally once we are exploring a region.

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Nai Yang Beach resort

Found this lovely resort less than 2 km’s from the airport. At a budget price of ZAR 442 for the two of us. A few hundred meters from Nai Yang beach. Quite a luxury for a backpacking trip though, but I think we’ll need this 1st night to be in comfort after the long flight & 8 hour layover in Qatar. Bear in mind we’re 47 & 48. 🙂

http://www.naiyangbeachresort.com/

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