Tag Archives: Thailand

Weeks 12, 13, 15, 16 & 17: The Thai Islands

The five weeks I spent flitting between Koh Tao, Koh Phangan, and Koh Samui (with a break to Borneo in the middle) were among my best on this whole trip. Each island has its own unique vibe and signature, though they all embody the quintessential beach lifestyle prominent in Thailand. Due to some good timing and a new travel buddy’s arrival (hey Court!), I was lucky enough to begin and end my time on the islands on Koh Phangan, attending not one, but two full moon parties. These wild nights were broken up by a relaxing stint on Samui and two glorious weeks on Koh Tao, which has definitely claimed the title of my favourite island. Check out all the deets below!

For the majority of my trip, the tried and true method for finding accommodation was to get to the new city and start asking around for a good place, often walking for a bit and getting rates from a few places before picking one to settle on (tip: ALWAYS ask to see the room beforehand!). Having said that, the week of full moon requires that you book something in advance; the increased stream of travellers heading to the island makes affordable accommodation few and far between. Derek and I lucked out big time the first time we went and booked into Phangan Rainbow Bungalows on a recommendation from friends. I since booked back there for full moon round II in August, and would highly, highly recommend the place to anyone else coming to Koh Phangan. Set in Baan Kai, these bungalows are far enough away from the main beach that you can get a good nights sleep and not worry about potential theft (which is pretty common on the night of full moon), but are only a quick taxi ride away from the heart of the party, Haad Rin. Run by an Aussie named Martin and his wife Noy, Rainbow is a great place to meet people, relax on the beach, and consume massive amounts of food. Seriously, the food. From western to Thai, everything I tried was beyond amazing. Particular favorites were the bruschetta, no name vegetable, and any of the curries. Come to the island just for the food at this place.

Now that I got that gush-fest off my chest, here’s what I actually got up to on Phangan. Known primarily as the party island, Koh Phangan never disappoints in this regard. In addition to the world famous full moon party (more on that in a sec), theres also a monthly half moon party, almost nightly pool parties, and there’s always something going on on Haad Rin beach. It’s pretty easy to fall into a pattern including copious amounts of beach, sun, buckets and dancing, though in different levels depending how much fun you had the night before. The Coral Bungalows pool party is not to be missed, but be extra careful while you’re there- it’s pretty easy to get hurt when a hundred drunk people are pushing each other into a pool all night. As another note, don’t go out too aggressively the night before full moon, it may leave you unable to fully (pun!) enjoy the epicness that is this party. I was dumb enough not to follow this cardinal rule, and though I thoroughly enjoyed myself at the pool party, I’ve never in my life been so hungover than I was for the July full moon (which also happened to be Derek’s birthday!). Still got painted up, still wore fluorescent clothing, still went to the beach, but most unfortunately, was not able to consume any alcohol (and I really did try). As I mentioned before, I was able to redeem myself in August when I attended to party with full gusto, but all the same it was pretty interesting to watch the happenings with sober eyes. First, I cannot believe how crowded that beach was! Everywhere you looked you were assaulted with neon clothing, paint, and glow stick bracelets. With the music pumping at full blast, the way these masses of people were dancing was contagious, if not a little comical. As an attempt to keep the beach clean through the night, garbage cans can be found every 10 or so feet, and even funnier, a sectioned off ‘sleeping area’ exists to contain partiers in need of a quick pick-me-up nap. At 4:30 am I decided to admit defeat and headed back to Rainbow for an early bedtime (by full moon standards at least), but found myself unable to sleep due to the energy drinks I had consumed in lieu of alcohol. Unsurprisingly, much of the next day was spent napping and recovering- Derek had made it to sunrise and was in desperate need of a good rest as well.

After six days in party paradise, it was time to move on. The week following full moon is the busiest time to head to Koh Tao, so I decided to take to less travelled route and grabbed a boat to Koh Samui for some serious relaxing. Koh Samui is known as the resort island, and true to form that’s what covers most of its coastline. I stayed at the charming Weekender Villa Guesthouse, which is not to be confused for Weekender Villa Resort, the former being almost budget friendly and the latter costing more than triple my daily budget per night. Run by another Aussie (this one named Tony), Weekender was the closest I got to luxury on this trip. In this case, luxury meant a private air-conditioned room steps away from an ocean-side pool- it was simple, but certainly a nice change from the fan rooms with shared bathrooms that I experienced most of my trip. As for what I did while staying there, there’s not a lot to say beyond suntanning, reading, watching movies, and recovering from the madness of Koh Phangan. It was a lovely place to chill out, but because of the resort-centered draw, I didn’t meet any backpackers (let alone someone my age) and was actually happy to be moving on at the end of the four days.

After a quick trip to Borneo (see the last post for that story) Court and I headed to Koh Tao for two weeks of diving, sun, hiking, and various other antics. We decided to complete our SSI open water certification with Big Blue Dive Resort on Sairee beach and jumped into it right away, attending our first class the day we arrived. A nice bonus of doing any diving on the island (esp any certification) is that most resorts include free accommodation in the deal and we were lucky enough to score a sick room of our own for five days. Now for the good part: diving!

Learning to dive was like nothing I’ve ever done before and I was surprised by how intimidated I was at first. I mean, it sounded amazing and I was really excited for it, but the first time we submerged in the pool for 20 minutes I really had to focus on staying calm and breathing. Maybe it’s because it’s been such a long time since I’ve had to learn a new skill in an unfamiliar environment? Or because as a perpetual nose-breather I had a hard time adjusting to using the respirator under water? Oh, and then there’s my completely irrational (but never ending) fear of sharks. Either way, it was an exhilarating, if not slightly daunting feeling knowing that by heading out into the open water I would definitely be pushing my comfort zone. As it turned out, the scariest part of the day was when we had to swim around the dive boat to prove that we were capable of swimming 200m, and it was my only ridiculous phobia that caused that moment of panic. Probably didn’t help that I had watched a bunch of shark week vids the day before… But! Despite wearing neon (I heard once that sharks may be more curious and attack if they see neon… most likely false) I did not get attacked, and we quickly suited up to begin our first dive! Once submerged, it became so peaceful and beautiful that there wasn’t really room to be nervous anymore. The rhythm of each inhale combined with the breath taking coral acted as the perfect relaxant, and after equalizing my ears and achieving neutral buoyancy, we were off. One of the coolest things we got to see was a giant green sea turtle, but it would be a very long (probably boring) list if I were to tell you everything that we saw on our four dives. Needless to say, it was epic. And as a side note, I’d highly recommend diving with Big Blue, especially if you get lucky enough to get Luke as your instructor. He scowled when Court and I were acting dumb, but we know he really loved us.

Another great thing about doing our diving right off the bat was it gave us the perfect opportunity to meet some dope people (Anton, Matty, Sam, Jim, Kelsey and Laura), which unsurprisingly made for some ridiculously fun nights. Koh Tao is home to a long running pub crawl out of Choppers Bar, and I’d be lying if I said Court and I only went once. It’s that fun. Plus you get a discount on your second time, what can’t say? Great times were had by all and even better times were had at breakfast the next morning, reminiscing/remembering the previous nights shenanigans. Other than a few nights of pub crawls/related fun, we spent most of our time lounging on the epic beach, hiking around the island (though Court did much more of this than I did), finding some amazing restaurants, and relaxing in a big way. We also did an all day snorkeling trip around the island, where, get this, I swam with sharks!! Take that shark phobia! To be fair, they were black tipped reef sharks, I only saw them for a second, and I’m still terrified of shark attacks, but it was pretty badass nonetheless. To top it off, our guide for the day, Mark, was such a ridiculous person that we were laughing most of the day. Case in point: before heading to shark bay he asked everyone on board if anyone way afraid of sharks. A couple people put up their hands and he immediately replied with ‘Good! You should be!’ and a throw-your-head-back laugh that I normally associate with crazy people in movies. Guy was hysterical.

After the utter joy that was Koh Tao, Court and headed back to Koh Phangan (and Rainbow Bungalows!) for full moon round II. Not wanting to make the same mistake as last time, I planned my nights out carefully and thankfully only ending up going out once before the full moon. Made some excellent friends at Rainbow (Sammy and Elan from Montreal) and reunited with some from Koh Tao to make a solid crew for out big night out. Started off by trekking to the girls bungalows- they weren’t that far away, but as anyone who’s taken a cab ride from Baan Kai to Haad Rin will tell you, those roads are steep. Arrived armed with fluorescent paint and a giant bucket, we set about creating a ‘sangsom punch bowl’ and various masterpieces on each other. I think Sammy won with his version of a skeleton on Court’s hand… Though she wasn’t impressed. Decked to the nines and with most (if not all) of our revolting punch gone it was time for cabs and the ridiculousness that is full moon. Unsurprisingly, an epic night followed. Surprisingly, we all survived said epic night and made it to sunrise together! After some serious hydration and possibly the worst drunk food I’ve ever had, Court, Sammy, √Član, and I headed back to Rainbow. But it wasn’t bedtime yet! Still buzzing from the buckets and on an endorphin high we decided the logical thing to do would be to grab some Changs, head out to the sandbar, and create hilarious perspective pictures and videos. Can’t decide what I enjoyed more: that morning or the full moon party itself, both were seriously so fun. But like all good things, this too came to an end and we all crashed sometime around 11 that morning. A fitful day of half-sleep, sweating, greasy food, and copious amounts of water followed.

And with that, I bid adieu to Koh Phangan and the Thai islands for the last time (on this trip, at least!) and headed off to Malaysia. Quite the story coming up there!

Ps. The wifi is not quite up to picture loading where I am right now, so you can check out my Facebook album here for some visuals!

Tagged , , , ,

Week 11: Chiang Mai & Pai, Thailand

Hello again readers! I’ve taken a bit of a break from blogging to fully enjoy the wonders of Thaliand (and Borneo, but that comes in later!), but the time has come to put my head down and catch you all up with where I’m at. First up, Chiang Mai and Pai!

After finally making it into Thailand (see you never, ‘roads’ of Laos!), I arrived in Chiang Mai with two girls I had met while in Vang Vieng. As a side note, be sure to check your departure stamp in your passport when you enter a country- they missed seeing that I had a Thai visa (even though i wrote my visa number on the entry form!) and only game me 15 days instead of the 60 that I should have received. Not too big of an issue, but it was a royal pain to go to the passport office in Bangkok and get it changed. In the future, I will most definitely be handing in my passport opened to the visa page and then double checking it before leaving the border crossing. Oh life experience! Moving on… We stayed at a little place called Jaidee House, which cost us a whopping 350 baht a night (approx. $3.50 each), and settled in with some awesome 40 baht pad thai. It was good to be back in Thailand.

There are four activities that really stick out when I think of my time in Chiang Mai, but they are by no means the only things to do while in the area (that list is almost endless). Leading off we have prison massages, followed by a Thai cooking class, elephant mahout training, and an epic night market. Sounds pretty great, doesn’t it? Here’s a complete rundown of each.

Prison Massages
We kicked off our time in northern Thailand, the good ‘ol fashioned way: by heading to the local women’s correctional facility and getting massages. Sounds a little off, I know, but it’s really a win-win for everyone involved. The women at the facility get practical skills and experience that they will be able to turn into a job once they leave and we get hour long massages at half the price! I’ll admit it was a little odd when we arrived there, but the women were very nice and the whole operation was well run. You’re going to get a massage (or 8) while in Thailand, why not do it in an environment that’s helping women turn their lives around? A must do in Chiang Mai!

Thai Cooking Class
This could very well be one of my trip highlights, out of everything. With so many different cooking schools to choose from in Chiang Mai, you’re pretty much guaranteed to find one that you’ll love. Haley and I chose ours based solely on the food options- five dishes in total and everything that I really wanted to learn how to cook. Luckily, Thai Kitchen Cookery Center has great food selection as well as awesome instructors and facilities. Highly, highly recommended! We started off the day by heading to the local market to buy ingredients and learn a bit about them. Our guide Gauw (pronounced Gail), showed us various types of basil, chilies, and even how to make coconut cream and milk. After this educational introduction we headed back to the cooking school to get started with dish number one: what else but pad thai? I had no idea it was so straight forward! It definitely helped they were super organized and everything was pre portioned, but still, totally doable at home. We followed up round one with green curry paste and then the green curry itself, chicken with cashew nuts, vegetable spring rolls, and caramelized bananas with coconut toffee sauce and ice cream for dessert. I can’t even choose a favourite, it was all that good. Plus, I got a recipe book to take home and help recreate it all, all y’all are welcome to come and sample my skills.

Elephant Mahout Training
For those who don’t know (I didn’t prior to this), a mahout is basically an elephant trainer and caregiver. Given this tidbit of information, you can now begin to understand what my second highlight was all about! We chose to go with Chiang Siam Elephant Mahout Training School Chiang Mai, which is a mouthful to say, but delightful in every other way (ha! rhyming). Our guide Noy was absolutely amazing, and it ended up only being the three of us on the tour, which made it all the better. After a quick stop to see a 6 week old baby elephant (beyond adorable), we made it to the center, grabbed a sack of bananas, and headed down to begin our training. Fully garbed in mahout training outfits, we started out by feeding bananas to a younger male elephant and then had a sit down with Noy to discuss all things elephant. From safety to riding commands, as well as their elephants stories and general facts, it was a really informative session. Next up we got to practice what we had just learned and hopped on Do Do’s back for some real hands on experience! Surprisingly, riding elephants is nothing like riding horses. Though I’m pretty at home on the latter, riding these beasts was a whole new ball game. I found that I was always leaning forward in order to balance, placing a lot of my weight onto my hands and wrists, while (trying to) control the direction with various leg positions and voice commands. Same same, but different, one might say. Quite a spread awaited us for lunch, and after we had stuffed ourselves to the brim, it was time to bring out the big guns and head out on our jungle trek. I had the pleasure of riding Boon Me, a 43 year old female who stood about seven feet tall at the shoulder. Jungle trekking was awesome and very surreal- I don’t expect I’ll ever be in that situation again. Once we got back it was time to treat our elephants to copious amounts of bananas and bath time. It was funny how much more comfortable we were with them by that point in the day; where at first we were timid and extra cautious, by bath time we were scrubbing their trunks and standing right next to them without batting an eye. They’re seriously cool animals, ridiculously big and strong, but at the same time utterly graceful. Definitely an experience I will not soon forget.

Night Bazaar
At this point, anyone who’s been reading about my travels knows how much I appreciate a good market (for those of you who haven’t been following, that’s a lot). I’m sure you can imagine how stoked I was to find a night bazaar in Chiang Mai that ran every single night. This thing was massive, the girls and I went three nights and I still could have gone again! So many vendors, so many items, so much bartering to do! Managed to score a couple tanks, a dress, and a jar of tiger balm (I’m sure I bought more, but it’s not coming to me at the moment). I have yet to find a market I didn’t like, and this one was no exception.

Well there you have it, my four highlights of Chiang Mai. As I said previously, this is by no means all there is to do there, the girls I was with also visited the zoo, and one night we went with Haley while she got a traditional bamboo tattoo (don’t worry Dad, I’m still ink free). There are treks, tiger sanctuaries, zip lines, and bungee jumps, among other things. Boring is one thing Chiang Mai is most definitely not.

Pai
After such an activity-filled five days, we then headed three hours north to the town of Pai. It was a glorious three days of almost nothing- eating, reading, card playing, and socializing was the everyday norm. That isn’t to say there isn’t anything to do- there are a couple of great hikes and waterfalls to visit, and as any place in Asia, a lively night scene. However, I decided to conserve energy and money and opted instead for a relaxing and cheap couple of days (which clearly make for riveting blog posts). Even though I don’t have much to say about it, I really liked Pai. It had a very chill vibe and everyone there was so nice. Mix that in with 100 baht bungalows and you have a real sweet spot. Before I knew it my time in Pai (and northern Thailand) had come to an end, it was now time for beaches, sun, and buckets on the islands. Hello hangover!

20120730-152615.jpg

20120730-152635.jpg

20120730-152647.jpg

20120730-152655.jpg

20120730-152710.jpg

20120730-152724.jpg

20120730-152743.jpg

20120730-152753.jpg

20120730-152811.jpg

20120730-152839.jpg

20120730-152859.jpg

20120730-152933.jpg

20120730-153002.jpg

Tagged , , , , ,

Week 2: Bangkok, Thailand

When we arrived in Bangkok late on the 11th one thing was immediately clear: this was the start of sweaty. Even though the sun had gone down hours before, the temperature still hovered around the 20 degree mark and the air was thick with humidity. After cabbing to Udee Hostel Bangkok we promptly passed out in air-conditioned heaven. We were in for a bit of a shock the next morning when we woke up to find that the AC had automatically turned off; this would be the first of many sweaty mornings.

Our first day proved to be pretty casual, we took a long boat up the main river for a bit of sight seeing and wandered around the city during the afternoon. Unfortunately, one of the more impressive sights in Bangkok, the Grand Palace, was closed as part of a ceremony for the late Princess (who passed away last July). After tooling around for most of the day (and getting some pretty good eats along the way) , we decided to go see a movie at the suggestion of another group we met at the hostel. An interesting fact about movie theaters in Thailand is that they play the national anthem before the film and you are expected to stand for it. In case you really wanted to know, we saw The Hunger Games and it was just as awesome the second time around.

We woke up the next morning full of grand plans to see the Grand Palace (pun intended), but these quickly dissolved when we heard about Songkran, one of the most epic festivals ever. Songkran is a celebration of the Thai new year where everyone throws water and smears chalk on everyone around them in order to rid them of everything bad and cleanse them for the coming year. Essentially, it’s a giant, city-wide water fight that lasts three days. Three whole days! We promptly bought water guns and headed down to the heart of it on Khaosan road. That afternoon was spent walking up and down Khaosan, getting absolutely drenched and dishing out some choice shots of our own. Without a doubt, one of the best days I’ve had on the trip so far. If I were to try and paint you a picture, it would go something like this: imagine walking down a street utterly jam packed with people, most of them carrying (and using!) water guns on everyone around them; imagine every fifth person or so smearing both sides of your face with a cool chalk paste to bless you; imagine music and laughter and screams of joy mixing together to create a sound all its own; imagine ice cold water being dumped on you everytime you pass a vendor selling drinks; imagine this, and you may have an inkling of what that day of Songkran was for us.

We spent the second day of the festival doing something completely different, but just as amazing. One of the girls we met at our hostel has a certain affinity for befriending everyone within earshot and promtly made nice with a local Thai man just down our street. He proposed that we jump in the back of his pickup truck, which he had loaded with buckets and a huge barrel of water, and he would drive us around all day so we could soak people. I realize that the way I’ve set this up it sounds a little sketchy, but I assure you it was perfectly safe; Thai people are just ridiculously generous. And so, that was how we ended up driving around Bangkok in the back of a Thai man’s truck for the the day. An absolutely epic day, I may add.

After three nights at our first hostel we decided a change of scenery (and a more central location) would be nice and so we packed our bags and moved to the D&D Hotel on Khaosan Road. A note for future travellers: if ever checking in to a hotel on Khaosan Road, don’t do it during Songkran. We felt like sitting ducks walking (read: pushing our way) through the crowded street with our huge packs and no way to defend ourselves. No one took it easy on us just because we had backpacks. That said, it was a great call to move to this hotel. At around $14 a night it was definitely pricy, but for that money we got a rooftop pool, private room with aircon and a tv with the most epic movie channel ever. This was also the place where we finally met up with a dear friend from home who we had been trying to connect with for the whole festival. Such a nice surprise to answer our door and have him standing there! Our last day of Songkran was spent in much the same manner as the first, though this time we finished with a rooftop swim and an epic night on the town.

We woke up the next day exhaused, but happy, and if I’m being honest maybe a little relieved to have Songkran behind us. After three days of maddness on the streets of Bangkok, it was nice to just chill out for the day. Thai massages, reading by the pool and many a movie (thanks never-ending movie channel!) were the only things on our list of to-do’s for the day. Feeling somewhat recovered, it was a cruel thing that we had booked our flight to Vietnam for so early the next morning. A 7am departure time meant leaving our hostel (and air-conditioned comfort) at 2:30 that morning.

This travelling thing is rough I tell ya.

20120507-144556.jpg

20120507-144612.jpg

20120507-144549.jpg

20120507-144626.jpg

20120507-144634.jpg

20120507-144641.jpg

20120507-144654.jpg

20120507-144700.jpg

20120507-144707.jpg

20120507-144720.jpg

20120507-144726.jpg

20120507-144741.jpg

20120507-144748.jpg

20120507-144801.jpg

Tagged , , ,
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 372 other followers