Burmese women sleeping on the train tracks - waiting for their ride

Sleeping on the Tracks – life in Myanmar/Burma

This is my favorite photo!  I was in Rangoon Burma waiting for the fast train to Mandalay.  I had time to kill so I left the magnificent late nineteenth century British railroad station and walked out to the yard. I was surprised to see cows walking through the tracks. There were also many people camped in the yard. I saw a small walk over bridge which took you from one side of the yard to the opposite side. As I was walking over the bridge and looked down to see these two ladies waiting for some train. It was an amazing sight.

Another wonderful dispatch on life in Myanmar/Burma from the intrepid Bill Stanhope – [Kevin เควิน Khaosan]

Beaufort, Malaysia

Beaufort, MalaysiaA great place to spend the night while passing through Eastern Malaysia, the town of Beaufort is just waiting to be explored. This is a great destination to just wader through aimlessly, as pretty wooden shop houses and other buildings can be found at every twist and turn and the town’s sleepy atmosphere gives it a rather enchanting feel.

Those who enjoy taking place in adventure sports will be able to try their hands at white water rafting on the Pandas River, which is just a short trip away. This river is not for the faint of heart however, as it varies between Grade Three and Grade Four, and those who dare to paddle a kayak along the nine kilometre run will have seven rapids to negotiate.

Other good ways of seeing all that the area has to offer include taking a train ride through the countryside and a cruise on Klias River. Dinner cruises can also be arranged and this is the perfect way to see the area’s wildlife in style and comfort whilst dining on delicious Malaysian dishes.

Another popular attraction near Beaufort is Pulau Tiga Marine Park. Situated on one of Malaysia’s most picturesque and interesting islands, the first season of the reality-TV series Survivor was shot here. This area of diverse natural beauty features mud volcanoes and sea snakes.

The train ride that takes passengers along the Padas River Gorge to the traditional village of Tenom is particularly pretty, and this makes an excellent daytrip activity for those who have the time to spare, while visitors who travel here on Friday evening will be able to dine in style at the weekly night market.

Types of Transport in Malaysia

Types of Transport in Malaysia
Types of Transport in Malaysia
Types of Transport in Malaysia

Transport in Malaysia tends to be safe and reliable and there aren’t really any no-go areas of the country. This usually means that getting around Malaysia is pleasant and hassle free.

However, most people return to their home town or village a day or two before public holidays, and public transport is usually very crowded during this time. Try to avoid travelling during public holidays and especially major festivals such as Deepavali, Chinese New Year and Christmas.

Plane
Travelling across Malaysia by aeroplane is generally quite cheap and certainly the easiest way to get around. The main airline is Malaysia Airlines and booking in advance online can save quite a bit of cash. Cheap flights are also provided by AirAsia.

Boat
There are regular ferries running between the mainland and the numerous islands located just off the east and west coasts of Malaysia. Tickets are usually bought in advance from booths on the mainland. In a few states, such as Sarawak, express boats are the most common form of public transport, carrying passengers down the rivers and streams that run through the areas.

Train
Malaysia’s railway network is fast and efficient, consisting of three types of service: express, limited express and local trains. Express trains are reserved for 1st and 2nd class passengers, limited express trains usually just 2nd and 3rd coaches, while local trains are usually limited to 3rd class. There are overnight sleeper births available on Express and limited express trains. Tourist rail passes are a good way to save money if you planning on travelling by train a lot and last for five days, ten days and fifteen days.

The Jungle Railway runs across Malaysia, stopping at every station between Tumpat and Gemas. This service is 3rd class only and there is no air-conditioning or reservations, meaning that the trains tend to be rather hot and crowded. However, the stunning jungle views more than make up for the discomfort.

Bus
Buses are the cheapest way to get around Malaysia and the best place to catch the bus and guarantee a seat is at the town’s bus terminal. There are luxury buses available for long-distance travel and these can be booked a couple of days in advance. The air-conditioned buses can be rather chilly, so take a blanket with you. Although they tend to be rather slow, local buses are regular and reliable.

Car and motorcycle
Driving in Malaysia is safe and convenient as the roads are good and there are plenty of new cars available to hire. Road rules are basically the same as in Britain and Australia, with right-hand drive cars that stick to the left side of the road. Petrol is generally cheap and motorbikes can also be hired from guesthouses in tourist towns and cities. Although Malaysian drivers are generally good, drivers still need to be careful, especially in large towns and cities as animals often roam freely across the roads.

Taxis
Taxis can be found in all cities and larger towns and usually drive around looking for customers. You will usually need to negotiate the fare in advance and it is a good idea to ask the staff at you guesthouse for an estimate of the going rate.

Trishaws
These bicycle rickshaws seat two people and can be a romantic way to see the sights.

Types of Transport in Laos

types_of_transport_in_laos_1
Types of Transport in Laos
Types of Transport in Laos

Laos has only been open to international visitors for little over a decade, so you cannot expect to find the spectrum of travel options available in some of the neighbouring countries. There is no rail service and although most of the roads are now paved vehicles can be old and unreliable. The secret to successful travel in Laos is to allow plenty of time and don’t worry too much if things don’t go exactly to plan. Just sit back and enjoy the journey as you watch the stunning scenery slide past.

Plane
This is of course the most convenient way to travel, although not necessarily the most rewarding and certainly not the cheapest. The national airline is Lao Aviation and there are regular domestic flights from most major towns and cities such as Vientiane, Luang Prabang, Savannakhet, Xieng Khouang, Pakse and Oudomsay. There are even weekly flights from smaller towns such as Luang Namtha, Sayaboury, Houeixay, Sam Neua, Saravane, Lak Xao, Muangkhong and Attapeu.

Taxis
Mainly restricted to Vientiane, taxis can be both metered and unmetered. It is also possible to hire taxis for the day if you plan to do a lot of sightseeing.

Tuk-tuks and jumbos
The Lao answer to the taxi, these small and somewhat rickety motorized vehicles can be found all over Laos and are a good way to get around. Fares are generally negotiable, so make sure you agree the price with the driver before setting off.

Buses
Public buses run around large towns and cities between towns and villages throughout Laos. They tend to be rather small and cramped but quite reliable. There are also slightly larger tourist buses available for a slightly higher fee.

Mini Buses
These are a more comfortable way to travel if you are following the tourist trail between places such as Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng and Vientiane.

Boat
The mighty Mekong River flows through Laos and travelling by slow boat is a great way to see the country, while speed boats race down the river, much to the delight of thrill seekers. Daily services run from Vientiane to Luang Prabang and from Luang Prabang to Huay Xai.

Bicycles
A great way to explore the countryside is by hiring a bicycle at a tourist hub and simply cycling away.

Car hire
Although private car hire is possible, it is generally more trouble than it’s worth. A better option is to hire a car with a driver, which can be done through most hotels or tourist agencies.

Khao San Road Travel Agents and Dive Shops

khao_san_road_travel_agents_1
khao_san_road_travel_agents_1
Khao San Road Travel Agents and Diving Shops, Bangkok, Thailand
Khao San Road Travel Agents and Diving Shops, Bangkok, Thailand

When it’s time to finally leave Khao San Road, deciding where to go and how to get there is made simple with the travel agencies and dive shops located in this area of Bangkok. The staff in these shops are able to speak good English and discuss with travellers the full details of their trip. Many people are happy to give free advice to travellers, which helps you to take the next step on your journey with confidence.

Anyone who needs to renew their visa but is unsure of where to go or how the process works will be able to get their questions answered here and even book a trip to one of the borders and back.

Because there are so many different agencies offering plane, bus and boat tickets in this area, prices tend to be very competitive and those who take the time to shop around should be able to find a great deal. Travel agencies also provide a wide range of other services such as confirming flights, arranging accommodation and even offering tours to travellers who wish to be shown the sights by a professional guide.

If you’re not sure where to go next, simply stop by one of the travel agent shops to gain a little inspiration. There are hundreds of different trips and tours available, ranging from luxurious cruises down the Chao Phraya River to adventurous jungle tours in the north of Thailand, where travellers get the chance to interact with the people from the hill tribes that live there.

These travel agencies can also arrange package trips that include accommodation, meals and special activities such as rock climbing, trekking, volunteering or even pilot’s lessons.

For many visitors to Khao San Road, the next step on their journey will be a trip to one of the sunny southern islands to practice scuba diving or snorkelling. Thailand is widely acknowledged as one of the best places in the world to indulge in underwater pursuits, as the water is clear, warm and simply teeming with colourful marine life. Because there are so many great places in Thailand to dive and snorkel, many people like to visit one of Khao San Road’s dive shops to seek professional advice. The staff at these dive shops are extremely knowledgably and are able to use their expertise to put together travel, accommodation and diving packages for travellers. Anyone who is new to diving or snorkelling will be able to discuss the experience with these professionals and get a good idea of what to expect before they take the plunge.

Wherever you’re headed, make sure you come back to Khao San Road soon. A warm welcome is guaranteed whenever you return. ????????????????????????????????

Kanchanaburi, Thailand

Kanchanaburi, Thailand
Kanchanaburi, Thailand
Kanchanaburi, Thailand
Kanchanaburi, Thailand

Kanchanaburi is the largest of Thailand’s central provinces. Just two hours from Bangkok by bus or train, Kanchanaburi makes a great place for a day trip, although the stunning natural beauty of the area, combined with its intriguing turbulent history often entices people to stay for several days or even a few weeks.

There are two main towns in Kanchanaburi Province that are popular with visitors; Kanchanaburi city, which is the capital of Kanchanaburi Province, and the picturesque border town of Sangkhlaburi.

Located on the banks of the Kwae Noi, or River Kwai as it is popularly know to travelers, Kanchanaburi city is the home of the famous Bridge on the River Kwai, which is visited each year by thousands of tourists from every country.

Surrounded by beautiful mountains, lush paddy fields and farms, there is no limit to what can be seen and done in this interesting region. A great way to view the countryside is to ride the Death Railway to Nam Tok. Once there, make sure you visit the Sai Yok National Park with its two Sai Yok waterfalls, the perfect way to cool down on a hot sunny day. Whilst in Sai Yok, check out the Mueang Sing historical park, where you will discover the ruins of a Khmer town and temple.

The spectacular seven-tiered Erawan waterfall, situated in the Erawan National Park must not be missed, and climbing the 1,500 feet to the very top offers incredible views out over the top of the jungle. It is easy to combine a visit to Erawan National Park with a trip to the nearby tiger temple of Wat Pha Luang Ta Bua, where many tame tigers reside and roam freely under the watchful eye of the gentle monks who also live there.

Of course, Kanchanaburi is famous for its World War II POW camps, and visits to the JEATH War Museum and the Thailand-Burma Railway Museum are good places to find out the facts behind this sad period of history, whilst people can pay their respects at the Kanchanaburi War Cemeteries.

There is plenty for the adventurous to do and activities such as trekking, cave exploration, elephant riding and canoeing are all popular. Kanchanaburi’s roads are good and clearly sign posted, so a good way to spend a day or two is to hire a bicycle or a motorbike and drive off into the countryside.

It’s worth trying to time your trip to coincide with the River Khwae Bridge week, which is celebrated around November with sound and light shows at the Death Railway Bridge.

Bangkok, Thailand


Bangkok, Thailand
Bangkok, Thailand
Bangkok, Thailand
Bangkok, Thailand

Bangkok is Thailand’s bustling capital city. The city is commonly called Krungthep in Thai, whilst the full name; Krung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahinthara Yuthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Piman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit has earnt the city a place in The Guinness Book of Records. In English, the name translates as; The city of angels, the great city, the eternal jewel city, the impregnable city of God Indra, the grand capital of the world endowed with nine precious gems, the happy city, abounding in an enormous Royal Palace that resembles the heavenly abode where reigns the reincarnated god, a city given by Indra and built by Vishnukam.

Bangkok is perhaps one of the most spectacular capital cities in Southeast Asia, if not the world. There is no limit to what can be seen, done and experienced in this immense city of colourful contradictions where gentle traditional beliefs meet the fast pace of capitalism and everything is tempered by the uniquely Thai sense of style and priority.

Many first time visitors to Bangkok find it overwhelming as there is simply so much to see and do and every area offers a new and interesting aspect of this city, which somehow manages to be simultaneously vast and quite compact.

A great way to get to know the city is the take a ferry along the Chao Phraya River. The river stops at many different piers and there are a whole host of famous sites right on the river bank, which can be explored or simply viewed from the ferry. Look out for the Grand Palace, Wat Pho, and Wat Arun, whilst China Town and Khaosan Road are just a short walk from their piers.

The central pier connects with the Skytrain or BTS, and this is another great way to see the city. The Skytrain soars over Lumpini Park and stops at Siam, where you can find the large shiny shopping centres of MBK, Siam Paragon and The Discovery Center.

If you are interested in shopping, make sure you pay a visit to the famous Chatuchak Weekend Market, while the Night Bazaar at Sanam Luang is a great place to pick up a bargain whilst avoiding the heat of the day.

Bangkok is well known for its rich and varied nightlife, which covers just about every possible style and trend. For those interested in go-go bars head to areas such as Soi Cowboy, Nana Plaza or witness an eyebrow raising show in Patpong. There are plenty of stylish clubs, and the area known as RCA contains dozens of different clubs catering for every style of music. Along the banks of the

river you will find dozens of bars in which to enjoy a cold drink and look at the stars, while in Sukhumvit you will find a number of Western-style theme pubs.

If the pace and pollution of the city get a bit much, there are plenty of city parks to get away from the traffic and relax for a while. Among the best are the enormous centrally located Lumpini Park, Chatuchak Park and Suan Rot Fai (Railway Park), where you can hire a bicycle or watch the butterflies in the insectarium.

Chill Out in Cha-am

Cha-amIf its time to re-charge your batteries before the high season mayhem begins, then look no further than the all year round chilled out seaside resort town of Cha-am.

A favourite weekend destination for many Thai families, water sport enthusiasts, and myself, Cha-am, the No.1 beach resort of Pecthaburi province, is located 163km south of Bangkok. Getting there is as simple as a 113 Baht, 2hr bus ride from Bangkok’s Southern Bus Terminal which will drop you beside the 6 km beach at Soi 1, Ruamchit Road, the heart of the town or if you’ve 4 hrs to spare and prefer the railway, then 40 Baht will find you a seat on the direct train to Cha-am which leaves from Bangkok’s Hua Lampong Railway Station daily at 09:25am; however, if you take the train, once arrived at Cha-am Railway Station, you’ll have to hop on a 20 Baht motorcycle taxi to ferry you down to the beach area located 2km away.

cha-am_1Dotted along the 6km Ruamchit Road running parallel to Cha-am Beach, visitors can find a variety of new and old accommodation to meet any budget ranging from guest houses and villas (Approx. 400-600Baht /per night depending upon facilities) to hotels and resorts (Approx. 1,500-upwards Baht per night).  Nevertheless, as Cha-am is one of the most popular weekend destinations for Thai’s, take note that availability becomes scarce and that prices are variable and do increase to quite high levels over the weekends and during Thai holidays, so to avoid disappointment, book or call in advance if visiting on a non-week day/Thai Holiday.

For the adventurous among you, besides the beach area Cha-am has several sights to see such as Muruk Khatayawan Palace (King Vajiravudh’s golden teak summer residence), Kaeng Krachan National Park & Dam (Thailand’s largest national park at 2,915sq.km), Khao Luang Cave (home to many Buddha images very strangely showered in sunlight from 2pm-3pm), Phra Nakhon Khiri Palace & Park ( King Mongkut’s summer palace), Phraram Rachanivet Palace (King Chulalongkorn’s rainy season palace) and Springfield Village Golf Spa.

At the beach, the usual array of water sports are available, with all vendors offering the same hire prices; Jet skiing 700 Bht/30mins, Banana Boat 200 Bht/per person and so on., but note that rates can change whether the beach is crowded or not, depending upon the day of the week. If you’re tired of lazing by the sea and prefer something a little less energetic than water sports, then hire a bicycle (seating 1, 2,3 even 4 people!) or a motorcycle and tour along the beach road and beyond or even take an idyllic pony trip along the beach as the sun sets. But before you leave the beach area, don’t miss out on tasting some of Cha-am’s fabulous seafood snacks served by wandering vendors.

Back along the main road, Cha-am is now home to a mix of Thai and European (particularly Scandinavian) restaurateurs and guesthouse owners.

However, unlike in other nearby popular areas such as Hua Hin, prices of food and drink are still great value. Delicious seafood, classic Thai and familiar western dishes are available to suit all tastes and large ice cold Heineken, Singha, and Chang.

My guests and diners usually tell me that Cha-am becomes like a home away from home for them, told me Jarle who together with his Thai wife Tukta and family run the perfectly located, sea facing Baan Thai Restaurant & Guesthouse. With 6 clean, well priced & furnished, self contained a/c rooms, a great Euro-Asian menu and never ending stock of ice cold beer, I was not surprised when Jarle told me that Baan Thai (www.ban-Thai.net) has been mentioned in LP.

So for those looking for a break from city life or beach loving brethren, this chilled out and peaceful home away from home is a great nearby seaside destination at which you can re-charge your batteries, hit the seafood and down a few cold ones without blowing a hole in you wallet. Enjoy.

And remember?

Keepitreal

The Unexpected Sleeper Class!

With the number of visitors to the kingdom on the increase, crowded bus and train stations and temperatures rising, the offer of a free iced coffee from a fellow passenger may sound irresistible BUT BE WARNED!!! 
   
Remember, the old saying that anything that seems too good to be true, probably is? Yes, we’ve all heard it before, but heads up and take note so that your next journey isn’t to your embassy or local cop shop to register the theft of all your possessions! 

As with every major capital city throughout the world, unfortunately there are always those few who prey on the innocence and inexperience of visitors, and despite the fact that Thailand really is the land of smiles, Bangkok is no exception.
 
A while back Police arrested two men for allegedly giving a can iced coffee spiked with sleeping pills to a passenger waiting for a train at Hua Lampong Railway Station, before they later robbed him of his possessions and baht 29,500 cash once he had fallen asleep. 

The point for all of us to note here is that the brand name ice coffee appeared to be in a sealed unopened can; however, upon closer scrutiny it was revealed that the bottom of the can was removable and anything could be put in easily. 
   
Unfortunately, yes it can happen to any of us, so unless you want to end up with an unexpected sleeper class journey, take a little advice and with a smile politely refuse the next drink or food offered to you by a friendly stranger, no matter how young/old or innocent they seem. 
   
Although optimism and looking on the bright side of things is a great lifestyle to lead, adding a little caution whilst traveling anywhere in S.E. Asia can only help you to reach your destinations safely and make your adventures as truly memorable as they should be. Enjoy.      
  
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.