A week in Thailand - Koh Chang and Bangkok
23.09.2008 - 01.10.2008 32 °C
I was really so ready to go on holiday and couldn’t wait to get to Thailand and a white sandy beach on a small island. So I went on a 3-hour bus journey northwest to the border town of Poipet (which is often described as the ‘armpit’ of Cambodia and it really is!!!) where I met up with Elise, a Dutch volunteer based there, to travel on together.
So in the evening we went out to look around and the place is truly strange – a border town. There is one main unpaved road leading all the way through to the border posts and it only needs a bit of rain to really turn into a complete mud bath. Then there’s the Cambodian border checkpoint at the end and after that a stretch or road of maybe 1km until reaching the Thai immigration point. And in between these two a whole casino and duty free city jumps out. Huge air-conditioned hotel and casino blocks on (I think) Cambodian soil full of Thai and other Asian gamblers who come from places where gambling is illegal to make or lose a fortune here. We looked into one of them and it is truly strange, full of bright artificial lights that make you forget what time of the day or week it is. But its not all about gambling on this ‘strip’, there are also a number of small but well-stocked supermarkets with all sorts of products coming from Thailand .
The next day when we set off to cross the border and during the day that road in between countries was packed with Cambodian traders pulling large wooden carts to buy products in Thailand and then bring them back to sell in Cambodia. The picture of these very poor, hard-working people against the shiny casino skyline was truly strange but really showing the huge contrast between the two countries.
Photo: Trading queue at Poipet border crossing in between the casinos
On the other side there was unfortunately no bus we could take to Koh Chang, so a rather pricey but pink (!!!) taxi was the only choice. And from the border onwards, things really changed and it was obvious we were in a much more developed country. Paved roads, proper signs, more cars and fewer motos (but people wear helmets), much more stone-build houses with neatly kept gardens, large fruit plantations, etc. A different world from Cambodia and still so close.
3 hours drive or so and a ferry crossing later we finally were on Koh Chang – Elephant Island and checked into a nice little bungalow 20 meters from the sandy beach. It is low season now and less touristy than normal, which was nice. The weather was a little windy and the sea wavy but it was still really warm and lovely to swim. But eve though there already are many resorts and restaurants, tourism is still on the rise and new places were being built everywhere. Also, many places were run by foreigners, Germans, Austrians, Scandinavians, Brits, etc. And quite a few of the tourists were there to go for the ‘typical’ Thai holiday – cheap drinks, food and a Thai girl for even more fun. Sad to see and I was a bit shocked to see rather many of these obvious couples, even though it was low season.
Photo: One of the beaches
Photo: View from our beach bungalow
Anyway, we also hired motos and went on a ride inland to the jungle and a small waterfall. They also have lots of elephant treks there but that was a little too touristy for my linking, so the moto was the better choice. Some of the roads were really curvy and steep though, so the motorbikes were getting quite noisy on some of these climbs and I was grateful the brakes were working well on the descends…
Photo: On the motorbike around Koh Chang
Photo: Hiking through the jungle
After 3 days there I went on to Bangkok to meet up with Esther, a VSO colleague from Battambang, and Ginny and Hugh, an Australian couple also working here at the moment. The drive into town was quite interesting itself – from the outskirts to downtown it took a full hour on the highway or inner-city elevated roads, so we didn’t get stuck in city traffic but still it was loooong. What a massive city really! We stayed in a small lovely guest house in the old town but fortunately off the main tourist drag which is a little too crazy.
Our two days in the city we spent with a relaxed combination of sightseeing and shopping but right in the morning of the first day we got stuck in the usual tourist trap we didn’t know of. We were on the way to the palace when we asked a young guy for directions. He pointed out the palace was closed in the morning and recommended a couple of temples to see. And there was apparently a fashion fair around town as well with some great offers. We were about to walk on when miraculously a tuk-tuk stopped next to us and after a quick chat the driver offered us a very cheap price to take us to those temples. So we hopped in and went there. After the second one the driver said he’d now bring us briefly to a fashion factory to have a look. It was a tailors shop and then a jeweller, another shop and another one somewhere in the city. He was a nice guy though and explained that he could only give us such a cheap ride, if he’d bring us to these places as well because drivers get free petrol vouchers when they bring tourists, even if they don’t buy anything. So we agreed to go to a few but then I got too annoyed because people were really purely interested in getting hold of your money. And not even in a too friendly way…. So that were a couple of interesting hours on the roads of Bangkok. Live and learn…
Photo: A fleet of tuk tuk parked outside one of the 'fashion shops'
Eventually we did go to the palace which was quite spectacular – a lot of gold and bling-bling everywhere but in a very tasteful way. The next day we went around to a few more places and travelled mainly by river ferry, which was cheap and good fun. Its really like a bus on the water and very fast to get around the old part of town. More sights and some shopping on Khaosan Road (THE tourist drag selling almost everything you can imagine) later, we ended up exhausted but happy, eating noodles at a street stall. Then an early start the next morning to get across town to the bus station and back towards home sweet home in Cambodia.
Photo: Temples at the Royal Palace
Photo: They even have special spaces for monks on the river ferry... (see writing on the panels above heads)
Photo: Great views from the top of Wat Arun
Even though many people travelling Thailand don’t like Bangkok a lot (too big, too busy, too polluted), I really enjoyed it. Even though, I haven’t seen much outside the old town and didn’t go to the huge shopping malls or around the forest of concrete blocks in the business districts, it was really great being back in a big city and dive into all these ‘luxuries’ we don’t get here. Like a kid in a candy store really… and it cost me a fortune given my Cambodian allowance but was worth every Baht of it.
What I missed though was the friendliness of people here in Cambodia. Where we were people were purely business minded and instantly lose interest when the don’t see you as potential buyer. But that’s tourism, aye? Also I didn’t like that I couldn’t communicate with people so much as here where I speak a bit of Khmer at least. So it might sound a bit weird but at the end of the day I was really happy coming back to Cambodia. It did feel like coming home to a familiar place and people.
So a great break and definitely more travel in Thailand to come. But its a big country (compared to here at least) and I'll probably only have time to go and see a few places. It would be great to get a few good tips - so those of you who've travelled around Thailand, it would be great, if you could post me a few top tips to go to next time!!!
Take care everyone! Big hug!