Test – posting through email

5 04 2010

I’ve been told that WordPress.com is not accessible in China. Fortunately I discovered that I can post to the blog through email and this post is my first test so if the post is horri ble – be patient.

Right now we are sitting at the airport in Bangkok on our way to Hong Kong. While in Bangkok we noticed a lot of protesters in the streets, all wearing red shirts. They are calling for the end of corruption in Thai politics, which seems ironic since most of them are supporters of the former prim minister Thaksin Shinawatra who him self has been charged with corruption. The protesters in Iceland can learn a lot from their Thai counterparts who are very persistent – with excellent stamina and also know how to have fun!

Last night we went out to a Shabu Shabu and sushi place for Easter dinner. Shabu Shabu is a Japanese style hot pot where you get a thin soup but can add all sorts of stuff to it – just the way you like it. They had meat, herbs, noodles, squid, fish and a lot of other unidentifiable stuff. The sushi was also good and I think we have not eaten as much the whole trip.

Well we have to go to our gate – I hope this post comes out all right through the email interface. I’ll tell you all about Hong Kong in a day or two. I’m sorry about how fragmented this post is – I’ll do better next time :)

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Robbed on the bus from Bangkok!

31 03 2010

Last time we met, we were on our way from Chang Mai in Northern Thailand and all the way down to Ao Mae Haad on Ko Phangan in Southern Thailand.  In 48 hours we spent 30 on a bus and two in a boat but it was all worth it when we came to Mae Haad.  This is not the first time we’ve been here, we came here near the beginning of our trip as can be seen in previous posts: Island hopping, Little piece of heaven and From one island to the next.

The journey wasn’t without its incidents as we discovered when we arrived in Mae Haad.  When we opened our bags it was obvious that someone had gone through the bags in search for something.  After a closer inspection we were only missing a flashlight, a watch, a wallet with 1,000 ISK and one roll of gaffer tape.  Since the Icelandic króna is practically worthless these days it wasn’t such a big loss :) maybe the biggest loss was in my watch but I’m sure I’ll make up for that in China!

We have been warned on several occasions not to leave any valuables in our big back pack and fortunately we have our ears open once in a while.  We had all our valuables with us – it was unlucky that the watch was there but I had bought a nice fake watch in Chang Mai.  Of course I won’t tell anyone which kind because I want you to think that I have the real thing ;)

The life for the past five days here in Mae Haad has been wonderfully simple.  We wake up around nine and go to the beach – eat lunch when we get hungry and then head for the beach again until about sunset – then its time to clean up before dinner – eat dinner and go to sleep.  The beach here is beautiful and great snorkeling.  There is plenty of people during the day but most come here by bike and go back before dinner so the evenings are quiet.

Once a month there is a big Full Moon party here on Ko Phangan with up to 30,000 visitors.  On the day of the Full Moon Party we rented a motor bike and drove around the island.  We tried to drive to Bottle Beach, supposedly one of the most beautiful beaches around, but the road was so horrible that we turned around when we could almost see the beach.  There is possible to get there by boat so we might try that before we leave.  After Bottle Beach we went to Haad Rin where the party takes place.  We thought that we would be able to catch the beginning of the party before heading home but it started very slowly unlike an Icelandic “Verslunarmannahelgi” and we kind of missed it :(  The roads here are not that great that we wanted to be driving in the dark on the busiest night of the month. 





The Damage Done by Warren Fellows

14 02 2010

DamageDone The Damage Done – Twelve Years of Hell in a Bangkok Prison – is a written by Warren Fellows, a former heroin smuggler that was caught smuggling heroin from Thailand to Australia.  After a long trial he was sentenced to life imprisonment and he was to remain in a Thai prison for the next twelve years.  Fellows accepts that he was guilty for the crimes he was sentenced for but the punishment seems way too harsh.  Fighting cockroaches, sewer rats, the other inmates and the sadistic guards seems as inhuman as it gets.  A grave warning for anyone wanting to break the Thai laws.

Obviously Fellows is not a seasoned writer, I think this is his first and only book, but the story is really interesting and it is difficult to to put it down once you have started and therefore it is easy to look past the faults in the storytelling and language use.

The story has its disgusting parts so keep the light on and be happy that you are where you are and remember all those that might not have it as good as you – be that self inflicted or not.

I would recommend this book to anyone interested in Thailand, planning to visit Thailand or has been in Thailand.  Especially I would recommend the book to anyone thinking about smuggling drugs in or out of Thailand.





Crossing the Thai-Cambodian border

3 02 2010

After all the stories we had read about the scams people get them selves involved in our border crossing into Cambodia and the ride to Siem Reap was quite unimpressive.  We just walked through, negotiated on a price for the taxi to Siem Reap and off we went.  Maybe it went so well because we were well prepared and knew what to do.  For those that want to make the same trip I’ll start from the beginning in Bangkok.  Other might want to skip this section.

The scams that we had read about before hand were:

  • Visa scam – offering to speed up take care of the visa application for you at ridicules prices
  • Consulate scam – same as above
  • Visa border control scam – border police asking for bribes or they will not process your application anytime soon
  • Money changing scam – say that you need to change into Cambodian Real and giving you horrible rates
  • Guesthouse commission scam – taxis delivering you to a guesthouse for a commission.  The owners getting angry if you don’t stay

Before we came to Bangkok we had already applied for a visa to Cambodia online.  It did cost $25 instead of the regular $20 but the process was smooth and would save us some hassle later on.  Since we had to wait for our visa into Vietnam until 15:00 we decided to take the 16:30 bus from Bangkok to the Thai border town Aranyaprathet since the hotel would be a lot less there than in Bangkok (300 Baht instead of 800 Baht).  We got the skytrain from the Vietnamese embassy to Mohchit station (40 Baht), moto taxi from the sky train station to the close by northern bus station (40 Baht) and a ticket to to Aranyaprathet first class (207 Baht) at booth 30 inside the station.  The bus ride to Aranyaprathet was about four hours and we arrived about 20:30 at the Aranyaprathet bus station.  We took a tuktuk to a hotel we had selected (80 Baht) but that was full so the tuktuk driver suggested The Market Hotel and we agreed.  The Market Hotel was very nice, clean and quite cozy.

We had arranged for our tuktuk driver to pick us up at 08:00 in the morning and take us to the border.  The lady that drove us the night before picked us up but after a 5 minute drive she jumped off and a colleague jumped on.  We weren’t too happy since we kind of trusted the lady but what the heck, I guess there was nothing we could do…  After about 5 minutes of driving the drive wanted to turn left when the sign for the border said straight.  I suspected that he wanted to try the consulate scam where they try to sell you a Cambodian visa for up to twice the price.  I told him I already had a visa and we wanted to go straight to the border.  He complied and drove us as far as he could go and we had to walk the rest.

We saw the signs where to go and followed the Thais that were also crossing.  First we had to fill out health check forms to see if we were healthy enough to enter Cambodia.  None of the Thais had to fill those out so it was a slight annoyance but again, what the heck.  We filled out the forms and were allowed to continue.  After that it became a bit unclear where to go as we skipped the visa application process.  We were soon picked up by a guy that seemed very helpful but we knew right away that he wanted to get us into the “free” bus to the bus/taxi terminal in the middle of nowhere.  He guided us along the long road towards the visa check point.  Along this road were several casinos where the Thais try their luck.  According to our self proclaimed guide, the Cambodians would never gamble – they are too poor.

At the visa check point we filled out another form with more or less the same question we had already answered, both in the health check and on the online visa application.  As we arrived we met some African guys that were having problems getting through but the place was not busy and we were through in 5 minutes.  After the check point our “guide” reappeared and told us that we had to get into the bus that would take us to the bus/taxi terminal.  When he saw that we were resisting a bit he raised his voice and said that the bus was leaving and we had to get in now!  As we were the only foreigners around I told him quietly that we could do what ever we liked, we would just come back later as there were lines of busses there and I was sure that we were not missing out.

Then we walked a bit and were offered a non-union taxi for $35 and we went to check it out.  There were a lot of police men and tourist police men around and some of the seemed annoyed that this guy had us on his hook but we followed anyway.  We negotiated a price of $30 for a taxi for just the two of us the whole way to Siem Reap and all the way to our guest house, paid on arrival.

So off we went and the ride to Siem Reap was un-eventful.  The road was wide and smooth, a really enjoyable ride.  We stopped once to fill the metan-gas tank of the Toyota Camry we were driving, once the driver stopped to pee and once he stopped in front of a sales booth and said he had to use the toilette.  A woman came out and said they wanted to clean the car so we had to go out.  She had all sorts of cool drinks for sale but we had water so we were fine.  Of course no one cleaned the car and the driver came as soon as he saw that we weren’t buying anything  …they have to try, don’t they?  In Siem Reap we had picked out a guesthouse from the Lonely Planet book and told the driver to head there.  He made some phone calls and then stopped at another guesthouse where we were told that our guesthouse was out of business and we should check out theirs.  We told them we weren’t interested and named another one and the drive took us there immediately.  We paid our driver a little tip plus the $30 agreed upon.

We walked around town and with the help of a tuktuk driver we found a likable guesthouse that had a double fan room for the right price ($7 per night).  Tomorrow we plan to start exploring the magnificent temples here including Angkor Wat, the biggest religious building in the world.

We really like the Cambodians so far, even if they are trying to trick us they are polite, soft and gentle.  When they see that we have had enough they leave us alone or do as we wish so it is all good, they are just like the rest of us – just trying to make a living :)

Next post will be less practical and more fun, I promise!





Different Bangkok

2 02 2010

We experienced a very different Bangkok than last time around.  Last time we were in the old city, which is both dirty and filled with cheap stores and markets and at the same time magnificent with her temples and the Great Palace.  Now we stayed close to Siam square where all the fancy malls and expensive hotels are located.  You could see the growth everywhere, new office buildings being built and traffic everywhere you look and people shopping, shopping, shopping.

It was much easier to see how big the city really is than in the old town, which felt like a little cozy village after a few days – not a neighborhood in a city of 6 million people.  The traffic at Siam Square at rush hour was endless and people everywhere.  To accommodate all this or keep up with the rapid growth the Thais build a pretty impressive Skytrain on top of the regular traffic which fitted perfectly.  The Skytrain has two tracks so far and is fantastic to use.  They do also have an underground in some parts of the city and a lot of busses that are very hard to figure out when you don’t read Thai.

We went to Lumphini Park, a public park close by, and lounged for a few hours.  The park had a lake that was filled with some sort of swimming dragons that were about one and a half meter in length and tortoises and fish.  In the afternoon the park started to fill up with runners and ladies doing aerobics and Tai Tsi that was open to everyone.  Twice during the day they stared playing the national anthem and everyone stopped what ever they were doing and just stood straight to show respect.  This happened as well when we went to the movies, before the movie started everyone stood up and they played a movie showing the king’s life under the national anthem.

When we were in one of the malls we started hearing intense screaming coming from the other side of the mall.  Curious we ran to the other and and saw hundreds of young girls trying to see a group of guys on a stage below.  Supposedly it was one of the hot boy bands in Thailand and you can just imagine the noise when hundreds of young girls between fourteen and twenty scream of excitement over those guys.  We were just surprised that the glass in the shopping windows didn’t shatter.

We were happy that we decided to stay in a different neighborhood and were able so see the diversity of the city, at least to some extent.  We will probably stay either in Chinatown or close to Khao San road when we come back after our journey through Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos – but who knows?





Back in Bangkok

31 01 2010

We are now back in Bangkok getting ready to go to Cambodia.  We applied online for the Cambodian visa but need to go to the Vietnamese embassy to acquire the Vietnamese visa.  Hopefully we can get that tomorrow and head off to Siam Reap in Cambodia on Tuesday – Wednesday at the latest.

IMG_4932 Ronald McDonald looks a bit different here

From Krabi we went with the bus to Ranong.  Ranong is on the Burmese border and we were hoping that we could go over to Burma for a couple of days but Pon, our travel agent in Ranong, told us that there is nothing to see in Burma – at least not close to this border.  There are two nice islands out of Ranong where we could have rented a bungalow on the cheap and snorkeled and sunbathed but we decide to take the night bus to Bangkok after one night in Ranong.

On offer were four categories of busses: 24 seat VIP bus, 32 seat VIP bus, 38 seat 1st class bus and 2nd class bus.  2nd class bus didn’t have any toilette but the others all had toilettes, air conditioning and a stewardess on board.  The only difference was the width of the seats.  the 24 seat VIP had seats like a business class airplane seats.  The 1st class had just regular seats and the 32 seat VIP was somewhere between.  Since it was over eight hours bus ride we decided to take the 32 seat VIP bus, which was quite nice but next we’ll probably just make do with 1st class.  At least while we are not thicker then we are now :)

As I wrote before, we have been under-blinged during the first part of the trip.  This has felt uncomfortable and people have been looking at us like we just landed in Thailand.  Finally we have made the minimum of two bracelets each, I have two on my wrist plus one necklace and Elínborg has one on the wrist and another one on her ankle.  Now we can finally blend into the seasoned farángs (foreigners) in Thailand.

IMG_4955 All blinged up





Out of Bangkok

16 01 2010

We had three good days in Bangkok but at the same time were ready to leave when the time came. We had explored the neighborhood, seen the magnificent Grand Palace, visited Buddha temples, seen Buddha in all his seven positions (laying, standing, kneeling, etc.), gotten out of two scams and gotten friskier with the local food so we felt ready to take on Thailand!

Part of The National Museum

Part of The National Museum

Both scams were quite interesting in a way. One we had heard of from other blogs and travel books. We met a nice guy that wanted to help us to get to where we were going. We didn’t quite know where we were going but that didn’t knock him down. After a while we told him we wanted to see the Royal Palace and also the tourist office across the street. He told us that today the King would be at the Palace and the tourist office would be close until later in the day because they all wanted to salute the King. We should go and see some other Buddha that he knew of. He also told us that today the King was giving out petrol and therefore we shouldn’t pay more than 20 baht (50 cent) for any Tuk Tuk today. Right on cue a Tuk Tuk arrives and the driver carries a map which our friend uses to show us where this Buddha of his is located. They talk a bit and the driver offers to drive us to the Buddha for the 20 baht. We had already realized that something was fishy in this story so we just walked away saying we wanted to check for our selves. We walked across the street to the tourist office and there everything was in full swing and at the Palace it seemed like a normal day, not that we know what a normal day is like there but you know…

The other scam was a school book example as well, we met an old old lady that was attending the pigeons. She wanted us to take small bags of corn from her and give to the birds. When we didn’t want the bags she managed somehow to hang them on me and told me to give the corn to the pigeons which we did. When we had emptied the bags she demanded 150 baht from us (5 USD). After haggling with her a bit I paid her 7 baht and off we went.

I wouldn’t say that the scams were entertaining, well maybe the first one, but at least a bit of an experience and teaches us to be careful and take nothing for granted. At least we got off easy this time.

As I said, we have been getting friskier with the food here. We have tried some street food and snacks and everything has been really tasty. We are not eating insects or some unidentified things yet but who knows, that might come later. We have been tasting the regular Thai food like fried rice, noodles and curries and have had some Indian food as well and as I said, everything has been very good. The price on the street is about one-third of what you pay at a restaurant where you pay about 120 baht ($4) for one of those above mentioned traditional dishes. I have been a bit surprised with the price of beer here. It costs about $2 a bottle, even at seven-eleven-, which is more than in the stores both the US and Switzerland. It seems that the Thai people are on the same boat as Icelanders in breaking the universal code among men to offer cheap beer to the masses.

We left Bangkok in a VIP night bus – no less – heading towards Chumphon in the south. The bus was a nice double-decker, quite comfortable, so we were able to sleep most of the way. When in Chumphon we took a big catamaran that took us to the island of Ko Tao where we are now. Ko Tao is on of three famous islands in the Gulf of Thailand and is mostly sought out by divers. The atmosphere in the boat was quite special. Since the sea was moving a bit, people were puking all over the boat but others didn’t seem too distracted and slept the whole way. We kept somewhere in between the two groups, partly sleeping and somewhat nauseous but without getting too sick.

…and now the sport section. We have started an Asian Board-game Tour (ABT) and at first the tour will include Ludo, Backgammon and a diced Scrabble. A couple of rounds have already been played and the score so far are as follows

GAME ELÍNBORG ÖRN
Ludo 1 2
Backgammon 1 0
Scrabble 0 1
TOTAL 2 3

On Ko Tao we rented a very basic bungalow near the ocean for two nights and headed straight for the beach. We’ll get back in touch when we’ve seen more of the island than just our beach and the coral reefs beyond :)
The view from the bungalows on Ko Tao

The view from the bungalows on Ko Tao

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– Ö r n  and  E l í n b o r g –