all that jazz

james' blog about scala and all that jazz

Chiang Mai

Well, what a cool trip this is turning out to be. I can say that I was in a country which was a constitutional monarchy one day, and a dictatorship the next. That sounds all very exciting, but really, it's not. Here in Chiang Mai, 12 hours train ride north of Bangkok, everything is normal. No ones uneasy or upset, life just continues on as normal. The only difference is that apparently, and I haven't seen them, there are military personel on the streets with automatic weapons. Unfortunately, it looks like it will have an impact on our tour, in 3 days we were hoping to cross the border into Burma for half a day, but the northern borders have been sealed. My tour guide has said there is absolutely nothing to worry about, and everyone believes that this will be peacefully resolved. I've seen the transmissions on tv, the military appears to have every intention to hand control back to the people as soon as possible.

Anyway, onto my trip. Yesterday we took a 5 hour bus trip to Ayutthaya. Ayutthaya used to be the capital of Thailand, 250 years ago. Then the Burmese came through and destroyed every temple. So the king packed up and went to Bangkok. So, yesterday we went to the ruins of two major temples. They were quite amazing, these buildings were 700 years old. All the budhas had had their heads smashed off.

In the evening we boarded the overnight train to Chiang Mai. Here we met the rest of my tour group for the next 6 days. Up until now it's been 3 of us, but now it's 15. Out of the 12 new people, 6 of them are Mexican exchange students studying at Macquarie University. The rest are Aussies, a young couple from the central coast, a girl from Newcastle, and the rest from Sydney. They're a pretty good group, everyones easy going, so there's no disagreements in what to do etc.

We stayed up reasonably late partying in the dining car, a lot of backpackers were on this train from a large number of different countries. I've never had so much fun on a train before! I had just enough alcohol to put my straight to sleep, usually I don't sleep on trains but this time, no problems.

We arrived in Chiang Mai at around 9am, went to the hotel, and then we went to the jewelery and silk factories. We got to see them make the jewelery and the silk, and I picked up some good bargains for presents for my family. After that we went to one of the temples, a big one up in the mountains. It was very ornate, but temples aren't really my sorta thing.

Kanchanaburi

Well, today I spent most of the day in the area surrounding Kanchanaburi. To start off with, I had a traditional Thai breakfast of rice soup with prawns. It was quite weird to be eating rice in soup, I don't usually do that. I've had a rice porridge before, but this wasn't like that. Very satisfying none the less. We then jumped in the back of a ute for a half hour drive to Hellfire Pass. One of the things that I'm really starting to notice about Thailand is that although the people are poor, the infrastructure is good. The roads out here in the country have been really good, similar to Australian country roads.

So anyway, Hellfire Pass was very moving and sombre. Reading the stories in the museum inspired in me an anger that I had never felt before towards another race. I can now understand why the ex servicemen are so strong about not allowing enemy soldiers to march in the Anzac day parade, seeing the brutality that those prisoners suffered really leaves an emotional scar that for many, is unforgivable. One thing though that you don't see in the old black and white pictures of the prisoners at work is how green and lush the jungle is. It was really quite a lovely walk down the rail bed.

After Hellfire Pass we headed to the Erawan Falls, a 7 tiered waterfall about 2km long. We hiked up to the highest tier, and swam there for a while. The water was a beautiful cloudy green, caused by the calcium in the water from all the limestone in the area. I've only ever seen water that colour in still ponds that you would never swim in. Behind the 7th waterfall there was a cave, dripping with water from the roof, it was very cool inside. We sat there for a while and just relaxed. There were also a lot of fish in the water, big and small, which if you stayed still, would nibble at your toes.

Overall, it's been quite an exhausting day with a lot of walking. Tonight, if the weather holds up, we're going to the Kanchanaburi night markets, and will probably find a nice bar to settle at and have a good time.

New friends

Well, I'm now on my tour, and so finally have people to hang out with and talk to.

I spent most of yesterday wandering around the malls. I'm amazed at how American these malls are, more American than Australia. One particular one I went into, nearly all the food stalls were American fast food chains. I was very surprised to see a Sizzler, I didn't think Thai's would be interested in that, but obviously they are. And yes, the Sizzler did serve the nice toast.

At about 4:00 I met my new room mate, Jason. He's an American, but he's been studying at Macquarie Uni this semester.... so he lives about 15 minutes walk from where I work. There's only one other person on the tour, Jennifer, she's a Canadian, and like me, this is her first time overseas. Apparently a further 12 people will be joining us in Chang Mai for 6 days I think, and the n it will be back to just us again. It's nice having such a small group, because we get more attention from our guide, and it's more easy going because we only have to get 3 people to agree on what to do, rather than 15.

Both Jason and Jen only arrived in Bangkok less than a day before the tour started. So, having been there 3 days, I got to play guide last night. I took them to the Khao San Road by tuk tuk, where I tried a banana pancake made on a cart on the street. We also had a drink at one of the bars. It then started raining, so we decided to catch a taxi home. The taxi driver didn't speak any english at all, and couldn't work out where our hotel was from the map we gave him. He ended up dropping us off undercover at a shopping centre, by which time it was absolutely pouring with rain.

When it rains in Bangkok, it really rains. Some streets were 10cm deep with water. We were about 20 minutes walk from the hotel, I managed to get us within sight of it, through shopping centres and undercover walkways, but there was no way to get all the way undercover. So, we ran through the rain, and got totally drenched, arrived at the hotel all laughing and dripping wet. We then called it a night.

Today it was up early to catch a bus to Kanchanaburi. Kanchanaburi is a town about 2 hours by bus west of Bangkok. It sits on the River Kwai, and is famous for its World War 2 cemetry and Death Rail Museum. This afternoon we will visit those places and also the bridge over the River Kwai built by the POWs. Our guesthouse is fantastic, floating on the river where it's very cool, quiet and peaceful. Overall, Kanchanaburi is much more laid back than Bangkok, and much cleaner. It's a nice change from the city, though that's not say that Bangkok wasn't a great city :)

Day 2

Well, today was kinda a laid back day. I could have gone and visited lots of temples or seen the sights, but the thing is, the thing I'm really here for is to see other cultures. Temples and touristy stuff like that is only a skewed skim on the culture, I'd much prefer to sit on a park bench in the middle of the city and just watch how people live. Which is pretty close to what I've been doing.

So, last night, I found a quaint little cafe with a live musician singing and playing guitar. I ate some Thai food and had some beer, just relaxed. Then I wondered up and down Khao San Road for a bit it's very exciting place. Then I caught a taxi back to the hotel and got an early night.

This morning, after sleeping in, I checked out of my hotel. I should say, to start off I stayed at the Bangkok City Inn. It's quite a reasonable hotel, $30/night for nice comfy rooms that have pretty much everything you would expect from a 3 to 3 1/2 star motel in Australia. And it includes breakfast. I stayed there because that's what my tour group booked for me for my first night. Much easier to get them to book something for me rather than have to find a place at midnight when it's my first time overseas. I then stayed there last night because I didn't want to have to be forced to find a hotel yesterday, and I didn't have time to go and find another one before the checkout time. Besides, I had no idea what to expect from my first day in Bangkok. Well, I didn't need to do that, because when I got to the Khao San Road I found plenty of nice places to stay.

So, this morning I checked out of my hotel. I went and sat, of all places, in a McDonalds. It was really hot today and I needed a long cold drink. At McDonalds in Thailand, they have pork burgers. They also have a greater variety of chicken burgers. Something interesting that they seem to have is home delivery. At least, the staff were wearing badges that said "McDelivery". They also had in the maccas tables that had ipods and headphones, so that you could sit down and listen to music while you ate.

Actually, a note on fast food. KFC seems to be huge in Bangkok, there are more KFC's than any other fast food chain. At least that's what I've seen. Some food courts you go to have a system where you get a card from a desk, and you can put money on that card. You then use that card to pay for your food, I think the idea being that they don't have to worry about money and change at the food serving places, they just have to swipe a card, making it faster and more efficient.

After that I took the sky rail and then ferry to Khao San Road. I love doing that, the sky rail is such a great way to see Bangkok, and so is the ferry. Once at the Khao San Road, I checked into one of the "classier" hotels that they have there, it cost $15/night. The room is very basic, it has air conditioning, hot shower, tv, but not much else. And, that price includes breakfast. But, seeing as I'm only sleeping in there, I don't think I'm missing out on anything. This hotel has a swimming pool on its roof, with a bar next to the pool. Pity its raining right now :( That's why I'm writing this very long blog post, hopefully by the time I'm finished it'll have stopped raining.

I went back to the tailor for fitting this evening. I tried to bargain the price down, but having already paid the deposit, well, there's not much I could do. Though, it's not so bad. Over the past 8 years or so, I don't think I've made one bad major purchase.... that is to say, every time I've spent over $500, I've always got exactly what I needed at the cheapest price possible. I guess I just took my Australian attitude to buying things to this place, after all, I know a good bargain when I see one, right? Which is exactly what they wanted me to do..... So one mistake in 8 years is not too bad :) And like I said, it's still heaps cheaper than I would pay in Australia. And, having looked at some of the other tailor places, this one appears to be much nicer, very professional. Hopefully the quality of the product matches the appearance.

I then tried to catch the sky rail and ferry back to the Khao San Road. Skyrail, easy, this time I was travelling in peak hour, which was lots of fun, in the hustle and bustle of Bangkoks peak hour. Got to see lots of people travelling home. However, I missed the last ferry. Pity I didn't work that out till after I'd been waiting for about 45 minutes. So.... I thought I'd have another go at tuk tuks. It was quite a long way to go by tuk tuk, I got a good price, I think, well, I think I offended the guy with my first offer, and got half way in between his first offer and mine. And, peak hour was over. So more travelling down the wrong side of the road, dodging between cars.... the driver did have to slam on the breaks and screech to a stop at one point.... but it's all fun.

So now I'm at the hotel in the internet cafe.... Haven't had dinner yet, I think I might go and do that, hopefully I can find somewhere inside while it's still pouring.

Thailand

Well, today is my first day in Thailand. I can say that I've definitely been ripped off already, but as the day has gone along I've become more aware of how not to be ripped off and how to bargain for a good price. Though, if only it wasn't on 2 tailor made suits, 4 tailor made shirts and 2 ties that I was ripped off on. Sure, they will be nice suits and nice shirts, Italian wool, Egyptian cotton, and I paid a hell of a lot cheaper than I'd pay in Australia. But I still reckon I'm paying twice as much as I need to. Oh well, gotta learn somehow! Just hope I don't run out of money....

The highlight of today has been riding in tuk tuks. I love it. This guy took me on a tour, we agreed a price of 20 baht (60-70c), and then he took me to some temples. Stuff the temples. He then took me to all these shops that sell clothes and jewelery, which he gets money for taking me there. He kept saying "just one more place". He was taking advantage of me, yes, but the fact is, I loved screaming around dangerously in those little tricycles. There are no road rules in Thailand, we probably spent more time on the wrong side of the road than anything else, and you know how when you're turning right at traffic lights you first wait for the oncoming traffic to pass? Nup, he just went before they got there. And then there were the tiny backstreets, almost running people over as we went. He ended up not charging me because we went to so many places that he got money for. I loved it.

I also took the sky rail, that was a good way to see Thailand, and a ferry up the river. The people here are really friendly, if you're standing around looking lost, within 30 seconds someones asking if they can help you. Very different to Australia.

Anyway, I've got better things to do than blog!!

About

Hi! My name is James Roper, and I am a software developer with a particular interest in open source development and trying new things. I program in Scala, Java, PHP, Python and Javascript, and I work for Lightbend as a developer on Lagom. I also have a full life outside the world of IT, am a passionate Christian, enjoy playing a variety of musical instruments and sports, and currently I live in Canberra.

I also have a another blog called Roped In about when my wife and I lived in Berlin for a year to help a church reconnect with its city.