VISITING OTHER COUNTRIES (THAILAND FIRST)...
In Bangkok, we often stay at THE BUSINESS INN, which is located at 11 1/2 Sukumvit road. We get an excellent carpeted room, with two beds -- hot-water showers -- air-con -- cable TV -- a refrigerator -- etc. -- for 900 Baht per night.
Whoops... in one of the photos below, it looks like a member of the cleaning staff has her arm around our 12 year old son, Chip.
Also, there are photos of the two "front-desk" girls -- both of whom are very friendly and helpful.
We often stay at this hotel because we like the people -- the rooms are reasonable -- and (last but not least) this hotel is very centrally located, with easy access to the overhead trains -- taxis -- tuk-tuks -- good restaurants -- etc.
BANGKOK JEWELRY STORES:
A weird thing happened to us at one of the Bangkok jewelry stores -- as follows:
The Jewelers in Bangkok do excellent
"gold" work. Therefore, we took Skip's mother's [R.I.P.] gold ring with us to
Bangkok to have it made larger for me (Skip's wife, Belle).
We took the ring to THE JEWELRY MART, located at "Sukumvit 11 corner" -- Telephone (02) 253-7706 or 253-5798 or 253-0177.
This store is located only one block from our hotel, and I would guess that it has an inventory (e.g. gold, diamonds, other precious stones, jewelry, etc.) that would be worth a minimum of $1,000,000. U.S. Dollars.
We discussed our plan with the store's very gracious representative (a senior sales executive named "Sasithorn"), and she told us that their jeweler could make the ring larger for a total cost of 2,000 Baht. We agreed to this price, and Skip signed the AGREEMENT (which was a "contract").
Sasithorn told us that the ring would be ready for us to pick up the next day at 6:30 PM.
When we returned the next day, the ring was done to perfection. We were very happy with the work -- the personnel -- the store -- the price we had previously agreed upon -- etc.
HOWEVER, when Skip took out his money to pay the bill (at the price we had agreed upon the previous day) Sasithorn told him that the work ended up costing much LESS than they had anticipated, and therefore our bill would only be 1,200 Baht.
In other words, the price was 800 Baht cheaper than the "contracted" price we had previously agreed upon.
As Skip often says, "Will wonders never cease ???"
Here is a photo of Sasithorn, Chip, and I -- and another photo showing the outside of the store (with street vendors, etc.).
THANON KHAO SAN ROAD (between Chakaphong Road and Bavonnivet Road):
This "walk-in-the-street" shopping area is well worth a visit -- especially if you need to get a few souvenirs for your friends and family back home -- or a tattoo -- or a new girl-friend (for you single guys) -- or some huge fried insects -- etc... (?).
At night, this place comes alive with carts -- street vendors -- sidewalk cafes and restaurants -- tourists from all over the world -- etc.
Skip says that going to "touristy" Khao San Road reminds him of what some of the former Marines say when they reflect upon their experiences in the Marine Corps (e.g. "I'm glad I did it, but I would never want to do it again.").
Having said that, I must confess that we go to Khao San Road (at least once) every time we go to Bangkok.
As Skip says, "Does that make us
"tourists"... or what ???"
RESTAURANTS IN BANGKOK:
FOODLAND – located at Sukhumvit 5 – Telephone (02) 254-2247 – Website www.foodland.co.th . It is a TOOK LAE DEE restaurant (there are nine of them), and it is open 24 hours per day. This is where a lot of the local folks eat. However, us foreigners seem to be taking over the place as the word spreads. There is only “counter-seating" at this particular restaurant , but don’t let that discourage you. We eat at this awesome restaurant almost every day when we are staying in THE BUSINESS INN. It is possible to eat very well for approximately $2 to $3 U.S. per meal – including drinks.
GETTING TO THE "MUST-SEE"
PLACES IN OR NEAR BANGKOK:
As you walk out of the door of
FOODLAND -- and turn right -- and walk approximately 30 meters --
you will see the following sign on the sidewalk to your right:
PLEASE NOTE: While you are in Bangkok, we highly recommend that you spend at least one full day at the GRAND PALACE -- a day at the FLOATING MARKET (going through it by boat AND ON FOOT ALONG THE BANKS OF THE CANALS -- a day at the BRIDGE OVER THE RIVER KWAI -- another day at the WEEKEND MARKET (a flea-market of major proportions) -- two days (and two nights) at the "beach-and-sin-city" of PATTAYA. At Pattaya, be sure to rent a motorcycle, and tour the area.
Regarding the prices shown on the
above-mentioned sign -- you can probably save a few baht on transportation if you take the time to do the research -- shop
around -- talk to people -- take notes -- etc. However, the amount money that
you would save is so small that we would not waste ANY of our time trying
to deal with it.
TAXI DRIVERS IN BANGKOK:
No matter what country we are in,
Chip always has loooooooong conversations with taxi drivers, bus drivers,
tuk-tuk drivers, ox-cart drivers, boat-men, river-rafters, airplane pilots,
farmers, waiters, waitresses, policemen, street vendors, homeless people
sleeping on the sidewalks, and the list goes on.
Conversing with different types of people -- getting to know them -- and becoming friends with them -- is part of Chip's "way of life." Amazingly, he often does this even though he only knows a few words of their language.
Skip says that Chip's ability to do this reminds him of one of Chuang Tzu's sayings (a Chinese philosopher circa 500 AD) -- as follows:
"The rabbit-snare exists only because of the rabbit. Once
you've caught the rabbit, you can forget
about the snare. Words exist because of meaning. Once you've caught the meaning, you can
forget about the words. Where can I find a man who has forgotten "words" so I can talk with him?"
Regarding Chip's "way of life," this
is what happened to us last week in Bangkok:
On June 4, 2007, Skip, Chip, and I
got into a taxi in Bangkok. As usual, Skip and I sat in the back and Chip rode
in front so he could converse with the driver while "on the way." We were only
in the taxi for a couple of minutes when suddenly the driver got all excited --
got a huge smile on his face -- turned to Skip and I -- started laughing -- and
explained (in totally broken English) that he remembered Chip riding in his taxi
one year ago. He even got the month right (we were there in June, 2006). He
even remembered that Chip was from the Philippines and in the fifth grade at the
time. In other words, he remembered Chip almost one year after we last rode
in his taxi, even though he has had many thousands of passengers since that
time. Of course, to celebrate this "reunion" Skip insisted upon taking the four
of us to lunch.
Chip says there is no such thing as a "language barrier." His exact words were, "The important thing is to be genuinely interested in other people, and really care about them. From then on, it's easy."
Unfortunately, a lot of the wonderful people we meet in third-world countries are transient (because of their work), and therefore they do not have permanent addresses -- or telephones -- or access to email -- etc. In other words, it always makes us sad that we do not have any way keep in touch with these friends.
OUR RECENT "TAXI-TRIP" TO THE FLOATING MARKET:
On June 3, 2007, Skip and Chip took me to the floating market (one of their favorite places) because I had never been there. They wanted to share the experience with me. The market is two hours or so from Bangkok. To save time (and also so we could stop at other places while on our way "to" and "from" the market), we rented a taxi for the day -- for 2,000 baht. We arranged for the driver to pick us up at our hotel at 6 AM.
Our driver was an awesome guy, and the four of us ended up stopping at many interesting places -- going to lunch together -- etc.
OUR BOAT-TRIP "TO" THE
The taxi driver will first take you to a boat-dock (so you can rent a boat and explore the canals and visit the floating market by boat). Afterwards, he will take you, by taxi, to the banks of the floating market, so you can stroll around, have lunch, etc.
The photos immediately below include
the dock where we rented the boat (a few kilometers from the market) -- many of
the canals we explored -- a stop at one of the local temples -- many stops at
places where things are being sold -- etc.
Remember... it is a good idea to visit the market by boat AND on foot (walking along the banks of the canals).
FLOATING MARKET ITSELF:
After touring the canals and the market by boat, we went back to the market by taxi -- strolled around -- had lunch -- bought a few things for our friends and relatives back home -- took a lot of pictures -- etc.
THE SAMPHRAN ELEPHANT GROUND AND ZOO:
This is an excellent facility --
beautifully maintained -- with lots of critters and interesting people to share
time and space with. As you can see, we took a few photos of two guys that
were putting on a "show" with the crocodiles -- and also a few photos of us
wrestling one specific crocodile. Obviously, we took turns wrestling the same
An email recently arrived from one of our former guests (David) at SKIP'S BEACH RESORT. Among other things, he said the following:
"I am coming back to the Philippines to meet up with one
of the girls that I met on my trip in Febuary. We are
going to go to Thailand as well."
Skip responded as follows:
"That's good to hear, David !!!
I think you would especially like "northern" Thailand.
If you decide to go there, here are a few things to keep in mind.
It is easy to take a train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, which is the largest and most beautiful city in northern Thailand.
The last time we took the above-mentioned train there was some "civil unrest" in Thailand. Consequently, within two days, more than 50 "explosive devices" [e.g. bombs] were set off throughout the country.
Usually the trains are full, and there is hardly "standing room" on the platform shown below. However, because of the bombs, we had almost the entire train all to ourselves.
Getting around in Chiang Mai is easy by Tuk-Tuk (one of which is shown immediately below).
Chiang Mai used to be a walled city. Some of the wall still remains, and some of it has even been re-constructed. The wall below is part of the system. This section of the wall is directly across the street from the Montri Hotel, which is one of our favorite hotels in Chiang Mai.
At Chiang Mai, the Montri Hotel is a good -- and inexpensive -- place to stay. Here is Chip, registering us at the Montri Hotel. As usual, he got everyone's attention AND of course he ended up behind the counter with the girl.
AN EXCELLENT RESTAURANT CLOSE TO THE MONTRI
The TIGER RESTAURANT can be found as follows: Walk out the door of the Montri. Turn right. Walk three or four blocks. You will see this restaurant on the corner. The Thai food here is awesome.
IT IS EASY TO MEET GOOD (AND INTERESTING) PEOPLE IN CHIANG MAI:
At the TIGER RESTAURANT, we met this very nice gentleman (see below), and got to know him quite well. We later made arrangements (on several different occasions) to meet him and his friends at various places -- for coffee, lunch, sight-seeing, etc. They are from England and Scotland. One of the guys (the tall one) later came to visit us at Skip's Beach Resort.
THE STREETS OF CHIANG MAI ARE INTERESTING:
THE KINGS BIRTHDAY: On this particular trip we just happened to be in Thailand on the King's Birthday, which meant that the entire country was celebrating. Everyone that could afford to do so was wearing a yellow shirt, because that is the king's favorite color. These people absolutely LOVE their king. In fact, saying something "bad" about the king is a quick way to end up in jail. In fact, a drunk tourist recently made some bad comments about the King, and he was arrested, tried in court, and sentenced to something like ten years in a Thai prison.
Anyway... here are a few photos of the celebration activities.
TOURING IN THE CHIANG MAI AREA:
As you walk out the door of the Montri Hotel, there is a tour-company-travel-agency-combination which is located approximately 30' to your left. It is called GT ECO-TOUR . [See photo immediately below.] They can arrange an elephant-safari through the jungle AND also a delightful trip "down-river" (through the jungle) on a small bamboo raft.
AN ELEPHANT SAFARI: Here are a few photos of us riding an elephant through the jungles of Northern Thailand.
From Chiang Mai, it is a relatively short ride by van or bus to the small town of Mae Sai (the heart of THE GOLDEN TRIANGLE -- which is located in Thailand at the border of Burma (Myanmar).
At Mae Sai, you can get a visa at the border and walk across the bridge into Burma -- to the small town called Talat Tha Khilek, which is an interesting place. Here are some photos of Chip doing his own Visa Application and crossing the border at Mae Sai on his own (as though we didn't even know him) -- Chip's nose (barely visible) at the "Immigration Window" as he deals with the border crossing "by himself" -- etc. We like to "hang back" and make Chip do everything on his own (e.g. dealing the the money changers, making reservations, renting motorcycles, renting hotel rooms, crossing borders, going through Immigration, going through Customs, etc., as though he is not with us. Consequently, even though he is only 12 years old, he already knows more about traveling than the average American that is five times his age.
MAE SAI WE USUALLY STAY AT THIS HOTEL:
In the photos below, we are in the process of crossing the river into Talat Tha Khilek, Burma. which is a totally delightful little town.
When you get into Talat Tha Khilek, we highly recommend that you hire a three-wheel motorcycle (similar to the ones we have here in the Philippines) and tell the driver to take you to the temple on top of the hill. The temple is well worth seeing. Also, the temple is the only place we know of where you can get a souvenir map of the area -- and/or a "SPECIAL COMPLETE SET OF BURMESE COINS." The coins might sound like a weird thing to buy, but the set is interesting and (as Chip says) "they are waaaay cheap." Also, there is some Burmese "paper money" on the other side of the set.
We also recommend that you visit some members of the "long-neck" tribe (with the brass rings around their necks). These delightful people (and their entire culture) are rapidly disappearing, so..
If you have more time (and an interest in “learning” about various cultures), it is possible to travel into the jungle and spend time with the "hard-core" long-necks in their very basic jungle habitat -- which Skip has done. However, it takes several days to do this, and most people just don't have the time, or the interest.
It seems to us
that a great many people from "western" countries
are so culturally myopic that they “believe” their own culture is the best one
in the universe -- even though they have never experienced any other culture.
In other words, many of the "western minds" (e.g. especially "Americans") are completely closed to the possibility that there might be a better way than their own to perceive the universe.
As Skip says, "Is that amazing... or what ???"
The small town in Burma has a LOT of interesting shops -- including good restaurants -- good antique stores -- etc.
If you go into Talat Tha Khilek, Burma, you might want to go to the
intersection (near the middle of town) which is considered to be the heart of
the Golden Triangle. There is a large "Golden Triangle" sign at a mini-park in
the middle of the intersection.
TAKING A TAXI FROM MAE SAI TO CHIANG KHONG: From Mae Sai, it is possible to take a taxi (e.g. a pick-up-truck) to a small town called Chiang Khong which is located on the banks of the Mekong River.
By taxi, it will
only take one or two hours to get to Chiang Khong, depending upon how often you
ask the driver to stop so you can take photos.
In my opinion, a taxi is the best way to travel from Mae Sai to Chiang Khong because the road runs adjacent to the river, and you will probably want the driver to stop at all the temples, etc., along the way. Here are just a few of them. If you only spent 30 minutes at each place, it could take you a loooooong time to get to Chiang Khong.
The small town of Chiang Khong in Thailand, is located right along-side the Mekong River. There is an official "border-crossing" there, so at that location you can cross the Mekong River and enter Laos. You will arrive in Laos at the small town of Huay Sai (visas are now available at the border). At this border-crossing the boats go back and forth across the Mekong quite often. Here is a photo of Chip, dealing with the border-crossing on is own -- as Skip and I stay in the background.
A passenger-boat crosses the Mekong (from Chiang Kong to Huay Sai) every hour or so.
Incidentally, it is rumored that Chip and Skip once crossed the Mekong in a small boat, and entered Laos without Visas. Of course, they both deny the rumors. Chip's only comment was... "Let 'em try to prove it, dad."
RENTING A MOTORCYCLE AT HUAY SAI, LAOS: Across the river, at Huay Sai, it is possible to rent a motorcycle for almost nothing. This is the best way to take a complete tour of the little town, and also of the surrounding country-side. Here is a photo of Chip renting one motorcycle for the three of us. All he needed to do was give them the money, and leave a photo-copy of his Passport.
THE EASY TRIP TRAVEL AGENCY IN CHIANG KHONG: If you decide to cross the Mekong River (from Thailand into Laos) it might be a good idea to arrange the crossing with the EASY TRIP travel agency, which is on the main road that goes through Chiang Khong. In my opinion, it will "save" you money to do so.
THE BAMBOO RESTAURANT AT CHIANG KHONG: At Chiang Khong there is an excellent restaurant (depending upon who is doing the cooking that day) called THE BAMBOO RESTAURANT, which overlooks the Mekong River. This restaurant is one of our favorites in the entire world.
THE CHIANG KHONG HOTEL: Across the street from the Bamboo Restaurant (and approximately 100' south) there is a serviceable motel, with air-con rooms. It is called THE CHIANG KHONG HOTEL.
Also, it is possible to rent a motorcycle at Chiang Khong, where riding up into the mountains is safe, and quite beautiful. From the mountains there are excellent views of the Mekong River.
This is the end of chapter 1. Please continue to chapter 2 from the list below: