Sunday, January 23, 2011

Thailand & Laos 2011

" LIFE after retirement gives you a wonderful opportunity to live LIFE again " 

" Let's age gracefully but with a new zest for LIFE " 

" It is not the length of LIFE that makes a difference. It is the depth of LIFE. The depth of LIFE  is living moment to moment " 

" My 9 days solo visit to Northern Thailand & Laos (8 - 17/1/2011) - border crossings by trains & buses from Malaysia to Thailand & Laos via the Thai-Laos Friendship Bridge, 25 km east of Vientiane; a bureaucratic, challenging but interesting trip "

Laos is the No 9 Asean country I visited thus far. Asean currently has 10 member countries in South East Asia (ie Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar, Brunei, Philippines, Indonesia & Laos). The only Asean country I have yet to visit is Myanmar - this I will probably do so in the near future.

Luang Prabang (a former royal capital of Laos) is in the UNESCO's World Heritage List in 1995 and this had driven me to visit this mountainous northern town in Laos - a 10 hour treacherous bus ride from Vientiane (380km) ! Rural poverty still permeate in most part of Northern Thailand and Laos as I travelled to their country side.

For this trip, I relied mainly on overnight trains and I spent a total of five nights in the trains. In short, a slow, laid back & stress free trip from Kuala Lumpur right up to Vientiane. Along the way, I met a number of fellow Malaysians and Thais (English and Mandarin speaking) in the trains and this made my trip more interesting.

It was quite an experience when I arrived at the cross border checkpoints in Sadao, Southern Thailand and Nong Kai, Northern Thailand & Laos as all tourists had to queue up patiently to have their passports processed by the Immigration counters.

January was a perfect time for travelling to Thailand & Laos as the weather was cool and dry. For this year, Laos was experiencing a "winter" in January with a spring temperature of around 20c.

Total expenses incurred in Thailand & Laos (9 days): Rm953 (Euro$220)

Travel itinerary: Kuala Lumpur > Butterworth > Hatyai > Bangkok > Nong Khai > Vientiane > Luang Prabang > Vientiane > Nong Khai > Bangkok > Hatyai > Kuala Lumpur
Train tickets : Rm33 + B3,176 = Rm367 
KL>Butterworth-Rm33 (senior citizen)
Hat Yai>Bangkok-B855
Bangkok>Nong Khai-B688
Nong Khai>Bangkok-B688
Bangkok>Hat Yai-B945
Bus tickets : RM38 + B1,790=Rm226

Butterworth>Hat Yai-Rm38
Hat Yai>KL-B450
Vientiane>Luang Prabang-B600
Luang Prabang>Vientiane-B580

Hostels: Rm114 (total)
Intha Hotel (Vientiane) - B568 + US$9 (Deluxe double bed, 2 nights)
Xayana Guesthouse (Luang Prabang) - US4.50 x 2 nights (dorm)
Tut-tut-B160 Sundries:B570=Rm60
Food: Rm26 + B896 + 146,000kips = Rm182
Departure tax (Laos)-B40=Rm4

Exchange rate: Rm1=B9.52; B1=2,470kip, US$1=Rm3.1

Travel Highlights : 

1) Butterworth & Penang, Malaysia

2) Hat Yai, South Thailand

3) Bangkok, Capital of Thailand

4) Nong Khai, North Thailand

5) Vientiane, Capital of Laos

6) Luang Prabang (a former royal capital & an UNESCO site), Laos

The eco-friendly attap houses in Laos country sides are hardly seen in Peninsula Malaysia these days

The secrets of life : You can't stay young forever, but you can be immature for the rest of your life

D1-2 Sat-Sun 8-9/1/2011 Butterworth & Penang, Malaysia

Sleeper train - KL>Butterworth = Rm33 (senior citizen)
Bus - Butterworth>Hat Yai = Rm38
Food : Rm19
Ferry : Rm2.40
Total expenses incurred: Rm92

The KTM train from KL Sentral station departed 22.45 (late by 45 mins) and arrived in Butterworth at 06.00 in the morning. It was quite a comfortable ride and I slept well throughout the night.

As my next train departure from Butterworth to Bangkok was around 14.20 so I had 3/4 day in Butterworth - this gave me an opportunity to re-visit the Penang island ! My last visit to Penang was 7-8 years ago !

At around 06.45, I took a ferry (Rm2.40) and crossed over to Penang. There was a free shuttle air-cond bus service (Rapid Penang) available at the Weld Quay bus terminal so this made my travelling to the Penang city centre easier and with much comfort. I had my breakfast & lunch (porridge, prawn mee, fish ball noodles) at Chowrasta market and Lebuh Chulia and spent my time visiting the Komtar Prangin Mall, Chowrasta market, Goddess of Mercy temple and near the Weld Quay area.

At around 13.00, I took a ferry to Butterworth to board an Express International train to Bangkok departing at 14.20. However, I was shocked to learn that there was a last minute cancellation on this train service and a cash refund (Rm111) was paid to all affected passengers at the KTM ticketing counter.

At the Butterworth train station, I was approached by a local bus agent and as a beggar without any choice, I had to change my travel plan and decided to board an express bus (Rm38) from Butterworth to Hatyai leaving Butterworth bus terminal at 14.00. From Hatyai,  I then took a sleeper train (B855) to Bangkok departing 18.45. So there was no loss of time despite a minor set back. Lucky me !
1) Old vs New, Penang Island - The Pearl of Orient & Penang's charm

2) Weld Quay, Penang - Star cruise ship "Libra" in town, one up for Penang tourism; free shuttle bus service at Weld Quay to city centre passing Komtar, Chowrasta market, Museum etc

3) Old colonial buildings housing state government offices - Penang Town Hall, Magistrate Court, Penang Customs .

Due to a last minute cancellation of a train service from the Thai side, I opted for a VIP air-cond bus ride (RM38) from Butterworth to Hat Yai - smooth and comfortable ! "

" The Secrets of life : Don't worry about old age, it doesn't last long.

D2 & D10 Hatyai, Southern Thailand 2011

Overnight train - Hatyai >Bangkok = B855 (departing 18.45 arriving 09.55)
Bus - Hat Yai>Kuala Lumpur = B450
(departed 10.00 arrived 21.00)
Food = B80 + Rm4

Sundries = B410
Total expenses incurred: Rm193

I had so far visited Hatyai three times, mainly on transit by trains to Bangkok.

For this 4th trip, this was my first experience taking a bus from Butterworth to Hatyai and Hatyai to Kuala Lumpur. Also an interesting experience passing through the Sadao Immigration checkpoint. As for my future trips to Phuket & Chiang Mai, taking a VIP bus or train from KL to Hat Yai is a viable option instead of taking an Air Asia flight !

The hawker food prices in Hatyai were slightly lower in comparing with Kuala Lumpur. Dried fish maw & cashew nuts were a real bargain in Hatyai.

1) Hatyai town centre - A shopping paradise for Malaysians; our Malaysian Bond girl's family runs a travel bus company in Hat Yai under Davis Tour - A VIP Sri Maju bus awaits you if you opt for bus travel from Hat Yai to Kuala Lumpur, an 11 hour ride for only B450 !

2) Border crossing at Immigration checkpoint in Sadao, Southern Thailand - all of us behaved like a first class citizen while queuing up for our passports to be processed !

3) Making friends in the trains; a friend in need is a friend indeed - we all had a jolly good time chatting with each other. Thank you Sam for giving me a lift from the train station to Davis Tour bus company in Hatyai. I wish you and your wife a pleasant trip to Spain & Portugal. Daniel, thanks for your tips on hotel accommodations in Bangkok & Davis Tours. As for Vincent, your valuable advice and travel experience in USA & Canada. Dicky & Mas Hashim, thank you for your company from Butterworth right up to Bangkok. Enjoy your shopping ! To Shai Yona of Israel, I hope you had a wonderful time in Phuket !

My first VIP bus ride (B450) from Hat Yai to Kuala Lumpur -the Malaysian owned blue Sri Maju long distance bus services were popular among Thais & Malaysians "

" Making a living is not the same thing as making a life. Life sometimes gives you a second chance "

D3 & D9 Mon & Sun 10 & 16/1/2011 Bangkok, Thailand

Sleeper train (2nd class): Bangkok>Nong Khai= B688
Food: B230
MRT & Sky train: B80
Sundries: B160

Total expenses incurred: B1,158 (Rm122)

For this trip , I did not put up any overnight stay in Bangkok as I had been to most of the touristy places within Bangkok in my previous visits. In between time before the train departures, I had two half hours in Bangkok. To kill time, I left my luggage bag for a temporary storage (B50)at the Hua Lamphong train station and took MRT and Sky train rides to some nearby places & shopping malls - merely for food and window shopping - most smart travelers do this anyway !

1) Food glorious food - Fish maw soup (B60), Mango sticky rice (B80), coconut grilled chicken or pork (B15 per stick), stewed duck meat rice (B60); Siam Paragon Ocean World Food Court VS Chatuchak hawker food stalls - all the food I tasted were Yummy Yummy !!!

2) Lumphini Park & King Rama VI Statute

3) The opening of a new Madam Tussauds at Siam Discovery, Bangkok - one free shot for me for Madam's free publicity

4) Siam Center, Siam Paragon, Siam Discovery, MBK - popular shopping havens for locals & tourists

5) Hua Lamphong Railway Station, Bangkok - built by Dutch architects & engineers just before World War 1

6) Chatuchak Weekened Market - only open on weekend; hundreds of stalls selling all sort of merchandise & food; if you enjoy shopping, this is the place

I spotted a signboard in downtown Bangkok with a warm greeting message: Bangkok Smiles , Happy New Year 2011. What about Kuala Lumpur ? Still snoring or in deep slumber !"

" 10% of life is made up of what happen to you. 90% of life is decided by how you react "