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Trip Report Bang Saen, Pattaya, Bangkok, Kanchanaburi, Damnoensaduak, SIngapore

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In late May I found out I would be working in Thailand for 2 weeks and asked you kind folks here for suggestions for what to do for a short vacation after I finished work. I'd already been to Bangkok twice before, Ayutthaya. Chang Mai, and Khao Yai Park and wanted somewhere new. I'm not a lounge on the beach or by a pool person. I would never go during hot season, but had no control over timing.

So, here is my story.

The plan:
I thought my hosts would probably plan something for first weekend; I'd visit friends in Bangkok for the second weekend; I'd leave one day of wiggle room between work and vacation; I'd book a flight to Singapore for 3 days (never been; several friends).

The reality:
My hosts gave me a driving tour of the Bang Saen area (fish market, large temple, beach area, oyster farm). We ate great seafood and various other Thai dishes in local restaurants.

First weekend a group went to Pattaya--drive along beach, up to good viewpoint, visit to "fake" floating market, great seafood restaurant, Nong Nooch gardens and show. They also planned for foot massages, but we were hot and exhausted and everyone wanted to go home. With a daytime visit we didn't get to see the "sleeze" of Pattaya. It reminded me of any overbuilt tourist area in Florida.

The floating market was totally Disney, but I see how it would be good for a tour bus stop--foods and souvenirs, posted prices, toilets--manageable way for folks to get an idea of what real floating markets are like. Unfortunately, our host insisted we take the boat around the site (miserably hot). I'm not sure what to make of Nong Nooch--gardens of Versailles, Stonehenge, giant ants, herds of topiary, petting zoo, cultural show, elephant show....(miserably hot even in front of fans during show).

A combination of my hosts forgetting about a Buddhist holiday plus their need to go out of town for a business trip resulted in me having a 4-day weekend the next week, so I agreed to stay an extra day (the wiggle room day). I got in contact with a friend in Bangkok who had said she wanted to vacation with me and told her my situation. We agreed upon Kanchanaburi. I had not been there and she had not been for 30 years. At first we were going overnight, but then family and a wedding made a day trip the only option. So, I headed to Bangkok planning a day in the city, a day In Kanchanaburi, and then who knows what.

I stayed at the small Sala Arun hotel behind Wat Pho on the river. My friend was trying to get me to stay at Khao San, but I told her I was too old and needed my peace and quiet, so I tried to find a hotel close to that area. As it turns out, I don't think she wanted me in that area per se, more that she knew someone who knew someone with a hotel and they would give me a good rate, etc. The location turned out to work well for us. The hotel is good only if you book the rooms facing the river, not the soi. She and I spent a day together in Bangkok riding the boats (packed and hot), visiting the royal barge museum (empty and hot), visiting a wat (packed and hot), visiting markets (packed and hot). We took a break mid-day at my air conditioned hotel and by dinner time I sent her home so I could take another shower and cool down with the a/c.

We had settled on hiring a private guide service recommended on tripadvisor to take us to Kanchanaburi. With such a short time, I thought it worth the cost for an air conditioned car that we controlled to take us wherever we wanted to go. It worked well. We left early to drive to the JEATH museum, bridge, and cemetery first. Then we drove to Hellfire pass, took the trail down to the first bridge and visited the museum. I found it very moving, much like visiting the concentration camps in Europe. It started raining as we returned from our walk along the railbed, but it wasn't enough to drop the temperature.
On the way back to Bangkok, we asked to stop at a large candy/food store to buy presents for my friend's family and my co-workers. A long, but enjoyable day.

Next day my friend was attending a wedding, so I was on my own. I decided to visit the Grand Palace for just a wander. Before I had visited with a private tour guide. The crowds were astounding even first thing in the morning. I darted from covered walkway to shadow to shade under my parasol, snapping odd photos and crowd watching. Sometimes the crowd watching could have become odd photo snapping--the fellow slumped over with his head in his hands, the young women ferrying cups of water to their mother sitting on the steps, the Japanese women with full length gloves and leggings in 95F heat to protect their skin. It was madness. The Emerald Buddha had been given a wardrobe change the day before, but I decided not to join the throngs to check out the new outfit. I exited and checked out the museum about the restorations, but did not find it interesting. What I did enjoy was the queen's textile museum (not just for the wonderful a/c). It told the story of trying to find old fabric, pattern, and styles to recreate Thai styles that the queen promoted. Of course, you exit through the gift shop. I would have even visited the coin museum that day, but it meant I would have to struggle back through the crowd at the main entrance, so I headed to my hotel for an a/c break and shower instead.

Later I ventured out to the nearby Museum of Siam. The local teenagers were really enjoying the interactive nature of the museum. I thought it interesting for the more critical view of the country 's history than one often finds. Also an interesting room about the restoration of the building. For some reason, it was free that day.

I continued on to walk through the flower market. It was bustling as usual with the additional frenzy of upcoming Mother's Day. I enjoy seeing the piles of flowers, the arrangements in progress, the workers hauling baskets of vegetables. I just try to stay out of the way, realizing that these people are not a tourist attraction, just folks trying to make a living. The guide the previous day told me they have lots of problems with tourists unthinkingly touching the flowers on display, which damages the blooms with human oils as well as is disrespectful for those being taken to ancestors. I returned to the hotel for yet another shower before dinner.

The next day we had booked the guide again to take us to Damnoensaduak floating market and Mae Klong train market. We really enjoyed the train market. The indoor market itself was large, clean, and interesting. The outdoor market up to the tracks that is retracted when the train comes through was simply bizarre. We bought various snacks from shops and vendors before driving on to the floating market. We stopped at a tourist place that shows how they make coconut sugar (tastes great), then on to the canal boat ride to the market. There we walked along the edges, ate lunch from a boat, and enjoyed the market for the tourist destination it is. We aren't shoppers, so after lunch, we were ready to head back to Bangkok and then on to Bang Saen for me. This was the only place we had a misunderstanding with our guide. I did ask to stop a couple of places for photos (no problem). They offered several other tourist stops to fill the time (we were returning early). We finally agreed to a short teak carving/shop stop. I didn't think we were going to get her out of there. I don't think it was so much the possible commissions (she knew we weren't buying teak furniture to ship home), but that she was concerned we weren't getting our "full-day" tour for the price we agreed. She was asking if we wanted to sit and enjoy the royal barge carving (that's not for sale) done by the masters, did we want to stop again for refreshments, etc. Finally we got through to her that we had done all we wanted to do for our full-day and were happy to return to Bangkok.

Need to cook dinner. I'll add more later.

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    I needed to travel to/from Bangkok for my long weekend. The locals take a van/bus service from a stop in town to the Victory Monument in Bangkok--US$3 per seat (buy one for luggage) for the 2 hour trip. Despite the low price, I was hesitant because I would have to get my bag and me from my apartment to the bus stop, then get from VM to my hotel in Bangkok (in the heat) dealing with taxis. On return I would have to get from hotel to VM, find and pay for the correct bus, get off at the right place, then get from the stop to my apartment (in the heat).

    I asked my hosts about hiring a taxi or a limo service to Bangkok or to BKK from which I could transfer to another car. They estimated cost of door-to-door taxi at up to US$50, which I was glad to pay, but they would not allow a female (foreign or local) to hire an unknown taxi driver for the trip and there is no limo service. They did arrange for a known female taxi driver to take me, but when that driver wanted to send someone else on the day, they canceled the arrangement and I was able to share a ride with a colleague who was headed to the city.

    To return, I checked out my hotel and took my bag in the trunk of the guide's car for the day, then she dropped my friend and me at VM, where my friend helped me locate the proper side street and the proper driveway for my van/bus. A fellow who was holding up signs and directing people insisted on helping with my bag. We had to be persistent to buy 2 seats from the lady in the folding chair behind the table--but there was no way my rollaboard, purse, and I were all fitting into a van or bus seat and luggage storage is not guaranteed.

    They wanted us to sit on a bench on the driveway for the hour until the next bus, but we chose to wheel my bag to a nearby mall and have a cold drink and visit the toilet. We returned to stand on a loading dock in the rear parking lot (in the heat) with others waiting for vans. I saw others holding tickets for the same time as my van and a lady with a logo shirt from a company in Chonburi, so I knew who to follow onto a van. At 15:20, the same man who directed us to buy tickets came shouting into the parking lot and almost everyone started scurrying up the driveway to the street. My friend wormed her way through the crowd while I slowly followed with my wheeled bag. The same man took my bag and motioned for me to get on the bus. My friend had snagged the first row of seats on the bus for me and was frantic that I had let the bus man hold my bag. I could see him standing just outside the door with my bag trying to get everyone on board, so I wasn't worried, but she was and it was all I could do to restrain her from pushing her way back off the bus to get my bag. Once everyone was on the board, the man did carry my bag up and put in my extra seat and my friend could leave. It took about 10 minutes for the man to round up stragglers who were looking for the van in the parking lot, not a bus out on the street.

    We pulled into traffic for a typical drive through Bangkok, the bus narrowing missing bicycles and pedestrians as we made our way to the elevated highways and the high speed race out of town. I knew the route should end at my stop, but that there are other routes to other stops in Chonburi, so I stayed alert when we entered somewhat familiar territory. There was one other foreigner on the bus sitting just behind the driver. She became nervous when the driver started making intermediate stops within Chonburi to let small groups of people off. Eventually we made it to the end of the route, my stop. I waited for everyone else to get off the bus and the driver insisted on carrying my bag down the steps for me. Even more fortunate for me is that the arriving stop is across a busy divided roadway from the departing stop that I knew about, so I was able to walk directly from the stop to my apartment without having to use the elevated pedestrian crossing with the stairs or walking through the sidewalk food stands on that side of the road with their open flames raising the ambient temperature to above boiling.

    Bottom line--I don't think I would have been able to find the van/bus to Chonburi at VM on my own. Some more popular foreigner destinations such as Pattaya, yes--the sign was in English. But then, I think one would have to know the price and understand the process, where to get on/off, etc. Then it is a tremendous bargain for an air conditioned ride. At least my ride was not like that of another visitor who had traveled by van from Bangkok the week before. They had a flat tire and had to stand by the side of the highway for an hour while the driver changed the tire.

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    I flew to Singapore on AiaAsia. Cost of ticket + prepaid checked bag still $70+ less than Thai Airways (which I like). OK except they broke one of the zippers on my bag and the response was I should have purchased the insurance else check with my homeowners insurance.

    I used the metro in Singapore. I found it cheap and easy to understand, though I did go through the buy/redeem individual tickets repeatedly. I also used taxi for destinations not near metro and found them easy to flag or find at stand, patient to understand my destination, and determined to get me there (I had a map of an office campus and a building for my destination, but when we arrived everything seemed backwards. He drove around; I got out and checked a map display; he wanted to turn around; I insisted we continue forward. It was a good-natured disagreement, but I persevered and we finally found the building only to see widely separated entrances and construction. I had my luggage with me as I was going to the airport after the office and he insisted he was going to find the correct entrance and carry my bag up any steps!)

    I stayed at the YWCA Fort Canning--don't. Location is great; nice pool; that is all.

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    After I planned my trip I learned that I would be in Singapore over National Day--good and bad. I have several friends in Singapore and would try to meet up with them around their holiday plans and be included in some. Also had to make a business courtesy call.

    I knew I wouldn't have time to see everything I'd like to in a short visit plus I had to accommodate friends, so it would be a compromise visit. It wasn't as humid as Thailand, but still hotter than I enjoy for my extensive outdoor walks.

    I did a lot of walking to look at architecture--Chinatown, Little India etc. I visited the Chinese Heritage Center, one of the Hindu temples, the National Museum, the Raffles museum, the urban model, and the Night Safari. Even took a river cruise.

    The restored shophouses were great to see. The National Museum was not my taste, though I did learn a lot. Liked the photos at Raffles and the info at the Chinese restored shophouse. River cruise was good introduction.

    My friend and I had a great time at the Night Safari. We arrived around 8pm and went immediately to the left onto the walking trails. I think it would be good to take the trail to the left if you can find it and walk opposite to most people. After walking all the trails we got on the tram (no waiting) and rode that route. We skipped the shows. The timing of our walk was perfect for feeding time for the lions, tiger, and several others. We saw every animal listed except the fishing cat and the flying squirrel. They had the most active sloe loris I have ever seen. I continue to be amazed at the number of loud, rude people shouting at animals and flashing lights in their eyes at zoos.

    At the last minute I was offered a ticket to sit in the stands for the National Day Parade--I real honor considering locals apply months in advance in hopes of a ticket. I turned the offer down because I had already made plans with a couple to go to Raffles for high tea followed by drinks on top of a hotel while watching the ceremony from afar and I did not want to sit in the sun for 4 hours. High tea was overpriced buffet. We had a nice visit though before we took metro one stop to the hotel area, rode the elevator up and settled on the warm, but breezy rooftop to watch the crowd below, the stands across the water, the air and water show above and below us, and the fireworks in front of us. We had a fun time people watching, chatting with the manager/host, betting on which naval vessel would win the race, tracking the helicopters and jets, and watching the fireworks reflected on the Marina Bay Sands hotel. Afterwards, the metro moved the crowds quickly and efficiently. I was impressed.

    No time for botanic garden/orchids, other museums, or Orchid Road.

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    Oops. Orchard Road. I keep making that mistake.

    I had to fly roundtrip to BKK and the first leg of my 3-leg flight home would start at 6:30am. So, I would need to return to Bangkok a day in advance. I still had one friend to see as well. So, I scheduled one day back in Bangkok. I used the express train from the airport + subway to move around. Very few people on the express train--locals told me it was cheaper for them to drive.

    We agreed to meet at a mall, so we went to Terminal 21 for me to see what they have done to give themes to each level and eat Chinese food (my friends' choice). I had a great time eating, talking and laughing with my friend and her sister. We discussed doing some tourist stuff, but a friend of theirs was extremely ill and they were distracted, so I sent them off to the hospital. I wandered about a bit and then went to my hotel--the Novotel at the airport. The hotel was quite nice and connected to the airport by a tunnel and shuttle. I used the tunnel to walk over and the shuttle to ride back at 4:30am. Low stress end to my trip and beginning to my 24-hour transit back home.

    After the low prices in Thailand, I am suffering sticker shock as I prepare a proposal to attend a conference being held at a resort in Hawaii next spring.

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    lol... Hawaii vs Thailand prices... Ummm.. Hawaii is lots more expensive.

    I try to do most of my shopping in Bangkok! I go to the malls here in the USA and look at items that I might like. Then I see the sticker price and think... "How much would that cost me in Bangkok?" and I put away my credit card! lol

    Sounds like you got quite a bit accomplished on your visit to S E Asia. Will you be planning a future return?

    I had time for one quick walk along Orchard Rd (in Sin) and thought that on a return trip I might try to stay in this area. I stayed at the Intercontinental (nice hotel!) which was a bus ride (on the hop on hop off) away from all the great shopping. I did walk over to Little India and found it to be pretty interesting. No time for China Town... NEXT time I'm in Singapore I'll try to go there. I did like my visit to the zoo (not the night time safari thing).

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