Sunday, January 24, 2010

Koh Samui and the return home

18/01/10 - 24/01/10

So now I'm posting from back in Brisbane. I'm yet to suffer the "post-holiday blues" that many people talk about. In fact, I'm quite happy to be home. All holidays have to come to an end eventually...

So what did we do on Koh Samui, I hear you ask? The answer is, not much. Most days were spent lazing around in our villa, or by the pool. We did spend plenty of time up at Sandalwood Villas' lovely restaurant though, and one of the staff there, Mai, got to know us (and what we ordered) very well.

My impressions of Koh Samui were that it was a very nice place - we spent most of our time down in the town around Chaweng Beach, which is the busiest part of the island. It was like a watered-down version of Phuket. There were still touts asking you to buy suits and whatnot, but they weren't nearly as agressive as their Phuket counterparts.

The shopping in Chaweng Beach is also alot better, and alot more negotiable. In Phuket, if you don't accept their first offer, they aren't interested because the next gullible tourist will come and buy it for that price. At Koh Samui, you can actually haggle, often with results yielding a 40% discount.

Chaweng Beach itself was quite nice, but once again very populated by tourists. There was some techno music in the distance, and several sellers roamed the beach, trying to sell you ice cream, beach equipment or various handicrafts. The water was a very pleasant temperature, and the surf was calm - it wasn't going to drag you out to sea and then pummel you to death like it does in Australia.

On our third day at Koh Samui, we took a trip to see the Ang Thong Marine Park. The trip saw us visit two of the islands, and was narrated by a guy who spoke hillariously broken English. The first island which we visited had the quintessential desert island beach. There was coconut palms swaying in the breeze, and soft, sandy beaches. Add to this the lush vegetation and dramatically-shaped mountains, and you get the feeling that you'd be happy to spend several weeks on the island.

They advertised snorkelling on the island. It was not very impressive. I didn't see anything but seaweed, and a single fish. The fish was dead, however. Eventually we decided to just go for a swim instead. Afterwards, Emma and I did the ultra-tourist thing, and bought a coconut to drink from. It was awesome.

The next island we visited had a hidden lagoon within it's mountains. It was called "emerald lake", and certainly lived up to it's name. It was a very steep climb to reach the lagoon, but the results were well worth it. Unfortunately, we were instructed by our tour operator that "swimming is not allows", and that "only taking of the photographs". So taking of the photographs I did.

Emma and I then made our way back down to the beach. The snorkelling on offer at this island was a little better... I saw plenty of fish, and even a giant clam. But, once again, you can get better snorkelling in Australia, but that is no surprise what with the great barrier reef and all that.

The next two days were just spent shopping and beaching. On the whole, a very relaxing end to the journey. Emma and I finally did have a massage, and it was well worth it. I felt like going to sleep during the hour long experience, but managed not to.

Our flight left Koh Samui at 12:45pm on Saturday, 23rd of January. Three flights later via Bangkok and Singapore, and we landed at Brisbane at 9:55am Sunday, 24th of January. It was good to be home. It was nice to hear a non-broken English PA call. We were greeted by Emma's parents after clearing customs. It was nice to see friendly faces and not somebody holding up a sign with my name on it.

--Overall Impressions--

Thailand is an amazing country. There is a diversity of culture, sights, sounds and landscape that you just can't see in Australia. The people are shy but friendly, and even if some of them are just trying to get money out of you, most people seem to have genuine intentions, or are just doing their jobs.

The way the cities function is completely different to Australia, though. Traffic is impossible in Bangkok, and car accidents happen frequently. One of the people we met on our trip, Jennifer, was in a car accident THIRTY MINUTES after renting her car out. Alternative transport (especially by rail, if possible) is a must.

Also, there appears to be no real waste-management systems in place. Garbage is everywhere, and there are no bins visible to the tourist's eye. Expect to see and smell running sewage on a regular basis, too.

These things can be expected of most south east asian countries, however, especially in highly populated areas, so it can be forgiven.

If I were to give any advice to budding travellers wanting to go to Thailand, I would say this: Spend as little time in Bangkok and Phuket as you have to.

Bangkok is insanely busy, overcrowded, hot and smelly.

Phuket is less busy, but now seems to exist only to please tourists. Spend as much time out of the town as you can. The tours from Phuket (including the exceptional Sea Canoe Tour we did) are great, but the town itself is horrible.

Places I'd recommend going would be Chiang Mai, Mae Hong Son and Koh Samui. They are all far more relaxed places with more genuine people. Additionally, go to Mae Hong Son if you really want to see traditional "rural" Thailand. It was an amazing experience.

And that's how I can sum up my entire holiday in Thailand. An "amazing experience". If I could do it again, I wouldn't change a thing. Even in the nastiest of places, I'm still glad that I got to experience them. I will definitely return to Thailand one day, but for now it has opened my eyes to the myriad of other cultures that need exploring around the world. Travel bug confirmed.

Up Next: Tokyo? London? Paris? New York? Who knows! But when it happens, I'll be posting it on here!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Sea Canoeing, Koh Samui and Big Brother: Panda Edition


On Sunday, we went on probably the best tour we've been on so far. We went sea canoeing. But it wasn't just on the ocean, we got to explore some of the islands, and the hidden "hongs" inside them, accessible only via tidal caves.

The day started with us taking a leisurely boat ride out into the unforgettable Phang Nga Bay. The islands were slightly less brilliant than last time, due to the air having a small haze about it. Apparently this was due to farmers burning off sugar cane at this time of year. Still, it was only a small detraction, as the landscape was amazing.

We then had a light lunch. The food which they served us was very tasty -easily the best tour food I've had so far.

After lunch, we were briefed on which hongs we were going to explore, and then we were right into it. Our guide, Pung, paddled us through this cave, and at some points, we had to lie down completely flat to not scrape against the roof of the cave. I have no idea how Pung managed to continue paddling whilst lying flat.

Inside the cave, it was pitch black, except for the torch light that Emma was holding. The roof was covered in stalictites, and deposits of calcium carbonate that shimmered like diamonds.

When we exited the cave, we were presented with an amazing "lake" surrounded by sheer limestone cliffs covered in lush vegetation. Mangroves dotted the surface of the lake, and the faint sounds of crickets and bird calls was all that could be heard.

Unfortunately, this didn't last for long. Soon another tour company invaded our seemingly-private oasis, where clearly they had not instructed their customers as our company had us. They were loud, obnoxious and climbed all over the fragile ecosystem. We, on the other hand, were instructed to stay quiet and not to touch ANYTHING. We all adhered to the rules, moral high ground and all.

Our next cave we explored was equally as spectacular as the first. There was one point where we had to have every part of our bodies well within the canoe, lest our limbs be scraped against the sharp rocks of the cave's walls. Highly intense stuff.

Thankfully, the other tour company did not follow us to this hong. We had it all to ourselves, and it was brilliant. I lay back in the canoe, took off my hat, and all I could see within my vision was the huge mountains above me, teeming with bird life. I know this sounds highly nerdy, but it reminded me very much of an IMAX movie - something incredibly beautiful with astounding detail filling up your entire field of vision. The difference is is that I'd rather go on one of these canoe tours over an IMAX movie any day of the week.

The last cave we explored was the "Bat Cave". Whilst the Dark Knight was nowhere to be seen, there was a whole heap of bats in his stead. Tiny little "insect bats", apparently. The cave itself had a really high ceiling, so it wasn't a really up-close experience with them, but you sure could smell their droppings. Not very pleasant.

After exploring the inner hong, we were ferried to another island for some free time. As we were driving along, one of the crew started throwing raw chicken off the stern of the boat. It wasn't long before Kites in large groups began bomb-diving into the water after the pieces of meat. We even saw an eagle at one stage!

During our hour of free time, we went for a paddle to one of the local beaches, which wasn't nearly as pleasant as it looked - covered in shells and opaque, non-swimming safe water. Instead, we went for a swim near the boat. I jumped off the second storey of the boat several times. Great adrenaline rush.

After our free time, the sun was staring to set. We made a traditional Thai offering to the god of the water out of banana leaves and various flowers. Ours was very pretty.

We then had dinner on the boat. The food was easily the best I've had in the whole of Phuket, and to think that it was prepared in a tiny ship galley is a real testament to the cook's talents.

After dark, we were meant to go back to one of the hongs and explore it by starlight. Unfortunately, the tides were working against us, and the hongs were now completely emptied of water, due to the full moon. We had to settle for a sheltered cove on one of the islands to place our offerings. They floated away in the water, and when lit by candlelight, they were very pretty.

On the way back to the boat, Pung instructed us to run our hands through the water. When we did so, the surface shimmered with bioluminescent plankton. Very pretty. Apparently they're the aquatic equivalent of fireflies.

We then went back to the marina and chatted to an American couple we had befriended over the day. On the ride home to our hotel, I realised just how lucky I am to be able to experience something as awesome as what I got to see that day.

To anyone else who has the chance to, I'd recommend doing this tour. Make sure you book through John Gray's canoe tours though, as they're the original group to offer the tours. Hell, they *discovered* the hongs!


Today we went from Phuket to Koh Samui. We're staying in a lovely secluded resort up in the mountains overlooking the bay. We've mainly spent the day relaxing in our room.

They have an awesome channel on tv though - it's a 24 hour live link to a panda's enclosure in Chiang Mai zoo. There's a mother and baby panda, and I'm pretty sure they're the ones from the famous "sneezing panda" video on YouTube. The baby one is obviously a bit older, though. Nothing on tv beats watching a panda sleeping spreadeagle on its back for three hours. Nothing.

Well, this is the winding down time in my trip. We're mainly going to spend the next few days doing very little, mainly beaching and relaxing, so don't expect a daily blog post. If anything interesting does happen though, rest assured it'll be posted on here!

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Saturday, January 16, 2010

Elephants: Nature's 78th Wonder of the World.


So today we saw elephants. Lots of elephants. We got to ride on elephants. Fun was had by all. Especially the elephants.

We began the day by getting up and having some breakfast at the resort's restaurant. Much like all the other times that we have eaten there, the place was deserted. This was somewat disconcerting as the resort is quite full, and the breakfast is free. I guess that we just come at weird times for breakfast or something.

After breakfast, we went to the elephant camp to go for a ride on an elephant. It was a 45 minute trek through the jungle on one of Phuket's mountains. To say that the views were amazing would be an understatement. Combine that with the fact that we were on a FREAKING ELEPHANT, and it was a pretty awesome experience.

From Thailand Shenanigans

Our elephant's name was Oanwaan (Pronounced the same as "Ouendan", except swap the "d" for a "w"). She was born in 1967 and came from the Mae Hong Son region. She was awesome. Her Mahaout (rider) was also pretty cool. Although he spoke very little English, he did manage to get across his point, and he showed us things like rubber trees and other native vegetation.

After our trek, we went and saw a baby elephant show, which had three young elephants who had been trained to perform various tricks. It wasn't anything circus-grade, and most importantly, the animals were treated very well and no cruelty was involved. The elephants did various activities like soccer, painting and, my favourite, playing the harmonica. Hearing an elephant belt out a full chord on a harmonica is something everyone needs to experience at least once in their lifetime. Preferrably twice.

We also got to feed the elephants various fruits and vegetables for a small fee. The experience was interesting. It's as if the elephant's trunk has a mind of its own, and the nose itself is quite slimy. But still, it isn't every day you get to feed an elephant, so it was pretty cool. And how does it feel to touch an elephant? They feel like a really old leather couch in desperate need of a polish with very spiky hair. Interesting, to say the least.

From Thailand Shenanigans

From Thailand Shenanigans

We came back to the restaurant for some lunch. Once again, the place was completely empty. There was like eight staff watching us at all times. The good side to this is is that it doesn't take much to get their attention. The bad side is is that they're like seagulls wanting food - they're constantly milling around your table, eager to take your plate away the moment you've finished. I sware I heard squawking. Emma compared it to the "Harvey Norman" of restaurants. Both descriptions are equally as apt.

The rest of the day was spent lounging around the pool and drinking cocktails at the bar. Their "Happy Hour" runs for like half the day, so good times were had by all. Emma and I played about seven hundred games of dominoes, and I think she won by maybe two games.

For dinner, we went out to... some... restaurant... somewhere... In all honesty, after wading our way through the touts and whatnot, I was in a very bad mood. This was mainly due to the fact that there was no authentic Thai food to be found anywhere - only really bad european food. I ended up having a Margherita pizza, which was barely edible. Emma had a "vegetable" pizza, which was inedible. We paid the bill and left without tipping in any way.

On the way to and from the "restaurant", we counted how many touts tried to stop and talk to us. We counted thirty-four. This was a 300 meter walk. That means that there was one person every 10 metres trying to get us to buy something. The worst thing is is that we are staying at Kata Beach, one of the quieter beaches!

I really think that Phuket has been spoiled. The locals (if there *are* any locals) have become so accustomed to pleasing tourists that they have completely abandoned their way of life. Add to this all of the touts trying to sell you stuff (or themselves... every alley is filled with prostitutes), and even the prettiest of beaches becomes very undesirable.

So now Emma is having... some sort of... noodle... thing from 7/11. It's name is affectionately referred to by us as "squiggle-squiggle-line-squiggle" (because we're terribly white and can't read Thai). She can't taste anything anymore. Interestingly, the directions were titled "Direction", and then EVERYTHING ELSE ON THE PACKET was written in Thai. It's as if the noodles were spiting us for being white. As in, they were letting us know where the instructions *were*, but not what they *are*.

She also tried one called "Jok Cup", and the name is somewhat appropriate. It smells just about as bad, and it has turned into an almost solid blob of rice noodles and porridge. I think it is bound for the bin soon... or maybe the toilet...

From Thailand Shenanigans

If you'd like to see more photos of our trip so far, head on over to:

Everything up until this blog post is there.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Legend of Phi Phi Island: The Wind Waker


Yesterday we took a trip to Koh Phi Phi Island. The trip started with us being transported to the other side of the island to the most packed marina I've ever seen. We had to walk across the aft of about seven boats before reaching ours.

On board, we bumped in to Jennifer, a woman who we befriended during our cooking class in Bangkok. What are the odds?? Jennifer was well, but she was in a car accident in Bangkok, so she was feeling a bit worse for wear.

About an hour out into the bay, I started to be reminded of a videogame called "The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker". It is clear that this area of the world is where the visual designers got their inspirations from. Every direction you look, you could see a small island on the horizon, sticking defiantly out of the ocean.

Combine this with the deep blue water and the brilliant greens of the vegetation on the islands, and I was just a set of green pyjamas and a talking boat away from actually being in the game. I'll have to give it a play-through for sure when I get back.

We did some snorkelling off of one of the islands. The fish were very beautiful, and the water was lovely and warm. We bought some bread to give to the fish, and it is seriously powerful. They will eat it right out of your hand, and the fish will swarm in the hundreds towards you. Honestly though, there is better snorkelling in Australia, but the stark landscape is the real spectacle.

After snorkelling we headed into a beach called "Monkey Beach". It lived up to its name. There were monkeys in spades. And we got to feed them bananas. Fun was had by all, especially one monkey who saw fit to vomit up his banana feast, an then re-eat it, sharing it with the other monkeys. Gotta love us primates!

Phi Phi Island itself was pretty average - packed full of contiki-aged tourists all getting drunk off their faces. The beach would've been quite nice, if it weren't for the blaring techno music being played.

Overall, our tour to Phi Phi Island and its surrounds was good and bad. The ocean and the small islands dotted around the bay were amazing. Unfortunately, the island was less so.

That night we had generic western food for dinner. It was pretty unimpressive, but serves us right for not trying some of the awesome Thai food available.

Next up: Elephants! Jungle! Ninjas!* (*possibly)

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Phuket: The Land of Touts


So today we left the wonderful Rati Lanna resort in Chiang Mai for Phuket. Upon checkout of the hotel, both Emma and I noticed that one of the very respectfully dressed receptionists was named "Poo". We managed to stifle our laughter and retain the proper mature and formal tone that is appropriate in such a hotel.

The flight down was fairly uneventful, except for our seats being changed from what I had reserved online. I wasn't too pleased about this as we went from a great window seat to a crappy middle section seat. I told a flight attendant about this and eventually he got us moved back to a window seat, which made me feel significantly better.

The flight went fairly quickly, and after landing and making it out of airside, two things became immediately apparent: firstly, it is stinking hot in Phuket. Secondly, everyone is trying to sell you something. Even worse than Bangkok.

After our longcat-long drive from the airport to the hotel, we had a look around the Kata Beach district. Much like the airport, every second person is trying to shake your hand and get you to buy something from their tailor or massage parlour. Emma and I theorized that if one was to stop and talk to every single person along the short 500 meter walk to the beach that it would take roughly over nine-thousand years to get from our hotel to the beach, let alone buy what they are selling. Wow, two internet memes in one paragraph.

Kata beach itself is quite pretty, and we were actually able to wade through the knee-high swamp of touts quick enough to see the sun set over the water. That's another thing that I've seen on this holiday that I've never seen before. Now if it only snowed in Phuket...

The water was very pleasant at the beach, both Emma and I agreed that it was almost "creamy" in texture - probably a combination of the water temperature and the softness of the sand.

The rest of the day was pretty uneventful... Just watching tv back at the room. We have discovered though that tv is universally weird across Thailand. Especially their soap operas. Imagine Neighbours but with no quality control of any sort. That is one of the better ones. And most of their news reporters look about as interested in their jobs as the people who write the phone books are. Oh, and I just sat through a movie called "Spy Kids 2". If you were to look up "waste of time" in the dictionary, you'd find a picture of "Spy Kids 2". Yes, it is a kid's movie, but with films from the likes of Pixar around, it really is a waste of time. Enough ranting. Time for bed methinks.

Tomorrow: Phi Phi (pronounced "pee pee") Island! Hopefully as funny as it's name!

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Mae Hong Son and the Mae Sakut Jungle Trail, Return to Chiang Mai

12/01/10 - 13/01/10

So we started our next leg of the trip by taking a short 30 minute flight northwest of Chiang Mai to Mae Hong Son. Our aircraft was an ATR72 - a propellor plane. It was strange to go from Thai Airways' largest aircraft (Boeing 747) to this tiny little dinghy of a plane.

Thankfully the flight was short, as the plane was very loud and the flight attendant didn't seem very likeable. I don't reay blame him, though. Being
stuck in a tiny backwater route like Chiang Mai to Mae Hong Son must be quite an unpleasant day job.

Arriving in Mae Hong Son, we were shuttled to our accommodation at the "Fern Resort". To anyone reading this blog: if you ever end up in this neck of the woods, STAY HERE! The resort is divine, with several creeks running over the property, and those little "bamboo water features" that fill and empty themselves every 20 seconds are everywhere. There are also lots and lots of rice paddies around and the sound of running water is constant. It really does give the property a serene feel.

My favourite feature of the resort is that it is run by staff from the local villages. This means that the service isn't of the same quality as that of a high-end hotel, but at the same time, you're contributing to giving these local people full time jobs in a very quiet and jobless area of the country.

Emma and I found the food particularly enjoyable as well. While it was a bit pricier than that of a regular restaurant, the quality and authenticiy was excellent.

As you can probably tell from my ramblings about the resort, we didn't spend much time away from it. On Wednesday though, we did go for a trek along the Mae Sakut Jungle trail. The scenery was fantastic, and a bubbling creek flowed close to the trail. One thing that Emma and I were thankful for though was our industrial strength mosquito repellant. *We* chased the mosquitoes away, not the other way around!

We had a rest by a small waterfall and contemplated going for a swim. We decided not to though, as it would not be good for the environment what with aforementioned uber repellant.

I did wash my face in the water though, and it was blissfuly cool. Emma and I hung out at the waterfall for around half an hour and then headed back along the jungle trail to the resort.

Another delicious lunch was had, and then before we knew it, we were on a plane back to Chiang Mai again. It was the exact same ATR72 as the previous day, with the same registration, same pilot and the same flight attendant.

The flight attendant didn't seem to be as grumpy on this flight though, possibly because there was a second flight attendant on board, so the load of handing out tiny little cakes and cups of water was far less strenuous on him. Either that or he was just lonely on the first flight. Who knows?

After de-boarding the aircraft (and seeing today's non-broken and on-time Thai Airways 747 service from Bangkok) we were whisked away to an overnight stay at Rati Lanna Riverside Resort.

So it turns out that this is a 5-Star hotel, and boy does it show! Everything is very expensive, but the room is easily the nicest we've had so far. I couldn't remember how much we had paid for the room, as I paid for it months ago on Turns out that it is only $117 a night! I really wish that Australia had cheap and awesome hotels...

Tomorrow, we fly out for Phuket! Beach time! It'll be the first sunset-over-the-water I've seen in my life!

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Monday, January 11, 2010

Temples, Monks, Googling and Slushies


Today was another sedate day. We spent the morning lazing around our homestay, talking to our hosts Peter and Pai.

Around midday we headed back into Chiang Mai to go on a city and temples tour. We saw several of Chaing Mai's most well known temples, including one that was a replica of the temple in which Buddha gained enlightenment. At that temple, there was also a tree planted from the seeds from the tree which Buddha sat under during aforementioned enlightenment. Kinda cool, especially when this "offspring" tree was over 600 years old.

We also learned some more about the ways of Thai Monks. Originally, being a Monk was a very strict affair - they were allowed no possesions, no fraternizing with technology of any form, and only allowed to eat one meal a day in the morning and drink in the afternoon.

When we were at one of the temples, we saw a Monk drinking a 7/11 Slushie, and another one who was googling away on his laptop. Gotta love how the times have changed...

On the tour, we also had a look around a proper food market in Chiang Mai. It was interesting to see all the different meats and vegetables that were around, including eggplants that actually looked like eggs! Emma was excited.

Oh, and here's a link to some of our photos so far:

Next up: Mae Hong Son! The Karana Downs of Thailand!

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Sunday, January 10, 2010

Chiang Mai and the Sunday Walking Markets


So it turns out that I was exhausted from yesterday's epic travels and as such spent most of today asleep. I did get up for some breakfast and a look around where we were staying. The Secret Garden is just as charming by daylight as it is by twilight.

In the afternoon, we headed in to explore Chiang Mai. We spent some of our time with a retired British couple, who showed us to a nice, foreigner friendly restaurant where we had some delicious thai food. Our meals only cost 50-80 Baht each, which is actually on the expensive side for Chiang Mai, apparently. Still, I wasn't complaining...

One thing that I have noticed about Chiang Mai is their main method of public transportation. It is essentially a ute, except the tray has a shelter over it with sideways-facing benches. The passengers sit on these benches, and you hurtle along at speeds of up to 140km/h. Not the safest method of transport, but it is quite effective.

Late in the day we went to Chiang Mai's famous Sunday Walking Markets. This was an experience. The market at first didn't seem all that big- about the size of the southbank markets. After browsing around that area, we realized that that was only the ENTRANCE to the rest of the markets. The whole of the market stretched for about three kilometers long, and at some points it was up to three streets wide.

The markets stocked goods of all shapes and sizes, from random sticks of mystery meat (affectionately referred to in my friend circle as "stickmeat") to assorted skirts and fishermen's pants. There were also whole barbecued squids on skewers. I wasn't game enough to try one.

For dessert, I had a banana wrapped in a pancake smothered in chocolate sauce. It was tasty, but very western. Emma had something a bit more adventurous and definitely more hazardous to her health. It was called a "roti", which is essentially a fried pancake rolled in palm sugar, condensed milk and chocolate sauce... Then DEEP FRIED (yes, it was fried twice). They were only 10 Baht each, but I'm guessing that the hospital bills for consuming more than one of these would be far, far greater.

After that, we headed home. I spent some time speaking to another British gentleman who used to work as one of the top electrical engineers for Disney. His musings over the entertainment industry were very insightful and I very much enjoyed talking to him.

So far, I am enjoying Chiang Mai much more than Bangkok. The pace of the city is far less hectic, there doesn't seem to be nearly as many people out to steal your money, and, above all, the weather is much more enjoyable. So far the temperatures have averaged around 25 degrees with nary a bit of humidity to be felt - comparable to a pleasant autumn day in Brisbane.

And now I'm going to bed. Tomorrow we get to visit all of the temples around Chiang Mai. Photos will come soon, I promise!

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Saturday, January 9, 2010

Ayutthaya and Chiang Mai: From The Lowest of Slummery to The Heights of Luxury


Wow. What a day.

We started in Ayutthaya, waking up to the sound of running water at our delightful homestay. We had some breakfast with our lovely hosts and fed some fish in the pond next to our table. We then (after a long and heated "negotiation" with a Tuk Tuk driver) went to a local ruins site called Wat Mahathat. It was amazing to walk within the ruins and imagine what took place here so long ago.

My favourite part of the temple was the Buddha head statue that has become half covered by the encroaching roots of a strangler fig. Once again, pictures will follow soon.

We then went for a browse around the local markets. Whilst there were some interesting sights (including baby bunnies... Not sure if they were for pets or for food), Emma and I both agreed that they smelt awful, so we decided to take refuge in a local American ice cream parlour (???)

Whilst downing an ice cream sundae which was almost the size of my face, Emma and I both agreed on one thing: Ayutthaya seems very much like a miniature Bangkok - unsurprising since it used to be the nation's capital many years ago. That isn't to say it is bad or anything - it is quite nice. Just don't go there thinking you're going to find a sleepy little town- there's still the same rampant capitalism-meets-rampant poverty.

Speaking of rampant poverty, we took another Tuk Tuk ride to the train station and bought our train tickets back to Bangkok. They cost 20 Baht each. Our tickets *to* Ayutthaya cost 345 Baht each. We were about to learn the hard way what the class system was on Thailand's state railway.

Imagine the worst Queensland Rail train you've ever been on. Now, replace the whine of the electric motor with the roar of an old diesel engine. Take away the carpeting, cushioned seats, air conditioning and even the glass windows. Then pack it full of people with about three groups of rush hour loads. Throw in a jumbo-sized suitcase blocking the aisle and seemingly every single other person on the train giving you the stink-eye because you're white. And then stand up for the two hour journey trying to stop people from going through your aforementioned gigantic suitcase.

This is a third class train ride from Ayutthaya to Bangkok. It was actually quite fun from a noveltey perspective, but I was happy to get off.

A word of advice for those travelers using Bangkok's Hulamphong train station - do not make eye contact with the men in the blue shirts that look like they're wearing an almost official "uniform" of some sort. They are con artists and will rip you off badly. They offered us 1500 Baht ($50AUD) from the train station to the Airport. We declined. We then used a normal metered taxi to the airport. It cost us less than 300 Baht.

At the Airport, we checked in and spent some time in the Thai Airways Royal Silk Lounge. I wish I could afford business class tickets every time I fly. The lounge had free food and free drink, and was right next to our gate.

Our plane taking us to Chiang Mai was a Boeing 747-400. We boarded about 10 minutes late, and we had plenty of time before pushback to test out Thai Airways' new business class product. A little too long, in fact... We spent close to half an hour fiddling with the reclining and massaging seats before a P.A. announcement was made that the aircraft had some issues with it's hydraulics systems and as such we'd have to change to another Boeing 747. Now normally I'd be pretty upset by the aircraft change, but hydraulics are responsible for pretty much every form of control over the aircraft, so I thought I'd let that one slide.

Two hours later, we were on another 747. In the old-style business class seats. No personal in flight entertainment here, no fancy lie-flat massage chairs, just chairs with heaps of leg room and a nice recline. It could've been worse, but it was annoying to have the best that Thai Airways has to offer dangled in front of our faces and then yanked away at the last second for a "home brand" replacement.

After a very awesome and powerful takeoff, the flight itself was over quite quickly. Soon we were at our next point of call - Chiang Mai. We are staying with a lovely family at their amazing homestay called "The Secret Garden". Upon arrival we were fed delicious home cooking and were made to feel very welcome. Peter, the man who runs the homestay, and Isabel, his daughter, both speak perfect English. It is very nice to be able to have a proper conversation with people who have local knowledge.

And with that, I'm exhausted. It has been the most epic day yet. I have a good feeling about this place though. For the first time since leaving Singapore I feel like I can let my guard down a bit. Here's hoping my feeling is right...

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Friday, January 8, 2010

Bangkok Shenanigans

06/01/10 - 08/01/10

So, long time, no post. I'm still trying to get some photo uploading action happening, but as of yet, I have failed.

Anyways, so what have we done over the past few days? We went to the Grand Palace, on a day that felt very VERY close to a constant sauna. The palace itself was very pretty, I felt that the architects had the pre-requisite to make everything as shiny as physically possible. They succeeded quite well, too. I've never seen so many gold-covered things in my life. Our guide was also incredibly knowledgeable about everything from the origins of the bhuddist religion, to the date of every single significant event that has happened in not only Bangkok, but Thailand as a whole.

We went for another browse around MBK on Wednesday, as well. I find it interesting how each level has a sort of "theme" to it, i.e. One level is ONLY electronics (and alot of stalls at that) whereas another is furniture, and another is cheap clothes and knockoff goods-stalls, etc. We also had some excellent Thai cuisine... If by that you mean Burger King. And, like everything else in Thailand, it cost about a third of what it would cost in Australia.

On Thursday we did a traditional Thai cuisine cooking class (fo real this time, not Burger King). It was excellent. Delicious food and very informative instructors. Definitely a highlight of the trip so far. The traffic afterwards, however, was not. Sitting at one set of lights without moving at all for 30 minutes was not cool. Oh, and when the lights did go green, they were green for all of 20 seconds. Needless to say, it took us ages to get home.

We had awesome ice cream at MBK that night, and it was, much like everything else in Thailand, cheap as chips. Emma also went stationery beserk in one of the department stores. So many different types of pens, paper and other useful doodads.

I got my finished suits last night at 3am, delivered to my room. They fit perfectly, and they are of a very high quality. Emma's dress, however, is not. Clearly they are great at making something simple like a suit, but when it comes to a custom dress, they struggle a bit.

Today we left Bangkok for a place about an hour north called Ayutthaya. The train ride was... Interesting. Not having any of the station names announced made for a very stressful affair. Ayutthaya however, is quite nice though. We're staying at a very peaceful hideaway just outside the town, koi carp ponds and all. A nice change from the thousand-mile a minute pace of Bangkok.

Overall, would I recommend Bangkok? Yes, but not as your only destination in Thailand. The sights and sounds are interesting, but there is a constant feeling that everyone is trying to rip you off. Also, the contrast between walking out of your luxury hotel to see homeless people sleeping on the other side of the street is very confronting and depressing.

Another thing that I have noticed about travel in general is that two things are not conveyed through travel brochures or tv shows: The heat and the smells. Bangkok is always hot, and is also very smelly. The smell of raw sewage and rotting food is highly unpleasant and not something that is ever mentioned.

Tomorrow we spend half a day in Ayutthaya before we take a train back to Bangkok and then a flight to Chiang Mai. It'll be my first time in a Boeing 747 (jumbo jet), and in business class, too. Should be good!

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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Lions, Tigers and Bears, oh my! (minus lions and bears)


Today saw us visit the Death Railway Museum, Tiger Temple and the Bridge over river Kwai.

The Death Railway Museum was just as cheery as its name implies. Lots of information about the prisoners of war forced by the Japanese to build the Thailand-Burma railway during World War 2. A very somber affair, and after a tour of the museum, you walk out to one of the mass cemeteries of those who died during its construction. I was hit by an overwhelming wave of sadness after this series of events. I suppose that this shows that I am in fact human, which is a good thing, I suppose.

Next we went to the tiger temple. There were lots of tigers there, as the name implies. I had my photo taken patting tigers, with baby tigers, and even with a tiger in my lap! When I next get to a proper computer, I shall upload some awesome photos, some of which will probably contain a high tiger content.

We returned to Kachanaburi and visited the bridge over river Kwai (actually Kwae). Emma and I walked across the bridge, took some photos, and gave a few Baht to possibly the worst violin busker I've ever heard, although he did play the famous "whistling tune" from the movie of the same name as the bridge. Once again, photos will come soon.

One thing that was made glaringly obvious to me today was how bad the traffic can be in Bangkok during peak hours. We experienced both the morning and evening rush hours, and the traffic was the worst I've ever seen before. The SkyTrain is definitely the easiest way to get around the metropolis.

We had dinner at the hotel - I'm still not all that game to try street meat yet. It was fairly nice, but once again I felt very white with my food choices (red curry and satay sticks). I'm sure that I'll find something sufficiently non-white soon, though.

Apparently the Thai import alot of Japanese tv shows/ads. Either that or they're just as freaking weird as eachother. We just watched a show where there was a competition between *several* contestants to see who can extinguish candles by squirting fluid FROM THEIR EYE SOCKETS. I dont think things can get much weirder. Oh wait, now there's a guy who can strip and open a coconut with his teeth. Bedtime methinks.

Tomorrow, the Grand Palace and getting my suit!

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Monday, January 4, 2010

Planes, Trains, Generic Names and... Doughnuts?


Vomiting. Not the best way to start the holiday, bit that's how Emma did. In her defence, it really wasn't her fault- the Singapore Airlines A330-300 is a great aircraft with excellent economy seats, but it certainly let us know when there was turbulence around. So much so that Emma had the wonderful privelige of having an up close inspection of their toilet bowls multiple times. I was lucky enough to avoid this myself, so instead I just sat back and tried to get some rest. I failed epically due to aforementioned turbulence.

After a short stopover in an eerily "28 Days Later"-esque deserted Singapore airport (where I *finally* got to see an airbus A380), we were on our way to Bangkok. The Boeing 777-200 dealt with turbulence much better, due to the plane being a larger aircraft. This meant that we could both get some rest. The breakfast was quite nice, too. Best omelette I've had in a while. Due to Emma's choice of vegetarian meals, she received the exact same meal for all three meals, with the exception of the breakfast coming with some weird bread that looked and tasted like the twisted lovechild of a naan bread, pancake and a bagel. Very strange.

Upon arrival to Bangkok, we got through immigration very quickly, and we were off to our hotel. The billboards in this country are leviathan in size - and that isn't an understatent . There was one billboard that you could not fit within your field of vision it was that big.

The next thing that I noticed about Bangkok (and what many others have noticed) is just how freaking busy the place is. The traffic is constant. Always.

Upon arriving at our hotel, they greeted me with "welcome back Khun Williams". This confused me. Turns out that they thought that I was another David Williams and as such had prepared a special room for their valued regular customer. When they worked out that I wasn't their regular customer, they still gave us the room upgrade anyways. No complaints here.

After a much needed nap, we went for a look around MBK- a very large shopping centre. They had doughnuts for very cheap. I got 6 doughnuts for less than $2. It. Was. Awesome.

Then we went for a trip to a tailor to have a suit made for me. It was an expensive exercise, but I'm getting two very high-quality suits made for about half the price of one in Australia. The staff were very helpful as well, offering advice on everything from where to shop to what mobile phone provider to go with. Apparently he has made suits for Molly Meldrum as well. Cool?

We dined at a place called "fifth" in MBK. It was pretty much "Asian food for white tourists". That's not to say it was bad or anything, it was very fragrant and tasty, and we decided to eat there as we thought it was a safe bet to not get food poisoning on day 1.

And now we're watching scooby doo in Thai. Daphne has a man's voice. Oh, and now emma has found the Thai equivalent of "antiques roadshow". Time for me to intervene.

Next up, tiger temple!

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Saturday, January 2, 2010

T-Minus 30 Hours...

Howdy, and welcome to the blog where I shall be posting the details of all of my travelling shenanigans that I take place in from now on. Here's hoping I do some interesting things, but I'm not going to guarantee anything!

First up, is my trip to Thailand. This will be my first trip overseas, so hopefully it'll be a good one. I'll try to update this when I can, but don't expect a minimum/maximum standard of my posts. Some may be twitter-esque bite-sized pieces of information, whereas others may be long-winded posts including photos and videos and other awesome things.

So, without further ado, I shall start this blog.

Doyvid's Epic Thailand Trip

Day -1 (that's day negative-one) T-Minus 30 Hours

So I still haven't packed. Just finished my second last shift at work before I leave, and the realisation that tomorrow will be the first day that I actually *leave* Australia - the country where I have lived for my whole life - hasn't yet dawned on me. I'm sure it will sooner or later, but if it doesn't, I'm not too phased. I'll walk it off.

I can't really say that I'm all that excited, because I'm not, but I am getting those moments of "oh wow, tomorrow is the day!", which is a good sign, but no moments of joy or anything awesome like that.

Should probably start to pack soon... I am a very last-minute person, but I don't want to push my luck too much...

Just one more shift at work, and then I head (more or less) straight to the airport. One more shift of customer-"do you have fly-buys?"-service bullshit. One more shift. Then I get to go and experience a fantastic new country. Heck, it'll be a fantastic new world!

Next post will hopefully be from either Changi Airport or Bangkok!

Okay, now I'm a little bit excited.