What to take Where and when to go Health Travel Accommodation
If you travel a lot on buses and boats you want to take as little as possible. For a six week trip, we each took a large rucksack for clothes and a small pack for day use. We used the small packs on our 'trek' in Thailand and left the big packs at the guesthouse.
In Vietnam, US Dollar bills were very handy and you could get crazy rates of exchange. I was briefly a millionaire when I changed a hundred dollars.
Lightweight walking boots are a necessity for slogging through the forests. Otherwise a minimum of clothes is required - most hotels can do laundry within 24 hours
A Swiss Army Penknife, a money belt, a water bottle and a few medical supplies are about the only other essentials
We both have Opticron 10 x 42 binoculars - the 'High Resolution' and Sequoiah models. A telescope would have been handy at Krabi and Mai Po in Hong Kong for identifying waders.
'A guide to the birds of Thailand' by Lekagul and Round is all you need. However this was very expensive in the UK and I managed to get it in Bangkok for 880 Baht at the time.
This was our first trip to the Far East and we mainly went sight-seeing and to visit a friend in Hong Kong. Work really dictated that we took our holidays March/April time which was Ok weather-wise but not the best for bird-watching.
In Bangkok, like any capital city, there are few bird-watching opportunities. However at Wat Arun and the Grand Palace there are a few gardens. Lumphini park is a little patch of green amongst the sky-scrapers which would be promising early morning. Around Chiang Mai in the north, Doi Inthanon National Park was very good. Shop around for the 'treks' though. We were persuaded into going on one where the guide was more keen on rushing on to the village bar rather than waiting to look at birds. Ask around and if possible, go on your own or with a group of other birders.
In the south, at Krabi it is essential to go on a boat trip with the famous 'Mr Dai'. In a few hours we saw more birds with him than the rest of the holiday altogether. You can book from the quayside restaurant and he takes you into the Mangrove swamps and mud flats in a small boat. He can whistle up various species including the elusive Mangrove Pitta, Ruddy Kingfisher and Masked Finfoot.
Bit of a bird desert, with the after effects of the War and people trapping anything that moves, there are not many birds here at all. Fascinating place for a holiday though. The only real birdy spot we found was Bha Ho waterfalls, a few kilometres south of Nha Trang off the main highway. We saw Blue Whistling Thrush there. Also in thick fog in Hanoi we experienced a fall of Siberian Stonechats which seemed to be in every bush.
Mai Po marshes is the main birding attraction in Hong Kong. However you do need to get permits and unfortunately our friend over there just got us on the tourist trip, which was full of shouting locals pointing at the mainland. I've no idea what the situation is now - there was talk of filling the whole thing in for a container depot but I'm hopeful that with International pressure it will be preserved as a Reserve.
Common sense dictates that you stick to bottled water and watch what you eat. Otherwise we took no special precautions apart from the recommended jabs.
We flew Manchester - Dubai - Bangkok and returned Hong Kong - Dubai - Manchester flying with Emirates Airlines. Pretty good flights with individual video screens which give you a choice of in-flight movies. Reasonable food as well but a bit mean with the drinks, still at least you know where Mecca is all the time with the handy moving map.
Bangkok is one giant traffic jam, but the water buses are brilliant although you have to be quick jumping off and on as they don't hang around.
We went from Bangkok to Chiang Mai by the overnight bus - not for the faint hearted. Our bus had numerous dents in it and we also saw a dead body on the road. We arrived at 7 am black and blue - needless to say we flew back.
From Bangkok to Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) and Saigon - Nha Trang - Hanoi we flew with Vietnam Airlines who lease planes off Thai Air - fantastic in-flight meals of Crispy Duck. From Hanoi to Hong Kong we were fortunate to fly into the old airport which was a real experience swerving round skyscrapers then screeching to a halt before you end up in the sea.
Thailand is totally geared up for backpackers and touts will approach you all the time with offers of accommodation. Phuket was horrible but we went across to Phi Phi Island where there are no vehicles and a bit more laid back. You can also see the coral reef just out from the beach which saves going on organised 'cruises'. I expect this will all change this year as the film 'The Beach' is released which was filmed there, and the whole place gets totally commercialised. Every inch of the 'James Bond' island featured in 'The Man with the Golden Gun' is covered in trinket stalls.
Vietnam is a little bit harder as fewer people speak English, especially in the north. Also the food gets progressively worse as you head north but there's always baguettes and cheese. (also the cheapest beer I've ever come across)
Hong Kong was fantastically expensive in comparison although we were staying with a friend on Discovery Bay. After the handover in 1997 and the economic crisis things may well have totally changed.
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