Photos of Bali, Gili Islands, Cambodia and Thailand

Here are links to my Picasa site with photos from my recent travels:

Gili Islands and Bali:

https://picasaweb.google.com/austin.ron/GiliIslandsAndBali

Cambodia and Thailand

https://picasaweb.google.com/austin.ron/CambodiaThailand2012

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Home Again: Safe, sound and sleeping off the jetlag.

I flew from Bangkok to Vancouver via Taipei on well-run China Air.  I am sad to leave the sun, Thailand and S.E. Asia behind … and glad to be home again with Trudy and Ryan.    Our place is in the middle of a kitchen reno… but it seems huge, well organized and luxurious to my temporarily “Asian eyes” or my current “southern point of view”.   I took this photo on my last morning in Bangkok:

Self Portrait

Last post, for a while. Cheers … Ron

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Travel Thoughts at the End of a Trip

I am leaving, Bangkok, Thailand and Asia today and heading home to Canada.  Some reflections on my recent travels……….

As I bounced back and forth from the local-food/backpacker circuit to mid-range accommodation and western foods and drinks I have enjoyed the friendly people I have met, both locals and tourists.  I have noticed that, often, the friendlier people came with the simpler surroundings.

While all travelers fly long distances and otherwise burns tons of carbon, backpackers save loads of money (and keep a lower carbon-footprint) by using local transport: buses, ferries and trains. I’ve used a mix of this local transport plus minibuses and shared taxis (which are local transport for the local-middle-class) and a few speedboats as well some motor-cycle and private-car taxis and tuk tuks.

Backpackers & Mid-range Travelers vs Five-Star Tourists in Asia: Which group is better for Asians?

At one extreme, the cheapest backpacker will spend $5-$10 per day on a room. I’ve mostly traveled at (what I call) the mid-range and I’ve been spending $15-$40 most nights.  The better rooms/facilities have been at both ends of that range. (i.e. How new and/or well maintained the place was did not always show up in the price.) And I stayed in a $7 room that was OK and an $8 room that was great.  Eating in local (or backpacker) restaurants can be done for $10 per day and that is what I have spent, on some days. Mostly I have eaten local foods or indulged in western foods/drinks at the more “upscale” restaurants and spent 2 or 3 times that.

Backpackers  (especially) travel slowly and spend quite a bit of time in the nice places they find along the way.

At the other extreme, five-stars tourists never really leave the comforts of home and the prices they pay reflect that.  Five-star hotels range from $200 to $2000 or more per night and their restaurant prices are at western levels.  Five-star tourists can spend thousands of dollars per day (on their brief visits).

So an economist might decide that five-star tourism is better for the economy.  And that may be true if the frame of reference is conventional and GDP-oriented.  However, from the perspective of an average Asian, the backpacker is a far more beneficial visitor.  Most of the package-tour and the five-star money ends up in the hands of the local or foreign elite, with a small amount trickling down to the poor folks as minimal wages.  Backpacker and mid-range money generally goes directly into the hands of the local businesses: small hotels and guesthouses, tuk tuk and taxi drivers, local bus companies, local shops, independent fruit sellers and small restaurants.  Backpacker and mid-range travel stimulates the local economies and directly benefits the local people.

😉 And if you travel that way, you meet some darn, interstin’ folks along the way.

Cheers .. Ron

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Koh Chang Photo

I really did not get the photos I wanted on Koh Chang, but here is one that gives some idea of the views…..

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Back again in Bangkok

One last stop in Bangkok before my flight home, tomorrow.

Boy, is it ever busy in Bangkok. (Koh Chang was much busier, too.)

 

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Further adventures of….

…I decided to hire four brothers as bodyguards. I met them whilst sheltering from a rainstorm in their tiny village miles from anywhere, and straight away I knew I could trust them. Armed with a shotgun and with my canoe lashed to their giant dugout, we paddled and floated for five days and nights on the river. Common questions from locals included: “Why haven’t you cut his throat yet?” and “If you don’t want to do it, tell us where your camping and we’ll come and do it for you … We’ll share his money.”

not me, heh heh …. from “”Canoeing the Congo River” link:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/travel/2012/jan/27/canoeing-the-congo-river

😉  Nothing quite that “exciting” in S.E. Asia.  😉

Hey Hugo: Think we should head back to Africa?

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Back in KaiBae on Koh Chang

I am back at the “KaiBae Hut Resort” on Koh Chang (Elephant Island) in S.E. Thailand.

From Koh Kong, Cambodia to Koh Chang, Thailand would have been 90 minutes by boat (not possible) but it took almost 7 hours with the various waits.  Based on wiki-travel and a traveler’s advice I first went to Lonely Beach but did not like it at all, so I headed back here to KaiBae … and was immediately recognized by the lovely young lady working here who remembered me and my choice of accommodation last time.  “sorry no fan room available today” OK what have you got? “large A/C room @1500 baht”  then she smiled and said “1200 baht for you” !! So its not “luxury, luxury” but it is at least “luxury”.  😉

I love it here on Koh Chang. and I’m lucky to be ending my trip here. (before a final stop in Bangkok, of course)

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Koh Kong, Cambodia

I broke through the vortex and finally arrived in Koh Kong (KK) and checked in at at luxurious Koh Kong Bay Inn.
The Inn is part of the new developement here in KK.  It sits directly on a wide river/sea port estuary with a beautiful sunset view.  It is a few blocks back to the main street and backpacker area.  Nice town! (Funny, one could only say that after being in Asia for a couple of months.)

Getting here was yet another third-world-travel-adventure … a trip
that was supposed to be 5 hours door-to-door and in a comfortable seat on an express bus ….was otherwise… sheesh.
Something in my karma really made me work to get here.  Its like there was a layered vortex to get through. I thought that Sihanouukville at the center but I think it was KK!

Lunar new year (Chinese NY) is big here and it has been an accommodation concern – Sihanoulville was full with both local and
international tourists. “Make sure you have a place over the NY period” (i.e. Jan 23/24/25 and the weekend that before). So I wanted to book ahead.  On a borrowed phone, I called from Sihanoukville to book a room.  The first place with the nice $30 rooms was full. So I booked a $45 room – at the high end of what I/we spent on the trip.  But it is a nice change after slumming it for 5 nights in Otres Beach. (I loved being right on the beach, though and there are nicer huts available for the next time.)
Here in Koh Kong (KK) it turns out there are lower end guesthouse rooms avail, I checked when the bus arrived – but all the middle rooms @ $30 are full so I am happily ensconced in luxury-luxury. Private balcony overlooking the bay w sunset views!! Clean smelling towels and sheets!

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Wasting Away in Sihanoukville

I am staying in a small beach hut on beautiful Otres Beach in Sihanoukville.  Very laid back atmosphere with mostly backpackers and bourgeois bohemians hanging out.  The beach is 3 or 4 km long and great for walks. Then its swimming and hiding from the sun under a beach umbrella while eating and drinking and swapping travel stories.  I made a few trips  around the area on the back of a motor cycle taxi. (My preferred option of cycling was not feasible as all the bikes are too small.)
I languish here one more day then head to Koh Kong en-route back to Thailand.

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Sihanoukville

I booked a bus ticket to Sihanoukville that included hotel pickup.  I was asked to be ready at 9:30 am for the 10 o’clock bus, but
warned to relax if pickup was a little late. I was careful to pick a good ticket-agent and she secured me seat #4 … the aisle seat at the front but not behind the driver. (I had good leg room and a great view.)
Pickup came just before 10, but forewarned, I used the web at my hotel and relaxed, and then the bus left the station about 10:15. I am starting to catch on how to travel in Cambodia!
The $5, 5-hour ride from Phnom Penh (P.P.) to Sihanoukville was a safer and more comfortable ride on the big bus (and a better road) than the minibus from Siem Reap. The first 10km through P.P. and outskirts were a slow crawl for all vehicles but we soon picked up speed and passed  through some industry and then agriculture.  Then the middle couple of hours, we passed through a scenic hilly upland.  They had good cooked food at the half way break stop.
The bus arrived in “downtown” Sihanoukville and it then cost $3 by tuk tuk for the short trip to Serendipity Beach to find a hotel. I found a good hotel just steps from the beach and went walking.

Sihanoukville is Cambodia’s deep water port that was carved out of the jungle just 50 years ago.  The nearby beaches soon became a holiday destination for the affluent folks from P.P. No tourism from 1975 to early the 1990’s and then a rebirth, first attracting the backpackers and now lots of various foreign and local tourists. There is a inland town and 5 or 6 beach areas on the coast.  Ocheteaul/Serendipity Beach is the busiest beach but also has the best selection of accommodation and eating. I did see some garbage along the busy beach here where I am staying, but not much and easily avoidable (ie only in some spots). Otres Beach and Independence Beach nearby were both immaculate!   Swimming at all the beaches is lovely.

I had briefly befriended an American traveling with an Italian couple in P.P. and soon ran into them on the beach walk.  We ate dinner together at an excellent French restaurant. The next day we hired a tuk tuk and went to Independence Beach, a different, quiet beach for half the day. (Unlike the Bangkok guys, the tuk tuk drivers in Cambodia are mostly good guys – like almost everyone is here in Cambodia. )  It started out overcast, then got really sunny – then a hard rain came down – shortly after we had retreated from the beach to eat in the beach-side cafe. We got back to Serendipity Beach quite dry (unlike the driver) cause the big tuk tuk had good roll down sides!  I had rain last month in Thailand and now here … I guess it rains in the “dry season” ;-). The Khmer call it the “cool season”, btw.

I heard you could get good massages here so I tried one out. It was a really good: an accu-pressure type massage on a proper massage table  (with a hole for your face), instead of the ubiquitous mattress/pillow arrangement. The masseuse soon found and worked on all my old sciatica injuries, travel bumps and neck and shoulders tender spots. It cost $12 which is about 1.5 to 2 times the cost of massage in Thailand, but still wonderfully cheap.

Yesterday was very sunny and I rented a bicycle to have a look around some more on my own. I cycled over to Otres Beach. It is cleaner, less developed & quieter than the main beach and has just-as-good island-dotted views.   I had a great swim and I met a very cool dude from Amsterdam (Iranian originally) who I talked to for a couple of hours at a small beach-hut guesthouse. I liked the atmosphere at this guesthouse.  It is simple but clean (with Espresso and WiFi) and owned by an old French hippie, Chris, who seems to run a good place.  (Chris had never heard of “Americano” but was happy to learn from me how to do it … and took care to show his staff each step as he was making it.)  So I am moving over there tomorrow into a small (fan-room) beach hut.  I will give up some creature-comforts in exchange for being right on the beautiful beach in an ambient social atmosphere.  In 3 days, at Lunar new year (Chinese N.Y.), Serendipity fills with locals (everything is per-booked) but I can stay on at Otres if desired.

There are of course some desperate people here in this very poor country.  The guide info warns about bag theft (and worse) in Cambodia and makes some common sense suggestions about how to avoid it.  Siem Reap is heavily policed as it generates the bulk of the tourist dollars.  In the rest of the country the police seem indifferent at best, to petty crime.  Unlike Bali & Thailand, were I used a belt-bag, in Cambodia I have carried any valuables in my neck bag, inside my shirt and when checked-in, I leave all passports, most of my cash, bank cards etc. in hotel security and then keep a little spending money.

On my cycle back to Serendipity Beach, I met some Russians who had gone to the “wrong” beach and been careless with their bags – and lost their passports, money etc.  Being on the bicycle, I tried to help them. First I flagged down some other Russians to help and then tried to find a police station.  I did talk to two groups groups of police as I was riding around town, baking in the midday sun. The police were busy flagging down tourists on scooters and issuing phony fines for a quick bit of baksheesh.  They seemed annoyed when I interrupted them to report the crime. (I had expectations they would put me on the back of their scooters to take them to the victims.) They just gave me bad, conflicting directions to the station.  I never did find the station and (alas) eventually abandoned my good-Samaritan quest. My travel experience, (my gender and size?) and my common sense has kept me safe so far, and I have had good experiences with local people.  I like Cambodia.

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