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July 24, 2011

The capital of Thailand…

Let me start with a classic, that always cracks me up:

So Bangkok it is!
The full name of the city is actually Krung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahintharayutthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Phiman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit, which roughly translates to “The crazy big city with lot of Buddhas, emeralds, tuk-tuk drivers and prositutes”. It is officially the longest place name of the world, and the city is statistically the hottest city as well, with temperatures over 30C throughout the year.

The city is well known for its crazy nightlife and prostitution. And let’s face it: Bangkok and prostitution come hand in hand. While nudity is officially forbidden, this is nowhere enforced, and you must be blind not to come across bars with go-go dancers or ping-pong shows. (If you don’t know what is a ping pong show, stop here, google around a bit, and come back later:)) Be prepared to see a lot of westerners enjoying the services of such places, and although I haven't seen it yet, Hangover 2 might be a good guide what not to do in the city:) Also be prepared to see quite a few white daddies (mostly German pensioners) hanging around with their probably-just-over 18 sweethearts of questionable sexual identity.

(Once we are at the topic, please note that funnily enough the …porn suffix is quite common in Thai surnames. This does not necessarily mean that the person works in the sex industry, and for example the surname Pandaporn does not imply anything abusive of the animal rights of the Pandas:)

The good news is, that apart from the above, Bangkok has much fun to offer. One of the most frequented areas by tourists is the Khao San Road. This street not only has a number of bars, discos, restaurants, street sellers 24/7, but you can simply shop for some fake ids and diplomas also. We were seriously considering to purchase a French press id and a Master of Business diploma issued by the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The whole city is so alive, that it is really easy to find something to eat or an open internet-café almost 24 hours a day. To get around, you can use the modern subway and monorail system, taxis, tuk-tuks or motortaxis, or, due to the high number of channels criss-crossing the city, you might even consider motorboats. Now a word of warning about tuktuks. Even though they look fun and cheap, they are NOT. Your guidebook will also tell you not to take any, unless you want to be ripped off or have a lot of time to waste. Tuktuks are NEVER cheaper than taxis, nor faster, nor comfortable. Take it once for the feeling, but bargain a lot and never let the driver take you to any shops. In fact you can get a free ride if you visit three or more shops, simply because the driver gets commission if he takes you there. Motortaxis are simply motors, which will take you on their back seat. They are safe in terms that the driver will not mug you, like in Colombia could happen, but the speed can be too fast and the distance of other objects from your knees too small. Take it for short distances, if you know where you go, otherwise always opt for a taxi. Now taxis are also not that easy to navigate. Taxi drivers hardly ever speak English or able to read maps. At night time in front of popular tourist places they simply refuse to use the meter and overcharge you by 400%. Very often even with clear directions they will take you to one hotel they know asking if this was the destination you wanted? That is the time when you have to consider if you take another chance with them, or send them to the holy Buddha and look for another ride.


Talking about Buddha, if after a few days you still haven't seen the golden, the emerald, the smiling, the reclining, the giant, the small, the big, the black, the wooden, the normal Buddha along with several thousand other meditating Buddhas, you probably spent too much time out in the night, not focusing on the cultural values of the city:) There are a number of great temples and religious sites you can visit, and most places you will have to remove your shoes and careful not to point your toes at Buddha. Some places though don’t require you to remove your shoes, and after all it will be a total confusion.




July 17, 2011

South of Thailand

The marketing team of the Thai seaside vacations did a good job, just like their Bali colleagues. While the beaches are significantly cleaner than we experienced in Bali, the huge number of tourists cannot be ignored. Just as Bali is popular amongst Australians, the Phuket region in Thailand has surprisingly high number of Russian tourists, moreover in an organized boat trip we took, the majority of the passengers were actually Hungarian! Now I don’t say this is bad, actually, I endorse Hungarians travelling more, but if you expect a tranquil getaway, probably you should choose another destination.

There are also some “condense” areas of local tourism. For some reason EVERYONE wants to see the “James Bond” island, and the “The Beach” aka “Di Caprio” bay. Even if people didn’t see any of the movies above, even if there are cca. 2 million similar locations in Southeast Asia. Doesn’t matter. You just have to go there, take a photo with your cellphone and brag about it once you get home. Now the result is, that the photo you will take will probably result in something like this:


…or this:


Anyway, once you get past your agoraphobia, you can hop on one of the carbon-monoxide-emission-challenged boats and take a trip to Phi Phi island (also known as Ko Phi Phi). The island was razed down almost completely by the 2004 tsunami, but recovered amazingly. It is a favorite meeting spot of the westerners, who get wasted early on cheap rum while watching Thai kick-boxers beating the crap out of each other (strictly dramatized) and ending up on a beach full-moon party. If the name of the island wasn’t funny enough, in the middle of it you can also find an open-air wastewater treatment facility, which is simply referred to as the “poo garden”. And a word of notice: your hotel is never far enough from the poo garden!

DSC01732[1] DSC01731[1]

You can take another boat to the Ko Lanta island. It is less frequented than Phi Phi, with its long beach line you can actually find a spot to relax. Also a lot of bars tend to mimic a Jamaican-style take it easy atmosphere. You can rent a cheap scooter to travel around the island, but don’t expect good quality roads everywhere.


Finally we ended up in Krabi. Couldn’t enjoy much the city as by this time it was raining almost constantly. On paper, it was the dry season. In reality, due to the excess flooding we could hardly reach our plane to get away from the region.


Kuala Lumpur

While Paul stayed a few more days in Singapore, I took a short trip to Kuala Lumpur (KL for short). The city is just a few hours bus ride away from its neighbor, Singapore, which actually belonged to Malaysia for a short time. (Only two years after Singapore got rid of the British rule and got incorporated into the Malay Federation, they were simply expulsed, thus Singapore became the only country in the history of the modern world to gain independence against its own will.)

Unfortunately most of the time I was staying there, it was raining cats and dogs, which not only turned streets into rivers, but the pavement also got so slippery, that skating was the safest and most efficient form of pedestrianism.


The most emblematic building of the city is the Petronas twin towers. They are the tallest twin buildings of the world and were the tallest buildings until 2004. Visitors are only allowed up until the 41th floor, where the Skybridge joins the two towers. Be prepared that the time you can actually enter the elevators will be printed on your ticket and can be more than 3 hours later than the actual time of purchase.


Second to the twin towers the city also features the KL tower, which itself is the sixth tallest telecommunication tower in the world. Although it looks actually taller than the twin towers, it’s just because it was built on a hill.


In terms of food, just like Singapore, KL also offers a wide variety of Asian dishes, including halal and Indian muslim specialties. Maybe the most famous local delicacy is the nasi lemak, which is rice cooked with coconut milk, served with anchovies, roasted peanuts, eggs and sambal sauce, all wrapped up in a banana leaf.


Also worth mentioning the newly constructed monorail system, which eases the task of getting around in peak hours, and the somewhat unheard of Malaysian automobile industry, which is represented by the locally popular brands Proton and Perodua.