Category Archives: Thailand

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I walked all the way from Thailand to Malaysia

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Crossing borders on foot

If I say I walked all the way from Thailand to Malaysia and you haven’t done that, chances are you won’t believe me but I did!

P1330284Traveling to Malaysia from Thailand is easy, especially if you are already staying near the border. I was at Narathiwat, Thailand’s southernmost city for a couple of days before I decided to proceed to Kuala Lumpur.

If you are in Bangkok, it’s another story though that involves a two-hour plane ride or 14 hours trip on a bus.

Narathiwat is only an hour away by van from Su-ngai Golok Boundary Post and the van dropped me and my buddy Rolly right in front of the immigration building. I joined the long line to get my passport stamped with “exit” then we walked across the border to Malaysia, leaving Rolly on Thailand soil. The Customs and Quarantine officers were friendly, asking light questions about the contents of my backpack (my only luggage) until I said I had a bottle of Excedrin. That was when the officers looked at each other and asked me to step aside. Then they inspected my backpack, something which they didn’t do to others and asked me if I was feeling okay and how many days I had been ‘sick’ and they need to take my temperature if I had a fever or anything contagious. Baffled, I explained that the Excedrin was for migraine and it had been in my backpack forever. One of the female officers touched my forehead, then let me go, apologizing for the delay.P1330277

Then I was on Malaysian soil for the first time, all alone on my way to Kuala Lumpur and without one single Ringgit in my pocket.

If you don’t have Ringgits with you, cross the street after you exit the immigration building and there’s only one money changer in the area. I exchanged all the US dollars and Philippine pesos and Thailand Baht I had in my wallet for Ringgits then crossed the street. Communication is a challenge. I asked four people and after so many frustrated gestures I understood they all said the fare to Kota Bharu was 500 Ringgits.

I waited with other passengers at the roofed walkway where Bus 29 stops by every 30 minutes or so, and when the bus came, I boarded it, not sure if I had enough money. Passengers are required to pay the driver as soon as they board. I showed the driver all the bills I got from the money exchange and he looked at me with a funny expression then peeled off five Ringgits from the wad of bills. I have never felt like a stupid tourist in my life.P1330300

The bus ride to Kota Bharu is about an hour and will take you through several interesting towns and villages. I reached the bus terminal just right after sunset and waited for the next bus to Kuala Lumpur for three hours.

The trip to Kuala Lumpur took eight hours in a freezing bus with centralized A/C so if you can’t stand the cold, bring a blanket. These buses usually don’t hand out blankets and water and snacks, and there are no restrooms onboard either, so you have to take advantage of the short stops in between. It’s a trip where people sleep. Shortly before sunrise, we entered Kuala Lumpur and everything yelled civilization. Here is a city where everyone still mistakes me for a Thai but where almost everybody speaks and understands English.

By the way, the border from Thailand to Malaysia is less than half a mile away and crossing it on foot is no big feat. I got you there.

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Twilight at the ‘Dawn of Happiness’

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With a backdrop of the setting sun, the sight of the old bricks and stones and Buddhas which used to be the Thai capital during the 13th century was surreal.

P1300259 OVER seven hours bus ride away from Bangkok will take you to the old city of Sukhothai— one of the most impressive World Heritage Sites and one of the most popular tourist attractions in Thailand.P1300202

Located at the lower northern Thailand, the most famous ruins of the ancient city of Sukhothai is a must-never-miss in one’s itinerary. Nestled amid lush jungles, lakes and neatly manicured lawns, the ancient city of Sukhothai which means “the dawn of happiness” is a history buff and a photographer’s dream.

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When we got off the bus at the Sukhothai terminal, my buddy and I rode a songthaew, a long wooden jeepney that transported us to the Old City about 12 kilometers away. We picked one of the hotels right across the street from the Sukhothai Historical Park and hurried to catch our first real glimpse of temple ruins.

I discovered there are just too may temples and ruins to visit you can’t walk all the way. We rented a motorbike for 200 baht good for 24 hours, but there are lots of bicycles for less than 100 baht.

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When we reached the nearest temples or what was left of it, my jaw just dropped. With a backdrop of the setting sun, the sight of the old bricks and stones and Buddhas which used to be the Thai capital during the 13th century was just surreal. P1290957

Historical records show that the Old Sukhothai was the first capital of the Sukhothai Kingdom from 1238 to 1438. Since the 1960s restoration work has been done to preserve the ruins, but I learned later that if you follow the unmarked tracks, it will lead you to more temple ruins in their untouched state. We drove around some more after dark and got a real taste of fear when we stumbled into more ruins in some territory we haven’t seen in thP1300593 copye maps that sent us going around in circles for a long time.

It was kind of spooky going around the ruins especially when darkness fell, with the orange glow casting shadows. You get this uneasy feeling that someone is watching you from behind the pillars and stones but I guess it is part of the mystery and attraction that lures thousands of visitors from all parts of the world every day.P1300428

Accommodation in Sukhothai is not a problem. Hotels and guest houses abound and at whatever budget suits you.

Sukhothai is a place where life starts very early in the morning with vendors selling food in carts and tables on the sidewalks, and where you see hundreds of monks in orange ply the streets in the early morning hours.

Getting to Sukhothai from Bangkok or other parts of Thailand is half the fun and you get to explore the Thailand countryside. The long bus rides are worth it but you can check out other options like trains and airplanes.

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Tuk-Tuk: Thailand’s ride of a lifetime

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Remember that 2002 Visa card commercial where James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) rode a tuk-tuk to cut through the traffic and catch up with his date Zhang Ziyi in Bangkok and how the tuk-tuk collapsed to the ground from fatigue? Now i know why James Bond picked up the tuk-tuk.

The first time I rode a tuk-tuk last month, I had visions of going around Bangkok streets in a leisurely pace while I shoot photos to my heart’s content. Little did I know I would spend the next few minutes in that half-sitting, half-squatting position holding on to my bag and camera and for life. A couple hundred bahts was the magic word and the driver sprung into action and careened down the streets like it was the end of the world and we were racing against it. That moment I understood why a lot of the tuk-tuks have screens around them–so passengers or parts of them won’t fly on the streets.

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Until you have ridden a tuk-tuk–those sputtering, open-air three-wheeled motor taxis that ply and clog the streets of Bangkok and all over Thailand is one wild, daring ride that you should experience, you can’t fully say you have experienced Thailand. Tuk-tuks never die, but you will if you don’t hold on to the railing and keep your bags and hands and feet and head intact and safe inside.

One advice–don’t ever ride a tuk-tuk without first agreeing on the price. Learn to negotiate and haggle. It’s funny how the word tuk means “cheap” in Thai, but tuk-tuk rides are never cheap. You’re better off and more comfortable riding airconditioned metered taxis. If you really need to ride a tuk-tuk better hail one passing on the street and try to avoid those who are waiting outside tourist sites.

I gave it a couple more chances, and it was still the same. Different drivers, same madness, same sky-high prices. Maybe not all of them are mad drivers but i guess i picked the ones who are. Tuk tuks has become a symbol of Thailand and though they don’t have the best of reputations it’s worth experiencing one wild ride in your lifetime. Don’t leave Thailand without riding in one.

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