We say Good-bye to Hua Hin

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We’ve been in Hua Hin, Thailand for the last few days, and tomorrow we head on back to Phuket – well, we’ll probably spend a night at Ranong on the way back. Suffice to say, this has been a very nice place to come and visit. Maybe even stay longer than a visit. It’s hard to say, because Kanchanaburi was also very nice.

Mybe it’s time to move on from Phuket. It’s a great holiday destination, but is it somewhere I want to live?

I’m travelling at the moment…

[iframe http://maps.google.com.au/maps/ms?msa=0&msid=205952551275593028260.0004ac44d00d68966d60e&ie=UTF8&vpsrc=6&ll=13.83808,101.206055&spn=19.117508,13.183594&z=5&output=embed 300 450]View Bangkok to Phuket in a larger map

I’ve been in Thailand on and off for sometime now, but I have been pretty fixed in location. When I have moved I have generally flown (occasional bus, and once a train) everywhere.

We’ve been in Bangkok for the last few weeks and this time, we decided that instead of flying to Phuket, we would drive. With the shelving of the “flight plan”, we hired a car and set off.

It was going to be a two day trip.

A few hours into the trip, I knew that we weren’t going straight back. We had one detour planned on the way already, but as soon as we got there, it turned into another, and another, and even another…

Unfortunately I don’t have good internet (on the road), but as soon as I do, you’ll find a few posts of the travelling variety, around Thailand. This is a beautiful country, with beautiful people. Just stay away from the tourist traps and you’ll be right :-)

The map is rough, (pretty much just the end points), but it’s a guide to where we’ve been, or at least stopped each night. Although you can see where we went on our different day trips.

Stay tuned for more posts about this, because we have done some great stuff! Things I’ve wanted to do for a very long time (such as Hellfire Pass and the Bridge on the River Kwai). I did leave out the Tiger Temple, which has been on my todo list for sometime. But I’ll talk about that later.

See y’all soon!

Phuket Weather Warning

20110826-114759.jpgI’ve been living in Thailand coming up to a year in December and although in the tropics, I’ve never really seen too much rain here. About my 2nd ever trip to Thailand, I think it rained everyday, and although I’ve seen bad bouts of weather (raining for say a week or whatever), it’s always been pretty good for me.

This year, as with many countries, Thailand has seen unusually high levels of flooding. Almost no point of Thailand has been untouched. For months the northern part of Thailand (Issan, where Fah’s family is from), and Bangkok have had weather warnings, flash flooding, and rain for weeks on end.

We’ve been in Bangkok for over two weeks now and other than for an hour or two some afternoons, we’ve seen very little rain. But right now, Phuket (notably Patong) is experiencing bad flooding. And I’m in beautiful (sic) Bangkok where the weather has been fine. We are due to go home in a few days, however we may extend our stay here a little longer.

An associated article (found below) talks about Phuket’s last period of bad flooding. This was back in March. At that time I’d flown home to Australia for a few weeks and so I missed out on the bad weather.

I missed the flooding back in Australia (shortly after coming here), I’ve missed the flooding in Phuket when I returned to Australia, I’ve missed the greater flooding of Thailand (including Bangkok), when I was in Phuket, and now that I’m in Bangkok, I’ve missed it all again!

I have to say, maybe it’s time I bought a lottery ticket :-)

(featured article from the Phuket Gazette)

Food Preparation, Hygiene and Safety

20110823-093606.jpgHaving been born and raised in a western society (Australia), where food preparation and service of same have some pretty (what I would consider) rudimentary laws; I am constantly surprised by what I perceive to be inadequate in other countries, and yet the only time I have ever been sick was due to food cooked in an actual restaurant.

Over the last few years I have spent considerable time in S.E. Asia, Thailand in particular; but Singapore, Malaysia and Japan as well. Food is never kept heated above 30° (usually being the outside air temperature). And sushi NEVER kept under 20° (say in a shopping centre). I have bought sushi in an open air market from a non refrigerated cart. I have also bought chicken, pork and beef dishes from neighbouring carts where the food has been prepared and sitting for large periods of time.

I’m thinking about this today because right now I’m sitting in a large shopping complex in Bangkok with my wife and her friend. I’ve just had a red chicken and pumpkin curry that simply looked delicious in the Bain Marie and once I’d got back to the table I found it to be luke warm at best! It was delicious, but unfulfilling and so I went to a neighbouring stall and bought some roasted duck with rice.

Again, delicious but cold. Not out of a freezer or even fridge cold, but not hot either. Room temperature, which in this shopping centre environment, I would estimate is about 24°C.

And I’m amazed, continually amazed for many reasons, and not just limited to the following:

– I have never been sick from one of these stalls

– people (generally) mustn’t get sick from them either, else I would assume* they would be shut down

– I have become sick from Bain Marie stalls in Australia

Do these eastern cultures develop an immunity to food containing traces of bacteria? Immunity may be too strong a word, maybe tolerance instead. Ergo, are Australian and western laws so hard and tight that we (as a demographic) are becoming less tolerant to food prepared elsewhere in the world?

– or are Australian laws simply too tight in the face of reality?

This draws me to two possible conclusions::

1. The reality of the situation is that western practices/laws are out of line with what’s really required for safety in food preparation, (I don’t believe this), or

2. That eastern cultures have lead lined stomaches and have developed a tolerance or an immunity as described above and western cultures are becoming more susceptible in this regard (I don’t really believe this either!)

I don’t know what the reality of the situation really is but suffice to say that I have not been sick yet, and (he says whilst clutching at the wooden table and chair in front of him), I hope that this continues to be the case.

* I do follow the old adage that one should never Ass-U-Me anything, but sometimes it’s just unavoidable.

Getting a driver/rider license in Phuket

Getting a Thai Driver/Rider License in Phuket.

Testing ground at Phuket Transport Office
Testing ground at Phuket Transport Office

This turns out to be a two day process but both are very short. You MAY be able to pull this off in one, but I didn’t bother trying.

Day 1 – getting your proof of address for Thailand. This can be done a number of ways. You will need either: Work Permit, Statutory Declaration from your embassy, or a lease agreement.

I believe the first two are standalone, but I’m not too sure. I didn’t have either a work permit or a stat dec from the embassy, so my option is the lease agreement.

So this is how I did it.

Go to the immigration office and take with you:
– Lease and photocopy
– your passport with visa and entry stamp, and photocopies of these (and your data page)
– 1x Photo
– 300฿*

*this is arbitrary and flexible. The actual fee is free. However, the officer may ask for anything from 100-500฿. I wasn’t going to argue, but I believe if you ask for a receipt he MAY decline to take your money. I didn’t want to test this.

Once everything is checked you’ll be instructed to wait, and 10-15 minutes later you’ll get your certificate. Maybe less because I had to go and get the photo done. I was unaware that a photo was required for this.

All up, including all waiting time I was there less than hour.

Day 2 – I arrived at the Transport office, driving section spot on 8:30. The doors were being unlocked as we got off the bike. The line at the office wasn’t short and we all piled inside.

Take with you:
– passport and photocopy
– drivers license and photocopy
– intl drivers permit and photocopy
– medical certificate
– residence certificate

If you’re applying for a car and bike license, double everything up, so for two licenses you will need:

– passport and 2x photocopies
– drivers license and 2x photocopies
– intl drivers permit and 2x photocopies
– medical certificate and photocopy
– residence certificate and photocopy

In this case, you will have one set that has an original medical certificate and residence certificate, the other will be photocopies. Sign each and every photocopy including originals.

Time line:
– 0830 walked in and got in line
– 0850 documents checked plus wrote my name on a bit of paper and signed it
– 0900 watched a short video (in thai) on the reaction and depth perception tests
– 0910 listened as a thai speaker spoke to the class. This went on for about 15 minutes.

– 0925 the class commences the reaction and colour blind tests. During this test, many Thais failed and their papers were put into another pile. Once the tester got towards mine and other foreigners names, she pulled out the failures and let them have another go. Eventually I got my chance and then walked over to the colour test table. Pretty easy, but I did see two people who were obviously colour blind as they struggled and didn’t pass. I’m not sure if that meant they didn’t get a license or not. Anyway I breezed through it and she gave me my papers back – up until this point she had kept everyone’s papers. I realised this meant I was done. Everyone else had to watch a 2 hour video and do their driving/riding and written tests.

– 0955 went outside to the information desk. She gave me a ticket and within 15 seconds my number came up. The woman at the counter entered my name in the wrong order (so check it!) and charged me 160฿ (and forgot to give me my change). I then proceeded to the next set of counters where they took my photo and I gave them another 220฿. 2 minutes later I walked out with 2 licenses. That was it. I was sitting outside in the gazebo by 1001!

On the other hand, my wife went thru the same morning process but she never got her papers back after the colour blind test. Instead her day went as followed (after that point):

– 1000 watched a video (I believe this one was in thai, but half hour later another one started in English. Not confirmed)

– 1130 my wife comes out and she did her riding test. She made several mistakes on the first go around and they stopped her at the end and just made her do it again. She didn’t make so many mistakes the next go round :-).

– 1200 finished and the place closes for lunch.

– 1300 came back so she could do her written test. whilst this was going on, people outside were doing their driving test for their car license. This was pretty funny to watch. Especially the hill starts – and the test car was an automatic!!

– 1330 she was waiting in the queue to have her photo taken and get her license.

– 1340 we were on the bike going home

All-in-all, not too painful a process. If I had of been by myself, I would have been out of there in an hour an a half. It pays to be prepared, because if you’re not, you’ll have to come back the next day. I believe they only do the video screenings once a day, so if you try and do both steps in one day, and don’t make it to the transports first video, I hear you can drop off all your paperwork and come back the next day. It will only speed up the morning bit. Personally, however, the way I did it was easy enough.

Good luck!

RFID and hotels

calming image
a totally unrelated picture

Three of the last four hotels I have stayed in that used RFID tags for the rooms have absolutely sucked. Big time. Currently staying in the Novatel, KL, Malaysia and were only here four nights. The very first morning after having breakfast and travelling up 25 floors BOTH my wife’s RFID card and mine had decided to fail, yet mine did allow us to enter the floor – the floors are protected by RFID as well.

Then the first afternoon coming home they both failed again! The guy at reception reprogrammed our cards and gave us a third one.

Yesterday, my wife left her card in the room, along with the spare and when we got back mine failed again. We went back down. He reprogrammed mine and gave us a fourth card.

Today, after lugging up all our shopping, both my card, my wife’s card and one of the spares would not open the door. The second spare (luckily) did! But I would have been very peeved if it hadn’t!

The other recent hotels that used RFID and we had problems included big name, fancy places in Koh Samui (and that was a LONG walk back to reception), and Koh Phi Phi (again, another long walk – the longest – back to reception!). I would name them but I honestly forget the names. The only RFID card we haven’t had problems with was the most recent in Singapore – the (overpriced) V Lavender Hotel above the Lavender MRT.

I tried to recall, I thought for a moment swipe v actual RFID cards may have been worse, but the verdict is still out. Two have been swipe, and one was proximity type RFID. So, probably, this post is incorrectly titled. So sue me :/)

BTW, the image of the water is supposed to be a “calming effect” type of thing. This is just such an annoying thing that one needs a little meditation, medication or to go for a drink :-)

Teksi in KL

I first came to Malaysia in 2008 and caught a teksi (taxi*) from KLCC to Mid Valley Mega Mall. The first one back then drive like a bat out of hell and it cost RM60. Now in Aussie dollars that’s about $20 and given that taxis in Aus are notoriously expensive I didn’t think too much of it. I did think it was a LITTLE overpriced, but hey, we were there to have fun**.

Coming back to the hotel in the afternoon the driver was taking us on the scenic tour and I remember repeatedly telling him we wanted to go to KLCC. He confirmed we were but my concern stemmed from the fact that the Petronas Towers were directly behind us and we were headed away from them. Reraising the concerns the driver assured us we were ok. We were going the right way.

As it turned out, we were going the right way and he got us there for RM30!!! Half the price.

Wind the clock forward to 2011, my wife and I walked out of the hotel yesterday and jumped into a taxi and headed off in search of MegaMall once again. We got there and the fare amounted to LESS THAN RM30! So with a tip it cost us RM30 exactly. And this taxi driver was really funny, very wise and will probably be the subject of another post in the next few days.

But then coming back to the hotel last night, the taxi was stuck in traffic for almost the entire journey and it seemed to take forever. We arrived at the hotel and the whole fare rung up at LESS THAN RM15!!!

What’s going on? Everytime I get in a taxi in Malaysia, is gets cheaper!!! This is cool! But it does go to show how much we got ripped off every other time!

* I do love the way Malay’s spell English words, or incorporate English words into their language

** and as it turned out, to get ripped off!

KL 2011

Petronas Towers
Petronas Towers

It’s been a long time since I’ve done anything with this site, and maybe it’s about time to start doing something again. I’ve been overseas a lot lately, currently lying in my bed, in KL, Malaysia debating on going shopping. No, I don’t live here, I’m just a tourist. Debating on having a shower and visiting MegaMall in Mid Valley. I went there some years ago and was amazed, preparing to be amazed again, and have my wife spend all my money… After all, isn’t that what they’re for???

I spend most of my time now in Thailand and Australia. Debating on which I call home. Often I get trapped and call both home, but there are moments where I take sides, in which case it’s “Back in Australia… but here at home….” and other times, it’s “When I’m at home…” clearly referring to the other country. One thing that is funny, is visiting your own country as a tourist. Ok, admittedly it’s probably not quite the same as a tourist, because you’ve probably got accommodation, transport (or a transport system you know), no language barriers and communications (email, telephone etc etc).

But going to Australia for short stints, is kind of like a holiday. And like all holidays, they have their good points and bad points.

The Rum Jungle Bar
The Rum Jungle Bar, KL

Regardless, I’m heading off to Singapore in a few days, ready to hit a few attractions that I didn’t get to see in either of my last two trips. But for now, I’ll just sit here, and slowly wake my wife (she get’s grumpy if I just push her out of bed lol), and debate the day’s (and the night’s) activities… Tonight could see me at a favourite little haunt called the Rum Jungle (free plug), they’re just around the corner from the towers (pictured above). But I have found a new little bar at the moment (only because of the price of the drinks).

I’ve never drunk “Carlsberg” beer before, it’s from Copenhagen and it’s not too bad a drop. I’m a Tiger (Singapore) and Chang (Thailand) beer drinker myself (or a Wild Turkey man when I’m at home/in Australia!)… But this bar I found has RM30 (about 300฿ or A$9) for the first stubbie (which is definitely overpriced…), BUT every one AFTER that is just RM1!!! (about 10฿ or just A$0.31)… If over the course of the CRAZY HOURS (as they call them), you put away 11 of these (to make the math easy lol), that’s 11 stubbies for RM40 or 400฿ or A$12.30… breaking that down… each stubbie costs RM3.6, 36฿, or A$1.12… Now that’s good by anyone’s standards. I just have to get the wife there again tonight!!!!

But who want’s to hear about beer…

PPPPPPP – The 7 P’s

Prior Preparation and Planning Prevent Piss Poor Performance

I first travelled to Singapore in 2008 with a good friend of mine. While we were there we darted off to KL for a few days and took in some of the local sights, as well as attractions (there is a hidden pun there – sorry, private jokes are so bad, but if anyone knows Sissy, you’d know what I mean!) Anyway, we elected to go by VIP bus. We had heard about how good it was, and cheap, and so we did it. Without a lot of research, we jumped on one of the services (the name has seriously escaped the pair of us) and we were dropped off in some dingy bus terminal/car park with hordes of teksis (how Malaysian’s spell taxi) who were unwilling to run their meters for us.

So we elected to walk.

It was hot, uphill, long and we were dragging our luggage along for the ride. Did I mention it was hot?

We stayed at a hotel, Corus, pretty much across the road from the Petronas Towers. Not bad at the time, cheap, free wifi in their lobby (BTW they don’t have this any more), and not too bad. Especially for the price. The bad point was though, that another bus company ran VIP busses TO THE DOOR!!!

It’s now 2011.

I had forgotten a lot of the lessons learned in 2008 – especially the difficulty in organising and coordinating international travel between countries, that aren’t your home country, and that (despite official languages) don’t speak great EngRish). When I decided to visit KL with my wife I did look briefly at the Corus hotel, but quickly dismissed it for some reason (it wasn’t the wifi!), and went with the Novatel. Now this is no dig on the Novatel, they are a good Hotel and I would recommend them again, Well, we’re still here and haven’t had any problems so far. BUT, and here’s where the 7 P’s come into it… When it came to organising the bus (long after I had BOOKED the accommodation), I booked with the bus company that dropped us off at the Corus Hotel. But the Novatel is closer to the car park/bus station that Andrew and I had taken in 2008!

Is that irony?

No, it’s just those 7 bloody damn P’s

Dengue Fever

mosquito

I’ve had Dengue Fever for the last month, I’m only just getting over it. I hope I get over it soon, I’ll be in Singapore next week!

It’s been a debilitating disease, it put me in hospital for 5 days and that was no fun – not without insurance! I have been crook with this for more than a month…

It is purely mosquito driven, and non contagious, and there are four main strains of the disease. I caught one of them (I don’t know which one), but now I am immune from catching it again, the other three strains I am immune for a (unspecified) “period”… The problem is AFTER that period, I am MORE at risk if I ever do catch one of them…

I was VERY lucky, I never caught it (or got the worst strain) as detailed in the above link… But it still hurt though!

Great.