Thailand (23/07/2010 - 16/08/2010)
- Some pictures
Bangkok: of course it is worth seeing, with great temples, the
Thonburi canals, the parks, etc... but the city is oversized, with
huge traffic, incredibly hot and humid weather when we were there... we were
rather happy to leave after three days...
Ayutthaya: ancient capital. The old city has been kept very
green, the ruins are surrounded by trees or greens. Really great. The
city is quite large so it takes one day to see the interesting part
(partly on foot, partly going to more remote temples with a tuktuk).
Lopburi: short visit to see the Khmer temples and the
monkeys. The largest temple is in front of the train station, the
other are within walking distance.
Kamphaeng Phet: really great, and there were no tourists,
probably because all go to Sukhothai. It is also more cumbersome to
reach if you arrive from the south (no direct buses from Ayutthaya, we
had to go by train to Nakhon Sawan and take a bus from there (where
train and bus station are quite far apart, but the collective taxi costs only
50 THB per person). On the other hand, Kamphaeng Phet is only 1 hour away from
Sukhothai, so staying in Sukhothai and spending the day in Kamphaeng
Phet would be quite easy.
The city is definitely worth a visit. The old city (surrounded by
walls of which you still see some parts) has two nice temples
remaining, with large Buddha statues. Most ruins lie to the north of
the city walls. There is a series of temples in a forest, and walking
among them, with noone around, was really great. The most well-known temple
is Wat Chang Rob because of the elephant statues at the base of the chedi.
Sukhothai: the old city is some kilometers away from the new town,
and there is a regular song-teo service. The site is incredibly large (so the fact that there are many tourists
is not a problem), with lots of beautiful temples, and
you can walk or rent a bike to explore it. For the most remote temples
the bike turns out to be necessary.
Si Satchanalai: smaller than Sukhothai, with more forest
around, and less visitors. Definitely worth a visit if you have time.
Lampang: great temple of a different style (Lanna culture,
with many wood carvings).
Chiang Mai: the big city of the north. Nice city, many
interesting temples. It is also a good place for shopping. The
surroundings are worth seeing. Many agencies organize tours (trekking,
elephant camps, visits to villages of the ethnic minorities...).
Unfortunately the tribal museum was closed for restauration during our
stay. It is situated to the north of the city, in a very nice park
with a small lake surrounded by small bars/restaurants.
Ban Chian: archeologically very important site. Rather tedious
to reach (bus from Udon Thani, then 6km of tuktuk). The site itself
is not really interesting but the museum is really worth seeing. It
shows the pottery found on site and has also many explanations about
Phimai: great khmer temple, partly reconstructed, in the center of
the city. The museum is also very interesting, with many statues and
lintels found there and in the region. The city itself is very small
and quiet, very nice.
Phanom Rung and Mueang Tam: two beautiful khmer temples close one to each other.
The design is similar to Phimai. Phanom Rung is on a hill and offers
also a nice panorama. Mueang Tam has also nicely L-shaped ponds.
Khao Yai: for nature and wildlife watching.
Phang Nga Bay: great scenery, with limestone cliffs
falling vertically into the sea. James Bond's island
is just one of many...
Railey peninsula: great beaches, especially Phra Nang beach...
In Bangkok, the simplest is to use
taxis. There are many of them and they are cheap (they have a meter,
you may have to insist on putting it on but it happened to us only once).
Avoid the tuk-tuks which are in the end more expensive and who
do not run faster given the heavy traffic. Metro/skytrain is good
but the network is very limited.
Outside Bangkok: very often, there are no (or very few)
taximeters. You have often to rely on the tuktuks. Prices must be
negotiated beforehand. In some places, it is also possible to use the
collective taxis which run on definite routes. Prices are lower but it is
not often easy to understand where they are going.
Trains: can be very slow.... we took a 3rd class train from
Bangkok to Nakhon Pathom (around 50km), it took 2 and a half hours
(return journey by bus; 1 hour). We also took a 3rd class train from
Ayutthaya to Lopburi (slow but almost on time), and a 1st class one
from Lopburi to Nakhon Sawan. First class trains cost ten times more
than 3rd class ones. They have the advantage that they do not stop
everywhere but on the other hand the air conditioning was not working
well and the seats were really bad. Third class trains have no air
conditioning but then at least you can open the windows and get some
air. Overall, train travel was not a very good experience.
Buses: the bus network is very good (roads are also very
good). Avoid 'VIP' buses which are much more expensive and with which we
had one of our very few bad experiences (the company was named Chan
Tour): first of all, there were cockroaches on the bus... then, they
were supposed to drop us off at an intermediate place but they just
forgot! We had to get really angry to have them stop and then instead
of bringing us back (only about 10km) they were waiting for another
bus of the same company going in the opposite direction. In the end we
managed to get a (3rd class) bus of a different company and to reach
our destination, but it was not thanks to them...
Overall, service in buses (except the 'VIP') is very good. The
lowest class can be slow because they stop everywhere, but at least they
are reliable, and people are nice, will check that you go out at the
correct stop, etc...
Planes: we took planes to go from Chiang Mai to Udon Thani
(through Bangkok), and to go from Bangkok to Phuket and back. We used
Thai Airways and
Bangkok Airways. Planes were
perfectly on time. Quality of service was excellent. In particular,
we were impressed by the fact that Bangkok Airways provides lounges
for ordinary passengers (no need to be first or business class, or frequent
flyer) which are similar to the business class lounges of european companies,
with free refreshments (and even a free Internet connection).
the Chao Praya Express
Boat is a nice and cheap way to go along the river. There are also
boats crossing the river at selected places (for instance to go to the
Wat Arun). We also took a long tail boat to go along the Thonburi
canals and to the Taling Chan floating market.
-the tour in the Phang Nga bay was on a long tail boat. The only
inconvenient is that they are very noisy.
-to go to Tonsai bay, the only way is by long tail boat from Ao Nang
or Krabi. There is no fixed schedule, as they wait to have enough
passengers (7-8) before leaving (or else you have to pay much more).
We however did not have to wait very long (same for the return trip,
where we however had to jump into the water -holding our bags- because
there were too many waves for the boat to reach the Ao Nang beach, and
the tide was too low for it to reach the more protected harbor...).
- Accomodation Accomodation
is cheap!! Quality and prices of course vary, but globally no
bad surprises. Accomodation is typically better outside Bangkok (for
budget prices). NB: at the time of our stay, 1 euro was around 40 Baht
(THB). Prices cited are for double rooms with air conditioning and
private bathroom (except for old Phimai guesthouse). When breakfast
was not included, it was usually easy to find a breakfast for 100 THB
per person in the surroundings.
Rambuttri Village Inn,
850 THB (no breakfast). In the Khao San Road area which is full of
guesthouses. Clean and functional but very large and rather
impersonal. Small swimming pool on the roof, which however closes rather
early. Less nice than what it looks on the website, but still ok. Moreover, the area
is rather convenient as you can walk to the city center.
Suk 11: slightly less than 1000 THB. Large guesthouse
in the modern part of the city. Very reasonable, with a nice buffet breakfast.
Ayutthaya, Baan Eve: clean, comfortable, old style buildings.
Chakungrao Riverview, see also
990 THB, including breakfast. Great hotel, large room with nice view. The restaurant
also provides great food at very reasonable prices.
Village. 1350 THB, breakfast included. A bit more expensive than
other guesthouses, but great place. The only problem was a peacock
which was quite noisy even in the middle of the night. Lotus Village
also provides tour services.
Chiang Mai, Sri Pat
guesthouse: very nice guesthouse. People were extremely kind. The
room (clean, spacious, quiet, AC) was supposed to be 1000 THB per
night (no breakfast). As there was some noise during the day because
they are installing a pool, we got a discount of 20%. Note that we had
not asked for any discount, especially as there was anyways no disturbance
during the night, and we would have been ok to pay the normal price.
Khon Kaen, Mai Thai
guesthouse. 500 THB (no breakfast). Guesthouse recently opened by
a retired englishman. Extremely comfortable accomodation; nice rooms
decorated with taste, at a very low price. If you consider eating on
the premises (as we had to do because it had rained so much that the
roads around were flooded, and we did not want to go out for dinner),
be aware that no Thai food is served, but only simple but certainly
good English dishes.
Phimai, Old Phimai
guesthouse. 850 THB (AC but no private bathroom) We went to this
guesthouse because they organize the tour to Phanom Rung and Mueang
Tam. The people are extremely nice but the accomodation, in a
traditional Thai house, is a bit on the rough side (small room, no
private bathroom). It is anyway possible to take the tour without
Pak Chong / Khao Yai, Resort. Reserved for us
by Greenleaf guesthouse and
tour at a discount rate of 1000 THB (no breakfast; it seemed the
normal rate was rather 1500 THB). Great room away from the busy road.
Phang Nga, Phang Nga Inn. The only problem is that they have no
website and we did not manage to book by Internet.
The guy from Sayan Tours however had very nicely booked for us.
The Inn is very nice, with clean, quiet, well furnished rooms.
Tonsai Bay, Tonsai Bay
Resort. 1350 THB per night in a great bungalow, including
breakfast. Luxury at a budget price, close to the beach, and with
wildlife around (such as macaques coming into our bungalow!). There
are other accomodation possibilities on Tonsai Bay but this one
definitely looks much better than the others (people go mostly to
Tonsai to climb, not so much to enjoy the beach, and seem most often
to be on a tight budget...). The beach is not the best of the
peninsula, as at low tide it is rather rocky, but on the other hand
the other beaches (Railey East and West) are much more touristic,
resorts are one next to the other with much less space between
bungalows. At low tide Railey West is just 10 minutes away. The best
beach is in any case Phra Nang beach on which there is only one very
Rayavadee resort. Phra Nang
is reachable from Tonsai in 45 minutes by walking (quite steep trail
through the jungle, enough to sweat a lot given the humidity...),
first going in 30 mn to Railey East (not a very nice beach as there is
mangrovia) and then 10-15 mn along the shore to Phra Nang.
If you want to spend more, you still can: check out for instance
the Tamarind village in
Chiang Mai or the Rayavadee
resort on Phra Nang beach.
Food is everywhere, extremely cheap, and so good...
You can eat in restaurants, in small stands at the marketplaces or on
the street... We have eaten very well everywhere, sometimes for less
than 1 euro per person. The only issue is communication: not all of
these stands have an english menu.
You also find a lot of fresh fruit: mangoes are wonderful, bananas
have a great taste. Depending on the season, you will find rambutans
or lichis. We
a very strange fruit with a thick violet husk and white quarters
inside. The taste is simply delicious. We also ate durian, which is
well known because of its odour. Taste is somehow similar to
caramelized onion jam. You find of course coconuts (and most
importantly, coconut shakes!!!) everywhere.
Two particular restaurants that
we want to advertise:
Tha Nam Restaurant in Chiang Mai. Very nice
restaurant situated along the river in a traditional thai house. Northern thai specialties which differ
from the usual food you find everywhere. Very good.
Benjarong Restaurant in
Bangkok (in the Dusit Thani hotel). On the expensive side for thai standards, but extremely cheap
for such a high quality. Set menus start at 900 THB. We took the one at 1200 THB and could barely finish
because of the quantity... The food was simply excellent...
Sukhothai to Chiang
Mai through Si Satchanalai, Lampang, Lamphun: Transfer provided
by Lotus Village for 6000
THB. This saved us a lot of time since going to Si Satchanalai is not
so easy, and the site is definitely worth seeing.
The driver was extremely efficient, spoke fluent english and was
Around Chiang Mai: tour organized by
Bungalows guesthouse (website
is only in french) of the surroundings of Chiang Mai.
Elephant camp near Chiang Mai: we reserved through
Bungalows guesthouse but in
fact it was in collaboration
with Panda Tour. Much better
than the standard elephant show as you really get to learn how to
climb on top of an elephant, guide it, and you ride an elephant
bareback and bathe with them (incredibly nice and patient animals!).
Phanom Rung and Mueang Tam: tour organized by
Old Phimai guesthouse.
It is extremely convenient as these sites are a bit remote. The owner
of the guesthouse was very nice and organized everything very carefully
and nicely (after the tour we needed to be left at a different place to catch
a bus, he organized all that very nicely).
Khao Yai National Park: Greenleaf
guesthouse and tour organize tours in Khao Yai Park, looking
for wildlife. It was very interesting, and these people are extremely
nice and professional, they really know their way in the jungle and
how to spot wildlife. The dinners at their guesthouse were also excellent.
Phang Nga Bay: