Saturday, 31 October 2009

More pai, lopburi etc

So, continuing from where i left off. The day after the whitewater trip was spent doing very little, except looking after my wound, lying in a hammock, eating, etc. I also booked an elephant trek for the next day. So i woke up early the next morning, got picked and rode in the back of a pick up truck with an aussie woman who was a teacher, who was going to be riding the elephant with me. It took about 20 minutes to get to the elephant camp, where we jumped out, and got given some banana's to feed to the elephants. Fun times. If you held one behind your back the elephant would wrap his trunk around you and pull you in, then yank the banana from you with his trunk. At one point i tried to walk across one to another, with a banana in my hand, but the closer one just grabbed hold of me and the banana!

So then we attempted to climb on. The elephant bends one of its knees, which you step on, then grab the top of his ear, which is all cartilage, and pull yourself up! Not the most graceful of things. It actually feels really high up, and there is no platform thing to sit on like in some places. So you are basically just sitting on his spine, and he had short, prickly hair. So it wasn't the most comfortable of things! But it was fun. First we wandered (slowly) around the hills for an hour. He seemed to be misbehaving quite a lot though, the guy who was......uh....steering him? got angry with him because he kept stopping, to grab some vegetation to eat with his trunk, and to do some business, if you catch my drift. But often, nothing was coming out, so our guide just tried to hurry him along. We got back down to the road and were walking past the other elephant camps when suddenly he turned 180 and tried to set off in a run! Now, being about 8 feet off the ground, with concrete below, was a bit of a worry. So we just grabbed on and the guide managed to stop him! I figured he was a moody teenage elephant going through a rebellious phase because his parents won't let him stay out any later than 10pm....or something.

So after this episode we wandered towards the river, which was fairly wide, with the usual lovely shade of brown water. The elephant slowly creeped into the middle of the river, and then walked up it. Of course we were nice and high up so were not getting wet. Result. We got to a point where the 'driver' said do you want to get wet? Me, of course i did, the aussie didn't like the look of the river so opted out. For shame. I had been swimming and slicing my knee open in the wonderful stuff already. So she hopped of onto dry land, and me and the driver headed back out into the river. The next 5 minutes was basically my getting sprayed down by the elephant who was sucking up water with his trunk and blowing it out at me on his back. The driver was also on board, but was using me as a pretty effective human shield to stay dry. Then he asked me 'you want elephant shake?' to which the only answer really is, 'Yes?' in a kind of 'I'm Ron Burgundy?' style. He told me to hold on tight. So i did. The elephant lowered its head down, then swung from left to right and back again very quickly. Somehow i managed to stay on. The next time, i went flying. Curses. I clambered back up, and then we noticed something that looked like a dead fox drifting past us down the river. Mmm, yummy.

We climbed back onto dry land, and now i could sit right behind the elephants head which was 100 times more comfortable. We slowly wondered back to the camp and jumped off. Then we were told we could go jump in the hot spring baths, so I did, but the aussie woman seemed to have an aversion to that as well! So i lay there for about 20 minutes in this awesome hot water, depositing all the stones i'd managed to collect in my shorts after being thrown off. Dried up and got taken back to town.

I spent the rest of the day just relaxing. I've become addicted to this spicy glass noodle salad, which is insanely spicy but so tasty. So i fight through the pain, every time thinking i'm not going to have it again, only to go and have it again. Mmmm. And roti from street vendors. Banana and chocolate. So good.

I was walking back to my guesthouse that night thinking how much i loved Pai. It was so chilled out, in a great setting, i was eating roti, thinking, yeah, this place is cool. Then i see a thai guy just randomly walk up to another thai guy and smack him in the head, he then falls straight over backwards and whacks his head on the ground, with the other guy just walking off. The guy stood up, with blood streaming down from the back of his head, looked at me and just shrugged his shoulders!! A couple of other guys ran after the guy who punched him, but i never saw what happened once they caught up to him. Was a wee bit random!

I left the next day and went back to Chiang Mai, where i spent two more nights. Trying to keep things a bit more brief so i can catch up, i wandered round some more temples, some of which were stunning, one which had donald duck standing beside it, which was a little odd. I remember one awesome meal i had, red curry with duck, lychees, cherry tomatoes and pineapple. Mmm. Most of this blog just seems to be me writing about food. It's so good! Met a few peeps from Spain one night at the place i was staying and went and had some drinks with them. Fun times.

I decided i wanted to go to Lopburi, so i booked a train ticket, departing at 8.45am and getting in a 6.45pm. Supposedly. Well, i got a ride to the train station, and sat waiting for the train. At one point some crazy old thai lady came up to me and said something to me, her family followed behind her, one of which said 'she said you have a very nice smile.' This happens often, its odd. A train turned up at 9am, but it was one that was supposed to have been there at 6.45am, so i wasn't allowed on. Eventually our train turned up and we left at 10.45, two hours later than planned. The train journey itself wasn't too bad. The train was only half full, the first five hours were pretty slow going and mountainous but once we hit phitsanolouk we flew. Plus we got a free meal, which was pretty tasty. I hardly even realised that we'd got to Lopburi, it was about 8pm and i was feeling sleepy. I jumped off the train and tried to figure out where i was/where i was going. I didn't have a map and only had a rough idea of where the place i wanted to stay was, but after a bit of wandering i found it. I went for a bit of a wander in the evening, there really wasn't a whole lot going on. The lonely planet book had only used about half a page to talk about Lopburi, and there was one main reason that the people came here. For the monkeys!!

The next morning i went an found an internet cafe so i could figure out where everything was. I went to this old palace first, which was fairly interesting. It had a museum inside the grounds, which was again, fairly interesting. But after a while it was just one very old Buddha statue after another, and they do all look the same...i was eager to see me some monkeys! I wandered towards this famous temple where they reside, and once the temple was in view, so were the monkeys. The temple itself was surrounded by grass and a wide perimeter fence, but the monkeys weren't just inside the fence. Oh no. They were everywhere. Sat on parked cars, crossing the roads, running around on telegraph poles, swinging on fences over buildings like it was their very own jungle gym, which i guess it was.

I waled in through the gate, paid the admission fee and for this i also had a thai lady follow me round with a slingshot. These monkeys, they were everywhere. It was crazy. It's hard to get across how strange it felt! I bought a bag of nuts at the entrance, and you could feed the monkeys these, just hold them in your hands and they'd grab them! Most of the monkeys were just chilling out, grooming each other, climbing up and down walls, with the occasional fight breaking out, and the odd spot of 'boom boom' which those of you who've been to SE asia will know, and those of you who haven't, well, it's pretty easy to work out what it is, isn't it! I sat down at one point and a few of them started to climb on me, sometimes they'd try and get a bit bitey, but the thai lady would threaten them with the slingshot and they'd scarper! It was quite a small temple, and we went inside, where a whole load of bats where hanging upside down having a snooze.

Once i'd finished, there really wasn't a whole lot else going on in the place. I went back to later to just sit and watch the monkeys which was pretty funny, one of them had managed to find an energy drink, unscrew the cap and have a drink. I though to myself, this could end badly :/ But he didn't like the taste, so passed it round his friends, who also didn't like the taste!

This is where i'll be ending now, hopefully i'll get some time somewhere to catch up on my last week or so in Kanchanaburi and Bangkok, which have been pretty crazy, but now i'm off to New Zealand for a month, and i think i'm gonna be away from the internet for a while!

Monday, 26 October 2009

Pai (whitewater trip)

So....i left off last time on the way to Pai. It was about a 4 hour minibus ride. After half an hour i sawa sign saying that it was 91 km away, ah we'll be there in no time then! Ha. Epic mountain roads. Weaving our way up one and then down, with hairpin turns at every corner. It was pretty fun, but probably wouldn't be so great if you get carsick easily! I met an aussie girl on the minibus whose name i can't remember now. Anyway, we got into Pai and i set off in search of 'Breeze of Pai' guesthouse, and she tagged along because she had no idea where she was going. Pai itself is an awesome place, small mountain town thats grown in size because plenty of tourists come out this way looking for treks/whitewater. So, found the guesthouse, one of the nicest i've stayed in, for sure. Spent the rest of the day talking to a bunch of white water rafting companies to see who had the best deal/people signed up for a 2 day trip leaving the next day. Found what i wanted, ate some damn tasty food, as usual. Chilled out in a hammock by the river, reading, and watching them build a new bridge across it, which was pretty cool.

So then, two days of awesomeness followed. It was nothing short of amazing. One of the highlights of my trip for sure. We had an awesome bunch of people, there were 6 of us all together. Myself, 2 americans, 1 canadian, 1 dutch and our legendary guide Phoo. We basically spent two amazing days hitting some sweet rapids, and seeing a part of the world that is only visible by travelling along the river. We'd pass by huge cliffs, dense forest, with kingfishers flying around, and even some monkeys. The first day was bright sunshine for most of it, but then a light rain came. For some reason this just made me think we were in a rambo film :D It really did feel like we were in the middle if nowhere, which we were. Sometime after lunch we reached a bridge which we had to carry the boat around, but once we did this Phoo told us we could jump off the bridge into the tail end of a rapid. Sweet.

I remember Josh going first, then i jumped in. It was all good until i realised i'd taken a bit too much time to swim out of the rapid into the eddy i was supposed to get into, so i got sucked further down river than planned. And then, pretty stupidly, rather than just let it take its course i tried hanging onto some rocks near the side but where the current was still very strong. I was trying to hide in a small eddy behind one of the rocks, but the current was too strong, and i ended up bashing my knee pretty hard on one of the rocks. Phoo later told me this was the worst injuries someone had got when he has been guiding for 7 years! Oops. The cut was pretty deep, but luckily it was below the knee and above the shin so it wasn't the worst place to get it. Once we set off again we had a quick surf in the rapid we had just been jumping in. It was pretty beefy, and Phoo took us in a little more towards 90 degrees rather than 45 degrees, so we got hit by a huge rush of water. From this, me and the dutch guy in the back next to me, Tony, got catapulted out of the boat, but somehow upstream of the boat! Earlier in the day, Phoo had told us 'your paddle is your boarding pass, don't drop it!' Well, while flying out of the boat, i managed to forget this bit of information, instead swimming back to the boat and grabbing the safety line in the middle, and getting hauled back in, by which point tony was already back in the boat. It took me a few seconds to realise that i had dropped my paddle, but Phoo had already seen and we were setting off downstream to grab it! There was another rapid we had to get through, and eventually caught up with my paddle! I felt a little bit sheepish, i'd dropped my boarding pass! It was a strange rush of water that sent me and Tony out of the boat, Alex, Josh and Layla who were sat in front of us had ridden through it ok, and were suprised to turn back and see me and Tony no longer there!

So we continued down river, some more fun rapids, but no more getting chucked out! Phoo had this mysterious bottle, and earlier in the day someone had asked him what it was. He told us that it was his special medicine. Well, once we got to a calmer bit, he gave us all a lid-full. It was little bit of a mixture of special natural ingredients, mixed with a lot of his dad's rice whisky! It was good stuff. And so about half an hour after this, we stopped randomly on a shore, Phoo cut down some Bamboo, and kept chopping down this piece into a smaller and smaller bit. Eventually we realised what he was doing, he was making a shot glass! So we did another shot there, then a couple more before we made it to the camp for the night. It was about an hour before the sun went down when we got there, so we unloaded the boat, and checked out the camp.

It was all made of Bamboo. A couple of long rectangular perched huts which were for sleeping in, with mosquito nets etc, a big dining room/kitchen area, everything was cooked on fire. Once i got changed into my dry clothes, i went to Phoo to clean my wound. He asked me if i wanted to try some natural remedies. Sure! So he found some leaves which he translated as meaning 'smells like tiger'......i couldn't smell the tiger. But anyway, he tore up and squished the leaves in a cup, then put them on my wound. He was pushing this wad deep into my wound, so naturally i was saying 'argggg' a little. So then i held the wad there for a while. He went and got a banana leaf stalk, cut out strips from the fleshy inside of it, which he put over the green wad. Then using the harder, stringy part of the banana leaf he tied it around my leg to keep everything in place! Well, it definitely made it feel better, the water we were rafting in was brown, so probably wasn't the cleanest!

There were two guys who pretty much live at this jungle camp to cook food for the groups who stayed here. They made us a fantastic dinner, with chicken wings, some awesome veggie and pork dish, other stuff that i can't even remember now. There was more than enough, so we were all very happy and full. And starfruit for dessert. Awesome. We sat and chatted for a bit, at some point Phoo started to talk to us about Buddism for a while, and while it was interesting, it turned out to be something of a monologue that lasted for quite some time! So eventually we went off to bed feeling very sleepy. All we could hear were the sounds of the jungle, and the sound of the river. While eating dinner we could hear a frog making its mating call, it seemed to be lonely. For anyone that's been to this part of the world, you'll know of the women who walk around Bangkok/various big cities with those wooden frogs that have ridges on their backs. When you play the ridges with a stick, it sounds a little bit like a frog. Anyway, there are lots of these, everywhere, trying to sell you them. So we were laughing at the thought that one of these women was perched in the jungle playing a wooden frog, rather than it being real. I think it was one of those 'you had to be there' moments.

I slept pretty well, we cleaned my wound with stuff in the morning and sprayed some stuff over it to try to keep it waterproof-ish. We had an awesome breakfast, and set off again. Bright sunshine, there was no rapids for the first hour or so. Then we got to some more good ones. The biggest ones were class 3 apparently, with more rainfall they would become level 4, but it's hard to predict when the heavy rains would come and they only become level 4 for a few days here and there. We stopped for lunch, which, again, was really good. The rapids eased off a bit, and we got to the first place where we could do some cliff jumping. The first one was about 9 metres, with a tough climb to get up there. I gave it a miss, because my knee wasn't feeling to great with pressure on it. Alex, Josh and Layla did it, and fair play to them. A little bit further down river we reached another cliff, which was only around 6 metres, with a much easier climb. I knew i'd regret it if i didn't do it, so i followed the others up. Josh went first, and told us he'd touched the bottom, then Alex, who also touched the bottom, and then Layla, who, suprisingly, also touched the bottom. So then i stood up to the edge. It definitely looks a lot higher from up here! And so a few seconds later i jumped off, and didn't touch the bottom! However, on my second jump i did :D

So that was really fun. We were drifting closer and closer to the end point, admiring the amazing scenery for one last time. Once we got to the end point we tried to get some group photo's of us in the boat. We perched the camera's on a fence and then ran back to the boat. I managed to lose 2 flip flops in the mud/water while running back, but somehow Phoo managed to find them. We had showers, bought some beer and jumped in the back of the sangewethu (pick up truck with two benches on the back which is covered) and rode back to Pai, which was now 3 hours away! The journey back was fun, drinking and talking, watching the road behind us. It was another very twisty road.

Once back in Pai i went back to the Breeze of Pai guesthouse as i'd left most of my stuff there, and the others went nearby. We went and had dinner, and ended up going for a few drinks in a couple of places. One of them was an outdoor place called 'Ting Tongs' which was just outside of the main town, and had campfires and a pretty chilled atmosphere. So we drank, and wandered back into town, which was all closed up and empty by the time we came back, except for all the dogs running around. I swear, dogs roam round these places like they own the place, its hilarious. They take naps on the roads, and so people just have to go round them. Anyways, that's all for now folks. I'm still pretty far behind on this, i have about 5 days before i'm off to New Zealand, a few of those days i'll be spending in Bangkok, so i'll probably have some time to catch up a bit more!

Friday, 16 October 2009

In Chiang Mai (for the 2nd time) but not written all the way up to there yet...

I'm making this a bit easier by just adding little bits at a time instead of sitting somewhere for an ages trying to plug it all in! So this entry is the accumulation of several smaller sections!

So, would be the 11th of October. I was thinking about leaving on this day as i'd pretty much done eveything there was to do in Kanchanaburi. But i was enjoying my time there so i decided to stay a bit longer. I rented a bike and went to a floating a restaurant, had some lunch, drank some beer, read a bit. Then i cycled over to the bridge again. This time i went all the way across. I'd bought some food from a food stall, which was essentially just various meats deep fried and put on skewers, then covered in sweet chili sauce. A cat got a wiff of it, decided her liked it and so followed me all the way across. I couldn't think of a name for it, so i simply called it 'the cat on the bridge over the river kwai' .......or tcotbotrk for short. :D This is what daytime drinking will do to you. I sat on the opposite side of the bridge on a bank, watched people wandering. A saw a bunch of monks wondering across and taking pictures of each other. Little bit surreal! So then i was planning on leaving the next day. However i woke up in the morning and had a change of heart. I was going to go to Lopburi, which is a place with a few temples that is completly overrun with monkeys. But i'd already seen trouble making monkeys at Erawan falls so i decided to change my plans. I booked a flight to Chiang Mai for two days time.

So i ate one more time in Chaba restaurant before i left. They were pretty suprised to see me as they thought i'd left. I told them that i was going to Chiang Mai, and one of them said, 'i think someone else wants to come with you!' Apparently one of the girls had a bit of a crush on me. Bless.

So then back to Bangkok, back to Rambuttri village inn. There are a few tailor shops just out from the entrance, and a bunch of guys hang round wearing smart suits trying to make friends with you and to get you to buy a suit. Unfortunately they recognise me now, and their sales pitch is getting pretty far along! If i was flying from Bangkok straight back to home, maybe i would buy some ridiculous suit and wear it on the plane, and come out of Heathrow looking like a tool. But unfortunately (whilst also fortunatly) i still have a long way to go, and there is no way i'm going to lug around a suit when my backpack is already pretty full!

So on the 14th i flew to Chiang Mai, got a taxi to where i decided to stay. Wondered around a bit, in the evening i went to this night market, there was also a big stage there. On this night, there were a guy and a few girls singing, with these 4 girls dancing as backing dancers. It was pretty hilarious. 3 of the 4 danced like me, (read: not well) but one of them could. The other 3 just seemed to look at her with envy! I had some dinner then got a dragon fruit shake and watched the rather entertaining show!

Next day i decided to check out some of the temples, as this is mostly what Chiang Mai is famous for. I headed in the direction of the biggest temple, the city itself is pretty cool, it's surrounded by a square moat, so it's pretty easy to find your way around. Anyway, i was wandering towards the biggest one, checked out a couple of smaller ones on the way. The city just seems to be completely littered with temples, they're everywhere! So i got to the main one, can't remember the name. It has a huge buddha inside which fell off some transport hundreds of years ago, so they decided to build the temple around it. There was also a waxwork of a famous monk in the temple. I stood there for a good two minutes, convinced it was real, waiting for the eyes to move or something. Boy did i feel stupid :D On the way out of the temple i got talking to a local, he used to be a muy thai fighter, and had spent time in the army. Anyway, i thought this was one of those rare occasions where a local would come and talk to you without trying to sell you something. But of course i was wrong. He was a taxi driver, pulled out a map and told me he could take to these various places (outside the city and out of walking distance) for 100baht. Why not. I thought the price was a bit too good but i later found out why it was so cheap!

So he took me to a few temples outside the city. They were all pretty awesome. Very different, very interesting. Unfortunately my camera died part way through so i didn't get all that many photo's. I also met my first buddhist monk in one of the temples. Normally you see them walking around but they don't feel like the most approachable people, more out of respect. Anyway, one of the monks came up to me in one of the temples, he was from Phnom Penh. So yeah, that was a cool first!

Then my driver took me to the 'handicraft village.' At first this was pretty cool, he took me to a silk place, where they show you how the silk is made (with the silk worm in various stages of its life cycle). After being whizzed through the 'factory' you are led into a huge gift shop area, filled with lots of silk products. Yeah, no thanks. So this happened quite a bit. He took me to a silver place, a lacquer place, a stone place. Again, quickly whizzed through the factories and into the showrooms. So eventually we were heading back to Chiang Mai when my driver said 'i want to take you to these two other places.' He hadn't mentioned this earlier. He said something about getting a coupon for gasoline, i didn't really understand. So we parked outside this place that said 'private collection' and in I went. It was just another shop with various things in, all pretty expensive. The guy at the door asked me 'what are you looking for?' and i said i was just looking. He got a bit pissed off with this, and started looking outside at my taxi driver. He told me that he gets 50 baht for bringing me here, because supposedly drivers only bring people to this place who are actually going to buy something. I felt bad for the guy, so we talked a little bit. He was from Kashmir, and somehow we got talking about American foreign policy. At one point he said 'America is the terrorist, not these other places. I just sort of vaguely agreed, not wanting to piss this guy off more than my being there already had.

So i left and my taxi driver took me to the next place, and this time i knew what was going on when i walked in, so felt a bit more prepared. This time there were a few guys inside, all Indian. Again, 'what are you looking for?' I just said 'i'm just looking.' I wandered over to some handmade postcards, and one of the guts said '50baht.' He then asked me where i was from, and I said England. He then said 'you have nothing.' Um.....what? So he said it again. 'You have nothing.' Me being the diplomat said 'i don't understand what you mean?' So then he said:

'If you come here you have to buy something, people only come here to buy something.'
Me: So i'm not even allowed to just look?
Him: No, people come here to buy. You are costing me money, with my overheads, electricity'
Me: So you guys just turn the lights off and wait in the dark for customers?'

He didn't like this attempt at humour, and so led me towards the door. And then once I was outside he said 'thanks for coming.' Really? I just said 'yeah whatever.' So then i was done. The driver knew that i'd get some stick off them, so wanted to buy me some beer from a 7/11, but i wasn't even mad with him, i was on his side now. I was glad i'd gone in and pissed these people off, and that he'd got money because of it. He drove me back to my guesthouse, i paid my 100 baht and went back to my room, laughing at the day i'd had.

In the evening i had some amazing stonebaked pizza somewhere because i was craving for pizza, and then spent some more time at the night market where tonight there was some sort of show, like the kind of thing we used to have to watch in school. It was a play to stop kids from drinking alcohol and doing drugs. Of course it was all in Thai, but was pretty obvious what was going on, and pretty entertaining to watch. Then a band played, and people kept going up to the lead singer to put these paper chains around his neck. Towards the end of a song he'd have so many round him he could barely see, it was pretty hilarious.

The next day i got a minibus to Pai, and many a fun time were had. But i should probably stop this entry here because its a pretty big one!

Monday, 12 October 2009

(Still) in Kanchanaburi

*** Not completly up to date yet**** So, here we go again. When i left off i had spent one full day in Phuket, and was talking about wondering what to do next. Well, after writing the last entry things definitely took a turn for the interesting......amongst other new arrivals that day was this guy called andy. I was sat in the living room area downstairs, reading a book when he came in and started talking to a couple of people. Within about 5 minutes it was pretty clear that this guy was an oddball. He was endlessly talking about himself, things that happened to him. He was cutting over other people talking constantly, and acted as if he was some great oracle of knowledge. Within a few hours of him being there everybody was pretty aware of the fact that this guy was crazy. Anyway, i met a girl from London called Amy who had been traveling and working in Aus for a year, where she had met her boyfriend, who was now in Cambodia because he wanted to travel solo for a bit. So we were talking a bit while this guy wasn't around. The problem with the crazies is that it's quite hard to tell them to go suck a lemon, you know?

So Andy had asked Amy if she wanted to go out and find somewhere to eat, and then she asked me. So off we went, and we were both clearly thinking the same thing about this guy. She wrote a text on her phone and passed it to me saying something like 'i'm glad you're here, this guy is a pervy asshole!' So as we discovered for the next couple of days, he would pretty much just sit around the hostel getting drunk (usually starting at about 10.30am) and try to chat up girls. In the end it was pretty funny to watch, because he would fail, but yeah, the guy was crazy.

The morning after me and amy jumped on a sangewethu and went to the beach. Had some food, did some bodyboarding, managed to avoid getting burnt, so it was all good. This was on Sunday, the day liverpool were playing chelsea. The two new guys in my room who i met the night before were chelsea fans, and we picked up a couple of stragglers to go watch the game with us. Unfortunately, we were trying to ask this english guy if he wanted to come, he got a fair bit of abuse from crazy andy the night before for no reason, but he said that he was going to stay in the hostel. Crazy andy heard us and ended up coming. D'oh. As i said in my last post, Phuket town is more a place for the locals, there was a rumour of an irish pub somewhere so we went for a wander. We ended up finding a place full of locals, it was a liverpool bar and they were all liverpool fans, and were pretty into it! Unfortunatly liverpool lost 2-0, and the chelsea boys celebrated their victory by buying a bottle of whiskey, and playing 'drink alog with a really crappy steven segal movie that i can't remember the name of.' I don't really need to remember the name of it, do I? They are all the same, Segal kicks some ass and raises some hell. One of their rules was that they would drink for every crappy line of dialogue, so naturally they were hammered within about a minute, but it was fun to watch.

Another thing i mentioned in my last post was that i was thinking about what to do next. I'd enjoyed my time in Phuket, but for me the idea of spending the next couple of weeks on beaches didn't really appeal. Yeah i know there's more to it than that, but i wanted something a bit different. At the time i thought i was going to be able to bring my flights to N.Z forward a couple of weeks, so i would only have a couple of weeks left in Asia at this point. So i headed back to Bangkok, and then to Kanchanaburi, which is about 3 hours away from Bangkok on the bus, close to the border of Burma. I'd managed not to read about it somehow in the lonely planet book, but a bunch of people have told me about, and this is where i found out about Kanchanburi! The journey from Phuket to Bangkok was an interesting one, i was relying on everything working otherwise i'd end up in a bit of trouble at Bangkok airport. I was getting on the last bus of the day from phuket town to the phuket airport, and when i got to the bus station the first person i spoke to told me the last bus left at 6. Yeah, not so much. So eventually i found the bus, got to the airport. Flew back to Bangkok. With everything being correct, i'd land at 11.10pm, and hopefully be out in time to get the last airport bus to Khao san rode. Otherwise i'd be forced to get an expensive as hell taxi instead, or wait til 5.30am when the bus starts up again!

We landed about 10 minutes early, so i was thinking i'd get out in time no probs. It's a huge airport though so we jumped on the bus after getting off the plane, and that took about 5 minutes. Then walking to baggage claim which took more time. And so we stood at the baggage carousel waiting for our stuff to come. And so i stood there......and stood there....until i turned around and saw that i was the only one left standing there. Oh shit. A member of staff came up to me and asked to see my boarding pass, to see what flight i'd come in on. She told me to go stand at the carousel next to it, which had baggage arriving from Chiang Mai. And somehow, miraculously, round the corner came my bag. Phew.

So i spent two nights in Bangkok, and then left for Karanchaburi. Getting there was easy enough (by South east asian standards), and so i got into the bus station and then to my guesthouse, 'sugar cane 1'. I chose one of the rafthouse, which is moored on the water. Nice enough room. From what i'd heard, doing a tour is hugely recommended because the sights are very spread out, and so a woman from 'toi's tours' was waiting for me after i dumped my stuff in my room. I signed up for a tour to do erawan falls, hellfire pass, this viaduct place with a cave next to it and a train ride over it, and the river Kwai bridge.

It was about 3.40pm so i quickly went out and went to the thailand-burma death railway museum, which is directly opposite the allied cemetery. The museum was fantastic, and i learnt many things i did not know. Around 9,000 allied P.O.W's had died in the construction of the railway which was being built so the Japanese could have a safe land link from Bangkok up towards India. After the museum i went and wandered around the cemetery. It was about 5pm, the sun was setting and there was no-one else around, all the tour groups had been and gone. It was a very moving and surreal experience. I then checked out the chinese cemetery next door, which was nowhere near as pristine and perfect as the allied one, but different and interesting.

The next day, myself and 9 other people climbed into a minibus at 8am the next morning, and headed to Erawan falls. I was sat next to a german couple from Bavaria, as well as later meeting three people from Ireland and a couple from France. They gave us 2 1/2 hours for the falls which i thought would be way too much, but it turned out not to be enough! There are 7 main falls, and a trail that winds its way up and past them. The trail gets quite steep and treachorous the higher you go. Before entering our tour guide had warned us of the monkeys who lived there, who like to steal hats, sunglasses, whatever they can get their hands on! We went past them after the 3rd falls, but they were only just waking up it seemed as they were hanging out in the trees.

Our group split up as we swam in different falls. Very refreshing water, with fish nibbling at the dead skin on your feet. For some reason i plowed my way up to the top, it took two hours of quite slow meandering/picture taking/swimming, but i realized i had to be back down at the bottom for lunch at 11.30, and they were very keen for us not to be late! So i flew down. I don't think i really touched the ground. After 20 minutes i was sweating like crazy, ignoring the evil monkeys who were starting to cause some trouble lower down the falls. I got to the restaurant at 11.31, success :D.

We had a set list of things we could order, and i had sweet and sour chicken i think. They also gave us a whole lot of sliced pineapple and watermelon, and for the mains they brought out two pots of chili sauce to go with it. It was basically vinegar with very hot chili's (with seeds still attached) chucked in. Some bright spark decided to put some of the sauce, no chili's, on their pineapple. So i tried it too (with a chili), it was a very strange taste. Then we tried it with watermelon. I put a red chili on, then the girl sat next to me said 'you should put a green one on, for colour' i did, and the she found the fattest, greenest chili and put it on my watermelon as well. So by this point everybody was waiting to see my reaction to eating it. It was hot. For sure. But i resisted the temptation to drink so sat there and slowly turned the colour of the red chili's. Took it like a man. Quite a stupid one!

After this we went to hellfire pass, which was really interesting. Its a huge area of rock which mostly aussie P.O.W's had to carve away through using equipment that wasn't much use, so that the train line could pass through it. All these men were malnourished and many suffering from disease. It was called hellfire pass because at night it would be lit up by lanterns, giving it a very surreal look.

Following this were dropped off at a tiny train station, which had a cave nearby. The viaduct the track was on after leaving the station was built back in the P.O.W days, and looked very rickety. We jumped on the train at 4.30pm and rode slowly across it. Once across we thundered through the countryside, before getting off and rejoining our minibus, where we were driven to the river Kwai bridge. We only had 20 minutes here so it felt a bit rushed, but it was very interesting. You could walk across the bridge, and you could see where they had replaced the damage on the bridge caused by allied bombing.

I got back and showered, and eventually went to a place called tai-thai for dinner. I ordered thai red curry, always a mistake, it burnt my face off. Good times though. They had strange pictures of the top four premiership teams cartoon style in various different styles. For example, the man u players were gladiators. I wanted to punch them in the face. Yeah....

Next day i rented a bike from this place right next to my guesthouse. The most laid back man ever lives there. He was about to get in the shower when his wife went and grabbed him, he said 'you staying next door yeah?' Yup. Ok, here you go. None of my details, no payment upfront like normal, he was just 'here you go, have fun.' So i cycled down to the JEATH war museum, which was about a 10 minute ride away. Interesting place, mostly old photographs and news clippings. Worth a visit though. Then i chose one of the many floating restuarants just on the next street. Ordered deep fried prawn and plum sauce. Not too sure why. Everything came battered, including green beans and baby sweetcorn! Odd. But tasty enough. Then i cycled back past my guesthouse and north towards the river kwai bridge. Sat in a floating restaurant and watched the tourists wonder up and down the bridge.

So this website i mentioned earlier, travelfish, absolutely raved about this massage place called suan nanachaat. It's a massage place across the river run by a couple of brits. I was looking on their website and was getting round to calling them to book something, but i cycled past a guy wearing the company tshirt. So i stopped and sorted something out there and then. They pick you up and drop you off for free. Sweet. So the massage would come tomorrow. First, i found a restaurant a fair bit away from the main touristy strip. Most of the places just seem to be bars filled with expats, (all 50+ men) who i walk past every day and always seem to be in exactly the same places. Occasionally, with a thai wife nearby. So i was keen to wander and get away from that. So i found this place called chaba restaurant. Interesting setting, most of it looks like an english country garden with grass and paving stone path. I went for something i hadn't heard of before, having no idea what it was. Chicken penang. It was delicious. Tastiest food i've had in Thailand. I sat there for a bit writing in my diary when the staff started to talk to me. Shortly after i moved over to their table and sat with them. We talked about various things, such as family, work etc. Turns out they had been struggling for customers, because they are far away from the main tourist area, and not many people wander away from there. I felt bad because they had amazing food, and were really friendly. I told them i would be coming back tomorrow, and they told me if i brought customers they would give me a commission!

Also during this day i had arranged to go kayaking the next day, so at 9am the next day i rocked up at Kanchanburi travel centre where they loaded up my kayak and drove me a fair way upstream to the put in. If felt oddly like being back at Outward Bound Canada! So once i was in the water, i drifted downstream, the current being with me. Very peaceful, with a few speedboats going by creating waves. Eventually i got to the famous bridge, and paddled around that a little bit. The bridge after that was fun, the current flowed fast through it, and although there was no whitewater, it was fun to eddy hop from pillar to pillar. At one point i jumped out when i was in the middle on one pillar, sat there and watched the confused tourists speed by on the boats. Eventually i got to the pick up point. Went and had a shower, and some lunch. Then i got picked up by the owner of suan nanachaat and taken to the retreat. It's well away from all the commotion of the main area, in a very peaceful area across the river. I got there and said that i wanted a full body thai massage, not really knowing what this entailed as it was my first ever massage.

I got led to a changing room where i put on long thin flowing shirt and trousers. Then i was taken to the main massage area, where relaxing music was played. As i later discovered from the owner, thai massage is also known as passive yoga. So while many of the things done felt amazing, i was also put into various insane yoga positions by the masseuse, who would use her feet and arms to pull me about.

At first she started with my feet, which felt good, but then she popped all the joints in my toes! I started laughing a lot at this point, which pretty much set the tone for the whole thing. Then working on my legs, one at a time, often she would stop the flow of blood using her thumbs in certain locations, then release and work with the blood flow. Again, parts felt good, others hurt a little! The funniest part was my arms, where on occasion she would lightly punch me in the arm a few times. Again, i laughed a lot. I can get punched for free you know! What she did to my hands was amazing. But again, part of it involved pulling my fingers and hearing them click. She asked me to turn over and she worked on the back of my legs, and then my back. But then the really crazy yoga stuff happened. She'd put knees in places, elbows in places, and just pull me in various directions, usually until there was a 'click' from my body. Again, i was laughing a lot. It was crazy. By the end, i felt amazing, but it was a very strange experience. Talking to the owner on the way back, he told me that the oil massages involve no work from me. That sounds like a plan for next time.

And so in the evening i went back to the amazing restaurant i went to the night before, and this time there were 2 other customers in there! I felt happy for the staff. After talking to the chef lady who i met last night, i ended up going for a massaman curry, which was a sweet and aromatic thing with chicken, potatoes and veg. Amazing, again. They had a whole lot of some kind of fruit on a table next to the street, and they started to bring them inside, so i offered to help, and so did the couple on the other table! After this they gave us some of this fruit to eat, no idea what it was but it was pretty tasty! Then it started to rain, so i ran inside and sat down, and the couple asked if they could join me. Turns out they were both from different parts of France, had met in Austrailia where she had done the last year of her studies and he had been working. We sat and talked about everything, and drank beer. After a while the girl went to go talk to the staff who were sat at the bar, and me and the guy talked about more stuff. Then a little while later, the staff came over with shots of tequila and limes, they were sad that we were all leaving the next day! It was also the french couple's 2nd time at the restaurant, and they also raved about the food. Then the staff cooked some french fries and we all sat around and munched on them, enjoying the good times. Eventually we decided we should go, the french couple gave me a lift back on their motorbike, first time i had seen three westerners on one bike! At the moment the record that i have seen is 5 people on one motorbike, although often 3 of those will be small kids. Back to guesthouse, sleep.....

Saturday, 3 October 2009

In Phuket

Well, i haven't updated since Hoi An, which feels like such a long time ago! I feel like now i wish i had stayed for an extra day or two in Hoi An, it was a pretty awesome place. Great food, great beach, nice hotel, it was all good. Anyway, we went to Hue next, which is just a few hour bus ride up the coast. The distance is short but the roads were going through mountains so it was mucho windy. We got into Hue and it was raining, this was pretty much the story for the whole time we were there. We checked out the 'perfume river', but we didn't get round to going to the Citadel because it just rained like crazy the whole time and it wouldn't of been all that fun. So instead we ate some good food, found some cool bars, and just chilled out a bit. Our favourite bar was the 'why not?' bar, cheap beer, free pool and other games. On our last night in there a couple of the staff ended up playing with us, we had some pretty intense games of jenga...not helped by the drinking. Anyway, about 4 or 5 days after we were in Hue. typhoon Ketsana made land south of Hoi An, but brought with it hugely heavy rainfall for Hoi An and Hue. Some people died and many were displaced from their homes, so we were very lucky with our timing.

After Hue we flew up to Hanoi (you've gotta love the cheap asian airlines), and spent a couple of days there. We arranged our Halong Bay tour through a company called Vega travel who had been recommended by loads of people. So we had some time to kill in Hanoi. It felt a little less crazy than Ho Chi Minh city, and i think i liked it more. We visited the lake in the old quarter and checked out the Ngoc Son temple, which has this old story about a giant turtle and a famous sword. We had some more good food, one place we stumbled upon was called the Gecko bar. At the entrance from the street all you could see was a long corridor with fairy lights directing you down it. From there you go up one flight of steps, and then a spiral staircase, we thought we were just being set up to get robbed! Anyway, we got to this cool rooftop place, great food, nice atmosphere, and no robbing. That works for me.

So we got picked up by our travel company at 7.45am, and the minibus picked up the other people on our trip. It took about 3 hours to get to Halong Bay, where we quickly got led onto our boat and had lunch. The boat itself was awesome, most of them are the same in Halong Bay. You have an upper sun deck with sun loungers, beneath this is the dining room area and then down and on the side of the boat was our room. Lunch was good, we all got to know each other. Then we cruised for about 1 1/2 hours over to a cave called 'suprising cave'. That was pretty good....and quite suprising....i guess. From there we cruised over to a bay surrounded by tiny islands where several other ships had anchored. We jumped off and did some kayaking, into a grotto where you go under one of the islands where there is a gap to paddle through. That was pretty cool. Then we paddled back to the boat, i jumped out of the kayak and steven fell in, i maintain my innocence in that! And then a few of us had a go at jumping from the top deck of the boat into the water. From the top it doesn't look so bad, but when you jump you feel like you are falling for longer than expected, and you hit the water pretty hard. Lots of water up the nose. Good times. Showered and had dinner, then a bunch of us sat on the top deck, drinking tiger beer, looking at the stars and the other boats floating around us, it was a pretty awesome night. There was one english couple who were the same age as me, and are both doing their masters in engineering at southampton once they get back, and there was another two english peeps, who everyone assumed were a couple but weren't, they were just travelling together. So we sat on the top deck and had a pretty good time.

We also had a couple from Paris, Barcelona and Hong Kong, although the dude in the Hong Kong couple was born in Vancouver, so that was cool to talk about that part of the world with him. I slept pretty well, the water was calm. We were told we could get up and see the sunrise at 6am, there were a few of us about at 6.20am, but the sun was coming up behind one of the islands, and it was a high one. So i went back to bed, got back outside at 7am and it had just come over the top. We had breakfast before 8, cruised over to another place where those doing the 2 night 3 day tour jumped off onto another boat. I was kind of wishing i had gone for the longer tour as we were with a pretty decent bunch of people, but i had already booked my flights back to Bangkok for the following day so i couldn't change my mind at the last minute :/

So we cruised back for about 2 1/2 hours to the harbour area, the whole place is just ridiculously beautiful, its hard to describe. So we were back on land at 12, had lunch and rode back to Hanoi. The following day we flew back to Bangkok, and i was keen to go back to the place with a swimming pool, so we went there. We had a few drinks in the evening, in one bar we were sat next to two finnish guys who were munching on a bag of bugs and asked if we wanted to try some, i tried a couple, and ended up buying a bag, getting a mixture of everything; crickets, grubs, and lots of other big things that i have no idea what they were. Anyway, we tried some, they had all been fried and salted so they didn't taste all that bad, particularly the grubs. I ended up sharing my bag with most of the bar and peer pressured people into trying them :D

Video of bug eating here :D

I don't remember much more from that night, but i remember we went to a club, where we met various people, but mostly i just remember thai girls being very drunk. I woke up the next day feeling pretty rough, so we just chilled out during the day, and went to Patpong night market in the evening. It was a pretty funny place. Its on a long street, and the night market takes up all the space on the road, but on the side were a whole bunch of bars and 'massage parlours'.....i used the quotation marks for a reason there if you catch my drift.....but yeh most of the bars had thai girls in bikini's dancing on poles, it was pretty funny to watch as we were walking past as most of then weren't particularly good. Anyway, i bought a couple of pairs of shorts, and we ended up at the end of the street, and there were a bunch of western eating places. We ended up going to pizza hut, and i struggled to eat all of my food. I think my stomach has been adjusting to thai food, and suddenly all this cheese and carbohydrates was too much for me!

The next day steven flew to Ko Samui, and i flew to Phuket. I decided to stay in the backpacker hostel in Phuket town, its a pretty nice place, and cheap, but a bit quiet. It is low season after all. 200 baht a night for a bunk with a fan, that like 7/8 dollars, 4/5 quid? Its weird, i've stopped thinking in pounds, i'm only thinking in dollars now. Its because in Cambodia and Vietnam you can pay with dollars and its easy to convert that local currency into dollars in your head. Aaaanyway, yeah its a nice place. There isn't much to do in Phuket town, all the resorts are beside the beaches. But its easy to get a sangewethu (or something) to a beach. I went to Hat Karon beach yesterday, there are red flags up telling people not to swim because its monsoon season and the sea is a little crazy but everyone was doing it anyway. There were some pretty crazy waves, and the riptide was pretty intense. When the tide was going out a few people got sucked out a bit further than they would have liked and the lifeguards had to go and fish them out because it wasn't easy to get back. It's a pretty nice beach anyway, in the evening i came back to the hostel, went to the market to get some food and watched a couple of movies with a few people in the evening. Right now i'm trying to decide what to do next, i do want to go check out the islands but i feel its just going to be more beach and western food, i'm sure they look amazing but i'm feeling a bit meh about it. I'm tempted to go north of bangkok to Chang Mai and Pai for a while.

My flight to New Zealand is currently scheduled for November the 3rd, as that's when my friend dave will be done with uni. But i'm thinking i might move the flights forward a couple of weeks, because then i can spend some time o the north island as well as the south! So yeah, i'm just planning and thinking today. But life is good.