Archive for the ‘Thailand’ Category

Wet and Wild 04-19/02/11

Posted: February 20, 2011 in Laos, Thailand

What up peeps! (I’m going ‘gangster’ in order to appeal to the younger readers, I want to top 50,000 hits you see, it’s all about the numbers these days.) Right off the bat I’d like to make a thousand apologies for the delay in the blog, I know a lot of you have come to rely on our blogs as a shining light in these bleak winter days, but after you find out about the week we have just had I hope you will find it in your hearts to forgive our tardiness.

We last left you in the Luang Prabang in Laos, and from there we drove further south to Vang Vieng. Oh my goodness was that a sleazy nightmare of a place! The town is located on a river in a stunning limestone cliff landscape, which has unfortunately been ruined by an activity known as tubing. This essentially involves hundreds of drunk tourists, (many from the UK it has to be said), hiring rubber inner tubes and floating down the river, stopping at many of the loud bars that litter the river bank and pollute the environment by pumping out very loud music 13 hours a day! Add in a lot of drug taking as well and ‘horrendous’ is the only word you can use to describe it! How the locals put up with it I don’t know! To make matters worse, we had booked three nights there, doh!

There was a saving grace though… everyday we headed out of the cesspit, (can you tell that I really didn’t like it?) and headed for the hills. There were many small and interesting tracks that led out of the town and into the surrounding countryside. We spent all day just exploring the outlying villages, attending injured Americans after they had fallen off their motorbikes, paddling in rivers and driving through water crossings (more than once in order to get that perfect shot!) So what could have been three days of hell actually turned out to be a blessing and a really enjoyable couple of days!

The road from Vang Vieng to the Laos capital, Vientianne was in a lot better condition than the roads further to the north and it took us no time getting there and finding our hotel. Vientianne is my kind of capital; small, relaxed and laid back. It’s full of coffee shops, NGO personel driving large white 4x4s, and tour companies promising you that theirs is the cheapest bus to Thailand. After the first day wandering the city, drinking coffee and yep, you’ve guessed it, people watching we got an email from our mate Austrian Tom (www.look4tom.com), who we last saw in Bandar Abbas just before we got the ferry to Dubai. He had taken his car to India but left it there and continued his journey on his KTM motorbike though Asia. It turned out that he was in Vientianne as well and we met up with him and his friend Klaus for more coffee, a few beers and a good old story swap.

Our decision not to take the car to India seems to have been the right one listening to the nightmare/ horror stories Austrian Tom told us of getting his car there, through customs and driving on the roads. It also turns out that Tom (we can drop the Austrian bit now, you know who he is) will be in Perth when we are, yeah! We have a friend in Australia! He also promised to teach us windsurfing while we wait for the car to turn up. Personally I doubt I’ll need many lessons, as I have a feeling I’m a natural but Megan will take a lot of work. Look out for photos of me in a wetsuit in the near future… I strongly suggest you finish any large meals first- there will be a parental warning (probably  PG15) as well on that particular blog so not to worry, you’ll have plenty of notice.

After bidding farewell to Laos we then started the drive back into Thailand and continued doing battle with the shippers. We had started making enquires into shipping the car to Perth about a month ago but had got nowhere. Emails went unanswered, the quotes we did receive were either crazy high or ridiculously cheap and therefore not inclusive of all the costs. It got to the stage where we seriously considered taking the Land Rover apart and carrying it on the plane as excess baggage. Then all of a sudden Megan had a breakthrough! Following another stupid email from a shipping agent asking the same question I had answered ten days before and suggesting a date for shipping which would have required us to drive at an average speed of 107.5mph in 24 hours in order to get there I finally had a little cry and gave up. Megan however took over, and within thirteen minutes found an English guy on the web who could not only help us but also had somewhere we could clean the car and get it serviced before he shipped it. It made me sick, five weeks, five weeks it had taken me, 38 emails to three different shippers, and she nailed it thirteen bloody minutes!?! I had another little cry and lost all the man points I had gained over the last few weeks.

So we left for the border with a plan, me in a sulk and Megan looking a little bit too chuffed with herself. The car would be shipped in ten days, which would give us enough time to get to Bangkok and get Harriet looking her best for the customs inspection in Fremantle. The border crossing went smoothly. Well, there was the mandatory run around- I think we visited five different offices in order to get the Carnet stamped, but as we are so relaxed about it all now we both commented on the fact that only two hours for a signature and a bit of paper was ‘quite good actually’.

We finally arrived in Bangkok and after a night in the most expensive hostel in the world we went off to meet the English guy who could arrange our shipping. The English guy had a name, Tim, and Tim is our hero. He owns a company called Siam Motor World (www.siammotorworld.com) and without him we would not have been able to get the car packed and off to Australia. He sorted out all the shipping and let use his garage for a week for free. What a guy.

Now we get to the reason why this blog was so long in coming. In order to get any car into Australia you have to make sure it is spotlessly clean, inside and out and it must not contain any mud, seeds or anything that could endanger the eco-systems of our Australia cousins. Initially I didn’t think it would take too long to clean the Land Rover however, after the first couple of hours it became obvious just how long this was going to take us. Laos had coved everything, and I mean everything in the back of the car in a fine film of dust, and the underside of the car was still covered in tar from Turkey, with mud mixed into it for good measure.

Basically we took the car apart, cleaned it, and put it back together. It took a total of 96 man-hours, nine separate arguments between us, four ruined T-shirts, one pair of crocs,  and lost three fingernails. At one stage I actually threw the scraper I was using to chip tar off the bottom of the car across the garage in a proper bloke fit! More last man points. I took care of the underside of the car and the engine, taking the wheels off and scraping off the tar in the wheel wells, taking the radiator out and power washing the engine. Megan emptied all our boxes, cleaned all our equipment, repacked it all, and cleaned the inside of the car. They were long days, 7am till 7pm, in temperatures no sane Englishman should work in.

However, come Thursday afternoon we had done the best we could. Will it be good enough? We will all have to wait and see…. We really can’t thank Tim enough, he went above a beyond to help us and if anyone is shipping out of or into Thailand or needs anything car related in Thailand he is the only man to see.

So that’s it, the car is again in a container, making its way to Oz and we are off to Singapore to visit some friends. We miss her and the freedom she gives us…sniff sniff…..damn it Simon, no tears!

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All Thai’d out 24-29/01/11

Posted: February 1, 2011 in Thailand

The final days in Thailand: we seemed to have spent a lot longer here than we had planned, basically because the place is interesting, cheap and (don’t tell Megan) the woman are just so damn hot! I’m joking of course, it’s not that cheap.

We spent our final days in Chiang Mai wondering the little side streets and alley ways that interweave between the main streets and are full of coffee shops, tat shops and bars. We had many a happy hour sitting watching the world pass us by. (Still far too many dreadlocks and tie dye though.)

On one of the days, I forget which one, we went to visit an elephant conservation centre, where we were treated to a show displaying all the talents of the massive beasts. A lot of it demonstrated how elephants used to be used for logging in the northern forests, which was truly fascinating and I was amazed by their skill… but not as amazed as I was when we saw elephants paint! And pictures of themselves no less, a proper jaw dropping moment! The centre clearly looks after the elephants and treats them very well, they even have an elephant hospital on site that gave an elephant a prosthetic leg!


Heading up even closer to the Laos border and our final stop in Thailand was near a place called Chiang Rai. We had booked a ‘hut’ in a resort just on the edge of town but because it was so cheap we were a little skeptical as to the quality of the place, but www.tripadvisor.com didn’t let us down. And can I just say bravo for trip advisor, it’s been bang on so many times and made looking for hotels so damn easy! Actually, we’ve started reviewing the places we have stayed in under the name ‘maple’ if anyone is interested and thinking of coming out this way.

So, the hut: awesome, simply an amazing place. We got a little hut with a mattress on the floor, an outdoor toilet and shower and no AC, but somehow it worked and I can’t rate the Naga Hill Resort enough. The pool was simply massive, so massive that I actually didn’t make it to the other end, as it just seemed too far away and my fitness levels were simply not up to it. We spent three nights here but could have easily spent a week or two.

On our second day there we managed to drag ourselves away from the pool and head for the hills and a village called Mae Salong, which has more in common with China than Thailand. We thought we had driven up some pretty steep roads in the Cameron Highlands but they were mere gentle inclines compared to the near vertical roads that presented themselves in this part of Thailand. First gear all the way up for about 40 minutes, but to give the Land Rover her due the temperature needle never went over half way. Once up at the top it was a little hazy so the views were not the best but it was interesting nonetheless. Coming back down was worse than going up, with the brakes and Megan screaming at every opportunity. Again that’s unfair, the brakes did very well… We did have to stop a couple of times to let them cool down though, as the brake pedal was having to be pressed harder and harder to get a reaction!

Then came the day to head to the border: we had read from other blogs that we needed to get to the border crossing early to catch the first ferry, as the cost of the ferry is spilt between those on it so if you turn up and there is no one else there the whole $120 is down to yourself! So 6am it was then. It all worked out rather well actually: we turned up, sorted out the customs, got our car signed out and our passports stamped! We managed to board the ferry with some trucks so it only cost us £25, bargain! It was then that we noticed the flat tyre……

What Wat? 14-23/01/11

Posted: January 24, 2011 in Thailand

After the India debacle, or the ‘incident’ as it will now be named, we ended up back in Bangkok and were very happy about it, very happy indeed. We arrived a little after my brother and father, as we had changed our flight, which Air Asia did for free, but had to fly at a later time. We arrived in Bangkok in the early hours of the morning and were whisked away to the apartment we had booked for a week of air-conditioned luxury. It was good to be back in SE Asia.

On the first day back the family went to see some of the sights we had already seen and I went to pick up the Land Rover from the storage place we had left it in. Once again she started first time, for some reason it is always a shock to me when the car does what it’s meant to. After fighting the Bangkok traffic back to our apartment I was back in bed catching up with my hour and a half jet lag.

It was good to spend some more time in the Thai capital, as we had not really seen the sights when we were first here, it being Christmas and all, so we hit the tourist trail hard and fast and took in more temples and Buddha’s than you can shake a stick at.

On the 4th day we took a trip to Kanchanaburi, the sight of the Bridge over the River Kwai. It was a tight fit to get all four of us in the Land Rover and those in the back were not too happy with the total lack of leg room, so I had to drive with my knees resting on my chest. Megan commented that this may have actually improved my driving. She walked home.

Kanchanaburi itself has become something of a tourist hotspot and not the somber location I feel it should have been. Saying that though the war graves were immaculately kept and even with all the noise and hubbub surrounding the site it was a very peaceful place to be. It was quite humbling to see that the majority of the graves of the men (well, boys really) who died were only in their 20’s. There was also a very interesting and tasteful museum that charted the building of the ‘Death Railway’ as it has come to be known.

The day my brother and dad flew home I got up at 5am to drive them to the airport, something I had offered to do after one to many Singapore slings on a rooftop bar the night before (and by the way, did you even know they had a 5am??! It was still dark!). Lately Megan and myself find it an effort to get out of bed before 10am, god knows how we are going to cope with work once the money runs out and we have to go back to real life jobs!?! I’m still hoping that some big shot with a publishing house and a love of Land Rovers will see my blog and offer me a couple mill to turn it into a book and a BBC drama, hopefully starring that guy from Doctor Who, not the new one but the old one, you know, that guy…? No Megan, it’s not a long shot!!!

So I bid 70% of my family goodbye at the airport and the last few days since then have been spent driving north in Thailand, heading for the Laos border. We stopped on the way at a couple of small backwater towns, which always seem to have the most amazing food. This one place we went to was truly amazing: ‘all you can eat cook it yourself at your table’ for £2. We ate a lot, so much in fact that I have eaten nothing for the last three days, as I’m still trying to digest it all. (That’s such a lie). The food in Thailand is awesome and we haven’t stopped eating since crossing the border.

We also stopped at a little town called Kamphaeng Phet, which had an incredible number of temple ruins. I thought I had reached maximum temple exposure (or ‘wat’, which is thai for temple, get the title now?) but after seeing these crazy weather worn Buddhas it really got my temple juices flowing again. As Kamphaeng Phet was slightly off the main tourist trail there was also no one else around and we had the whole sight to ourselves in order to take inappropriate photos.

We are now currently staying in a small city called Chiang Mai, which is back packer central, far too many dreadlocks, baggy tie died trousers and use of the word ‘man’ in conversations for my liking. We should be in Loas in four or five days as long as we can find the boarder crossing- the guidebook and google only seem to talk about people crossing by boat and nothing is mentioned about a bridge or car crossing… Well, the main border is too far to drive now so we are going up to have a look anyway! Fingers crossed there is some sort of car ferry, if not then maybe I can start one…? Megan, Megan! I’ve just had the most amazing idea…..

Thai’d down 26/12/10-5/01/11

Posted: January 5, 2011 in Thailand

Only in the province of Ontario, Canada is Boxing Day a statutory holiday, elsewhere in Canada it is only optional and if you are Canadian you could very well have to go to work! Just an interesting little fact for you, thank you wikipedia, to help us ease back into the swing of things. We spent our Boxing Day watching TV and eating too much which is, as every one knows the way it should be spent. We had a flight to New Delhi booked for the 28th so the days leading up to it were used seeing the sights of Bangkok and planning the next leg of the trip. Plus, and I think this is the highlight of the trip, I managed to get in to 32’ waist jeans! Something that I have not been able to do since the tender age of 15 and yes, Thai jean sizes are the same as the ones in the UK. There is nothing like the stress of an overland trip and a temperamental Land Rover to really burn those calories, must let Weight Watchers know…

We dropped the car off at a vehicle storage place handily just next to Bangkok Airport on the 28th and after waving goodbye, promising to keep in touch and exchanging email we left Harriet in the capable hands of AGS Four Winds. We got to the airport all excited about the next chapter of our adventure and eagerly looked for our flight on the big magical board at the entrance. We found it and also discovered that our flight was special, as it had extra writing in Thai next to it. After waiting a lifetime for the English version it turns out that our flight was in no way special but actually very un-special and in fact cancelled! This posed a massive problem, not only because we could not travel to Delhi that day but because we would not be able to make all our booked onward travel. Oh no, I hear you all cry, how are Megan and Simon going to get out of this one?? well, talking to the airline we found out that we would be able to fly the next day. Phew, panic over! but by this time it was very late and after changing our flights with Air Asia it was too late to get the car back, so we booked into the hotel at the airport, a £100 a night Novatel which as a side note has the most comfortable beds in the world. Seriously readers, I know times are tough but I urge you to buy a one day return flight to Bangkok and experience the best night’s sleep you will ever have. It will be money well and wisely spent.

The next day we went back to the airport, once again excited at the prospect of home grown onion bhajis and naan bread, but whilst queuing up at the check in desk we noticed that all our trains in India had been booked for February, not January!?! The resulting swears drew looks from the terminal crowds so we excused ourselves from the line and after a couple of hours on the internet it became obvious that we would not be able to do the trip we had planned but instead would have to sit in Delhi for 10 days waiting for my father and brother to fly out and join us. (To get a train in India you have to book weeks, sometimes months in advance). So after a long conversation, a few G&T’s and a game of rock paper scissors we came to the conclusion that we would save more money and see more if we stayed in Thailand until the 6th January and then flew out to meet my family. Megan went off to the Air Asia desk to see if we could change our flights again and because of the cancelled flight the day before they agreed and there was no extra charge. It was a disappointment but luckily we found out before we checked in, rather than when we were on a platform in India waiting until February for our train. After a few phone calls we went back to pick the car up and then came up with a plan on how to spend our extra days. Looking at the Lonely Planet there were two interesting sights an hour or two north of Bangkok, so that’s where we went: we went to see Ayutthaya, a town and World Heritage Site full of old temples and the most Buddha statues in one place I have ever seen.

 

We spent a couple of nights there wandering around and really enjoyed the different temples by day as well as by night when they are lit up and are quite amazing, as with no tourist crowds you get them all to yourselves.

Oh and the elephants! They have elephant taxis, which we did not use but were cool to look at.

Following that we drove further east to visit the national park of Khao Yai. Here we could finally do something that we have not done since Turkey, camp it up! The park is quite a lot higher than the surrounding area so quite a bit cooler, in fact, a nice cardigan was required for the evenings around the camp stove.

There are some lovely walks and waterfalls around the forests and tonnes of wildlife. In fact in the campsite monkeys and deer would wonder through looking for free food hand outs. They were out of luck from me though, as Megan’s camp cooking was bang on the money and after months away it tasted simply delicious.

So we are now on our way back to the airport to try our luck once again and hopefully my next blog will be from India!

Happy New Year!

My Thai 18-25/12/10

Posted: December 30, 2010 in Thailand

Sorry it’s been a while folks, lots to talk about this time as well so go and get a cup of tea, perhaps even a hob knob or jaffa cake if you prefer and let’s get back into it…

Thailand! Country number ten (yes Vatican city counts!) and another border crossing. The Malaysia side of things went very smoothly; passports stamped and Carnet’s signed within 20 minutes. Then a short drive though no-man’s land to the Thailand side, where organized chaos awaited us. Unlike the Malaysia side there were no drive though booths and we had to park the truck and join an hour-long mass (there was no discernable queue) to get our entry visas stamped- we had already picked up our tourist visas in Kuala Lumpur so that we could get 60 days at the border for us and our car, rather than the normal 15 days. Thailand does not recognize the carnet system so you have to get a separate import license at the border, which is free, but requires another hour or so of queuing. We got the 60 days for ourselves but customs would only give us 30 days on the car, which was a massive problem as we had planned to keep the car in Thailand whilst we flew to India. This would have been over the 30 day license and would have resulted in a massive fine. No amount of pleading with the customs chaps would fix the problem, however they did say that we could go to Bangkok and ask at the customs headquarters there for an extension on the visa for the car. Ummm… we thought, what are the chances of that?? but having no choice we drove on and spent our first day in Thailand.

One of the most notable things about crossing the border is how clean Thailand is, a very English thing to notice but all the same quite a stark contrast from other countries. The south of Thailand has a bit of a reputation for being slightly less safe than the rest of the country but as we stuck to the main roads we saw nothing but friendly faces and the occasion wave.

The next three days were spent driving and stopping at cheap £10 a night hotels, slowly making our way towards Bangkok. I was amazed at just how big Thailand is, far bigger than Malaysia- it’s actually the 50th largest country in the world, which now I type it doesn’t sound as impressive as I wanted it to sound. It’s actually the size of France….no, that’s still no better, what about it occupies the northern two-thirds of the Malay Peninsula? There we go, that sounds pretty darn impressive.

Once we were just one day’s drive from Bangkok we stopped at the ‘Bamboo Guest House,’ a lovely little resort just off the coast run by Rudi the friendly German. It was an amazing place consisting of 5 luxury huts, a small bar and a swimming pool. Who could ask for anything more? We were mildly concerned upon arriving and seeing a lot of nakedness by the pool but luckily it was not compulsory, a fact that I have to say Megan looked disappointed about. On our second evening we were lucky enough to have timed our visit with Rudi’s annual party and got free beer and food, cash back!

On the 23rd we pushed the final 200km to Bangkok with a slight knot in our little (beer filled) tummies as we were going to have stop at the Customs House to see if we could extend the car’s visa. If we could not then we were going to have a big problem, and there was no plan B in the wings! We found the place easy enough and after driving around the building looking for somewhere to park for the 8th time a guard finally took pity on us and let me park in a roped off area. Megan had jumped out whilst I was parking and had nailed the Royal Thai Customs paperwork for an extension of a non-duty importation of a private car and was out again before I had chance to lock the car doors! It turns out it’s not that big of a deal to extend the license and now the car’s visa is in line with our own.

Off to our hotel, which was in the heart of Bangkok and considering it only cost £35 a night was very posh by our standards. Once the issue of parking was sorted (we were too tall to for the car park so we got pride of place outside the hotel) we checked in and had a little snooze. My good friend Ian and his friend David had flown to Bangkok to meet us for Christmas (he was the only one mind, none of you others have put in the effort) which was really nice, as conversation between Megan and myself had dried up in the last few days of Malaysia so it was good to get some ‘fresh blood’ so to speak (even though he didn’t bring any cheerios). It was great to catch up and we can only hope we did not bore them too much with our stories.

Christmas eve was spent shopping for presents in the morning- we had a budget of £20 each, and then meeting up with Ian and David to wonder the sights of Bangkok in the afternoon……..maybe wondering is a little bit of an understatement: a full-blown hike/march in 30 degrees and 104% humidity would be a more accurate description. We walked miles that day but actually saw very little of the major sights as they were closed by the time we reached them, but I really enjoyed wondering the streets and after trying four taxi drivers to get home we gave up and finally managed to convince a tuk-tuk driver to take us back to the metro station. Traffic in Bangkok is scary in a four tonne Land Rover, in a three-wheeled tuk-tuk it’s bloodcurdling, terrifying, and any other adjectives you can think of that result in the need for new undergarments. So many near misses, so many ignored traffic lights, so many massive lorry wheels inches from our faces. We all shared a special bond that day and looking around at the white, drawn faces in the three wheeled chariot from hell I could tell that none of us would ever speak of the experience again for fear of the flashbacks.

Christmas morning we opened the presents we had bought each other and I even gave Megan a stocking, well, a sock I had stuffed with little treats. (Note to self: wash sock before using it as a stocking next year). We then made our way via a rather posh Benz courtesy of Ian’s 7* hotel to an English pub where we had a great proper Christmas dinner with all the trimmings, it was awesome. We had the normal Christmas afternoon that I imagine most of you had: lying by the pool while the staff tended to our every need with cocktails, mineral water and fresh towels every 5 minutes. In the evening we went up to a roof top bar atop of one of the highest buildings in Bangkok and drank cocktails until things started to look a bit fuzzy and Megan took me home, pretty standard stuff.

We had a great Christmas and we can’t thank Ian and David enough for their kindness and generosity and for coming out and giving us another highlight of our trip.

I think that’s enough for now, still lots more to tell though… Coming up in the next installment: flights get cancelled, Simon finds true happiness in GAP and Megan cooks the best meal ever.