Sunday, 18 April 2010

Thailand-Bangkok, Ayuthaya, Kanchanaburi and Chang Mai

As life would have it, we happened to arrive in Bangkok in the middle of a national emergency (the red/pink and yellow shirts formed a veritable rainbow of protesters), sightseeing became a bit of a logistic nightmare, with people generally being a bit panicky and the sights closing at unfortunate moments (unfortunate for us, not the sights, of course). But during the week we managed to see pretty much everything that the guidebooks recommend for the capital, and we were quite impressed with the Buddhist temples with the various standing/sitting/lying golden Buddha statues, pointedly unimpressed with the terribly didactic museums (all of which seemed to have been designed to promote the nation's love of it's royal family) and quite smitten with the cinemas, which we have visited on more that one occasion (khem...).

We thought that the red shirts' protests were just a bit of a nuisance really and nothing much to worry about until we saw the military drive out 7-8 tanks  through the city. Even then both the protesters and the military seemed quite relaxed, waving and even allowing tourists to take pictures. Then a day before we left Bangkok the hell apparently broke loose with both sides firing live ammunition at each other. We were far away at that stage, and thankfully all it caused us was some inconvenience, with the road blocks and the taxi drivers refusing to take us back to the hostel. All in all I was quite glad to leave Bangkok for Kanchanaburi  and Ayuthaya.

Kanchanaburi doesn't have much in the way of tourist attractions to recommend itself, except of course for the famous bridge over the river Kwai and a little museum devoted to its history. Considering the heat and the sheer size of the bridge it seems difficult to imagine the process of its construction. The whole steel thing was so heated up that even touching it must have been torture. From there we went to the Tiger temple, which is not so much a temple as a place where you can have your picture taken with the 60 abnormally placid (we were told they were not doped, but in hindsight I'm not so sure) tigers. I had mixed feelings about the place. On the one hand it was an amazing experience to be so close to those animals and at least they were alive and well and not made into Tiger Balm, but on the other hand it was sad to see those magnificent animals reduced to a tourist attraction. Everyone can make their own mind I suppose. I'm posting a picture- please don't hate me for it.

We spend the night in Ayuthaya, the old Thai capital, and the next day we went exploring the old temples. Again, little was left, but even seeing the sheer size of the main temple complex was really impressive.

We have arrived in Chang Mai right in time for the New Year festival which means that wherever you go, people throw buckets of water at you. It becomes a several day long battle where you basically can't go anywhere without getting soaking wet. Great fun, as long as you don't have your camera on you. from Chang Mai we went on a 3 day trek in the mountains! This was probably my favorite experience of Thailand: beautiful sights (even though we went during the dry/fire season, which meant that a lot of the hills were still smouldering after the local tribes burnt out the old rice fields to prepare for the wet season), brilliant food prepared by our guides (the best I had in Thailand!- simple, home-cooked meals are always the best), and the friendly Karen tribe families with which we were staying.

We are now back in Bangkok and tomorrow we are flying to Phnom Peng in Cambodia. 

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Singapore and Thailand

Goodbye India, Hello South East Asia!

(And of course HAPPY EASTER TO EVERYONE!
Wesolej Wielkanocy znaczy sie!)

Singapore was a truly lovely surprise (after hearing mostly luke-warm opinions about it, our expectations were not particularly high) . It does not have all that much when it comes to monuments, 'tis true, but we had already seen more than our share of temples and palaces in India. One of the places in Singapore that we have truly fallen in love with, is the absolutely most beautiful zoo I had ever seen! Now that's what it's supposed to look like! The animals' natural habitat was recreated as closely as possible, and the animals (the ones that can't eat you that is) roamed free, gawking at the tourists and seemingly enjoying themselves. Orangutans swinging above your head, turtles puttering along the path, you get the idea.  Basically the first time I could enjoy a zoo guilt-free. The food in Singapore was amazing, and I was also really impressed with just how clean and green and nicely organized the whole place was. True, chewing gum and littering will land you with a ridiculous fine, but personal freedom aside, I felt that the Europeans have much to learn when it comes to urban planning.

On the 29th of March we flew over to Krabi in the South of Thailand, and stayed on the Ao Nang beach for a couple of days. A bit too touristy, but we managed to squeeze in a trip to the Princess Lagoon, which involved a climb (ACTUAL ROCK-CLIMBING) up and down a mountain. It was basically a couple hours one way of climbing a near vertical wall holding on to the ropes that some kindly Thais have attached to the occasional roots and rocks. I felt like I should be getting some wizard points, until I saw a group of young Thais zooming past us in flip flops, scorning, of course, the same ropes that we were hanging on to for dear life. It was quite exciting on the whole, although we could have done without the tropical rain that began pouring on our heads just as we were about to head back. The water quickly created waterfalls (water mixed with red clay- an all-over mud mask nightmare), and once we managed to get back we were soaked through (but still rather proud of ourselves).

From Ao Nang we took a rather complicated route to one of the paradise islands in the South-East, and so we are now in Ko Tao! Yesterday we took a snorkelling tour around the island and it's been one of the best things on this trip so far. The water was crystal clear and I had never seen so many kinds of fish and coral and colourful slugs in my life. I was humming 'Unda' de sea, unda' de Sea- Life is de bubbles under de sea' through most of it.

The next stop-Bangkok!

more from the Trek

more from the Trek

Waterfall in the Jungle

Waterfall in the Jungle

Sweating on the Trek

Sweating on the Trek

Ayuthaya

Ayuthaya

the Tiger Temple.

the Tiger Temple.

As the tanks roll by...

As the tanks roll by...

The bridge over the river Kwai

The bridge over the river Kwai

Floating Market

Floating Market

Squid Stick. Yum.

Squid Stick. Yum.

Fish Spa- little fishes eating the dead skin. Ticklish

Fish Spa- little fishes eating the dead skin. Ticklish

Fruit Market

Fruit Market

outside a Wat in Bangkok

outside a Wat in Bangkok

Ko Tao beach

Ko Tao beach

The snorkelling trip in Ko Tao

The snorkelling trip in Ko Tao

The Princess Lagoon

The Princess Lagoon

Rock climbing to see the lagoon

Rock climbing to see the lagoon

Thailand- Ao Nang beach in the South

Thailand- Ao Nang beach in the South

me with the world's biggest flower

me with the world's biggest flower

the famous white tiger in the Singapore Zoo

the famous white tiger in the Singapore Zoo

Singapore Zoo

Singapore Zoo

On the spice plantation in Goa with the stinky fruit. It's not allowed on public transport

On the spice plantation in Goa with the stinky fruit. It's not allowed on public transport

The Main Mosque in Delhi

The Main Mosque in Delhi

Humayun's Tomb

Humayun's Tomb

Agra Fort

Agra Fort

No prizes for guessing where that is!

No prizes for guessing where that is!

Taj Mahal again

Taj Mahal again

in front of the Jain temple

in front of the Jain temple

Jain Temple

Jain Temple

Jain Temple

Jain Temple

Our room in Jodhpur

Our room in Jodhpur

Jaislemere

Jaislemere

Jailsemere

Jailsemere

Cameron of Arabia

Cameron of Arabia

me on the camel called 'Lucky'

me on the camel called 'Lucky'

the rat temple - the most pampered rats in India

the rat temple - the most pampered rats in India

Cameron having his nail painted by the world-class master of miniature

Cameron having his nail painted by the world-class master of miniature

Cameron and Karam next to an underground corridor leading to the local fort, near Karam's village

Cameron and Karam next to an underground corridor leading to the local fort, near Karam's village