Funny how things go. I have just received an email from a friend, Anthony, who is now living in California for several years. He was in Phuket during the tsunami. He decided that day to take a speed boat to spend the morning in a remote island at sea...they just heard rumors while they were on the islands as they did not feel anything and it was certainly hard to believe. When they came back 2 hours after, of course, everything was torn appart, the hotel was in bad shape. They had planned to go to Phi Phi beach in case they could not find room on the boat...
I suppose that is the price to pay when sending terrorists and when your governement does not back up the US politic in the middle-east, nonetheless I just learned that French now do need a visa issued after a private interview with US embassy staff. The process can take up to 8 weeks. Simply awesome. It concerns only old passport models prior to 2001 (mine is dating from August 2000) and of course they only issue the new model in France because of 'technical issues'.
Just a few words to express a big thank you to family and friends that have to deal with all my problems back home in France (paper stuff, IRS, bank, post office, ...) and that are solving it efficiently in a timely manner. This is more than I could do myself if I was there. So thanks again.
Just booked everything for tomorrow. I'm off to the Perenthian Islands in Malaysia. I should take the ferry back to Chumphon, then take the night train to Sungai Golok and find my way through buses and taxi to Kuala Besut via Kota Bahru, then the ferry, etc... I got the ferry + train ticket at B1084 at Tim Travel in Sairee Beach. It looks like it is barely the same price if you take the night ferry to Surat Thani followed by buses to the Malaysian border, so rather than travelling with pigs and bad weather with a tiring bus ride, I chose a more relaxed way.
Aah this is the first shark I'm seeing clearly at Chumphon. I was diving with my cool english buddy Jim and we got an excellent dive spotting the major attractions of Chumphon: Shark and.... the yellow boxfish. Murphy's law was in action...I had fog in the housing and could not take a nice picture of this boxfish. This is the 2nd time I see it in Chumphon and 3rd time since I'm diving. The first time was in Aliwal Shoal, near Cathedral, it was a baby one that was as small as a thumb nail !
This is kind of a common question when meeting people. However it looks like I have a keen ability to fool people (yeah, I'm used to it for a long time). I hardly met many people that could guess I was French. Most of the time they think I'm German as it looks like I have a slight German accent in some sentences (French do think I'm english though until I speak French, 'ah, tu parles francais ?' ...). I do keep a slight French accent by my inability to pronounce most of starting 'h' and people start noticing it once they know I'm French. Today is a first however, my english buddy for the last 3 days told me he thought I was South African as it looks like I got an accent from South Africa. Now, that's interesting.
I went to an internet cafe in Koh Tao with my laptop. Next to me there's the owner unmounting a desktop computer. After a few minutes he comes to see me with the computer power supply unscrewed.
This is not the name of a dive site but rather what looks like a diving day where the camera does not work. 2 pictures.
Chumphon is one of the major dive site in Koh Tao and there is virtually good visibility guarantee (30m+), so this is no big news that we are often diving here. Major attractions are sharks (if you're lucky), the pinnacles are covered of anemones and thus there are plenty of Pink Anemonefish, and you find the usual suspects around here.
Been there, done that. I woke up a bit early this morning as we left at 7AM and we were the first boat on SouthWest Pinnacle (appart from the liveaboards) . Excellent dives with those guys from New Way. Excellent spirit aboard as well, this was so much nicer than Ban's, really !. I highly recommend it. On the bad side this @#$& camera is working erratically and I have huge problems making it work correctly (well switching it on at least) as corrosion is affecting the batteries compartment. It did not work for the first dive. The broken zoom mechanism does not help as well.
After the flood disaster from yesterday, I cleaned up everything and did another attempt as the camera is still miraculously working. I also tried to fix the zoom mechanism on the housing but I encounter a real problem as the screw that fixes it to the housing is an hexagonal one that is between 1.5 and 2mm so it is absolutely non-standard and could not find any wrench for it . Anyway, it did well for the 2 dives in the morning albeit shallow one (max 20m), I'm wondering what it will be around 30m as there is another bar of pressure.
I've been diving Chumphon again this morning with a loadcrap of people as you can see in the pictures (how come I'm not the only one ?
). At about 28m deep, surprise ! I see water in the housing ! S*** !!!!
I managed to come up at the end of the dive with a relatively safe camera though I'm not sure how long it will work. Salt water and electronic usually don't mix well... I had 4 packs of silicat gel inside to work against air humidity here, the 4 packs absorbed a lot of water but I had the content of about 4 tea spoons when I opened the housing. This is no good.
Second day diving with Ban's. Generally I can say this was a good day. Even though we were surrounded by divers all over the place, we managed at least to see something. I have been diving with Alberic and his friends. Alberic is a CSNE living in Bangkok and should leave by september for doing his round-the-world trip as well. Thanks to him we had a cool slow dive.
I have been diving Koh Tao this morning. I went to SouthWest Pinnacle and guess what ? There were 57 people on the boat ! FIFTY-SEVEN divers ! When we arrived on the site there were about 6-7 boats as well. There were probably 200 divers diving the same site. I have never seen so many people underwater, this was just like Bangkok traffic at its peak. Simply unbelievable !
I managed to make it to Koh Tao a few hours ago. It was not a very long bus ride and was confortable relatively speaking. We left Bangkok at around 8PM, stopped on the road for 1 hour at midnight and arrived at the pier at 4AM. We then waited...and waited to board the ferry at around 7AM and we arrived in Koh Tao about 3 hours later.
No need to spend more time than necessary in Bangkok, I need some sun and water to chill out. I'm leaving tonight to Koh Tao,a famous island in the east coast, south of the Gulf Of Thailand. I should leave by bus at 8PM from Bangkok, arrive at 5AM at the pier, take a ferry and put my feet on the island by 7:30AM.
I left Chiang Mai yesterday evening around 7PM as expected. And yes ! The bus was a good one ! It was full of Thai people. At first I had a nice young looking woman sitting next to me, she looked like a bit surexcited as she kept moving all the time, I was wondering what the trip would be ! She was quickly replaced by a guy from Thai News as she took the wrong seat. Bad pick, This one was worse. Despite being half my size, he was taking twice the room and obviouslly did not care much. After all I'm a farang (foreigner), why would he care ? Add to this that he was clearing his throat and nose loudly every 10 seconds and you get the idea.
I started wandering around the city early today as I was already in the streets by 7:30AM. I found a nice place where to get some solid breakfast as I expected a long day. After some trial & error I found one. It was expensive (B100) but the american breaksfast was looking good. On the menu at least. I was not disappointed, it was really way above average and well presented. I then went to the post office to send a parcel to Europe.
Apparently, the Northern side of Thailand is well known for its teak woodcarvers. I can say for sure that their art is absolutely breathtaking ! So are their prices, this is absolutely out of reach for me right now. Most of it range in the B9000-B25000 ($200-$600). I however did some business with drawing/painting artists in the night bazaar. I went to a Kodak shop, ask them to print one of my digital picture from a few months ago (4x6" format) and gave it as a model. The drawing of the picture was executed in less than 12 hours and the quality is absolutely awesome. I had tears in my eyes when I saw the result.
A few words about Thailand on the financial side. As you probably noticed, this is a hell of a tourist spot. No surprise here unless you have been living in a cave for the last 50 years. The most difficult thing is to pay attention about scams (been there, done that, you will obviouslly get caught once and even more). If you want to buy, clothes, bags, etc.. be prepared for some tough bargaining.
I did not do much lately, but one thing is sure, Chiang Mai is much better than Bangkok, life is sweeter here, less stressful and more importantly less traffic. Being the biggest second city of Thailand, it is no small village though and it is poised to become a real tourist hub with the future expansion of the airport as a truely international one (source: Bangkok Post). Thailand being such a touristy destination, you cannot walk 10 meters without bumping into a shop showing all it can do for you in the surroundings and beyond. Tuk-tuk drivers are also quite pushy here, but no as stupid as their colleagues in Bangkok.
VIP bus, inclinable seats first-class type, foods, drinks, air-con. That sounds appealing when doing a 12h bus ride between Bangkok and Chiang Mai. The pictures are also there to give you an idea of how pleasant this night trip might be. For B550 compared to B300 for the simple air-con bus, well such luxury is affordable. And this is booked directly from the guesthouse that has been nice all week. So all is well, really, risks are at a minimum...in theory. I however start to have some doubts when a grand-ma is picking me up at the guesthouse and bring me to a dual-business shop, it does both a travel agency and ... a barber shop. An alarm bell is ringing in my mind as I switch to DEFCON3: 'scam ! scam ! scam !'. After all, a travel agency and a barber work in the same business, they do shave the client like a sheep.
It seems that the switch to the new server is now effective (maybe). Though your mileage may vary depending on how your ISP updated your DNS cache. For example, in one cybercafe, I'm directed to the old one while I'm directed to the new one in another cafe. If you are reading this, you have the latest articles and pictures from Hong-Kong and the Philippines.
Wat Phra Kaeo is the holiest site in the country and host the image of the Emerald Buddha. It is located inside the Grand Palace. From my point of view, there is no interest in this site appart from that the ticket (B200) also gives you a right to enter the Vinamnek Mansion (otherwise B100). The Grand Palace, is huge and absolutely packed with tourists, it makes your tour absolutely miserable and you are better off spending time in less touristy areas.
Wat Po is Bangkok's oldest temple (mmm....it looks like to me I have been reading that already somewhere) and is most famous for housing the enormous statue of a reclining Buddha. Howver the main purpose of my visit was the traditional Thai massage.
I started lazily my day around 11AM and had lunch in the streets near Khao San (at B15 a Pad Thai with one egg it is no budget killer). While eating, I got asked by 2 tuk-tuk drivers where I wanted to go. Well for now I'm eating but as I need to lose some time, what about talking to some hawkers.
As again frustrating taxi experience. ' Jim Thompson's House please'..ok this one does not work..'Thompson ?' ...nothing... 'aaah JaymeThoomson house ?' YES !! Oops ok he seems to know the name but not the place..great..I open the map and show him...ok he obviously cannot read english so I show him the Thai for the streets nearby.. and I realize that he obviously must have some eyes problem and need some corrective lenses. Presbyopia has set in. He puts the map 80cm from his eyes to read... that's more than enough to have the Thai characters looking like a single point in the map...
I did not want to bother with a tuk-tuk (and the woman at the guesthouse told me that it was too far for a tuk-tuk anyway) so I took a taxi to the Chatuchak Weekend Market (B70). First step, trying to make the taxi driver understand where I want to go. I give a try to 'weekend market' as trying to speak thai is a frustrating experience due to the tones. These words don't even produce a small light in the eyes of my driver...ok I give a try to 'chatuchak market'. My driver smiles big time: 'aaaaaaah sunday market ?!" mmm well it's also on saturday but go for it...
Most Thais who deal with tourists speak some english, but off the beaten track (which might be your taxi next door ) be prepared for the worse, Philippines is heaven in comparison. Even when they speak some english words I do have some extreme problems with most asian accents and even understanding the guide in Vimanmek Mansion was not especially easy and I had to focus hard. However don't expect to master Thai this will sound even worse.
I'm still having lots of problems with the server. Murphy's law was in action yesterday as support told me that the backup hdd also failed in the morning meaning all data were destroyed. Luckily they have been able to past over it and the migration to CPanel7 is now effective. I lost all pictures that I uploaded while in the Philippines and some articles but Fabrice was normally able to download them yesterday evening with the whole site (300MB) so he should be able to upload them soon. Email addresses @bearaway.org are still not working so this is somewhat still blackout on this side. For the record, I found this morning a fast (128K) and cheap (B30/h) internet access in Bangkok at Pitak Travel in Chakraphong Road just next to the Bang Lamphu canal.
As the title suggests, I took the tourist path today and went visit the Vinamnek Mansion (B100) which is a palace made for King Rama V and constructed entirely of gold teak without a single nail (wood pegs only). It is an incredibly beautiful place with awesome artefacts and you will have no pictures because we are not allowed to take any . At 10:30AM I was just in time for the Thai Dancing show (B20 if you want to take pictures otherwise free...) and walked down to the Wat Benjamabophit (B20) which is the last major temple to have been built in Bangkok (early 1900s). I then went all the way down to the Democracy Monument and went quickly to the Wat Saket aka Golden Mountain (B10) that houses the holy hash remains of Lord Buddha.
I have been wandering today in the (un)famous part of Bangkok: Khao San Road. Basically Khao San is filled with guesthouses, restaurants, internet cafes, tailors, etc.. and is also packed with backpackers. In this area you probably see more western backpackers than thais. So if you are looking for a little bit more authenticity and calm, get out there.
I just arrived in Bangkok about 2 hours ago after a short flight from Hong-Kong(2 hours, it is roughly the same distance than to Cebu). I took a metered taxi from the airport (300 bahts) after avoiding the hawkers close to the exit gate that wanted to get me in their taxis for 500. That was a hell of an experience to have a conversation with a Thai taxi driver who speaks slightly more english than I speak thai. I managed to learn a few thai words during the ride and he dropped me at the expected location .