My plan was to head to Bangkok for three nights so I could extend my Thia visa, get a Vietnamese visa and do some Christmas shopping, then I would head north to the historic cities of Ayutthaya and Sokhothia for some culture. I had felt guilty that I had spent three weeks on Phi Phi and neglected the rest of Thailand. I had found a corner of the world that was as close to perfect as you can get and just stayed there soaking in the pleasure, being with great people, partying and meeting some nice girls
. But I knew there was more to see and didn't want to sell myself short by neglecting all the other places I had planned to visit. Luckily I have no real time constraints and I had saved well for this journey so I decided to stay in Thailand for another month and visit all the places I meant to. This necessitated a visit to Bangkok where I could extend my visa by thirty days for a fee of around 2,000 Baht (or around £40). Arriving in the city late at night I pretty much went to bed straight away as I needed to sleep, a Lot. I can't tell you what a luxury air con and a double bed in a hotel is after sleeping in a beach hut with mosquito nets. I awoke the next day and heading straight to the Thia Immigration office on Suton Road, despite the taxi driver insisting that the office had relocated to another address. I have an inbuilt scepticism of any taxi or tux tux drivers when traveling, well .. anyone really. The taxi driver was right; the Immigration Office had moved thirty kilometers to the old airport - marvelous. I could see a couple who were in the same situation, so I offered to share a taxi and we went to the new office together. After filling out a form and queuing up for around two hours (we hit the lunch break time) we were told that for £40 we would get an extension of seven days of our visa! What a joke. Otherwise we could leave and re-enter the country by land for a fifteen day extension or by plane for thirty days extension. So I decided I would fly off to Macao for some poker and come back and get the extension that way
. I had wanted to visit Macao anyway so it seemed an obvious choice.
In the meantime I had booked a night ride around Bangkok by bicycle which would take in some spots in the city around dusk, a great time of the day to see the city. After taking a tuk tuk ride for one hour through the terrible traffic and all the noise and fumes I reached the meeting point for the tour. Grasshoppers run tours throughout South East Asia and a local leads the way and we all follow behind on bikes with helmets and lights. The ride itself takes about four hours and covers eleven kilometers in total. We cycled off firstly to a ferry which took us from the new Bangkok to the old historic part of the city. In the 17th century the Thai king Rama 1 decided to move the capital from the ancient walled city of Ayutthaya to Bangkok, and he decided to set up in the west of Bangkok. Here the weather is a little cooler and it is very quiet area at dusk as the tourists visit during the day. There is a Chinese community living there and there are several wats. We visited a few and cycled through the very narrow streets of this community, able to virtually see into their living rooms. They live in very small homes and cry out at you 'hello' if you are lucky and 'farang' if you are not. Close to this Chinese community there is a part of the river where there is no fishing allowed and the tour leader threw some bread in the water there and within five seconds the water was literally alive. There were thousands of catfish thrashing around and over each other. The centerpiece of Wat Pho is the huge statue of a reclining Buddha, almost fifty feet in height inside a wat, but as it was closed at night we could only see a huge elbow poking out of the bottom of the building. We also happened to stumble upon five or six young monks (they go into monk hood from as early as four) who had been told by the head monk to clean the fish which swam around in a pool surrounding a statue
. They were slipping on the rocks and laughing while they tried to catch the fish and constantly rearranging their orange robes so that they would not get wet. Thirty minutes, two buckets of carp, a tortoise and a soft shell turtle later and their job was done. A serendipitous moment amongst all the chaos of Bangkok and we were really lucky to see this. We then visited the flower market and ate some grasshoppers and silk worms and heading back to the shop. It was nice to have taken in some sights like this and get more of an idea of the city's traditions and stories.
After Bangkok I moved to Macao. I could not book any accommodation online so decided to just arrange this there when I arrived but unfortunately I had hit Macao on a Chinese public holiday of two days and therefore accommodation was at a premium. I luckily managed to find a relatively cheap, clean and central hotel. There was also hot water which was a treat and no mosquito's! Macao itself is a former Portuguese colony which reverted to Chinese control around ten years ago. The architecture has obvious Portuguese influences with brightly coloured old European style buildings around the town, with narrow and cobbled streets and side alleys snaking around. The town itself is small and there isn't a lot to do. The Chinese built another island from the sea and there are other smaller islands dotted around so when you fly in it looks a bit like an archipelago
. The Chinese have effectively made Macao into the gambling center of Asia and revenues have exceeded those of Las Vegas for the last three years so it really is pretty impressive. Then again the Chinese are innate gamblers so from that perspective it is no surprise. There are replicas of all the Las Vegas casinos and the idea is similar, but that is where the similarity ends. The Chinese are an interesting bunch and their culture is so different to others I have experienced. I don't pretend to understand their ways but they seemed to go about their gambling in a humorless and dispassionate way. In Vegas people tend to visit to have a lot of fun and get drunk and they expect to loose money, if they win then that is a bonus. In Macao they don't seem to have much fun and there is a slightly robotic feel about the whole process. Did I tell you how rude the Chinese are as well? Well they are, a sentiment many visitors and expats I spoke to also expressed. I don't think I will be visiting mainland China in a hurry anyway!
After five days in Macao I returned to Bangkok to take an overnight train to near Krabi followed by a two hour bus journey to Krabi and return to Phi Phi for New Year. Well that was the plan. Again my timing was off or maybe I hadn't done my research well enough. Around late December in Thailand many people journey to visit their families from different parts of the country, even though it is not the traditional Thia New Year (this in in April) the Thais still celebrate our New Year as a Christian date
. As a result all the trains were fully booked and I had to get a bus instead. This was a shame because I had heard a lot of good things about Thai trains and had looked forward to sleeping on one and having a nice rest on the fold down beds. Instead I had to book an overnight bus which was meant to leave at 7pm. Obviously it left three hours late and I got a seat at the back next to a load of Americans drinking and playing music. When they started playing Gloria Gaynor's 'I Will Survive' I knew it would be a long journey. I had my earplugs and sleeping pills so I would be fine right? Two sleeping pills later I was dozing but could not sleep but I felt relaxed and calm when after twelve hour we reached the first stop. After this there was another two hour bus ride and a three hour ferry and the best part of a day later I arrived back at Phi Phi exhausted, but happy to be back in the land of smiles.
New Year on Phi Phi was good fun with the usual celebrations and I came back home late and slept some more. Nothing much to write really as New Year is the same everywhere really. But the next two days after this turned out to be the best of my trip so far. I went out on a boat trip each day with various friends and also some fun Malaysians I met the day before. We visited Maya Bay on New Year's Day (the location of the movie 'The Beach') and as everyone was in bed hungover it was quieter. We stopped off to snorkel and swim on the way many times and then jumped back into the long boat to sail close by to the cliffs where they meet the water. The sea is a beautiful green and you can see all the fish swimming around you. To reach Maya Bay itself we had to swim about two hundred meters through fairly big swells to a flimsy rope hung swinging in the wind which was attached to a rock. The rope then leads you up to some steps from the rocks beneath and then you can reach the top of the steps and walk down into this entry point to the island
. You walk through a bamboo field then hit a pathway which takes you to the beach. I went swimming with two girls I had meet the day before and it was lovely swimming in the clear sea with these beautiful girls having fun. The next day we visited some lesser known spots with one of the locals. We passed by some cliff diving spots but the sea was so choppy no one wanted to try diving. So we moved onto a part of Phi Phi Lay where you pass by a narrow gap in between two huge carst rocks and enter a lagoon. This is one of the spots where the locals go to catch swallow eggs from high high up in the rocks. You can see the old ropes high up leading the way to the nests on the sides of the cliffs so you can tell what a dangerous job it is. Apparently the eggs sell for around £50,000 per kilo on the Chinese market so it is a very lucrative trade. Tourists don't tend to visit this area as unless you go with someone who knows someone there might be trouble. We dived into the lagoon and swan onto the shore of a beach at the side of the lagoon.There was also a cave we swam into which was really interesting and eerie. I think I have a natural affinity with the sea as I feel very peaceful and calm in the water, even when it is dark or choppy.It was nice to go out to the other islands that are not inhabited and swim the sea and explore a but; I can see now that I will enjoy scuba diving. It was also great to met more friendly people happy to share their time and experience with you. So a good start to the year
In around three to four days I head North via a stop off in Bangkok and look foward to seeing some of the people who I met in Phi Phi along the way
After spending several more days on Phi Phi I clocked up a record of fifteen nights consecutive drinking; of which I was very proud as an Englishman to have achieved. There was not one hangover to be found amongst those mornings. However the cumulative effect on my energy levels was evident as every afternoon I woke up I felt more and more tired until I was comatose by the lat day and my wallet had taken a battering. So it was time to head to Bangkok to extend my visa and restore my energy levels with some sobriety - apparently