Thailand – Part 2

Thailand – Part 2

Floating market Bangkok

Last week in – Part 1 – I gave a few statistics, advice for getting about and what to do in Bangkok.

Boat propellor at floating market

They have a saying amongst visitors to Thailand – What wat is that? A – wat – is a Buddhist temple. And as you can probably gather, there are lots and lots of them. Nearly 41 000. Any tour will always include a couple of wats. They usually have a special Buddha and space to light incense and worship. You are required to remove your shoes when you enter a temple. It is also plain good mannered to be dressed respectfully. We saw big Buddhas, small ones, an emerald Buddha, a reclining one, golden ones, wooden ones, fat ones and more. They do become the same, only different, after a while. But I loved the spiritual undertones that exist in Thailand. People light incense at shrines in the middle of a busy street.

Reclining Buddha Bangkok

The floating market in Bangkok was our best. People trade all sorts of yummy food from their boats. They whizzed up and down the canals scaring the life out of me with raised propellers. We got to taste some interesting fruits and snacks. And that brings me to food in Thailand. I usually whine about lack of food for vegetarians when we travel. Thailand has food to die for. For vegetarians look out for egg and tofu stir frys, green and red curries, various types of rice or noodles to accompany the meal and a selection of dips and sauces too. We tied all sorts of exotic fruits we had never seen before. Even tried sprinkling our fruit with salt and chili flakes – as they do in Thailand.

Chang Mai

There are food markets all over and they are open early till late as Thais generally eat out. Thais typically eat small portions of food all day long rather than three big fat meals. They like to socialise when eating. Each person gets a different dish and they all eat from each others bowls. Street food always carries the risk of an upset tummy but I was fine. My husband didn’t fare so well but we can’t be sure it was the food. Read this link – for more about Thai street food but the golden rules – only eat where other people eat, only eat what you have seen being cooked, buy drinks that are unopened in a can and avoid fruit and salads that have handled.

Patong beach

While in Chang Mai we did a day trip, taking in a wat en route of course, to see the – Karen hill tribe people. They are also called – long necks – as they wear brass rings around their necks, adding more and more, until they do indeed, have very long necks. They also had trekking, elephant rides and trips across the border to The Golden Triangle where the borders of Thailand, Burma and Laos meet. Here’s another tip. Shop around for tour prices. They can vary considerably and operators are open to bargaining.

Rickshaw chang Mai

Prostitution is rife in Thailand and a source of revenue for families. In western countries prostitutes are often victims of sexual abuse and/or have substance abuse problems. Thai girls find their way into prostitution mainly because of poverty. They are usually young girls from rural areas who are supporting husbands, children, siblings and parents. Most of their families know what they do but pretend not to for fear of losing vital income these girls provide.

A selection of Thai fruits

Thai women are slim, attractive and demure. Men fall for them as they have easy and uncomplicated personalities. But these girls are out to make money. a case of that here. They attach themselves to a holiday maker and become his ‘wife’ during the holiday. They lay on attention and give the impression the guy they are with is the best man ever. You see them at the airport crying as the guys are leaving. As soon as the guy’s back is turned, the Thai ‘wife’ is on to the next bloke. She usually keeps in touch, and it doesn’t take long before the Thai girlfriend is needing money for this or that, swearing undying loyalty and love. Meanwhile they are spinning this yarn to every bloke they had.

A bar with ladies in Patong

I am not going to pass moral judgement on this. What two consenting adults choose to do is up to them. Thais are accepting of the practice and there is no sneering or looking down on these girls at all. Although prostitution is illegal very little is done to put an end to it. There are the occasional raids on the bars, money changes hands and then it’s back to business as usual. What I will mention is that over half a million Thais are living with HIV AIDS – source here.

I was determined to go to a – ladyboy – club to see what ladyboys look like. These guys look just like women. Very pretty women. You would not know they are men. It happens that tourists make out with one only to discover the true gender and get a hellava fright.

Next week in – Part 3 – you can read about shopping and markets, what to do and what not to do.

Steps to temple in Chang Mai

Go to – My Holidays and Trips – at the top of this page to read about other places we have visited. Or just click on – this link.



Travel in Thailand in 2007

Thailand is a three part article. Part 2 – follows next week and Part 3 the week after.

Buddhist shrine on street in Bangkok

People come back from Thailand raving about the place. I have friends who visit Thailand annually. One guy loves the gentle natured people and heads straight out to the rural areas to rough it in the villages. Another goes over to lounge in the sun and shop, shop, shop. And yet another goes over to have as much sex as he can. (more on that later) Clearly Thailand is a mixed bag of holiday opportunities. Nineteen million people visited Thailand in 2011 and 55% of visitors are return visitors.

After hearing countless stories, I wanted to see what Thailand was like for myself. Thailand is an affordable place to visit. You can have a luxury beach holiday, eat out every night and still have plenty money to spare for massages and shopping. What’s not to like?

Ladyboys in Patong

If we are visiting somewhere exotic for the first time, we prefer to do a package holiday. We found a package deal on-line with Flight Centre but having visited Thailand, I can honestly say that it’s possible, and probably cheaper, to put your own holiday together. Our trip started in Bangkok. From there we went to Phuket where we spent a week at a swanky beach side resort. Next we went up to Chang Mai for a last few days before heading back to Bangkok and home again. The deal included airport transfers and all flights in Thailand. The tour gave us a feel of the north where Chang Mai is located, the middle where Bangkok is and the south where Phuket is situated.

I was looking forward to seeing Bangkok. I’d heard it was a bustling city and is a cultural and shopping mecca. Bustling doesn’t come close to describing Bangkok. It’s home to 12 million people. Getting from the airport to our hotel took forever in a taxi. Traffic frequently grinds to a halt leaving the city gridlocked. Not a great way to spend a holiday. The city has come up with genius ways to commute such as a skytrain, scooter taxi, underground train, tuk tuk, cycling, river boats and ferries, and of course there are the usual forms of transport such as bus, train and catching a taxi. A small warning regarding tuk tuks or taxis. Get your hotel to book and confirm the price to avoid being ripped off.

Golden Buddha Bangkok

My first bit of advice is to take the airport rail link to get to town. It’s faster and at least it moves. The same applies for your return trip to the airport. The very last thing you want is to be stuck in traffic and miss a flight. Standards and quality of accommodation vary considerably. Many establishments are not unmindful of the fact that men come to Thailand to meet prostitutes and have very strict rules about who can visit your room. Generally the cheaper places and guest houses are more forgiving than hotels in that respect.

Traffic in Bangkok

We did a city tour of Bangkok taking in the Grand Palace in the Old City, a floating market, a couple of wats (more on them later) and a general drive through the city. We would have liked to go walkabout in China Town but sadly the traffic made it impossible to fit in the full itinerary. My advice would be to hire a bicycle and visit the key attractions yourself. However, I have to say that we didn’t always find street names and resorted to counting roads and making notes of landmarks so we could find our way back to our hotel.

Beach resort hotel Phuket

Thais are well known for their friendly and sweet dispositions and they really do smile a lot. Souvenir T-Shirts brandish slogans such as – “Thailand – the land of smiles.” Don’t be surprised if a couple of Thais join your table at one of the food markets. They love to interact with ‘farang’ or foreigners, but for all their friendliness, they don’t speak much English and asking for a meal to be cooked in a certain way or for directions is probably a waste of time. Do make a note of some key Thai words to help you communicate in Thailand. The Thais will love it.

Now, although I am glad we visited Bangkok, it’s not the sort of place I would go back to. Too many people, getting about is a nightmare, air pollution is 3 times acceptable levels, noise pollution is also above accepted safe levels, it’s hot as hell and humid to boot.

Greenie making a domation at a temple

The highest market prices were in Bangkok. I saw items I had bought in Bangkok selling for far less in Chang Mai. In some areas the prostitution is in your face. You can’t walk down the street without girls and ladyboys coming on to you. My advice. Spend the minimum time in Bangkok and head up to Chang Mai. It’s inland and much cooler. It has a laid back bohemian vibe. Chang Mai is smaller and you can walk about without getting lost. And you buy everything for much less than in Bangkok. They have a red light scene in Chang Mai but it’s more discreet.

In – Part 2 – next week you can read about temples, food, prostitution and Chang Mai. In – Part 3 – the week after I talk about shopping, markets and give some tips of Thailand.

Coral Island

Read about other destinations in the Greenie Travel archives – here.

Ireland – Part 3

Ireland – Part 3

Craft cottage on Aran Island

In – Part 1 – I talked about north vs south Ireland and the history of Ireland In – Part 2 – I discuss the people, best time to visit, planning a road trip and what to do in Belfast and Derry.

Dromagorteen stone circle

From – Derry – we drove up to – Donegal – to see the most northern part of Ireland and then we cut back across Ireland to the southern capital, and the biggest city in Ireland – Dublin. You need as much time in Dublin as you can spare. Lots to see and lots to do. A city walk is a must. A visit the the Guinness brewery – another must. Temple Bar area, a stroll along the River Liffey, the book of Kells at Trinity College and St Stephens Green are also on the list. You will fill every day you allocate to your time in Dublin. For more on what to do in
Dublin follow – this link.

We left Dublin and cut back west taking in the – Curragh – where we saw horses galloping across the plains. We spent the next few nights in Galway, the third largest city in the south. While based in – Galway – we took a ferry to the – Aran Islands, drove through Connemara area and along the beautiful coastline looking out for – killer sheepCladdagh Bay is the place to buy a – Claddagh ring – which is an Irish token of friendship and love.

Harp players at Bunratty Castle

From Galway we drove south via county Limerick and stayed at a guest house near – Bunratty Castle. I was determined to experience a medieval banquet at Bunratty despite the steep price. Bunratty has a park that you can explore before heading into the old castle. Inside it’s decorated in 15th century furnishings and lit by candles.

Staff, dressed in 15th century outfits, ply you with mead and bread then escort you to tables where you enjoy a 4-course meal. The staff take breaks from feeding you to sing ballads, dance and play the harp. Some of the lyrics were quite racy. It’s all tongue in cheek and lots of fun. I was more than happy with my vegetarian meal.

English Market Cork

From Bunratty we went south taking in the – Cliffs of Moher – which, much like Giants causeway, attract millions of visitors a year. Most of these places are a bit of a walk from the car park, and you have to pay to get to a viewing point. We took our lunch break there. It’s also possible to see the cliffs by boat, but we had lots to do and see, so that wasn’t an option.

Next we made our way toward county Kerry. We drove the – Ring of Kerry in an anti-clockwise direction. They say that tour buses do the trip counter clockwise, so to avoid being stuck behind slow, scene blocking buses, cars should travel clockwise. You decide. It’s hard to find words to describe how unbelievably beautiful the towns and bays in Kerry are.

Leprechaun crossing in Kerry

We missed out on Newgrange stone circle outside Dublin but our hosts at – Druid Cottage – in Kenmare pointed out a few in the region. I have a particular interest in both stone circles and Celtic mysticism. Druids have always fascinated me. The same guesthouse had a book about the Romans accounts of druids.  Druids never kept records. Their craft was passed on by learning rhymes and comitting their lyrics to memory. I was horrified to learn Druids would disembowel humans and ‘read’ their entrails to predict the future.

Temple Bar area in Dublin

Next on the agenda was – Cork, the second largest city in the south. We loved Cork too. The English Market is an absolute must. Cork has a lovely atmosphere and great foodie scene. We went strolling along the River Lee and got lost simply walking around. We also did a drive out to Blarney Castle. No way in hell was I going to hang unside down off that top of the castle to kiss the – Blarney Stone – so sadly, I did not acquire the gift of the gab. Try to allow two days in Cork if you can.

After Cork we went via – Waterford – up toward Rosslare where we spent our last night. I wouldn’t visit Rosslare but we had to be close to it as we took the ferry early the next morning. The ferry arrived in Fishguard in Wales and that was the end of our Irish holiday.


This is a mantra for me by now, but no matter how much time you budget for a holiday, it’s never enough. We thought two weeks would be ample. But no. The thing is once you get going, you pick up on places you never knew about and hadn’t planned to see. It’s not like we could pop back. It’s now or never. Before we knew it, we were cramming it all in. By the time our holiday was over, we were shattered and needed a holiday to get over our holiday.
But it was worth it.
If you are looking for videos on Ireland find a link here to – Ireland on video.

Cliff of Moher

And by clicking – here – you can visit the Travel Archive Page which has more on other destinations.

Ireland – Part 2

Ireland – Part 2


Last week in – Part 1 – I spoke about north vs south Ireland and the history.

Ireland is a whole lot more than it’s dramas. Irish people are down to earth, yet feisty. They have a wicked sense of humour and something they call – craic. A good sense of fun. Colourful characters abound in Irish history like the canny brewer – Arthur Guinness – who had 21 children. Apparently his dark stout gave him and his wife stamina. Oscar Wilde was a character and half. His quotes are legendary. My favourite is vegetarian writer – George Bernard Shaw – who died at 94 after he fell off his ladder while trimming the trees outside his house.

Guild Hall Derry

Modern Irish celebrities like – Bono – and – Bob Geldof – are equally flamboyant and have a lot to say for themselves. These two Irish men have changed the course of history with their activism. Ireland has a lot to be proud of.

Ireland is full of magic and folklore. We heard it in the songs they sang at Bunratty, saw references to – Druids – magical powers at the stone circles and we saw warnings for us to beware of – Leprechauns.

Queens University Belfast

Ireland is called the Emerald Isle. There is a reason it’s so green. It rains a lot. Make sure you pack an umbrella and a light raincoat. You will use it. The best time to visit is mid season. July and August are when the European schools take their holidays. You may find screaming kids and exasperated parents a bit much. The favorable £ vs € exchange rate means Brits can pop across for an affordable family holiday.

Roads in Ireland are good and in the south road signs are in English and Irish. In the cities, as in most European cities, having a car was a bit of a nuisance but we left our car at the hotel or guesthouse and used public transport.

St Stephens Green Dublin

To plan our road trip, We took a map and kind of carved the country into quarters. We intended to find a base in each quarter and then do road trips radiating out from our base to key areas and attractions. We did a sort of E shape across Ireland but made sure we didn’t back-track and took in as much as possible. Here is a summary of our road trip. I can say – hand of heart – we put a lot of thought into it and I reckon we couldn’t have done it better.

St Mary’s Church in Dublin – now a bar

We hired a car from – Enterprise Car Hire – in Scotland and drove down to Stranraer. From Stranraer we took a ferry to Belfast where we spent a few nights at – Ibis Hotels. Starting in – Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland, we did a walking tour of the city taking in the usual things such as museums, important buildings and cathedrals. We saw the Titanic, the – Albert Memorial – or leaning clock tower, the botanical gardens and Queens University.

Look out for – wall murals – in Northern Ireland which have clear Loyalist and Republican themes.

We found well priced and – surprise – vegetarian food near Queens University. And that’s a tip worth mentioning. You are far more likely to find budget friendly, healthy food near universities. Maybe students are more open minded? For more ideas on what to do in Belfast – click here. Allow around two days in Belfast.

Old wall around old city of Derry

We left Belfast and drove north taking in – Giants Causeway – which is described as “40,000 interlocking basalt columns, the result of an ancient volcanic eruption”. If unique geology interests you, then you will love it. It’s a busy tourist attraction and requires a bit of walking. Follow – this link – for more on what to see and do in Northern Ireland.

Leaning clock Belfast

Next stop was – Derry. We loved Derry. Derry is the second biggest city in Northern Ireland and one of the oldest cities in Ireland. The old city is walled with ramparts that are still remarkably in tact. A person can easily imagine knights on horseback charging about. Derry is also where ‘The troubles’ began and here you will see wall murals that I mentioned. The Irish people are surprisingly open about their past and happy to talk. It happened not that long ago and many of them have been profoundly affected.  Allow two days – if you can – to explore Derry.

Next week in – Part 3  – I give ideas for what to do in Dublin, Galway, Aran Islands, Kerry, Cork and mention the druids.

Hanging backwards off the side of Blarney Castle to kiss the stone

Go to – My Holidays and Trips – at the top of this page to read about other places we have visited. Or just click on – this link.



Travel in Ireland in 2010

Village of Cong in Connemara area

I’ve written our Irish road-trip in three parts. Next week and the week after I will continue the series.

You hang out from the top of Blarney castle to kiss the stone

We’ve seen a fair amount of England and Scotland. And a bit of Wales. But we hadn’t been to Ireland. Ireland is right next door to Great Britain but somehow, we just never got there. First, we considered doing a canal boat holiday but decided against it as the canalised area is small and wouldn’t allow us to see much of Ireland. On advice from a few people we chose to do a driving trip around Ireland. Turns out that’s what most people do. It was important for us to see both Northern Ireland and
The Republic of Ireland.

Loyalist area Derry

Northern Ireland – is part of Great Britain, has pound sterling (£) as currency, they fly the Union Jack and are subject the all the protocol that eminates from the United Kingdom.

The Republic of Ireland – is a member of the European Union, their money is the Euro (€), their flag is the tricolour and they have their own goverment, parliament and rules.

Northern Ireland and The Republic of Ireland are two different countries. I did not know that and when you travel from north to south there are no border posts.

Aftermath of a car bomb

We did this trip in 2010 and it was painfully obvious Ireland was having a financial melt down. The owners of the guest houses we stayed in were furious with their finance minister and government for getting the Irish people into such a mess. The newspapers were lampooning Irish politicians. We heard all about the boom era when the – Celtic Tiger – loomed large. On our road trip we saw big fancy country houses, the sort you see in American soap operas – except they were abandoned. Clearly people had over extended themselves and were unable to continue with their lavish lifstyles.

Loyalist wall mural Derry

And -‘The Troubles’ although mostly over – are not forgotten. We couldn’t help but notice buildings that had been ravaged by bomb blasts and boarded up. They stood in sharp contrast right next to buildings that had been re-built and restored. This was more evident in Belfast and Derry (Londonderry).

The reason Derry (Londonderry) has two names is a hangover from Loyalists (Northern Ireland) who are pro Britain and call it Londonderry and the Republicans (The Republic of Ireland) who are pro independance and call it Derry.

We saw kerbstones painted red, white and blue in Loyalist communities. And just two blocks away kerbstones were painted orange, green and white in Republican neighbourhoods. A car bomb exploded outside a furniture shop in Derry while we were there, but the damage was contained. And to be fair, these incidents are rare today. I think the reason the tensions don’t erupt as much anymore is testament to the will of the Irish people. They really want to move on from their difficult past.

Celtic crosses on Aran Island

I was fascinated by the history of the Irish people and found the similarities between the displaced people of Ireland not unsimilar to what happened in my home country South Africa. The Loyalists, mostly Catholics, are the indigenous people of Ireland. They were displaced by the Republicans, mostly Protestants, who were British settlers.

Medieval crockery for banquet at Bunratty Castle

We learned that a million Irish people died of starvation in the – Great -Famine – while food was being exported across to Britain. Horrific. Over a million Irish people emigrated from Ireland to avoid certain death and many Americans have strong links to Ireland.

We encountered lots of Americans at the breakfast tables in the guesthouses. On our night out at Bunratty Castle we met people from just about every American state. Americans come over to explore their roots and do much what we did, a mad dash across Ireland. Nearly every president of the USA has Irish ancestry. America played a part in the liberation of Ireland from Britain. Read more about Irish American presidents here

Giants Causeway in Antrim

In – Part 2 – I chat about people, best time to visit, planning a road trip, Belfast and Derry and in – Part 3  – t talk about what to do inDublin, Galway, Aran Islands, Kerry, Cork and mention the Druids.

Go to – My Holidays and Trips – at the top of this page to read about other places we have visited. Or just click on – this link.

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