Saturday, August 30, 2014

Khon Kaen to Nong Khai

 Leaving Khon Kaen to Nong Khai, in our hire car (ex-Pattaya)...obviously, I'm the back seat driver.

Our hotel in Nong Khai, the Mekong Guesthouse. Wonderful! The room was spacious, nice...but, a tip, don't stay on the ground floor...Thai plumbing/drainage, not so good, lol. 

Lovely view and restaurant out the back, over looking the Mekong and right on top of the night market (either Saturday or Sunday nights...can't recall), but not noisy.

Looking across the Mekong at Laos.

The night market stretched along the river behind our hotel. Head north and you'll find even more bargains and tasty treats, in the street at the end.

 Tomorrow...the Buddha Park, Nong Kai.

Snap's other blog Chiang Mai Thai

How time flies!

It's been well over a year since I updated our blog...LIFE certainly does take a hold!!!

Rather than try to recollect the minor details, I'll be uploading pictorials, and minor details, from then until now :)

We left off on our road trip through Thailand. Since then we've been to Myanmar, and back to one of our favourite haunts, Vietnam.

Snap's other blog Chiang Mai Thai

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Road Trip – Pak Chong to Khon Kaen

8 - 9 th Feb, 2013

With Pak Chong literally behind us, we had roughly 230 km in front of us before we’d reach Khon Kaen. The roads themselves in Thailand are good, however, as we all know the traffic rules and load limits can be another story.
Being sugar cane harvest time many of the trucks are filled higher than high. On two occasions during our trip, we witnessed trucks that had come to grief, no bends in the road!...maybe a gust of wind?
Not a sugar cane truck
Lunch stop
Khon Kaen
As we entered Khon Kaen we retrieved Ning Nong from the console to locate our lodgings for the night. And, as she guided us around town, Stray spotted a nice looking yellow building down a lane, not from from Fairy Plaza Shopping Mall.
The Money Place Hotel - Khon Kaen
With the name like ‘The Money Place’, which is opposite the still under construction, orange, ‘The Rich Home’, we couldn’t go wrong ;) A very newish and acceptable hotel indeed. Decorated simplistically and containing a fridge, large soft bed, small dining area, ample bench and storage, sat TV and air con the rooms were more than adequate, spacious and clean. You can find them on Facebook here.
All the rooms opened out onto external walkways/verandas
We happened to be visiting on a Friday when the walking street night markets are held, only a short walk north from Fairy Plaza on Na Muang Road. I forget exactly which street on the right it is, but you can’t miss the stalls and people and naturally, there’s 7 Eleven on the corner. Not the biggest night market I’ve been to, but plenty of trinkets and reasonably priced (tagged) clothes. Stray had bargained and bought shorts for 350 baht in Pattaya, here they were on the rack for 200 baht.

And food, lots of food, so that’s where we stopped for dinner. Sorry, no photos. 

With not much time allocated to our morning activities (I’m already starting to wish we had more time up our sleeves) we asked the girls at reception where we could find breakfast = boiled eggs and if at all possible, toast. They gave us directions, in Thai, back to the same street that hosted the markets the night before with the land mark of ‘???? red’. *Umbrellas, I see red umbrellas, that must be it! We ordered and ate our boiled eggs accompanied with those little donut pastries (which double as soldiers/toast fingers) and coffee strong enough to fuel a small jet plane.

Tummies full, we packed up the car and took a short drive to see the Nine Storey Stupa (or Phra Mahathat Kaen Nakhon) located in Wat Nong Waeng, near Kaen Nakhon Lake.
50 metres square, 80 metres high and adorned with temple bells, it makes a pretty sight and sound. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to go inside, which is a shame after reading Wiki’s description of its contents.
Across the lake
Pedal paddle boats
We wandered down to the lake and around the park, which was fairly deserted apart from many trees and quite a few sculptures. I’m sure there was much more to see and places to visit, but alas, Nong Khai was awaiting our arrival.

*LIGHT, it was 'red light' as in traffic light -  fai daeng! As luck would have it the red umbrellas belonged to the street cafe next to the traffic lights.

Snap's other blog Chiang Mai Thai

Saturday, March 16, 2013

When Tripadvisor won't advise - Happiness Guesthouse

For quite a few years I've gathered valuable information from and contributed what I could, myself. Even adding unlisted hotels and guesthouses to their list. To do that, you must provide as much detail about said establishment, as possible. 

However, after sending specifics about the Happiness Guesthouse and a great hotel in Khon Kaen, I was politely rejected and given this link.

I didn't really want to sift though Tripadvisor's requirements, so decided to do my own review here for the Happiness Guesthouse. Here goes...

Refer to previous post to how we arrived at our lodgings. Now I'll just show you some photos of where we stayed with a few relevant and not so relevant comments :)

Massive (wet) bathroom with danky corners
The 300 Baht room...hardish mattress
Large 400 Baht room with private balcony
Private balcony over looking the street
View way off in the distance on a hill top, taken from the roof top of the guesthouse

Another view of the bathroom in need of a good scrub
From the roof top (not meant to be up there) looking down on the car park
The communal balcony on the upper floor.
Comments: Beware the red chairs, they've been sitting there for years and tend to collapse under farang (non Thai sized foreigners). Internet is available at an hourly rate, I didn't bother using it, I was kapooped. The staff that greeted us, the old guy who owns the place, didn't speak English and wasn't very customer savvy. Later that afternoon a couple of younger people appeared in reception and were helpful the one time I asked for information. No breakfast or toiletries, and no luxuries such as an in room's a guesthouse. 

Finding breakfast was a bit of a challenge, encountering no boiled eggs (ไข่ลวก kài-​lûak...frustrating, because we pronounced it kai luuang for most of our trip and were understood!) and toast (not for me) on the service road we did a U turn on the suggestion of a local and started to head back out of town. It wasn't long before we spotted a western style coffee shop/cafe. 

The location. Right next to a train track, not visible and rarely heard from the guesthouse.

View Happiness Inn Pak Chong Thailand in a larger map

Snap's other blog Chiang Mai Thai

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Road trip - Pattaya to not quite Nakhon Ratchasima

Initially this was going to be a motorcycle ride, with five of us on four largish bikes...I don't ride. However, circumstances dwindled us down to three and the fact that Australian travel insurance companies are unwilling to cover motorcyclists in Thailand, left us hiring a car.

Personally I was OK with this, I don't mind a comfortable seat, aircon and shelter from the elements. And, besides, I've done my time on the back of a scooter for a year in Chiang Mai and even more painful memorable, to Laos and back.

We asked around and researched on the internet about hiring a car and decided on Hertz. The prices were reasonable and I couldn't find any negative reviews about the company, and collecting it (Honda Civic) in Pattaya meant we wouldn't have to drive in Bangkok traffic.

We also rented a Sat Nav which we dubbed 'Ning Nong'. No it's not a Thai name, it's because most of the time she wanted us to drive on the service roads, even though we nominated NOT to avoid highways. My android tablet and phone were armed with three Thailand Map apps, as back up. More about them another day.

So, about midday we load our destination 'Nakhon Ratchasima something or other' into Ning Nong and off we go. Me, the self nominated back seat driver, Stray in the driver's seat and his nong sao, younger sister, as copilot.

As time passes we get the feeling that we're not heading in quite the right direction...we're getting way too close to the big mango for comfort. My Thailand GPS Map by Kaart Data  concurs and we reset our destination, ensuring that it is in fact in Muang (city) Nakhon Ratchasima, like the airport, not a government building in Bangkok.

Success, we're on the right track, driving along highway 9 waiting to meet up with highway 1, when Ning Nong decides to take us on a scenic detour. It was nice to get off the highway and we did make a comfort stop and enjoyed a bite to eat at a market full of recently released inquisitive school children, but yet another delay in our plan to reach Nakhon Ratchasima.

As we drove into Pak Chong we voted unanimously that that was enough adventuring for one day and asked Ning Nong to find us a hotel.

"You've reached your destination" she says, as we pull up outside of what looks like could have been a small hotel once upon a time. Stray gets out and talks to a man sitting out the front and a passer by who is more than willing to give him some friendly directions to what turned out to be a 5 star hotel not far on the same road.

A bit out of our price range, reception gives us the name of an establishment more within our means. However, before we find it we see a sign saying 'Happiness Guesthouse'.

Sounds ideal!

Larger 400 Baht room with private balcony.
The guesthouse is nearly at the end of a quiet, except for an occasional train hurtling by, suburban no through road. The building itself is lovely, a tiny touch of possibly French architecture. The rooms are tired and basic, although clean and substantial, ranging from 300 - 400 baht. All of the rooms have a communal balcony with tables and chairs overlooking the car park.

Famished after a long afternoon of getting to know Ning Nong and becoming reacquainted with Thai road rules, we moseyed along down to the 'Texas Saloon'. We'd noticed this nice establishment during our hunt for a hotel.
We didn't opt for a steak, but can certainly vouch for their Thai food. My fried noodle dish with chicken, vegies and green pepper corns was delish!

Next stop Khon Kaen.

Snap's other blog Chiang Mai Thai

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Our Thailand Road Trip - and then there were three.

Still weary and in need of a good nights sleep, we've literally just returned from our Thailand road trip. Hope you'll stay tuned for where we went (clues above) and stayed, what we did and didn't do and what we'd do differently...if anything.

Snap's other blog Chiang Mai Thai

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

FollowMee on holidays - GPS tracking for devices

After arming myself with a few Thailand map apps and battling with my near non existent GPS location...why wouldn't I pursue a GPS tracking program?! Earlier this week we experienced cyclonic wind and rain, which cut our power, internet and running water (we have rainwater tanks and pump) for 3 days. So to have charged electronic devices once more and to be able to flush the loo using the button, is a real treat!

My android phone and tablet both have GPS, even my camera has it (for photo location purposes)! Apart from the chance that one or all might go missing at some stage, I like my family to know approximately where we are when we travel. Usually I register with Smart Traveller and send an itinerary to those in the know. Just in case!

In addition, this time, I've installed FollowMee's (free trial) app on my devices. After registering on their website, I downloaded the app firstly onto my tablet, then logged in.

Nothing! No location showing on their/my website map and the running report on my tablet showed fail after fail...although I know they must have been whispering to each other, because the website recognised how low my tablet's battery was getting. 35% according to the data under the map...and fading.

I played around with the settings a bit (walk or drive mode, updating time intervals) and with tablet in hand, jumped into my car and went for a drive around the block. Less than half a kilometre into my short trip, twelve (the maximum display) satellites showed up my GPS Test Plus app. So, yes, there's heaps out there...somewhere.

As I turned back into my driveway they started to disappear off the screen one by one. We obviously live in a GPS black hole.

Now to see if FollowMee, followed me? Not at first, as it does take a while for the website to be updated. But sure enough, it did locate me, exactly. I'd set the app on 'walking/running/cycling' mode and to update every 10 minutes, so it's not suprising the map tracker show me going nowhere at 0 km/h. The 'Address' was spot on.
Website map - Longitude and latitude have been removed for privacy.
FollowMee also gives the option to download your movements in 3 formats: HTML - which is text shown in a browser and KML File, which uses Google Maps or Google Earth (you'll need to download the latter). Or, CSV File - Import to Excel. All have the option to include mileage. FollowMee was able to place me here using Google Earth.
Yes, I really am in amongst all of those trees :)
If FollowMee continues to monitor my location accurately and consistently during the free trial period, I'll definitely be upgrading to the paid version. Stay tuned!

Snap's other blog Chiang Mai Thai

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Women and maps, dangerous or not?

Apparently women's oestrogen plays havoc with our 'spatial intelligence'. Regardless, I love maps and have no problem reading them or navigating...Stray would beg to differ because I do have difficulty determining which deck I'm on or which side I'm on when travelling on ships. (They should supply maps)

In preparation for our driving holiday in Thailand I downloaded a few map apps onto my HTC Android phone. After a while I was reminded that however smart these phones are, they're really not so great for those of us with poor eyesight.

So, a little research later, I hunted down a tablet for a reasonable price which had built in GPS.

Now I'm armed with maps galore, including some old fashioned paper versions we kept from our visa run to Laos.
Notice how nice my photo looks? :) New camera too!

The three android apps downloaded?

Nostra Map Thailand by Globotech - Free - needs GPS and Internet
Thailand GPS Map by Kaart Data - $4.99 - needs GPS only!

The tablet? A Flytouch 8. This is my first Tablet and even having used computers for umpteen years and mastering my smart phone...this was a little challenging. The manual is wafer thin and finding what's where is a trifle frustrating at times.

It also comes with a GPS antennae for extra satellite detection and a GPS Test app...just so you can see how many satellites are up there watching you. A few days went by and I remained undetected and began to Google the problem. I wasn't alone. Many others were experiencing the same issue, followed by being plonked off the east coast of Africa...when they were clearly not.

Starting to panic as our departure date approaches, I downloaded, tried and deleted a few other GPS testing apps. I remained invisible until I upgraded to GPS Test Plus ($2.99). Sitting on my front veranda, antennae attached, I finally made contact with 2 satellites which put me in my correct place. Coincidental? I'll never know.

The map apps? I've started taking notes and will be writing a full run down after we return.

Snap's other blog Chiang Mai Thai

Friday, January 18, 2013

Mini Racing Cars, Kuah, Langkawi Island

I forgot to upload some videos from our trip to Cambodia/Malaysia. We rode to the township of Kuah, Langkawi, and stumbled upon some teeny racing cars.

Snap's other blog Chiang Mai Thai

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Airport hotels, Kuala Lumpur

Way back in March...

By airport hotel, I mean one physically in the airport or one close enough to take a shower, grab a bite to eat and have a short sleep before your next flight...when it's just way to long to window shop the duty free stores and drink expensive or bad coffee.

I remember our first experience in an 'airport' hotel at Kuala Lumpur's luxurious International Airport Pan Pacific back in 2007, pre-blogging/reviewing days.Transported to reception in a golf buggy (if we'd known about it) and greeted by lovely staff, a cold refreshing drink and hot towels. Stray enjoyed one of the best Aussie steaks he'd ever had for around AU$13, paid for in 3 different currencies! The gargantuan buffet breakfast was well executed and to die for.

These days we land at KL's budget airline terminals (LCCT) and after lugging our bags from the plane, across the tarmac, through immigration, we continue on to the far side of the large car park to the Tune Hotel. A complex of small air conditioned boxes containing a bed with just enough space to walk around it, and a bathroom. Convenient and satisfactory...unless of course they're booked out.

This time we bussed it from Melaka to LCCT and caught a cab out to the Empress Hotel in Sepang, for 42 ringgit. A bit of a drive, a ways out of the airport area, but much closer than the city. A 12 storey hotel, described in its brochure as 'unfolding true Malaysian hospitality in an innovative setting surrounding by interesting local activities' - verbatim.
Translated that roughly means this is a big, old building, yet clean and comfortable. The rooms are generous and well equipped, however, the hotel looks like it was plonked smack in the centre of a sleepy, well worn suburb in the middle of whoop whoop. And, whose inhabitants seem to be doing their utmost to ignore its existence. As one would. Most of the surrounding shops were closed the afternoon we arrived, which made it, more than likely, quieter than usual.
View from the window
Another view from the window
The window
If you're fed up with watching bad quality Sat TV, hungry and or after a beer, step out the front doors, cross the road and turn left. On the corner is a Chinese owned restaurant with plenty of food choices and friendly faces.

Don't think about taking a doggy bag back to your room though, the sign in the hotel foyer clearly states NOT to bring outside food inside... and the fridges have been removed from the rooms. The hotel does have its own cafe, open from 5.00 am until 1.00 pm, and room service if I remember correctly. Brekkie was included and was more than ample.

Handy hint! Book a shuttle for the return journey to the airport when you first arrive, it'll only cost 15 ringgit.

Would I stay again? Yes, if I had to. It's simply an 'over nighter', nothing more and nothing less. No biggy, but don't believe the hotel's blurb and photos. To be honest, the stay was a little surreal, mainly due to the oddish location.
Local houses at the end of the street
Snap's other blog Chiang Mai Thai