Published: December 11th 2010December 11th 2010
Thailand. Wow what a contrast to Vietnam.
We flew from Hanoi to Bangkok and arrived at about 1am on the 29th. We then had to wait until 9am for our next flight to Chiang Mai. (After being informed by Joe that we couldve got a train far easier and cheaper than flying, though after a month and 2 weeks in Vietnam,we just wanted to get out so it didnt really matter so much)
Airport seats are not the comfiest things to try and get some sleep on, and after too many failed attempts, we gave in and headed to Starbucks, much to jimis disgust.
Airports in the dead of night are strange, strange places. Bundles of material are dotted around in some of the most obscure places, occasionally the wriggle a foot or a head out from underneath to peak at the florescent glow outside. I used to pride myself on the fact that a can sleep anywhere. Unfortunately, in Bangkok airport when I DESPERATELY needed some sleep I was proven wrong.
After hours of feeling pretty rough from no sleep we got onto a shuttle bus to the domestic airport for our next flight. Google maps informed
us reliably that the distance between the 2 airports is only around a 2 min drive. I cant say for definite how long that journey was, because as soon as I sat down, I fell asleep, but it was certainly nearing the hour mark. Which was a good job we were sensible for once and decided to leave international airport early.
Waiting to board our plane to Chiang Mai, we started talking to a thai lady who was bizarrely the international rep for Aberystwyth University! We had a good chat about Wales was felt really bizarre and as we walked down the little corridor to get on the plane, she educated us that our plane was a girl. Jimi and I looked at each other quite bemused and hoped her seat wasnt too close to ours..i wasnt in the mood for this sort of conversation after being awake 24 hours! All was explained when we got to a little window and she said '-see look..it has eyelashes..' our plane did indeed have eyelashes above the pilots' window..which in my ridiculously sleep deprived state nearly brought me to the floor with laughter. What an amusing gimmick. Those crazy Asians.
Arriving in Chiang Mai on the way to our guesthouse we suddenly didnt feel a million miles away from home. It was also the first time we had been able to see the sky since leaving the Philippines! We got into a taxi, right hand drive..which felt really weird and driving on the left hand side of the road. And DRIVING too, god what a novelty. We drove for 15 minutes without having to stop, abruptly or otherwise, to allow for 20 million motorbikes to weave through the traffic, for we didn't see ONE motorbike on our journey *all together now BIG sigh of relief* we sat questioning WHY had we stayed so long in vietnam?! To add to the homeliness of Thailand, we passed a great big supersize TESCO and although I shook my head. I smiled.
We stayed in a really nice place in Chiang Mai, A9 place, which was really funky though unfortunately ages away from town so it was a bit of a hassle when we just wanted to pop in for lunch.
Chiang Mai town centre was pretty nice too, the main part itself was surrounded by a moat and walls with various
gates to enter in and out. There are LOADS of temples dotted around in walking distance too, so a couple of afternoons jimi and I just pottered through the town looking at all these amazing structures.
It was such a nice introduction to Thailand. Orange clad monks walked the streets all over the place. Which brought me SO much joy. And they were all really smiley too ^_^ For those of you that dont know, Monks aren't allowed to sit next to Women, touch them or have anything passed to them from a woman. This resulted in a lot of public areas having special 'place reserved for Monks'...little patches, in an otherwise dull scene, were then full with different shades of maroon and orange.
Thailand also has a MASSIVE respect for the King and royals. Many people have been imprisoned for things that, at home, we'd wouldn't think twice about being disrespectful. The national anthem is played in public places twice a day, where everyone is expected to stand in silence- what ever they are doing. (This caught me and jimi short when rushing through a night market and everyone standing still..we thought we were part of a
flash freeze mob until it clicked and I had to grab jimi to stop him from making a break from the crowd), On a monday some people were yellow because its the Kings favorite colour, and there is another day of the week were they wear a colour for the king because its the day of the week he was born. Even having money crumpled up in your pocket is frowned apon because it has the Kings face on.
This was all very novel to jimi and I and we played along accordingly thinking how cool it was that something, non religious, could unite so many people together in great national pride.
During our stay in Chiang Mai, it was the Kings birthday. A huge stage was constructed in the centre of town and on Sunday, everyone wore pink (except for me as I have never owned any pink clothing in my life..but I wore yellow to maybe counteract it.) There was a big celebration in the evening where everyone sang songs and light a candle for the king. After wards, a big firework display [which earlier on in the day,jimi and I had seen being set up...in
the middle of a path with the detonators attached and completely unattended..can you IMAGINE there ever happening at home?it tickled me.Ah the joys of Asian non health and safety conscious heads] Jimi and I also let off a lantern, which we'd never done as was great fun. At the end of the night, it looked like a whole new set of constellations had appeared crystal clear in the sky.
We booked ourselves into a cooking class too. Me and jimi LOVE thai food and at home I have 'thai night' where dad will make scrummy omlettes and we'll have stir fry, fried rice and fish. Nomnomnom. Ive always wanted to know how to make pad thai so I could contribute to thai night at home and also because it's undoubtly my favourite thai dish...except desserts which is a whoollle different ball game!
We did a whole day in the cooking class, where we got to cook 7 dishes of what we wanted from scratch. It was soo much fun, probably by far one of the best things we've done since we've been exploring ; We started off in the local market after being given some little wicker baskets
to put our ingredients in..all the fruit and veg and pastes were explained and what we could use as an alternative at home. Then we to the cooking school..a fair number of us maybe around 20 from all over the place. It was cool, we met a group of guys from bristol that have been travelling for 3 months and it was their last few days. It was strange trying to imagine the impending feeling of going home and they all seemed really gutted which got me thinking..why do I want to feel like that in a few months time?? We met another guy who was from Eastbourne too! HOW WEIRD. He's been living in Australia for the past couple of years though and was telling us about how the wages and living is so much better out there why would anyone bother going home to work in a shit job for no money..clogs in my head start turning rather fast..
Anyway, we all had a great laugh and by the end of the day, the sign above the door of the class that read 'we guarantee our food will make you look pregnant' was certainly true. Ive
never eaten so much nice food in my life..though I was uncomfortably full! I had mastered making; Pad thai, green curry paste, green curry, sweet and sour vegetables, spring rolls with peanut dip, chicken in coconut milk soup and fried bananas in thick coconut toffee. MMM. The women had such a good sense of humour and at the end we had a little drink to ourselves for being great cooks and were awarded with a recipe book with all the things we'd made inside ^_^
The next day, after talking to some people in the cooking school that had already done some tours in Chiang Mai, Jimi and I booked ourselves onto a day tour. We got up early and got into the back of a truck for a 1 1/2's drive to the mountains with 4 French and 4 Germans. We joked about how we could all sit in a truck together without starting any world wars. Whilst the French were talking to each other, I realise how much I do actually remember from the 8 years I studied and made me want to learn it again.
As we got higher into the mountains the scenery began to change into this lush, dense green with patches of brick red mud. Our first glimpse of an elephant was a mumma and baby playing in a river. We soon arrived at the Elephant Camp where the were around 7 huugeee elephants just grazing and chillin'. Jimi and I got onto the only male of the herd, which made me really anxious after reading we weren't covered for elephant riding in our insurance and seeing numerous youtube videos of treks going wrong lol. He was 35 years old and called boybo ^_^
The ride was incredible, we rode through the jungle, up really steep hills where I thought we were going to fall off the back! I couldnt believe the strength in his trunk too! We'd be plodding along then suddenly he'd stop..have a good sniff in the trees with his trunk and then just clear the path way, pulling up trees and plants where you could hear the roots breaking. We went down to the river where all the elephants were drinking and spraying water on themselves, they looked so happy ^_^
After our elephant ride, we all stopped for lunch in the camp. These crazy spiky and very poisonous looking caterpillars were falling from the sky, like big blobs of rain. Luckily we were under a canopy but it required running from the canopy to the truck after lunch in fear of them falling on us. When I said to jimi but whyyy are they falling from the skyyy he looked at me like I was simple and just replied with 'abi..we are in the jungle.'
We drove for a couple of minutes, further into the greenery to embark on our trek to a waterfall. It was probably the easiest trek so far, in the sense it was the least steep of all of our other treks, but it was probably more dangerous..there were crazy crossings over a rushing river with just a tatty looking plank of wood or some really difficult climbs over massive rocks in the middle of the water which required no dignity to get over. As usual, our guide pretty much skipped across all these dangerous and narrow parts, pointing at wildlife along the way, which included MASSIVE spiders in huge webs not so far from us..ive never seen spiders this big, literally the size of a big bird. And when I asked if it was poisonous..the guide just shrugged his shoulders and said 'I dont know, touch it and see' with all seriousness :/
Seeing the spiders made us speed up a lot to the point where jimis flip flop broke.
Thats right people, jimi, who has perfectly good hiking boots, decided that for an hours trek in the northern Thailand Jungle, he would wear flip flops.
If it wasn't so worried about him treading on creepy crawlies that could possibly kill him or rusty nails pertruding from the planks I would have been more smug about it, esp after asking him twice in the morning if he was 'seriously' intending on wearing flip flops on the trek.
We made it to the waterfall which was massive in size. A few people took a dip but after seeing their 'SHIT THIS IS FREEZING' reactions to it..i decided not to. Jimi and I have become somewhat waterfall connoisseurs and have taken to rating them since our trip to Norway. This sometimes results in Jimi showing true 'waterfall snobbery'.
We made it back down, without barefoot injury, about a lifetime after everyone else (though it did mean we got to see an elephant walking past us in the jungle,very VERYY surreal)where we headed to the white water rafting spot.
After our experience of WWR in Norway and my near death by drowning, I was pretty damn nervous is has to be said. But when we got to the riverside and I realised I'd canoed through worse I felt better, esp as the majority of the other people on the tour hadn't done it before and were proper fretting it made me feel ok again. The rafting was wicked, loads more fun than Norway, mostly because I wasnt completely fearful for my life and the majority of it consisted of meandering down the river and splashing the other rafters. It was incredible though, we were going through the of the jungle on a little raft and watching wild elephants just chillin' in the jungle either side of us.
When we got to another part of the river we got out of our raft and onto a Bamboo raft which is basically just 8/9 massive bamboo poles strapped together that sits 5 people on. Jimi was at the front, being the lightest, and given a big stick and named captain. He guided us safely down the river, serenaded us like an Italian which greatly amused the Germans we were cruising along with.
After getting dry we went to a 'tribal village' which I was really excited about. Unfortunately it turned out to be just a few ladies in some traditional garb selling bracelets and croaking frogs rather than a culture experience learning about the tribe, but after some amazing experiences and at the end of the day we really weren't bothered.
Our last day in Chiang Mai, and the girl on reception in our hotel asked if we'd like to go bowling with her and she could show us some of the 'hidden' Chiang Mai. It seems here in Asia there arent the social barriers that there are at home. People are far more open to making new friends without any fear or trepidation atal.
We'd barely said 2 words to Mon the receptionist and yet she classed us as her friends whom she wanted to spend a day with. If some random at home, say like the kiosk lady in Sainsburys who you occasionally buy your lottery ticket from, came out with asking you and your friends wanted to go and hang out you'd give up gambling and head straight for the door thinking she was a right weirdo! But here its amazing, and opens you up so much more to just going with the flow, however awkward it may seem to begin with.
We went bowling, which was great fun and the lay out was uncannily like that at home. We drank the afternoon away,which resulted in us all getting progressively worse. Then we headed to have lunch, with Mons uncle who came to pick us up because he wanted to meet her new friends, regardless of him not being able to speak a word of english,but nothing charades couldnt solve.After she took us to some temples a lot of 'falang' dont know about which was magical.
The next morning, we headed to the train station, bound for Auytthaya where my cousin Joe lives. We were sadly excited because we hadnt yet taken a train on our exploration! We were pleasently surprised, we had massive chairs that reclined all the way back, which suited me fine and we embarked on our 10 hour journey. We were surprised to be served food throughout the journey, as though we were on an aeroplane..something jimi and I hadnt considered when spending hours shopping the night before for our make-shift packed lunch. The lady sitting opposite was intently engrossed in watching the process of a dairylea and crisp sandwich in the making. We'd like to think she would go home and tell her family of this crazy white couple that used bread in a whole new way..and perhaps bring crisp sandwiches to Asia. Lol.
10 hours soon turned to 12 and we were contemplating how we'd actually know where our stop was, as there was no signs or announcements on the train and all the signs at the stations were in Thai! We managed it though, and after getting off in THE MIDDLE OF THE TRACKS and waiting until 3 trains had left before being ushered across the lines up onto the platforms we met a smiley joe who produced 3 chang beers for us to share together as we discussed our adventures in the station ^_^ it was really surreal seeing him there, he seemed so relaxed and at home..
The night continued as you might expect it would after starting off with chang before dinner.
And the day after,nursing a terrible terrible hang over we booked our journey to Cambodia. The one place ive been SO excited to visit since I started planning. We waved goodbye to Joe, who we'll be seeing New Years in with after our return from Cambodia and got onto a train at 3.30am to Bangkok. We arrived just before 6 and waited to be met by someone who would show us to our bus that would take us over the boarder.
As it turns out, and as we shouldve known by now, as nothing is ever as it is sold in Asia and the term 'the customer is always right' never,ever applies the minibus took us somewhere to ''sort out of visa'' regardless of the fact we said we could do it ourselves, they charges us an extra $5 ontop of visa charges at the gate. We then had to walk across the boarder..which for me was quite exciting as ive never done a land boarder before, though it was soured by the fact it was BAKING hot and we had to walk ½ hour with tonnes of heavy bags. We got through immigration and boarder control fine, after being warned continuously about the children pick pocketing you.
Where we were taken to a bus station and told we had to wait a further 5 hours before we had enough people to fill up the bus to then go on the 6 hour journey to Siem Reap...nothing like what we were sold.
In the end, after seeing bus loads of people arriving pissed off and not willing to wait and jumping in a taxi, we figured we'd be waiting until dark to get a full bus so we did the same and shared with 2 japanese girls who had been travelling india and we shared some stories along the way to a very hot hot Siem Reap.
Which is where we are now :) But that requires a whollleee other blog!