A Travellerspoint blog

Thailand

Southern Thailand and the Andaman Coast

Perfecting the Art of Doing Nothing

It is Islands and beaches to start our South to North trip through Thailand and relaxation is high up on the priority list!

We departed Malaysia on a bus driven by the Chinese version of Mario Unsteady. A man with a death wish and a lead foot that brought complaints from the other passengers for his reckless driving. After driving circles around Penang for an hour we were out on the highway and on our way to Hat Yai. We just made a quick transfer here on our way to Pac Bara and were glad to be in and out as it was one of the locations of violence between Islamic Separatist groups and the Thai Government. Pac Bara is a costal town and the jumping of point for the islands of the Ko Tarutao National Marine Park. We had missed the last ferry so we spent the night in a pleasant bungalow and had a nice dinner at an ocean side restaurant that was geared more towards the locals than us Ferang (foreigners)
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Pac Bara bungalows
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Fishing Boats at the Pier in Pac Bara

The next morning we were whisked away from the sweltering mainland to the island of Ko Lipe. First Class all the way we went by the more expensive speed boat. Taking the easy, fast, and expensive travel option has become an nasty habit that we will need to shake if we plan on enduring for the full year, but there is more on that to come.
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4 of the 6 engines powered by foreign investment!
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Floating Fishing Shack

Ko Lipe does not have a pier so we were required to exit the speedboat onto a floating pier were long tail boats were lined up and ready to take us to shore. The long tail is somewhat of a southern Thai Icon and I will let the pictures handle the explanation. The sea was not exactly calm, our legs were not exactly rock solid after the long ride in, and Meghan did not exactly make a graceful transfer from boat to pier to boat. BUT! Everything stayed dry and we made it in without leaving any of our lunch along the way!

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Ko Lipe Coming into View
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Long Tails waiting to bring us to shore

Ko Lipe is a small Island without any roads or cars and not to long ago was the type of place you could come to get away from it all. However a lager portion of Thailand’s visitors must be trying to get away from it all because we found a very busy Island. There were no cars but there were bulldozers and backhoes making way for more beds for more visitors. Unfortunateiy the Island has been going through an un sustainable growth spurt. This was more apparent with every passing minute as we completely circled the island trying to find accommodation for over three hours while more ferries were arriving. But enough with the bad on with the good! We found a bed at the Handicraft Bungalows that were right on the beach. It was bohemian artsy paradise with a hodgepodge double decker bar and chairs and mats out on the beach were we spent the next four nights sipping beers and watching the sun go down.
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We would have liked to stay at the Porn Resort but they were all full.
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It is not Corona but you get the point
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Our Spot at Handicraft
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Home Sweet Home - Beachfront thatched bungalow complete with outdoor shower, $15 a night.

Other than idling away outside our bungalow we did get out for a boat tour of 5 of the 51 Islands in Ko Tarutao National Marine Park and did some great snorkeling. The snorkeling around Ko Lipe was good but this was amazing. We saw very colorful coral and spotted two lion fish which was really cool. We met a nice couple from Sweden on the boat (it was just us and them) and they recommended another island in Thailand that we decided almost on the spot that would be our next stop.

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Rusty old long tail engine, Ko Lipe
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Sunset Beach, Ko Lipe
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Still some spots available for Sunset, Ko Lipe
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Secluded stop on the snorkeling tour
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Another View of Handicraft with our bungalow on the right

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My favorite time of day

We reluctantly moved on and back to the mainland for 2 nights in Krabi Town before heading out to the recommended Ko Jum Island. In Krabi town we took trip by long tail boat up the coast to the beaches of the Laem Phra Nang (Railey) Peninsula. Here we found beautiful beaches and hoards of tourists monopolizing the pristine sand. After an extremely steep and muddy hike that did not bring us to the lagoon we were trying to find (to steep, too muddy) we made our way out to Ao Phra Nang beach. Here white sands met turquoise waters framed by towering limestone cliffs and palm trees. There were a lot of caves and interesting rock formations to explore and tons of climbing routs made the area a rock climbers mecca. It is a truly beautiful spot and we had a great day.

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Laem Phra Nang Peninsula
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This is Southern Thailand
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Ao Phra Nang beach
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Ao Phra Nang beach

What it lacked in scenery compared to other places we have been Ko Jum more than made up in hospitality and tranquility. Once off the ferry and onto the long tail we immediately noticed that nobody was on the beach. There were only four places to find accommodation on the north part of the island and we were headed to one. Upon landing we were greeted with a glass of fresh juice and lots of smiles. We checked into a very nice bungalow with a 4 post bed, comfortable mattress, and beautiful linens. Nice linens have been a luxury we have not had so far on this trip. Mostly sleeping in our sleep sacks or under starchy and stiff linens this was indeed a true treat. Ting Rai Bay Bungalows proved to be a great recommendation and reinforced our methodology of word of mouth rather than guide book travel, something we had gotten away from in Malaysia and Singapore. I unfortunately had my first touch of a stomach bug and spent the first afternoon not feeling well and the better half of the 2nd day on the island in bed feeling weak. By late afternoon I was feeling better and back on the beach watching the surf once again.
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Our Beautiful Bed, Ko Jum
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Ocean View Massage and my Morning Yoga spot
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Ting Rai Bay Bungalows, Ko Jum

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Common covered areas for lounging, not just for tourists, but found in front of many Thai homes.
There is not much to do in Ko Jum. Basically "eat, read, swim, and sleep (not necessarily in that order)". We are working on perfecting the art of doing nothing and it is harder than you may think! I started the third day with an early morning yoga session on the deck of the beachfront bar. It was hard to concentrate with the monkey’s in the trees above but I did my best. After breakfast and a little swim it was into the beach chair with the Girl who Played with Fire (not Meghan, the book) and the rest of the day was history. Well not really. I did manage to get some hacki sac in and we did meet a really nice couple from South Africa who had lots of recommendations for us including a restaurant down the beach where we joined them for dinner and long conversations from Harley rallies to politics! This turned out to be the general routine in Ko Jum and before we knew it our four nights had come and gone and we did not get anything done! Well, We got exactly what we wanted done… whole lot of beach time and relaxation.

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Meghan Takes in a Sunset Swing
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Barry and Viv
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Sunset, Still the only thing on my “to do” list.

Next it is across the Peninsula to the Gulf coast and some Scuba Diving in Kah Tao… More to come!

Posted by pmunson 21:23 Archived in Thailand Comments (4)

Jungle Trekking to Scuba Diving

Khao Sok to Ko Tao

Khao Sok and Ko Tao

We did our best on the way out of Ko Jum to avoid the mini busses and to take local transportation and we did a good job of it. After a twice as long trip we saved 50% of our travel expense, a whopping $12!

Khao Sok is southern Thailand’s largest national park and is known for it excellent hiking trails and a spectacular lake. There is a small village at the entrance and here we found a nice bungalow at the Khao Sok Rainforest Resort. It was right on the Khao Sok river and away from the little village. It seamed perfect so we checked in for two nights and had dinner at the on site restaurant. Here is were things started going wrong. The food was less than mediocre (especially for Meghan) and “Mr. Sexy” (self proclaimed and local trekking guide) would not leave us alone and the manager flat out lied to us about hiking in the park trying to sell us an overpriced tour. She told us that the park rangers would not let us hike past a certain point without a guide. This tuned out to be completely false and we had a great hike on our own the next day to a waterfall and great swimming hole. The relentless tour operators really put us off and we decided to skip the $100 trip to the lake. In hindsight this may have been a mistake but we were not alone in our feelings towards the pushy tour operators after talking with another couple on their way out as well. So, after enjoying the trails but not the “tourist village”, seriously, that is what it is called, we pressed on to Surat Thani were we would catch the night ferry to Ko Ta. More on that in the Joy of Travel Part 2!
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Tourist Village Locals Playing Takraw
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Meet the Khao Sok Neighbors
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Viewpoint Of Khao Sok above our bungalow
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The last water fall on our hike and a great swimming hole
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Gnarly buttress tree roots
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Bamboo
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The Elusive Phasmatodea (Stick Insect). Hard to see in the trees and hard not to step on when in the trail.

We spent about ½ of a day in Surat Thani waiting for the ferry to Ko Tao. We were able to get some research done on the road ahead of us in an public library with free internet and AC which was a nice break from the heat. Our ferry was not until late at night so we had an excellent and cheep dinner from food stalls on a market street and took in some of a bizarre shadow puppet show outside a temple. Before boarding the boat we found a guy with a tea stand that he ran out of an old VW van that he called the Hippie Trip! He had little kids plastic chairs in bright primary colors spread out on the sidewalk outside his van were we squatted down and enjoyed some traditional Thai tea. We felt like this was weird enough before the elephant came walking down the street! As I wondered what exactly was in my tea , and if Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club band was coming around the corner next, Meghan jumped up and made a new friend! Unfortunately this is not uncommon and is actually and unemployed elephant and handler.
With modernization of transportation and a ban on logging, elephants that were once trained to transport goods through rugged terrain are finding themselves “redundant”. Mahouts, elephant handlers, are also out of work. With the average working career of 50 years for an elephant and a life span of 80 years these Mahout/elephant teams have turned to the streets charging tourists for a hand full of bananas or sugar cane to offer the elephant. There is also a superstition which if a pregnant women walks under the trunk of an elephant she will have an easy birth. Of course the Mahout charges for this!

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The business end of a shadow puppet show
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Differing grades of rice for sale, Surat Thani
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Chilies
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Meghan and the magical street elephant.

Ko Tao 01/19/10 to 01/26/10

After decompressing form the night ferry we found ourselves on the really busy but also really cool beach of Ko Tao. Hat Sai Ree is the main and most developed beach on the Island. It is on the West coast (our favorite place to be) and the beachfront is completely lined with bars, restaurants, and bungalows. There is brick path that runs the length of the beach behind the first wave of development and then a bigger road behind that. We came to Ko Tao to dive and I decided to do my dive course with Phoenix divers who offer an open water cert for about $200 USD. Compared to over $600 I would have paid to do it in a pool back home I am glad I waited. As with the rest of the island, Phoenix divers is completely laid back and operates on island time. This was a little unnerving while learning about a potentially deadly sport but I just went with the flow. For the first 4 days we were on the island I pretty much went to school in the morning and dove in the afternoon. Meghan took this time to relax and to do a refresher course so that we would be able to dive together when I was finished. As it turned out she was able to come along on my final two dives. . The best part about it was actually being part of the environment as opposed to just a detached viewer on the surface as we had been on all the snorkeling we had done.
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My dive buddy and inspiration for further facial hair growth, Paddy from Vancouver
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Phoenix Divers pink dive boat
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Not all fun and games, I had homework!

We spent Meghan’s 31st birthday on Ko Tao. We started the day off with a day trip to the BEAUTIFUL little Island of Nangyuan off the NW corner of Ko Tao. Here three small islands are joined by a long sandbar to form a picture perfect tropical paradise. We took a longboat taxi right from the AC2 restaurant and were dropped off on the small wooden pier at Nangyuan. Here we paid a 100 baht ($3) entry fee as this is a private Island and made our way around to the sandbar on a rickety old wooden walkway above the rocky coast. This in itself was fun and picturesque and it was only the beginning. A concrete staircase brought us 95% of the way up to a rocky view point were after a little climbing around the rocks and other tourists we were able to take in a truly breathtaking view of the narrow beach that awaited us below. Unfortunately it was short-lived as it was a popular spot and their was very little precious space on the rock outcropping to take in the view. Down on the walkway the views got better as you made your way around the island and the beach came into view. We were lucky enough to be able to secure some beach chairs on the prime strip of beach. Out of about 20 sets of chairs and umbrella we grabbed the last one available and claimed our spot for the afternoon. In front of us was the best snorkeling spot on the island. An abundance of different coral gave the spot its namesake the Japanese Garden. Right behind us was another snorkeling spot that was un-named and while not as beautiful as the Japanese Garden it was still impressive. The three islands connected by two narrow sandbars created three bays and we were sandwiched between the to largest. The strip of sand was maybe 20 feet wide were we were. We could turn out chairs to face each other, both be covered by the shade of the umbrella, and both with a separate and magnificent view! Amazing.
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Nandyuan Island(s) from the viewpoint
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The Walkway
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The Sandbar
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One more just because it was so beautiful

After wasting the day away snorkeling and reading the boat came too soon to pick us up and bring us back to our accommodation at AC2. I had proposed Thai Massages but Meghan just wanted to sit on the beach some more so we watched sunset before heading out for an excellent Italian Dinner at one of the better restaurants on the island. Pizza and Pasta! A nice change of pace from the steady diet of Thai food.
The next day we were up early again for our fist real dive together. Their had been a big party at the bar next door and the all night revelers were still hard at it as we pushed off in the dive boat at 7:30 AM! I use an exclamation point but this actually was really annoying to us. Ko Tao is beautiful above and below the ocean but it felt like the vast majority of the people here saw very little sunlight. The majority of the crowd was of the spring break frat party scene and not very respectful of their environment be it the way they treated the locals, presented themselves, or littered the Island. But… Back to the Dive. We headed out 45 minutes ride in big waves and a rocking boat. It felt good to get under the water and away from the rocking boat. Meghan who normally is easily affected by motion sickness found some good drugs and performed like a champ on the unsteady boat. Under the water our Dive master pointed out lots of cool fish and led us around the southwest pinnacle were the water was too deep for us to go all the way to the bottom. When we returned to the surface and got back on the boat we found out a few people had been tossing their cookies off the side and we were going to head back closer to the island for the 2nd dive where the sea would be calmer. After convincing the Captain and Dive Masters not to go back to White rock for my 3rd time we went to a sight called Pottery. Here it was not so deep and we got to see a lot more coral and some sea life we haven’t seen before including the polka doted porcupine fish and the spotted nudibranch. Tons of fun and great to be with each other in the weightless environment that is scuba. Are you for Scuba? Yes, we are for scuba!
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Heading out to the dive boat on deceptively calm sea
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Meghan getting geared up
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Dive boats lining up at one of the more popular sights


The next few days we just sat in the sun a did not really leave the AC2 Restaurant. It was nice as we were starting to get to know the locals here and it was fun to just loaf it for a few days. Ko Tao was amazing and really frustrating at the same time. Once again we felt like were not in our element and just part of the tourist trail we were trying to avoid. We were able to meet two cool couples who seamed to have the same feelings as we did. A quote from a website I have been using sums it up… ”Judge for yourself, but this easy, fun-filled (cheap living, cheap girls and even cheaper beer) country attracts visitors of all types from all over the world for just that purpose. There isn't much class or culture in most of the offerings to these tourists and the sight can leave a bad taste in the mouth as might be experienced in Cancun, Ibiza Town and the like.”
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Ko Tao Fire Dance
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AC2 By Night
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Touching up the paint job on Sai Ree Beach
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Meghan got alot better at backgammon on Ko Tao!
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Save Ko Tao
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I could not leave you without a sunset shot!

Onto the big city of Bangkok. Stay tuned, more to come from the land of smiles.

Posted by pmunson 02:19 Archived in Thailand Comments (2)

The Joy of Travel Pt. 2

Sleeping with Strangers

We join you back in Khao Sok were a lake trip was desired but not easily attainable with out hurting the budget….

What I really wanted to do here was the lake trip. It appeared that the only way to do it was on an expensive day trip so we decided to set out on our own to the lake the next morning. Up at 6:30 am and out to the bus stop after a mile walk by 7:00, trying to catch the 7:30 bus. 7:30, 8:00, 9:00, 9:15! Over two hours later we were still squatting on the same little roadside bench waiting for a bus. We spoke with a few people including one local who I believed when he told me it was more expensive to do it on your own than with the tour. Frustrated and tired we decided just to skip it and press on to Surat Thani, the departure point to our next destination of Ko Tao. We hoped on a mini bus that took us all the way for not that much more than the bus after some negotiation. At Surat Thani we were greeted with the prospect of taking the night ferry to our next destination of Ko Tao. That being said after getting up at 6:30 and waiting for a bus that never came for two hours we were tired and a little grumpy and the prospect of waiting until 11:00 (it was now about noon) for the night ferry did not sound too appealing. We went for it any way because we did not want to stay in Surat Thani and the night ferry would save us one nights accommodation. The time finally came to head out to the ferry. The ferry had two levels. The bottom was jammed full with goods being shipped to Ko Tao and the top had both sides lined with twin mattresses side by side. We did not think it would be all that bad until we realized that it was 2 per twin mattress and completely full! A bunch of drunk college type guys compounded the problem (seriously, these guys were past obnoxious). Throw in rough seas and 9 hours ride time and we reached Ko Tao completely glazed over and ready for sleep. The night boat truly was a unique experience. Sandwiched between over 60 strangers on a rocking boat threw then night is something I will not forget and would never trade for a first class seat on a luxury boat, it is all part of the adventure!
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Before and after night ferry shots

Posted by pmunson 02:42 Archived in Thailand Tagged boating Comments (1)

Take the Night Train

8 Days in Bangkok

semi-overcast 95 °F

Another long day of travel began in Ko Tao were we waited all morning at the AC2 restaurant for the time to head to the pier to catch the ferry. The ferry was much more pleasant than the night ferry. Calm sea, and almost empty boat to spread out in, and a much shorter ride to the main land at three hours. We arrived in the fishing village of Chumpun at about 6:00 in the afternoon and had to wait at the pier for about 45 minutes for the bus to the train station. We had a good wait until our 11:30 train came so we sat down on a bench and played cribbage. While playing we took in the scene at the station. A large group of people prepared food and when a train was arriving they loaded up a bunch of trays with soups and baskets full drinks or snacks and hop on the train. It looked like quite a few rode the rail out one station and then came back on the next train. As we played the call of these hawkers and the cry of the passing trains set the score to what would be a long wait as the 11:30 train did not show up until 1:40. The rhythm of the rails put me almost instantly into a hypnotic sleep were the passing stations were all but a far off dream. Meghan woke me up at about 8:00 to a bright morning and bright green rice paddies in the passing countryside. The bunks folded up smartly to two comfortable chairs facing each other with plenty of room to stretch out. As we approached Bangkok the rice patties gave way to increasingly dilapidated and polluted trackside hovels. The filth that we saw people living in was more shocking here than anywhere we had been yet. Polluted canals lined the tracks and people had built up shacks on stilts. Having the means to afford a 1 year trip however meager it might be must be unimaginable to these people and I was confronted by feelings of guilt in the presents of such poverty.
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Not our Train
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Meghan enjoys the morning on the train

We pulled into the countries largest train station. and easily made our way on foot through the busy streets of Bangkok to the River View Guest House. The walk was interesting and a look into Bangkok’s crazy roads. We had to make our way through a maze of narrow alleyways too small for a car but still supporting thriving commerce, each one more narrow than the next and haphazardly strewn together. Just when we thought it was not possible to find our way we started seeing signs for the guest house and made our way in. The main entrance to the River View Guesthouse is on a lane about 4 feet wide deep in the heart of Bangkok. Not in the downtown area, not in the busy travel center that is Ko San Road, not in the shopping district, but in a village within the city. Something Bangkok is famous for. Here in a city of 9 million we are in a quiet nook were kids play in the street, dogs wander freely, there is a common coin operated washer and dryer in a courtyard, and everyone seems to come together.

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Hua lamphong Station
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Finding our way into the River View Guesthouse
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Buried in a mountain of spare parts

Our first afternoon in Bangkok we decided to treat ourselves to a bit of an escape from the world tour, the heat, and the blustering madness of Bangkok. Something we had been wanting to do for quite some time. We went to see Avitar in Imax 3-D! First we needed to figure out how to get from point A to point B in the imitating cluster of Bangkok. We made our way back out the alleyways we came in on and out to a pier on the river Mae Nam Chao Phraya which serves as a major artery to all the maddens and an efficient mode of transportation. You need to be on your toes though! We let the first boat pass us by in a split second of indecision, no second chances for the ferry, we had to wait for the next one. We kind of laughed at ourselves and figured the locals probably loved leaving wide eyed farang on the pier. From the boat it was onto the sky train to the mega shopping mall district were we rose to the top floor and to the Imax. Movie going is a big deal in Asia and other than Imax there are many different classes of movie theatres from the basic theatre which is about the best of the best back home to full blown luxury were you are catered two hand and foot. Literally… they will give you socks if your feet get cold in the arctic AC. Avitar in IMAX 3-D was amazing and I felt completely immersed in it. When it was over I almost thought we were walking outside to the cold Colorado winter!
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All bug eyed in the Imax Theater

The next day our mission was to get our visas for India. This took us out back were we saw the movie the night before and to the official visa service to the embassy of India. It was actually a really easy process and we were in and out within ½ hour. We had got up early expecting to have a long wait and a horde of people and it was quiet, quick, and easy. Unfortunately this was only the application and we would have to wait in Bangkok a week for the actually visa to come back from the embassy. From here it was on to Wat Phra Kaew and the Grand Palace. Consecrated in 1782, the first year of Bangkok rule, this large complex of ornate buildings crates an almost fantasy world of gilded temples and spires. The center piece of the whole compound is the Emerald Buddha. This is just a small jade Buddha, but it has a rich history and is set atop a massive golden alter. IMG_4047.jpg
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Grand Palace
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We were really tired after this but still decided to walk a busy market lane that cuts through almost the entire length of china town en route to the River View Hotel. Before we even got their we came across a huge fresh flower market and strolled amongst more cut flowers than I have ever seen in one place. It was fantastic. From here we picked up Sampeng Lane. This was a long narrow ally way that was overstuffed with shops spilling out into stalls and vendors. Add a ton of people and the odd scooter or handcart trying to push threw it all and their you have it! As with almost everything for sale on the street in Bangkok it was rife with pirated, imitated, and counterfeit goods for pennies on the authentic price. It was fun to see and turned out to be a real entertaining walk and we returned to the guesthouse completely spent.

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Orchids
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Pushing Corn on Sampeng Lane
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Sampeng Lane
It is now Saturday in Bangkok and time for Weekend Market Madness! We got up early and headed out to the Chatuchak Weekend Market. This is one of the worlds largest open air markets and truly did impress. Somehow we wound up spending 7 hours here browsing the endless shops and stalls picking up new clothing for ourselves along the way. It was incredible how large it was and that it only operated on the weekends.

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Thai Silk - Chatuchak Market
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Vintage Sneakers - Chatuchak Market
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Baby Pig’s? - Chatuchak Market
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All the Cheep Clothing you need - Chatuchak Market
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“Stretching” The Thai Tea - Chatuchak Market

The rest of our time in Bangkok was spent relaxing and taking in a few more sights. Wat Pho which was home to the enormous reclining Buddha and a more less ornate temple compound than Wat Phra Kaew. We saw a few less tourists here and more monks and school children running around. We took in a bizarre Museum of Forensic science with stomach churning displays, visited the American entrepreneur Jim Thompson’s house, and visited the backpackers Mecca of Khao San Road.

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Yaksha or Mythical Giant guarding the gate at Wat Pho
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Reclining Buddha - Wat Pho
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Wat Pho
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Wat Pho
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Smiling Buddha - Wat Pho
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Many More Buddha’s at Wat Pho

We also made the big decision to leave Thailand for India without going to Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia. We did this mostly for the weather. We figured waiting to go to India would be a mistake and the heat and rain would push us out before we wanted to leave. We may come back after we volunteer in Nepal during April if we feel the need to. So, after collecting our visas from the embassy and 8 days in Bangkok we are going to head out for a quick tour of Northern Thailand before returning to Bangkok to fly out to Calcutta on the 14th. India here we come!!!

More Bangkok Images
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Market Grains
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Great your Street Meat
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China Town Fish Heads
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China Town
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Scrutinizing Amulets in China Town
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Monks waiting for a boat
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River Scene
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River View Guesthouse, View from River
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Live on the Canal just minutes from Downtown Bangkok
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American Entrepreneurs Jim Thompson’s House
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Thai Flags over flower laden tuk tuk

Posted by pmunson 20:07 Archived in Thailand Comments (1)

Trekking, Tribes and Temples

A short sprint through Northwestern Thailand


View rtw on pmunson's travel map.

We blazed out of Bangkok on another overnight train to Chiang Mai. This time we had better timing and boarded about 7:30 with just enough time to get settled and read for a while before turning in. In the morning we were only up for an hour or so before we pulled into the station. I graciously accepted the first guest house tout who approached us with a free ride into town and an affordable bed. The Chiang Mai Thai Guesthouse was more than acceptable with free internet, a large and comfortable room, a nice in house restaurant, and a large swimming pool. We checked in, I got a proper breakfast as the one on the train was lousy, and we set out to explore the city. For some reason I started to slowly settle into a cloud of depression as the day wore on and by the next morning I was full on in a bad mood and questioning everything about our travels. Why I let this take control is beyond me but it basically ruined my entire time in Chiang Mai. Meghan got out to see some interesting Wats and found a new favorite dish called Khao Soi. Found in only in Northern Thailand, Khao Soi is a noodle curry soup that I guess was more Burmese then Thai. It was delicious!! I started to come around on the second night and we went out for a walk into old town and checked out the night market, music and celebrations going on for the annual Flower Festival. Meghan suggested us a foot massage operation going on in the same area were the music was being performed so we sat down and enjoyed a massage and some live music simultaneously! The next day we checked out some of the parade that went along with the Flower Festival just before heading out to Soppong and the Cave Lodge.
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Khao Soi The Restaurant Version - Looks nice but not as good as its less expensive version on the street
Flower Festival
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Flower Festival
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Apparently the loop we would be traveling over the next few days has 1846 hairpin curves and if you complete tour by motor bike there is a the t-shirt to prove it! The first leg to Soppong was a worthy introduction. Soppong was not more than a small market town and a bus stop were we would continue on by motorcycle 9 km to the north to the small village of Tham Lot and the Cave lodge. Set on a pleasant stream and in an area that contains the highest concentration of caves systems including one of the worlds largest caves. The Cave Lodge has been operating for 30 years and John Spies, the owner, who can still be found taking your breakfast order and leading the occasional day trip, has explored most of the caves in the area. John came to Thailand at the age of 22 and fell in love with both the land a certain trekking guide. With her, they explored all over northern Thailand on foot. They built this guesthouse and brought tourism deep into northwestern Thailand. This was a wonderful place were the guests went out on walks together during the day and sat around the communal area and campfire talking in the evening.

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Our Cozy Cabana above the swimming hole at Cave lodge
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Old rice farmers shack over dry rice fields
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Dusty Water Buffalo

We met a few really nice folks here and heard a lot of great stories. We hooked up with 5 other long haul travelers like ourselves and went out for a long walk. Our guide, Pat was Northern Thai, lived in Tham lot and also worked in the kitchen when not leading guests. We explored a really nice cave that you had to get down on your belly to crawl into but once you were in could stand up and walk around in. We went in about 150 to 200 meters which seemed far but was short in comparison to the 8.5 km Tham Nam Lang Cave in the same area.

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Cave Entrance
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Flowstone formation
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Underground and out of focus

We attempted to enter another cave, but the rains from the previous year had plugged the entrance with a large tree. We instead walked up to a spiritual cave where we encountered a monk who had been there for three days practicing his meditation. He was very friendly and eager to speak with us. When asked if I could take a picture, he posed for me. On the return with walked through on of the Kayan Villages in the area. The women came running out with bundles of woven goods for us to peruse. The hike ended 7 hours later after a 2 hour final stretch including something like 45 river crossings. We got back with wet boots and tired legs and were all excited for the pizza that was being made for us from scratch that day and would be cooked in their clay ovens upon our arrival.

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Cave Monk
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Kyan Women Meghan bought a shawl from
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Crossing the river towards the end of the day
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Tham Lot Hillside

The Cave lodge was one of our favorite places in Thailand and the wood fire water heater provided the hottest shower I had had since being back home. It was a real treat and we would have liked to stay longer but our Thailand clock is ticking so we decided to head out to Mae Hong Son. Over breakfast the next day we found another couple who was also leaving had a rental car and were also heading to Mae Hong Song so we got our first free ride of the trip.
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Bamboo Rafts waiting to take visitors through the cave by boat.
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Exit of the Tham Lot cave were 10’s of thousands of swifts fly in at dusk (They did not photograph well so all you get it the cave)
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Cave Lodge wood burning water heater

Mae Hong Song was even more remote and accessible only by the incredibly windy roads I have already described or a sketchy flight. The town had an authentic feel to it and tourism only appeared to have a soft touch upon it. We found a nice place to stay on a lake overlooking the main Wat were novice monks routinely practiced their chants and meditations day and night. We enjoyed getting an upfront view of all this and silently watching and listening to “Monk School“. The Wats in this part of the country had a huge Burmese influence and where quite different in architecture and decoration.
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Learning to become a better monk
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Meghan set off a floating lantern for good luck
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Mae Hong Son What by night
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By Day

The next day we rented a motorcycle and took a long winding drive up to the Burmese border. On the way we stopped a cave were gigantic brook carp congregate and are considered holy and protected by a Hindu statue! We saw an unimpressive waterfall due to the dry season and low river and a summer palace for the king before arriving at the Burma border and a small Chinese village. We enjoyed a lakeside meal with a charismatic shop owner. We were the only ones there and he wanted to know all about us and he told us his life story. From a few English words and not very many Thai words we got that we was Burmese and lived in Thailand for 46 years, patrolled the border for the Thai army and owned 10 water buffalo, this he had pictures to show us! From here it would be an early bus to Mae Sarieng.
IMG_4467.jpgHoly Carp!
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large_IMG_4473.jpgMae Hong Son Countryside
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Rice Farmers
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Border Village
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Scooter Shot in Chinese village
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Working the turns

Set along the Mae Nam Yuam river the old part of Mae Sariang, were all the guesthouses were located, was very quiet. We actually had trouble finding anyone at the Salawin Guest house were we intended to stay but eventually did. After looking around town briefly we decided to look into another day of guided trekking. We had a few different options and decided on a boat trip along the Mae Nam Moei river which creates the natural border between Thailand and Myanmar (Burma). We started out early and drove out of town in the back of a pickup truck on a cold and misty morning. We crossed green rice fields and farmland before hitting the hills and climbing steadily up windy and bumpy roads to the border. As I started to think my butt and back could take no more we started to pass through small villages with bamboo huts with leaf roofs before descending back down to the river.
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More Rice Please!
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This ones for you Robin!
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Misty Morning
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Mae Nam Moei river boats

Here we joined a novice monk and two village women in their native dress on a long river boat heading down river. It is the end of the dry season so the river was really low and we had to hike a ways through scorching hot sand and no shade before entering the forest. We immediately passed through one village were their were a good amount of villagers out and about. Mostly kids and women as most people were working the fields but we did get to see one woman making a broom out of a piece of bamboo. I asked to take her picture and she shied away. I immediately felt really weird for asking and was really uncomfortable. We moved on through the forest were we saw hillsides that had been cleared by hand in preparation for growing rice. We also crossed paths with a local man who was carrying a really old looking rifle. Our guide shared that this is what they use to hunt with. The second village was much smaller and appeared to be very much unaffected by the modern world. We stopped at one of the 8 homes in the village were a lunch of noodles was prepared for us over a families’ fire. The home was a typical Thai home, elevated bamboo house with bamboo floors and a leaf roof. Eight people lived in the home, all but one woman and two small children were out working the land. Their was one small separate bedroom but other than that everyone slept on the floor together. There was a kitchen in the middle of one wall that consisted of an open fire and some hanging pots. One luxury that they did have was a running water tap that was gravity fed from a stream at higher elevation. We learned that the government had provided that for them in addition to a solar panel but we did not see any lights or other signs of electricity in the village. It did feel all a little bit weird when we were there but looking back it was really amazing to sit and have a meal and a small view on how these people can still live off the land and be so removed from the modern world in this day and age. We continued on our hike through dry rice fields and then alongside a small creek back out to the river were we got back on the boat and headed back to the pickup truck for the bumpy ride back to Mae Sariang. Back in town we only had a few hours before jumping on an overnight bus bound for Bangkok. The cheep local way of going turned out to be twelve hours overnight on a bus to Bangkok followed by another bus ride backtracking past were we had come from to our next destination Ayuthaya.

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Floating hut
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Leaf Roof Constuction
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Hut
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Rice drying in the sun
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Kitchen
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Hut

Ayuthaya used to be the capital of Siam before Thailand and Bangkok. For 417 years from 1350 to 1767 this was said to be one of the finest cities ever seen by many travelers. This all came to an end in 1767 when an invading Burmese army sacked the city and looted most of its treasures. For us it was a grassy old fort surrounded by a river moat on 4 sides and packed with interesting ruins in differing states of collapse. The most interesting was the fact that the city was built around the ruins in an no-evasive way that aloud you to enjoy restaurants and cafes alongside the ruins. We did the popular thing and rented a bike to peddle around the ruins and had a sweaty afternoon on a hot and humid day exploring the old city. When the Burmese raided the city they decapitated hundreds of Buddha Statues and left eerie ruins filled with headless statues. One of these decapitated heads found its way alongside a growing tree and today is trapped behind a tangle of roots. We decided to head outside the old city and its surrounding moats to visit one last temple at sunset. It was not all that far but still seemed like a good ride. The temple was one of out favorites and we pretty much had the place to ourselves after a tour bus left. We made the long ride home and got back just after dark right as the place we rented the bikes from was shutting down.

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Caption this
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Fan, Umbrella, Ice cold bag of Coke… What more could a girl want.
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Cambodian Monks on Holliday
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Still maintaining peak cycling physique. Anyone for the Leadville 100?
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Take me to your leader
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Headless Buddha’s
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The next day we went out to a “floating Market”. This was a totally fabricated scene were you had to pay an entrance fee and bought coupons to buy tickets. At first I was disappointed thinking it was just another tourist trap but after a while I realized all the tourists their were Thai. This place was not in the guide book, we picked up on it from a recommendation, and it actually was really cool. Their was a cultural show that was lighthearted and it appeared that the actors were having fun. It was a look at what Thai people do on a domestic vacation.

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We headed straight back to the hotel and took an afternoon of AC to get ready for India and what lied ahead. I was nervous about going to India without a plan but other than that I was not all that nervous about India itself. Meghan on the other hand was OK with the fact that we had no plan but was just nervous about India in general. I guess we will see how we do what when we get there and I am sure things will work out well. So now it is goodbye to Thailand and South East Asia and Hello India. We have had a lot of fun in Thailand. Hindsight, we realized we stayed a bit too long in the south and in Bangkok and did not spend enough time in the north. I think if we were to come back again during or after this trip we would stick to northern Thailand and complete our plan to visit Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia.

Posted by pmunson 03:18 Archived in Thailand Comments (3)

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