Category Archives: Asia

First impressions about Thailand

Only 10 days in Thailand and I already felt all the feelings someone can feel, I felt both loved and not wanted, I felt jaded about love, overwhelmed by thousands of feelings, I fought with the idea that I want to smoke ,I’ve been proud resisting it, thankful when David didn’t let me smoke in my weakest moment, I’ve been curious, I’ve been awed, I’ve been sad and I might have been a bit happy at moments, like always I’ve been grateful to see amazing places and beautiful people, I learned tips from other blogger to help me with my blog space problem and if I started writing again it’s also glad to Luke, I abused Lays, Pepsi and beers but finally adapted a bit more to thai food, I’ve been more patient than I use to be and more meditative than usual (and I’m a meditative person in general), I’ve been bitten by mosquitos on every inch of my body and used at least 4-5 types of creams failing to make it less itchy (including Tiger Balm, they recommend that for everything),  I’ve felt lonely and loneliest, I felt lot of bad feelings and some nice ones, and then I restarted my system.

Probably my first jet lag

I arrived in Bangkok after two long flights, one from Johannesburg to Dubai and one from Dubai to Thailand. In Dubai I changed 5$ in coins for my collection and had a very expensive dinner (I could have bought a nice watch with the money for dinner). Dubai really looks impressive from the sky and now I want to visit it one day and skydive above it. Somehow I see Dubai like a city of the future but it can be also some brainwash from the airport.  The plane to Dubai was almost empty so I had 3 seats for myself but it was too early to sleep. The second one was full so I couldn’t get any rest. In Bangkok first thing to do was to go to get my visa on arrival. Filled papers and realized I need photos (my photos where in the checked baggage) and baht instead of $. After changing money and making photos I queued for maybe more than half hour. Although I stressed a lot about needing dollars to show them I have money for traveling, in the end nobody asked about it, as they didn’t asked about hostels bookings either. I bought a sim card for 15 days with 4Gb data costing 600baht (15euros), withdrew money and took a cab to hostel. Drivers don’t really speak english but my driver told me a lot of things in thai. I’ll never know what was that about. He tried to make a price for me but I showed him the meter and we left. If they use the meter don’t be surprised to pay the road tax at two stops, and 50 baht surcharge for driver. That’s normal, it’s not cheating you.They have Uber too, it’s just a bit more expensive than taxi. There’s also a train but then you have to take a tuk tuk or cab from train station to hostel, depending where the hostel is located it might take longer.

It was still morning by the time I got to hostel and I was so tired. It was too early to check in but I asked them nicely to let me in the room because I can’t keep my eyes open. They let me in and I slept till midnight with maybe one or two short breaks. And then I was awake till morning and then slept till middle of the day and realized something it’s very wrong with my sleep schedule.

Thai food

Traveling you keep hearing these stories about how delicious and cheap is the food in south east Asia. And it’s true, if you are not as picky as I am. First meal was snails from a food stall. That’s how I met parsley or cilantro, a herb I can’t touch or smell. And I might have had a bit of indigestion after, stomach was in pain. I’m not completely adapted to the food yet, I still buy crisps and boiled corn, but day by day I try to eat some real thai food. The salt is very rare because they use soy sauce but I bought salt and I have it always in my bag. I also translated parsley, cilantro and bean sprouts in thai and I show them from my phone when buying food in order to ask not to have those in my food. Everyday I discover something I don’t like but patiently add it to my list and continue trying. As about price, you can pay around 3-5 euro in restaurants and 1-3euro at food stalls for vegetarian or seafood. I also ate 2 crickets, a tiny one and a fat one. Albert and his father, Arnold. Not completely disgusting but still a bit weird. There’s plenty of disgusting things for crazy people to try: scorpions, tarantulas, worms and big bugs. About disgusting, I saw a rat in a restaurant during lunch, it’s so comforting that I don’t eat meat. Beer costs around 1-3 euros, remember that you cannot buy alcohol from shops and some restaurants between 2-5 pm and after midnight.

Most active at night

Because during the day I feel it’s very very hot I prefer to explore at night. There’s plenty of night markets both in Bangkok and Chiang Mai and I really feel safe there. Maybe it’s too early to say how safe is south east Asia, but for the last 10 days I could explore at night, even sometimes alone and with my camera. As walking in the tourist night area of Bangkok, Khaosan street, you can hear tuk tuk drivers asking you if you want to go to ping pong show. I’ll let you search on internet about it, it’s not table tennis. The streets are full at night, both because during the day it’s too hot and also because many people come to Thailand because it’s a cheap place to get wasted. You can have a massage at night outside or inside with 150-200baht (less than 5euro). You can have also cheap manicure, pedicure, haircut and cheap clothes, and cheap souvenirs, and so many cheap things available for you. Which brings me to something that bothered me on few occasions, I can see people bitching about service and quality, and I keep wondering what kind of expectation can you have when paying so little. Just have patience, thai people will smile and say yes even when they don’t understand you. You can easily bargain price for clothes, souvenirs and tuk tuk, but don’t try to get them for free.

To know

I read in Shogun about japanese culture and “save face” – retain respect, avoid humiliation. When I came here I saw it’s applicable to Thailand too. You should keep this in mind: their honor is very important therefore avoid showing displeasure in public, they try to respect you as much as possible, do the same!

You’ll see at airport all sorts of posters telling you to respect Buddha and not to buy Buddha heads. And you’ll see them in different other places and temples. That doesn’t mean nobody is selling Buddha souvenirs at the corner of the temple. As in any other religion you have to show respect, cover your shoulders and knees, respect their rules. In some temples you can use a scarf to cover, in others you have to borrow a shirt from them. The temple of the Emerald Buddha is the most beautiful one I saw by now, and the White Temple in Chiang Rai is the most surreal and interesting one. First one has an entrance fee of 500baht (12euros), seems much but it’s worthy.

The king it’s very important and respected therefore any insult at the king might get you imprisoned. Abstain of stepping on coins or notes also, thai money have the face of the king printed on them.

An idea about costs

I paid for my hostel dorm room in Bangkok 350baht (9euros) and I like it, it’s clean and in a good area, 430baht (11euro) for the taxi from airport , 690 baht (17.5 euro) for the night bus to Chiang Mai ( hostel to hostel), 150 baht for dorm room there, 1400 a day trip to Chiang Rai and 3-4 other places+lunch, 320 return bus ride to Damnoen Saduak floating market, around 40 baht (1 euro) for laundry, you pay separately for drying, detergent, softener, 10baht per page to print, 15baht a soda, 40-50baht a small beer,18 baht a boiled corn, 3000baht trekking to Doi Inthanon, highest peak of Thailand , with a guide, because apparently it’s not safe to do it alone ( haven’t done it although I would have liked it), 10baht to take a photo of the bugs, 50 baht a spoonful of them to eat, 20baht 6-7 quail fried eggs, 290baht a lady boys show ( I almost got to one but decided to stuff myself with food and beers instead).

What I have seen 

I’ve been to The Emerald Buddha Temple and Palace and I loved it. It’s really impressive. I recommend to go there in the morning, and spend as much as you feel to there. There’s also a museum included in the 500baht entrance fee. If you are not properly dressed they can borrow you clothes for free but you have to leave there 200baht which they will return when you bring clothes back. Inside the temple you are not allowed to photograph but I sneaked my gopro there. The Emerald Buddha is very small and positioned very high and you might have trouble seeing it with all the golden stuff around. At the exit of the complex there’s an old man with small cages with birds. You pay and you can release the birds. A mother bought two cages for her daughters. They released the birds and they were happy and the old man was happy too seeing the girls joy. But the joy disappeared when the girls took a look at the birds left in the other cages. There are good people doing not very good things without even knowing it.

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I visited the Damnoen Saduak floating market, really beautiful but one big minus for me. It’s full of snakes. At every corner you can see a guy with a huge snake around his shoulders. You pay and you can take the snake for a photo. You can buy all sort of things from the market, food, fruits, souvenirs, clothes.

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In Chiang Mai I just walked visiting markets, temples, the Lanna museum, the Sunday street market where the streets are closed for cars after 4pm and they get full with street vendors, locals and tourists. I like the bars with live music, they play good covers here in Thailand.

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From Chiang Mai I took a day trip to some thermal springs, to Chiang Rai, to a hill tribe village and the golden triangle where the border with Thailand , Myanmar and Laos meet. The last stop was a temple in a city at the border with Myanmar.

In Chiang Rai there’s a White Temple built by a very wealthy man. He still has plans to build more. The temple is unique in the world, inside has painting about Samsara, the material world, so you can see the two towers, minions, Keanu Reaves in Matrix, and so many other popular figures from this century life. Before entering the temple there’s a bridge and in front of the bridge there are many many hands going up from earth symbolizing desire. You can find there the most expensive “happy room” – a fancy toilet.

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The hill tribe visit was my favorite part of the trip in Thailand by now. They are called Long Neck Karen tribe because they use brass neck coils in order to have longer necks as a beauty standard. They start to wear then at age of 5 and stop adding longer coils around 45. This tribe fled the conflicts in Myanmar and lives 100% sustainable from tourism. They sell scarfs, fridge magnets, and all sorts of souvenirs. There’s also a donation box there. More info here.

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At the Golden Triangle, a small piece of sand island where many years ago Myanmar, Thailand and Laos where dealing in opium, we saw a huge Buddha statue and huge golden gates, we took a boat ride on the Mekong river and stopped a bit in Laos which intrigued me in therms of poverty, as tourists were buying stuff I saw a mother with child in a corner, I saw kids eating under a bridge and washing their mouth with water from river.

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And I know I didn’t had a very busy trip yet but I will come back to Thailand two more times in the next months.

More photos from this trip to Thailand here.

First days in India – New Delhi and Taj Mahal 2014

Photography tour in Ladakh lead by Cristian Tzecu

I was tempted by photography since 2013 when I bought my Nikon V2 mirrorless, but during more than one year I haven’t learned much, my photos were rather boring. At the beginning of 2014 I saw an announcement about this photography tour and I decided to apply for it. I visited Cristian’s page and I enjoyed his photographs. I also read that he’s been several times in India and this was comforting.

I didn’t knew any of the other participants and I met them on my way to Delhi: Cosmina and Andrei in Otopeni airport, Cristian and Ioana in Moscow airport and Alina next morning in New Delhi. All of them are nice people and we spent good time together in India.

“Shock and awe” at the first contact with India

4:30 in the morning – landed in Delhi airport, booked taxi from inside the airport to make sure we won’t be cheated with the price and went outside to smoke and pick the taxi assigned for us. Still dark outside but shocking hot, police with real guns securing the airport and many many people. Although very early the traffic was intense, many trucks with colourful decorations, our driver asking us if we want drugs, everything different from what I knew and awe erasing the tiredness. More than one hour later we were in the same taxi but parked in front of the tourist office. They were saying the road leading to Pahar Ganj, the backpacker neighborhood were we booked the hostel, is closed due to some muslim festivity. And we had to find something else. Many tourists in despair, feeling lost and cheated. Dawn was coming as we arrived at a hotel recommended by the driver, more expensive but no time to search other, not much energy left. I got in my room, put my camera bag on the table and immediately a cockroach got on top of it. The room smelled bad and the bathroom was dirty and smelly. We turned on the AC and tried to sleep. First impressions as I saw so many people living on the streets, bad smell, dirt, one cow crossing the street, monkeys on the fences, we and others feeling cheated, the dirty hotel were that we will have quite hard life there but we are lucky to have Cristian as our leader because he traveled in India several times before. Also I felt very curious and inspired. Now we were in a photography tour and I realized the subjects for photographs were much better than I imagined.

We tried to book tickets for the train to Taj Mahal ( I imagined myself on the roof with the locals) but they insisted we should take something safer, so they booked a car for us and we decided is a good deals as it wasn’t much more expensive than the train but we also had the chance to stop in other places on our way to India’s number one famous spot. All this being organized we went to eat something and to visit the observatory, Jantar Mantar. Rain came and passed as we photographed the observatory and some of the people there. Entrance fee not expensive but very big difference in price between us and the locals. And that’s the rule all over the places we visited, and seems only fair since they earn so little.

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How I started to love India

On our way to Agra, we stopped at Fatehpur Sikri , a complex with beautiful architecture filled with so many people, all of them asking us if we want to take a photo together with them. And then I started to love it. Suddenly phones were out and all our subjects for photos were almost fighting to be the ones to make a photo with them. And this was enough for us to feel confident to ask them to let us take a photograph also. Time passed so quickly and we could barely enjoy the architecture but certainly enjoyed beautiful people. They seemed sincerely happy but strangely serious when photographed.

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And we moved on, back in the car and .. Taj Mahal we’re coming! Arrived in Agra, checked-in, took a shower and went for a walk. We saw Taj Mahal during blue hour and enjoy dinner on the roof with the same Taj in background.

Morning started early because there was a queue involved, and then we spread for two hours inside the complex. Shoes on, off, covered, uncovered, heat, and many people. The story with the photos repeated and some of the people asked us to pose with them.

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I always thought the very famous places are overrated and somehow a cliche´ but, as with Machu Picchu and other famous spots, it was breathtaking. It’s something to see, but also watching the people makes it an even better experience. Taj Mahal wasn’t the main destination of our trip but this was the warming.

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In the afternoon we headed back to Delhi, this time heavy rain wetting our baggage from the roof of the car. We bought a cover and the guys got very wet setting it on top of our backpacks. We had some stops on our way, places with souvenirs and food, is a very common thing that a driver makes a deal with these places and gets a percentage if the tourists he brings there buy something.
Back in Delhi we went to a hostel in Pahar Ganj, left backpacks, went for dinner and I finally made a henna tattoo which by the end of the trip disappeared. Next day we flew to Srinagar, but that’s another part of the story…to follow! 🙂

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