Asia first timer trip report

Jan 19th, 2006, 05:28 PM
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Exactly what I was thinking.

hawaiiantraveler is offline  
Jan 19th, 2006, 05:31 PM
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offwego, Great report and it's wonderful to read about completely different experiences than the usual. Sounds like Tong was a real find and perhaps Ratt knew that she would be just the right person for you so assigned her for your trip.
CFW is offline  
Jan 19th, 2006, 11:24 PM
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offwego...again, great all the fodorite comments and blurbs...

jodo...thanks for contacting ponheary...
i know you will enjoy angkor wat...siem
reap...and the cambodian people...keep in touch
divediva is offline  
Jan 20th, 2006, 02:04 PM
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offwego, the information you provided earlier in this thread was very helpful for my pitch to rotary. I would like to discuss my situation and also inquire about the nonprofit you are setting up to get funds to Ponheary. I think it is better done off this forum if that is ok with you.

Can you contact me via e-mail:
craigdorf at


Craig is offline  
Jan 21st, 2006, 11:05 AM
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nice report about your trip. hope to see you soon. regards Martina+Jochen Schwabach Germany
jochenludwig is offline  
Jan 21st, 2006, 03:51 PM
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Hey Jochen and Martina-thanks for reading.

Chiang Mai

We flew from SR to Chiang Mai, making a stop in Bangkok of course. I failed to have the hotel pick us up at the airport (oversight-gotta have one or it's not a vacation) so we went outside to look for a taxi. There were none, so we hired some dude in a really nice car to take us, paying I'm sure more than we should have but still very reasonable.

We stayed at the Rachamankha which we found to be a delight. Maybe after several days in Siem Reap anything would seem nice, but we appreciated the beautiful Lanna style, all the art and antiques. The pool is stunning, the service impeccable. The food was well prepared at the restaurant and finally a place with a very nice wine list. Breakfast was included and served in the restaurant which had some nice outside seating in a garden with a few lit chimineas for that bitter cold 70 degree temperature in the morning and at night... Anyway, the ambience was extremely relaxing and even a little "posh". Free internet access in the library all day.

Hard beds again. But we're getting used to it.

We got there late in the afternoon and headed out to eat (what else?) at the Heuan Phen restaurant, having heard they have great Khao Soi there which we intended to eat as often as humanly possible. They weren't open yet when we arrived, so we abandoned that idea and went over to the Anusarn Market where we ATE MORE STREET FOOD which was delicious. This market is very near the Night Market and is a fun outdoor eating venue. They had some live music there which we took to be sort of an open mike. Most of it was pretty bad, but still it was fun. We drank some Singha with Sprite (German style) despite the quizzical looks of our table mates. We hung out there most of the evening, looked at some of the booths nearby but decided to tackle the Night Market at large the next evening.

Went back to the Rachamankha to sit in the courtyard by the chimineas and pretend it was cool and drank some great wine. This was to become our nightly ritual.

The next morning we got up and after breakfast took at Songtao up to Doi Suthep. The beautiful staircase leading up to the temple is beautiful and we got some great shots of some little girls in costume playing on the stairs. There is a tram going up if you don't want to walk the 300 steps to the top.

A woman approached us selling some really bad artwork. I had a look at it but couldn't imagine buying any of it. Her price got lower and lower until I though maybe she was going to pay me to take it! She was such a fun lady and it was quite early in the morning. I gave her 50 baht and told her I did not want the art but I wished her good luck selling today. She "blessed" the artwork with the bill and thanked me. I saw lots of vendors doing this whenever they made their first sale of the day. I thought it was cool-don't know why. Next time someone hands me some money I'm going to bless myself with it.

The temple at Doi Suthep is worth the visit. They have many beautiful bells up there clearly marked not to ring them, of course everyone was. My german companion who is very rule oriented was very irritated by this! The view was not so good as it was so hazy. There were many people there walking round and round the chedi with incense and lotus flowers. They walk around 3 times clockwise. I am told they walk counterclockwise at a funeral. There's a nice gift shop there where we bought more buddha amulets and some good cd's.

Coming back down the steps we saw a man with an elephant and the elephant could play a mean harmonica. We bought some strawberries from a lady which looked better than they tasted and watched the elephant for a while, felt kinda sorry for him but his trainer seemed kind. We hoped so. We went ahead and looked in the big tourist trap store that sells Jade, mainly just to cool off. They have alot of inventory in there and plenty of people ready to sell it to you.

When we were ready to leave there were plenty of Songtaos ready to take people back down the mountain so we waled over toward them and the same guy who took us up grabbed us and off we went. We liked taking the Songtaos and tuk-tuks in Chiang Mai. We found them to be very reasonable. Dealing with the pollution in them is something else, however. When we travel we always stick some lavender sachets in the suitcase. They come in handy for sticking in the bag with the dirty laundry. We got smart and took our bandanas and wrapped the sachet in it then when we used the bandana to sometimes cover our mouths when the tuk tuk hit some traffic, it was heavenly.

Later that day we went to Warowot Market. Here you see more locals than tourists. The market is very lively with every imaginable sort of store selling every imaginable sort of thing. Some stores just sell buttons. Some just sell zippers. It was wild. We didn't buy anything there because it was mostly utilitarian type housewares, but it was fun looking around. There were some stalls there with crafts. There is a big spice market that is indoors and upstairs they sell sportswear and bad shoes. The spice market was fun. There are lots of vendors with fried bugs and dried fruit. Anyone will be happy to let you try something and they laugh very hard when you make the face like you're going to throw up, which we did on a couple of occasions. There is some delicacy that is made with some blue gelatinous sort of thin crepe that is thin filled with pork. I don't know what it was but man it was horrifying. The best thing we had there was some papaya salad and a fried pork chop that of course my german friend went nuts over. They were quite good. We bought a sausage, having heard that the sausage is quite good in Chiang Mai but it was one of those times where you start to put something in your mouth and then your body says "don't eat that". So we didn't. Lots more food stalls outside mixed with lots of produce stalls.

That night we went to dinner at the Riverside. OK mix of tourists and locals, mainly tourists though but the food was good. We finally got to eat some Nam Phrik Num (not sure I spelled that right) which is this green chili paste served with things for dipping. Man that till put your tail in a spin. It's the spiciest thing I think I've ever had in my mouth. But good. Very good. More Beer Please. There were alot of mosquitos at the Riverside outside but we could smoke out there so we got over it. We enjoyed shopping at the stores along the road where the Riverside Restaurant is, a favorite was the Treehouse.

We went to the Night Market two nights in a row and bought quite alot of stuff. We found the bargains to be good in most cases and if you look carefully, there are some vendors with some quality merchandise though the vast majority of it is not so good. At the back of the night market building in the alley behind, there is a cart selling Roti which is an interesting take on a crepe. Our favorite was chocolate banana. The cart right next door was a cafe yen stand so we were in heaven. We had dessert there both nights. 20 baht for the roti. 10 baht for the coffee in a bag WITH ICE. Yum. I wish I had one right now! The next best thing would be some sticky rice with mango!

During our stay there we ate at Whole Earth Restaurant. I didn't really care for it, but the surroundings are nice. We talked to some ladies at the Rachamanka who had eaten there and they raved about it, but we didn't get it.

We had the hotel arrange a driver to take us to Ban Tawai where there is a smaller market. Many of the vendors there are selling wood carvings and lots of furniture but there's a good mix of stuff and the savings was good compared to the night market. There are many good shops between there and Hang Dong. We made the ubiquitous stop at the Thai Silk Factory to see how silk was made and look around in that store and we bought a couple of things there. The driver took us to some restaurant that floats out on a lake and we had some crispy duck there although I didn't think it was that good so I don't remember the name of the place.

On Sunday we went to the "Walking Market" and it was very fun. They stop traffic on the entire street which is then lined with stalls and flow into every temple, every crevice. Did not see many tourists there. We bought lots of things as we walked the length of it, stopping now and then for refreshments. Lots of musicians, children playing. There is a store on that street called Chiang Mai stamp and we loaded up on the most beautiful handmade paper cards. They were between 15-30 baht each. These are the type of greeting cards we routinely pay $4-5 each for in the US. We thought it was a great score and came home with about 100 of them. I'm sure the owner of the little store thought we were quite mad. The Tamarind Village is right on this road where the Walking Market is held and we stopped there to have a drink and check it out. It had been our first choice for hotel but was booked. We of course paid more for our hotel but we decided we had chosen well.

We had a couple of meals at the Rachamanka and though their food was a little too "fusion" for me, it was quite well prepared and the wine list kept us coming back. I didn't realize how much we were missing having a nice glass of wine until we once again had some available.

By the time we were ready to leave Chiang Mai we had bought well over what was going to fit in our bags. Buying another suitcase would have put us over the weight requirement for the rest of the trip, so we went to the UPS Store that's on the lower floor in the rear of the night market building to arrange transport. They met us in a truck at the hotel and brought us and our goods to their store where we inventoried the items, they packed everything up, charged us and off the boxes went. We were charged $214 to ship about 35 kg of stuff and it was delivered in the US well before we even got home from vacation. I had it shipped to my office so someone would be there to sign for it. They were careful that we had no buddha images. They packed it very well and it was very painless, reliable and I didn't think too expensive. We also had crammed quite alot of items in our suitcases to the point that they each weighed about 24kg each (weight limit is 20kg) and the airline never said a word about it, so that was good.

We liked our time in Chiang Mai though I regretted not having a guide. Originally we had thought about hiring Poon but then we thought, well we're only going to be shopping, maybe it would be a waste. But after the extraordinary experiences we had both in Bangkok and Siem Reap I am sure we would have gotten more out of our stay there had we gone ahead and booked her. I enjoyed the vibe in Chiang Mai. I think there was more to the city down a couple of layers and those are layers you just can't get to on your own. I just had this sense there was more to it than what we were seeing. For that reason, I would go back. We met alot of very friendly people, bargaining with the vendors everywhere was a nice experience, great food of course and we appreciated the fact that at least in the evening and early morning hours it was a bit cooler. One morning I even wore a jacket to breakfast. Dare to dream.

I also regretted not going to Wat Umong, the forest Wat. Somehow, we just never got around to it. I think it would have been nice. We did go into several Wats around Chiang Mai and they were all wonderful. I couldn't tell you which ones, as we would just be walking down the street and go by one and walk in and look around, make a donation, light some incense. There are many beautiful Wats in Chiang Mai and it seems many, many monks. Across the street from most wats there are new-ish apartment buildings, always painted white with one section painted orange. We wondered if those were monk's quarters and if so, then that's kinda interesting that they paint them orange like that.

Something we noticed is all the electrical and telephone wires hanging on poles in the streets. I guess I haven't seen that since the 70's and it's amazing how much cleaner streets look in the US with all those cables buried.....also they get in the way of picture taking. I've been working away in Photoshop since I got back cloning out wires from our Chiang Mai pictures.

This weekend I will finish up with Koh Samui.

offwego is offline  
Jan 23rd, 2006, 11:59 AM
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The trip ends in Koh Samui. Originally we were going to return to Bangkok from Chiang Mai and I wish we had left it that way. But oh no, always gotta tinker with the plans.

Friends who shall remain nameless convinced us that the beaches in Thailand were all that and we would be sorely missing out if we didn't go.

So we went.

We probably should have ventured somewhere more secluded, perhaps so we could have seen a clean beach and some clear water. Does it exist in Thailand? Give me some hope.

As it was the water at Bophut was dirty. Each day at high tide, the ocean would puke up all the garbage it could and leave it on the beach, which the hotel staff would run down and clean up. The sand itself was mucky. The whole beach thing was just gross. Reminded me of Galveston Texas.

We went to Chaweng and while the sand there was at least sandier, the town was disgusting and noisy.

We did have a nice dinner at Poppies.

We stayed at the Zazen Resort in a beachfront bungalow and it was ok, though very worn in places (mold in the shower, old linens, pervasive musty smells) and the bed was hard (but we had grown accustomed to that).

On the plus side they had a great restaurant, a very nice cocktail bar and a great masseuse.

So when your vacation hands you lemons, well you go get the vodka, so we settled ourselves into the lounge chairs on the front porch of our bungalow, used the dvd player on the tv to play some nice meditation cd's we got at Doi Suthep, lit some incense, ordered up some cocktails and read books all day.

When we got a wee bit peckish we'd order up some snacks from the restaurant and basically lolled about and actually rested. Dinner at the restaurant was very good and they had a nice wine list.

So it wasn't all bad; just not what we expected. We live in Texas and can be in the azure water of the Caribbean in a few short hours where the beaches are to die for, so we weren't impressed. I know you will say we were at the wrong beach or the wrong time of the year or whatever and that could be.

Or maybe it means we can take the beaches off the list for our next trip there which is what we intend to do, as we are no longer curious as to what they are about.

I don't mind pollution in my city experience, but I can't take it at the beach. There was a bit of fresh air which was refreshing after 3 weeks of huffing carbon monoxide.

We enjoyed the down time but could have just come on home and done the same thing.

Of interest to us was that a vast majority of the guests there were German. Maybe a fluke. Maybe it's always that way, but one couple we met were going to stay there 3 weeks. I can't imagine.

offwego is offline  
Jan 23rd, 2006, 12:39 PM
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The beaches in the Caribbean are clearly uperior to those in Thailand. However, it's a long plane ride from BKK to St. Barth's. We have always gone to a beach for 3-4 days near the end of our T-land trip. We've always appreciated the down time and enjoyed ourselves. We've been to Phuket twice, Hua Hin and Krabi. They were all relaxing. Krabi was best.

The beaches can be good, but they're not great. They're certainly not unique and no reason to travel around the world. This is why many of the posters try to discourage first time T-land visitors from spending too much time at the beach. I refer you to a previous post by Tamara, inquiring why poaters discourage beach time.
Gpanda is offline  
Jan 23rd, 2006, 03:04 PM
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I will now join the ranks of those who discourage it.

I would have had so much more fun returning to Bangkok and eating more STREET FOOD and ICE.
offwego is offline  
Jan 23rd, 2006, 07:03 PM
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rhkkmk is offline  
Jan 23rd, 2006, 07:03 PM
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or hospital
rhkkmk is offline  
Jan 23rd, 2006, 08:06 PM
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offwego, I'm sorry your beach experience wasn't all it was cracked up to be. Your description gives all the reasons why we are skipping Samui and heading to less crowded places, like Koh Lipe in hopes of a more pleasent experience. I'm also spoiled on carribean beaches, so keeping my fingers crossed!
LA_FadeAway is offline  
Jan 24th, 2006, 06:07 AM
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I look forward to hearing about it and wish for you a pleasant journey.
offwego is offline  
Jan 24th, 2006, 06:36 AM
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offwego - would you really discourage time at the beach on the basis of a bad experience on one beach on one island out of all the beaches on the coastlines and islands of Thailand?

For the idyllic beaches, you need to head off the beaten path. Accommodation tends not to be as upmarket though.

Loved your report btw
Bella_Bluebell is offline  
Jan 24th, 2006, 10:39 AM
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I'm sure there are better beaches in Thailand than the ones found at Koh Samui. The thing is, at a certain point (at least for me) a beach is a beach is a beach. I can take a much less arduous trip and be at a much better beach.

So for me, future trips to Southeast Asia will probably not include any beach runs.

Good grief, it just occured to me that maybe I'm just not a beach person anymore!?!
offwego is offline  
Jan 24th, 2006, 01:37 PM
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Photos are loaded up. Surely the same ones you took on your vacation, but who knows!

There are some good ones of Ponheary and the children at the schools.
offwego is offline  
Jan 24th, 2006, 02:41 PM
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Loved your photos Lori - especially the ones of the Cambodian kids.
Craig is offline  
Jan 24th, 2006, 07:45 PM
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fabulous two favs....the kid in the plastic boat tub and the lady in the window at angkor i think..
rhkkmk is offline  
Jan 25th, 2006, 03:52 AM
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I agree with Bella. Not all Thai beaches are the same. We had heard similar things about Samui and actually cancelled our plans to go there last year. On the other hand, we loved Pimalai on Koh Lanta. Beautiful, but isolated white powder sand beach, fabulous spa, and wonderful at the end of a 3 week trip in Thailand. But it is a trek to get there. Fly to Krabi, drive an hour to the boat dock & then an hour boat ride. We don't particularly care for the Carribean Islands we have visited, and Hawaii is beautiful but also far for us & very expensive. I would never go all the way to Thailand and just go the the beach, but I think if you have time it is a nice way to end a long trip.
CFW is offline  
Jan 25th, 2006, 06:54 AM
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the kid in the lastic tub is not giving us the peace sign, she's charging us $2 to take her picture with her monkey..!

the nun looking in the window is one of the villagers at Wat Anchean who came in to see what all the ruckus was at the school.

Unless you mean the lady sitting in the window at Angkor Wat, that's Ponheary!
offwego is offline  

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