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The Family that Travels Together...

sunny 33 °C
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I'm glad we are able to spend a considerable amount of time in Thailand before we head home. We came back again to a warm Bangkok welcome and reacquainted ourselves with great Thai food. The weather is perfect (finally!) and after a few days in the city we headed south to Hua Hin, a small fishing village and the traditional home of the royal family, with the sole purpose of sunning ourselves and reading our books. It seems these days that it is also home to an enormous amount of elderly Europeans, they were everywhere and had a delightful habit of wearing next to nothing (bloody Germans) and letting their old leathery flabby bits hang out while wandering the streets of the town.


It wasn't long after returning to Bangkok after our few days in Hua Hin when we were joined by Will's mother and uncle. With Red Shirt rallies on the horizon for the weekend we decided to make the visit to the Grand Palace and Wat Pho the day after their arrival. It was extremely hot and the Grand Palace is the busiest tourist attraction I have ever been to. It's quite stunning to walk around but with the crowds and the heat, not massively enjoyable (this isn't helped by the fact that you have to wear long trousers).


We arrived in Chiang Mai today. It's been six months since we were here last and it is probably our favourite place of the trip. It's especially strange being back here and thinking of all the travel that has been done in the meantime, I'm getting nostalgic and I haven't even returned home yet. Dad arrives tomorrow, I foresee lots of Thai massages in our future...

Posted by suzebert 19:30 Archived in Thailand Tagged thailand bangkok hua_hin Comments (1)

Bangkok to Penang

From the familiar to the unknown

sunny 32 °C
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Bangkok has become a second home to us now. We always get a great welcome back to our chosen hostel, and the same room each time, and we always discover something new about the city. This time around we discovered the luxury cinemas and a fantastic bar called Saxophone next to the Victory Monument which has live local jazz and blues bands every night. Throw in a bit of shopping and a great tapas restaurant and we had ourselves a very enjoyable few days.

We flew to Penang in Malaysia in one and a half hours, we moved one hour ahead (we're now eight hours ahead of Ireland) and things are very different. Malaysia is the most diverse place I've ever been to. There's a heavy Indian and Chinese influence alongside the resident Muslim population with Hindu and Buddhist temples sharing the same block as mosques. Everyone is quite friendly and the language isn't such a barrier here as it seems most people have quite good English (and as a result I have yet to gain a word of Malay).

I haven't found much difference as a result of being in a Muslim country, although I am conscious of flashing a bit too much flesh as I'm surrounded by a lot of headscarves and the odd burka. I have got quite used to the call to prayer that you hear blasted from the mosques five times a day every day - at sunrise, mid-morning, mid-afternoon, dusk and in the evening - it's quite atmospheric.

Georgetown is the main city on the island of Penang and is a UNESCO World Heritage site (number three on the trip) and is a strange combination of old Chinese shophouses and modern new high-rise buildings. Oddly enough there's one particular street that could easily fit into Temple Bar, a strip of big very loud bars with lots and lots of scantily clad bar girls. There is an abundance of Indian restaurants so we gorged ourselves on naan bread (one restaurant had 13 kinds) tikka masala and chicken biryani washed down with a mango lassi (kind of a fruit smoothie made with yoghurt).

Walking around the town there's a strong colonial feel to parts of it near the waterfront, in particular Fort Cornwallis. An old English fort which now serves as the most boring tourist attraction I've ever seen. It's basically a large field with a large old canon and some stone walls and an excuse for Will to create a ridiculous photo opportunity. There's a nice feel to the town but you only really need a day to take it all in.

We took a local bus (they had screens displaying the time of arrival at the bus station, imagine the technology!) and got out of the city to visit Kek Lok Si, a huge Chinese Buddhist temple complex set high up in the hills. It had a very different feel to it than any other Buddhist temples we have visited. For starters you ascend the hill to the temple through a narrow walkway with hawker stalls on either side selling trinkets and tourist tat. There are at least three relatively large shops selling the same tat actually inside the complex and the whole thing is lit up like a gaudy Christmas tree at night. The strict dress code (of covering your knees and shoulders) is not observed here either and oh how the Chinese like to take photographs of everything (I saw a guy take a photo of a van filling up at a petrol station, something to show the family back home I'm sure) including their friends and family climbing on the statues representing the animals in the Chinese zodiac. There was even a girl with her little dog dressed up in clothes and a nappy! I found it all a bit strange but there were impressive prayer halls in which murals and Buddha statues displayed the original swastika symbol and there were good views from the top of the hill.

Overall Penang is a good spot but I wouldn't be rushing back, Georgetown can be seen in two days and after that I would be inclined to get out to see the rest of the island.

I get the impression that Malaysia won't be so kind to us as regards accommodation as was Thailand. I think we'll have to pay more for the same standard we are used to. Things just seem to be that bit scruffier here which isn't what I had expected, but you know what they say about she who expects too much...

Next stop the Cameron Highlands.

Posted by suzebert 21:52 Archived in Malaysia Tagged malaysia bangkok penang unesco islam georgetown Comments (0)


sunny 27 °C
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A few days in and we are seeing loads of Bangkok - it's such a bloody sprawl but with taxis across town costing us €2 it's so easy to get around. Really happy at how we've managed to navigate the city, it's taken my sense of direction a while to kick in but surprisingly Will's has been working for the first time in a long time! I've handled the jetlag pretty well and the mosie bite count is at a measly 1. Will, however, hasn't been so lucky, he hasn't really had a good night's sleep since the first night we came here and he's been bitten all over. Usually it's me in that mosie scenario and he can have a bit of an air of smug about him, so, while of course being appropriately sympathetic, I'm quite enjoying it :)

It's sticky and hot as expected, only 2 big thunder storms so far as the weather is decent, although I do love a good evening thunderstorm...our hostel has a roof garden (covered) which makes a good viewing platform with a few cold beers in hand (at a cost of less than €1 down in hostel lobby!).

The hostel is great (Udee Bangkok), very small, really clean (I've learned that not flushing your toilet paper isn't as gross as I would have thought it was), there is really nice staff and it's close to the lovely airconditioned Skytrain (easiest and simplest big city transport system I've ever used) but far enough away from the city centre to be quiet, as quiet as BKK can be, and safe if the locals fancy a bit of auld riot again. City council elections were held today with no disturbances so that's a good sign. The hostel, for some reason, seems to be full of disgruntled and not so friendly Germans. We've made better friends with the family that runs the place and the maid than any of the guests and they don't speak English.

It's rare to see a Westerner/farang in our little neighbourhood which is quite nice, we're doing a lot of sign language and pointing to pictures and it hasn't failed us yet thank god. We just ate in a little local Japanese restaurant on our road tonight, we've seen no westerners in there at all when we've passed the previous few nights but it was always jammed with locals. We were a bit apprehensive about it but we didn't want to go far this evening and it turned out to be the best meal so far. The staff looked after us so well and had to show us how to eat what we were given while not speaking much English but it was oh so tasty. We had shabu shabu, like an evolution of fondu to create a Japanese hotpot where you cook your own meat in a broth full of veg and pak choi.....I just had it a few hours ago and already I want more (wikipedia explains all: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shabu-shabu).

Next stop Chiang Mai. While we were planning on getting the train up there we found cheapo flights with Bangkok Airways for 50quid so we're being lazy and flying instead (could work out better anyway as there's a bit of flooding in the north and who knows if that would affect the train line). Money is going slowly out of the wallets so far which is great (it helps that the taxman gave me a nice bundle of money back recently so I've actually put money back from my current a/c into my rabo savings a/c...look at me saving while I travel!). I can imagine us staying in Chiang Mai a while but we've only booked 10 nights for starters, we don't have to leave Thailand until 23rd of Oct!!!

So after CM we'll pop back to Bangkok then possibly out to Kanchanaburi for a few days (Bridge over River Kwai stuff out there but apparently nice town in itself) and then back to Bangkok to catch night train to Nong Khai in northeastern Thailand to cross the border into Vientiane in Laos. It's especially amazing to not have to be in a rush...this is my sort of travelling, the kind where if I don't fancy getting up early or going far I don't have to (very very comfy bed in the hostel in BKK) :) After a month in Laos we will then go back into Thailand to go south to the islands (we've another 60 days on the visa for our second entry into Thailand) and into Malaysia through Langkawi and then into Penang...what happens after that we don't need to know right now :)

In a nutshell we're both quite content and currently after the meal we've both had....we're both fat and happy (even if Kildare didn't get to the final) :)

Posted by suzebert 01:24 Archived in Thailand Tagged thailand bangkok Comments (0)

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