Thailand Interior Travel

13 February 2019 Bangkok and Chiang Mai Thailand

We had two of Diane’s cousins (and their wives) come to Thailand to visit us. This was the first visit to Thailand for Ron/Brenda Toonders and Larry/Sharon Toonders. Since our boat had the generator tore up (again) and the engine was out of commission (heat exchanger and oil cooler out for repair) – we had long ago decided to meet them in Bangkok for four days and then in Chiang Mai for 3 days. With four people visiting, we couldn’t really accommodate them on our boat anyway, its just too many people. 

I was in Thailand on a 4 week holiday way back in December 1990, 28 years ago – so I had seen many of the touristic things in this country before it became overrun with tourists, particularly Russians and Chinese. Nonetheless, we didn’t want to restrict our view of Thailand to just Phuket, so we committed ourselves to this holiday within a holiday. Diane booked the group AirBnB’s for both Bangkok and Chiang Mai, and I booked our flights. They were noticeably cheap – and we had a great time. 

On the first day, we spent quite a bit of time at the Grand Palace, together with nearly every other tourist in Thailand. The Toonders were real troopers, despite the 12 hour jet lag. 

Sunday is clearly not a good day to visit the Grand Palace – which is free for locals. Temple pants are “in order” every day as both the men and the women need to cover their knees and shoulders. If you’re not wearing them “on entry” then you can buy them at the entrance – although it is much cheaper if you thought of this beforehand. 

The number of tourists at the Grand Palace was just staggering, or maybe strangling would be a better description. Our trip to get there involved a tuk-tuk, then a river bus, and then a bit of walking. 

The Grand Palace itself is a complex of buildings in the heart of Bangkok and has been the official residence of the Kings of Siam (and later Thailand) since 1782.  It is made up of numerous buildings, halls, pavilions set around open lawns, gardens and courtyards. Its asymmetry and eclectic styles are due to its organic development, with additions and rebuilding being made by successive reigning kings. 

The Grand Palace is currently partially open to the public as a museum, but it remains a working palace, with several royal offices still situated inside. There are no government offices on site as the monarchy has no official role in the government. 

After seeing the Grand Palace, we went to see the “solid gold” Buddha, another popular attraction but apparently with far less tourists. This Gold Buddha is a Maravijaya Attitude seated Buddharupa statue, with a weight of 5.5 tonnes (5,500 kilograms) of solid gold. It is located in the temple of Wat Traimit, Bangkok. At one point in its history the statue was covered with a layer of stucco and coloured glass to conceal its true value, and it remained in this condition for almost 200 years, ending up at what was then a pagoda of minor significance. During relocation of the statue in 1955, the plaster was chipped off and the gold revealed. At US$1,400 per troy ounce, the gold in the statue (18 karat) is estimated to be worth 250 million dollars.

We also saw an incredibly large reclining Buddha on the same site. 

On Day 2, we went to see the Mahanakhon Skywalk, which was actually only a few hundred metres walk from our AirBnB. The building was very futuristic, and apparently very stable.

I thought the price was quite high, but since they offered me a substantial seniors discount, I couldn’t turn it down. In fact, the whole visit was quite memorable and worthwhile – and offered incredible vistas of the sprawling city of Bangkok. Since it was 78 floor up, and 314 metre high – there weren’t very many tourists. The toughest part was the exit at the bottom. We had to work our way through about 30 minutes worth of gift shops!

Yes, we are standing on some sort of transparent polycarbonate glass. We had to remove loose items from our pockets and wear slippers to prevent the glass from being scratched. 

Late in the afternoon, we stopped in to visit a massage parlour only a hundred metres from our AirBnB. All the windows were blacked out and there was a large empty car parking lot in front. We thought we’d give it a try for some leg and back massages. As we walked in, the women behind the counter started waving their arms frantically and saying “sexy massage – no women allowed”. Ah, so now I get it, this was one of those places where Bangkok has earned its reputation as a steaming sex pot! No problem, we walked out and walked right into another place just across the street where we all had our therapeutic (but not sexy) massages. 

On Day 3, we took a walk through a local park and then went looking for another temple, this one called Wat Arun or the Temple of Dawn – on the banks of the Chao Phraya River that snakes its way through the centre of Bangkok. The Temple of Dawn is amongst the best known tourist attractions in Bangkok and has existed since the seventeenth century.

I figured it should more likely have been called the Temple of the Nearly Dead because my feet and knees were killing me after following Larry on this never ending route march of a thousand turns zig-zagging across the city of Bangkok!

The architecture and design was just breathtaking. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Only one comes to mind when I look up these stairs …..

I found this “split” statue pretty interesting, a mixture of the old and new culture. 

In areas where there has been substantial growth, the aerial communications wires in Thailand are a sight to behold, Somebody has a legend for all those wires?  Alternatively, the power lines seem much more straightforward, but these communication lines are really jumbled. This is a pretty normal sight.

When we went to Chiang Mai, North of Bangkok and higher in elevation, we found the air temperature and sunny days to be nearly the same, but the lower humidity was refreshing. Our first stop was to visit the Doi Suthep Temple, a highly revered temple on top of the Doi Suthep mountain, some 15 kilometres out of Chiang Mai. This temple and its growth started in the 1300’s.

From the car park there are two ways to reach the temple. The first is a 309 step pretty vertical climb up the mountain. The stairs are flanked by huge Naga creatures. The Naga is an underwater creature from Buddhist mythology in the form of a large snake. 

If you don’t feel like climbing, there is also a cable car to take you up in comfort. For the record, we took the cable car UP and the stairs DOWN.

Here’s something we learned by hiring a real guide. Certain events in the Life of the Buddha are thought to have occurred on certain days. The Buddha images representing these events, are thus also associated with the days on which they occurred. Consequently, people who were born on a certain day of the week may be most interested in the Buddha Image corresponding to that day (like when commissioning a Buddha image). These statues had collection plates in front of them, so that you can make your donation to the appropriate statue. 

We also went to see the 8 Meter High straw sculptures of King Kong “and others” at Huay Tung Tao Lake. The construction of these sculptures has used straw left over from rice harvesting, with steel serving as the internal structure. The King Kong family is complete with father, mother, and child sculptures. The latest sculpture, which is the biggest of the three, has steps and a platform where visitors can go up and take pictures from the inside of King Kong – or stand in the grip of his hand. 

At this little park/tourist attraction, they also had little huts that you could rent for 400 baht ($18 CDN) per night, based on double occupancy. It was very rudimentary accommodations, but there was an electrical plug-in, a light bulb and even two USB plug-ins. No thanks. 

We also went to the Bai Orchid And Butterfly Farm – which was mostly about the tourist trap gift shop. However, they had probably the BEST buffet lunch that we’ve had in a long time. The choices and freshness were something to behold. Personally, I’m always a fan of the buffet – largely because I can see and smell what I’m putting on my plate! But, here are a couple of photos of a butterfly and some orchids – who wants to talk about the buffet?

In the afternoon, we went to the Bua Tong Sticky Waterfalls. Located about an hour and a half drive north of Chiang Mai’s Old City. These waterfalls are not only impressive and gorgeous, but a special natural feature allows you to climb directly up the rocks into the oncoming cascading water. The path is not slippery and slimy as you would expect. The Sticky Waterfalls get their name from a mineral deposit that is incredibly grippy. In fact, the rocks feel like a hardened sponge. They are callous and even slightly prickly to the touch but surprisingly give a bit under pressure. Since no algae or slime adheres to the rocks, they are the perfect ground to climb up the waterfall. It is impressively steep in some places, but with the aid of the limestone deposits on the stones, even Ron felt like Spider-Man!

When I was in Chiang Mai 28 years ago, elephants were working for a living. They were used in the logging industry and elsewhere. I paid to ride an elephant and learned about these amazing creatures. Nowadays, elephants are very protected and mostly live in a sheltered environment. I’m not certain if there are really any elephants in “the wild” in Thailand. There is clearly no work for them anymore. Consequently, there are hardly any places where you can ride an elephant, but if you’re lucky – you’ll find an elephant sanctuary where you can feed and wash these creatures. Here it is, proof positive that “shit rolls downhill”.

We got pretty close to several of these elephants. 

We first fed them whole bananas, initially one at a time but the elephants wanted us to “load up their trunk” where they would pitch them in 6 at a time. Sharon shows good technique with one banana at a time, popping it right into this guys mouth.

Ron tests just how strong that trunk is.

Then we went back to the “kitchen” and prepared sugar cane (chopping them up) into pieces for the elephants to eat. 

I can’t recall the name of this place, but it was pretty special. They outfitted us in special shirts that more resembled a Mexican poncho than anything I’d seen in Thailand – but at least they were clean. 

After lunch, we took one elephant over to the mud pit and had a bit of fun slathering the mud on the elephant and each other. I noticed a few turds popping out of the elephant’s butt but his handler promptly scooped them up and tossed them out of the mud pit. After all, what tourists would want to be in a mud pit with fresh, still steaming turds?

After the mud pit came the refreshing dip in the cold mountain stream. Our group then used the opportunity to clean not only the elephant but ourselves as well. It was all in good fun for the elephant and tourists.

After Chiang Mai, we all flew back to Phuket where the four Toonders went on to the next phase of their holiday with the beaches, malls and tourist traps of Phuket. Diane and I returned to our own bed, where we made some progress with boat repairs and have started to plan for our exit from Thailand. 

Repairs While Dockside

23 January 2019 – Yacht Haven Marina, Phuket Thailand

Another few weeks has passed by, and we’re still in the marina. The primary focus has been on the generator, but there are three other contractors engaged as well. In fact, all four jobs are underway. We don’t expect to leave here until late February. 

Damien and his crew from Electrical Marine have come by and extracted the alternator (rotating electrical part) from our ONAN generator. Remarkably, three guys were in the engine room area (one in the head) working on this generator at the same time. It was tough for me to squeeze in and take a photo!

After extensive bench testing, the wiring of the stator and rotor was found to be sound, but the slip rings need to be changed. Also, the voltage regulator failed static testing, so that has to be changed as well. Parts have been ordered and are on the way.

In addition to the generator, I thought I’d bring in the Volvo dealer to look at a small seawater leak with the heat exchanger. In the process of removing the heat exchanger, he discovered that the oil cooler was leaking oil into the bilge, so that needs attention as well. So, the Volvo has been taken apart and is waiting for PME to return.

We brought in Pla and her crew from Marine Canvas to replace our sunbrella sun shades. Diane made these many years ago, but we have twice coated them with waterproofing and its time for them to be replaced with new material. This time, we’re going with grey, so our external “canvas” will be a mixture of green and grey sunbrella. 

Graeme from “Stem to Stern” had one of his mechanics come by and pickup our Tohatsu 18HP outboard. Although we did have it serviced in Pangkor, it starts “hard” and runs poorly. I was sure it just needed a tune-up, but we also turned in the gas tank – and he came back a few days later and said he found a litre of water in the gas tank! So that’s that. 

We haven’t been up to much else here. We are travelling to Bangkok and Chiang Mai for some genuine touring next week. We made a few scooter trips to grocery stores and hardware stores. Phuket has some great hardware stores and the chain “Home Pro” is as close as you’ll get to Home Depot in SE Asia. We’ve also been to some very large expat style grocery stores; Makro, Tesco’s and Villa Market. This is where we find large blocks of cheese, salsa sauce and other difficult to obtain “essentials”. 

In addition to the Western food we like to pickup, there are also some other items, like this crocodile meat in the freezer.

How about these frozen caterpillars?

In Malaysia we were always surrounded by palm trees (palm oil), but Thailand is the rubber production capital of the world. When out on the roads – we drive by rubber tree plantations, most of which are privately owned by about a million farmers, accounting for four per cent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). 

The first practical use of latex and rubber from trees came in the form of… an eraser. Since then, chemists have found different ways to process latex (from the tree) and rubber and whether we realize it or not, we are surrounded by products which contain this naturally occurring material. The rubber tree plantations are fairly small and there are thousands dotted across the country. Rubber factories buy their material from several hundred latex-dealers that buy direct from the farmers. In turn, the factories sell to a global market of around 450 customers that range from tire factories to trading houses that supply various other industries. Currently, the only competition to natural latex and rubber is a chemical version synthesized from crude oil. According to the Rubber Manufacturers Association, more than 70 per cent of all rubber that hits the market today is synthetic. I’ve read that in Phuket rubber plantation owners are including tours in their revenue model, so rather than fighting tourism – they’re joining in. There is a large market for the wood from the rubber trees as well, so Thailand can be proud of this sustainable resource. 

In response to Jimmie Thom’s bug bites that he suffered a few weeks ago, we decided to install even more mosquito screening, this time in the two deck vents in the forward cabin. They’ve never been a problem before, but we’re always interested in making improvements. 

We’ve both been enjoying Thai food, eating out 3 times or more per week, but Diane has to be much more careful than I do with the spice content. Google tells me that generally speaking, the hottest Thai curry is the Thai Green curry, followed by the Thai Red curry, then the Thai Panang curry, then the Thai Massaman curry with the mildest Thai curry being the Thai Yellow curry (although the Massaman curry is sometimes milder than a Yellow curry, depending on the recipe). I’m sure that I’ve had them all. For years, my favourite Thai dish has always been the Thai Green Curry.

However, since arriving in Phuket, I have really come to enjoy this Massaman curry, one of the milder Thai curries. It’s a nice blend of sweet and spicy, and the coconut milk adds a very tasty touch of creaminess to the curry. There are variants that have chicken, beef, pork or even vegetarian – but for those people on the Keto diet, I think you’re SOL. Its great to be in the country of origin and eating this food!

Cruising Phuket’s East Coast

6 January 2019 – Yacht Haven Marina, Phuket Thailand

As I write this blog, we are dockside at Yacht Haven Marina. Its a nice place, but its another marina.

An out of season typhoon, tropical storm PABUK just blew over us. It brought winds of 20-25 knots and heavy rains, mostly during the night. There were areas of Phuket and Thailand that were hit much harder, but we were quite safe in our marina berth. This was the first tropical storm in this area since 1962. Climate change?

When we left Pangkor two months ago, we thought we wouldn’t be at a marina for several months, not until we got to India. However, when arriving at Langkawi (the last stop in Malaysia), we were forced to take a dock at the Royal Langkawi Yacht Club because the ONAN generator was broken (sump oil leak). Now we’re dockside again because of the generator, this time – its an electrical issue, one which is beyond my comfort level to repair. So, here we wait for the ONAN service technician to visit …..

As we left Langkawi for Thailand, we had good weather conditions. The sun was shining, and the winds were light, but of course “on the nose”. On day 1 (15 December 2018) we motor sailed to Ko Lipe and anchored there. In the morning, the weather had obviously turned for the worse, and since we were on a schedule and had to get to Thailand – we motor sailed into 20-25 knots of wind. We hadn’t done that since we were in the Caribbean. The decks were awash with salt water and there was salt spray everywhere. It was an ugly, noisy and uncomfortable passage. Diane was sea sick, the first time in years. We anchored at Ko Rock Noch in a lumpy but reasonably settled anchorage. The next morning, it appeared that most of the ugly weather had moved on, and we had a good beam reach sail into Au Chalong, the Phuket Harbour where we checked in.

Checking in at Au Chalong was actually quite easy, and cheap. All the government offices (immigration, customs and harbour master) were in the same building right on the end of the dock. This will be the same place where we’ll check out, eventually. This is a view of the Au Chalong Bay from the hills above (where Big Buddha is).

The contrasts between Malaysia and Thailand are many. Phuket at least is over-run with tourists, a vast majority of them are Russian. During our stay in Malaysia, we hardly ever saw any tourists, at least not in the places we visited. Phuket has cruise ships visiting – many! In Thailand, it appears that hardly anybody speaks English but in Malaysia almost everybody does. In Malaysia, you could see three distinct ethnic groups, Malay, Chinese and Indian. It seems that in Phuket there are Thai people and there are tourists. The Thai language uses some funky alphabet script that is unintelligible, but the Malay language uses the same English alphabet that we are accustomed to. Therefore, street signs, advertising and shop services are 98% undecipherable to us, whereas in Malaysia it was nearly all understood. My impression is that the roads, electrical grid, plumbing and telecommunications wires in Malaysia are much better engineered and maintained, nearly to Western world standards. However, the contrast in Thailand is stark. You can’t help but notice all the wires on the sides of the streets. There are good highways, but noticeably less than in Malaysia. The food is similar in many respects, but of course the names and description in the restaurant menus appears different. I love Asian food and there are vast differences as we move from country to country. I love Thai food, I always have. Diane has to be careful that the food is not spicy but so far she has enjoyed the food. The price of gasoline and diesel is nearly the same, perhaps 5% higher in Thailand. The price of restaurant food is nearly the same, obviously higher if you get stuck eating in a tourist trap. The price of a massage is cheaper here. In Thailand, the going rate for a 60 minute massage is $16 CDN, whereas in Malaysia it was about $25 CDN, which I still found cheap compared to Canada. In Phuket, we found the Makro and Village Market grocery stores. They are a bit more expensive than what we found in Malaysia but are very European in style and selection. We also went to a huge hardware store, equivalent to Home Depot back home. This was just unheard of in Malaysia.

Another obvious difference is the amount of yachting services there are available in Phuket to service all those charterers. There are more marinas and yards, and they are noticeably flashier – and all full. We drove a scooter to Rally Tasker Sails to pickup some hardware – and I think it should be on every cruisers itinerary. It is simply the biggest loft I have every been to.

This picture doesn’t do it justice. This place is huge.

This is a “long tail” fishing boat, which uses a common automotive engine as a readily available and maintainable power-plant.

There is much variation among these boats, some have evolved from traditional craft types, while others have a more improvised look—the sole defining characteristic is a secondhand car or truck engine (gas or diesel). The engine is mounted on an inboard turret-like pole which can rotate through 180 degrees, allowing steering by thrust vectoring. The propeller is mounted directly on the driveshaft with no additional gearing or transmission. Usually the engine also pivots up and down to provide a “neutral gear” where the propeller does not contact the water. The driveshaft must be extended by several metres of metal rod to properly position the propeller, giving the boat its name and distinct appearance. Engine cooling is provided by a metal pipe underneath the rear running board which is used as a rudimentary heat-exchanger. This is then coupled to the engine using rubber or plastic hoses. Clean water is then used as the coolant. Control is achieved by moving the engine with a lever attached to the inboard side. Ignition and throttle controls provide simple means to control the craft.

On 21 December, our guests from Canada arrived at the pier in Au Chalong. Jimmy and Christine Thom, with their son Jackson. They were quite tired after the 36 hour travel from Ottawa (and 12 hour time difference), but apparently arrived without illness or lost baggage, remarkable! The next day, we took them to a few of the local shops for provisioning and then up to see one of the major tourist attractions of Phuket, Big Buddha. This is a FREE tourist attraction and also an active temple with monks praying.

As we came down the hill, we stopped off at a tourist elephant ride place, where 3/5 of us rode an elephant. Jimmy and I decided to spare the elephants from the agony of carrying us. I think that Diane, Christine and Jackson enjoyed their ride.

There were lots of pesky monkeys up there, and these two were annoying each other. This is “male on male” contact, by the way.

Diane enjoyed this swing on the beach at Ao Chalong. The water and beach look very inviting.

We motored up to an anchorage at Ko Rang Yai, well opposite Boat Lagoon Marina. This, like all anchorages in Phuket, has the possibility of being a nice comfortable anchorage. However, during the day, dozens of boats come from the mainland with thousands of tourists.

Parking space is limited.

We did find a spot, away from the tourist boats.

Since we had managed to buy a turkey last week in Makro at Au Chalong, Diane prepared an excellent Christmas dinner with turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, carrots and even cheese cake. Its a tradition, and one that we’ve always managed to maintain. It was great to be able to share our Christmas meal with friends.

Jimmy found a TV on the beach, but there was no hockey playing.

The next day we motored up to Ao Po Marina and anchored outside. As I entered the marina office to inquire about the possibility of a berth, the answer was “We’re full”, not “sorry, we’re full”, or “we’re full at the moment” or “there maybe a spot opening next week”. These assholes wanted to charge me 550 baht (about $22 CDN) for dinghy landing rights (to come and talk with them in the office). I refused, and told them that they were rude and would never bring my boat to their marina. What’s the big deal? Well, $22 to park my dinghy for a few hours is actually MORE than I paid to keep SV Joana at Pangkor Marina for a 24 hour period, including water and electricity. Ao Po Marina is obviously a high class snooty place and will never get many cruisers staying there, as evidenced by the lack of masts at the docks. It was nearly entirely full with charter boats and gin palaces.

Next, we motored North to see James Bond Island, another popular tourist attraction in Phuket’s spectacular Phang Nga Bay, an area of 400 sqkm. James Bond Island, with its signature rocky pinnacle, has been a major attraction ever since it was featured in the 1974 Bond movie “The Man with the Golden Gun”. This time, I stayed on the boat and the other four went ashore with the dinghy. Still, they had to pay the park fees to come ashore.

Our final stop was at Yacht Haven Marina. They never responded to my email inquiry about a berth, but were friendly when I went in to speak to them in person. They had a number of berths that were “reserved” (and have been empty for weeks) by assholes who never bothered to tell them that their plans had changed. This happens all over the world. If you don’t show up for your berth, and you haven’t communicated with the marina – the marina absolutely should give up the reservation. I only had to wait 24 hours to get a berth. This place is nice, but it is very isolated.

Here is a local that is harvesting blue bottle jellyfish from the sea. They apparently have some commercial value. Its a treat for me, because it means there are less jellyfish when I go in the water

Unfortunately, the weather conditions dictated where we cruised and what we did. With light Westerly winds forecast, we decided to keep our boat on the East side of Phuket Island and did not want to risk anchoring in a bay exposed to the West, the open Indian Ocean. We’ve heard that the water clarity on the West side is noticeably clearer than on the East side, but swimming and water-making is still possible. Also, with the light contrary winds, we never hoisted our sails, not once since after arriving in Phuket. Our guests departed on 29 December, moving on to an AirBnB on the West side of Phuket in the neighbourhood of Patong Beach. Here, they got to see fireworks and Chinese lanterns on New Year’s Eve, together with a hundred thousand other tourists on the beach. Apparently, it was a mad house, an unforgettable time. As usual, Diane and I fell asleep at 10pm and faintly heard the boom-boom sound of the fireworks at midnight. Here it is, 2019, a new year.

In closing, I have to include a photo and description of a particular species of monkey we’ve seen. When we were berthed at the Royal Langkawi Yacht Club a month ago, we befriended Walter and Jackie, South African circumnavigators. At the poolside, we had many interesting conversations and were enthralled with the Dusky Leaf Monkeys that lived in the trees just nearby. These monkeys feed on young leaf shoots and were almost always “overhead”. Jackie took this photo and sent it to us.