Turning Indecision into a Destination

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June 8th 2013
Published: June 8th 2013
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Yogyakarta, Jakarta, Bangkok, Chiang Mai

Throughout our travels we have had a pretty good general idea of where we would be travelling to for the next couple of months. When we lived in houses for a month or two at a time, we found we needed to make future housing arrangements at least a month or more before we arrived in a new area if we wanted to insure we got the best available accommodations. Now that we find ourselves moving more rapidly, it has become more difficult to keep ahead in our planning. We arrived in Yogyakarta, Indonesia struggling a little with what we wanted to do in our future plans. We only had one week left on our Indonesian visa so we knew we had to leave the country, but for the first time in our travels we had no idea where we were going to next.

We began our SE Asia travels 4 months ago in Bangkok and decided it might be best to return for a short period while we made up our mind about future plans. Most countries have embassies in Bangkok and it seemed that if we were heading to anywhere that would require us to acquire a visa before we arrived Bangkok would be the place to get it. Bangkok also has excellent air, rail and bus connections to almost anywhere we might be heading, so we booked a flight from Jakarta, Indonesia to Bangkok for the last day that our Indonesian visa was valid.

We haven’t taken a train since our trip from Bangkok to Penang, Malaysia in March and thought it would be a nice trip to go from Yogyakarta to Jakarta to meet our flight. We checked train schedules and routes and found that it was quite easy and fairly inexpensive to take the 1st class train from Yogyakarta to Jakarta. The route would take us along the south coast of the island of Java before turning north and crossing the inland mountains and then northwest towards the capital of Jakarta. The train was scheduled for 8 hours and it seemed like a good way to see some of the country and still allow us to make our flight in plenty of time.

We got up early and quickly packed up for our trip. We are now expert packers and what used to take hours can now be done in 10 minutes. We easily caught a taxi to the conveniently located train station in downtown Yogyakarta, just off Malioboro Street. We arrived in plenty of time to do a little snack shopping before our trip. We have found that train food is not always great and it is a good idea to stock up on cheap cookies, crackers and pastries before taking a long ride. We located our car and were pleased that the train featured comfortable seats and nice bathrooms. The air conditioning was cool and we were excited to be leaving exactly at 8:30 as scheduled.

After leaving the bustle of town and stopping to pick up a few more passengers at nearby stations, we began our journey through seemingly endless rice fields filled with workers attending to the many duties of growing the rice. The rice fields were in different states of growth and we could easily see the workers plowing, planting, irrigating, harvesting, drying or threshing the rice. It made us appreciate how much work goes into rice production and how much of the available land is used to produce our food.

After a few hours we turned north and began our slow ascent into the mountains of Central Java. We passed limestone mountains and many large volcanoes. Still most of the available land in the valleys was used for rice although most of the rice was grown on terraces. We passed through many small towns and enjoyed seeing the beautiful countryside which was such a contrast from the busy city of Yogyakarta.

The trip was uneventful except when we were pulling away from one of the small stations we occasionally stopped at. After going a few hundred yards from the station we made a rather abrupt stop. Nothing seemed amiss, but after 45 minutes we became concerned that something must be wrong. We looked back down the track toward the station and saw a large group of people congregating just outside the station. We made our way to the back of the train to find out what was going on and were told that apparently our train had crashed into a car trying to cross the tracks. We hadn’t felt anything so we were quite surprised. There didn’t seem to be a problem with the train and we soon began our journey again.

The rest of the trip was routine and after passing through the mountains our train picked up speed as we passed more rice fields. We arrived about an hour late to Jakarta, not bad considering the accident earlier. The train station was very busy and had a huge shortage of taxis. It was pouring rain and the traffic in town was very congested. We were told we would have at least an hour or two wait for a taxi. We decided that we needed to get to the hotel and found a driver who charged about double the normal taxi fee, but it was well worth it after our long day and was actually still quite reasonably priced.

Our hotel was inexpensive, but quite nice. We were located in a little bit of a rough neighborhood of Jakarta. It was now quite late and still raining, but hunger overcame us and we made our way to a close by restaurant before turning in for the night.

We enjoyed sleeping in a little the next morning as our flight didn’t leave until late afternoon. The neighborhood had magically changed overnight and what seemed a little scary the night before now seemed like a normal business area and we had a nice breakfast before catching our taxi to the airport for our 3 ½ hour trip to Bangkok.

It was great to be back in Bangkok. As we had lived here for 1 month earlier in our trip we are very familiar with the city and find getting around very easy. We booked a really nice hostel in the Silom district of downtown Bangkok. Our idea of hostels used to be that they were dreary, rundown places that were best avoided but this was definitely not the case where we stayed. We had a beautiful double room with AC, hot water, super-fast internet and a nice view from the fourth floor. There was cold beer and hot coffee available in the modern lobby. We had laundry machines available and a myriad of inexpensive restaurants to choose from on the nearby streets. It was only a couple of blocks to the local Skytrain station which gave us easy access to anywhere we needed to go for the 4 days we decided to stay in Bangkok.

We spent a good portion of the next day discussing future plans and touring the local malls and downtown area of Bangkok. We decided to see a bit more of Thailand before heading off to another country. We mostly saw the area around Bangkok earlier and decided to head north to the more rural areas of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai.

It seemed so easy to get around the next morning as we took the Skytrain and subway to the train station to get our ticket. Unfortunately the embassies we needed to visit for visas weren’t open on the weekends, but we found that we could get the one visa we needed on Monday morning if we paid a little extra fee for same day processing. The embassy was conveniently located just a few blocks from our hostel which made for an easy day of acquiring our visa.

The next morning we caught our train for our scheduled 12 hour ride to Chiang Mai. The ride was excellent, especially once we entered the mountains of northern Thailand. We had spectacular views as we made our way through the heavy jungle valleys and crossed many river bridges and passed through many tunnels. Our 12 hour journey became an almost 14 hour trip, but with the beautiful scenery we were glad we hadn’t taken a flight and missed our opportunity to see so much of this wonderful country.

We arrived quite late to Chiang Mai. We quickly caught a Songtaew into town. For those who don’t know, a Songtaew is basically a pickup truck with a shell over the bed and seats welded into the back. About 8 people can fit inside and the fee you pay is negotiated with the driver. We put our luggage on the top of the shell but many of our fellow passengers did not feel comfortable separating themselves from their bags, so we didn’t have room for both of us inside the bed of the truck. They conveniently replaced the bumper with an additional platform and that’s where I rode. I felt a bit like a fireman riding through the streets of our new town hanging from the back of the truck. What a great way to arrive to the city! We crossed the river and passed tons of bars and restaurants as we made our way into the old part of town where our hotel is located. The old section of town is surrounded by an ancient moat and we passed through the reconstructed eastern gate to the city on our way to our new place.

Unfortunately something went wrong with the booking and we could not get into our room as scheduled. We would not be able to check in for 2 days. The helpful manager took us to a nearby hotel just a few doors down the narrow alley we live on. The other hotel was a bit more expensive but very nice and had a full breakfast included so it turned out to be a positive.

Chiang Mai is a backpacker’s paradise, filled with inexpensive bars, restaurants and travel agencies on nearly every street. The narrow streets of the old town are not too crowded with cars and cheap tuktuks and songtaews are everywhere if you don’t want to walk. Almost 30 Wats (temples) are located inside the old city and there seems to be a parade, carnival or street fair everywhere we have been so far.

We extended our stay from 7 to 10 days in Chiang Mai and after a couple of days we got into our original hotel. It is very nice for such a good price and we have a nice view of the surrounding mountains and the pool area from our small balcony.

Tonight we are heading out to a Night Market for dinner. Our budget may keep us from doing some of the more expensive activities available in town like ziplining or riding elephants, but it seems like we will be able to find plenty of activities to keep us busy while we plan our further travels north from Chiang Mai.

Additional photos below
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8th June 2013

Great things can come from not planning
The adventure continues. As always great photos and back story. Love following along with you as you explore. Keep those blogs coming. We took the night train to Chaing Mai and it was not as comfortable as what you describe.
8th June 2013

Glad you took my advice about spending time in Chiang Mai...
but you have to settle down for a month or two. Perhaps after you return from Chiang Rai and points north.

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