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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thai/Cambodia Border

Four and a half hours after you first stepped onto the bouncing bus, you come to the terminal station, Aranya Prathet. Once thought to have brought you directly to the border, you are now faced with an additional Tuk Tuk ride. Through the dusty town, the trustworthy, woman, chauffeur drives you. Finally, you come to a tin roofed building with two unofficial looking lads waiting for your arrival. The other Thai’s onboard the bus are nowhere to be seen. It’s just you, and a German couple, apparently waiting for a Cambodian Visa. The man, dressed in a T-shirt and jeans informs you of the procedure. “You must fill this form out, and since you don’t have passport photos there will be an additional fee”. As you fill out the informal sheet of paper, suspicions rise. You decide to play into their game, and inform them you will come back if you need this particular visa once you get to the border. The man warns against it, and as you crawl back into the Tuk Tuk, he yells back at you “You’ll regret it, and when you do come back I make you pay extra!!”



Scam averted.


Once at the conciliate, you pay the visa fee, receive the official visa in your passport and continue on. (You learn later this was an unnecessary step, as the border does indeed issue every correct visa you need).


The border itself is bustling with activity. Some seem to simply walk through with food stalls, backpacks, and children in hand, paying no attention to any government official, or particular line. Others line up for visa stamps at the ‘immigration’ counter. Once inside the river of border crosees, you are wary of pickpockets. A couple attempts to unzip your pack, but your peripherals are on high alert.

Pick Pocket averted.

The pedestrian traffic is thick, the sun is going down and you no longer have currency or any grasp of language. Incessant taxi drivers nearly pull your pack off in an attempt to win your business. Their friends, who smell like booze, inform you that they are security guards and warn against taking the bus.  Lucky there is strength in numbers, and thank god for meeting another American couple. With a combined effort to negotiate a fair price, you're off on the 2.5 hour ride to Siem Reap ($30)
Expensive cab averted.
 Welcome to Cambodia.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Box

The fan’s drone reverberates off every wall in my box they call a room. The florescent light above me flickers ever so slightly, illuminating every hand print, foot print, and other marking against the walls. The off white wall paint turns a pale toxic green under the single tube light that brightens the room. The one window contains a view of the hallway, and does not supply fresh air or sunlight. This is a typical Thai Guesthouse. I feel fortuned to have hot water, and internet access not to mention an English speaking host. Linens are in fact provided on my single, hard bed. The crisp white sheets accent the virulent wall color. Two pillows allow me to gain comfort in an otherwise institutional room. I’m just glad to have the glow of my computer to complete the picture.




Friday, November 19, 2010

Railey Beach - Just Relax

On the Ferry to Railey
I’ve traded the seven-day-a-week beach party for something a little more relaxed. Railey Beach actually consists of two beaches, and that’s about it. It’s landlocked by enormous, jagged limestone cliffs to the North, and water everywhere else; not quite an island, not quite the mainland either. Long tail boat is the only way in or out, so it attracts a certain type of traveler: someone looking for chilled out beach or rock time.
West beach consists mainly of larger resorts, but has the best white sand beach seen yet. East beach has some smaller businesses, bars, and restaurants, an awful mangrove beach, and that’s about it. There’s a dirt walkway between the two. Similar to Phi Phi, there is no motor traffic here. There aren’t really any roads, or paths either making pedestrian traffic the only mode of transport. Railey literally is two beaches, and the path that connects the two with a few limestone caves around.



The limestone cliffs that enclose the beaches are really unique. Most caves in the world are formed from limestone, and in that, we can assume there are a lot of caves here. It’s true. I’ve walked on whatever small paths I can find to discover untouristed cave systems. Some are large, some are very small. Heaven for me though. Even without a true to the word ‘cave’, the cliffs have formed large stalagmites, and stalactites that just simply hang off the sides. Cave swifts (click to watch), small bats, and geckos are abundant. Railey really is one of the first places I’ve been to where wildlife is still viewable. Gibbons, Macaques, and spider monkeys patrol the place, while squirrels chase each other all day long. Fish are abundant, and are BBQed daily along the beach.

Diamond Cave

From my beach bungalow, I can hear so many interesting noises throughout the day. The morning starts with monkey calls, the ending songs of the cicadas (click to hear), the waves lapping and the occasional long boat. Long boat engines drone out most other noises in the afternoon, but by six the jungle comes alive again with deafening competition for the loudest call between insects and frogs. As I write this blog I hear thunder not that far away. I’m awaiting the afternoon thunder storm in my hammock. The waves are barely heard through the chorus of screaming cicadas, but I do manage to sleep well with the doors and windows open under a mosquito net. Two thumbs up for the tropics.



lol

Interesting rock formation on the way to Railay

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Koh Phi Phi


Long Tail to Phi Phi Lay

Kho Phi Phi - a tropical island with beautiful blue water, and stark cliff sides. It was one of the worst hit in the Tsunami disaster, but yet, it still manages to thrive as a tourist destination. The town has slowly started to rebuild itself, but because of the geography, one can begin to realize the immense amount of damage that once happened. The town lies in the smallest part of the island, with two fantastic beaches within 7 minutes walking distance to each other.
Kho Phi Phi town is quaint, with no motor traffic at all. The walking village is free from that nose stinging car pollution Thailand and South East Asia has become so famous for. Cobble stone streets weave through the tin roof shops, rebuilt guest houses, dive shops and countless restaurants and food stalls. White tourists are more plentiful here than locals, which makes for incredibly fun and interesting night life. Numerous bars line the streets, but everyone heads to the beach between the hours of 10pm-5am. Apache bar, and Slinky compete with flashy neon signs, glow in the dark body paint, thumping beats and plywood, beachfront dance floors. Other beachfront properties offer everything but the neon. Hippy bar has the best fire dancers in town, and puts on quite a show. After the show, one is able to relax on the beach on the provided mats with a bucket in hand, or join everyone on the dance floor. The big thing here is buckets. Bars offer highballs in the size and shape of a small bucket. They contain a full can of soda, and a half mickey of booze. Because competition is so stiff, one cannot walk through town after 7pm without getting handed flyer after flyer, advertising 3 for 1 buckets here, or free bucket between 11:00 and 11:10 there. Believe me, all you need is one. And the best part about it? You can take it on the road with you, and enjoy any and every bar with a single bucket for the evening.

Hippy Bar + Beach

Ok, so aside from the nightlife Kho Phi Phi also hosts a few other fun activities. Snorkelling and diving are the biggest hit here, other than alcohol fuelled debauchery, followed closely by rock climbing. Climbers come for the immense limestone cliffs, while others come because it’s the jetting off point for famous Phi Phi Lay, and other notorious dive spots . Phi Phi Lay is a smaller, uninhabited island that has a few major attractions. First, it’s the host of Maya Beach – the beach that was filmed in “The Beach”. It also has the “Viking Cave” where swifts can be found, and their nests can be harvested (as scene in Planet Earth). There are a few different inlets that contain truly turquoise water, live coral and lots tropical fish. Jeff, myself and two English guys shared a longtail boat (1200baht) that took us to 3 separate snorkelling spots, Maya beach, plus a quick stop at Monkey Beach, where you guessed it, you can feed greedy monkeys.


Kho Phi Phi’s style is still that of the backpacker. There’s never a dull moment, and things are still relatively cheap (exept for breakfast). If you like laying on the beach, snorkelling or diving, climbing, or partying, you will enjoy this island.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

A Night in Patong, Followed by Ferry to Kho Phi Phi


Too early to sail after a night at Patong Beach


Coming into Ko Phi Phi's Harbor

I made it to Kho Phi Phi today after a wild night in Patong, Phuket. Similar to Bangkok, Patong has a rowdy party scene, that is interesting for the night, but incredibly seedy knowing it happens every night. Thai culture celebrates their gays, and cross dressing men, by completely assimilating them with women. No one can tell who’s who, and it makes for an interesting night. Thumping clubs, crawling streets, strippers, prostitutes, foreigners, and ‘ping pong’ handouts are plentiful. (You’ll have to research that one yourself). Inside some of the more prestigious clubs, one isn’t exposed the over stimulus of these things, but rather just bumping tunes and a mix of Thai and Farangs swaying to the beat. Outside the doors, neon signs, small sois packed with small bars, lady boys, and beer drinking Aussies are the norm.

The ferry from Phuket to Ko Phi Phi is pleasant. Once onboard, you are offered free coffee or tea, and a croissant. The journey takes about 2 hours, although I’m sure a new boat design would drastically cut that by almost half. Limestone jetts out of the blue ocean from time to time, making the crossing more interesting.


I was so tuckered today, I took a short nap on the beach. Even with overcast skies, and a decent base, I managed to tan myself into a combo of a short shorts tan, a t-shirt tan, and a minor face and chest burn. Doh!. Well, off to do some more window shopping…

Foreign Comforts. Patong Beach, Phuket.

Crowded Karon Beach, Phuket






Backlogged - Phuket

Good bye Chiang Mai, hello rain.




Water Pours off of the OnOn roof
I took an AirAsia flight from Chiang Mai to Phuket with the intention of not only beach bumming, but meeting a friend. Although we met up, we were also met with rain, and lots of it. I just missed the monsoon, but it’s been grey and on-and-off dizzily since I’ve gotten here. (Update: The monsoon comes and goes. Right now it’s lightening, rain, and wind.) On the first night, we stayed at the infamous OnOn Hotel, where Leonardo Dicaprio had the opportunity to watch Daffy kill himself in The Beach. Although the scene was supposed to be in Bangkok, at a grungy hostel, it was actually filmed right here in Phuket Town. The next day, we had the pleasure of meeting an American turned local, as of 21 years ago.

Darryl took us to the Giant Buddah on top a large hill just outside Phuket. It truly was huge. When we finally reached the top of the hill via the water torn road, we were surrounded by misty cloud cover. As it moved over the mountain, patches of clear view were to be seen. One could witness both sides of Phuket Island from one summit. Monks, worshippers, and tourists alike crowded around the giant, marble monument. The climb is quiet, aside from the cliché and completely hypnotizing gong ringing from the top. I’m a sucker for cliché however, and climbing towards a 49M, marble Buddha, perched on top of a hill, atop a large mountain really was awe inspiring,


After that, we found our new place for the evening at Daryll’s home at Friendship Beach. Him and his girlfriend live in a new place, and have many friends. We were invited to a party at Red’s house, a friend of Darryl’s, where we were happy to celebrate Reds’ sons’ first birthday. A combination of food, drinks, laughter, fireworks, and hot air lanterns made for an exciting night. We sat directly on the beach, watching lightening pass to the South. We watched the clouds roll in, and the rain started again heavily, although briefly. Good start, South Thailand.



Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Jungle Fever.... (or is that just sweat?)

  
 Thailand is an interesting place. It’s full of amazing culture, and people. I find it is easier traveling as a woman here than in Central America to be honest. As long as you respect cultural boundaries, they have so far proven to respect that of the farang (foreigner) as well. No longer does one have to put up with the Latin Hiss, or incessant cat calling of other countries I’ve been to. Not only having, but maintaining cultural and religious boundaries has made for a pleasant experience with the local people so far.

50 m waterfall


The Trek

As with any other third world country, one is exposed to car pollution. Air care doesn’t exist, and your nose starts to sting. With that in mind, I wanted to venture a little into this nearly pristine jungle I kept hearing about. Chiang Mai has tour companies on every street, or people trying to sell tours to tourists at least. Deciding what to do is fairly difficult, since everyone is just trying to make a buck. Lucky for me, our host at Libre guest house is simply amazing. She was very helpful in seeking out what I wanted; a rugged trek with little to no tourists. They had a house tour that happens to fall into the category.


 There were a total of seven of us. We all jumped into the songthaw which in literal translation means “two benches”. It’s a pickup truck with a tarp canopy on it, with two benches running down each side. As we drove out of the city, we drove up past rice fields, hot springs, and waterfalls. All of which we got to stop in at. The tour continued on to what we would call ‘base camp’; a final hot spring where we packed our backpacks and sent out on our 12km hike into the jungle.
Really hot springs

As we hiked up towards the mountain top, to an ultimately fantastic vista, we came across leeches living in the mud (and on my leg), numerous butterflies, and dancing termites. We had a few opportunities for breaks since the trail led us up three large mountains, and then back down. Our longer breaks were taken at hillside villages with no access other than the one-lane trail we hiked there on. By dusk, we finally made it to our last destination; a small 12-20 person village with the most basic of accommodation, and deliciously cooked outdoor meals.


The villagers spoke their own dialect, but since our tour guide was originally from the hills, we had few issues trying to communicate. Our long house was made strictly out of bamboo, with small mats on the floor, and mosquito nets hung above each abode. The floor was covered in unsturdy palm leaves, and bamboo studs. When the thick air of the hot day cools, moisture condenses, making bedding and anything else susceptible to damp. Paranoid about bugs, I checked my bedding at least 9 times, and I slept with my hood tied tightly against my head, even though my mosquito net covered my resting area well. I awoke several times throughout the night convinced the large spider I saw outside, had made its way inside only to be crawling somewhere near me. In actuality, I was quite alright, and the cat by my feet most likely had everything under control.

We got up early for basic breakfast to be followed by bamboo raft practice, and elephant feeding. The elephants at this particular camp are allowed to roam free, and come when called like dogs. They are well fed, and very well kept. From around the corner, three large elephants came walking towards us, already dressed with saddles. We fed them bananas before we set off on our 1 hour elephant ride down the river. They eventually dropped us off on the river bend, where we continued onwards via bamboo raft. Some parts were lazy, and we filled the gorge with pirate songs, or old blues songs… others were terrifyingly fast and full of rapids.

The gorge at these times was filled with screams of “Right Side!” “Left Side”. A navigation technic of using bamboo poles against the bottom of the river is used, and isn’t so easy during times of intense rapids. All in all, a couple small injuries were sustained, but everyone came out alright. I enjoyed my rugged adventure, and will be looking for more rainforest to explore…



Sunday, November 7, 2010

So Far... So Good...

Bangkok - View from HI Hostel
My first few days in Thailand have been action packed. I landed, took a cab into Sukhamvit, Bangkok to the HI Hostel. In the morning, while I waited for the banks to open, I met some lovely ladies from Victoria. We’ve been travelling together ever since. I convinced them to take the 11 hour bus ride to Chiang Mai with me. We got into Chang Mai at close to 3am. We wandered around a little before coming to the conclusion we were going to have to sleep on our backpacks for the remainder of the night. Right as we were scouting out a good spot in one of the quaint Sois, someone from one of the guest houses spotted us. We scored a room with three bedrooms, actual hot water, and a fan for 300 baht (that’s $10 a night).



Chiang Mai is a beautiful city. It’s an ancient one, with Wats, guest houses, restaurants and legit massage parlours scattered throughout the Old City. It’s split into two parts; Old City, and New City. The Old city is a quaint town with cobble stone streets winding throughout a perfect square, cut off by an ancient moat. Outside the moat is New City, where you can find malls, and even crazier traffic. I thought riding in a tuk tuk was scary, try riding a bicycle in Thai traffic. Lucky for me, I have bicycle experience downtown, so my defensive and aggressive nature on two wheels is just up to par here. It’s actually quite difficult getting one’s head around driving on the other side of the road. In the smaller Sois of Old City, the traffic is easy to handle, but the roundabouts and two lane traffic are definitely a little harder to navigate safely.

Beyond the endless amounts of good food, fresh fruit, cheap smoothies and bug stands, Chiang Mai has some fantastic markets to enjoy. Actually, I’m totally addicted. Between the clothing, the jewellery, the food stands, and handmade crafts, there is a real sense of culture. Locals and foreigners alike crowd around stands trying new foods, trying on clothes and sitting to talk about the day. Bartering comes with ease since most Thai speak enough English to get through the conversation. Today I had sticky rice with banana, cooked in a banana leaf. C’est Delicieux!!! I’ve bought myself new handmade sandals, some earrings, a necklace and pants… all for about $20.


The best thing for market addiction? A rugged two day trek into the mountains… Update soon.



Getting to Know Me

I’ve only been here three days, but fuck, does it feel good. I’ve tried to express my passion for travel to the average person, but everyone likes to travel. I feel it’s hard to explain that travel, and backpacking mostly is an important aspect of my life. I value being able to learn about other cultures and languages first hand. I value speaking to people from all over the world, and learning about their views and experiences. I value learning about politics, and experiencing the pros and cons of certain governments first hand. I value exploring the natural world, and learning about all of its importance, all over the world.  I value experiencing new things, and learning new ways of thinking and doing. I value having strong common sense, and being able to think independently. I value being an objective thinker, with the capabilities of simply observing the world go around. I value human connection, unbiased to social and global class. For people that don’t understand these values, I try to explain to them that it’s not vacation time I value, it’s experience that I value.

Exotic Fruit

Breakfast

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Watch the Progression

Why pay for booze, when beer comes free? I originally thought my 11 hour flight to Bejing might be excruciating, but it’s four hours in already. I surprised myself by thinking it was at around the 2 hour mark.


We just flew over Ankorage Alaska. The flight path is pretty cool. We don’t actually fly over the Pacific much at at all. We fly north, up through Alaska, and into the Bering Sea where eventually we’ll fly over Siberia. We’re cruising at over 350,000 feet on a huge air bus. I’m content with my flight so far. I recommend the Yan Jing Beer, free of charge.

All the seats have individual TV screens, so we’re not destined to watch whichever corny comedy, or 3 star Disney movie they provide. I’ve had the pleasure of watching Iron Man 2, and the latest Shrek, which I highly recommend, and How to Tame Your Dragon. Turns out I’d watch both the Disney, and the corny on my own accord anyways… at least I have choice I suppose.

Now at the 7 hour mark, flying just over Siberia now… which looks like a frozen wasteland to be honest. There isn’t a single sign of life below, just frozen tundra. I haven’t slept a wink, but the food was half decent, I had a choice of pork (obviously) and fish. I’m also getting my first dose of language issues. This is the third time in 10 minutes I’ve put on the ‘I need service’ light to ask for a new refreshment, but the message clearly isn’t getting through. Ah, I asked for tea and received green instead of black. Yup, it’s official, I’m not in Kansas anymore.


Yep, the first 6 hours were fine. But we’re now going on 9, with another 2 to go. Oh ya, not to mention the two hour layover in Bejing, followed by another 4.5 hours to Bangkok. The beer is making me burp, and I’m now over that to… It’s almost 10:30 at night back home, but since we’ve been following the light this whole way, it still looks like it might be about 3pm wherever I am in the world. My plan is to sleep slightly on the next flight, but not too much I can’t sleep this evening, when I arrive at 11:45.

 Flying into Bejing is like flying into any other city. While you descend through the haze, one tries to determine whether it’s pollution or light cloud. The surroundings are brown, and the industrial parts of town look like the inside of a computer. The buildings are systematically made to look similar. City blocks are planned to have the same size height and width buildings, making it appear so methodical it almost looks mechanic. There are 4 classic, “Simpson’s” nuclear plant cylinders, a huge super highway that disappears into the ‘haze’, and agriculture. At this point, I can hardly tell what’s what on the ground because of the incredible amount of well, who’s kidding, it’s pollution. The sun’s reflection on what little water I can see is a sickening orange. It’s easily as thick as dispersed fog. I was truly hoping to get a glimpse of the Great Wall from the air, but I can’t see into the distance at all. Next time.


Finally landed in Bangkok. I broke my rule of sleeping the entire way on that next plane, not mention snoozing in Bejing. Now I’m wired, but not quite prepared to venture into the nightlife of Sukhumvit. So, here I stay in the common area of the hostel, loathing having to wake up the other ladies in the room, listening to foreign club music out one window, and barking dogs out the other. Ah, just like any other foreign city. The highway on the way here was very well kept. I counted the amount of broken down cars, trucks or buses. Six total in an $8 cab ride. The electrical work is truly astonishing. I thought I had seen the worst, but I really don’t know how it works. Giant bundles of live wire accumulate at every post, some drooping to head level or lower. The skytrain is truly what us Vancouverites would call a SkyTrain, it looks exactly the same. I’ll take it tomorrow for shits and giggles.


Signing off, from Bangkok.