Published: March 11th 2011March 11th 2011
It is time for my blog on Thailand, well, the Southern Part of Thailand at least. I am going to be travelling north tomorrow so will be writing a separate blog for what I get up to in the North.
My first impressions of Thailand weren't all to great. Because my flight had been 3 hours delayed I arrived in Bangkok in the evening so it was already dark and thus everything was even more disorientating. To begin with I was ripped off by the taxi driver. I did everything I was supposed to do; I went to the taxi counter, had them write my destination in Thai, got in the taxi, made sure the guy had his meter turned on and started at 35 baht. But the meter went up ridiculously fast!!! By the time I got to the hotel it was displaying 750 baht, about 15 pounds!! This was double what I had been expecting to pay, but since the meter had been on and I'd done everything I was told to do, I thought that I must have just been mistaken and that this must be the right amount to pay. It wasn't until the next day
Traditional houses on the river
These houses are so rickety that they look like they could collapse into the river at any moment!!
when I was taking to everyone else and finding out how much they paid that it became apparent that I had been completely HAD! Needless to say this didn't put me in a great mood. My mood didn't get any better when I actually arrived at the hotel, as due to my flight being 3 hours delayed I had missed my tour meeting and therefore had missed my opportunity to meet my tour leader and the rest of my group. By the time I had arrived they had already left for dinner, so I found myself alone in my room with no one to go for dinner with and having no idea what anyone on my tour looked like. To make matters worse, the next day was a free day where we were supposed to do whatever we wanted. I wanted to go exploring but it looked like I was going to have no one to go exploring with. Feeling a bit sorry for myself I had my first small 'down' since leaving home. The only glimmer of hope was that the message that had been left for me by my tour leader was also addressed to another girl who
hadn't arrived yet. My room had an extra bed so there was the chance that she would be arriving soon and would be in my room.
I decided to leave a note for Suzanne in my room on the off chance she was asigned to my room. After sitting in the lobby, reading texts from home and looking at pictures of my family and friends (yes, not particularly clever or helpful...) for about half an hour, a blonde girl came up to me and asked me if I was Abbie. Yes!!! I was no longer alone in some strange capital in a country I had never been to before. We went for a small wander near our hotel before returning to the hotel for an early night.
Because we had both missed the tour meeting, we had no idea what everyone else was going to be doing the next day, so we decided that if we couldn't get hold of them, we'd just make our own plans.
The next day (1st of March) arrived before I knew it and I was a little apprehensive after a less than perfect day the day before. Suzanne and I tried
knocking on our tour leaders door but received no answer, so it looked like it was just going to be the two of us for the day.
We left the hotel to get a tuk-tuk to the grand palace, only to be told it was closed until 11am (a lie, but we didn't know it at the time, no one had warned us that tuk-tuk drivers in Bangkok constantly lie to you to try and get you to go where they want so they can make comission!!) and we were persuaded to get on a long-tailed boat to go on a tour on the canals of Bangkok ending at the grand palace. After some fierce haggling, we were on the boat feeling that we had still paid too much, even though we had managed to half the original price. Still, we soon started to enjoy ourselves, as being on a long-tailed boat is a lovely way to see Bangkok. You get to see traditional Thai houses on stilts in the water and temples that are right next to the canal. We also saw a huge monitor lizard swimming in the water next to us, I have never seen such
a big lizard outside of a zoo!!!
Overall, I loved the boat ride, even though it was a little hair raising at points, especially when the boat went around corners and along the main canal (which was very very choppy). I was convinced that we were going to go over a number of times!!!
We got off the boat at the grand palace, where people tried to feed us more lies to get us into their tuk-tuks to go somewhere else; it is closed as the king is praying today, it is closing in half an hour as it is a special holiday, you are not wearing the right clothes....ect, the list of what we were told is endless. Wisely, we decided to go check it out for ourselves and find out the truth. We learnt that the palace had been open since 8.30am! We paid for our ticket and in we went, spending the next 2 hours or so wandering around taking pictures, looking at the magnificient buildings and the beautiful jade buddha.
Deciding to avoid the evil tuk-tuk drivers, we then walked to Wat Pho to see the reclining Buddha. Being slightly retarded it took
us a while to find the reclining Buddha once we were in the temple complex. We were pretty embarassed when we eventually found it as it is HUGE!!! How on earth had it taken us so long to find it??? To be fair, we had entered the temple through a lesser gate and not the main tourist gate....but still..... I never imagined it would be so big, and I couldn't help wondering, was the temple built around the Buddha or was the Buddha some how assembled inside the temple (if anyone knows the answer please let me know!!).
We then decided to be sheep and get a dish full of pennies, and putting one in each bowl out of a long line of bowls. I have no idea why Buddhist do it (so again if you can enlighten me please do) but it was fun, even though we tourists got some pretty weird looks, and indulgent smiles from the actual Buddhists.
Tired after having been in the sun all day, we wanted to go back to the hotel. We found a tuk-tuk that would take us back for 20 baht (a bargain) if he was allowed to make one
stop and if we'd go look in this shop when he stopped. We thought, why not?! BIG MISTAKE. The tuk-tuk driver drove us for half an hour in the wrong direction, and after we had been in the shop (a ridiculously posh place that made suits and ball dresses that we felt very stupid in in our shorts and tank tops), he then tried to make us go in another one. We were fed up and running out of time before we were supposed to be meeting up with our tour leader, so even though the guy said our ride would be free if we went in, we insisted on being taken back to the hotel and some heated words were exchanged when he kept trying to press the matter. The whole trip took at least an hour longer than it would have done if we had just gone straight back. Still we learnt our lesson, never agree to stop anywhere unless you have a lot of time and don't mind being treated like a fool.
The only good thing about the who tuk-tuk journey was that I managed to spot a shop near our hotel that sold SIM
cards meaning that I could get a Thai number and receive phonecalls from home.
We finally met our tour guide, Nhoi, and the rest of our group and we all set off to board the sleeper train that would take us to the South of Thailand. I had never been on a sleeper train before so found the whole idea ridiculously exciting, I mean travelling while I was sleeping?!?!?! How cool is that?!!!??!?!
On the second of March, I woke up in my top bunk on the sleeper train after a suprisingly good night sleep. The only criticism was that the AC was a little violent, making it quite cold at times. We were roused by Nhoi, telling us that we would be arriving at our stop in the next 20 minutes. As we all collected our bits together I decided I was glad I had been on the top bunk after Suzi found two bugs (quite big ones) in her bed literally after she had just got out of it!!!! Still the people on the bottom had been as snug as bugs (please forgive the pun) and not frozen by the air conditioning like I was.
One of the Thai guys making sure we didn't hurt ourselves decided to climb a tree and jump out of it!!
After a quick breakfast once we had got off the train, it was onto these covered trucks with two benches along the sides. This was our mode of transport to Khao Sok national park. A couple of hours later we arrived and were shown our rooms and given our options for the day. I decided to go tubing, which basically involves floating down a river on a giant rubber ring.
Tubing was fun, though more hard work than I was expecting as the river wasn't running very fast due to low water levels. We saw a small monitor lizard on the bank and it was interesting trying to avoid the river bank, rocks and other suspicious lumps floating in the river. The river was also a lovely green colour and smelt somewhat.........still it was a good day.
On the way back to the resort we stopped off to feed some monkeys. The baby ones were sooooooooooooo cute!!
Once I'd showered and relaxed for a bit it was time for my first meal with my group....which turned out to be Italian. I was really disappointed as I had come all the way to Thailand to eat...Italian food.. NOT!
I found it doubly annoying as I had spent a year in Italy eating Italian food (though I do love it soooo much). Still, I didn't want to cause waves and everyone else seemed keen for it. Afterwards we went to a cool bar called they Jumanji bar where we drank a few cocktails and got to know eachother better.
We all had to be up early the next day as we were leaving at 7.30am to head to the island of Koh Samui (meaning coconut island). We travelled by bus, then ferry and then bus again and arrived at our hotel at Koh Samui just after lunch time. Slightly knackered after the travelling (and the early start), I spent the free afternoon stealing wifi from the building next door (on accessible if I sat on the landing as close to it as possible, so i looked like a right weirdo!) and reading on the beach which our hotel back out onto. Dinner was at the hotel and then it was bed time as we had a full day of activities planned for the next day.
It was up early again for us (4th of March) so that
Daisy in the cave
This is the cave that we ended up trekking/rock climbing to. I was all a bit dodgy but it was a lovely cave. Daisy was one of the girls on my tour
we could catch a boat to take us to the marine national park. This was about an hour away from Koh Samui, but the boat journey was enjoyable with as much free coffee, tea, coke or water as you could drink.
The first thing we did when we arrived was go sea kayaking. The scenery was beautiful but it was scorching hot, so we all took the opportunity for a quick cooling swim when we all stopped for a break. The break was over far too soon and it was back to kayaking around 'ghost island' (called so as apparently people used to dump bodies there if they didn't want them ever found).
We then had an hour to do whatever we wanted. Some others and I decided to go explore the ,that according to Nhoi, was 5 minutes away. 25 minutes later (at least), after practically rock climbing part of the way, we arrived, very red in the face and dripping with sweat. I had quite liked the climb as it was challenging but no impossible, but i wasn't too fond of being covered in sweat, especially as I'd just had a shower on the beach before
walking to the cave (as I hadn't known how hard it was going to be).
Coming back down from the cave was much harder than getting up there, and it was damn right lethal at some points, still, we all made it down and we were just in time to get back on our boat for a spot of well deserved lunch. While we were eating, the boat set sail for our next and final stop, The Blue Lagoon.
The Blue Lagoon was very picturesque, with the water just as blue as promised. The lagoon is fed by an underwater cave that people used to swim through to get in and out of the lagoon. It is forbidden to swim in the lagoon nowadays as the authorities are paranoid that this would cause the water to lose it's distinct colour.
We relaxed on the beach next to the lagoon, to recover from the climb up to the view point. The steps up had been partically vertical the whole way, with huge gaps for your foot to slip through and get stuck in........
It took an hour and a half to get back to Koh Samui, where Sarah,
Me trying some funny Thai snack
It was pretty yummy, spicy yet sweet all at the same time. Wasn't too sure about eating the leaf though....
Basi and I opted to get Thai massages at our hotel. There massages were conducted right by the beach, so we could hear the waves crashing near our heads and smell the sea all the while we were having our massages. Thai massages though very nice are not my favourite type of massage. They involve lots of pressing and stretching of your body. There was very little of the actual 'massaging' that I thought automatically came with any massage. It is very odd to have someone pick up your leg and push it towards your head as though they want to stretch you into the splits (needless to say, my legs didn't go anywhere near that far!). I reckon if you had one of these massages every day you would end up being very flexible!
For dinner we headed to the old Fisherman's Market, which was this bustling area with lots of shops, restaurants and bright lights, nothing like the quiet old area I had pictured in my mind! After dinner my roommate and I decided to head back instead of staying out with the others. It is perhaps best that we left when we did as Suzi soon
after received a phonecall from her parents telling her that her auntie was in hospital and had just been pronounced brain stem dead. This trip hasn't been a good trip for this sort of thing, with another girl's grannie dying a day or so before. Also, on a not so serious or morbid vein, there had been 3 camera deaths in the four days of the tour so far....... These things don't half make me worry about everyone at home.
We left Koh Samui the next day and headed for Koh Tao (Turtle Island). The place we stayed at was lovely and backed straight onto the beach. You could sit there, practically on the beach, watching the sea and sipping your iced fruit shake.
In the evening we decided to check out the Lotus Bar which was a short walk along the beach from our hotel. The bar was on the beach and there were 5 or so fire dancers performing. It was mesmerising to watch them twirl the fire, playing with it as though it was some ordinary toy. I even had one of them come up to me and spin a firey halo over my head
(not sure what that says about me!). I loved watching the fire dancers, they were spectacular to watch and very hot in more ways that one!!!!!!!!
I had to get up early yet again on the 6th of March as we were to spend the day snorkelling. I had been in two minds about going snorkelling as I have done it before and I couldn't help but feel that it would pale in comparison after having been scuba diving. I am so glad I went!!!
Suzi and I had got lost and almost didn't make it to the meeting point. As it was we were 20 minutes late once Nhoi had found us. The snorkelling tour involved going to 5 different site and snorkelling. At one place we got to swim with around 20 wild black-tipped sharks. My favourite shark was one that had a cheeky little stow-away on it's fin, a small catfish type fish that was holding on to the sharks fin and hitching a ride.
(I will try and put some pictures of the sharks up after I manage to steal a picture from one of the girls with a waterproof camera on my tour.)
The snorkelling tour also took us to a private island where the sand was white and lined with dead coral that had been washed up from the sea. I have never seen so much coral!! There were so many different types of coral to see in the water there that the area was know as the Japanese Garden. It was no wonder that so much coral ended up on the beach.
In the evening, after a fabulous BBQ for dinner, we went to see a lady-boy show. To begin with it was quite amusing in an odd way, to see these people dressed up and dancing. Some of them were obviously once men, while other I would have walked past on the street none the wiser. As the acts progessed I couldn't help but wonder why these people were doing this, even if they wanted to be women, what drove them to perform in front of tourists? Money? Desperation? Or actual enjoyment? Some of them seemed to really enjoy what they were doing, while others looked frankly miserable. Overall the whole experience made me feel very sad, especially as there were some drunk british guys laughing hysterically through
the first couple of acts.
Why would you put youself through that????
On the 7th we started our journey back to Bangkok, which involved a boat, a bus and a sleeper train. We arrived back in Bangkok at 6.30am on the 8th.
AS the tour had officially ended, we were at a little bit of a loss as to what to do with ourselves (me especially as I hadn't booked anywhere to stay that night). After finding a place to stay, I went for breakfast with a couple of people from my tour, Charlie and Tim. Charlie and I then decided to go do some site-seeing. I took her to see the grand palace, where she was content just to look at the outside and didn't want to pay the 350 baht to go in.
We then went to go see the golden mountain and the huge standing buddha. They are apparently two of the five most visited temples in Bangkok. It was safe to say that after that we were all templed out, so we headed to Khao San Road (the backpacker area of Bangkok) for something to eat before going our separate ways. Charlie was heading
back to Wales the next day so needed to go get some things sorted out before she headed home.
Being back in Bangkok has helped me make up my mind about the place. I do not like it overly much. It is crowded and very smelly. There is a permanent traffic jam, add to that the heat (never much below 30 degrees) and the constant smog and pollution hanging in the air, and you can imagine what a nightmare it is to go anywhere.
You are harassed by tuk-tuk and taxi drivers from all sides as soon as you step out of anywhere and they always quote you ridiculous prices. More than any place I have been so far, Bangkok exploits and takes unfar advantage of tourist naiviety. Still, even though some Thai people lie straight to your face, others go out of the way to show you kindness. I had a taxi driver write the name of my hotel out in Thai to make it easy for me to get there, he then suggested I should move on somewhere else to actually catch the taxi as the taxis around there would rip me off. Why did he tell
me this when all his friends were trying to get me to get in their taxis I do not know, but I thought it was very kind and noble of him.
I did absolutely nothing on the 9th of March except catch up on some sleep, washing and reading.
On the 10th of March I was up very, very early to go on a private tour to the Tiger Temple to take part in their VIP program. I had to be up at 4.30am to be in the car for 5am for the 2 1/2 hour drive to be at Kanchanaburi by 7.30am. On the way I asked that we stop at the Bridge over the River Kwai. This bridge is famous as it marks where hundreds of British POWs from the second world war died building a railway for the Japanese that linked Thailand to Burma. The Japanese wanted a railway through this harsh mountainous terrain so that they could move supplies quickly to further their campaign in Asia. The POWs were forced to build the railway with little to no equipment, very little food and during the monsoon seasons, consequently so many died of starvation, disease
or from accident that the railway became known as the death railway. It took 17 months to build and was only used for 21 months. All that death for what????
Next stop was to by some food for the monks at the tiger temple. It is good luck to give food to the monks and some Thai people do it every morning. We arrived at the temple bang on time.
Firstly, I had to give the food I had bouht to the monks. This involved taking off my flip-flops, holding the food between my two praying hands and then carefully putting he food in the monks bowl (making sure not to touch the monk as that is forbidden). After the food has been placed in the bowl, you put your hands together and bow your head to your hands. This is repeated for each monk. It was then time to go see the tigers!!!!
We went into the temple (though it wasn't called a temple but something else....it had a buddha and it is where the monks eat) and there were all these tiger cubs. We were given a bottle of milk with cat food in it
and the tiger cubs came and sat on our laps and fed. They felt nothing like I was expecting them to, their fur was much coarser and harder than I thought. More like horses hair than a cat or dogs fur. They also had a very distinct smell, that wasn't unpleasant but yet like nothing I can remember smelling before.
Once we had done feeding and stroking the cubs it was time for breakfast. We ate with all the volunteers and the monks, and had traditional Thai food for breakfast; Tom Yam soup, rice, spicy beans, sweet pork and Thai custard and rice for pudding...
Next it was time to walk with the cubs and adolescent tigers. This involved a lot of starting and stopping as my tiger farlung (meaning dawn) wasn't too keen on the idea of going anywhere. All the tigers were far more interested in playing with eachother than walking in a straight line.
The cubs were then separated from the older tigers and it was time to wash and feed cooked chicken to the adolescent tigers. Much easier said than done as the tigers wouldn't stay still. You ended up walking along behind
them trying to rub in all the shampoo!
Once the tigers were squeaky clean and fed, it was time to go into an enclosure and play with the young tigers. We were each given a toy, a bamboo stick with either a colourful bag or a ball on it and in we went. There were around seven tigers inside and it was amazing to play with them. You had to wave the toy to catch their attention and get them to pounce and jump for the toy. I had one trying to climb a tree to get my toy. It was so much fun, if a little crazy, tigers running everywhere, playing with eachother and trying to catch our toys and pull them from our hands.
It was a little nerve racking every now and then as the tigers where running everywhere and sometimes you would be looking the wrong way, only to have a tiger spring and take the toy from your unsuspecting hands. However, it was lovely to see the tigers so carefree and it was such a good was to exercise them; tigers jumping in and out of the water, scrabbling everywhere.
Last but not
least it wsa time to walk some big tigers down to the canyon to join the rest of the adult tigers. Here we stood in a cage while the adult tigers ran free around us. The staff were extra careful when we were in the canyon as when these tigers pounce, they mean business. When the tiger fixes you with it's unblinking stare, you know you are at best a toy, at worst....prey!! The tigers were especially interested in a monk standing behind me, as his orange robes made him look like a toy to the tigers.
They are such majestic animals and one day I hope they are all released into the wild. Though I have no idea how anyone would go about doing that being that all of these tigers have been hand raised....
It was such an amazing day and one that I don't think I'll ever forget. Well worth every penny I paid to do it.
Well, that is everything I have been up to since I last blogged. In half an hour or so I get to go meet my new tour group and tomorrow we are heading to the north
of Thailand!!! Woop woop. Take care everyone and I'll update as soon as I can!!!
There are more photos below