A Travellerspoint blog

Thailand

Thailand – Chiang Mai

Cooking with Elephants

sunny 35 °C

Chiang Mai is a Thai city at heart. Despite plenty of tour operators and traditional massage shops, it has a distinctly Thai feel. With plenty of traditional northern Thai food, even the Bangkok residents come to up here to sample it. The old town is a precise square full of alley ways and temples with a moat surrounding it and the remains of the old city walls at various sections. It is a gateway to lots of trekking, elephant adventures and getting amongst Thai people.

We arrived into the bus station and quickly secured our tuktuk into the old town. We hadn’t booked any accommodation but arrived at one we had looked into earlier. It was fine enough so we checked in and headed out for a walk through the streets to get a feel for the place.

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In the morning we once again opted for our weapon of choice for exploring, the trusty scooter! This time we headed out of town to the hills overlooking the city. This turned out to be a great decision, simply for the ride alone. The road was a curvy, well paved road (apart from the little bit that had fallen down the cliff) that snaked up the mountain allowing for some fun biking. I started to cop a bit of abuse from Tanya for going too fast and joking around about sticking my knee out to scrape round the corners though.

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We stopped off at a waterfall halfway up the road which was nice, but not really worth the 100THB entry fee each. We continued upward until we reached the temple that sit high on the hill overlooking Chiang Mai below. The temple was very gold and very Buddhalicios. We stayed for a little while before getting back on the scooter and enjoying the ride back downhill.

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As we had the scooter for 24hrs, we went back out again at night to find the night markets to the east of the old town. We parked the scooter up (undercover) just a minute before the night sky opened up and sent the stall owners running to get their awnings up and water tight. We took refuge in the closest building which happened to be a McDonalds. An hour passed and the rain finally eased off. We ventured back out through the markets crossing streets which now resembled fjords. After a successful night at the markets, Tanya was now the owner of some happy pants and a hippy bag. We biked back to the guesthouse through the big puddles that covered the streets.

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In the morning we were picked up from the guesthouse and driven 1 and a half hours out to the Mae Taeng Valley where we were going to be lucky enough to spend a day with elephants. The Elephant Nature Park was set up by a little Thai lady called Lek in the 1990’s and rescues injured, abused and distressed domesticated elephants. There are 34 elephants currently in the herd all with a story that pulls at the heart strings.

To understand elephants in Thailand, you need to be aware of a couple of things. The elephant is so deeply rooted in Thai culture that it is a symbol of luck and revered in many statues at sacred sites. However, the elephant has been a working animal in the building of the Thai kingdom. At the turn of the 20th century there were 100,000 elephants (domestic and wild) in Thailand, now that number is down to 5,000. Having had 95% of the population wiped out in just 100 years, it’s hard to see there being much of a future for them. Elephants were the principle vehicle of the logging industry, but a ban on logging literally sent the elephants onto the streets without a job any more. As they are considered working animals no different to a buffalo or ox, they have no protection against cruelty or abuse as the laws do not prevent this for working animals. Finally, the training methods for elephants are shackled by the traditional methods where pain, hurt and a good dose of black magic are what break the elephant into obedience.

We learnt these facts on the drive out to the elephant park on a DVD that was played as well as more information about Lek and the Park. Before long we were driving down a dusty track and could easily spot elephants down by the river on our left. We pulled into the park and were shown into the giant gazebo that houses the staff and visitors. You can pay to visit the park for a day (as we were doing) or stay for longer with overnight and weeklong volunteer projects on offer. There are no basket rides, elephant shows and tricks here, this park is solely for the elephants to have an easy life after many years of hard knocks.

We had about 8 of us in our group and no sooner had we put our bags down, our guide took us strolling through a gate and elephants started to come towards us! Just before this we had gone over the rules for being around the elephants. As much as elephants sound cute, as the biggest walking animal on the planet, they are pretty bloody intimidating when they come walking towards you. The guide had grabbed a few bananas for us and the elephants were keen for some of the fruit. We stood there for 10 minutes with most people a bit afraid to get close to the elephants. I was really enjoying the closeness that you get standing right in front of these mammals and even started to feed one female elephant by putting the bananas straight into her mouth rather than just giving it to her trunk. Although touching her huge slimy tongue wasn’t the best part of this experience.

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Elephants need a lot of food!

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Covering itself in mud

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We walked a bit further into the field where the veterinary clinic is and one of the elephants was having its nails buffed by one of the volunteers. As we stood there two other elephants came over to see us. One of them (Medo) was blind in one eye and had a broken back leg and dislocated backbone. Seeing the poor old lady moving along slowly really tugs at your heartstrings. The guide said that she broke her leg in a logging accident, and because she couldn’t work any longer, she was sent to a breeding farm where her back was dislocated after forced mating with a big bull. The amazing thing though is the other elephant that came over (Mae Mai) had adopted her when she first came to the park and now isn’t more than a few feet away from her as she slowly walks around the park. We stood there as this pair received their lunch baskets and fed them their fruit. Being this close to an elephant you realise that they are sparsely covered in log thick hairs all over their body. Stroking their trunk, the skin is really rough and prickly with shorter hairs.

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Poor Medo with her broken back leg

We then got to go over to the feeding area for the herd of elephants that have got the young calves with them. There were two elephants born at the park 3 years ago within months of each other (1 boy and 1 girl) and this herd are separated at feeding time for the safety of the little guys. Another great experience to be able to feed the baby elephants with their cute little faces.

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Next, our group visited two elephants who were victims of land mines. A lot of illegal logging goes on around the borders where there is the danger of unexploded land mines, and to see these two with mangled feet was another difficult thing to see. At least they both have a much better way to see out the rest of their life, than being forced to continue working or left to die.

We went back to the building where our own lunch was being served. As we sat their eating our food we watched as elephants were walking past and having an inquisitive look at what the humans were doing before continuing on their way to another part of the park.

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They don’t just rescue elephants at this park

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Our final treat of the day was spending time with the elephants in the river bathing them. Armed with a bucket to splash water over the backs of the elephants, we washed them clean of their mud as they stood there or got down into the water. Another great experience to share with the animals. No sooner where they clean, they headed back out and started gathering mud to sling all over their backs again!

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After washing a few elephants, we went onto the raised boardwalk as the herd with the young elephants were coming for their wash. They might get protective of the young ones if we were in the water so it’s safer to watch from a distance. We then had our final up close and personal time with the big herd once they were out of the water. We left the park feeling incredibly privileged to have spent the day with these gentle giants and glad that in some small way our fee will hopefully go towards helping future generations of elephants. You can see the elephant herd here at http://www.elephantnaturepark.org/herd/index.htm

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Found the love of my life

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We had another full day activity the following day and were picked up from our hotel again by Mam from Asia Scenic cooking school. Now Tanya and I wouldn’t exactly call ourselves the greatest of cooks going around, but if we can learn a few Thai dishes then we would be leaving Thailand with a good souvenir. With the cooking school, you have the option of doing it in the city restaurant or at their farm. We chose the farm, and this was a good choice by far in the end. Mam first took us to the local markets to pick up some ingredients for our meals. She explained to us the various types of rice and the different pricing based on age and origin. We then got told about noodles, tofu, cane sugar, coconuts and what we can use to substitute in our country. As it turned out there were only 4 of us doing the classes today with the other couple from Queensland in Australia.

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Once we drove out to the farm, we donned our traditional hats and then walked around the garden being told about all the herbs, vegetables and fruits that were there and how they are used in Thai cooking. Mam was very good at picking off the herbs for us and giving us a lot of information.

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We sat down to have a traditional welcome snack which is a few ingredients all put in a leaf to be eaten as once. I wasn’t too sure about it at first, but as soon as I tried one, wow!! We will be doing this as a snack when we have friends over once we have a house again in Australia!

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We had a 5 course menu to cook over the day and we started off firstly with a stir fry then followed by an appetiser. I chose to cook Pad Thai (as I haven’t been able to get enough of them here in Thailand) and Tanya did a chicken and cashew nut dish. We followed that up with Tanya cooking a glass noodle salad and me preparing spring rolls from scratch, rolled, fried and served up on a plate.

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I think the pink apron just completes this scene along with Chicken and Cashew Nut and Pad Thai

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We got to eat our stir fry and then our appetisers as soon as we had cooked them. To be honest, they weren’t small portions so we were glad we had skipped breakfast to have room for 3 more courses.

We started on the rest of the meals firstly by preparing our curry pastes. Tanya was doing a green curry and I was doing a traditional northern Thai curry called a Khaw Soi. The thing about doing the curry pastes is that the base for each paste is the same, it’s just the different type of chilli for green and red curry, and for Panang and Khaw Soi you just add peanuts or chilli powder to the red chilli paste. Simple really. We started bashing all the spices in the mortar until we ended up with our respective curry paste ready to go before cutting up our vegetables ready for our soup dishes.

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Curry and Soup ready to go

We then paused with the main meals to prepare the desert. I went for coconut battered deep fried banana and Tanya made Coconut Sticky Rice with Mango. Once we had them done, it was back to our curry and soup. I made a Prawn Tom Yum and Tanya made a local style Tom Sab soup. A few minutes slaving over the hot stove and we had a curry, soup and desert ready to eat. They all tasted great, and with the dishes that the other 2 prepared, we had almost covered off all the options that the school offers.

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Final servings

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Being absolutely stuffed full from all the food we were taken back into the city and didn’t need much more for the rest of the day. We were heading further east in the morning to Chiang Rai before making the border crossing into Laos. Lets hope that goes smoothly.

FINAL THOUGHTS
Daniel – Chiang Mai turned out to be a fantastic stop on the trip. I really liked the feel of the city, much more authentic than Bangkok and the islands down south. The time spent at the elephant farm was unforgettable and really rewarding. I think that Chiang Mai had the best Pad Thai I’ve tasted, and best of all I COOKED IT!!!

Tanya – Some amazing highlights. As a city, I really liked Chiang Mai, it has a walled old town which just added to the charm. In many ways it is set up for tourists but the competition means that you wont find many cheaper cooking classes elsewhere in Thailand. Our experience with the elephants was such an incredible day.

Posted by dbgomes 06:25 Archived in Thailand Tagged thailand round_the_world Comments (0)

Thailand – Sukhothai

Lots of Wat's

semi-overcast 29 °C

We headed further north for another historic site at Sukhothai. The guesthouse here had a great restaurant area with a pool table where we relaxed for the evening. Dan could smell inviting aromas coming from the kitchen and decided he was very hungry. Our host at the guesthouse appeared shortly after and showed us the snack she had made for her family.

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Yep, those are crickets!

I asked for a photo and we were offered some. Dan, as always, jumped at the opportunity.

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He describes them as delicious and crispy, but would prefer them without the wings which are a little hard to swallow! It’s worth a note that the local Sukhothai dishes (with chicken) are really good, if you get here, try them!

The historic park/old town here is located about 14km from the new town so the obvious choice as usual was scooter rental. We were very impressed with Sukhothai, the whole historic area has been made into one big park scattered with old temples.

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Having come here after Ayutthaya, the ruins here are actually better preserved and in a nicer setting. This made the photo taking a lot easier!

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We had the scooter so were able to go further for some sightseeing. I wasn’t too concerned about getting lost with the retro colour scheme today!

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We may have taken a detour as we often do and found ourselves exploring dirt tracks possibly unnecessarily. But we found a few more photographic sights.

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With some time to spare in the afternoon we thought it was finally time for a traditional Thai massage. I (Tanya) had been putting this off for a long time, you see, I have this disability – I hate massages! Anyway Dan and I sat back for a pleasant foot rub, well pleasant until my toes were being pulled out of their sockets! Then the rest was pretty well a disaster for me, either too ticklish or painful, I found it hard to sit still. Our massuist’s found my disability quite entertaining saying something like ticka-ticka (meaning ticklish) and decided to swap, so that the firm lady went to Dan to work him over while I tried to restrain my laughter. My massage finished 10 minutes early being an obvious lost cause. Well I’ve tried it now!

We were taken back to the local bus station by the local form of transport where we hopped on another bus for a few hours ride further north

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Final thoughts:
Tanya – Sukhothai was a great little town. I was pleasantly surprised and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Daniel – I liked it here even more than Ayutthaya. Maybe having a scooter rather than the bicycles was the saving grace... Nah, this place would have been better even on bikes!

Posted by dbgomes 23:37 Archived in Thailand Tagged thailand round_the_world Comments (1)

Thailand – Ayutthaya

Ruined by the heat

sunny 33 °C

Famed as the ancient capital of Thailand, there is plenty of history on offer just a short distance north of Bangkok. Ayutthaya is a city, but felt quiet enough compared to bustling Bangkok. The centre of town is an island, with 3 rivers coming together to form a natural moat. This gave it the feel of a walled city without the brick and mortar.

We managed to get some admin done in Bangkok while we had access to speedy wifi and international consulates for arranging advance visas for later in the trip. We had an easy minivan ride from Bangkok to Ayutthaya given that we were staying right near victory monument which is where the vans originate.

Dan and I found a cozy little home stay and hardly wanted to venture out of the safety of the air-conditioning! But we managed to brave the scorching and muggy conditions to find the brand new tourist information office. The staff were incredibly helpful and loaded us up with maps and brochures before suggesting we visit the free exhibition on Ayutthaya. Well , an air-conditioned exhibition was a very exciting prospect in itself and turned out to be very worthwhile. It gave us a good understanding of the city and its place in Thai history.

The following day armed with our maps, brochures and hired bicycles we set out to explore the historic ruins. First we decided to make a detour to book some onwards bus tickets. Over 2 hours later and some scary freeway cycling we had our bus tickets sorted. It would have been handy to know that our maps turned out to be not quite to scale once you leave the old town area.

Fairly tired by now, we started at the Wat Mahathat ruins. These were spread over quite a large area, so we wandered around through the ruins. There was quite a bit of restoration going on and you could see places where Buddha’s had been propped up against old walls ready to be fixed into place again. The most impressive feature in these ruins was the image of the Buddha head entwined in the tree roots.

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We summoned up enough energy to do some more exploring. We passed a number of Wat’s and historic ruins and escaped the traffic for a break in the park.

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Just what you want for 1.5 hour bus rides, karaoke the whole way!

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Pimp my ride, Tuk Tuk style

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Offerings of favourite softdrink is very common

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Wat Phra Si Sanphet was an impressive sight with the 3 aligned chedis.

We had seen an elephant walking along the street when we arrived. While cycling around we found where they had come from. We cycled along the back of this place, and found these poor little guys putting on a show. I assume the rest of the audience had paid although we just cycled past on the road.

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We kept pushing on fitting in a final few temples, Buddhas and ice cream breaks into the day

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We set off again heading further north in search of what would hopefully be some cooler conditions.

FINAL THOUGHTS
Tanya – Despite being hot and tiring work seeing Ayutthaya by bicycle, it was an interesting little stop none the less. It was incredible how the modern city is built right in amongst so many historic sites.

Daniel – It’s good to see some ruins that show the power that was in these parts of the world! I was really interested to read that a lot of the European powers had consulates here on the island during the height of the Siam power in the 1600’s and Europe tried to find a foothold in South East Asia.

Posted by dbgomes 20:25 Archived in Thailand Tagged thailand round_the_world Comments (0)

Thailand – Koh Phi Phi

Poo Poo'd in Phi Phi

semi-overcast 30 °C

Koh Phi Phi is one of the top destinations in Thailand thanks to its great weather & beaches. The most famous of these beaches is Maya Bay which stared alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in the movie ‘The Beach’. This beach is located on the deserted smaller island of Phi Phi Leh while all the action goes on at the bigger island of Phi Phi Don

The first thing we noticed sailing into the port was the difference between these west coast islands compared to the east coast islands. KPP is much more dramatic with large sheer cliff faces rising out of the sea. There are no roads on KPP so when we arrived to the island we walked through the town to find the hotel we were looking to stay at. We found it alright but the town was looking a bit more touristy than the other islands we had been to. We instead headed off to the bay on one side of the town while the sun set behind the hills

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We wanted to head out to Maya bay the following morning and looked around at different places to try and find somewhere that left early and would hopefully get us out to the bay before it fills up with other tourists. We settled on a dive shop which ran a snorkelling trip starting at 7.30am the following morning so had an early night after some food. Just as we were all in bed, the girl from the dive shop knocked on the door and said that the trip for the following day was over booked, could we do the day after. We didn’t really mind either way so took the following day option.

This turned out as a blessing in disguise for Jeffro as a bout of food poisoning or something hit him during the night and was in no state to leave the room the following day. Tan and I left him to see it through and went for a walk up the hill to the North to get a view over the town and bays. KPP has two mountainous parts to the North and South and these are linked by a sandy strip where the main town and resorts are built. Unfortunately this is a maximum of 2m above sea level. So when the Tsunami of 2004 came through with 6m waves, the town pretty much got wiped away as waves hit from both sides and destroyed about 70% of the buildings!! It was interesting to look down on the town (which doesn’t really show many signs of the disaster now) and imagine what it would have been like seeing the waves approaching back in 2004.

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Looking over to Phi Phi Leh

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After checking back in with Jeff, Tan and I headed back out this time walking over to Long Beach which looks out over the water to Phi Phi Leh. The walk was hot and sweaty as the track to the beach was a little up and down over muddy sandy tracks. The beach was probably one of the better ones on Phi Phi Don however so worth the walk.

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Jeff was starting to come around that evening and was managed to pull himself out of bed in the morning to head out for some snorkelling. The boat took us out to a few spots over by Phi Phi Leh and it was pretty good. We saw plenty of the usual colourful tropical fish but also a lion fish, sea snake and turtle just to top it all off.

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Lion Fish

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We found Nemo

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Due to rough seas, we couldn’t land our longtail boat at Maya Bay, so instead we swam to shore on the other side of the island and walked over to the bay. Supposedly the movie studio did an average job of returning the island back to its original state and copped it with a law suit. We also heard that the tsunami has actually helped to clear up the island better than the movie studio had done.

Getting onto the beach was a bit of a letdown due to the amount of people there. The whole bay was lined up with speed boats that had come from Phuket and Phi Phi Don. I’m sure we would have liked it a bit more if we had got out there earlier and avoided the crowds.

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Another early morning ferry took us over to Phuket where Jeff got his flight to a friends wedding in Hong Kong while Tanya and I passed a day with a quick surf on Ka Ta beach before getting our flight the following day.

FINAL THOUGHTS
Daniel – I think if we come back here again, Maya Beach needs to be done with the camping trip so that you can wake up in the morning with the place to yourself. Even on a cloudy day during low season, it was a bit of an anti climax when you see it with a small army of other tourists on it. The snorkelling made up for it though with great sightings on the swims

Tanya – Im not quite sure what all the hype is about. Long beach was great for a swim but the 2 bays each side of the town aren’t much. The snorkelling trip was great aside from the sea lice!

Jeff – I was a little jaded with Koh Phi Phi, allegedly the primo of Thai islands but I felt it was just too busy and overdeveloped. Again, we were spoilt by Koh Tao I think. Although truth be told spending two days in bed with a serious bout of gastro will never warm me to a travel destination....at least I managed to drag myself out of bed for the snorkelling trip, which was a definite highlight.

Posted by dbgomes 00:06 Archived in Thailand Tagged thailand round_the_world Comments (0)

Thailand – Khao Sok National Park

Leeching off the Jungle

storm 30 °C

Deciding to take a short break away from the beaches we headed back to the mainland and to the National Park that is Khao Sok. This area of jungle and limestone has been given a bonus lake thanks to a dam that has been put in to the region.

We took an early morning ferry with a few busses before arriving by the side of the main road. It was a couple of kilometres from there to the small town so we were met by a number of people offering their accommodation to us. One bloke offered to take us to the info centre for 60 bhat so we figured that was best to then decide where we wanted to stay from there. On the way he showed us the powerful bass in his truck stereo system and said he also had accommodation that he would take us to first to have a look at... sneaky sneaky! The place wasn’t that great but it wasn’t dire, so we put our bags in the room and then went for a walk down to the park entrance. On the way we passed another hotel that advertised its pool which was very tempting given the hot and humid jungle conditions. We had a look around the place and were happy to pay a little extra to come here, so after collecting our bags from the other place and paying for the ride into town we relocated instantly making use of the pool.

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We organised for a day tour of the lake and jungle. This started off with a bus ride then a long tail boat ride on the lake. The area reminded us a lot of the Yangshuo area in China, with big limestone karsts all around.

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We stopped at some floating bamboo huts and had some lunch before taking to the jungle. While we were eating lunch the afternoon rain started to fall with a thunderstorm coming through. This creates two problems for us. Firstly, our planned walk through the nearby cave would be revised to just a quick step inside for safety reasons. Secondly the rain brings out the leeches in epic proportions!

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The walk the jungle took about an hour and true to what we had been told everyone was being attacked by the leeches. The guide said that they can live for 4 months between eating, so with 10 of us walking through it was a smorgasbord for them. Any time that we stopped for a minute or so to regroup, there would be a few working their way up your shoes and socks in search of exposed skin.

On the way we passed the following sign... Good given that it was belting down at the time!

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We eventually got to the cave exit which would be our entrance for the day. Normally you get to walk through the cave but the flood risk with the rain meant we would just have a peak inside. There were heaps of frogs in the cave and they even played dead when they are picked up. We waded and swam up into the cave for a bit before turning around and making our way back to the camp.

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We slept well that night before another early morning bus to head back to the beaches for a few more days.

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FINAL THOUGHTS
Daniel – Leeches are pretty disgusting actually, and they seem to really get off on my blood too.

Jeff – Nothing quite like walking past a sign that says “danger, no entry when raining” during a tropical downpour and exploring caves with rivers in them that can occasionally flood. At least there were no leeches in the caves....

Tanya – I was pretty glad these leeches couldn’t swm, and seeing as my shoes were soaked already I walked in the water at every opportunity. Being a bit of a ninny, i was the only one wearing long pants fashionably tucked into my socks. I was probably the only one who didn’t get my blood extracted although you should have seen the way they could cartwheel up my pants in search of fresh skin! Aside from the leeches it was a great jungle experience in a beautiful area.

Posted by dbgomes 23:47 Archived in Thailand Tagged thailand round_the_world Comments (0)

Thailand – Thai Gulf Islands

Bucket loads of Paradise

sunny 33 °C

The Gulf of Thailand has sheltered water, constantly heated to a warm 31degrees by the equatorial sun meaning that there are fewer places in the world which can offer the quality of diving that you get here. The only sensible thing to do is go back to school and get our PADI dive certificate to enjoy this paradise.

Koh Tao
The starting point was the amazing little island of Koh Tao. When we arrived after the ferry crossing from the mainland, we were immediately in love with the island. It is super chilled with very little development of big resorts or anything. Most of the bungalows are right off the beach and have simple amenities but you don’t need anything more.

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Leaving the mainland

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Jeff and I got sorted for our 3 day dive course. Tanya couldn’t do the dive course thanks to her asthma, but she was more than happy to enjoy the beach while we were in a classroom and out diving.

We went with a nice little dive school called New Way which we picked from the hundreds of establishments because they said that they leave early in the morning to be the first out to the dive spots. Classes started on the first afternoon we were on the island so we checked out the beach and the town while we had some time before the classes.

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Over the next few days Jeff and I woke up early, got some breakfast, headed to the dive shop, watched some DVD’s and then headed out to get into the water. Usually you do your first few hours in a pool for what they call the confined water lessons. This is where you do all emergency things, like changing to your buddy’s air supply if yours runs out. However the cool thing about New Way, was that they said there are lots of great shallow water beaches to do this stuff, you don’t need a pool. And it was so much more interesting being in the sea rather than a pool for 3 hours. New Way only have 4 person groups too, so while one of us was doing the particular activity, the other three would just be sat on the bottom of the sea with tons of fish swimming around us.

Meanwhile Tanya quite happily reading books under the shade of palm trees interspersed with a dip in the warm water until the sun set on the day.

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After a couple of deep water dives up to 18m, we had passed our PADI with flying colours and were blown away by how awesome the diving was around here. We got 4 dives in on our course including the final two which were on the early morning dive. It’s definitely worth the 5.30am wakeup as our boat was the first out of port, and we had an empty dive spot when we got out there. By the time our tanks were running low and we were coming to the surface, the dive factories were arriving with their boat loads of people and we were happy to be getting out of there.

After our final dive we had the afternoon free so the three of us headed over to the three little islands just off the north of Koh Tao. They are owned by a Japanese business man and is actually a private resort, but you can pay a 200 bhat fee when you land at the island to swim and walk around them.

We started off walking around the larger of the 3 islands which had a pretty sketchy looking boardwalk.

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There is a cool lookout from the top of the island and its crazy to see these 3 small islands all connected by a sand bar! Definitely a paradise setting that will be hard to beat.

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To round out the day we finished with a snorkel in the bay (same bay that we did our confined water dives) seeing so many fish who really don’t seem bothered by us swimming around with them.

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To celebrate not having an early wake up the following morning we watched another amazing sunset and then went pretty hard on the buckets of cocktails at one of the local bars. The sunset, well this place really is paradise, nothing more to say about it! The buckets on the other hand, potent and a sure fire way to some serious hangover territory (along with countless unpublishable photos).

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Before things turned ugly

We had grand plans for our final day on Koh Tao – hire scooters to get around the island and use our hired snorkel gear to find plenty of marine life. Courtesy of the boozy night, we instead spend the whole day passed out and recovering. Oh well, gives us a reason to return to this island paradise anyway! We did manage some redemption with a morning fun dive as ‘experienced divers’ before getting the afternoon ferry.

Koh Pha Ngan

A short ferry ride and we were at the bigger island of Koh Pha Ngan, famous for its massive full moon parties. As we were here between moon cycles, we happily had reduced accommodation prices and a much quieter island for a few days. We also made a good choice in booking into a cheap resort right on the beach with a pool and everything we needed for a few days relaxing watching the thunder storms passing in the distance

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To make up for our wasted day on Koh Tao, we decided to hire some scooters from our resort to head round the island to some of the nicer beaches. Armed with some beasty scooters (which had done 40 odd thousand kms each) we hit the road in search of fuel. Fuel comes in three ways on a tropical island. Out of a plastic coke bottle, dodgy homemade roadside pump or one of the couple of larger garages. To avoid any quality control issues with the fuel supply, we opted for the larger operator.

We found a good few beaches with more clear warm water on the north coast before setting out to find the lookout that was shown on our very rough maps that we had. Our search turned off road, and in the end had deteriorated into steep, rain gulley tracks that got beyond the possibilities of our scooters. We walked the final 200 meters to the lookout and replaced the bucket load of sweat we lost with an ice cold water before heading back down for the bikes

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The eventual viewpoint

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Jeffro – hard as nails on a scooter

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We finished off the day at the sunrise beach where the Full Moon parties end up at for a quick swim before hitting the road before it got dark. It ended up being a good move as shortly after getting back to the resort, a massive thunder storm came through. Swimming in the pool was a much better way to see it through than driving though it on the scooters.

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The view over to Koh Samui

We had an early morning ferry the following day which took us back to the mainland for some jungle time.

FINAL THOUGHTS
Daniel – Koh Tao, well I think we spoilt ourselves going there first, everywhere else has just been more resorts, built up and just not as relaxed. It was a super cheap place to do the PADI when comparing it to the other islands too. I was really surprised at just how easy the PADI was, I did have thoughts before doing it that it was going to be a lot to think about, but once you get underwater it actually feels incredibly normal and second nature. The scootering on Koh Phangan was pretty awesome, I don’t think there is a better way to see these islands than on a scooter searching out a secluded little beach.

Jeff – Absolutely loved Koh Tao. The chilled out atmosphere, abundance of beach bars and excellent diving or snorkelling make this place as close to paradise as you can get. Koh Tao will always be remembered as the first island where I discovered the glorious coconut milkshake. It was great to tick off the dive certification off my long list of “to do´s” and it was nice to be in a small group of four as opposed to some of the larger dive schools who roll in groups of ten. Loved the diving and can´t wait for next dive holiday!

Tanya – Possibly the first time in 8 months that I’ve felt like I’m on a traditional holiday. It was hard work lazing about on the beach, reading multiple novels, eating yummy food. Just before I started to get tired of total relaxation we were off exploring on scooters. Batteries fully recharged!

Posted by dbgomes 09:09 Archived in Thailand Tagged thailand round_the_world Comments (1)

Thailand – Bangkok

Buddhalicious

sunny 40 °C

This is what the lonely planet says about Bangkok,

Because Bangkok is a revolving door for travel in the region, you’ll be confused and challenged when you first arrive, relieved and pampered when you return, and slightly sentimental when you depart for the last time

Being our first visit, it was definitely bizarre, but after leaving, we can see what they mean.

Two things we noticed immediately at the airport. The massive amount of western tourists (that’s what 3 weeks in China does to you I guess) and the heat, oh the heat! Guaranteed to be dripping with sweat in 1 minute flat! We had been looking forward to getting to Bangkok as Jeff was meeting up with us again for some more travel fun. It’s now the fourth time that we have met up with Jeff on the holiday, we can always rely on him to be keen for another adventure and it means that we don’t go crazy from spending every day just as the two of us.

Our flights arrived within 5 minutes of each other, so by the time we collected our bags the three musketeers were ready for whatever Bangkok had to throw at us. The airport taxi took us into the city and our nicely air conditioned hostel. At this time of the year, Bangkok is a sweltering hotpot so the aircon room paid for itself immediately. One thing we only realised after booking the hostel is that its located right by the red light streets where all the go-go bars and ping pong shows are. We went for a walk to get some dinner (which was amazing – Thai food has to be one of the best dishes the world over!) and had a few touts offering entry to some of the places.

With a couple of days to see some of the sights of Bangkok we decided to get our train down to Ko Tao sorted. Down at the train station we got the sleeper train, connecting bus and ferry booked smoothly with the help of the English speaking assistants – welcome back to easy travelling! The next port of call was to get down to the river so we could see the city from the water. A very friendly man from Chang Mai (North of Thailand) stopped us on the street and helped us to get a cheap government tuk tuk rather than the expensive private tuk tuks that try to take you to shops and tourist traps.

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After finding the ferry pier we went downstream a few stops. Its definitely an experience on the water ferry, these drivers pull the ferry up to the piers like a Formula 1 driver pulling into the pits. Passengers are on and offloaded with almost surgical precision and then it’s on to the next one. And some of the longboats that cruise past have got engines on them that look like they are lifted out of a drag racer with big air intakes, intercoolers, turbos, the works!

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We had a surprisingly good meal at a ramshackle restaurant by one of the piers before braving the heat and humidity at the Wat Arun temple on the other side of the river.

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After seeing more temples than we could deal with in China, we were quite relieved to see that the Thai temples have a very unique design with lots of bright mosaic exteriors and pointed roof eves. Tanya had to rent some of the shawls from the temple as she was bearing too much skin.

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We climbed the incredibly steep steps to the top of the temple trying as much as possible to stay in the shade from the intense sun. From the top there were good views over the river to the royal palace.

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We walked through the rest of the grounds getting our fix of Buddha images for the day before embarking on a longwinded search for a bar to enjoy a cold beer. Even if it was served with ice, the beer was still worth the back street search.

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After a much needed shower back at the hostel we headed out for the skybar at one of the local high rise hotels. The cocktails were extortionately priced for Thailand but that just means they are the same price as we would be paying back in UK, and we have a great night view over the city to go with it. We stayed for one drink before finding another great restaurant for dinner.

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The next day we were prepared to get our Buddha on and tackle the various famous ones around town. Sitting, standing, reclining, made of gold or jade they just can’t get enough. The first port of call was the Jade Buddha in the Royal Palace. Walking to the palace, there are announcements over the speaker system saying that the palace is open every day between the designated times. This is to counteract the many touts who operate outside of the palace and tell tourists that the palace is closed today but they can take you to another temple.

Unfortunately the Jade Buddha was actually closed today (the ticket office was saying this) as the princess was having a private prayer today in the temple. The rest of the royal grounds were still open as usual though so we made do with admiring the incredible gold, green, red and brightly coloured mosaic buildings that the longest reigning current monarch in the world calls home.

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Play the game – Where’s Jeffro

An air-conditioned restaurant was in order for a break from the heat, and it ended up being the pick of the bunch for our time in Bangkok.

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The last stop was the Giant Reclining Buddha. As the name suggests, he was indeed giant and reclining and worth the entrance fee to see it. The grounds of the reclining Buddha were also nice with the afternoon sun reflecting nicely off the buildings.

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We left Bangkok on the night train headed for Koh Tao which we passed the early hours with a few beers from the on board sellers. The trains here are a little different from what we had in China. An attendant comes along and makes up your bed from converting the seats to a bed. And they were pretty damn comfy too, or maybe it was the few beers rather than the bed...

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FINAL THOUGHTS
Daniel – The heat and humidity is a shock to the system, just gives us more of a reason to find somewhere with air-conditioning and beers. Pretty impressive temples around the city!

Tanya – It was soo bloody muggy, I could hardly bear it. But once I accepted that its going to be like this for the next few months I just go on with enjoying travelling. Once we got our bearings, we found Bangkok easy to get around on the skytrain, metro and boats so exploring the city was easy done.

Jeffro – It’s damn warm here. Good to see things finally getting hot and steamy on my fourth appearance in Dan & Tan’s travel adventure slash honeymoon. Two nights probably not enough to see all the sights in the city, but it was good to tick the major Buddhas off the list and satisfy my craving for good Thai food, and I was pretty keen to hit the islands after the sweltering city temperatures.

Posted by dbgomes 02:29 Archived in Thailand Tagged thailand round_the_world Comments (0)

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