Bangkok – we have lift off
And so it begins..I left for the airport at the ungoldly hour of 3:30 in the morning with an odd mixture of trepidation, elation and nausea. A couple of Advil remedied the latter. I’ve never travelled alone before, at least not internationally, so the logistics of getting through the necessary check-points with the right forms filled out and without looking like a maniacal terrorist (perhaps a challenge for anyone at 4am) were a little daunting.
I was randomly selected for a search–lucky me–nothing like getting thoroughly patted down and having one’s hair examined first thing in the morning. They determined I wasn’t a threat to national security, a shocking notion I realize. Many cattle-like herdings later and I was off for over 18 hours of cramped claustrophobia at 37,000 feet fun. Hell ya I was stoked–and I’m not even being facetious. I was off to San Francisco. The layover was mercifully brief; however, I did manage to get a whiff of America’s security paranoia. Walking through the airport, a voice from Homeland Security droned on about level orange and how we need to be vigilant or something. Ah. yes.
After a lengthy hop of 9 and half hours to Tokyo, I was unfortunately treated to a much lengthier wait, compounded by delays in my connecting flight. It was so agonizing to be forced to wait at the final stop before one’s final destination..a six hour wait, ironically about how long it takes to actually get to my final destination. You start to realize how travelling with someone can have many advantages. After what seemed like days, we finally got in the air (and after I was subject to yet another random search..do I seriously look that threatening?) I arrived in Bangkok after midnight, two days after I left. It’s amazing how that time shift thing works..I’ve lost days of my life! Anyway, I will continute my ramble tomorrow, when I have more to ramble about. cheers.
Bangkok – I’ve lost time!
Not surprisingly, it’s muggy. and hot. The average seems to be around 33C. Bangkok is endless..I could come here every year and not see the same part of town twice. My mother and I did the shopping thing..buy the skirt for 8 dollars, the 4 t-shirts for 13 dollars. It’s funny, my mom always tried to bargain, and successfully quite often. It makes sense logically to bargain, but things are so cheap here, I feel kinda bad sometimes for trying to drop the price even more. It’s funny, I always feel like I’m on display here..I suppose it’s somewhat odd seeing some white chick wandering by, particularly in areas of town not necessarily frequented by tourists. My mother has been taking me around to do the meet-and-greets. I’ve met some prominent dance teachers..even got some lesson time with a couple of them. We attended a funeral for a major dancer and teacher where we met the who’s who in major thai dancers, including my old teacher. We went to visit my grandmother who I haven’t seen in 7 years. She’s 92 years old, but she’s still goin. She gave me a little seed money (yay) for my trip..gotta love grandparents. =)
Went to see a Thai dance performance at Silapakorn University (the best arts university in Thailand)..some pretty amazing costumes and dances. Managed to get a mild bout of food poisoning, possibly from the ice in my lemonade. That wasn’t so cool. I seem to be recovering, but I’m treading carefully. Hopefully, I’ve gotten the “contract something weird and feel like crap” portion of the trip out of the way. <crosses fingers> Woke up this morning to discover that we’d lost a day..my mom thought that she was leaving on monday the 11th, but sunday is actually the 11th..so she’s frantically packing and trying to get everything finished today. it also means I lose my safety buffer a day earlier..eek..hopefully I’ll muddle through.
Bangkok – now the insanity begins
Well, my mother leaves today, so I’m now officially on my own. A pleasant feeling of terror has begun to set in, but I’m hoping this will be tempered by my facial and various other spa activities I’m having today. I went to a weekend market with row upon row of little shops full of clothes, jewellery, and every kind of nick nack imaginable. Made out with a shirt and a couple necklaces..gotta show some financial restraint early on, mind you I might have only spent less than 10 bucks. It was an amazing sight to see the entire bustling market stop where they were and stand when they played the King’s anthem over the speakers. The sheer number of giant pictures and little shrines in Bangkok for the King is staggering..there is no doubt where the loyalty lies.
I’m staying with my mother’s friend for the few days before I leave for Phuket in southern Thailand…looking forward to getting in some beach action at last. My mother’s friend (Meow) owns a private kindergarten school and has a residence on campus. We went to dinner at a very hip outdoor restaurant, had a chic minimalism..kind of funny in Thailand. They also had a live band who preceded to perform largely English jazz and other pop tunes. I’ve travelled thousands of miles and I still can’t escape English pop. ah well.
Had about six hours of dance class with a dance teacher that travelled with the royal Thai dance troupe back in Expo days. She apparently came (along with the rest of the troupe) to my mother’s house when I was 9 months old. She said she wanted to teach me Thai dance when I grew up..only when my mother and I went to Thailand for the first time, my mom got the names mixed up and I ended up being taught by another teacher. Mind you, not a tragedy since she turned out to be the Thailand’s star dance performer. At any rate, after 21 years, I got my dance lesson with this particular teacher. Anyway, shutting up now..I’ll hail from Phuket next.
Phuket – bring on the beach
After a nice visit with one of my old dance teachers (just the nicest little man!), I was off on a plane to southern Thailand, namely Phuket. I was starting to get a little freaked..when I told people I was traveling down south alone, they all looked at me like I was a crazy person..and said I was very brave. umm..always encouraging. In any case, I arrived in Phuket this evening, checked into my guesthouse ..a mercifully clean room that is just a stone’s throw from a bustling touristy area of town with lots of restaurants and shops. Normally, I wouldn’t be a huge fan of such obvious touristiness, but having that many people around is kind of a comfort when on my own. Had dinner at a nice restaurant..although it’s at times like those that I really wish I was travelling with people, sitting alone in a restaurant is nice but a little lacking in conversation apart from the few spurts of Thai I dole out to waiters. In any case, a brief entry as it has been a day of mostly travel, I should have more interesting things to report..tomorrow I’m off on a sunset kayaking tour of various islands. cheers.
Phuket – pockets of paradise
I wandered around the area near my guesthouse at about 7:30am this morning..had a look at the beach..suitably beach-like with its white sand and all that. Had a few too many longtail boats parked at it for my liking, but I’m not really looking to put in a lot of beach time here. Had a nice breakfast at the place I’m staying for about 2 bucks. SeaCanoe’s minibus picked me up just before noon and whisked me off to the pier. There me and about 12 other people (an assortment of couples from Austria, Switzerland, South Africa and Scotland) were loaded onto the boat.. we headed out towards a collection of about 160 little islands, some of which contain sea cave access to lagoons in the middle of the islands. They fed us a tasty light lunch and then we were out being paddled in sea kayaks by our guides. Since I was travelling sans a significant other, I got a kayak to myself. I found out that my guide happened to be my age..and was apparently quite surprised by the notion of my not having a boyfriend..at which point he asked if I enjoyed “disco-thek”. ha. I said it wasn’t really my thing, which of course is a flat-out lie for anyone who knows me. Just not sure if I’m thaaaat comfortable wandering off with someone I don’t know. <shrug> so sue me for being unadventurous.
In any case, the area was gorgeous naturally..lots of crazy cliffs and caves to take pictures of..we stopped at about 4 or 5 different “hong” (room) islands. We then had about an hour to do our own thing, so I took out a kayak and wandered around for a little bit. We were then treated to a good buffet dinner and waited for sunset. The crew was super friendly..I ended up chatting with the Thais for the most part..they were apparently impressed by my Thai and so my back story was subsequently told. At least I’m practicing my Thai. All in all, an enjoyable day. anyhoo..kinda bagged and an early day tomorrow..I’m off to white-water raft and elephant trek. ha. craziness. cheers.
Phuket – boats and Babar
Today began bright and early with a pick-up from my guesthouse at 7:30am.. from there it was a lengthy bus ride (air-conditioned mercifully) to the Phuket Sealand camp which is located actually on the mainland. ah..how much do I love my iPod..what a fabulously simple way to kill time..anyway, first up was white water rafting, which was explained fairly succinctly..something to the effect of paddle and if you fall out, you probably won’t die. The river level was only a category 2 or 3, so relatively low risk. With 3 other fellas in my boat, plus two Thai guides, we headed off. I actually really enjoyed it..I think I may try and find some white water rafting for when I go up to Chiang Mai. There were a couple other tour groups on the river which made for an almost bumper-car-like situation. We got thoroughly soaked from both river and other rafters paddling water at us. We managed to pull out a stray woman from the rapids who had fallen out of her boat and pulled into our boat without sending our own boat awry. good times. Unfortunately, although not unsurprisingly, no pictures of the event (the camp did have people taking photos, but for some reason, there was a mix-up and only two photos of our raft boat were printed and bought). ah well. good times.
We were then driven up to a nice little freshwater waterfall and pool, where we frolicked around in the water and took pictures for a little bit. I met and was sociable with (yes, shocking I realize) a couple of American chicks in my group. Even exchanged emails to send pictures..and, apparently, if I’m ever in northern California, I have a place to stay. score. After a tasty lunch, it was elephant time. oh the cuteness..taking a somewhat larger form than the endearment would normally assume. Since I’m travelling alone, I got an elephant to myself..a fairly bumpy ride and somewhat precarious ride when riding in the little chair thing they put on the back. They did let us ride “bareback” so to say for a bit, which was actually infinitely more comfortable. It also enabled the guides to take pictures of us in all our elephant-riding glory. We then fed bananas to the elephants, who were quick to snatch them up if you weren’t careful. Then we piled into our bus and headed back to Phuket.
I wandered down along the main drag at Karon beach which is lined with shops (complete with very forward sales people) and bars and restaurants. Found myself a little restaurant and had a nice meal. It’s amazing how much a little Thai will get you, particularly in such a tourist-laden part of Thailand. They assume you’re actually Thai, and I explain that I’m “luk kreung” (lit. kid half). Mind you, that can have good and somewhat problematic results..as they start talking to you in Thai, usually quite quickly, and I’m left to stare at them somewhat blankly as I attempt to process something. ah well. It’s my last day in Phuket..I’m off to Ko Phi Phi tomorrow afternoon. cheers.
Ko Phi Phi – well I’m here
You ever have one of those days where you’re sure things aren’t coalescing the way they should be..it started off well enough. Had an early breakfast and headed off to Karon beach. Just gorgeous soft white sand..and the water was perfect..caught some rays, before heading back to pack up my stuff. The minibus picked me up to take me to the ferry and that’s when the little weird things started to pile up on my nerves. Like the pair of (what I assume to be Eastern European given the language they were speaking) travellers that talked non-stop the entire way to the pier, about an hour or more..loudly..the ferry ride was hot but bearable.
Then the fun begins.. I get to Ko Phi Phi with my big pack and small duffel and purse and start wandering around attempting to find my guesthouse. I was told something to the effect of “walk across the isthmus and start walking down Viewpoint Road, you’ll pass it eventually”. I thought that Viewpoint Road was actually a road..there don’t appear to be any roads..where I was trudging was sand, which made carrying my increasingly heavy packs all the more difficult. I was getting rather frustrated and very hot trying to find the place, and to cap it all off..when I finally do find it..they don’t have the room that I thought I had reserved. Apparently, when I called, he misheard me and thought I said I wasn’t coming..sigh..so I’ve been put up in the garden tent for 300 baht and am guaranteed a room tomorrow morning. The guy was very apologetic and did attempt to find me rooms elsewhere, but I was just so tired that I figured a tent for one night will be fine. He also knocked about 600 baht off the original price of the room, so I’ll now be paying 750 baht instead of 1200. score. I’m thinking with the money I’ve saved from this extravaganza I’m going to treat myself to a nice dinner at some point.
I had dinner at one of the many many little restaurants..the average age here is significantly lower than where I was staying at Phuket..which seemed to attract more retirement-age crowd. I’ll probably venture out this evening to see the night life, mostly because everything is so close together that it seems quite safe. Although it’s weird, the main “tourist town” area has a ton of construction, which kind of spoils the idyllic island ambiance, so to say..ah well, can’t have everything. Anyway, I’m probably gonna just bum around the island tomorrow and see about booking a boat tour for the following day. cheers for now.
Ko Phi Phi – beach bum
Not a terribly action-packed day, but it’s good to relax a bit sometimes..spent the morning bumming around the beach, listening to music. I booked myself a sunset snorkeling boat tour around the neighbouring islands for tomorrow. Bought myself a dress and then preceded to wander around the island for a few hours. Hiked up to a decent viewpoint to take a few shots. It was kind of ironic..sitting on a beach with nothing but a vast expanse of blue overhead and listening to the strains of Gene Kelly’s “Singing in the Rain” blaring behind me..it also occurred to me that I still have a month in Asia. My mind sort of reeled at the notion since it feels like I’ve been away for a long time, but it’s only been a couple weeks. I’m not homesick so much as I miss having people to hang out with. I know I should be out wandering up to random people, but anyone who knows me will know that that is not my strong suit. A fairly low-key day overall..the sun was pretty intense, so I retreated to my bungalow for a few hours. After dinner, I’m planning on watching a fire dance show at one of the local beach pubs. I finally posted some pics (these are only ones from phi phi as I realized I’d been shooting just raw files as oppose to raw plus a small jpg), so from now on I should be able to post some pics. cheers for now.
Ko Phi Phi – so this is paradise
Today was a fun day. Not to say that the previous couple weeks haven’t been enjoyable, but today was particularly good. I went on a snorkeling sunset boat tour, hitting 3 islands: Phi Phi Don (where I’m staying), Phi Phi Leh and Bamboo Island. It was organized through the place I’m staying, Garden Home, which was convenient. Struck up a conversation with an Englishman (David) from London while at Monkey Beach and were tour buddies from then on. Went snorkeling for the first time–that was a little startling at first, trying to not ingest salt water and figure out how to breathe–but it was ultimately very very cool. There were so many amazing fish, just a myriad of colours..the salt water fish I always ogle in the pet store were swimming around me. At one point, I was literally swimming through a school of fish. From there, we stopped for a picnic lunch on Bamboo Island, which has got to be the most amazing island ever. The stereotypical paradise island that most people have in their mind’s eye..it was it. Gorgeous white sand and crazy aquamarine water. David and I walked halfway around the island, taking turns taking pics of each other. We were nearly late to get back to our boat, running to catch it before it left..ha..From there, it was to a shark water area for more snorkeling (a trifle nerve-wracking with that setup, but apparently sharks are only around in the early morning)..and then it was on to Phi Phi Leh and the famed Maya Bay. They filmed “The Beach” there with Leonardo Dicaprio, which essentially made it a tourist hotspot..but actually it wasn’t that impressive likely because the tide was out. From there, it was off to watch the sunset and head back. David, an American from Minneapolis (Mark) and I chatted quite a bit, and we ended up having dinner when we got back back, along with David’s friend John. After, we all headed back to see Mark’s swanky place and sat around the pool chatting until almost 2am. My forearms and ands got a little toasted whilst on Bamboo Island, so it was a little painful..kept slathering on aloe vera lotion all evening trying to cool them down. All in all, a very cool day. The pics are up from the tour. cheers.
Ao Nang – well, panic in paradise
Checked out of Garden Home.. David and John (also staying there, actually in the bungalow next door) were nice enough to let me leave my bags in their room until my ferry in the afternoon. We had breakfast at the Garden Home restaurant..ah, bagel and cream cheese, an old favourite..before we hiked up a very long steep set of stairs to the viewpoint, which admittedly was worth the sweat. There was a nice little covered area with chairs overlooking the view, where we met and chatted with another Englishman (Luke) and a guy from Vancouver Island (Evan). It’s funny how after hanging around with people with such varying accents how much more I hear what a Canadian accent sounds like when I hear it. After exchanging contact info with David (awesome that I’ll know people in London now when I go), I headed off for Ao Nang.
The ferry ride was uneventful until we had to get off — this was when my day started to go down hill–as we arrived at very low tide, the ferry was met by longtail boats to take us to shore. We then had to lug our stuff probably over a kilometer to land because the tide was so far out. So wet and exhausted, the ferry service mercifully provided a free shuttle to where people were staying, so I was shuttled to where I was planning on staying. When I arrived, much to my dismay, despite having called a week before (I swore she took down my name and all that), they had no room for me. Full. Because this was a ferry later in the day, it didn’t bode well for me, as the likelihood of finding a free room at 7:30pm is generally next to nil. So I trekked up and down the main drag, a mild panic beginning to set in, as all the places I went up to were full. Finally, I gave up and grabbed internet, searching for numbers, calling any place I could find. I finally had luck with the Andamanee Boutique Resort..of course it was more than double what I was intending on paying for a room, but I was so relieved some place had a free room, I snatched it up. A frantic tuk tuk ride later (I was too exhausted to haggle down the fare, plus I was kind of in a hurry since they may have given the room to the next person), I finally checked in to one of the nicest hotel rooms I’ve been in. It’s not everyday my towels are folded into the shape of a lotus. I would’ve just stayed the one night and looked elsewhere for a cheaper place tomorrow, but I’m on a tour all day and don’t want the hassle of moving my crap for just one more night. So I’m (painfully) swallowing the somewhat exorbitant price and gonna try to enjoy a couple days of luxury. I took some pics of my room, which are also in the album now. cheers. exhaustion. sleep.
Ao Nang – mellow yellow (or perhaps a more toasted yellow)
Went to bed last night watching English movies on TV (not very good ones mind you), but it was nice for a change to have a little air-con and television. I was picked up by my kayaking/snorkeling tour and taken to the Ao Nang pier; however, I had booked with SeaCanoe and the Ao Nang Group had picked me up..I was a little confused. They claimed because I’m travelling alone, SeaCanoe gave me to them or something..I didn’t really get it. Anyway, we were off to Hong (room) Island, where I got to circumnavigate the island in a sea kayak. As I was alone, I was in the kayak with the guide. It took a moment to get a good rhythm, but we were movin at a fair clip by the end of it. I didn’t end up doing much snorkeling, largely because I have a rather painful canker sore in my mouth which the salt water aggravates and the water was murkier than the last time. I did swim around for a bit though..we then stopped briefly at an island called Phak Bia, which actually has a sandbar connecting it with another smaller island. Our last stop was at Paradise Island, a nice enough island I suppose..I ended up just laying on the beach in the shade listening to music for about an hour. A mellow day.
My hotel has goats next to it. ha. I discovered this on the drive back. I don’t know why, but I find that amusing for some reason. I then took a swim in the hotel’s rather nice pool for a bit and went back into Ao Nang (one of the hotel staff was nice enough to give me a ride, otherwise it would’ve been 200 baht). Had some good pizza..I know I’m horrible for not sampling more Thai food..did some grocery shopping and headed back. Rode a motercycle for the first time..the guy picked me up with a motorcycle, so it was interesting to get an idea of what it’s like..I might end up renting one when I go to Ko Lanta. Not a terribly action-packed day, which is probably a good thing. There are a couple new photos in the album..wasn’t feeling very trigger-happy today. cheers for now.
Tonsai Beach – laid back livin’
So I woke up a little sore this morning from the sea kayaking, but otherwise lounged in bed ’til relatively late. My check-out was at noon, and with what I was paying for the place, I was definitely gonna be there until the last second. Ended up trying to get rid of some weight from my luggage, donated two books to the hotel library (Lord of the Rings is friggin heavy). Paid a rather painful fee and was off to catch a longtail to Tonsai Beach, just around the corner from the slightly more picturesque, and thus more expensive, Railay Beach. I checked into my bungalow, simple but has air-con and a TV, surprisingly, with HBO. On my way up, I saw two monkeys flying around over head..not typically included in my usual walks. Headed down to the beach and had some pretty tasty banana shakes..the waiter wanted me to try and get him a girl in Canada, even gave me his phone number..I politely took it and will politely never use it. Shared a table with an American from Texas, stuck up a conversation with him. We ended up making the walk to Railay Beach, which can only be done at low tide..wandered around and found the place I need to be at for my rock climbing tomorrow..a woman carrying a very very cute monkey stopped us, at which point the monkey climbed on me..of course she was charging 100 baht for a photo, which I didn’t take her up on. We capped off the walk with a shake and deep fried banana with ice cream at the resort I was originally going to be staying at (it was full when I called around) to watch the sunset. Made the rather precarious journey back in the dark. A fairly slow-goin day, rather in touch with the fairly slow-goin atmosphere on this particular beach..it’s gotta very almost hippie, rastafarian kind of vibe. cheers.
Tonsai Beach – makin’ like a monkey
Woke up early so I could walk around to Railay Beach at low tide..met our rock climbing guide “Solah” (pronounced like “soleil”), and a very nice couple from around Lake Tahoe, Nevada. We headed out with our gear to a mercifully shaded side of a cliff to start our climbing for the day. Gotta say, it’s not without a certain amount of trepidation as you stare directly up at a cliff face you’re suppose to somehow climb. There’s a rating system level that starts at 5 and goes up to 9 or something..we were starting on a 6A-plus, somewhat challenging having never been climbing before. I made it just past halfway before it got a little too complicated..the incline was leaning a little to far back for my capabilities. The next climb was thankfully a 5A-plus, and a good confidence booster to be able to reach the top successfully. We trekked a bloody long way, across to the other side and up through the woods..felt like I was halfway rock climbing just trying to get to the location..the view was worth it though, just a spectacular vista. The climb was challenging but I was pleased to, after much sweat and dirt, to make it to the top..man, I wish I could’ve taken my camera up..it was a gorgeous view.
We then had lunch, which may or may not have been a good plan ultimately, as I was definitely regretting the two banana shakes I consumed as we embarked on the next climb. The first climb didn’t go well, largely cause I was tired and feeling fat..but to be fair, only one of the group actually successfully made it..getting up onto the cliff face was kind of challenging, as it was an overhang. Unfortunately, I lost my grip and swung back, hitting the back of my head..thankfully, not enough to bleed everwhere..head wounds suck I imagine. I climbed a slightly easier climb and then, with great trepidation, embarked on the final climb after I watched the guy in the group not successfully make it to the top. I was pretty proud that I managed to haul myself over the overhang to start and actually made it a little farther than everyone else. No one managed to make it to top though, our arms were all like jelly at that point..our guide was good, calm..not yelling up at us to “right! right!” or “come on! come on!” as we saw others doing. The couple was nice enough to take some snaps of me clambering up the rock, which I’ll put up tomorrow morning..and they invited me back to take a dip in their swimming pool, which I gratefully took them up on.
The walk back at low tide was nice..an incredible sunset..I’m not normally one to wax poetical with great romanticism about sunsets, but this one would probably be deserving of it. Ran into the American I hung out with yesterday..we may play some chess after I grab some food and a much-needed shower. I am definitely going to be feeling it tomorrow. cheers for now.
Tonsai Beach – chillin’ with the cool people
So I definitely woke up sore..my arms particularly were feeling the pain, muscles having been used for the first time in years I imagine. I had no particular plans for the day, deciding to check out Phra Nang beach, just a short boat ride from Tonsai..as apparently it’s the nicest in the area. I arrived and wasn’t particularly awe-inspired..perhaps, a little too crowded for my taste, or maybe I’ve just become desensitized to beach wonder..ha. I hung around for a few hours, longer than I wanted as I couldn’t get a boat ride off the beach. No one was going to Railay, just Ao Nang, which was increasingly frustrating..I knew I could walk back somehow, but I was blistered and sore and didn’t particularly feel like walking it. However, ultimately I had to, since it became evident that no one was going to take me back by boat. Not a bad walk and shorter than people were telling me..got myself a manicure (from a nice lady-boy I believe) for 6 bucks and then caught a boat back to Tonsai. There, funnily enough, I ran into the Texan guy (Chris) I hung out with before, hanging out on the beach with a couple people right where I was geting off the boat. So we hung out for awhile, and I met a really cool Australian guy (Frank) and an Israeli woman (Sharon), probably the first solo female traveller I’ve met so far..we ended up going to have dinner together and chatted for several hours..everything from animals to gun control..two English girls joined us for dinner, also very cool people. We were all entertained as we traded different slangs and differing terminology, picked up a few interesting English colloqualisms..ha. Ended up being a very nice evening, sitting under the stars and relaxing with cool people. cheers for now.
Ko Lanta – a less tourist-trafficked paradise
I had breakfast this morning with Texan Chris before heading by ferry to Ko Lanta, reputed to be a less touristy, slower-paced island. I was met at the pier and driven to the Relax Bay Resort…really really nice..literally right on the beach. The view is just amazing..plus this is the first room I’ve had where I can see the ocean from my window. The staff seem to be really friendly and helpful..gave me a drink while they moved my bags to my bungalow and some suggestions of where I should go on the island. They have free transfer to Saladan (the main town) three times a day which is handy. I’m also going to rent a motorbike from them for about 10 bucks a day so I can toodle around the island for a bit. The main town was fairly quiet when I wandered through..a few tourists roaming about, nothing like Ko Phi Phi or Railay. It should be a nice way to end off the southern Thailand portion of my trip, although it did occur to me that I still have another 3 weeks of travel. No major plans aside from renting some transportation..I could take a boat trip some of the islands in the area, but I feel as if I’ve been boated out, so to say. Anyway, cheers for now.
Ko Lanta – roarin’ down the highway
Awoke at a leisurely hour this morning to a buffet breakfast and signed myself up for one motorbike. After a very brief crash-course (not literally, thankfully) in how to handle one, I set off..strangely enough with the strains “Highway to Hell” in my head. Although really, it was anything but..paved, well-kept roads..after a bit, I got the handle of things and was moving at a respectable clip…not nervously pulling over to let cars go by me..ha. It was actually an awesome drive, and I’m quite glad I rented a bike here and not elsewhere because there were very few other cars on the road..the odd pick-up and some other motorbikes..so it wasn’t terribly nerve-wracking. It was nice to have that freedom to be able to just drive, without knowing really where I was going. I had a map, but didn’t really consult it much..fun to just drive and enjoy the scenery. Ko Lanta is not super big, maybe over 30 km north to south, so I was finished my wandering just after lunch. I was able to stop in at various viewpoint restaurants for a shake or ice cream and enjoy the view. I managed to not run over anything, avoiding the occasional goat or cow grazing at the side of road..may have clipped a few butterflies. I do recall getting whinged by a couple bugs and prudently kept my mouth shut for the entirety of the drive. I arrived back at the resort and hung out for a few hours in my air-conditioned bungalow, mostly trying to avoid the heat and intensity of the midday sun (any belief in my seeming inability to tan has now vanished, as I am all shades of dark at this point).
Ventured out in late afternoon and drove to Saladan to get some dinner…the resort restaurant is tasty but somewhat overpriced..and maybe do some shopping. Keeping that to a minimum as I don’t want the extra weight, figure I’ll try to do most of it in Chiang Mai, being my last stop in Thailand. I’ve got one more day here before I’m off to Chiang Mai..the south has been pretty awesome (especially considering the reports of snow from back home <guilty smile>), but it’ll be nice to get a change of scenery, so to say. I’ve posted a slew of pics, finally. cheers and hope to hear from people.
Ko Lanta – a whole new level of laziness
Yet another lazy day..I decided to keep the motorbike for another day, mostly because I enjoy having the mobility (like being able to pop down the road a bit into a French bakery to grab a slice of blueberry pie, odd I know given my location, but still tasty). Went and found some gas this morning and backed up my pics onto DVD..eventually wandered into a restaurant on the beach ffor some lunch. Ironically, I finally bought a hat..with 5 days left in Thailand, ah well, still useful I imagine..I’m a little concerned I’m doing a cow-like imitation, as my peeling shoulders have given me a little spotty look, so I’ve been religious with the sunscreen and lotion. Retreated to my bungalow for the midday hours, re-reading a book for the umpteenth time and planning how I’m going to redistribute my stuff for Japan. I’m also wrestling with crampage, probably more info than some may care to know but there it is..never fun when at home, and somehow less fun when travelling. Ventured out in late afternoon to drive around for a bit (perhaps because I just enjoy the driving more)..one almost feels guilty at times for just laying around and not doing anything, at which point one usually feels dumb because that is generally the point of being on vacation. I have a very long day of travel tomorrow..involving the full gamut of transportation options (boat, airplane and train) starting at 7am, so I’ll be turning in early tonight. cheers.
Traversing the nation
A long day of travel…left at 7am for the pier to catch a ferry to Krabi. The boat had the coldest air-conditioned cabin ever..I was riding in an ice-box. After a well-refrigerated 2 hours, I arrived in Krabi and was quickly whisked into a taxi (somewhat overpriced, which I vocalized by muttering “paang” expensive much to the amusement of the gaggle of Thai tour people in earshot). I got to the airport and killed a few hours by having overpriced food and chatting to the family by comandeering a wall plug in order charge my cell. While grabbing snacks, an Italian fellow (Pippo) came up to me and started chatting..turns out we were to be on the same flight to Bangkok. He was friendly, if not overly interested, but chatting did turn out to be a good way to kill some time. We got seats on the plan and even shared a taxi into town..he was very excited at the prospect of my going to Italy (where apparently I’ll have a tour guide around Rome and learn to make fresh pasta from his mother)..this may be on account of my ever so enchanting eyes, of which he mentioned frequently were so “bella”. mmhmm. In any case, a very nice fellow and good to have another contact abroad. Piled into my train..wrong car, right seat number at first..and settled in for the long haul. Eventually had a seat mate, a dread-locked girl from Florida, similarly traveling solo, who turned out to be a budding entomology grad student. The transformation into a double bunk bed was very cool and efficient..surprisingly comfy too..should be arriving in Chiang Mai mid-tomorrow morning. cheers for now.
Chiang Mai – body scrubs, bazaars, bangles…oh my!
Finally trundled into Chiang Mai around 10am, after consuming a somewhat unappetizing breakfast. Ended up sharing a taxi with my seat mate and was delivered to the Galare Guesthouse. A decent enough room with air-conditioning and a clean bathroom. All I’m lookin’ for. I’ve been particularly annoyed with my peeling today..it’s driving me absolutely batty..so much so that I ended up booking myself a body scrub (and a facial to boot) at a nearby spa in an attempt to rectify the situation. I’m not entirely sure it helped. Got in contact with Tina’s high school friend Paul, who lives here teaching, so we’ll grab some dinner and check out the night bazaar to see if I can get all my Thai souvenirs. Apparently it’s endless shopping stalls with bargainable merchandise (this is how I know I’ve been on vacation too long..as I originally typed that out as “murchandise”..oy vey) cheers.
Chiang Mai – temple extravaganza
So there are a lot of temples in Chiang Mai..I think I heard an estimate of about 400, which is likely more than Bangkok. I only hit about 5 of them in the morning..at the first one I went to, I paid a small fee and released about 9 little birds from a wicker cage. In Buddhist culture, it’s good luck apparently. Plus releasing birds is always a good thing. I walked to a good chunk of the temples, but hopped “songtaews” (converted pick-up trucks) to get to some of the further ones. I feel I’ve built-up a significant enough reserve of merit with all my paying respects to these temples that it should last me a little while. Met up with Paul after lunch as we were taking the tour up to Doi Suthep together. Funnily enough, the tour bus was actually early picking me up..a good fifteen minutes early. Normally not an issue, but I was carefully planning out my dozing time so I would get up about 10 minutes before pick-up time to get ready, that and Paul hadn’t arrived at the guesthouse yet. ah well. Thai time is strange in the sense that it’s not simply just late, it can just be whenever is most inconvenient. Anyway, the temple on Doi Suthep is on a mountain (or large hill, I suppose) and is supposed to be the best of the northern Thai temples. We first stopped at a Mong hilltribe village of sorts..I was expecting a hilltribe village..it was more a hilltribe market selling much the same stuff in the night market in Chiang Mai. The place was slightly more commercialized than I anticipated. Paul and I wandered through, checking out the “authentic” gems and various goods. There’s a wooden frog carving that Paul claims he has seen in pretty much every city he’s ever visited. I was very entertained by the sign, telling visitors to enjoy the flowers and opium (poppies). Eventually, we left and headed to the Doi Suthep temple, which admittedly is very impressive. I consumed two consecutive ice cream cones..I was ravenously hungry as I hadn’t had lunch..and then we all headed back.
I hit up the night market but was definitely feeling overwhelmed by its sheer size. My inclination is to shop around and try to get the best deal, but there were just so many stalls, you start feeling a little snowed under, so to say. Eventually, I just had to commit and start buying. Paul and I ended up going to see a movie (Rocky..ha! not much selection here), which wasn’t horrible thankfully, mind you it wasn’t awe-inspiring. A long, busy day. cheers.
Chiang Mai – shop ‘til you drop
I didn’t book any tours for today..kinda felt a little toured out..so had a slower day. Checked out one of the bigger malls in the city..actually spent a whopping 20 bucks on a top (maybe the most I’ve spent one shirt). Haven’t found much in the way of good clothes for myself here unfortunately, so I’m going to try and squeeze in a quick shopping round when in Bangkok. When I got back to the guesthouse, I met an older couple from Calgary, and I ended up going to the day market with Lorraine..although, it was so sweltering hot that I wasn’t really feelin the shopping vibe. Lorraine and I ended up chatting for a bit over fruit shakes before I headed up to bask in the fabulous coolness of my air-conditioned room. Paul and I met up, originally to go rock-climbing, but it was kind of expensive and we were both boiling, so we went and sought out food. Sampled a northern Thai specialty (“kaew soi”..a curried noodle dish) at a place that only served that..we chatted about languages and the quirks of Japanese society. Somehow we got onto the topic of movies and waxing poetical about the wonder of the Lord of the Rings, after which we decided to watch Fellowship..I needed to hit the night market first as it was my last possibility to get my souvenir stuff. I was so excited at the prospect of watching LotR that I made several laps around the market and actually came away with a decent amount of stuff. Went to Paul’s place where, ice cream cone in hand, we settled in to watch. As we both had seen it so many times, it was a given that we’d be talking through most of it..tee hee. goood times.
Chiang Mai – and so it ends, sort of
Headed out to the mall this morning to buy a carry-on luggage bag to house the souvenir..ha..figure I’ll lock it up at the airport in Tokyo..went back and re-packed my luggage. Man, I’ve got a lot of crap. It’s really a day of biding one’s time until my train leaves at 6pm..did some internet surfing, some administrative stuff..other than that, not terribly exciting. I’ll be back in Bangkok 7am tomorrow morning, where I’ll blitz around, visiting relatives and shopping..my flight to Tokyo is at some ungodly hour in the morning. so cheers from Thailand.