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My Travel Story: Thailand tour diary-1996.
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  1. #1
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    Thailand tour diary-1996.

    Edited from a diary I kept on my first return to Thailand since visiting the country in 1982 as a "research assistant" (read "go for" !) as part of a University research team. Did not get to see much of the country then. Decided to travel on this trip in some comfort and luxury-I felt had paid my back-packer dues over the previous decades going so far as India & Nepal overland.
    My compact camera broke just before departure-should have spent more on the replacement or humped my heavy SLR kit around. The resulting photos were not well developed and have further suffered in scanning



    25/26 Jan 1996.

    Caught flight from Heathrow. No problems. First time I have flown “Thai”-impressed with the free drinks and service. Food tolerable as well.

    Arrived Bangkok Don Muang 06:20 hrs. Met at airport by rep, Tum, who, it transpires, has not only been to England but spent time in nearby Oxford while learning English.
    Minibus to hotel-traffic makes London's look like a country town-could even see queues of vehicle head lights as we came into land in the dark at the airport.

    (This is my first real visit to Bangkok.
    When previously here in 1982 on a university research project, the time which was meant to be spent in Bangkok on arrival was all lost due to a long and unscheduled delay when changing planes en-route, meaning we had to immediately depart to the north on arrival . I was not well at the end of our time in Thailand and spent the day in Bangkok prior to departure back to the UK laying down in a hotel room!)

    Bangkok appears to be a city in crisis. Too many people, too many cars etc belching out visible fumes. Small tumble down houses line the route from the airport- some of the spaces under fly-overs have shacks made out of anything and everything. Lots of building of high rise office blocks under construction. One site we pass has the incongrous sight of a woman labourer dressed in blue suit with straw hat and a pole over her shoulder with a container at each end in the shadow of a very tall modern office block/condominium swathed with bamboo scaffolding.
    Pass by many equally large completed blocks-and note they are totally empty.
    (This was before the big economic crash of 1997-some of the buildings under construction then have never been completed!
    http://www.thailandqa.com/forum/show...73-Ghost-Condo )

    Hotel is OK, room nothing great, lot of light lost by the construction of concrete support outside the window which I later found out is for an overhead railway system which is currently being built across Bangkok (now the BRT)
    Went out to bank to change some money, after a wash & change of clothes. High humidity hit me like a brick as did the noise, smells and dust. Pavements in a bad state of repair, manhole covers often missing, which, someone tells me later, are a sometimes fatal trap for the unwary in areas near the river that flood.
    Got overpaid by the bank without realising it! Had left and was pursued by the anxious cashier who had overpaid me by THB1363. Back to the bank to be gently relieved of said sum.
    Go for a walk around the area near the hotel. My senses are immediately assaulted on turning onto a main thoroughfare.
    The pavements are crowded-and often totally blocked by-food stalls-some with tables and chairs!-key cutters, shoe repairers, seamstresses etc-many wearing masks against the pollution which hangs in a smelly eye stinging perpetual mist. I quite like this novelty, even though it makes progress difficult. Mopeds dart from all directions like angry insects-like Amsterdam, the pavement is always an option for such. Growling Tuk-tuks-3 wheel taxis- pass to and fro at breakneck speed, weaving in and out of slower moving traffic-of which there is plenty-often belching large clouds of black smoke-along with the occasional bus- as they go, sometimes loaded with packages rather than passengers-their speed contributing to making crossing the smallest road risky, and their noise to the cacophony of conversations, car horns and traffic police whistles.
    Some of these larger roads have the faint remainder of what may have been at one time the painted rectangles of pedestrian road crossings at intervals. But I do not see anyone using them as such, rather the method seems to be to say a prayer and sprint across at an opportune moment .
    You really have to keep focussed as a pedestrian in Bangkok!

    Back to the hotel for a shower and some sleep. Go out again the evening as the sun is setting .
    A little cooler and the streets have changed as well.
    Pass down a street with empty market stalls one side, rubbish strewn everywhere in piles or just scattered over the road and pavement. See a dead rat in the gutter.
    The pavement businesses have packed up to be replaced by more,and often more elaborate, impromptu open air restaurants, sets of white plastic tables and chairs covered by a roof of tarpaulin, waiter service etc.
    Mini markets of a one or two stalls selling fruit, meat and fish etc, have also appeared in some of the streets, lit from cables that snake underfoot, another hazard for the unfocussed pedestrian in the electric blue of the early tropical night.
    Other streets are, in comparison, almost eerily dark and quiet. Smells of food, and smoke of the charcoal braziers it is sometimes cooked on, are constant. Watched a man drag a huge block of ice along the pavement with large tongs and disappear through the back-door of what I presume to be a bar.
    There was even a baby elephant in one street with small shops-open, of course- with its owner selling what I imagine are lottery tickets. Lots of Thais touching the little pachyderm- for luck presumably. Lots of beggars around and flower sellers, mostly children. The noise and smell of the traffic and the crowds of people, however, remain constant from the afternoon.
    Wandered down the big crowded night market on Patpong- dodging the girly-bar touts- fake designer clothes, fake watches, bootleg cassette tapes and videos on sale mostly. Anything real here?!
    Return to hotel for early night as I have a tour booked which departs early next morning.
    Not overly impressed with Bangkok so far.


    27 Jan 1996

    A better day, though very little sleep all night as body still on GMT.
    Visited 3 Wats this morning, most impressive of which was the huge Wat Bo, a calm oasis in the middle of a very noisy and busy city.

    Thankfully our small group is not route marched around the Wat, after being shown the huge reclining Buddha, we are left to our own devices for an hour.
    stumble across the traditional massage school, and get captured by a small group of very serious and very polite schoolgirls aged around 11-12, doing a tourist survey with the rest of their class. I am rapidly interrogated in English as to my opinions on Bangkok and Thailand.

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    Wat Po Massage school (Click photo to enlarge)

    I answer all questions as positively as I can with my little knowledge. After my interrogation and polite thanks, my captors sprint triumphantly with the sheet of paper with my answers on to their teacher. Having handed it in they immediately go on the prowl for their next victim. Obviously there is a competition-and possibly a prize.
    Find my new camera refuses to work. hopefully it is only the batteries.

    Later we were taken on a tour around a large gem cutting factory and showroom-interesting to see gems cut by eye on a diamond wheel without even so much as a magnifying glass to help. Lots of expensive jewellery to buy, of course. I manage to avoid the mandatory after tour sales assistant attack and get rewarded with a free soft drink while waiting for my less fortunate tour companions

    As the tour group was small and as I was the only one from my hotel I got a taxi back with Tum the guide. It took a long time to get back as the traffic was very heavy. We had a good long talk about Thailand, Buddhism, Tourism and about the good and bad bits about her job. I wrote down a few English words at her request and explained words like “Command”.
    She in turn taught me a little Thai.
    Saw a taxi and a Tuk-Tuk which had collided with each other-both drivers perfectly calm about the situation-if that had happened in the UK there would more likely have been raised voices and waving arms at the very least.

    Spent some of the late afternoon in nearby Lumpini Park-it was nice to get off the street and into the shade of the trees- where I get involved in helping a Thai hotel night security guard with his English to prepare for a promotion interview with his boss-he wants a day job as porter. His English is not good. He is from Isaan-the rural east of the country, knowing what I know of rural Thailand, he must find Bangkok as bewildering as I do.

    Returned to the hotel to get caught up in part of a Japanese wedding-The lobby was full of people-probably guests at such, I headed for the lift after collecting my key and was joined in the lift by the bride in her white wedding dress and the groom in his powder blue suit together with what I presume were both sets of parents. Stupidly, perhaps, I felt I was intruding and got off at the next floor to give them the lift to themselves.

    Managed to get the camera working after digging out a spare set of batteries from luggage. Huge relief-but odd as the others were relatively new.
    Met Tum at 19:00 to sort out airport transfer details tomorrow. Late flight to Chiang Rai. Can't wait to get back up north.
    Forgettable meal in hotel, another walk around the streets and bed out of boredom
    3-4 hours sleep-then wide awake at 3:30AM. Got dressed and went down stairs.
    Bar packed with young thais. Had a chicken sandwich-came with side salad and crisps for some reason- and a coffee. Waiter fascinated I rolled my own cigarettes (Have since given up smoking!)

    Back to bed at 6AM

    More soon
    Last edited by Khun Don; 27-03-11 at 10:33 PM.

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  3. #2
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    Re: Thailand tour diary-1996.

    28 Jan 1996.

    Felt ill most of the morning-from the symptoms I think it is the pollution.
    Check-out 13:15.Glad to be gone. Wish I had booked less time in Bangkok before departure back to UK, but there it is.

    16:00 Flight to Chiang Rai-one hour or so and to a different world with green, hills and palm trees! Remembered the long train and bus and train journey up from Bangkok in '82

    Met Rep “Tik-Tok”(!)After a wait, during which I took the opportunity to book a day trip for tomorrow, departed on the drive to Baan Boran under an hour. Sat in the front of the van -a Toyota Land Cruiser- with the driver-left rear of van to 4 chattering French passengers. Had a nice chat with the driver who has been learning English via BBC World Service and a dictionary. Soon out of Chiang Rai-roads are a lot better than I remember in '82, more mopeds and pick-ups too-obvious signs of improved affluence. Lots of open on all sides wooden shops selling lord knows what in the city suburbs. Occasional brick built shops, including one with a big English sign ”Num U Supper Makket”
    Lots of lorries loaded with rice heading into the city and small rice straw ricks in the fields
    And lots of mosquitoes in the van-driver and I swatting them-since found out I have been bitten around ankles.
    Thankfully have started a course of antimalarials prior to leaving UK and kept it up.

    Darkness fell and we were for the greater part, in unlit, save for the moon, open countryside. After about 25 minutes the horizon lit up ahead-it was on fire. Within minutes we were passing grass road side verges that were aflame on both sides. It was very surreal and even enough to stop the incessant chattering of the French in the back, visually, as we went through it I thought it was like something out of “Apocalypse Now”-an all time favourite film. It seemed farmers had been burning the rice stubble in their fields and the fires had got out of control. We shot through without stopping and were quickly back into the relative darkness once again.
    We pass through Chiang Saen and see the Mekong twinkling in the moonlight,
    through Sop Ruak and past souvenir stalls lit up with multi-coloured fairy lights, at the “Golden Triangle” monument, finally to do a right turn off the road onto a drive waya minute or so later.

    We arrive at the hotel, which, a bright beacon in the dark, it is impressive, a subtle blending of Thai and alternative architecture, sumptuous and very grand without being overstated. (Sadly I have no photos of the hotel, which has since been taken over and re-designed as a very expensive spa hotel.)
    Check in seemed to go on forever, too much info and a long conducted tour of the many facilities before getting the room key. I am still feeling a little unwell as well as tired. Room, however, worth the wait. In a quiet part of the hotel with a balcony opening out over the jungle-and I discover next morning, the Mekong in the near distance. The only sound outside in the darkness is crickets.
    I go in search of food and detour into the gift shop, buy postcards and a couple of useful books. Having eaten something, return to my room for a long relaxing bath while listening to traditional hill tribe music on the hotel radio.
    TV is full of rubbish.


    29 January 1996

    After a bad night-woke up with sinus pain and headache-got up just before 7 AM feeling better. Ordered breakfast, which I ate on the wonderful balcony, the tranquillity only disturbed by a few natural sounds from the jungle stretching out below, and what sounded like chain saws in the distance, but in reality were probably long tail boats charging up and down the Mekong.

    A very good day. The day trip first took the three of us-myself and a similarly aged couple from a hotel in Chiang Rai-on a short trip on the Mekong in a low slung long tail boat, small cushions on the bottom of the boat for seats. This is my first close encounter with the Mekong, it is a big grey very slow running river-least where I was-if it is like this for all of its long meandering to the sea, no wonder”Charlie don't surf”! Up and down the main channel to the spit of sand that REALLY is the Golden Triangle, and across to the Laotian side where there was a lone fisherman.

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    Then by road to Chiang Rai to a 700 year old Wat (name eludes me now-can't remember much about it!)
    After a short time departed for the 30 or so kilometre drive to the mountain Wat of Phra Doi Tung

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    Stunning views from the mountain side Wat terrace here-though a bit hazy today. Many important Wats are associated with the Chinese Horoscope. Wat Doi Tung is associated with my own Chinese sign, consequently I bought a small china pig from a nearby stall selling this and other china Chinese horoscope animals.

    On to a nearby Akha village-not of much interest to me as I had seen such before-but the visit to the school was.
    Very basic school with 1 teacher and an assistant -but great children. Sadly their play area was very small-and fell away down a bank covered with rubbish-including leaking torch batteries-and-more alarmingly-strips of pharmacy tablets, some with tablets still in. The children enjoyed having group photos taken, for which we gave them B50 for some sweets-which they immediately took to their teacher.

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    Off to to the late Queen Mother's residence. She died last August and will be cremated next month, her body meanwhile being preserved and laying in state.
    Our guide tells us she was a special lady and much loved by all Thais and the hill peoples for her good works among the poor. ( I have since found out that “special lady” is an understatement-more on this extraordinary lady)
    Sadly the house-which reminded me of a Swiss chalet- was not open to visitors -but the gardens were nice.

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    From here we went to Mae Sai,stopping en-route to buy some organic strawberries being sold by the roadside. Strawberries were introduced to Thailand after the late Queen mother was given some when visiting Wimbledon for the tennis during a UK visit. HM King introduced them as a cash crop in the North as an alternative to Opium cultivation.

    Passing through a village we stopped to let a funeral procession pass in front of us. The body was being taken to the local Wat on a tented palanquin with walls and roof of white cloth being carried by four men.

    Mae Sai. Fried chicken 7 yellow rice for lunch in a street restaurant . Very nice.
    On to jade cutting factory in the town-the craftsmanship-the PRICES!! Hundreds of pounds for the smallest of items.
    Mae Sai is a ramshackle, dusty border town over-run with Burmese beggars. Lots of women and babies-and packs of feral children who are persistent and follow you around -only stopping intermittently to pick up stuff on display from outside shops and be chased off by shopkeepers.
    Similarly there were children in traditional costume constantly hassling to pose for photographs at B50 or more per picture.
    Lots of market stalls selling everything under the sun, pots & pans, clothes, meat-some obviously lizards and frogs- vegetables etc.
    The border itself has been closed for the last 6 months-a common occurrence as Thailand & Burma-I refuse to acknowledge it as “Myanmar”-are always falling out with one another. There is a long, often violent,history -over 300 years -between the two.

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    Trade, however continues by other means. Packs of 200 European & American cigarettes are thrown across one of the small muddy rivers dividing the two countries from the Burmese side and hawked around the town to tourists. I was later told by one of the guests at my hotel that only 10% of these packs actually contain cigarettes.
    It was a relief to leave here and within an hour be returned to the hotel.

    Later, before sunset, I went from the hotel down to Sop Ruak-a matter of a pleasant 10 minute walk down a quiet road-where there are many cafés overlooking the Mekong, and souvenir stalls cashing in on the “Golden Triangle”. Bought a T-shirt and some postcards from such and had a drink at a rustic, leaf roofed café on a hill overlooking the river and some moored long-tail boats.

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    After dinner at the hotel I went to a welcome cocktail party. I spent some time with the hotel's training manager, who is English-maybe explains why the hotel staff unusually do not speak English laced with Americanisms-as I have discovered elsewhere.
    I have arranged to plant a tree in the hotel grounds tomorrow-an activity the hotel offers. Normally they also offer Elephant rides as well from the elephant camp across the road from the main entrance, but this not available at the moment. Word is, I am told by another more long term guest, the last mahout has been sacked within the last day or so for being perpetually drunk and has departed to pastures new with his elephant.

    More Soon
    Last edited by Khun Don; 28-03-11 at 08:26 PM.

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  5. #3
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    Re: Thailand tour diary-1996.

    Thanks for posting this. It will be interesting to compare the "then and now" pictures. Maybe some forum members have some recent pictures to match yours.

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  7. #4
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    Re: Thailand tour diary-1996.

    Thanks. Those were my thoughts-I was comparing your pics with mine when you were in the Chiang Saen/Mae Sai area last week. It would be great to see some other more modern pictures .

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    Re: Thailand tour diary-1996.

    Those thoughts crossed my mind too when I was looking at those pics from about 15 years ago - certainly one of the highlights of your travel account!
    Sleep, little one, close your eyes, mother will sing you a lullaby... Sleep in a jewel cradle, sleep, mother will rock you.
    If you don't sleep the midges will go for your eyes and pollen will fall on the cradle....Sleep, close your eyes...
    - Isaan folksong, from "The Price of a Life" (Onkom, 1997)

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    Re: Thailand tour diary-1996.

    Kudos and keep up with the good work, Khun Don..
    Franklin D. Roosevelt - The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.

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    Re: Thailand tour diary-1996.

    30 January 1996.

    Got up at 6AM and watched the sun rise. Nothing booked tour wise today. After breakfast, followed a track from the edge of the grounds into the Jungle for an hour or so, taking a few photos.

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    Still not happy with the camera, which was bought at the last moment after my old “Minolta” failed-wish I had spent more.
    Planted my tree at 9AM and then spent some time walking around the grounds taking the odd photo.

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    Magnificent view over the Mekong from top of a steep hill in the grounds used for barbecues.

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    Caught the hotel shuttle to Chiang Saen, a sleepy one horse town stretching back from the main road to Mae Sai with the Mekong running parallel to it for a mile or so. Watched the gemstone dealer market that was taking place in one of the back streets before discovering an old beautiful partially ruined Wat. So tranquil and peaceful, surrounded by trees and deserted except for one or two stalls under the trees. (Now identified as Wat Phra That Chedi Luang-the stupa of which was badly damaged in the earthquake of March 2011).

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    Here I bought a small hill craft shoulder bag from one of the stalls beneath the trees which I have used many times since on trips abroad to hold camera etc. Walked back to the main road by the river (Thanon Rim Kong) and visited another Wat on the roadside (Possibly Wat Pa Kao Pan)-oddly the monks were eating food brought to them by a group of ladies -for some reason they had obviously not done the more usual early morning Alms round.
    Reminded me that it was my own lunch time which the Chiang Saen Guest House back along the road provided in exchange for B35 by the American owner-chicken, rice etc..
    After lunch took a tuk-tuk to Sop Ruak -home of the Golden Triangle monument.
    Six Meo,aka Hmong, girls in traditional costume-the oldest about 11- offered photographs for B5 each-which they scampered off to give their parents who were some distance away. They were sweet, polite and all had their front teeth filed into points. Apart from them, and a few stall holders across the road, the place was deserted.

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    From there I visited the small Opium Museum housed in one of the few buildings with a tin roof. It cost B20 to enter -the exhibition was small but interesting exhibition of Opium, its uses and abuses, relatively local history-there was a lot on a relatively very local smuggler Khun Sa, who the Americans will pay a lot of money to get their hands on. (I believe it still exists -but has been upstaged by the larger and far more splendid “Hall of Opium” nearby)

    From here I walked back to the hotel arriving about 2pm. En route I stopped at the hotel's sports centre and booked a traditional massage for later, I was assured the masseuse would speak English-I wanted to let her know I had a recent injury to my leg and elbow.

    The hotel reception area was empty and the receptionist, probably out of boredom, asked where I had been politely. She seemed genuinely amazed that I had walked less than a mile in the heat and said so. This in turn amazed me-I had walked far longer distances in hotter sun, not only in Thailand but elsewhere in the world!
    A quick shower and off for the massage.
    The masseuse did not speak a word of English.
    My injured leg went into spasm on climbing off the table from what was not too vigorous a massage.

    I later sat in the garden in the evening sunshine and fell to talking with another guest. It transpired had I continued in the direction of my walk this morning I would have come upon a Burmese village- and been immediately arrested for entering the country illegally.

    Good meal tonight. Moo Priew Wan-grilled pork & sauce, salad, strawberries and cream.
    Early start tomorrow.

    More soon
    Last edited by Khun Don; 30-03-11 at 06:12 PM. Reason: changed one picture-absolute nightmare with this software!!!

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    Re: Thailand tour diary-1996.

    There's where your profile pic of you planting a tree came from after all!
    Sleep, little one, close your eyes, mother will sing you a lullaby... Sleep in a jewel cradle, sleep, mother will rock you.
    If you don't sleep the midges will go for your eyes and pollen will fall on the cradle....Sleep, close your eyes...
    - Isaan folksong, from "The Price of a Life" (Onkom, 1997)

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    Re: Thailand tour diary-1996.

    Haha now I understand. And I like the old beautiful partially ruined Wat plus the scenery of Chiang Saen..
    Franklin D. Roosevelt - The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.

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    Re: Thailand tour diary-1996.

    Khun Don,

    You've got the flair of a keen storyteller. I enjoyed your discerning attention to details and graphic language.

    Marie

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