Archive for the 'Thailand' Category

16
Mar
10

Mar 3-14: Koh Pha Ngan to Phuket

As I was saying…

It’s really funny how fast time flies when you’re having fun. It’s also funny how busy you can seem to be when you’re not even doing anything but lying on the beach all day.

It seems like ages ago that we left the crazy debauchery of Koh Pha Ngan, and light years since we arrived in Chiang Mai after 40 days of touring through 3 countries. Since Koh Pha Ngan, we have been living a beach-y existence, literally doing little else other than lying on the beach, shopping, and eating. In the last two weeks we have been to four islands, one jungle, and one beach community. We have travelled on countless boats, ferries, minivans, and buses.

When we arrived in Thailand, we spent ten blissful days traversing the north of Thailand and Bangkok, in blissful ignorance of the true nature of Thai people. Northern Thailand is much more relaxed, but not in the sense of beach-relaxed, more in the sense of not-wanting-to-rip-off-every-tourist relaxed. As you head further south, the scams and half-truths begin, and it gets more and difficult to pick out which Thais to trust and which to be wary of. I’m not saying that Thais aren’t nice people, they certainly can be, but only when you are willing to help them out by spending money, giving them a recommendation, etc. Heaven forbid you don’t actually want to book something with them, or buy something, or the air conditioning in your room breaks. Thais can turn into your worst enemy at times.

Let me back it up a bit and write a bit about what southern Thailand was like…

We left Koh Pha Ngan on March 3, a bit sad to be saying goodbye to our home for 7 days, by far the longest we had spent anyplace in Southeast Asia. We were also sad to say goodbye to our friends, new and old, whom we had met during the craziness of Hat Rin. Of our buddies, Mark and Thomas headed north to Chiang Mai, Neil, John, Marco, and Anette took a boat across to Koh Tao, and J.Y., Dan, and Ae headed west toward the Similan Islands off the west coast of Thailand. I had wanted to go over to Koh Tao to check out the scuba diving scene, but Courtney had other plans for us. She convinced me that every other Full Mooner on Koh Pha Ngan would be heading over to Koh Tao, and that we should run in the opposite direction.

Therefore, our plan became to meet up with J.Y., Dan, and Ae in the Similans; however, we made a mistake in not checking the prices for the trip, and that plan was derailed when we got to Phan Nga on the night of the 3rd, and realized that the Similans were waaaay more expensive than we could afford. Just to spend one night on the island would cost us more than 2500 Baht ($80)! Instead we decided to spend the night in Phan Nga, and head to Krabi in the morning. Just to get to Phan Nga had taken us all day of the 3rd, starting with a 10AM ferry ride back to Surat Thani (ugh!), an hour wait in the sun outside a travel agency (nothing new there) and then a four hour ride to Phan Nga.

Krabi is the popular name for the island on which the town of Krabi sits, although none of the beaches are actually called Krabi. We passed over the most famous beach, Railay, in favour of the cheaper and more low key Ao Nang (long beach). This was our second mistake. Long Beach was an absolute tourist trap, complete with a crowded beach, fast-food restaurants, and more souvenir shops than one could possibly visit in a week. There wasn’t a backpacker to be found, as every person in the entire town was either someone’s mother, father, child, girlfriend, boyfriend, fiancee, grandparent, etc. Frustrating! Even more frustrating for me, Courtney came down with a bad cold and fever, and had to stay in our air conditioned room for most of the day, which left me with little else to do but sit on the beach, read, and shop for four days.

Finally, Courtney began to feel better, and we planned our escape from Krabi-Hell to Koh Lanta, a lesser-developed island halfway between Krabi and Koh Phi Phi. On March 7 we made the trek to Lanta, which is really only a few kilometres away, but took at least four hours, five transfers (probably the most so far) and two (sometimes it can take three) modes of transportation. If I haven’t already explained how travel in Thailand works, let me take the opportunity to do it now:

  • 8:30AM – scheduled minivan pick up from guesthouse
  • 8:55AM – actual pick up from guesthouse
  • 8:55AM-9:25AM – picking up other people from other guesthouses (there is no way to avoid this, either you wait because you are getting picked up last, or you sit in the bus and ride around town while the minivan picks up other people. If you are lucky, some interesting people will get on)
  • 9:25AM-10:15AM – minivan ride to travel agency
  • 10:15AM-10:3AM – wait with bags outside travel agency
  • 10:30AM – board another minivan (sometimes you will get new people on the next bus) and head to the ferry dock
  • 11AM-11:30AM – ferry ride to small island (not Koh Lanta)
  • 11:50AM-12PM – minivan ride to another ferry
  • 12:10PM-12:20PM – ferry ride to Koh Lanta
  • 12:20PM – transfer bags to local songthaew (truck with wooden benches at the back)
  • 12:20PM-1:15PM – songthaew ride to guesthouse, dropping off other people along the way (sometimes Thai people will get on and off at seemingly random points along the way. This is normal)

By this point, we were veterans of southern Thailand travel, and it didn’t alarm us that they shuttle you all over the place without ever telling you where you are or where you are going next, or how long it will take to get there (that is, if they even speak English). You learn pretty quick to use the bathroom EACH AND EVERY time you stop, because you never know when you might get to use it again! And keep your eye on your bag! Sometimes it ends up on top of the bus, sometimes in the backseat, sometimes in the front seat. People get on and off all the time. You just never know!!

Anyway, so we got dropped off at a cheap place with bungalows a stones throw from the beach. Courtney is still sick, but we get a room with a fan anyway, because it is only 400 Baht ($13) between the two of us and we want to save money for the more expensive places (Phi Phi and Phuket). It also comes at the recommendation of a fellow traveller, Ben, whom we met on the minivan. The resort (New Coconut) is super relaxed and has hammocks, and a good restaurant and bar, but the heat is too much for Court, and the rocky water and the ants building an anthill in our bathroom are too much for me, and we decided to move to Hat Phra Ae (long beach), where accommodation is considerably more expensive, but also considerably nicer, and the beach is paradise! I spent 4 days soaking up the rays and swimming every half hour or so to cool my overheated body, while Courtney slept off the last of her cold in our spacious air-conditioned room. I even got a double bed to myself for the first time since Vietnam!

On February 11 we were sad to leave Koh Lanta, but were excited to meet up with Dan and J.Y. again, as well as to let loose on Koh Phi Phi, which has earned a reputation as a beautiful yet party-hardy destination. The trip to Phi Phi was relatively easy, involving only a songthaew ride to the pier, and a 2-hour ferry ride to Phi Phi. The ferry arrives in the middle of the south beach, and it is a quick walk to the town of Ton Sai, which is where all the magic happens. Ton Sai is an odd little town, half Thai and half backpacker, with Thai businesses going about their everyday lives right next to bars, guesthouses, tour agencies, and souvenir shops. There is no lack of dive shops on Phi Phi, and Dan and J.Y. immediately decide they want to sign up for a dive the next day. I had been lamenting the fact that it seemed that I would not be diving at all in Thailand, and I jumped at the chance to go with them. Court also came along, and went snorkelling while we did two dives.

Since I was certified as an Open Water Diver in Australia in August 2004, I have done over ten dives, but I hadn’t done one since 2005, and was rusty on equipment set up and signals. I had a divemaster do a refresher with me, which I passed with flying colours, and then I was diving in one of the most renowned dive places in the world! During two dives, I saw many things, the highlights of which was a seahorse, an octupus, and four sharks! It was awesome, although diving the Great Barrier Reef still takes the cake for me.

The day of diving ended early at 1pm, and then we headed to the beach to catch our last few days of sun. Unfortunately, Phi Phi’s tides work in cycles of four days, and the tide was out while we were there, so you needed to walk for at least a hundred metres before hitting water you can sit down in. While I was walking out to meet my sister and our friend, I felt a sharp sting on my foot, thinking I had stepped on a coral, I yanked my foot out, but the pain didn’t go away! I yelped, and looked down, and sitting right where my foot had been was a small stingray! I got barbed by a stingray! There was only a tiny mark, but it hurt like hell! I traipsed back to the beach and into town, and into the first dive shop I found, where they told me to soak my ankle in hot water to get the sting out. Luckily stingrays aren’t poisonous, especially not with a sting to the foot, and the barb wasn’t left in my foot, but I was still in a considerable amount of pain. It took J.Y. Court and I half an hour before we could find a restaurant that was willing to provide a bucket of hot water for free (but I had to buy the bucket myself), and I was able to soak my foot until the sting went away. Phew, what a day!

After Phi Phi, on March 13, we headed to Phuket, but eschewed touristy Patong Beach for Kata Beach. We didn’t do anything special but sit on the beach and enjoy our last fruit shakes (my favourite were the mango and lemon) and seafood pad thai. Yesterday we embarked on a surprisingly comfortable and event-less trip down through Malaysia (with a stop in Penang) and to Singapore, where we will be staying until our flights leave on the morning of the 18th. It seems surreal that after almost 3 months we will be returning to the great white north.

Singapore is a very pedestrian friendly city, and we have spent the day walking around. Tonight we will visit the Zoo, and go on the night safari, before heading for a much-needed sleep. Tomorrow we will check out Chinatown, Little India, and the Raffles hotel, as well as the Esplanade for some skyline photos. I hope to get one more post in before we leave.

So long for now!

Lexi

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05
Mar
10

Feb 25-Mar 3: LEXI’S GUIDE TO THE FULL MOON PARTY

Since I am being harassed on a daily basis to blog about the experience of the infamous Full Moon Party on Koh Pha Ngan, Thailand, I figured I would skip the three days (Feb. 22-24) we spent in Khao Sok National Park between Bangkok and Koh Pha Ngan, and get straight to the goods. I apologize for the lack of photos, but they are on my camera and refusing to come out right now (for some reason the computer won’t upload direct from the camera).

Even though the decision to attend the Full Moon Party was made by me about halfway through the tour, I feel like it was the apex of the entire trip (ground zero, if you will), and everything else should be referred to in terms of BFM and AFM (before Full Moon and After Full Moon, respectively).

A BRIEF HISTORY

For those who don’t know, the Full Moon Party originated at Paradise Bungalows on Haad Rin (Hat Rin) beach on Koh Pha Ngan some years ago, although no one really knows how many. Since then it has become one of the largest organized parties in the world, and is celebrated each month on the day of the full moon (unless there is a Buddhist holiday on the day). The party itself is more of a rave, with anywhere from 10 to 30 thousand people attending each month. This year the full moon actually landed on February 28th, but as there was a Buddhist holiday, the celebration was on March 1st.

PREPARATIONS

Actually attending a full moon party can be quite complicated for the Full Moon Virgin (like us). The first challenge in attending the full moon party was finding accommodation. To do this it is good to have some knowledge of finance, logistics, and urban planning (luckily I have been in school for so long I have experience in each of these areas, tee hee):

  • The island of Koh Pha Ngan has many beaches, but most of them are unconnected by roads and therefore you must travel to and from by boat. The beach of Hat Rin is in the south corner, and connects to beaches on the west side of the island. Therefore, it is advisable to have accommodation as close to Hat Rin as possible (but not actually on Hat Rin if you want ANY sleep at all!) and prefereably someplace accessible by truck-taxi, the main mode of transportation to Hat Rin.
  • Since Thai people aren’t stupid, and they have realized that foreigners will do anything for a drunken party, the rates for resorts close to Hat Rin during the Full Moon week skyrocket, sometimes by more than 1000 Baht per night ($35).
  • Although the further you stay from Hat Rin the cheaper it will be, the more you will also pay to travel to and from Hat Rin on a nightly basis. Therefore, the Lonely Planet advises that you should figure out if you want to sleep like a baby or party like a rock star, and then decide where on the island you want to stay.

Court and I booked five nights at Mac Bay Resort, on Baan Tai beach, the closest beach to Hat Rin without actually being on Hat Rin, at the suggestion of my Lonely Planet. We got a decent rate ($50 per night) for a twin air conditioned bungalow ten steps from the beach, and three steps from the pool. The food was great, the staff was warm and welcoming, and the beach was gorgeous! We loved it so much that we ended up staying one extra night (either that we loved it so much or we were too hung over to leave on March 2nd – you decide 🙂

BEFORE THE FULL MOON

We arrived on Koh Pha Ngan on February 25, well in advance of the party on March 1st, and were pretty excited that we got to spend a full week in one place. I won’t bore you with our daily activities, because mostly we hung around the resort during the day, sleeping, relaxing on the beach, swimming in the pool and the Gulf of Thailand, and catching up with email. During the day I can imagine that Hat Rin was pretty quiet, with all the partyers resting up from the night before and revving up for the night ahead, but at night the beach came alive! Out of the six nights we spent on Koh Pha Ngan, we spent four on Hat Rin beach, and only two in other parts of the island.

Although the full moon party wasn’t until March 1st, there were parties on the beach every single night we were there, and we wanted to take full advantage of the young crowd and cheap booze buckets ($8 gets a mickey of vodka, redbull, and mixer). Each of the bars along the beach plays trance, techno, house, pop, or some sort of psych-hip hop mash up, and many of the bars feature young Thai men twirling blazing batons, poi (a flaming ball on the end of a rope that they swing around and make cool designs), and glow sticks. One of the bars even had a foam pit, and a flaming jump-rope, where drunk foreigners could try their best not to get their feet singed by twenty metres of flaming rope.

Because we stayed outside Hat Rin, we had to pay 100 Baht ($3.30) each way to take a taxi into town every night, but it was a small price to pay for a few hours of sleep each night. Trust me, when I heard the beats going on until the sun came up the next morning I was happy to have a bed in a quiet part of the island.

THE FULL MOON EXPERIENCE

On the day of the party, we wanted to take it easy and rest ourselves for the night ahead. Our friends John and Neil, whom we met on the hilltribe trek in Chiang Mai, showed up at our resort a couple days before the party, and we were pumped that they would be there during the celebrations. Our friends J.Y. and Dan from our tour, as well as our tour leader through Laos, Ae, showed up at different times the day of the party, and because none of them had accommodation booked on the island, we offered the floor of our bungalow as a crash pad. So there were seven of us who had a pre-party on our porch before heading to Hat Rin.

I will do my best to give approximate times of where I was at what point during the night, but most of them I only know because of the times the photos were taken. Around midnight I stopped taking photos, and lost my frame of reference, so bear with me!

Around 10PM he owner of our resort gave us all a ride to town, where we paid our cover charge (!) of 100 Baht ($3.30), got our flashy wristbands, and headed toward the beach.

Attire for the party is pretty open, except for one important rule: do not wear anything that you don’t want to get ruined! There are many ways for clothing to get trashed at the Full Moon Party – fire, vomit, tearing – and paint. I wore a bikini, a long top, and nothing else. Some of the guys from our resort had brought blacklight paint down to the beach, and we took some time painting each other’s faces, arms, and legs with designs. Then the mayhem began.

The beach was jam-packed with people, and the beat of music could be heard even as we drove into town. Most people were covered in glowing paint, wearing headbands, necklaces, bracelets, and the like, and carrying colourful buckets of booze. The beach was bordered on one side by the sea (which was really just a wall of guys peeing into the ocean), and on the other by a line of “bucket booths” which display a myriad of alcoholic combinations to choose from. When you walk by, the Thais manning the stands call out to you, and offer free shots, free necklaces, and discounts on already-dirt-cheap beverages (from 150 Baht to 300 Baht, depending on what you order. For example, Thai whisky with red bull and mix would be 150. If you want Smirnoff Vodka, expect to pay 300) . There were platforms with people dancing to trance, house, pop, drum’nbass, and fire twirlers all over the place, and all you could see were just people dancing, drinking, and yelling to be heard over the music. The beach was also littered with all manner of trash – everything from straws, broken buckets, beer bottles, and flip flops. If you can imagine a more dangerous scene than 10,000 drunk revellers dancing on a trash-covered beach with fire being thrown every 50 metres, please tell me, because I’d like to know!

It’s notoriously easy to lose people (among other things) during the full moon party. When we left the resort around 10PM, we had ten people with us: myself, Courtney, Ae, J.Y., Dan, Neil, John, plus three German guys from our resort. By the time the sun rose, each of us had come home separately, and had largely spent the night without the other members of our little commune.

Courtney was the first to go, just after we (finally) headed down to the beach around 11PM. She slipped away to grab a bucket, and couldn’t find us on the way back. Don’t worry though, she found some friends and had a crazy night of her own (I’ll let her post it later, if she wants to). Neil and John were the next to go, I don’t even know when or where they disappeared to, all I know is that I turned around and they were gone. Dan and I were dancing for a while on one of the platforms, and when we jumped down to go back to J.Y. and Ae, we got lost and couldn’t find them, so we were left on our own. The details of the next little while are a bit hazy, but I’ll give you the drift: since Dan and I were on our own, and neither of us wanted to lose the other, we went over to where one of the guys was putting on a fire show. Lost in a trance of the music and the fire, I barely noticed when the people in front of me turned around. They turned out to be a guy and a girl, Marco and Anette, from Switzerland, whom I had met at the beach earlier on in the week! This turned out to be the luckiest thing that happened to me all night, because just after I introduced them to Dan, he left to go puke in the sea! He came back minutes later and told me he was going home, leaving me at the beach.

Had it not been for running into Marco and Anette, I would have been left alone all night, but somehow these two are masters of finding each other after being separated, and I managed to stick with one or the other all night. I don’t really remember many details, but all I know is that we danced and drank buckets and tottered around the beach until about 5am, when we finally left the beach. I managed to avoid paying a ridiculous fee to get a taxi to take me back to our resort, by crashing at Anette and Marco’s place for the night, which was at a resort close to Hat Rin.

When I woke up around 8am, I instantly wished I had gone home to my own bungalow: the thumping beat of the afterparty (which was still raging down on the beach) could still be heard, even on the other side of the hill, the room felt like a friggin sauna with the sun shining in the open windows (and four people crammed in one room, which was no bigger than the size of two double beds), and my mouth tasted and felt like what I imagine wet cardboard must taste and feel like. I was also half resting in a pile of dried paint, which had flaked off during my nap, my hair looked like a birds nest, and I’m sure I’ve never been so sweaty in my life. Top it all off with the fact that I probably smelled like a vodka-pineapple factory exploded with me in the middle, and I’m sure I’ve never been so happy to see a shower in my entire life.

The ride home was strangely pleasant, I had the incredibly smug and triumphant feeling like I had survived a tornado or earthquake or some other disaster. I certainly looked like I had! Luckily, most of the other people I encountered on my way to find a taxi looked either worse or just as bad as me.

SURVIVED THE FULL MOON

On March 2nd we had planned to head off to Koh Tao, but as we were too hung over to move, we opted to stay another day. J.Y., Dan, and Ae headed west toward the Similan Islands, while the rest of us stayed in bed until dinnertime.

Hat Rin was a disaster zone: everywhere you looked there were bottles, straws, buckets, clothing strewn on the beach. Many people were walking around town with bandages around their feet, ankles, legs, arms, and faces. Many people still had blood on them, or open wounds, and a lot hadn’t even washed the paint off them yet. Nevertheless, it was the calmest day I saw in Hat Rin, as most people were taking it easy or still sleeping off the effects of the night before.

March 2nd was a sad day, as we said goodbye to Dan and J.Y., whom we had been with since Day 1, Ae, who had stayed with us for two nights and who was like a third roommate to us, Neil and John, who are two of the coolest people I have met in Asia, Thomas and Mark, whom we hung out with almost every night, and Marco and Anette, who always have a special place in my heart for saving me from spending the Full Moon Party by myself in a sea full of people.

As crazy as the week was, we were sad to leave, and boarding the ferry to go back to the mainland was painful. We were both tired from the partying and having to be uprooted after spending a week in paradise, and sad from having to say goodbye to all the friends we met and met again on the beaches of Koh Pha Ngan.

Now we are in Krabi, bored out of our minds, and trying to rehydrate our bodies with non-alcoholic beverages. On March 7 we will be moving on to Koh Phi Phi, and hopefully to a better beach and airconditioning (otherwise I think Court might not make it).

I promise to post photos as soon as I humanly can, for fear of my life. All I have to say now is

I SURVIVED!

Lex

05
Mar
10

Don’t Ever Trust a Thai Travel Agent

Lesson learned: do not ever book multi-bus trips throught a travel agency in Thailand!

In the interest of saving 200 Baht ($8) we booked an all-in-one bus trip to Khao Sok National Park via Surat Thani, leaving Bangkok on February 21 and arriving in the morning on February 22. Having already researched the route, I knew this was ill-advised by the travel guides, but we decided to give it a go anyway, as the price was attractive and the thought of having pre-booked transfers sounded appealing (we’ve been doing it ourselves ever since). Well, never again would we use this “attractive” option. Although we didn’t encounter any of the blackout periods or extra surcharges the Lonely Planet warned us about, we did have cramped transportation at times, and long waits for buses and transfers.

Here’s the story:

We planned to go to a travel agency in Bangkok to book an overnight train or bus to Surat Thani, where we could then catch a bus bound for Khao Sok National Park. This is where we were cajoled into purchasing a combo ticket for 600 Baht ($20) which would include transportation to Khao Sok, as well as pick up and transfer from our hotel to the bus station (which we were told was far from our hotel), and between bus stations in Surat Thani (the “bus station” we were actually dropped off at wasn’t a bus station at all, but a rest stop for our bus, which was going further south).

We were told to be at the travel office (beside our hotel) at 5.30PM for transfer to the bus. The “transfer” was actually a 5-minute walk around the corner to another guesthouse, and the “pick up” time was actually 6.30PM, when someone finally came and rescued us from the stoop of the travel agency.

After waiting on the sidewalk for over an hour, the bus finally pulled in and we got on our way around 8.30PM. We were told the bus would arrive in Surat Thani around 6AM, which, according to Asian time, I suppose it did (actual arrival = 6.30AM). We then got a quick breakfast before our “transfer” (read: 8 people squashed in a tuk tuk) arrived to take us to the Khao Sok bus. It was only when we dropped people off at the government (read: safe and reliable) bus station and were told NOT to get on, that I realized we had made the mistake we were warned about. Had we not paid for the combo ticket, we could have simply paid the ticket agent on the bus (all buses in Thailand have a driver and someone who sells tickets) and gone straight to Khao Sok.

We were then taken to another pick up spot (the fourth in 12 hours) and told to wait for the minibus to Khao Sok. As I had heard the stories about the Travel Agency minibuses, I had my doubts it would arrive at the appointed 8.30AM arrival time. Well, it didn’t disappoint me! At 9.30AM it finally showed up and we got underway for what we hoped would be the final leg of what should have been a 12-hour trip, but actually took 19 hours, including wait times. But wait, the fun doesn’t stop there: during the two hours it took to get to Khao Sok, our driver made SEVEN stops to let local people on and off the minibus!

We finally arrived in Khao Sok on February 22 just before noon, tired and cranky, but happy to be in one place for a few days.

So let that be a lesson to you – don’t ever trust a Thai Travel Agent and their bogus combo-tickets!

05
Mar
10

Feb 19-21: Bangkok

Sa Wat Dee Ka!

Court and I in a Tuk Tuk

On February 19th, we finally came full circle back to Bangkok, where we started the tour 46 days prior. We budgeted three days and two nights in the city, which we figured would be enough, and we were right. Being sick of seeing temples and yearning to get to a beach, we decided to do the obligatory sights, stay just off Khao San Road, in the midst of backpacker haven, and then head down south to the islands.

Food and accommodation is pretty cheap in Bangkok, and we secured a fan room for about $7.50 each. Meals came in at a little over $1 for a plate of noodles or rice, so this left us with plenty to use to see the sights, party a bit, and take tuk tuks around town.

Since we arrived so early, we thought it would be best to use the day to see some of Bangkok’s most famous sights, the Royal Palace, Wat Pho (home of the reclining Buddha), and Wat Pra Khew (home of the Emerald Buddha). This may not sound like much, considering the location of all these sights are well within walking distance of each other, but the weather was sunny and well-above 30 degrees all day (like every day) so it took a considerable amount of energy to stay interested for the five hours it took to walk through them.

Public transportation in Bangkok requires quite a bit of planning and a good knowledge of the routes, since there are so many modes, and none of them cover the entire city. There is the Skytrain, which goes around central Bangkok, but doesn’t cover the backpacker district or any of the main sights. Then there are metered taxis and tuk-tuks, on which the fare is usually agreed on before the ride. You can also catch any number of buses around town, but they are usually caught in traffic and take forever. Finally, there is the boat system, which has different routes (including a tourist one) that travel up and down the river making stops every 100 meters or so (or whenever there is a point of interest, for the tourist route). We opted to take the water taxi, as there was a pier right across from our guesthouse, and it made stops at the Palace and Wat Pra Khew.

We almost made it to Wat Arun, which is a uniquely designed temple across the river from Wat Pho, but it was late in the day by then and we were itching to get back for a shower and dinner, so we decided to save it for the next day.

That night we met up with a friend, Dan, from our tour, who was joining another tour to the islands the next day, and went to see a Ladyboy Cabaret. For anyone who doesn’t already know, Ladyboys are Thai transexuals, but they look waaaay more convincing that the ones in North America, and being a Ladyboy isn’t nearly as taboo as being a transexual is back home. Also, the “ladyboy shows” as they are referred to by foreigners, are more of an art form, a cultural part of Bangkok, than they are a side show, and the cabaret involved lip-syncing (badly!) and dancing (really well) to well-known songs. They are really friendly and even posed for photos with audience members afterward!

After some dinner and partying on Khao San Road (we really did come full circle) it was time to hit the hay, as we had been up for about 20-hours, and had had a full day of wandering around a hot city. We decided to get up early on the 20th and go to Wat Arun and the floating markets.

Well, we never made it. Courtney felt too sick to go out after breakfast and spent most of the day in bed, fighting off the heat. We both found out that Court doesn’t deal to well with extreme heat, so I hung around and did internet research and went shopping on Khao San to pass the time. When she finally awoke, it was too late to go anyplace but to get dinner, so we decided to book a bus ticket south to Khao Sok National Park, our next destination, and save the sights for our final day in Bangkok. I was bummed that we weren’t taking the train, but we saved about 450 Baht each (= $15) by taking the bus.

On the 21st we actually got up early, and headed to breakfast with our tour leader through Laos, a Thai girl from Chiang Mai, who had arrived that morning for her next tour. She suggested we see Wat Arun and then hit up the weekend market near the Northern Bus Station, before coming back to our guesthouse for our bus pickup. We took the boat taxi again to the temple, but decided to check out the Centre World mall instead, as Courtney was again feeling ill from the heat. We took a taxi to the mall, and then, just for the fun of it, took the Skytrain two stations where we caught a taxi back to Khao San.

We arrived back at the guesthouse with plenty of time for dinner at a street restaurant (basically just a tent with some stoves and coolers under it, and a seating area) where we had pad thai for $1.

Our journey finally began to go south, and I mean this in a literal and figurative way. The trip from Bangkok to Khao Sok National Park was exhausting and frustrating, and is a story which deserves it’s own post. For now, I’m being pestered by pretty much everyone I know to write something about Koh Pha Ngan and the Full Moon Party, so I’m going to do that and come back to the journey between Bangkok and Khao Sok later.

Thanks for reading! Sorry about the lack of photos, i’ll post some up soon!

Lex

04
Mar
10

Feb 13-19: Chiang Mai to Bangkok

Me, Court, and Emina - The Trekkers!

I said that Chiang Mai deserves a post all to itself, and I wasn’t lying when I said it. Courtney and I had a jam-packed five days in Chiang Mai, and we probably could have spent a few more, as Chiang Mai has a lot to offer the adventurous traveller. I had no idea that this city in Northern Thailand has so much more to offer than the ubiquitous “hilltribe trek”, and had I known, I definitely would have budgeted more time and money to this region.

Adam and I on the Elephant

Our last day on tour was officially the 13th of February, and although many people left for other destinations on that day, there were still a few of us hanging around Chiang Mai for treks and other activities. While Courtney went to an Elephant Conservation place to do a Mahout course (Mahouts are elephant trainers), I did a more leisurely activity with Adam, Christine, and Emina from my tour. First we got to ride elephants for an hour, which was really cool! Elephants are super strong, and used to be used as workers on farms, but now, the elephants have no work to do (they’re unemployed! LOL) so some people set up camps and take the elephants in and feed them and

Adam and I feeding our elephant

give them a place to live peacefully. Our elephant (like all elephants) had really hard, thick skin, and it’s not soft at all! They’re also pretty hairy, although they lose their hair as they age (just like people). Baby elephants are the hairiest of them all (not like people). I shared an elephant with Adam, and we got to feed the elephant during the ride. We were both pretty shocked to get a glob of slobber slopped on us when the elephant lifted her trunk to take the bananas from us! Our pants were covered! After the elephant riding we

Emina and Christine on our raft

visited two hill tribes, the Karen and the Hmong, and took a light trek to a waterfall. After lunch we headed to a river for some bamboo rafting, which we had heard is quite the ride. Basically there are these rafts, which are no more than 6 or 7 pieces of bamboo tied together, and you sit on them, about four people to a raft, and a guide steers you down the river using a bamboo pole. The raft isn’t very steady, so we all ended up with very wet bums!

On the 14th, myself, Court, and Emina set off on our hilltribe trek. Our trek cost about $60 CDN, and included a guide, three days of trekking, visits to four different tribes, accommodation, and nine meals, as well as activities such as (mild) white water rafting, (another) elephant ride and (another) bamboo raft ride. I really must give a shout out to my cousin, Rob, who suggested to wait until getting to Chiang Mai to book the trek. We saved over $300 by booking directly from a travel agent instead of doing the add-on offered by Intrepid. Thanks Rob!!

A Longneck girl

Day 1 was interesting: Emina and Courtney picked our particular trek, which went north of Chiang Mai, because we got to visit the Long Neck tribe. This tribe isn’t officially called Long Neck, but they are called this way because they wear copper rings around their necks, which elongate them. The tribespeople were very warm and friendly, although I think it must get tiring for them posing for photos for foreigners all day every day. After lunch we had an elephant ride, which was better than the one the day before, because I actually got to ride on the head of the elephant! Usually passengers sit in a seat on top of the elephant, but our pachyderm was well trained, and the mahout let us take turns leading her.

Elephant!

After lunch we headed out for the first part of the trek, and not even half an hour into our uphill climb, the strap on my brand-new Merrell trekking sandals broke. The solution was to put double-sided tape around them in two places, but the tape was quickly ruined by the sand and water. As the first day required about 4 hours of uphill hiking in the sun and dirt, my feet and ankles were in a considerable amount of discomfort by the time we reached our accommodation for the first night, in a village high atop a mountain. The vista, however, was spectacular, and the outdoor showers had a great view of the valley below. All of us opted to get Thai massages from the village women, and then our dinner was prepared. Dinner was a simple but delicious soup, curry, and rice. The evening came to a close with our guide playing guitar around a fire, and us all getting to know the other members of our group (there were nine in all).

Our accommodation!

Day 2, February 15 was particularly gruelling, although at first it wouldn’tseem like it. First of all, the entire day almost was spent going downhill, which sounds great after a day of going up, but I had two things working against me. First, my sandals ceased to hold, and so I was forced to trek down the sandy side of a mountain with one foot always going first, because the strap wouldn’t hold my ankle on one side. This led to discomfort and pain in my right ankle, which kept rolling at an awkward angle. Second, our guide led the trek at such a pace that I, by far the slowest trekker, could usually not keep up with the rest of the group.

Sun, our tour guide, helping me tape my sandals

Trekking rules say that you should never trek faster than your slowest trekker, and as we didn’t have a guide behind me, I got lost twice when the rest of the group took one route and I took another. Needless to say, being lost in a hot forest with a broken shoe and an achy ankle and nobody to talk to did not make me the happiest trekker, and honestly I was downright miserable for most of the day. I didn’t take a single photo because I was too busy watching my step to look at the “scenery” (dry leaves and dust). Our second night was spent in a small village, which was really just three small huts, and we didn’t get to interact with the locals much, unlike the first night, which was a bit of a bummer. A dip in the river, a good meal, and drinking games after dinner brightened my spirits somewhat, but by the beginning of our third day I was ready for an easy, flat-ground, half-hour hike to our raft.

In three days we did approximately 9 hours of trekking (Day 1: 4hrs, Day 2: 4.5hrs, Day 3: 1/2hr), and I was happy to be back to civilization, although immensely pleased with myself for having completed the trek despite the obstacles I encountered. Although I got satisfaction from having completed it, and I’m not completely out of shape, the trek would have been more enjoyable if we would have chosen a trek that had less time trekking and more time experiencing and seeing things, like waterfalls and local people.

Me cooking up a mean penang curry

On the 17th, Courtney and I had booked ourselves in for a half-day cooking course at Asia Scenic Thai Cooking School, not too far from our hotel. The price of the course (4 hours, 700 Baht = $23) included pickup from the hotel, English-speaking instructor, a welcome snack, drinking water, visit to a local market, three dishes, plus a curry and curry paste, and we got to eat everything we made! The group chose to make an appetizer, a noodle dish, and a dessert, and then we each got to choose one dish from each of these categories, plus a curry. I chose spring rolls, pad thai (of course :), mango sticky rice, and penang curry. Each of us (there were only seven of us in our group) got our own cooking station and the dishes were super easy to make – i’ll definitely be making them when I get home!

That night we went to the night market, which I think is the best market I have been in in all of Southeast Asia. They sell everything, from designer knock off bags, to clothes, textiles, Asian handicrafts, jewelry, food, EVERYTHING! It was hard to choose what to spend my hard-earned Baht on!

On the 18th we didn’t do much of anything, which was nice after the hectic time we had on tour and in Chiang Mai. In the evening we caught the night train back to Bangkok, which was awesome, because I now LOVE LOVE LOVE

My berth on the Chiang Mai-Bangkok overnight train

travelling on trains. They are much comfier than buses, and although they are slower, the rhythm and the sound of the train puts you right to sleep in your berth. Unfortunately, it also costs more than a bus, and at the time I had no idea that it was the last overnight train we would be taking in Thailand.

We arrived in Bangkok around 6AM on February 19th, after a 12-hour ride from Chiang Mai. From the station we took a taxi to the backpacker area of Soi Rambuttri, which is across the street from famous Khao San Road, and found a suitable fan room for only 450 Baht (= $15).

Well, I think this post has been long enough, I’ll release you from the clutches of living vicariously through me, until the next time I have three hours to sit and write another post.

Lex




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