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SE Asia Adventures: Part 8 - Bangkok & Koh Tao, Thailand

Thursday 25 October – Butterworth to Bangkok by train

Butterworth_to_Bangkok_map

The Butterworth, Malaysia to Bangkok, Thailand train was meant to leave Butterworth at 14:20 and arrive the next day in Bangkok at 11:24. I booked a KTM sleeper train with Air Conditioning in a second-class berth ANST. It was the 36-Ekspres Antarabangsa. On Coach 10 #10 at a cost of RM 111.90 (just over AU$34.)

The train arrived at the Butterworth station at 14:45 and finally left at 15:00. The sleepers were down as seats. An attendant had told me that you could sit anywhere until we crossed the Thailand border around 19:00 when the berths (beds) would be made up. A Finnish guy sat with me and we had a bit of a chat. He was studying herbal medicine and Muay Thai in Thailand and had been in Thailand many times.

A lot of people got onto the train until we were at Pandang Besar. This is where we all got off of the train to get our Thailand land visas at around 18:30. Because I was crossing over on land (train) and not by air, I could only get a 15-day pass. It’s 30 days if you fly over. I hope this will be enough time for Thailand. If not, I can always do a border crossing and back.

There were two different points to go through and even though one of the ladies was a bit rude to a few of my fellow train travel companions, it was relatively easy. We were back on the train within the hour and wound our clocks back an hour for Thailand time. It was great to see so many travellers of various ages and nationalities all on the same train as me. The train was pretty good. There was even a Western toilet and toilet paper.

After re-boarding the train, it was time to order food with one of the staff. There were a few vegetarian options, not really any for breakfast in the morning. I had bought my own – takeaway from Sing Joyee Vegetarian Restaurant when I had lunch with Malar before I left Butterworth.

A family from the UK, Ted, his wife Jacquie and their daughter Jackie were great company and avid travellers. They had many stories to tell and I enjoyed getting to know them more. There was also Aaron from the USA who was fun to hang out with and various other travellers from all over the world including a couple of Swedish guys, a couple of Japanese girls, and as always, some Germans.

The train staff started making up the berths around 20:00 and a few people went to bed. Aaron and I had been looking forward to the time when the food cart would be attached to our train. Aaron was excited because of the alcohol and I was just excited. Aaron had checked the progress a awhile ago but no additional cart had been added then. Now it had and I hung out with Aaron and one of the Swedish guys for a bit. I heard a strong Australian accent accompanied by a guy who lives in Maleny - about 45 minutes drive from where I live in Brisbane. Small world. Gee, the Australian accent can be intense when you haven’t heard it for a while.

After the food cart adventures, I sat with Ted and the ladies for a few hours. Aaron came to join us and then I was in bed by 23:00. Aaron and the Swedish guys stayed up chatting and drinking. Aaron would be leaving around 01:00 before we got to Bangkok. I slept pretty well on the train and it wasn’t that cold. 

Friday 26 October – Arriving in Bangkok & Loving Hut Charoennakoi

People started stirring on the train about 06:00 and I got up an hour later. I lay in my birth with the windows open, writing in my journal for awhile. The scenery was great. I spent a bit of time chatting with the Swedish guys and then Ted and his family. It was such a great trip. All of us thoroughly enjoyed our time on the train getting to know each other.

We arrived in Bangkok at midday, only half an hour later than scheduled. One of the Bangkok scams at the train station is to get you into an unmetered cab/taxi and quote a higher amount that you would normally pay if in a metered taxi – the suggested mode of transport. This also happens around any other stations, airports or where a lot of new people arrive from another country. Due to the fact that most people have just arrived and have no idea about the currency, they just pay the first person who approaches them; especially the Americans who are well known for their lack of patience. A few taxi drivers wanted to take me to my hotel for Baht 300 (just over AU$9) but when I ended up getting into my metered taxi, it cost THB103 (just over AU$3.)

Luckily I had written down the phone number for where I was staying, as it was a bit hard to find Just Beds. The driver called and spoke to the owners. It was a dark room but quite new so it would be good for a couple of nights. Just Beds had a really useful “Surviving Menu” with a map on the back and Thai vocabulary inside:

Thai_vocabulary_from_Just_Beds

I caught up on some computer work then got on a rickshaw attached to a motorbike type of transport to take me over the bridge to the closest vegan place, Loving Hut Charoennakorn for TBH 100. The Loving Hut was on Charoennakhanon Road in the Royal Garden Plaza. It’s always great to find Loving Hut restaurants, as you know they will be vegan. Here’s the list of Loving Hut stores in Thailand.

I ordered a Mango Smoothie (Cocolicious by Samui) THB80:

Mango_Smoothie_at_LH_Bangkok

Dumplings THB 80:

Dumplings_at_LH_Bangkok

Pasta Farfalle with Pesto Sauce THB 120:

Pasta_Farfalle_with_Pesto_Sauce_

With Stir-fried Hong Kong Noodles THB 100 to takeaway along with Carrot Cake THB 65 and a Brownie THB 65. I also had some young coconut ice cream THB 65:

young_coconut_ice_cream_at_LH_Bangkok

It was hard for me to get a taxi to take me back to my hotel. The first taxi said no, the second didn’t want to take me that far and the third finally agreed. I needed the phone number to find the place again. I caught up on computer work and organising what I would be doing when I was in Bangkok with Logan.

Saturday 27 October – Bonita Café, Bang Sue & being a tourist

I had mostly come to Bangkok to speak at an event a friend, Jennifer (who I’d met at last year’s Vida Vegan Con in Portland, Oregon in the USA) had organised for her raw/vegan/vegetarian Meetup. I had put the word out that I needed somewhere to stay and Logan had responded saying I could stay with him for a few nights. Today I was going to meet him.

I took a taxi for THB 100 to Bonita Café & Social Club, a lovely and quaint café with wonderfully friendly staff. I had a great chat to Katsuyama (K) while I was waiting for Logan. K’s wife cooks and runs the café. K is a vegan marathon runner with a lot of energy. The food is also great. I ordered Edamame THB 60:

Japanese style vegan curry and brown GABA rice (soaked/activated) THB 160:

Japanese_style_vegan_curry_

Logan had the Raw pasta zucchini with tomato and cashew sauce THB 160:

Raw_pasta_zucchini_with_tomato_and_cashew_sauce_

K’s wife gave us a taste of a chocolate raw cookie, which was great. I ate it too fast to get a photo. K took a photo of his wife and I:

LC_at_Bonita

Then Logan and I walked to Surask BTS - he carried my backpack for me, what a gentleman – where we took the train to Siam. We got off and caught another train at Ratchatewi station, then bus 16 to Bang Sue where Logan lives. Logan has been living here for the past 6 months after getting a job teaching English close to where he lives. It’s a bit far from Bangkok centre so I am going to get Logan to venture out a lot in the next few days while I’m here.

Logan and I planned the route to get to May Kaidee’s restaurant for a dinner buffet tonight. I was hoping to stay with May and her partner Jo but our dates didn’t gel unfortunately. Logan and I caught the bus into Wong Sawang to Nonthaburi and walked through Nonthaburi market to the ferry area. For THB 15 we had a 30-minute trip on the ferry to Phra Arthit. Here's some of the scenery:

Bangkok_river__houses

Bangkok_river_scenery

boat_and_Bangkok_river

Rama VIII Bridge at Sunset:

Rama_VIII_Bridge_at_Sunset

Rama_VIII_Bridge_cable

We then walked into the bustling nightlife of the back packer district, Khao San where I booked my boat and bus trip with Lomprahaya to Koh Tao for my upcoming diving adventures. As it would be around the full moon – therefore the Koh Phangan full moon party (think Schoolies/Spring Break) – the price was more expensive.

We then walked and got a taxi to May Kaidee’s #2 restaurant on Samsen Road for a buffet dinner THB 150 (approximately AU$4.66.) The place was full so Logan and I joined a couple of guys at their table. John Carlos the Italian and Henry the Polish American were great dinner companions with many a travel story. They were on a bit of a Words of Peace tour and had been to many countries to see Prem Rawat speak his message of peace. Here's my meal:

buffet_dinner_at_May_Kaidees_Bangkok

I finally met May’s partner Jo after months of emailing back and forth. Hopefully I will stay with them soon. May gives cooking classes where she gets the participants to dance along with her. After dinner, most of the people in the restaurant got up and danced with her, including John Carlos and Henry and I:

Henry__I_dancing_at_May_Kaidees_Bangkok

dancing_at_May_Kaidees_Bangkok

It was a great night. I thought I recognised a few people at one of the tables and when speaking to Jo and May later I realised it was Colleen from VegNews. I got in contact with Colleen later, but unfortunately she was leaving the next day. Logan and I then made our way home.

Sunday 28 October – Activism & Ethics talk

Today I slept in and then Logan and I headed out for my Activism & Ethics talk for the Bangkok Meetup group. First we caught a bus to Bang Sue MRT station to go underground to MRT Sukhumvit. Then caught a taxi to the Himalayan Restaurant where the talk would take place. I was looking forward to seeing Jennifer again but unfortunately she couldn’t make it due to the fact she was going to have a baby any day now.

Logan and I were early so we ordered some food. I ordered the Veg Thukpa – Tibetan Noodles for THB 85:

Veg_Thukpa_

And Logan ordered the Vegetarian Momo - Tibetan style dumplings with Himalayan herbs THB 75:

Vegetarian_Momo_

I started my talk about 13:00 and spoke for around 30 minutes on why I went vegan, the benefits, my activism and my work promoting veganism on Viva la Vegan!

LC_talk_at_Himalayan_Restaurant_Bangkok

I also spoke about my not-for-profit Green Earth Group and filled everyone in on my adventures so far in South East Asia.

LC_talk_at_Himalayan_Restaurant_Bangkok_2

This was the first talk I had given since being overseas where I didn’t need a translator.

attendees_LC_talk_at_Himalayan_Restaurant_Bangkok

See more Photos online – thanks Logan.

My talk was well received and I met some lovely people. Everyone in the group spoke English and when I was talking to people afterwards, most of them were from other countries and now call Bangkok home. A lot of the people here have local businesses and most of them seemed quite successful, always great to be around movers and shakers.

I made some great new friends, in particular (the only vegan in the room other than me) Holly and Soma. Holly is from America so we bonded over that and our travels. Soma is a bit obsessed with everything to do with online as well as marketing like me so we bonded over start-ups, online promotion and Google+ The three of us can talk, poor Logan.

We left the restaurant at 17:00 when Logan, Holly and I walked to Herwin’s Vegan Kitchen. Here's a photo of some of the not-so great electrical work in Bangkok:

Bangkok_electrical_system

Herwin has been in Bangkok for years and this new place in Sukhumvit for three. He also released a Bangkok Vegan Restaurant Pocketbook Guide. We had a great chat to Herwin, who is originally from Holland, as he was preparing our food. Unfortunately the cake was sold out and he was out of a few ingredients.

I ordered the Happy Burrito – burrito with roasted soy nuggets with satay sauce THB 75:

Happy_Burrito_from_Herwins_Bangkok

Logan ordered the Penne mixed vegetables THB 65:

Penne_from_Herwins_Bangkok

And Holly ordered the scrambled tofu on rice with broccoli and Indian spices THB 65:

scrambled_tofu_from_Herwins_Bangkok

Herwin’s Vegan Kitchen has since closed which is not surprising at all. After dinner, Logan and I took a taxi back home - such a great day with new friends.

Monday 29 October – Bus from Bangkok to Koh Tao

Logan went to work and I slept in. Then I caught up on computer work and organising the next week of travel. Logan came home early as he hadn’t been that well and was recovering from a cold, and it’s my last day. We went to MK Restaurant for late lunch. The restaurant is in Big C Wong Sawang shopping centre, walking distance from where Logan lives.

After a lot of communicating badly with the staff, I worked out that the broth is vegetable-based as it’s made from Chinese cabbage. So we decided to order the Thai-style Suki hot pot. We ordered various items from the menu so we could cook them all together in the hot pot. Morning Glory THB 15, Bok Choy THB 35, Straw Mushrooms THB 28, Shiitake Mushrooms THB 40, Fried Tofu THB 19, Tofu THB 19, Udon noodles THB 42 and sweetened Black Bean Bun THB 45.  

Suki_hot_pot_at_MK_Restaurant

noodles_at_MK_Restaurant

Here's the food cooking in the hot pot:

hot_pt_cooking_at_MK_Restaurant

hot_pot_and_pao_at_MK_Restaurant

Logan took this photo:

LC_at_MK_Restaurant_Bangkok

We also decided to have dessert. The menu had a lot of traditional Thai desserts with beans, fruit, bean curd and more. We ordered Tub Tim Krob in Ice Flakes with water chestnut THB 32:

Tub_Tim_Krob_in_Ice_Flakes_

and Lotus seeds with red beans and ice THB 32:

Lotus_seeds_with_red_beans_and_ice_

We were very full after our meal. I was also planning on having dinner before leaving on the bus for Chumphon tonight. At the end when you pay for your bill, you get a little slipf of nutritional information for your meals. Here's ours:

MK_Restaurant_nutritional_information

We went back home, I packed all my stuff and we took bus 30 from Wong Sawang to Khao San Road, the back packers area where my bus was leaving. I checked in at Lomprahaya with a lot of other people, got a number to wear and had to be back in time for 20:30. Logan and I wandered around Khao San Road and sat down at a street stall to eat pad thai without egg for THB 30:

pad_thai_Khao_San_Road_

At 20:30 we joined the large group of people who were also walking to the main road where a double-decker bus would pick us up. I said goodbye to Logan and the bus left at 21:00. I sat next to a lass who was going over to visit her friends on Koh Phangan. We stopped somewhere at 22:00 and the lights went off at 23:00. We then stopped somewhere to add a group of Germans to the bus, which woke us all up. It was really hard to sleep on the bus. I ended up listening to music for most of the trip. We stopped soon - after picking up the Germans - at a rest stop where most people got out. There was an intense amount of Thai snacks with no English ingredients listed – who knows what they were.

Tuesday 30 October – Chumphon to Koh Tao & Big Blue Diving

We arrived early in Chumphon after 04:00 instead of 05:00. We had to wait until 07:00 for the catamaran to pick us up. Most people either went back to sleep or took photos of the lovely view:

Chumphon_view

Chumphon_morning_view

We got the catamaran over to Koh Tao where one of the staff from Big Blue Diving picked me up and drove me to the resort. I would be doing my Open Water Diving course on this lovely island for the next four days. Jean Paul had suggested I come to the island and Lauren from San Jose had just finished her open water course here at Big Blue Diving. The course cost THB 9000 (approximately AU$280) and it’s widely known that Koh Tao has the cheapest diving courses in the world. My friend Dan back home in Brisbane had done his course over ten years ago and it was the same then.

I met up with one of the instructors, Ernesto and met Markus and David from Denmark - who had caught the catamaran over with me to Koh Tao - and would be doing the course with me. Ernesto walked me to where I would be staying – in a fan room at Big Blue guesthouse (600 THB per night when diving) – about a 5-minute walk from the main diving area. Lovely view:

Big_Blue_guesthouse_view

palm_view_at_Big_Blue_guesthouse_

It’s also very hot. I slept until about 14:00 and walked to an ATM then to the Big Blue dive restaurant where I had met Ernesto before. The menu isn’t that exciting at all but I ordered Vegetable rice for THB 70:

Vegetable_rice__at_Big_Blue

Here’s the view:

Koh_Tao_view_from_Big_Blue

Big_Blue_guesthouse_2

Big_Blue_guesthouse_3

I met Ernesto and the others at 17:00 at Big Blue #2 – about a two-minute walk from where I’m staying. There were ten of us in the room and we watched an instructional video for an hour and filled out our medical and indemnity forms. We could choose to do the PADI or SSI course. The PADI course is an extra THB 8000, as you have to buy their manual, so we all decided on the SSI course. Both are accepted worldwide and you can do extra courses with PADI after doing SSI.

A couple of people had to get a physician to sign off on their medical conditions for THB 150 but pretty much the only issues one would have for not being able to learn to dive are if they are extremely overweight or out of shape. You need to have good respiratory and circulation systems.

Here’s my schedule for the next few days:

Day 1 (today) Orientation 17:00 – 19:00
Day 2 – Theory and Pool 08:30 – 17:00
Day 3 – Theory, two 12 metre dives and a 50-question multiple-choice exam 08:30 start
Day 4 – 2 dives at 18 metres each plus we will be filmed by ACE Marine Images 06:30 start (ouch.)

If we want to do our Advanced course it’s normally THB8500 (approximately AU$264) but we would get a 10% discount, bringing the total to THB7650 (AU$267.) The advanced course is 2 days and 5 dives. You can choose 3 different sorts of dives such as navigation, night, shipwreck, photography etc. If you do the advanced course you are able to deep dive 30 metres in 98% of the world! I’d like to do the advanced course, but it probably won’t be for a while.

We had a bit of homework for the night where we had to read the SSI manual and fill out the answers for chapters 1, 2 and 5 questions. My dive group was made up of Markus and David from Denmark, Izabela from Poland and her partner Henning from Germany. Our instructor would now be Neil – who I found out later used to be in a ska-punk band Lightyear in his country of origin, the UK.

I headed to El-Gringo for dinner where I ordered Enchiladas – green peppers with corn tortilla, no cheese or sour cream, served with guacamole salad and rice pilaf THB 230:

Enchilada_at_El-Gringo_

Did my homework and couldn’t sleep due to the full moon. I don’t have WIFI in my room so this week is going to be interesting without it.

Wednesday 31 October – Diving Course Day 2

I had some snacks for breakfast and we started the theory at 08:30. This reminded me of why I didn’t do many 08:30 tutorials when I was studying Naturopathy at college – my brain just doesn’t work too early. We had a break at 11:00 when I had lunch at Tong Thai Food restaurant, pretty close to where I was staying. I ordered a tofu burger with no cheese that came with fries for THB70. When I went to take a photo of my meal, I noticed that the bread was mouldy – yuck. I sent it back and my second burger arrived with tofu, tomato, lettuce, cucumber and onion:

tofu_burger_at_Tong_Thai_

Went back to Big Blue #2 in my swimming attire at 12:30 where we gathered our dive gear – wetsuit, goggles, snorkel, flippers, air tank and other dive accessories. We spent the afternoon in the pool learning how to breathe underwater, clear our goggles when flooded with water and how to go up and down with our breath and equipment. Such a big day in the Sun. My fingers and toes were all shrivelled up when we finished at 18:00.

I went to Blue Chair Thai Food restaurant for dinner where I ordered a mango juice TB40 and Fried mixed vegetables with cashew nuts and tofu THB80:

Fried_mixed_vegetables_with_cashew_nuts_and_tofu_

I had a bit of a walk around the area I was staying and stopped off at the main shop to buy some snacks and breakfast goodies. I found So Good soymilk, Corn Flakes and even bought a bowl. This was only the second time the place I’m staying at had a fridge so I was making the most of it. I went to bed early.

Thursday 1 November – Diving Course Day 3

I slept really well last night. Had my corn flakes and soymilk for breakfast with some snacks. Once again we started at 08:30 for some more theory and information before we had our multiple-choice exam. I got 88%. Markus and Henning both got 100% so that meant that Neil would buy them both a beer tomorrow night at the bar when we’ve finished our course.

We had a quick break for lunch at 11:00 so I just headed back to my room for a bit to have corn flakes and snacks. We met a bit before midday and organised the equipment for our dives. We joined a lot of other people in the ferry

all_aboard_the_boat_taxi

to get to our boat (photos by Henning)

BB_Banzai_boat

and then drove about 20 minutes to the Japanese garden dive site where it was raining and very choppy in the water. We dove down to 10.3 metres and did a few surface skills including how to tow a diver when they’re tired.

Here's some great photos Henning took:

heading_to_Twins

Ko_Tao_islands

panorama_photo_of_islands

Then we were back in the boat and heading another 20 minutes away to Twins (Twin rocks) diving site. We dove down 11 metres this time. Here we did some fun underwater skills such as regulator recovery, partially and fully flooding our masks and then clearing them, and stationary air share. We also did a few more surface skills: weight belt removal and replacement, and scuba/BC unit removal and replacement.

Here's the view:

view_on_boat

view_on_boat_2 

We headed back to Big Blue and got some more information from Neil. We were finished by 17:30. I went back home, had a great shower and it was pouring when I left for dinner. I went to Simple Life Bar and Restaurant – the closest restaurant to where I was staying. I ordered Pad Silw - stir-fried rice noodles (thick) with tofu instead of meat, kale (more Chinese green than what I know as kale), carrot and soy sauce THB70:

Pad_Silw_at_Simple_Life_

And a fresh coconut juice THB70 – great for rehydration after diving

fresh_coconut_at_Simple_Life_

The rain looks like it’s setting in. It’s nearly monsoon season here in Koh Tao.

Friday 2 November – Last Day of Diving Course

Got up too early to be at Big Blue by 06:30 where we organised the equipment needed for our early morning dives. We were being filmed today by Chris from ACE Marine Images and could buy the DVD later if we wanted.

Getting ready to dive:

divers_getting_ready

And Izabela and I all ready to go (photos by Henning)

divers_Izabela__LC

Here's the view:

view_from_boat

First we headed to Chumphon Pinnacle where we dove down 17.1 metres. We saw some brown marbled groupers, yellow-tailed barracudas and marbled sea cucumbers before we were back on the boat and heading to Twin rocks again. We dove down 15.1 metres at Twins and had a few more underwater skills to complete: mask removal and replacement, hovering (this is hard), and air sharing when ascending. We also spotted shrimp and goby (who work together in a really lovely way), red-breasted wrasse and a blue spotted stingray.

I know you love the photo of me in a wetsuit, so here's another one with Henning and I:

LC__Henning

Henning took a few more photos with his waterproof camera:

LC_aboard_the_boat

Diving crew (L-R) David, Markus, (some random diver), Izabela and I:

BB_diving_crew

Then we were back at Big Blue. We finished by 11:30 and had paperwork and forms to fill in. Now I’m an Open Water Diver! This means I can dive with a friend in daylight up to 10 metres deep.

I really want to do my Advanced Diving course but not sure when I will yet as I want to finish my Thailand adventures before I go to Laos, Vietnam and then Cambodia before heading back to Indonesia in December. I also really want to do a free diving course next time I’m here. So will have to be the next time I have a spare week.

I walked back to my room, had a great shower and washed my hair. I walked to New Heaven Café a supposedly organic place. I ordered Energy Bubble Juice with apple, mango and passionfruit THB70 and a Vegetable Burger with grilled vegetables, hummus, lettuce, pickle, no cheese or mustard mayonnaise, with salad and chips THB140:

Vegetable_Burger_at_New_Heaven_Cafe_

It was great and just what I needed after the big dives. I also found Nature Valley cinnamon crunchy granola bars THB240 for a packet of 6. I walked around for a bit before heading back home to sleep and using my USB modem for some computer work. Not being on the computer for the past few days was a great break for me. I felt I was in another world and it seems I missed a lot of things – including Hurricane Sandy.

I met Markus, David, Izabela and Henning at 18:00 at Big Blue Restaurant and Bar for dinner. It was great to hang out with these four people in a more casual setting. We had such a great few days together on Koh Tao. Henning will most likely do his advanced course sooner than the rest of us. Markus and David are staying in Koh Tao for a while longer but not sure what they’re doing. Izabela was just happy to have finished this course.

I ordered a mango juice THB45 and Fried mama noodles with vegetables and no egg for THB60:

Fried_mama_noodles_with_vegetables_

We watched our great video after 19:00 that Chris from ACE Marine Images had filmed and edited today of today’s dives. It was AU$66 to buy the DVD, which is pretty expensive for a DVD, but I would buy it online later as it’s a great souvenir to have of our diving adventure in Koh Tao.

Here's our diving crew (L-R) David, Neil our instructor, LC, Markus, Henning and Izabela at the front:

Big_Blue_diving_crew

Saturday 3 November – Koh Tao to Suratthani

Had corn flakes for breakfast and left my place at 08:30 to be at Big Blue for the 09:00 taxi. The taxi left and picked up various people – a lot of Canadians. We left Koh Tao at 09:30, changed catamarans at Koh Phangan, then left at 12:00 midday. I arrived at Donsak Pier at 13:45 where a bus took us to Suratthani city in about an hour. I had spoken to Ball, the owner of Serene Guest House where I was staying the night and she came to pick me up. Suratthani was really busy as there was a Buddhist festival on for 13km or so.

I arrived at the guesthouse – they actually had glass bottles of Singha water, great to see. I caught up on computer work and then walked to find the noodle shop. As it was later than I planned, it was quite dark and didn’t want to walk around deserted streets on my own at night. I had stopped at a few places and they all told me that they didn’t have vegetarian food or wouldn’t make me any. I stopped at the first place that could make me something vegan. I found a shop that only had a Thai name so wasn’t sure what the name was. I ordered fried rice with vegetables and no egg for THB59:

fried_rice_with_vegetables_in_Suratthani

Looking around when I was eating all the chairs had “Steak For You” written on them – I guess that was the name of the place. I hadn’t gone down one area as they only had a steak place and now I had eaten at one anyway… silly. I also think there’s a brothel over the road, but as I can’t read the Thai sign this can’t be confirmed.

Sunday 4 November – Suratthani to Bangkok

I walked around a bit more in the morning to try to find some food – the noodle place I was looking for last night wasn’t open. Suratthani is the hardest place I’ve found so far for vegan food. It’s a pity as the place I stayed was great. I asked various places about their food. Either the noodle broth was cooked with chicken or pork or they couldn’t make anything vegan. Ball had said yesterday “the vegetarian festival is now over.” It seems that certain places in Thailand are only veg-friendly when the Phuket Vegetarian Festival is on. It’s so disappointing that many Buddhists and locals only consider spreading their compassion to our animal friends for nine days a year.

I ended up heading into a local convenience store, reading a lot of the products and their ingredients and buying some snacks to eat. I found some Thai brands of pea snacks, corn snacks and a packet of 2-minute noodles - one without shrimp. They definitely all had MSG though and they were obviously not the best foods. It would get me through until I arrived in Bangkok anyway.

Ball organised a tuk-tuk driver to pick me up at 11:30 and take me to the airport about 25 minutes away for THB300. It was easy to check into this small airport. A 1.5L plastic bottle I had in the pocket of my small backpack wasn’t allowed through, not sure why as it’s not an International flight. My stainless steel water bottle that was in my Viva la Vegan! calico bag wasn’t noticed so didn’t need to be emptied. Weird.

I waited in the departure lounge where the boarding time was pushed back. We ended up leaving right on time at 12:50. I was right at the back of the plane. When I was booking in with Thai Airways, you can specify that you want vegan/veg food so I did. Snacks were brought out in a blue coloured bag, didn’t look vegan to me: pastry with spinach and no cheese. Wasn’t going to chance it. Also served some sort of canned Thai tea, which was horrible. We arrived on time at 14:00 in Bangkok.

I decided to get the train to Makassan then taxi to the train station to buy my ticket to Chiang Mai for tomorrow. The train ticket was THB90 and the people were really friendly and helpful getting me to the right floor, platform and train. You can also get to the train station if you transfer to the MRT, which I can’t be bothered to do with my luggage. I lost my train coin and had to pay another THB90 to exit. Annoying. I paid THB300 (just over AU$9) for the taxi to take me to the train station with THB35 to exit the airport and a THB45 toll. We even stopped a bit for the Royal family and guards to pass on the highway.

The sleeper train I wanted to get to Chiang Mai was sold out. Not good as I really wanted to get that train. I ended up getting another train that would leave earlier and therefore arrive earlier in Chiang Mai. Booked the 08:30 train for tomorrow morning that would arrive at 20:30 tomorrow night at a cost of THB611 (approximately AU$19.) I was hoping to hang out with Holly and Soma tomorrow but that wouldn’t be happening now.

I got a taxi to my hotel, H Residence that was also really hard to find. It didn’t help that the number Agoda had given was their fax number. Drivers here have absolutely no idea of the streets and directions to places. I read somewhere that a lot of the drivers work on the side of their farms and just come to the city for extra work as a taxi driver. This taxi driver had no idea where the hotel was. We were driving up the right street but couldn’t see the hotel. He ended up dropping me on the main street outside a 7-11. They told me to walk in the opposite direction we were driving. Another 7-11 down the road helped me out a lot. One of the guys tried to find the hotel on his mobile phone and couldn’t. He then asked another staff member who knew where it was and told him. He ended up taking me around the corner to the hotel on his bike. How lovely. And wouldn’t accept any payment from me either.

I finally booked in. The staff were really helpful and friendly. There was a pool so I went upstairs to have a swim. I met a great gal from South Africa who was about to start training for English teaching over here and will get placed somewhere soon after. We had a great talk for ages about various things. I had thought that my taxi trip here was bad – she had the same thing happen to her at night after driving around for 2 hours in the taxi. I ended up doing some exercises in the pool for an hour or so.

I went back to my room and worked out my new itinerary. I got the free hotel tuk-tuk to take me to the closest 7-11 (unfortunately it wasn’t the one who had helped me before) so I could buy some snacks for my train trip. I bought rice crackers, seasoned seaweed, various nuts, plus some soymilk for the remaining corn flakes for breakfast tomorrow. I ordered noodles with vegetables from the restaurant downstairs for THB150

noodles_with_vegetables_at_H_Residence

and had my dinner in my room while I channel surfed and caught up on all the US presidential election news. H Residence was such a great place to stay in Bangkok.

Monday 5 November – Train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai

I woke up early and the free hotel tuk-tuk took me to the main road and hailed a taxi for me. I was told to allow an hour for peak traffic but it only took 20 minutes to get to the train station at a cost of THB77 including THB45 toll – pretty good for 07:00 traffic.

Found some noodles in the food court area to takeaway for lunch/dinner with a THB50 coupon. Waited out near the tracks for the train. There was a loud noise and an alarm sound and everyone started standing. I had read that the Thai people stand for their National Anthem and it was pretty impressive to see.

The train arrived at 08:30 and left at 08:55. A couple of female travellers just made the train. So, we’re already almost 30 minutes behind schedule. I had booked the Special Express train number 9 that was meant to depart Bangkok at 08:30 and arrive tonight at 20:30 in Chiang Mai. I was in the Class 2 coach APN76 in Car 3, Seat 46.

At 10:00 we were served sweet snacks of brownie, pastry and coffee or tea. At 12:00 it was rice and curry, not vegetarian. There were a few vegetarians around me who were not happy about this. One of them mentioned that the train would take at least two hours longer than the 20:30 scheduled arrival time. Luckily I have snacks. I passed the time sleeping, listening to music and reading my Lonely Planet South East Asia on a Shoestring book.

At about 21:45 the train stopped for about 5 minutes trying to move. Then it stopped again. It’s a bit worrisome when you see the staff all rushing past with torches and walkie talkies to the back of the train. After 15 minutes we started moving again, slowly this time. There were a lot of stops and starts. After 23:00 we even went backwards for a bit to get another train to tow us! I rang the owner of the place I was staying to let him know that we were running late. He said it happens all the time...


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