Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Day 98 Railay/Tonsai

I left of heading south on the train from Chaing Mai on my way to Bangkok. This overnight train got me in to BKK with plenty of time to spare before the next train to Surat Thani in the south of Thailand on my way to Railay/Tonsai.

During my 12 hour layover in BKK I managed finally to get my Visa application in for Myanmar and then walked around heading to the Palace and walked through the grounds. I was somewhat templed out and didn't really feel like spending 15$ to walk around and take more photos. Instead I walked back towards the train station and stopped in a park to read and watch old men do exercises. No one stepped on the grass the entire hour I was there. They simply jogged around the sidewalk over and over again or did squats and stuff in the wider parts of the walkway. Kinda funny.

Onto the train, and off to the south! Arriving in Krabi (jumping point to Railay/Tonsai) I wasn't sure where I was supposed to meet Corinne and Erich. Erich was flying in that day and Corinne had been there since the night before but unfortunately we hadn't managed to communicate where we were meeting. I arrived at a restaurant, ordered lunch and got the wifi password and learned where Corinne was hiding, some hostel which google maps showed being far and on the opposite end of town. I wasn't pumped about this. So I sat, ate my lunch and asked the server what the best way to get to this hostel was. She was confused by me question, because it turns out that the hostel was literally next door. The entire time I was eating, I wasn't more than 20 feet away from Corinne.

I walk the quick steps and we hang out and 15 minutes later Erich shows up. Success! Erich is super pumped:

First because of how awesome my beard has become; and

second because we are rocking out in Thailand!

We arrived in Railay which is more expensive than the further more remote beach of Tonsai, so packs and all we walk the beach and climb through the mini jungle to the second beach and find some pretty cheap digs for 6$ a night, No power during the day, padlocks on doors for locks. Pretty basic. Corinne and Erich bunk up and I grab my spot and we feast on a massive dinner! For anyone going, Tonsai has significantly better and cheaper food than Railay.

Railay beach is the right, Tonsai is the far left, and that green bit is the treacherous path we needed to hike through far too often everyday.

That night Erich and Corinne called it a night early, and I went back to my room to read. Not being in the mood to read and not able to sleep I decided to go for a walk. Through the treacherous path (in the dark using iPhone light) and across back to Railay where I could get wifi. While awkwardly lurking around one of the fancier hotels a group roughly my age (which I realize after writing that means 20-38 when I reflect on who was there) came through and were headed swimming! Seeing as how it was now midnight and I was wide awake, I could see nothing better to do with my time. Well, am I ever pleased I did. There was bioluminescence in the water! As you moved your arms and legs it looked like you were swimming on a cloud! Definitely an experience I did not expect to have that night. On my walk back towards Tonsai I noticed a lot of people on skype so I shared my experience with them and finally made it back to my room sometime between 4 and 5 AM.

Needless to say the 8AM meeting with Erich and Corinne came super early. Quick breakfast and we were off! What do you do in this area of Thailand you may ask? ROCK CLIMB!

Corinne had never really rock climbed before, she started out having trouble keeping up with the routes Erich and I were doing, but by the end of the week she was rocking them out no problem!

Shaving my beard. One of lifes big regrets
Some of the routes were HUGE! 30+ meters (which is tricky on a 30M rope)

No Bigs

Erich unfortunately had to leave us after only a few days. We mixed up our days by either rock climbing, or hanging out on the beach. It doesn't look too sunny, but believe me when I said it was HOT! Super humid. We went and discovered caves, Erich avoided monkeys so that they didn't steal his food again like they did in KL, and ate. Yes we ate A LOT!

Erich and Corinne cruising the beach
On Erich's last night we decided to go big. For years I've been heading Erich and Pat talk about Thai Buckets, booze concoctions so great that they don't even remember what they did those nights.

Needless to say, Erichs last night we purchased a few and people went missing. Sure there weren't the goodbyes everyone would have hoped for in the morning, but I think the story makes up for the missing people. I'll leave it at that. Another good night with buckets!

Now it was back to just Corinne and I. Corinne decided that my beard needed a trimming and unfortunately she did a terrible job! No just kidding, I was getting tired of it because it was getting really hot and itchy with all the moisture so I decided to shave. BIG MISTAKE! Surprisingly there weren't any dorky tan lines or anything of the such. But I was instantly cold! Corinne and I had big plans to visit other beaches on neighbouring islands, however, this place was so relaxing that we decided we really didn't need new adventures. This was Corinnes last week of travel and I was about to depart to Myanmar so relaxing was definitely a great plan. Our 3 days at this beach turned into 8 with nothing other than climbing, eating, drinking and swimming to report. It was fantastic! And this attitude wasn't just the two of us. Nearly everyone we met and hung out with while there also extended their trip from a few days to weeks. We met some fantastic people from all over. Some Montreal, Vancouver, California, All over Europe! Was great!

Corinne and I finally had to leave this beach paradise, and head back to Bangkok. This is where the first unfortunately event took place. Everyone always warns you of theft etc while traveling and I had encountered none. You are also told never to leave your money in the same spot in case of robbery. So I had a bunch of cash on me, and a bunch in the depth of my travel bag, and while on the bus someone must have been camping out in the storage compartment because I had roughly 400-500$ stolen from my bag, exact amount not exactly certain. As rotten as this was, I reassured myself by saying that at least it was stolen in a non violent way. I've heard of people being mugged, kidnapped and beat up for significantly less money while traveling, so a simple loss like this I could deal with. Not wanting to let this be a damper on my travels and Corinnes last night (which also happened to be her birthday), we went for massages and to a fancy dinner of mussels and chicken and then other items from the menu as we got hungry. Unsatisfied with dinner, while walking on Koh San Road Corinne found a food item she just couldn't say no to.

Roasted Grasshoppers or something like that. Tasted mostly just like roasted nuts but with a different crunch
For about a quarter we got like 20 of them, so Corinne and I had plenty of photo opportunities. We also tried to offer them to strangers as they walked by. Not many takers...

Thai money was really funny. my favourite was the 1000 Bhat which has the king of Thailand on it, he is acting photographer!

Corinne imitating the King

And here we parted ways. Corinnes last night in Bangkok and the next morning we went real early to the airport where she caught a flight home and I went off to Myanmar! But more on that later!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Day 85

So I'm guessing by now its pretty obvious that my updates lost a little bit of steam while I was traveling. My last update took place in the south of Cambodia with just over a month left in my trip. I was holed up in Sihanoukville after having just been sick, but was recovered and on my way to Thailand!

I wasn't too sure what to expect from Thailand. It has a reputation that precedes it so I had high hopes. The adventure started immediately, we got dropped off at the border and had to switch from bus to van. Well, since there were 10 of us in a 11 person van headed to Bangkok we decided to wait 3 hours for the next bus to come through so that we could load in all the extra people and head to Bangkok. The unfortunate effect of this was that instead of getting to Bangkok at 8pm which I could hope to catch the last train to Chaing Mai, I only arrived at 11PM and had to stay the extra day in Bangkok. Although Bangkok has Kow San Road and a few other exciting parts, I just really wasn't in the mood for the big city. I spent the next day going to the Myanmar embassy, trying to get my visa (it was closed for a holiday but the guard couldn't explain this to me) and then just walked through China town before heading north.

Not a truck you want to get a delivery from, seen in Bangkok

Chaing Mai was a great change from Bangkok. Its a big small town. Everything is activity based. Either you go on hikes, check out temples, take a cooking class or massage. I decided my first day to renting a motorbike and cruising the mountains north of the city. It was AMAZING! If I had more time I easily would have spent a few more days cruising on a motorbike (or better yet my bicycle). These roads were incredible, hilly, and always winding.

Sweet Road leading to small hill villages

At the top of the mountain there was a temple. Big and gold, nothing extraordinary, however, there was a funny statue, Not sure what it was for, but it reminded me of you mom!

Just for you mom!

Day 2 in Chaing Mai: COOKING COURSE!

This was a highlight of Chaing Mai, I took a Thai cooking course where you could learn to make 7 different meals. There were groups of us so 21 different meals were made in total so if you were friendly to your neighbour you got to try a whole assortment of foods! I was apparently the only person who wasn't full by the end of the day. My favourites were Cashew Chicken and Pad Thai. Pad Thai has become a staple at my household now in Vancouver. Want to try it? Come on over for dinner!
My hilarious cooking instructor. He felt particularly sympathetic towards me because I was the only one not part of a couple taking the course. Either that or he just liked me

I realize neither of these photos are of Pad Thai or Cashew Chicken, but the spring rolls are the only photos I have of myself cooking

Day Three in Chaing Mai was spent taking a Massage class. Sure there were a lot of fun hikes I could take, but really, I figured this was a life skill someone from home would greatly appreciate. I can't remember the name of the course, it was Mrs. Tina's or something like that. I called from the hotel, spoke to a girl on the phone booked my class. There was supposed to be a full class in the afternoon, but the morning class still had space. I wasn't too sure what to expect (going alone without a partner). Well turns out the afternoon class being full meant there was already 1 person in it. These were 1:1 classes. Also, it was Mrs Tina giving the class. It was her brother. Nothing like a 4 hour massage course with a tiny Thai Dude. But in all honesty this was probably much less awkward than if it had been a 1:1 course with Mrs Tina due to the nature of the course, being topless was somewhat of a requisite and not sure how that would have fared otherwise.

Massage course finished I had one more day left in Chaing Mai before catching the afternoon train back to Bangkok. I spent a lot of time in Chaing Mai relaxing in my room in the evenings. We had cable TV and it just so happened to be the end of the most epic Tour De France in modern history! So between relaxing and doing pushups (because I stepped on a scale for the first time in month and realized I had lost 10 pounds) I just sat up and enjoyed the race and reflected on my trip so far.

Last day in the North was spent seeing TIGERS! Seeing the tigers wasn't actually all that exceptional, however some of the photos that came from it were easily worth the 25$ for the entrance.

Damn! Sweet Beard!

I got to see and snuggle up to an 18 month old (above) and a 2 month old tiger. Their fur is much more coarse than I would have ever imagined.

I got picked up from Tiger Kingdom and brought to a shopping centre to buy snacks, it was like Walmart, but the entire staff moved around on rollerblades.

I covertly snapped this shot!

Then it was on the train where I hoped I may meet Harry Potter on my way back to Bangkok while transferring to another train south to Krabi to meet up with Erich and Corinne!

Looking for Harry, must be on the wrong train
Long trip South

Monday, November 7, 2011

Day 76

Always convenient, lesser known 6-Eleven

I left off in Pakse (Laos) heading to 4000 islands the next morning. One thing I have found really interesting traveling is how you run into the same people everywhere you go. The group I had been with in Luang Prabang and Veng Viang I thought I had left for good when I skipped a few days and headed down to Pakse.

Well the minibus to 4000 islands (Don Det) arrived and there wasn't a person in it that I didn't already know and getting to the islands ran into another few people.

For all the excitement i had heard about 4000 islands I must say I was a little disappointed. They were nice and all but being small islands on the Mighty Mekong there wasn't much to do. They didn't stack up to beaches since you couldn't really swim (for fear of floating away) and it was literally just a strip of guest houses and a couple bars. I understand it could be really relaxing but I think Corinne agrees with me that after 2 days there we had seen enough. Onwards to Siem Reap and the temples of Angkor!

After a lengthy 14 hour bus trip including a boarder crossing into Cambodia (which included some lovely corruption; 2$ stamp fee, 2$ staple fee, 1$ photo attachment fee) we arrived in Siem Reap at fun guest house.

The first thing we did the next morning was rent 1$ bikes and head off to see Angkor Wat and the other more popular temples of Bayon and Ta Prohm. All in all it was about 30km of biking over the day, but on these terrible bikes I had had enough. Every pedal stroke between 3 and 5 the freewheel would slip. Lovely.

The temples themselves were amazing. despite this being a very tiring day I really enjoyed it. We got back fairly late and prepared for the next day which we would be waking up at 4AM in order to leave and catch the sunrise over Angkor Wat (the most famous and largest religious temple in the world). The sunrise was funny. Although we were instructed to enter and go left (North) for the best view, Corinne and I decided to go south and there were only a small grouping of maybe 10-15 people on the South side as opposed to the hundreds on the North. I dare say our view was significantly better because the sun rose over the temples rather than beside it.

Next up we went to further temples via Tuk Tuk (taxi). The rest of them were interesting as well however my highlight was the landmine museum which we passed on the way. This museum was created by a Cambodia who had been a child soldier for the Khmer Rouge, then forced to switch sides and fight for the Vietnamese at the age of 12. Following the end of the war he had extensive experience with Landmines (Cambodia has more landmines than any other country in the world) and the museum owner has single handedly diffused 60 000 landmines. Sometimes as many as 300 a day. That being said there are still an estimated 6 million left (mostly on the border with Thailand).
Sunrise at Ankor Wat

The museum was very informative but in addition, since many people in Cambodia are poor, the museum also functions as an orphanage for children injured by landmines whose parents don't have the resources or knowledge to help them. Currently there are 50 kids there and over time as the museum makes more money and grows the money goes to expanding the orphanage.

Other than the temple and sights, I really enjoyed Siem Reap. It was a nice city with cheap food and amongst the best fruit shakes I've had. We bought a lot! I also tried Black Panther Beer (8%). I don't recommend this to anyone. And Corinne bought a child dinner only to be told she was a bad person by the other children. It was a good deed that definitely wasn't appreciated.

Next up, Corinne and I headed to the capital Phnom Penh. Corinne wasn't planning on coming to Cambodia at all and here I had persuaded her to see two cities now. In PP we went to see the prison S-21 where the genocide started followed by a very rainy motorbike ride out to the killing fields. They were depressing learning of all the horrors that took place, however it wasn't physically jarring that I've heard people describe. Maybe because I had read up on it before hand so there wasn't as much shock factor. One aspect that did surprise me was the photos of the head bad guy for the Khmer Rouge at the prison (not Pol Pot but his second in command or something). A guy who went by the name Duch. What surprised me was seeing photos of him, he is a tiny little man and the least intimidating figure you could ever imagine. Maybe 5'3-4 and 100 pounds its crazy to think this guy is referred to as more evil than Hitler.

Sunset from Guesthouse

Corinne left that night for Bangkok and I stayed in PP for another day. I went to the Royal Palace and walked around the city. Phnom Penh is actually a really pretty place.

Following PP I went to Kampot. Its supposed to be a really nice town, but to be honest. I just didn't see it. I stayed for 1 day. Did an interesting but significantly overprice tour and got out. The tour was to the Bokor Hill station. A 1920 casino/hotel built as a french retreat from the heat (since it is up in the mountains) but since it had a nice view it was heavily fought for during the wars. As a result the hotel is shot up as are many of the sites around it. In addition there is famous fog here which rolls in and makes everythign white. I took photos of the road and the hotel and you can get a picture. I would never want to fight a war there. The enemy could be 20 feet away and you wouldn't see him. THe only warning of their approach would be the detonation of a landmine.

Casino in the Fog, Bokor Hill Station (Kampot)

I left Kampot and went to the beach resort of Sihannoukville. I heard bad things about this place. Busy, touristy and dangerous. But to be honest I really like it. THere is a good atmosphere. I doesn't seem dangerous. and the beach is really nice. The only downside is that it has rained and I got sick making it so taht I don't dare be further than 20 feet from a bathroom (FUN!).

Storm Clouds coming in to Sihanookville

And that brings me to today! I will probably stay in Sihanoukville another day or two relaxing and getting better. I really want to go for a swim and get some exercise and then head to Thailand.

Thats all for now. A little rushed but has the details necessary.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Day 69

No real message today. Corinne and I were up at 4 to catch this moment over Ankor Wat. Pretty great day but now after our second 12 hour tomb raiding day I am tired.

Corinne may even be swayed to stay in Cambodia a few more days. But I won't say that too loud lest she hears me.