12 Oct

GETTING HIGH IN DUBAI

The tallest structure in the world proudly towers over downtown Dubai.  The Burj Khalifa is a 2722 feet tall beautiful building.  It has 160 floors. Started in 2004 it was completed in 2009 at a cost of $1.5 Billion dollars.  It took 22 million man hours to build and each day on the site there would be 12,000 workers from over 100 different countries. It holds 17 world records including the highest display of fireworks in the world.  Every New Year’s Eve over 1 million people show up to view the spectacle.

Visitors are whisked up 125 floors in one minute on one of the high-speed elevators.  There are two floors dedicated to viewing decks.  I was amazed how far I could see, and they say the tower is visible on a clear day from 100 kms away.

Tickets can cost as little as $27, if you do not want to see the sunset.  Prices increase for sunset and fast track, so you do not have to stand in line for so long.

My ticket was for 5 pm but I did not get to the top until 6:10 because the lines are so long.  If you go, get in line early.

06 Oct

DUBAI IS DECADENT

Dubai is all about being the biggest and the best. ” More is better” certainly shows here.  The United Arab Emirates is one of the wealthiest countries in the world, and the wealth and the things that money can buy are very evident.  Not only are malls full of top fashion and jewellery designer shops, there are also endless designer shops for children and babies.  It is not uncommon to see a Baby Dior and also a Dior for Kids shop in the same mall.  The Metro even has “Gold Cars” for those who do not want to sit in the cheap seats.

 

Dubai has the tallest structure in the world, the Burj Khalifa, 163 floors.  Dubai Mall is the largest mall in the world, and with the soon-to-open expansion, it will have 20 million sq. feet of shopping,  and a taxi service within the mall.  It also has the largest water show and the largest indoor snow park in the world.  The ski area takes up the size of three football fields.  It is a huge attraction as most people in this part of the world have never experienced snow.  Another mall features an indoor skating rink.

The four tallest hotels in the world are in Dubai, and also the world’s tallest residential building.   The only 7-star hotel in the world sits on its own private island here. There is a building built like a picture frame and one that twists 90 degrees from top to bottom.  The Tiara Towers appear to be wearing tiaras.

With over 45 million flowers Dubai boasts the largest natural flower garden in the world.  It also has the world’s largest man-made marina. The marina area has seen over 200 highrises built in the past 10 years.

The best “biggest” of Dubai has to be Jumeria Palm Island.  It is the first, and smallest of three islands built in the shape of a palm tree.  There are 17 fronds, and each residence on each frond has its own private beach.

People here say if they do not have the biggest – they will soon build it.  An example is the ferris wheel similar to the London Eye.  It is almost completed, and it will come as no surprise – it is bigger than the one in London.

In Dubai you can order a cappuccino with a dusting of 18 k gold powder – for only $25 as you sit and watch the growth of the fastest growing city in the world.

And, if you are needing a dress made of gold – I can tell you where to buy one – DUBAI!! Another detail you might need to know – Uber has helicopter service here – you just call them, they tell you where the nearest helipad is – they are everywhere – and they pick you up and drop you at one close to where you want to go.  Only in Dubai.

08 Jun

KOH LIPE – ONE EXTREME TO ANOTHER

Sunset at Sunset Beach

Too many Sunburns & Tattoos

I so enjoyed my time at Koh Tarulato, quiet and relaxing.  My last stop in Thailand was Koh Lipe.  It was not quiet or relaxing.  Arriving by ferry, our boat backed up close to the beach.  We went down the swim ladder to water well over our knees.  This island was very expensive and the only affordable accommodation I could find was a dorm at a hostel.  I had not done the dorm thing for many years so was quite apprehensive.  The hostel was huge – over 300 beds.  Rooms did not have bunk beds, but more like a capsule, private and comfortable.  Each bed had a locker across from it.  In my room there was a big stack of big suitcases at the end of the lockers.  They belonged to 3 young gals from RIo.  They wore very very tiny thong bikinis during the day, and little slip dresses at night.  All of the clothes I ever saw them wear would have fit in one of my pockets.  What was in the suitcases??? This was a narrow island, Sunrise Beach on one side, Sunset Beach on the other.  There were endless seafood cafes.  This island had a great program idea “Trash Heros”.  Once a week tourists could meet and spend the day cleaning up a beach – boat ride and lunch were included.

Trash Heros

Seafood Cafe

This was a good idea, but they should have started on Koh Lipe.  If you went half a block off any of the main streets there was more trash than I had seen on any island.  I was really quite amazed at how dirty this place was.  It was extremely hot and there was nothing to do but go to the beach, and the beaches were very busy.  Once again, many Europeans in too small swimsuits.  The water was not as nice as the last place, but I did swim a few times.  I was certainly glad I had not decided to stay any longer – it was far too busy and crowded for me.  I stood on the beach one day and looked around – I could have been at a beach resort anywhere in the world – there was nothing “Thai” about this place. One day as I was walking on the beach a supply boat had arrived.  Everything used on this island had to be unloaded from the big boat  – and taken to shore in the longtails, then carried by hand from the boats to the beach.  It was interesting to watch and amazing to see the amount of supplies it takes to run a small island in high season.  This was my last stop in Thailand, and I was not all that sad to leave.  Next stop Malaysia.

Boats full of Supplies

Supplies Arrive

22 May

KOH TARUTAO – JUST WHAT I WAS LOOKING FOR

Information

Jungle Road

I wanted it all  – palm trees,  a white sand beach,  and clear warm water.  I also wanted it on a budget, and for myself.  So far I had not found that perfect combination.  The owner of my guesthouse in Trang suggested I visit Koh Tarutao if I was looking for nicer beaches and fewer tourists.  The ferry ride was not long, in calm seas.   This island is one of the stops for the many tour companies offering day trips to 4 or 5 islands.  Some tours only stop here for 15 minutes.  If you are staying, you must pay your park entrance fee, then at the Park office you choose your accommodation – there was not a lot of choices as there are only park bungalows or tents to rent.  I was staying at Ao Molae 4 kilometres from the pier.  As I waited for the shuttle I read signs warning of noseeums, monkeys breaking into cabins, and pythons in trees.

My Bungalow

Outdoor Shower

This island was at one time a prison colony and has never allowed outside development.  My bungalow was perfect, and on a beach that was ideal.  There was a line of garbage just above the high tide line.  The Goddess of the Sea did not want man’s garbage, so this was nature’s way to return it.

A Perfect Beach

Returned Garbage

An outdoor shower served both sides of each bungalow building.  There was one cafe with restricted opening hours.  The staff were armed.  I do not know who thought water guns might be a deterrent to monkeys, obviously, no one told the monkeys as they swooped in and stole food off plates as we ate.  Electricity from solar panels was available from 6 – 11 pm.  There was no wifi.  I swam and walked the beach several times each day.  I always had both the beach and the sea to myself.  The social life revolved around dinner and sunsets at the cafe.  One day I decided to go for a walk down the jungle road. The jungle was so thick you could not see anything, but there were lots of sounds.  Monkeys were playing a wild game of Tarzan.  The trees formed a canopy over the road, and I could not avoid thinking of the warning of snakes in trees, so I did not walk far.  Four days of time alone, on a beach,  and I was rejuvenated to carry on with my adventure.  Every silver lining has a cloud – and the only cloud here was the constant threat of thieving monkeys.  I had found what I was looking for.

12 May

TRANG – CHINESE NEW YEAR

Small and Fancy Tuk-tuks

Another Style of Tuk-tuks

I only went to Trang for a couple of nights.  My plans were indefinite and I was hoping to access more information from there as to my next destinations.  Leaving Koh Lanta I rode in a van with a local woman and her cute little gal.  They were obviously going to a party as the little gal had on a fancy dress and sparkly gold shoes.  She was so shy and moved so her mother was sitting next to me.  I got out my Ipad and showed her some photos of our dog.  Once I did that we were friends and she sat beside me for the entire trip.  Once again only hug taxis were available at the bus terminal.  Again, I stood my ground and got a tuktuk.  Here they were very small and I had to sit hunched over in the back, and as usual, hit my head often.  I had booked a guesthouse in Trang and my room had a balcony.  I expected to sit on my balcony, have my  coffee and write my notes.  Well, my room did have a balcony – and I have posted a couple of photos – certainly no view!

My Balcony

View from my Balcony

 

The Chinese New Year celebrations were taking part only a block from my hotel. Chinese people were setting off firecrackers all day and there were long lineups to buy lottery tickets.  Along the street leading to the celebrations there were a series of large paintings of the former King.  People were lined up to have their photo taken with each of the paintings.  The party  was a fun time with lots of food and entertainment.  Many children were dressed in traditional outfits.  My guesthouse was booked for the following night so I had to move – only a couple of blocks. Before I left I was speaking to the owner and asking his recommendations for places to see.  He said he was sure I would enjoy Koh Tarulao an unspoiled island.   My new place was near the train station, and the night market.  There was a large building across the street that appeared to be under deconstruction.  I learned it had been damaged by a terrorist’s bomb.  Fortunately, the bomb detonated during the night, so no injuries or death.

Chinese New Year

Kids in Cute Outfits

06 May

KOH LANTA – BAMBOO BEACH HUT

Nice to walk on this beach

Beach massage

Typical Tuk-Tuk

 

 

 

 

 

The ferry from Phuket to Koh Phi Phi goes past where the movie “The Beach” was filmed.  My ferry stopped in Koh Phi Phi but I did not stay there.  I could tell by the number of people I saw arriving  it would be far too crowded for me.  I changed ferries and went on to Koh Lanta. I had heard the beach was nice, and not so crowded.   As usual the arrival of the ferry caused mayhem and tuk-tuk drivers increased their rates to meet the demand.  I went for lunch and by the time I had finished things were much quieter – and the tuk-tuk rate to my resort was less than half what it had been an hour ago.  Tuk-tuks here were a motorcycle with a box side car with two benches.  My little Moslem gal driver drove like a bat our of hell, not bothering to slow down for the many potholes. My head hit the roof many times.

 

My bamboo bungalow

Door lock

Clean and basic

 

 

 

 

 

I had always wanted to stay in a little bamboo hut on the beach and I could do that here.  Huts were as cute as could be.  The beach was fine, but once again, I could only swim at high tide.  It was a very social place.  As everyone met in the little cafe for the complimentary breakfast names and plans were exchanged.  I met a great gal from Germany who was Turkish and great fun to spend a couple of days with.    It was a lazy location.  I enjoyed reading on my deck and walking on the beach.  On the way into “town” there was the funkiest cafe I have ever seen.    The walls and roof were made of plants.  Each table was at a different level, and each table was completely private as walls of plants separted each one.  I had dinner there one night and it was one of the best meals of my trip – coconut curry shrimp.

Funky cafe

Awesome dinner $6

 

29 Apr

PHUKET – PATONG BEACH

Beach Bus

Colourful Taxis

It is not far from Krabi to Phuket, and the famous Patong Beach.  I thought since I was so close I would make a quick trip to check it out.  I left Krabi in the pouring rain and took a van bus to Phuket.  Young fellow from the hostel came to pick me up on his motorbike.  I was very very reluctant to ride with no helmet but he assured me it was just a few blocks, and he would drive very slowly and carefully – and he did.  I stayed at Poshtel and it was one of the best hostels of the trip.  There was a big long table to sit at,  and lots of interesting travellers  – so great social time.  Phuket itself did not have much to see.  I did go to a big temple high on a hill.  It was interesting, but nothing different from many others I had seen.

Patong Beach

Sunburns & Speedos

Patong beach is about 15 kms from Phuket.  There is frequent bus service in the back of large open air trucks with as much bench seating as they can fit.   We were dropped off at the head of a short street that led to the beach.  The street was lined both sides with bars and “Men’s clubs”.  The sex trade was more blatant here than I had seen anywhere – even in Bangkok.  I felt so sorry for the young Thai girls trying to get ugly old men to come into the bars and have drinks with them.  I walked to the beach and was impressed with how big it was, and how nice the sand was.  I was not impressed with the number of people.  There were many Europeans.  Most wore swimsuits that fit them twenty years, and thirty pounds ago.  Old guys in speedos do not impress me.  I spent a short time on the beach and took the bus home.  There is a famous ladyboy show in Phuket so I decided to go.  It was awesome.  Much better than the one I saw in Bangkok last year.  These “girls” were so beautiful, any one of them could have competed in a beauty contest.  After the show you could have photos taken with them, but I was not willing to be overrun by the Chinese tourists so I passed.  I was glad I went to Phuket – but I was also glad to only spend a couple of days there.

Ladyboys

Beautiful Costumes

21 Apr

KRABI

Beds on the Boat

Beach at Last

Leaving Koh Tao for Krabi I was told there was a night boat – with beds.  I certainly thought that would be interesting, and it was.  The boat was similar to our big car ferries.  There was one large room with about 50 sets of bunk beds.  No privacy here, but we all slept well.  I was constantly surprised at the cleanliness of the public washrooms, and the ones on the boat were spotless.  We arrived at Surat Thani early in the morning and had time for breakfast before the bus trip to Krabi.  I had booked a bungalow at a rather remote resort and was thrilled to see how cute it was. Pine Bungalows was all little bungalows with lovely seating areas on the front patios.  The resort was on a decent beach and seemed to cater to families with young children.  You could only swim at high tide as the water receded far out at low tide, and there was a lot of old dead coral making walking difficult.  The resort had an excellent cafe so I was fine just staying there.  The gal I met going to Koa Tao was coming in a couple of days.  I spent my time catching up on email as there was decent internet access.  The resort was built on the side of a hill going down to the water.  The landscaping was beautiful and a huge variety of tropical plants.  I had to change some money one day and the manager told me I would have to walk about 20 minutes to an exchange place near the 7/11.  I walked past a housing area of local

Local housing

Fishing Village

fishermen.  Housing was pretty poor – mostly just tin shacks.  I changed my money and decided to stop at 7/11 to buy a bottle of wine to share with my friend.  They would not sell me wine as Thailand has rules as to the hours alcohol can be sold – and 9 am is not one of those times – oh well.  After she arrived we stayed a couple more days then moved to a hostel in town.  Krabi is all about seafood with some excellent cafes.  One night we went for a nice dinner and our male waiter had on a lot of great makeup – false eyelashes, eyeliner, blush etc.  Neither of us were wearing any at all, so we felt pretty plain.  Lots of action on the river – longboats take tourists for sightseeing trips.  The water was not nice so we did not go.  The local buses here were interesting.  Each colour bus had a different route.  We wanted to go to a big shopping centre, so had to flag a blue bus.  The bus was actually a little truck with bench seating in the back. 25 minute ride cost 15 cents.  Local transportation in Asia is always an adventure.

Waiter with Makeup

 

Beautiful Sunsets

31 Mar

KOH TAO = DIVING

First, I must once again apologise for the endless problems with this blog. Trying to get it fixed while I was away, with poor internet, was an exercise in futility. I am hoping it is going to work now, and I will play catch up with the posts I could not send while I was away.

 

Thai night train

Recovering from flooding

Any mention of Koh Tao always mentions diving. As I am a diver and a lover of islands and beaches, I could not wait to check out my first island in Thailand. I was spending some time in Bangkok and heard a lot about flooding on some of the islands. Fortunately, reports said Koh Tao was returning to normal by the time I planned to go. I was going to take my first overnight train in Thailand. When I went to buy my train ticket, they have an inclusive train/bus/ferry package to get to many of the islands. I have used overnight trains in other Asian countries, and usually the bed is always a bed. Not so on the Thai trains. An attendant folds the bottom seats flat, puts a mattress on, makes the bed, and then pulls down the top bunk. There is a ladder and privacy curtains – nice touches I had not seen before. Train trip was very comfortable, and we arrived at Chumpon at 4 am. Bus arrived at 5 to take us to the ferry. We boarded a large fast catamaran – I would think it held about 300 people. Seas were rough and almost everyone was seasick. I was fine but felt so sorry for those who were not.
Arriving at Koh Tao it was a short, muddy walk to my guesthouse. I was reminded of Caye Caulker in Belize – dive shops and cafes dominated.

Resorts accessible only by boat

Rocks reminded me of Mwanza Tanzania

I had come here to dive, so my first goal was to find a dive shop, with decent rental equipment, and qualified staff. When you pass a diving course, you get a C card. It shows your qualification. As you take more courses you get different cards. It is common for a divemaster to accompany divers. An instructor in Canada advised me to always ask to see their certification, and I have been surprised how often they have not been able to produce it. In other words, they are not as qualified as they say they are.
My one and only dive was a great disappointment. Cloudy water with not much marine life to see. I later learned the reason Koh Tao is so popular is not because of the great diving – but because it is the cheapest place in the world to get certified. I paid almost $2000, 27 years ago in Canada. In Koh Tao you can get certified for $150. This is certainly a case of “you get what you pay for”.

Typical Dive Boat

Don’t Take the Sand

So, my first island was a disappointment, still hoping to find that white sand and clear water as I move on.

25 Mar

THE KING IS DEAD – THE COUNTRY MOURNS

One of the first things I noticed about Bangkok the first time I visited was the photos of the King everywhere. I am not talking about 8 x 10’s – oh no, most were billboard size. Every house and every business had a photo of him. He had ruled for years and was the longest ruling leader in the world. King Rama IX as he was known died on Oct.13, 2016. I presumed all of his photos would be replaced by photos of his son, Maha Vajiralongkorn who assumed the throne on Dec. 1, 2016.

The Royal family do not actually rule Thailand, but they do have a massive influence. King Bhumibol Adulyadej brought many in his country of about 68 million people to tears when he died at age 88 after 70 years in power. He had stopped coups, spearheaded rural infrastructure projects and met commoners in rough or squalid conditions. His actions helped strengthen people’s confidence in their country with an otherwise wobbly government.
To my surprise almost all of the royal photos are now black and white ones of the former King. There are paintings of him everywhere, and the entire country is truly in mourning. Many people wear black tshirts or golf shirts every day with the Thai number 9 – to represent the past King. Women wear brooches in the shape of the 9. Markets sell huge numbers of tshirts that say “I was born during the reign of Rama IX” both in English and Thai. I was in Bangkok over the New Year and was told there would be a massive turnout at the Palace on NYE to honour the dead King. It was amazing to see the massive number of people, dressed in black from head to toe, many carrying pictures of the King, many in tears. Everywhere I traveled people were getting their photos taken with pictures of the King. At McDonalds, they have a self order machine, and every second screen that appears is a black and white photo of the past King. Every government building is surrounded by black ribbon, and I have seen some eight story buildings that have black fabric at least six feet wide that hangs from the roof to the ground. Every Metro station has a huge memorial with fresh flowers and a condolence book to sign. There is to be a year of mourning, and the celebrations for New Years this year were very subdued – no fireworks etc.
Thailand has the toughest “lese-majeste” laws in the world. These laws protect the Royal family from insults or threats. As a result discussions about their Royalty are very restricted – penalties start with 15 years in prison. The new King is not popular, but no one will say so. When I asked my Thai friends what they thought of the new King, they would just roll their eyes. He is in his 60s’, has lived in Europe most of his life. He has been divorced three times.
I wonder when the year of mourning is over if his picture will be as prominently as his father’s.