Wednesday, 27 February 2008

London. A Short Visit

London - A Short Visit
If A Man Is Tired Of London...........

28.12.2006 - 31.12.2006 rain 5 °C

In December 2006 my wife, my son and myself went to London for three days. A buss man's holiday really. My son was at that time working in Basel (Switzerland) and he bought cheap last minute tickets with EasyJet. He also arranged hotel accommodation there, in a ***hotel in Queen's Way (Bayswater). He flew from Basel and we two from Dortmund (Germany). We flew in to the London City (Stansted) airport and took a bus from there to central London. The bus fare was BP8.00 per person and took a longer time than the train to Liverpool Street station(BP27.00 one way) which was more than the plane fare. The bus dropped us in Baker Street, it was raining hard and instead of waiting for a bus to take us to Bayswater Road, we took a taxi (fare BP8.00). I write these details to show how expensive London had become over the past five years or so.

The hotel (I am afraid have forgotten its name)was tucked between a newspaper/souvenir shop and a coffee shop with an Italian name, Cafe Bello or something. A narrow door barely visible from the street, led us to the first floor. Even the taxi driver could not find the number of the house. A small room on the second floor with three bunk beds and a small bathroom cost BP72.00 per night, including breakfast. Next morning we went down to the restaurant well within the breakfast serving hours but found the room full. So we waited for a table to vacate. Fifteen minutes before the closing time, the kitchen was closed and the staff refused to serve any more breakfasts to the waiting guests. This happened on the day after too. A surly and arrogant girl behind the reception desk dismissed our complaint and told us that we must have gone in late, after the kitchen was closed. She got into a heated argument with a Dutch (couple who wanted to talk to the manager but were told that he was not available in the hotel. "You can complain by e-mail if you want" they were told.

London has changed a great deal in the last ten years. Even Queen'sway had changed, Tesco supermarket, Chinese and Indonesian food shops, displaying ready cooked food, Pizza Hut and other eateries have sprung up, filling the street with the smell of frying fat. Even a Ann Summers erotic lingerie shop. In the old days there were three Greek restaurants, one Yugoslav and three reputable Chinese restaurants. Only one had remained, next to the Pizza Hut and which has been there since the 1960s. We went in the Pizza Hut and found the place untidy. The pizzas were soggy and cold. We did not finish them. We saw that some other people had also found the food unappetizing and had left it uneaten. We were given two glasses of complimentary soft drinks, although we were three. I don't remember if that was the offer of the day or it was because we had left the food untouched.

The influx of tourists has changed the eating habits of the Londoners, in fact that of whole U.K. In 1950s and 60s, it was fish and chips and soggy sausages. Only the Pub Grub was good. Then came Wimpy hamburger chain which folded because Brits were not ready for change. Then came Pizza and Spaghetti restaurants, but with the introduction of Kentucky Fried Chicken chain, people's eating habits changed. When the pubs closed, the hungry drunks rushed to KFC shops. And with MacDonald, then Burger King and Wendy, people were hooked on junk food. But by 1980s, more and more Indian restaurants opened in Central London and in suburbs and today Chicken Tikka Massala is the British National dish. In england, Wales and Scotland the most popular National dish is Chicken Tikka. If you go down in Queensway towards West borne Park road and turn left, you will find Khan's Indian restaurant. The food is delicious, it has a seating arrangement for over hundred people and is always full. A few meters further is another popular Indian restaurant called Standard, which has always received favorable views from food critics.

The weather was cold and it rained all the time for the three days we were there. I have lived in London for two years (1970-72) although I went there for the first time in 1964 and have been there umpteen times. My wife also has been to London many times. But in December 2006 I went there after a lapse of eight years and my son too had not been there for ten years or so and he always wanted to go there, specially for Christmas shopping. But Oxford street has always seen old established shops closed and new ones opened. The street has always had a high turnover of establishments. Oxford street, despite rain and cold was full of shoppers, people lined up in front of food stands, buying sandwiches and bread rolls, streaming in and out of famous shops like Marks & Spencer, Selfridge's, D.H. Evans etc. Selfridge's has always the most elegant and attractive Christmas window decorations. So has Liberty's and Hamley's Toy Shop in lower Regent street.

We went walking down from Cumberland Hotel (Marble arch) to Regent street, turned right to go down to Piccadilly Circus. At the left hand corner of Regent street, there used to be a Wedgwood shop, selling fine china and porcelain, it was gone. So were many other decades old established shops. We came to Piccadilly Circus and went in to a pub next to Regent Park hotel, which I used to frequent, and had a point of stout beer(BP 2.50). The whole area was full of mini-markets, shops selling soft drinks, bottled water and sweets.

We progressed towards Shaft bury Avenue and turned into Soho. It was as lively as ever, many new restaurants with new names but many old ones too. This part has always been my favorite place for eating Chinese food. I have, at one time or another, eaten in many of the Chinese restaurants there. In 1970 a family called Poons opened a small restaurant in (I think) George street. Old mother Poons cooked in a corner with three or four tables, they were fixing up an upstairs room to turn it into a dinning room for more tables. The food was superb and the place got rave reviews from food critics. Naturally some time later, you had to wait for a table. By then they had opened a few more restaurants in Soho. They had become popular.

In the opinion of Samuel Johnson, the 18th Century author, critic and literary figure, if you are tired of London, you are tired of life. This is true. In London there is always something new, be it Victoria & Albert Hall, The National Art gallery,Tate or Museum of Modern art, History Museum. Even Madam Tussuad's remove and put new figures from time to time. There are always exhibitions and shows going on. And if you are tired of visiting The Buck House or Big Ben, Parliament and Trafalgar square, you can always go into Fortnum & Mason in Piccadilly and have their famous Cucumber sandwiches and Earl Grey Tea.

Posted by IsleHopper 27.02.2008 09:21 Archived in Air Travel | England

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Monday, 25 February 2008

Time to say Good Bye Thailand The Fabled Country

Bangkok The City on the move

02.11.2007 - 24.11.2007 sunny 28 °C

We left Hua Hin in the morning and took a mini-bus to Bangkok (Bht.180 pp). The journey was fast and comfortable and in three and half hours we reached Bangkok. From the outskirts of the city to reach Victory Monument, the final bus stop, it took more than half an hour, sitting in the traffic jams, the vehicles moving at a snail's pace, stopping for longer length of time for the traffic lights to change, to move forward and again halt. You can imagine the emission of gas with all the thousands of motor vehicles sitting on the roads, with their motors running.

In every city, if we did not have a prior reservation at a hotel and traveling by bus, we would arrive in the city center, leave our luggage in the Left Luggage office or in a locker and take a walk, find out a suitable hotel/hostel and then move in. If we travel by car, we always park it in a secure garage in the city center and go and sit in a Cafe, pour over the city guide or map and then decide where to stay. In Bangkok, the Bus Terminal was in an alley and we were a little disoriented about our surroundings. We decided to go to either Siam Square or find lodgings in China Town. This wasa wrong decision.

We asked the bus driver directions for going to Siam square but he did not respond, either he did not speak English or he simply ignored the question. An English couple who had traveled with us in the bu, overheard us and kindly told us to take the Sky Train (which was over our heads) and get down at Siam square. In Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) we had taken the Sky Train almost every day to go to Suriya Commercial Center and to other parts of the city. So we went up the stairs to the Station and changed money for tokens which we fed in the machine and got the tickets. The train brought us to Siam square.

When we came out at Siam square, on our right hand side was the entrance to a Shopping Mall, on the left you go down the stairs and are on the main street. So we entered the Mall and found a Cafe and sat down and ordered coffee (Bht.5).

We looked at the map of the city with a list of hotels and compared it with our Lonely Planet Guide, indeed the tariffs of hotels in that area for a double room were between Bht.3000 and Bht.4000. I telephoned three or four hotels and although the tariffs were high, it was impossible to understand the addresses they gave on the phone. So we decided to stay away from the chaos of Siam Square and China Town. We came out of the Mall, crossed the street via a foot bride and tried to get some directions. A man clad in a brown suit approached us, I thought he was a hotel receptionist but he said he was a school teacher. He was very helpful and told us what we knew already, that hotels in that area were expensive and we should go to Domestic Accommodation Location office. He even stopped a rickshaw, gave him the directions and told us to give Bht.20 for the ride. So we went to this place which turned out to be another hotel reservation office. We were told that it was most difficult to find economic accommodation at that time of the year, with festivals and King's approaching birthday celebrations. That we should stay in Banglamphu area, near all the main temples and Grand l Palace and Th Khao San, which is the tourist center and backpackers' favorite place of stay. We agreed and he made the necessary reservation for Bht.1600 for a double room including breakfast.

The name of the hotel is Boonsiri Place, 55 Buranasart Road, Pranakorn( I give full details of the hotel as we found it central to tourist attractions, comfortable and at walking distance to all the important monuments and Wats, which are in the vicinity of the hotel. Democracy Monument, Wat Ratchanada, U.N, Golden Mountain are on the right hand side. Cross Buranasat Road and you are in the area of Grand Palace, Wat Pra Kaeo, Wat Pho and other cultural sites. Banglampu is straight on and Prapinklao Bridge will take you to Chao Praya River. And to reach Th Khao San, you come out of the street where the hotel is, reach the main road, Rajdamnern-Nai Roa, cross the dual carriageway and the street in front will take you to Khao San.

Th Khao San had a lively atmosphere and bohemian flavor. In the evening, shops were selling clothes, backpacks, sunglasses, leather goods, wood carvings. Food halls and restaurants, English Pubs. Fresh fruit and fresh juice and Satay and grilled Corn. Very attractive prices too. Only ice cream was expensive.

We went there for the last two days of our stay in Bangkok and had fresh fish and seafood, rice noodle soup with pork balls and bean sprouts. On the first evening, we went strolling round the parallel streets and found an open air Thai massage center. Men and women were lying down on tables, in open view of passerbys and getting foot massage and face massage etc. The charge was Bht.200 for a 45 minute massage so we too had a very refreshing face massage. Just to lie down and relax was worth the price. In Penang (Malaysia) we had Chinese Massage, a bone crushing experience where the masseur kneaded our bones and the points of pain. A full hour's massage cost MR.10 and afterwards the pain was gone. Believe it or not. We stayed one day more in Penang and paid MR.100 more for the hotel, just to get another massage the next day since I was told that it was not advisable to have more than one massage a day.

On the next morning we came out of the hotel, turned right and reached Ko Ratanakosin area. We visited almost all the Wats and the Grand Palace. The day was warm and it seemed that thousands of tourists were thronging the whole area. It reminded me of crowds outside the Buckingham Palace in London on a sunny day. After we finished the obligatory tour of "places of historical and cultural" interest and dodged the touts who were offering river tours at prices between Bht.1500 and Bht.1000, we reached Th Phra Athit where all the cafes and open air restaurants are. The place was busy, Thai, Chinese dishes displaced to entice your appetite. We were hungry and chose a corner restaurant with a wide range of food trays laid out. Chicken in sauce, frogs in sauce, fried and steamed fish, bamboo shoots and bean sprouts, rice, noodles. My wife as always chose fresh vegetables with rice, bamboo shoots and bean sprouts. I had (twice) fish in lemon grass and ginger sauce , grilled eggplant (no taste) bamboo (no taste) rice and chicken curry and a cold beer.

Thus sated we entered the pavilion where the offices of River Cruise are situated. The touts wanted Bht.1000 for two, then without any bargaining on our part, they brought it down to Bht.500. You may pay even less if you keep on bargaining. However, there are boat cruises which ply on both sides of the river, north bound and south bound. The fare for one hour cruise is Bht.13 per person, although the boats are over crowded and you will feel as if you are commuting on a rush hour underground train in London or Paris. No space to move, packed like sardines in a tin can. No chance of taking any photos or even turning your head. From these jetties you can also go to China Town, which would otherwise cost you Bht.50-70 if you took a taxi.

Afterwards we took a ferry and crossed the river by public ferry (bht.1.80 pp) and went to see Wat Arun on the Thonburi side. The temple is named after Aruna, the Indian God of Dawn and is carved from granite. The temple has hundreds of striking figures etched on the sides of walls and you climb up very narrow steps from one stage to the other. The climb is steep and I had a feeling of vertigo. But very impressive sight it was.

Well, the days of sunshine, the deep blue seas and white sand beaches and fine food and fruit were over. We came back to the hotel and took our luggage. We had arranged for a taxi which came to fetch us and we were on our way to Bangkok airport. At 20hrs. our flight left and we were on our way to freezing cold, rainy, dull and dark Germany.

Posted by IsleHopper 24.02.2008 16:07 Archived in Air

Friday, 22 February 2008

Bangkok. Thailand The Fabled Country

Bangkok The City On The Move
Fellow Travelers, welcome to Bangkok, the unplanned and chaotic city of teeming millions, high-rise hotels and modern office buildings, streamlined space-age shopping malls, labyrinth of fly-overs and foot bridges, mind boggling traffic jams and irrelevant street addresses.

The old part of city and the other side of the river is full of hundred of food stalls, temples and an atmosphere of slumbering village, which has long since fallen into ruin. And the new city center of elevated motorways and Sky train, the ultra modern commercial district of Th Sukhumvit brings you to the present day Bangkok. Welcome to the City on the Move. But once you enter the busy Siam Center with its elegant shops, cafes and restaurants, you will feel that unwittingly, you have been transported to a futuristic city. Except for the noise and the high level of pollution which has been strangling the city since a very long time.

The ancient city of Bangkok and indeed Thailand on the whole has been transformed into a modern society. People are friendly, well behaved., polite, well dressed and educated in far more ways than the society in western countries. It is visitor friendly, hospitable, fabulously charming. The population is mostly young, ambitious and eager to learn. Thailand is blessed with breathtaking natural beauty, temples and ancient ruins which inspire you to delve into its history of political and social conflicts, rising and falling kingdoms, which have left their footprints on the pages of its history and monuments.

Thais seem to have preserved their dignity in today's world of vulgar commercialism, pursuit of pleasure is without any feeling of guilt since it was R&R of American soldiers returning from Viet Nam war which affected and corrupted the Thai society. American dollars have indeed corrupted the bodies and souls of many a people in many societies. So who could blame Thai people?

Thailand attracts more tourists than any other country in South East Asia. Hat Yai is popular with Malaysians who come their in pursuit of carnal pleasure. In Thailand sex is one of the main tourist attractions. Bangkok is like a giant sex hypermarket, the capital city of a country chocked by go-go bars, massage parlors, English and German bars, even whorehouses for Muslims.

But what is most degrading is the deluge of European sex tourists, sex offenders to be precise, who have damaged the fabric of Thai society. In countryside, Thai population is poor and there families have been forced to send their young children to Bangkok and Hua Hin, Pukhet and Pattaya, Hat Yai and other large cities to sell themselves to English and German pornographers. It was most reviling to see seventy and eighty years old, fat, bald and shaved heads, ugly tattooed old geezers going with boys and girls of very young age, their arms around them. I bet that these men never ever brought any flowers to their wives in their whole lives, never took them in their arms the way the do with young boys and girls in Thailand.

In Asia the dignity of a person, saving his Face, is most important. In Japan, China and in Thailand , the Loss of Face can lead to humiliation for the whole family and even a village. Men commit suicide if their name has been soiled. Foreign tourists and visitors are much liked in Thailand and many ex-pats have made it their permanent domicile. It is their moral obligation to their host country to respect and safeguard the dignity and honor of its people and not only discourage but to help curb the sex offenses committed by their country folk.

Posted by IsleHopper 21.02.2008 15:16 Archived in Bus | Thailand

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Thursday, 21 February 2008

Hua Hin to Bangkok. Thailand The Fabled Country

When we had started our trip to Malaysia and Thailand, we had said to ourselves, we will not hurry from one place to another just to reach there, stay a day or two and hop to another place. So when we reached Kuala Lumpur, we liked it very much and stayed there more days than planned. Same happened in Langkawi which is a fabulous island. It will be ideal to stay there for a fortnight or more, explore all the islands, swim, sun bathe, eat delicious food, read your favorite books and relax in the quietness of these islands. Transport is cheap and whenever you have the urge to go some place, hop in a taxi and go exploring.

In Hat Yai we stayed two days instead of one and when we reached Krabi, we took the boat to Phi Phi the next morning where also we stayed for three days. These were relaxing days, the lovely beaches and the bright days, the hot sun which warmed our bodies, giving us a sensation of well being. Friendly people and good food, long tail boat trips around the islands and gazing at the ever changing color of the sea, dark and deep blue, moss green and turquoise. Snorkeling in the open sea and in sheltered coves which were like natural swimming pools, and watching hundreds and hundreds of colorful tropical fish under the surface of the water. Towering rock formations and submerged caves, secluded beaches and never ending tropical forest. What a wonderful country Thailand is.

In Hua Hin where we had planned to stay for only two days, we stayed for four and now, the time of ending our trip was nearing. We had to be in Bangkok on the 24th November 2007 to take our flight back to Germany and it was already the 22nd. We would have very much liked to visit some other islands, had we not prolonged our stay in Kuala Lumpur and other places, but we did not regret it. Because we knew that, God willing, we will be back in Malaysia and Thailand. Our trip had not really ended, it was only a prelude to more travel in Southeast Asia.

So on the 23rd November we packed our bags and took a mini bus to Bangkok, our final destination and point of departure.

Monday, 18 February 2008

Hua Hi.. A settled Life. Thailand The fabled Country

02.11.2007 - 24.11.2007 sunny 30 °C

In Hua Hin there are many places of interest. The railway station which is one of the oldest in the country, is considered as one of the most beautiful. We went there to take some photos but I had forgotten to recharge the battery and the camera would not work. So we also missed taking photos of the Luxury Scenic Train which runs from Singapore to Thailand, and which was coming in the station at that moment. Ce la vie. The largest statue of Buddha (Luang Phor Tuad) is at Huay Mongkot temple. Kao Takiap (the chopstick mountain) about 5kms from the city is another place to visit a Buddha temple. If you have time to visit another seaside town, there is Cha-Am, which is about 45kms from Hua Hin and a quieter place. Local bus or tuk-tuk will take you there. Then there is The elephant Village and Wat Eitisukato with a very large statue of sitting Buddha. At a distance of about 70kms. are Pala-U Waterfalls. And the Hua Hin Night Market, a must for every visitor. This market stretches in two long streets and is full of stalls selling fresh Thai food. Satay, Pancakes, noodle soups, Corn on the Cob), fresh fish and seafood and even Beef Steaks.

In this market you can buy leather bags and belts, Thai silk scarves and cushion covers, paintings, wooden carvings and many more things and T-shirts. Every imaginable and most popular designs printed on T-shirts. Bilabong, Rip Curve, Quick Silver and some other brands were most popular. The stalls are run by young Thai girls and boys, very friendly and not at all impatient if you want to bargain. But the prices were cheap. A size S T-shirt for Bht.120, size M for 135-150 and size L or LL for Bht.200. A wide assortment of sizes and styles in ladies' fashion handbags. And almost all women seemed to be buying silk scarves.

Since arriving in Malaysia we had stopped eating in western style restaurants, we preferred to eat at local eateries and even preferred to sit with locals and eat food recommended by them. In Pangkor Island, Penang and in Langkawi we frequented fresh food stalls, even eating standing up. Thai soups, Chicken tandoori and rice, fish head fried with fresh okra and octopus and calamari and prawns, we enjoyed them all.

On arriving in Thailand we kept up the same mode of eating and in Hua Hin also, every evening of our stay there, we went to eat in the Night Market. My wife is very fond of sea food, give her baby clams in white wine and lemon sauce, king prawns in garlic & butter sauce or baby octopus, morning glory or fresh vegetables with bean-curd or chicken in ginger sauce, she will be in heaven. I myself like fried and grilled fish, fish steamed with baby clams, with lemon grass and ginger.grilled and fried calamari, king prawns and oysters. I suppose that living in Spain for so many years taught us how to enjoy food.

In the afternoons, we went to eat at an open air pavilion on Chom Sin road (in front of Fishing Pier). A large open place with tables and chairs setup with some space between each place to distinguish seating arrangement of different owners, it was run by five food stalls, running kitchens on the side of the raised platform. Each served a variety of dishes, Thai fish soup with shrimps and ginger, grilled pork and rice, fried chicken at one stall, next frying rice noodles with bean-sprouts and bits of pork, beef, pork balls in soup, the next one serving grilled honey pork with rice and vegetables. All food was fresh and delicious. The place closes in the afternoon so it is advisable to go before 2 0'clock in the afternoon or after 6 0'clock in the evening. In fact all eating places where they cook fresh food, close in the afternoon.

It was our plan to stay in Hua Hin for two days , my wife wanted to have some tailor made clothes, and then to continue our trip bypassing Bangkok, but we felt so comfortable and welcome that we stayed there for four days. Each night we packed our things and told the friendly receptionist that we will be leaving next morning, but very morning we came out to have breakfast and were greeted by everybody, "good morning" "how are you this morning?", we said to ourselves, one more day and then we leave. We stayed there for four days. Hua Hin and Cha-Am are weekend retreats for many people from Bangkok who leave the hectic life of the big city and come to enjoy the quiet atmosphere of these two places.

Hua Hin. A Settled Life. Thailand The Fabled Country

The morning after our arrival in Hua Hin, after we had changed our hotel and moved in Jing's Guest house, we changed for the beach. At the very entrance is a hair saloon and massage parlor, not with girls in hot pants and closed doors, but a legitimate place where you can have body massage, foot massage and a hair cut. Outside, the street is full of bars and food stalls and shops. Let me describe below the street scene.

Outside on the left is a Chinese laundry (naturally) where we left our dirty laundry. All the women working bowed to us and we bowed back. Everybody smiling. You turn right and first is a tailor's shop where an old woman sits, stitching clothes the whole day. Also Chinese and very dignified and does not speak English. In front are three bars where young girls sit the whole day. In the evening when the business starts, there are more. Every body says "Good morning" "How are you"?. As if we had been living in the street for a year or so. Next is an art gallery, a shop selling canvas paintings really. The painter sits on a small stool, starts with an empty canvas in the morning and by the time we return in the late afternoon, he has almost painted a large canvas with an eye catching scene or already finished it and gone and left the canvas to dry. I have put some of his paintings on my Photo Gallery. Then a few food shops, where the girls every morning put two or three heads of pigs on a tray, some food offerings and flowers and incense, and are some times worshipping as we pass. Near the end of the street which joins the main road, on the left hand side is a pizza restaurant, in front an English pub with billboards announcing english football matches. At the top is a tailoring shop with a Nepali young man, greeting every body who passes by, saying hello before you even reach him, as if staking his claim on you. "Where are you from?" he asks and tries to shake your hand and tries to touch the woman if it is a couple. If you say "Denmark" then the man perks up and starts in Danish, if you say you are German then the sales pitch is in German. This is the same all over Hua Hin. "Same Same" as the Thai say.

We come out on the main road and turn right, pass the Hilton and stop at a bank, take out Bht.200 from ATM cash point and progress to the end of the road, turn left and after walking 200 hundred meters, reach the beach. Hua Hin beach is good four kilometers long with white sand. The beach is not crowded at any time of the day, although where the beach bars are, beach chairs are full. Fat tourists, women mostly, lying on the sand or or chairs getting open air Thai massage for Bht.200 for less (if you bargain). A luxury so cheap.

The water is warm, the sand is warm and horses with riders running, strolling, trotting, walking and sometime galloping from one end of the beach to the other. Business is brisk. The sea in Hua Hin is not turquoise or moss green or dark blue as it is in the islands, it is dusty and Grey. Not a single sail boat, a ship or a tanker on the horizon. Some days the wind picks up and within a few minutes the beach is empty.

Hua Hin is a homely city, people are friendly and every where you go, you have a feeling of a well received visitor. A large number of expats live there and English, German and Scandinavian real estate promoters have developed properties there. The prices are still relatively modest but it is question of time when there will not be much difference in prices in Europe and Thailand.

Surat Thani to Hua Hin. Thailand The fabled Country

Trains in Malaysia and in Thailand are new, comfortable and clean. Not like in India where trains are old, smelly and dirty. Our carriage was full, most of the passengers sleeping. We got two upper births and when the conductor came and fixed up the beds, we also went to sleep. In Thailand most people travel by train and it is necessary to make prior reservations if you are traveling long distance. I had told the conductor (who spoke no English) to please wake us up when we reached Hua Hin and he understood and told us in Thai that he will do so. However, when we were nearing our destination, I found that he had tied both the connecting doors with a rope and was fast asleep, blocking the way. I shook him, he grunted angrily and turned on his side and went to sleep. I shook him again and he started shouting. To my amazement I smelled alcohol on his breath. He turned and again went to sleep. There was no way to open the entrance door so I shoved him in his back and in a loud voice told him to get up. He got up abruptly, untied the door and shouting, lurched past us and went on walking to the other end of the carriage. Probably to find some other place to slumber.

From Surat Thani I had telephoned Pattana Guest House and was told that the hotel was full. And that they closed the hotel at 22hrs. I phoned Fulay and Au-Sa Guest Houses(all recommended by Lonely Planet Guide) but was told that they were full. We reached Hua Hin at two O'clock at night, it was raining and I phoned two more hotels but nobody answered the phone. Telephone booths were full of mosquitoes who had a feast night, biting my legs and hands and face. So I came out of the station and saw a taxi standing. The driver got out of the cab and I asked him if he could take us to a medium class hotel/hostel. He spoke English and told me that it will cost me Bht.100. I went back in the station and asked the ticket clerk how far was the city center. He told me it was 600 meters and we could walk. But it was raining and we were tired and agreed to pay Bht.100 for the taxi ride. It took five minutes to reach the beach. He took us to two hotels/hostels, both were closed. At last he entered one near the water front and woke up the receptionist. A friendly Nepali guy. The room was OK with a shower to share, rate was Bht.350 for the double bed. So we stayed the night there, in Ananthara Guest House. To its left was the Fishing Pier.

Early the next morning we got ready and went out to look for a better accommodation near the beach. The morning was bright and sunny and very warm. No trace of the rain of the night before. We started strolling and saw many guest houses on the water front. Pattaya Guest House, Memory, Fulay (all recommended in Lonely Planet Guide). We entered one and saw small rooms either with attached shower or to share. The rates were Bht. 600 to Bht. 1100. So we decided to have breakfast first and then continue our search.

After a leisurely breakfast, we continued strolling, window shopping and reached Hilton Hua Hin. At the end of the street you turn left and reach the beach, you turn right on Damnern Kasem Road and it takes you back to the train station. We turned in one of the back streets which were full of Irish Pubs, Nepali Tailors (standing outside their shops and inviting you to enter their shops) food stalls. We passed the Wat Hua Hin (temple) and in Soi Selakam street saw a large sign like a school black board on which was written "Jing's Guest House" (family friendly and you can inspect the rooms).

So we entered a patio with a small bar and three friendly Thai girls behind it. One of the girls got up and showed us a double bed room at Bht.600 per night. The room was clean (in fact the whole place was clean) with attached bathroom. Then she showed us another much larger room with T.V., fridge and bathroom and a door which opened to an inner patio. And air conditioning. The bed was king size with a wardrobe. The rate was Bht.900 but when we told her that we will stay for two or three days, she accepted Bht.700 per night. We stayed in Hua Hin four days.

Posted by Island Hopper at 06:38

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Krabi to Surat Thani. Thailand The Fabled Country

While we were at Phi Phi, we had planned to go to Surat Thani and from there take the boat to Ko Samui and stay there two days and then visit Ko Pha-Ngan. However, we heard the news on the radio that the islands had been hit by heavy torrential rains and more than 3000 tourists had to be evacuated. So we decided to go to Surat Thani any way and decide there our plan of action. The boat ride from Phi Phi to Krabi town went smoothly and at the ferry terminal we were told that there was heavy rain in Ko Samui.

My wife said that instead of visiting any more islands, hopping in and out of long tail boats ( which was taking a toll on our knees), we should head towards Hua Hin, Phetburi and end our journey at Ayuthaya and return to Bangkok and take the flight back to Germany. The islands seemed so crowded with tourists who were herded like cattle and did not seem to mind at all.

So from the ferry terminal we took a tuk-tuk to the bus station and found a bus ready for departure to Surat Thani. There was no time to think, we bought the tickets and sat down in the bus which started immediately. The bus journey to Surat Thani was comfortable, few tourists who seemed tired and were dozing. There were three young girls traveling together, two were Germans and the third was Israeli. All three were going to Bangkok by train from Surat Thani, which in their opinion, was comfortable and more secure. The two German girls were going back home and the Israeli girl was taking a flight from Bangkok to Delhi. She was going to stay some time there, visiting Puri and Varnasi and Dharamsala. She was looking forward to meditation in these places. We started talking about our trips and various places we had been to. The german girls had been to Phi Phi but the girl from Israel had gone to Ko Lanta. She found Phi Phi over crowded and expensive. This was true. But she was very lonely on Ko Lanta, she said.

The bus dropped us outside SuratThani town in front of a travel agent's office and told us that we could take a bus to Bangkok from there. But the girls wanted to go by train and we found out that train station was 25 kilometers from there and a tuk-tuk cost Bht.80 per passenger. This was really too much. The travel agent was urging us to go by bus and after some deliberation, we all decided to go by train. The tu-tuk driver was very friendly and told us that he would take us to the main bus station first (Bht.20 each) in case we decided to go by bus, otherwise he will take us to the train station. But since we decided to go by train, he took us there. There we found out that from the main bus station, where our bus from Krabi should have dropped us, there were frequent local buses to the train station and the fare was Bht.15. Also buses for Bangkok stopped at the train station. While you travel, you learn.

Now the bus fare from SuratThani to Hua Hin, which was our next destination, was Bht.550 per person and the train fare (sleeper) was Bht.600. There were only two tickets left for the train departing at 18.00hrs which we bought. The two german girls bought two last tickets left, for Bangkok which cost Bht.687 each. The Israeli girl already had a reservation. Their train left at 21.00hrs. So we said good bye and happy journey and boarded the train.
Posted by Island Hopper at 06:37

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Malaga Revisited - Spain for Ever

Malaga Revisited - Spain for Ever

My wife and myself went to Malaga for four days. It was really a short trip to escape the winter gloom of Germany and visit old friends and have some nice food for a change. We went with Ryan "The Cheap Tickets" Airlines, return fare was 27 euros for one person, which was much cheaper than we would have spent on weekend shopping. Things are very expensive here.

When we left, the temperature was 15C and raining, when we reached Malaga at 20hrs., the flight took three hours and the temperature, believe it or not, was 15C and raining. The flight was OK except that at Düsseldorf Weeze airport here in Germany, a group of young rabble rousers bought six packs of beer in the airport lounge, and started drinking and singing (shouting really) Nazi songs. Nobody stopped them. With all the security personnel there, who normally will tackle you down if you breathed loud. These men boarded the bus to go to the aircraft half drunk and shouting and nobody stopped them or told them not to take alcohol on board. They settled down at the back of the aircraft and continued drinking and singing, very loudly, Nazi songs. The purser cautioned them not to drink on board but they ignored her. She complained to the captain and refused to take these five men to Malaga. However, the captain said that they should behave and after some hot discussion between the purser and the captain, we were airborne. In many passengers' view, the captain should also have refused to take them on board, and the security people should have stopped them on the ground since they were already drunk.

When we reached Malaga and landed at the airport, the purser informed the passengers that there will be some delay in leaving the aircraft as she had telephoned the Guardia Civil at Malaga to come on board and arrest three of the group who had caused so much trouble. So that was that, some Germans starting their holidays in Spanish jail. Serves them right too.

It was nice to be back in Malaga, our dear old friends Pepe and Blanca came to the airport to receive us and took us to their home. Malaga airport is at present undergoing major construction work to extend the airport buildings and landing strip, so it took us a long while to first go by bus to the temporary car parking areas and then through winding dirt roads to reach the main road. It was totally dark, no lights and steady rain. And the temperature 15C.

Pepe is the chef in his own house, he likes to cook, he is also a clean environmentalist. He does not throw away the water used for cleaning dishes, he waters his garden with it. The oil used in frying is stored and recycled to make soap. So when we settled down, he brought jamon Serrano, olives and red wine to start the evening. He had also baked fresh country bread which we had with ham and Extra Virgin Olive oil sprinkled over it. The wine was from Navarra and it had a smooth smokey taste which blends well with its aroma and flavour of oak. Pepe had also prepared pork cutlets marinated in oil, thyme and garlic which he lightly fried in olive oil in a pan. Then coffee. It was very cozy sitting and talking about other friends whom we were going to meet the next day.

Pepe and Blanca had planned for us all to go next evening to eat in a restaurant in AlhaurinElGrande, specializing in fish and seafood. However, next morning the plans were changed and it was decided to go in the afternoon and visit Maripepa, an old friend of my wife and Blanca and eat in their restaurant. Maripepa is married to alexandro, an argentinian who has settled in Malaga many years ago and has a restaurant called El Fogon Argentino. It is situated in calle Reding no.10 (Malaga) which is in the old part of the city called Malageta.

The restaurant specialisis in Argentinian beef steaks but their menu is quite extensive and boasts of a wine cellar to match any four star restaurant. We were nine persons together and after greeting Maripepa and Alexandro, settled in the dinning area around a long table. We started with red wine from Rioja and fried cheese casarol, pulpo al a gallega (boiled octopus cut in slices, heated in olive oil and sprinkled with whole salt and red pepper). It was delicious. The main course for two of us was charcoal grilled beefsteak with boiled potatoes and six others had grilled solomillo with baked potatoes. The remaining one had sea bass in garlic sauce and fried potatoes.

Maripepa and Alexandro are both known singers, they used to sing in their restaurant everyday, which brought in many clients. However, the neighbors complained and nowadays they sing only on the weekends. Maripepa sings andalucian songs and she was offered to cut a record of her songs, but she is happy singing in her restaurant for her clients.

We went there at 14hrs. and did not finish eating until 17hrs. Then every body wanted them to sing and for the sake of old friendship, defying censorship, they sang old favorites. Sentimental songs of love and friendship, about friends who have gone away and about friends who have gone away from this world. Andalucian songs about blood fueds and women pinning for lost lovers. It was 19hrs and both wanted to rest before opening in the evening. As a norm the restaurant is closed at 17hrs and reopened at 19hrs, so they had to literally push us out so that they and the staff could rest. What a fantastic evening it was.

The evening had grown cold but we decided to walk upt Calle Larios and have Churros and Chocolate. Churros are batter fried in oil which comes out like long sausages. This is the most popular and is served in bars from early morning till late at night. So we went walking through the park and Plaza dela Marina and crossed the road to reach Calle Larios and in one of the streets near the old vegetable market, in one of the oldest cafeteria, had churros and coffee and chocolate. It was a memorable evening.

Next day which was our last, we went to Pedragalejo beach front to have lunch. Pepe invited his mother and sister and her daughter and Blanca brought her mother. A nice family gathering. Pedragalejo beach in the old days was full of chiringuitos (food stalls) selling fresh fish and seafood. Nowadays new restaurants have opened and is most popular with malaguenos who love to eat outdoors. The day was bright with a shy sun peeking through clouds but there was no threat of rain. The beach was full and restaurants jam packed. However, after waiting half an hour we found a table and sat down. Every body wanted to eat "fritura malageña", so we ordered two large trays of assorted fish, calamari, shrimps and octopus and had it with green salad and tinto de verano, which is red wine mixed with sweet soda water. In the evening we took the return flight and landed late in the dark, damp and very cold night in Germany and after nearly two hours' car journey reached home. The temperature was 4C. OOoooooh!
Posted by Island Hopper at 06:36

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Ko Phi Phi -. The Island in the Sun

It was our intention to stay on Pee Pee for a day if we found any accommodation or return back to Krabi the same day or go to Pukhet. However, we got a double room at Uphill Cottages and decided to stay one night and go back the next day on the last ferry leaving at 16.00 hrs. Our cottage was the last one at the top and I found it difficult to go up all the steps to reach our room. The view from the balcony which overlooked the pond and the county side was great and the room was OK. The bed was comfortable and there were few mosquitoes, however there was a bad smell in the bathroom and the fan was throwing down all the air right on top of us. And every time I tried to open the tap, it would come out of the socket. And no mirror.

So when we went down and told the manager about this problem of bad smell and climbing up all the steps, his wife laughed and promised to change the room next day and give us the very first room at the beginning of the steps. We also met an old lady from Singapore who had the room next to ours and had been staying there for more than one year. So we said what the heck, if a woman older than us can climb up all the steps, we could do the same. And next day when we came back in the afternoon, our luggage had been moved to the new room which indeed was spacious, with a big bed and properly tiled bath room. But no mirror.

So instead of staying one night, we stayed there three nights and enjoyed our sojourn. On the morning of our last day, we got up early, went down and had a breakfast of pancakes filled with chicken and cabbage, fresh fruit juice and coffee and then strolled down to the beach. There were few people about although we knew that by ten 0'clock the beach will be full. All the young people must be sleeping after enjoying Pee Pee nights out. The sea was calm, not a breeze and we waded in the water for nearly a kilometer and the water barely reached our waist. What a fantastic place is Pee Pee.

Afterwards we left the beach and came back to the Uphill Cottages and showered and changed and came down again to find about the ferries leaving for Krabi and Phuket. We were told by the wife of the manager that ferries left at 14.00 hours and we could buy the ticket right there, from them. So that was that, the husband brought down our luggage and told us that he will take it to the jetty. So once again we went strolling through the winding streets, saying hello to everybody and reached the jetty. At14.00 hours we said good bye to Ko Phi Phi Don, the island in the Sun and took the ferry to Krabi Town.
Posted by Island Hopper at 06:36

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Ko Phi Phi Don. Thailand the Fabled Country

The islands of Phi Phi Don (so named officially) and Phi Phi Leh are equidistant from Krabi and Pukhet and you can go there from either Krabi town or Krabi beach Ao Nang. The fare from Krabi town is Bht.200 and from Ao Nang Bht.390. It takes two hours to reach Phi Phi (or Pee Pee as it is called).

The ferry journey is exciting, the azure of the sea changes to dark green and then turquoise, rocks crop up out of the water and tropical forest accompanies you as you journey along the wide span of the sea. When we went to PeePee from Krabi, there was hardly any other craft on the water, now and then a boat passed or we saw a sailing boat in the horizon. No traffic until we reached Pee Pee. We later learned that boats arrived in the mornings and left in the afternoons and the last boat to Krabi and Pukhet left at 16.00 hours.

Before we could dock at the jetty, hundreds and hundreds of tropical fish greeted us, swimming around the boat and near the shore. What a thrilling experience it was. The color of water was turquoise and the heat and the hustle and bustle of passangers arriving, gave us the sensation that we were indeed landing on an island. Then the trek to reach our Uphill Cottage, through the winding streets full of shops and restaurants. No motorized traffic, only bicycles and the three whell carts lugging visitors' luggage.

Pee Pee Don with its To Sai village which has two beaches namely Tonsai beach(south side) and Loh dalum Beach(north side). The beaches are clean with white sand and shallow water, you can walk on for a kilometer or more and the water will still only reach your waist. On the morning of our arrival, we dumped our luggage in our Uphill Cottage and went to have a look at the beach. It seemed that all the passangers of all the boats which had arrived that morning, were lying on the beach. It was so packed with sun bathers that it reminded me of any beach in Spain or Greece on a summer day.

So instead of taking off our clothes and lying on the sand, we took a stroll through the village. First we had a glass of very cold fresh fruit juice for Bht.20, then had a charcoal grilled corn cob and did some window shopping. The shops were full of articles which you will find in every tourist resort. Coral jewelry, beach wear, T-shirts and shorts, sun hats. I bought a sun hat as I had lost mine in Songkhala. It cost Bht.200 much more expensive than in Hat Yai where it cost Bht.40. T-shirts with Billabong, Rip Curl and other motives were very popular. Prices were 40% higher than in HatYai.
I suppose the prices are higher as every thing has to be brought in from the mainland.

The islands live on tourism, it is an ideal place for young people and back-packers. And the village comes alive at night. Sunflower bar, Tiger Bar, Reggae Bar and other places were full of people chilling out, having a whale of a time, listening to music and drinking cold beer. A sensation of being free, but we saw neither alcohol abuse nor nudity on the beaches.

If one of the reasons of your travel to South Asia is to enjoy food, Thai food is delicious. We were eating Thai and Chinese food every day. No sausages and fries, no pizza or hamburgers. In the morning we came down from our cottage to a cafe for breakfast. This place had a large T.V set and we heard the BBC World News or an Australian channel. For Bht.50 each, we had four slices of toat, butter & jam, glass of fresh fruit juice and coffee and slices of fresh water melon or pineapple.

Another popular breakfast consists of rice noodles with spicy fish curry with vegetables and fresh fruit. Sprinkle it with fish oil or Pad Thai sauce and you have a tasty breakfast for little money. The dish I think is called Khanom Cheen(atleast it is pronounced that way).

Thai stir fried noodles with shrimps, chicken, bean curd and vegetables is a favorite dish. It is called PhatThai.
Another popular dish is KhaoMok which is saffron rice with roasted chicken, ginger pieces and garlic in a sweet & sour bean sauce or soya sauce. Also delicious. Naturally the fish occupies the place of honor among South Asia cuisine. We had fried fish, fish with lemon grass and ginger in a light sauce. Squid, calamari, prawns. A real delight.

The day's activities consist of diving, snorkeling, rock climbing and sun bathing and swimming. You can take a tour of the islands with a long tail boat or a fast launch and stop mid-sea and dive in the turquoise waters to see hundreds of different kinds of tropical fish. You can hire the long tail boat for one or two persons or go with a group of other people. A long tail boat takes a maximum of 12 passengers. Otherwise a fast launch with much more people. In the evening you can join hundreds of people going on boats to see the Sunset. Pee Pee are no doubt the islands in the sun. The ideal time to visit is from October to May, during the monsoon season, boats find it difficult to come in the islands and berthing can be hazardous.
Posted by Island Hopper at 06:35

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Thailand The Fabled Country. krabi to Ko Phi Phi

We had booked our ferry tickets to Phi Phi at the hostel the night before, it cost Bht.390pp and we were told to be ready and at the reception at 8.00 hrs. next morning. We had to wait 45 minutes for the pickup bus, which turned out to be a truck, with two long benches placed vertically. Kind of transport used to ferry farm labrers. From our hostel we were the only two passengers, we piled in and the truck started its round and picking up more people from various hotels. Then a long ride to the ferry jetty. We were surprised to see the large number of people going to Phi Phi and other islands. Lots of activity on the harbour.

The day was bright and very warm and we were looking forward to going to Phi Phi of which we had heard so much. After all the passangers had arrived and were boarded, their luggage piled up, we started. Almost all the passangers were young backpackers, seasoned travellers of today. They were relaxed, used to isle hopping. Midway to Phi Phi, we saw to our further surprise that the ferry stopped near an island and there were four or five long boats full of people heading our way. In a few minutes they stopped alongside the ferry and started helping the people to board. . It seemed that there were hundreds and hundreds of people climbing up, backpacks piling higher and higher. I was thinking that with so many passangers, the over loaded ferry might keel over and sink. We have read so many times about such disasters in asian countries, where boats and ferries cross the sea with an overlaod of passangers and sink.

The night before, in Krabi, we had tried to book accomodatin at the island but every where we asked, we were told that all accomodation on Phi Phi was fully booked and we would not get any room below Bht.3000-4000 per night. So we decided to take a chance, and failing to find any place there, would come back at nightfall. However on arriving at Phi Phi jetty, we found that there was some sort of panick among the passangers, travel agents were shouting and running here and there, hustling people to their respective offices and given little chance of making a decision about the place or the price. In half an hour the place was clear.

After hanging around one office for fifteen minutes, we were told that a double room was available for Bht.700 per night, five minutes from the beach but ten minutes walk from the jetty. We accepted although we were willing to pay upto Bht.`1200 for a beachside cabin. In Phi Phi there are no taxis, passangers' luggage is put in a hand cart and taken to the accomodation rented by them. The owner/manager of our hostal loaded our luggage with some other people's suitcases and started toward his place. It seemed that we took more than ten minutes to reach the hostal and to our more surprise, saw that we had to climb a hill to reach UPHILL COTTAGES. In my photo gallery I have posted a photo showing the cottage we occupied.

Phi Phi is a typical island full of small winding streets with shops selling every thing a visitor might need. There were restaurants and bars, pizza places and shops selling sausages and French fries. Massage parlors and a tattoo shop too. Travel agents and diving schools. Super markets and fruit stalls. Very busy too. Men in swim suits, T-shirts and shorts. Girls in bikinis,pareos and in shorts & T-shirts thronged the narrow streets. However, we found that the island was quiet and peaceful, there was a sensation of being a part of every day life but somehow detached from it too. No doubt the island is so popular.

Phi Phi has two beaches, there was quite some activity of building new accommodation on the island. Rooms to share with other guests, hostels for backpackers, luxury accommodation, Phi phi has every thing. If you are looking for a suitable place to stay and do not want to book with the travel touts on arrival, you will always find some. We went in November which is the peak season, but even then , there was adequate accommodation available, vacancy signs sprouted every where.
Posted by Island Hopper at 06:35

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Thailand The Fabled Country. Hat Yai to Krabi

Thailand The Fabled Country. HatYai to Krabi

So next morning, a sunny and bright day in Songkhla we went for breakfast in a posh hotel in front of the vegetable & fruit market and had chicken curry & rice,fish,fried noodles and fresh water melon and pineapple and wonderful coffee and then strolled down on the other side of the road to find out about the mini-bus service to Hat Yai. It seemed that buses left every 15 minutes, so went back to the hotel and brought our luggage and immediately started for Hat Yai.

We told the driver to please drop us at the bus station for Krabi, this nice guy dropped us in front of the office of a travel company. The agent came down the steps of his office and asked us as to where we were headed and in one minute made out a ticket for two costing Bht.680. So I gave him a Bht.1000 note as I had no smaller notes, he crossed the road and I saw many buses standing there on the other side of the road, which was the main bus station. What he did was, go to the booking office, buy two tickets for Bht210 each and pocket the difference. The Lonely Planet Guide warns us about these clever touts but saw the travel office with all the signboards and thought it was the bus company. The Lonely Planet Guide shows fare from Hat Yai to Krabi Bht.210 pp but we found that the guide edition was not the latest and prices of hotels, buses and trains had changed. So I thought the fare was correct.

The bus was comfortable but full, all local people, travelling to Trang, Krabi and Pukhet and places in between. The journey took six hours and we arrived in Krabi in late afternoon. On arrival we were surrounded by tourist operators and after looking at some accommodations, selected a hostel at Ao Nang beach, which, we were told, is the starting point for going to Phi Phi islands. On our return from Phi Phi we went to Krabi Town instead, which also is the start and finish point for boats. The double room (no air conditioning)cost Bht.800 with a shower sharing with another room. But it was clean and coffee was free. A very friendly receptionist with Rastafarian hair-locks. The hostel seemed popular with back-packers.

Krabi(Ao Nang)resembles TorreMollinos in Malaga(Spain), we were wondering if the place had not transplanted itself there. Tailoring shops, bars and restaurants, chemists and mobile phone shops, dirty and broken telephone booths, filthy promenade,pizza places and tourist & travel offices lined the pavement.

We went for a stroll but did not find it charming, after the long bus journey we were tired and after booking tickets for Phi Phi islands with the friendly Rastafarian, we went to bed.
Posted by Island Hopper at 06:34

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Thailand the Fabled Country- Hat Yai to Songkhla

Thailand the Fabled Country- Hat Yai to Songkhla

From HatYai to Songkhla is one hour journey. We took an air-conditioned mini-bus from HatYai which left us in the center of the town, in front of the Historical Museum.We saw,on the other side of the street,two hotels and chose the first one,which looked very inviting with a patio inside the reception area. The Sook Soon Boon 2 Hotel turned out to be a very spacious, clean and airy place, full of light. The rate was Bht.450 for a double room with attached shower, air-conditioned and with a view of the rooftops and the harbor.

We deposited our suitcase in the room and came down to have a look at this place. It has an atmosphere of total quitness, some one would say peacefulness. There were literally no tourists in the town, we found some in an internet cafe, otherwise the town is very low key. We went looking at the many temples and also wanted to go to the Khao Tang Kuan temple atop the hill, but the heat was so intense that we climbed about fifty steps and gave up. Later in the center of the city we learned from the Tourist Board that there was a cable car to take you to the top of the mountain, which perhaps was not working, it being 2.30 in the afternoon. So we went to the National Museum which also was closed until 16hours. Therefore we gave up sightseeing and went in search of food.

In songkhla there is a very colourful market, selling fresh vegetables and fruit, fish and seafood. One kilo of fish was from Bht.45 to 75, large prawns were Bht.45 for a heap sorted out on the floor. A bunch of bananas was only Bht.5. Incredibly cheap food. Food carts with a wide variety of food, fried squid, crab meat, calamari etc was delicious and seemed popular food. So was the Thai clear soup with bean sprouts, meat and pork pieces, pork balls and noodles. If you want to take it easy, enjoy the beach and good food, songkhla is the place and you can come here from Satun, instead of breaking journey in HatYai.

We stayed in this peaceful town for one night and next day took a mini bus back to Hat yai to continue our journey to Krabi, our next destination.
Posted by Island Hopper at 06:33

Thailand the Fabled Country- Satun to Hat Yai

Thailand the Fabled Country- Satun to Hat Yai

The mini bus took two hours from Satun to Hat Yai and left us in the centre of the city. LonelyPlanet Guide mentioned Louis Guest house, Cathay Guest House and there was a Queen's Hotel also, all in the center of the city within walking distance of the train station. However, I had read somewhere about a King's Hotel also and on an impulse asked the tuk-tuk driver to take us there. We passed the Louis Guest House and other hotels on our way to King's Hotel, all are situated in the same area. The hotel turned out to be a friendly place, we were shown three-four rooms and the one we chose was spacious, clean, air-conditioned with a small fridge and with attached shower, overlooking the rooftops of houses. The double room cost Bht400 per night.

Hat Yai is a bustling city, jewelry shops, clothes and shoe shops, big department stores. There were many eating places near the hotel. We took a walk up to the Clock Tower, the place where the mini bus from Satun had dropped us. The road from the hotel to the Clock Tower is full of small stalls, hole-in the wall food stands and every place seemed to be busy. Food forms such an important part of Asian life.

We reached the Clock Tower and I bought a pair of flip-flops as the leather sandals I had brought were killing my feet. There was a market in front but we saw that all the stalls were being shuttered down. It was about seven in the evening. On the other side of the market, near the Songkhla bus station, is the night market, but it started to rain so we took the road back to the hotel. On the way we saw a chinese restaurant which displayed many enticing dishes. So we stopped there and had spicy beef stew, squid in sauce, sweet and sour pork, mixed vegetables and delicious morning glory (spinach like green leaves, diced and sauted). Very tasty food.
Hat Yai is a place to break your journey if you are crossing from Malaysia and want to enjoy the busy city life and eat some food before continuing on your journey. We stayed there two days and then went to Songkhla. (To unwind from our bus journeys as Lonely Planet Guide says).
Posted by Island Hopper at 06:33

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Thailand - A fabled Country

Thailand - A fabled Country

The school boy knowledge that I possessed about Thailand was, that Siam, as it was known in ancient times, in the Indian Ocean, was a fabled country, rich in culture, polite people, unending rice paddies. That the people were Budhists, that centuries ago, Hindu culture and religion were popular in the country. My hobby was to collect postage stamps and among Thai collection, I had many stamps with the picture of the king and many scenes of temples.

Later in life I saw the motion picture titled Anna and the King and although I was unimpressed by the scenes of romance lurking beneath the outward courtesy and court manners, I enjoyed the movie nevertheless. It reminded me of Shangrila and the forbidden city of Llahsa in Tibet and the kingdom of Sikkim. Places where adventure was, legends about mysterious monks who lived in mountain-top monasteries and in freezing weather, could survive for forty days without any food, which the villagers could not bring to them because of heavy snow and inaccessable mountain tracks.

The modern history of Thailand shows that the country was ruled by many monarchs and kings during 13th & 14th century, and despite political upheavals and military coups, the country, unlike its neighbours Malaya and Singapore, IndoChina, Indonesia and parts of China, it thwarted attempts by western powers to become their colony.
So Thai people have no hang ups from any colonial masters. No shriveled Brit sitting in his bungalow in Simla or darjeeling (India), no White Rajah reminiscing about his exploits in the jungles of Sarawak over his Gin and Tonic at six o’clock in the evening.

However, the political situation in Thailand has always been unstable as was demonstrated by the recent military take over of government ruled by Thaksin Shinawatra, and his party’s very recent win in national elections. It is the deep reverence of the King by his people that has kept the country united and there is no visible tension of political unstability in the country. But the political situation could again end up in a turmoil. I sincerely hope not, I like Thailand and Thais very much.

In the early 70s, in London, I used to frequent a dilapidated Thai restaurant which had two tables, four chairs and a small counter behind which an old woman did the cooking, assisted by another young woman, when not attending the few customers. There was a permanent presence of steam and wet linoleum.

In South East Asia, Thailand attracts the highest number of western tourists, and although the country was devastated by a powerful earthquake and a tsunami in 2004, which destroyed many islands and tourist resorts, it seems to have somewhat recovered from the enormous disaster. And the tourists have flocked back to this beautiful country. I think everybody loves Thailand and its people.

Thais like to talk and are curious people. Every body wants to know where you come from, if you are married and how many children you have. They are also very polite and helpful although sometimes we found them ubrupt in their response. It was my impression that the moment a taxi driver, a boatman or a shop assistant saw you hesitating over something, he lost interest in you.

Thais can not get visas to european countries unless some one acts as responsor. They can travel to Malaysia, Indonesia and singapore without any visa, but there is a shortage of work in these countries. And Thai are poor people. We met a young thai girl in Hua Hin, who had come from Bangkok with the idea of working there but was going back, because there was no work in Hua Hin. Another girl who had started work behind the bar only a few days before our arrival, had come from Phuket as there was no work there. All young people want to go to U.K or europe and work for five years to save Ten Thousand Pounds or Euros and come back and buy a house. On the other hand, we met many europeans who had come to Thailand for a visit and have stayed on. They are treated well, properties are comparatively cheap and so is the food.
Posted by Island Hopper at 06:33

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Thailand- We land at Satun

The last day of our stay in Pulau Langkawi, we stayed in Kuah at Eagle Bay View hotel, facing the harbor. The room was spacious and clean with attached bath (W.C and wash basin and bath tub. Not so clean). The room had air conditioning and room tariff included breakfast. The normal tariff was MR.80 per night but because of weekend and some festival going on, we had to pay the extra charge of MR50. Kuah is a hustle bustle of commerce, shopping malls and fast food centres and we did not enjoy it a bit. So we walked down to the jetty and bought our tickets for crossing into Thailand at Satun, the mainland town where the ferry passengers disembark from Kuah, Pulau Langkawi.

The ferry ride to Satun took about one hour, with both shores of the sea wrapped in dense jungle of palm trees, millions of trees, with tall dark rocks jutting out of the water, the deep blue water and moss green and turquoise shore, here and there a small beach, enticing us to jump ship and make home on the lonely and lovely stretch of sand. There was a brisk wind blowing and we sat on the top deck of the boat, soaking in the sun, waving at passing ferries or long boats plying between Satun and Kuah. It was enthralling experience, I had the feeling that we were heading towards a new adventure on the Indian Ocean on one side and the Gulf of Siam (Thailand) on the other side of the thin stretch of land, filled with thousands of islands. A sense of mysterious excitement and anticipation engulfed me.

After disembarking and completing immigration formalities, we entered the main hall with three tourist offices, two restaurants and one or two small shops. The tourist operators all gathered around us and wanted to know as to where we were headed. When we enquired whether there was a bus service or tuk-tuk, we were told that we could either take a taxi to the bus stand(Bht.200 upto Hat Yai) or ride on the back of a motor cycle(Bht.15 pp upto bus station). Imagine and oederly couple riding pylon on the back seat of a motorcycle, clutching suitcases. Oh! to be young and a back-packer. What a joy to travel. Travel light and travel fast and far. But no bus and no tuk-tuk.

Satun is a small town and we decided to continue our journey to Hat Yai, although we wanted to stay at Satun for at least a day. However, we decided to continue our journey to Hat Yai, two hours' journey by mini-bus. We were told by a woman traveller that the bus fare to Hat Yai was Bht80 pp, however, the travel agents, one and all, wanted Bht200 which included car ride to the centre of the town. Totally discouraged by the threat of a ride on the back of a motor cycle, we agreed to the terms and were taken to the mini-bus stand. The bus left every half an hour and after waiting for forty minutes, we started our journey to Hat Yai, the Land of Smiles (so says Lonely Planet Guide).
Posted by Island Hopper at 06:32

Travel the world

I started this travel blog with the intention of writing about my travels and the pleasure it has always given me to go to different places, meet people of different cultures in their native lands, eat local food and have a good time in general. Unfortunately my travels have been limited to short trips. One month, three weeks or a fortnight, but every time I go on a trip, I make it as if it is an adventure.

Today when travelling has become so common, so many people can go to places where 30-40 years ago only persons with a sense of adventure ventured. Overland trips to India and Nepal, were hippi culture. Now people go to China, Russia, Viet Nam and Cambodia and Burma. You name it. Few people then travelled to australia and New Zealand.
In europe people started going to Spain, Greece, Yugoslavia and Turkey, because things were cheaper there. I remember in England in the sixties and seventies, when some one went to Costa Brava or the Canary Islands for his holidays, he had gone "abroad" or people said "he is on the continent"'

Today's traveller is neither an explorar who has to travel to discover the north-west-passage or go to the South Pole for the glory of his country, nor an adventurer, who has, for his personal glory, to meet the natives of Papua New Guinea or to climb the peak of Machu Pichu.
Most of the people I have met in Spain, Portugal, Greece etc, go there for the sun in winter, to escape the harsh winter of their own country or to go there for holidays, not because things are cheap there. Today it has become far more cheaper to travel to distant lands, long haul holidays, and one of the reasons is the fact that things are cheaper there, you can stay there longer and visit many interesting places. And you find travellers from USA, europe, on trips in South Asia, South America, Middle East. Any where. You find back packers in Bali, Phi Phi Islands, Goa and Kerala and taking it easy in China Town in Kuala Lumpur. I have met travellers who have been to Phi Phi islands in Thailand because Lonley Planet Guide described them as one of planet's jaw dropping beauties. And indeed it is so. That the beaches in Prehensian isles in Malaysia are divine and there is no motorized traffic, white beaches and turquuoise-blue water, is also true. What better reason one needs to travel to these distant places other than visit them because they are there?

Travel guides, travel forums, internet and never ending stories of travellers to distant places, their experiences, cheap travel etc, all have contributed to more people traveling to more places. Be it to meditate in Puri, take Yoga lessons in Kerala or Rishikesh or go snorkeling in deep green and dark blue waters of Thailand, it is almost always a pleasant experience to look forward to.
Posted by Island Hopper at 06:30

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Malaysia 2007. Year of the Tourism

I have started this blog, writing about our two trips to Malaysia. When we visited Kuala Lumpur, it felt as if whole Malaysia was a new country, young and dynamic, not the country of old Malay states of 19th century, governed from England, controlled by foreign beurocrats, ruled by rajahs and sultans, occupied by colonial masters. Malay of rubber plantations, the plantation owners sweltering in tropical heat, some unhappy, many alcoholic and brutal. Malay of Dayak tribe the head hunters, Murdu pirates, native gangs working on plantations and building roads, punished by their colonial masters for any slight lapses and mistakes. To their enormous credit, malaysians have emerged intact from the yoke of colonial rule of their country. They are neither arrogant nor servile. They are shy in front of strangers but shyness becomes people who are polite, good mannered.

If you have read W.S. Maugham's Outstation, you will know the snobbery and arrogance with which the English ruled in Malay and everywhere else. They ill-treated the natives, tolerated the chinese, considering them a necessary evil since they filled the coffers of treasury.The Malays and Dyaks were poor, they worked little and their needs were little. Later, when the chinese grew in numbers and their hold on the economy grew, British were unable to control their power. Today Malaysians resent the Chinese, whose ecomic power in the country is enormous.
Malaysians are eager to point out their tolerance and harmony with the country's indiginous population of Chinese and Indians. However, the recent events of protests and demonstrations by the indians, and their strong and valid complaints, shows that the present Islamic government does not care much about social integration or giving equal rights and opportunities to minorities living in the country for centuries. The Chinese have always formed a state within a state, with their own places of worship and their own codes of law. And they are rich and rich are always powerful.

Our tour guide in Penang was complaining about the hesitation of european tourists to visit his country, who in his view were biased, who wrongly believe that Malaysia is a muslim country, with men in long gowns and with shaggy beards and women covered head to food in burkas. That Malaysias are extremists who are not tolerant of other communities.
However, it is not so and I am sure that westerners like Malaysia and Malaysians.

We found Malaysians graceful, well dressed, helpful and hospitable. The country is clean, well connected with roads and highways. New and modern buildings and commercial centres. The economy is booming. Hotels rates are reasonable, transport is regular and cheap. So are restaurants, with friendly staff, and delicious food. Beautiful islands and wonderful beaches. What more would a tourist or a visitor want? Thank you Malaysia for being a tourist friendly country. May more and more western visitors choose your country for their holidays.
Posted by Island Hopper at 06:31

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Malaysia 2007. Pulau Langkawi

Malaysia 2007. Pulau Langkawi

Pulau Langkawi in the north west of peninsula, the nearest island to Thai border town of Satun, is the perfect place to relex. We took a bus from Kuala Lumpur at 24.00 hours(one hour late departure) and went to Kuala Perlis, the port town which is the departure point for ferries to Langkawi. The buses in Malaysia are new and comfortable and we travelled in a double-decker bus. The journey time from KL to Perlis was seven hours and immediately on arrival at Perlis, we took a ferry to Kuah, the major town and arrival point for ferries. There was a lot of hustle and bustle on the jetty, Langkawi is a duty free port and Malaysians love to come here. On the day we arrived in Kuah, there was an important festivel in progress and hotels were full and charging higher rates. But we had no intention of staying in the town as we wished to go to the beach.

So on arrival, we went in the restaurant on the jetty to have breakfast and found that they had full indian food there. Mr. Jamal the soft spoken manager came over to our table and after exchanging preliminary courtesies and taking our orders, came back and asked if it was our first time in Langkawi, which was yes, and offered to find us accomodation. He gave us his visiting card and I saw that apart from working in the restaurant, he was also working for tourist information and travel agency. So we had rice, chicken curry, pancakes and coffee at very reasonable price at 7.30 in the morning and Mr. Jamal phoned the travel office, which was nearby and outside the jetty, and in came Linda, a very helpful young woman, who took us back to her office.

The sun was shinning, bright sunlight bathed the whole town, heat prickling the body with a sensation of adventure, the sparkling blue sea, boats arriving and leaving, and a huge statue of an eagle with its enourmous wings looking out to the sea. All was fantastic. The town of Kuah, as we found out on our last day there, is a commercial centre, with concrete buildings, western fast food chains and shopping centres, which cater for malaysians and other tourists visiting Langkawi.

We explained to Linda our wish to go to Pantai Cenang or Pantai Tengah, she phoned some hotels but all seemed full. At the end we settled on Pantai Cenang and she booked us in Malibest Beach Resort, with wooden cottages right on the beach. The tariff was MR80.00 per night and the cottages were spacious, with attached shower/toilet, with daily room service. We stayed there three days.

If I had to choose a place to live for the rest of my days, my first preference will be Canary Islands(Spain) where I have lived for over twenty years and where I had the best time of my adult life. I love the sea, the food and the people there. The next will be Langkawi. The place has an enchantment, dense jungle, white blond beaches, unclattered life without motorized traffic, good albeit pricy food. But a place in paradise does not come cheap any more. We put on our siwmsuits and strolled down to the beach, a few meters from the cottage, and saw the wide expanse of the clear horizon, a mirror calm sea, not a ripple stirred the waves. Glorious heat which engulfed your entire self, swathing body and mind in a peaceful calm. I went in the water and lay down on my back and the gentle water took inside. I was floating and nearly went to sleep, so peaceful and calm was the water. The picture on top right show the intricate pattern etched on the sand by crabs.

In the evening we went out for a stroll. All shops and restaurants are mostly on one side of the road. We were hungry and after inspecting some places to eat, entered Palm View, a chinese restaurant with spacious dinning area. The owner, a gentleman from Tamil Nadu (India) came over and greeted us like old friends and recommended fish and sea food, which was fresh. My wife had shrimps in sweet & sour sauce, baby squid in ginger sauce and mixed vegetables. I had, as recommended by the owner, steamed red snapper, cooked in a delicious sauce, which I enjoyed very much. The bill ,together with two glasses of fresh pineapple juice and one beer, came to MR.76.00 .

After staying in Langkawi and with fond memory of its enchantment, we came to Kuah, stayed overnight and next morning took a ferry to Satun, the Thai border town.
Posted by Island Hopper at 06:31

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Malaysia 2007. Year of Tourism. Kuala Lumpur

Malaysia 2007. Year of Tourism. Kuala Lumpur

In November 2007 we once again went to Malaysia.Malaysia has had a complete revamp. New roads and highways, tall and elegant tower blocks and beautiful houses. Kuala Lumpur is the face of new prosperity and business and people are content. Govt. workers retire at age 45, get a lump sum amount at retirement, they can buy a house cheap, a motor car (malaysians can buy a car with a down payment of MR ONE) and live well as things are cheap. A visit to a doctor costs MR12.00.
Malaysians don't seem to cook at home. KL, Penang, Butterworth and many small towns we visited, were all the time full with customers, eating. In KL we stayed at China Town Inn, pat in china town itself, a good and clean hotel with a very friendly staff. A double room cost MR100 per night, although we later found out that similar hotels cost around MR60 per night. We booked on the internet so had to accept the tariff. But we liked it there and stayed four nights.
KL is a fantastic city, clean and visitor friendly, transport is cheap, there are so many places to visit and things to see and do. The food is cheap, whether you opt for chinese or indian food, it is cooked fresh and is very tasty. And you can buy fresh fruit cut in slices for MR1. What else you want? Who would bother to cook at home?
You can visit KL just for it being there, Suria KL city centre, the Petronas twin towers, Masjid Jamek, the aqua marine world, Batu Caves, the Golden Triangle, all deserve a visit. The city centre is full of pubs, bistros and restaurants. The only thing I did not like was the large number of McDonalds, KFC, Subways and starbucks cafe chain. Their signs and billboards seemed out of place. We had delicious coffee, at a restaurant in the international market just a few hundred metres from china town, for MR2.50. In KL you can have good coffee anywhere. Who cares for Starbucks? And coffee at BigMac, anywhere in the world, tastes lousy. As does the food. And instead of three days as originally planned, we stayed for five days.
It was our plan to visit Perhentian islands but we were informed that due to rainy season these islands had been closed as it was dangerous for boats to cross the islands. So instead we decided to go to Langkawi Island and after our soujorn in KL, took a bus to Kuala Perlis which is a departure point for ferries to Pulau Langkawi

Posted by Island Hopper at 06:30

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