April 2, 1997 to May 1, 1997
Costs: Hotel — $4.00 — $16.00 USD for a decent double
Meals: $1.50 — $2.50 each
To enter Thailand, we walked across the border and took a train to Hat Yai. Once there, we quickly linked up with two other travelers. Together we made the mistake of taking a tourist bus (minivan) from Hat Yai onto Krabi, our destination. Once on the road the driver, whom we later learned was on drugs to stay awake after 30 plus hours on the road, laid it out. He was passing people and forcing oncoming traffic, including large buses and trucks, off the other side. We bailed out after missing a head on collision by inches. It was dark and we were in the middle of nowhere. We were lucky as another bus came along after 30 minutes or so and we got to Krabi after all. Now, we were treated like dirt, lost our money, threatened and when the police came over (while we were waiting on the road) he laughed in our face and lit up a cigarette with the driver.
Why am I telling you this? Because this was so typical of Thailand’s tourist scene in the south I am sending out a warning. Never, ever, have we dealt with so many spiteful, hateful rude people. The general attitude was, "Yea, we want your cash, but we’d rather not deal with you to get it." Should you go? NO, unless you are going to the north where we hear it is much better. The only people we met who really loved Thailand were people into hard core partying, laying around a dirty beach and staying in a crummy bungalow. No, thanks. All that said, we did have some highlights. Other people we have met really loved Thailand. I guess it depends on your experience. We were also there at the height of tourist season, which can spoil any place. We have been to so many great beaches that Thailand really wasn’t that special. It was cheap, but the Caribbean, the South Pacific and Australia are better, and not necessarily that much more expensive.
We ended up taking a ferry over from Krabi to Kho Phi Phi and stayed one week. After two failed attempts, we found a half way descent bungalow and small beach. Most beaches are spoiled by the fact they pump raw sewage out at night but this one was okay. We relaxed a few days and Rob finished a Navy course to get his points. The snorkeling was pretty good off shore and we took one day to do two dives. The dives were good and we saw some beautiful fish and coral. We also saw several very large sand sharks.
We stopped in Phuket for one night on our way inland and had the best meal of our travels so far. The highly recommended Ba Rim Paa did not disappoint us in the least. We had a 7-course meal on the balcony overlooking the bay. Magnificent.
We wanted to head to Bangkok next but needed to break up the journey. We decided a stop in Rangon would be good. We were hoping for excellent shopping opportunities as it borders Myanmar (Burma). The town was a little disappointing as the shopping was scarce but there was a nice natural spa and we relaxed there. We needed the relaxation as the next day we were on buses from 9 am to 1:30 the next morning.
Once in Bangkok we quickly made our way to a recommended guesthouse near the tourist road of Kho San Road. On this road there are cheap eats, places to sleep and small tourist shops packed in together. The shopping is okay as it is convenient but you have to be really good at bargaining. We arrived in Bangkok on a Friday night and woke up Saturday to the sounds of Songkran.
Songkran is a 3-day festival around Thai New Year. It is celebrated by people throwing water on each other; pretty good as it is the hottest time of year. There are some places blocked off where everyone goes all out with terminator style water guns and buckets. Good old Kho San Road was one such place and we joined in for two days of it. Between the water wars there were parades, guys demonstrating Thai boxing, dancers and the scariest display of men who put blades and skewers through their face, arms and torso. To finish off the bizarre display they chewed on some fluorescent light bulbs.
After the festival we got down to the heavy—duty tourist stuff. One could spend two weeks in Bangkok sightseeing and still not take it all in. There are some delightful things on offer here and we took full advantage. Cheap Thai massages are given for about $4.00 US for one hour. The freshly cooked spicy food is readily available for a song. We missed out on the cooking classes. We hear they are great.
Tourist Highlights of Bangkok:
— The temples or Wats as they are known are spectacular. Each one is different and there are about 5 large Wats and 25 or so smaller Wats. Each Wat has something different to offer like a huge gold Buddha, a great view of the city, old paintings or a nice park.
— The gold plated and colorful Grand Palace. Every square inch of this place has a statue, tile, or painting on it. We were on information overload and kept having to sit down and take it all in for fear our brain would explode. This was once the residence of the King and Queen but now serves as a special meeting place and has government offices. Aside from all the large, shiny buildings there is a special Wat inside with the emerald Buddha. This 3 foot Buddha is made from a solid piece of jade and has 4 sets of gold clothes. The clothes are changed according to the season. The Wat is so elaborately decorated there is one professor who has dedicated his life’s work to it. He has translated the meaning of the frescoes covering the walls and traced the history of the works of art inside.
— The Thai dancers are something to see. We didn’t see a formal concert, but they dance at one of the alters on the street (there are alters everywhere, in malls, banks, people’s homes, etc.). Apparently you pay them a certain sum which buys you several dancers and several minutes of time. They dance for a prayer request and are the go between for you and the god.
— There was an excellent weekend market and we had a good time shopping.
— The malls, movie theaters and restaurants were also a nice break for us.
On to Kanchanuburi, our favorite spot in Thailand. This is the location of the infamous bridge over the river Kwai. We enjoyed learning the history of this area during WWII and spent some time at two fascinating museums. One thing that really struck me (Rob) was a letter by one of the former POWs there. He noted that everyone there was an animal. They had all been reduced to this state by the horrid conditions. He laid no blame on his captors, and stated that if the tables had been turned, he wasn’t sure if he himself would have been equally viscious. I guess it is a comment on the human condition. We are all capable of terrible deeds. To think otherwise is to fool yourself.
For adventure, we decided to take a 3 day guided hike through the surrounding countryside. This should have been labeled the Indian Jones tour as we hiked up raging rivers, through black caves filled with frigid water up to our necks, over boulders etc. We even made it to an old cave full of pottery shards from who knows how long ago. The last day was a mellow hike, bamboo rafting and a great ride on an elephant. Our group was terrific.
We spent a few days doing errands back in Bangkok. Rob also delivered a lecture at the National Radiation Laboratory in the dosimetry department. They, as everyone else, seem to have been visited by the Harshaw/Bicron!? folks and are using their system.
Malaysia and Thailand Photo Gallery
Copyright © 2002 by Robert and Melissa Gunter. All rights reserved.