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THAILAND (updated 11/2011):RouteVientiane (Laos) - Nong Khai - Khon Kaen - Phimai - Nakhon Ratchasima - Prachinburi - Aranyaprathet - (Cambodia) - Khlong Yai - Trat - Rayong - Bangkok - Cha-Am - Chumphon - Ranong - Khao Lak - Phuket - Ko Yao Yai - Krabi - Trang - Hat Yai - Padang Besar (Malaysia)Entering via Vientiane/Nong Khai 'Friendship Bridge' (from Laos)No problem, 45min. Entering by land without visa for max. 15 days, more only with visa. Carnet de Passages not required but accepted. Customs issue a national document instead (EUR 2.50). Car insurance is mandatory, but no check at the border (got mine later at AA in Pattaya, EUR 30/year). Tolls apply for the Thai-Lao 'Friendship Bridge' (pay in Lao Kip or Thai Baht). Lao exit fee payable in Lao Kip, Thai Baht or USD.Entering via Koh Kong crossing (on the Gulf of Thailand, from Cambodia)No problem, 20min. Visa, CdP, insurance as above.Entering via Rantau Panjang/Sungai Golok crossing (from Malaysia)No problem, 45min. Visa, CdP, insurance as above. Check security situation before going here.RoadsDrive on the left. Conditions are good, often very good. Partly heavy traffic. Disciplined and orderly driving style. Tolls apply for expressways in greater Bangkok. Good maps or GPS navigation recommended for Bangkok (complicated traffic routing, congestion).FuelDense station network. Petrol costs EUR 0.85/L, diesel EUR 0.67/L, LPG EUR 0.31/kg. Also available: 98 and 100 octane unleaded, Gasohol 95 (ethanol/petrol mix). LPG pumps sometimes use DISH plugs. Fuel is much cheaper in Malaysia.CampingIt's not widely spread but known. Locals will meet you with tolerant ignorance and respect. Some national parks have good and very cheap campgrounds.In the Southern provinces avoid potential attack targets, such as bridges, petrol stations, temples, government institutions, places representing Western lifestyle and keep a low profile (avoid roadside parking). Check out my Camp Spot List for some nice places.MiscellaneousTravelling Thailand is very comfortable and uncomplicated. Only the Southern provinces of Yala, Pattani, Narathiwat sometimes resemble a war zone (Islamist fundamentalism), with many military checkpoints and road blocks within short distances. Parts of greater Bangkok and the Chao Praya river basin/delta are currently flooded. Main road connections in and around Bangkok are affected. In the greater vicinity there are shortages of mineral water, soft drinks and bread. Many roads and recreational areas are overloaded.Outside Bangkok and tourist centres, English is hardly spoken. Thailand is a shoppers paradise, with very affordable restaurants, clothes and services. Wide range of available goods. ATMs everywhere, but in the Southern unrest provinces my VISA card was not accepted. The Thai currency Baht is often also accepted in Laos and Cambodia.All information subject to change (note time of writing).
December 2011 - March 2012 - Arriving in Thailand after long months in India, Nepal, China, Laos and Cambodia, I am overwhelmed: Twelve lane highways, giant shopping centres, neon lights, air condition. What a contrast! Welcome back to modernity, welcome back to consumerism.This combination of luxury, diverse landscapes and a comfortable climate sometimes feels like a reward for the partly strenuous times that lie behind me.Thailand's wealth immediately hits the eye. Roads are good and busy. With its block structure, the highways and the malls, the pick-up trucks and fast food chains, Thai cities remind me of the US. That's not by chance: The North-East of the country was an important base for the US Army during the Vietnam War.
Aww!After the first days of munching and consuming, I put up camp in Khao Yai National Park for a while. Here, at 800 m.a.s.l., I enjoy not only fresh air and a really blue sky. Also, wildlife is almost stepping on your feet. A two metre monitor lizard wanders across 'his' camp ground every day, monkeys play around, eagles circling in the skies. At dusk I meet a herd of wild elephants having dinner in the jungle - a majestic and unforgettable experience. They slowly swish through the bushes, grab some branches and - and leave a massive swathe behind.
BangkokKrung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahinthara Ayuthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Piman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit, thats the Thai name, proves to be a world city with character.With 14 million people it's the cultural, economic and political centre of Thailand. This is where the king resides; this is where the most important temples and universities are located. And, of course, this is where the van is parked: right in Lumpini Park, the city's green lung. And again I am smitten with amazement - this time looking over a sea of skyscrapers, sophisticated architecture, refined traffic systems and crazy lighting designs. It was long time ago on my journey that I had been to a modern, working metropolis.
Village life in the metropolisBangkok is a multifaceted city with ultra-modern districts and cosy corners. Maybe that's why it fascinates temple lovers and the culturally ignorant alike.While new shopping centres and high rises keep changing the silhouette, other parts of town retain their traditional, rather rural charm: Small, well manicured huts line the water channels, the laundry drying in the wind out front, kids chasing each other on the wooden walkways.As a consequence to the daily collapse of Bangkok's city traffic, I buy a foldable bike, a purchase which I had been considering for quite some time. From now on the new racer will be always on board to extend my cruising radius.
Shortly before my visit downtown Bangkok was merely an island of tranquillity. The water masses of the 2011 flood disasters stopped right before the city centre - which was not just a lucky coincidence: In order to save the vital city, the government decided to sacrifice whole suburban districts. Many locals lost all they have. Still, I rarely encounter misery or anger. It seems hard for the generally polite and peaceful people not to smile.Upon encountering a foreigner the Thai don't go crazy any more. Too many American soldiers, European tourists, international businessmen and expatriates have been roaming the country. Instead of unlimited curiosity I am met with an unwinding tolerant ignorance, occasional interest and - upon request - with hospitality.
Bargain bitesNot only in Bangkok are there small restaurants or food stalls at every corner. Typically they serve rice or noodles, with chicken, lemon grass or coconut - almost always very delicious. But the Thai like it hot, sometimes too hot for the German. At a price of one to two euros per dish it's a good place to spoil yourself. For a bit more theres excellent sushi, too.
Christmas underneath the palm treesEven though there's no Last Christmas on the radio (a Wham! song hard to ignore in Germany), the holidays are there. I spend them together with a few friends and other travellers near the beach resort of Khao Lak on the west coast. 20 people in twelve cars come together, and we celebrate Christmas and New Year's Eve around the campfire.These days, in Khao Lak and many other places on the Indian Ocean people remember the Tsunami disaster which struck exactly five years ago. All over South Asia, 240,000 lives were lost that day in 2006.At the beginning of the year only a few million termites cause a disruption of my relaxed daily routine. One evening they suddenly want to move in - all of them, as it seems. Within minutes, the whole van is covered in termites and they crawl through the mosquito netting. Only with the help of chemical weapons can I prevent them from making themselves comfortable.
Island daysAll that company during the holidays awakens the desire for some seclusion again. So I take the ferry to Ko Yao Yai, as island east of Phuket in the Phang Nga Bay. The 5,000 mostly Muslim locals are fisher folk or rubber farmers. Foreigners rarely find their way here. I park in a lonely bay at the tip of the island, cycle through the villages and enjoy my peaceful, quiet beach.As I drive the van back onto the ferry after a week, my presence has become talk of the town. 'Ah, the foreigner with his van and the bike!', a smiling, chubby islander shouts over, waving 'bye-bye'.
Wow!In the Lao capital of Vientiane, a mere 25 kilometres away from Thailand, I had spent a lot of time looking for a foldable camping chair, gaffer tape and quality tools - all in vain. The answer always was: 'Bo-mi, no hep! This crazy stuff youre looking for, youre gonna get over there.'And indeed: compared to Thailand's hardware stores, our German ones are tiny corner shops.For the first time in my life I find myself silently gaping at a super market. If, for months, you've always had to ask your way through to the tiny local shop (that still doesn't have what you want), this just makes you speechless. Look at the fish, the bread, the meat, the vegetables, the household appliances! What a luxury, what huge piles, what a variety to chose from! I wonder whether, in 1989, East Germans felt the same when they came window shopping in the West for the first time. Treasures from all around the world, all in one place! And then this concept with the shopping carts! How much stuff you can fit in! Awesome.And yes, it does feel a little good when, back there in the car accessories aisle, you see this German video playing, advertising an automatic polishing machine.
Until next timeIt is for good reason that Thailand is a popular travel destination, and I was positively surprised: Open minded, but rather unobtrusive people, easy driving, well maintained cultural sites, a diverse, partly spectacular nature - and all that for little money.Sex or package tourists you will really only come across in the known resort towns.It's also part of my journey to continue. So, a few days after my little island escape I leave the Kingdom of Thailand and cross the border to Malaysia.
The magic of modernity(Bangkok)
Understated decorations for the king's birthday (Bangkok)
Old friends from long forgotten times! (Nong Khai)
Finally: quality stuff, full shelves, huge variety (Udon Thani)
One size fits all. (Bangkok)
Snake-like being (naga), protecting Buddha (Phimai)
Primeval forest at Khao Yai National Park
Big lizard(Khao Yai National Park)
Most campers are in fact refugees from Bangkok, fleeing the floods.(Khao Yai National Park)
He found cereal leftovers.(Khao Yai National Park)
Checking the wipers.(Khao Yai National Park)
Known from 'The Beach': Haew Prathun Falls(Khao Yai National Park)
What a feast: Dinner with jumbo (Khao Yai National Park)
Students on the Chao Praya Express ferry (Bangkok)
Apartment house in Chinatown (Bangkok)
Riksha reloaded: Thailand calls them Tuk Tuks (Bangkok)
Throne Hall at Royal Grand Palace (Bangkok)
Royal elephants adorning a roundabout(Bangkok)
Reception Hall at Dusit Palace (Bangkok)
Foreground old, background new (Bangkok)
Life along the khlong (Bangkok)
Thailand's biggest 'Buddha factory' has Marias and kings on offer, too. (Bangkok)
The king's nose is running. Mah, noone's gonna notice. (Bangkok)
Chao Phraya river is untameable. (Bangkok)
A tiny wall against the floods(Bangkok)
Downtown stayed dry. (Bangkok)
Co-pilot from Bangkok to Khao Lak: Moni (Bangkok)
If ever you want to meet someone here, make sure you know on which floor. (Bangkok)
As multi-faceted as the country: Thai food (Bangkok)
Water bag christmas tree(Bangkok)
She did not like the idea.(Khao Lak)
The elephant lady was supposed to lean on the van for the picture. (Khao Lak)
Christmas underneath palm trees (Khao Lak)
Winter wonderland (Khao Lak)
Boating on the rocks(Phang Nga Bay)
Waterworld(Phang Nga Bay)
Fishing village of Ko Panyi (Phang Nga Bay)
Since 2004 everyone here is aware of the threat.(Khao Lak)
Tsunami Memorial: A giant wave on the right, commemorative plaques on the left (Khao Lak)
Scrap eBay, take my bay! (Ko Yao Yai)
Captain Cool (Phuket)
Typical country house(Ko Yao Yai)
Even if loneliness is a problem for you, you'll find a beach. (Pattaya)
Even with tiny trunks, Thais know how to hoot very well. (Bangkok)
Work at the 'Buddha factory' (Bangkok)
Welcome to Pattaya.
Custodian at the Royal Grand Palace (Bangkok)