A Travellerspoint blog

One Day in Bangkok

With Apologies to Murray Head


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I have a fond memory of Bangkok train station. The last time I was there (Long long ago) I caught a bus to the station to get my train south, I thought in plenty of time. However I didn't allow for a Bangkok traffic jam. I raced into the station, found the right platform. And found my train ... just ... leaving. I stood transfixed for a second and then thought "It's not moving *that* fast". I had been travelling for a few months with (officially) a weekend pack weighing maybe 8kg. So I took off in a sprint, caught up to the train, latched onto the rail of the last carriage and hauled myself on. Much to the amusement of the guards at the back. Those days are gone ...

If you've got a layover in Bangkok for a few hours (and can get out of the airport), here's an idea. Use the Left Luggage and catch the fast train into the city - to the end of the line. Then switch to the nearby Sky Train/MRT and go to the last station, Mo Chit. Across the over bridge is a park and the nearby JJ Markets. There's a little lake and you can even rent paddle boats for the middle class Romeos to court their Juliet. I did exactly that 2 years ago (well, without Juliet).

I went back out to the same park to fill in time before my train to Chiang Mai. Rather hot but nice as the sun faded. Some Thai music came on ... then I happened to notice a nearby girl standing up ... then looked around the park ... EVERYBODY standing. Oops!

Posted by grasshopper 22:17 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Perfect Timing


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I had never travelled sleeper class on a train outside India before. Generally I prefer to travel during the day anyway and look out the window but I have certainly had many overnight bus and train rides. I am very familiar with the feeling of weariness "the day after" an overnight ride and have less and less desire for more.

So I was excited to experience a sleeper, Malaysian style. I had chosen an upper berth on the basis of privacy - the downside was sharing the bed with my pack. It is rather unfortunate that modern day S.E. Asian trains (and buses) have become refrigerators on wheels. Thankfully the Malaysians don't crank the Air-Con up as much as the Thais because I only had a folded sheet for warmth.

I got off at Butterworth at 5:30 am - to catch the later train to Bangkok and to spend the morning in Georgetown/Penang. Butterworth's new station is yet to be finished so I sat in the old station and watched the Greece-Costo Rica World Cup game - as you do at 6 o'clock in the morning in a Malaysian train station. Impressed by the Costa Rican goal keeper - injured knee and shoulder but couldn't be replaced and saves the winning penalty shootout. Felt for the Greek who missed, hope he doesn't spend the rest of his life thinking "If Only ...".

A consequence of the station rebuild in Butterworth was no Left Luggage. So I lugged my pack over to Penang Island and had something of a cafe-crawl. From the noodle soup breakfast and 1 ringgit cup of coffee at street cafes to the 8 ringgit tea at Starbucks. I class it as the air-con and wifi surcharge. I splurged my last ringgits on a Chicken Tikka Masala and made it back to the ferry entrance just as I felt the first large drop of rain. Within seconds it was hosing down and visibility was almost zero.

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Posted by grasshopper 08:15 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

Through the Past to the Future

Things sure have changed ... except where they haven't

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It is beyond stating the obvious that Asia has developed at an astonishing rate over the last 30 years. However while I travelled up to Kuala Lumpur by train it was not at all obvious. There were long sections of jungle and some that seemed more cultivated, whether by design or by nature I couldn't tell.

As I passed the small towns and the isolated almost-shanty buildings dotted through the country side, I could easily imagine that time had not advanced. That all changed when I reached KL.

The Malaysian train stations are impressive facilities, like airports, and integrated with surrounding shopping plazas and luxury hotels. In fact I got the impression that some airlines provided check-in at the train station and then train to the airport, although I have no confirmation on that.

I dropped my pack in Left Luggage and sought to find the real city. The rain had broken through on the way up and left water on the streets and a coolness in the air. If you can call high-20's coolness. The modern station is designed for access by train, bus, taxi and car. Not so much by foot. I managed to find Little India and managed to miss Chinatown which, I later learned, is between Little India and the station. Apparently.

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Posted by grasshopper 08:14 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

From Singapore to Johor Bahru - The Hard Way

30 °C
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It is a curiosity that the Malaysian train system has a station in Singapore. Originally a majestic building in downtown Singapore, politics dictated that it be moved as close to Malaysia as possible. So now there is a station on the Singapore side of the causeway and another on the Malaysian side - about 15 minutes apart by train. The difference is that fares cost double from the Singapore side - the same number in a different currency.

The obvious thing to do for one with some Scottish ancestry is to start a journey from Johor Bahru. So I booked the 8:30 morning train. In hindsight it is a fairly simple exercise to rock up to the Singapore Queen St Bus Terminal at 6:15 am, get the express bus to Johor Bahru, go through Singapore immigration, back on the bus, through Malaysian immigration and walk though the same complex to the attached train station with oodles of time to spare. I managed to make it more adventurous than that.

Not trusting that I would get to the train on time, I decided to stay overnight in a cheap home stay in Johor Bahru. The home stay is the traditional Malaysian guest house, literally a stay in a home. I kind of memorised the map to get there in my head and took a copy of the directions in Malaysian-English.

I got the first part right and got to the Queen St bus terminal, even got a bus there to save the walk. Sunday and big queues for the Express bus. Not liking queues I was eyeing up the 170 local bus that no one else bothered with. But the very attractive Chinese girl in front of me persuaded of the express benefits of our particular bus queue. Eventually we get on the bus and approach the causeway within half an hour. Through the Singapore immigration and back on to an even more crowded bus.

Then through Malaysian immigration. From there it is a simple walk to the central plaza and station. However I see a sign to the buses. Down I go and see our bus, this time ... very ... uncrowded. Driver tells me we're going to Lakin Bus Terminal. Oh yeah, I can get a local bus from there. I soon figured it was a mistake but what the hell I'm committed now. We go way past where I want to go to the kind of bus station I remember from my 20's with associated odours and sounds of local food markets. With my basic pidgin-Bahasa coming back to me from my youth I soon ascertained I was not getting a bus to where I wanted to go. So I ended up getting one back to JB Sentral - the same plaza complex I had unwittingly left behind.

From JB Sentral it is about a 15-20 minute walk to the home stay. I added to the adventure my misinterpreting the directions and doubling that time, complete with back pack and high-20's temperatures. I eventually found myself walking up the right road on the outskirts of town looking for the last turnoff but not sure if it was ahead or behind me. Two things occurred to me - 1. It is no wonder I travel alone; and 2. This is not a good look when I am supposedly navigating myself across 2 continents and I've only just started.

Dark by now, I spied a street restaurant and sat down to some dinner and make an attempt to get directions through the language barrier. Eating my Nasi Goreng (fried rice), watching Rafael Nadal warming up to beat some unfortunate at Wimbledon and drinking my "Ice Tea" that had somehow morphed into a hot coffee - I glanced at the corner street sign. Had a closer look. Walked over to check. Just the road I was looking for. Success at last!

Jomi's homestay was very simple and traditional and took me back to the Asia that I travelled through in my early 20's. Only myself and a Malaysian man in the small dorm-style area. I was only sorry I didn't get there earlier to savour the experience.

Normally I avoid taxis but next morning I was only too glad to wave down a taxi for the 5 Ringgit ride to the station.

Posted by grasshopper 08:13 Archived in Malaysia Comments (2)

From One Kiwi to Another


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Hardly original ... but I stayed in the Green Kiwi Backpackers in Singapore. Main attraction was the rooftop garden bar. I never met the kiwi owner but the staff were pretty friendly.

I spent 4 days in Singapore when I was in my late 20's and the first change I noticed this time was the MRT - train subway. About 2 Singapore dollars to pretty much anywhere including from the airport.

One place suggested to me last time was the zoo but I never got there. So this time I checked it out. I hoped to see some exotic creatures that I had never seen before - I didn't really although I did see a white tiger. What appealed to me most was the layout. Very open plan - more like pathways through a forest and not a single cage. One highlight was seeing an orang-utan suspended between 2 wires on the opposite side of the path from his enclosure.

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From there I headed over to the Botanical Gardens, a tranquil haven with 2 nice lakes. I walked from one end to the other and then carried on the length of Orchard Rd for a dose of non-tranguillity back to the hostel. Fortunately for me, rain threatened most of the day which took the edge off the heat.

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The bird park on the West of the Island will have to wait for another time, if there is one ...

Posted by grasshopper 08:11 Archived in Singapore Comments (0)

Flying Budget on a One Way Jetstar


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My flight from Auckland to Singapore cost $NZ561. That included all the extras and it could have been under $500 if I had booked sooner. I had general reactions of dismay to my choice of Jetstar (do they even fly there?) and opinions that I would become a compressed, starved and dehydrated sardine upon arrival.

Well, I can report that I got there and not all passengers can say that. Leg room was fine, as good as any flight I've been on bar the super-sized Airbus 380 I flew from London to Singapore 18 months ago. The meal was ok, not worth $24 but I wasn't up for a 10 hour fast. You can pass on the in-flight entertainment option - I had way more movies on my portable hard drive.

Posted by grasshopper 08:09 Tagged planes Comments (0)

The End and the Beginning

It all works out in the end. If it hasn't worked out ... it's not the end ...

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Packing up my possessions into a cupboard and getting ready to travel to the other side of the world is a bit like that. Lots to do and people to see with a firm check-in deadline.

I figured I might be on top of things when I had thoughts like "I should scan images of my visas in case I lose my passport." Details like that had never even occurred to me in the past.

However I didn't avoid the frantic feeling of being behind the 8-ball on the last day. Still everything that needed to be done got done ... more or less ... ish.

Posted by grasshopper 08:06 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

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