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Thailand (Bangkok, Golden Triangle, Myanmar)

Total Pictures Taken: 140

Summary

Detail

Getting There

Contacts


Summary

We spent about 2 weeks in Thailand, split by our trip to Cambodia and Vietnam.  Most of our time in Thailand was spent in and around Bangkok, with a few days in the Golden Triangle, north of Chiang Rai.  Bangkok is a very modern city with all the conveniences (and problems) of an American city, but at a much reduced cost.  The only major negative aspect of our stay in Thailand was the extreme heat -- we visited during the hot season, just beginning the rainy season.

 

Facts

Currency: Baht (b$46:US$1)

Language: English, Thai

Population: 61M

Internet connection speed: 31.1bps (available everywhere)

Most prevalent western establishment: 7-Eleven quick mart chain (they were everywhere)

English speaking TV channels (in hotel): 8 (3 movie channels) Bangkok, 1 Golden Triangle

Religion: 90% Buddhist variants, 10% other

Time difference:GMT +7:00 (11:00 hours ahead of Atlanta)

Driving lane: left side

Temperature: Bangkok 99F (feels like 116F, and weather.com agrees!)

 

Detail

We spent the first week in Bangkok, enjoying the city, relaxing, and organizing our trip to Vietnam and Cambodia.  After that week long excursion, we spent the next few days in Bangkok, then went up to far northern Thailand to an area called the Golden Triangle.  The following provides some detail on our time in Thailand. 

Bangkok

Except for the traffic, and extreme heat at this time of year, Bangkok is a great modern city.   Bangkok is clearly the major city of Thailand, as 80% of the nation's cars are there, and Bangkok's population has 40 times that of the second largest city, Chiang Mai.  We hear that Christmas time has the best weather -- the only relief from the heat at this time of year is the start of the rainy season, and it started raining as we left for northern Thailand.

We found Bangkok very easy to get around in, and easily found every convenience and option for entertainment we could imagine, all at a relatively low cost.  On our first stint we stayed in the major shopping area, near Siam Center and MBK, two of the largest malls.  It seems a bit odd to call that area 'the' major shopping area because there are many other areas in the huge city where major malls and hundreds of shops exist.  Siam Center is six levels, with each floor somewhat specialized for one customer demographic, and the top floor dedicated to a cinema and fast food restaurants.  Although it was six stories it felt smaller because the shops and floors were pretty close together, very different than the typical US mall.  MBK is a seven story mall focusing on lower cost goods, and it has an even more crowded feeling.  On the six floor is a huge cafeteria with fifty or more individual Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese, and Thai food stalls.  There were so many options we had to walk around it three or four times before deciding what we wanted to eat.  The top floor is also dedicated to a cinema and fast food restaurants.  We went to a movie in both malls while in Bangkok, figuring we should see what some of the foreign cinemas are like (of course, we saw American movies!)

We committed our worst cultural faux-pas at the beginning of the first movie we saw in Bangkok.  As in South Africa, Bangkok theatres have all assigned seating so we chose seats just in front of the midway aisle. There were lots of people in the rows behind us, but none in front.  Just after the previews and commercials, a picture for the King of Thailand came on the screen, and a voice came over the loud speaker saying "Please pay your respects to His Majesty the King".  We heard lots of commotion behind us, after which there was complete silence.  We of course did not know what to do.  We slipped a couple looks behind us and realized the entire audience was standing.  Then a song (possibly the national anthem) started playing and  very patriotic pictures (e.g., fireworks and photos of the king) appeared on the screen.  We felt very uncomfortable, and considered standing, but it was so far into the presentation, that we felt it would call even more attention to us, so we just slouched down in our seats and waited.  As soon as the song ended, there was another loud commotion, as everyone sat down, and the movie started.  As you can imagine, we were the first to stand in our second movie!

Traffic/Transportation

Because of the dense population in Bangkok, the traffic is absolutely terrible most of the time.  Unlike other high-traffic cities we visited (like Cairo), we were told that Bangkok does have its share of accidents.  Fortunately, there is a raised mass transit system, Bangkok Transportation System (BTS), that runs criss-cross through the downtown area.  We used it almost every day to get around the city, when the distance was too far to walk.  One of the best features of the BTS was that it was air conditioned -- very comfortable in the blistering heat.

When we could not walk or take BTS, we took a taxi.  As we were told by the guide books, most taxis claimed that their meters were not working, so they could negotiate higher fares to unknowing tourists.  So each time we used a taxi, we had to first see if we could get them to use the meter, and if not, then we would negotiate price based on little knowledge.  Often, we just closed the door when they said their meter was not working, and went to the next taxi, that was typically stopped behind that one.

There were also lots of tuk-tuks, very similar to the Indian auto-rickshaws in many ways.  The one time we considered using one, we knew the general route cost because we had taken a metered taxi on that same route, and the tuk-tuk driver asked for 4 times the taxi cost, acting like he was giving us a deal.  Dan was quite irritated with him, and laughed at him. He knew he was caught, laughed and said he would reduce it to one-third the first price.  Dan told him that he had missed the chance for a fare, and walked away.

Thai Boxing

Since we were in Thailand, we decided to experience Thai boxing.  Thai boxing is similar to boxing in the U.S., but the fighters can use their feet, knees, elbows, etc, similar to kick boxing.  Our hotel concierge strongly suggested that we buy tickets on the floor at ringside to avoid the gambling and sometimes rowdy crowds in the upper stands, behind 'the cage'.  So, we paid for our tickets, and ended up on the first row behind the judges, two feet from the ring.  That close, we could see all the action and even got hit with sweat when the fighting was in our corner of the ring.  The event consisted of 10 fights of 5 three minute rounds each.  We were amazed at how small the boxers were -- they weighed 110-140 pounds.  Even at that size, it seemed that they could have done some serious damage to any poor bullies on the street who unknowingly tried to pick on them.  

Toward the beginning of the third fight the cage was getting packed and the betting was intense through the first three rounds.  We could not figure out how the bookies kept track of the bets, given that there were 30 or 40 people furiously raising their hands, acknowledging bets during most the fighting.  Interestingly, the betting stopped in the fourth round, and the fighters rarely fought very hard in the fifth, and even just stood around for the last half of the last round.

th-ban-landmark-hotel-city-view-sunset-pano-2200.jpg (195365 bytes) Panoramic view of a small part of  Bangkok skyline at sunset, from the top of the Landmark Hotel.
View of a small part of downtown Bangkok from the top of the Landmark Hotel. th-ban-landmark-hotel-city-view-600.jpg (108839 bytes)
th-ban-chao-phraya-river-view-pano-2200.jpg (196821 bytes) Panoramic view from the water taxi dock on the Chao Phraya river, that runs through Bangkok.
th-ban-chao-phraya-river-view-1-600.jpg (52800 bytes) View from the water taxi of the buildings along the Chao Phraya river in Bangkok.  There is a mix of old home-like wooden buildings and major modern buildings.
We experienced the big sports tradition of Thai boxing in Bangkok.  They suggest tourists buy the best seats to avoid the gambling hysteria of the mass of people in the less expensive seats behind the cage. th-ban-tha-boxing-06-600.jpg (96283 bytes)
From our front row seats at Thai boxing, we got hit with sweat several times (gross!) The fighting was intense, and the knowledge that the fighters weighed only 100-140 pounds  did not take too much away from it. th-ban-tha-boxing-kristen-600.jpg (92646 bytes)
th-ban-royal-palace-emerald-buddha-3-600.jpg (134472 bytes) We heard that if you see only one tourist sight in Bangkok, it should be the Royal Palace.  We visited it, but felt that it looked much like so many other extremely crowded, lavishly decorated temples/buildings we had seen in many other places.
We took an excursion to see the Bridge over River Kwai, and the Death Railway, famous from the World War II era.  This portion was actually rebuilt after the Allies bombed it only 18 months after the bridge was completed. th-kwai-bridge-1-600.jpg (76712 bytes)
th-kwai-bridge-boat-kristen-1-600.jpg (96256 bytes) Kristen by the small boat we took from the drop off point to the bridge area.  The Japanese enslaved 200,000-300,000 Allied POW's  to build the 500km railroad between Thailand and Burma (now Myanmar) .
Dan on a remote portion of the bridge over the river. We took the train along the railroad for 90 minutes to get to this point.   th-kwai-bridge2-dan-1-600.jpg (112734 bytes)
th-kwai-jeath-museum-kristen-600.jpg (102585 bytes)   The story behind the suffering and death of the hundreds of thousands of POWs who died  building the bridge was quite depressing.  Although engineers said it would take 5 years to build the railroad, the Japanese forced the prisoners to build it in 16 months.
Kristen standing in a cemetery commemorating a small number of the hundreds of thousands of people who died building the Death Railway. th-kwai-war-cemetery-view-kristen-600.jpg (131553 bytes)
th-chiang-rai-golden-triangle-sign-2-dan-600.jpg (109964 bytes) Dan with one of the many Golden Triangle signs showing the border area of Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar.
We drove to Chiang Rai from the Golden Triangle to experience another boat ride on our way to the obligatory elephant ride in Northern Thailand. th-chiang-rai-river-boat-view-01b-600.jpg (63565 bytes)
th-chiang-rai-elephant-village-elephant-river-2-600.jpg (83877 bytes) At the elephant riding village, we witnessed bathing time.
We are on our tourist elephant ride.  We picked a day during which it rained non-stop. th-chiang-rai-elephant-ride-dan-kristen-2-600.jpg (85888 bytes)
th-chiang-rai-elephant-village-boa-dan-4-600.jpg (86550 bytes) Dan holding a 110 pound-12 foot Boa Constrictor at the elephant riding village.
A view of the Paradise Resort in Myanmar as we head toward it in the boat. th-chiang-rai-golden-triangle-myanmar-paradise-hotel-casino-600.jpg (66102 bytes)
th-chiang-rai-golden-triangle-myanmar-bugs-600.jpg (69157 bytes) A light in Myanmar showing the swarm of bugs.  The bugs also invaded our hotel room the second night -- quite annoying.
        

River Kwai

We took a full-day excursion to see the infamous Death Railway that crosses the River Kwai, built in World War II, which we knew about mostly from the movie Bridge Over River Kwai.  We drove 2 hours west of Bangkok to the site of River Kwai, toured the museum, and then took a train ride on the railway.  The JEATH Museum, named for the six countries involved in the building of the railway: Japan, the oppressors who drove the building of the railroad, and England, Australia, America, Thailand, and Holland, the countries whose captured troops were forced to build the bridge.

After Japan conquered Thailand, the powers-that-be wanted a railway to connect Thailand to Burma as a supply line.  Japanese engineers said it would take 5 years to build the 500km railway, but the officials wanted it completed in 18 months.  The Japanese enslaved 200,000-300,000 POWs and local Thais.  This captive labor force, working three shifts a day, in terrible conditions, finished the bridge in 16 months.  The railway is called the 'Death Railway' because between 50,000 and 150,000 people died building the bridge.  Soon after it was completed, the Allied forces bombed the bridge over River Kwai to break the supply line.

The JEATH museum had pictures of the effort, and especially of the suffering of the workers.  Many stories from survivors explained the terrible conditions, the constant torturing, and the death of so many.  The pictures showed the torture, dysentery, cholera, and amputations.  It was quite depressing.

From the museum we took a boat up the River Kwai to the infamous bridge.  The bridge that was bombed is gone, but there is a new one 100 feet from the old one.  We took the train along the railroad, partly to see the Thailand countryside and partly to see some other bridges farther up on the river.

Chatachuck Market

During our second stint in Bangkok, we were there during a weekend, so we visited the Chatachuck Weekend Market.  One of the BTS lines ends at the market, and almost every person on the train at that point was a tourist on the way to the market.  The market consists of four huge tents very densely packed with every shop imaginable.  Whole areas are dedicated to clothing, wood carvings, ceramic thingamajigs, kitchenware, cocks (for the ubiquitous cock fights), chickens, fish, etc.  It was so packed with people that we often had to stand still waiting for the people to stop looking at an item to move down one of the very long aisles.  The market was interesting, but not for the claustrophobic.

We did not buy much at the market, partially because of the crowds.  Fortunately, most of the same items were available at the many stalls that lined the streets near our hotel, so we were able to buy some things on our last night in Bangkok.

Travel Planning

One of our goals for  our time in Bangkok was to arrange a trip to Vietnam and Cambodia, and other parts of Thailand.  We found a couple of Bangkok-based discount travel sites online, but could only find one agency's physical location during a very long hot walk.  We stopped in and had Ms. Lek (the agent with whom we spoke) customize a package trip to do exactly what we wanted.  We also determined that Ms. Lek could get a rate 40% lower in the hotel in which we were staying, so we stayed in the same room but at a much lower rate!  After our trips to Cambodia and Vietnam, we used the same agency to plan our trip to northern Thailand.  We had a hard time deciding between the the beaches to the south, and the mountains to the north.  Because we were entering rainy season, we figured the beach weather was risky, and northern Thailand would allow us to do the elephant ride that we felt we had to do while in Thailand. 

 

Golden Triangle

We organized a three day trip to the Golden Triangle area of northern Thailand.  The area gets its name from the triangle shaped area where Laos, Thailand, and Myanmar (formerly Burma) meet.  The name also references its importance as an area where massive amounts of opium is/was produced.  Opium brought much wealth to the producers/dealers, and therefore they thought of opium as gold -- thus the Golden Triangle.

We flew from Bangkok to Chiang Rai, then drove 60km to the hotel.  From our hotel room we looked out onto the meeting of the Ruak and Mekong rivers to Laos and Myanmar.  The actual Thailand town name is Sop Ruak, but it is better known as the Golden Triangle.  The town was only one street with very few building, and a number of stalls where locals sell goods to tourists.  The hotel was nice enough, but the very loud engines of the many long-tail tourist motor boats on the river disturbed the peace.  There was very little to do in the town; we read books, worked on the web, and occasionally watched the only English TV channel: CNN.  We also organized a boat ride and elephant ride to fill one day, and visited the casino within view in Myanmar.

Elephant Ride

From our hotel in the Golden Triangle, we customized one of the package tours that tourists use typically to visit temples, villages, etc. as well as a boat ride and elephant ride.  We were only interested in the elephant ride since we had done the other things many times already.  Unfortunately, we had to drive all the way back to Chiang Rai to do this tour.  Much to our dismay, it rained all day.  The boat ride was similar to many rides we have had, except that it was much louder.  When we got to the village where the elephants reside, we did our one hour elephant ride in about 40 minutes, equipped with umbrellas.  The elephant ride was a bit disappointing since much of it was on the paved streets of the village, and riding the elephant was just as uncomfortable as riding a camel (see Cairo-Camel).  One cool point about the village, was the 12 foot 110 pound Boa Constrictor one of the locals made available for posing  in tourists' personal pictures.

Myanmar (aka Burma)

Partly for something to do in the very quiet Golden Triangle, and partly to be able to say that we visited Myanmar, we took the short boat ride to the Paradise Resort, in which they had a casino.   We had been told by the tour agency that the Thailand-Myanmar border was closed because of the border violence, but we figured if they would take us, we would go.  Passing through Myanmar immigration was a very informal process -- the guard simply illegibly wrote down our passport information in a notebook.

We could not believe that the hotel could subsist since there is absolutely nothing else near it in Myanmar or the neighboring countries.  But the hotel was very nice, and the Casino was quite large.  We stayed only about an hour, ate at the hotel restaurant (much better than our hotel restaurant on the Thailand side), and went to the dock to catch the boat back to Thailand.

It was nighttime at that point, and we were sitting on the dock looking out at the pitch black river, wondering where everyone was.  The lights on the dock attracted swarms of flying bugs and we had to continuously sweep them off of us.  Fortunately, a hotel representative came down to the dock and told us that the boats would not come, and took us to a truck, that drove us down a muddy road, to the Myanmar side of the river across from our Thailand hotel.  They had a boat there to take us across, and we walked back to our hotel.

Laptop Repair

On our return from Vietnam, we had the much-feared event of the laptop breaking (see  Vietnam --Technology Terror for details).  One of our main goals on returning to Bangkok from Vietnam was to get the laptop fixed.  Our hotel business office suggested going to a big technology mall named Pantip Plaza.  The place is a mecca for techno-geeks, five floors of pure-technology stores, selling every type of computing device, all types of software (including cheap likely-illegal versions), and peripherals.  We found one notebook shop, but found out that Sony does not export computers to Thailand, so they did not have the experience with the Vaio line.  But they said to return the next day to their service department to see what they could do.  We were there first thing in the morning, and begged them to look at it ASAP, since we planned to leave the next day.  When we checked in a few hours later, they said it was the 'power supply on the motherboard' and that we could pick it up the next day.  After some discussion, they agreed to fix it the same day, and we went to pick it up just before the shop closed.  Dan inquired about how they fixed it, since they did not have any Vaio parts, but the language barrier prevented us from any getting any information.  Now the laptop is much louder than it was, and the battery only lasts 25 minutes, versus the 2-3 hours it lasted before the repair.  Oh well, at least it works!

 

Getting There

Our flight from Mumbai, India to Bangkok left at 4AM (!) so we both slept during most of the flight.  Fortunately, we flew first class, so the flight was comfortable.

When we arrived in Bangkok airport we realized that we were in a very modern city with a well-laid out, modern airport.  We breezed through immigration -- it is one of the few airports we have visited on this trip where they scan in the passport information versus hand-typing in every detail.  There were no crowds of people nor tons of taxi's soliciting rides at the door like we had become accustomed to at other airports.  Our baggage was on the carousel when we arrived at baggage claim. Our hotel ride was waiting patiently with the rest of the hotel transfers holding his sign.

With our expressions of joy at being in a real airport, we hexed ourselves.  As the hotel driver went to bring the car around, somehow we got mixed up and could not find him again.  We stood by the pickup area, watching hundreds of other people get in taxi's as we waited for the driver -- we should have just taken a taxi, but we did not know if the hotel driver would know that we had gone.  Dan walked around looking for the hotel representative, but had of course forgotten what he looked like.  After 25 minutes of standing by the taxi area, hot, and breathing in the car exhaust, we found our driver.  As it It turns out, the driver was different from the person who met us, so he did not know what we looked like and we did not know what he or the car looked like -- he had been sitting there 20 feet from us for 15 minutes!

 

Contacts

Name Contact Info Comment
Siam Intercontinental Hotel

Siam Intercontinental Website

Decent hotel in the middle of downtown shopping area.  One of the only ones with lots of grass/gardens -- but still surrounded by buildings. 
Landmark Hotel

Siam Intercontinental Website

Decent hotel in a good area to explore.  Also, right on the BTS line, with plenty of restaurants, street shopping, and a small red-light district. 
Royal Exclusive Tours

Asia Discovery travel site

Very good discounter for hotels and trips. Stayed in same room in Siam Intercontinental for 40% off through them, and very low rates in the Landmark. Ms. Lek helped set up our Cambodia, Vietnam, and Northern Thailand trips.
Imperial Golden Triangle Resort

No web information found.

The only somewhat luxurious hotel we saw in Golden Triangle.  Ok hotel, only 1 TV channel (CNN), and little to do.

 

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Thailand