Monday, February 25, 2013

Thailand, Return To Bangkok From Ko Samui


With traditional taxis charging about $600 Baht for a one way trip back to the port, I decide to try another alternative. 


KOSAMUI 002For $300 Baht, still more than twice what a local would pay, I am on the back of a scooter for the about 20 mile journey.

This turns out not to be too bad of a deal as I get to do some sightseeing although the driver has a helmet and I don't.


The weather is just as beautiful as the day I arrive and I enjoy some of it on the exterior deck of the ferry as we speed our way to Suratthani. In the distance I can see a few of the islands that are definitely worth a visit if I ever return to this part of Thailand.




KOSAMUI 003Ko Samui Fast-Ferry



Although I have a Second-Class seat on the 6:30pm train to Bangkok, I opt to exchange my ticket for an earlier train in a lesser class of service.


KOSAMUI 011Interestingly, it will cost me more for less. My ticket is refunded but only for 50% of the original price.This is applied to the price of my new fare.

For about $20 Baht more, I now have a Third-Class seat and will be traveling like many of the locals do.




I settle in for at least another twelve hour journey and get to see some more of Thailand's countryside as the sun sets to the west. Somewhere along the way I am rocked to sleep but wake up to the smell of smoke and the train at a stop out in the middle of nowhere.

There is some commotion in the car as members of the train staff rapidly walk by communicating with each other over hand held radios. This causes small talk among the passengers as we all want to know what is going on.

I hope this is not a regular occurrence but apparently a person was hit by a south bound train and had a leg severed which crew members of our train was in the process of recovering. I think they were successful in doing so as later on the train was met with flashing red lights at a station stop.



KOSAMUI 022With our journey resumed I get to chat a few minutes with a gentleman selling custom made jewelry.

He tries his best to convince me to buy a fish bone bracelet which I am told is a one of a kind item.





KOSAMUI 020Trendy here but probably not on 5th Ave, at least not yet.









KOSAMUI 029Bangkok Main Train Station at 6am



Around 5:30am my journey ends were it began a few days ago. The city is starting to come alive along the tracks as we rock and roll our way back into the main train station in Bangkok.  


KOSAMUI 036For me, it's time to watch Super Bowl XLVII.

Go Ravens!






Friday, February 22, 2013

Thailand, Ko Samui


For me, one of the joys in visiting Thailand is the diversity in geography that it offers. After a by choice 17 hour journey, I will spend the next two days enjoying another beautiful part of Thailand, the island of Ko Samui.



Chaweng 003Checking into Lek City Hotel which is located at Chaweng Beach, I am in the heart of one of the most popular areas of Ko Samui.





Just outside the entrance of Lek City is a famous lady-boy cabaret theater, the music of which that I am told will entertain me into the early morning if I choose to remain in my room.

With tons of restaurants and a bustling nightlife scene, I am fine with that as I do not have any plans to go down until the sun comes up.




Chaweng 001Chaweng Beach



By day I walk the main street of Chaweng sampling the offerings of various restaurants and street food vendors in between trips to the warm waters of Chaweng Beach.


027By night it's having fun experiencing the many restaurants, sports bars, cabarets and nightclubs that are all soliciting your business.






On a tropical island, how can one go wrong hanging out in a place called The Green Mango?



020The Green Mango Nightclub


I return to Lek City Hotel in time for a good night sleep absent of any entertainment from the lady-boys next door.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Thailand, The Long Way To Ko Samui


It's about 6pm in the evening when I leave my hotel for a walk to the main train station in Bangkok. I am on my way to catch an overnight train to Ko Samui one of Thailand's Island paradise.


ST76 FEB01 042A few minutes past our 7:30pm departure, I am swaying back and forth in a reclining second class seat as steel wheels start spinning on Track No. 4. I settle in for twelve hours of this which I hope will soon rock me to sleep.




I am not sure what time it is but somewhere down the line I wake up to rays of sunshine splashing across my face. Unfortunately, there is still a few hours to go before I get off the current track that I am on.



KOSAMUI 010About 7:30am we arrive in Surat Thani then it is a bus ride with a very special passenger onboard.






For most of the next two hours or so a few of us laugh as one Mr. Bean entertains us with some of that famous British humor and I think he never even says a word.

Next, it is a 45 minute “Fast-Ferry” ride then an expensive by Thailand standard ($200 Baht) to my hotel. In total about 17 hours to Ko Samui by train, bus and boat compared to a one hour expensive flight from Bangkok.



Chaweng 002Chaweng Beach Ko Samui


Walking Chaweng beach and feeling the warm waters beneath my feet, I think this I would have been a worthwhile trip even if it took 117 hours.




Burma, Shwedagon Pagoda


All that glitters may not be gold but if you want to have an “Awesome Golden” experience then a visit to Shwedagon Pagoda is a must in Yangon, Burma.


SAM_1406Having seen portions of it from the 20th floor of the Sakura Tower, I wish safe travels to some recently met fellow American travelers and take a night walk to Shwedagon.

No doubt at night is the best time to experience the impressiveness of this temple.





SAM_1430Shwedagon Pagoda



With the heavenly emitter of golden light gone for the day, this earthly structure radiates beautifully into the night sky. Towering statues of all kinds and various Buddhas come together to make this an unbelievable sight to see.








SAM_1433It is almost closing time as I arrive at Shwedagon Pagoda and begin a long climb up a set of stairs to the main temple area.

A US$5 entrance fee and walking around bare feet I definitely enjoy this awe-inspiring attraction.





Friday, February 15, 2013

Burma, Street Foods



SAM_1390On my walk this afternoon my destination is an Indian restaurant recommended for lunch by the staff at MGM Hotel.

From the many culinary obstacles I am encountering along the streets, I am not sure I am going to make it to my original destination.



Interesting selections catch my eye at one food stand and I take a seat on the sidewalk. About fifteen minutes later I have a whole grilled fish in front of me. With a sweet and sour flavor and crispy bones that you can eat, my dish is picked a part like it is my last meal.

For less than US$4, along with a bowl of yellow noodle soup, I have one of the most delicious grilled fish meal that I can remember in a long long time.




SAM_1391Grilled Sweet And Sour Fish


Next it is a fresh guava for desert then a mystery I have seen here among quite a few young and old men is solved.

On many street corners there are vendors that take small green leaves, brush them with a white powder, add something then tightly roll individual leaves and put them in a plastic wrapper. Turns out this is a “local chew” of sorts. Interestingly, this chew causes the lips and mouth of the user to turn a bright red.

Unfortunately, over time significant staining then eventually the lost of teeth occurs. I think I will bypass trying this local delight although having a bright red mouth would be so cool.



SAM_1396Heading towards Traders Hotel where I hope to meet up with some travelers I met earlier in the day, I don't have to go very far as by coincident I spot them in the distance walking in my direction.

Together we walk some other streets of Yangon sightseeing.




SAM_1402It is “Happy Hour” time and just down the street from The Strand we stop into a local restaurant.

Three good size appetizer dishes and nine draft beers later, we shell out about US$9 for the whole deal.






SAM_1403A Great “Happy Hour” Deal



At our next stop the beer is a little more expensive but worth it as we take in an elevated view of the city. The Shwedagon Pagoda is impressive lit up at night especially looking at it from the 20th floor of Sakura Tower.



Burma, The Streets Of Yangon


Leaving the riverfront area a local gentleman grabs my hand as I attempt to cross a busy main street. It seems like since there are no pedestrian crossings it is going to be man versus machine to get to the other side.

My protector wants to increase my odds of winning the battle as he encourages me to wait and to cross the street with him. I am much obliged.



SAM_1381Safely across the street, we formerly introduce ourselves and this good will ambassador welcomes me to Burma.

We part ways and I watch for a few moments a group of young men in a circle playing a game that requires some good skills with your feet.






SAM_1387Burmese Foot Ball



Headed down a main street I am now looking at The Sule Pagoda in the center of Yangon. Back towards the river, I come across an unknown building that is next to the Customs house. The building is similar to ones I have seen in former Eastern Bloc countries. Huge.



SAM_1392Sule Pagoda










Along the riverfront I meet a set of good will ambassadors although I think one of them is looking for a handout. He is so cute I wish I had something other than a smile to offer.



SAM_1399Nonetheless, I have a fun time trying to converse with the rest of them.

I think some of them have fun too as they just keep smiling and giggling.






Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Burma, A Sample Of Life Along The Yangon River



SAM_1382Standing on a pier I observe some of the daily life activities along the Yangon River as the distinctive “putt putt” of many of Asia's small river boats echo in the background.





Below me it is interesting to watch as a boat owner works on one of these beauties. A part is added then the motor is hand cranked and comes to life like a Caterpillar. Cool.



SAM_1385Typical Motor On Small River Boats


Looking in the distance a group that my initials “DMB” has on occasion being confused with comes to mind as I see what appears to be “Ants Marching”. While further investigation reveals humans not “Antz”, there is some similarity to the normal actions of our six legged friends.



SAM_1386From two trucks parked on the street a continuous line of men are carrying huge sacks of goods across a bridge to a docked ship.

As the sacks are retrieved, the men are given different colored sticks which I presume are used to get paid later for their hard work.





Burma, Old School Asia


From my own lack of knowledge of Burma/Myanmar recent developments, I am surprised to see such a modern airport at Yangon International Airport. Even more surprising is how friendly the Immigration and Customs officials are for a country that makes itself a bit of a challenge to visit.




ST76 FEB01 005Beautiful Wall Mural Yangon Airport



Finished with all the arrival formalities I share a taxi with two other Americans into the city center where our hotels are located. Not too far from the airport I begin to see signs of old Burma that are still lingering on as the country as a whole is slowly moving towards modernization.



SAM_1380Checking into my room at the MGM, a far far stretch from the one in Las Vegas, Nevada, I get a real sense of what life must have been like here 10-20 years ago.





My room is simple with no wall outlets as such with some of the electrical wiring running on the exterior of the walls. More interesting is that it has a couple of oversized surge protectors and/or electrical filters with meters that must be switched on to allow my air conditioner and television to work properly.


SAM_1379Yes, there are modern hotels here but not with this type of cool stuff.

Staying at a hotel like MGM is the kind of Myanmar experience that I want.





Although not quite up to my favorite Motel 6 standards, MGM has a friendly staff, the room is clean and the bed is comfortable.

Also, no doubt like Motel 6, I am sure when I return from my evening outing the lights will on.



Sunday, February 10, 2013

Oman, A Pink Moon Rising


I consider it a stroke of good fortune that during my short visit to Oman I get to experience two of nature's spectacular feats.


OMAN 024This morning I witnessed a beautiful sunrise near Old Muscat.






Now with just a few hours before I leave, I am sitting on a beach watching the moon rise on a cloudless dark and clear night.




OMAN 050A Pink Moon Rising



This turns out to be more than a normal occurrence. Not only is the moon full, it takes on an awesome and soothing shade of pink that I have never seen as it ascends into the night sky.


ST76 JAN 28 081Soon I will take an identical path but it will be on aluminum wings.

Thanks, Oman for allowing me to see and experience a part of your beauty.






Oman, A Taste Of Muscat


Heading back towards Muscat my car leaves the main highway and I quickly discover why. As my car comes to a stop somewhere on the outskirts of downtown Muscat I find myself in a predominately Indian populated area of town.


ST76 JAN 28 048Although the name on the outside would more likely having you thinking about Oman, the products on the inside will have you feeling Indian. At Muscat Bakery I order up some samosas and desert samples to go and shell out only a few bucks for them.



The samosas are so good that before I hit the road I return for a second order. Miniature pastries make the “stress” of my afternoon stop and go traffic a little more bearable. I never imagine an walnut tart or fig filled mini-donut could be so soothing.




ST76 JAN 28 050You Are My Sunshine



Navigating through the narrow streets of Old Muscat now lined with merchants, I make my way to a parking area where I watch a huge cargo ship leave the harbor.


ST76 JAN 28 054To my surprise, two cruise ships are in port. For a cruise this would definitely be a nice stop.





From here I drive to visit one of the cities most recognizable monuments. Unfortunately, The Incense Burner is closed today and it looks like it is in a state of repair or about to blast off into outer space.



ST76 JAN 28 053The Incense Burner




Saturday, February 9, 2013

Oman, A Beautiful Countryside



OMAN 026I am on the road again and gone are the early morning soothing sunrise colors replaced with brilliant bright blue and clear skies.

The landscape of Oman is stunning as I continue by brief exploration of this so far impressive Gulf State.






OMAN 028




OMAN 048Up steep and curving highways, I am encompassed by beautiful and fantastic mountains with rough and jagged surfaces.

Their off brown colors contrasted against the clear blue skies gives off an amazing impression of beauty.




Descending down one hill I am drawn to pull off the highway. A natural harbor is off my left, its life source hidden by huge hills on both sides. The water here is so calm that its surface reflects attractively the surrounding landscape.




ST76 JAN 28 028Hidden Natural Harbor




OMAN 049Continuing my journey I pass many animals along the highway which is a part of their natural habitat.

They acknowledge my presence with curious stares then continue on life as usual.







ST76 JAN 28 03450-250 Million Year Old Rock Formations



At one point I am standing at an important archeological site where I can view rock formations that are 50 to 250 million years old. This part of the country was once a part of the ocean floor eons ago.

Through more small communities and along mountain highways that are fun to drive, I reach my turn around point. Before I head back to Muscat I walk along a sandy beach that seems to go on for miles as I look out at the Sea of Oman.



ST76 JAN 28 038My return trip is just as amazing although I have traveled the same route just a few hours ago.

I have just seen a small portion of Oman but my exploration has given me an appetite to come back for more to go around and around, again.





Oman, An Awesome Sunrise



ST76 JAN 28 072My visit to Oman is just a stop of sorts on my way to Bangkok, Thailand.

Arriving in Muscat during the early hours of the morning will give me less than 24hrs to explore a bit of this modern day Gulf State.






OMAN 009Mosque Along Highway To Muscat



From my first impression, I know I must return here with more time to enjoy all that this country has to offer. By the time I have picked up my rental car it is less than 3 hours before sunrise.


OMAN 013I am told it is worthwhile to see a sunrise in Oman especially if it is done near the Old Muscat.

I think I can manage a few more hours without sleep and I am not disappointed.