From Penang I headed toward the beautiful beaches of Thailand. Among the numerous destinations I have chosen the less traveled Krabi. The trip by minibus took 8 hours. But it required a few hours of layover in the border city Hat Yai.
While I was waiting in Hat Yai, I ran into a spiritual possession ceremony. Young men from a congregation were dancing and cutting themselves on the street, perhaps to show that they are possessed by spirit. They cut their tongues with things like knifes, choppers, swords, axes or even a saw. They really got themselves bleeding badly. Their blood was used to stain some small flags, which were sold as a charm to the onlookers. I found the scene very gruesome.
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I arrived in Krabi in the evening. It is a pleasant small town. The night market on the waterfront offers fantastic food. Otherwise it is only used as the jump off point to beaches and islands nearby. I have gone to the Railey beach 40 minutes away by boat. It has beautiful beaches, reasonably priced bungalow and not too many tourists. I spent a lot of time swimming and sunbathing. When I was not on the beach, I would relax in one of many seafront restaurants doing some reading or writing.
Railey beach is surrounded by many limestone cliffs. Rock climbing is a favorite activity. For non-climber like me I have found that some rocks can be reached by a trail. Unlike other hiking trails this one involves a lot of climbing, sometimes with the assistance of a rope. Once I reached the forested top it was very rewarding. I was alone to experience the exotic ecology up there. There is a valley amid the rocks that leads to a green lagoon. I did not stay for long though because the mosquitoes have basically driven me away.
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So far I have found traveling alone is anything but lonely. On the contrary traveling solo is actually very socializing. You automatically have to open up to everyone, whether it is to other fellow travelers, your host or locals. I found the socialization is often the most rewarding experience in a trip. Nevertheless, this does not work equally well everywhere. Here on the beach most people were probably vacationing with someone already. There wasn't any good place to met people either. I have spent the time mostly with myself.
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From Krabi I took an overnight train to Bangkok. I am rather fond of trains and I would use it whenever feasible. In this case it was a little bit complicated. Because Krabi is not on the train line, it took a combination of boat, pickup truck, big bus and minibus for me to get to the train station. Not only is it not convenient, it also gave me a lot of stress worrying about if I can meet the departure time. I also felt extra helpless when waiting for connections in unfamiliar place since I cannot speak the language. Unfortunately I have already purchased the train ticket while I was in Hat Yai. Had I know that there are travel agent here who can arrange train tickets and the connection I would have spent a little more for the convenience. In any case, I managed to arrive at the train station well ahead of time. From there it was a smooth journey to Bangkok.
In Bangkok I was hosted by my friend Fredrick. He was on an assignment to Bangkok. I was staying in his hotel which is a few notches up from the budget accommodations that I used to go to. I postponed sightseeing for a day and indulged in the comfort of big hotel, swimming pool and air conditioning.
The best sight in Bangkok is no doubt the Wat Phra Kaew and the Grand Palace. The royal temples are truly magnificent. Perhaps that is why the place is so flooded with tourists. The national museum is also very interesting. It is so large that I have to be selective there.
So far Bangkok was the place I liked the least. Smothering heat, heavy traffic and air pollution has dampened my spirit. The constant bargaining for all things from shopping to taking tuk-tuk or even bargaining for 'Metered taxi' wore me down. I felt all this was done to rip off tourists. I was approached by two con artists on the street in a single day. One pretended to be friendly. He told me the place I was going to is closed (not true) and tried to divert me to another place, probably a tourist trap to make shopping money. I wasn't duped. But all that did not leave me with a good experience.
I really couldn't wait to leave for the next stop, Ayuthaya, the former capital of Thailand. Though I have to make a costly goof first. Thailand's railway has a great computer booking system. I purchased the ticket of the first train to Ayuthaya for about 100 baht. Then I found out the computer only sell tickets for long distance express train. Ayuthaya is only 1.5 hour away and is served by frequent commuter train. The price? 15 baht! Indeed there was one leaving in just a few minutes. I discarded my 100B ticket and jumped on the commuter train instead.
Once the glorious capital of Thailand, Ayuthaya was left in ruin after sacked by Burmese 200 years ago. Today it is a small city outside of Bangkok. Half of the city is designated as parks and historical ruins. I rented a bike to go around and visited a few ruins. There were very few tourists in the morning. I sat alone in those deserted temple, imagining what it is like if they have not been restored and still covered by overgrown.
It rained heavily in the afternoon while I was biking. I was soaking wet. But the worst was that things inside my backpack, including my camera and my notebook, also get wet. After that I learn to waterproof everything vulnerable with plastic bags.
Thailand was so infested with mosquitoes. The next day when I left Ayuthaya by an overnight train, I arrived at the station one hour early. I thought I should do something rather than being a stationary mosquito target. So I sat inside the waiting room. I reasoned that with 30 people inside, the chance that me getting bitten is ... splash ... Before I could finish one sentence, I have already killed one mosquito on my lap. I looked around. Everybody was doing the same thing, waving and beating mosquitoes!
Thailand's rail line terminates at Nong Khai, a border town on the Mekong River. It is the gateway to the Laotian capital of Vientiane.
The town itself does not have many tourist attractions. I have visited the Sala Kaew Ku, a sculpture garden of an eccentric Laotian artist. He has combined the Buddhism, Hinduism and Western images into his giant sculptures. I found his work really weird. The fact that he used reinforced concrete as material also makes it hard for me to appreciate.
The guesthouse I have stayed has a nice garden restaurant overlooking Mekong and Laos. People going to or coming from Laos often make a stopover there. It was a great place to relax and meet people. I spent much time chatting and playing games.
Nong Khai is also the place where you can 'buy' a Laos visa through some agents. On October 1st, I crossed the Friendship Bridge into Laos. This marked the second month of my journey.
2006.12.30 comments -