Monday, October 31, 2016

Bangkok to Yangon

Yesterday in Bangkok we went to the massive Chucatuchak market early in the morning. Taking a taxi was a bit pricey compared to trains or buses but got us there fast.

Early meant avoiding the later crowds which were really buiding by the time we left, but some vendors were not even open. But with 8000 stalls to choose from we could miss a few. We also never found the grilled platybus food stall again when we decided it was time to eat. Maybe it was just as well. We did find some great squid though and other snacks like coconut juice from the shell.

From the market we took the skytrain to the Jim Thompson House. Thompson was an entrepreneur who did more to advance the Thai silk trade than anyone else. I'll edit in a bit more about him later. 

His home was a rambling array of teak houses he had moved to their current location in central Bangkok and amalgamated into an estate for himself, modernizing a bit as he went. It was a refreshing change from the bustle outside and our only real "museumy" thing we did in the 3 days in Bangkok. It was well worth it. 

We tuk-tuked home, showered for the 5th or 6th time in a couple of days, drank beer while it dumped with rain again and went back to the street for food later.

We had made an arrangement for a taxi to take us to the airport early but he cancelled on us. He had the courtesy to call the desk at least so we knew and soon we had another around 7:30am. 

Getting to Yangon was not that difficult. We had all the right paperwork, the flight was short and more or less on time, and in the arrival airport we very soon had a SIM card and 300,000 in kyat (the local currency, about 900 to $1 CAD). We overpaid slightly for a taxi to the MGM hotel (paid 10000 when 5-6000 should have been the rate), but I don't sweat that stuff much. I sweat enough from the heat. 

Different here than Bangkok, that's for sure. Traffic is louder and pushier (hardly a horn was used in BKK, not the case here), the streets are a lot dirtier and stinkier, the infrastructure more rundown. It feels more like some of the parts of Cambodia and China we've been too. 

However, it's not like we expected luxury. People are friendly and helpful, things seem to mostly work, the hotel staff jump to open doors and carry bags. I ask before I take many of my pictures and nobody minds. The big nose gets stared at of course but I'm used to that. I'm not quite sure the guy waving his ass and other bits at us was being friendly though. 

A lot of walking took us though parts of Chinatown, a rather dingy waterfront area, past a classic English style hospital building, into an air conditioned mall to cool down, through crowded market streets and then a visit to the Sule stupa right in the heart of downtown. We plan to visit it's much bigger brother tomorrow. 

Saturday, October 29, 2016

A few pics from Bangkok

I've managed to transfer some photos from the camera to the phone. The memory card I started with seems to have issues so I switched yesterday but might have lost a few.

Little commentary for now...

Slow day at the cactus store

Even the cats wear black ribbons for the king

Sweet potato friends

Floating market

Green Onions

Namaste Ronald

Day 1 in Transit, Day 2 in Bangkok

The view from the front steps of our $30 per night Hostel kind of sucks doesn't it?

That's just the first picture; the others are some sort of free taxi service and silk "fashion" in a shopping center. Wih this blogging app I'm not sure how to insert pictures anywhere but the top.

That's Wat Pho just across the road from Arom D. We got in very late last night, after a 12 hour flight to Shanghai, and 4 plus hours to Bangkok. The first flight was spot on time but the second had a delay with little explanation and when we finally did get on the bus to take a mile long route on the tarmac at Pudong, it was not because anyone did announce it. We saw a bus with open doors at our gate and jumped on.

Tight spacing on the seats (and way too much money to upgrade - 1000RMB for an exit row seat!) so I ended up with cramped legs and bruised knees. My sneaky little bag  of 2 oz liquor bottles wasn't allowed by China security guys at Shanghai though I did consume 2 at least on the Vancouver leg.

We didn't arrive in Thailand until at least 11pm local time and with getting through customs, baggage and exchanging some USD for baht the outside we only reached by nearly midnight. At this point we had no energy to take buses or trains so got a taxi. It's an hour easily into the city and we probably got taken somewhat on the fare but the guy also had to pay 2 tolls plus airport fee and he got us to the door with no wrong turns. The staff person had to get out of bed to check us in around 1am.

Sleep? What's that? Neither of us got much on the flights and only 2 or 3 hours in the beds at Arom D and were up by about 7am.

Wandering the streets by 8, noodles in a local market, walking some more. We found a bank machine that would give us cash but had no luck with finding a SIM card that worked in my phone until much later.

This being a Saturday there seemed to be many events bringing Thai people from all over to visit the Royal Palace. The king of course recently died and the entire country is in mourning. Black is almost the universal clothing right now. Ours isn't quite all black but we are not wearing anything bright while here, plus picked up some black ribbons to pin to our shirts.

All around the palace, which we couldn't go in as we are not Thai, it was almost a carnival atmosphere. Free water and food was everywhere, ice cream, cold juices, cookies. Later on we got free gyoza, curries with rice, chicken wings. We resisted lots of it too but it easily was lunch. We didn't get to buy any critters on a stick.

Our splurge so far was on a private boat tour of the river and a floating market. Expensive, but we did get it for just over half the original price quoted. I'll post a few pics from that and the rest of the day later.

Edit: It's 5:45 am local time and I've been awake for quite a while. It's mid afternoon in Vancouver and my body knows this.

Monsoon quality rain struck last night just after we got back to our room, so it was just as well we didn't stay out.

Today's trip to the big Chucatuchak market might end up dampened.

Later yesterday it was street food including our first spicey Papaya salad. It was just great and so was our host.

Note that I'm trying to do this blogging stuff from a phone. Addings pics can be awkward when most are on the camera. Also the Blogger app on the phone is inconsistent at connecting. I might end up with odd double post because right now I'm not using the app.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

More Gadgetry And Prep

Samsung S7 Edge, Bluetooth keyboard, & battery with Kindle and Innate waterproof bag in the background.

As we get closer to leaving (the trip being just over 2 weeks away), the gear is coming together.

My phone and other electronics are chargeable with my new 20000mah powerbank. That should provide lots of life on the flights, between wall plugs that work, and other situations.  I can connect easily with the Bluetooth keyboard or the camera, but (note to self) not both at the same time. I have a picture on the camera I just took and of course with the keyboard in use I can't transfer that image so will do that later.

We probably will end up taking our slightly larger packs as our man in Laos reminded us that last year it got pretty cold there and even snowed in the northern area, and with us planning to spend 2 days on an open boat (for example) we think discretion might be the better part of carry-on. Some warmer clothing will come along for the ride as well as my compact down sleeping bag. It's a barrel bag so can open like a blanket but still can compress well, probably down to about 3 litres.

It also won't hurt to have a little extra space for stuff we might buy along the way and allows us the space to bring along some stuff for our friend. So far that includes some underwear (!) and a bulb for his movie projector (!!). If he says he would like a jar of peanut butter or something to go with that I think we wll draw the line.

We have picked up a few of the other important travel commodities. Pills for the lower GI distress that sometimes happens, some bug juice and sunscreen, hand sanitizer etc. The Travel clinic had a visit where we updated a couple of our shots, we have the passports ready, the visa letters for Myanmar, the extra photos for other visas. Laos you usually get at the point of entry for example.

We are still itineraizing. The main points will be Bangkok, Yangoon, Mandalay, Bagan, and then on to Laos. The plan would be to fly if we can from Mandalay to Chiang Mai in Thailand and from there make it by bus to Chiang Rai and the border (name of the crossing escapes me) where will get the 2 day boat on the Mekong and travel to Luang Prabang. From there down to Vientiane and Savannakhet where Dave is. Leaving there for Thailand again we will bus across the border and back to Bangkok to fly home.

That's roughly it. We can't be sure from here if that will all work out as it's hard to see or book airfare on some sections from here and the travel times will be kind of rough estimates from here. Of course there will be side trips and other stops along the way and who knows what contingencies.