Wednesday, April 28, 2010

And my last day arrived :(

This sad to say, will be my last post from my trip here in south east asia. I am currently in Phuket wasting the next 10 hours or so until my flight. I thought it was either at 4, 6 or 8pm (and forgot to actually check) so caught a 9am ferry over this morning, when I could have easily caught the 2pm ferry and spent some more time on the beach! ah well. Its all good!

I'm heading back to Sydney tonight. I can't say that I'm particularly excited or looking forward to it... I am looking forward to my friends wedding and catching up with friends and family, but I have been really loving travelling and would like to continue doing so.... And once again over the past 4 days while at Phi Phi islands I got that same feeling/incentive like I should stay, that there is a definite ministry opportunity there amongst the travellers and other permanent/temporary residents on the island.

anyway, to recap the last few days......

Saturday I left KO Phangang (via multiple modes of transportation) at the early hours of 5:50am in a mini bus which took me about 2 minutes drive away to a truck taxi where another 3 people were waiting. The truck took us to the pier where we did the typical thai ticket shuffle. I seriously do not understand why the receipt you get from the travel agent is not sufficient to get you from your initial to your final destination. no. instead you swap that for additional tickets along the way which usually say the exact same thing! strange. got the freighter ferry to a town on the mainland where we piled off the ferry, waited in the sun for about 10 min then jumped on a coach bus that took us the 1 hour drive to surat-thani. My talent for being occasionally clumsy (and bruising like a peach) shone again when I slipped down the stairs climbing out of the bus and bashed my arm against the wall. We then waited at the next travel agent with our stickers indicating where our final destination is (I always lose mine though) for the next hour. A mini bus arrived and 3 of us headed to Krabi/Phi Phi jumped on board. It was a very cruisy and comfortable drive. I played guitar most of it, and slept the other half (or at least attempted to). We arrived in Krabi and then I had to wait an hour and a half for the ferry to get to Phi Phi islands. I was informed that we'd arrive at phi phi at 3pm, but that was actually the time that the ferry was going to leave. hmmm. ah well.

Made it to Phi Phi about 5pm, found myself some accommodation after a bit of wandering around and then hit the beach for some chill time. In the evening I happened to stumble past 2 of my old friends, Martin and Raphael from my vietnam days - the french boys who convinced me to buy a guitar!!! It was great to catch up with them. They were working at a cool chilled out roof-top bar called banana bar. Every night afterwards we would go and play guitar when the music stopped (after 1-2am) till the very early hours of the morning. I was really hoping to go diving, but had unfortunatly caught an ear infection while on Koh Tao, so was dosing myself up with antibiotics and ear drops in the hope that it would be clear by tuesday for a dive or 2.

Sunday
On the advice of one of the diving guys I'd chatted with the night before, I hired out a kayak at about 11:30 for 3 hours and took off for a solid 3 hours of kayaking. By the time I made it back to sure I was pretty much wrecked! I stopped off at Monkey beach to watch the monkeys for a while, have a bit of a swim and then cntinued going around the coast line which is all cliffs. It was quite rough at times and part of me was thinking that it probably wasn't the smartest move in the world as a) no one knew where I was if I went missing b) the people i hired the kayak from didn't know who I was! But I enjoyed getting out on the water and exploring. I actually went all the way up to the other end of the island (the end where phi phi lay of maya bay "the beach" is) before turning around. And I got to see a turtle!!! Not up close, but he was there about 20m away poking his head up for a bit which was cool.

In the afternoon I decided to go the opposite side of the island in the opposite direction with the aim of reaching Long beach. I happened to stop randomly on the side of one beach to take pictures of the boats in front of phi phi lay and who do i spy sitting on the beach? none other than Scott! So funny how we keep bumping into each other randomly. We went out for dinner with some other people he had met on the buses and ferries across from ko tao and all organised to go on a boat trip for the next day. At night I ended up playing guitar with my french friends till 6;30 in the morning... oops :)

Monday
After about 2 hours sleep I was up and at again to move rooms into a place sharing with scott so i had cheaper accommodation and he didn't have extremely bizarre habits of other dorm mates impacting his sleep and memory. The group of 6 of us started the boat trip around the two islands that comprise Phi Phi islands. A little hiccup to start with where our driver was pulling apart the engine but other wise no dramas - especially since he was smoking weed pretty much the entire time we were out on the water. We had been informed upon booking that we would get breakfast and lunch, but unfortunately all we got was a very small container of fried rice and some water. So I was pretty much starving hungry when I got back to land!! We stopped at monkey beach to watch the monkeys (obviously), at mosquito island to snorkel (and be stung by a jelly fish and bashed on the head accidently by the pole the rudder is attached to ) at Bamboo island (which ironically is covered in pine trees) to eat lunch and then Maya bay aka "The Beach" on Phi Phi Lay for a couple hours of snorkelling, exploring and chilling in the sun. It got quite rough at some stages while we were out on the water in the long-tail boat, then it rained a bit and we all got wet. The monsoon season is approaching which means that the seas are often a bit more choppy than normal.

At night we went out for dinner, had some good food and then headed to banana bar where we did our usual body painting (there are black lights everywhere which makes the paint glow in the dark), dancing and lounging about. The streets are emptying out quite quickly at the moment as most tourists head to Ko Phangang at the moment for the full moon party on the 28th. On Monday there were 2000 people that took off on the one boat with that destination in mind! I was provided with some education in more music styles and decided that I really like dancing to 'dubstep' an english style of music that is very distinctive. fun fun. :) "early night" whre i ended up getting to bed at about 3, as I was going diving in the morning - had decided my ear was well enough!

Tuesday
Up at 6;30 as I had booked into doing a wreck dive which left at 7am. Unfortunately no one else had booked in for the dive as well, so my other option was to join in on local dives at 9am. I went and had some breakfast on the beach and then chose that option. Both dives went well, not quite as clear as Koh Tao, but we still saw plenty of coral and fishes - a massive puffer fish that was at least half of me!! we saw some dolphins above the water at one stage as well (not while we dove though). Lunch was at Maya bay in between our dives and we were back at our island by 2;30. I went exploring the island to meet up with the group at long beach, which is an extremely nice beach. we chilled out there by the water until the sun set and headed back for food. Had a great night out, chilling, painting people (getting my face completely covered in paint), playing guitar and singing till the early hours of the morning (ie, not going to bed....)

Its been interesting, how I've felt really comfortable here on this island, similar to when I was at Vang Vieng. I've made some good contacts and gotten along with so many people here, and had a great time chilling, jamming and making music. I have had a lot of people tell me I need to do something with my music, start recording. So, I guess we will see what happens when I get back, what further opportunities arise there.

Wednesday.

So, that brings us to today and my final hours of my trip in south east asia, well at least for now.... :) I'm counting myself lucky and hoping nothing drastic happens over the next 24 hours. I have managed to survive the last 10 days with no major incidents occurring which has been good as my travel insurance ran out on the 18th and I forgot to extend it so have had no insurance if anything goes wrong...

I am yet to have any proper sleep as I stayed up all night last night (having woken up at 6:30 am yesterday), maybe a 20 minute doze on the ferry over but thats about it. hopefully that forces me to sleep on the plane. i really hope so. I can't sleep unless i'm flat horizontal usually. When I stopped playing guitar (about 5:50am) I went back to my room, had a shower and packed some of my stuff then went and woke up scott to go climb the view point and watch the sun "rise". Awesome, tough walk that just keeps going up and up and up. From the top it is very clear to see how and why the tsunam i in 2004 wiped out the place so badly. It was a bit cloudy so in reality we watched it get light, chatted and listened to some good tunes. It has been awesome seeing how we kept managing to bump into each other on the last few locations without any planning - just sheer coincidence and God at work!!! I've enjoyed our chats about christianity and beliefs and reaching out to people, its been great. That hour or two on top of the mountain was a great end to my days in thailand, and a really chilled out vibe that left me feeling happy and refreshed and ready for whatever adventures are coming my way from now on.

now all there is left to do is catch my plane tonight at 10:20.. (note to self I should REALLY check flight times before catching a flight). It is slightly amusing though when I think about it, as I was early to catch my flight over to vietnam and now i'm extremely early to catch my flight back to aus!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Diving and island adventures

Since leaving chiang Mai, I caught a plane down to Bangkok where I had an 8 hour layover before heading down to Surat Thani. During my layover, I headed back to Khao San road where I wandered around the markets for a little while and chilled out at an internet cafe.

I arrived at Surat Thani at approximately 7.30 at night, caught a bus to the pier where I bought a ticket for the night boat over to Ko Tao. The boat didn't leave until 11pm so I had ate some dinner at the markets by the pier and waited until then. The boat itself was an interesting experience. I didn't particularly sleep all that much - even though I was lying flat! Think it was because the "beds" were physically just too small for westerners to fit onto , definitely designed with the thai in mind! They were mats about 30-40cm wide all jammed up next to each other, and max only about 1.6m long so if you had your bag up the end (which most of us did) then you ended up having your feet hang off the edge. On the boat I was sleeping next to 2 girls who were travelling on their own as well.

We reached Ko Tao at 6am and caught a "taxi" to Sairee beach. A taxi in ko tao is either a) a ute with seats on the tray or b) a motorbike with a sort of attached side car thing to sit onto. We got to the beach where main town is and had to wait a while until the shops started to open which was abit after 8 or 9, so we had abit of breakfast at a cafe. After 8 we went to a dive shop that I had heard about that was open and 2 of us ended up joining PADI dive courses. With that, we ended up with a nice little package that involved us getting 5 nights of accommodation included at a beach front resort so that was a definite bonus as well!

So most of my time at Ko Tao was spent diving and a little bit of swimming on the side. Ko Tao is a definite diving island to go to if you like scuba! The water is crystal clear and lots and lots of colourful fish and aquatic life. I did my advanced diving while I was there which means I can now dive to 30metres. It was alot of fun, I got to dive through a cave at one of the dive sites we went to, also did a night dive where there were barracuda fish hunting and stingrays. I did one of my dives with an underwater camera that I borrowed so got some pretty cool photos from that dive.

I managed to meet up with Scott again a couple of times while I was in Ko tao which was nice. We had some good conversations about travelling and ministering to others as a christian, being a good influence and role model of sorts. On my last day in Ko Tao I had some free time in the afternoon (as I had completed an early morning dive from 6am) so decided to go and explore a bit of the island. I ended up going on a bit of a bush walk, starting from sairee beach over to the main pier then finding random tracks to go (the long way as it turned out) to another little beach that I had seen on the map. It took probably an hour and a half to get there, going up and down hills through the jungle. I spotted quite a few of these squirrel-type looking critters which were having fun jumping through all the trees.

On the way to the beach I walked around the edge of the island for a bit and there were some thai guys building new bungalows and various resorts in different levels of construction. It was interesting to note the difference in the construction of the resorts compared to the way that the locals themselves were actually living. For example there would be this really nice resort with all conveniences, everything fancy and out the back living in the dirt and hut would be the people who actually ran the place. Interesting to observe.

When I got to the beach I was pretty hot so jumped straight into the water, which in itself was surprising. The beach at Sairee only goes about mid-thigh deep during the day d yu can't go much further than that without stepping on the coral. This beach was significantly smaller and the coral went right up to the sand. I walked out carefully over some of it (avoiding all the sea cucumbers and rocks) and was amazed to be completely surrounded by fish of all kinds - zebra fish, parrot fish etc etc. They weren't shy at all and came right around me. One fish didn't seem to like me and would nip me a bit if I got too close!!

I left there in the late afternoon -obviously just in time as I arrived back a sairee beach just as the sun went down for a beautiful sunset. I took a different route this time which took 40 minutes. I also got the biggest fright I've had all trip as well! While I was walking down the path I turned a corner and there was a MASSIVE monitor lizard walking away from me the same direction was going along the road! It must have been at least 1m long, but probably more. It was huge! I immediately stopped and started digging in my bag to find my camera which was hiding down the bottom somewhere. The lizard continued to walk down the road and around the corner. I found the camera finally and kept walking but only managed to get a photo of the lizards' tail as he walked into the long grass by the path. My next challenge was to cautiously walk past, but I didn't know exactly where the lizard was and if he was dangerous or not! I slowly started to walk past and the grass all started moving in a frenzy so I got a bit of a fright from that thinking he was going to charge and attack me. That definitely got the adrenaline pumping!!

On Wednesday I packed up my bags quickly and caught an early boat across to Ko Phangan with Deborah one of the girls I had been sharing with. We found ourselves a nice hotel to stay at where met a group of Israeli boys who treated us to lunch before we all went to the beach. The beach at Haad Rin (sunrise) is really nice - this is the beach where the full-moon party is at every month. The beach is long, white soft sand and its deep so you can actually swim. The only thing it lacks is surf! That night was the half-moon party which is in the jungle. Went to that with Deborah, 3 of her friends and the israeli boys. The boys had bought paint at the 7/11 so we all painted each other up (turning into a painting fight) and caught a taxi to the jungle. It was pretty cool - lots of black lights which the paint glowed like neons from. We stayed out there till the early hours of the morning until we were tired of techno trance music and headed home. I'd managed to catch up with my Finnish friend Aku who I worked with during the day at Vang Vieng, but unfortunately didn't find him again at the party at night before he went to Nepal.

Thursday I spent most of the time around the beach and exploring some of the town. I went for a long walk and watched the sunset on sunset beach which was nice and then had dinner with the girls before hitting the beach for some partying. I find that I continue to surprise people with the fact that I can stay out so late at night dancing completely 100% sober. Last night was great - dancing at the beach with one bar having a massive foam machine going off so we danced in the foam and also in the ocean. Pretty much drenched all night but its not cold at night still so you wouldnt get sick!

Today the girls and I went on a boat trip which took us the whole way around the island, stopping off at various beaches along the way. It is a massive island!! We did a bit of snorkelling which went alright (considering I often don't cope well when snorkelling). Lots of friendly zebra fish. Not as nice or clear as Ko Tao, but still quite good.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Songkran in Chiang Mai




I am in Chiang Mai and absolutely loving being here for Songkran. It is basically one big constant water fight!!! There has been a few other things thrown in here and there, but mostly its just water and being wet and damp (and most likely a bit smelly from moat water) and having fun blasting everyone!! It is surprising how exhausting it is throwing buckets of water at people for hours on end.

Saturday:
Had a bit of a chill day exploring a little bit of Chiang Mai. I had the best night sleep ever at the massage place even though we were sleeping on the floor on mats about an inch thick - the aircon was great!! The three of us girls (Ali, Cat and myself) ended up going out of town to the Tiger Kingdom to check out the tigers there and give them a little pat. We paid to play with the small tigers (abotu 6 months old) and the big tigers (who were a few years old, but not fully grown). It was a pretty cool experience. We watched the baby tigers, they were very verycute, but didnt pay the extra money to actually go and play with them. Its debatable about why/how the tigers are so tame. The guys that run the place say they aren't drugged but who knows. They were very sleepy and a bit dopey at times, but if they got roughed up a bit or something happened that they didn[t particularly like they would wake up quite quickly. We got to lie on them and use them as pillows and pick up their paws and play with them a little bit. Sort of unnerving, but cool. The big tigers are pretty much massive. There are all big cages or enclosures really that have the tigers in them. There were 2 girls for the small tigers and 3 males in the big tiger enclosure we went to. Some of the tigers had pretty cool/funny names. For example there was one called anakin sky walker, another was Edward (twilight) and a couple other "famous" tigers. The rest of the day we explored around the city a bit, found the night markets and walked through some of that.

Sunday:
Cat and I had booked into a cooking class on Saturday and were picked up at 8am (Ali went on a trek instead) to start that. It was really good! First we picked out what foods we wanted to make (7 courses all up, 3 choices for each course) and then hit the markets to purchase the foods we needed. Then went back to our cooking class. It was a very fun day. There were another younger couple with us who I got along with really well. In our lunch break we went out and hit the street to join in on the fun with the water fights. Officially they hadn[t started at all, but there were quite a few people out on the town during the day with their water guns and hoses going around splashing everyone. So we purchased some equipment of our own and joined in for an hour or so. Good times!!

In the evening the girls and I met some guys from our hostel who were heading out to a beach party at lake just out of town so we joined up with them and went out for a little bit of dancing and to watch the awesome fire twirling!

Monday:
The few of us who had done our cooking course together then been out for dinner (as we still got hungry later on) had oranised to meet each other at our "corner" of the moat at 2pm to continue the water fighting adventures. However no one else actually turned up so I ended upwandering up and down the moat joining in on the action with all different people. This was the day when the water fights unofficially started! For a while I was hanging out with the guys I'd met from the hostel, then I decided that I wanted to walk all the way around the square moat (It's probably at least 1km each side). After leaving the main gate, there were very few other farang (white people) and It was pretty cool. You end up getting targeted even more than normal. I had a couple occasions where I had whole buckets (like 20-50L buckets) thrown at me. Those ones almost completely blow me over! You can see how so many people could get injured at this festival just because it is so nuts wiht people everywhere and so many cars and scooters and people running all over the roads.

I like attacking the tuk-tuk drivers (retaliation for their never ending questions about tuk-tuks along my travels and the thai ones are just happening to get it!). Anyway, on my adventures walking around the moat I made it half way around to the other gate where I met some Aussie and New Zealand guys who were bucketing everyone that past by them. I joined forces with them for a while which was good fun. There was a bunch of local guys that they were there hanging out with and every couple of minutes or so they got us to drink or scull glasses of beer in ice. After multiple rounds of that, I decided that I had to continue on before I couldmt make my way home.

I continued probably another kilometre around the the moat and then decided to hijack one of the utes by jumping on the back of it while it drove past. This particular ute had about 5 or 6 other westerners on it and a few locals who drove us around. We had really big buckets of water and they purchased blocks of ice to make the water icy cold. Every time we ran out of water, everyone would jump off the truck and fill up buckets to refill then continue on our way. They drove us around for a while, then stopped off at their house to briefly perform some sort of ritual associated with the new year. Then we were off again to get more water, more ice and more water shooting!! We did this until it got dark then they dropped us off at the shop where they had originally started from.

The group of us decided to organise to meet up for drinks at the rooftop bar after we had all had showers and some food. In between I had a quick look at the night markets again as well. However, when I turned up at the bar, only 1 of the guys, Scott (Canadian) was there. So we had a good chat and until his housemate Christian showed up and some other friends that they had previously met on their travels. It was Christians last night and on the way home the boys decided that they wanted McDonalds for a late night snack (which I passed on) and we took some photos with the sawadee'ing ronald macdonald out the front.

Tuesday:
First official day of Songkran and the strets of Chiang Mai are totally going off. You literally cannot get more than 10 metres in any street of the town inside or out without getting sprayed, bucketed or gunned down with a water pistol!! I met Scott at his guesthouse where I discovered that he was a christian as well which was pretty cool (he had a bible on his bed so I asked him). We got our buckets and my big 10L waterpack watergun (which is ridiculously heavy) and went to join in on the action. We bucketed and participated in the water fights for 8 hours straight!!!

The streets are jam packed and not moving anywhere and there are trucks full of people on the back with big buckets that they throw ice in so the water is freezing cold. It is not safe to get dry until after about 8pm because the party just keeps on raging on. It is insane the amount of water on the roads as well. The roads turn into rivers, it looks like ithas been absolutely pouring down.

Wednesday:
Currently it is the early hours of the morning on wednesday. I've been offered a job I think (or at least I'm under the impression that I'm about to get offered a job) which yet again puts another change into my 'plans". I responded a week or so ago to an advertisement I saw in SEEK for a locum job in Geelong, as I have 2-3 months to "waste" in aus before I was going to move to the UK in July. So I emailed this guy about this job, and it turns out to be a full-time position for at least 9 months. I'm having a chat/interview with him and potentially the client (as he is a bit of a middleman/agent) in the morning. But he said today in an email that they have an offer for me, so sounds a bit promising like they are keen. So it is always an option... (I like my options).

thought of the day: I may not always feel part of the family, but I always belong. Just read that in a daily devotion I get emailed. I often don't feel like I belong or am part of anywhere (restless feet syndrome), so it was a good reminder that in God's family I always belong.
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Hit the waterfights again with Scott in the afternoon but we both were feeling pretty tired and worn out after tuesdays efforts. Joined in for a coupe hours then went and had rests. The best bit about todays water fights were the bubble/foa machines!! they were AWESOME!!! I had so much fun there, therewere 2 massive foam bubble machines pumping out foam in front ofa big stage with speakers and it was just nuts. everyone was slippery and slipping over, trying to avoid getting hit by all the cars and scooters and sometimes shoulders deep infoam. Had fun throwing foam at each other and getting involved in that area for a while! Hoping its there again tomorrow. One of my al time faourite photos from this trip was during the bubbles!

I think it is physically impossible for me to get around chiang mai during songkran without geting wet. Scott reckons most of the people recognise me for being a trouble maker. Thats always possible!! :)

Thursday
I took it a bit easy and hit the waterfight for the last time. It started a lot later than usual. I headed out with the girls at about 2.30 and there was barely anyone onthe streets at the time. We started (at my decision) to walk around the moat where we eventually found where everyone was hiding. We barely saw any westerners and got totally attacked left right and centre from the locals. I have a video that I need to post demonstrating this. On one of the corners there were about 50+ thai guys lined up who ALL threw their buckets extremely hard at us. They pretty much knocked me over every time the force was so hard. The video demonstrates the end of that queue where they are not quite as vicious

The girls gave up at about half way on our trek around the moat. I however was very determined and succeeded in walking the entire perimeter which took me over 3 hours of solid walking (plus a bit of water throwing and some other distractions along the way!). For example, I randomly decided to jump up on one of the many many stages with lady boys dancing on them and danced for a little bit with them which was both fun and amusing. The girls didn't believe that I would actually do it. There wasa sign on the wall behind the stage which funnily enough says "Save water, Save the River Sav the world". Ironic when there is a huge water war going on just in front of it...

When I had finally completed my circuit, I headed back to one of the corners where the guys I'd met at the hostel the first night usually hang out. ON my way up there I bypassed one big stand giving out soap samples, which always smells lovely whenever you walk past (the moat water is pretty foul). A back packer on the other side of the road pulled off my hat and randomly started rubbing soap/shampoo into my hair. So at least my hair was clean. Some other backpackers were only too obliging in providing me with some buckets to rinse the shampoo out...

On Friday I did a visa run to mae sai and ended up in Burma for the day!! Bit bizarre. I did that to avoid paying $15 every day I'm over my visa. Its a bit stupid really that when you go overland you only get 15 days on your visa but if you fly in you get 30.. I had dinner last night with the Australian guys I'd met on the river on Monday They had hired motorbikes (one of the scooters they'd hired the day before had been stolen) so the 2 of them, myself and 2 french guys rode around town for probably half an hour in the wrong direction looking for a particular restaurant on these cruisers. Its pretty nuts, but oh so much fun. Completely stupid but you have to do it once right?! riding around with 3 people on one bike, no one wearing helmets, in thongs and ending up on the highway doing 80km/h + at night time. awesome fun!!! After dinner we went to the night markets wandered around and then all got massages of some sort and description at a little shop before it was bed time.
video

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Failure to Book

For the first time on my trip, my lack of ability to plan and book things in almost failed me. almost! I was in Kanchanaburi and attempted to book a ticket to get from there to chiang mai but unfortunately for the next day the night buses were all fully booked (according to the travel agent). This was for a ticket that went via bangkok. I tried to get her to book a ticket from bangkok for the following day but the lady at the desk who I am 99.9% posive was a lady boy couldn't quite understand my request to to bangkok on one day and then from there to chiang mai the following. So I instead booked a ticket to Bangkok to try and purchase a bus ticket (ideally a night one as its a 10+ hour bus ride) from there instead. Upon arrival back to Bangkok I tried out a number of different travel agents on Khao San Rd and eventually discovered that all the private buses and mini buses up to Chiang Mai were fully booked until Songkran, or for the next 5 days at least. Great!

I decided that if I wasn't able to get up north (as I wasn't prepared to pay $200 a ticket to get up there by plane) then I would go straight down south instead and explore some of those areas. the last wild card that I had with my attempt to get up to Chiang Mai was to get myself to the bus station (about 40 minutes away from the area of town I was in) early in the morning and try get a ticket on one of the local or government buses. This was a huge gamble, but my last chance so I gave it a shot this morning and grabbed a taxi out to the bus station at 7am. The bus station has at least about 50 different companies that run from it and subsequently outside there are that number of counters to choose from. Thankfully here in Thailand alot of things are written in both English and Thai. The first counter I approached that was advertising buses to Chiang Mai (1st class as I'd been recommended to try) was unsuccessful as all buses are fully booked. So then I tried the next counter where the government VIP buses are booked from. I was informed that I could get a a 2nd class bus to Chiang Mai leaving at 10:30 (it was 8:30 at the time). With 2 hours to kill I went outside the main (airconditioned) bus station to the little plastic chairs joint across the road for some breakfast where I had some amazing pork noodle soup for breakfast. Yum. First noodle soup I've had in Thailand and for a while actually. Most of the foods here are all greasy and oily which (for me at least) gets a bit overrated quickly.

So I am now currently on the bus on my way up to Chiang Mai. I have been advised by an expat couple that have lived here for over 5 years that it is probably not a smart idea for me to hire a motorbike and ride out to Pai at the moment. Which is a bit of a shame as I've heard the drive is amazing. This is because with it being Songkran (thai new year) I will get buckets of water thrown at me and apparently the village kids have perfect aim and technique! Many accidents occur during Songkran all over Thailand. It will be absoutely impossible to stay dry, which is good as the temperature will be soaring in the mid to high 40s I believe.

With my extra unexpected day in Bangkok I did a bit of shopping and explorations of the city. I'm glad I'm not a huge shopper, can only manage a small amount before I'm fed up. The shops here just never end. The markets on the street sell pretty much anything you could ever want as well, from tshirts to shoes, to jewellery to hair braiding, massages, watches and even counterfeit ID, diploma's, degrees. You name it, they can recreate it apparently. I did manage to sneak a photo of one of these guy's display while he had left it for a moment, and had overheard him selling some ID for 1000 baht ($30). I went to MBK again for an hour or two and probably only got through a third of one of their many many levels. I think there is 6 but it could be more. I also grabbed a little netbook which is what I'm writing from now. I can't believe I've managed so long without it - It is so convenient to have as everywhere has wi-fi and means you have instant access to so many things. ahhh.. the joys of flash packing!! :) I don't think you can call it backpacking as much as you used to in asia as you always stay in guesthouses or hotel rooms for a few dollars. I have never had to use my sleeping bag.

In Bangkok itself, it seems as though there is a little bit more of tension, but doesn't feel uneasy or anything. This morning on my taxi ride I saw quite alot of police out and about on the roads, some of whom were in I guess what you'd call "riot-ready gear" with the big shields, helmets etc. There is quite a long major street in town that has been taken over by the "red shirts" which causes hassles with traffic. Last night there were also a few police roaming round khao san road but from what I saw nothing happened. I was warned at one stage by a local not to walk too far away because of the red shirts, for safety. I've never felt unsafe here though.

Felt a little bit lost last night in Bangkok. The people I did know who were in town all went out to the red light district to watch a ping pong show which I had absolutely no desire to be involved in. So I spent the night exploring, walking around the streets and people watching.There are some real characters in the world out there. As always I'm questioning what I'm doing, where I'm going, what I should to aiming for, focussing on. Continuous questions. I know what I'm interested in, but not what I want. Why is that such a hard question to answer? I don't quite understand, but I just don't know what I want. For anything. It is quite frustrating.

Something a little more lighthearted, while I was in Kanchanaburi i went out to a few of the small bars and restaurants that graced the peaceful tourist stretch. I have to say that I had the best thai green and red curries at this little restaurant that I have ever had. But I Forgot to take a picture :( ah well. Anyway. In Asia almost all the toilets are manually flushing, squat toilets. Next to the toilet is usually a big tub or bucket of some sort where water is kept to flush the toilet after use. In one of the bar's that we went to on my last night in Kanchanaburi, this water well in the mens toilet contained a large goldfish swimming around!! Needless to say, this caused some amusement to all patrons who happened to venture into the men's toilet (the ladies was closed). I asked the bar owner a Thai guy who referred to himself as "Jack Sparrow" why the fish was in the toilet. He said it was to eat the baby mosquitoes. Fair enough I say. Why else would you put a goldfish in the toilet water except for a laugh and to prevent bitten bottoms... :)

Its now Saturday morning and I am in Chiang Mai. Yay!! On the bus trip up I met an English girl, Ally who I joint forces with upon arriving to find some accommodation. Unfortunately everything we went to was full!! Uh oh. After we had asked 3 or 4 guesthouses if they had any space, one of the ladies I guess took pity on us and because we are women and it was almost 11pm she told us we could stay with her sister across the street. Turns out that her sister owns a herbal steam spa and thats where we ended up staying for 120 baht ($4). We got a mat in one of the rooms that the usually use for massages. Quite nice and they have looked after us well. We went out for dinner as we were both starving and when we came back there was another girl in the room as well. We are going to share a room at one of the guesthouses around the corner tonight.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Bangkok to Kanchanaburi

My last night at Bangkok was a late one, didn't get to bed until the very very early hours of the morning. However, this wasn't from partying, this was from some very deep philosophical discussions regarding politics (of the thai government), and religion. The group of guys that I knew from Vang Vieng and Siem Reap had met a local Thai girl the night before, and we caught up with her again at a bar on a side street from Khao San Road. She explained in further detail about what all the protesting is about - its actually peaceful and predominantly about the corruption in the government and the impact between the different levels of society - poor, middle class and upperclass. As a middleclass member of society she was not involved in the protests, but was impacted directly because it caused alot more traffic and made things harder for her to get to work etc.

This conversation led on to topics of ghosts, spirit worship, a detailed description of buddha images and the importance of wearing them, creation, atheism and agnotistism. Very interesting, got quite heated up at a few stages. One of the guys I've been catching up doesn't believe there is a God, another one believes that there is but that anything pretty much goes.

Yesterday after going to bed at 4.30, I caught a mini bus from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi at the early hours of 7am . At least, thats what I was supposed to do. Guess what, I had bus drama's again! Having gotten up at 6.20, I was well and truly checked out and waiting for the bus to come by about 6:50. Went for a quick toilet break and told the lady at reception to tell the bus driver to wait (as they were coming to collect me) in case they came precisely on time. So I was just waiting out the front of the guesthouse at the restaurant with my bags. Waiting, waiting, waiting.. more waiting. A few other people had been waiting for buses to come and majority were all running late. Anyway by 7:40 I thought I'll just check on this.. asked at reception and she made phone calls and turns out that the bus driver had come, had a look around and taken off (without inquiring at the front desk) leaving me behind, and was it okay for me to take the 9am bus instead? That was no drama's, I'd originally wanted the 9am bus but had been told it was full. So after that drama, I got on the 9am bus and made it to Kanchanaburi by about 11.30. Spent the rest of the afternoon meeting other travellers at the backpackers (Jolly Frog - highly recommended), lazing around in hammocks and playing some guitar. Went to dinner at a little restaurant across the road and had the most amazing red curry I've ever had!!

Today I joined up with a tour group to explore the greater surrounding area of kanchanaburi. Four of us were from Jolly Frog and had met up last night, but during our explorations during the day ended up pairing up. I wandered around with a guy from Adelaide, Ben for most of the day. We spent 4 hours at the Erawan waterfalls which has 7 levels. It was pretty but I've seen better waterfalls so that in particular didn't impress me all that much. The funniest thing about the water were the fish!

There is no fishing due to it being a national park and a spiritual place so there are some MASSIVE fish in the waters, but there are also itty bitty tiny ones, the ones that are also known as 'Dr fish' and eat the dead skin off your feet. I tend to go barefoot a significant portion of the time, and even though I had a pedicure the other day in Siem Reap, these fish obviously decided that my feet were in need of a good solid clean. They kept attacking non-stop pretty much the entire time I was in the water, if I was still for about 3 seconds they would come up and have a nibble. For the first half an hour or so of swimming around, any time I'd stand and get attacked I would be jumping up and down as it is the most bizarre feeling. I later let them do their magic and it was so funny to feel them sucking around your toes and heels and the bottom of your feet. We also went on a train railway line that was built by japanese prisoners of war.

Now I'm about to go have dinner at that awesome restaurant, and tomorrow head up towards chiang mai (via bangkok by the sounds of it).

Monday, April 5, 2010

Battambang to Bangkok

I had to quickly finish the last entry, ending on how funny it is that you end up meeting up with people randomly that you didn't particularly expect to see again. This happened to me while I was in Battambang. I happened to re-meet a Swiss guy, Klas who I had met on my last night in Siem Reap. It had been his first night and we had gone to dinner with another sole traveller and I had shown them around a little bit of the town at night time. As he had only just arrived in Siem Reap that night, I naturally didn't expect to see him again.

However, after catching the boat to Battambang and arriving in the late afternoon, checking into my hotel I was exploring the city at night after some dinner. My conclusion was that there was little activity and most people were in bed by about 8pm. So, I had started to make my way back to my hotel to read or something when a girl and guy rode past me on bicycles. I thought, hang on, that guy looks really familiar, no, he wouldn't be here in Battambang. They stopped in front of me before a hotel and then he turned around and fancy that, Klas was in Battambang. It was a funny moment. He'd decided when he had woken up that he would catch the bus (which coincidently beat me to battambang) to meet up with some other friends who he had previously travelled with who had just arrived in town.

From that chance meeting, we decided to go together as a group in the morning (Easter Saturday) to explore the country side of Battambang. Klas, Hillary (the girl he had been bicycle riding with) and myself wanted to get dirt bikes to do this. However, four of the other girls had already organised a tuk-tuk driver. So what ended up happening was that Klas and I hired 250cc dirt bikes with Hillary a pillion with Klas. Then we followed the girls in the tuk-tuk around for a few hours so we knew how to get to some of the main sights of the area.

Subsequently we got sooooooo dirty!! Alot of the roads we went on (actually pretty much all of them) were dirt roads, and the main roads particularly had a bit of traffic and some trucks going which ended up in lots and lots and lots of dust. Absolutely filthy by the end of the day, but it was definitely worth it and so much fun! I was loving being on a 'real' motorbike again even though my foot was a bit painful changing gears initially (the swelling hadn't completely gone down yet).

First we went to the killing caves where we had to climb a mountain in sweltering heat. Upon arrival at the site, we had to pay $2 each to the "tourist police" - funny concept yes I know, but basically the tourist police charge you to visit historical sites, or for doing the wrong thing etc... Then we climbed the mountain, with the help of 1 child guide (we had to argue hard to get down to one). He showed us the killing caves, where the Khmer Rouge had bashed the heads of women and children and then thrown them into the cave. At the site the bones are kept in a glass cabinet on display to respect the deceased and as a memorial shrine of sorts. There were a few other caves on the mountain that we explored through as well, most with bats using them as a home.

After the killing caves our little party went to a village where we saw different fruits and vegetables that they grew, tried some different fruits and sugar cane. Before our group split up, the last thing we did in the afternoon together was to ride out to the bamboo train to have a go on that. Apparently it will be closed next year, but it is debatable as to whether that will really happen because they have been saying that for a few years..

We debated for a while over the price, and ended up hiring 2 bamboo trains. One to carry us, and one to carry the 2 dirt-bikes. Bamboo trains are basically 2 axles and a big bamboo mat with a small motor that is placed on top. They can be dissasembled within seconds and there is a hierarchy that determines who has right of way when two trains meet when going in opposite directions. Ultimately, the train with the largest load ends up getting right of way, and a motorbike or scooter wins regardless of the load due to the difficulty (and lack of space on the side of the train) of getting them on and off. On our little 5km journey we ran into another opposing train which meant we got to watch them pull it apart!

Once we got off the train we all went our separate ways as us 3 on bikes wanted to go and visit the temple ruins (can't remember the name) which are believed to be a bit of a pre-cursor to the temples of Angkor Wat. Having already been to the temples of Angkor, I could definitely agree that they were made by the same sort of people in the same kind of style. The temples were on top of a massive massive hill which took quite a while to climb up on. Once again we met with the tourist police at the bottom of the hill and had to pay another $2. If we had been another 20 minutes later we would have missed them as they had left by the time we reached the bottom of the hill.

On the way from the Bamboo train to the temple, we got ourselves a little bit lost. But it was so much fun! We were tearing about and riding on these little dirt tracks that took us through many many villages where children would come running out yelling hello. Very cute and reminded me alot of Africa days. It was nice to be out amongst the real people of Cambodia rather than the touts and people harrassing you. Everyone was extremely helpful. We stopped many times for directions to the ruins and everyone always gave us directions, with our limited english-khmer exchanges.

The last thing we did before it was dark was attempt to find the abandoned Pepsi factory that was abandoned in 1975 with the Khmer Rouge take-over. According to Lonely Planet it was easy to find, with all the equipment still in place. It was not an easy find at all!! We struggled to find it and eventually managed to do so. The areas that you could access (by jumping a fence) had all been looted and pretty much burnt down, but there was 1 old broken glass pepsi bottle still in that area. The majority of the warehouse was now shut-off with padlocks on the doors. Peering through the grates and cracks in doors you could see rows and rows of bottles, but little more as it was getting dark.

It has been interesting to note over here in Asia that there has been no reference anywhere whatsoever to Easter, no easter eggs, no hot cross buns (I was craving them yesterday!!). Complete contrast to back home where I saw hot cross buns in January before I had even left Australia!!

Yesterday on Easter Sunday I caught a bus from Battambang to Bangkok. It was a very long hot and sweaty ride as always. We got on the bus at 8am, arrived at the border a few hours later and waited in the queue for at least 30-40 minutes. There were about 50-100 people waiting to leave Cambodia with only 1 officer at the desk... agrrhggh! But eventually I made it through, crossed the 'friendship bridge' and past all the casinos of poipet and quickly passed through the border into Thailand.

Once through I had to wait about 20 minute for a pick up truck to collect us and take us to a restaurant where we waited for the bus. We waited for almost 2 hours for the bus to come!! Subsequently we arrived into Bangkok at 6pm instead of about 3pm. I met a Shannon, an American girl on the boat and we got along well together so ended up sharing a room here in Bangkok.

Bangkok is not what I expected. I guess I expected this crazy big built up city with traffic everywhere. Yes there is traffic, but from my observations, compared to Saigon, Bangkok is alot quieter. There aren't as many high rises and its actually kind of cool. I am staying on a street parallel to Khao San (the main backpacker strip) which has a really nice atmosphere. Right now there is a guy playing live acoustic guitar outside the guesthouse where I am staying. I'm enjoying that alot!

Today Shannon and I went exploring the city by foot and got through all (or at least the majority of) the shopping that we needed to do. I got myself a new phone (finally 2 months after mine was stolen), at least it is new to me. It is technically a 2nd hand phone, but still it's new to me! :) We walked quite a few kilometres in the heat, but it was good as you could stop and jump into a 7/11 for some cooling air conditioning if the heat and sweat got too much. You aren't harrassed by the touts and tuk-tuk drivers any where near what you are in other countries. I learnt that today (Monday) is the Kings day and that the Kings favourite colour is yellow, so people often wear yellow on Monday. At the moment there is some protestations happening around town, but they are peaceful. Everyone is wearing these red shirts, bandana's and these red hand clapping things. On our walk we went through a few areas where the protesters were gathered. There was a big concert where a guy was singing (I couldn't understand unfortunately) and everyone was clapping along. It seems to be about dissolving parliament due to corruption, but I haven't really looked into it too much.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

the Boat ride to Battambang

Friday morning I woke up very early and left Siem Reap to catch the boat to Battambang as recommended by lonely planet as "one of the most scenic boat trips around cambodia". I have learnt on my travels to pretty much ignore the majority of recommendations in LP books - they are mostly just useful for the maps (which are frequently wrong anyway) and to find out what activities are around the different towns.

The boys I'd met in 4000 islands had done the same trip (in reverse) from battambang to Siem Reap and had pre-warned me that the likelihood of me getting stuck was high as their boat had gotten stuck and everyone had to jump out to push. Thankfully that didn't happen to us. The state of the water is absolutely filthy, nasty nasty smell - didn't really want to have to get into it! It was very shallow though - a few times you could tell that the bottom of the boat was dragging along the bottom of the river!

As we were riding along the river, there are kids swimming on the side of the banks having an absolute blast of a time with the wake of the boat causing waves. They were jumping around doing somersaults and everything, yelling and screaming and laughing and saying hello. Very cute.

I have to laugh at some things here in Cambodia. For example, the men will often walk around wearing just a towel - any hour of the day. On our boat trip we stopped at a little shop on the side of the river and all transactions were made with the owner in his little towel smoking a cigarette... impressive ;)

During wet season, the river increases in height by up to 6m I believe - the houses that are permanent structures (there are floating villages as well) are on these stilts, some of which are miles and miles above land!

Battambang itself is a quiet little town - not too much happening there. There are some interesting sights outside though which I explored yesterday with some friends. Its funny how you end up meeting up again with people you didn't expect to see again.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The wonders of Angkor Wat and Siem Reap

Day 1
Spent the day exploring the city, and the markets. There are some excellent day and night markets here in Siem Reap. In the afternoon I found a cooking class at Temple Club restaurant/bar where I was the only participant whichwas pretty cool. Oh my goodness oh so good! yum yum yum. I made fresh spring rolls, chicken amok (like a curry of sorts) and a banana coconut milk tapioca dessert. Awesome stuff. all for $10 and so much food to eat. At night went out with some friends I had made and ended up at a local khmer club "hip hop" where we were the only white people in the establishment! Bit of fun.

The street kids took a shine to me that night, grabbing my hands, asking for money, jumping up on me, literally one used me like a tree and climbed all on top of me. It was a bit insane.

Day 2
up at 5.30 am to see the sunrise at Angkor Wat. Unfortunatly it has been a bit cloudy and overcast so the sunrise was not spectactular, sun didn't come up until it was quite high in the sky. Had breakfast at one of the street venders by the temple site and then headed into the temple and started to explore. Unfortunatley we picked one of the few days in the month where you aren't able to climb to the top of the peaks or towers of Angkor, due to it being a special.

After such an early start we continued to wander through around (and occasionaly over or on top) ;) the other major and not so major temple ruins on the grand circuit, finishing in the mid afternoon. My favourite for sure is Ta Prahn, the jungle temple or tomb raider temple, pretty funky looking.



Day 3
Trying to avoid the perpetual harrassment of tuk-tuk drivers (and their inflated prices from the guesthouse), I hired a push-bike for the day for $1 and decided to take a bit of a ride out towards the Roulos temples (13km east of the city). Forgot to take sunscreen so got a bit pink.. (I didn't intend to be out all day long and get back at 6pm as it happened)

On the way back into town after visiting the 2 main temples there I saw a sign directing to Angkor Wat so I thought I may as well drop by there again. The road took me past al these villages lots of kids saying hello, some cheeky ones asking for candy. It was great to be out on the road, with no westerners. Everyone was probaly thinking this crazy white girl riding a bicycle all this way! I had fun though.

On this road I saw a sign for Bantea Srey which is a temple about 40km out of town. The signs where i was were saying 30 so i decided I may as well keep riding and save myself the $20 the tuk-tuk drivers wanted me to pay to get there. So I rode and rode and rode and rode. Eventually I got to a cross road (me being very hot and tired) and a motorbike rider approached me and said he would take me the remaining 20km to the temple. I was pretty wrecked by this stage (about 1pm heat of ht eday) so agreed. I thought it was worth $5 to get driven 40km there and back. AFter I had finished there, I continued my ride, via Angkor Wat for another quick view but it as closed by then so didnt'climb it. Then back to town. All in all, I ended up riding 50-60 km, so was ridiculously hot, sweaty, tired with a very sore butt and legs afterwards!

while we were out at night (at 1am) we played a couple of local games with some khmer youths. One was like a doubles version of duck duck goose, and the other was a bit of a simon-says sort of game, in circles. Alot of fun, took some video of us running around in circles and them shrieking, singing and clapping.

Again, while out at night (about 2pm) the street kids took a shine to me. One girl (about 7yrs old) had a little baby with her who couldn't have been much older than 3 or 4 weeks, absolutely tiny. She was asking me to buy milk for the baby. It is difficult to know what to do, because on one hand you know that they could legitimately be poor and have no money, and on the other hand, be wanting you to expose where you have your money kept on you.

Day 4
Rest day, chilled out reading books and exploring the city a bit more, chatting wiht other travellers and treated myself to a massage after yesterdays marathon effort on the push bike! Did some market wandering again, but didn't really buy anything (I dont want to carry anything!).

thought I"d give aquick mention to the local kids. Everyone asks you where you are from and when I say Australia they list off a whole bunch of random facts about australia, including where our capital is, who our prime minister is, the population (even I don't know that!!). Can be quite amusing.

While I was here I had been planning to give blood (ever since I started 'planning'my trip in january) at the childrens hospital here. However, due to me being on antibiotics and my foot still swollen (but it is improving), I figured it probably awsn't the smartest idea and had to pass on that plan which was a shame.

I've just discovered that it is easter this weekend (other the time and the day of the week, thats about as much as Iknow about whats happening at the moment in the world i'm sorry to say.

My plan is to visit Battambang for the next couple of days then on to thailand. i just got in contact with a girl working there atm who offered me a room at her house which is pretty cool. Coincidently she worked in the peace corp in Zambia! Also, I found a church, well at least i googled about a church there, so i might stay put there for hte next 3 days so i can go to church for the first time while I've been here in asia! Anyway bed time. i'm being eaten alive by mosquitoes and need to be up in 5 hours to catch the boat.