Same same but different, Thailand Part One

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Hey Folks, still hanging in there for the next update? Sweet as. This one is about continuing my trip from Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia where Amy just dropped me off at the airport leaving Malaysia to Thailand. I expected a lot of Thailand so have a read how it went after arriving in Chiang Mai in the North of Thailand, Bangkok and sweet sweet Koh Tao.

 

Bye bye mystical Malaysia

IMG_2929Every time I fly it gets more and more unspectacular. I flew in the past few month so many times in between places it pretty much doesn’t excite me anymore. But on the other hand I am still excited to touch down in an unknown country. Arriving at a new place, a new city and again finding my way around there another time. This is a lot of fun and it always will be. The airplanes air condition was doing its best to chill the plane in the heat of Malaysia's sun waiting for the departure. It was like in a flying fridge in there. Even cold smoking air was coming out of the vents making it look like in a meat house. Sitting in there with thongs and shorts didn’t felt too comfortable. At least the flight wasn’t too long and in a jiffy I already arrived in another country. The last one of my long trip. Custom checks, security checks, visa check and there you go with a new stamp in the passport. IMG_2990I had to do the typical first things: getting a sim card: cool thing, here I got one for free already usable with free minutes and internet. The other main thing: money, this time Thailand Baht. 1€ have been 40-50 Baht back then. So I got a few thousands and approached the taxi stall for getting me and my backpack to the Deeja Backpackers in Chiang Mai. I wanted to go cheap there but the hassle getting the right bus and walking from there on seemed too much of an effort to me so I just did it the lazy tourist way and called a taxi just for me. A nice ride later looking out the taxi window spotting the all brand new environment and I arrived in a nice side road with the big Deeja Sign. The lobby was all outside and the Hostel offers also very nice good priced food and beer (yeah, Chang). They take care of your laundry and everything else you need. You didn’t even need to leave this hostel once for weeks and still would survive easily. Even being bored is not an option with a nice outdoor pool table, hammocks in the garden and a nice bamboo garden house with a lot of book. Not to forget the TV room. Backpackers heaven though.

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IMG_2988The reception lady was possibly the slowest on earth (so far). But it is a hard competition between Indonesian and Thai pace of working speed. It is lovely somehow. Cause I didn’t book a thing in advance I ended up in my own double bedroom. Sweet luxury. Not that I asked for it but also didn’t complain about that. It was still just 350 Baht (12€). And I was happy to stay at this nice chilled happy place. I was only worried a bit about not meeting other people around which was a wasted thought. Cause all the outdoor restaurant and pool table made it easy to mingle with the others. After exploring the features of my room (LCD TV, AC, flushing toilet …) I went back down to keep the receptionist busy. She didn’t understand a word but in the end I got a elephant rafting, atv trip combination trip organized for the next day. I had a nice dinner, a well chilled beer to cope with the hot climate. Its very communicative here just being down at the food place I met a few nice people played pool with them in the garden, chilled a bit in the garden house and went to bed kind of early to be ready and fit for the trip tomorrow.


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The cats pyjamas: Elephants, Rafting and ATVs - 21.9.2012

IMG_2964After plopping out of my bed I had to rush down to get a full on English breakfast to gain some energy for the day. Good I packed my bag already so I don’t have to think about that anymore. How convenient I even got picked up by a small bus straight from the breakfast table. In the bus a lot of other typical backpacker, two right next to me also very German looking. On the 80km trip north we got to talk so it is Nico and Klaus from south Germany when I remember it correctly. More than an hour later we arrived at out first stop and got separated into groups corresponding to your booked activities. Only Nico, Klaus and I picked this package today (what a coincidence the Germs picked the same) IMG_2931so we carried on on the back of a shabby old pickup truck without benches. We had to sit / stand freestyle in the loading area of the 4WD while we drove through the roughest and most bumpy Thai jungle terrain you can imagine. Good we filled out the “its all my fault whatever happens to me” form before. On the way we passed a few elephant camps always guessing the next one is finally ours. It took a while until we stopped and where allowed to jump off the vehicle already with sore muscles and buts. The guys there didn’t speak a word English but did us understand to head to the elevated platform where the first elephant was waiting already.

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IMG_2935It_ had a little two seats cabin strapped onto. Klaus and Nico took the first one. When they went off their elephant relieved some pressure. Was funny to watch. I got my own more sophisticated ride. Before taking a seat, first I did pet him/her a bit to get to know “Spike” the Elephant a bit. Do you know how typical Elephant hair feels? I never thought it is that spiky. Almost in between really strong beard hair and thorns from a hedgehog. The skin feels very dry and rough with big grooves and wrinkles. Seemed to be very thick hard skin. Interesting. The Thai’s forced me to jump on him now. I had to step on his face/neck with my thongs and hoped into the chancel. The guys fixate him in his position, but he was calm anyway (probably drugged or because of the “lightweight” load). And off we go. The two elephants carried us automatically to the exit of the camp. Always tail on face literary brownnosing each other, bahh. Probably they just wanted to get it over with as fast as possible to head back and rest in the shade. I wouldn’t blame them for doing so. One of the Thai’s followed the elephants to steer them into the direction to walk. After we went down the road we already did see our possible rafting river.

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IMG_2949Every step the does is massive. Sitting on them lets you feel how heavy they must be. But also how calm they walk. Except the shaking of the chancel it is impressive how stable it is. When we got down the river we had some huge steep slopes down and up. Never believed they can walk this very rough terrain. In the beginning I’ve been always afraid they take one bad step or the loose terrain gives way. It felt very safe after getting used to it. It did rain the last few days and it was still muddy and slippery but they never lost grip. So no accidents. We passed by some houses between the river and the road where people sold bananas for the tourists. Okay more for the elephants who highly deserved and appreciate a lil snack. All of us bought a few to bribe our extraordinary vehicles. And they knew what’s happening. Before we even had the still green and small bended fruits (the silly EU laws would never allow selling these cause aren’t bend right). Anyhow they went into them as it’s nothing. IMG_2956First thing when I got them in my hands their proboscis approached me and then steered straight to my hands with the bananas with high precision continuously snorting. You could feel the air he breathes in like a vacuum cleaner. I teased him a bit, did pet him to apologies myself and rewarded him by ripping the first banana of the trunk. Not to far away from his proboscis the air flow did grab it and made a funny fooomp sound and him obviously excited it went straight into his mouth. As fast it was gone his proboscis was back again to fetch some more. He knew it was just the beginning. A few bananas later we reached our turning point to walk the road back to the camp. Way less exciting but we got a bit of a nicer view. And first noticed how the guide was hassling the elephants all the time. As I’ve heard afterwards other people have seen guides having a long whip stick with sharp thorns in the end ramming them into the elephants skin to punish. Ours did have a slingshot taking pebbles from the side of the road shooting them. Poor elephants. But the thick skin make me believe its not really painful for them. At least I tell this to myself to have a clear conscious.

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IMG_2962Regarding this I remembered I had to promise to Julia (one of my NZ sis from another mother and father) not to go to a tiger camp with these drugged Tigers taking cute pictures hugging them. I felt a bit bad doing this elephant riding trip and I wouldn’t go again. There are better 2 day tours where you get to know them, take care of them, sleep in the same hut and ride on them without the probably painful construction on their back.

 

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Back in the camp we swapped our banana consuming vehicle against a petrol consuming one. Still excited form the little trip we chatted away while trying to get a good hold on to the pickup truck avoiding falling off. At the meeting point we got a nice and fresh cooked Thai lunch. Simple food but with all the spices and fresh ingredients delicious. All strengthened we where ready to approach our 2nd tour part.

 

 

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IMG_2968This means putting on the swim shorts … wait … where are mine. I unpacked my whole bag including all pockets just to realize, damned I must have forgotten my short. 2nd best and only solution I had to do it in my boxers. Looks ridiculous but who gives a fuck Smiley. I even asked somebody to take a picture of me. All “dressed up” we drove 30 minutes up the mountains through the lush rainforest. At a small cottage we unloaded the rafts fot divided into groups and got the instructions, for me the third time but I really paid attention this time cause the river and the precautions didn’t look as safe as back in NZ. The river was all brown and muddy looking with a strong current caused by the heavy rain the last few days. But my group was better than the last time. Two Brazilians an Israeli, the local guide and me. These people did understand English and all the commands. The guide told us before we have to be very careful, there are heaps of long drops and swirls underneath them. The thing that freaked me out most was when he was doing the holy cross gesture when we left. We where three boats so one or the other could help in case of an accident. And we all had to use the help of the others. It started slow but then we got to the first exciting rapids and it felt as everybody noticed the trip could be a bit more dangerous then we all thought it would be. And also the guide seemed to get more nervous.

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IMG_2961He knew what comes next. He prepared us on a slower part of the track how to deal with the next one, the hardest of the whole journey. We met with the other 2 boats and then headed 2nd down the rapid, again the guide made his holy cross gesture and seemed to be very nervous. We had to crouch on the ground as close to the center of the raft as possible to not get flipped and then after getting huge splashes of water get up and paddle as hard as possible to not get drought back under the drop into a swirl and get flipped. Of course this is exactly what happened. We didn’t get up fast enough to paddle out of the risky zone so we got pulled back and the boat started to get filled up with water. Eventually we where able grab the rope from the other boat and tow us out there before we would have flipped our boat eventually. Puhh, what a thrill. Afterwards we cheered happy in a huddle and carried on while the guide told us why he was so nervous before. Last time he flipped his boat exactly at the same spot and a few people fell out. That explains a lot. He also stated there one more big one.

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This one was more complicated cause instead of managing floating between the rocks down the drop avoiding them we managed to bump right into them even though we followed the instructions moving altogether to one side of the boat close to the ground. On the impact my Israel boat mate and a Brazilian got kicked out of the boat doing a 180° flip in the end still holding onto the safety rope of the boat. While the guide got out of the raft onto the rocks the raft got stuck onto pushing us off we pulled the guys back into the raft. Fully soaked an pumped up with adrenalin we cheered again and started to enjoy the lasting few slow and calm bits of the river chatting about our experiences. What a trip …. The most exciting so far, a bit dangerous but we arrived alive and without any injuries.

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Back at the camp we shared altogether our stories with the other boats. Looked like everybody had an exciting trip.

With this adrenalin overkill and exhaustion I wasn’t too much looking forward to the third stage of this trip. Especially cause only me and two Indians booked the same tour. We got kicked out somewhere on the way back to Chiang Mai and the others carried on back home. Again we got some gear and instructions and of course the ATV. This one was manual so a bit different than the one I used on Tenerife while our Christmas work weekend event. First we all did some testing rounds on the test track until everybody was confident enough to carry on. It took us ages until everybody was ready. The Indians didn’t seem to be too comfortable. They also took one ATV together so they shared it on the testing track until one decided to skip it completely.

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IMG_2973Finally we where ready to leave to the jungle and open road tracks. Unfortunately the guide adopted to the pace of the Indian which means we poked along the whole time first or second gear with max 20 kmh together. Okay parts where covered in mud and water puddles but this is the whole point of driving ATVs, getting dirty. Every single one they stopped and drove really slow through it. So I usually waited until they where gone and full throttled the vehicle trough it. That was fun. Also the parts on the road with 60. Unfortunately they where waiting for me every time they didn’t see me anymore. So I couldn’t do it too often. The landscape was nice though, we passed a little village and a nice small lake with stunning surroundings. In general the ATV part was a bit disappointing, too short and too slow, but still good enough to do it. Especially when you take in mind again altogether I had didn’t spend more than 2000 Baht (50€) for the whole package. On the bus ride back I had a nice chat with the slow driving Indian (Medical Dr.) and the not driving Indian (Import/Export) and had some nice Indian cookies.

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IMG_2991Back home I assured I really left my swim shorts on the bed, hell ya I did, had a shower and went down again to the communal area and had a nice delicious lunch and a iced mango smoothy, yummy. There I met for the first time Lulu, a nice girl from from Brisbane, Hailey, another girl from Melbourne and some other guys. Also Klaus and Nico mutually agreed to drop by our hostel as well for going out. As promised they did make it despite some issues finding us. First we went to a bar nearby for a few big Changs, then to another bar for a few cocktails and then we caught a tuktuk reasonably priced to bring us into the party district of Chiang Mai. It was quite small there but even more crowded. We went onto some dancing stages for a while and then back out. One girl, don’t know her name anymore or where she is from dragged me to a more silent area for a moment (just kissing, Ma Zwinkerndes Smiley) and we lost the group after coming back. So the evening was kind of over. The day was exhausting and it was late anyway so a good moment to call it a night. We got into a tuk tuk together back to the hostel and I went to bed. Alone, damned.

 

a long day and night - 22.9.2012

IMG_2992After getting up late I planned leaving to the train station to get a ticket for the same night. Its impossible to book something like this via internet or phone so I had to go there. Getting there buying the ticket leaving again, going then again when the train really leaves, plus the already expensive ticket plus the additional hassle with the TukTuks made me pick the lazy method again. I really would have enjoyed a train ride like this. Since New Zealand I always wanted to have a long train ride once, but it never was convenient or practical. I talked to Lulu who had the same issue and favored again the 2nd best option. The bus. The last 40 days I spent so much time in busses and planes so I didn’t really looked forward to another 12h bus ride but had to choke the bitter pill.IMG_3000 I just went up to the slowest reception lady so far and got my ticket for just 500 baht (around 12€) to Bangkok. I packed my backpack and checked out. The bus picked us up around 6pmish, so we had some time on our hand, I started exploring nice old town, strolled around some shops without the need to buy a thing and got back to the Hostel. Still with some time left and Lulu in the same situation we decided to grab a tuk tuk to somehow get to the big main Hindu temple up the mountain nearby Chiang Mai center. Slow reception lady advised us to let her pick a driver instead of just a random tuk tuk. So a nice lady picked us up in a proper car, whoooha, and we started to drive to the temple. A bit out of town the wide road began to crawl up the mountain with more and more sharp turn. The lady driver always on the ideal racing line. At the foot of the temple she stopped at a big parking lot telling us to go up while she waits here. We where a bit curious, we didn’t pay yet and where wondering if she is still there when we are coming back.

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IMG_3006As all good temples this one had a cog railway too avoiding the heavy ascension in the sun. Usually temples are for free but often the great ones are built on top of a hill. Smart locals who build a cog railway or elevator with good priced tickets. To not over exceed our backpacker budget we got the one way. A short and unspectacular ride later we reached the important and interesting part of the temple. As always here It was a shiny as covered in gold architecture temple. Like in Austin Powers Goldmember. With the bright hot sun almost impossible to look at properly without squinting like a maniac. The temple was really beautiful and all handcrafted. Its amazing how poor locals are in these countries but how much they still spend on their believes. It’s a bit like it must have been in the 16th-18th century in Europe. The 13th century supposed to be temple looked brand new and flash as if it was constructed just years ago.

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IMG_3036Having enough of all the bling bling and incense craving for some refreshing fruits we went down the main stairs. Heaps of stairs and shops leaded the way down. One of them was really funny. Or lets say sad. This guy had greeting cards. The most depressing once I’ve ever seen. Looking back I should have got some. At least the pictures show you what I’m talking about.

 

 

 

 

IMG_3041I don’t remember what we paid for the whole trip with her waiting while we spent some time up the temple. I only remember it was ridiculous well priced. And she got us back to the hostel right on time for grabbing some food on the way before our bus left. Not the big coach, just a ride to get to the central coach station. Fortunately, cause this one was way overloaded. Some people had to sit on others people laps to fit into. It was just a messy pile of backpacks and backpackers. But it wasn’t for long. Ready to have a nap we all plopped out of the minibus door and selected our coach seat for the next 12 hours. In the beginning I watched a movie until falling into this state between sleep and being awake.

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Bangkok, Ping Pong center of the world here we come – 23.09.2012

IMG_3051We arrived 5:30am in the morning somewhere in Bangkok, We didn’t know where exactly. But we made some random friends on the bus and tried together to not get ripped off by the taxis. At least if we got ripped of we shared the expenses. So a few of us got into a taxi to Kao San road. The party district and the well known road from “The Beach” or the by me much hated movie Hangover II. We drove a while until we stopped in the heavy rain and unloaded the car. I now act in advance to tell you the taxi driver of course scammed us. Who is silly enough to take a taxi from the parallel road to Kao San doesn’t deserve any better than this. Anyway from there everybody was on his own again and the random travel group headed into different directions. IMG_3050Lulu and I went up a few of the cheaper accommodations checking out the rooms just to realize its nothing like Chiang Mai. All a bit shabby and impersonal. Either it was too expensive or too shabby. The heavy backpacks began to slow us down and increased the chance of taking just some shitty place to have a shower and a nap to recover. Still quite close, just an alleyway away from the party road we gave our self up to fate and decoded tp stay at an okay place. And a room for 250 Baht (6,50€) in a central location didn’t leave too much room for complaints. And it wasn’t for for long. I already knew I wanna leave this place as soon as possible. After all the chilled and relaxed places a hustle and bustle without the ocean nearby didn’t feel right at all.

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IMG_3053First things first, I had a looong nap while Lulu surfed the Internet at the open air reception. When finally even I was awake and ready to go after a shower. The bathroom area was all open as well. Only the toilets and showers where enclosed. It had a bit of a camping atmosphere right in the middle of the center of a huge massive town. Nevertheless not too bad and right on time to explore the city. We passed buy the busy Kao San Road avoiding the annoying trade people selling real fake RayBans and other valuable goods. We escaped the crowds just to go to the biggest shopping mall in town. Its call MDK and one of the must do’s in Bangkok. IMG_3061We took a public bus after we found the right one and scaring all the tuk tuks away while waiting for it. I’ve never seen a Bus before with proper wooden planks on the floor like in a old living room. Funny. The mall could have been anywhere In the world except the food malls and the cheap fake products. They don’t even make a big deal out of it trying to convince you its real. Lulu and I bought each a pair of headphones, had some massive ice cream and went to the cinema to see Savages. Good movie. But the most interesting part was before the movie. A very patriotic short movie with the king of Thailand and some war footage was shown accompanied by the national anthem was shown. Everybody in the cinema was getting up humming while putting the hand on their heart. Weird.

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IMG_3059On the way out of the mall we bought some real looking fake Apple chinch splitter for our for sure coming next bus trip to share listening music or watching a movie. At the coming of night we arrived back at the accommodation to drop the bags and a bit of chilling. There I noticed the ant trail on my bed leading to my netbook. Damned, I must have spilled something lately. They crawled all over the keyboard and seemed to occupied even the inside as their new habitat. I tried to shove them all away leaving a massacre behind on the bed sheets. Bääh, nasty little insects. I tried to continue writing this blog but got distracted every minute by some more crawling out underneath my keyboard. Looks like they don’t like it that hot, har har..

a few minutes later we left for a little night out to Kao San Road. Experiencing the Bangkok charm everybody talks about. First we had Pad Thai at a not too clean looking food stall for just 30 Baht (0,80€) with “fresh” eggs. It tasted good and we didn’t get sick afterwards, yay. We had a few drinks in some Bars around the place everywhere surrounded by heaps of other annoying tourists like us, nice live music and a lot of ping pong plop sounds by the local Tuk Tuk drivers.

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IMG_3074But what is it about, this sound. They wanna scam you into those Ping Pong shows or Tiger(Thai girl shows) Bangkok is famous for. Actually I would have loved to go, but Lulu didn’t seem to be too interested to waste some money on that. I heard a lot about that already. Usually it is like a weird show women do some weird stuff, lets say: with their body and among others ping pong balls while the locals charge you ridiculous amounts of money for the drinks you have to consume or by the easy ladies working in the establishment. Good fun I‘ve heard Smiley.

 

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IMG_3073Anyway we had a nice evening despite skipping the shows. Back then I really hated Bangkok. Looking back nowadays we should have spent a bit more time there. But it didn’t feel right back then. I hated Bangkok and it smelled everywhere.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bangkok, Ping Pong center of the world here we go – 24.09.2012

IMG_3076Lulu slept pretty long, I was awake at 10am and used internet. I guess it might have been a bit too much sleeping lately or it was just cause I was keen to leave as soon as possible. At least making sure when to leave. Lulu finally got up 12am and we should have directly check out. But too late. In most of the other countries I’ve been to checkout time is 9 or 10am. Even though here it is noon we didn’t make it early enough. And also we weren’t quite sure if we really can leave. We didn’t book a thing yet. But I was keen going on an Island. So we rushed to the Kao San Road. We asked at a few places before we found a decent enough looking travel agency. Finally we booked a bus trip for 700 Bath (18€) at 6pm until 3am next day to Chumphon and 7am-10am via a “fast" boat to Koh Tao. The island Diving Barby Robin (diving instructor on Koh Tao) advised Jamey, Lexi and met to go to back on Penang in Malaysia. I felt so happy holding the tickets in my hands looking forward to finally leaving Bangkok. It was just two days we stayed. But felt like ages. So we cleaned up the room, packed our backpacks and stored them behind doors inside a little shed (the owners house).

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IMG_3054We paid 50 Bath extra as a late check out fee. We almost paid for a full night. Then we went for a coffee looked for a proper breakfast and something to do. Most of the top 10 things to do we couldn’t or didn’t want to. It rained lots last night and half of the town and with that most of sights near the river where closed. Also there was some weird public holiday going on. At least that’s what all the tuk tuk driver told us. Not that we asked them. They just stopped by told us it’s a celebration day and that’s why they’ll drive us around the whole day to all accessible temples and sights for just 20 Baht (50 €ents). Its government funded. We where a bit too cautious I guess. Of course he would have stopped by at weird shopping places and I might would have got a tailored suit or worse. Still a cheap deal. We didn’t take the offers and instead went into hotel that had English breakfast and chilled iced smoothies. Yummy.

 

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IMG_3082Now we moved our stuff to the Travel Agency and with a bit more than an hour left I decided to get a real Thai Massage. I was a bit curious cause I’ve heard a lot of stories about the advanced methods the Thai Girls discovered to increase the tips. Anyway, I wanted to give it a try. Where else on the world can you get a massage for an hour for just 220 Baht (5,50€). I picked a safe and decent looking place nearby Kao San. I was a bit nervous, cause I also never had a massage in my whole life before. First they wash your feet at the entry, go and change into a fancy light bathrobe and lie down on one of the few latex mattresses on the ground. Then she comes close the curtains and …. Nah, no curtains, just massage. But full on. They use everything, their feet head, arms to stretch and twist you. They even punch you quite hard between the shoulders. They even massage your face with their fingers. They twist pull each finger and toe until it snaps. In the end they walk on you right before they fold you like a sheet of paper. Sounds pretty nasty, and while they do it it sometimes is. But it feels great afterwards. Also the lotion smells nice and is warming. Not that this is necessary here in Thailand. I just made I out of the Massage Parlor to pick up our stuff and walk for for a short distance to the bus stop. To a parallel road of Kao San.

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IMG_3079Guess what, this is where we ended up before with the bus. You remember when I explained that the Taxi driver tricked us?. Anyway nothing here is on time. A bus was waiting there. And a few people. But we weren’t sure if its ours. It was the most ridiculous looking bus I’ve ever seen. More like a bus going to a anime panty shot convention. But it was ours as we jumped in. It looked shitty from the outside but inside it was worse. Lulu and I picked the seats in the back where the cool kids sit usually. Right in front of me a swinging chair. The mechanism for keeping it in an upright position was broken and no other seats left for her to change. We had to leave one empty in the back because of that. It was free swinging the whole time. She even got a bit sea sick. Or because the toilet smelled from downstairs even to our seats upstairs in the back through. We turned of the vents cause it seemed to come out of it. So there was no space, the headphone sharing didn’t work properly, shame on you Apple and I wished for a train ride. But it would have been way more expensive again. But also these painful hours were over at 3:30am and we had lovely 4 hours ahead waiting for our 7am boat.

Who said the journey is the reward? I’m looking forward to have a nap on Koh Tao when we have a place to stay. Or on the boat, or right now … IMG_3078