three days in the jungle

i might have mentioned before that as soon as i got to chiang mai loads of people tried to sell us trips into the jungle, i wasn’t really up for it at first, but when got t the place i’ve been staying here and talked to the owner to find out what the deal wa, i thought it could be fun. i signed up for three days and two nights in the mountains and jungles above chaing mai. proper ray mears style some of it!

the trip didn’t start so well; in the way to thdrop off point we were only about 30 seconds behind a crash involving a double decker, vip bus and a small two seat truck. we heard the impact only just around the corner infront of us and drove ahead to see what had happened.

the bus was lying on it’s side, glass everywhere, the truck was barely recognisable having been crushed against the barrier and pushed down the road. myself and two other people on our trip had brought first aid kits and we set about helping the people from the bus with their grazes and glass cuts. some thai people were getting the two people in the truck seen too; the woman in the passenger seat had died upon impact, the man driving was layed out on the road under banket to keep the sun off him and was seen to by the emergancy services who seemed to arrive in no time. he didn’t look too good to be honest , we later heard that he died the way to the hospital. sorry to bring such harsh news but it was a big part of the day.

after about an hours drive from there and with spirits raised a little we arrived at the drop off point; a dust track leading away from the main road up into the hills. the day was hot but there was a breeze, we had plenty of water between us (us being two czeck, two welsh, three canadians a spaniard, myself and two guides) and we set off upward. the scenery was beautiful; large green fields of corn and soya, dusty terraces where rice would grow in season and teak and pine forrests. the hills were steep, some of the climbing was hard going as we had to carry our clothes for three days, food for the same, water and our sleeping bags (i also had camera bits and a tripod of course :)).

our first stop at lunchtime was at a red karen hilltribe village. loads of smiley peope and houses on stilts. we watched as a woman of about 80 worked age old ‘machinery’ to seperate the husks from the rice they’d harvested then sieve the rice in wicker pans and let the husks blow away in the wind to the waiting pigs and chickens to eat. beautifully simple and totally effective in the hands of a master.

from there we walked further up hill into the mountains, the views were awesome, you could see for miles across wooded hills. it took about 2 hours to reach the next karen village where we would eat dinner and stay for the night. dinner was traditionally cooked red curry with noodle soup and rice and loads of pineapple and watermelon to finish off. some of us had the foresight to bring some rum and whiskey and we were soon sat around a roaring campfire with a guitar singing whatever we could all remember the words to. the lack of artificial light gave way to more stars that i’ve ever seen in the sky before; the milky way was so clear.

we woke early…i have an ever lasting hatred of cockerels…to breakfast of toast and eggs (you can get more free range than here; we saw one woman follwing hens about looking for where they’d layed eggs! all over the village!) and on to the next part of the trip, the elephant trek!

these elephants seemed much better treated than the ones in k’buri. they were chained up late at night but when they weren’t ferrying tours about they were allowed to roam free only to be located by gps whenever they were needed. we were given bananas to feed to the hurd as they arrived. it’s quite as experience feeding an 8 ton elephant a banana and realizing that despite the size they’re very gentle. the trip took us about 5km further on through the jungle to a clearing where we continued walking upwards :s

this was then the point at which the 2 day trek and the 3 day parted. they went on to do the rafting which we would do the follwing day, and we headed off, downhill luckily, to the waterfalls where we’d set up for the second night. we didn’t have to walk far, maybe an hour or so before we heard the waterfall. the setting was beautiful; three bamboo and leaf huts at the bottom of the cascade and wonderfully refreshing (freezing) water in which to get cleaned up. dinner that night was cooked by a shan tribesman, green curry with chicken and eggplant and loads of coconut rice. i woke in the morning to a perfectly framed view of the waterfall through the door of the hut, something i may never get to do again.

we were allowed a little more of a lay in that day as the next stop was only a few miles away and we had some time to spare. we set off, downhill again, my legs getting sore by this point to a waiting truck to take us to the lunch stop and then on to the rafting center. we were told to leave everything behind in the truck, all bags, clothes other than what we needed and no cameras! i was a little disappointed at first as i wanted to take some shots of course, but upon seeing the method of transport i realized it would be best to leave it behind. the rafts were ten long pieces of bamboo lashed together with bicycle tires that were partially submerged but still floating perfectly when the five of us got on. i was given a smaller bamboo stick and instructions on how to steer. off we went, gentle at first but the water soon got wilder, never proper white water but certainly fast flowing. at one point it was more like surfing and we all struggled to stay on. i thought we were doing really well to stay dry until we rounded a corner to find hordes of waiting thais ready to splash us…soaked to the skin we were but we retaliated and got them just as wet!

so the trip finished, we sat in a roadside food hall and took on plenty of water before boarding the truck and making our way home listening to bob marley and reflecting on the past few days. myself, jeremy and his girlfriend tara arranged to meet up later on in the evening for some food but lack of energy had me going to bed not so long after we’d eaten and had a few drinks. got to be refreshed for the trip to chiang khong and on to luang phrabang in laos.

arriving in chiang mai

i can’t say that there’s a great deal to post, i’ve arrived at the hostel, the room’s not ready yet and i have free internet šŸ™‚

ok, so the bus arrived late, nothing wrong with that, this is thailand after all and after 3 weeks i’ve gotten used to it and know that there’s no need to worry; everything happens as it should, just never at the right time. the bus was one of the behemoth double layer things and was full by the time it got to us, popular place chiang mai. there were 7 of us that couldn’t get a seat on the top deck but were sat int he underbelly of the bus on a circular, lounge style sofa with a fridge full of beer. i could already see the way this trip was going to go. we started off laughing and joking about; the two canadian couples were hilarious. one pair were very accomplished divers so i took some time to chat about the places they’ve been and got some advice about the course i’m doing on koh tao in a few weeks. it seemed as tho people had had busy days and the motion and noise on the bus had most people asleep a few hours into the trip. i dozed off only to have my dreams interrupted by the driver over the PA announce “IF YOU WANT TO WAKE UP, WAKE UP NOW, HALF HOURSTOP, GET FOOD!” ‘if’ he said, geez, the pa was at full volume, the people in the coach next to us got woken! what was this place? it was like an oasis, a collection of vending machines and mystery meat stands in the middle of nowhere, literally, nothing for miles about and here we were at 2:30. the only thing that looked remotely appetising to me at that time in the morning was the fruit…the only stand withĀ no-oneĀ behind it. i called a guy over and he chopped up some pineapple for me and i headed by to the bus to claim my space and get some kip. everyone else got on, i got comfyĀ  and before i knew it we’d stopped again in the city of chiang mai. really too bleary eyed to pay too much attention and already being bombarded with reps trying to sell me tickets to shows and jungle treks i can’t really comment on the place yet. i did get driven past the night market on the way to the hostel, obv. nothing going on as it’s only 8:30am but going to head up that way tonite with the camera and see what’s happening. i have three days here so going to look into doing some yoga classes, see the countryside and probably do a 3 day, 2 night jungle trek to see the tribalvillages. it’s pretty much of the beaten track but looks really well organised. about time i got to see some thai life other than beaches and bars.

floating market and the trip to ayuthaya

i got checked out of the ever so useful rambuttri hotel, stored my bag for the day and waited outside for the lift tto the market to arrive. and i waited. and i waited some more. ‘thai time’ i reminded myself, could have stayed in bed a little longer. oh well. it finally showed up after picking up the other trip-makers; three german girls and a couple, rupert and verity.

the drive took us about 1.5 hours outside the city to a coconut farm of all places (and i thought i’d booked to go to the market…and early to see it at it’s best :s) it seemed as thought the tour guide, a very small thai woman who kept falling asleep in the bus, was more excited about the coconuts that any of us were ever going to be. not a great deal of time spend there thankfully. the 6 of us exchanged wottied looks thinking that we were now facing another hour or so back to the market. not so. 15 mins later we were parked by a bright yellow speedboat…thai style. think ‘man with the golden gun’. got it? this thing was fast. the speed made even more apparent by the fact that we were hurtling now narrow canals with 90 degree bends, bends that the driver seemed not to slow down for; he just dipped the boat to one side and gunned it in the direction he needed. awesome!

in no time at all we were at the market. i’ve experienced chaos before but not like this! people, boats, fruit, hats, color every direction you looked! the food was wonderful, rupert, hong-kong born, had been brought up on this food all his life and was invaluable as a guide to what to eat next. stuffed, overwhelmed and a little tired by this point we headed back to the minibus to continue eating the fruit and make our way back to the city. got some amazing photos, every direction i looked there was something worth snapping! great morning.

upon returning i collected my new shirts from voglee, bought a new wheeled bag to store the purchases thus far and swapped some clothing from my backpack and left it in storage. the tuk-tuk driver from the previous day’s trip to the temples was waiting for me as arranged and we headed off to the station. or so i thought until he pulled over to the side of the road, told me he was taking me to the tat (thai authorised tours office) to get my train ticket there. tuk-tuk- drivers get paid by certain shops or services to take tourists there on the way to their intended destintions…this place was his sponsor and he’d triedthe same trick the day before. i knew i couldn’t buy a ticket there without getting ccomodation or a sightseeing tour aswell. i objected; he told me to get out, no pay (too f*cking right!) and then drove off! here’s me, middle of nowhere, bags heavy and a train to catch! cue taxi driver šŸ˜€ 150b, straight to the station and onto the train. 15b for a ticket north lasting about 2 hours..get that british rail!

ayuthaya is a pretty little place, surrounded by a moat made up of 3 conjoining rivers, the center of town is walkable from one side to the other in about an hour. i was saying in a beautiful 19th century traditional sytle place right on the river. traditional meaning no glass in the windows, a foot wide gap between the top of the wall and the ceiling and gaps inbetween the floorboards. don;t get me wrong, it looked incredible! my enjoyment wore off when i went to bed and the lack of enclosure meant that the deafening traffic noise kept me awake all night. no lie…i was starting to go crazy at 5 in the morning with dogs barking, taxis and tuk-tuks rocketing by and huge lorries going past every few minutes. do NOT stay at the bann khunpra guesthouse unless you’re deaf!

first thing in the morning, check out of there, wandered up the street to what lonely plantet calls ‘the backpacker ghetto’ and into a superb restaurant/guesthouse, tony’s place. get chatting to a canadian couple, have some food, book a river tour and my bus ride to chiang mai. i felt more relaxed instantly, felt even better after a beer šŸ™‚

the river trip was great, got to take in 2 temples, some beautiful buddha images and the most impressiver ruin to date. a huge site with red brick structures. to see it just as the sun was getting low could not have been more perfect, check the photos!

got to meeting some really great people on the trip; enricq and karen from austria, kate from switzerland and karen (#2) from cornwall. we spend the evening swapping travelling stories and tips, we’re all going in a similar direction at different times and had some great food and a few drinks (ta to enricq for the pear schnapps, feelin’ it today buddy ;))

i’m doing nothing today. sitting on my ass reading a book waiting for the overnight train to chaing mai leaving at 20:30 can’t wait to see that place, everyone i’ve talked to who’s been raves about it.

phi phi to nai yang

colin and laura, having already checked out of their bungalow the previous day, called us to let us know they had found us a room in nai yang and we arranged to go out and meet them. nai yang is a quiet resort north of phuket, very near the airport from whick we were all flying on the 13th.

we got our room packed up and checked out with plenty of time to spare so had another wander around the market stalls and sat on the beach for a final time.

the crossing was so busy; the thais really pack people onto these boats! the top deck had the only space but was far too hot to sit out on. the only people brave enough were already totally bronzed, i still look like a ghost and had no intention of burning. we ended up sitting on the floor by the doorway to the top deck, comfortable enough as the air-con blasted past us. from arriving at phuket bay it took about a half hour in a mini-bus to get to the resort. the room, although quiet expencive was beautiful. we were right next door to colin a laura in a semi-detached type bungalow, about 200 yards from the beach. there are only a handful of building in nai yang; a few bars, as many restaurants, a couple of thai massage places and a shop or two, so far removed from anywhere i’ve been so far.

colin and laura had already been there earlier in their trip so knew of a few places to go…the first being a bar of course…wat’s bar! now this guy’s ace; maybe 25 years old, thai through and through apart from his broad london-east-end accent…you really double take when he first speaks. ‘orwight ma(t)e?! haas i(t) goin’ then?!’. his mum (known to us only as ‘wat’s mum’) works in the same long hut as the bar and makes incredible food for peanuts! the first night i had sweet and sour chicken pad thai for about 50p. really good it was too!

after a few drinks and a good chat with wat and his mum and laura’s thai cooking lesson learning to make tum yam soup we took ourselves back to the rooms and had a drink and a giggle on our balcony before chatting about what to do the following day and turning in.

the following day was scorching! i took off up the beach with the camera with my eye on a group of thai fishing boats at the far end, got some ok shots but the heat drove me back to the shade of the parasols by the bars.

the plan for the day then; hire a long tail boat and drive and go snorkling at rock island (no shade in any part of that plan, but i need a tan anyway). we got talking to a man about a boat, withing a half hour he would be ready to go. just enough time to buy a bed sheet from a vendor on the beach and drop of off back at the room before we were on board and rocketing off to the dive site.

rock island sits with a beautiful, if not slightly murky coral reef around it. we dove to about 15ft surrounded by some very colorful and strange looking fish, all of them as interested in us as we in them so we got up really close and personal! there were also a few jelly fish and sea lice, enough to notice the stinging, and enough stinging to not stay in the water for too long. after an hour or so we headed back and sat in the shade. perfect opportunity to continue writing in my book before heading back for a shower.

that evening we sat in the only ‘proper’ restaurant in the town, an italian, and i did fancy a change after all the thai food recently. our food was incredible; rib eye steak prefectly cooked, the best carbonara i’ve ever had, wonderully grilled seabass and a perfectly baked pizza…with a few drinks…for four people…about 18 pounds. the service too was as you would expect in a top london restaurant. great enought to warrant a tip to the staff; we were generous, so much so that the staff returned after we left the bill to tell us we’d given them too much. we told them it was a tip, they thanked us and politely walked away only for us to catch them jumping for joy and hugging each other. the tip was nothing to us, about 3-4 pounds each, but you should have seen the reaction!

today i’m back in bangkok after an easy flight back from phuket. anna has gone back home (hope you had a good trip if you get to read this), missing my traveling buddy but got somegreat things ahead. going to do the temples today, the floating market early tomorrow, best go and get it book.

hope everyone at home is happy and well, keep in touch guys šŸ™‚

amy’s favorite place

post monkey feeding, anna and i had our last night in krabiĀ atĀ an italian restaurant listening to two local guitarist play, afterwards we got tickets to koh phi phi booked and hotels reserved. after such a full on day, chilling out with a can of chang beer was all we wereĀ capable of!

we woke the next moring early to catch our ride to the pier and our ride to koh phi phi. the ferry was rammed full, indication that the island was going to be the same way, good job we already had a contact there in the way of anna’s friends colin and laura toĀ  get our room sorted. the trip took about 2 hours, the cabin we were in was freezing; air-con running on overdrive but the top decj was sweltering in the sun.

we arrived at about 12 midday to a perfect island view; white beaches, palm trees and a perfect blue sea (amy, this place is just as great as you described it!). there are no cars on phi phi, no roads even, so our transfer to the bungalow was a man powered cart navigated through windy pazed streets covered in fine white sand. once checked in to the room a very excited anna was met by an even more excited colin and laura, it’s been about 3 weeks since they’ve all been together and a few days here will be good catching up time for them before anna goes home.

we spent the afternoon poolside at the waterfall bar;Ā  a bar that you swim up to, order food and drink and then sit on submerged seats and loo out from the top of a waterfall across the sea to the sheer limestone headland about a mile away. like something from a bond movie.

toĀ  be honest the day disappeared, before we knew it the sun was going down, the sky turned to purple – Ā got some great photos of silhoetted palm trees – and the air got cooler (still baking hot tho) and we returned to get ready to go eat that evening.

colin’s recommendation, a seafood bbq and grill place right on the beach did us perfectly. serloin steak and two huge king prawns set me up for the evening (just about finished me off to be honest) but we saved just enough energy to head from there to ‘hippies bar’ to sit on reed mats on the beach chat with the people around us and watch a killer fire show; fire breathers, poi spinners and fire stick spinners. best was this 10 year old kid, fast like you would not beileve!! got some great photos too but have to find a better connection to get them uploaded. worn out by this point there was very little to do other than retire to the bungalow, sit anf drink some ice tea on the balcony and realise that it was time to get inside after the mosquitos got hungry. going to come back to phi phi at the end of the trip for sure, totally relaxing and after roughing it in the northĀ a little time on a beach will be great.

taking a kayak to see krabi’s monkies

after yesterday’s very dodgy stomache which left me unable to move from the room; my time spent either on the toilet,Ā praising the fact that the air-con reached as far as the bathroom or in bed waiting for my next visit to the former, today has been the ying to the yang.

we booked a day’s trip by kayak around the nearby islands from thalen bay just north of krabi. it wasn’t just kayaking tho, we started off with started off with a short trek to see a set of caves used my some well respected buddhist monks, one one which housed a fresh water pool from which the monk was able to sustain himself for 15 years whilst meditiating.

outside of the caves we swam in a fresh water pool; a very welcome respite from the day’s heat and this at only 10:30am, the big heat was still to come.

the kayaking trip that followed was incredible; we set off into electric blue waters around a bay made up of sheer limestone cliffs. we paddled for about a half hour through a mangrove plantation teaming with long tailed marmosets; on our lunch stop was at a pier where we got to feed them; got up so close you sould stroke them. really kinda cute too up close, but get a little aggressive.

i spent most of the trip staring straight up at the cliffs letting anna, sat in front on me – oblivious to my laziness, do all the paddling šŸ™‚

it was the thai countryside scenery that you see in the movies; ‘the man with the golden gun’, ‘the beach’, movies like that are filmed here and i’ve finally seen it, (we’re going to koh phi phi, ‘the beach’ location tomorrow)Ā  and to see it first hand makes what’s seen on screen pale in comparison.

yesterday’s bad gut and today’s exercise has left me feeling knackered. i’ve just made a call home to my parents (hello mum, hello dad, i know you’re going to be reading this soon :)) and notĀ i’m off to bed.

hope all the people i know and love are happy and well. M

never will i complain about the british public transport system again

we woke early to pack and get ready for what we knew would be a long day’s travelling to krabi. unfortunately, anna woke up really ill, and there was no way she was going to make the trip that day. after some deliberation and some toing and froing between the travel agent we booked the tickets with and the guest house in krabi via the internet cafe across the street, anna made me go on ahead to get the guesthouse whilst staying inĀ the care of luke and cathy promising to join me the following day.

i waited for ages outside theĀ hotel. knowing that i had to be on theĀ  coast to catch the ferry i was getting a little worried. ‘thai-time’ kept reassuring myself. sure enough about 40mins late the minibus arrives to take my on a very swift trip to the ferry port…only to get my ticket stamped and be on another bus! No! I need to get off the island, not take a trip around it! They know what they’re doing, surely. i’s been told about buses like this. you sit, if you’re lucky enought or early enought to get a seat. you stand…on top of others if necessary if you arrive later than the seated few (i was a stander) else you hang on to the outside, hang on to whatever you can and take your chances that the journey is a smoothe one!

finally at the ferry port the guy who appears to be in charge ushers us off but leaves the bags on…more confusion but we find later that this was only to get us up on deck, the bus followed us onto the ferry and met us the other side.

the crossing was incredible, i saw the island and it’s hills disappear behind us and the mainland and it’s mountains appear out the the sea mist ahead. the weather was incredible, drank plenty of ice cold water and got chatting to a well traveled scotsman, ryan, also bound for krabi.

at the other side we rejoined our bus to suri thani, the main town in the area to meet our bus from wherever to krabi (how all this is syncronised is beyond me) within 15 mins of arriving at the suri thani bus station (a cafe and the side streets around it) we were lead to a tuk-tuk that took us to one of the side streets to get the bus (for one horrific moment i thought we were making the 6 hour long journy in the tuk-tuk!). i was quiet, only 20 or so people and had air con. on the downside the suspension was shot to hell, we were bounced about all over tha place and theĀ breaks gave out this stomache wrenching scream everytime the driverĀ made an attempt to slow the bus down. this was the leg of the journey i was hoping to get some rest…no chance.

after 6 hours i awoke as we pulled up at a gathering of buildings under a sign saying ‘krabiĀ Ā  ‘. there’s no way THIS is krabi…a dozen or so huts and a taxi rank! upon further reading the sign said ‘krabi station’ (i remember from the guide that krabi station is 4km or so north of the town and i felt somewhat releaved. a short tuk-tuk ride and i found myself at the b and b guesthouse. clean, quiet and cool. dok, the man at the desk is this short, smiley thai with a fantastic laugh and really helpful. i got settled in, showerded and changed and met ryan for some food and the great beer i’ve ever tasted.

it’s now tuesday, anna is moments away from getting here. i’ve talked to her already and she sounds much better tho i’me sure she’ll be tired. we’ll get some food and look around the town today. tomorrow hopefully will be a trip to koh phiphi, the location for ‘the beach’, some snorkling and some monkey spotting. there’s loads to do here, all outdoors and all active, great after the laying about over the past few days.