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Bangkok, Thailand Part One...No Noodle Shop For Me

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Over the years I've heard friends talk about the "Amazing", "Exotic" and "Very Affordable" city of Bangkok, Thailand. I've also heard them talk about the night life, debauchery and "Anything Goes" mentality...Ping Pong balls and all (not explaining that). Unfortunately, I decided a long time ago that if anything debaucherisitc was taking place past 8pm...then it's simply, well...getting too close to my bedtime.

Bangkok, Thailand Temple

I am sure that I've missed out on quite a bit of excitement in my life when friends have implored me to join them for an all- nighter' of clubbin' out on Sunset Strip, but seriously, I'd rather watch it in a movie from my comfy little couch.

Bangkok Thailand Bus Stop

Now that you've realized how dull I am, then I must get to the good stuff. Actually, here's where it goes down hill. I hired a taxi for a three hour drive through the countryside of Thailand to take me and a few others to Bangkok. The taxi was not expensive at all. I think it ran about $14 per person, so actually quite cheap. Of course I had to get the cost upfront since I never trust taxi drivers...anywhere (I know, I have issues). Anyway, here I am riding along and waiting for this amazing vista of exoticness to slowly appear over the horizon in all it's Bangkokiness (that almost sounds wrong)....and all I saw was this:

Bangkok Thailand downtown (that never ends)

Forget that I'm behind a camera lens and imagine my little nose pressed up against the cab window peering out as my world has now been crushed. Okay, granted, Bangkok is a big, busy city and it's going to have buildings and cars and stuff, but I had dreamed that everyone lived in a temple lined with gold leaf and burned incense while chanting soothing sounds of meditation and cooking away at their heavenly seasoned dishes (which I planned on being invited over for later). But no. I then saw more of this:

Mall in Bangkok

So after the initial shock of a modern and thriving Bangkok, it's about time to get a hotel. Yes, it's true, I didn't pick a hotel before I got to Bangkok because I figured with the Bangkok prices being cheap and all, that I will just grab one when I got there. After all, I had seen numerous adds for $20 per night hotels on the internet before and what harm could there be in waiting? Well.... some friends in the cab had already picked a hotel for themselves...namely a company linked to the Hilton...and suggested we try there. HILTON?? Wait a minute...I was hoping and thinking about renting a nice room ran by an old married couple that could be had for, say, $10 per night and it would sit right above their Noodle shop on some side street. After all, I've done that sort of thing in Paris when I was younger.

Modern Meets Traditional in Bangkok

Finally, after what seemed to be hours of driving through city traffic, we ended up pulling into a very, very upscale business hotel area which showcased hotels that I would never book. Too many bell hops running around opening doors for Bentely's and Limo's...this doesn't look good. Here's where "Evil Billy" comes back in. "Let's check out the prices, it can't be that bad", he says to my scowling face. I noticed the name of the hotel was "The Conrad" (sniff, sniff) as the incredibly friendly front desk attendant began typing on an ultra modern computer system (flinching from the crystal chandeliers glistening off the counter) and diligently trying to find "Our best available rate".  What do you know...$200 per night...bless her heart. WHAT?? I glare at my nemesis. He looks back and me and states "I'm tired, it's not that bad". WHAT?? I bristled again. Sadly, he then pulls his "I get to make the decision at least once a year" card out and after I instinctively played defiant again for 30 seconds, I gave in. Okay, Okay, so $200 per night is not that bad, but people, when you're traveling for three months. you don't want to spend it all in one place...and $200 in Bangkok is like $700 in the states. By the way, this was our view from Le "Conrad".  Hmmm....?

View from the Conrad Hotel in Bangkok

To Be Continued...

Laem Chabang Port Information for Bangkok, Thailand

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Hello! A lot of people ask about port information for different countries, so hopefully this will help. I have not been around every port since I often travel by plane, train or bus. However, I have been through Laem Chabang port in Thailand. This is the port that you will be docking at, if you are not on a very small ship. Most all ships come here, since they cannot fit up the river. Leam Chabang is a long ways from Bangkok, about three hours (or less if the driver is fast and there is no traffic). The port is nice and there is no tendering. You will dock at the pier.

There is an air-conditioned building that is nice and comfortable with a small shop. There is also tourist information there to help answer questions.  There is also a "Taxi Stand" that you can hire a Taxi to take you to Bangkok. They are generally small vans and can hold 8-10 people. Generally, you can get a group of people to share a cab with you, and then the price goes down to about $14 per person. Not bad for the long distance. This taxi service will typically drop you off at specific points in the city, so you must check where you need to go first and where you will end up. The drivers know very little english, but are friendly. The taxi stand sets the price, so you won't be cheated, you pay before you leave the port. You can also take a cab back from Bangkok to the pier by asking the hotel to make arrangements the day before. Keep in mind that there are more than one type of cab, so you can ask for a "cheaper" cab, instead of a "Limo".  You might pay slightly more or less to take a cab back from Bangkok. 

I hope that information helps. Feel free to ask any questions.

Crosswalks from Hell in Vietnam

Monday, December 28, 2009

While I'm working on new posts for Bangkok, Thailand, I thought I'd post a small clip that I took while in Da Nang, Vietnam. This street is a less than typical scenario that shows what you have to walk through when you want to cross the street. I happen to have my video ready for this one, but many of the streets that you have to walk across are much, much worse. As I talked about in my previous blog posts on Vietnam, there is an art to walking there and eventually you get used to or...or immune to the thought of being run over.

I taped the one below in Saigon. Again, it's a simple crosswalk, but as you watch it you will get an idea of what I'm talking about when I say "Weaving" in and out.

Life in Hainan, China (Second Post)

Sunday, December 6, 2009

For this second post, I wanted to show some more images of the city of Sanya and it's local people. On one side of the river which runs through the city, there is a nice and shady walk which will lead you to the walking bridge that runs across the river. There were many local seniors who enjoyed this tree lined path.

Sanya, Hainan resident enjoys a stroll along the river walk

Here is another shot of a grandfather and grandchild sitting on a park bench on the river walk. As you might be able to see in the first photo, there are some dried vines which hang down from the the trees and it was common to see a few local people gently picking and gathering these vines. I imagine that they are used in some type of natural arts and crafts. 

Sanya, Hainan Grandfather with Grandchild on the river walk

Here is one view from the river walk side, looking across the walking bridge at the other side of Sanya. The walking bridge is a bit bigger and longer than it appears in this shot (due to the perspective).

Walking bridge view from the river walk side of Sanya

Here is another perspective of the bridge, looking back from the opposite side of the photo above. It will show you how winding the bridge is.

Sanya, Hainan walking bridge from the main city side

As we move forward through town, there is a large mall which I visited in an attempt to find some more summer clothes. This mail housed many famous and common shops such as Addidas, Nike and the typical stores you see in the U.S. As I explained before though, the sizes tend to be created smaller for the Asian market.

Mall in Sanya, Hainan

Here is another shot of a local man sitting outside of his shop, taking a break. As with many cities overseas, people tend to me much more relaxed than they are in the U.S. I think this is a great thing since their stress levels are probably quite less than what Americans put on themselves in the working environment.

Sanya, Hainan shop worker taking a break

As I continued to walk through the city, I saw some kids having fun with their martial arts practice on this duffle bag. In many Asian countries, there are two school sessions rather than just one. The children either attend the morning session or the afternoon session, thus leaving free time during the day. I think the purpose was due to the other crowding.

Sanya, Hainan kids practicing martial arts on someone's duffle bag

I'm not sure why, but I tend to be fascinated by ordinary things, such as a barber shop and locals getting a cut. Usually in travel photos, people just take photos of themselves in front of statues etc, but I like to capture local life.

Sanya, Hainan barber gives a haircut to a local

This is a typical side street with many of the shops and cafes. Many of the streets were tree-lined and the shade helped with the high heat and humidity. Most of the shops have large and colorful signs with red being a predominant color for the Chinese people.

Sanya, Hainan common side street

Another local riding her bike through the market area. Most of the crowd were women doing the shopping for the day.

Local lady riding her bike through one of the market areas

Here is a local character taking a smoking break while on his cell phone. I just had to capture this one and share it. He reminds me of some of our U.S. cowboy types.

Sanya, Hainan local taking a break on the phone

This shot was tiny bit blurry, but it shows an example of another local cafe setup. These places are very reasonable for tourists and the food is often quite good. English is not widely spoken here though, so sometimes you have to be creative in trying to describe what you are wanting to eat.

Sanya, Hainan local cafe and drink stop

As I explained in my first post about Hainan, many people carry umbrellas for sun protection in Asian countries. Pretty smart if you ask me.

Sanya,Hainan local carrying an umbrella to block the sun

The kids are always so fascinated with foreign visitors and will often gather around and stare out of curiosity, or ask questions.  Kids are interesting in the fact that they don't generally carry the regular prejudice that we are often foolishly taught as adults. The expression on this kid's face was priceless and the teacher politely told him to stop bothering the tourist as she gave me a polite wave.

Sanya,Hainan local and curios school kid with class and teacher

Anyway, that is all on Hainan for now. There are quite a few more photos in my Flickr gallery than can be accessed HERE if you'd like.

Hainan, China

Hainan is an island that sits somewhat close to the mainland of China, and is owned by China. Many people compare it to Hawaii for it's beauty and weather. After some disappointing weather in Okinawa, I was ready to have a bit of sunshine on China's very own tropical paradise.

Sanya Hainan River Waterfront

Sunblock was an essential tool in my traveling arsenal for places like this. The sunshine always seems great until you're out in for twenty minutes for more though.

Sanya Hainan Street Vendor

I visited the city of Sanya, which is the second largest city on the island. You can probably already tell from my first two photos that there is a great contrast to many parts of this city. On the main waterfront (not pictured here) there is the beginning of a very expensive development called "Phoenix Island". In addition, while you walk down the main shopping streets, you see prosperity and upscale shopping. However, you don't have to wonder far to see the beginnings of worn down buildings and not so prosperous locals who are making due on what little income they have. I spent my time walking the many streets and extending a smile whenever I could, but in this town it is often met with skepticism and a frown.

Sanya Hainan Downtown

It is clear that not many Westerners visit the island and I'm not sure that it's even encouraged, since there seems to be very few of us walking around the streets. There is a Russian influence which is obvious by some of the businesses and architecture, but I only saw one or two Russians throughout the city. I took a moment to look at some real estate postings in a window while walking down a side street and was immediately approached by two of the business agents who were sitting inside. They seemed very encouraged by my interest in various condo listings and rentals costs, but no matter how hard I tried to explain that I was just looking, they seemed to think that I was ready to buy. This strikes me as funny because in China, no one is allowed to own property, it is only a lease of 70 years (I believe).  I also can't imagine that the Chinese government would allow an American to buy any property and promptly move in.

Sanya Hainan Walking Bridge

There is a large river which runs through the city center. A great winding walking bridge was built from one side to the other, in addition to the regular traffic bridge. There are a number of shots of this bridge in my Flickr photo album which is linked below. It is quite a nice bridge and you can get a better idea of it's length and build from other shots. When I first walked to the other side of the river, I crossed over on the main bridge (seen below). I loved the advertisement of Coca Cola along the bridge and decided to capture a shot of it.

Sanya Hainan Coca Cola Ads on Auto River Bridge

I spent a short time in one of the neighborhood markets. It's always fun watching locals sort through produce, meats and exotic fruits. I was quite surprised at the large amount of raw meat that sat out on non refrigerated wood while the locals picked and choose their cuts. The smell was quite strong and it was common to see beef lying next to fresh vegetables. Many of the local venders encouraged me to buy some fresh produce, but I wasn't in the position to cook during my visit. I did find a vender on the street who had freshly cooked port buns at  about 2 for 50 cents.

Sanya Hainan Fresh Market

There were plenty of large shopping centers that housed much of the familiar items we buy in the U.S. I went inside a local mall, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't find anything in my size. I think I've explained in previous posts that the sizes in Asia are much, much smaller than in the U.S. So, an extra large shirt would barely fit after running it through the wash cycle.

Sanya Hainan Street Taylor

In one of the alleys, there was woman sitting on the side of the road with a sewing machine. I wish it was that easy to find someone to do mending in the states. In fact, it is quite common to see many types of street businesses run by someone with just a table and a skill. I always think about how the many governing departments in the U.S. would freak out at someone doing or selling anything on the street without multiple permits, facilities etc.

Sanya Hainan Homeless Man

I was surprised to see the homelessness there. I kept seeing various men sleeping on benches throughout the city. From the strictness that I have seen in China, it also surprises me that the police allow this. Don't get me wrong, I'm not making a judgement, just an observation. I imagine the high cost of real estate and the isolation of the island may have had something to do with it.

Sanya Hainan Local In Traditional Hat

So many people wear hats in Asia to have protection from the sun. I guess they had that figured out long before we did. You will also see many men and women walking with umbrellas open for the same reason. I had to capture this shot of this toddler who was so fascinated with people in the market. He just sat there and stared as the vendors and public picked through baskets of fresh fruit.

Sanya Hainan Toddler Watching Market Shoppers

Overall, I liked the city, itself, but the people were not that friendly. It could be that they were not used to seeing Americans there and were simply shy. Who knows. It was clear that even though costs were cheap in shops and markets, there was an "Local" price and an "American" price. The good news is that the American price was still very cheap and it's usually not necessary to bargain. The photo below is of a lady who caught my attention. She is wearing such a bright and clashing outfit with a shirt that says "Deep Angel..Calvin Klein Jeans", what the heck does that even mean?? She looks way too glum to be wearing hot pink on such a sunny day.

Sanya  Hainan Woman at Bus Stop

There were some interesting back streets and old cafes that were great to encounter. I rarely stay on the beaten path when I travel. Hainan has some beautiful beach areas that rival many of the other tropical islands. However, I have been keeping my beach strolling to a minimum as the sun gets hotter and hotter while I travel south.  Unfortunately, my semi-Irish skin can't take too much and I am saving my dreaded sunburns for a few other islands. This time, it was mainly about the city and the culture.

Sanya Hainan Cafe

As with many of the Asia cities, there is very little in the way of air conditioning in the cafes and shops. You can tell from these two pictures that people seem down in the dumps from the heat, life or whatever. It was rare that  you saw anyone laughing or smiling.

Sanya Hainan Cafe

The sad (and scary) thing is that I witnessed some nasty police brutality that made me a bit uneasy. Of course I have no idea what happened or why, but it drew a crowd. I'm not sure why this island seemed to be so different than the other areas I had been, but you could feel the tension there. Also, the first day we were there, the authorities rounded up all the westerners and kicked us out, no reason, just made us leave. Luckily, it was my last stop in China anyway. If you like to see a bit more of Hainan, there are more shots that you can access HERE in my photo album. Sometimes it's best to use the "Slideshow" function at the top of the gallery.

Sanya Hainan Authorities Capturing Man

You May Also Like: BEIJING or  SHANGHAI

Xiamen and Gulangyu, China

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Xiamen (Chia-men) is a city that sits somewhere on the coast between Shanghai and Hong Kong. There are a number of places like this in China that are wonderful to visit and have great city streets and resources, but are not frequented by Western Visitors.

Xiamen Shopping Area

When thinking about visiting the large and diverse land of China, most of us think about Beijing, Shanghai or Hong Kong. However, it's nice to see some of these side places that are a world of their own.

Xiamen Shopping Area

As with a few of the other places we've been much of the tourist traffic comes from Chinese people visiting from other provinces. It's interesting though to see many of the signs in both Chinese and English. This city (like Shanghai) was about fashion and appearance. There were many salons lining the streets and as you can tell, basic black hair is sooooo yesterday. The photo below was a typical pow-pow session that many Chinese businesses have before opening. This upscale salon was preparing to sets trends for the day.

Xiamen Hair Salon Pow Wow Session

Xiamen, as with most of places in China, was much different than I had expected. Again, there was a vibrance and energy to the city that is typically seen in cosmopolitan cities.

Xiamen Side Street

While some of the architecture was old and "traditional" on the side streets, there was a great walking boulevard which housed multiple upscale shopping centers. As with Shanghai, most things were priced way above what they would ever be in America, and it seems obvious that the wealthy of China come here to shop.

After wondering around the city for a while, I took a boat from the main waterfront over to a beautiful

Gulangyu Island Waterfront, European Architecture

place called Gulangyu. It is a small island which sits off of the Xiamen houses some wonderful streets and unique architecture for Asia.

Gulangyu Island, European Architecture

I believe there was a European influence here from many years ago which created Victoria style buildings.

Gulangyu Island, European Architecture

There were lots and lots of Chinese tourists on this island. We took a ferry from the mainland and it takes only minutes, but it was crowded enough that you could barely move.

Gulangyu Island, European Architecture

One of the highlights for me was when I ran across a bride and her groom on the island.

Gulangyu Island Bride and Professional Photo Shoot

They were having professional pictures taken. I asked if I could photograph her and was given permission. The groom and his friends also asked if they could have their photo taken with me, so they each posed and traded cameras…super nice people. I guess we're all curious about other people and cultures.

A Portrait I Took of Gulangyu Bride

There were many interesting faces throughout and so I captured a number of them. This young lady was peering out of a high-end tea shop on the island.

Gulangyu Island Tea Shop Employee

I always love the great expressions that you can catch on people's faces when they don't know you're looking. There was such a confidence and intelligence to the people of Xiamen and Gulangyu, such as this young lady trying to lure customers into the store as she stood out on the street.

Gulangyu Island Employee Trying to Draw in Customers to Store

Although Xiamen is an unusual spot for Americans to travel to, I would highly recommend it if you have the ability to travel there. Remember though, shopping is at a premium, except for small local places.

Gulangyu Island Man

I don't have a whole lot to say about Xiamen since it's mainly a busy, cosmopolitan city. However, Gulangyu was great and well worth a look. The overall cost for food and transportation here was pretty cheap. They have various ferry boats that range from over-the-top, to general transport.

Gulangyu Island, One Type of Ferry Boat

If you're interested, there are a number of other photos of both Xiamen and Gulangyu that you can access in my photo album HERE. You can also use the "Slideshow" function at the top of that gallery for easy viewing.

Vietnam at 50 mph

In some of my other posts on Vietnam, I talked about how much I enjoy taking photos of the "life" as I drive or ride down the roads. Vietnam provided a rich canvas for capturing many different types of homes, businesses and people as I swoop by in car or bus. Many of the photos are slightly blurry, but good enough to see what's going on. I thought I'd add a few pictures here in a new post.

Roadside refreshments in rural Vietnam

These roadside "stands" were quite common. Many people would simply bring a cooler or baskets of food and sell to those who passed by. Since most people are on motorcycles, it's quite easy for them to pull over and purchase without even getting off of their bikes.

China Beach,Vietnam

I talked a little bit about China Beach in another post. These homes and boats are literally right across from the beach. I spent some time on the beach, but most it is either packed with fisherman or crowded with debris. As you can see, the area is not really set up for a beach vacation. A number of hotels and resorts are being built miles down the beach and are totally blocked off from reality. The beach areas there are much cleaner, but it seems that you loose the feel of the real Vietnam if you're locked up in a resort.

A little laundry out to dry in Vietnam

Most everywhere you go in Vietnam, someone has laundry hanging out (which of course if fine, just an observation). What seems strange is that many of the buildings seem to be closed down or boarded up and yet you still see laundry drying. I assume that people are living in these homes.

Vietnam roadside stand

Looking at the photo above,  you can see another example of people setting up roadside stands. These are houses, so many people work close to home in order to provide cooking or produce for people driving by. The heat and humidity in Vietnam is intense, that that is why so many people have on the hats and try to keep out of the sun.

Gathering at school in Vietnam

Everywhere you go in Vietnam, you see school kids running around. This is at the end of a block where kids attend classes. There is almost always a store set up next to each school. Uniforms seem to be mandatory in most schools.

A home in Vietnam

These homes are set in a rural area and are right across from the Rice Paddies. I am assuming that they are either farm workers or people who commute into the city area. The Rice Paddies are beautiful. I have more photos of them in my Flick albums of "Vietnam at 50 mph".  So many of the homes that I've seen in Vietnam don't even seem to have a door. I guess it's due to the constant warm weather there.

A house in the countryside of Vietnam

Here is another example of a rural setting with a few homes scattered here and there. Some of the colors used to paint them are bright and vibrant. There are often watering holes like this for livestock.

Doing some chores in Vietnam

I have noticed that most women wash their dishes outside and use the pots of soapy water and clean water. Many of the restaurants and cafes do this also. This is a home in the suburbs, as you can see the laundry and baby to the left.

Anyway, I will post more of these over time. As I explained before, I make no judgement here, I just find these fascinating and wanted to share them with you. There are LOTS more of these photos in my Flickr photo album, which can be accessed by clicking HERE.

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