Tuesday 31 January 2012

350D to 60D


Behold! The Glory!

It's so big!

It's actually very light, the weight is all in my lens. It's far far bigger than the 350D and makes it look like a toy. The viewfinder is mucchhhh better for my bad eyesight. The buttons do feel mushy. But it does feel several generations better and I can't even turn the thing on yet because the battery is charging.

It cost just over half of what the 350D did when I got it. Hopefully it also lasts 5-6 years for me like the 350D has (which is still going strong at 38000 shots). I've just really started to notice the 350D having trouble focusing, not metering properly, and very noisy at ISO 400 which limits its usefulness to daylights hours. Hopefully this fixes all that :)

The 600D was about $150-200 cheaper and is very similar to the 60D except for the auto focusing system. I paid extra to get the 60D's AF so I shouldn't get as many throwaways. The 7D is better again in the AF department but it was also $300-400 extra and apparently it can struggle sometimes compared to the 60D. The battery on the 60D is supposed to last far longer than the 600D/7D too.

Yesterday I noticed the cheapest place in Bangkok I could find had pushed it's price up another 2000baht to 29900. Apparently the Japanese earthquake and floods in Thailand have combined to make a shortage of some cameras (this could all be rumour) so I guess that was why. As I saw on the shelves, only two stores I went to in Chiang Mai had any in stock and I tried Pantip Plaza, Den Chai Trading, the big Photobug and everywhere in Airport Plaza. Photobug in Airport Plaza and digital2home were the only ones with the camera. Photobug quoted 26900 for the body only, and digital2home said 29500 with an 8gb SD card. I went with Digital2home mainly because they had shops in Bangkok which could service the camera if anything went wrong. If I was based in Chiang Mai then Photobug is the obvious winner.

(also, yes, I understand the financial ridiculousness of being able to buy another camera while on a very very long holiday... But it only knocks about a month off my permanent holidays (I think))

Monday 30 January 2012

Chiang Rai to Chiang Mai! (old capital to new capital)

Today I travelled from Chiang Rai to Chiang Mai. I had planned on going to Pai earlier, but I changed my mind after failing to find maps of the Mae Hong Son loop in Chiang Rai. Plus, camera prices are going up, the cheapest place I could find just added $60 to their price, but also the AU$ has gone up, so I best get one soon if I want it :)

So a couple of things to note about Chiang Rai. I stayed in Jansom guesthouse, right near Wat Jetyod on Jetyod Road (oddly enough). I'd ignored the place right next door until the morning I was leaving. I highly recommend the coffee and breakfast at ABC coffee. The owner roasts the coffee beans there and it's strong, and excellent. Pity I didn't get there a few days earlier.

The other recommendation for Chiang Rai (Again, on the morning I was leaving) is to go to Orn's Bookshop, not far from Wat Jetyod, there are signs on the street so you'll find it. They have a free map which marks a lot of the places in the main farang/touristy area, get this on your first day there...

Wat Jetyod (This is a sensible HDR!)

Serpenty thing at Wat Jetyod

Getting closer still to the temple (It's like powers of 10!) , these are the serpents scales.

So this morning I packed up, waited for a bit because something I ate didn't agree with me (but that passed...) and then set off for Chiang Mai. The goals are to acquire a map of accommodation along the Mae Hong Son loop because there is lots, and some of it is very expensive. And also to see if I can order chain+sprockets for the bike because my chain is stretched annoyingly in once spot so the bike rocks back and forth on smooth roads. And also, you know, 60D...

I took the 118 from Chiang Rai, which is the main signed way between the two cities. Along the way I saw this massive temple on a hill west of the highway. I decided to try get up there! I think this was near Wiang Pa Pao but google maps is being dumb and not helping me find out. It turns out it's pretty easy to get up there, there is a sealed road all the way up to the top which isn't too hard to follow (just keep making turns towards the hill), but it is very steep towards the top. Once I got into the area it looked like this small valley had been over run by various temples, all mostly under construction. I got to the top where the big temple was but most of it had scaffolding over it and the people looked like maybe I shouldn't be there so I went back down to a smaller temple to get a photo of the view.

The smaller temple.

My bike spoiling the view (this is another sensible HDR!)

Massively wide panorama of the view.
After that little excursion I resumed my journey south, and then stumbled upon his on the highway:
As the sign says "The Highest Hotsprings in Thailand!". I have no idea if that means the spray or altitude of this spot.
And it was actually hot. Steam coming off the spray.
And it smelt like farts. There was a smaller pool near this and the water was actually quite hot. But not as hot as the springs near Trang, those springs burnt my hand! Other than that it just looked like a touristy stop to break up the bus trip.

And then finally I was in Chiang Mai, at the Ban Wiang Guesthouse in a fan room with a hard bed for 300baht/night! So far it's very rare for me to have picked a place out, navigate to it, and not taken a room. There's only been a couple of towns where the accommodation has been full or over my self imposed 500baht/night limit. I find it much harder finding places in Australia where my limit would have been five times that.

While wandering around Chiang Mai tonight I spotted this:
I remember these stickers being all over Melbourne, I can't remember if they were elsewhere in *.au. I don't think I've seen any others in my travels so far either. Reading up on this I found out they're very common in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. I don't remember seeing them there but that was many many months ago now. Maybe at that point I was so used to seeing them on any flat surface that they didn't register. I thought this was a Melbourne only thing!

Sunday 29 January 2012

The Golden Triangle

Today I went to visit the Golden Triangle. It's the most northernmost point I've ever been!

It's the point where the borders of Myanmar, Thailand and Loas meet, at the confluence (there's that word again) of the Ruak and the Mekong rivers. The Golden Triangle has a long history which is described at the link but now the name is used to refer to the point where the borders of the three countries meet not the regions drug production.
And this is it. Thailand on the left, the brown Ruak river, then Myanmar, then the Mekong , and Laos on the right.
Once you get into the region there are several places along the river bank with big signs up for "The Golden Triangle", but the main viewpoint and where the GPS directed me to was the large buddist temple which is where the above view is from. This seemed to be the most popular spot too, the others looked like they were actually shops. But this being South East Asia there are stalls selling souvenirs everywhere anyway.

My bike in Thailand, Myanmar just across the Ruak, and Laos in the background over the Mekong.  The gold dome is part of a Lao casino I think.
More of the confluence of the Ruak and Mekong. It looked like the Mekong was trying to flow back up the Ruak.

This is right next to the lookout... Suspicious prominent placement. The donated seats were more common in Laos but were mostly hotels or local businesses, I hadn't seen this sort of thing in Thailand before.
The shiny big budda

Buddhists praying at the base of the statue

Behind the statue was this contraption. 
So what's happening here is that people would buy coins and then line up to climb a ladder to launch the coins down the ramps (the two rails with the flags) into the belly of the white budda at the bottom. And after each coin there is some automated voice saying something in Thai. I guess the simple 4 donation boxes on the other side of the big budda wasn't enough of an attaction, so they put up the branches nearby for people to attach notes to, and then when that wasn't enough they created this. The Buddhist enlightenment-by-donation amusement park.

It's not anatomically correct, I didn't get hit in the head by anything when I walked under.
After that I visited the Opium museum. It's mostly what you would expect in there, lots of photos of the tribes, tools, poppies and everything else associated with opium. The most interesting thing were the weights used to measure out the opium. There were small 2g brass weights all the way up to 1.6kg (a 'vis', a standard packaged amount of raw opium) in various shapes. Most of them were shaped in the form of the animals of the Chinese astrological calendar, but the Burmese weights were in the shape of the Hinta bird.

They also had the "Opium Pillows" which were used because the smoker would often lie on their side while smoking and require some kind of head support. Some were made out of softer materials like leather, but the majority were harder like ivory or stone. The description next to it said that the opium smoker often didn't care how hard the opium pillow was because after a while it just felt like their head was resting on a cloud. Indeed.

After the Museum I started to head back towards Chiang Rai, but trying to take the longer more mountainous way I saw on google maps.

Wat Tok Khong. Built in the 15th century, and in the middle of nowhere on the side of the road.
My GPS kept trying to direct me back on the the main highway, but I ignored it for as long as possible until the mekong started heading east, then I figured I best turn back towards the west where Chiang Rai should be. I didn't ride over any mountains, or see any poppy fields, but I did see lots of villagers dressed in black, and lots of dogs, and lots of roadworks.

Tomorrow, it's off to Chiang Mai, or Pai. Probably Pai.

Friday 27 January 2012

Things I did in Chiang Rai Today!

Firstly, I called some banks after almost running out of money and then not being able to access two of my bank accounts. One was because the fob was out of sync, but that was fixed after one call. The other was because my Telstra Sim stopped roaming for a while so I was unable to get at my savings. That one was a harder problem to solve because they wanted the last four digits of my medicare card to know it was me over the phone (so the two passports, the drivers licence, the lengthy knowledge on the person in question wasn't enough?). But magically, soon after I made the call to them the Tesltra sim started working again. I didn't do anything different to the past two weeks, it just worked again. Hmm, unless I'm being watched.... With most of that sorted, I went out to find something to drink.

Doi Channg Coffee

 Doi Chaang to have some coffee. The beans are sourced from a village within Chiang Rai province and they are proudly "Beyond Fair Trade". The villagers own the company so all the profits from their work go back to them, but their website tells your more than I can be bothered typing here. There are coffee shops all over town, but the reason I went to this one is the Wild Civet Coffee where the coffee beans are gathered from the droppings of the civet which eats the coffee berries. This is poo coffee!

Poo Coffee!
This coffee is far more expensive because it is quite rare of course. This cup of coffee-infused-poo water you see above cost 500baht, or AU$15. There are various other Civet coffees in Thailand (and Vietnam I think), but apparently most are Robusta beans rather than Arabica beans, which are then force fed to caged civets. This one was of course Arabica, and from Wild Civet poo, so doubly special! 

And for my review: It didn't have a strong coffee taste but I think that was because it wasn't bitter at all (the enzymes in the civet apparently remove the bitterness), however there was a stronger more coffee-er aftertaste. It also seemed to be a bit watery, but that may be the way they made it, or the batch they had, might have to try it again somewhere. If you gave this to someone without telling them what it is I'm not sure they would be impressed other than how non-bitter it is, but afterwards you could laugh at them for consuming something from an animals butt. So for me, it was good, but I prefer really strong bitter coffee.

Of course, this was another thing I had learnt about thanks to QI, which I've been watching on youtube whenever I get some free wireless.

Mystery South Korean Grape Drink

I stopped at 7-11 to make sure I stocked the fridge in my room with enough beer to last through a day, but also picked up this interesting can while in there to add to my series of drinking random things in cans when I can't read the text on them.

I could only assume it was grape flavored from the picture.
Well this turned out to be grape flavoured, but what was odd was that along with liquid the can also included grapes. About 10 or so. This being from Korea I wasn't sure if it was actually grapes, or small jellyfish, tasted like grape though... Very strange and worth the $1 to try.

Strange Sign
See if you can guess why I took a photo of this sign...

Mystery Camera Shop

I stumbled upon this shop after buying some new shoes. They had some cameras in a glass case inside, so I asked if they were able to get a 60D, and they can, and for a price that's better than anywhere else and better than the US prices. It satisfies all my requirements: Cheap (er than anywhere else by 1500baht); grey import so no Canon warranty but there is a shop in Bangkok I can get it serviced if there are problems; It's available. 

Maybe tomorrow I'll be camera shopping in my new shoes.

Thursday 26 January 2012

Loei to Uttaradit to Nan to Chiang Rai!

I looked at the calendar and realised I should probably get a move on so I can get back down to Cambodia when my 30 days are up, so I powered through a couple of days of riding to get to Chiang Rai!

Firstly... Loei to Uttaradit.

I hardly stopped that day. The scenery improved with more hills, better roads, minimal traffic and animals. It's very very dry up this end of the country at the moment so all the hills are brown and there's a bit of smoke haze in places from fires.

Riding through scenery like this

My bike, parked infront of the scenery so you can't see it.


Baby rice.

The only photo I took in Uttaradit.
 So once I got to Uttaradit I had nowhere really planned to stay. I noted a few places down so I could look for there once in town but I had no maps of the town or any other info to go on as the Lonely Planet guide seems to skip this province entirely. I attempted one big hotel, but at 800baht/night that was a bit much (500 is my limit). Then as this is not a very touristy town there are rarely any english signs so I rode around for a bit just trying to find something that looked hotelish. I eventually found a nearby hotel on google maps, but I couldn't find where on the street it was. I was sat there for a good 10 minutes (sidenote: the mobile network is slooowww) before I realised I was sitting almost exactly where the arrow was but all around me were just closed shop fronts. I just happened to be sitting next to a little driveway where I wandered down and found a huge hotel with a room for 490baht/night. I was sitting right under the sign for it but it was all in Thai! For future reference, the place I can be found down a driveway just before the traffic lights, when heading west from the bus station. When at the bus station, get near to the traffic lights (maybe 200meters), then walk back along the south side of the road looking down driveways. If it's business hours then the furniture shop is right where the driveway is.

Speaking of finding places, there's a site called gt-rider and they list accommodation and restaurants for towns in this region with lots of descriptions and photos and GPS coordinates. Unfortunately translating that to the real world is a bit difficult. There are hardly any street signs in most towns, and because I don't know the language asking around can be a problem. I settled on finding the New York Restaurant   which was apparently "between the bus station and Tesco Lotus"... OK, I knew where the bus station was but not Tesco Lotus. They gave the street name for this place, but no signs of course, and when I attempted to use the GPS coordinates they were in the wrong format to work in google maps (does anything just "work" these days). If you're at the bus station, head north through one of those roads to the other big east-west road, if you're lucky you walked up the road with the restaurant on, if not, there will be a sign in front of the street on this major road. You've no idea how long it took me to find that, and Tesco Lotus is actually just past the traffic lights near the hotel, so nowhere near "halfway between"... Now you're at the New York Restaurant they have proper bratwurst and knackwurst, enjoy :D

So other than that, Uttaradit is pretty nondescript. There are a few expats there and apparently a number of expat resturants to match (the New York was the only one I could find) but it's mostly a bland Thai town, nothing to really take photos of.

Next day, Uttaradit to Nan!

It seems I didn't stop while riding that day. I just set my GPS to go to Nan (after tricking it to go to an optical store in Nan, because the name of every city in Thailand is actually named Ampoe Muaeng) and followed the roads. It was much the same as the day before, but reminded me a lot of the hills in the Yarra valley and gippsland, but lots of dogs, everywhere. The dogs all seem to know to look both ways before crossing instead of the Australian dog way of just darting onto the road, I guess they don't survive here otherwise.

Nan is a much nicer looking town than some of the others I've been to in Thailand. It's so clean and shiny, so I stayed two nights there. I had planned to end up at Phai Luang guesthouse, which was mentioned on gt-rider and this time with the directions given and the lonely planet guide I was able to find it easily (go to Nan Guesthouse, WAIT! before you go down that alley, it's right there on the corner). The guesthouse was good, and clean, but thin walls so I woke up to my neighbor coughing and sneezing one morning and pooping the next, but it was only 350baht/night and some people pay a lot more to hear pooping.

Nan has a lot of temples and is famous for it's longboat races on the river in July. It doesn't seem like it's been spoiled because of tourism yet as there are only a few places that really cater to foreigners. Most of the shops/restaurants in town seem to cater to locals and there's very little English text in places. There are coffee/noodle/milk shops opening up everywhere and this is apparently the favored hangout of the Nan teenager.

The Nan river.

The famous Wat Phumin (I'm not sure why) under scaffolding.

Bicycle wheel pulley system

I really noticed the wires here, maybe it's because the street is so clean.

Long boat is looonnnnnnnggg

Long boat looks short here.

More split toned madness.

The stupa at Wat Hua Khuang

Wat Hua Khuang

The old wall, mostly replaced.

The older old wall, with some new work done to it.

New/old work on the old wall.

Stupa at Wat Phra That Chang Kham

Wat Phra That Chang Kham
And then, it was time to leave Nan. I went to Hot Bread for breakfast (again) and had a long conversation with the Usa who worked there about what I'm doing where I'm going etc. Everyone there spoke excellent English too and that was very odd to hear, I suddenly realised how bad my English am.

Next stop. Chiang Rai.

This time I deviated from the mostly direct route and took the more scenic 1148 road and it paid off. I spent the day on nice quality roads, lots of mountains, quick 400 meter climbs and then back down again just as fast, and I almost had the road to myself. This is what Laos should have been like, if only they'd fix their major roads.

In some places only one lane was open.

There weren't a lot of clear places to take photos though as there was lots of tall grass/trees next to the road. I found one rest area where I took these however:

It was at this point I was getting worried about fuel, I was up to 250km and I usually hit reserve then and don't have much left after that. And there were no big towns nearby to get fuel. Once I started seeing fuel around I tried to see how far I could get. 280km before going into reserve is the answer! Luckily it was only another 13km before I could fill up, and with only 1.4L to spare...

And now I'm in Chiang Rai!
Clock tower and functioning roundabout/traffic-circle
I'll stay here for a while to see the sites, and replace my shoes that are almost worn through, and possibly acquire that cheap 60D I saw earlier...

Sunday 22 January 2012

Nong Khai to Loei!

I'm in Loei! I'm not sure how you say it, I think it's something like Lourgh, without the gh. So I rode along the Mekong for 200km, then south for 50km to Loei along some very nice roads. Compared to Loas there's some real money in roads here. It was very very odd when I could hit 100km/h. Nice hilly roads next to the river with little traffic. Only took a few photos.

Sunset at Nong Khai last night.

More sunset.

Kaeng Khut Khu. Apparently this is a big attraction, some rapids on the Mekong... It was kinda boring. But all along the Mekong before then was mostly rocks which I thought was more interesting than this bit, but I didn't get any photos.

And now for some reprocessed photos:
More split tone madness! From Smalleys Beach in Queensland.

More split tone madness!

The background from this blog, all split toned!

Tomorrow, Uttaradit! (maybe, I can't find a lot of info on places to stay)