From Chiang Mai to Singapore by train

From Chiang Mai to Singapore by train

Sooo, in another one of my flashes of brilliance and cost cutting moments, I decided that the cheapest way to get from Chiang Mai to Bali was to travel by rail (4 trains, 3 days & nights) to Singapore, then fly out from there to Bali. I am standing by this decision although it didn’t go quite as I had initially envisioned, as these things tend not to, at least when I’m involved. For my first trick, we missed our train – in my defence we missed it because it hadn’t arrived yet – we were one day early. What do you do when faced with an unplanned extra day, well we went to the movies and it was fantastic – there were about 10 people in the whole theatre and, of course, we all were sitting in the same place – empty theatre except for 10 other people directly in front of us, next to us and of course, behind us – heavy sigh. But the movie was great, “Edge of Tomorrow” with Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt – I’m not a huge Tom Cruise fan, although he is still pretty, but I really enjoyed this movie. Anyway after that we had to return to where we had just said all our goodbyes and admit we’d got the dates wrong – they all laughed. At us. Next day we actually caught our train, overnight to Bangkok, left at 4pm, due in at 6.30am giving us a 6 hour hiatus in Bangkok until our next train bound for Hat Yai. But the trains are never on time, and in this case it worked in our favour to be nearly 3 hours late because it was just enough time to get a feed, go for an hour’s walk into Chinatown, find another amazing temple, then grab a shower before boarding our next overnighter. And, we discovered the bar carriage, where we could drink and smoke and watch music videos – all with the windows open and a flashing disco light above our head – pretty cool. We also hung out in the spaces between carriages, with the doors open and the world flashing past inches from your face – just because we could – just because in New Zealand we can’t (nanny state gone stark, raving mad). It was great fun. Now you (I) would think there would be trains synchronised for those wanting to travel from one end of the railway to the other – North Thailand to Singapore and vice versa – do not think this – it is not so. Because that would make things easy. So much more fun hanging out at railway stations for hours on end. Not really. Not even. Not at all. Advice for fellow travellers on the overnighter, if you get a new(ish) train the bottom sleepers are roomy, comfortable and therefore more expensive. If you get a not so new(ish) train the bottom sleepers are uncomfortable, not roomy but still more expensive. We have been on 6 overnighters and definitely recommend just getting a top berth – 5 times out of 6, you will get a better bed. Just saying. Anyway we tossed and turned our way to Hat Yai, arriving in the early hours of the morning. The next train was not leaving until 4ish pm (we were still in Thailand – all train times are approximations – but they are never, ever, early – unless you are running late). We had a whole day to kill (see previous comment about synchronised trains and lack thereof) and ran the gauntlet of railway station touts to head into town. There was a map at the station with points of interest to visit – we didn’t find these – but we did spot a movie poster and decided to head to the cinema. Long story short, finally found it and had to hang around for 40 minutes waiting for everything to open. Went and saw Malificent, dubbed into Thai. Shit. You know how people say they’ve seen a movie? Well we saw it, apparently there’s some quite clever script, but we wouldn’t know about that! We had not been able to book our connecting train to Kuala Lumpur anywhere, being repeatedly told that we would have to buy it in Hat Yai. But in Hat Yai there were no sleepers available, just seats (at least it was air con) for a 16 hour journey. SHIT, SHIT, SHIT. How everyone else had managed to get a sleeper ticket was an unknown, and why you would even have any non-sleeper carriages on an overnight train was a mystery I’ve not yet solved. Seriously, it was 16 hours!! It was a hellish trip, aided and abetted by numerous noisy, crying children and an indian guy who had a nightmare at about 4am and let out the most blood curdling scream you have ever heard, scared the bejesus out of everyone, and woke all the kids. Again. Bliss. We arrived in KL in a state of zombieness and had 2 hours before boarding the train for the last leg to Johor Bahru (I asked if we could get a sleeper, and was told in what can only be described as a condescending tone, that this was a day train, so obviously, there were no sleeper carriages. Quite. Did I go down the road of the previous night train with day carriages? No I did not). Luckily we were meeting our friend Den in Johor Bahru (one stop, but as it turned out, a great deal of hassle, before Singapore) so we could relax, shower, do some washing and get a good night’s sleep before heading to Singapore the next day to catch our flight to Bali. We had an entire day to get to the airport on time. I know this sounds like a lot of time, and it probably is if you are properly organised – but it slowly but surely became clear we were not.This is how it worked out. We left a bit late, had to go back into condo for something we’d (he’d) forgotten, got delayed getting through Malaysian customs, lost some more time on the bus ride over to Singapore then, holy shit, we hit Singapore customs – at the same time as thousands of other people (“don’t worry”, Den had said, “Sunday’s aren’t busy”). I was getting nervous. Standing in line for approximately 50 minutes I was starting to panic. Then finally, an hour or so later, I was nearly through, waiting at the X-ray machine telling the customs guys that I was running a bit late for my flight. Changi airport was on the other side of the island and we were going to get a bus. Because we had so much time up our sleeves. We had planned on being at the airport at 7pm – it was 7pm. Customs asked what time the flight was and when I told them they said “Oh very bad, you are very, very late”. No shit Sherlock. It was at precisely this moment that I began to panic in earnest. I sprinted for the taxi stand, pointlessly as it turned out because James and Den were ambling along unconcernedly having a lovely Sunday afternoon stroll. We had to have our luggage checked in by 8pm so I feel there was just cause for haste. We found a taxi and I explained in pidgin English that speed was of the essence until Den kindly pointed out that he actually spoke very good English. Thanks Den. Luckily there were no traffic hold-ups, the taxi went like a bat out of hell and we arrived at 7.45 – but I had no Singapore money to pay him with so went running around the airport like a lunatic looking for an ATM. Money gotten, I sprinted back to the cab, grabbed my bags then went looking for our luggage check-in with James and Den following at a leisurely stroll, at a distance. Once there I couldn’t check in because James had all the paperwork. We made it, then decided we had enough time for a quick bite to eat before going to our gate. Burger King it was. I wolfed mine down then waited for James and Den – are we sensing a theme here? Then Den announced that perhaps we should get going (I think the flight was actually boarding) and we were off and running again, for miles, the airport is huge, you can actually do marathon training looking for gates. But we made it. In time to be told there would be a slight delay. Swear words.

I will never, ever subject myself to that sort of stress again, and will, in fact, camp at the airport prior to any flights. Made it to Bali at 11.30pm. Maybe next time we’ll just pay the extra and fly direct!

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Mae Sariang, Mae Hong Son, Pai & Grand Theft Auto

I was humming and harring about where to go to after spending about 2 1/2 weeks in Chiang Mai, I’d like to be more accurate but there were some very boozy nights (shame on you Chang beer), and I can’t.  Anyway, Karen was off home to New Zealand with her brand new sparkling white smile – dentistry is very good and very cheap at the Grace Clinic (not the cheapest in Chiang Mai but it is in comparison to EVERYWHERE else – check out reviews on Trip Advisor).  So I googled it, as I do everything, and decided to do the Mae Hong Son loop.  Now I’ve read in various place how bad the local buses are compared to the touristy air conditioned ones – this is actually correct.  But it does depend on what your scale of enjoyment is.  I love the local buses, because you rattle along with the locals, and monks in the back seat, and get a fantastic view of the scenery going past at approx 25km per hour – sometimes less, less often, more. We actually booked an air conditioned bus – it’s just that they have a rather loose interpretation of air conditioned.  The windows are open, there are rotating fans every few seats that may or may not work, and the back and front doors are left open.  There was no lack of breeze, but make sure you stow your stuff carefully because as you jerk around corners and through gears, if it rolls or slides out the door, it’s pretty much tough shit.  Cost from Chiang Mai 170 Baht each.  We arrived at Mae Sariang – there was quite a rush, apparently we were the 2nd and 3rd tourist to arrive, that day.  There wasn’t a rush – in Mae Sariang there never is – I don’t know if they even have a word for it.  We found a really nice riverside room for 500 Baht per night, TV, En suite, Air Con (the proper kind with a machine that blows cold air and stuff), a fridge and, OMG, a soft bed (The Good View Guesthouse – 3 minute walk from bus terminal, most of them are, just head for the river).  We rented bicycles, we were going to rent scooters but that just seemed a little fast paced, and who would want to miss cycling up Mt Everest in the hot sun to see a temple?  That would be me.  Hills don’t look as bad as they really are until you start to walk or cycle up them, I ended up doing both.  And then I just stopped, and sweated, and puffed, and I ask you, what better time for a photo shoot from James?  A scooter with two local lads passed me three times, laughing, I was starting to get suspicious, but all my remaining energy was being spent on staying alive.  We stayed for two nights just because it was so lovely and chilled, and being off demon Chang beer drink we were teetotal.  No, just kidding, of course we weren’t, we drank the local whiskey, Hong Thong instead.  At home. In a quiet, non drunken way.  Then on to Mae Hong Son, another rattling, slow “air con” bus for five hours through the spectacular Northern Thailand scenery – 105 Baht each.  We arrived at the bus terminal which is about 1 km out of town, took a Tuk Tuk (the only one we saw in 3 days there) to the Friend Guesthouse, set just back from the lake (it’s called a lake, it’s not, it’s a large pond).  Large room with En Suite and fan 300 Baht a night – but as in all places we’ve been, there’s a huge choice of accommodation – we tend to just stay if we’re happy with first place we come to.   Because we can trash a room in about ten minutes, and it’s less hassle not to move.  This is a slow town, great for learning or practicing scooter riding if you’re not very confident, me, I’ve done rush hour in Chiang Mai round the city and I’m good to go (couple of funny stories there, but we’ll it leave at: both Karen and I are alive and unscathed). Mae Hong Son is a little cooler than Chiang Mai but still scorching in the sun during the day.  Day 1 we hired scooters, cheap as chips and by far the best way to get and about to explore.  We headed out to a National Park (100 Baht to get in) to see the cave fish pond – a spring comes out from rocks to form a natural pool which is full of some type of carp. They are considered sacred so no-one fishes there – a really pleasant spot and fun feeding the fish.  The pool empties into a small deep creek, the water’s cool, clean and clear, so I whipped my gear off and jumped in – as you do.  On the main road out there is a coffee shop, James had a Cappuccino slushy and I had an iced Cappuccino – heavenly on a hot day – go there.  Day 2 we (I) thought we’d go exploring to find a reservoir I’d found on Google – as always, it looked very straight forward on the map. Then we found the correct place on the map.  Then we found three conflicting sets of directions on how to get there, so fully armed with misinformation we set off (on a scooter each – so much better up hills).  Beautiful countryside, lots of small villages, quite a few wrong turns and then we found sheep. Seriously, we looked at each other in wonderment, got off the bikes and just stood and watched the sheep, and listened to them baa, and took photos.  In New Zealand I never look at sheep, I don’t even notice sheep,I never listen to them and I certainly would not be wasting any battery power taking photos, why would you, they are everywhere.  So go figure.  Back on the correct road we arrived at a small village with the reservoir behind it – absolutely blissfull, quiet, clean and picturesque – and a fantastic day out seeing the countryside and villages.  We were starving and found the one and only roadside food place, their English was as good as our Thai so neither of us could understand a word the other was saying.  We heard “flied lice” and nodded eagerly.  Sure enough, chicken fried rice it was!  Day 3 was spent in and around the city, we saw a large army presence on one of the main streets, a typical market, then realised, to our horror, that we hadn’t been to any temples.  I know.  What were we thinking.  Clearly, it was temple time.  It’s easy to spot Wat Phra That Doi Kong Mu (easier in fact, than trying to say it) because it’s on a hill, at the top of a zig zag path & stairs.  We went searching for the road – there wasn’t one – so we parked at the bottom and made the climb in the searing midday heat – always, without a doubt the best time to climb huge hills.  On the second to last set of steps we found, you guessed it, The Road.  Shit.  Great view from the top and some lovey Shan architecture.  Next we were off to Pai, another local bus, another 5 hours, more spectacular scenery.  Pai is a delightful, small town teeming with tourists & ex Pats (the Americans are always the loudest, the most hippy looking and the most opinionated – in my limited experience).  First day there we hired a scooter (we are now in complete denial of the fact that our travel insurance does not cover us for any scootering accidents) but found it had a completely bald tyre so took it back to get it fixed – we were told to return the next morning.  We returned the next morning & it was chaos.  A nice gentleman took our scooter away to get the tyre changed, but after waiting some time I asked when it would be ready, he said “too busy”, just take that one.  What wonderful service, great fat tyres and a full tank of gas – we were off.  Well we thrashed that little scooter, took it dirt bike riding into the back of beyond, nearly killed it up an unending hill which just kept getting steeper (we’d missed the waterfall about 10km back) and all in all were very impressed by this little bike.  We returned to the hire place because James had left his cap on the other one and were bemused to be greeted by everyone waving & laughing and generally quite a festive atmosphere.  One of the young workers came out and started examining the scooter whilst saying “buy bike, buy bike”.  I said, “yeah mate, you really should, it’s an awesome little bike” and then it dawned on us he was actually saying “my bike, my bike”.  We’d stolen his bike.  I told the owner that we were terribly sorry but the older gent who was here told us to take it, “Oh” she said, waving her arms around, “that old drunk whiskey man and he not work here”.  Oops.  After an in depth examination of the scooter he pointed at a scratch and asked if we’d had an accident.  Well, we may have been responsible for bottoming out several times on ruts, destroying the suspension and possibly nearly cooking the engine, but we were not responsible for the scratch!  We gave him 50 Baht for the petrol we’d used, which he refused at first, then we trotted off to feel guilty.  We felt guilty enough to go back and give him 500 Baht more – even though it wasn’t our fault.  But in reality it’s $20 to us and probably at least a week or two wages for him.  As we walked away we got a phone call – WTF?  Nobody calls us because we don’t know anybody, but it turns out our Irish mate Win (who we’d met in Chiang Mai) had spotted us going past so we met her, at a pub, of course, Irish & Kiwis, hellooooo!  That was an unexpected pleasure, and after a catch up we decided to meet the next day for some more scootering, legally, on the one we had actually hired.  We got a scooter (for 100 Baht each), decided against helmets, and zapped around the corner back to our room where James & I managed to park in an orderly fashion.  Win on the other hand, thought she would test the integrity of the brick wall to the side – the brick wall won, as brick walls versus scooter and rider tend to do.  Scraped and shaken she declared she was fine so we set off again.  James & I took off at a leisurely controlled pace.  Win on the other hand, gunned the accelerator and screamed off down the street with smoking tyres and skid marks.  Very shortly after this we reconsidered our previous stance on helmets and went and got some.  Happily that was mostly the end of  Win channelling her inner Evil Knievel and she did not kill or further maim herself for the rest of the day.  In fact, pretty competent after a whole day’s scootering – well done Win XXX.  We also found another great bar (go on, pretend to be shocked) which had an amatuer fire dancing night, well as you can imagine that turned out to be quite funny and scary at the same time.  As Win was sitting closer to them than me, I was at the ready with my whiskey just in case I needed to douse her in a hurry – there were quite a few mishaps with burning pieces of wood – but our favourite was when one of them caught his hair on fire – in a lovely fluid movement he put it out with his hand but really started to panic when the large fabric sign hanging over the bamboo wall started to go up.  What it wrong to laugh so loudly?  I think not.  Our least favourite was the girl with fire things stuck to her wrist who then just danced around with fire things stuck to her wrist – the only talent involved was not igniting her hair – although as Win did mention “I’d ah paid to see thut”, so would’ve I.  Perhaps a pole next time?  After overstaying at all of our destinations we ran ourselves short of time for Chiang Rai so decided just to spend last few days in Chiang Mai.  Again we took the local bus – it was an hour late, quite packed, and on the way it rained – inside the bus as well as out.  I got drenched, but to make the journey better, we met some lovely people and they got drenched too.

PHOTOS MAE SARIANG

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PHOTOS MAE HONG SON

 

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PHOTOS PAI

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The Canyon at Chiang Mai (aka The Quarry)

I read about the Canyon on other blogs when I was searching for somewhere to swim in Chiang Mai.  My reward for this was one of the best spots to swim I have ever been to in my life.  That is saying something.  I am a water baby.  I seek water to play in wherever I go. Family and friends and who know me well would never suggest a pool, and are prepared to wait for at least an hour as I release the inner fish in, on and under whatever body of water I deem good enough to swim in.  The Canyon (as locals know it by) is in fact an old quarry, with steep sides, beautiful clean fresh water and is very deep.  This is not a place for non-swimmers.  The cliffs surrounding it are perfect for jumping off as there are no hiddens rocks or logs or anything that can kill you on impact, but there is nowhere to climb out – you have to swim.  There are various heights ranging from 1m to approx 10m – but 1m up feels like 1m from the top, 10m up feels like 100m.  This is exponential ie 2m looks like 4, 3m looks like 9 and so on and so forth.  I’m quite brave.  I used to think I was really brave but now I know that’s not true, maybe it’s an age or sense of mortality thing (everyone knows teenagers are bullet proof) but as I get older, I get warier.  That said, I had no problems jumping off the 6m, in fact we were on the opposite side to the popular jumping spots watching a bunch of pussys (men) milling around aimlessly for ages, looking over the side, but not actually accomplishing much.  So I swam across, scrambled up the side and joined them.  One lad was looking sort of likely so I asked him if he was going to jump, “yes” he said, “are you?”  “Yes” I replied and went to the side and jumped off.  Well, when my head broke the surface they were all peering over clapping, I tried to bow but only succeeded in putting my face in the water so that may have been lost in translation. I swam back across where we all continued to watch them mill around some more in obvious consternation because the old, fat chick had pretty much put them all to shame.  Mission successfully completed.  We stayed for a couple of hours until a thunderstorm started moving in from the north, awesome lightning and stupendous thunderclaps getting closer and closer until finally one hit so close it made the ground shake, and there was a sudden mass exodus away from the water.  Boiled tourist anybody?  Would you like fries with that?  We decided not, so jumped on our scooters and headed home.  A few days later we revisited with the lovely kiwi lasses we’d met at our hostel – Jenna and Rhiannon.  This time I was determined to do “The Big One”.  We started at the 6m, no sweat, definitely ready for “The Big One”.  We climbed to the top and looked over the edge, this was where the problems began – it was really freaking high.  None of us could quite bring ourselves to launch (Jenna wasn’t even keen on the edge), so after a quick discussion we decided we needed an interim height so clambered back down and over to the 8m cliff.  After a quick heart attack and prayer (to any, and all gods who would listen) I jumped before I could back out.  I hit the water like the sleek wee missile I’m not, my boobs thumped upwards and nearly knocked me out whilst my shorts wedged themselves so far up I was almost able to use them to floss.  I thought I better do it again in preparation for “The Big One”.  I did, with much the same result except I crossed my arms over my chest in order to protect my double chins from further harm.  After flossing again I determined that “The Big One” was not going to be conquered by me today, or any time soon, and went for a lovely relaxing floaty swim instead.

Directions to The Canyon (ripped from somebody else’s blog – thanks   http://travelnorthernthailand.wordpress.com)

The Hang Dong rock quarry is about a 40 minute bike / songthaew drive  from Chiang Mai, heading  south along the canal road highway (Hwy 121) from Huay Kaew road and keep driving until you are about 10 minutes past Hang Dong. Keep your eye out for the green HANG DONG GOLF COURSE sign and turn right on the small bridge directly after the PT gas station on your left hand side. Follow the road until it forks, and be sure to take the left fork. Allow for at least five hours including the drive and full enjoyment of the day. Enjoy!”

 

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Chiang Mai, hangovers and elephants

Arriving in Chiang Mai was a breath of fresh air – literally – hot air, but fresh (unless you’re behind a tuk tuk, then not so much) . Gone were the fumes, beggars, children left on overpasses all night, harassment by Thais lying about your destination being closed so they can take you somewhere you don’t want to go, and best of all, the rubbish & smells.  Chiang Mai is clean, clean, clean.  And laid back.  We jumped in a songthaew (red taxi ute with covered bench seats in the back – mind your head) for 50 Baht each, and were dropped on Muang Moon to look for accommodation.  You do not have to look far, there is accommodation to suit all budgets, and LOTS of it.  We found ourselves at the Chiang Mai Inn, large room with en suite and air con (not great, but did the trick) for 350 Baht per night.  Everyone wants to sell you a tour, so as advised by my bible (Lonely Planet Guide) I checked we could stay there without having to buy one.  Seemed okay.  As it happens, we did buy one, but only on our 5th day there.  Did a one day trip for 900 Baht each with Mr Jungle.  Picked up at 8.00am with huge hangover from night before where we weren’t going to drink – well that was a huge fail.  First stop breakfast and elephants.  I love elephants and I want one, only about 1,000,000 Baht to buy, but I’m guessing the upkeep is probably fairly major too – may have to content myself with cats & dogs, oooh, and horses and goats and chickens.  And if we end up in Oz perhaps a camel – but I’ve heard they have severe grumpybumgonnahurtyouuificanitis.  That said, elephants are really gentle considering how many ways they could kill you if they so wished.  I got to ride on the neck, but apparently I wasn’t a competent driver so got shifted to the seat on the back – way, way more bumpy but still awesome.  We stopped to buy bananas and immediately the end of the trunk was waving in my face saying gimmee – I gave, who’s gonna argue with an elephant?  When we finished we were told to stand directly in front of our elephant, and it whipped it’s trunk down between my legs, and up, up, up I went – unfortunately the landing wasn’t what you’d call graceful as my legs gave out and I landed on my bum – to the elephant’s credit, it did not squash me like a fly.  From there we were off to a local village (not the Long Necks, which was okay, as I’ve heard it described as a human zoo) where we viewed and bought some of their woven products. Karen and I both bought beautiful hand woven scarfs, and Karen also purchased an amazing table cloth which she is going to use as a wall hanging or bed spread – way too nice for a table cloth!  My memory gets a little hazy at that point as I believe I may have sobered up enough to enjoy the full force of the hangover, no, hang on, I remember, we went for a walk to a waterfall.  It was very hot.  Our guide thought it would be funny to get a long piece of grass and tickle my neck whilst yelling at me to freeze because there was a spider on me.  Suffice to say Jacky (guide), Karen and James thought it was a lot funnier than I did.  I froze and yelled back “GET IT OFF ME”.  There may have been some swear words too.  There certainly were afterwards.  So we set off to the waterfall where we couldn’t swim because rain had turned the water stew brown.  But there was a bar, with beer, in the jungle.  So whaddya do?  Obviously you drink.  Next stop was for some lunch, my taste buds had reasserted themselves by this stage and I vaguely remember it being nice.  Then bamboo rafting down another stew brown river, which, although we got saturated, was really very pleasant, great views drifting past, stunning iridescent dragon flies, water snakes and just a chilled hour or so.  This was our last activity before heading home.  Great day out.

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Chiang Mai, Lady boys, Kick boxing and the loss of a loyal friend, Thailand military.

It has been a sad few days in Chiang Mai. The city itself however is beautiful and clean and the people are very friendly.  Hiring raleigh 20 style bicycles to see the town before upgrading to scooters.  Once again we have met some more awesome travellers while here and once again we have been enjoying late nights and their company.  But alas, there has been an empty void in our Chiang Mai ventures – after day three being here our loyal travel companion Haka has gone missing.  I’m not sure if he has been stolen, or just misplaced, or left behind somewhere.  But there is strong speculation that he may have been Kiwinapped (by some loud youngish lads that were two doors from us) while sitting on a table in front of our room one night during ‘a couple of quiet ones’.  We have turned our room  upside down and inside out to see if he was recovering from a hangover in our clothing,  looked for him around our accommodation guesthouse in case he was doing base jumping the night before.  Nothing.  And now, every time we are about to take a ‘Kiwi moment’ photo we go to get him from his little home in our backpack only to find an empty hole where he used to live. We miss having his long beak and cute brown eyes sticking out of his little home exploring the world with us.  We miss his photo bombs and having people come and pat him.  We miss the way he breaks the ice with conversations . So where ever you are Haka we hope you are safe and sound and bringing happiness to your new family if we have misplaced you . But if you have been Kiwinapped by the lads that stayed two doors from us then I hope you bite their nuts off.  Pricks.20140513_123705 The good news is that his lil brother is going to meet us in Bali from New Zealand with Sara’s daughters, Denella and Jamie as well as a good friend Jo!  Looking forward to that!  Now then, Chiang Mai.  What a lovely place and like every town and city, the history is amazeballs!  If you have the time look it up on wiki.  Better still, come and visit it for yourself.  Plenty of temples to visit as well as old ruins, including the old wall surrounding the old part of the city.  During the day the city is alive with street stalls, bars, trade shops and 7/11s with the harmonious sound of the traffic going full tick in the background.  At night the clubs open up adding ‘fuel to the fire’.  Depending on which street you go down (off Kotchasan Road, turn into Loi Kroh Rd and follow the party lights) you will come across lady boys, go go girls, neon signs and open bars galore with just about every one of them having a pool table, and all competing with each other’s music and volume.   Then we found an alleyway just full of mini bars all with more ladies (and men) enticing anyone walking past to come into their bar.  There was even a dwarf man enticing Sara and I.  He was very cute.  At the end was a Thai boxing ring with bars surrounding it.20140517_232821 So after a while Sara and I sat down to watch the Thai boxing!  Ever watched the American wrestling?  Silly question.  Well that was what the Thai boxing was like, but with the same four people competing.  After the match the fighters went around the crowed with a donation box to collect there…ah….winnings?  So by the 3rd fight we got out of there and went to another bar where we met a very cool Kiwi guy Nick with his wife!  It’s safe to say we had a good night.  They took us to another bar where the boss is a famous lady boy who was even in a small part on Gordon Ramsey TV show when he was here.  The following day was spent on our scooters looking 20140518_025930(while recovering from last night) for the Rock Quarry which we got told about by a young Moldovan lady we met on the night train on our way to Chiang Mai.  Cheers Anna, what a great tip!  Finally reaching the quarry (now full of water, hence why we went there and more tourists and locals) while baking in the hot MORNING sun Sara, Karen and I couldn’t wait to jump in.  You had a choice of walking around to the ramp or jumping in from a 5 meter cliff edge, or a 10 meter cliff edge.20140517_152818 The girls walked to the ramp. I jumped in the 5 meter point and survived only to be rescued by Sara after swimming three quarters of the way  towards her because I can’t float dammit (see previous Koh Tao blog) thank you my honey!  xxx!  So after splashing about a bit on the safe side and chatting to other travellers, we were entertained by the sound of thunder and lightning in the far distance. (Mental note:  Never assume mother nature does ANYTHING from a distance:  End of Mental note). Cue the massive LIGHTNING BOLT which lit the sky up and shot down bloody near us immediately followed by the loud cracking sound of thunder!  Well that was it for all of us.  We were all out of the water and scurrying to our scooters and cars and off like…lightning!  Seriously, we were out of there man, a quick goodbye to, and from, everyone and puff, gone.  This led us to another night of drinking at our accommodation place with Duncan from Ireland. Sunday was the night 20140518_204409market with Duncan, Jenna and Rhiannon (who we met at the accommodation lodge were at) Sara, Karen and myself of course.  You’re not going to guess where the girls are from….Auckland, New Zealand! The night market was very cool but we ended up at another local and spending the night laughing and having fun. However, the following morning was our (Me, Sara and Karen) tourism attraction day (with Mr. Jungle Trek Tours) involving getting up at 8am and going to do elephant rides and waterfall walk and riverbamboo rafting.  Sara was still a little intoxicated as I think we all were but it was the best day with a great host called Jackie Chan.  Wednesday was the night walking market with the kiwi girls and us. The girls were very happy looking around the stalls and sizing things up, I was happy following them around.  Eventually we came across some lady boys in cabaret outfits advertising their show for that night. Hell yeah we thought!  So after a quick beer we were off around the corner to see the show.20140521_214031 Now it’s quite funny really because we were in Bangkok looking everywhere for lady boy shows with Karen, only to get the run around (literally) by our tuk tuk driver who tuk tuk us to a ping pong and sex show instead (read previous blog) where we ended up being disapointed and paying heavily for it.  And all we had to do is come to Chiang Mai,  go to the night walk market before 9.30pm and see the best lady boy show ever, where they put on a great performance and interacted with the crowd!  The bonus was on that particular night we went, the show was free entry!  And now for the downer side ( aside from Haka being Kiwinapped. Pricks!) Over the last few days the Thai military have taken over the whole of Thailand in a ‘Coup’ and have put a curfew in place meaning no one is to be out from 10pm to 5am until further notice.  So we have been laying low and catching up on things as you do.  But that’s all good and tomorrow will be a bright new day!  So until the next blog which will be tomorrow. Cheers for reading! 20140523_151319 20140521_12183120140517_18210620140521_16022820140523_14420420120101_070047

Koh Samet, research & clenching exercises

It’s time to say goodbye to Ko Samet. Mainly because I feel I need to dry out before meeting the party girls, aka “Excited Squealing”, in Bali. There has been a lot of talk of cocktails. Jojo, Nella Bella and Juma, you know who you are. But I on the other hand, more money where your mouth is ish, have been happily over-indulging all week. Happily at the time, not quite so happy in the mornings. I have been sleeping well – at the end of the night, gracefully lowering myself (falling) into bed, but waking the next morning with a headache? Clearly this is caused by the impact between head and pillow, not the alcohol – in order to test this theory thoroughly it was necessary to visit the cocktail bar at least 4 nights in a row. It could’ve been more, I’m not sure, I was fully immersed in research. To my credit, between drinks, I did manage to explore the island. We did a snorkeling tour: 5 hours, 4 islands, jet boat (quite crowded), water & a feed of Kebab, fried rice and fruit – all for 600 Baht, good value for money. But. The snorkeling sites, although good, were crowded with un-educated tourists in life jackets, who couldn’t swim. So they stood, and walked, all over the coral. Are you f##king kidding me? This is meant to be a National Park? The second spot was in deeper water where you had to dive down for a good look – it was awesome – and minimised the destruction from the idiots as they couldn’t reach it. Onto another couple of small islands, but more to wander around, explore and do a little beachcombing, or so it appeared from where I was sitting with Karen having a smoke. It was a slappy ride home (anyone who’s been in a jetboat knows what I mean) and I barely got away with not biting my tongue off.

Now, weird tongue fact according to Sara – if you start thinking intensely about where you’re tongue is hanging about in your mouth – you don’t where it should go – but as soon as you don’t think about it, it knows where to go. How weird is that?

Obviously, by the end of the day, we were thirsty – research o’clock time anyone?

Karen & I also did pretty much every shop on the island. Just to have a look because as you can imagine, they were all quite different. They weren’t, and there was very little that had the internal bracing and sturdy structure required for these bodies. Everthing was from way way too small to too small. Heavy sighs x 2. But we did find the big beach, so not a complete loss. And all the bars, and resorts, and bikini babes, and jet skis, paragliding, dogs, and shitloads of jet boats (we were subsequently told no jet boats were allowed because of the “National Park” status. What ever). The locals were great, the food was great, the beaches are beautiful white sand and the ocean is warm and clear. But. Like one of the beaches on Koh Tao, there were floaty black dots everywhere – and it was oil, or grease, and pretty yucky. It is better where not so many boats & people, which I guess is true of everywhere. And coming from New Zealand I’m quite (really) fussy (anal) about what water I swim in.

Boat trip no. 2. We met some lovely poms whilst researching, and shared a fishing boat for a slow, relaxing ride right around Koh Samet, and out a bit deeper for some fishing. It was sunny and rolly and wallowy, and I loved it – good company, lots of beer, and food. James caught two fish fingers, Jo was a fish free zone like myself, but Joe & Karen (twice) got hold of “the one that got away”. And mate, it was a whopper. I tell ya, it were huge, I could feel it. Hmmm. Never mind, the boat guys were obviously expecting a dismal result (they did BBQ the 4 fish fingers that had managed to be wrestled onto the boat) and provided chicken fried rice, fruit and water – standard fare & perfect for the day. At our last stop the captain spent 35 minutes executing a 22 point turn and still couldn’t line up with the buoy (we ended up attached to a couple of other boats who had managed to line up a bouy). Then home for well needed showers. Price was 1000 Baht each (x7), we were out for about 5 hours, great ride and views. Money well spent.

Our other sightseeing, apart from the main beach and its spectacular fire shows at night, was a walk (in the hottest part of the day with hangovers & squeamish bellies) to see the new condo development at the end of the road, beautiful beaches interspersed with drifts of roadside rubbish and resorts/bars, and thankfully toilets.

This brings me to the trip here – starting at Ekkamai Bus Station in Bangkok. I’d had some squeamishness and a couple of bouts of the Fast and the Furious, but thought I’d be okay for the 2 1/2 (ish) hour ride to Rayong. And I may well have been until making the fatal mistake of eating. Three minutes before the bus left I was camped on the loo – the buses do not wait. So feeling somewhat apprehensive, on I got. 5 minutes in I took one of our magic apps (anti poo pill), and 5 minutes after that, another. Thank god, because I spent the entire journey (except for a 10 minute hiatus, which gave me a faint glimmer of hope before crushing it) with my legs crossed, clenching grimly. And that was with magic pills. My butt muscles were so sore afterwards that I realised I actually have butt muscles. Note to self and generally sensible advice – take magic pills PRIOR to the journey – not during. After releasing the Kraken when we finally stopped, I was all good for the slow (45 minutes) ferry over to the island.

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Bangkok & Ko Samet

After completing Visa run in Penang it was time for the Bangkok experience.  We jumped the 2.30pm train from Butterworth to Bangkok and, once again, we were off.  But this was not the same train as we had been on twice previously – much smaller seats (which become the bottom bunks) so we were a bit chuffed we hadn’t spent the extra for the bottom ones.  And also very rattly, shaky & noisy.  If trains had wheels, this one had flat tyres and one missing completely.  But I like trains and don’t mind being thrown around a bit, more of an issue was the Air Con which blew straight into my bunk & was leaking on to my feet.  I’m mean how bizarre, I was freezing!!  (Reminds me of the last America’s Cup – it’s too hot, it’s too cold, it’s too windy, it’s not windy enough, it’s too slow, it’s too fast, the water’s the wrong colour, it’s too wet, it’s too dry, the stars are in the wrong position ad infinitum, ad nauseam).  But we got there, and by gummy gums it was HOT! I decided public bus was the way to go, and by some fortunate quirk of nature, I was right.  We crammed onto an old rattle box & met a very nice Indian gent who spoke to the conductoress and made sure we were turfed off at the right(ish) stop.  Not far from tourist central, Khao San Rd.  Tuk-tuks for miles, but only had to walk few metres in any direction and there was tons of budget accommodation.  We ended up in a guest house with a room right next door to the large central bar – oh gosh, how did that happen?  Went walking that night, fantastic, bars, food, market stalls, people everywhere.  Loved it.  Experienced our first (but nowhere near our last) tuk-tuk scam – thank you Lonely Planet guide – we were not scammed.  Had my first go at bartering, pretty sure I suck badly at it.  Next day was Jim Thompson house & the Art Gallery.  Met a local who pointed us in the direction of the water taxi (10 minutes as opposed to an hour on the bus, funny as, go like a bat out of hell, although must avoid any splashes from filthy water – death by sewer anybody?  No thanks).  We were approached four different times by locals who assured us that our destination was not open on that day, and offered to take us somewhere else even more awesome, cheaply.  Yeah right.  It was open (of course, favourite scam, telling you where-ever you’re headed is closed & then taking you to tailors and/or gem shops).  We saw hoe they make silk from the raw cocoons, and there was a Thai wedding going on so definitely got our money’s worth.  Art Gallery was free entry & well worth a visit.  After two nights next to rowdy bar on the hardest bed in the world, we met up with friend Karen from NZ, and moved up town to be closer to our Bus Station for next day’s departure.  Well, you know what you have to go see when in Bankok, so we decided to kill 4 birds with one stone:  have tuk-tuk ride; pay way too much for it; get taken somewhere we didn’t ask for; and see sleazy show with ping pong balls and other stuff.  I am clearly way to old for this sort of thing as all I wanted to do was go and give the girls a big hug.  The pole dancing was a shuffle, everything was underwhelming, all performers looked bored to the point of death, it was full of young tourists and probably the worst “show” I’ve ever seen. But now I’ve done it and never have to do it again.  Walking back to our room we saw lots of middle aged European men with young gorgeous Thai girls.  Icky.  Worst thing was the little girl left to sleep on an overpass all night in the hope people would leave money in her little jar – heartbreaking – couldn’t wait to get out of that part of the city, I’m way too soft.  My mate Donna thinks I’m going to arrive home with 250 cats adopted from all over South East Asia, at this rate there may well be several hundred children as well.  Next destination, Ko Samet.  See you there.

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