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Sunday, March 30, 2008


Chatuchak market

A few years back on one of my early visits to Thailand I visited Chatuchak Market in Bangkok for the first time. It was an amazing rabbit warren filled with stalls selling just about anything you can think of. And there were some real bargains to be had. Since then it's been rebuilt. It's still a rabbit warren. You can still buy just about anything. But bargains? Perhaps you'd be better off in a shopping mall. At least it's air conditioned.

On my previous visit to JJs as it is sometimes called. I went looking for something in particular. I got what I wanted, eventually. And ended up paying far too much. But after searching in the heat for several hours I had reached a point where I just wanted to get the goods and get out of there.

One of my friends called me yesterday morning and asked if I'd like to go to Chatuchak with her that afternoon. It sounded like a good idea at the time so I said OK. There were one or two things I needed but was not committed to buying. Other than that I was prepared to just enjoy being there and having my friend's company. Besides, markets are among my favourite places for candid photography. Finding interesting subjects and clicking without being noticed can keep me amused for hours.
My friend wanted to buy some of these beautiful pieces of crockery. When you consider the fine detail in them and that they are each hand painted, they are still a bargain. I became aware of them on another of my early visits to Bangkok. One was given to me as a speaker's gift at a conference at which I was presenting. My friend bought quite a few pieces and as cheap as it seems for one, after I converted it to dollars, the total was quite high.

We wandered around some more. She bought some more things. My sense of fair price has been influenced by my time in Cambodia so I bought nothing. But I got a few interesting shots. Keep an eye on my flickr pages over the next week or so.

If you're visiting Thailand looking for Thai arts and crafts you can get much better prices in the country villages where the stuff is created. But that takes time (enjoyably so) and it would help if you knew a few of the locals.

We had left my friend's goods at the crockery stall and chatted with the people there when we went to pick them up. She mentioned to them that I was learning Thai. 'Oh, if you speak Thai when you buy from us, we give you a better price,' the proprietor said. So, there's a tip for you. Learn to speak Thai before you go shopping at Chatuchak.

BTW, Chatuchak is sometimes spelled Jatujak (and perhaps a few other ways). It's the same place.

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008


Political games

In an editorial entitled 'Keep politics out of Games' the Bangkok Post makes a proposal that would allow athletes to compete in the games and at the same time send a strong message to China that their treatment of Tibetan people is not acceptable to the rest of the world. It could help to bring about a positive change to the situation in Tibet. I hope you'll read it and find out how.

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Monday, March 24, 2008


Taiwan and China

It is interesting to see that the Taiwanese people have chosen a president who is hoping for a peace treaty with mainland China. This attitude appears sensible to me. Let's hope the mainland Chinese can be equally as sensible about it.

The Taiwanese also rejected the proposal to apply for membership of the United Nations in the name of Taiwan.

All this eases the tension between Taiwan and the Chinese government. Hopefully it will open doors to further negotiation.

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Saturday, March 22, 2008


China, Tibet: please sign the petition

One of the things that amazes me is that in China a handful of people control the lives of about one fifth of the world's population. My observation, at least in the cities that I visited, was that generally the government was doing a good job. But people I spoke to about it were not happy that they had no say in who should govern them.

The huge empire known as China was created by a warmonger in 221 BC. Because of the acts of this brutal tyrant the present government feel they have a right to control the lives of 1.3 billion people today.

The concept of Europe is not a bad one. Each country has its own government but they get together for their collective benefit. Something similar to this would perhaps give the people of China more say in their lives. Unfortunately the present government doesn't appear to be keen to devolve power or to give their citizens the right to reject them. Indeed they are keen to take over Chinese people who are currently outside their control.

Whether any of this gives them the right to control Tibet is a moot point. Instead of killing people who are protesting against Chinese rule, they could give Tibetans the right to choose democratically whether they want to be ruled by China.

In this year of the Beijing Olympics China is promoting a slogan of 'One World, One Dream'. What a wonderful dream. But whose dream is it? What is being implied by this slogan? China is not one unified country as much as it would like to proclaim otherwise.

AVAAZ is an organization bringing a voice to people of the world. They are collecting signatures to present to the Chinese government in a petition calling for restraint in handling the Tibetan protesters and for dialogue with the Dalai Lama. Over 600,000 people have signed in four days. Please join with them.

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Monday, March 17, 2008


Traveller's tip: Tune Hotel, KL

As a perpetual traveller it is necessary that I find accommodation within my budget. I live on a small pension. I live simply. I can keep up this lifestyle so long as I can find accommodation that won't break my budget. I can splurge occassionally but I can't afford to stay in four star hotels all the time.

In countries such as Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and in many parts of Malaysia I can find guesthouses and the occasional hotel with rates that are under $A10 per night. While these are certainly not luxurious I expect them to be clean and have basic comforts. In Singapore such rates are impossible so I simply don't stay there long. In Kuala Lumpur I either have to pay a little more or settle for something less than I like. In the past in Kuala Lumpur I have stayed in Wheelers Guesthouse. It scrapes through on price and barely scrapes through on standards.

Last year Tune Hotel opened in Kuala Lumpur. It has connections with AirAsia and has been promoting itself on the internet. AirAsia is a successful budget airline that I use often for getting around Asia. If I book early enough or am flexible about dates and flight times I can usually get a pretty cheap fare. Why spend a day sitting on a bus when for only a few dollars more you can fly?

Tune Hotel has similar promotional methods. If you book early enough and are prepared to pay in advance you can pick up some pretty good rates. They advertise rates as low as RM10 per night. That's about $A3. For special promotions they even advertise as low as 1 cent a night. To clarify this, advertising in Malaysia is not subject to the trade practices laws that protect us in Australia. As with AirAsia, advertised rates are not what you actually pay. There are a few extras that are added on. But it can still work out as a pretty good deal.

On my previous trip to KL, I tried to book for some particular dates but couldn't get a suitable rate. It was back to Wheeler's Guesthouse. This time I had a little more flexibility. After four months in Cambodia my budget is looking pretty good. Besides I was only staying for eight nights. I was able to get in at about $A24 per night all up.

Initially, I only booked one night. Having never stayed there before, I wasn't prepared to lay my money down and then find after the first night that I hated the place. Nor had I been able to find a review on the net. Hopefully this blog will remedy that situation for other travellers. Tune Hotel is on a very busy intersection close to the centre of KL. The traffic rarely stops and the monorail runs right past. I pictured myself spending a sleepless night with the traffic noise. So, how was it? Read on.

Reaching the hotel is quite easy. Unless you're loaded down with luggage you can reach it on public transport. You'll find the directions on the Tune website so I won't repeat them here.
Staff are very professional and helpful. I give them full marks. Before I went to my room I asked about the rate if I decided to extend my stay. Fortunately it was under the amount I mentioned above.

Travellers from Western countries might be surprised by how small the rooms are. I've stayed in a similar hotel before so knew what to expect. BTW, I took a double room. It was only a couple of ringgit more for that than a single so why not? The room itself was only just a little bigger than the bed, ie there was room to walk around the bed. There are no chairs. There was simply no space for chairs. There is an entrance hallway and alongside that a bathroom. I was able to put my backpack in a corner where it wasn't in the way. I thought about a couple travelling with several suitcases. They might find it a bit tight. There are no wardrobes, just a couple of hooks on the wall and a shelf above the head of the bed.

Rooms either have a window opening onto the street or onto a void in the middle of the building. I got one of the middle rooms. Yes, it's boring not having a view but if you want somewhere to sit around and relax go a bit more upmarket. Tune is for people who just want somewhere to dump their stuff while they explore the city and come back to sleep. This outlook turned out to be a blessing for me. I could hardly hear any noise from the road. I could open the window and still get a good night's sleep. There was occasionally a little noise coming from other rooms but not so much that it was an issue. Once I realised this I booked the room for the rest of my stay.

Tune took over this building last year and refurbished it. It was previously another hotel. Generally everything is new and works. Unfortunately they've economised on one or two fittings that were perhaps there previously and this is a weakpoint but generally the standard of fittings and decoration is excellent. My room was tastefully decorated with a mural that was pleasant to my eyes. The walls both inside and outside the room are also adorned with advertisements. A fold-down table has been fitted to the wall at the end of the bed. It's been carefully designed so you can sit on the bed while using it as a desk or to eat a meal.

About the bed—the Tune website calls it a five-star queen-size bed. I don't agree. Maybe Asian queens are smaller than Westerners. I think in Australia the bed would barely be able to be called double. I slept diagonally. If two six footers slept in it their feet might hang over the end. The bed has plenty of comfort padding. This probably would suit most Westerners but in this regard I'm more like an Asian and prefer a really firm bed.

The room has several choices of lighting that can be adapted to suit your needs. There is one power point that takes a variety of plugs. I usually buy an adaptor plug in each country I visit. It was not necessary this time. I have several types of plugs that I've picked up in various parts of Asia and they all fitted. The room has four largish mirrors so there's no excuse for walking out looking scruffy (unless that happens to be your style).

The bathroom is adequate with hot and cold water and a shower with an excellent flow. It has an exhaust fan that comes on with the light. Towels are not provided but are available as an optional extra. There's a team of cleaners who do a good job.

Entry to the room is by electronic card that also controls the power once you are inside. If you don't close the door properly it beeps a friendly reminder. I found security to be quite good. There are also security staff on duty in the lobby.

Free internet access is available in a little internet 'cafe' in a room off the lobby. There are only five computers and occassionally they were all busy. Download speeds are reasonable. The computers appear to have no software installed other than Explorer. Other guest facilities include a coin-op laundry. There's a convenience store and couple of eateries in the lobby area.

If you are looking for some variety in food, there are plenty of eating places in the general area but they are limited. You have a choice of Western fast food, Malay or Indian.

That's about it. I found Tune met my needs for this stay. I'll probably return. Not sure when. They also have branches opening within the next year in other parts of Malaysia. Check out their website for details.

Footnote 28/12/08:
I've returned again to Tune Hotel and have updated this post: here.

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Monday, March 10, 2008


Travellers' tip: Thai embassy, KL

I arrived in Kuala Lumpur last Tuesday and will be here for a little over a week. I've been catching up with friends, trying out a different hotel, doing a lot of walking and learning to find my way around different parts of the city. But the main purpose of my visit has been to apply for my new visa to Thailand. Before I came here I looked up the embassy's web site, google maps and a few other sites to see if I could pinpoint exactly where it is. I got a rough idea but not a lot of detail. I've since found the embassy and successfully applied for my visa. There were many people at the embassy. I wonder how many had difficulty finding it. For the sake of other travellers I'm giving my directions here. Hopefully google will bring you here if that's what you're looking for.

The embassy is in Jalan Ampang. If you are new to Malaysia, 'jalan' is the Malay word for street or road. The best way to get there is to take a train on the Putra line. Get off at Ampang Park station which is right below Jalan Ampang. When you surface in Jalan Ampang look around for the Petronas Twin Towers. Walk down Jalan Ampang away from the Twin Towers. You will soon come to a major intersection with Jalan Tun Razak. Cross over and keep walking along Jalan Ampang. You will find the Thai Embassy on the left-hand side, perhaps a five minute walk from the station.

When you get inside the gate you will be given a form to fill out. You can do that at the tables they have in the open area before proceeding inside. When you get inside you are required to take a number and wait until it is called. When you submit your application you have to pay the fee and you must have the correct amount. They don't give change! Mine cost RM220. Yours may be different but I suggest you have a few RM10 notes so that you are not delayed while you try to find change.

Good luck.

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Thursday, March 06, 2008


Obesity and terrorism

An article in the Nation newspaper in Thailand recently reported on an international health conference held in Sydney. An announcement was made from the conference giving an opinion that governments concern themselves too much with fighting terrorism while obesity is killing millions more. Isn't it ironic. We focus so much on the enemy out there when the greatest danger we face is ourselves.

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Monday, March 03, 2008



One of the things I do like about being in Bangkok is the presence of litter bins. I also noticed when we had our day at Muang Boran that on one occasion Nee picked up someone else's litter and carried it to the nearest bin. I'm not saying Thailand is litter free but after Cambodia this is a welcome change.

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