Tag Archives: Asia

The land of smiles

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กาเข้าฝูงกาหงส์เข้าฝูงหงส์- birds of a feather flock together

So true for me and my 3 friends. We met in 1989 when we went to the NHTV, a tourism education in The Netherlands. Who could have known that we would celebrate our 20th anniversary in 2009 in Thailand. Not strange, as there is one thing we all love very much: travelling.

To Thailand we were going. Why, I have no idea, but we all agreed instantly. We booked flights and off we went. From Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur and Phuket for 3 of us. Our last friend decided to fly over Bangkok to Phuket. She would arrive a day later. But we did not go to Phuket. Nonono, Railay was our destination for the first week. Railay? Yes, somewhere on the other side of the bay of Phuket. When the ferry anchors and a small wooden canoe picks us up to bring us to the beach we feel like we have arrived in paradise . Yes, there is no proper harbour, just a beach. Pristine white beach. And palm trees, and amazing rocks, and… simply lovely. Our hotel is on the other side of the peninsula. It is  bit cheaper than the resorts at the landing site. Soon we learn why…

The hotel is ok. Not special, but ok. Is is sort of clean, except when one of my friends goes to the bathroom at night and sees a huge cockroach. Hahaha… right. Our side of the peninsula (East) is a bit less of a paradise. A mangrovey beach with many tiny crabs, a muay thai boxing arena and cheaper restaurants with surprisingly many transvestites walking around. The first few days we enjoy the laid back atmosphere. We eat banana pancakes, go for a canoe trip to Phra Nang beach and the special fertility cave (filled with all kinds and sizes of wooden phalluses :-D) and see many, many beautiful sunsets. Railey beach faces West, so seeing the sun set in the sea, with the traditional canoes with the bright coloured ribbons floating around, is just beautiful.

We go for a day trip to Koh Phi Phi Don, passing the beautiful cove if the movie ‘The Beach’ and spend a day on this amazing island. We realise everything has been washed away in the 2004 tsunami, killing 1000 people on the 2 Phi Phi islands. We hike the evacuation route and visit the monument, both leaving a deep impression. The next day we go diving and I see my first shark. I initially thought seeing a shark would scare me, but nothing is more true. I swim to the shark to take a picture and obviously it got more scared of me than I of him. We see turtle, nudi’s, corals, clown fish…

On our last day in Railay we hike to the Ton Sai beach, through the ‘jungle’, passing the diamond cave. We enter hippie country, with all its colours, flavours, smells and laid back people. It has been a lovely week, with so many highlights. And it was not over yet. We make a stop of a few days in Bangkok. Lovely, lovely Bangkok. Kao San Road, a busy road with a happy holiday flavour until late at night, is close to the hotel. The next day we take a boat to visit Wat Phra Kaeo, an impressive buddhist temple with the huge emerald green jade Buddha, the colourful stupas and scary demon guards.

The last day we go on a cycle tour with Co van Kessel. Guided by a Thai and a Dutchy we cycle the backroads. Straight through China town, passing small alleys and the market. We head for the Chao Praya river. Crossing it and sail over the ‘klongs’ to the outskirts of Bangkok. There we step on our bikes again to cycle over small paths, meeting lovely people, seeing lovely things until… we get to a highway. We have to cycle there as well, crazy… at the end we pass a golden, sitting Buddha in Wat Kalayanamit. Possibly you have to be Dutch to be able to survive a cycle tour like this. For me… I loved every second of it.

We visit the famous Wat Pho on our last day. It is huge and famous for a giant 46m long golden Buddha. Smiles are everywhere, nothing can confirm this more than at the end of the trip when we experience one more highlight: the karaoke taxi ride with Mr. Thawin. This guy is so happy and cheerful, you will forget every bit of worry when you take a ride and sing with him. He is the face of this country, this land of smiles!

ขอบคุณ – thank you.

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Diving Sulawesi

What can be nicer than diving on nice locations, looking for critters and most of all nudi’s! I was happy to be able to travel to Sulawesi and in particular Pulau Lembeh and Pulau Bangka to do soe very nice diving. What as on my wishlist? Lots of colourfull small animals living in the sea. And Lembeh is according to many the best place to go to. Well, the hotels were already top to start with.

Lembeh Strait

This is the place, muck, bit of coral, small walls… but most of all critters! And for me a heaven full of nudibranchs, or better nudi’s. In many shapes, sizes, colours. We made many dives, on each dive seing something new. The camera was flashing and even more flashing. For me, imagining the large numbers of species, in many sizes, colours but most of all, shapes. Small animals with deadly poison, larger ones mimicking something else. And mother nature makes this. Gives it a purpose and bright colours. How boring are we humans?

Bangka

Bangka was different. The diving maybe less spectacular at first, but we had the hotel to ourselves. Very relaxing, together with scruffy the dog, some rather large monitor lizards, a large whale carcass and the memory of a little dugong who died there. The sea was rough, the Island beautiful, the people friendly and relax was the word. Dive in the morning, read a book on the porch, hike the old coconut plantation, find some cashew nuts and do another dive. The dive guide managed to show us a seahorse of just 5 mm. Well, we did not see it really. There was this small blak curved thingy and zooming in on the camera later on learned it was a mini seahorse. And then… diving the Sahaung pinnacle. Wow, just wow. So much soft coral, white tip reef sharks, nudi’s, and a spectacular rock formation resembling a buddhist tempel. Simply amazing. One tank of air was not enough!

Yes, people are not made for flying and living underwater, however…

The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever – Jacques Yves Cousteau

See some more pictures on http://www.scubajo.nl/pictures.htm.

Ni hao China

Chengyang Wind & Rain Bridge

Roads were made for journeys not destinations – Confucius

In September 2008 we went to China. My friend was going on a business trip and asked if I wanted to join. China was not a destination in my top 10, but curious as I am I just went along.

First stop Shanghai, a metropole with over 25 milion inhabitants. It is denser populated than our home country. A scary thought. Our hotel was in the old centre Puxi, at walking distance from the Bund with a view on the new modern financial centre Pudong. The contrast could not be bigger. Our first visit are the Yuyuan gardens (originated in the 1550’s) with its historic buildings, small shops and Koi swimming around in the pond. In the background the large steel and glass towers from the financial district show how much has changed in the years.
The Bund is a 1.5 km long promenade along the main river (part of the Jiangtsekiang delta), with large buildings from a more recent past. They show the influence of foreign countries during the Shanghai International Settlement end of the 19th century.

We leave Shanghai and fly to Yichang and visit Chexi, a Folk Custom Village, showing the life how it was years ago. We see some nice tranquil sites, people wearing traditional clothing, learn the skill of making paper and visit ‘the spot to make free photos’. A very nice stop in the countryside, but Yichang is mainly known for its controversial Three Gorges Dam. So, next stop is the dam. A very ugly scar in the landscape. Many people, even whole villages needed to move for this prestigeous project, and many people moved to this city to find work. In just a few years the number of inhabitants doubled a few times, making it a the second city of the canton. The centre is not particularly charming, except for the evening activities on the Yiling square. People are joining there every night to talk, dance, practice tai-chi. We enjoy ourselves, dance with teethless chinese men and of course we cannot leave without an evening of karaoke. Hilarious and a must do in China I would say.

The next day we take a night train to Sanjiang. Another adventure. Not able to communicate with our fellow travellers in chinese, we just show them in our Lonely Planet where we are going. Pretty sure we made friends forever. A taxi brings us to Chengyang, a very, very beautiful historic town with a superb ‘Wind and Rain’ bridge. The inhabitants are Dong, a minority living in this area. With their very primitive way of living, they are skilled wood workers, building the most impressive bridges, houses and drum towers. I am overwhelmed by the simplicity and happiness of the people we meet. This is a part of China I should have put in my top 10 of must-see-places!

Next day a driver takes us to another Dong town called Zhaoxing. We pass tea plantations, small temples, more wind & rain bridges and are impressed by the beautiful countryside. The road is a horrible dirtroad with obstacles we need to pass and we even have to wait for a bulldozer to free the road from debris from a landslide. Finally we arrive in a lovely village, full of wooden buildings, drum towers, bridges and red chili peppers and blue dyed cloth. It is a pretty village in a lush green countryside with many rice paddies. We make a nice hike and enjoy the views. Again, people are very friendly and happy, making it easy for us to forgive them their habits of eating rat and dog. Yes, we saw it with our own eyes and had many difficulties to convince people we were vegetarians (just for those few days). I usually try a lot, but this was too much for me.

We proceed our trip to Ping’an village, part of the Guilin Longji Terraced Fields. Another tourist spot, this time famous for its large scale of rice paddies on the mountain, stacked up to form a rather spectacular view. During a nice hike through the landscape these views get better and better after every turn we make. We stay with a family who makes their own rice wine and serves us the most fresh duck ever. One minute it is quacking on the doorstep, the next we see the beak and feet floating in our soup… The next day we had a farewell breakfast with rice wine. We needed it, especially with the kamikaze taxi driver who would be bringing us to Yangshuo.

Arriving in Yanfshuo country I see the amazing karst peaks along the Li river. They are a geological and natural wonder I would say. We take a bamboo raft tour along the river and enjoy the site in a very easy pace, followed by a bicycle ride to Moon hil. This is the centre of a vivid rock climbing scene, which brings along English language, hamburgers and lots and lots of shops. A very cosy, laid back town!

We fly back to Shanghai to spend a few more hours in the Yuyuan inner garden, a compact and exquisite area with rocks, pavilions, ornamental ponds and flower walls. Our last stop is Pudong. The hi-tec financial district on the other side of the river. A funny metro with sound and light show brings us to the other side of the rive. We stand next to, as well as on the panoramic platform of the prominent Orientel Pearl tv tower, enjoying stunning views. We finish our lovely trip with a view on the sunset and lightshow in the evening.

再见 – goodbye