Category: Thailand

Couple Of The Week: Yours Truly

By , May 11, 2011 4:52 pm

I hope we don’t need any introductions. The couple of the week is Boris and MuiMui. While we were interviewing couples for our weekly couple section, we actually got asked to answer a few questions for Holly, who will be starting her travels in a few months. You can read the original interview on her blog.

MeAndFrenchie

Boris And MuiMui

Relationship Status: | Attached to the hip.
How long have you been together? | Over 3 years.
How long have you been traveling? | 13 months.
How long is your total planned trip? | 12 to 18 months.

What attracted you to traveling in the first place and how did it become a reality?
Boris: I grew up in France and have always been attracted to the US. I finally went there for an internship and loved it. Once I graduated, I immediately found a job in San Francisco. I loved the city so much that I was disappointed to have ended up there before seeing more of the world. One year before our world tour, I told MuiMui that I wanted to move abroad and experience life in a different country. She replied that if she had to leave everything, she wanted to see more of the world. We agreed to go on a world tour together.

MuiMui: My desire for travel grew from loving parents who worked all the time and basically from their lack of travel. In college, I snatched every chance I had to travel outside of the US. Then when I joined the corporate world, travel became my yearly escape. When I met my Boris, he would challenge me whenever I would say, “I wish I could …” so here we are, circling the globe.

How is traveling different from taking a two week holiday?
Boris: Traveling has nothing to with going on holiday. First, you always have to look at your budget to make you can make it to the end of your travel and that you don’t have a bad impact on the populations. Second, traveling is, for us, more oriented towards meeting people and learning cultures than just sightseeing. Last, I would say that when you travel you have to give yourself time to rest and reenergize.

MuiMui: The two do not have to be so different but as a typical American, my short and infrequent holidays seem to dictate how I traveled initially, so I would automatically try to maximize my experience by seeing as much as I can and within the western comforts I am use to. It was when I went to Vietnam for the first time on holiday and explored the small villages and did away with my usual comforts that made me realize how much I was missing out on.

How do you organize world travel among the both of you?
Boris: Before entering a new country we will both do 1 or 2 hours of research and then compare our results. Then with the information, we will try to make an itinerary that would allow us to see most of it within our allocated time frame. Once we arrive in a city, we will start looking together for a place to stay and I usually get tired and let MuiMui find the best deal in town.

MuiMui: A world trip is a lot to take in so with some planning, it makes things a little easier for us and more efficient. We split up the work by who wants to do what. Two things we learned not to do is over plan, leave out some of the small details to be explored together, and for each country, it is good if the both of you read up a little about it as you enjoy a place more if you know more about it.

What did you learn about each other?
Boris: She is extremely good at bargaining and finding deals. She can be very cheap and will get extremely upset if she finds out somebody else got a better deal. No matter how hard it is, if she has decided to go somewhere, she will find a way to get there (and without getting ripped off).

MuiMui: I did not necessarily learn something new about Boris, but the small details I looked passed before the trip were more apparent during the trip. For example, I know he is a nice guy, but I found at times he was being too nice and polite to a stranger in a situation that I did not feel comfortable being in.

Would you do it again? What would you change?
Boris: Yes but after a little break. I would do more research beforehand and visit fewer countries. I would also try to dedicate more time for personal activities like photography walks with locals, cooking lessons, or Spanish classes.

MuiMui: Yes! I feel like this past year was just a taste of more to come. I have more ideas for future trips such as becoming fluent in another language and staying longer in one place.

Any scary stories or low points?!
Boris: Nothing really scary as we never got robbed but if I have to choose a low point, it would be our experience in Indonesia on the road to Mount Bromo: A driver tried to rip us off and then a group of youngsters on motorbikes “saved” us, which was all an organized scam. We were in the middle on nowhere with no other tourists or public transportation around. It took us 3 hours to get out of there.

MuiMui: When we arrived in Arequipa and was looking around for a hotel, we met a female traveler who just experienced an attempted taxi kidnapping the evening before. She was still trembling and emotional and that woke me up how we always have to be careful in any country and as much as we are, shit still happens when there are bad people.

What was your most recurrent disagreement?
Boris: First money, second transportation.

MuiMui: We had one big recurring disagreement which was about when/how to book transportation. We both liked different styles and in the beginning, I would throw tantrums, not knowing I was, when I couldn’t get him to agree with me.

What are your top three tips for anyone thinking about traveling?
Both:
1: Go.
2: Meet as many people as you can.
3: Be open-minded and never reject something because it is different from what you are used to.
4: Always be aware of your surroundings.

Do you have any tips for traveling with your partner?
Boris: One laptop each or no laptop at all. Find some activities that you can do alone (photography, diving, etc). Even if it is easier to stay in your room, try to go out and engage with other people as much as you can; the experience you share is invaluable and not written in any guidebook.

MuiMui: Traveling to new places is both fun and stressful. Doing it with someone else can be even more challenging so work together instead of trying to be right all the time. There is no right or wrong when it comes to saving $0.50. Be more open minded while being safe and meet fellow travelers.

Any do’s and don’ts?
Both:
DO follow your instincts and change your plans.
DO NOT leave your stuff unattended even for a second. When riding on trains or buses, make sure your things are attached to you at all times. It just takes one second of snoozing for your things to be stolen.
DO learn the local language or at least use basic phrases or words.
DO NOT dress up like you would at home when visiting India. Not only will you shock the people, you may encounter constant harassment.
DO try local cuisine away from tourist areas if possible.

Is your traveling experience any different to how you imagined it would be?
Both: Traveling is more tiring than what we thought. It felt like a full time job at times. People are very different from one country to the other. Usually, the less money they have, the more giving they are and the more interested they are to meet you.

What was your favorite country you visited? Why?
Boris: Hard to say but I have 3 places that stand out:
Thailand because we had a marvelous time there. We met extremely nice people and no matter what kind of experience you are looking for (beach, history, culture, food, city, trekking, mountains, villages, etc), Thailand has it all!
Colombia because we went there with some apprehensions and no positive expectations, but the kindness of the people blew us away. Trust me, Colombia is one of the safest countries we’ve been to and you will love both the landscapes and the people.
Galapagos because it is 100% unique. Everyday we would wake up seeing something that you can only see on TV: Giant Turtles, Endemic birds, penguins, iguanas, and etc. Plus walking on islands made of fresh lava (only a few hundred years old) is quite something.

MuiMui: It’s so difficult to pick a favorite as there is something great (and bad) about each country we went to. I think the country that wins for overall ease of travel, variety of things to see and eat, pleasantness of the people and culture, something for everyone, is Thailand. But I will never forget about how wonderful the people in Colombia were, or how out of this world the animals were in the Galapagos, or the penguins hopping onto the beaches of New Zealand, or the colors and sites of India, and … the gastronomy culture and way of life in the south of France.

Finally what’s the best thing about traveling?
Both: We always think that the best thing is to see beautiful and famous places. After coming back, I don’t think that is true anymore. Learning is the best thing that happens when you travel. Meeting people from different cultures will open your eyes on the world and your own life. This is, in our opinion, an invaluable experience.

Thailand: Third Time’s The Charm in Bangkok

By , April 18, 2011 2:26 pm
Mansion 7 Hunted Mall

Mansion 7

Being rejected for an India visa in Malaysia got us a bit down, but arriving in Bangkok for the third time, help boosted our energy. It seems like every time we have visa issues, Bangkok comes to the rescue.

Also to the rescue are our dear friends in Bangkok, Wan and Noel. Staying at their fabulous pad, having great company, and paying less attention to our budget, has us exploring the joys of expat living.

One of our favorite habits while living in San Francisco is having brunch on the weekends. Once our friends learned this, they immediately brought us to Kuppa Cafe. One giant step into this delightful restaurant sends me right back to all the warm memories I have of SF. The display of wonderful desserts and great atmosphere makes this a great place to splurge. The cheesecake is even better than The Cheesecake Factory.

Kuppa Cafe

Kuppa Cafe

Morning Brunch

Morning Brunch

Must Have Oreo Cheesecake

Must Have Oreo Cheesecake

The variety of good eats in Bangkok is something we can rely on. With the added bonus of a live show, Tawandang German Brewery is also a great choice. Our friends did all the ordering while we jam to the music. Great Thai food and entertainment, what else can you ask for.

Go Boris!

Go Boris!

Restaurant or Club?

Restaurant or Club?

Something we missed, but didn’t know, was good old Korean bbq so we head to Drum B.B.Q. on Soi 14 Ratchada Rd. We began with small side dishes, but the great joy was the mouthwatering Bulgogi meat and marinated chicken. Each table even came with its very own vacuum or telephone?

Hello?

Hello?

BBQ Chicken And Garlic

BBQ Chicken And Garlic

The Crew

The Crew

There are only a few places where charging $15 for a drink is ok and that is at Vertigo bar at the rooftop of Banyan Tree Hotel. The panoramic city views make you forget everything, but be careful not to stand too close to the ledge.

City Views From Vertigo Bar

City Views From Vertigo Bar

Rooftop of Vertigo Bar

Rooftop of Vertigo Bar

If you are like me and you like to shop and adore interesting design, Mansion 7 brings a new experience to shopping. As I enter through a wooden structure of a giant purple hand, I start to wonder what I signed up for. The haunted house inside definitely confirms I have wandered too far but then the little cute shops have me poking around. My curiosity draws me to this black door. As I open it, an army of gnomes is looking at me. Don’t miss out on the signature drinks at Cocktail Bar.

Entrance Of Mansion 7

Entrance Of Mansion 7

Filled With Restaurants, Bars, and Cute Shops

Filled With Restaurants, Bars, and Cute Shops

Haunted House @ Mansion 7

Haunted House @ Mansion 7

Cocktail Bar @ Mansion 7

Cocktail Bar @ Mansion 7

Good Times @ Cocktail Bar

Good Times @ Cocktail Bar

To fulfill my shopping needs without the fancy decor, Platinum Mall is my favorite. It is so easy to get lost in this maze that after hours of non-stop shopping and being separated from Wan, I hear my name announced on the intercom. Whoops! Also, the food court is an experience in itself.

Food Court @ Platinum Mall

Food Court @ Platinum Mall

Among all the fun we are having, there is still business to be done while in Bangkok. We dropped off our application for our India visas at The India Visa Application Centre (IVAC) on Monday morning. Four days later, at 6:50 pm on a Friday, I receive an e-mail message that our India visas are complete. However, the embassy is closing in 10 minutes. I rush to the subway and as I’m standing at the closed entrance of the Indian embassy begging for our visas, I finally convince one super-duper-nice employee to help me. As she hands me the two envelopes, our trip here is complete. For those doing the same thing, I advise going on Friday afternoon to check regardless if you get an e-mail or not. It takes approximately 5 full business days.

Thanks again to our friends, Noel and Wan! You have us tempting to move to Bangkok more each time. Also we had the pleasure of meeting Linda, who just moved to this great city from the US. It’s always nice to make new friends around the world.

Glowing Bunny

Glowing Bunny

Leave Me Alone Panda!

Leave Me Alone Panda!

Love It!

Love It!

Signature Drinks @ Cocktail Bar

Signature Drinks @ Cocktail Bar

The Pool @ Mansion 7

The Pool @ Mansion 7

Pin-up In A Coca-Cola Truck

Pin-up In A Coca-Cola Truck

Delicious Green Tea Ice Cream

Delicious Green Tea Ice Cream

What We Paid: THB USD Euro
– Flight on Thai Airways from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to Bangkok, Thailand using 10,000 United Airline Miles each 41.80/pp 29.40
– Subway from airport to city 45/one-way 1.50 1.05
– Average price of taxi within central Bangkok 100/ride 3.30 2.35
– Lunch at Kuppa Cafe 633/pp 21 14.80
– Dinner at Drumm BBQ 350/pp 11.60 8.20
– Dinner at Tawandang German Brewery 468/pp 15.55 10.95
– Drinks at Vertigo Bar at Banyan Tree Hotel 400/drink 13.30 9.35
– Drinks at Cocktail Bar at Mansion 7 from 200 6.65 4.65

Flickr Photoset | Slideshow

Fun Hotels Not On A Dime

By , March 3, 2011 3:39 am

While doing a world tour or any long-term traveling, having a budget is essential to keep you going. However, there should be some room for splurges. What to splurge on completely depends on the individual.

For those who want to splurge on unique accommodations, the options are endless. In cheaper countries, it can even be possible without going too much over a backpacker’s budget.

From our travels so far, I have fallen in love with two places, which I want to share:
1. MO Rooms in Chiang Mai, Thailand
2. Citadines Quartier in Jakarta, Indonesia

MO Rooms speaks to me because of its unique theme. At this boutique hotel, you will find only twelve rooms. Each of the twelve rooms is based on an animal from the Chinese Zodiac. But being more than just a creative concept, each room is designed by a different artist, resulting in a livable art sculpture. I was completely taken away after a tour of the rooms. The monkey room is an overall favorite, but no matter which room you choose, the experience will be memorable. We met a couple that stayed one week and had a lot of fun sleeping in a different room each night.

Mo Rooms

Mo Rooms

Dog Room

Dog Room

Monkey Room

Monkey Room

Horse Room

Horse Room

Citadines Quartier was my highlight during our visit to Jakarta. This apartment hotel got me at hello because of its contemporary design, yet comfortable, and subtle mix of vintage antiquities. My favorite features include the caged staircase in the lobby and the overlooked details such as the hidden outlets in the wooden floor panels.

Citadines Quartier

Citadines Quartier

Caged Staircase

Caged Staircase

View Of Lobby From Above

View Of Lobby From Above

Old Sewing Machines Converted To Tables

Old Sewing Machines Converted To Tables

If you are looking to splurge on accommodations, a great resource for ideas is Mr & Mrs Smith, but they do not currently cover Asia.

Bangkok: Red Shirts

By , August 10, 2010 10:25 am

Before arriving in Bangkok, we only knew of the situation as portrayed in the western media and Internet:

Thai farmers are camping in the streets of Bangkok to show their displeasure with the current Prime Minister. They said he was too liberal and wanted the return of the former Prime Minister. Thaksin, who was elected democratically in 2001, became a victim of a coup during a diplomatic trip and was ousted in 2006. He is known for his pro peasant policies and is behind the first universal social security in Thailand, which allows access to public hospitals for all.

In short, supporters of the former Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, are commonly called the Red Shirts. The supporters of the current Prime Minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, are called the Yellow Shirts.

Barricade Used By The Army

While traveling around Thailand, we spoke with various locals to try to understand the situation better. We were very surprised to hear a very different message. Some of information that were pointed out to us:

Thaksin, the former prime minister and leader of the Red Shirts, is a businessman who acceded to power in 2001. He was reelected in 2005 when elections reached historical highs for the number of voters. At the beginning of his term, his personal fortune was estimated at 500 million dollars and in five years, it reached 2.5 billion dollars. In 2006, suspicion of corruption began to echo so the Thai military stripped Thaksin of his power and he fled the country.

In February 2008, elections for House of Representative were held and the Red Shirts party won the majority. Thaksin returned to Thailand but flees again in July, before the Supreme Court could convict him of the charges of corruption against him.

Smashed Windows Of A Department Store

The House of Representatives elected a consecutive string of prime ministers who were all close to Thaksin and who all eventually forfeited due to fraud. The Supreme Court finally dissolves the Red Shirts and bans all of its electoral officers of any function for 5 years.

The current Prime Minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, took office in December 2008. The Supreme Court found Thaksin guilty of corruption and sentenced him to two years of imprisonment.

Bullet Holes In A Department Store

Today, Thaksin has not served his sentence and remains a fugitive. In addition, an international warrant for his arrest was issued on charges of terrorism linking him to the violent attacks in Bangkok from March to May 2010.

The outstanding question is why were the Red Shirts in the streets of Bangkok protesting? It seems Thaksin had a plot to pay voters (again) to protest for new elections. With the average monthly wage for a Thai farmer being about 70 dollars, it is not difficult to see that the cash incentive is enough motivation to get more voters and protestors.

Mall That Got Burned Down By The Red Shirts

Also, on the Thai news, they revealed some of the weapons found during cleanup after the riots in the capital. They weapons belonging to the “peaceful protestors” included M16 assault rifles, grenades, and bomb components.

Bullet And Reflection Of The Burned Down Mall

It is overwhelming to try to understand the entire situation, as there is probably more than meets the eye. Could it be Thaksin is a man who truly cares and wants to help the poor, but was mistaken or does he just pay the poor to gain power and to enrich his family?

Flickr Photoset | Slideshow

Bangkok: Our Return

By , August 8, 2010 4:58 am

During our first visit to Bangkok, we were not that impressed with the city and it was partly due to the heat rash I got. Giving things (and people) a second chance is a philosophy we have adopted.

This time around, we stayed with our friends, Noel and Wan, who graciously invited us to their home. We were definitely in a different part of town. Everything was new. There were huge shopping malls and public transportation all around us.

Pool access during our stay

With shopping as a definite must do in Bangkok, Boris and I visited the famous Chatuchak weekend market. It’s known for its size and having lots of selection. After walking around for a few hours, we were overwhelmed by the number of shops and the heat. It was a sad day as I returned home empty handed.

Chatuchak Market

When our friend, Wan, learned about our shopping experience, she demanded to bring us to a better place. We went to a local shopping mall and I wanted to buy everything! It was great to hang out with girls for a change and to come home with goodies.

MuiMui's shopping crew

Our food court experience is also worth mentioning. Upon arrival, we put money on a shopping card. As I walked around food heaven looking at the delicious noodles, fresh drinks, and desserts, I just charged whatever I wanted to eat. At the end, we had money left over on our card so we cashed out. It was simple and fun.

Our grand local experience came when we took a break from eating out and cooked at home. Wan taught me to make pad see ew. She walked me through the steps but she was the master chef who did the actual cooking. We completely devoured the dish; it was pure deliciousness.

Homemade Pad See Ew

Thank Noel and Wan for your hospitality. We love Bangkok!

Wan And Noel

Flickr Photoset | Slideshow

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