Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Golden Land - Suvarna Bhumi - Thailand -Kanchana Buri and Phuket



12/8/2011
We reached Bangkok at around 5 pm and took an AC van (No. 552) to reach BTS Onnut Station. We paid only 25 Baht for a 30 minute ride! We were dropped just beside Tesco. From there, we reached our hotel by a taxi (50 Baht). It was actually a walking distance. The taxi driver took much less than the meter reading , since he had taken us to a wrong place initially!! Our hotel was very cheap and very good value for money. They also have a free golf cart facility to go to BTS Onnut station between 8am-12pm and 8pm-12am. I was delighted to find free internet as well!
We used the golf cart to go out and have dinner at a roadside stall for 50 baht!! We had noodle pami - me with pork and Mohua without pork of course! It is a soupy kind of noodles and tastes very good! The golf cart waited for us till we finished our dinner!



















13/8/2011

We booked the taxi (requested our hotel to do so on 12/8/11) to go to Suvarnabhumi (BKK) airport to catch our 7.50am flight to Phuket. It was a 35-40 minute ride from Sukhumvit area. We paid 20 baht as booking charges + 199 baht for the fare + 60 baht as toll taxes. Bangkok is a very modern city and is comparable to modern cities like KL and Singapore.
Our Phuket hotel was very aesthetic and it came at an amazing price as well. It is even better than the one in Cambodia - price wise (almost 25% cheaper) and facility wise! It even had a small balcony apart from an LCD TV, fridge, locker, wardrobe and dressing table. The AC was also perfect. A similar hotel in India would cost anywhere between Rs 2500 and 3000. It also makes me think how much people pay in India for a shabby hotel ! At Phuket, we hired an AC Toyota van for a standard charge @ 150 Baht per person to go to Patong Beach. The van dropped us at the hotel itself. My friend in Phuket had wisely advised us against hiring a taxi which normally charges around 450 Baht. On the way, we stopped at their booking office to check our hotel reservation and the tour ticket (I had suspected that they were trying to sell their tour along with the hotel!).
Strangely, the hotel was not prepared for our arrival and we were asked to wait for half an hour for housekeeping. To make up for that, we were given a sumptuous complimentary breakfast which we were not eligible for, because we had booked it for only 2 days. While we feasted on orange juice, ham, bacon, scrambled eggs, butter and jam, they prepared our room.... and how beautifully!















The hotel is around 15 minutes from the Patong Beach. As usual, Mohua took the tuk-tuk for 100 Baht (for that distance we could have walked to the beach!). The beach was a novel experience for me. I saw Paragliding, speed boats and bikini clad women....which we get to see only in Goa.
















After that, we went to Phuket or Pooget town by a local bus (@ 25 Baht) for a walking tour in a very interesting part of the city. It took us around 45-50 minutes to reach there. But to go to the starting point of walking tour was a big problem for us, since almost nobody understands English. The city has Sino Portuguese architecture.





















It reminded me a lot of Arab Street in Singapore. We had a lovely lunch at a Chinese restaurant for 144 Baht - stir fried rice with pork, shrimp, and crabs. We got a discount of 10% because of the sea food festival in Phuket. We had to rush back to catch the last bus at 6 pm. Else, we would have to pay around 400-450 Baht for a taxi ride.
We were dropped at Patong Market. It is a real eye opener in ways more than one.
We met MANY 3rd generation Nepalese people, whose forefathers had migrated to Burma and then crossed the border to come to Thailand. They still speak PERFECT Hindi. One of them was Shyam. I jokingly said 'Shyam in Siam!' I took his interview on my handy cam. In one Indian shop, they were watching Taare Zameen Par! We went for a stroll around Bangla Road thanks to LP. It is mind-blowing place to say the least. I have taken some amazing videos and pictures. Here, prostitution in the name of Thai massage is very openly advertised. In spite of being somewhat prepared for it, it will be an understatement to say I found it overwhelming. Wonder what happens in Pattaya where it is even more blatantly done.
We almost saw an open cabaret - but it was not by any means vulgar. We had dinner at one of the bars near Bangla Road. I tried Pad Thai as suggested by my friend Gabi (from Argentina). As usual, she had given me some detailed and useful last-minute tips. Thanks Gabi! Some important tips were also given by my Aussie friend - Maxine, Spencer (from USA), globetrotter May (from Singapore) and last but not the least by my didi (sister). Thanks to all of you. We paid 180 Baht for the dinner. We then hired a tuk-tuk to reach our hotel from Bangla Road at 12am. The roads in Phuket are world class!
Today, I booked our Phi Phi tour from Mr. Note, a friend of Jonathan, my Phuket friend (originally an ethnic Tamil from Penang, Malaysia, but now stays in Phuket). Unfortunately he had left for Laos. Normally, people pay around 1500 Baht for this tour. He charged us much less because of my friend Jonathan. I made a phone appointment to meet him beside Hard Rock cafe, (where "foam beauty contest” was going on!!) to make the full payment. The tour will start from 8.30 am and they will pick us up from our hotel tomorrow.


14/8/2011

Thailand has the well deserved reputation of having the best beaches in Southeast Asia. Phuket, Krabi, Koh Samui and Ko Tao are among the top destinations for beach lovers, but the country has so many beaches that making a list of the best beaches would not be a good idea. Every other store front on Phuket Town has advertised trips to Phi Phi Island or James Bond Island. After lot of deliberation, we decided to go to Phi Phi Island. Phi Phi is actually a collection of islands, with Phi Phi Don the largest and only inhabited one. Golden sand beaches, limestone cliffs, hidden caves, turquoise blue sea, coral reefs, the amazing Maya Bay , Thai delicacies, canoeing adventures, rock climbing, snorkeling, you have got it all at the Phi Phi Island.
Phi Phi Island, also acknowledged as PP Island is just a couple of hours away from Phuket /and Krabi in Thailand. A couple of many years back Phi Phi Island was completely destroyed by the Tsunami (this was truly the second worst affected location by the giant waves), however every little thing has now been wonderfully restored. Possibly the facilities are now greater than they were before. It has been made popular worldwide after the shooting of Leonardo di Caprio's cult movie The Beach.
The car picked us from the hotel and took us to the Rassada pier for boarding the big express boat at around 8 30 am. The speedboat costs more and takes much less time to reach the Island. We were served with tea and coffee on the boat and some snacks. The boat was choc-o-block with people - mostly foreigners - but there were 2-3 Indian families too. While going towards PP Island, we saw Maya Bay, Loh Samah Bay, and Viking Cave etc.
At one point of time it started raining. Mohua, as usual, went down to the most air-conditioned cabin below. According to my sister, it is a better idea to go by speedboat and spend some time at Maya Bay, which is endorsed by my friend Gabi and others too. The beauty of the place is mind-blowing, more so since I have not seen anything like this before. My sister told me that she had always thought that these pictures were Photoshop-ed till she saw Phi Phi!


















There are two kinds of trips to the Island. You could come here on a day trip and get back to Phuket or Krabi by the evening, or you could choose to stay right here for some days. Both of these tours are very popular, but of course if you are a day-tripper, you will miss out on the numerous attractions of the island. For instance, you will not be ready to camp at Maya Bay and you can’t take pleasure in the Full Moon Parties at PP.
After getting down at the beach I went for a walking tour around the Island and came back after an hour to meet our group at the pier. Though people generally complain that there are simply too many boats, too many engines choking the water, the water has a funky smell to it, white foamy bubbles of waste and chemicals from too many boats and engines float on the surface - to my untrained eyes, these seemed to be trivial and non-existent. After all, I am used to Digha or Puri! Then we proceed for a buffet lunch organized by our company. The food was not all good. After lunch, I went for some swimming and Mohua watched from the shore!
























We left at around 2.30 pm for Phuket and were dropped off at our hotel. We rested for a while and had our dinner at a restaurant near our hotel. It was recommended by one Chinese Malaysian girl and it was extremely cheap and very tasty. In fact it was 50% cheaper than our Hong Kong Express Restaurant behind Triangular Park. But I must tell you, you don’t have to go to Thailand to taste authentic Thai food. Just visit Hong Kong Express!! The sea food rice I had was only 50 Baht. I tried some grilled beef. Since it was not properly grilled they replaced it with grilled duck. We also had Tom Yum Koong (80 Baht). We got to know here that Koong / Goong mean Prawn. The quantity was enough for two of us and size of Prawn they have - you will never ever find in India. After dinner Mohua wanted to come back to hotel, but since it was our last day, we started walking along the road. Without realizing, we suddenly reached Bangla Road (and at the end of Bangla Road is the beach) by following the big neon lights. Only then we got to know that our hotel is quite near to the famous road. Unless you walk you never get to know the city and its people. While walking, I saw an “open air gasoline shop”, where the sister is sleeping and the brother checking his mails on his laptop! When we returned back to hotel, walking, it was around 1 45 am! I bought an interesting Tee Shirt, which says “I don’t want a fucking Tuk Tuk or suite or Thai massage...no thank you@ - written in Thai and in English. Unless you go to Thailand, you won’t understand what I am talking!

15/8/2011

Today after having our breakfast at our hotel, we went to the Patong beach. After swimming for one hour again, we left for hotel. Mr. Note gave us the ticket of minibus/van, which transferred us to the airport where we met the Malaysian girl, we met yesterday. We reached Bangkok at around 4.30 pm. We had to change two buses to reach Khao San Road. When we reached our hotel it was raining heavily. Our Guest house is on a small alley off Khao San Road. There is a nice garden in the guest house, where we had our dinner. We had green curry Prawn.
We had to trade off between kanchanburi tour for Bangkok city tour. I thought it is better to go to a place where people do not go normally. Another place I wanted to visit is, a place where there is a (poisonous) snake fighting show (apart from Chiang Mai), but could not do it in absence of time. We booked the tour from an agent in Khao San Road for only 500 Baht (per person) which includes lunch. [One of my friends had suggested that we can get a van (100 Baht) for Kanchanburi, from victory monument and after reaching Kanchana Buri hire a taxi. I thought this is a better option and probably cheaper]. All other agents are charging around 700 Baht for the same tour. Then we walked around the Khao San Road. There is a carnival atmosphere and shops remain open till 1 am or more. At 12 am, if you do not look at your watch, you will think as though it is 8 pm. One of the stalls is selling cricket, cockroach, and dragon fly. Since many people wants to take picture, they have displayed that you have to pay 10 Baht to take picture. We went to sleep, since we have to get up early.














16/08/2011

We left around 7 30 am for Kanchana Buri by our air conditioned van. It left from Khao San Road near our hotel. This is one of the reasons why one should stay in a place like this. First we reached the floating market.













Since we boarded the boat, we had to shell out150 Baht each. Mohua bought some of the souvenirs from the boat. When you buy something or haggle for any item, the boat will wait for you. Since Mohua, as usual, wanted to buy everything, the boat was stopping every now and then. After 45 minutes we reached the bank and left for River Kwai. This is the place where during World War 2, the Japanese used Allied prisoners of war to build a railway from Thailand to Burma, so they could supply their army without the dangers of sending supplies by sea. Many prisoners (estimated to be 100,000) died under appalling conditions during its construction, and the line became known as the 'Death Railway'. It was immortalized in David Lean's 1957 film 'The Bridge on the River Kwai' which centres around one of the line's main engineering feats, the bridge across the Kwai.
After spending some time here we had our lunch here and left for Tiger Temple ((http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tiger_Temple) The temple is located in the Saiyok district of Thailand's Kanchana buri province, not far from the border with Myanmar, some 38 km north-west of Kanchana Buri . The temple charges 600 Baht admission fee per person. After reaching there it was raining. We braved the rain to reach the place where the tigers were lying. We had a photo session with the tigers. It was a funny feeling touching tigers.http: //news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2008/06/080620-tiger-temple.html

Before entering, we had to take other precautions. We could not wear bright colours like oranges, reds. These excite the tigers. You must not make any sudden movements or show that you are fearful. "Nothing should dangle". Animals can sense if you are afraid of them. If anything went wrong, the tigers might scratch the visitor with their paws. You could get blinded or killed.







































We returned our Bangkok around 7 15 pm. I had some street food - pork and chicken roast and sushi. Then Mohua went for dinner at Tom Yang Kun restaurant. As I was full, I did not take anything for the dinner and took a small portion from Mohua. Mohua did all the marketing. We planned to buy the famous Thai pillow but somehow could not buy it. May be next time! I bought some snacks for tomorrow from 7/11 shop with whatever coins I had with me. The idea was to finish the coins! We booked the van for airport for 130 Baht per head [more than 100 Baht, the agent from whom we booked the Kanchana buri tour, charges (But none of the seats were available for tomorrow’s van)]. We left around 7 30 am and reached airport within 45 minutes. Our plane was at 10 50 am. I joined office after reaching Calcutta.

Interesting facts of Thailand
# One thing we have noticed in Thailand is worshipping of Ganesha. In Thailand, Ganesha is called Phra Phikanet or Phra Phikanesuan and is worshipped as the deity of fortune and success, and the remover of obstacles. He is associated with arts, education and trade. Ganesha appears in the emblem of the Department of Fine Arts in Thailand. One of the most revered shrines is the Royal Brahmin Temple in central Bangkok by the Giant Swing, where some of the oldest images can be found. Other old Ganesha images can be seen throughout Thailand, including a 10th Century bronze image found at Phang-Na with both Tamil and Thai inscriptions. The Hindu temple "Wat Phra Sri Umadevi" in Silom also houses a Ganesha image. Thai Buddhists frequently pay respect to Ganesha and other Brahmin deities as a result of the overlapping Buddhist/Brahmin cosmology.
# Travel and Leisure magazine has ranked Bangkok as one of the best 10 cities in the world in 2011. In fact it has got the highest marks. (http://www.travelandleisure.com/worldsbest/2011/cities). Siem Reap being the only other SE Asian city.
# According to the Chinese chronicles, during the 13th century, Phuket was part of the powerful Sumatra-based Empire, Srivijaya Kingdom. Many Indians arrived in the last century, notably from Punjab and some from Gujarat. A Tamil community has been around since the 1860s. Buddhism and Hinduism originally arrived to Thailand from India and became established over the years. The historical amounts of Indian population in Thailand may be seen in British consular statistics; however, as reported these figures often lumped Indians together with Sinhalese and Malays. In fact in Phuket I saw a picture of a Sikh politician (my guess).
# In Thailand almost everywhere we have noticed TV sets playing English premier league football; Muy Thai is also very popular.
# Par capita income of Thailand is around 5000 USD almost 4 times that of India. It is believed that at least 10% of tourist dollars are spent on the sex trade.
# Many words in Thai and Sanskrit are common. e.g. Suvarna Bhumi, Singa. The Thai script (like all Indic/Brahmic scripts) uses a number of modifications to write Sanskrit and related languages (in particular, Pali). Pali is very closely related to Sanskrit and is the liturgical language of Thai Buddhism. In Thailand, Pali is written and studied using a slightly modified Thai script. For example, namo is written โม Thai, but in Pali it is written as นโม, because the is redundant. The Sanskrit word 'mantra' is written มนตร์ in Thai (and therefore pronounced mon), but is written มนฺตฺร in Sanskrit (and therefore pronounced mantra). When writing Pali, only 33 consonants and 12 vowels are used. In Thailand, Sanskrit is read out using the Thai values for all the consonants (so is read as kha and not [ga]), which makes Thai spoken Sanskrit incomprehensible to sanskritists not trained in Thailand. The Sanskrit values are used in transliteration (Transliteration is the practice of converting a text from one script into another, often in a systematic way. It can form an essential part of transcription which converts text from one writing system into another. Transliteration is not concerned with representing the phonemics of the original: it only strives to accurately represent the characters. Thus Transliteration is opposed to transcription, which specifically maps the sounds of one language to the best matching script of another language), but these values are never actually used when Sanskrit is read out loud in Thailand. The vowels used in Thai are identical to Sanskrit, with the exception of , ฤๅ, , and ฦๅ, which are read using their Thai values, not their Sanskrit values. Sanskrit and Pali are not tonal languages, but in Thailand, the Thai tones are used when reading these languages out loud.
This disjoint between transcription and spoken value explains the Romanization for Sanskrit names in Thailand that many foreigners find confusing. For example, สุวรรณภูมิ is romanised as Suvarnabhumi, but pronounced su-wan-na-pum.ศรีนครินทร์ is romanised as Srinagarindra but pronounced si-nakha-rin.
# The Thai word 'Farang' is used by some Thais to label all whites and quite whites.The origin of the word Farang is actually not totally clear. The origins are most likely to be "Firinjia" : Parsi (Persian).Think about Anthony Firingi Of Uttam kumar!


# "Bangkok" (originally Bang Makok) was a small village on the banks of the Chao Phraya river, until a new capital was founded on the west bank (present-day Thonburi) after the fall of Ayutthaya. In 1782, King Rama I built a palace on the east bank (now Rattanakosin) and renamed the city as Krung Thep, as it is now known to Thais and which in English is tranlated to the 'City of Angels'. The full name is listed as the world's longest place name by the Guinness Book of Records; an English rendering goes like this: "Krung thep mahanakhon amorn ratanakosin mahintharayutthaya mahadilok pop noparatratchathani burirom udomratchanivetmahasathan amornpiman avatarnsathit sakkathattiyavisnukarmprasit" -- "The city of angels, the great city, the residence of the Emerald Buddha, the impregnable city (of Ayutthaya) of God Indra, the grand capital of the world endowed with nine precious gems, the happy city, abounding in an enormous Royal Palace that resembles the heavenly abode where reigns the reincarnated god, a city given by Indra and built by Vishnukarn").

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