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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

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Playlist - My Travel Videos

Thursday, January 27, 2011

46. Train Ticket Booking Woes

"No room at the inn"
It seems we have struck a bit of a problem. After emails flying back and forth the state we are in at the moment is this - First, the first class seats were sold out. They offered me second class lower berth with air con but on a later train. So I emailed them back thanking them for their help and said I preferred to catch the 18:10 train. I must admit to having a sneaking suspicions as to why they had offered me a berth on that train and I was spot on - train tickets are sold out.

Oh well, no use crying over spilt milk so I send another email asking if they could make a booking on my befalf.

Above: Logo

Payment Problems
You have to stipulate which payment option you're selecting. I chose the Payment by Payment Gateway. I was underwhelmed by their credit card payment method which I will explain later.

So - I receive another email saying, "Important : Ticket is not reserved yet and it will not issue without the payment so, please process the payment URGENTLY after you receive the payment option". They provided the payment link and had "(not allow google chrome & firefox):". I'm not sure what that last bit was all about.

"After payment done, we will issue the train ticket (and send confirmation email within that date (working date) after 17.00. If the inquiry has some problem, we will send the TOP URGENT email to inform you."

Anyway, I filled in the details, hit the submit button only to find it didn't work because the issuer isn't enrolled in a particular program, and was instructed to contact them. I did, and they're not. So that was the end of that.

Alternative payment
So, after all I had to choose the first option - credit card option. When booking or buying products online, you just fill out the form provided (which is always on a secure website) hit send/submit, wait a few moments and Bob's your uncle, the thing is done. Alas, not so with ThailandTrainTicket.

They (The train people)
a) Provide you with an authorisation form in word document
b) Ask you to print out and verify all services are correct
c) Fill in your credit card details: Card Type, Card Number, Name as appear on the card, Expiry Date and the 3 or 4 digits (depending on your Card Type)
d) Fax it back to them at (faxz no. provided) or Scanned form as PDF or JPG by return.
e) And - attach a photoycopy of your passport and photocopies of your credit card (front & back) to guarantee payment.

Honestly, what a lot of hullaballoo - why can't they have a secure website of their own like normal companies do? It's just one big headache after another. All this pussy-footing around, wasting time.

Another email
Then I had to send them yet another email, explaining what had happened, apologising for mucking them around, say I would have to use their Fax Authorisation Form and ask very nicely could they please send me said form. By this time their office would have been closed and they won't read my latest email until tomorrow. Then comes the akward part - I don't have a fax machine. So it's a case of either go to the Post Office and fax the thing from there, or print, scan, email them a jpg thing - according to a family member this is how you do it. I'm not all that tech savvy and being technologically-challenged, it's a real pain trying to figure out how to do it correctly,

Still - it has to be done. So now all I can do is wait (again) until I hear from them.

It must also be said the people at ThailandTrainTicket have been very polite and helpful. I was impressed with the promptness of their responses.

I tell you something for free - unless you have plenty of time in Bangkok or don't mind which train or class you use, I'd recommend pre-booking early on.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

45. Overnight Train To Chiang Mai

After talking with our family doctor today (I'd gone to get a travel letter), I decided to go ahead and book my train ticket Bangkok to Chiang Mai. Unfortunately the booking system of Thai Railways is still unavailable and has been since last September (2010). There are a couple of other sites you can pre-book and Thailand Train Ticket is cheaper than Thai Focus, so I booked through them.

First or Second Class?
There was much contemplation and asking of advice to this question, but after weighing everything up, I opted for First Class. Yes, yes, I know it's more expensive, and between you and me I'd much rather have paid less, but - the "bunks" in second class don't have any personal space or room. Plus, I've been told the second class sleeper air/con gets like a freezer box at night, whereas the second class spleeper with fan is better in that regard. First Class sleeper has individually controlled air con, so you can adjust it to suit your needs.

Above: The great train ride
You have a cabin when you travel First Class, these people obviously didn't though!☺

Above: First Class - Sleeper berth
The long bench seat converts to a bed.

Above: First Class - Wash basin and table
Each cabin also has a wash basin and mirror, a small table and according to the website, drinking water and towels are provided free of charge.

Did you know it costs more to sleep in the lower berth? The train I'm catching (6.10 pm from Bangkok) has only 1st class and 2nd class air-con, no 2nd class with fan. Second class is 791 baht (881 for lower berth) and 1,253 for first class (1,453 for lower berth.) There is a 200 baht booking fee and they will deliver your ticket free of charge to your hotel in Bangkok. The only problem is I don't have a hotel as I'm going straight to Kanchanaburi the day I arrive. You can collect your ticket from the train station (Hualamphong) but have to pay 300 baht for the privilege. Why it's free to deliver it to hotels and not to the station is beyond me. But, that's the way it is so to the station I will go.

Anyway, all up the fare was 1,953 baht. I could have waited and purchased my ticket the same day but that's a bit risky - it'd be just my luck that the train would be full or all the lower berths would be taken. As doc said, if you pre-book then you have peace of mind.

Above: Train travel

I received an email fairly soon after submitting the booking. In bright red letters at the top it says
"This is booking acknowledge only - not confirmation. We can confirmed acknowledgement only - not confirmation."
It goes on to say (also in red) "Status - Waiting for Confirmation."

You will receive a confirmation statement via e-mail from one of our consultants:
- within 24 hours (Mon - Fri 08:30 - 17:00 and Sat 09:00 - 12:00)
- by Monday if booking received after our office closes on Saturday
If you should decide to go ahead with purchasing the ticket(s), we would ask you to fill in the credit card authorization form of which we will provide you with to fax back to us urgently.

However please note that sales of train ticket are very fast and prebooking is not allowed so we can not guarantee the seat(s), class, travelling date or time.

If the requested booking can not be confirmed we will inform you of other alternatives. In the case that they do not fit in with your travel arrangements and do not wish to continue with the booking, your credit card will not be charged. Thank you for using Thailandtrainticket Reservations Services.

The waiting game
So now we play the waiting game - again. Remember I said this when I was waiting for confirmation about booking accommodation etc? Well, now we wait. Hopefully there will be a first class berth available. If there isn't I'll probably be going around saying to myself, "I knew I should have booked the ticket when I first contacted them three weeks ago." And it'll be my own fault. Ah well - should that happen - think of the money I'll save by going second class! (572 baht actually which is $18.61.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

44. Chiang Khong Accommodation

Change of plan
Further to my previous post, there has been a change of plan regarding accommodation for the 15th of February. Mr. Adisak emailed me on Sunday night saying the bungalow was available but I would be the only one staying there that night and suggested I spend that night in Chiang Khong and recommended two hotels, although he would book the bungalow for me if that was what I wanted. I took his advice and decided to stay in Chiang Khong. He also assured me I had nothing to worry about the boat not leaving on February 16th and said he will take the boat off the dock even if I was traveling alone.

The hotels he recommended were Nam Khong Riverside THB.800 including breakfast and Teak Garden THB.1,000 including breakfast. Both hotels looked rather nice and the Nam Khong one had lovely gardens around it but seemed a little isolated. With this in mind, I decided on Teak Garden, even thought the cost is higher and sent an email advising of this.

Above: Teak Garden
This is a lttle closer to the Thai Immigration checkpoint and appears to be more in the middle of the town. (Photos are from the internet)The address is 666 Saiklang rd. , moo 8 wiang, Chiang Khong, Chiangrai, 57140. Tel: +66 (0)5379 2008-9 Fax: +66 (0)5379 2007 .
I do like the look of this hotel - the rooms have either a river view of a garden view. At this stage I don't know which one I will have, although a river view would be nice. I'm not too fussed, whichever it is, I'll enjoy it.

From hotel to Laos
Mr Adisak sent me another email saying he will book my accommodation at the Teak Garden Resort for 15 February and will pick me up at 08.10 and transfer to the immigration office and on to the boat, and that his staff will assist me with Lao visa / immigration formality.

Getting to Chiang Khong
He also suggested I take the VIP Green Bus fro, Chiang Mai to Chiang Khong - the trip takes six hours, has comfortable reclining seats, a loo and takes you right to Chiang Khong and that the hotel is 7 minutes away from where you get off the bus by Tuk Tuk. He said the fare was around THB.200 and offered to book the ticket for me and to let him know. Taht was nice of him wasn't it? I took him up on his offer, thanked him and asked him to book the ticket. So for now it's just a matter of waiting for a reply confirming this.
As always, I'll post it here when this has occurred.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

43. Chiang Khong Accommodation Booked

Well I have sent an email to Mr Adisak of the Nagi of Mekong booking one night's accommodation at Baan Nai Sra for the 15th February. I also asked about how to get there. I will be departing Chiang Mai by bus in the morning and I've been informed you get the bus to Chiang Rai then another bus to Chiang Khong. Getting from Chiang Khong to the village of Baan Nai Sra is in the "I don't know" basket. When I receive confirmation regarding both (ie accommdoation and transport detail) I will post it on this blog.

From their Nagi website, the cost for the cruise is THB.4,600 (twin sharing) with a single occupancy surcharge of THB. 600 which brings the amount to 5,200 Baht.

The accommodation room rate including full breakfast for two people is THB.1,000 per bungalow / night.
Unlimited tea & coffee and drinking water are provided free of charge.

And it says people who also book the Nagi of Mekong cruise to Luang Prabang will be transferred to the Thai immigration office in Chiang Khong at no additional cost.

The package is 5,300 Baht plus 1,000 Baht for single occupancy. This is higher than I had originally planned but what the heck - the place looks nice and I might never come this way again.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

42. Chiang Khong or Huay Xai?

Which should I choose?

I am booked on the Nagi of Mekong for Wednesday 16th February which departs Huay Xai at 9.00am. I can either spend the night of the 15th in Huay Xai (Laos) and make my way to the boat landing or, opt to stay on the Thai side of the border in either Chiang Khong or book accommodation with Mr. Adisak's place at Baan Nai Sra Resort. The cost of this option is an extra 1000 Baht on top of the boat price.

This includes - One night accommodation at Baan Nai Sra, home cooked dinners & breakfasts. Transfer from the resort to the Thai immigration office on the cruise day, visa / immigration assistance and luggage handling. Lao visa & immigration forms will be given to you at the resort.

Below are the two choices I'm considering.

Above: Sabaydee Guesthouse
Guesthouse in Huay Xai

Above: Baan Nai Sra Resort
Accommodation Baan Sri Lanna - House in the Pond. I've been told the village of Sri Lanna is 21 km south of Chiang Khong on the Thoen road (rte.1020) Above photo from Mr. Adisak, owner/manager of Nagi of Mekong

A room at Sabaydee Guesthouse is 70,000 kip, or AUD$8.78
Baan Nai Sri is 1,000 Baht, or AUD$33.18 - a difference of $24.40. Even allowing for meals, Sabaydee still works out cheaper. But....I think I like the idea of the other one, mainly because of concerns I still have about the Nagi. I suppose you could say I think I would feel more secure. Secure that is in the knowledge that the boat will run and the Nagi will be what it is said to be. So - what to do? Do I stay in Huay Xai or not? Personally, I'd like to stay in Laos the night before - sort or builds the excitement of actually being in Laos and sailing down the Mekong.

On the other hand, Mr. Adisak's resort does look idyllic - a real little gem and a lovely place to relax.

The phrase "sailing down the Mekong" has thrilled me when I have read it in the past, why, I'm not too sure. Maybe because it fills one with a sense of adventure, a sense of doing something of days gone by in a far distant land. Well, whatever it is, I want to do it. As for accommodation? Well - I'll think about it a bit more before committing. Actually, I've thought about it a bit more and decided to stay at Baan Nai Sri Resort. All I have to do now is make a booking, which I will do a bit later on today. Fingers crossed.

41. Chiang Mai Accommodation Booked

Well accommodation for Chiang Mai has been booked - I received an email from Smilehouse Guesthouse confirming my reservation yesterday. Below is the photo I posted back in July last year when I was looking into somewhere to stay.

Above: Smilehouse Guesthouse
I remember saying that the above photos were the only ones I could find. They have obviously updated their website because there are plenty of (small) photos of the place now - new photos here. I went for a room with air-con, 700 Baht (AUD$23.29). Looking back on the July post, the dollar equivalent then was $24.29. Let's hope the fluctuations stay the same. Just think - I'll save four whole dollars! Oh, and four cents...☺

Printed Addresses
Not only did I print the reservation, I also printed the address written in Lao to show the taxi driver when I arrive. This is a good idea in case the driver doesn't speak English or my pronounciation of the street address is incorrect.

All my accommodation is now booked except for the night of the 15th. Not sure whether to stay in Chiang Khong (Thailand) or Huay Xai (Laos).

Monday, January 10, 2011

40. Bangkok River Taxis

Many of the major tourist sites are easily accessible from the river, so a good way to get around is by boat on the Chao Phraya river.


This is where you get on the boats of which there are a number.

Standard Express Boats

Costing 5 to 10 Baht, they run daily from 6.00am to 6.00pm from designated piers from Wat Ratchsingkorn Pier to Nonthaburi Pier.

Special Express Boats

Fares start at 5 Baht and boats run Monday to Friday only from 6.00am to 9.00am
and 12.00pm to 7.00pm. There are three routes -
Rajburana Pier to Nonthaburi Pier
Sathorn Pier J5 to Nonthaburi Pier
Wat Ratchsingkorn Pier to Pak Kret

Cross River Ferries (2 Baht)

At 2 Baht, you can cross from one side of the river to the other. Ferries run daily from 8.00am to 5.00pm. Shangri-La Hotel to Dumax Pier Oriental Pier to Suwan Pier Si Phaya Pier to Klongsan Pier Ratchawongse Pier I5 to Din Daeng Pier I5 Thien Pier to Wat Arun Pier Chang Pier to Phrannok Pier Pra Chan Pier to Thonburi Railway Pier Pra Chan to Phra Pin Klao Pier Pra Atit Pier to Phra Pin Klao Pier

Hotel Ferries (Complimentary for Hotel Guests)

These run daily. Contact hotel for schedule
Oriental Hotel to Sala Rim Nam Menam Hotel to River City Marriott Riverside Hotel to River City Peninsula Hotel to Shangri-La Hotel Shangri-La Hotel to River City Montien Riverside Inn to River City Royal River Hotel to River City

River Barge

Dinner cruises. Chayophraya Dinner Cruise

Chao Phraya Tourist Boat
There is also the tourist boat which costs 150 Baht (a one-day river pass) and is valid for one day. The boat runs between Phra Arthit Pier and Sathorn Pier. See tourist boat for more information. It also has a very good river map.

Chao Phraya River Express Map
More information - Bangkok by boat.

39. Thai Words and Phrases

When visiting Thailand (or any country), it is very useful to know a few basic words and phrases. Wnen asking a question, it is polite for a male to add "khrab" at the end of the sentence and for a female to add "kaa".

1. Hello (sa-wat dee)
This is used for hello and goodbye.

2. Thank you (khorb koon)
I met some Thai ladies last year and they told me I should say 'khorb koon kaa'. (It was easy to remember because it sounded similar to cop cun car)

3. How much? (gee baht)
This is very useful when shopping.

4. Where is? ( yoo tee nai)
A very handy phrase - point at a place on your map or in your guide book and say "yoo tee nai". Also useful when you are trying to find the right bus.

5. I don't want (mai ow)
This will come in very handy especially if your'e sitting on a train or walking down the street and are approached by vendors trying to sell you something.

6. Sorry (khor toat)
Just like you would at home, say sorry if you accidently knock into someone etc.

7. One-ten (neung-sib)
If you can count up to ten it will be useful, eg counting change
One - neung
Two - song
Three sam
Four see
Five har
Six hok
Seven jed
Eight bad
Nine gao
Ten sib
Eleven sib et
Twelve sib song
Thirteen sib sam

8. Can you make it cheaper? (lot noi dai mai)
Useful when shopping especially at markets. It may even get a a better discount.

9. Delicious (a-roi)
After a delicious meal the cook would love to hear that you found the food delicious. You never know, the next time you go back to the same place she might give you an extra helping!

10. Never mind (mai ben rai)
If someone apologises to you for doing something wrong (khor toat) reply with "mai ben rai". If someone says "thank you" for a present just say "mai ben rai".

The above is taken from a very useful website, further information can be found Here. It covers several aspects, like going shopping, food and drink, getting around town and many more.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

38. Accomodation Update - Luang Prabang

Have received an email confirming my reservation at Souk Lan Xang for three nights. The lady sounds very nice (I thought this when I read the first email last year) and the grounds look quite lovely. Price was a little more than I'd have liked - $30, that's American dollars but it comes with breakfast. I may prefer a more budget price but I'm not willing to stay in a dingy little cell with tatty sheets, grimy floors and and plumbing that looks like it belongs in the 19th century.

Above: Souk Lan Xang
Looks like a nice, friendly place to stay. Photos above are taken from the website.

Below is a map showing location
Above: Guesthouse is marked with an "X"

Saturday, January 8, 2011

37. Chiang Mai and Luang Prabang

Well I finally sent of the reservation forms for Luang Prabang and Chiang Mai.

First - Luang Prabang
I ended up choosing Souk Lan Xang while it doesn't seem to be on a main road or anything and rather quiet from what I can make out, it does seem to be a more 'personal' type of accommodation.

I had sent an email last month (December) and received a response from the owner. A mate recommended this place and said the garden was lovely. I suppose you could say (from what I've heard) it's a little like comparing a small, friendly office compared to a large one in a huge conglomerate where it is impersonal.

Chiang Mai
I couldn't decide between three places, Smilehouse GH, Chiang Mai Thai House and Awanahouse so I emailed all three of them. The first one (Smilehouse) has rooms on the ground floor I've been told so that will probably be the one I go for. If the other two have ground floor rooms also, then it's a case of seeing which has the most to offer.

So now, we play the waiting game and see what happens. I've already had a response from Awanahouse saying they've received my online booking and will contct me as soon as possible.
WEll now, a funny thing happened. I just checked my emails and lo and behold there was on from Awanahouse saying sorry they didn't have a ground room available in January. Strange, I could have sworn I selected February when I filled out the reservation form. Have sent an email informing them of this so we'll just see what happens.

Friday, January 7, 2011

36. Kanchanaburi Accommodation - Booked

Well now, after a long time trying to make a decision about where to stay in Kanchanaburi, I finally did it and made a booking. So that's another place sorted. It was a toss-up between two places - I had been planning on staying at Pong Phen GH, but after reading so many mixed reviews and putting it all into perspective, I went for PLOY GH.  Their website doesn't seem to be working at the moment so it's sort of 'stuck' on one page. I do think the other one (Pong Phen) would be more lively and has perhaps more going on as far as noise and meeting other travellers, but the PLOY seems to have more satisfied customers.

I decided to go for the Category 1 - Garden Building A which has a fridge and is the one storey concrete building facing the private garden with the - get this! - the outdoor shower. I rather like the novelty of the outdoor shower which is only available if you stay in this building. The double storey building opposite charge 50 baht less for the downstairs rooms but what the heck - it's only 50 baht which in the scheme of things isn't all that big a price difference and this way I have a fridge in the room as well which might come in handy of I buy fruit or something.

Finding a street map
This isn't easy as the ones I found cover Kanchanaburi province when what I wanted was a street map of Kanchanaburi, the town. With this in mind, I've had to resort to using a Google map which is below.

View Kanchanaburi in a larger map
Above: Location of PLOY GH
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