South East Asian Safari in Monsoon

hafeez photo cambodia 4Alhamdulillah, I am back from Safari-2013 in one piece, unscratched and unruffled. God is Great protecting all the lone travelers from calamities, disasters, setbacks, scams, loot and plunder.

This year, I covered four countries – Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Malaysia. Of these, the first two were for the first time ever. In all I traveled for 36 days covering 3,310 km going through 16 spots, towns and cities.

Total cost was about US$1,730 or shortly less than US$ 50 day. I stayed in clean rooms with air-condition, attached bath etc. However, I avoided taxi using my two legs to cover long distances say 10 km or less. I am glad I passed the stress test and gone were my apprehension for being 71-year old.

ARRIVING BANGKOK

CX 2700 was a red-eye flight departing at mid-night from Karachi, Pakistan. It reached Bangkok early at 7:20 am.  After clearing immigration and custom, I sought for “Information Desk”.  Looking around I found it managed by a number of ladies, one with an elegant head-scarf.  Saying “As-salamu alaykum”, I approached her directly and dished out a slip with words, “Way to Hua Lamphong Railway Station by train”. She responded appropriately and scrawled a note both in Thai and English saying to “take Airport Link Train changing it at Makkasan to MRT lines for Hua Lamphong.”  This served a gate-pass and I got to the place in about 25 minutes coughing 200 BHT in local currency (US $7 Equi).  Once in the down-town, I dragged my carryon and reached easily to “New Empire Hotel, Yaowart Road”, in China Town with room rent of $23 per night.

CHINA TOWN

To beat the jet-lag, I slept right-away.  In the afternoon, I went to a nearby café and for $8 had a good lunch in a Chinese Restaurants decorated with balloons, candles and paintings. I returned and continued sleeping till it was evening. There was hardly any traffic noise as the room was on the back side. It had a wide window affording me to watch twilight petering out. A common scene was neon signs blazing with Chinese characters. Narrow alleys and pedestrian streets were jam-packed with local buyers and flocks of tourists. Walking around at night seemed like going through a time-tunnel.

red archChina Towns are all over the world. They invariably have large red-arch entrances and ethnic restaurants offering dishes like dim sum (spring rolls in small portions), noodles, chow mein and seafoods like lobsters, crabs and oysters kept alive in fish tanks for cooking.

Next day, after the breakfast, I collected my travel documents and came on road to get a taxi for Laotian Embassy, about 10 km away. Though I was given to understand that taxi charges to Lao Embassy were almost fixed at Baht 100, I could not find any one agreeing to it but the double at Baht 200. I had to yield in and by paying Baht 200, I reached the embassy. It was almost deserted. Maybe this was an off-season or tourists prefer Visa-On-Arrival facilities available to all except residents of a few countries.

I was asked to fill a form, submit a photo and a fee of $20 for two months single entry visa.  I did the same and got my passport stamped with visa within 15 minutes or less. The Cambodia Embassy was nearby and with equal ease I got its visa. A much-dreaded process was over in a jiffy.

22nd June, 2013 8 pm

I boarded a night train for Nong Khai, about 623 km away.  I got upper-seat where one could only lie down. It took me some efforts to reach the bed but was disappointed when I found it uncomfortable. Not only it was narrow, it gave the impression of getting into a coffin box. I tried to settle-in but no way. The suffocation triggered my cough which did not stop even when I tried changed  sleeping postures from left to right or face down.  Eventually, I got down and requested the staff to allow me to go to a sitting compartment. They agreed to and slowly I moved towards it.  When I reached there, I found it nearly empty and so I chose a window seat and enjoyed the scenery: dark green fields or jungle and occasional well-lit villages or towns.

The train reached Nong Khai at 8:00 am.  When I came out of station, I found a van waiting. There was an Indian couple, presently settled in Durban (South Africa), and they told me that they have paid to van driver a sum of Baht 20 each to get to the Thailand Immigration Hall.  I followed them and in about 10 minutes we were stamped out. Another bus was waiting for passengers and for another Baht 20 equivalent, we were taken via “International Friendship Bridge over Mekong” and  dropped near Laotian Immigrations Windows. Our passports were briskly stamped-in like “leave to enter”.

I took a sigh of relief when I found myself in a new country, among new people and amidst new environments. I look forwarded to my travel further ahead.


Please continue reading -  Part II