Monday, February 27, 2012

Five Ways to Reduce Plastic Waste While Traveling in Thailand

Any first time visitor to Thailand is confronted by the ubiquitous sight of plastic waste. It is in the sea. It is in the rivers. It is on the beaches. It is along the roads. It is along the train lines. Look just around anywhere, and it is there.

Post Loy Kratong Trash on Rama IV Bridge, Pakkret
Approximately 20 million tourists visited the Land of Smiles in 2011. That's 1 tourist to every 3.5 Thai people in the country. Obviously, travelers have a huge impact on the amount of plastic waste in the country, and unfortunately much of the plastic ends up in the environment.

If you want to be a part of the solution to Thailand's plastic waste problem, here are a few suggestions:

1) Use reusable drinking bottles - Tap water in much of Thailand is drinkable when it leaves the water treatment plant. What it may encounter on the way to the tap, however, is sometimes suspect. You can treat your water with iodine or chlorine, or boil it and refill your own bottles. You can even refill you bottles at coin operated machines at gas stations and small shops.

2) Mix your own electolyte drinks - Thailand is very hot. If you're participating in strenuous activities, you will need electrolytes. Don't buy bottled pre-packaged electrolyte drinks. Instead, stop in at any drug store and buy electrolyte powder. A small package costs several baht. You can mix it with water in your reusable bottle.

3) Don't do take-out at food stalls - Eat your food at the food stall. One single bowl of noodles with soup will mean a minimum of 5 plastic bags. Other dishes will include a styrofoam box. Eating your food at the stall can reduce a huge amount of plastic waste.

4) Skip the bags and straws - It is polite for the cashier at convenience stores to load even the smallest purchase into a plastic bag and give you a straw for every drink. Just tell them you don't need it. In most cases, they think it is a nice gesture.

5) Take your own bag shopping - The simplest of all solutions is to take your own bag shopping. It takes a little forethought but can have a huge impact on the number of plastic bags you might end up by the end of a trip.

If you can take some of these steps, maybe the views along the beaches and roads will not look like the image above.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

For a Taste of By-Gone Thailand: Travel by Rail

Security checks, waiting in lines, pre-made meals and baggage limits: need a break from modern air travel? Get on the train. If you choose to travel Thailand long-distance by train, you can avoid them all. Three train lines can take you north to Chiangmai, northeast to Udon, south to Surathani or destinations in between in old- fashioned 1st or 2nd class comfort.

Train travel in Thailand is a throw back to earlier times. Whether you arrive by subway or taxi, you will feel as though you have stepped back in time the moment you walk into Hualamphong station. Built in 1916, it remains much as it always has been. The waiting area is a non-airconditioned hall rimmed by small shops, and restaurants. If you arrive early, you can relax with a cup of coffee on the upper balcony or stop in the food court for a cheap plate of Bai Kra Praw Kai (basil chicken).

 You can buy tickets on the of departure, or up to 60 days in advance. To guarantee a seat or sleeper, you should purchase your tickets in advance. The windows on the right hands side of the station are advanced sales (lettering in red). Tickets on the day of departure are on the left side (lettering in green). Fares and timetables can be found on the State Railway of Thailand website:

Once on the train, you'll have ample leg room, plenty of time to read, and a wonderful opportunity to mingle with Thai and foreign travelers. The food on the train is inexpensive and delicious. A typical meal comes with a main dish and rice, a side dish of curry, a soup and fresh fruit. You can eat it at your seat or walk down to the dining car.

Take the overnight train and you'll save the cost of a room night in a hotel and arrive in the morning ready to begin whatever adventure you've planned for yourself.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Peddling Chiang Dao

Stunning views, hill tribe villages, caves, quiet retreats and nice single track trail: Chiang Dao offers so much to the adventurous off road biker. Traveling north on highway 107 from Chiangmai, you will see Chiang Dao Mountain towering over the surrounding hills and guarding over the valley. Under the mountain are a large limestone cave you can tour. If you want to take some time out of the saddle, you can arrange a two-day trip with a guide and porters at the shops near the cave entrance.
Just a short pedal away from the cave, you can find a variety of country roads, dirt roads and single track trails to provide you with an exciting and sometimes breathtaking off-road biking adventure. You can ride out from whatever resort or guest house you select as your base and find numerous trails connecting the hilltribe villages. If you don't feel comfortable heading off on your own, you can contact Nothern Trails, who can provide you with guides and even have a mountain bike practice course and bike camp with comfortable accommodation in the area.

Unfortunately, the area is changing quickly. The hilltribes are burning the forest down to make farmland to grow crops like field corn. If you visit from February through March, you are certain to see the forest destruction first hand.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Sleek is our Mantra

Scattered unassumingly around the gritty, burlesque capital city of Thailand's travel scene, Pattaya, are a number of highly rated gourmet dining experiences. Mantra at the Amari Orchid, Pattaya one of the most highly recommended, rated #1 by and #3 by You can find it in North Pattaya at the top of the beach road. Greeting you at the entrance is a large red placard announcing that,"Mantra is sleek & stylish, which is how we like our patrons to dress." You'll immediately notice that the clientele differs from that of other restaurants in Pattaya. Missing are the Russians on cheap package tours, the hordes of Chinese bargain shoppers, or the  western punters on the prowl for cheap beer and entertainment. Mantra appears to be a magnet for expat managers coming in from the industrial estates in Chonburi and Rayong. The menu was extensive. The best plan of attack is to order a bottle of wine or a cocktail and settle in for 20 minutes of leisurely research. With selections of Japanese, Chinese (primarily Cantonese) and Indian food, as well as western fare, including steaks, seafood and Italian, there is plenty to satisfy any craving. The food is indeed sleek and savory. Enjoying Mantra means visiting with the proper expectations. The layout is patterned after a Thai food court, with 3 stations set off to one side of the cavernous dining room. The decor suggests an upscale Hong Kong restaurant and is as clamorous as a dim sum Sunday brunch. Mantra is not the place for a quiet, romantic dinner because of the constant din. If you take your honey for a cozy dinner, bring a couple tin cans and a length of string so you can talk across the broad wooden table. Mantra would be a fantastic spot for a business diner, birthday party or other group occasion in which you can add your voices to the building symphony of the evening.