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Thailand and Laos (and Myanmar if I can manage it)

Hello, Sawatdee kaa and Sabai dee,

My next trip will be Thailand and Laos, and this is all about the before, the trip and the after - similar to my Malaysia/Cambodia blog. I am putting together from start to finish - tickets, do's and don'ts, tours, where to stay, places to see, things to do, as well as useful extras like transport, good places to eat, what to wear, climate, tourist traps, tricks and tips and whatever else I can think of that will be useful.

If you have any tips or advice, please, feel free to leave a comment and add your bit - whatever you think may be helpful or interesting.

Thailand map

View Bangkok Thailand in a larger map

Playlist - My Travel Videos

Friday, July 30, 2010

10. Thai Foods

Lunch anyone?

From left to right,

Row 1: Rice Porridge with Pork = joke, Egg Noodle Soup = ba-me, Fried Noodles of Thai Style = phat thai,
Row 2: Fried Vegetables = pad pak, Spicy Lemonglass Soup with Shrimp = tom yum kung, Papaya Spicy Salad = som tum,
Row 3: Green Curry = gang khee-o wan, Omelette = kai jee-o, Egg Noodle Soup = ba-me, Chicken cook in Spicy Basil = kai khapraew,
Row 4: Chicken Fried with Cashew Nuts = kai phat met mamuang himmaphan,
Meat in Coconut Cream = pha naeng, and Chicken with rice = khao mun khai.

9. Exotic Thai Fruit

There are many delicious and exotics fruits in Thailand and Laos. To help first time travellers recognise them and their names, I have made a collage of the most common ones.

Above: Exotic Fruits

I have given the English name followed by the Thai word for these fruits. Going from left to right, top to bottom:

Row 1: Banana - Kluai, Pomelo - Som oo, Coconut - Ma praw, Papaya - Ma la gore, Star Gooseberry - Ma yom.
Row 2: Mango - Ma muag, Mango - Ra gum.
Row 3: Durian - Tou rian, Star Fruits - Ma feu-ung, Guava - Fa rang, Custard Apples - Noi nar.
Row 4: Lychees - Lin gee, Rose apple - Chom poo, Orange - Som, Pomegranate - Tub tim.

Bananas (Kluai)
There are several types grown in Thailand, some of which are
Kluai Hom - Fragrant Banana
Ripe fragrant bananas are a popular all-day snack. It goes well with breakfast cereals and is ideal for making banana fritters, cakes and ice-cream.
Kluai Khai - The Egg Banana
Has a thinner golden-yellow skin when ripe. It is eaten fresh or cooked in a light syrup. It is also popular as dried banana, candy, or cake.
Kluai Nam Wa -
Sticky and sweet when ripe, Kluai Nam Wa is valued for its high nutritional value. It is often used in a dessert known as Kluai Buat Chee in which slices of banana are cooked in coconut milk. It is also a key ingredient of steamed desserts made with glutinous rice, or rice flour, such as in Khao Tom Mut or Khanom Kluai.
Kluai Hak Mook
A cooking banana that is delicious when roasted or grilled.
Banana blossoms known as "Hua Plee" are used fresh as a garnish for the famous Pad Thai noodle dish, used in Thai salads or yam, or eaten raw as a salad vegetable served with chilli dips called nam prik.

DURIAN (Tou rian)
Peak season: May to August

Considered to be the 'King of Thai Fruits', Thais prefer a durian that is just ripe. The flesh should be slightly soft to the touch but without being crunchy.

Durians are an acquired taste and ripen quickly in the hot tropical climate. As the fruit ripens, the flesh takes on a creamy consistency and the intensity of the aroma increases. (Given this lingering and at times overwhelming aroma, durian is banned from hotel rooms, cinemas, aircraft, limousines, coaches and vans.)

To find out about other fruits click here AN INTRODUCTION TO THAI FRUITS.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

8. Suvarnabhumi Airport, Bangkok

Suvarnabhumi Airport is Bangkok's new airport. For those travellers who are going to Thailand for the first time, it can be bewildering getting from the airport to your hotel or guesthouse or next destination, so I have put together this information in the hope it will make your time a little easier and less confusing.

As you will see below, it is fairly easy to go from the airport by public transport. Included too are a few little tips on dealing with taxis and drivers that I have gleaned from others more familiar with Thailand.


Bangkok Airport Shuttle Bus Service
Free shuttle bus service is provided for passengers and airport staff. Expess route connects the main terminal directly to the transport center. Ordinary route connects to other airport facilities. For passenger convenience shuttle buses serving Suvarnabhumi airport are low-floor type.

Shuttle Bus Express Route:
1. Passenger terminal
2. Car rental center
3. Public transportation center and bus terminal

Above: Public Transport

24 hour public bus service is provided from the Bus Terminal at the Transport Centre (See photo above). Take a shuttle bus (Express route) to the Transport Centre.

Bus fare is 35 baht.

Public Bus Service to Bangkok and area.

Bus Number 549 - Suvarnabhumi Airport - Minburi
Bus No.549 connects Suvarnabhumi Airport to Minburi via Ladkrabang Road, taking a right turn to Rom Klao Road, cutting left to Sihaburanukit Road, taking left turn to Seri Thai Road. End the route at Bangkapi.

Bus Number 550 - Suvarnabhumi Airport - Happy Land
Bus No.550 connects Suvarnabhumi Airport to Happy Land via Ladkrabang Road, On-Nut Road, turning right to Sri Nakarin Road, turning left to Ladprao Road and turning right to Happy Land.

Bus Number 551 - Suvarnabhumi Airport - Victory Monument (Expressway)
Bus No.551 connects Suvarnabhumi Airport to the Victory Monument via New Bangkok - Chonburi expressway to Srirat expressway for exit at Rama 9 toll gate to continue further along Asoke-Dindang Road and Rachawithi Road for the final stop at the Victory Monument.

Bus Number 552 - Suvarnabhumi Airport - On Nut BTS station
Bus No.552 connects Suvarnabhumi Airport to the On-Nut sky train station via Bangna-Bangpakong Road, taking a right turn to Sukhumvit Road until the On-Nut sky train station.

Bus Number 553 - Suvarnabhumi Airport - Samut Prakan
Bus No.553 connects Suvarnabhumi Airport to Samut Prakan province via Ladkrabang Road, taking a left turn to Kingkaew Road, turning right to Bangna-Bangpakong Road, turning left to Sri Nakarin Road, turning right to Sukhumvit Road, turning left to Sai Luad Road until Samut Prakan.

Bus Number 554 - Suvarnabhumi Airport - Don Muang Airport (Expressway)
Bus No.554 connects Suvarnabhumi Airport to Don Muang Airport via New Bangkok-Chonburi expressway, turning right to the eastern ring road, taking a left turn to Ramintra Road, Changwattana Road, turning right to Vibhavadi Rangsit Road until reaching Don Muang Airport.

Bus Number 555 - Suvarnabhumi - Rangsit (Expressway)
Bus No.555 connects Suvarnabhumi Airport to Rangsit via Department of Employment - PTT Don - Muang - Vibhavadi Rangsit Junction - Rangsit.

Bus Number 556 - Suvarnbhumi - Southern Bus Terminal (Expressway)
Bus No.556 connects Suvarnabhumi Airport to Southern Bus Terminal via Yommarat - Democracy Monument - Thammasat University - Pata Department Store - Southern Bus Terminal.

Bus Number 557 - Suvarnabhumi - Wongwien Yai
Bus No.557 connects Suvarnabhumi Airport to Wongwien Yai via Rom Klao Junction - Chalarat Hospital9 - Technology Business Administration School, Samut Prakan - Chalarat Hospital 4 - Rung Chareon Market - Suksawat Road - Ratburata Hospital - Wat Sawetchat - Wongwien Yai.

Bus Number 558 - Suvarnabhumi - Central Rama 2
Bus No.558 connects Suvarnabhumi Airport to Central Rama 2 via Central Park Hospital - Chalarat Hospital 1 - Ramkamhaeng 2 Junction - Srinakarin Junction - Bang Na - Soi Lasan - Rung Chareon Market - Suksawat Road - Lotus Bang Na - Bang Pakaeo - Bhuthabucha Junction - Bang Mod Hospital - Central Rama 2.

Bus Number 559 - Suvarnabhumi - Future Park Rangsit
Bus No.559 connects Suvarnabhumi Airport to Future Park Rangsit via Dream World - Ek Prathum Hospital - Future Park Rangsit.

Public Bus Service to other provinces.
Bus Number 389 - Suvarnabhumi Airport - Pattaya
Bus Number 390 - Suvarnabhumi Airport - Talad Rong Kluea
Bus Number 825 - Suvarnabhumi Airport - NongKhai

Airport Express to Bangkok Hotels
AIRPORT EXPRESS provides air-conditioned bus service between Suvarnabhumi Airport and first-class Bangkok hotels.

Above: Arrivals

Public taxi stand is located on Level 1 (Ground Level)
> Contact Taxi counter, Level 1 - Ground Level, near entrances 3, 4, 7 and 8.
> Pick up area: taxi stand Level 1 - Ground Level
> Taxi fare: metered taxi fare plus 50 Baht airport surcharge, and expressway fees.
> Public taxis serving Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi airport must be less than 5 years old.
> Public taxi drives must be certified by Airports of Thailand.
> Passenger drop off at DEPARTURES (level 4 - outer curb).

Getting a taxi from the airport:
On floor 1 (not far from the Airport Express kiosk) is the Magic Food Court, the cheapest place to eat at the airport or so I've been told.
Look for a blue colored podium style desk, there is a picture of a taxi on it which says "Public Taxi." The desk clerk will ask you where you are going, tell the driver in Thai, write that destination down on a receipt.

Keep the receipt!
The receipt tells you how to complain about a bad driver, etc. You pay the surcharge of 50 baht and meter fare at the destination (hotel/guesthouse or bus station.) You pay any tolls during the ride. Have small notes and change available, the driver can't change a 500 baht note! (Some drivers claim to not have any change anyway, in the hope tourists will say "keep the change!") Meter starts at 35 baht, make sure that nothing is blocking the meter.

Keep your bag with you on the back seat - if you have to hop out quickly you won't have to wait to get your bag out of the boot! It's quite normal for the driver to ask for toll money during the ride. Prices are clearly posted. Meter taxi desk clerks are supposed to verify that the taxis are safe and record the serial numbers of the taxis.

Take his photo:
For females taking a taxi alone, for added security you can use your mobile phone to photograph the taxi and driver and then have the photo sent to a friend. If the driver sees you photographing his taxi and face he knows that his photo will be on TV or in the newspapers if he does something wrong. Or, you can just fake it by pretending to take a photo of the chap, etc.

Anytime you bargain the taxi fare in Bangkok you pay more! Meter charges are cheaper and fair. No need to tip a lot either! If you want to round off the fare and get rid of some coins go ahead but is not necessary. (These tips are from people living in Bangkok.)

Above: Departures

Above: Ground Level

Saturday, July 24, 2010

7. Smilehouse Guesthouse

Smilehouse Guesthouse in Chiang Mai is at 5 Rachamankha Soi 2, Phra Singh, Muang, Chiang Mai, Tel: 053 208 661-2, Fax: 053 208 663. Located in the Old City, within walking distance to wats and nightlife, only 5 minutes from Sunday Walking Street and 5 minutes to Night Bazaar.

Above: The Guesthouse
There weren't many photos available of this guesthouse, above is what I was able to find.

Large, air conditioned rooms.
There is a swimming pool adjacent to the cocktail and food service and garden in true Lanna lifestyle and they have tours such as jungle trekking, rafting outdoor seasonal tours. They also have Thai culinary schools.
Services and Facilities:
1. Room with air conditioner: 700 baht per night (AUD$24.29)
Room facilities: bathroom, cable TV, single or double bed
2. Room with fan: 400 baht per night
Room facilities: bathroom, single or double bed
3. Room with fan (external bathroom): 200 baht per night
Room facilities: single bed
4. Cable TV in the lounge
5. Laundry service
6. Bicycle / motorbike rental service
7. Car rental service
8. Tour operation service
9. Air ticket booking service
10. Buffet breakfast - 100 baht.

Above: Directions
This is what you show the taxi driver.

Above: Location map
Map showing the location. As you can see, it is in the old city, not far from the Ping River and the Thapae gate.

6. Bangkok Accommodation 2

From friends at TT, : New Siam 2 or 3, Merry V, or Rambuttri Village Plaza - in that order.

Some people have said if you want a "nice" room at Merry V, then choose a room in the back part. The rooms in the front section are looking a bit tired and past their prime plus they only have share bathroom.
Air con rooms with private bathroom at New Siam 3 was a favourite with some - but if you're on a tight, tight budget, you might be advised to go for Merry V as they're a fair bit cheaper. Four Sons Inn was also recommended, it's up the road on Soi Rambuttri in a slightly busier area and has a similar price to Merry V.

So far we have:
a) New Siam 2
b) New Siam 3
c) Merry V
d) Ramnbuttri Village Plaza
e) Four Sons Inn

5. New Siam II

The place I want to be when I'm in Bangkok is Khao San Road. Yes, yes, I know it's full of backpackers, and yes, I know there are stories but, it sounds lively and fun and the photos I saw on flicker decided me - this is where I want to be.

I thought I'd like to go for a bit of style and class and Buddy Lodge at the beginning of Khao San looked just the thing - you even get your own little balcony. Then I saw the price, $85 a night. That's out of my budget. (Sigh)

I've pretty much decided on two places - the Merry V guesthouse or the New Siam II. Both would fit my needs - the Merry V perhaps would be more what I'm after a or two or three or... and good for people watching. Over the years as time has gone by, it had become more popular and there's a variety of travellers staying there, including older backpackers after cheaper accommodation.

Above: New Siam II collage

The New Siam have four guesthouses and New Siam II is the one best suited, it has a lift which is what I need. Climbing stairs is difficult. The address for New Siam II is 50 Trok Rong Mai, 10200 | Chanasongkram, Bangkok 10200, Thailand. I read their restaurant is a bit on the pricey side but they did offer a buffet breakfast in 2007, not sure if they still do though.

Above: Location map

Thursday, July 22, 2010

4. Itinerary - 1

Working out my itinerary was surprisingly easy, but getting it right and making it all come together is another thing altogether. How many nights should I stay here, how many nights do I stay there? The list of places was now Kanchanaburi , Chinag Mai, Chiang Rai, Tachilek, Houei Xai, Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng, Vientiane and Bangkok.
What I ended up with looks like
Day 1 and 2: Kanchanaburi (Melbourne>KL, KL>BKK, then bus)
Day 3: Overnight on train (Kanchanaburi >Bangkok)
Days 4, 5, 6: Chiang Mai
Day 7 Chiang Rai - bus return to Tachilek
Day 8: ?
Day 9: Pak Ben
Days 10, 11, 12: Luang Prabang
Day 13: Vang Vieng
Days 14, 15, 16: Vientiane
Day 17: Overnight train
Days 18, 19, 20, 21: Bangkok

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

3. Electrical Adaptors

What electrical adaptors are useful in SE Asia? As long as your gadgets accept the worldwide 100-240v range (most of them do but make sure first) you can either buy them before you depart or get some cheap locally-available plug adaptors.
For electricity around the world, check out World Electric Guide for each country. The chart shows the differences between the plugs and the electrical systems.

Above: Universal adaptor
This is a typical plug adaptor for Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, and the US. (Captain_Bob (Ginny's Place) sells for these 50 baht at his guesthouse.)

Above: Plug adaptor round prongs
It is also a good idea to buy one for round prongs which is the next most common.

Electricity in Thailand
The electricity in Thailand is 220V 50Hz compared to 240V 50Hz in Australia, which is on the borderline of the voltage difference tolerances of many appliances. If you want to be sure, you should get a step-down voltage converter from 240V to 220V. A number of electronic devices will accept 100V-240V 50-60Hz inputs and will convert the voltage automatically, you'll need to check on the box that is part of the ac/adaptor/charger cord. Otherwise, Thailand uses either the two pin type and the two flat blade prong type of plugs, and some outlets will also accept the two flat blade with ground pin plug especially in the newer buildings. If you're staying in a hotel, the better hotels often can supply these for their guests. Voltage converters cost more, and will depend on how many watts your devices use.

Below are the plugs used in Thailand.
Above: Type A plug

Above: Type C plug

2. Booking the Tickets Part 2

After the initial booking and realising I needed to change my flight on the 13th February, I worked out it'd be better for me to fly to Bangkok the same day I arrived in Kuala Lumpur and set out to find a flight - the cheap ones were gone so I had to settle for paying a bit more than I had planned. Anyway, the flights I have now work better and give me the timeline I need.

Tuesday 8th February Depart Melbourne just before half past one in the morning and arrive Kuala Lumpur at 6.40am depart KL 10.40am arrive Bangkok 11.40am. This give me fours hours to have a wander around the airport, re-check my luggage for the Bangkok flight and stretch my legs.

The return flights depart Bangkok 1 March 15.10pm, arrive Kuala LUmpur 18.20pm. Depart KL 22.00 then arrive Melbourne 2 March 9.30am.

By arriving/departing KL the same day(s) this avoids having to pay for overnight accommodation and losing a day.

Monday, July 19, 2010

1. The Beginning - Booking the Tickets

Begin at the beginning
Well now, it all started last year (2009) when Air Asia had a big sale on and I managed to get tickets from Melbourne to Kuala Lumpur, worked out my itinerary and went to SE Asia March this year (2010). I vowed I'd go back again if I could get cheap flights.

And I did - Air Asia had another big sale on in May this year (2010), but this time I played it a bit smarter - I decided on 21 nights overseas which was longer than the first time around and would give me greater flexibility in visiting different places. I will depart Melbourne Tuesday 8th February at 1.25AM and arrive Kuala Lumpur at 6.40AM.

I had wanted to see Chiang Mai ever since my eldest son had talked about it a few years ago and desperately tried to find a cheap ticket from KL. Unfortunately, the cheap ones were gone and the first (cheap) fare was on the 13th February - five days after arriving in Kuala Lumpur. I booked it but in hindsight, I made a mistake. I should have waited, as a friend said to me later, cheap flights don't always work out to be cheap if they don't fit in with your itinerary or plans. How right he was. I then had five days to kill before flying to Chiang Mai, so after trying different itineraries and place came up with two nights in KL, two nights in Singapore then get the train back to KL arriving around 15.10 at Sentral Station, have a look around, get another fish spa, then catch the bus to LCCT. Overnight at the airport then catch my flight the next morning. The problem with this was I wouldn't have enough time to see all the places I really wanted to see and do the things I wanted to do.

Where should I go?
I had decided I wanted to see Thailand and Laos and hoped to go back to Siem Reap (Cambodia). Asking advice on where to go and what to see in Thailand, I realised there was more I wanted to experience than just Chiang Mai and a couple of days in Bangkok as people suggested Kanchanaburi, and Ayutthaya, the Golden Triangle, Chiang Rai and I started doing some research on those places.

Asking the same question about Laos, there are many places and I realised I would have to have a rethink.

Change of Flights
Instead of flying to Chiangt Mai on the 13th, I'll be flying to Bangkok the same day I arrive in Kuala Lumpur. This was what I either should have done in the first place or waited until there were cheap flights again. As it was I "lost" the fare to Chiang Mai - Air Asia will allow you to change your flight time (for a fee) but they do not allow for a change of destination. So my cheap flights have ended up costing me a bit more that I had planned. But - at least I have learnt a very valuable lesson from this. Work things out before booking flights.
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