Tag Archives: thailand

Most scenic places I’ve visited: Ko Wai, Thailand

Ko Wai, Thailand

Most scenic places I have visited - Ko Wai, Thailand

This series is a visual ode to the most scenic places I have visited. I want to pay my respects to the places I have travelled for giving me such rich and memorable encounters. Hopefully, in the process I might also encourage others to go out and explore the world and be respectful and mindful of its beauty.

The photograph was taken from a sea kayak we had hired for the day on an attempt to circumnavigate the tiny  island of Ko Wai. As the island has no roads, no cars or other means of transport except a few small dirt paths the only way to get around is by sea.

En route, we passed dazzling turquoise coastlines, amazing coral life and jungle terrain that flowed almost to the shore. What is not shown however, is my terror.

As we moved further around the island, the waves became increasingly choppy.  We started taking on a lot of water. The wind also picked up slightly making it more difficult to steer and avoid the coral and rocky terrain that lurked underneath the surface threatening to damage the kayak.

When, we eventually did make it back, minutes before sunset fell. We all yelped a ‘wohoo’ as we arrived safely ashore. Dragging our sea soaked, exhausted bodies to the bar for a well deserved Singha beer.

How to get here:
From Bangkok take a bus to Laem Ngop pier then take a ferry to Ko Wai. Alternatively, take a ferry from Bang Bao on Ko Chang

 

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Warning for Irish people abroad: Allied Irish Bank (AIB) Lowers its daily maximum withdrawal limit for debit cards to E100,- in many foreign countries.

[UPDATE 30/8/2015 – click here for a more recent post about Irish cards being blocked when abroad]

We made the discovery of this new withdrawl limit on AIB debit cards abroad, while attempting to take out our usual amount of money on our AIB debit card at an ATM machine in Chiang Rai, Thailand to cover the next couple of days and were declined payment of our usual amount. We then tried to use ATMs of several different Thai banks and got the same errors until we got to a very low amount of under E100 and suddenly the money came out.

As we were sure the balance in our accounts was not the issue and we had taken out an amount a lot higher than E100 several days earlier, we checked the AIB website. After some searching on the internet and AIBs website we found the following information on the AIB site:

Use your card for cash withdrawals from ATMs in Ireland and worldwide (up to a daily limit of EUR600) where the Banklink/LINK/Maestro symbol is displayed. Please note: at some ATM’s abroad, particularly in non-European locations, the daily cash withdrawal limit may be reduced to EUR100 or less.

This unclear and vague statement is the only piece of information to be found on their website and no other notice has been provided by them on any other system – not even on 0nline banking. At least we did understand that we are in a country that seems to be affected by the E100 limit (Thailand), but as we will be traveling to several other countries, this limit makes a barely workable solution for us for the following reasons:

  1. It will be costing us on average 3% more on each transaction in Fees (All Thai ATMs impose a 150Baht or ~E3.75 for each foreign debit card ATM transaction no matter how small). This is multiplied by 3 again as we have to make up to 3 times the amount of transactions to get the same amount of cash which means that we lose an extra 9% on fees to Thai banks for withdrawing the same amount of money and  we lose another 1 or 2% due to the minimum fees imposed by AIB…
  2. We will have to go to bank machines daily and take out maximums on both our cards for several days before we can make any additional purchases or go to a remote area where ATMs are not available
  3. We will have to walk around with more cash money to have cover any eventualities as we can not take it out when something happens. Or having to take out money out of an ATM on a credit card which has a limit 250E and is even more costly to use abroad.

In our case the damage done by this careless change is costly and very inconvenient but manageable. However, we are sure that there are many travelers with Irish bank accounts abroad who might run into major difficulties due to this decreased withdrawl limit that was imposed without any notice.

Of course we called AIB to get this clarified further and see if there was a possibility to change this or ways around this. The friendly but tired employee at phone banking told us that indeed this limit has been lowered from maximum E250,- (which is already half of what can be taken out with for instance a debit card of several Dutch banks we are aware of) to E100,-. This has been done for any bank that does not use Chip/Pin verification due to a high level of fraud around the world. The bank employee added that this was “A change made by Irish banks” but did not clarify which other banks are also imposing this. When asking about alternatives to take out more money than the new daily limit she basically admitted that this cannot be done using the banks services and that many people that are affected by this change have already contacted the bank.

Out of curiosity and because we are also planning to go to other more expensive countries like Australia we looked into which banks do use PIN/chip verification. As far as we can find, outside of Europe only some banks in Canada use the pin/chip verification method. In short this indicates that your debit card is now pretty much useless as a main source of money outside the EU.

CONGRATULATIONS AIB and the Irish banks who participate in lowering the daily limits on their debit cards to this unacceptable amount without notice. By avoiding your responsibility to deal with the debit card fraud cases and letting the insurance companies do what they are designed for, but instead removing access for your Irish customers abroad to the bulk of their funds… You have SUCCEEDED TO LOWER OUR CONFIDENCE IN YOUR SERVICE ONCE AGAIN….

To all affected Irish citizens abroad in the US/Australia and other affected countries. If you run in to problems due to this unannounced change. Please file complaints with AIB and also write an email to alert@aib.ie/or your affected bank. Also write in or call in a complaint to the financial regulator.

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Ayatthuya, Thailand – a 3rd class train ride, a relaxing at Baan Lotus guesthouse & a lot of temples

After a one night stop over in Bangkok with the usual long islands and some dinner at Hemlock restaurant we went on to catch the third class train to Ayutthaya from Hua Lamphong station in a pretty hungover state.

 

getting-some-air_third-class-train-to_ayutthaya_thailand

getting-some-air_third-class-train-to_ayutthaya_thailand

 

To our surprise the ticket price for the 3rd class two hour+ long train ride was only 75baht (about E1,90) for the 5 of us. We found some seats in the rickety but pretty clean coach without windows and soon departed. We crawled slowly through the the city, stopping at small stations or just grinded to a halt on the track on various occasions – we passed many track side shacks and restaurants which you could touch if you reached out of the window. After about 1hr15Min’s we where out of the city and going through swamp lands and rice paddies ricketing across the occasional river. Simmered out, after all the fresh air and mesmerizing views of the train ride we headed out of the station and took the small ferry across the river (the former capital of Ayutthaya is on an island surrounded by rivers) which we shared with some locals and monks. We found a coffee and had some food while Vourneen set out to find us a nice Guesthouse.

 

The ferry accross the Chao Praya River in Ayutthaya

The ferry accross the Chao Praya River in Ayutthaya

 

We ended up staying at the Baanlotus guesthouse, which is one of the most relaxing and enjoyable guesthouses we found in Thailand so far.[singlepic id=295 h=130 float=left] The guesthouse sits on a big plot of land with an impressive size lotus pond behind it and a covered jetty running over the middle of it. The back of the pond is surrounded by dense woodland which adds a very rural feel to it. The Guesthouse is run by a dotty pensioner biochemist who had to come back to Ayutthaya after her parents past away to look after the house. As she had so many international friends come over that she decided to start a guesthouse. She has many enchanting stories to tell and the pond is full of fish, some very large lizards and even a 30 year old turtle that pops its head up occasionally.

[singlepic id=293 h=120 float=right]From this relaxing place we set out to explore the old capital ruins, many temples and the old trade settlements over the next 2 days, while having relaxed lunches at the river side and eating at the local night market stalls. we visited the museum in the old Japanese settlement which gave a lot of information about trade and foreign influence. It also showed the important role the Dutch VOC shipping company had played in the area by documenting and mapping the surroundings and trade relations.

Ayutthaya has a very relaxed atmosphere and not too much to offer in the form of nightlife but we got extremely relaxed and were almost sad to leave Ayutthaya after the 3 days we had stayed. However, we had spotted the prospects of a reggae festival so were ready to head to Chiang Mai on the evening of the 19th of January…

Find a selection of pictures from our visit to Ayutthaya, Thailand below. You can also visit the gallery page for a slideshow of these pictures.

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Koh Chang & Koh Wai – Snorkling, Kayaking and Motorbiking

We had decided to travel from Bangkok to Koh Chang by first class government bus which was more comfortable and trustworthy then using the private operators from Khaosan road. The only problem with this was that we had to get up pretty early in to catch a taxi to the bus station which was slightly tricky with our pattern of getting up around noon and partying until late at night. We ended up being stuck in traffic for most of the cab ride and stopping in front of the bus just as it was getting ready to depart. Luckily our mates taxi driver had taken them over the express way which meant that they had arrived early enough to buy us a ticket and hold up the bus a bit.

 

Vip bus from Bangkok to Koh Chang

Vip bus from Bangkok to Koh Chang

A bus ride, ferry crossing and about 7 hours later we found ourselves within the palmed surroundings of Koh Chang (island) where we hitched a ride on a songthaew (communal taxi service) to Lonely beach. As many places had been booked out due to high season Vourneen had booked us in to a place called Sunflower bungalows, which was run by a very relaxed German guy and his Thai staff. The place had a very nice atmosphere and bungalows of various quality and price, set in a landscaped garden. We got comfortable and then headed to the beach – which was a couple of hundred meters away for our first sunset across the sea. One thing that amazed Vourneen and me is the sheer amount of development that happened since our last visit to the island in 2007. Lonely beach a very laid back area back then is now a big party place full of late night parties, bars with even an open air cinema screen on one of the beach resorts. It was as the owner of Sunflower aptly said no longer lonely in any way. We went on to have some nice food at nature rocks – a beach front resort with a good restaurant and the beach front and ended up back in our usual evening pattern of bars and cocktails.

 

 

sunset-splash lonelybeach_koh-chang_thailand

Sunset splash Lonely Beach Koh Chang Thailand

The next 2 or 3 days or so were spend in the increasingly routine way of getting up late, some hungover lazying at the sunflower restaurant with a fruit shake and breakfast. Then heading for the beach, going for a swim, heaving a beer, going for some food, watching the occasional monkey play at the roadside, and heaving a party at varying bars and at our bungalow.

 

After these days we decided we should get a bit more active and agreed to do some beach kayaking the next day to one of the uninhabited islands of the beach. What we had not foreseen however was that there was another party going on that evening at the Magic Garden bar and resort, which would get quite out of hand, particularly as Chris ordered us 5 buckets of Long Island ice tea by mistake (he had wanted to order 1 bucket and 5 long island ice teas). Needless to say things went downhill quite quickly from there and we ended up getting to the beach kayak place after 4PM which didn’t leave us with a hell of a lot of time to chill at the uninhabited place. We did our little excursion none the less and felt a bit better for it. After this we decided that it became time to actually start doing something during the day from now on..

 

Magic Garden Bar buckets Lonelybeach Koh Chang Thailand

Magic Garden Bar Long Island buckets Lonely Beach Koh Chang Thailand

The next day we agreed to rent a motorbike and set out to explore a bit more of the islands different beaches and nature. We drove south to find some very chilled beaches, and then drove on to basically the end of the road. Where I gave Hans some driving lessons on a quiet patch of road as he had never driven a scooter or motorbike before. All of us really enjoyed the drive and we decided to the the same thing again the next day. We rented slightly better quality motorbikes this time from one beach up and circled all the way to the southeast side of the island and back, stopping of at various sights along the way.

 

 

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The motorbike crew Koh Chang Thailand

 

We had an early night after this as we had decided (for the 3rd time) to go to the Island of Koh Wai tomorrow. The next day we indeed made it to Koh Wai and enjoyed the great hospitality and pristine beaches of Pakarang resort (one of only 3 resorts on the island, which had pretty much no roads and only generator electricity). Koh Wai was pretty much exactly as we had remembered it from our 2007 visit, the ultimate laid back island with pristine quiet white beaches of which some where only accessible buy climbing through thick jungle or kayaking to them. As it was still early in the day and we would be staying only one night we jumped right in to the sea – did some snorkeling.

 

Snorkling in Koh Wai Thailand

 

 

After the snorkeling we rented kayaks again to explore some of the beaches. After a few deserted beaches and a couple of stops we found another resort on the opposite side of the island where we had a beer.  We had about another 90 minutes of daylight left and after being told by a local that both directions were equally long we decided to continue on in the direction we were headed.  We had 2 problems however. The Kayak shared by Tommie, Chris and Hans, seemed to be slowly sinking and the seas where a lot rougher on this side and 2 contrary to what the man at the resort had said the distance on this side was quite a lot longer. After 90+ minutes of extreme speed kayaking and emptying kayaks we made it back to our resort just as it got completely dark. That night didn’t get very late and the next day we set back for Koh Chang and we’re headed on to Ayutthaya through Bangkok the day after on the 17th of January.

 

Kayaking Ko Wai Thailand

 

 

 

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Arriving in Bangkok – The massive meet up mash up

Backpacking in Bangkok

Backpacking - The arrival in Bangkok good times!

After flying from Shangri La to Kunming on the early flight, a short night and another early flight from Kunming, China we finally arrived in Bangkok on the morning of January 5th to meet up with our mates Tom, Chris and Hans who had arrived a day earlier.

While on the flight from Kunming to Bangkok we got talking to a very nice Chinese girl with surprisingly good English who was on her first trip ever outside China to study further in Bangkok. She was a bit nervous and was supposed to meet a person from the university there to pick her up and had no idea what to do if he would not be there. We decided to go through immigration with her to make sure she was OK and ended up staying in the airport for quite a while to help her find the person that was supposed to be there, but in the end it all worked out.

When we had finally left the airport it immediately struck us how western everything felt and of course how lovely and warm it was after the freezing temperatures in the Himalaya.  When we got to the guesthouse we found our mates in deep coma’s due to jet lag and the previous nights drinking.  We settled in to our room as they got ready for the day.

Afternoon walk Khao San Road Bangkok Thailand

Afternoon walk near Khao San Road Bangkok Thailand

Afterwards we went for a wander around the neighborhood and gave them a bit of an introduction to the back alleys and other places they hadn’t seen in the Bang Lamphu neighborhood before, like the hidden mosque and the remarkably tranquil Chana Songkhram temple, which is in the midst of the main tourist areas and around the corner from khoasan road. We ended up having dinner in one of the cheap but excellent cooking school restaurants The flow and went on to have drinks in one of the many street (cocktail) bars where we ended up drinking Long Islands untill late in the evening. And things naturally got pretty messy while scoring disgusting snacks and beers at the seven eleven after closure.

Street bar Banglamphu Bangkok Thailand

Street bar Banglamphu Bangkok Thailand

The next day we went to show Chris who had come to South East Asia for the first time the shopping craziness of MBK center in the business district (Sukhumvit). Instead of taking a taxi, we decided to take the longer but way more scenic route there using the Express ferry that takes you across the Chao Phraya  river to the Thaksin bridge (a scenic boat ride of about 30 mins for about 40 euro cents) from where we took the sky train, an elevated railway which snakes over the road between the sky scrapers of the business district. After this long Journey and a shopping overload we headed back to our area in Banglamphu and headed for the relaxing ambiance of Hemlock restaurant and on to the street cocktail bars again for some Long islands.

MBK Shopping madness Sukhumvit Bangkok Thailand

MBK Shopping madness Sukhumvit Bangkok Thailand

The next day on the 7th of January, it was time to head for the Archipelago of Koh Chang for some beach side relaxing and island hopping.

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