Friday, November 26, 2010

Nong Khiaw

We grabbed a “bus” to Nong Khiaw, which is around 130km North East of Luang Prabang. The word bus in quotes because it was not actually a bus but a very large pickup truck, whose bed had been transformed into benches with a cover. Almost like a large Tuk Tuk. The ride was going to take about 3.5 hours, and since there were only 6 or 7 people on board, including us, and the bus could hold 20, I didn’t think it would be too bad. But like everything else we have encountered, not everything is as it seems. Instead of just taking us to Nong Khiaw, the bus makes multiple stops along the way, for various reasons. I’m pretty sure the “bus” is driver but the guy who owns. So he gets money from the bus station for the passengers he’s carrying, but he also loads up the “bus” with a whole bunch of other items, such as chicken food, pig food, cigarettes, vegetables, cleaning products,…well you get the idea. In addition, he stops anytime he is flagged down by people on the road and gives them a ride along the way, which they then pay him for and he pockets the money for himself. They tell him they want to get off by pounding on the top of the roof. Also, I don’t think he sticks to the 20 person capacity. At one point I’m sure we had around 30 people squeezed in. At one point a mother and her baby, along with her husband boarded. The baby seemed sick as he kept coughing, and sure enough we dropped him off at the hospital. Since the back of the bus is not completely enclosed, it is quite windy so overall the ride is quite tiring. But I have to give the driver credit that even with all those stops, we did make it in 3.5 hours.

We arrived in Nong Kiaw and were dropped off at the “bus station” which was really a ticket office and a patch of dirt. We learned we had to walk another 20 minutes to actually reach the town of Nong Kiaw. Along the way we saw a lot of school kids who were walking home from school. The scenery, once we reached Nong Kiaw, was beautiful. Large cliff peaks with a river in between were picturesque. We found a guest house and went to grab some food and some drinks. We woke up early the next morning to walk to a cave in the area. The walk wasn’t too long, as it only took 30 minutes or so, but when we got there the main cave was closed. The caves were used in the past during the Indochinese war as a Bank and various offices as well as a hiding spot. We explored the Bank cave, and the tunnels went on for miles. We started walking further up the road and came across a small village and all the kids came out to say Savadee (hello) to us. I thought they were all being very friendly and cute but they kept pointing at my backpack. I didn’t know what was in there that was so interesting to them. We kept walking and a guy stopped us to have a drink with him. At 10am he was already well past being drunk and he kept feeding Andrew beer. We chatted with him for a while, but since we didn’t have breakfast Andrew was quite drunk on the walk back to our guest house. We bought a cold Pepsi and Coke from the drunk guy, which Andrew was drinking on the walk back through the small village we had come across earlier. This time the kids were pointing at the Pepsi can he was holding. We figured out they just wanted us to give them something and thought I had more in my backpack. I did have a coke can in the side of my backpack and one kid kept pointing at it but I said no. Andrew gave in and gave them his half empty Pepsi which they happily took. The sun was shining down hard and he kept wanting to sit and rest. I would not let him and we made it back to town to have a nice cold bottle of water and some food. We showered and decided it to call it a day. It was HOT.

Luang Prabang, Laos

We woke up early and received a ride from the owners of the guest house to the river. The river serves as a border between Thailand and Laos. First we had to take a ferry over to the Laos side. Once there, we went to get our visas. This is a process I naively thought would be easy. Apparently everyone arrives at 9am to obtain their visas on arrival. There were 2 windows where Laos immigration personnel were working from, and in front of these windows there were around 50 people wanting to get their visa into Laos. Of course they were not standing in any organized fashion. There were no lines formed. After 10 minutes of trying out to figure out the process, someone (one of the tourists) told us there were 2 forms we must complete. These 2 forms were kept right by the two windows. Earlier we had met 2 German girls, Nora and Maya, and they managed to squeeze through the crowd and get the forms, and they got the forms for us as well. While Andrew waited “in line” I went to fill out my form. Once done we squeezed our way through the crowed and gave them our passports, filled out forms and 2 passport photos, which they took and told us to wait. We waited about 30 minutes and it seemed like everyone’s passports were being handed back to them but ours. It didn’t help there was a tour group of French seniors who’s guide had somehow managed to convince the immigration personnel to process the passports all at once.

Finally we had our passports and we headed to the boats, which were to take us to Luang Prabang. A lady stopped us and told us it would be more expensive to purchase boat tickets at the dock and that she had them cheaper. We were reluctant to believe her but she offered a free ride to the doc (about 5km’s away) so we bought the tickets with her. Once we boarded the boats we were quite surprised at the seating arrangements. The boat held around 100 people, and although there was enough seating for all, not all seating was created equal. Around 20 seats at the back were old car or bus seats. Seating on the boats was not assigned so it was first come first serve. All of those seats were already taken. What was left reminded me of a concentration camp. The remaining seats were hard wooden “benches” with half the required leg room. They were not only hard but small. We were stuck with those seats for the next 7 hours. It was a miserable 7 hours. Some people opted to sit on the floor rather than on the actual benches. Andrew and I alternated between one of us sitting with their legs up on the bench while the other would lie down on the floor in between the seats. Believe it or not the lying on the floor was much more comfortable than sitting on the beach.

After 7 hours we reached Pak Beng. A town whose main purpose was a stop over for the boats headed to Luang Prabang. We got a room for the night, grabbed some food and went to sleep. Our plan was to wake up early and get a couple of those old car seats at the back of the boat for that day’s 8 hour journey. The boat was scheduled to leave at 9am. We arrived at 8am convinced we would be able to grab one of the more comfortable seats. We boarded the boat and saw a bunch of those good seats free. We headed to the back excited. Then we saw that they were all already taken. People had arrived early and put their stuff there and then went to get breakfast (A good idea I must admit). We were not thrilled to be sitting on the hard benches again. We picked a bench at the front with the most leg room and settled in for the journey. At about 8:45am, Nora and Maya showed up at the boat. We ran into them the previous night before dinner and were talking about the uncomfortable seats, and we all said we would be heading down early to catch a good seat. We agreed whoever arrived first would reserve seats for the others. They saw us sitting on those benches and told us they had come early and, bless their little hearts, saved some seats for us! We were so excited! I don’t think I have ever been so happy to sit on old shitty car seats before. These were by no means luxurious, and the leg room still sucked but they were soft! The ride was uneventful, except for this amazing cave we saw right outside of Luang Prabang. We arrived at the dock and with Maya and Nora went looking for a guest house. The city is not very big but it’s a UNESCO World Heritage City and all the old French Colonial buildings are very well preserved, which translates into higher prices. In addition everyone charges in $US not the Laos Kip. After walking for 20 minutes or so we decided to drop our bags at a bench where Maya and I would stay, and Andrew and Nora would go searching for a guest house. They returned 30 minutes later with 2 rooms. They were not the cheapest (around 70,000 Kip = $9CAD) but by the Luang Prabang standards that was cheap as before that a guest house wanted $30US. While I was waiting with Maya for Andrew and Nora to return I learned her and Nora were studying to be teachers in Germany, and were starting their hand on training in January. Nora would be teaching German and Biology to High School kids while Maya would be teaching German as well along with Math to Grade School kids.

The next day I was not feeling very well, as I ate something that did not agree with me. We weren’t sure if it was the dinner from the night before or from 2 nights before. It’s hard to tell as we both ate the same thing and Andrew was fine. Either way by noon I was well enough to go out and we rented 2 bicycles to explore the town. While riding around a girl who had been on the boat with us stopped us and told us to be careful with our backpacks and to not keep them in the baskets at the front of the bicycles as her friends was just mugged. Apparently the thief just went up to her while she was on her bicycle and grabbed her bag right in front of her and ran away. We were more careful after that but I’m glad to say we didn’t run into any situations like that. In the evening we met up with Maya and Nora again and we to a bar for drinks. At “Lao Lao Bar” we ordered some drinks but we also decided to try the Lao BBQ with Water Buffalo. This dish was intended for 1 person but none of us were that hungry so we split it. It’s a good thing because it was quite large. The Water Buffalo came raw with 2 big pieces of pork fat and the server showed us how to cook it on top of the bucket with charcoals which was brought to our table. The dish they placed on top looked like a large stainless steel bowl with another inverted stainless steel bowl inside it. With the meat you get raw vegetables such as cabbage, lettuce, tomatoes, mushrooms, bean sprouts, vermicelli noodles and 2 whole uncooked eggs and a bucket of broth. The server showed us that the pork fat is placed on top of the inverted bowl to grease it up for the Water Buffalo. The broth and vegetables are placed in the bottom bowl to cook (kind of like Vietnamese Pho) and the eggs are punctured at the top and the bottom to create two holes, and the eggs are drained into the soup to cook. The cooking process only takes about 5-10 minutes. Maya is a vegetarian so she did not eat the Water Buffalo, but the rest of us did and it was very similar to Beef, however much more chewy. The soup was delicious and tasted very similar to the Vietnamese Pho but with a lot more ingredients and flavor. We were all very happy with it. While at the bar we met a couple who had been on our boat and was also staying at our guest house. We arranged to meet the following morning at 10am to visit the cave we saw from the boat and to see a waterfall in the area.
We hired a large Tuk-Tuk for the 7 of us, as Marcus, also on the boat with us, joined us. I should mention it was pretty hard getting a Tuk-Tuk for 7 people. Apparently they are only allowed to take up to 6 people when leaving the city, or otherwise they have to pay a fine, this being a communist country and all. But we somehow managed to convince one driver. The cave was 1 hour away by Tuk Tuk. We needed to cross the river again but this time by a small ferry. The cave was large and very tourist oriented. We didn’t spend more than an hour there and made our way over to the waterfall. On the way we stopped at “Whiskey Village” where they let us sample some of their rice “whiskeys”. I didn’t try any but I think the last one Andrew tried was around 50% proof. Then we continued on to the waterfall.

We arrived at the waterfall around 2:30pm. We knew you were allowed to swim there so we all came prepared with our swimming items. And I am so glad we did. The waterfall consisted of 3 or 4 different levels. We were able to swim in the smaller ones. The water was freezing but the colour was a beautiful blue. The weather was hot outside so we did not mind the temperature. We went up a level and found a rope attached to a tree which you could swing from and jump in the water. We all had a turn, or two or three. It was so much fun and a perfect end to a hot day. You could also jump from the top of one of the waterfalls and there were a lot of people doing that as well. I was so scared the first time I was going to swing from the rope, I was shaking. As I was jumping in the water I was screaming. It was so much fun!

After we got back to town we showered, changed and grabbed a delicious sandwich on a real French baguette with some Lao coffee, at the market. 2 sandwiches and 2 coffees cost us $2.50. I was so glad that Laos used to occupied by the French because they knew how to make good French bread. In the evening we headed off to a bar across another river with Maya and Nora. It was up a hill and we got to sit on the floor and overlook the city. It was beautiful.

The next day Maya and Nora grabbed a bus to Vang Vieng, and we grabbed a bus to Nong Khiaw. I was sad to say goodbye to them as we had a good time hanging out. It was nice to have other people around, but we knew we would meet others soon enough.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Pai & Beyond

The night before we were to do the visa run, we went out to dinner and found a fabulous place! It’s called the Curry Shack and it’s literally attached to the people’s house with a corrugated tin roof (it’s literally a shack). But the food is amazing! It was the best curry we have had so far. The owner started asking us where are we from and when we told him from Toronto, he said his sister runs a restaurant on Parliament street. We promised him we would go visit her once we got back. Of course we asked if she’s as good a cook as he is, and with a wicked smile he said “Noooo”.

We woke up at 4:30am so we could catch the bus at 5:30am to do the visa run. We were travelling from Pai to a border town with Myanmar. The bus was actually a large minivan, and it was pack full with 13 people. The trip from Pai to the border took around 8 hours as they forgot someone at one point and we had to turn around and go back. We crossed the border with no problems, after paying around $30 to get into Myanmar. We walked around for a bit and then turned right back around as we only had an hour for the whole process and to meet the bus. On re-entry into Thailand we received a 15 day visa. The trip back ended up taking another 8 hours as well as once we got back to Chiang Mai, we had to wait for a bus to take us back to Pai. The whole trip took around 16 hours and again we were exhausted.

The next day we decided to check out the hot springs as the area around Pai is known for them. We brought our bathing suits and towels and made our way over to the National Park. We paid the 200BHT to get in and went to the hot springs ready for a dip. We had waited until 4pm so it wouldn’t be so hot outside. Once we got there we saw some people sitting around a shallow pond, but we weren’t seeing the large pools we were imagining. We kept going further and found people cooking their eggs in the hot springs. Apparently the park sells some eggs in a plastic bag with a stick and the water is so hot it cooks the eggs. It turned out there were no large pools for us to soak in, just the shallow ponds we had seen earlier where we could dip our legs into, which we did. The water was quite hot and after a while I was sweating. After about a half hour we were done so we headed back home. We didn’t cook any eggs.
That night, as Andrew described in his post, we went to watch the F1 race.

The following day we drove around exploring the area a little more. We went to a scenic view point which was on top of one of the mountains, and had a fabulous view. Andrew took some great pictures so we’ll post those when we can. (As a side note, we have started posting our photos on facebook as it’s a little easier, so if you would like to see them, feel free to add us as friends). After that we went to see a waterfall in the area. The waterfall wasn’t too big, but there were a bunchof large rocks and it made it look really nice. While there, there were a bunch of guys who had their swimming trunks on and started using the rocks as a slide. Andrew was standing taking some pics and after some prodding from me, decided to join them. I think Andrew should describe his experience, but it more or less goes like this:
- The water at the bottom of this “slide” is maybe a foot deep
- There are a lot of rocks, big and small, in that foot of water
- The water is very cold as it’s coming from the mountains
- The “trick” is to slide down and make yourself very flat so as to avoid hitting any rocks at the bottom (the legs first approach is out of the question)
- After one slide, Andrew decided he would not do it again. He landed on his ass and proceeded to show me his ass in front of everyone to check if he had a bruise. He didn't have one that day, but it did develop the next day. Nice and purple.

And that was the waterfall experience.
The next day, as Andrew already described, we rented a couple of bikes and completed the 762 turns, times 2 (there and back). It was a lot of fun, however the confidence Andrew claims I felt, was not always as strong as he would lead you to believe. Yes it was fun. But there were also moments which were scary. Like when I would go into a turn too fast and be afraid that I wouldn’t make it out. Over all however it was a lot of fun. I didn’t realize however how tired I would be at the end of the day. After 4 or 5 hours of riding, I was pooped. We stopped for coffee at “Coffee in Love” and headed back home for dinner.

The next day we were heading back to Chiang Mai to start the trip towards the Laos border. We went to the bus station to catch the 2pm bus. People kept coming asking us if we’re taking their minivan back to Chiang Mai and we kept saying, no, we’re taking the 2pm “Big Bus”. The main difference is really comfort and price. The “Big Bus” is the local bus which costs half the price and the seats are half as spacious as that on the airplane. The minivan of course is a lot roomier, but we didn’t want to spend the money. Around 2:20 we were getting worried about the bus being late. Andrew went to inquire at the counter and it turns out the 2pm bus was not coming today. Everyone we talked failed to mention that! So we had to spend $5 each, which as I said was double than we had budgeted.
We arrived in Chiang Mai after a 4 hour bus ride back from Pai. Checked into a guesthouse and went to grab food at an Indian restaurant. Maybe because the food was different from what we have been eating up until now, but it was a very delicious meal. We then went back to our room and watched a movie on our laptop and new speakers.

Today (Nov. 17) we caught a bus to Chiang Khong which lies on the Mekong River which is the border between Thailand and Laos. We were supposed to go to Laos tomorrow but it looks like we’ll probably spend another day here exploring the area and then go to Laos from there.

Pai - by Andrew

Pai is a small village which lies between two fairly high mountain ranges. I’m not sure exactly how high, but by my approximation at least 1500m. The valley is filled with farms. The main crop here seems to be rice. To get there, we had to traverse a mountain road (route 1095 Chiang Mai - Pai) full of steep climbs, descents, sharp curves and switchbacks; in all 134 km and 762 curves.
The bus ride there took about 4 hours and cost us a whopping $2.33 each. The bus was an old beat up diesel. On a few hills the driver had to stop, put in the lowest gear, and inch up very slowly. At one point I thought that we would all have to get out and push.

During this whole ride all I could think was: “I wish I had a motorbike here.”
As we arrived in Pai I was delighted to discover that they rented all kinds of bikes here, from small to medium to “Big”. We decided that the following day we would rent a “big” bike and go for a ride.

Unfortunately, the following day I got sick and came down with a fever. I spent the next two days in bed recuperating. Margaret would run errands on a little Honda click we rented. It seemed that she was coming up with reasons to go out; just she could ride the little motorbike. I think the idea of doing route 1095 on a motorbike was growing on her too.

Our Thailand visa was running out, we had to leave and re-enter the country within the next day. After a quick 14h visa run to Myanmar and back, we decided it was time to hit the pavement.

To the people here the word “NO” just doesn’t exist. They will nod, smile and say “Yes” to everything. Here’s an idea of what I had to deal with:

-“Do you have big bikes?” I ask at the bike rental shop.
-“Yes” - hands me a brochure with pictures of the bikes
I point to the cb400: “Do you have this one?”
I point to the xr250 “How about this one?”
-“Can I rent these tomorrow morning?”

Satisfied that I could get the bikes I wanted, we went to sleep.
The following morning we showed up to get the bikes:

-“Do you Still have the big bikes?”
-“The xr250?”
-“And the cb400?”
-“Ok, I’ll take the xr250.”
-“Oh so sorry, 250 is broken.”
-“Ok then, I’ll take the cb400.”
-“Oh so sorry 400 no good.”
-“What do you mean no good?”
-“Oh so sorry its broken too.”
-“I though you said that these were available?”

On the walk over I saw a bunch of other rental places. I figured one of them should have a working XR250
Turns out no one else had anything close to a “big” bike.
We opted for the biggest bikes they had; 125cc Suzuki. They were relatively new, mine was brand new and was fuel injected. We saw people on much crappier bikes doing the ride so we figured these would be fine.

The ride was everything we expected and more. Even though we had relatively small bikes they handled most of the hills with ease. Only slowing down at the crests of some really steep climbs. We rode them for almost 3 hours stopping briefly to enjoy the mountain views and of course take some photos. Let’s just say that it’s not that often that you get to see Margaret so satisfied on a motorcycle. I had to capture it, so that one day I can frame it on a wall. Along the way we passed other travelers experiencing the same route. Some were on motorbikes similar to ours, some on much bigger 600s or 1000s and even a few on bicycles. (I felt sorry for those guys)

We made it to just outside of Chiang Mai, that’s half way. We reached the end of route 1095. We filled up our bikes at a gas station and headed back. The route back seemed much easier and time went by more quickly. I was amazed at how good Margaret got and how confident she felt on the bike. She was taking the corners fast and steady. In about two hours we were back in Pai. Mission accomplished.

Click here for some photos on Facebook

Novemer 14 was the final race of F1 in Abu Dhabi. I really wanted to watch it live. We scouted all of the local bars but they were all playing premier league soccer. F1 was of no interest to them. They said that they would put it on for about an hour, but once the soccer game started they would switch to the game.
Finally we came to a bar with a big screen outside of course with a soccer game on.
I asked the waitress:

-“There is an F1 race on tonight at 8 o’clock do you think you could switch the channel and put it on?”
-“Yes, what is F1?”
-“Formula one” I said very slowly.
-“So if we come back at 8 you will switch the channel?”

So we went home changed and came back at 8. We sat down, the same waitress came over and took our drink order. 8 o’clock came but the TV was still tuned to the soccer game.

I asked the waitress:
-“can you put on the F1 race?”
-“Yes” as she left for the back.
5 minutes later she emerged but still no F1.
-“I asked again”
-“oh so sorry only 1 channel,. Only soccer”
-“so you can’t change the channel?” I asked

At this point I had enough, the race had already started and I was missing it. Further down the road we found another bar with a projector. I managed to convince the bar owner to forget the soccer game tonight as the F1 championship was more important. Reluctantly he obliged and brought us some cold Changs. I watched the majority of the race in Thai. To my satisfaction Alonso did not win and Vettel took the championship.

Saturday, November 13, 2010


We had been told about a small town around 100km’s north of Chiang Mai, called Pai. Anyone who had been there raved about it, so we decided to go and take a look. Although it’s only 100km north of Chiang Mai, it takes 4 hours by buys. We soon learned why. The road is through the mountains and it contains nothing but hair pin turns. We were talking about that when I asked Andrew how many turns does the “Tail Of The Dragon” have? (Google it, it’s where motorcycle aficionados go to frolic) and he said maybe a couple of hundred. I said this had to have more. It turns out we were right, this 100 km stretch has 762 turns! We arrived in Pai and fell in love right away. It’s a small town set among the mountains, with a quiet atmosphere. The days are hot but nights are quite cold at around 12 degrees Celsius. I know for those of you in Canada right now you are not feeling sorry for us, but trust me when you sleep in a bamboo hut with no warm clothes, 12 degrees is quite cold. We rented a bike and started exploring the region. The scenery is amazing and we have seen some great sights. Unfortunately Andrew has been sick for the past couple of days, but the bright side is that I have finally been able to ride the scooter. It is so much fun! I spent the better part of yesterday running errands. From getting Andrew medicine, to getting food and tea, but I have also been able to explore the area on my own. I don’t even care where I go I just want to ride the scooter! It’s a lot of fun.

In Pai we found a cheap bamboo hut with hot water! for 250 Baht per night. That’s around $8 a night. It’s actually quite charming, and the best part is that it’s cheap. The only down side is all the chickens and roosters it’s surrounded by. They are not right in the courtyard, but in the neighbors courtyards. That does not prevent the roosters from crowing at 6am and waking us up. Every day. And there is not just 1 rooster. Each neighbor has around 4 or 5. And it seems everyone has chickens and roosters in Pai, so at 6am you hear all of them. I think we are slowly starting to get used to it however, since we now wake up but are able to go right back to sleep and sleep through it.

Unfortunately our visa is expiring tomorrow (Nov. 12) and since we feel like we’re not quite done with this part of Thailand we decided to do a visa run. That basically means we have to leave the country (go to Myanmar or Laos) and then cross right back to get an additional 15 days. So tomorrow we will be going to Myanmar by bus to get our visa so we can continue exploring Northern Thailand. The original plan was to rent a big bike (500cc or so) and do the trip ourselves. This was really an excuse for Andrew to ride those 762 turns mentioned above. Since he’s been sick however, we thought it was better to do it with a tour company. Of course Andrew will not let us be here and not do this stretch of road, so when we come back we’re renting a motorcycle and will be completing the 762 turns, times 2. There and back. I’ll post again to let you know if we survived.

This is a complete side note but while on Koh Phangan, my kobo (the electronic book reader) broke! I was so pissed off because I had bought 10 books before we left! So this is for those people considering buying an electronic reader: DON’T! The good news is I was able to download those books to my ipod. Although the reading won’t be as easy, at least the money I spent on the books won’t go to waste. The $150 I spent on the reader itself will.

Chiang Mai

We arrived in Bangkok after the islands and found a place to stay near Koh San Rd. We had arrived in Bangkok around 3am, so we waited until 4:30am to check in as we didn’t want to pay for an extra night. Guest houses will charge you for the previous night if you check in before a certain time. In this case it was 5am, but after waiting for an hour and a half they gave up and let us check in a half hour early with no additional charge.

After being on the islands and spending some significant cash on the internet we decided we needed a laptop. We were basically using the internet cafes to download pictures and write on the blog, things we could be doing for free on a laptop. We went shopping and bought a laptop. In addition to making our lives a little easier, we are now able to skype with our parents, edit our photos, watch movies in our room, and I can write the blog whenever I want and post it once we have a connection. The next day we had dinner with Bobby, his wife Jib and their 2 kids at a restaurant called Cabbages and Condoms. They give out condoms at the end of each meal instead of mints, to educate people about safe sex. Their belief is that condoms and safe sex should be as available as vegetables. We had a great Thai meal with Bobby and his family. His wife is Thai so we let her pick the dishes, and they were fantastic. The next day we decided it was time to leave Bangkok so we headed over to the train station and bought 2nd class seats to Chiang Mai, in Northern Thailand. The train left at 2:30pm and was scheduled to arrive at 5:30am. Even though it’s only 750km’s the train makes a lot of stops and that’s why it takes 15 hours. It’s wasn’t too bad while there was still daylight as we had an opportunity to see the vast flooding in Thailand, as well as see some of the countryside. The challenge was when it got dark, and unfortunately it gets dark fairly early at this time of the year. There was really nothing to do except read and sleep. It quickly became evident I would not be sleeping on this train, mainly because of all the cockroaches that came out at night. There were really quite a few. I was so grossed out that I didn’t want to put my feet on the floor so I sat with my feet up for the remaining 8 or 9 hours of the journey.

We arrived in Chiang Mai an hour behind schedule. We found a hostel to stay at and went straight to sleep. We woke up around 12pm and went to explore the town, which is surrounded by mountains. The city of Chiang Mai has around 175,000 people. It’s divided into 2 parts, the old town and the new town. It’s not a large city and it had a much more down low feel than Bangkok, which we appreciated right away. Bangkok is a very hectic city and as I have previously stated in my earlier posts, a lot of people haggle you, but Chiang Mai is different. There is still the odd Tuk Tuk driver who wants to get your business but it’s a lot quieter than in Bangkok. We stumbled across a night market, and we were thrilled because these always have great street food. Again we pigged out on pork bungs, sausages and tiny tim bits. I call them that because I really don’t know what else they were. The next day we rented a scooter and went into the mountains. The intention was to visit the Tiger Kingdom where you see a large tiger, a medium tiger and a small tiger (their labeling, not ours). When we arrived there we found the prices to be atrociously high so decided against it. We continued driving higher into the mountains only to find a couple of guys riding elephants. They stopped for us and we were able to take some pictures with them. The sun would be setting in the next couple of hours so we knew it was time to start heading back. Surprisingly it got cold in the mountains. Even in the sun it was quite chilly and we were completely unprepared in our t-shirts and shorts. We did make it back to town before sunset. The scenery is beautiful in the mountains. It looks like straight out of a movie. The rolling hills, the dense trees, with the sun shining, it looked amazing. The air was clean and crisp and you didn’t feel the oppression of the big cities.

The following day was Sunday and there is a large night market which takes place every Sunday night. Large is perhaps an understatement. It is extremely large, continuing with no end in sight. We walked for a good hour and a half and we didn’t reach the end. Again you can buy anything from t-shirts to shoes to hand woven silks and of course no market would be complete without food. We were once again happy to eat all that the night food market had to offer. Eating the delicious and cheap food has really become our favourite part of the night markets. We can eat very well for $3.50 for the both of us. The interesting part was the amount of people that came out. While sightseeing during the day, you see a lot of locals but not a lot of tourists. But the night market was packed with tourists. I really don’t know where they came from.

We had been on the go for most of the month, doing a lot of hiking, walking, sightseeing, etc. And we decided to take a day off. We literally spent the whole day in bed, and we were lucky enough to have a TV in our room, so we watched re-runs of Law & Order all day. That night however we decided to get out of bed and watch a live Muay Thai boxing fight. Muay Thai boxing is a combination of boxing and kick boxing. The fight began with 2 kids fighting, and after them it was 2 girls who were around 16-17 years old. Surprisingly theirs was the only fight where we saw blood. It was actually quite gross but Andrew of course managed to capture it all in photos. The last fight of the day was between a Thai and a Canadian. There were a surprising number of people supporting the Canadian (including Andrew with his Canada t-shirt) and I’m happy to say the Canadian kicked ass and won the match.

It was in Chiang Mai where Andrew wrote his post and I saw that disgusting spider. It was as large as my whole hand. Andrew thinks I always over exaggerate the size of any bug/insect but it was that large and he would agree. It was also hairy. The worst part is that when I started screaming Andrew was turned away from the wall and by the time he turned around of course the spider had ran under the stool, and Andrew thought I was exaggerating its size. He was going to turn back to his post but I would not let him. The funny party (maybe sad?) is that as soon as I convinced him of the large spider, he did not go looking for it, he went looking for his camera. I thought he was insane and told him as much but he would not listen. He did end up finding the spider, photographing it, and killing it with his sandal. Much to my relief.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Day 25

As you may all have noticed, Margaret has been doing most of the posting so far. I figured I should add a bit of my own perspective.

The past number of days on the islands have been great. Between the diving and hiking we’ve been really busy. The real cool part about these islands is the motorbikes that you can rent.
150Baht ($5) a day gets you a 125cc Honda Dream or Click, or Click or Click forward or Click Tune up (Whoever comes up with a name for a bike like: “tune up”. Great marketing Honda!) Anyways, these little bikes are actually a lot of fun, I got one to go well over a 100Kph. If you really want to splurge, 600Baht ($20) a day gets you a full size dirt bike or ATV. Where else can you beat the crap out of a dirt bike for this cheap? And their roads, or lack of, provide some great terrain to put these bikes to their proper use. Some places, because of the coming rains, were offering bikes as low as $80 Baht a day…that’s a mere $2.50 for 24h on a motorbike.

As for the Ferry ride off the islands, it was an adventure in itself. I must say that It was the most adrenaline filled day so far. I actually got a bit nauseous. And it wasn’t because of the high waves or the boat almost rolling over every few minutes. It was because of the smell of almost all of the other passengers losing their lunch.

As I’m typing this, Margaret just freaked out because there is a big spider behind a chair in our room…………....hold on a sec

……Ok I killed it……

…...i must admit it was a big sucker….I took some photos before I wacked him and sent him off to “sleep with the fish”. (That's a picture of it)


Koh Phangan

From Koh Tao we decided to go to another island called Koh Phangan. It was only an hour ferry ride away. We arrived to more people trying to get our business for a Taxi. We knew we wanted to go to the North Western Side of the island to a beach called Haad Yao. We negotiated a price for the taxi and we were off. We arrived at Ibiza bungalows and were thrilled. These were clean and large (still no hot water) and were reasonably priced. The beach was also wonderful. Much larger than in Koh Tao, much cleaner and also much quieter. We spent the rest of the day just hanging out on the hammock. At least I did. Andrew went to explore the “town”.

As in Koh Tao we could have rented a motor bike but decided to hike instead. The weather was not the greatest and although it wasn’t constantly raining, it was extremely humid. Regardless we thought it would be best to explore by foot rather than by bike. Andrew thought it would be best not to bring water along as we would buy it at the nearest 7/11 (Thailand has 7/11’s everywhere) since there was no point of carrying all that water around. I disagreed and brought 1 bottle. It’s a good thing too because we didn’t come across one 7/11 during the whole day. I don’t think we realized how “mountainy” the island was. We were either climbing a steep road or walking down a steep road. After a couple hours of this I was exhausted, and thirsty. That one bottle of water was running low. Along the way we spotted a lot of dogs, but one was special. It was a puppy about 3 months old and she would not leave our side. After about an hour of walking I had to retrace some steps and shoo her away. She wasn’t happy but she left. She was very cute though. I also have to say Andrew seems to be attracting these dogs. I have quite a few photos with them following him around. But we try not to interact them too much, as we don’t know what their temperament is like.

We stopped off at a beach in a town called Hat Mae Haad. This was a unique beach as there was also a sand bar connecting it to a small island, however it was only accessible during low tide. When we visited it was high tide so there were some waves crashing into the sand bar from both sides. From Haad Mae Haad we started heading back (came across a store with water) and spotted a sign for a water fall. We decided to explore it, but realized very soon we would need to take our shoes off as there was no real path to lead us there and we would have to climb up some rocks, where the water was flowing. It was slow going and painful on our feet, but we did end up getting there. It’s hard to say if it was worth it but it was definitely an experience. It took us another hour to get back home after that. Again, we were exhausted (I think that’s the theme of this trip so far).

After the exhausting day of hiking we rented a motor bike to explore the island. The road were much better than in Koh Tao and I’m happy to say the bike performed much better as well. However the road to Hat Rin was STEEP and CURVY and overall dangerous. I honestly don’t know how trucks made it up those roads and blind and hairpin turns. Hat Rin is where the infamous Full Moon party occurs during every full moon, but we were there a few days after the full moon, and the town was dead. We kept exploring the island, and in the evening came across a night market. Everything was for sale there, from clothes, to shoes to photos, but the most important thing was food. We ate chicken satays with peanut sauce, pork buns, frozen Coca-Cola “Popsicles” and pancakes with coconuts. It was delicious.

The next day I was feeling pretty sick (just a cold), so I stayed in bed all day while Andrew ran errands. He brought me medicine and food, and he went to town at least 3 times since he kept “forgetting” things. I think he was just bored and didn’t feel like spending the day in bed with me. That’s okay, I had an opportunity to just sleep. The weather was pretty gloomy so I didn’t feel like I was missing out on anything.

That night we went to eat something at the place next door and met some people who were attending a “Half Moon Party” in the jungle that night. I was still feeling sick but I told Andrew to go ahead. He came home at 3am but he says it wasn’t too crazy but people were definitely doing a lot of drinking , amongst other things.
The next day the weather was still gloomy so we decided it was time to leave. We went to the ferry terminal, only to find out that all ferries were cancelled except for one, due to the storm which was scheduled to hit the southern coast in the next day or two. We decided to take the ferry as it was the last one for at least the next 3-7 days, due to the storm.

It was a quite large catamaran and I was glad we were getting off the island just in time because we didn’t want to be stuck on the island for possibly another week.
We boarded the ferry and since it was a fairly large ferry there were plenty of places to sit. We went up front as we wanted the best view. One of the staff on the boat asked us if we got sea sick. No! But they started handing out small plastic bags to everyone and they suggested we move to the back of the boat as the effects wouldn’t be as bad. I was confused but we moved to the back. I was completely unprepared for the trip. Once we pulled away and were on the open water, we hit 4 meter waves (14 feet) and the boat was hitting the waves hard! It was moving side to side drastically! It’s very hard to explain the feeling and how scared I was and how terrifying it all was. There was a girl who started crying hysterically and was saying “We’re going to die”. I started crying but tried to keep myself pretty composed. I checked where the life jackets were held (under each seat) and was making a plan in my head in case the boat tipped over. All around us people were getting sick (read puking) and it was not a pleasant atmosphere. This lasted for about 2.5 hours and when we (finally) got back to land I said I never want to see another boat again. It was then I understood why all the other ferries were cancelled. If the boat we were on would not have been a catamaran, we would not have made it. The only ferry I’m getting back on will be in calm waters. I would normally say something very sarcastic about Andrew and his lack of support during this time, but I think seeing how scared I really was (he was fine…if not excited during this whole thing) he was very supportive and sat with me holding my hand the whole time trying to keep me calm. I think what kept me somewhat sane was that the staff was completely calm and in a few cases would lie on the floor and sleep! I figured if they were sleeping, then 1) the boat can handle these waves, 2) this is probably not the worst they have seen.

We arrived in Bangkok that morning at 5am, after a 7 hour bus ride from the ferry. Again, I was exhausted.

Still Koh Tao

We ended up staying at Big Blue in Koh Tao for a couple more days as I was feeling a little sick, so Andrew did a couple more dives while I hung out on the beach. The next day we took another “day off” and rented a kayak to go to another small set of islands which are right by Koh Tao, called Nang Yuan. These are actually 3 small islands which are connected by a sand bar. We rented the Kayak and set off around 12 noon. The rental guy told us it would take approx half an hour to kayak over. No problem! Right? After 10 minutes I wanted to die. My arms were killing me and the sun was blazing down on us. It also didn’t help that there was a lot of boat traffic and they were creating waves for us to paddle across. I honestly thought about giving up and turning around. But we persevered and made it, and it did only take 30 minutes.
Once there, we parked the kayak on one of the sand bars, and we had to pay a $3 park entry fee, as Nang Yuan is considered a national park. We took our gear and went snorkeling. Any diver will tell you the underwater world is amazing. Unfortunately some people believe in order to see these beautiful things you must be a diver, but that’s not the case. We saw a HUGE school of sardines, and we got to swim with them. It was so large the water from shore looked black. This is not something we had experienced while diving. In addition to the school of sardines, we saw a lot of various fish which were not shy and kept swimming up to us. We had an amazing time snorkeling.
After about an hour of snorkeling and then hanging out on the beach, it was time to head back. I was not looking forward to that at all. Another 30 grueling minutes of paddling; my arms wanted to fall off.
The next day we moved to AC Resort as they are associated with Phoenix divers, and we got upgraded to a bungalow. That day we completed two dives, and the second dive of the day was the best one we had to date. We saw lot of marine life such as groupers, clown fish, stingrays, but the highlight was definitely the turtle. It was awesome just swimming along with it and I came out of the water extatic. The weather was not doing too well however. We knew this was monsoon season for this part of Thailand but we were hoping to get lucky. Unfortunately we were not so lucky. The following day we woke up to rain and thunder storms. Since it was 6am I was hoping the diving would be called off, but no such luck, it was still on. We were going to a farther dive site than most and the water was pretty choppy. I'm not a big fan of boats and this one particularly felt like it would tip over at any minute. We arrived at the dive site and realized the current was pretty strong, but luckily the further we went down (we went down to 30 meters) the weaker the current became. It was still an exhausting dive however. Very frequently we were fighting the current, and we also weren't too impressed with our dive master. Instead of taking it nice and easy, we constantly had to catch up to him. Another reason I wasn't too impressed was because he let Andrew get so low on air that for our safety stop Andrew needed to share air with him. Andrew had been very clear with him how much air he had left so I was surprised we continued to dive. Anyway, ultimately the dive ended fine. On the way back it was pouring rain, hard. And it got windy and cold. It didn't help I wasn't impressed with the boat. The ride back was approx 30min and I was freezing. When we reached the next dive site however, the rain had stopped and I couldn't wait to get in the water. Once in, the water was sooo warm. After the diving we had fun jumping in the water from the roof of the boat.

Overall the diving has been great on Koh Tao. We saw HUGE groupers, a lot of stingrays, a turtle (that was definitely a highlight), angel fish, clown fish, nemos, large groups of fish, and a whole bunch of other things that I can’t remember.