Tag - traffic

Bangkok Underground – MRT

Bangkok Underground - MRT
Bangkok Underground - MRT
Bangkok Underground - MRT

The relatively recent addition of the Mass Rapid Transit network (MRT) has made traveling around Bangkok much easier and dramatically decreased the amount of traffic on the roads.

The MRT (also known as the Bangkok Subway or Bangkok Metro) is known as Rot FAI Die Din in Thai; ‘car with fire under ground’. It was opened by HM King Bhumibol and Queen Sirikit at 19:19 on July 3rd, 2004.

The MRT is particularly useful for people traveling to/from Hualomphong Station as it runs from there round in a horseshoe shape to Bang Sue, which is also located next to a railway station.

The MRT comprises 18 stations and intersects with the BTS at three points: Chatuchak Park, Silom and Sukhumvit. It is impossible to get lost on the underground as there is only one line. Some of the most frequently visited stops include Kamphaeng Phet, Chatuchak Park, Silom, Asok (Sukhumvit) and Lumpini.

Single journeys are quite cheap, costing 15 baht for one station, whilst a ticket from one end of the line to the other costs 39 baht and takes about 25 minutes. You can also buy san unlimited one day pass for 120 baht, a three day pass for 230 baht and a thirty day pass for 800 baht. It is a good idea to carry a supply of 5 and 10 baht coins for the automatic ticket machines. You will be issued with a plastic disk, which you lightly press against the barrier to gain admittance.

The trains can carry 40,000 passengers an hour in each direction and arrive every five minutes during peak times – 07:00-09:00, 16:00-19:00 – and every seven minutes at non-peak times. There are also TV screens and soft music to entertain you while you wait.

Although traveling on the MRT is quite simple, you may want to bear the following tips in mind:

The MRT is air conditioned throughout, and sometimes gets so cold that it feels as though it were designed by polar bears! Take a sweater if traveling more than a couple of stops.

If you are visiting Lumpini Park, do not get of at Lumpini Station but exit at Silom Station instead. Lumpini Station is close to Lumpini Stadium and the Suan Lum Night Bazaar. Phaholyothin Station, rather than Lad Phrao Station, is also the closest station to Central Lad Phrao.

Bangkok Underground - MRTAlthough Chatuchak Park Station is the closest station to Chatuchak Park, Kamphaeng Phet Station is the most convenient station for Chatuchak Weekend Market (J. J. Market).

It is worth bearing in mind that the Thailand Cultural Center Station is actually quite a distance from the Thailand Cultural Center. Visitors to the center may want to get a taxi from the station.

See the MRT website.

No Smoking and No Littering

Littering and Smoking“The only thing to do with good advice is to pass it on. It is never of any use to oneself.” Oscar Wilde 1856-1900, British Author. Early evening and marooned amongst the Friday night madness of Siam Square’s “beautiful people” and throat choking traffic, there was only one way I was going to get a much needed beer Chang within the hour……head for the Klong! Whether you’re heading to or from Khao San Road (KSR), and as long as it’s before 7 pm, you should bear in mind the Klong (canal) boat taxis as a great alternative when wishing to explore the city as they have natural air-conditioning, there are no traffic jams and they are dead cheap. What more could you ask for?

From under the bridge just behind the Discovery Centre, Siam Square I arrived at Banglamphoo Pier (located under the bridge between the Queens Gallery and Golden Mount) refreshed and wide awake; after ducking under the low bridges along the way, in under 10 minutes for 5 baht.

After a ten minute walk, passing democracy monument, I was seated on KSR with Chang in hand, beer snacks ordered and unfortunately an all too familiar sight these days….. A young smoker (no, not the green kind) being escorted to the cop shop on the back of a police motorcycle.

NO, this is not going to be an account of my usual Friday night walkabout, but instead a much need reminder for all. Whether you’re back in the kingdom again for some more fun this year or are here to leave your mark for the first time, take note because THINGS HAVE CHANGED!

Although it is not obviously apparent in most areas around the city, especially along KSR, there is a very hefty littering penalty in Thailand (take note of the yellow peril below) which conveniently goes hand in hand with the Government’s Anti-Smoking regulations. Briefly, for the uninformed, smoking is prohibited in ALL public buildings and also “supposedly” in air-conditioned establishments (i.e. bars, clubs & restaurants).

Littering and SmokingYes, I imagine right about now you’re looking around Khao San and thinking, well hey, I don’t see any such rules down here, but go tell that to the dude who stubbed out his cigarette on the ground while at the ATM. He was seen by a local motorcycle patrol officer and taken off to the cop shop; amidst applause from the misunderstood along the way, to be fined. The guy had no idea what he’d done wrong or what was going on. Unnecessary negativity on what may have been his first night out on KSR.

I speak from experience, there’s no way of getting out of it once you’ve been seen littering; in particular easily seen glowing cigarette stubs, so bear in mind that the fine you’ll have to fork out is anything up 2,000 Baht should you get caught. What’s the solution? Basically think twice before you trash anything in the street. Just remember that there’s a heap of restaurants and bars with ashtrays along KSR and litter bins around the city so be cool and make the effort, after all 2,000 Baht buys a lot of fun in the kingdom right?

And remember…..

Keepitreal.

Mahachai Station


Mahachai Station
Mahachai Station
Mahachai Station

This will never appear on any list of great railway journeys in the world which is a shame as it certainly offers a step back in time to when Bangkok and it’s environs was more aquatic than today. It’s a lovely old line with some wonderful scenery and a comic book feel that starts when you try and find the station in Bangkok. Wong Wien Yai is a big traffic circle with a statue of King Taksin in the middle. You have to scout around to find the station and be careful who you ask because many people are unaware of it’s existence. Basically the station is hidden down a narrow soi not far from a 7/11.

Trains are regular, approximately every hour and the tickets for the one hour run are 10 baht. The single track rattles through some of Thonburi’s western suburbs hemmed in by markets and houses. Past Wat Singh and we get more greenery. Ramshackle huts hug the klongs that criss cross the flat terrain while young kids fish and play around. Sam Yaek looks great, a wonderful place to get off and wander around and take the opportunity of recording this photogenic landscape. It’s a junction of 2 klongs with many bright flowers and brighter birds flashing by the rapidly moving train.

With Swiss style punctuality we arrive at a spot where double tracking allows the trains to pass and we are soon proceeding on our way. It’s a Saturday and I’m a little hung-over and appreciate the cool air through the open window. We pull into Mahachai station and come to a halt in a dark market that doubles as the railway station. Outside in the bright sunshine it’s a sea food lover’s delight as stalls sell all sort of stuff that had been happily minding their own business and few yards away the night before. Rickshaws and songthaew remind you that while Bangkok may only be an hour away your are pretty much up country here.

There is a river crossing where you can join the Mae Klang line but this is a less frequent run, four times a day and I had little time to wander the market and surrounding streets before heading back to the big city.

I’ve done the journey a couple of times now and enjoy it. You do feel you are being taken to another world yet one so close to Bangkok. The journey back is as uneventful as the outbound and I took the opportunity to look at my pictures. Each time I’ve done the trip I have never been the only farang (foreigner) on board so obviously people are hearing about this quaint little line.

Cycling in Laos

cycling_in_laos_1
Cycling in Laos
Cycling in Laos
cycling_in_laos_4

Cycling is fun in Southeast Asia; it has become a way of life for me. I can’t even imagine a trip without my bike. I have had many adventures and lots of great experiences. There are so many new things to see and learn from. This story is just a glimpse of what I have done, how I have felt and where I have gone.

A couple of years ago, I was lying in a bed. It was cold, the kind of cold you get on crisp English mornings in winter time. I was wrapped in my guest house blanket, a blanket of dubious history. These are the kind of things you must deal with when you are cycle touring, or backpacking, around Southeast Asia. Blankets and sheets in guest houses often give you a strong indication of the economics of the guest house you are staying in. If the bed linins are old, dirty or smelly then it doesn’t bode well for your stay. If the blankets or sheets are crisp, clean and new (ish) then your stay may be full of care and attention. I have found that the blanket rule often supersedes the pricing rule, prices do not necessarily reflect the quality of your stay.
 
My journey to this blanket had begun on khao San Road in Bangkok. I had battled through the Bangkok heat, pollution and traffic on my bicycle. This is never a safe or healthy thing to do, but it is a necessary journey. I boarded my train to Nong Khai at Hualompong Station as I was heading for the Plain of Jars in central Laos, close to the town of Phonasavan. My cycling would start in earnest in the northeastern Thai town of Nong Khai. The journey had been planned for months; my goal was to see the mysterious jars of central Laos.
 
Getting off the sleeper train in the cool morning haze of northern Thailand, I collected my bicycle from the front luggage compartment and assembled the various parts (panniers, bungee cords etc.). The ride to the border point was a gentle 4 Km. The Laos border crossing was as user friendly as any good border crossing in the region. Everything is detailed for you with clear instructions and the wait for the slow bureaucratic clogs of the immigration police is minimal.
 
The ride into Vientiane was excellent. The welcome from the people is always good. You pass the Beer Laos factory on your right after about 10Km. This, after my first visit to Laos 10 years ago, was to become a place of worship and awe. I stopped and took some photos, I already have plenty of photos from previous trips, I just can’t help myself. This time I went on the tour of the brewery. The free samples went down well and provided an excellent break for my ride into Vientiane. Beer Laos truly is one of the worlds great largers.
 
The ride into Vientiane is a relaxed affair; you pass the old communist work slogans on advertising boards on the way into the sleepy capital city. These act as a reminder that you have entered a ‘workers’ paradise’, although I doubt Marx would agree with the 21st century version of his dream.
 
The local folk are very unobtrusive in the interest in a
western cyclist riding through their neighborhood. Vientiane is one of my favorite capitals in the world, primarily because you feel the lack of bustle and hustle of the place; you get the sense that the tumbleweed will float passed at any second. The place is small, there are no high rise developments (bar that huge new Chinese hotel) and the place has a sleepy, relaxed feel to it.
 
Leaving Vientiane the next day, the ride to Phonasavan took me north to Vang Vieng in a 2 day ride through the central plains of Laos. The ride to Vang Vieng is flat and one of those great little stretches where you can take a gentle pace, stop and chat with the locals over a meal of rice and fruit and feel good on a bike. There are no difficult mountain stretches and the scenery is beautiful.
 
Vang Vieng itself nestles in between a few mountains and is an idealic spot to stop and recharge for the coming ride to Phonasavan. I stayed for 2 days as there is plenty to do, not least the fun day out tubing down the river or taking in the nearby caves and wonderful swimming in clear, fresh lagoons.
 
I set off early on the next leg of the trip, the most difficult part of this tour. This is a monster stage, much like the Alp D’huez in the Tour de France. There is a 130Km ride to Phu Khun in the mountains. The wind was blowing fiercely; I was battling the head wind until the town of Kasi. At Kasi the challenge began in earnest. Here each assent to a higher plateau left me exhausted. At each peak there was a Hmong village waiting to welcome me, invariably selling the same lukewarm cola refreshments. The refreshments were lacking, but the locals’ reception definitely made up for the lack of cool coca-cola.
 
The day climaxed in a stunning uphill section that really took my breath away. About 10Km from my destination of Phu Khun I began the final assent. I did run out of energy and water at some point and had to stop by a mountain stream to fill my water bottle. In the process I managed to scare some Laotian ladies who were taking a wash in the stream, naked. I don’t know who was more embarrassed, the naked Laos ladies or the sweaty, sun burnt, limping semi-naked white boy. After both parties covered their dignities we managed to have a chuckle and communicate together, they even offered me some of their food.
 
I have christened this style of riding ‘whirlwind riding’ as you just have to go at it as quickly as you can come-what-may. I was definitely on my last reserves of strength, but still I needed to get to the village and a bed. I had to get on with the ride, there was no other option. Everything was hurting me, but between the fresh water and the stunning views across central Laos I was revitalized enough to push on.
 
Eventually I found the down slope in the road and headed into Phu Khun and I ventured into the first guest house that I found. I took a look at the room, and the all important blanket, and did the (not so) complex equation of cost vs comfort vs tiredness. My legs made the decision for me, virtually screaming at me that they couldn’t go on to the other guest house 100 meters down the road.
 
And so it came to pass that I awoke wrapped in the dubious blanket on the cold, crisp Laotian mountain morning at the end of December. I was being welcomed to the hills of Laos at Christmas time by a smelly blanket and guest house which didn’t have a shower. The bed bugs had been kept at bay by my sarong; my legs felt better but were still aching a little. I stumbled out of my room, threw some water over me from the bucket in the ‘bath’room and repacked my bike.
 
The reason for putting myself through the previous days’ pain and the ache in my legs really hit me when I cycled away from the guest house; the air was fresh, the mountains surrounding me looked like they had been taken from a movie set and the roads were empty. I will never forget me exit from Phu Khun, it was made even more special by the locals who all waved and shouted ‘sabaii dee’ as I past. It really does make you feel special and alive.
 
I set off for my destination, the town of Phonasavan nearly 140Km away. The first assent of the day left me delirious with joy, so much so I was laughing and sweating at the top of the first peak. The views across the valley which unfolded before me were spectacular. Any soreness in my legs was replaced by adrenalin. The climbs continued, punctuated, thankfully, by a few great descents. At one point I descended 19Km in one long downward free wheel. This is truly and exhilarating experience. These kinds of days are what you start (and seemingly I can never stop) cycling for; upward challenges, downward enjoyment, stunning scenery and friendly local villages.
 
The 140Km stretch is punctuated by villages, both Hmong and central Laos villages. I stopped at one point at a village which seemed to be full of AK47 toting Laos army cadre. I decided to have my morning tea (you can take the man out of England but you can’t take England out of the man) in the middle of the village. I was immediately surrounded by Laotian soldiers carrying guns. However, the threat level did descend a few notches when I looked down and most of them had dispensed with the customary army uniform boots and instead were wearing flip flops. These guys certainly didn’t look menacing but there was a threat in the air as they were all carrying guns, albeit in a relaxed fashion, slung over their shoulders.
 
Now, the situation may seem to be a worrying to some as I was miles from any main town, alone and surrounded by soldiers. However, my survival skills were not required as, to a man, the soldiers were laughing and goofing around. They were obviously curious about my presence, but they soon settled down, sat on their haunches and watched me brew my tea from a polite distance.
 
At one point I opened my map and asked the guys where we were. The most senior officer was pushed forward to answer my question. Apparently the village wasn’t on any map, presumably for military reasons, but I am only speculating about that as my Laos conversation skills are not what they should be.
 
After my tea I packed up and handed my rubbish to a young lad who took it and held it with a confused look on his face and I rode off with the bemused military men staring at me.
 
My cycling was becoming better; I was becoming used to the merciless hills. I eventually stormed up the last hill. Getting onto the plains of central Laos was a joy I have felt only a few times in my life. I cycled into Phonasavan at dusk, a tired, sweaty, aching cyclist nut with a warm glint of joy in my eyes. I had battled with some big mountain stages and I had won.
 
My hotel was luxurious in comparison to my previous night’s encounter with the blanket. I collapsed in my large bed and slept the sleep of the dead.
 
Early the next morning I awoke and got out of bed with a bounce in my step. This was the final leg of my tour, the finish of my tour was within grasp. I asked at the reception for directions, never underestimating my knack for geographical embarrassment, and headed out. I soon found the road and cycled the short distance in under an hour. I found myself at the reception hut for the Jars and paid the small entrance fee. Walking up the small slop and arriving at the crest of the hill I caught my first glimpse of a stone jar. The round, skewed, moss covered jar was a sight that gave me a euphoric high. I enjoyed the sight, but not as much as I had enjoyed the journey to it. This trip was, as most are, about the journey, not the destination.
 
The jars are impressive for their mystery, they are strange and intriguing. The recent history of them is as interesting as the speculation about the origins. There are hundreds of these large man size stone jars strewn across the Laos plains. No-one knows why they are there, and therein lays the intrigue.
 
Cycle touring has become a way of life for me. I enjoy the sedate pace of the bike; you get to see so much more of the places you are traveling in. You also interact with the locals more, often seeing a friendlier, and more helpful side to a country or culture. Cycle touring can be tiring, it can make your body ache, but cycling is fun, healthy and a great way to see a country.
 
About the author: Simon Stewart is a cycling evangelist who has made it his mission to spread the gospel through the excellent tours he organizes.

Isaan by Motorbike – Day 4 (Part 2)

Isaan Tour - Northeast ThailandAfter the temple I wanted to make up for some lost time. Also my ass was still hurting from the punishment I had been giving it. The bike seat, nothing else.

I was on a huge open road. So I slowly took the speed up to 140km/h +. Breaking the speed limit for sure but heh, no police, no cameras and most of all there was no traffic on the road. In the distance someone came into view.

I caught up with them very quickly, then with no signals or checking in their non-existent mirrors they pulled over to the right hand side of the road, right in front of me. Like a slow motion sequence. I was trying to work out where on the road the space for me would be when I caught up with them. Not easy with only about 2 seconds thinking and reaction time. I slammed on the breaks – enough to slow but not enough to skid. I daren’t sound the horn for fear of them changing their course. Heavy braking and a bank to the left pulled me out of their way with maybe 6 inches to spare. NOTE TO SELF, SLOW THE F*** DOWN.

motorbike_travels_day_four_14A SIGNPOST FOR A WATERFALL

On to the next waterfall!!! It would be so nice , once again a chance to swim in the refreshing water and bask in the baking sun. I drove away from the main highway. Through open fields on dirt tracks, searching for the waterfall. After leaving the main highway the road signs were all in Thai. I had to somehow work out by radar where the water was.

These open fields all had some large golden leaved plants, I was not sure what they were, maybe some sort of cabbage. Then I saw the open barns drying the leaves. When I got close to one of the barns I smelled a wonderful aroma. The smell of fresh tobacco. This was obviously a tobacco farming area. The smell was amazing.

I tried to buy some tobacco from one of the farmers, just a little bit to go with the meat I had bought in Tae Rae. This was where the language barrier got the better of me. I could not understand a bloody word they were saying. Everything I said received blank looks. I tried for a few minutes including hand-signals and the like but to no avail.

I carried on to the waterfall. It was a great drive through increasingly dusty tracks. I found my goal. I parked up the motorbike and went for a walk.

motorbike_travels_day_four_16Guess what. Yes, another water not fall. This place was still beautiful, even with no water.

Phulangka national park is the location of this water not fall. I rested in the shade of the trees for a while and took a few photos before making my way back to the main highway.

I drove onto Bueang Kan. I easily found and checked into the Samar Guest house. A really smart place. It looked brand new and at 300 baht per night it is amazing. It was ultra clean, amazingly clean; it was so clean that I might have been the first person to stay in this room.

I went for my daily massage. OK I have had some strange massages in my time but this one pretty much took the biscuit. I got the usual banter – you speak Thai? – velly gooood, have girlfriend, how long in Thailand – blah blah blah. OK.

Then the second masseur started to touch my tattoos. “Ooh very sexy” I smiled. Then they started to talk about me not having a girlfriend, suggesting that when I travel I do not have a girlfriend. DANGER WILL ROBINSON DANGER.

motorbike_travels_day_four_17After she finished playing with my nipple and me telling them that I do have a girlfriend I arranged to meet them at eight o’clock (whilst planning my escape route. Over the razor wire, through the muddy tunnel and out across the tobacco fields till I reach the Mae Khong to swim to Loas for freedom form the evil twins. Oh yes accompanied by a bottle of wine.

After the massage I drove around the town to have a look around. I found a wine shop there, it was amazing. A really nice owner who I spoke with for a while. He was talking mainly that it was nice to have someone come in and choose a bottle of wine by the label and not the price; saying that there were not many wine drinkers in the area. The locals mainly being made up of whisky drinkers. He had a full range of wines, all stored well and from good vintners. I took my time choosing my bottle then found a restaurant.

The restaurant I chose was on the river front. The head waiter spoke very good English. I took a low seat and asked them for a glass for my ready opened bottle of nine year old cabernet sauvignon. Tasty food and a bottle of wine. The placement of the restaurant was great , with low tables for the more traditional manner of sitting down to eat.

Then it was back to the guesthouse, avoiding the massage house that was less than 200 metres from the guest house. Ninja style!!!

A perfect end to a crazy day.

Note: Story author is Steven Noake.