Nong Khai

I was able to sleep somewhat on the overnight bus journey from Sukhothai to Khon Kaen, and arrived at the latter’s bus terminal at about 4.15am. I was initially told by the staff at the information booth (who barely spoke English) that I would have to take a 5am bus to Udon Thani to connect to Nong Khai, but at 4.45am I could hear a lady and a man screaming “Nong Khai” and “Udon Thani” which got my attention. Apparently a bus had just arrived from Bangkok that would take me direct to Nong Khai, so I managed to get a seat for 120 baht. The journey was about 3.5 hours, and I slept through most if it as well.

I got a single room at Joommalee Guesthouse for 200 baht. Within walking distance from the bus terminal, it has private bathroom with hot water, free wifi, fan, and TV (which I did not use). Guests can also use bikes for free, which I did use to get to Sala Kae Ku. Oh the bathroom and toilet has no doors (just partitioned off), but this is a single room! I didn’t even notice initially. And I suspect I was the only guest in the whole guesthouse (basically the owner’s house) for the night.

There is really nothing much to do in Nong Khai. The Governor’s Mansion Museum stated in Lonely Planet 2012 doesn’t seem to exist anymore, although the building (presumably the governor’s mansion) is still there, and the Nong Khai Museum was closed and deserted when I went on a Wednesday afternoon. The Tha Sadet Market was pretty much “same same”, and the sunset cruise on the Mekong River onboard the boat belonging to Mut Mee Garden Guesthouse was a no go due to propeller problems. Only the Sala Kae Ku (20 baht), a sculpture park, was interesting enough, but you need to cycle a short distance from town or find other means of transport.

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Sukhothai

I woke up at 4am and checked out at 5am to try and catch the potential 6am bus from Chiang Mai’s Arcade Bus Terminal to Sukhothai. Surprisingly, the streets were rather quiet at 5am, and there were no song taews, tuk tuks, or taxis trying to offer transport to me. Where were they when I needed them? So I started walking along Th Chang Moi in the direction of the Arcade Bus Terminal, and it wasn’t till I crossed the Mae Nam Ping river and started on Th Kaew Nawarat (5.25am) that a tuk tuk stopped to offer me a ride to the Arcade Bus Terminal for 50 baht. I tried to lower the fare given that I had probably walked half the journey already, but was not successful. In the end I agreed because I didn’t actually have the exact location of the bus terminal, and it was rather obvious that there was no other competition. The driver did confirm there was a 6am bus to Sukhothai, however, and he did stop me directly in front of the relevant ticket counter, so that was good. By 5.35 am, I had purchased my bus ticket to Sukhothai for 239 baht. When I asked if there were overnight buses to Sukhothai to satisfy my curiosity I was told that the last bus leaves Chiang Mai daily at 5.30pm, arriving Sukhothai at 11pm, and therefore would not have been ideal anyway. There are other bus companies with routes to Sukhothai, but their counters were closed when I was at the terminal so I could not check their bus timings, and there was no clear consolidated information in English anywhere.

The 5.5 hour air-con bus journey was uneventful, with several stops at bus stations in between, but I slept through most of the way to arrive at New Sukhothai at 11.30am. The bus terminal at New Sukhothai seemed to be rather organised, with consolidated route timetables and information counters where staff were able to communicate in basic English. After gathering enough information, I decided and executed the following plan: (1) Leave big luggage at nearby guesthouse for 20 baht (2) Take shared song taew to Sukhothai Historical Park for 30 baht (3) View the sights of the central and northern region at 100 baht each (4) Visit the Ramkhamhaeng National Museum for 150 baht (5) Take shared song taew back to New Sukhothai for 30 baht (6) Take overnight bus from Sukhothai at 9pm arriving Khon Kaen at 4am for 255 baht and find my way to next destination Nong Khai from there.

After having seen the Temples of Bagan in Myanmar, Angkor Wat in Cambodia, and even the Yungang Grottoes in China, it is inevitable that I found Sukhothai Historical Park to be… lacking in the awe factor. I would still go once if I had never been before, but don’t make it a high priority on your bucket list. Some say Sukhothai’s ruins are the best in Thailand (I wouldn’t know as it is my first ruins in Thailand), while others spend 2-3 days enjoying the historical park. Well, I finished walking the central and northern zones in about 2.5 hours. Yes, I could have spent 50 baht more to rent a bike (30 baht) and pay additional entrance fees (10 baht per zone), and most people do (it was a lot of walking I assure you), but I didn’t want to be preoccupied with the logistics of having a bike with me (such as finding a proper place at each wat to park and secure the bike), and figured I would actually be more mobile without one (turned out I was able to cut through wats efficiently without having to backtrack for my bike if I were to have left it at a particular wat entrance). And I did finish what I wanted to see in good time, including this Wat Sorasak with its reconstructed elephants:

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Actually, I had planned to see one more Wat Chang Lom (with elephants as well) outside the paid zones just before I headed back to New Sukhothai, but something happened that literally made me freeze in my tracks. The weather was so hot, and I was on my way to Wat Chang Lom when I saw a 7-11, with locals streaming out of it drinking slurpees. I just had to get one for myself (18 baht for medium 16 oz), and time stopped as I stood outside 7-11 enjoying scoop after scoop of icy brain-freeze. Yes, that little spoon at the end of the slurpee straw… I felt so satiated that when a song taew heading to New Sukhothai passed I decided I didn’t need to see another wat with elephants anymore, and flagged it down. The other tourists already on the song taew were looking at my slurpee with evil eyes, but I couldn’t care less as I finished it hungrily on the ride back. Reminds me of summer in Alice Springs and the A$1 Frozen Coke at Burger King…

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Chiang Mai Day Two

No one in and around the old city seemed to have any solid information about buses to Sukhothai so I decided to forego the night bus idea and just stay one more night in Chiang Mai. (Most agents I asked told me to go to the Arcade Bus Terminal to check or buy a ticket just before I leave, while there was one which quoted me 600 baht for a ticket which was more than double what I was expecting based on prior research. The Arcade Bus Terminal is not within walking distance from the old city so my decision was to go there early the next morning to catch a potential 6am bus.) So I managed to find a single room at Daret’s House for 170 baht. Located right outside the Tha Phae gate facing the moat and main road, the room had fan, free usable wifi, and private bathroom with hot water. Splendid.

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Today’s highlight was supposed to be Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, a temple on a mountain outside Chiang Mai city centre with a viewpoint overlooking the city. The view was lacklustre, but the transport to/fro the old city is a story in itself. At the Chang Pheuak gate is a designated point to take “public transport” to Doi Suthep, which indicates clearly with a signboard that says 50 baht a person each way to/from Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. Basically the red song taews wait there until enough people (8-10) fill it up before leaving. Which wasn’t much of a problem. The problem is in the return trip, because the 50 baht fare only applies if you take the very same song taew back to the city, otherwise the fare is 60 baht. Of course this system doesnt work quite well because no one actually sees this as a “tour” with fixed timings, but just take their own time short or long. To cut the story shorter, there was a point where there were 8 of us waiting in the song taew to go back to the city, which would have totalled 400 baht earnings, but the driver refused to go and wanted to wait for 1 more person. Tired of waiting, 2 of the tourists decided they would pay 60 baht each instead and jumped on another song taew which happened to be leaving and had just enough space for them, thereby exacerbating the problem for the remaining 6 of us because our driver would want to fill up their slots as well. In the end, in order to keep more from deserting, the driver agreed to leave immediately if each of us paid 60 baht, which totalled 360 baht. I didn’t have much of a choice but to agree, since taking another song taew would have been 60 baht as well. As a Thai tourist from Bangkok said, “It’s just 10 baht more, at least we can leave immediately,” but my point is the driver’s refusal to leave when there were 8 people already resulted in him earning less money, and us having to pay more than was expected. A lose-lose situation that I’m sure wasn’t the first time, and won’t be the last.

If that didn’t already leave an unpleasant taste in my mouth, then the Night Bazaar sure did. I thought the prices at the Sunday Walking Street were not that fantastic already, but the Night Bazaar prices were much worse! And the Galare Food Centre at the Night Bazaar turned out to be an overpriced food court. I guess when I travel I want to buy things and eat food where the locals do the same, and not feel like I’m being ripped off all the time. So if you feel the same about travelling, trust me and don’t waste any time on the Night Bazaar whatsoever.

As for food highlights, I sampled some Chiang Mai spicy pork sausage for free (it was selling at 350 baht/kg, with one standard-size sausage costing about 35 baht), and ate a banana and egg roti prata for 25 baht. I also ate some yummy dry noodles in the Talat Warorot market for 30 baht, which was kind of a cross between wanton mee and mee pok. It had thinly sliced char siew and a fistful of crispy thin crackers.

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Chiang Mai Day One

The flight from Singapore to Chiang Mai on Tigerair (S$89 incl taxes and AXS payment fees) was smooth and on schedule. Immigration clearance didn’t take too long, and with no checked-in luggage to collect, I was in the arrival hall within 20 min of leaving the plane.

There were no touts at the airport, but the tourist information counters didn’t seem very helpful either. Nobody seemed to know of the recent public transport system supposedly implemented – which I had read in a news article online – and could only tell me to “take taxi” if I wanted to get to the city. I was to observe later that this public transport system, with 12 routes and 15-20 baht fares per person, truly didn’t exist. Or at least I could find no trace of it.

I had originally wanted to ask for information about night buses to Sukhothai, but realised I wasn’t going to get anything really useful from the counter, so I went off to make my first purchase to break my 1000 baht note. Between Burger King, McDonald’s and Dairy Queen at the airport, I settled for a Chicken Ham Pie at McDonald’s (33 baht). It is like the usual McDonald’s Apple Pie but with a savoury filling instead. No regrets there.

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I managed to haggle a ride out to the city on the ubiquitous red song taew for 50 baht (the first one that stopped for me asked for 80 baht and there were others already onboard). Turned out I was the only passenger on the trip, so it was kind of like taking a taxi. I dropped off at the Chang Pheuak Gate, which was just 3 min walk away from Buaraya Hotel, which I had pre-booked and pre-purchased using 7500 miles (I had Lufthansa miles expiring year-end which I could not use for anything else of value anyway). Supposedly priced at 20 euros a night for a twin room, it had air-con, free wifi and private bathroom with hot water. Typical business hotel. I was worried the guy who carried my <5kg bag and showed me to the room would demand a tip, but he left without indication he was expecting any once I said I was happy with the room. So off I went to do my sightseeing. I have no intention of detailing the sights and attractions unless they are particularly noteworthy. My focus is on the logistics of travelling alone, on a "budget", which isn't so much about the absolute money, but more "paying for only what you need" and "not feeling ripped off". Of course, my basic needs are pretty low. I can generally walk a lot, don't need air-con to sleep, and only require fan, free usable wifi and hot showers. Private room and bathroom are bonuses worth considering when the price is right. The size of Chiang Mai's old city should not be taken lightly, especially with the intense heat of the day (despite approaching winter) which can make walking uncomfortable. But with virtually no cheap public transport system, walking is the best way to get around, and I rewarded myself with a half-hour foot massage at the Sunday Walking Street for 70 baht. Done along the street, passers-by watch you get your feet manipulated as you in turn watch the world go by. For 60 baht more you can add on 30 min which also includes some back and shoulder massage. Oh the Sunday Walking Street is quite impressive for a street market. There was a mass and mess of people. The streets were filled with locals manning the stalls and foreigners (both tourists and long-stay) browsing the wares. All kinds of souvenirs (both decorative and usable) you could possibly imagine, and then some more. I saw so many people drinking icy fruit shakes that I ended up getting not one, but two by the end of the night. A smaller avocado and passion fruit shake for 15 baht, and a larger dragon fruit shake for 30 baht. I also ate 10 baht pad thai (small portion), 20 baht tiny partridge eggs (six), and 30 baht chicken khao soi (Chiang Mai's specialty). And at some time (I think it was 6pm), there was an announcement made across the streets to welcome everyone to the street market, and everyone was told to rise for the national anthem. The hustle and bustle of activity came to an abrupt halt while the anthem was played, only to resume in full force when the anthem was over. I guess one could say that the Sunday Walking Street is a national event, given the amount of tourist dollar being spent there week after week.

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da:ns Festival 2014

Click to see photos of some of the free performances held at Esplanade:

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Happy Birthday Clarissa!

Sydney, Australia  [2014]

To Clarissa my dearest niece, may you grow and become strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and may the grace of God be on you always.

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Death – A Chance to Celebrate Life

Death. A brush with it certainly puts people in a reflective mood. When someone close to us passes away, it’s not uncommon to feel regret – could we have done anything to prevent the death; could have we spent more time with the person; could we have avoided saying the last hurtful words we said to the person which we really didn’t mean; could we …; could we …? Or else, we start to question why – why did death have to come so soon to such a wonderful person; why was it so sudden that there wasn’t any time to say goodbye; why …; why …?

Thankfully, for those who believe in Christ, death is but a temporary separation. We may feel sad that the time we have on earth is limited, but the time we have beyond death is eternal. There is no need to feel regret, no need to question why. We pass on from this life to a better place. A place without sickness, pain, or suffering. A death may have happened, but let’s take the chance to celebrate life instead. A celebration of the life the departed lived, as well as a celebration of the lives those remain can still enjoy. Surely that’s what the departed would want of us instead of mourning over a dead body, which is but a shell of the spirit that is truly us.

‘Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.”‘ – John 11:25 (NKJV)

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Australia Albums Updated

It is no surprise that I currently have the most number of photo albums for Australia than for any other country. In fact, my Sydney album was bursting way beyond my set limit of 200 per album that I decided to split it into 2 albums: Sydney (Inner) and Sydney (Outer). Sydney (Inner) covers the region of Sydney under the “City of Sydney” local government authority (LGA), while Sydney (Outer) covers the rest of Sydney, which incidentally has a total of 38 LGAs according to Wikipedia. Apart from the new content in the two Sydney albums, I have also added two other albums: Tasmania and Alice Springs & Environs.

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New Zealand Trip

I’ve just added the photos/videos for the trip taken to New Zealand earlier this year. The albums are:

Auckland
Hamilton & Environs
Rotorua
Taupo & Environs
Tongariro National Park

The trip was about a week long and a rental car was used to get around. The map shows the places that were covered:

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Sydney New Year’s Eve 2013

Views from Dawes Point Park:

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