Just got back from my first trip to South East Asia.
I decided to "dip my toe in the water" with Thailand, as it is meant to be a very easy country to travel around.
I completely loved it.
The people are amazing, it's hot, it's cheap, and there is Thai food - what's not to like?
And it is an easy country to travel in.
There are lots of cash-machines and places that take credit cards, signs are generally in English as well as Thai, and there's no visa required. Hurrah!
I spent 5 days in Bangkok, then took the overnight sleeper train down to Surat Thani, had 2 days at Ao Nang, and then 3 days on Koh Phi Phi (pronounced Pee-pee), before heading back up to Bangkok.
I love big cities - the noise, the hustle, the bustle, the people, the crowds.
But, and this surprised even me, I loved the islands, and their beaches. I didn't think I was that sort of a person - but it seems I am. Perhaps things are changing with age?
Plus, there were monkeys on the beaches!
The long-tail boats on Koh Phi Phi just made the perfect picture.
Tuk-tuk journeys are of course an experience. Sometimes they'll quote you three times what the cost should be, but you just say no, walk away, and quite often, they'll take you for what the cost should be. Of course, this means you need to know how much it should cost, and you won't until you've been there a while. Just take a taxi, and make sure the meter is on.
Booked a day-trip tour one day, which took me to the floating market, The Bridge on the River Kwai , and to the tiger temple, where I got to have my photo taken with tigers .
At the tiger temple there was the fattest bear I've ever seen, which wasn't cool.
All the Buddhist temples and monks walking around in their orange robes was lovely.
I saw a couple of signs at the tiger temple:
The way to peace: The noble eightfold path
1. Right view; right understanding
2. Right thought
3. Right speech
4. Right action
5. Right livelihood
6. Right effort
7. Right mindfulness
8. Right concentration
The way to peace: The eight precepts
1. To abstain from taking life
2. To abstain from taking what is not given
3. To abstain from unchastity
4. To abstain from false speech
5. To abstain from intoxicants causing heedlessness
6. To abstain from untimely eating
7. To abstain from dancing, singing, music, and unseemly shows, from wearing garlands, smartening with scents and embellishments with unguents
8. To abstain from the use of high and large luxurious couches
I love some of the language in that second list of eight.
I saw a couple of monks waiting for the train in Surat Thani, and asked if I could take their pic.
I went to the Royal Palace in Bangkok , and (after being told it was closed by the people that everyone is warned about), I went in.
It is amazing. I could have taken loads of pictures, but I hadn't charged the camera the night before, so I ended up with about 5. However, I figured that lots of people would have taken pictures of it, and I wasn't mistaken.
On the flight out there, I was sat next to a fund manager, and he was only going to Thailand to buy 5 tailor-made suits, and was then flying back.
I had previously thought I might get a suit made when I was out there, and this made me more certain.
I now have a lovely suit, tie, and shirt - it cost me 7000 baht, which is about £140. I probably could have got it much cheaper, but it seemed OK to me.
I went to watch a Muay Thai fight at the Rajdamnern stadium. I was surprised at how much they went at each other. Fists, knees, elbows.
I watched "The Impossible" when I was out there. Maybe it was because I was in Thailand, or because I was surrounded by Thais, or because I'd come back from the islands the day before, where there are signs warning of tsunamis, and giving the escape paths, but I found it very hard to watch. I remember where I was when the tsunami struck, but that film really brought home the violence and savagery of those events.
Oh, and it has Naomi Watts in it.... :)
The Thai people are amazing. Always ready to smile, helpful.
There were quite a lot of rather large, middle-aged western men, accompanied by very attractive Thai girls. I presume they weren't together for love.
There are lots of shrines - mainly Buddhist, but some Hindu? - by the side of the roads. Thais, when walking past, will often "Wai" the shrine.
There are also a lot of pictures of the Thai King everywhere. When I watched a film, they played the anthem before the film. Also, when I was waiting at the train station, the anthem was played at 6pm. It was the King's birthday on the 5th December, and it seemed like half the city turned out to see him. On the flight back on the 6th, we got a special meal in honour of his birthday.
Thai airlines are very good. I'd definitely travel with them again.
I went on a quick cookery course when I was on Phi Phi. I managed to cook Tom Yum Goong - and it is now a firm favourite. In fact, I've never really liked prawns much, but I'm converted now.
It was amazingly warm. It doesn't look like it from the pictures, but it was very warm. Even a Spanish guy I work with found it pretty hot. He said that it was mainly the humidity that made it hard.
Finally, here's a picture of me, sheltering from the sun.