Thank you to Ada, our friend in Kunming, who found a copy of Adrian?s Spring Festival fame on the internet on the China Daily webpage -
Vientiane (Laos) ? Phimai (Thailand) ? Bangkok ? Ko Samui!
28th February 2005 ? 20th March 2005
Our trip down from Laos into Thailand started by crossing the border over the Friendship Bridge in Vientianne. We were quite paranoid about this crossing, if you are caught smuggling drugs into Thailand, knowingly or unknowingly, you can face a hefty time in the Bangkok Hilton (not one of the most celubrious prisons in the world!). So we spent an hour before checking the Beast to ensure that we weren?t harbouring any nasties that might have been planted on us. Satisfied that we had looked as much as we could, we drove to the Bridge. The Lao stamping process took us half and hour and then we drove through the barrier and crossed back into the normal land of driving ? the left hand side! We crossed the bridge to be welcomed by the Thai flag and several organised booths; us stamped into the country, car stamped into the country and insurance bought half an hour later, we were on our way into Thailand without a car search, not even a token look inside, no questions, not even a rectal inspection for Greg (he was very disappointed!).
Before we drove off we had the honour to meet two other travellers going the opposite direction. Valerie and Richard had been travelling since Christmas from the UK overland on their BMW motorbike. No Ewan MacGregor party to back them up, they had travelled from the UK, through France down into Turkey and then shipped to India before shipping to Bangkok. It was great to meet someone else as mad as us and to know that it is easy. We felt a bit guilty afterwards as they had asked us what the roads were like in Laos. We thought they were fantastic, in comparison to the Chinese roads, but in compared to the Thai ones they were potholed mountains!
A lady running towards us on the hard shoulder waving her hands alerted us to a problem on the road. We weren?t quite prepared for what we were about to see. We have managed to travel over 16000 km without seeing an obvious fatal crash but we witnessed the aftermath of one as we travelled down along the fantastic Thai motorways. There was a man on his phone with a pick up parked at the side of the road and there was a body lying across the motorway. His head and its contents were splattered across the tarmac. We were all stunned into silence by the scene for several hours. It makes you very aware of your speed as you drive as well as people and animals at the side of the road.
Our first stop in Thailand was 400km down, an even distance to Bangkok. Our Dorling Kingsley book showed us the way to Phimai. Phimai is a quiet little town hiding the remnants of a great empire - Pranhat hin Phimai. This structure was built in 1000 to 1040 AD and was one of the outposts of the Khmer empire. The beautiful golden and maroon sandstone have managed to survive a thousand years with the
We drove into Bangkok on the overhead expressway, a magnificent road that towers up over the high rise buildings. The city became a gridlocked mess as we dropped down off the expressway heading for Ko San Road (the tourist epicentre with a permanent market). We sat in stationary traffic for an hour before we managed to struggle across the city. We were told to expect Moscow driving but were pleasantly surprised by the courteousness of the drivers who let us into the correct lane after we had to weave our way across the traffic to get to the exit.
Bangkok is an amazing city and does not appear nearly as sordid as is made out by the international press. There are stunning Wats with golden palaces, so many markets including floating markets and amulet markets, kite flying areas, bars and restaurants with canals and rivers weaving between houses. There is an open area called the Luang Suam that we were lucky enough to see the kite competition that is held annually in Bangkok. The evening sky was a multicoloured array of kites battling to compete for air space as they climbed higher up into the sky. Alexis explored the royal palace and the automotive market whilst Tom and Adrian wandered around the clothes markets. The less salubrious areas of Bangkok have become tourist attractions like Soho or Pigalle driving the really bad elements underground. The Ladyboys are like mosquitoes in the tourist zones like Ko San Road. They swarm out at night attaching themselves to unsuspecting tourists unprepared for their hidden bite! Many of them are so female that it is very difficult to tell if they are female or not. Unfortunately this means that you spend a lot of your time looking at women and thinking that they are male. Bangkok is an addictive city with its cheap clothes, tailors, stunning temples with tuk tusk and taxis honking their horns ready to take you to any part of the city.
Tom was given his marching orders by his new boss in Australia, who asked him to come out to Oz as soon as he could? but not before Tom had topped up his tan ready for the cool Australian winter (ok it isn?t really that cold at 20oC!). So we set off from the busy, sprawling metropolis of Bangkok to head down to the islands. The journey ? 700km. The time approximated ? 12 hours. The boat departure ? 6pm. We staggered out of bed at 6am and loaded up the Beast ready for action. Traffic was minimal as it was a Sunday. We started down the coast road only catching small glimpses of the sea, the first time in 4 months that us island dwellers had seen the sea (Alexis won the 5 pence!) The time was edging on as the temperature soared into the 40s and the distance was slowly being covered. We had a boat to catch. Adriano?s friend Tony, staying on Ko Samui for a few months with his girlfriend Fleur had checked all the boat times and we needed to be on the peninsular for 6pm. 5pm arrived and we were still 50km from the port?.. We arrived at the port at precisely 5.55pm. We had the Beast weighed and we sped onto the ferry with 1minute to spare! Phew! We were the last on for the 1 ? hour ferry crossing (costing only #7 for the Beast) to Ko Samui and on our way to visit Adriano?s friend Tony!
Ko Samui is a stunning island located off the eastern coast of Thailand with beautiful golden sands, palm trees and several resorts. It is the third largest of Thailand?s islands and was one of the largest coconut producing islands in the area. As it wasn?t affected by the tsunami, foreigners are flocking here. Accommodation on the island takes the form of swish spa resorts or individual beach huts located along the beach front with your only friend, the lapping ocean (and a mere #4 a night). Tony, Adriano?s friend is presently staying on Ko Samui whilst he escapes from the expense of London to set up an online music download company, Audiojelly (www.audiojelly.com). Tony and Fleur have been wonderful guides for us as we jet around the island and showing us all the best places to eat.
As part of our relaxing 2 weeks Alexis and Greg decided to undertake a PADI (a 4-day qualification as a professional diver). They learnt how to dive in a swimming pool with several days of exams and submersion. They were lucky enough to explore the islands surrounding Ko Samui including a fantastic trip up to Ko Tao.
Ko Phangan (pronounced Ko Pan gnuh an) is located a few kilometres north of Ko Samui and is well known for the full moon party that is held there unsurprisingly every full moon! The Beach (a book and film by Alex Garland) is based on Ko Pangnan and a small island just off its coast, that was visible as they sped past it on their speedboat. It is renowned in the area for its druglords and marijuana growing ? apparently, our dive instructor went for a dive at a very good dive site just off the shore. They surfaced near the beach only to be met by several armed guards brandishing AK47s! Not quite what you expect after a dive! The film of The Beach was actually filmed in Phi Phi on the west coast of Thailand. The rest of our two weeks has been spent eating, drinking and relaxing (the usual holiday activities!).
The sad early departure of one of our travelling partners has started a new era for the three of us remaining. Tom?s boss in Australia asked him to come and work earlier than anticipated so he has headed back to Bangkok before jumping on an aeroplane bound for Sydney. Tom will be sorely missed as an essential part of the team for his skills at mending accelerator cables, helping to pull stranded cars from snow drifts, four wheel driving advice and his amusing interjections but you can still catch a glimpse of his part in the Beastly Adventure in the Land Rover Monthly magazine in May. We will catch up with him as we arrive in Oz? more stories to follow. For all Tom?s friends on the email list, please email me if you don?t want to carry on receiving our emails.
- Thailand drivers drive on the left.
- The King of Thailand is revered by his subjects and there are posters and statues of him in the entrance into every town.
- Drink stops with take away drinks as in Laos entail the pouring of your chosen drink from the receptacle into a plastic bag full of ice, the bag corner is then tied up with two rubber bands, a straw inserted and handed to you.
- Red Bull and Thai Whiskey in Thailand contain amphetamines.
- You can buy a bucket in the pub or street bar which contains ice, red bull, coke, vodka and several straws to share your drink between several people.
- Bangkok is beautiful! There are beautiful Wats, grand golden palaces, floating markets, food markets that sell everything, tailors, a Chinese quarter, The areas that you would associate with sordid prostitution an ladyboys are limited to the tourist areas.
- ?Bar girls? in Thailand generally do not get paid for their work so they rely on tips and prostitution to earn a living (they can earn 1000 Baht per night (#14) ? a fortune for Thailand).
- Thais love to barter for products.
- It is rude to put the soles of your feet pointing towards a person or Buddha. In the Grand Palace temple where there is the Emerald Buddha, you cannot sit with your feet pointing towards him. On Thai boats they have a tie around the front of the boat where Buddha resides ? you cannot point your feet towards the front of the boat therefore.
- The legal drinking age in pubs in Bangkok is 20. To buy cigarettes you must be 18.
- There are a lot of Ladyboys in Thailand due to the extreme poverty across the country it is very profitable to have the transformation. Some men even go to the extreme of having their Adam?s apple removed as well as their penises.
- As most of the vehicles on the islands are motorbikes and mopeds, petrol stations are slightly downsized with 205-litre unbunded drums of petrol located at the side of the road with a pump on the top.
- Of the 60 million people in Thailand, only 5 million pay tax.
- Thailand is presently suffering from an extremely bad drought with the reservoir on the Khorat Plateau only having 10 million litres left of the 110 million litre capacity. Emergency plans are in place to divert water from the already low Mekong to water the baking northeast.