Thursday, February 20, 2014

BANGKOK SUVARNABHUMI AIRPORT LINK - THAILAND

I am a convenience guy! I love fast and easy travel from point A to point B. My ideal in Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport is to get off the plain and be greeted by VIP service and be guided to the car and driven to my hotel, without having to endure a complicated conversation with a taxi driver that starts with "where you come from, sir?"

But the recent blockade of the city and it's implications on traffic (or the danger of it) had convinced me to test the Airport Link Train to Suvarnabhumi Airport. Friends had told me about it before, I never wanted to use it until now. So, I did it and I am quite happy with it. I actually started off from a Subway MRT station at Lumphini Station, to Makkasan Station where I bought the ticket and boarded the Airport Link until I exited at the Airport. Friends had told me that I would have to cross the street at Phetchaburi MRT station and carry it upstairs to the Makkasan Station, but that was all connected in January when I did it. 

So, here is a photo blog of it. Very easy. Very comfortable, even with two pieces of luggage and very cheap!

Lumpini MRT Station (subway)
Going down to Bang Sue direction

Waiting for the Bang Sue train
Phetchaburi Station - look for signs
Map to orientate myself
Long line at MRT - better have a ticket already!

Clear signs to Makkasan Station
going up to the cross-over
Crossing over the street

Makkasan station top right
The reason why taking the train!

Hall to buy your tickets
Train Schedule
Ticket Machine

Select English language!

Token system

Passing through entry gates
Makkasan in Thai script!
Waiting for the train (around noon)

Train arrives

Semi-full train on the way to Airport
A ride with a view :-)

Exit at Suvarnabhumi Airport

Have the token handy!!!

Exit of Train Station

Flights and Gates Info

Going up and arriving at the Arrival Hall






Actually going back to the city with the train again a few days later so here are a few more images of other things.

City Line train is really cheap!

View stations between airport and city.

There is also an Express Train

Express Train is faster but more expensive!

Decide which train you want to take!

Express Train Area - all empty!

Really nobody around at Express Train Station

Check in your baggage at Express Train Station!


Saturday, February 8, 2014

WALKING THE STREETS OF VIENTIANE - LAOS - DAY 3

Day 3 of my stay in Vientiane was the day I wanted to explore the eastern part of the old town with some of the museums and historic places. 

But setting out on foot again, I first visited the shops along Settathirath Road, heading east. Some of the "antique" shops were already open in the morning and I took a look into several of them. Higher market Buddha images and of course higher prices were what I found. Some really nice pieces though. Passing by the big water fountain and some of the official buildings and ministries, many tuk tuk drivers asked to drive me. They are not as pushy as tuk tuk drivers in Bangkok or in Indonesia, of which Bali has the worst kind!

Past the Presidential Palace is the Ho Pakaeo, which is now a museum and is still the original structure built as an ancient temple in A.D. 1565. A small fee has to be paid here. The Ho Phakeo Museum is a beautiful temple building and can only be photographed from the outside. Strictly no photography inside the building though, which is very disappointing. 

The building initially housed the Emerald Buddha, which was taken by the Siamese in 1828 and is now enshrined in Bangkok's Wat Phra Kaeo inside the Royal Palace. There was not even a replica inside the Ho Pakaeo, but only other ancient items and statues, in a very confusing display. No English labels are available, so the unknown visitor is quite confused inside. 

Across the street is Wat Sisaket, which is a mix of a museum, with entrance fee, and a living temple. I met up with a friend who is a monk here, which added to my experience, but most tourists visit the museum only. The courtyard and the main hall house several thousand Buddha images, but again there is no photography inside the main hall, which gets quite crowded. The mural paintings are sadly in a very bad state.

Continuing my journey east I passed a few other temples but like most temples in Vientiane they are locked during daytime. The city shrine was open and can be visited. It is just a few minutes away from Wat Si Muang, which is open and is filled with life and prayers. Monks bless the visitors who pray to a local spirit woman and of course the Buddha here. Sadly I was also cheated inside the temple when buying an amulet. The price quoted to me was almost double from the price which was listed outside the temple in Lao language. Again, I witnessed many mobile photo labs, but here on motorcycles rather than inside cars. Local people love to get their photos taken at this important temple. 


Sisavangvong Statue stands in the middle of a small park next to the temple, but beyond that was really nothing interesting to see, other than local village life. The area between the temple and the river is a cultural village district and life here is much more authentic than in the old town where everything is more international and touristy. 


I imagined the walk back to be a nice walk along the Mekong river, but there is nothing to see, not even the river for quite a while because the river is divided by a long island here. There are only trees and brush and some drive ways to Hotels, before one gets back to the Presidential Palace and Anouvong Park.  The walk is also not very pedestrian friendly, as in many other Asian towns, due to the many cars parked on the sidewalks. It seems to be a very common thing here in Vientiane to use this space for cars while pedestrians will have to walk on the street. 




Sunday, February 2, 2014

WALKING THE STREETS OF VIENTIANE - LAOS - DAY 2

Best way to see a city is "per pedes", on foot, as the old Romans said! Well, I did not really intend to walk everywhere, but asking my nice lady in the lobby of the hotel how much a tuk tuk would charge me to go to Phra That Luang, she said about 5 US $. 50.000 Kip in Lao currency, which seemed a lot for that way, specially since I had heard different quotes from locals before.

But I also wasn't in the mood to just drive by everywhere and keep shouting "stop here". Walking is a much better choice for a photographer, even if it's just a hobby photographer like me!

That Luang, the big chedi/pagoda, was what I intended to start my visit with in Vientiane. The reason is simple. I am a Buddhist and I usually start with the most important Buddhist place before seeing other things. So, the intention was to just walk across the city to Phra That Luang.

Outside my hotel was Ong Tue Temple and I had paid a visit to the "most important Buddha image of Vientiane" the night before, but I had to cross the temple and I thought it is also a good thing to just pay my respect again. So I went in and by passing through the temple grounds I quickly made contact with some of the monks and novices waiting for their school buses.

The shops and restaurants on my way along Setthathirath Road were still closed, so nothing much to see until That Dam, the black Chedi. It's a quick stop really for a photo, but there is nothing to see or do here either. Passing through the small side street on the way to the bigger Lane Xane Avenue was more interesting, since I passed by the U.S. embassy with their big walls and huge antennas on the roof and I was wondering if my mobile signal would be picked up. I anyway smiled and waved at the cameras :-)

Lane Xane Avenue is huge and does not have a lot of traffic. It is easy to walk across the streets here, unlike most other capitals of Asia. The Tourism Information Center was a quick pit stop but it also provided good maps and great information about Laos and it's provinces, and the staff was quite helpful and even told me that it was an easy walk to Phra That Luang.

Before continuing to the major tourist site of Patuxai, the Victory Monument, I took a quick look at That Foun temple.

The Patuxai is impressive, reminded me of Paris, except that crossing the street was much easier! View people were here because it was still early morning and the monument was not open yet. But there were plenty of photographers waiting for Lao tourists, the same way I had seen it the night before along the river. Few people in Laos actually have a camera, so there are hordes of photographers who wait for their models and then run a full service photo lab job on them. Take the photo, develop it, print it and frame it, all in the back of their cars and trucks waiting on the side of the street. Something I have never seen before! Of course all the photos are very colourfully edit jobs on the computer!

The main streets split after the park of the Patuxai and walking along the quiet road to Phra That Luang proved to be longer than anticipated. Only beautiful villas from embassies along the way were interesting points to see. The huge square in front of the Chedi was completely empty. I expected tour buses, masses of people, but nothing! No tourists and no local people to see. Perfect for a photographer!

That Luang will charge you 5000 Kip and you have the place for yourself. I expected crazy masses like in Bangkok's Emerald Buddha Temple. But instead I could set up my tripod and take plenty of selfies. Besides the That Luang there are two temples north and south, which are also interesting to see and rest for a bit.

I am a "temple extremist" as seen by my other blogs, so I spent a lot of time exploring, walking around, seeing what the backside looks like and going in and out kind of deal. That Luang allows for that because there is almost nobody here, at least when I visited. Plenty of detail photographic shots to be taken with great sun light.

On the way back I thought for a second to take an offer from a tuk tuk driver waiting along the street after the white monument, which I could not figure out what it was. However, two older Lao women walked in front of me and wanted to take the tuk tuk. The driver kept them waiting to see if "the tourist" wanted a (more expensive) ride and when I shook my head, he accepted the two old ladies!

The way back seemed even longer than the way here but I did stop at the Patuxai for a visit. I heard the two Lao people in front of me in the short line that the entrance fee was 2000 Kip (since I speak Thai and the Lao words where the same). I took 2000 Kip out and handed it to the lady who gave me the nastiest look and after a second or two she said "3000 for tourists! 2000 for Lao!"  Here we go! I was back in the reality of double standards! 

The view from the Patuxai is good and the entire city of Vientiane can be explored from above. Some tourist were here now, but still not too bad. Plenty of people asked me to take their photo with them in it. The few floors inside the monument were filled with tourist shops. Everything that nobody needs was sold here. Nothing unique!