Thailand to Vietnam

Hi all, 
Well here it is as promised, the first instalment of our travelling newsletter. We know that we haven't got everybody's email's so if you see someone missing from the list, could you please pass it on and ask them to email us so we can add them.  We are preparing to leave Thailand after having been here for a month. We are disappointed that we didn't find Thailand earlier, it is a beautiful country, very easy to travel through with very open and generous people willing to share their culture and lifestyles with travellers. 

We started our trip down in the South at Phuket after being led to believe that this was going to be paradise. We are glad that we came here first as we would have been disappointed to leave anything else we have experienced in Thailand to go there. Phuket is beaches crammed with umbrellas, deck chairs, tourists sunbaking until they are red raw in the sun and partying all night. Travellers from the northern hemisphere really enjoy it as they are escaping their winter. For some reason it didn't occur to us that people come to Thailand for the beaches? We left on day 3 and headed for the Phi Phi Islands.

Phi Phi is where the movie "The Beach" was made and has spectacular limestone cliffs, coral reefs, brilliant white sand beaches and beautiful scenery. The area is slowly being wrecked by over development and irresponsible management of the coral reefs. Even though Phi Phi is all about beaches, the sand and the sea, it was different to Phuket as people were here to dive, snorkel or rock climb, not just sunbake. It had an bustling, interesting night market which we enjoyed. The island has very limited roads and we had to travel by long boat  to our accommodation after dark, we could walk along the beach and over the rocks during the day. A long boat is a wooden 'canoe', about 4-5 m long with a noisy diesel engine on the back. This has a long prop shaft of about 3 m with a tiny prop on the end. They are quite fast and we spent the day on one, travelling around the local islands, snorkelling and site seeing. The reef was interesting with many similar fish to at home, however a lot of the coral has been killed by snorkellers walking on it and boats running over it at low tide.

We went to Khao Sok National Park next where we stayed in Jungle Huts. Our hut was a ridgy didge bamboo hut, on 4 m bamboo legs and attached to a tree. Accordingly when the tree swayed in the breeze, so did the hut. When Miriam rolled over in bed, so did the hut. I didn't dare move at night. Here we saw the largest flower in the world, a parasitic vine that lives off other plants, it blooms once a year for about a week and stinks. The flowers can grow to 80 cm in diameter, the one we saw was around 60cm. It uses flies and other insects to pollinate, they are attracted by the smell. The plant in its entirety is a vine, with no leaves and these buds/ flowers once a year. They only grow at the top of bloody big hills, so it was an effort to see them, but worth the hike. This was pretty exciting for Miriam. We also did some interesting jungle hikes through jungle where Tigers and Elephants still roam wild, very exciting. We saw some monkeys, many snakes and a large monitor lizard. 

Next we headed back to Bangkok to sort out Visas for Vietnam, we spent around a week seeing the sights. Bangkok is very busy and the pictures that you may have seen of Traffic Police wearing masks in the street are all very real, we considered buying masks ourselves, the pollution is terrible. Bangkok is also very expensive compared to the rest of Thailand. We saw all the normal tourist sites, inc China Town, many Temples and Markets and the Grand Palace.  We took a day trip to the ancient capital, Ayutthaya about 100km north. We hired bikes and rode around for the day. The new town is built in and around the old town so it is a mismatch of "architectural styles". Some of the ruins were still quite spectacular and it would have been amazing to see them in their day.

After Bangkok we went North to Chiang Mai. This was refreshingly relaxed and cheap after a week in Bangkok. We did a 3 day hill tribe trek here where we slept in a village one night and at a beautiful waterfall the next. We also rode elephants and went bamboo rafting down a river. We walked through many different types of vegetation as we ascended and descended the mountains. It is very dry and the forests are open in the North, compared to the South which is the true Tarzan and Jane type of Jungle. We also hired a motorbike for a day and visited some attractions around the North of Chiang Mai, the traffic over here is certainly an experience. We spent a day at a cooking class where we cooked and ate and cooked and ate and cooked and ate. Yummm.

Next was Sukhothai, another ancient capital, different to Ayutthaya in that it is older, there is very limited new construction around the central part of the old city and a lot of the ruins are in better condition then Ayutthaya due to the fact that they were built from stone, not brick.

We have spent the past week in Kanchanaburi, where the Bridge on the River Kwai and Hellfire Pass are. We went to visit the Bridge and a WW2 Museum on our first day. Much of the original bridge remains, some spans were replaced after bomb damage at the end of the war. The museum was quite good however some of the statements, descriptions were not accurate or quite PC in their tones. One stated that the war and the Death Railway were wonderful things for the town and the Author was glad that it had all happened. Another Author praised the Japanese for their efforts in building the railway so quickly. 16,000 POW's and 180,000 forced asian labourers who now lay buried in cemeteries around the town may not agree, neither do I. Hellfire Pass and the Railway were amazing. The Australian run Memorial and Museum are really well set up and we walked a 2.5km section of the railway. The scale of the work is staggering. All up it is a very sobering experience. 

Some additional thoughts from Miriam:

Firstly I'd just like to make mention of just how handy it has been to have a healthy on board - thus far we have managed to avoid gastro altogether despite regularly eating at street vendors. I am truely grateful for this but will be really pleased when Craig can identify the 'cold' bug at a distance. 

While in Thailand we have been able to witness many customs and traditions that are foreign to us. I found these very interesting and set out to find book that could explain these many rituals. I can upon a book called "Thai Ways" written by an english journalist now living here in Thailand. It is a great read, explaining how Buddhism is so engrained in the culture here that it is more tradition then religion. The book explains the origin of much of the symbolism that we see day to day in the streets around Thailand. It has been truly fascinating to have this insight into Thai culture. Now I only hope I can find an equivalent books for elsewhere.

Within the first week we started to notice tell tale tan marks delineating our sandals. By now they are really distinctive and getting more and more prominent everyday - we don't quiet know what they will be like by the time we have finished with Greece and Turkey?

Things we love about Thailand:

Thai food - well that is pretty obvious
Fresh fruit shakes
Banana Pancakes on Phi Phi Island
Fruit Vendors in Bangkok
Japanese Crepes in Chiang Mai
Jerusalem Falafel in Chiang Mai, (you have to try No. 9 on the Mama Falafel page of the Menu)
Phad Thai from street vendors
Baby elephants, who love to get pats
Stress free shopping as it is all sooo cheap
Beautiful, happy people everywhere, falling over themselves to help
Thai men and tailors are keeping the dream alive, by keeping the Safari Suit as a hot fashion item, good on you guys
Things we Don't like about Thailand

Shonky Tuk Tuk Drivers in Bangkok
Thai Airways International Reservation service on a Sunday, (endless hold message)

We landed in Vietnam at lunch today and have already fallen in love with it. For a start Ho Chi Minh seems much cleaner then Bangkok and we can't wait to have Vietnamese fresh spring rolls for dinner, stay tuned for our Vietnam experience, available here next month.

Thinking of you all,

 Craig and Miriam

P.S. We become dong millionaires today - YIPEE.

Comments: 1 (Discussion closed)
  • #1

    Miranda (Tuesday, 07 February 2023 22:07)

    Truly adorable!