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|5th July 2009, 15:00||#1|
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10 days across Thailand (2009) - and 8 more days (2011)
Our vacation in Thailand was planned at short notice and on a tight budget, but we wanted to cover some of the regular tourist beats as well as a few unusual places that are generally off the Indian tourists' radar when planning a Thailand trip. So the plan was: Bangkok (2N/2D) >> Kanchanaburi (1N/2D) >> Train (1N) >> Chiang Mai (1N/1D) >> Chiang Rai (1N/1D) >> Pattaya (2N/2D) >> Bangkok (1N/2D). SOme changes happened, my wife severely twisted her ankle early on in the trip at Kanchanaburi, but all in all we had a superb and trouble-free trip.
Here I would like to present an account of it in an unconventional manner, not based on a day-to-day recounting of experiences but as an assessment of the various aspects of the vacation under various headings. I hope it will help others to plan their own vacations in a more structured manner without depending on travel agents, and save costs (we used no travel agents, and yes, we did well on a low budget).
First off, one happy bit of information about entering Thailand.
We were lucky to have saved some money, in that visa fees of 1000THB for entry into Thailand have been waived off from 25th June 2009 till 4th March 2010.
|5th July 2009, 16:01||#2|
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|5th July 2009, 23:35||#4|
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Entering Thailand - what to expect
We entered Thailand on 25th June at 6 am, the same day that visa fees were waived for incoming tourists seeking Visa on Arrival. I am not sure if this also applies to tourists who apply at the Thai Embassy in the respective countries, but for us Indians the visa on arrival (VOA) is the easiest (and free for now) way of entering Thailand
Glorious view of the dawn from the aircraft windows
On board the flight you will be given a form that looks like a boarding pass. You’ll need to fill it up, but this is not the VOA form – you’ll need this later at the counters called Passport Control. At the Suvarnabhumi Airport, Bangkok, there’s a lot of walking to do. First walk straight down to the place where the VOA office is, collect the forms and fill up right there, and submit it with
- Your passport;
- A photocopy of your return ticket (this must be for a date less than 15 days from the day of arrival – VOA is only given for 15 days) – keep one copy of a combined ticket to submit for each person;
- 2 copies of your passport photo – the photocopies and PP photos can be done from machines installed at the VOA counter, but it costs a lot more than getting it done beforehand;
- 10,000 THB per person or 20,000 THB per family, or its equivalent in currencies like USD, GBP or EUR IN CASH – they don’t recognize the INR as an approved currency, nor is it easy to change INR to THB at the banks downtown. They may not always want to see this cash, but when they do, you’d better have it, else you could be refused a visa. Nor would they care to see credit cards. Cash is all they want to see.
They’ll take your documents and give you a coupon with a number on it. Then you wait for 15 minutes to half an hour (depending on the crowd) for your passport to be stamped with the visa and returned.
Next stop: walk through a channel where everyone is being scanned with a thermosensor camera. If you’ve got fever, they’ll pull you up for H1N1. Then you come up to the Passport Control counters, where you hand over the passport and the filled disembarkation form they gave you on the flight. It takes a couple of minutes, and they staple one half of that form to your passport – required when you exit Thailand. Your photo is taken too at this time.
After Passport Control, you get to collect your checked-in baggage, from an area with endless carousels three times the size of those we see at major airports in India! And then the customs counters, where for us there was only a peremptory glance at our baggage before we were through.
Easiest way to get into Bangkok city is to take a taxi. Look for the “Public Taxi Stand” signs pointing you towards Gate 3 and 4. Here you queue up at a counter, tell your destination, are given a form (which YOU retain and not hand over to the driver), go outside and are directed to your designated car. The taxi will go by meter, plus you pay an additional 50 THB as airport service charge. No charge for luggage, but the max. number of passengers they’ll carry is 4.
Try and get some change at the airport of 10B coins, 20B, 50B and 100B notes, and don't be surprised if the taxi driver hasn't got (or claims not to have) any change. If you do get caught in this kind of situation, you can always get out and get smaller notes by buying something from the nearest 7-11 store (there's one every 100-200 yards within BKK). This tactic often leads to the driver suddenly remembering where his change is kept. A properly licensed taxi in Bangkok is recognisable by the yellow-and-black number plates and the 'Taxi-Meter' sign on top of the vehicle. They also come in fluorescent shades of green, pink, orange, green-and-yellow, pink-and-blue, etc., and were not quite my favourite colours - but it sure makes them easy to spot!
Unlicensed taxis are hardly seen, if at all, in Bangkok nowadays but should you be approached by one you should always refuse.
If you want to hire a taxi to Pattaya, it'll take 1.5 to 2 hours and the fare we were charged was 1500B. This is irrespective of which part of Pattaya you are headed for, and the driver bears the motorway toll charges (about 60B) himself. Taxis are always hired on a flat fare basis if you to hire them to go out of Bangkok.
Motorway to Bangkok from airport
Traffic jam - but none cuts queues or honks or squeezes out others
Bird's eye view of BKK
from the 24th floor of the Prince Palace Hotel
Last edited by SS-Traveller : 5th July 2009 at 23:43.
|6th July 2009, 00:45||#5|
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yes the same thing shocked me in thailand. while at signal or in traffic jam people leave a distance of almost half a car in between. no phrase " bumper to bumper traffic".
no lane cutting no squeezing in between other cars and no cuts while overtaking. no horns no hard braking. i was so amazed with the discipline. i felt ashamed of myself.
all tuk tuks (autos) fitted with alloy wheels and FFE
streets flooded with honda jazz with body kits and FFE. alloys are must on all thailand cars it seems. lenso, OZ and all premium brands. brembo brakes on each and every car.
did u visit Phuket and Koh samui. Samui is paradise and phuket is very much neat and clean and amazing place. I had also visited PHI PHI islands which should never be skipped when you go to thailand.
|6th July 2009, 08:19||#7|
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I am sure you would have loved those tigers in Kanchanaburi Did you also tried the other spots like valley train etc?
Where are the pics man!!!
|6th July 2009, 13:31||#9|
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|6th July 2009, 20:46||#11|
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The people of Thailand
Thais are remarkably different from Indians. Most noticeable are
The quietness on the streets: no shouting, no fighting, no rowdyism, no drunken brawls, and no honking. Thais are God-fearing people, and they respect their king as much as they do the lord Buddha.
Hawkers vend their ware, but don't shout like they do in India.
Foreign travellers to Thailand will do well to note, however, that lese majeste laws are in force in Thailand, and criticism or discussion of the royalty may result in arrest and jail.
The cleanliness: Each one is neatly dressed, with clean attire, clean hands and (mostly) sparkling teeth! No one spits or litters on the pavement, and fruit-sellers and street food vendors who end up doing so, clean up afterwards with brooms and detergent!! Even the street vendors are smartly and cleanly dressed. And so importantly, everyone has a smile for you.
Fruit sellers near the Prince Palace Hotel
Smartly dressed driver and conductor (conductress?) of a VIP bus
Our taxi driver and tuk-tuk driver at Chiang Mai
Our car gets a compulsory free windscreen wipe
Smart ladies at the reception of the Gems Gallery - everywhere you go, "sawaddikhaaap" in a lilting tone is a standard greeting!
Bellboys and waiters don't expect to be tipped - indeed, tipping is not a custom in Thailand, and a 10THB tip makes them really break out in a big smile!
The artistry : Sure, Thai art does not hold a candle to Indian art and its variety, but the heritage they have is preserved with a quiet pride and patriotism that we wish was present among us. The typical architecture of Thailand is easily recognizable (though for me it got boring after a while), with its lavish use of golden paint, and every tourist destination in Bangkok and elsewhere is being perpetually restored and brightened.
I fell in love with the way they present their food items! The way the green coconuts are trimmed and served, how cut fruits are sold in a clean and hygienic manner, add to the pleasure of the Thai gastronomical experience.
The language barrier: All Thais speak only Thai, except that 5% who inhabit Bangkok and Pattaya, and regularly come in contact with English-speaking tourists. But the English we speak (or for that matter, the British do) sounds entirely Greek to them in most instances. So Safari World becomes "Suffely wull" and trousers are recognised as "long pants". Of course, away from Bangkok, it is a great stroke of luck to find someone who even understands or reads English, never mind speaking it.
At Kanchanaburi, we had a trying time locating the Tiger Temple, which was not marked on the GPS. People I'd ask would respond in Thai, and ask another person on an attempt to figure out what we wanted. finally, after umpteen attempts we managed to find someone who understood us. With an "Aaaaah' signifying he had understood us, he told us the way. Wrote out the name of the place in Thai, and told us to ask for the "Luangta Bua"! And that worked wonders. We would show the Thai script, and get directions later on in a jiffy.
Thai helpfulness: The internet spews horror stories about how everyone is out to fleece tourists to Thailand. Yes they do try to take you for a ride, but back off soon if you stand your ground. However. I shall never forget the kindness of a lady near the Bridge on the River Kwai, where my wife fell and hurt her leg. She also had a vasovagal attack, and sank to the ground and blacked out for a few seconds as she tried to stand up. This was in the few minutes that I was away, getting the car from the car park. the lady sat on the ground, took my wife's head in her lap , fanned her, applied an ice pack to her head,
and along with a few others (including a tourist police personnel who spoke about 20 words of English) managed to revive her as well as reassure my MIL that everything was going to be all right. Fortunately, she was fine after a short while, except a sprained ankle which bothered her no end for the rest of the trip.
Just once were we taken for a ride, this at Pattaya. Unable to get directions to the Ripley’s museum from the shopkeepers, we asked a group of cabbies. Our mistake. They convinced us that it was quite far, and would cost us 100 THB. The place happened to be round the corner, and we could well have walked down in 15 minutes (we actually walked back). But then, even before this incident, Pattaya was one place that gave us bad vibes – we enjoyed the shows, but not the city.
Last edited by SS-Traveller : 6th July 2009 at 20:56.
|7th July 2009, 11:38||#12|
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Renting a self-drive car in Thailand is fairly cheap by Indian standards, but it is safer to rent from a internationally reputed company like Avis or Budget. The local companies who rent out cars are likely to give you an inadequately maintained car which has seen rough use, and they might not cover full insurance for damages. If you haven't checked out the car for body damage thoroughly and made a note of the same in writing at the time of renting, you would be liable to pay for the same at the time of returning the car. We decided to rent the most economical car from a trusted name - Avis. The car was a no-frills Toyota Soluna Vios 1.5L petrol (gasoline as it is called there) sedan, for our 2-day trip to Kanchanaburi. More than adequate for 4 people, with a decent boot to take all our luggage.
We had pre-booked the car online at Avis Rent a car Thailand. Thai Limousine , Leasing , Chuffeur drive , Self Drive Special Rate Hire , Operation Lease for Expat Financial Lease for Expat , Car Rental Promotion rate , Reservation Book online discount realtime Car Rental àªèÒÃ¶ Ã¶àªèÒ - no online payment required. Their Bangkok downtown office at Wireless Road closes at 6:30pm, and we just managed to make it there in time. An international driving permit is not required to rent, as long as your driving licence is in Roman letters and numerals. But they do warn you that if the cops catch you, they might insist on your having an IDP, else they might make things a little difficult for you. I rented the car for 1100 THB per day (across-the-counter rates were 1300 THB per day), with a Garmin Nuvi GPS device added for 214 THB per day,
plus a Super Collision Damage Waiver (SCDW) insurance for an additional 300 THB or thereabouts per day. For this I got a 2-years-old silver car with 88k on the odo (Avis tells me that they scrap all cars as soon as they complete 100k). Minor dents and a cracked rear bumper, and a malfunctioning central locking system (the rear left door needed to be locked manually separately) were pointed out, a 20k THB security deposit on the credit card was taken, with photocopies of my DL and passport, and we were on our way to Kanchanaburi.
Now driving in Thailand, especially inside Bangkok, is tough for most Indians. Cutting across lanes, jumping amber lights and blaring horns are the few urges we need to control. And Thais don't tailgate like we do. But the traffic jams in Bangkok are equally as frustrating as in any metro in India - you can remain immobile in one for over 30 minutes at times, while the next lane may be moving (that's when the urge to cut across lanes is so evident!). These are the times that behaving like the Buddha and meditating in the driver's seat has its advantages.
On the motorways, speed limits can vary from 80km/h to 120km/h, and most people stick to about 10% above the limit. Speed radars are deployed sometimes, and I've spotted at least two. Parking is never a problem, with multi-storey car parks all over Bangkok, and huge parking lots at Kanchanaburi.
The highways are well marked with numbers. Signages bear large Thai lettering and miniscule English lettering below it - as if non-Thai drivers are supposed to have telescopic eyesight. With the GPS, we didn't have a problem navigating around Bangkok or on the highways, but at Kanchanaburi most of the local POIs were not marked on the map. No potholes anywhere, and even though it rained heavily at Kanchanaburi, no mud and slush on the roads.
The car had mud all over it because I had taken it on a short excursion into an unpaved village road.
The Avis guy asked me where I'd gone, when returning the car. He was quite sceptical with my answer that it had rained and that there was mud on the road.
The car returned an average of about 14-15 km/l, and the fastest I had driven it was about 110 km/h. Fuel used was 91 Octane (@29 THB per liter at different pumps - PTT and Shell were the cheapest) or a mix called Gasohol (which was about 1 THB cheaper per litre).
The meter console in the centre of the dashboard definitely took a little getting used to, and yes, this car also did away with a temperature gauge!
Last edited by SS-Traveller : 7th July 2009 at 11:56.
|7th July 2009, 18:02||#14|
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Tigers in Thailand
Let's now talk about one of the most common living creatures in Thailand - the domesticated tiger! You can love them or you can hate them, but you really can't leave them alone. You watch them once, twice, and then a third time - and gradually realization dawns on you that you're getting as bored of them as they are of you. Our first meeting with tigers was at the Safari World on the outskirts of Bangkok. We freaked out on being so up close and personal with these majestic animals, and finally even being able to take one in our laps and bottle-feed it (and that's how they make money - by domesticating tigers!).
And the piece de resistance of that trip - the tiger cub on our lap, suckling away at a bottle of milk. Cost 350 THB, but who's complaining? This was our pic of a lifetime!! The first time, of course...
Last edited by SS-Traveller : 7th July 2009 at 18:04.
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