The last day in Thailand…

The last day had come, the last day of being Global Reporter, my last day in Thailand, my last day away from the place I call home.

I had woken up early, it was strange to open my eyes and knowing that it would be the last time in Thailand. This morning, I met Zad, a guy from London. We decided to have breakfast and found a nice bakery in the neighbourhood that served excellent tea and cookies. We started to talk about movies and decided to watch the movie Suriyothai a movie about a Thai woman that fought against the Burmese invasion. Kind of a female Braveheart. I thought it would be a nice way to finish my stay in Thailand. I am a movie buff and if its about Thailand – why not?

I first had to go to Richly because they had called the hostel to tell them that something was wrong with my flight. I was a bit confused because the flight wasn’t even booked with Richly. But about eight weeks ago, after I had been robbed, the travel agency was in contact with Swissair trying to find out how I could get replacement tickets. Somehow Swissair had kept the number of Richly and phoned them that morning. I hadn’t even booked my accommodation with Richly, but they knew where I was staying and phoned me. That’s what I call a excellent service, big compliments to both companies, Swissair and Richly!

I got the news that Swissair had gone bankrupt at a tailor. I chatted with the shop owner and told him that I was flying with Swissair and he answered: „Don’t you know, Swissair went bankrupt yesterday, all planes are grounded!“. I knew right then that he wasn’t lying, but for some reasons I started laughing. I made a few jokes about how I would walk home and promised him to come back if I wouldn’t leave Bangkok that night and buy a suit.

It was impossible to reach Swissair for nearly 1,5 hours, but I finally decided to try it one last time before I would go to their office personal. Before I dialled the number I told my self that everything was going to be fine and that I would fly home that night. And someone answered the phone! I asked what I was supposed to do and the guy on the other end of the line first told me that he didn’t know and that I had to issue a new ticket. Finally he said ‚I’m going to book you on another flight‘, you leave at 12:30 am on the 4th of October, go to the Swissair Check-in counter and you will get new airline tickets. He also told me that I couldn’t fly straight from Zurich to Vienna, and that I had to fly via ‚Brkrwrrr‘ to Vienna. Unfortunately I don’t know a city in Europe with that name… So all I knew about my flight from Zurich to Vienna was that I couldn’t go straight and I would stop in a city that starts with B. We have plenty of city’s in Europe that start with B, starting with Bruessel, Berlin and on to Belgrad. But I wasn’t worried at all, I knew everything was going to be fine. You definitely can call me an Optimist.

Well, but here is the rest of the day/story! Zad and I went to Siam Square to watch Suriyothai, but unfortunately there was only one screening that day, this one was in Thai and also to late for us. We thought about watching another movie, but finally decided to explore the city instead. We went to the railway station by bus and walk to Chinatown were we found a small Chinese market. I alsmost felt like in a Jackie Chan movie and started looking for some well dressed gangsters in their Mercedes and Jackie, jumping from one roof to the other.

We continued our walk and ended up at the „Tha Ratchawang“ pier were we took the ferry up to Phra Sumane Port. The Phra Sumane Port is an old fortress, a huge white building with a nice gardens surrounding it. A great spot to escape from the nosy streets of Bangkok. The big walls of the fortress keep away the sound of the traffic and the trees and grass create a nice smell. We finished our trip at Khao San Road, the Mecca for Thailand-backpackers. We both agreed that it was an excellent idea to skip the cinema, and explore the city instead.

I should have been worrying about my flight, but instead I was discussing religion and politic with Zad the whole day, the idea that I might not would leave Thailand that night didn’t really bothered me at all. Zad was an Moslem and gave me an excellent insight to his religion.

Travelling changed the way I think about people in this world, all major religions or atheistic, I was able to have great conversations and a heck of fun with those people

My day ended at the airport, with no problems at the check-in counter and – for the first time on my trip, they didn’t forget my request for vegetarian food.

Ko Samet or Angor Wat

28th of September, Ko Samet or Angor Wat?
A big question during my three days in Bangkok was, what should I do with the time I had left in Thailand? Going to Cambodia and visit Angkor Wat for some cultural experience or to Ko Samet, for some drinking experience and relaxing on the beach? Nine hour on the bus on bad roads or 4 hour on a bus on highways? A rainy week in Cambodia with the possibility of washed away roads or almost sunny weather on Ko Samet? It was honestly a difficult decision, but I finally made my choice, nice weather and beaches on Ko Samet (and maybe some drinking experiences.). I will come back to Thailand, and for sure go to Cambodia and Angkor Wat the next time. I left Bangkok and a nice girl from Australia behind, went on the bus and after four hours arrived in Rayong, a small town next to Ko Samet. I met three girls a Scottish and a German guy on the bus and we decided to spend the next few days together. Very good idea, I don’t like being alone and had hardly ever been alone on my trip. What can I say about the rest of the day? We got on a ferry which brought us to the little paradise called Ko Samet. Compared to Bangkok the island life was really relaxing, sandy beach, funny people, no traffic, no pollution, no worries! The bungalows we stayed at where very good, they even offered free toilet paper (PURE LUXUR in Thailand). Look forward for the rest of the story!

29th of September, Ko Samet
Ko Samet is an island to relax – for sure. Lot’s of Thai and Japanese people come to this island to have vacation, surprisingly not that much western people. September and October are definitely the off-season, we where nearly on our own. Peter, the Scottish guy bought a „new flying machine“ which we used quit often. Wonder what a Thai flying machine is like? It’s pretty much the same then a American Frisbee 😉 !

We stayed at a place called Ploy Tallay on the Hat Sai Kaew beach, , a nice „resort“ with friendly stuff (I never found any rude locals in Thailand anyway). Just the music sucked, they kept playing four CDs over and over again, so I decided to borrow the „DJ“ some of my CDs, which he highly appreciated.

30th of September to 2nd of October, Beach stories
Johannes lying on the beach for more then 20 minutes? That’s something very rare, usually I spend something like 20 minutes before I get bored. The four days on Ko Samet I nearly spend two hours on the beach every day and cached up a really nice tan. I didn’t want to go back to Austria and look like I spent the last three months in a office. But I also hiked from our beach to the Ao Wai beach, which took me about 1,5 hour (one way), where I found some really secluded bays on the way. Most of the beaches are separated from each other by huge rocks and that makes it quiet hard to get from one beach to the other. But the rocks also saved some beaches from being conquered by tourists. Beaches that are to small for being used as an public beach, and the rocks create and awesome underwater landscape for snorkelling.
At night I always went out with fellow travellers, we had discovered a nice bar at the next beach and partied every day there.

Talking about fellow travellers, I always asked people what they think about Austrian people, and one of the most common answers I got was that they think that we listen to David Haselhoff (the guy from Baywatch and Knight Rider) music all the time .You know what? That’s only particularly true, about ten years he was quiet successful and gave a lot of concerts in Germany and Austria. But his days as an popstar in my home country are long over, maybe some Austrians still have dust-covered CDs of him in their collection, but NO one listens to his music now a days. At least no one I know. And by the way, I’ve met Scottish people that are not stingy, Germans that are funny and not disciplined at all and last but not least Irish people that are poor in drinking games (just joking!).

Back in Bangkok

25th to 27th of September 2001, Bangkok

Finally back in Bangkok, after „throwing“ myself around Australia I returned to were it all started. The prophecy of the old man hadn’t come true. I got to the hostel around 1:00 am in the morning and had a very warm welcome. The guy that opened the door for me got a big grin on his face when he saw me and said „Oh you are back!!“ Where have you been? Bangkok very hot now, lots of rain! How true, it had been raining since I got of at the plane in Bangkok. But I liked the atmosphere, the smell and even the dirty streets. I felt like I was coming home. I spend the first day mostly with talking to friends I had met during my first stay. I also visited the office of Richly and went to the Swiss Air Tower to get new flight tickets. At night I went to a very nice Indian restaurant on Khao San Road called „Himalayan Kitchen“. I don’t really like Khao San Road, but this restaurant is definitely a great spot for Indian food.

I got my slides on the 26th and had to face the fact that lot’s of them where rubbish. When I wrote my first report for Worldsurface I promised that I would use my camera till it breaks, I didn’t meant that literary at this time, but my prophecy came true, both, my reflex and my snapshot camera broke down during my trip. Fortunately I was able to fix my 25 year old reflex and continue to take pictures, but the other camera is one of the „hyper modern tiny little“ one and I was not able to repair it. As for the rest of the day, I had to buy a suitcase and therefor visited Siam Square like many times before. I have to admit, Siam Square is my favourite shopping area in Bangkok. if you shop at areas such as Pat Phong or the Khao San Road(both very interesting places) the possibility is very high that you never find this shop or seller again, making exchanges or complainments nearly impossible.

Sometimes you travel weeks around and don’t meet anyone from you home country, and sometimes you meet a bunch of them within one day, the 27th was one of those days. Out of the sudden there where four Austrians staying at the hostel. It was quiet strange for me to use my own language, even my own accent again. I also made a picture tour through Bangkok. My favourite bus #53 goes along all major tourist attractions in Bangkok and I stopped at all of them to take at least one picture.

Final days in Bangkok

12th of August, Birthday of Queen Sikirit
The whole town was very quiet and nearly empty on that day, except the Phramane Ground next to the Grand Place. That’s where the celebration for the birthday of the queen took place. I went there in the late afternoon and I have to admit:I’ve never seen such a big birthday party. There was a huge fireworks around 8:00 P.M. and maybe eight stages with different shows and music. I even was able to see the king and the queen.

13th to 14th of August, Relaxing…
Two relaxing days in Bangkok, I spent most of the time at the youth hostel to talk with Promvit and other travellers. Every time somebody arrived at the hostel, Promvit pointed at me and said „He is a volunteer, ask him if you have any questions!“ A nice couple from Ireland (Joanne and Shane) had a lot of advises concerning Australia, so I re-planed my Australia-Tour. On the 14th of August I visited the Vinamek Mansion, the biggest golden teak house in the world, really impressive and worth to be seen.

15th of August, Million Miles Away
The final day, they played Offspring’s „Million Miles Away“ during take off in Bangkok, which was, for my opinion, a very good sign. Singapore was a five hour stop on the way to Darwin but the time passed by pretty fast since the airport has a lot to offer (city tour, cinema, food-court etc.).

Thai Volunteer Program

11th of August was a very interesting day, I already added an entry about the volunteer program, so you can read the stuff which happened on this day there.

Thai Volunteer program
Imagine, you are a student at a big city somewhere in America or Europe. Someone offers you to talk to foreigners about the culture in your home country and show them the city you are living. To spend your spare time with people you don’t even know. What would be your first thought? Probably „How much do they pay? For students in Thailand the question is probably: Where do I have to sign?

But here is the whole story!

I already wrote about the Thai Volunteer program at the Bangkok International Youth hostel, but after staying here a few times and spending the past week at this place, I got a much closer look on the whole project.

„It’s a program where local Thai youth volunteer their time to connect and familiarise travellers thus creating cross-cultural exchange and enhancing a strong international friendship which result in travellers been guided around and shown the city and put in close contact with Thai culture. Instead of being a lost traveller or anonymous member of a large tour group, travellers are able to spend time interacting on a personal level with Thai youth, all the while learning about Thai culture, visiting local landmark with a new found personal guide and generally being welcome and save in a place which may initially save seemed intimating and foreign.“ (That’s the description, written by Promvit, leader of the program)

I was invited to be guest at the opening ceremony of the 8th volunteer program (I was the only foreigner there). The volunteers change every fourth month, so other students get the chance to join the program. Mr. Ong-Ard, Director of the Thai Youth hostel Association took me to the ministry of youth, where the ceremony was set. Volunteers from the 6th and 7th program guided me around and introduced me to the new group of volunteers. A lot of students who join the volunteer program work on other tourism-projects afterwards.

There are more then 300 Thai Students, who want to join the volunteer program, but only twenty of them are finally chosen. My guide asked me to introduce myself to the students and I told them what I’m doing and that I’m travelling around for Worldsurface. The students then asked me questions about what I like in Thailand most, what I think about the program etc. The minister of youth also showed up at the ceremony, which is I think proving that the program already got some attention in Thailand.

First Mr. Ong-Ard talked about the International Youth Hostelling and the Volunteer Program. After that, the minister of youth started to talk. It seems that Thai politicians love long speeches just as western politicians do. They all spoke Thai, but fortunately one of the volunteers translated the important stuff for me. The minister was a very nice guy. He talked about his time as a student and how important the volunteer program is for Thailand.

He finished his speech with little quotes in English, which I also want to post:

Reason only is not enough, but feeling and emotion is equal important. To lead means to serve and to lead means to follow.

Unfortunately I had to leave the ceremony before the official ending, but it was very interesting to talk to the volunteers and meet the people behind the project.

If you come to Thailand and look for something special, (I’m not talking about the Khao San Road stuff.) then come to the Bangkok International Youth Hostel and meet up with the volunteers! It’s a great experience, which I can recommend to everyone!

Bangkok for a few days

6th of August, A new passport,
Martin and I had to get up early in the morning, to go to the Austrian embassy and the immigration centre, to get new passports and a new visa. Five days after our „Worst Case Scenario“ on Ko Pha Nang we finally became full Austrian citizen again and Martin was able to leave the country without any problems. I think this is also the right time to thank Martin to accompany me for almost three weeks, and staying calm during the „Worst Case Scenario“. We had a lot of fun together and also a lot of serious discussions about tourism in Thailand, which was a great input for my writing.

7th and 8th of August, Stomach sick,
I was a bit stomach sick on the 7th of August, so I decided to stay at the hostel and explore a bit of the neighbourhood. On the 8th of August I met Nancy, a girl from Canada. She is currently bicycling around the national park somewhere in South Thailand as I’m writing this. It was really difficult for her to get from the hostel to the train station so I decided to help her. Taxis don’t carry bikes and neither do busses, so Nancy went to the train station by bike, and I took her stuff and followed her with the bus. I don’t think Thai’s see a lot of foreigners on bicycles in Bangkok, everyone in the bus and even on the street was looking at her (some of them where laughing, others just nodding their heads).

By the way, Nancy arrived at the train station before I got there, so bicycling is a non-polluting fast way to get around in Bangkok, if you can bear the heat. Unfortunately I couldn’t join her, I love hiking and bicycling around in the nature.

9th and 10th of August, Sightseeing and relaxing at Siamsquare
To wait for a flight to Australia can get quiet boring, fortunately Bangkok has a lot to offer. The 9th of August was a typical sightseeing day, I woke up around 8:00 am, looked at my map and decided to visit the temple of dawn (Wat Arunrat) and a fish market I discovered the day before. Both sights (the fish market isn’t really tourist attraction.) where close together, so I could easily walk from one location to the other. . The smell at the fish market was unbelievable, but after a few minutes I got used to it. I spend there about an hour, walking around, talking to some of the sellers and taking some pictures of the huge hills of seafood. On the 10th of August I went once again to the Siamsquare, to watch a movie, have something to eat and look around in the hundreds and hundreds of little shops.

Exploring the city of Ayutthaya

4th of August, Weekend Market Bangkok
The weekend market is every weekend (hence the name of it.) and it’s definitely not like the night market in Chiang Mai or Kao Shan Road and worth to be seen. You get everything at the weekend market, food, cloths, gems even furniture’s and its really crowded. Most of the people going there are Thai, because it’s much still cheap then the rest of Bangkok. It takes about an hour by the bus to get there and if you are in Bangkok on a Saturday or a Sunday, don’t miss it! We also went to the Bayoketower, which is the highest building in the city, but that was a disappointment.

You have to pay 120 Baht to for the elevator to the observation deck and inside the tower there are shops selling stuff just like on Khaosan Road. We accidentally took a wrong elevator and ended up the 12th floor. Just to find out that there is nothing between the 12th and the 9th floor, just empty unfinished rooms. The Bayoketower probably also was a victim of the financial crisis in south-east Asia. You see a lot of unfinished buildings in Bangkok, waiting for a buyer, or to collapse.

5th of August, Ayutthaya
Ayutthaya was the Siamese Capital from 1350 to 1767 (one of the most important and biggest cities in the world at that time) before the Burmese destroyed it.. It’s about 70 kilometres north of Bangkok and a nice day trip if you have some time left. It takes about 2 hours to get there by train. Most of the books recommend to rent a tuk tuk or a bicycle to explore the city, but we decided to walk around which is also a good way. The city itself is an island, so you have to take one of the boats to get there (there are also some bridges).

The ruins in and around Ayutthaya are really impressive and show the old power of this magnificent place. We visited a few temples and had a rest in the park in the middle of the city. The park is not just a big meadow or something like that. There are a lot of little islands, connected by bridges which creates an awesome scenery.

Bangkok, New Passport

2nd of August, On the Way to Bangkok
We had to stay up early to catch our ferry back to Surat Thani. I got new traveller cheques 23 hours after they where stolen, which was a big relief for me. We also went to the police station to ask if the found our passports or something, unfortunately not. On the ferry back to Surat Thani I met old friends again. Steve and his wife. I met them first when I went to Ko Samui and now they also where on their way back to Bangkok.

3rd of August, Bangkok, Austrian embassy
Arriving in Bangkok, once again. We first went to the travel agency RICHLY, where we left our luggage. I want to mention RICHLY, because they where a very big help during our stay in Thailand. The told us how to get to the embassy, how to get a new airline ticket, helped me with my new credit card and even phoned the police station in Thong Sala to ask if our passports where found. RICHLY is next to the main train station in Bangkok at the Longmuang Road.

At the Austrian embassy we watched a quiet strange situation. A guy (he looked really nasty.) asked for a visa extension for a Thai woman, standing behind him. He said that he already went to Austria with that woman to three months, and now he wanted to get another extension for three months again. We saw another men the next day at the Austrian embassy, asking the same questions, and also when we went to the embassy of Australia. I don’t want to judge people for the way the dress and I don’t know what those guys do with the Thai woman in their home countries, but I think its not just conversation, and I feel very bad about what’s going on in Thailand and probably other places on this planet.

Getting robbed on Ko Pha Ngan

31st of July, Ko Pha Ngan
My second visit on the „Party Island“. Martin and I decided to stay up in the north of the Island at a bungalow village I discovered during my first stay. The northern part of Ko Pha Nang is still a quiet and peaceful place, you don’t have the mass tourism there and the local people and tourists are more like a little „community“. The place we stayed is next to Bottle Bay, but still reachable by car and called „Coral Bay“.

1st of August, Worst Case Scenario
The day started usual, the sun was shining and we planed how to spend the day. We wanted to hike up the highest mountain on Ko Pha Nang, which was supposed to be a great experience. Unfortunately the car driver took us to Thong Sa La instead of dropping us of at the entrance of the hiking trail. Planes changed, like many times before, so we decided to do some shopping and get money from the ATM-Machine. We thought that we would hike up the mountain just a bit later.

We where already back on the way to the taxi, when I suddenly had this „feeling“ that something was wrong. I checked my stuff and discovered that my „VIP Bag“ was missing. OH OH credit card, passport, flight tickets, almost everything of importance to me (and also the passport of my friend) was in that bag. First we checked all the shops we went before, even started to look in the garbage cans. Someone must have had stolen it.

The most important thing in a situation like that is to stay calm, and try to get a clear mind. I immediately called my credit-card company to cancel my card. After that we went to the police station to report the loss. Thank god the policeman was friendly and we got a report in no time. Next we got tickets for a trip back to Bangkok the next day. My friend was leaving soon and needed a new passport. We went back to our bungalow to pack our stuff and prepare to leave. I also had to get new travellers cheques so I had to call American Express. They told me that I would get my traveller cheques the next day at a bank in Thong Sa La.

Chiang Mai to Ko Tao via Bangkok

28th of July Stopover in Bangkok
We arrived in Bangkok early in the morning. Our first stop was at the travel agency where we booked the trip to Ko Tao. We then went to the Siamsquare shopping centre. If you are in Bangkok and the weather is very hot, that’s one of the best places to go. Air-condition and hundreds of shops. The whole building can be quiet confusing, we couldn’t find a plan or a map in the whole building and most of the shop seemed to sell similar stuff. At 6:30 we went on the bus to Chumpon.

29th of July, Boat to Ko Tao
We arrived at Chumpon at 3:00 o Clock in the morning. The bus ride was very uncomfortable, sometimes the air condition turned off and the bus heated up within minutes. The boat from Chumpon to Ko Tao left at 6:30, so we had to wait another three hours. Another four hours later and we arrived at „Turtle Island“ (the other name of Ko Tao). We stayed at Ao Thian in the South of Ko Tao. The Bungalows where quiet interesting, ours got a huge rock in the bathroom and all of them where built on rocks. At least they didn’t cut off another coconut wood to built those huts.

30th of July, Ko Tao
We decided to walk to Ban Mae Hat, the „main town“ on Ko Tao. All the guidebooks I read about Ko Tao wrote that it’s less touristiy then Ko Pha Nang and more beautiful. Unfortunately those books are not longer „up to date“. Ban Mae Hat is not longer a „one street town“ it start’s to look like a little Thong Sala. You find diving-shops, bars and restaurants all over the island. After dinner we decided to walk north along the beach of Ban Mae Hat.