Sunday, August 26, 2012

12 free things to do in Kolkata

Kolkata (or for that matter in India) many things are free, unlike many places like Indonesia or Laos or Cambodia or Thailand. Generally you don't need to pay to go to a temple or toilet or musical programme etc.

I am listing out many free things you can do or go in Kolkata, which are my favourites:

1Jain temple and Parasnath Temple in North Kolkata (Belgachia Metro station) - either it is free or almost free at Rs 5 

2Metcalfe Hall, Town Hall , Governor's House, High court, GPO , Job Charnock's mausoleum,Writer's building (Esplanade Metro)(Town hall is almost free -at Rs 5 - there is a nice museum) 


3. Marble Palace (Mahatma Gandhi Metro station) - but you need to take permission from Indian tourism office near Birla Planetarium on Shakespeare Sarani or West bengal Tourism office near Writer's building - Stephen house- opposite Minibus stand)

4. St. Paul's Cathedral and Nandan complex - art galleries in Nandan (Rabindra Sadan Metro station), most of musical programmes held in Rabindra Sadan is free. However movies or Theatres are NOT free. But sometimes many documentaries or movie festivals are free.

5. Tipu Sultan Mosque (Esplanade Metro station) at Esplanade is free

6Kumartuli and Sovabazar Rajbari (Sutanuti Metro station) - potters colony is free -

7Maidan - walk around Maidan and go to the famous clubs like East Bengal or Mohun Bagan (equivalent to ManU or Arsenal of India) - where footballers practice in the morning are free

8Armenidan Church and Synagogue (Esplanade Metro station )

9Victoria Memorial (Maidan Metro station or Rabindra Sadan Metro station): It is not a free, but if make a full circle around it (around 15 minutes), you can see everything from outside, without entering it.

10Jorasanko Thakur Bari (get down at one metro station before Sovabazar/Sutanuti Metro station - if you are coming from Park Street)

11. Calcutta School of Music - If you are a Western classical Music aficionado then most,if not all, of the programmes held here free. I have never paid to watch classical music programme there. They also hold Indian classical music programs. It is 12 minutes walking from Garihat or 3-4 minutes by auto rickshaw towards Park circus maidan. Ask people " which side is Park circus ". Gariahat is 10 minutes by auto from Kalighat metro or Take an auto rickshaw from Jatindas Metro to go to Ballygunge Phari ("Ask how to go to Ballygunge Phari by auto rickshaw") . Address:

6B, Sunny Park70001924765394

££ Calcutta School of Music established in 1915 by Phillpe Sandre is one of the premier institutions of India

12. Art Galleries : There are numerous art galleries in Kolkata and all of them are free

Some of my favourites are  Akar Prakar  - Hindustan Park, opposite Basanti Devi College,  Birla Academy of Art and Culture (beside Lake Kali bari),CIMA Gallery,Ganges Art Gallery ( at the junction of Sarat Bose Road and Jatin Das Road (near Sarat Bose Road and Deshapriya Park crossing)

PS: I am leaving out National Library, Belur Math & Dakshineswar Temple (How to go to Belur - however the best option according to me is Share auto rickshaw from the (Digha going) bus stand beside Howrah station @ Rs 15 - time 30 minutes...however one can take train from Howrah station or Mini Bus or 54 No. Bus from Esplanade opposite Metro Cinema), Birla temple (bad copy of Khajuraho - not my favourite ) as they are not in the metro route and relatively difficult to go without car. [Though National library is not very far from Rabindra Sadan Metro station]. I am also leaving out Kalighat Temple, though very near to Kalighat Metro route because I find it shady ). Indian Museum or Birla Planetarium is not free and Museum has exorbitant price for foreigners - around Rs 100 , I think - which is however cheaper than South East Asian standards, never the less. But it is ill maintained.

PS: For armchair travellers of Kolkata

5. Hotel Galaxy - one of the best

7. Afridi Guest House,88.353984&spn=0.001375,0.002642&ctz=-330&t=m&z=19

8. Hotel Paragon

9. Hotel Pushpak

Hotel Pushpak International , 10 Kyd Street, Kyd Street, Park Street , AC dormitory 350/-
2226 5841 / 2227 0803 / 0778

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Layman at Laos - Pearl of the Orient and Sensation at Siam

My article in Touriosity

To see the flow chart of my tour, please click here

Saturday, August 11, 2012

                Kolkata, West Bengal, India (12:45 pm)
                Suvarnabhumi International Airport, Thailand  (5: 05 PM)

After reaching Bangkok, I took the ARL(City line, not Express line) from the upper floor of the airport to go to Makkasan to catch the nearby MRT Phetcha-buri. MRT stands for Mass Rapid Transport or what we call Metro Rail in Kolkata. The City line links the airport to down-town BKK(covers a distance of around 25 kilometres. - 35 THB) The ARL express line starts from Phaya-thai Station and ends at Suvarna-bhumi Station within 30 minutes.) In Thailand, buri means place, like pur in India.

Hua Lamphong, Bangkok Railway Station, Bangkok, Thailand

Then I went to Hua Lamphong Rail station (equivalent to our Howrah station) by MRT and got down at Hua Lamphong MRT station. While I was moving from the MRT station to the train station (inter connected), I was passing through a gallery which tells you about the transformation of public transport in Thailand. Thailand is the only country in SE Asia, which has never been ruled by any colonial power (and therefore they have maintained originality of their culture). Bangkok had tram as early as 1894.  and the foundations for the current railway network were laid during the 1890's  and the earliest recorded mail or post office from Bangkok dates back only to 1836.

Many people in India think we owe everything to British - be it train, tram or post office. It was an eye opener for me. However, trains in Thailand are Meter Gauge (1 metre), unlike Broad Gauge (around 5 and half feet ) in India - so in a sleeper train only 1+1 (=2) people travel unlike 3 + 1 (= 4) in India and the train also moves slower than a bus.

My train is scheduled to leave at 20:00 hours from Hua Lamphong Rail station and it was time for me to have some quick noodle soup before boarding the train.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

       Nong Khai - border of Laos PDR and Thailand (8:30 am)

I reached Nong Khai around 8:30 am. [I could have taken the Shuttle services of the train, which goes upto Tha Nala-eng station (in Laos), to cross the border, which is really in the middle of nowhere but then you will have to pay exorbitant rates for the Tuk Tuk (auto rickshaw) to go to the Vientiane city centre.] But I planned to go by bus. From Nong Khai railway station to the Thai immigration centre is only a 5-min walk. Since I did not know that, I paid 25 THB to the immigration centre. After the departure card is deposited at the immigration centre, I moved to the shuttle bus waiting for us to cross the border.
The Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge (Saphan Mitta-phap) from Nong Khai, Thailand, is the most commonly used path/gate to enter Laos. The bridge cannot be crossed by foot or bicycle but there are frequent shuttle buses (20 baht) taking off just beyond the Thai immigration centre. After crossing the friendship bridge, we moved to the Laos immigration centre. We filled up the immigration form and paid 41 US$ for Visa on arrival. A 40 baht (or 9000 Kip) entry fee was also charged. I got some Baht converted into Kip at BCEL the counter near the Thai immigration centre. Apparently, BCEL is the best among the money changers .
I took bus no.14 (like our AC Volvo bus in Kolkata) by paying 5,000 Lao Kip [LAK) to go to Talat Sao bus station in Vientiane. These buses are a gift from the people of Japan. In fact, almost all the buses from the immigration centre of Laos go to Talat Sao bus station. The main city centre of Vientiane is only 8-9 mins walk from the bus station. The bus also accepts Thai Baht.

  Vientiane(VTE),Laos (11:00 am)

Most of the people I have met, have trouble in finding out a country in the map! The population of Laos is only 65 lakh and per capita income is comparable to India around US$ 1200. There are 17 provinces in Laos.  Compared to the hectic capitals in other Southeast Asian countries, Vientiane's relaxing atmosphere has a small town feeling. After doing the round of temples, the best thing to do here is to stroll down to the riverside and watch the sun set over the Mekong river.
People are Settled in VTE at least from 1000 AD, Vientiane had become an important administrative city of the Kingdom of Lan Xang (million elephants) in 1545. Ransacked in 1828 by the Thai/Siamese, Vientiane sprung back in time to be again named the capital of the protectorate of Laos by the French, a position it kept till after independence (1953). Today, Vientiane (VTE) is the largest city in Laos, with an estimated population of 2.1 lakh (or 210,000) in the city itself and some 7 lakh (or 700,000) in Vientiane Prefecture. If you are in VTE for the first time as a tourist, you need to know 3 roads only --- these roads run parallel to the river and they are Thanon Fa Ngum, Thanon Sett-hathi-rat and Thanon Samsen-thai. Thanon means 'road' both in Lao and Thai.
Vientiane's widest boulevard, Thanon Lane Xang, runs from the Presidential Palace (now used for government offices and for state receptions) to the northeast around Patuxai (the Victory Gate) and then the road goes upto That Luang Stupa, the most important religious monument in Laos. Another important monument is Wat Si Saket. There are probably as many Wats/ Vats/ temples in VTE as there are Shiva Lingas in Kolkata !

       My hotel in Samsen-thai Road - Ban Mixai, Vientiane,Ban Mixai, Vientiane, Laos

After checking in my guest house in Mixay Road (pronounced as Mix-ai) - where most of the guest houses are located - I am off for lunch. I had lunch(pork fried rice) in a very nice restaurant beside Mekong River. While wandering around, I saw 2 Indian restaurants and met one Bangladeshi there! He is here for just 2 months. Later I got to know there are 52 Indian families here. I even saw the word Jama Masjid written in Tamil and took the picture! Most of the Indian restaurants are owned by South Indians. They sell everything from Dosa to Chicken Butter Masala!
The first thing you notice when you come to Laos is everybody greeting you with Sabai-dee, meaning welcome (very similar to what the Thais say too). And like Cambodia, the cars keep to the right side of the road like in the US. Most of the shops and street side stalls are run by women!!
Incidentally there is no train service in Laos, as whatever was there, had been destroyed by US bombing! It is the most bombed country on earth. During the 'Secret War' waged by the CIA from 1964 to 1973 against the communist and nationalist forces in Laos, more bombs were dropped on this rural nation of poor farmers than all the explosives dropped on Germany and Japan in the Second World War !!
You have to take off your shoes when you enter a house/guest house/shop. So it is a good idea not to wear sneakers. Otherwise, it will be a BIG problem. And everything you buy is either 5,000 Kip or 10,000 Kip. The country seems to thrive on tourism. You can easily give Thai Baht or US$ instead of Kip anywhere. Thumb rule is 1 THB = 250 Kip and 1 US$ = 8000 Kip.

       Wat Si Saket and Talat Sao bus station,Vientiane, Laos

Post lunch, I went to Wat Si Saket (at the crossing of Thanon Lane Xang and Thanon Sett-hathi-rat) which is now signposted as Sisaket Museum (Entrance fee 5,000 kips). It is 4 mins walk from my Guest House. This is probably the oldest standing temple in Vientiane. Built in 1818, by Chao Anou in the Bangkok style and hence left out, when much of Vientiane was razed in a Siamese raid in 1828. Within the walls are hundreds of Buddha images large and small, made of wood, stone, silver and bronze. In the centre of the courtyard is a hall housing Buddha and beautiful but fading murals of the Buddha's past lives.
Then I went to Patu-xai or victory gate and was surprised to see pictures of Shiva on the wall! Since it was already 4.30 pm, there was hardly any time to go to the famous That Luang Stupa. Instead I planned to go to Buddha Park (around 4-5 km from the Thai Lao immigration centre) which my friends had recommended me to go. So I boarded bus #14 from the nearby Talat Sao bus station to go to the one next to the immigration centre near the Friendship bridge. Incidentally, Talat Sao is also a shopping mall.
Just like in India, people were urging me to take the Tuk Tuk, misinforming me that the last bus to Buddha Park had left. I trusted my instincts to wait and check out their claims and took a bus to go to the park by paying 5,000 LAK. After reaching there, I met a person whose father has contributed to this wonderful park. He is a Lao, but speaks perfect French. Thanks to him, we went upstairs through a winding and steep staircase to have a wonderful view. The sculptures in the Buddha Park are very very special indeed.

For some reason, that was the picture of Lao architecture I had in India and so I was very eager to see it. When I returned to Talat Sao bus station, it was already dark and so I walked along the Mekong River. It reminded me of Pondicherry after dark - many people walking along the river. And there is also a night market beside the river. I bought one picture of a monk there (you will find it everywhere). After having my dinner it was time to go back to the guest house, since the next day, I will be leaving early for Vang Vieng. Street signs ARE much better here than India. The street names generally are bilingual in Lao and French. The Lao word Thanon on these signs is translated into rue or avenue or boulevard, in many cases without any apparent logic.

Monday, August 13, 2012

       My hotel in Vang Vieng (V V ) (11:00 am),Vang Vieng, Laos

I went to Talat Sao to board a bus to Vang Vieng. [However, for Luang Prabang, one needs to go to the Northern Bus Station.] The northern Bus station is about 10 Km from the city centre. Talat Sao is a local bus station to go to nearby places. Vang Vieng is on Highway # 13 between Vientiane and Luang Prabang and takes around 3-4 hrs from Vientiane. We left at 7.30 am. The road between Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang is mountainous and boasts of amazing scenery. The road between Vang Vieng and Vientiane is flatter and less interesting. It took almost 4.5 hours to reach VV. The roads reminded me of the State Highways in India. They are not in good condition. From the bus station, the town is around 15 minutes walk. Vang Vieng is so small that everything is easily reachable by foot. If you want to venture outside of town, bicycles are widely available and can be rented from hotels or local businesses.
Vang Vieng has established itself as the exception to the rule that Laos doesn't have nightlife. I showered in my guest house and went out for lunch. Today I had Larb (also spelled laap, larp, laab or lahb), a type of Laotian and Isan (Northeast Thailand) sour and spicy meat salad and is regarded as the national dish of Laos. The minced meat is mixed with chilli, mint and assorted vegetables. I did not like it because of the presence of mint. 

When asking for directions or streets, keep in mind that Laotians like the Chinese or Thai-Vietnamese-Cambodian, pronounce R as L ('plied lice' from 'fried rice'). Example is Rue Sett-hathi-rat pronounced as Lue Sett-hathi-lat. Probably they are shy about their English skills or lack of it, but most locals pretend to be dumb about  street directions. And you have to forget English Grammar. If you ask 'do you have Fried Rice? The standard answer EVERYWHERE in Thailand and Laos is 'No have!!!!! ...

       Vang Vieng (VV) (11:00 am), Laos

The town itself has no hot spots, but the row of limestone mountains across the river provides a stunning backdrop and is the setting for some impressive caves. Ideally one should stay just beside the river and gaze at the mountains! I had to skip Tham Poukham - Blue Lagoon, (7 km west from town,) due to shortage of time. Instead I went to the Xang Cave, (on the south end of the main road). Decent cave, but not worth the 15,000 kip entrance fee (for locals it is 10,000) plus 2,000 kip per person as bridge-crossing fee. The cave is well lit and has stairs running throughout that makes it an easy self-guided tour. One part has a really nice view of the farms surrounding the city. It is just like our Borra caves in Andhra Pradesh (AP). There are small to big and irregularly shaped stalactites and stalagmites inside the caves just like AP. There I met a Japanese friend, travelling alone. Since it was raining, we had to wait for hours under a shade, just beside the cave.

There is an office in downtown Vang Vieng that now organizes all tube rentals. They will rent you the tube (for Tubing) and organize transportation up the river a few miles. From around midday to 2PM is reasonable to go because any earlier, everyone else would be still asleep after partying till wee hours!! Tubes have to be back by 6PM to get your deposit back. One can look at the magnificent view of the mountains rising directly beside the river. I have seen the similar stunning limestone mountains in Phuket (in Phi Phi). After getting down from the cave, I started wandering around the city and went down to the river to see the tubing in the city. It was truly a very interesting experience. I saw people drifting away down the river.

       Evening snacks and Marijuana at Vang Vieng,Laos

In the evening I had some awesome mulberry shake from an organic farm cafe (10,000 LAK) and had some banana pancake too(10,000 LAK). They are sold in the way egg rolls are sold in Kolkata along the streets!
 In the evening I met my Japanese friend again whose passport (kept as a deposit for renting the bike) was wrongly given to another Japanese. He was having their national beer - laobeer - with the owner of the Rental Company (who was responsible for the PP goof up) while waiting for his passport to be returned. Giving them company was the owner of Full Moon cafe - Mr PP - who said his wife is an Indian from Chennai (she lost her dad 3 months back in Vientiane) and that there are 52 Indian families in Vientiane. His wife however looks like a Lao. It seems her father had married a Lao lady.
Then my Japanese friends ( and) ordered some happy pizza - for which they were given a separate menu. Happy pizza is nothing but Marijuana or opium mixed with Pizza! Since it was raining none of the customers were there. Mr PP knows Karate and knows how to use Nun Chaku!! He demonstrated his skills to us!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

       Luang Prabang (LP), Louangphrabang (Luang Prabang) (6:00 pm), Laos

In the morning I left for the bus stop to go to LP at 6.30 am. I hitch-hiked on a moped (a lady was riding the moped) to go to the bus station around 1.5 Km away. We were supposed to reach LP in 6 hours time but man proposes God disposes. There was land/mud slide in between and we had to wait for at least 2 hours. Some of the cars were skidding while trying to pass the road and we had to wait, until a pay-loader cleared the mud from the road. In our minivan there was one Italian guy  who had worked in Coimbatore for 1 year and is now working in Ho Chi Minh City. He said to me in Hindi Ap Kaise Ho? There were German, Lao and Dutch tourists too in the van. The disruption helped us to get to know each other. We had our lunch on the way. When we reached LP it was around 4. 30 pm. I had to immediately make a group for the Tuk tuk, lest I have to pay through the roof. The German guy planned to stay near my hotel. So, went together by paying @ 25,000 Kip per head. My hotel

The main tourist city in the often-forgotten country of Laos is one of the nicest cities that very few have even heard of. Luang Prabang is the former capital of Laos and a UNESCO World Heritage city. My friend from Luang Prabang told me over Facebook, that he will be busy - so he suggested that I meet him over a cup of coffee tomorrow. Since it was already late, I went to the night market, on his advice. I had buffet dinner at the night market by paying only 10,000 Kip. However it was for vegetarian food. For non - vegetarian food, you have to pay separately. I had some wonderful pineapple cake at the night market. Then it suddenly started raining heavily and I had to wait till rain subsided to go back to the guest house. Since it was already dark, I could hardly see or get a feel of the city.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

       Luang Prabang, Louangphrabang (Luang Prabang) (9:30 am), Laos

Next morning, I saw one lady scribbling the plan for the day on the big signboard  on the ground floor of our guest house, Today's plan was to go to Kuang si Water fall. She is from Brazil and is in Laos for 1 month. It is a good idea for solo travellers. So I booked my tour and paid 40,000 Kip. Set at the confluence of two rivers - Mekong and Nam Khan - that almost surround the old town and tourist area, and beneath a temple-topped hill, Luang Prabang is a wonderful combination of traditional Lao wooden houses with hints of European architecture - reminders of when Laos was part of the French colony. All of this is set against a backdrop of the river river and rugged mountains.
Luang Prabang is now on the radar of most tourists who have been or dream of going to Venice (the mother of all charming cities), Dubrovnik of Croatia, Ubud of Bali, Hoi An of Vietnam, and Cuzco of Peru. As a visitor, you cannot help but be amazed by the tidiness and cleanliness of perhaps the most charming city in all of Southeast Asia. With UNESCO so closely involved and a largely responsible group of local business owners, the pressures of mass tourism development have been held at bay. There are numerous temples around this city. Probably there is one Wat every 2 minutes - Golden-roofed Wats (temples), decorated with mosaics and murals of the life of Buddha are stunning to stay the least.
Luang Prabang Province lies in the heart of the mountainous region of northern Laos. Then I went to meet my friend Sith  at the book store run by him and his brother - Yensabai Books and Art. He also sells Lao coffee in his book stores. He also teaches stenciling to students. His stencil is quite unique and has a typical Lao style  

He was born in a small village about 150 kilometres from Luang Prabang. After primary school, he went on to become a novice at Wat (temple) Choumkong in Luang Prabang. During the four years that he spent as a novice (to become a monk), he had the opportunity to learn many things from the temple life. Many of the stencil motifs that he used are originally from temples in Luang Prabang, especially Wat Xieng Thong, the oldest and most significant monastery in the city. It is very important to him, that these beautiful traditional designs are preserved into the future. He has also been commissioned to use his stencil work for decorating homes, guesthouses, hotels and restaurants.One of them is at the Vientiane hotel, where I stayed! He is planning to run a guest house near Kuang si fall. After chatting with him and having some famous Lao coffee, I went back to my guest house to go to Kuang si waterfall.

        Kouangxi Water Fall or Kuang Si Water fall (11:00 am),Laos

Now it is time to leave for Kuang si fall. I saw a jumbo (bigger version of Tuk tuk) waiting for us. A group of 8 people left for the Kuang si falls. I sat just beside the driver. I bought some Lao spring roll - looks very interesting, but uncooked mint leaves spoilt everything for me. Another dish I have seen everywhere is Mekong river weed - which I did not eat. 
Kuang si is a large multi-stage waterfall, some 29 km south of Luang Prabang. You can also rent a motorbike to transport yourself there. There are food and tourist stalls outside the waterfalls. It is worth putting half a day aside for seeing this because this is a great place to relax. There are multiple pools at different levels, all of which are reportedly safe to bathe in, and are extremely picturesque. Entrance fee is 20,000 kip. The driver was asked to wait till 3 pm at the waterfall gate area. The waterfall park area closes at 5:30pm.
This water fall is quite unique. After spending some time alone, our group members planned to trek to the top of the fall to have a wonderful view. The route to the stop is steep and in one part you have to walk, with water falling on the staircase. The ladies were a bit sceptical whether to go up or to go down from there. After I went to the top, they also got the courage. Then they planned to cross the stream on the top of the fall and get down from the other side. It is no doubt adventurous, but risky. With Indian friends I surely would not have done this way. It was real fun and we worked like a team. After coming back from the top it was time to swim and jump on the water. There I met my Italian friend once again
( and he said if I come to Ho Chi Minh City, he will guide me! There is a bear conservation centre in the Kuang si falls area. On the way back to LP we went to see one of the villages.

       Mount Phousi,LP, Laos

After coming back from the falls at around 5.15 pm, I planned to see the town with my co-passenger Zoom ( from Hanoi, Vietnam (he was also staying at the same guest house). After walking randomly in the city, we went to watch the sunset at Phou Si (Entrance fee 20,000 kip) the main hill in the city - from which you get a good view of the whole area. It's a steep climb from the bottom but sunset is the most rewarding time to go up. There is a near-panoramic view from the top. After getting to the top I sat for some time and met a South Korean girl (and she speaks perfect English) and we chatted for some time. Then it was time to get down. Zoom went back to the guest house, since they planned some barbecue at the guest house. I planned to walk along the streets of LP. Zoom invited me to come to Hanoi, Vietnam and told me LP reminds him of Hoi An.
Just to the opposite to Phou si hill is Haw Kham the former royal palace and now national museum, 30,000 Kip. It is open from 8AM-11:30AM and 1:30PM-4PM, every day except Tuesday. So it was already late. Today there was a dance performance in the adjacent theatre at 6:30PM - Search of Princess Sida, a royal ballet, with prices from 100,000 to 150,000 kip. I found it very interesting - how Sita has become Sinta in Bali and Sida in Laos!! Anyway, I did not see it - since it is too expensive and not very famous - and more so, since I have already seen the most famous one at Bali. Similarly we had skipped the Ramayana dance in Ankor Wat also. Today I went to a nice restaurant to have Beef noodle soup. There I met one very interesting American - a history teacher. He writes a blog and has travelled to 45 countries. His website is He told me that he is excited; tomorrow he is leaving for India. He travels one month every year - his blogs are very honest with no pretension. After returning to my guest house, I found guests (all Occidentals) sitting in a circle on the wooden floor - some were playing the guitar, some were drinking beerlao and some playing cards and my God were they were loud! Only two people were silent - one charging the mobile and other checking emails. One was an Indian (yours truly) and the other a Vietnamese (Zoom)!! But unlike in India, people were enjoying themselves and  not bothered with us.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

       Luang Prabang, Louangphrabang (Luang Prabang),Laos

Today I kept aside my day just to wander around the city of LP. Today's 'acitivity' as per the black board of our guest house is to go to the mountain to collect woods!! Two volunteers have already enrolled!! It is unlike any other guest house you see in India. I left a little late around 9.30 pm. I missed the famous alms ceremony monks at dawn collect alms of rice from kneeling villagers (and early-rising tourists) in front of Mount Phou si.  First I booked the bus to go to Vientiane early morning @ 7.00 am tomorrow, from the travel agent on the Sisavong Road and since the bus station is quite far, the Tuk tuk will pick me up from my hotel to drop me at the bus station. Fare 135,000 Kip (after some haggling from 140,000 Kip) and if you go directly to the bus station then it is 125,000 Kip.

       Wat Aham and Vat Xieng Thong and Luang Prabang city
      Kingkit-sarath Road, Luang Prabang, Laos

First I went to see Wat Aham and Wat Wisu-nalat little away from the old quarters. Wat Aham lies adjacent to Wat Wisu-nalat. Then I went to Vat Xieng Thong the oldest monastery in town and one of the most beautiful. Entry fee 20,000 kip (I am really tired to pay the entrance fees for everything from bathroom - 3,000 LAK to Wats).
One entrance is on the road along Mekong river, the other on the by-lane off the main road i.e. extension of Sisa-vong Road. My friend Sith suggested I try Or lam or aw lahm, it might be described as Luang Prabangs iconic Lao dish. I had learnt the recipes from a very sweet person called Sock and took many pictures while he was cooking. I took my lunch there because his restaurant is just beside the river. The recipe is here: / OR  OR  I liked it a lot. He added pork, beef and chicken and everything in it. I had it with typical sticky rice (cooked in a cane container). I paid in total 25,000 kip (20,000 5,000 for rice) I told him, I'll have famous Bamboo shoot soup in dinner. Generally, I did not like Lao dish very much - since they give Mint Leaves in almost every dish. If you want to know more about Lao cuisine then visit  OR  There are many cooking schools to teach Laos dishes in LP.

       Dinner at Night Market Luang Prabang,Laos 

In the evening I went for a sunset cruise with two French ladies by paying 25,000 LAK per head along the Mekong River. It was a nice experience but we could not see the sunset properly because it was cloudy. I had some black Lao coffee in the evening, sitting beside the Mekong river for 3,000 Kip (normally it is 4,000 - 5000 Kip). Lao coffee is very famous and is a key industry of Lao PDR being the fifth largest export earner for the country. The French first planted coffee in Lao in the early 1900s on the Bolovens Plateaux in southern Lao. Robusta has become the dominant coffee species. This area produces about 95% of Lao coffee. The emphasis is to move production to higher-value Arabica rather than the lower-value Robusta coffee (80% is Robusta). If you want to buy Lao coffee, then go to this website 

When I was coming back, I heard the sound of breaking of glass utensils of a restaurant-er. And it turned out to be Sock and he was still saying Sa-bai-dee with a smile and not depressed. He said he lost 50,000 LAK. That sums up the nature of people of Laos. He said you come for bamboo shoot soup tomorrow. I said there is no tomorrow for me! They are indeed nice people and it should aptly be called land of smiles. I bought one lamp shade in the night market and one picture too. Today I once again had buffet lunch and some barbecued pork rib and sausage (10,000 LAK each) - which is all over the place in Laos. They are delicious.

Then I went to my friend's shop to chat and buy some stencil from his shop. There we discussed many things about Lao. Most of the people do not keep any domestic help, since it would be very expensive. Since the population is low, the cost of labour is high. According to him, if you keep a person for mopping the floor and washing the clothes, then you have to pay around 80 USD for that. Also mobile phones charges are far more expensive in Laos. compared to India. For 20 minutes talk you have to pay around 15,000 to 20,000 LAK. I told him another thing, I did not like - sometimes you have to pay either 2,000 or 3,000 or 4,000 Kip for water. The price is not mentioned on anything just like Indonesia. Price is written in Bar code, whereas bar code reader does not exist in any shop. So you are always taken for a ride. In India there is a wonderful law called Standard Weights and Measures Act, which makes it mandatory to print price on any product. Any way it is time for Khawap jai lai lai [thank you very much] to my friend!!

Friday, August 17, 2012

       Vientiane Prefecture,Laos (6:30 pm)

When my Tuk tuk came to pick me up, it was around 5. 30 am - still some people in the guest house were chatting! Most of them chatted and drank till 2 am and some left for the only Bowling place in LP. My German friend said bowling is becoming popular in Europe, though it is very popular in US. Anyway my bus left at 8.30 am instead of 7 am, since there were not enough passengers!! There are three bus terminals in Vientiane... one of them for trips to and from the south and one for trips to and from the north apart from Talat Sao. They are not located in the same place. Passengers from Luang Prabang arrive in Vientiane at the north bus terminal (quite far from the city centre - I think, more than 6 Km). Then you will have to go to Talat Sao bus terminal by a Tuk tuk and then you can continue your trip to Nong Khai, Thailand.
Your best bet would be to be in Vientiane the day before you head to Nong Khai. You avoid uncertain bus arrival times and can enjoy the laid-back lifestyle of Laos a bit longer before heading out. If you can reach time, then you can stay at wonderful Mutt Mee guest house in Nong Khai. One person recommended the hotel to me. In fact I had a discussion with the owner of the Mutt Mee guest house Julian - he said it is off season - so you wont have any problem to stay in his guest house- just in case you can make it to Nong Khai in Thailand.
The Thai Lao border closes at around 10 pm and last bus which leaves for Khon Kaen at around 6.30 p.m. if you are late, you have to stay at Vientiane. As usual, we were late - we reached around 7. 30 pm and had no option but to stay in VTE. I had to quickly form a group to share the Tuk tuk cost with some Europeans to go the city centre - which is very near to my previous guest house. In the guest house (where I stayed previously) there were rooms - so it was not a problem. The owner of the guest house has Ankylosing Spondylitis and I showed him some exercises  and told him not to skip them. I had dinner at the same place - where I had dinner last time i.e. on 12.8.12. I also had the same Pad Ki Pao. It was really delicious. Probably the best food I had in Laos.  It is a street food stall - very near to my guest house.    Surprisingly in this whole tour, I more or less survived on street food - but not a single gastronomical problem!! Just near our guest house - one can see some prostitutes waiting for clients on mopeds. I even saw one of them arguing with a falang or farang or firingi or foreigner (yes - both Thai and Lao, they use the same word, we use in India. It reminded me of Anthony Firingi for some reason!) and asking for money. When I was almost reaching my guest house, one of them wanted to chase me (thinking I am interested), but I somehow managed to give her a slip to go back to my guest house !!

For my article read

       Nong Khai, Thailand (8:00 am)

I left my guest house very early around 5.15 am and took bus no. 14 (by this time I know the bus number!) - which was on the way to Thai Lao border. Interestingly I was the only passenger, early in the morning!! The border is open at 6 am. The immigration office was open very early in the morning. I had to pay the visa fees again at Thailand immigration as Visa on Arrival (1000 THB) - since apparently there is no multiple visa. I had even talked about this in Thai Consulate office in Kolkata. So for nothing, I had to pay visa fees of 2000 1880 2280 (in Laos) (1 THB = 1.88 Re) i.e. a total of Rs 6160!! Anyway after I reached Nong Khai in Thailand, I started walking since the Tuk Tuk drivers were charging exorbitant rates. While walking I noticed that the railway station is only 5 minutes from the border.
Finally I took a Tuk tuk, which was moving slowly along the road. In fact this is the trick everywhere in Thailand or Laos. Most locals speak here both Thai and the local dialect called Isaan, which is closely related to both the Thai and Lao languages. In fact North East of Thailand was part of Laos and therefore the influence of Laos in Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Nong Khai is very strong in everything - be it cuisine or language or culture. The Thai alphabet is derived from the Old Khmer (Cambodia) script, which is a southern Brahmic or Indic style of writing called Vatteluttu. The Thai script uses a number of modifications to write Sanskrit and related languages (Pali). Pali is very closely related to Sanskrit. In Thailand, Pali is written using a slightly modified Thai script. A Pali text is written using the Thai Sanskrit orthography - araha sammā-sambuddho bhagavā. Written in modern Thai orthography, this becomes - arahang samma-samphuttho phakhawa! There is a similarity between Thai and Lao script. 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. As such Brahmi is the mother of all scripts from which the scripts of all modern Indian and South-East Asian languages have evolved. It was first seen in Emperor Ashoka's rock edicts dating to the 3rd century B.C. It is then one of the ancient world's alphabets - along with Greek, Phoenician and Aramaic. 
Anyway when I reached the bus station it was 8 am. I was told the next bus will leave for Khon Kaen at 9 am. So I had 1 hour free time. I wandered around the market nearby and took my breakfast. Buses to Khon Kaen go hourly and take 3.5 hours. It was a double decker AC Bus. I almost missed the bus, as I went to the toilet. Even explaining to people that I am going to the toilet is not easy in Thailand! I had to run to catch the moving bus!

       Saturday, August 18, 2012
       Khon Kaen (12:20 pm),Thailand

I reached Khon Kaen at around 12.20 pm. and the bus to King cobra village will leave at 12.45 pm and will take around 1.5 hours. With some difficulty I made people understand that I am going to King cobra village from Khon Kaen. In fact I had to draw a picture to make them understand! Luckily I found a person who knows the place. The bus as usual is world class - double decker AC! And the fare is really cheap. Normally buses leave from Khon Kaens ordinary bus terminal to Ban Khok Sa-Nga (40B) and then you walk or take a Túk-túk (50B) for the remaining 2 km to the stage. If youre driving from Khon Kaen, you cant miss it as there are many signs. But when I got down at bus stop, there was no bus or Tuk tuk in sight. So I have to walk 2 km + 1 km(inside the village to reach the main area) with my backpack and shantiniketani jhola!! While I was walking, luckily I saw a car coming and hitchhiked to reach my destination!!

       Ban Khok Sa Nga - King Cobra village (2:15 pm),Khon Kaen, Thailand

The village is to the northeast of Khon Kaen. The self-styled King Cobra Village of Ban Khok Sa-Nga in Sai Mun is famous for its strange pets, king cobras, kept at every house. Locals rear hundreds of these reptiles, and most houses have some in boxes under their houses. The strange custom began when a herb farmer Phu Yai Ken Yongla began putting on snake shows to attract customers to the village and the art of breeding and training snakes has been nurtured ever since. Today the King Cobra Club hosts short shows (donations expected; 8am-6pm) where handlers taunt snakes and tempt fate: they often lose, as the many missing fingers show. Medicinal herbs are still sold and other animals are on display in pitiful little cages. The villagers earned extra income by selling herbal medicines by travelling around villages.
In 1951, a local doctor, Ken Yongla, initiated a cobra show, which was successful to attract clients to the village. The villagers also travel around to organise snake shows and offer herbal medicine. After watching the snake show I bought some 'real snake'. The show was interesting. First it was fighting of cobra with seniors followed by fighting with juniors and lastly some python eating show - where the head of snake goes inside the mouth of the snake handler!! There I met an old man from Germany. He stays in Khon Kaen. He lost his job when he was 55. According to him it is very difficult to join a company at that age. He now gets pension and he also got compensation from the company. He moved to Thailand and married a Thai lady.
In Thailand (and also in Lao), only a Thai or Lao can own a business. So the business was owned by his Thai wife. As luck would have it, his Thai wife cheated him and left him with 2 million Thai Baht. So he is in real trouble and has not gone to Germany for last 6 years. He runs a website for supplying Thai girls for marriage to Germans, Austrian, and Americans!! This is his website:  He also said in Thailand woman is very industrious and their man is generally good for nothing! Everywhere you will see women and there are more women than men in Thailand. In fact he has come to this snake village in a jumbo with one of his clients. His client has already married a Thai lady and will leave for Germany shortly. He was kind enough to give me a lift near Khon Kaen.
Interestingly it was so remote that I was the only foreigner in that place. Normally we are used to foreigners going to remote places - where locals do not go. In this case it was different! On the way we went to a Wat. He was accompanied by his client and some Thai people. According to them you have to get down at this Wat to pay homage - when you are passing by this route.

       Khon Kaen for onward journey to Bangkok (4:45 pm),Thailand

I hitch hiked on a pick up car, but the problem started when I tried to tell him that I want to go to the bus station. He also picked up another girl, in spite of her initial resistance to board the car. I had to draw a picture to tell her that I want to go to the bus station. But even with the picture, there is no sign that she has understood what I was staying. She even called a friend and I could hear she was telling "falang" to her friend and whenever I am asking anything, they were laughing (LOL). In fact this is a standard feature everywhere in Laos and Thailand. I thought she will give the phone to me - so that I can talk to her friend - who, I thought, understands English. That was not the case. It was a bit scary.
So unless you are thick skinned and fearless - travelling is very stressful - just try to imagine, you are scared , because you are running out of time (Since Bangkok is almost 6.5 to 7 hours away and it was already 4.50 pm.) and somebody is laughing at you - without answering anything. The language barrier is so huge - travelling alone is a very big problem in Thailand. Whenever you ask anything the first reaction of people is, I don't know anything in sign language - without even bothering to listen what you are talking about. Even though you are probably talking about the name of a place only (where you want to go). Finally they dropped me at a bus station - where they said the bus will leave at 6.30 pm!! That means I will reach Bangkok after 1 pm and then another taxi to reach my destination. But I knew the buses to Bangkok leave every half hour. But how can I explain that to them? Finally I met a lady in the bus station - who speaks American accented English (it is like somebody speaking fluent French in Calcutta!). What a relief!
She told me to catch a Tuk Tuk to the air conditioned terminal. Luckily I got a Tuk tuk without any problem and bought a bus ticket to go to Bangkok (actually Rang sit) by paying 470 Thai Baht. The bus left at 5.30 pm. They were serving free lunch along with that. After lot of effort I understood that the food is complimentary! They gave me a bottle of water - rice and red curry, two cakes and wafer. I have never travelled in a double decker AC bus like that. There is a LCD monitor with every seat - with various options - like documentary, movies, music, and cartoon. I watched a documentary on Egypt. When I used the touch screen to play, music came from the back of the seat! Then suddenly massaging of my back started with pressing of a button. There is a bathroom too! How much I got with only 470 THB, along with food. If one considers the exchange rate (ignoring the abnormal exchange rate of this year i.e. 1.88) of last year then it is 470 X 1.60. It comes to around Rs 750 and the distance is 350 Km. I am highly impressed. The roads are excellent and made of concrete mostly and not even mastic asphalt.

       Village Pruksa ,Thanyaburi,Putam Thani, Thailand (12:00 pm)

Even without going to Bangkok, I can safely say at per capita income of 5400 US$, they are in a different league. Also keep in mind that with better language skills (BPO would have gone there instead of Philippines and Vietnam) they would have given other developed countries a run for their money. I think we Indians should be ashamed of ourselves. We were in a similar position even a few decades back. But with such a level corruption we are no doubt a failed nation. The country's official name was Siam until 1939, when it was changed to Thailand. It was again renamed Siam from 1945 to 1949, after which it was once again renamed Thailand. Also spelled Siem, Syâm or Syâma, it has been identified with the Sanskrit Śyâma (meaning dark or brown). Interestingly Thai script is quite similar to Devnagari script. E.g. Ratcha in Thai actually means Raja! Ratcha Anachak Thai means Kingdom of Thailand.

I reached Future Park, Rang sit at around 11.40 pm. Then took a metred taxi - 'Tax- Meter' from Major Cineplex to reach my Thai friend's (Sa) house  and paid 95 THB. I felt very bad - since it was so late. But she was watching TV. In Thailand, the minimum Taxi fare is 35 THB. Future Park is a very important landmark on the main highway. Buses continuously ply between Bangkok to Rang sit in 1 hour. We chatted for some time and then I went off to sleep.

Sunday, August 19, 2012
       Future Park Rang-Sit Store,Thailand

I chatted with my friend for some time and then left at around 10.30 am, taking some important input from her on how to go to Bangkok and Ayutthaya. Today my plan is to go to Ayutthaya or Ayodhya or Ajodhha. Yes, it is named after our very own Ayodhya in India. In the morning I had breakfast in a make shift restaurant, beside one of the numerous canals.
The food was cheap (35 THB) - kind of fried rice - but I had no clue, whether it is chicken or pork or beef, because in the menu card it is written like this Fried Rice- chicken, pork, beef. Now the person to whom you are pointing out item no. 23 (say), does not know which one you are talking about, since they most likely dont understand English (beside English, it is also written in Thai). The way pieces are cut - it is difficult to understand whether it is chicken or pork or beef.
You should know chicken is Gai and Pork is Mu - if you are really careful not to eat Mu! Although it is a street side stall, they wear aprons, use forks or Tongs and at the end of the meal they will give you crushed ice with a pipe, so that you can pour water in the cup and there is a napkin on the table without fail. The sense of hygiene I have seen in Laos or Thai is simply no match to Indians. Pruksa is a so called village - where you pour coins in an ATM machine to get mineral water. I could not see a single tube well during my whole journey. Similarly you can do your washing with the help of 'public' washing machine. So you do not need a maid to do it or you dont need to own a washing machine! All the houses look similar in the village. It is almost like a condominium.
Since roads are excellent - people can stay far away from Bangkok, thus reducing the real estate pressure on the city - they can easily commute with excellent, cheap air-conditioned transportation system. To go to Ayutthaya, I need to go to Future Park Rungs it (which is like Dhaula Kuan of Delhi or Taratala of Kolkata) by bus no. 187 (the bus is just like air conditioned Volvo bus of Kolkata/India). What is the bus fare for this distance of 10-12 Km (I think) - only 14 Baht! This is the bus which connects main highway with village. There are numerous buses to go to Ayutthaya. I took a minivan (Toyota). Needless to say they are all air conditioned.

       Ayutthaya, Thailand (7:30 am),Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya, Thailand

I reached the city in less than an hour. Ayutthaya is an ancient capital and modern city in the Central Plains of Thailand, 85 km north of Bangkok. Founded around 1350, Ayutthaya became the second capital of Thailand after Sukhothai. Throughout the centuries, the ideal location between China, India and the Malay Archipelago made Ayutthaya the trading capital of Asia and even the world. By 1700 Ayutthaya had become the largest city in the world with a total of 10 lakh (1 million) inhabitants. Many international merchants set sail for Ayutthaya, from diverse regions as the Arab world, China, India, Japan, Portugal, the Netherlands and France. Merchants from Europe proclaimed Ayutthaya as the finest city they had ever seen. All this came to a quick end when the Burmese invaded Ayutthaya in 1767 and almost completely burnt the city down to the ground. Today, only a few remains might give a glimpse of the impressive city they must have seen and boasts numerous magnificent ruins.
The great cultural value of Ayutthayas ruins was officially recognized in 1991, when the Historic City became an UNESCO World heritage site. I decided to see the important ones only on the island. Ayutthaya is an island at the confluence of three rivers: the Chao Phraya River, the Lopburi River and the Pa Sak River. As you start walking by the road Nare-suan, from the bus station, the first Wat you will see is Wat Rat-burana. Since it not a very important Wat, I saw the temple from outside (quite easily visible from outside and saved 50 Baht!) like some European tourists!
Then I went to the important temple, Wat Phra Maha-that on Nare-suan Rd (Across the road from Wat Rat-burana). A large temple that was quite thoroughly ransacked by the Burmese. Several Leaning Prangs of Ayutthaya are still feebly defying gravity though, and the rows of headless Buddhas are visible. This is also where you can spot the famous tree that has grown around a Buddha head. Entry fee is Thai Baht 50. I met some Bangladeshis and chatted for some time. From their features I guessed correctly that they are from Chittagong, once I knew they are from Bangladesh. I saw some Indians too. In the whole of Laos, I did not see a single visitor from India.

       Wat Phra Si Sanphet,Pratu Chai, Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya, 13000, Thailand

The next one is Wat Phra Si Sanphet (Entry fee 50 Baht), The largest temple in Ayutthaya, known for its distinctive row of restored chedis (Thai-style stupas) found on many images of the city. Housed within the grounds of the former royal palace, the temple was used only for royal religious ceremonies. It once housed a 16-metre Buddha covered with 340 kg of gold, but the Burmese set fire to the statue to melt the gold and destroyed the temple in the process. The royal palace can also be accessed from the same entrance at Wat Phra Si Sanphet. Viharn Phra Mongkol Bopit (Next to Wat Phra Si Sanphet): An impressive building that houses a large bronze cast Buddha image. It was originally enshrined outside the Grand Palace to the east, but it was later transferred to the current location. During the second fall of Ayutthaya, the building and the image were badly destroyed by fire. The building currently seen was renovated but does not have as beautiful craftsmanship as the previous ones. There is no entry fee. While walking towards the bus station I could see people riding on elephants! Then I took a bus to go to Chatu-chak market, Bangkok (after making a break journey at the bus station at Bangkok).

       Chatu-chak Weekend Market, Thailand,Bangkok

When I reached this market it was already 6.45 pm. It is normally open only on Saturday and Sunday and closes at 6 pm .But when I reached it was still open, but many shops were closing. It is called the mother of all markets. Actually it is open on weekdays also, but there are only permanent shops. In the weekends, the Chatu-chak Weekend Market with its 8,000 stalls together form the largest market in the world. Shoppers can buy just about everything from clothing to potted plants and everything in between it is a paradise for browsers and bargain-hunters alike. A weekday alternative is Pratunam, one of the city's renowned garment markets. At Pantip Plaza you can buy computer-related stuff from branded laptops to pirated DVDs. After roaming around aimlessly I saw everything from pet shop to lamp shop to garment shop to agarbati shops...everything. It was indeed an experience! I had my dinner there, in one of the numerous food stalls. I had chicken red curry.

       Pruksa , Thanyaburi,Putam Thani, Thailand

It was also raining. So that made things little difficult. Anyway I got a bus at 8.30pm to reach my friends house in 1.5 hours time.

Monday, August 20, 2012
       Pruksa , Thanyaburi,Putam Thani, Thailand

Today, being a working day my friend left early in the morning, giving me the key of the house to me. She told me to have jok in the breakfast! So I went to the nearby market to have Jok! It is nothing but our Fena bhat or Jau Bhat mixed with pork, beef and chicken. I liked it quite a lot.  I also wandered around the market clicking many pictures. On the way back I saw a boxing ring - where young Thais were practising Muay Thai - (kick boxing) national sport of Thailand. Like yesterday, I took the bus to go to Future Park, Rang sit after having a heavy breakfast.

       Nonthaburi,Chao phraya river, Thailand

I took a bus to go to Nontha-buri pier to start the river cruise. (THB 25). It is not very far from Rangsit. My idea is to go from Nontha-buri pier to the pier near Royal Orchid Sheraton Hotel. According to blogger Lash - hopping on a ferry from ferrys northern terminus at Nontha-buri to near Royal Orchid Sheraton Hotel, youll get to see almost the entire length of Chao Phrayas course through Bangkok. En route youll pass many of Bangkoks most famous and impressive temples including Wat Arun, the Royal Palace and Wat Po. Youll watch locals living along the river in rickety shacks and cement apartment buildings going about their daily lives including swimming, bathing and washing clothes in the river. Youll share the ferry with Thai professionals, students, families and even Thai monks dressed in saffron robes, carrying their satchels and begging bowls.
The boats designate special sections for Monks to ride. The whole ferry experience is quite intriguing. Watching ferries arrive, dock, discharge and pick up passengers is fascinating. Getting on and off the ferries yourself is another adventure. Even buying tickets is an unusual experience.
Find full ferry schedules, prices and options at the aforementioned website. 

While traveling, I befriended a lady who sat beside me. She was wearing lot of bangles. I had difficulty in understanding the pier by which I am passing by. She explained to me in my map - the exact location and also informed me about important landmarks on the way. Surprising she speaks perfect English - which is very very rare. It turned out that her father is an Indian (lives in Saket, New Delhi) and mother is a Thai lady! She understands Hindi.

       Hindu Temple, Silom, Bang Rak, Bangkok, Thailand

And today being her off day, she is going to an Indian temple!! I was surprised that there is an Indian temple in Thailand. I asked her if I can accompany her to the temple, since she was getting down at a pier, just before the Royal Orchid Sheraton Hotel. She gladly accepted my offer. I went to the temple in Silom (South Indian style) with her by a taxi, where her boyfriend was waiting. He is an Indian from Jalandhar and he has come here 6 months back to help his brother. His father is Indian and mother is Pakistani. They own 2 Indian restaurants. He speaks only Hindi! He also prayed few seconds with her - apparently to make her happy!! His name is Amin Iqbal! They requested me to have lunch with them. Since I had other plans, I declined their proposal. And promised them, that next time I come here, I will surely dine at their restaurant.

Khao San Road and other parts of Bangkok, Thailand
Thanon Khao San, Banglampoo

Now, I decided to go to Khao San Road - the famous backpackers area of Bangkok for lunch. In the bus I met a guy who was half Thai, half Chinese. He was also going to Khao San Road. In fact he owns a restaurant there. So I accompanied him to the restaurant and had lunch there. From his posture, I could make out he has Ankylosing Spondylitis and he has not been told to do the exercises. So he took me to his house and I showed him what to do and told him not to skip the exercises. He took almost 25 pictures to capture the exercises to be done. He profusely thanked me and took me to the shop once again to introduce me to his brother and sister. His name is Prasert Chanvittayakul.  So I now have a new friend in Thailand. I told him next time I come, I will see whether you are doing the exercises or not!

       Grand Palace
Thanon Na Phra Lan, Phra Borom Maha Ratchawang, Phra Nakhon, Bangkok, Thailand

The Grand Palace is not far from Khao San road. So I went to see the place on a walking tour. The entry fee of the palace is 350 THB. When I reached there it was already too late. Had I not spent some time with Mr Prasert, I probably would have been in time. But I do not regret that. Friendship is much more important than a Grand Palace. But one can easily see the grand palace from outside and walk around the palace and see it from different angles. According to the blogger Lash - Bangkoks Royal Palace and several major temples charge highly inflated hefty admission fees to western tourists. Other temples charge a more reasonable 20- 50BHT admission. If youre a temple aficionado or budget traveller, even those small fees can add up.
Luckily, many beautiful and unusual Bangkok temples are free. Some of my favourites are Wat Ratcha-bophit and Wat Ratcha-pradit near the Royal Palace. ...Wat Bowoniwet along the river in Banglamphu and Wat Chana Songkran near Khao San Rd are free. Her advice was amazing to say the least and I saw these temples on her advice and saved some money for my next tour to Vietnam and those temples are equally stunning to say the least!

       Chinatown, Thailand

Now I planned to go the China Town near Hua Lamphong. I took bus number 1 to reach there. I had some Hunanese chicken at the street side stall. I roamed around China Town to see the interesting food people are eating - sea shell, shark fins - what not?

       Little India - Phahurat, Wang Burapha Phirom, Phra Nakhon, Bangkok
Phahurat, Wang Burapha Phirom, Phra Nakhon, Bangkok, Thailand

Then I went to the little India - Pahurat, which is near China town. There I met a Pakistani - he is 68 and he used to work in Pakistan airlines. This is his 83rd time in Bangkok and he has travelled the length and breadth of Thailand. He is very fond of Thai people. He is very liberal and he says cause of all tension between two countries is the clergyman! Be it Indian clergyman or Pakistani clergyman. He claims he is an Indian, because he was born in 1944!
As you travel across the globe, more and more of your belief in mankind gets pronounced. He took his time to show me around Pahurat - I saw many Indians there and many shops- even a Bangladeshi shop and a Gurudwara. It was time for me to say good bye and he guided me perfectly as to how to reach Rang sit from there. After coming back to Pruksa, today I had dinner with my friend at a roadside stall, since it was late and no other restaurants were open.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012
       Pruksa , Thanyaburi,Putam Thani, Thailand

Today I left at 6.40 am from Future Park Rag sit by minivan to reach the airport comfortably. The first van leaves at 4.30 am. It was very comfortable, fast and super cheap!

       Suvarnabhumi International Airport (10:35 am)

Chronological order