Filed under: Culture, Expat life, Nightlife, Outside Thailand, People, restaurants, Travel | Tags: animals, art, Australian people, backpackers, backpacking, Bahasa Indonesia, Bali, Bali Hai, Bali Hai beer, Bali Museum, Balinese dance, Balinese food, Balinese girls, Balinese people, Bangkok, barbecue, bars, beaches, Beer, Brazilian Aussie BBQ, breakfast, buffet. Sky Garden, cafes, chilli, coffee, costume, dance, Denpasar, Deva Sari, drink, English language, Flora Hotel, food, Food and Drink, forest, gueshouse, Hindu temples, Hinduism, hotels, Indonesia, Indonesian food, Indonesian girls, Indonesian people, Islam, Islamic clothes, islands, jungle, kebabs, Kuningan Day, Kuta, Kuta Beach, Laughing Buddha bar, macaques, markets, masks, massage, monkeys, motorbikes, mountains, Muang Phuket, museums, Muslims, Napa Orti, Nightlife, painting, palace, Pasar Badung, Pasar Seni, Patong, people, Phuket, Pura Jagatnatha, Pura Taman Suraswati, rainforest, religion, Renon, resorts, restaurants, rice, Sacred Monkey Forest, Sanghyang Widi, Sanur, shopping, souvenirs, steak, temples, Thai food, Thai language, Thai people. Thai girls, Thailand, tourism, Travel, Ubud, Ubud Palace, Warung Ijo, white people
Last month I travelled to Bali, Indonesia, in what was primarily a social visit, as I have a friend who lives and works there. It hadn’t really occurred to me to visit Bali before, being that is an uber-touristy destination, but I figured that I would see more than beaches and bars with the combination of a local friend and my own inquisitive style of travelling. And so it was. As expected, the main tourist area of Kuta didn’t hold my attention, but some other parts of the island – unfortunately time constraints limited me to the south – were charming.
My thoughts on what I saw of Bali are as follows. It is not a chronological travelogue; more like a scrapbook of impressions and recommendations.
Kuta Beach is the best-known, biggest, busiest and therefore worst place on the island. After landing, my friend Gavin met me at the airport and we went straight to Kuta, as his office is there. He wasn’t working so we dropped my luggage at his office and went for lunch and a walk around town.
My immediate impression was that I would never again complain about Bangkok’s pavements. Yes, Bangkok’s pavements are uneven and cluttered with vendors and the occasional motorbike, but at least we actually have them here! Parts of Kuta look like pedestrian thoroughfares, and are only wide enough to be that, but they serve as shortcuts for motorbikes drivers and to walk along these alleyways means you must be constantly vigilant for the possibility of getting your elbows smashed by a passing motorcyclist. And, of course, this likelihood does not mean anyone moderates their speed!
The beach reminded me of Patong in Phuket – not because it physically resembled it, but because it was a nice enough beach in its own right without quite being world class, and overrun by hawkers. Gavin and I strolled along the beach for a while in one direction, and then looped back along the beach road.
We hung around town, got a couple of beers, had a massage and dinner, and then went home to Gavin’s place. Having woken up at 3am for the early-morning flight from Bangkok, I wasn’t really able to face a night out, and slept through until almost noon the next day.
Renon is where Gavin lives. It is a suburb of Denpasar, the island capital, and a residential area. As such, there are no tourist attractions here, but after spending the day and evening in commercial, unauthentic Bali, it was nice just to see a normal neighbourhood.
Denpasar, the aforementioned island capital, was our desination for the second day, albeit with a late start thanks to my sleep-in. We rode up there on rented motorbikes and hoped to see the Bali Museum, which unfortunately was closed for the Kuningan Day weekend. Instead, we dropped in on the Pura Jagatnatha temple, which is dedicated to the Hindu god Sanghyang Widi. It was compact but a nice taster of Balinese Hindu heritage. However, it could have done without the aggressive in-house artist who made admittedly lovely paintings but lost a potential buy from me with the usual tourist-sales pitch of setting the opening price outrageously high and then dropping the price but being aggressive with it. This is not how a genuinely religious person should behave, and whether in a religious site or elsewhere, my mantra remains the same – greedy people get nothing from me.
After the temple, we walked over to Pasar Badung fresh market. It was colourful and vibrant but a little on the small side and offered nothing that I hadn’t seen in Thailand.
With Denpasar, again I drew a parallel with Phuket, this time with Muang Phuket, also the island capital. Given that it is inland and most tourists flock to both Bali and Phuket for the beaches, you don’t see as many foreigners there. There is not a lot to see and do in Denpasar but it is a good place to see Balinese people going about their daily lives, and despite being the administrative capital, it is a lot more relaxed than the commercial capital, Kuta.
Ubud provided a nice overnight excursion on Saturday-Sunday. It was said to be about an hour’s drive by motorbike from Kuta “if you know the way”. As Bali’s roads are quite poorly marked and signposted, it took us a little over two hours, but it was well worth the trip. The ride there cut through traditional Balinese neighbourhoods, lush green vistas with rice fields at the fore and mountains in the background.
The town was, in a word, lovely. Central Ubud is basically laid out in a loop which you can walk around in an hour or so, with a rice field inside the loop and quirky sidestreets offering trendy cafes and shops. Ubud is marketed as the “real Bali”, and while it is certainly more authentic than Kuta, the reality is that it is more like a tourist attraction with the “real Bali” theme – in other words, if you’re looking for something more ethnic than Kuta, but with a good tourist infrastructure, Ubud is the place to be. Consequently, it is more of a backpacker crowd here than the package-tourists at the beaches, but nowhere is Asia is actually “the real” representation of a country or culture when it is swarming with white people.
After arrival, we parked our bikes, had lunch and then walked south to the excellent Sacred Monkey Forest. It is a patch of rainforest with a defined paved route through. The jungle scenes are sometimes dramatic and always pleasant, although the atmosphere is inevitably very humid. You will encounter many dozens of tame macaques along the way and for the most part they are well behaved. While some visitors ignore the warnings not to touch or tease them, most of the animals are much less mischievous than their relatives in Thailand’s tourist areas. There was also what looked like a very nice temple in the midst of the complex, but this, too, was closed for Kuningan.
We continued the walk around the connecting loop of Monkey Forest Road, Ubud Main Road and Jalan Hanoman, stopping for a coffee at a delightful cafe overlooking the rice fields, before Gavin made his way back to Renon (he couldn’t stay overnight). I booked into a very nice budget guesthouse called Deva Sari (no website, but it’s on Jalan Hanoman), which also offered rice field vistas from the rooms. From the outside, I thought it looked too expensive, but the rooms themselves were much simpler than their setting and facade. They were perfectly acceptable, though, and a steal at 200,000 rupiah (600 baht/£13) for a double room with hot water, powerful ceiling fan and breakfast.
I had a night out, but Ubud was pretty quiet, even on a Saturday. I started off with an excellent Balinese dance show at Ubud Palace. Aside from one masked man (representing a demon), the dancers were all heavily costumed and made-up women. The narrative was entirely non-vocal, and on top of that no expression was ever made with the performers’ mouths. They kept resolutely tight-lipped, and told the story with exaggerated eye movements, hand gestures and dance moves. Combined with the stirring live musical score, it was absolutely captivating.
This was followed with dinner and then a few beers on Monkey Forest Road. Napa Orti was an upstairs bar with an organic feel and good music, while the Laughing Buddha was a hospitable joint for a nightcap on the way back.
Before heading back to Renon, I took in the Ubud sights I hadn’t had time for the previous day. First stop was the Pura Taman Suraswati water temple, a delightfully tranquil and picturesque spot. Again, the religious weekend meant I couldn’t enter the temple (I’d obviously picked the wrong time to be in Bali!) but the grounds were worth seeing in their own right.
Ubud Palace was neither as big nor as grand as you’d expect from a palace, although perhaps that’s because it is still resided in and the public is only granted access to a part of it, but it is authentically Balinese so plenty of photo opportunities of the ornate architecture. I was also treated to an impromptu dragon dance performance by local children celebrating Kuningan.
Finally, I wandered around Pasar Seni market. It is a tourist magnet, complete with vastly over-priced opening quotes on goods (the idea being that you bargain down) ranging from fresh food to textiles to paintings to souvenir tat. Whether in Thailand or elsewhere, I rarely buy anything in places like this, but it’s a good place to just look around.
Sanur was my final Bali destination. It’s a short ride from the aforementioned Renon, and offers a bigger, cleaner, quieter and better-looking beach than Kuta. It still has touts and hawkers, but a fraction of the number at Kuta, and they are less persistent, too. The beach is backed mostly by large, swish resorts and posh restaurants, and there did not appear to be a great deal of nightlife options (although we were there in the day), suggesting that Sanur is the beach destination of the discerning package tourist.
Indonesian people looked much like southern Thais to me. The women were very good looking but dressed more conservatively than Thai ladies. Bali is predominantly Hindu rather than Muslim, so there weren’t many in Islamic garb, but there was very little evidence of the short-shorts that you see so often around Bangkok!
For the most part, the Balinese were friendly and good-natured, but if there were exceptions, they were invariably in Kuta, where you are more likely to be pestered to buy things, and sometimes your refusal would not be taken in good humour.
While understanding that the majority of tourists visiting Bali are Australian, it started to grow annoying to be regularly greeted with “G’day, mate!” by shop touts. To counter this assumption that all white people must be Aussies, I started replying with “Sawasdee khrap!”, but my attempt at irony was lost on them.
The average Indonesian speaks better English than the average Thai. Of course in tourist areas there will be a greater incidence of English speakers, just as a Phuket Thai is likely to be competent with the language, but I would say even allowing for that they have a greater command of the language and a wider vocabulary. Perhaps this is because Bahasa Indonesia uses the Roman alphabet?
Traffic is fairly bad, as is the case in most of urban developing Asia, but at least Indonesians have grasped two important concepts lost on Thais – don’t undertake on the left, and wear helmets when riding motorbikes!
FOOD AND DRINK
Indonesian/Balinese food is well made, fresh, creative and tasty, but not spicy. Thai food lovers may be disappointed in this regard. I’m not like a Thai in the sense that I don’t need every meal to be spicy, but I do like a kick more often than not.
Given that I was only in Bali for five days, I wanted to eat primarily local food, so didn’t head for the nearest Thai eatery. But while walking around Ubud a sign caught my attention – “Extra spicy!” it proclaimed, in advertising a dish called chilli chicken. Yes, it was Indonesian food, so I had to give it a try. The restaurant was a simple, small affair called Warung Ijo on Ubud Main Road. Turning left at the top of Hanoman Road, it is opposite the Bali Animal Welfare Association (BAWA) office. The chilli chicken dish was delicious, fiery and satisfying, especially with the red rice I chose over the standard white. It was not piquant-spicy like Thai food, but if you find yourself craving culinary heat while in Ubud, this is definitely the place to go.
In Kuta, the selection is more international, as you might expect, and on Gavin’s recommendation I eschewed local far a couple of times to take advantage of two excellent buffet deals. First, the Brazilian Aussie BBQ offered all-you-can-eat for 100,000 rupiah (£6.75/300 baht), a great deal for carnivores as staff bring swords of cooked meats directly to your table, carving slices of beef, lamb and pork on to your plate, alongside chicken wings, sausages and more. Drinks cost extra, but it’s still well worth it.
Even better is the Sky Garden sunset deal. Opening at 5pm, you have up to two hours with which to gorge yourself on good quality international buffet food, including premium items such as steaks and seafood kebabs. Best of all, draught Bintang beer is free until 6pm! Unlimited food for two hours and unlimited beer for one hour sets you back a mere 50,000 rupiah (£3.35/150 baht). On top of this, it is set on the rooftop of a nightlife complex, offering city views and the possibility of a sunset.
Gavin will tell you that Bintang is the best beer in Bali, and while it’s by no means a bad drop, calling something the best when the selection is so poor is not the greatest of compliments! Probably 90% of all bars and restaurants serve only Bintang, and you can consider yourself spoiled if you find a rare establishment that also sells Bali Hai, which I preferred. There are a few more brands available in the shops, bringing the local beer selection up to about five, making Thailand’s meagre range look positively extensive!
But if Bintang is your thing (by choice or necessity), the Flora Hotel bar in Kuta is a must-visit. A small bottle costs just 13,000 rupiah (85 pence/40 baht) and a large one a mere 20,000 rupiah). As far as I could tell, it was the cheapest beer in Bali – even less than you’d pay in the shops.
Filed under: Culture, Expat life, Fun, Nightlife, Outside Thailand, People | Tags: Bangkok, beauty, Beer, bread, BTS, carrots, Chang Beer, clothes, cons, Europe, European beer, expats, food, happy hour, Heineken, Ireland, Irish bars, Khao San Road, light skin, London, maps, prostitutes, prostitution, red light district, Singha beer, skytrain, Sukhumvit, Sukhumvit Road, sunburn, Thai, Thai business, Thai culture, Thai food, Thai language, Thai people, Thailand, tourism, tourists, vampires, weather, Western food, women, work
Everybody needs somebody… to look down on, and few lifeforms get less respect than the lowly tourist. In Bangkok, they are easy to spot – bright pink skin, dripping in sweat, wearing a Chang Beer T-shirt and scratching their heads over folding maps and the BTS ticketing system. Tourists are naïve, vulnerable, confused and trusting – everything that the noble expat is not! But to the average Thai conman and opportunist, every foreigner is a potential tourist, and to every tourist, anyone of their same colour is likely one of their kin. But the resident farang is a wiser, nobler and all-round higher class of foreigner, and we must flaunt our status with our behaviour and habits. However, this is something that can only be cultivated over time, with experience – unless you consult my handy guide to…
10 WAYS EXPATS CAN AVOID BEING MISTAKEN FOR TOURISTS
Filed under: Expat life, People, Travel | Tags: Amphawa, anti-government protests, Ayutthaya, backpackers, Bang Saray, Bangkok, Chinese language, conmen, corruption, English, English language, hotels, Isaan, Isaan language, Khao San Road, Krabi, Lao language, Laos, lorry drivers, Malay language, Malaysia, malls, Mandarin, Nightlife, Pattaya, politics, public transport, Rayong, Rungsan Chintanawong, shopping, sightseeing, Suvarnabhumi, Suvarnabhumi airport, taxi drivers, taxis, Thai language, Thailand, tourism, tourists, transport, Trat
“Hey, where you go?” “How much you pay?” “Meter not work.” Phrases that are all-too familiar for anybody who has been to Bangkok, beginning as soon as you leave the arrivals area of the airport and following you all along downtown, around the visitor attractions and surrounding your hotel. Yes, it’s the hawking call of the notorious Bangkok taxi driver.
There are an estimated 60,000 of them in the city, and to be fair, the majority of them are reasonable enough. It’s just the majority of them do not congregate at the airport, the tourist traps, the nightspots, the malls and the big hotels. It is the unscrupulous few who dominate these places, who can spot a freshly arrived holidaymaker at a hundred paces, who can speak enough English to negotiate a con, and who foster the negative image many visitors take home of the corrupt cabbie.
Filed under: Culture, Expat life, Health, News, Nightlife, People, politics, Relationships, restaurants, Thai news, Travel | Tags: 7-Eleven, anti-government protests, antibiotics, Bangkok, beach, Beer, Benz Bungalows, Buddhism, children, Chinese, condominiums, crab, diarrhoea, dogs, English language, fast food, food, goats, Gulf of Thailand, Hat Thampang, Hat Thampang Bungalows, hospital, hotels, Hua Hin, Isaan, islands, Ko Sichang, Malee Blue, May 19, monastery, motorbikes, nighclubs, palaces, Pan & David Restaurant, Paree Hut, Pattaya, politics, rabies, Rama V, Red Shirts, restaurants, salad, seafood, shops, Sri Racha, swimming, temples, Thai culture, Thai language, Thai people, Thai politics, Thailand, Travel, tuk-tuks, whale
Thailand’s image needs all the help it can get right now. Last month’s dramatic footage of bomb sites and gun fights across Bangkok played out internationally and many countries have yet to lift their travel warnings to the erstwhile Land of Smiles.
For sure, confidence has been rocked, and even beyond the photos of war on the streets, the reputation of Thai people as gentle, benevolent Buddhists has been tarnished by displays of downright ugly behaviour during such fractious times.
Whether the protesters promising – and almost succeeding – to turn Bangkok into a “sea of fire”, or their opponents cheering and swearing as the death toll neared a hundred, there was precious little positive humanity on display.
Filed under: Expat life, Travel | Tags: 1970s, 1980s, Bang Saray, Bangkok, bars, beaches, Chon Buri, commuting, condominiums, condos, drink, entertainment, expats, fast food, fishing, food, Food and Drink, foreign investment, guesthouses, hotels, Jomtien, Ko Samui, McDonalds, motorbikes, nightclubs, package tours, Pattaya, Phuket, pollution, property, prostitution, real estate, restaurants, seaside, shopping malls, Sin City, swimming, Thailand, tourism, work
Talk to any old-timer expat here in Thailand and chances are that, before long, they’ll regale you with tales of when places such as Pattaya and Phuket were quiet fishing villages, and then lament that if only they’d bought land or property back then, they’d be stinking rich now.
Which raises the question of where tomorrow’s Pattaya or Phuket might be, or whether there even remains such potential in a country which is vastly more ensconsced on the tourist map than it was in the 1970s or 80s. Surely anywhere of commercial opportunity will already be long-discovered?
Maybe not. (more…)
Filed under: Expat life, International news, media, News, Nightlife, People, Thai news | Tags: Amsterdam, Bangkok, bars, beggars, bikinis, blogs, Blythe, Britain, BTS, child brides, child prostitution, corruption, crime, Culture, Daily Mirror, David Carradine, death, Disney, editor, gay, go-go bars, Google, hoaxes, Hollywood, hostess bars, hostesses, hotels, ID cards child sex, investigative journalism, Iraq, Iraq war, journalism, journalist, law, London, magazines, Mark Ebner, market, massage, massage parlours, Maxim, media, media law, men's magazines, middle-aged, movies. holidays, MRT, murder, Nai Lert Park, Nana, Nana Hotel, Nana Plaza, News, newspaper, Nightlife, North Korea, Pacific, Pacific islands, paedophilia, Patpong, Patpong Market, Pattaya, Phnom Penh, Piers Morgan, press, prostitution, red light districts, rickshaws, sex, sex games, shopping, skytrain, slums, Soho, Soi Cowboy, soldiers, subway, suicide, Suvarnabhumi airport, Swissotel, taxis, Thailand, Times Square, tourism, tourists, websites
As I work in the press, I’m always quick to defend journalists, especially against the stereotype that they “make things up”.
It is true, though, that facts can be shaped to fit an agenda, and also that whenever there are two or more sides to a story, a journalist can take whichever side best fits his remit. But they can’t simply make things up.
For a start, it’s against the law. If a newspaper prints a story about a person or event, and cannot prove that it is true if required to do so, then it will face penalties.
Take, for example, the 2004 case of the Daily Mirror‘s publication of photos which apparently showed British soldiers abusing an Iraqi captive. Desperate for a sensational scoop, The Mirror didn’t check the authenticity of the pictures, which were later proven to be fake. The result – editor Piers Morgan was fired.
So, a publication really can’t “make things up” without risking personal, political or financial repercussions. However, that’s not to say it never happens. While I may be quick to defend the press against this stereotype, at the same time I am quick to criticise journalists who do contribute to it.
Filed under: Culture, Expat life, People | Tags: Bangkok, Bible, bottled water, culture difference, drink, English, English language, food, food court, juice, language, Lost in Translation, mineral water, Minute Maid, orange, orange juice, Sprite, stupid, Thai, Thai language, Thai people, Tower of Babel, translation, water
I’m learning Thai, but my abilities remain limited, so I’d never criticise a Thai person’s attempts at English.
I was at the drinks stand of a Bangkok food court. The vendor stood in front of a double glass door fridge. I appraised his wares, and the lingual fun began.
The conversation was a mix of my limited Thai and his limited English, but for simplicity’s sake I have transcribed it in English only. But even allowing for language differences, there’s no way such a simple transaction should have been anywhere near as protracted. Sprite is Sprite, whether in English or Thai, written or spoken.
Me: Sprite, please.
Him: Bottled water?
Me: No, Sprite, please.
(He reaches for a bottle of Minute Maid orange juice.)
Me: No, Sprite.
Him: No have.
Me: Yes, you have (pointing at the Sprite in the fridge).
(He reaches for the orange juice again.)
Me: No, down.
(He reaches two shelves down, passes the Sprite, and goes for the bottled water again.)
Me: No, up.
(He reaches two shelves up and goes for the orange juice again.)
(He looks at me as if I’m stupid.)
Me: Sprite. Suh-prite? Spuh-rite?
(He continues to just look at me.)
Me: There! (Pointing again).
(He reluctantly opens the fridge again and we begin to repeat the up-down routine.)
Me: No, up. No, down. Right. Right. No, go right! Yes! That one!
Him: (Looking at me like I’m really stupid) Oh, you want Sprite.
(Note: As Thai for “bottled water” is “nam plao” and “orange juice” is “nam som”, there’s no possibly way he could have confused either with “Sprite”, whether in sound or appearance!)
Filed under: Expat life, Health | Tags: Bangkok, Bangkok Christian Hospital, dermatologist, dermatology, doctor, food, food poisoning, Health, hospital, immune system, leg ulcer, NHS, private healthcare, private hospital, pyoderma gangrenosum, Silom, Silom Road, Thailand, tropics, UK, ulcer, United Kingdom
My health is generally fine. I’ve only taken one day off work since moving here, due to a particularly violent bout of food poisoning. I’ll spare you the details, but on two occasions (the other being on a weekend) I have been rendered utterly housebound by the ill-effects of dodgy food. I guess this comes with the territory when living in the tropics, and twice in less than a year and a half is not bad, really.But I am still trying to resolve a health issue which I brought with me from the UK – a leg ulcer which has been present for two years now. I have a skin disease called pyoderma gangrenosum (PG) and I must be very special, because it affects just 1 in 100,000 people!
It is basically an inappropropriate immune response – the immune system attacks a wound or blemish, but gobbles up good skin, too. This is what creates the ulcer and what continues to prevent it healing. (more…)
Filed under: Culture, Expat life | Tags: Bangkok, Cambridge Language Centre, Chinese, Chinese class, Chinese language, Chinese teachers, English, English class, English language, English teachers, Japanese, Japanese class, Japanese language, Japanese teachers, Phahon Yothin, Thai, Thai class, Thai language, Thai script, Thai teachers, Thailand
I picked up bits and pieces of Thai simply by virtue of living here and going about my daily business, but it wasn’t until January that I started formal classes. I’d struggled to find one that was both affordable and fit into my timetable. However after a few months of searching, I found one almost opposite where I live! For a set annual fee, I can have unlimited lessons and can schedule them as I see fit. I try to go three times a week, but always manage at least once.
I realise I may not be here forever, and that Thai is irrelevant elsewhere, but of course it is valuable within the country. I haven’t reached a great standard but definitely certain aspects of my life are now easier, and I can read Thai script, which is great for monolingual signs and menus.
If anybody is interested in learning Thai, I recommend the school I attend for both price, convenience and format – the classes are informal and fun and conducted by Thais who are fluent in English. It also offers Japanese, Chinese and English classes. Unfortunately it doesn’t have a website, but the contact details are as follows:
Cambridge Language Centre, 8 Phahon Yothin Road Soi 29, Chatuchak, Bangkok 10900. Tel 02 513 4137