19. End of 2011/2012 Thailand/Cambodia Vacation

It's the end of the line, and I'm feeling like it's time to go home. I don't have any new pics to post. My flight leaves about 6:00 AM tomorrow morning, so I need to leave the hotel about 2:00 AM to get there the recommended three hours ahead. If I get some pics later, I'll post them here when I get home.

Since it's my last day I have this nagging feeling like I should bungy jump off the River Kwai bridge or something for good measure. Instead, stumbled around the resort like a zombie this morning. Thought about paying the 300 baht/hour ($10) to use the hotel's "business center" to check email....but just couldn't do it. So I caught the shuttle in to Central Plaza Mall and found a place that is 50 baht/hour. It's different than CentralWorld Mall, but seems just as big. It's the only place the shuttle goes to, this and two other malls. I know, I know, I could take a taxi somewhere. Well, I'll be happy if I never step foot in another one of these mega-malls. I've been wandering around this place for a couple hours, and will catch the shuttle back to the resort in about half hour, then not sure what I'm going to do. Feeling kind of low, maybe will try to take a nap. After the espresso I had that's probably not going to happen. Maybe go for a swim in the 30" deep pool. I just had an interesting experience in the mall restroom...I wasn't paying attention or couldn't quite tell which one I was supposed to be in for some reason and the cleanup ladies started laughing and pushed me out towards the men's room to great laughter--I guess I made their day.

Was watching the weather last night and I saw the number "6" over the Seattle area. I think that's about 40 degrees or so. Cold but not too bad. I'll just wear all my long sleeve shirts.


I ended up getting up at 3:00 AM, checking out and catching a cab to the airport to get there about 4:30 AM, no problem. FYI, always tell the taxi to turn the meter on. A typical thing will be for him to suggest you give him 500 baht and he pays the tolls. The tolls are only 75 baht total and the entire bill, including tolls, was about 380 baht. We're only talking about a difference of around $4, they really don't make that much money. If you're feeling generous I suppose it would be OK for a one time deal, like buying some birds and setting them loose, make you feel like you're doing a good deed or something. Others will yell at me for ruining the market and encouraging unscrupulous cabbies. Whatever you're feeling at the moment I suppose. That early and before my coffee I guess I'm a grumpy scrooge.

I was fined 2,500 baht ($80) at the airport for overstaying my visa 5 days. I didn't get "in trouble" at the airport, they just sent me to the police desk and fined me 500 baht per day, took an extra 20 minutes. However, I understand that you can get in big trouble in the (highly unlikely) event you get asked to show your visa while out and about on your vacation. If the police find you to be overstaying your visa, your  problems can include detainment and deportation. Several of the people who were waiting in line with me at the airport to pay fines to the police said their problem was they were in Thailand before and came back, ignorant of the fact that they needed to get a new visa. One lady was very vocal in her outrage. In my case the airline sold me a ticket for the amount of time I asked for with no mention of an overstay, so I thought everything was OK. It just didn't occur to me to think about it until I left. Visa is for 30 days, it was my responsibility to know that, so it's nobody's fault but mine. Do be careful about this and know where you stand.

I took money out of an ATM the day before my last day. The machine did not return my card. It's the first time that ever happened to me anywhere. Fortunately, the ATM was at a bank that was open. They were able to retrieve my card in about half an hour. I don't know how long it would have taken to get my card back from a stand-alone machine. I have noticed that some machines simply need you to insert your card and then pull it back out again (or maybe it was just swipe it, can't remember). I cannot tell you where I saw them, or how many, only that I noticed there was at least one like that. That's the kind I'll be looking for from now on. If not that, then only where the bank is open.

Yes, it felt cold in Seattle. Warmer a little in Portland. I'm home now, it's about noon and it feels 2:00 AM to me. I'll try to stay up to a normal bedtime, then take a pill to make sure I sleep hard a long time tonight to get a good start towards getting back on track. I told them at work I would probably take a sick day because of jet lag...but I'm actually feeling like I'd like to get back to work. Depending on how well I sleep tonight, I may go in tomorrow. It feels good to be home. My bed is just right...not too hard, not too soft.

This trip was so much better than the last one. I feel I almost did it right this time. The only nagging thing is that I meant to go less places and spend more time at the beach. I didn't do that, and I'm not sure why. Perhaps I don't like the beach all that much after all. And there's some dissatisfaction about staying in any one place for too long, always having the feeling of wanting to go some place else.

Vaguely speaking, driving in Thailand seems a lot like walking in a crowded airport. People generally move with traffic rules, but great variance is allowed and there are no markings. The drivers I rode with all considered roadway markings completely optional. You just point your nose in the direction you want to go and ease your way into traffic without being belligerent. On the ride home I was struck by how obsessed with order, safety and cleanliness we are in comparison. Learning to drive over there would be a real learning experience for me, not sure if I would ever be up for it.

18. Ayutthaya

I took the hotel shuttle out to CentralWorld mall again in downtown Bangkok, looking for something to do. I was told it's the largest mall in Asia, but it's not even in the top 10 on this list. Plenty of things to buy here. I may go up to the 7th floor and visit the food court and see if I'm up for a pepperoni pizza. I'm the only passenger on all the times I've taken this shuttle. I think this hotel is mainly for big weddings and corporate exhibitions. That's all I see anyway, I appear to be one of the few "tourists".

All for me
I'm really not comfortable with this level of luxury.
It's little guest houses for me from now on.

I went to Ayuttaya yesterday, and it was rather long trip out to the old capital of Thailand. I'd like to report that it was a good trip, but I contracted something which made my visit very unpleasant. There are plenty of temples there, it's an entire city of ruins to visit, and I was disappointed that I had to cut it short after visiting only three.

This old pagoda in Ayutthaya is now the center of a traffic circle

I met a new friend here (friend of a friend) by the name of Boy. Most Thais have a nickname given, and I asked him what his nickname means. He said it's just the English name for a male child. That's what his parents chose. He's proprietor of a hardware store at the moment, and happy to be a lifelong resident of Ayuttaya.  It was very interesting talking with him about all sorts of things from business and the economy to culture and history of Thailand and the region in general. I said I want a nickname too, and was promptly dubbed Yak. It means "Giant" (but also ironically invoking some of the sounds I was making during the day due to my ailment).

Boy, my gracious guide for the day

I feel very fortunate Boy took time from his busy schedule to be my guide for as long as I could take it. I'm glad he started with some of the most impressive temples. There were some huge statues of Buddha which started the tour. The biggest ones were in pretty good shape. Just look at the size of this reclining one.

We had to wind it up with a visit to this scary-big gold one. One finger was way bigger than a person. I think it looked so big because it was enclosed in a room. It once was outdoors, and was enclosed later.

I was very surprised at the size of this Buddha
Boy said this third temple survived because it was where the Burmese settled after they sacked the city, so they didn't destroy it. I need to check my facts on this because I'm getting the feeling they are getting jumbled, but I believe he said this one is older than many of the temples of Ayutthaya, over 500 years old.

Very beautiful ceiling

There are so many ruins to visit in this city. Just driving around you will see extremely old pagodas right next door to businesses and neighborhoods--easy to think nothing of it if it's part of your life. There are several structures you will notice leaning quite badly. Boy explained this is due to damage from the flood waters which began to recede only last month. The entire area of Ayutthaya was flooded, in places 10 meters deep. It's hard to believe, traveling around the city and seeing the water line left on buildings, imagining what it must have been like for everything miles around to be flooded in at least waist deep water for months. The soft foundation stones of some of the structures eventually began to dissolve.

This is the image I most often see in association with the name Ayutthaya.
Lots of tourists taking pics with it while hamming it up 

We took a break from seeing temples and went out to eat at a nice restaurant on a barge tied up to a dock. There was a big barge being pulled up or down the river every 15 minutes or so. The food was wonderful and there was a pleasant breeze that cooled things down nicely. I tried a little of the food but couldn't keep it down, so had to be a spectator for the rest of the meal. There's some yummy looking fish in my hotel fridge, I'll try a little when I get back tonight.

There is a special kind of tuktuk in Ayuttaya that I have seen nowhere else in Thailand. Boy explained that they are all very old and they keep them on the road, some looking brand new and others looking every bit their age. I'll have to ask him why they are in Ayutthaya exclusively.

One thing was very striking as I take the shuttle out is the failed 80 billion baht Hopewell Project. It's an amazing amount of waste, over one thousand concrete pillars the majority being sound. It has been proposed to use it as an extension of the Skytrain line, but the people I've asked don't think it will happen.

Well, this internet cafe has very uncomfortable chairs so I'm out of here.

17. Return to Rangsit - Last Week In Thailand

Since the train trip out east sucked so badly I decided to take a bus back to Bangkok. It was the best bus I ever rode anytime, anywhere, with comfortable seats and a bathroom in the back. Our flight crew consisted of two drivers and a stewardess. That's right, and she wore the cutest little hat.

The six hour trip included lunch and two snacks, distributed by a stewardess

I'm a VIP...check....we did have some movies in Thai, but no one sang karaoke...
comfortable seats, check...I think that last symbol means "NO DURIAN"--thank Buddha!

I thought I'd go back to Rangsit because I just couldn't see staying an entire week in the middle of Bangkok again, but I want to do some things there. This hotel looked good on paper. I found a pretty good deal online and they are a fancy outfit. They told me the hotel is only a short distance away, but it was right about 5:00 PM. I hopped in a taxi as soon as I got to the bus station. What I didn't realize is that the hotel is a resort and an island that is rather hard to get to. It sits alongside a major expressway and inbetween two turnarounds that are about 4 KM apart (I'm not going to try and explain it any better than that). I think I could have have walked there quicker than the taxi. It took about an hour moving most of the time at a crawl. When we eventually caught sight of the hotel in the distance, the taxi driver tapped his fuel gauge and smiled at me: we were running on fumes. We made it there OK though, I hope he didn't run out of gas before he got to a station. Upon check-in I found that the online booking didn't take, and I had to go pay the three bucks to check my email and print out the itinerary and take it back to the front desk. Then everything went smoothly. Got to my room, dumped my stuff, and went back downstairs looking for a stiff drink. There is a very, very fancy karaoke bar here, I've never seen anything like it. Maybe I'll drink too much tonight and show them how it's done. Well, I ordered a bourbon and it came on the rocks. Hardly enough booze in it to wet the ice cubes. I smiled and told him to make it double, and it finally looked like something I could drink. Two minutes later I asked for the check. It was 500 baht. That's $15.77. Promptly went out the front door, caught a taxi and went to the 7-11. Bought a bottle of Black Label, 3 bottles of soda, a bag of ice and some ibuprofen for about 1200 baht. The rest of the night went rather well.

The only way out of this complex is to take a taxi or ride the shuttle--it's free, but it's a long drive. Well, that's the worst thing about it--everything else is OK: very posh with the cloth napkins, lady in a red dress singing to a grand piano on the lobby, tennis courts, driving range, big pool...I'll try to get used to my first world problems. I took a tour of the grounds this morning. It's extensive to the point of having their own outdoor concert stage. Today it is the site of a big heavy equipment show or something, lots of earth movers on display by Kobelco.

Five nights here...hmm...what to do? Today I'm spending a few hours at a big mall. My big fancy hotel wants to charge me three bucks an hour to use their internet so I'm here at an internet cafe for a while. Tomorrow I'll go spend half a day or so at Ayutthaya...but then what? Heavy drinking and sunburn at the pool?

My flight sure leaves early in the morning on Wed. Jan 11, 5:55 AM. They say I need to be there 3 hours ahead of time for an international flight....that's 3:00 AM. Is that really necessary? I suppose there might be delays and whatever. I have three days left here (not including today, it's already almost 1:00 PM). Anyone have any ideas what I should do during that time? Keep it clean.

OK, nobody had a single suggestion, not even a dirty one. That must mean it's only me here.

I stayed around the hotel most of the day, went swimming, and never went to karaoke. Probably for the best. Later in the evening went to a "food court" called the FoodLoft. It was really something, nothing like any food court I've ever been to before. You enter through an entrance like a turnstile, and exit through a cashier. At the entrance you are issued a big card that has 1,000 baht credit on it. Then you browse through about 20 different kiosks that present specialized food. You make your order, hand over your card and they charge it. Food is brought to your table. I sampled a lot of things all at the same time: Korean pizza, french fries, Vietnamese fresh spring rolls, lasagna....I can't remember what else. The area you go to eat is like a night club, upscale and seductively lit with a performing group. It was a very nice place to hang out. I think it's a great idea, would be nice to see something like this back home. I took a few pics, but was informed that it was not allowed, so I just post the ones I got away with.

Really big card that has the credits on it

Swanky nightclub-like eating area

Typical kiosk

Another kiosk

Fru-fru drink. It was yummy.

16. Midnight Train to Surin

One thing I wanted to do this trip was travel out to northeastern Thailand, an area known as Isaan. All I've been to in Thailand has been cities, and wanted to see some of the countryside. Well, I haven't been seeing a lot of countryside, just hotels. All towns here are noisy about the same. That's the thing that really gets to me more than almost anything here, the acceptable noise level. Home in Vancouver, Washington it is a graveyard compared to here. Almost anywhere here. I guess you get to experience the silence and beauty of the countryside if you buy a house out there, or know someone who lives out there you can stay with. This post will be covering the entire trip to Surin and Buriram. I am spending three nights in Surin, then it's back to Bangkok until I go home.

I spent the four days at the Sihanoukville beach, and about two hours at Jomtien beach and that's all. I have been relaxing more, but I wasn't really so crazy about the beaches all that much, there's only so much sitting around and staring at them that I can take. I suppose if I were more active I'd be snorkeling or scubing, or trying to sail or something.

I thought about traveling to Surin, Thailand when I left Siem Reap, Cambodia because it is almost straight north about a three hour drive, but I was all tuckered out and took the easy flight to the coast to recuperate. It would have been quite an adventure, but I wasn't up to it (you apparently go through Pol Pot's old stronghold). What I did a few days ago was catch the northeast train line from Bangkok because I heard the Thai train system is comfortable and reliable. It seemed like a good plan at the time: take a night train and sleep all night, roll into town rested and hit the ground running. What I rode was not the Thai train system I heard about. This was slow, old and creaky and late. While cheap, it was uncomfortable as hell. I'd hoped to book a sleeper car on a quiet, comfortable, modern train, but due to a glitch in online booking (thank you very much, Verified by Visa!) I was unable to book the sleeper when I tried. They were sold out when I eventually was able to go to the train station in person for the ticket--not that a sleeper would have helped much. I'm certain I could not have slept a wink, as noisy and bumpy as this train was.

Oh no, this is not going to be good...

I got the best seat I could buy, one step down from the sleeper section. The rest of the seats were wood benches like church pews, but most people were sleeping. I don't know how they did it.

I figured out the seats swiveled around 180 degrees, it helped some.

The train left the station at about 11:40 PM. All the windows were open on all the cars--it was like driving down an old bumpy dirt road in a beat up '56 Chevy pickup with the windows down. Few Thais seemed to know how to raise the windows: women found it almost impossible, since you needed some upper-body strength to make it happen. They had shutters you had to raise up, but then you had to know this trick to get them to stay up by fiddling with the bottom with one hand while holding the thing up with the other hand. Not hard to figure out, but no one seemed to think of asking the ticket masters to help with it. I ended up raising people's shutters in my car when it seemed like they wanted them up but didn't know how to do it, women with babies mostly.

It was a choice of shutters, or glass windows

Two windows down at night, one stuck there partly open

Moving from car to car was an experience because it was all open to the elements, and this train was jumping around all over the track. Fall off and nobody hears from you again, sort of scary.

Nobody had any chickens or goats on the train, it wasn't that bad, but it was over two hours late. There were at least five times where we had to diverge onto other tracks to let other red-eyes past. This took us up to 13 hours I think, the whole time lurching, clacking, creaking, and roaring like a tornado when going over a bridge. I tried to sleep, could not even a little bit. The only nice part was watching the sun rise over rural Thailand, revealing some very nice clouds turning red and yellow over rice fields.

If I'd known the trip would be like this, I'd have booked it during the day so I could see the countryside, and not completely mess up my sleep cycle by taking a red-eye. Staying up all night like that tends to affect me for days afterward, and sure enough. Well, live and learn from my mistakes. My return to Bangkok from here will be travel by luxury bus. No more Thai trains for me (would other lines be better I wonder?), and no damn mini-vans either! I made sure to book one of those big luxury liner buses. "They tell me" it's about a five hour trip to Bangkok on one of those. They look good, hope the shocks are new. I tried to book airfare on something but the only company that flew out this way, Nok Air, suspended it's service recently.

My hotel here in Surin is the Majestic. I read it's the newest hotel, situated in the bus station mall. It's OK, 900 baht and that includes a pretty good breakfast. There seems to be a lot of farang here. I see half dozen or so here in this hotel, but none of them want to speak with me. I see them around town a bit, so I guess some expats like this place. Took a walk last night and saw some place that was sort of "expat central", I'll stop by there today and see what's going on. I like Surin, it's relatively quiet. There are the usual motor bikes everywhere. Taxis are scarce, but you can get one if you call some place and arrange to be picked up. There are some tuk tuks, but there are at least as many of the three wheeled human-powered bicycle taxis around. I tried talking to several, and they speak absolutely no English. I eventually did take a ride in one, and I'm way too big so it was not comfortable. The driver pretended to know what I was saying when I know he hadn't a clue, so I ended up in the wrong place and demanded more money. They're called sam law. I was surprised to find little info on the web about them.

I do remember the name for bathroom: hong nam. I finally memorized it after pantomiming urination at least two times in order to find one. No, I was not able to keep a straight face, and yes he instantly knew what I was talking about.

And one more of the kind of utility bikes I see a lot of here. You know how much a front rack
for my hand-made Amsterdam bike cost? 200 freakin' dollars. For a front cargo rack.
This one looks like somebody made it. The rear one too.

I went to vist Wat Burapharam, a temple built for the king to visit. The patron monk (don't know what else to call him) was named Loungpu Dun, a monk who died about 80 years ago.

The big temple in Surin

I also made the trip to Buriram to see Wat Phanom Rung, really because I'm running out of things to do here in Surin. It does seem there is growth here, but it's hardly the big apple. The one hour each way taxi ride to Buriram cost 1500 baht, and he made me pay for gas, about 300 baht I think. That's about $57 to have a look at a temple for about two hours. On the way, the taxi driver ran over a stray dog running across the very busy highway. He just kept on going, apologizing to me because I yelled at him to look out. I've been told life is cheap here. The temple was very nice, situated on a hill top and in better shape than any in Siem Reap. There were supposed to be views of Cambodia, but too many trees to see anything. Frankly, in hindsight, I kind of wished I'd have just looked at some pics online for free. However, it was a beautiful day atop this hill with a nice breeze going that helped cool things off.

These were the nicest ones of these...things....I ever saw, very well-preserved.
I think they're multi-headed snakes

Very similar to Wat Tom, the temple I visited after Angkor Wat

The guide said parts of this temple were taken by the United States at some point in time,
and only recently returned. He did not say what entity took them, or exactly how much  was taken.

The clunky old computers at the Majestic Hotel in Surin would lock up hard when I tried to hook my camera up to them, so had to go out to a coffee shop across the street from the hotel that has internet. Much better computers, but still a very slow connection. At least they have pretty good espresso here.

I went to the big local monster "hypermarket", Big C Supercenter. It's just like Walmart! Maybe I can find something interesting to do along the way. There was an area near the theater that had game machines of all sorts, each one of them making a horrible noise, and all together (about 50 of them) they blended together into a nightmarish swirling vortex of white noise. No one seemed to mind. It is another example of the difference in noise levels. Could I live here?

I had a massage yesterday, but she didn't do it like the other ones I had in Bangkok. It was more just a kneading of the muscles. Maybe she thought I couldn't take the real deal. I'll have you know I have grown accustomed to the pain of Thai massage. Wow, when they find a knot they work at it relentlessly with an elbow, and it hurts. It's the next day when it feels better. I tried it again at another place the next day and it was different, but no better. It seems you just have to shop around and hopefully luck out. When you find one that suits you, it's best to tip him/her and keep coming back so you can continue to get used to each other...what I imagine having a regular hair dresser would be like.

I catch the bus back to Bangkok today for the last time. It leaves at about 10:40 AM, and should arrive in BKK about 4:30 PM, barring eventualities. That's so much better than the train! These little trips haven't been too bad, I think I've been cranky about describing some of them. I'm glad to have seen so much of the country. There's 5 more nights, so I booked all that time at one hotel, again in the Rangsit area, though further west I think. It's called the Hotel Rama Gardens and I booked it because it's sort of upscale and looks like a peaceful, relaxing place to spend my last week. No more traveling around for me, though I will take day trips out to various places I should not miss, for instance the old capital city of Thailand, Ayutthaya. I might skip the floating market. Not sure what else to do around that area...any suggestions?