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Thailand | Places In Thailand Page 3

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Bangkok one day after the 20th September 2006 military coup

Bangkok one day after the 20th September 2006 military coup

 

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Places In Thailand - Page 3

Phetburi

 

Reclining Buddha, Phetburi, Thailand

Reclining Buddha, Phetburi, Thailand

 

In Europe tourists go on city breaks because there are so many beautiful cities. Thai cities aren't beautiful; most of them are actually quite ugly.

You will find beautiful temples and the occasional beautiful area within cities, but for the most part Thai cities are dirty, dusty, unmaintained and unplanned with ugly concrete-block architecture. Bangkok is the ultimate sprawling mess.

A farang told me there was an exception, and suggested visiting Phetburi. With lots of spare time on my hands (in the days before I had a wife, cats and kids) - and wanting to visit somewhere in Thailand that I hadn't been to before - I headed off to take a look.

 

Naughty monkey, Phetburi, Thailand

Naughty monkey, Phetburi, Thailand

 

Based on his description (and subsequently my expectations), I was disappointed. It's not a bad place - and certainly better than most Thai cities - but it wasn't quite the 'Paris of the East' that I had been led to believe.

Coming from the deep south of Thailand where there are big Chinese and Muslim influences, Phetburi felt very Buddhist Thai. There were no mosques, just lots of Buddhist temples. They were pleasant but after you've seen a few temples they all start to look the same. At one temple is a huge reclining Buddha, similar to the one at Wat Po temple in Bangkok.

I was amazed at how few hotels there were in town. Normally they are everywhere, but I only saw four or five. This tells me that there isn't much of a tourist infrastructure.

There are quite a few daytrippers from Bangkok - and maybe from the beaches nearby - and the main tourist attraction seems to be a museum on a hill that can be reached by funicular railway. Dual pricing applies, of course, with foreigners having to pay a lot more than Thais.

Just as there are in Lopburi, Phetburi is home to a large monkey population. They roost in the temples but are active around the town foraging in rubbish bins for food.

I was fairly surprised to discover a few years after I visited that Phetburi province has one of the highest crime rates in Thailand. According to the book 'Corruption and Democracy in Thailand', 'Petchburi is notorious as the gunman capital of Thailand' and ranks third with regard to crime rate statistics after Chonburi and Nakhon Sri Thammarat.

The reason given is its location. It is close to Bangkok, close to the Gulf of Thailand for coastal smuggling, and has several tracks leading into Burma. I have to say that I didn't sense this during my visit and I felt quite safe.

Regarding the name, it is spelt and pronounced different ways - Phetburi, Petchburi, Phetchaburi, etc. The 'h' after the 'p' is quite unnecessary and actually leads to confusion with many foreigners thinking that this consonant cluster makes an 'f' sound.

To understand why there are differences in pronunciation you have to know how written Thai works, but I won't go into it here. If you really want to know, send me an e-mail.

Phetburi is OK for a day trip but it's not the most exciting of places.

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Phuket

 

Going home after working the night shift, Phuket, Thailand

Going home after working the night shift, Phuket, Thailand

 

To read about two trips I took to Patong beach, Phuket in 2005 and 2006 click on the link.

Up until the early 80's the main activities in Phuket were fishing, tin mining and cultivating rubber, coconuts and pineapples. It's a very large island but because of its size and proximity to the mainland it doesn't have that real island feel in the same way that Samui or Phi Phi has.

Indeed, if you arrive by road and close your eyes for a couple of minutes at the right time you'll miss going over the causeway and you won't even realise you are on an island.

At some point in the 80's mainstream tourism arrived in Phuket and changed the landscape forever. I remember years ago in the UK when people started to hear about this new destination. It may have been because of the funny name, pronounced incorrectly by most English speakers, but whatever it was, when talking about where to go in Thailand it was somewhere that people had begun to hear about.

 

Enjoying his vacation, Phuket, Thailand

Enjoying his vacation, Phuket, Thailand

 

I first went in 1992 (on my second trip to Thailand) and it was great. I have an abiding memory of walking along the beach at Patong and thinking to myself, "This is paradise." It had all the perfect ingredients of a tropical paradise - the beach, sea, palm trees - but in addition there were sweet girls everywhere smiling at me and eager to make my acquaintance.

In 1992 Patong was really quiet. There was one main road parallel to the beach with an assortment of shops, restaurants and bungalows and a few Sois running off it away from the beach. It was unregognisable to how it is today.

The evening entertainment was fun without being brash and in 1992 the girls didn't seem jaded, as I noticed they were in Pattaya at that time. I stayed in Patong for a while and then moved down to Kata Beach. At Kata there was even less.

 

Indian tailor, Phuket, Thailand

Indian tailor, Phuket, Thailand

 

The beach was almost deserted and even though there was a large Club Med the guests seemed to stay within the resort. At the end of the beach was the Kata Beach Dive Shop. At the time I didn't dive but I hung out with a group of people who did, and also the people who worked at the shop. It was pretty idyllic. In the evenings we would either go to a venue in Kata or get tuk-tuks to Patong.

I went back to Phuket in 1996 and stayed at the same place I had stayed at before in Kata Beach. I hung out at the same dive shop but this time I had obtained my diving certificate so could join in with the diving. Kata hadn't changed much in four years and although Patong had got a bit more developed it wasn't a crazy place. I still enjoyed my time there.

During the 90's I went to the United States many times for business and pleasure, spending lots of time there and also travelling to other countries. It wasn't until 2001 that I returned to Thailand. Since my last visit in 1996, there had been enormous changes.

 

Patong beach, Phuket, Thailand

Patong beach, Phuket, Thailand

 

Phuket overall is still a very beautiful island. I enjoy visits to Phuket main town, which I find very interesting, and the smaller beaches are very pleasant.

Patong these days - like Pattaya - is a place that you love or hate. Whenever I go there now it isn't at all like the Thailand I know, but a typical busy Thai tourist resort with Western fast food restaurants, Indian tailors, and bar areas.. The whole infrastructure is geared up for tourists and of course there are lots of bar girls.

The girls attract a certain type of male tourist, and all the foreigners in town attract greedy Thais. It therefore attracts the type of people I want to avoid, and it is also very expensive compared to the rest of Thailand.

On the plus side the Western food is very good, but overall Patong is not a place I enjoy visiting personally.

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Ranong

A thin strip of water separates Ranong from Burma and there are lots of Burmese influences in town, including a large chunk of the population. It's a small province, the smallest in Thailand I believe (and also, I am told, the wettest). Coming into Ranong from Khaolak on the bus I noticed several waterfalls cascading down small mountains and in town there were signs for hot springs. As I left Ranong to go to Chumpon across the Isthmus it was a very pretty ride going through some gorgeous scenery.

The main town is tiny and appears to be located on a small section of just one street, Thanon Ruangrat. Foreigners staying on the Andaman coast as far down as Phuket go to Ranong for border stamps. Foreigners also come across from Hua Hin and from the islands in the Gulf of Thailand via Chumpon for the same purpose. However, in recent years after several immigration crackdowns on perpetual 'border runners' I suspect that this activity has now slowed down.

The tourist infrastructure in Ranong is geared up for quick stays and visa runs across to Myanmar as this is the service most in demand. A couple of restaurants with English menus and English speaking staff exist to make life easy for foreigners. The prices are higher at these places, of course.

Hotels in town are not exactly luxurious but for Bt300 you can get a fairly comfortable place to stay until your boat leaves for Burma in the morning.

The Thai authorities in the area are very strict regarding illegal immigrants from Burma, and several roadside checkpoints exist going into and out of Ranong where armed police and immigration staff climb on board buses to check passengers' ID cards.

I had a weird experience checking into a hotel. The receptionist asked to see my passport and at first I couldn't be bothered to get it out so said I didn't have it on me. After all, I have stayed at plenty of cheap hotels in Thailand and have never needed to show my passport. He said in that case he couldn't let me have a room so I 'found' my missing passport.

He then proceeded to go through my passport with a fine-tooth comb looking at all my entry and exit stamps. Why? He was just a hotel clerk, so why was he interested in this information? Surely, if he wanted to see my passport it was only for security purposes in case I stole one of their ashtrays or left without paying; and therefore all he needed was my name, nationality and passport number.

He couldn't work out my visa extension and got quite excited when he found my original visa which had expired. I had an idea what might be going on and made sure he understood I was not an overstayer to avoid any surprises from immigration in the middle of the night.

It seemed to be very strange behaviour at the time but I have a theory why this happened and wouldn't be surprised if foreigners staying at that hotel who have overstayed in Thailand receive 'random' visits from immigration officials while they are there. I have an idea that hotel staff tip off immigration and get a commission for doing so, so be careful if you have overstayed in Thailand.

If foreigners overstay in Thailand but manage to get to the border it is just a case of paying the Bt500 fine for each day overstayed and nothing more is said. However, if a foreigner gets caught in Thailand and has overstayed (even a day or two) it can be fairly serious. The person can be detained, fined and deported.

Under normal circumstances the chances of getting caught overstaying are quite remote ... unless immigration have hotel receptionists helping them out who can make a little money for themselves by passing on information.

Maybe I am just being cynical again but if anyone else can explain why a humble receptionist in a Bt300 a night hotel wanted to go through all the immigration details in my passport, please let me know. It had never happened before and because of Ranong's proximity to the Burmese border, where immigration is a hot topic, it just makes me very suspicious.

I was told before I went that there is nothing worth seeing in Ranong but I wanted to go anyway. That advice was probably right but it might have been nice to have taken a closer look at the waterfalls and visited the hot springs.

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Sangkhlaburi

 

Sangkhlaburi is a real gem of a location and highly recommended, but it won't suit you if you like Patong, Pattaya or Sukhumvit

Sangkhlaburi is a real gem of a location and highly recommended, but it won't suit you if you like Patong, Pattaya or Sukhumvit

 

Sangkhlaburi is an area of outstanding natural beauty in the western part of Kanchanaburi province near the Myanmar border. The journey from Kanchanaburi is breathtaking and the Mon villagers who lead a very simple life are wonderful.

It will appeal to those who enjoy lakes, mountains, beautiful scenery, and meeting friendly people. It won't appeal to those who are in Thailand for the bar girls, a badly made suit from an Indian tailor, and a fake Rolex.

Sangkhlaburi made such an impression on me that I have created a separate page where you will find photos and more of my thoughts.

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Songkhla

 

The famous Songkhla mermaid, Songkhla, Thailand

The famous Songkhla mermaid, Songkhla, Thailand

 

Songkhla is linked closely with Hat Yai. Many people who live in one of the two places travel frequently to work or study in the other. Because of this, there are dozens of buses and minivans plying the Hat Yai to Songkhla route constantly for a few Baht. I have visited Songkhla on several occasions, including overnight stays at Samila beach.

It's not an exciting place but it has a very different feel to Hat Yai and makes a pleasant change. Being the provincial capital there are a number of administrative buildings and offices. For Thais needing a passport they have to go to the Sala-Glaang, and this is where foreigners also need to go to sort out their work permits.

There are a lot of schools, colleges, and universities in Songkhla. There is also a fairly large oil industry in the area and consequently you will find quite a few expats working for multinational oil companies living in Songkhla. Unocal (now ChevronTexaco) is the main operator but of course there are many oil services companies supporting the industry.

There is a typical Thai wet market, and near the market is the Songkhla national museum. In town are a number of temples which are more attractive than those in Hat Yai. One of Thailand's previous Prime Ministers, Prem Tininsulonda, is from Songkhla and the house he was born in has been turned into a small museum.

I mentioned a beach and a beach does indeed exist. It's not as beautiful as becahes on the Andaman coast but it's OK. However, if you are staying in Hat Yai it can be nice to walk on the beach at Songkhla and at night to hear the sound of crashing waves. Some of the roads leading down to the beach are very nicely laid out with lots of flower beds, and there is a small park near Tang Guan hill with a resident colony of monkeys which you can feed.

After about 18 months in Hat Yai, Songkhla really started to grow on me. When I first arrived in Hat Yai there was a buzz which was quite exciting and which didn't exist in Songkhla. However, what goes on in Hat Yai week after week starts to get a bit tedious after a while.

Unlike Hat Yai, Songkhla actually looks as if it has been planned. The architecture is good, there lots of beautiful temples, wide streets (many of which have been planted with flowers) and of course the sea. It's a clean city and doesn't have the constant roar of traffic noise that Hat Yai has, especially young teenage boys on motorbikes.

It is possible to eat at a restaurant on the roadside and be in a relatively peaceful environment. There is no doubt in my mind that the quality of life in Songkhla is far higher than Hat Yai and it is a place that I would certainly contemplate moving to in the future.

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Sukhothai

 

Ancient City, Sukothai, Thailand

Ancient City, Sukothai, Thailand

 

I enjoyed Ayuthaya very much and was keen to see Sukhothai for the same reasons. It also happened to be a convenient place to stop for a couple of nights on my way up to Chiang Rai. The area is beautiful with lots of rice fields and mountains in the background.

The old city is quite magnificent even though it is not as well preserved as Ayuthaya due to the fact it is older.

For photos, personal impressions and some basic tourist information please visit the page I have written about my visit to Sukhothai.

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Surat Thani

 

Surat Thani, the jumping off point for Samui Island

Surat Thani, the jumping off point for Samui Island

 

Surat Thani is just another one of those slightly depressing Thai provincial towns. It's where the boat leaves for Koh Samui and this is probably the main reason most foreigners will find themselves there. I have stayed overnight a couple of times on the way to and from Samui to break up my journey. There is a night market with some interesting food on offer if you are adventurous.

Last time I was there I stayed in a less than comfortable Chinese hotel where something (an insect presumably) bit my nose in the middle of the night. I was awoken at 5am by the sensation of my nose throbbing. Mine isn't the smallest nose in the world at the best of times but after the bite it ballooned to epic proportions!

I wandered around in the evening looking for something to eat but didn't fancy anything I saw on offer from the street vendors. To cap off a lousy evening I witnessed a serious motorcycle accident which may actually have been a fatality. The rider lay in the road not moving with blood pouring from his head. I don't know if he survived as I didn't want to hang around to find out.

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Takua Pa

Takua Pa is yet another nothing kind of provincial town. Where there aren't many tourists, there isn't much money, and Thai towns low on funds can be quite depressing places. If you get the bus between Phuket and Surat Thani you will probably go through Takua Pa, or if you go up to Ranong from Phuket or Khaolak you will pass through.

While staying in Khaolak I took the bus up a couple of times just to look around. There are a few temples in town and a small market, all of which aren't very exciting. With no tourists around prices for goods aren't over inflated so it may be a good place to buy things cheaply. Not a lot to say really.

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Three Pagodas Pass

 

Three Pagodas Pass has a lot of interesting history and it is a place where you can get a little glimpse inside Burma

Three Pagodas Pass has a lot of interesting history and it is a place where you can get a little glimpse inside Burma

 

As a tourist there are some places you just feel obliged to visit if you are in the vicinity even if there isn't much there. While in Sangkhlaburi I felt obliged to visit the Three Pagodas Pass. Why?

I guess because it is a well-known landmark and because there is a lot of history attached. The Pagodas aren't very impressive in themselves but very symbolic of what has happened here in the past.

During the Ayuthaya period (1350-1767) this was a favoured Burmese invasion route, and this is where the infamous Death Railway built by the Japanese using allied POW slave labour crossed the Thai/Burmese border.

The setting in Kanchanaburi province is very pretty but there isn't much there apart from a small market. Tourists can take day trips into Myanmar if they have the necessary paperwork and pay a 10 US dollar charge. However, Thai immigration won't issue new stamps or extend visas when coming back into Thailand apparently so it is no good for visa runs.

 

The Thai/Burma border at Three Pagodas Pass

The Thai/Burma border at Three Pagodas Pass

 

The famous three pagodas, Three Pagodas Pass, Thailand

The famous three pagodas, Three Pagodas Pass, Thailand

 

A reminder of the brutality that was inflicted by the Japanese in WW2, Three Pagodas Pass, Thailand

A reminder of the brutality that was inflicted by the Japanese in WW2, Three Pagodas Pass, Thailand

 

There are various signs posted at the border. One is to remind drivers that vehicles drive on the right in Myanmar, unlike Thailand where vehicles drive on the right or the left depending on what is the quickest route.

Another sign advises that video recorders are not allowed into Myanmar. Obviously the military junta don't want any undercover foreign journalists going in taking uncensored footage of life in the country. There are also a few remnants of the Death Railway.

 

The Thai/Burma border at Three Pagodas Pass

The Thai/Burma border at Three Pagodas Pass

 

The border peace temple at Three Pagodas Pass, Thailand

The border peace temple at Three Pagodas Pass, Thailand

 

A reminder to drive on the opposite side of the road when driving between Thailand and Burma, Three Pagodas Pass, Thailand

A reminder to drive on the opposite side of the road when driving between Thailand and Burma, Three Pagodas Pass, Thailand

 

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Trang

 

A beautiful, deserted beach in Trang

A beautiful, deserted beach in Trang

 

I have written a separate page about Trang which has my usual observations and views, as well as a few photos.

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Visit Thailand

Thailand is an incredibly photogenic country, both for its landscapes and its people. Regardless of whether you enjoy large Asian cities, beaches and islands, or rice fields and mountains, Thailand has something for you and it is a dream destination for photographers.

One of the great things about visiting Thailand is that hotels are plentiful and a lot cheaper than in most other countries. Each link on the right will take you to the relevant page on the Agoda website where you can see photos, read reviews, and book on-line. I use Agoda to book all of my own hotels in Thailand and the Southeast Asia region. Agoda hotel rates are usually always the lowest and I have received good customer service, therefore I am happy to recommend the company to other people. Here is some analysis I did regarding booking hotels in Southeast Asia.

Booking.com used to be more expensive than Agoda, but when I have checked hotel prices recently I have found their rates to be quite competitive. Unlike Agoda, you don't need to pay at the time of booking with Booking.com - you can simply pay at the hotel when you check in. Also, Booking.com show you total prices whereas Agoda show you a price and then add on 17% for tax and service charge.

If you wish to compare prices between different on-line travel agents (OTAs) for a specific hotel, you can use a company such as HotelsCombined.

Images of Thailand

Images of Thailand