Saturday, August 29, 2015

Wandering around Thailand

August 27

I made the biggest mistake of my travelling life. I left my entire luggage in the hostel I booked for 4 nights without considering that I would be wandering other cities in Thailand with no window time to get back to pack up.

I woke up late thinking to just take it easy today. Maybe head to Ayutthaya at 9 o’clock in the morning. But I left at half past 10 already. I took the public bus to get to the nearest subway train station. It felt cool to mingle with riding locals, costing me only 9 baht. I then boarded the train bound for Hua Lamphong Railway Station. Emerging from the subway, I immediately noticed the ticket counters within the railway station. I approached the open window and inquired about trips to Chiang Mai. Knowing that seats with the express train are yet available, I bought one roundtrip ticket leaving at 735pm today and returning tomorrow at 6pm. Then I bought one way ticket to Ayutthaya that was scheduled to depart at 1120am. I mentally drew my itinerary that with 2-hour travel to Ayutthaya, I would just spend 30 minutes to 1 hour in the ruins. I needed a spare time to be able to get back to Cooper Hostel to pick and pack some personal stuff. I should be at the boarding gate before 735pm which train to Chiang Mai was already booked and paid.

Upon arrival at Ayutthaya Station, I walked across it towards the town past many tuktuk drivers offering expensive rides to the ruins. I was under the impression that the travel blog, I just read was true in tutu, that I would just come out of the train station, walk straight across, and then find the famous ruins. The huge map inside the station actually pointed interesting places in many different directions further than the station. I did stroll down and noticed pedal and motor bikes for rent until I reached a riverbank. There was this lady sitting behind a desk receiving payments from local travelers. The signage beside her said 5 baht for a boat ride. I asked to rent a bike and she said "rent it across the river," which I followed. I later learned that it would be hard hoisting a rented bike on board the tug boat which I observed with fellow foreigners exactly doing it.

For 40 baht I got my bike. I started shaky getting myself acquainted with the new bike. There was an unlabeled map only lines and circles of the route tourists like me should take to circle the town’s touristy areas. What I find with little difficulty in biking around was crossing the highway traffic. The first stop was at the most famous Wat Mahathat Ruins where a head of a Buddha is tangled tightly by a tree, then with a little turn to Bueng Phra Ram, a little farther to Wat Lokaya Sutha where the giant reclining Buddha can be found.

Then I realized it was already 3 o’clock in the afternoon. With 2-hour train ride back to Bangkok, I indeed arrived in the Hua Lamphong Railway Station at quarter of 6 in the evening. There was no room for going to the hostel. I took my dinner at the nearby KFC and looked for a convenience store after. I picked up bath soap, toothbrush and toothpaste, candies and chips for the road. I desperately wandered around the station to find shops selling men’s wear but only women’s and children’s. I ended up buying a cardigan to cover myself against the cold of the night. Then the boarding call was heard.

The express train was air conditioned; each passenger has assigned seat that would transform into a bunk bed. It looked like 2 double-decker beds facing each other for each section. I got one of the lower seats, which is more spacious and hence pricier than the upper. To my relief, the bed is equipped with addition foam, which Sam called “Thailand’s great Spongy bed,” white bed sheet, blue pillow, white pillow case, and a thick white blanket.

I initially was alone in my section when we departed Bangkok. The two Englishmen from the adjacent section were called by the uniformed lady from the restaurant section of the train to occupy the lower seat opposite mine to eat their ordered dinner. I later learned that these tall guys occupied the upper decks and so they don’t have much space.

Making more New Friends

I never thought I could win new friends on a train to Chiang Mai. Callum and Sam from England became my chatmates for 2 hours before we decided to finally sleep through the night. I learned that they were bestfriends working in Central London as baristas of separate coffee shops. They’re young at 24 years old. They’ve been travelling for 3 months now, starting in Japan, China, Hongkong, Vietnam, and now in Thailand. They stayed at least a week in every city. I envied them that they can do longer days of overseas travel. This was my longest travel so far hitting 2 countries for 10 days but I only spent about 2 days in a city at average. And I am missing home and work already.

We talked about anything and everything. It started with their great pictures of Japan, Kyoto most specially. I told them I am saving for Japan this coming spring. Then the conversation went on to real estates and related investments, as this is the college degree of Callum. Then we talked about architectures and construction based on what they observed in their Asian travels, as this is the college degree of Sam. They shared their experiences and personal views of China, particularly Beijing and Shanghai; also Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam; and the security measures employed by Thailand after the bombing incident.

We even talked about life, employment, taxation, penal laws in both our countries, England and Philippines. We exhausted all topics we could think of but the train was at halt for quite a long time already. We decided to snooze off to take advantage of the static condition.

August 28

A Day in Chiang Mai

I was more excited to hear good reviews Callum and Sam read about Chiang Mai. In fact they would be staying in the city for 1 week. But I would just have it in one day.


The trip was 2 hours delayed. The three of us reconvened in the morning and talked about a lot more of things. Callum tried his NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) studies on me, asking me questions then observe my eye movements while answering. We ran out of stuff to discuss that we remained quiet while going grumpy about the delay. They teased me about what to do with only 5 hours to make the city tour in Chiang Mai. I told them I narrowed down my list of attractions to go to. At 11am we bade each other goodbyes, they went on to find their hostel, and I was haggling with the red jeep (they called taxi here) drivers to take me around. 


One older adult man agreed to 500 baht for a trip to Wat Doi Suthep at the top of the hill overlooking the city and then to Wat Phra Singh in the downtown area. I was trying to locate some other temples within the city center but at 3pm I was already ready to go back to the Railway Train Station. But I hailed a tuktuk to drive me to the nearest shopping center called KaLae Night Bazaar. Finding the shops around still closed, as it was yet afternoon, I went instead to McDo and Starbucks in the area, ordered a take away chicken rice meal and hot green tea latte, and headed on to the train station. With extra shirt and slipper bought and at hand, I paid 15 baht for the shower – my first ever shower that day and in a terminal.

The train travel back to Bangkok commenced on time (6pm). I had no more talkative mates, so I finished reading the Angelology novel instead until I went into a deep sleep.


August 29

Souvenir Hunting Day

The train parked at the assigned bay in the Bangkok Railways Terminal at 8am. Instead of heading straight to Chatuchak Market as initially planned, I went to my hostel to recharge my phone and my computer, take breakfast, wash myself, and change outfit. I also updated my facebook page with my photos in Ayutthaya and Chiang Mai journeys before shopping for souvenirs and pasalubong (welcome gifts).

I arrived at Chatuchak Market via the subway train. I was starting to feel at ease with riding the public bus to and from the corner of the road to my hostel and the Silom Train Station. I followed the crowd who I knew would visit the shopping center when I emerged from the subway. Circling around, I was initially picky but later found the rhythm and left the market fully loaded. The highlight was me picking for myself a new bag and trendy short pants and the elephant stuffed toy for Baby Wanwan.

I was back at the hostel tired but full; I dropped by the KFC to eat an early dinner. I gained a short nap after acquainting with my new dorm mate, who is from Chiang Mai.

With my 8pm alarm whining, I hurried to complete packing, head down to ask May grab a taxi, and off I went to the Suvarnahbumi International Airport. Then I met two Filipino gays, one crossdresser and the other a simple queer. We shared a coffee in the Starbucks joint within the terminal’s foodcourt. They were both Cebuanos so we conversed about Philippine politics and Thailand cosmetic surgeries using our own regional tongue. They were witty and flamboyant, and I really enjoyed their company. They were to meet a Filipino arriving from Canada so we separated ways as it was my check in time.

After passing the tight security check in the pre-departure area, I found more souvenirs to choose from in the duty free zone. I spent all my remaining baht to own  another book about Buddha by Karen Armstrong.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Circling Myanmar: Mandalay

Day 5 – August 25, 2015

Mandalay was the last city in my Myanmar itinerary.

I reserved my seat in the couch to Mandalay through the hotel and paid 9,000 kyats. I was informed that the whole bus trip would last for 5 hours. Because it left Bagan at 1pm, I expected to arrive at early evening so I thought of enjoying Mandalay City at night.

I was glad to know that the Coaster Bus we took followed a different route than the usual highways for regular buses. I felt gladder to know that the bus will drop us to our respective hotels. Having examined the google map early on, I noted that Yadanarbon Hotel where I reserved a room for the night is reasonably far from the downtown. To be taxied there for me was indeed a surprise treat.
I tried to catch the sunset at the Royal Palace walls but it was too late; it was too dark already when I got there. I just walked my way there from the hotel and found out that it was more than a kilometer away. I decided not to hire a taxi or public utility motorbike because I noted earlier that it was like near enough. Reaching one of the entrances where foreigners are not allowed, the guard agreed that I would just take pictures.

Later, in my search for a fastfood, not really a KFC outlet like the one in Yangon, but something like local fastfood, I reached as far as Yadanarpon Plaza. But I found only RTW stores around, no foodcourt. So I decided to take the motorbike on my way back for 2,000 kyats. Back in my hotel room, I settled to drinking milk tea and eating biscuits.

Day 6 – August 26, 2015

As planned, I left my bed very early to kick start my morning tour around Mandalay’s tourist destinations. I hailed and rode a motorbike to get to the palace’s entrance early, as I was informed that it would open to foreigners at 5am. I arrived there at 6am but I was still refused entry; 7am yet, the guards on duty said.

So I redirected to other sites and headed for Mandalay Hill when I noticed its peak glimmering so bright and so inviting. Because of its proximity to my spot, I decided to stroll towards it and noticed plenty of things to see. There is Sandamuni Pagoda to my right, Mandalay Bo Bo Gyi Nat (Spirit) Shrine to my left, Kuthodaw Pagoda to my far right. But I headed straight to the Shweyattaw Buddha Pavilion up the Mandalay Hill. I settled unto one spot atop a boulder and marveled at the magnificence of the city below me, even the entire Royal Palace is visible up there. It was too early that most shopkeepers just busied themselves to ready for the day’s business. The temple probably was still closed to visitors but the attendants if there were any were still asleep. So I climbed up the hill, the pavilion undeterred or undetected. Being on top of a wonderful world really summed up my city tour and I left very satisfied.

I booked my taxi to the Mandalay International Airport through the hotel for 4,000 kyats, a seat to be shared with other guests. The driver picked me up at about 10am and I was glad it was that late because when I arrived at the airport, all passengers were crowding the outside lobby. I later knew that the check in counters and the pre-departure areas open on schedules; ours only opened at 11am. I paid 5USD for the terminal fee and then after a while I was off to Bangkok, Thailand.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Circling Myanmar: Bagan

Day 4 – August 24, 2015

Bicycling around temples, pagodas, stupas around Bagan seemed like a dream come true.


I arrived at New Bagan Bus Terminal at 5am. To my dismay, the bus dropped me and the American at the sidewalk several meters from the station. It was dark yet so I planned to stay inside the terminal building. A couple of “taxi drivers” crowded around us bidding for the lowest fare. I settled for the man who looked gentler than the rest and offered me the ride for 5,000 kyats. Then I was on board a horse-drawn carriage adorned with soft foams of lower quality than Uratex. Only the horse shoes made the early morning sound as we cross the road towards the Old Bagan’s Archeological Site. The driver whom I thought was gentle was insisting on me to watch the sunrise for a “little more money” until we reached the archway and stopped at the roadside kiosk. As a foreigner I paid 20USD for the 5-days pass around the archeological site and that’s the reason why I declined the 4,000 kyats sunrise watching.

I knocked at Bagan Princess Hotel at little past 6am. I later discover that my assigned room was in the annex building separated from the main wooden-themed hotel structures. I had room 604 but it was in the ground floor of a concrete building several steps away from the main hotel. It looked like a usual residential house far glamorous than the luxurious ambiance of the main building. The free breakfast was plated and I was to choose from fried rice, vermicelli with bread, or fried noodles. The toilet inside the restaurant area is scary as it was colonized by flies. The wifi signal is only available at the lobby around the reception but was so slow. My assigned bed however was huge, comfy and of high quality mattress, that was why I had a quality respite during my overnight stay.

Had my room become available by the time I arrived, I would have settled in and snoozed that morning. Good thing I had to wait for a while, so I decided to rent a pedal bike upon noticing some at the fa├žade. The security guard accompanied me to a nearby restaurant that rented me the bicycle at 2,000 kyats for the whole day. I deposited my luggage at the front desk and inquired from the front desk clerk the best sunrise point. He drew lines and stars on the map before handing it over to me.

It has been a long while since my last biking, so I started shaky, keep stopping here and there. I like to note as a good thing that Bagan Princess Hotel is close to clusters of pagodas and temples. Noticing the red-bricked stupas here and there, some at arm’s length, I fired up and my biking became spontaneous and easy. But I still struggled in areas where sands amassed in the middle of interior soiled roads. I did enjoy riding; stopping to take pictures, entering interior crowd-free roads to get close to pagodas that sprouted like mushrooms everywhere. For more than 2 hours of bicycling, I have reached a number of major temples like Htilominlo, Ananda, Shwegugya, and Byinyu before I went back to the hotel to break the fast and take a rest.

That afternoon after my recovered sleep, I resumed my bicycling tour and reached the other side of the Bagan Archeological Site and climbed major pagodas like Shwezigon and Shwe San Daw – the best place to view the whole Bagan during sunrise and sunset. I shared those wondrous moments along with the citizens of the world that congregate in Bagan, Myanmar, from Europeans to Australians and Asians.

I found it fitting to close my day tour with grilled chicken and pork barbecues over with Myanmar Beer bottles.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Circling Myanmar: Kyaikhtiyo

Day 4 – August 23, 2015

I reserved my seat in the bus to Kinpun at 7,000 kyats. I waited for the pick up at the bus stop in front of Emperor Hotel along with other foreigners. I was told to board the bus by the barker along with two Taiwanese ladies and Japanese guy. They all became my instant tour company that day; we all headed to the Golden Rock.

Climbing up the Kyaikhthiyo with the Golden Rock atop the mountain, on a personal note, was a complete and utter waste of time, for day onlookers especially. Unless the tourist stays at any hotel in either Kyaikhthiyo or Kyaikhto towns, he/she has to endure a total of 8 hours travelling to and from the Golden Rock, that is 3 hours Bago to Kinpun bus ride, 1 hour Kyaikhthiyo town to Golden Rock truck ride, plus another hour on your way back down the mountain and 3-hour bus ride back to Bago city.

In my case, I only spent a very quick 15-minute tour at the Golden Rock and hasten to take the truck ride back down the mountain to catch my 2pm bus trip back to Bago. That was because I arrived at Kinpun at 10am. With my new friends with me, we looked for the truck. At the designated terminal, we were introducing each other brief backgrounds of ourselves. Julie and Liu from Taiwan are on their last leg of Myanmar tour and the 24-yo Japanese medical student is fresh from Bagan and would continue on tour to Thailand and Malaysia. Once we all seated at the back of the truck, another half empty truck fell in line. Then we were redirected to climb the truck that just arrived. There was chaos, because the four of us who seated among the first ones in the prior truck was now boarding last and the truck was already filled and crowded. I and the Japanese squeezed ourselves in a bench right next to the merchandise, grocery items, market goods that filed the first few pews.

It felt like a full test of my patience, especially when the truck we rode had made turns yet to several points along the way up the mountain. It made more stops at some designated points which really dragged my time and irritated me. This actually worsened my impression of the tour to Golden Rock. It really obliged you to check in the nearest hotel, some of them I noticed at the foot of the mountain in order to maximize the time to be on top with the Golden Rock.

Nevertheless, I was up there, exchanging photos with newfound friends, despite the foggy environment. It was very short but fine. And I found myself heading back to Bago with an American seatmate whom we did not exchange names. We were seatmates up to Bagan. The ride we share was 9-hour long plus the 3-hour from Kyaikhto.