We flew from Luang Prabang to Chang Mai on Lao airlines. We had read some pretty bad things about this airline, but it turned out to be not too bad. The airport in Luang Prabang is small, but it works. We arrive in Chang Mai, and book into the Top North Guest house. WHAT A SHITHOLE!!!!! We are not that fussy when it comes to places to sleep, given that we generally donl't spend that much time in the rooms. But you only really pay for the swimmingpool. The rooms are dingy, the mattress is crap, and it has an old school feel about the place. The staff aren't that helpful (the ladyboy attendant was rude), and we moved straight out the next day to the All in 1 guesthouse, just next door. This is a brand new GH, the owners being french and swiss. The rooms are clean, bright and spacious. There's no pool, but really.....who cares!!!!!
Chang mai is bigger than you think it is. By this time, we were used to walking around. However, after our first day, we decided that hiring a motorbike was pretty essential. For 200 Bhart/ day you get a honda click, which
is pretty zippy. We then proceeded to pick out some sights to visit.
The old city wall and gates. The city walls and moats were oriented to the cardinal points and symbolized the mountains and seas of the outer universe. the 3 king monuments, temples and a 14th centuary Chedi ( a kind of temple that houses remains of buddahs and monks). Lanna temple, and a temple that houses a jade buddah. Its funny but the laws of the land state that there should be not photography of buddah statues. You can photograph everything else. So why do people still photograph these statues??? CRAZY WESTERNERS!!!
We took a bus to Surathani, which is a quiet town, more famous for its old ruins. Its pretty quiet otherwise, and there's no real nightlife or anything to talk about. We stayed at a lovely place called...... Here we met up with a group of people, 1 spanish (can;t seem to get away from them), 1 german and 1 bulgarian (which was a new one for us). That evening we went for a cycle ride through the countryside. It was a very pleasant evening, and the local girl who acted as our
guide, took us along the river, through tobacco plantations, and even sampled some snake wine (suppossedly an alternative to Viagra...hummmmm!!!). She took time to explain how the tobacco was harvested, dried and then composed into the tobacco we all know. She also introduced us to a vegitable called fack. No I haven't spelt it incorrectly, that's the real name, and unsurprisingly, there have been many incidents where the name has gotten people into trouble, either from misinterpretation or mispronounciation!!!! Try telling someone you want a fack soup, and you may get the idea (or a smack in the face)!!!! The snake wiskey is.....well its rice wine fermented in cobra!!! Yup, you see these bottles of fire juice everywhere. It seems to be a delicacy on this side of the world. And cobras seem to be the snake of choice also, I guess because it has more of a visual pull. The fangs and teh insides are pulled out, and the snake is carefully pushed into the bottle, and presented in an eyecatching way. Some even have scorpions in it too, which supposedly addes to the strength of the wiskey. I did try a sample, but i have to say, it
did not have the desired effect for me (much to the appreciation of Carmen).
The ruins of Surathani are very pretty. We took a local bus to the grounds, and hired a bicycle (there are many to choose from). Its a huge place, and a bike is highly recommended here. There are many ruins with statues of buddah in different positions. Each signifies a different aspect of the buddah life.
After this we headed towards Bangkok. Its a 6 hour bus ride there, so we took an overnight bus. The buses here are pretty good, and we soon fell asleep, ignomous to the night time happenings of thailand.
We got to Bangkok, and the bus station there is as busy at 5am than any major city centre. There are many taxi drivers josteling you for custom, but there are pre-paid taxis which are a safer bet than others.
We arrived in Khao San road, the hub of bangkok tourism, and were stunned by the sihgt of ladyboys getting out of poeple's cars at 6am, obviously after a night of something. The streets were filled with people still drinking, and we wondered what the hell we had
let ourselves in for. We hadn't booked ahead again, so proceeded to walk around the area in search of some accomodation. We soon found ot that no hotel will give you any room (unless you have prebooked) until after 11am. Since it was only 6am, thus began a really long day of hanging around with increasingly heavy backpacks!!!
We finally managed to book into the D&D hotel. Its actually not bad at all, and bar the repetetive fake DVD films on rotate, there's a swimmingpool and buffet breakfast included.
Khao San becomes even busier during the day, getting to its height around 6pm. There are many places to buy all sorts of things here, with products from billabong, volcom, fila, rip curl, fake sunglasses, music cd's, the works.
We booked a day tour to Kanchanaburi, and this, fo me, turned out to be one of the main highlights. The bridge over the river Kwai was a classic film about WW1 and the Japanese invasion of Thailand. The bridge was bulit by POW's, at the merciless insistance of the Japanese, given that it was there only way of getting weapons and stuff to their fleets without being attacked
by allied forces. Its was bombed and built again, and many POW;s died in building it. Its now a museum, beautifully done, and you even get to go on the train for a short ride. Do be aware though, your not the only one, and the train is usually rammed with tourists.
There is also a cemetary comemorating the lives of soldiers that died for their country during the war.
The final leg of the tour is really the most exciting. Some people may have seen a documentary about Monks who have befriended Tigers, and now live freely with them at their sanctuary. This is known as Tiger Temple, and it is where we went to get the most facinating experience of our lives. We ot to sit up close and personal with these tigers. We entered what at first loooks like a huge Ranch, with cattle and cocks and pigs roaming freely around. We then enter this cavern, and are greeted by the sight of 6 Asian tigers, chained to the ground, surrounded by their handelers, and a monk who presides over the events. The Tigers look healthy.......and BIG!!!!!! Tere are amazingly not fussed by the crowds
of people who have lined up to interact with them, but we do remember that these are still wild animals, and anything could happen at any time. Given this inheriant risk, there are several handlers around, ready to puill you from the grasps of these tigers. There are some rules that you must adhere to, and suprisingly there were many people who were either not told abouut these rules, or plainly though to ignore them. Well, do so at your peril, because if yo donlt follow these rules, then you don't get it!!! The rules are, no bright colours, no dangly things hanging from you, wear clothes that cover you (no vests/skirts/skimpy outfits). You must respect themonks, as this is their home, and its their rules. So if you are about to go on this tour, please respect them.
The interactions are free for all, but for a fee of 1000 Bhart (about $30), you get to have your picture taken with the tigers head in your lap. Its such a once in a lifetime experience, that its worth it. The money goes into looking after these amazing animals, with the intent of one day releasing them back into
yes there is a cobra in my drink!!!!
the wild. Taking yor camera, the handlers lead you by hand towards the Tigers. Theres a strange feeling as you approach these animals from the side, that you are now in such close proximity to one of the most dangerous animals in the world, that you really should not be doing this, that any minute now you are going to get that snarl that send shivers down your spine and deposits brown watery stuff in your pants!!!! But, amazingly, these seem like such gentle creatures. They stare at you as you approach them, but seem half asleep, and unbothered with the goings on around them. They are like lazy homer simpsons. The only thing missing is the drool from the mouth and the scratching of their bellies.
I am guided through a maze of Tigers. 2 big, adult tigers, that seem bigger than me, 2 baby tigers sleeping at the back, another 2 adult tigers that no one is aproaching as they look really pissed off (infact 1 snarls at me, and is duely told of by the handler), and an adolescent one. As i rest my hand on one of teh adult tigers, the power that seems to
and i still drank it
no viagra feeling thou!!!!
surge from it to me is almost overwhelming. The size of the paws is enough to make you tremble, the muscle that you feel from its hind legs (where i am standing) is certainly more than i have, and i am awestruck at the power that i feel. The 2 baby tigers are cute and cuddly. They are fast asleep on some rocks, and i dare not disturn them, such is their tranqulity. Its like watching a human baby asleep. You just don't want to make a sound, wake them up, and then put up with the deathly cry of a pissed of baby!!!!
My penultimate encounter is with the adolescent Tiger. I was due to have the head of the adult tiger on my lap, but seeing as it was no longer sleeping, and was now pacing up and down in an unsettled, just woken up mood, it was probably wise to leave it well alone. The adolescent Tiger was still half asleep, and it was the best time to get this head in my lap shot. The Tigers head is seemingly yanked by its chain onto my lap, and there is a moment when you look at
the handler and ask "is that a wise idea man?" but the Tiger is oblivious to it, and the shots that are taken are just fantastic. I forgot to mention that the photos are taken by one of the handlers. No flash, as this can scare the Tigers.
I said penultimate encounter, because the best was yet to come. The handlers shut the walkway off at 5pm, and ask anyone who is in a rush to get home to leave, or else be stranded for an hour as they take the tigers back to their enclosure. Well, its a good idea if you stay, because you get an encounter you are definately unlikely to get ever again!!!
Wef are all huddled to the side of the cavern, making us look as big as possibe, and keeping us all in on group. The handlers then proceed to walk the tigers one by one to their enclosures. They seem such graceful animals, and there is even a spot of footbal played between one adult tiger and her handler. One baby tiger is playing up, and rather like a todler who does not want to go home after a playful day,
temple of buddahs
sitting in judgement
is pulled by its tail in a bid to get it moving. Once all are removed, there is one adult tiger left. This is where the fun begins. The Tiger is the alpha tiger. The bos of the tigers. He is led by the monk, back to its enclosure. and we get to walk back with the tiger and the monk. There is one difference here. the tiger has no chain to lead him!!!! Again there are some rules to follow. The girls have to stand on the opposite side to the monk. No touching the monk. stand behind the tiger (no shit!!), and keep walkiing. You may be lucky enough to get sprayed with tiger urine during the walk, but its well worth the wait.
We got towards the enterance, and as the tiger made its way up with the monk, there seemed to be a comotion with the other animals. Alll of a sudde they seemed to be running towards the tiger, and it all seemed very strange, and now very dangerous. Here was a wild, unchained carnivore, with cattle and pigs running towards it. People were starting to tail off, unsure what to do.
the animals were coming for their evening feed, and there was a truck that happened to be coming towards us, that they were interested in. The tiger just kept walking, whilst sacksof potatoes were thrown off the truck, and the other animals went into a feeding frenzy. Thak god the tiger did not feel the same!!!!! There was a point when one of the bulls came charging towards us, and everyone (including the handlers) ran for cover. We hid behind a tree, hoping that the bull would miss us, and it seemed it was only a mock charge, as it continued to eat it way trough a sack of potatoes.
It was a great day out, and the pool at the end, when we got back to our hotel, was more than needed. Something i would definately recommend, and put on my things to do before i die list!!!!
We visited the royal palace, and this is an emense palace, filled with gold looking buildings, and lots of buddah images. It so happened that the kings sister died recently, so the whole country was in mourning. They really take this thing seriously. You would never get this
kind of thing (at this extent) happening in England!!!!!
Shopping is a must when you get to Bangkok, and Siam square is where its all at. We took the sky train to the city centre, and this is actiually an amazing thing. Its very clean, very organised, and developed countries could do worse tha take a look at this model for their reference!!!
We bought sooooo much of stuff that we had to send some stuff back. Infact it came to 10kg of stuff!!!! All in all, we spent 5 days in Bangkok. We never meant to spend this much time there, but its so big, and there was so much to do, that we could have stayed for longer. The food is amazingly cheap. If your staying in Khao San, Rambutri road, just around the corner, does amazing fresh fish (a whole snapper and 4 large prawns the size of lobsters) cost about $5!!!!! We lived on Pad Thai noodles and fish for our entire stay, and it was truely amazing!!!!!
OUr next stop was Ko Samui.
This island promised to be something great, but in reality, well, it was a little boring. We stayed
on Lami beach, and we were shocked at how dirty the beach was. It really wasn't that impressive, although th ewater did look very inviting never the less. There's not much of a party life, and i guess thats because they are all at ko pa nang for the full moon parties. There are, however, a plethora of old men (mainly british), who like nothing better than touching up young thai girls. Its not that nice to see actually, and really put us off the island.
We hired a motorbike again, and this proved to be one of the last times i would do (for a while at least!). These automatic bikes are pretty nifty, but going up a steep hill, with a lump in the front, was always going to be a struggle. So Carmen got off, and was running up to meet me. I was fooling around (as usual), and was not looking where i was going. The hill that we were trying to climb had steep falls either end, and.......well, i fell down one!! It was one of those things, where i could see what was happening at the last minute, but no mater what my
sneaking past guard
royal palace, Bangkok
brain said, my body did not follow, so instead of braking, i accellerated, and off i went down the hill. I really thought that was going to be the end for me, and whilst Ko Samui is not the worst place in the world to die, it was not where i wanted to die. Lucky enough, i hit a tree,and fell off, suffering a full thickness burn to my rt leg in the process. I was really lucky that this was all the injuries i sustained, and i managed to walk away relatively unscathed, and the bike was ok too!!!
We did some diving in Ko samui, and whilst it was fairly clear, there wasn't all that much to see. The leg hurt all the time, and i even had little cleaner fish nipping at my wound all the way. Howeve, it was nice to get back into the diving, after 2 years out!!!!
Our next stop was Phuket. I was looking forward to this, as many people had told me how great it was. We stayed in Phuket town, away from all the hustle and bustle of the main tourist traps, and its much cheaper to
stay here. Patong beach was just mad!!! The beaches were lovely, and the water beautiful. Its just that there are so many people here, that it takes away from the experience. I guess it depends on what your looking for, but really, this was not it, and we were a bit disappointed.
However, we did hook up with a young oz girl from margaret river, and we went out to Patong beach for a night on the tiles. What we got was unadulterated, full on party town, The lady boys were out in tonnes, and i even got kissed by one (yuuck!!!).
After many beers, we got back, and my head was the worst i had ever experienced before!!!!
OUr next stop was Ko Phi Phi island. This was beautiful. Its true that this, along with Phuket, was probably the hardest hit by the 2001 tsunami, and whilst Phuket shows no signs of the trauma, Phi Phi still has lots of signs. There are buildings that are still in their traumatised state, not because of lack of funds, but more the red tape that comes with building regulations and so forth. However, its such a pretty island,
that all that can be looked by, and we had a great time here.
We did some more diving here, and the marine life here was far better than the other side of thailand. We saw turtles, Leopard sharks, reef sharks, nemo, mornay eels, so much, that it was a shame we had to eventually get out of the water.
There are many bars on the island, but the one that stood out is the reggae bar, which has a kickboxing ring which, if you so wish, you can invite your mate onto, and proceed to kick the hell out of each other, all for a bucket of alcohol at the end!!!! Its very amusing, and some take the business more serious than others, but its all in the name of alcohol!!!!!
Last, but no meand least on the tour was Krabi. This is a gem of a place, and i don't think it gets that much of a call on the tourist map, but it should!!! Krabi town is pretty, but quiet, and the main action id on Railay beach and Ao Nam. We visited Railay, and were greated by great limestone scenery, crystal clear waters,
and one of the top ten rock climbing sites in the world. We gave this a go, and it was one of the coolest things we have ever done. For 1000Bhart, you get half a day climbing, with all equiptment and guide, and water. It is enough if you have never done anythng like this before, and by the end, we physically could not do anything else. But we both did really well considering, and bar the final climb, we managed to do it all!!!
So that was out thailand experience. It was huge, as i have written loads, and we certainly enjoyed every minute of it. On to Malaysia, and our penultimate stop.
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