Saturday, August 26, 2006

20th - 24th August (Changmai internet cafe)

Maybe i should have booked something with the travel agent a bit earlier. I could have taken a coach for about 300B or a cheaper train option for about 600B but because i left it until the day i wanted to travel my only option is the 1000B sleeper train. I checked out of my hotel and spent a lot of time putting new photos on the blog to keep you lot happy. Arranged vietnam visa (i only remembered that i needed to do it when i heard someone discussing it in the travel agent) which will be sent to me in Changmai, this cost 2000B. I was killing time all afternoon until at the last hour i found a bloke who could put albums on to any mp3 player for 50B - I only had enough time and memory to put the new muse album on but next time I'm in Bangkok i will find him again. My taxi to the train station cost 250B (should have got a tuk tuk). Met Sally and Rachael from Loughborough uni in my carriage, about 20 and quite chatty then slept very well in my comfortable bed (much more spacious than in India). On arrival in Chiang Mai, i took a tuk tuk to Sarah guesthouse which i found in the lonely planet. Clean and basic for 200B, just what i needed. There are 3 obese dogs that live here, most dogs in Thailand look scabby and malnourished. After getting some tourist information i visited a tribal museum which was fairly interesting and then booked a 3 day trek for tomorrow which should take me to some hill tribe villages. There is a huge street market every evening in Chiang Mai so i spent some time looking around that; there is everything from fake designer gear to local handmade ornaments, there are even massage stalls so i had my first massage, half an hour, head, shoulders and arms for 60B, about half the price of Bangkok. The massage was a little painful at times but quite nice. Looked for a nice bar but i only managed to find the seedy looking ones so went to bed.

The Trek:
Just my luck, met the rest of the group, 10 Irish 19-20 year old lads, nice guys, big drinkers and quite entertaining but obviously as they are all friends travelling together i am often sat listening to conversations about school friends, teachers,etc. A group made from smaller groups and individuals would have been better for me socially.

Joe, our 62 year old guide likes to sing Elvis songs and play the harmonica (not all that well), he's a bit of a character and the lads call him 'crazy belly'!!!

There was a two hour drive into the jungle and then we were trekking. We all set off up the hills too quickly for Joe who told us we needed to pace ourselves, he was probably right, it was very humid and the sweat was pouring off of us. We walked for four hours up and down slippery muddy tracks - i didn't have too much trouble keping up with the young'uns who didn't have an ounce of fat between them but i struggled with the slippery downhills where my ankle was still feeling less than 100%. We finished up at a hill tribe village next to the river where we swam and washed (it was brown with muddy sand but seemed fresh), then we had a lovely dinner played poker and drank warm Chang. I had pictured something much more 'tribal', the village was quite basic but the people didn't appear to be any different to any other part of Thailand (I think we were expecting a little bonfire and people in bizarre costumes dancing around it or something). It was pitch black by 19.00 and all we had was candles and our little torches. At the end of the night us 11 lads all shared a big room.

The second day was more walking only this time we had a young guide called Sang who set off at lightning pace. Joe stayed at the village to take Care of one of the Irish lads who was really sick (the 8 whiskies the night before last plus the heat may have been a factor!) and the plan changed so that we would be staying in the same village again that night. The upside of this was that we were carrying less stuff than yesterday. We visited another village of a different tribe and again it was not what i had expected, they had solar panels and satellite dishes (apparently supplied by the government to all villages) and we never saw anyone in any of the tribal dress that i had seen at the museum. Sang calls me Rambo because i am the biggest in the group (that tells you how skinny these Irish guys are!) and i managed to snap a rotten chunk of wood in two to use as stepping stones. He has singled me out as the raft driver for tomorrow! We walked at quick pace for about 4 hours altogether before getting Elephant rides back to the village.
The Elephants looked healthy and well looked after so i didn't feel guilty about riding them. We were sat two to an elephant on a wooden seat with a thai driver sat just behind the elephants ears stearing with his knees. It lasted about an hour and wasn't too comfy, most of the journey was along the river but it's amazing how they can walk up steep narrow paths when they need to. Good food again and plenty of it followed by a Chang session that went late into the night.

Day three was no trekking. We were on bamboo rafts - 5 on one, 6 on another with a Thai driver at the front and one of us steering the back of each using a bamboo pole as a punting stick - it was a lot harder than it looked and at one point we nearly went upside down on the white water ( all our bags with cameras etc were suspended in the center of the raft). It was excellent fun. We went to a snake farm with an entertaining snake show on the way back to Chiang Mai

Friday, August 18, 2006

15th - 19th August (Internet Cafe in Bangkok)

Unfortunately the rest of my stay in Railey beach was spent without further climbing - however, i am determined to climb again soon.

On the 16th i found out that my nephew had been born. I was pleased and relieved that everything was ok and also a little bit sad not to be there.

To start with moving around has been difficult and i couldn't even walk the 400m or so to the nice beach. As the pain eased the beach was in reach but every time i got there it would go from scorching sun to heavy rain, so I have been reading a lot. I like the relaxed night life here more than anywhere else i have been and my Thai friends are very nice (ze germans left on the 15th) but the days are getting tedious so I have to go. I paid 3000B for my two and a half days of climbing (about 40pounds which i thought was good value), got a free 'Cliff Man' vest and tipped Bong 250B just because i am a great bloke.

On the day i left, it was raining hard and i had to wade into the sea carrying my stuff to get to the longboat - obviously i took my bandage off for this and left it off for my overnight bus journey to the dreaded bangkok - this has caused my whole foot to swell up so it looks just like Carly's did when she was pregnant. The bus journey was ok despite some unexpected stops/bus changes (the usual crap) and altogether the journey took from 14.30 - 05.30 to get close to Khaosan road. I still had to walk for about 15 minutes and all the hotels were full at that time, so I had to hang around for a while and wait for people to check out, this was fine as i managed to eat breakfast while watching ESPN talking about the build up to the new premiership season for about an hour. Decided that to pay 650B per night like last time i was in Bangkok would be far too extravagent so found myself in the worst shit hole i have ever seen for 150B, shared bathrooms, loads of writing on the wall and something that could be coke (or maybe sick) on the wall. Slept for a while before going out to do a little shopping, getting info on the overnight train to Chang Mai, and getting my head shaved to guard one for 100B
(bit pricey compared to India but at least i got what i asked for this time!) Currently checking out the tatoo parlours in order to complete my new 'double hard bastard' image. The Liverpool and Arsenal games are on in the bars later so i am looking forward to that, possibly with a beer or two.

Bye for now,
Uncle Adam.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

12th - 15th August (Internet cafe on Rayley beach with bandaged ankle)

Ralf, the german policeman, is about 6 foot 4 inches tall and reminds me a lot of Phil in looks and build - he is a nice chap and speaks good english. Ralf gave me a lift to Krabi, then we had to get a longboat across to Rayley beach where we met up with Ralf's rather iffeminate aquaintance Sam who looks uncannily like Jack Dee when he smiles.
Sam has a Thai friend who works here called Tam.
I have spent these few days mostly with these people and some other Thais (including 'Bong', our climbing instructor) from the climbing centre 'Cliff Man'. I am staying in a basic bungalow with no view and a spaniel that yelps in a high pitch for about twenty minutes from 06.30 onwards for 200B called Rapella, it has a nice powerful cold shower. I have done two and a half days of climbing and have loved every minute of it, unlike windsurfing i have taken to it pretty well. Ralf is bigger and stronger than me but he really struggled and gave up after one day. I have done eleven climbs so far and learnt some skills including belaying (where you control the safety line from the ground for the climber), and leading (where i do the first climb attaching the safety line as i go and then passing it through the anchor point at the top before being lowered to the ground).

I find the climbing really challenging which is probably why i enjoy it so much; when i really struggle to get past a point and my legs are shaking because i'm using so much energy but eventually get past it and on to a ledge where i can rest it is so exhilarating like nothing else i've ever done. Also, when you climb, you are thinking of nothing else, real escapism. Falling off is really depressing but if you try again and get past it that feels great. Climbing shoes hurt like mad because they need to be small so that they cup your feet into a claw shape. I've seen some excellent climbers including a japanese girl who was pretty much hanging upside down off of a rock - she said she had been climbing for two years. I hope i can carry on when i get home, using indoor climbing walls for practice. Today, i fell from just inches below the final anchor point, meaning that the previous tie off point was about two metres below me and i fell about four metres -
this wouldn't normaly be a big problem but i didn't manage to push away from the rock and somehow twisted my left ankle as i tried to stop from smashing into the rock, hence the strapping. My camera was strapped to me as i was planning on getting a nice shot of the bay from the top, luckily that survived intact, my ankle and my pride suffered more as i gradually got to the ground in an ungainly fashion. Rain stopped proceedings shortly after that anyway and i am hoping that i will be okay to climb tomorrow.

I have eaten a lot here and spent too much money mainly because the german guys are here on holiday (they are staying in a posh hotel) and always order loads of starters to share with every meal. My highlight has been spicey pizza at mom's kitchen. I have to keep reminding myself that it is still cheap by u.k. standards.

Monday, August 14, 2006

9th August - 11th August (internet cafe Rayleh beach)

When i bought my ticket i was a little unsure quite how i was travelling - apart from the boat part; the journey turned out to be quite an adventure. At 12.30 i was collected by minibus from my resort and after a few stops to let various people on and off and travelling at breakneck speed we arrived just in time for the boat from Nathon harbour. The boat to Surithani on the mainland was fine. I popped into the toilet at the Surithani harbour, came out and showed my ticket to someone official looking who spoke quite frantically in thai to someone else, who then pointed to the moped taxi. I hopped on to the back of the moped carrying my large rucksack and some hand luggage and was taken at high speed to chase the bus that i had missed, after some beeping and waving the bus stopped and i paid the moped man 40B. The bus travelled about 20 minutes and dropped me an indian looking chap and a japanese lad on a street corner where we got into another minibus and were driven for about 10 minutes, each dropped at different places, i was at a roadside cafe where i had to wait so i had some noodles. There were other travellers arriving here. I was sold my first nights accommadation at 'jungle huts' in Khao Sok and at 18.30 me and a few others who were loaded into 2 minibuses. I think something had been happening beforehand to do with one of the drivers who was apparently a bit of a psycho and a few of the travellers, and there were some very pissed off people on board. When our driver stopped for petrol, two travellers got off saying they had had enough and would get a taxi. They left and the pscho came over and started pointing, shouting and swearing. Everyone was a bit edgy now. Our driver raced ahead of the psycho but after a while he stopped because he didn't know the way! After some phone calls he went on and after a bit of searching around we found jungle huts, most of the others hadn't booked anywhere so they got off as soon as they liked the look of somewhere. I arrived at 21.30 in a basic hut with a bathroom and a bed for 300B.

I only stayed one night in jungle huts, after some looking around i moved to 'Baan Rimnam' at 200B per night.

Most of the jungle tours left early so i spent my first day just looking around and reading. This is rain forest and surprisingly it rains quite a lot, electric fails quite often as well. Met Kiam (a tour guide) who showed me where to stand for the 18.30 bat highway and sure enough loads of bats came flying through along the river. Kiam is a really nice guy and a good guide, he took me, a group of four young english girls and a 34 year old german policeman on the lake tour the next day.

The whole group was very nice and friendly and we had an excellent day on a long boat, walking through muddy island jungle tracks, wading through rivers, swimming in the lake and exploring a cave full of bats and big spiders.

I was surprised at the lack of wildlife, there were no birds but we did see 2 monkeys literally flying from one tree to another, colourful butterflies and dragonflies, leeches on our legs, and big lizards. We all met up later for food and drinks in a really nice place. Also spoke to some british people who work in Krabi, they gave me some really useful information and it sounds like a great place so i am looking forward to that. Coincidentally Ralf is driving there there tomorrow morning so he is giving me a lift.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

6th August - 9th August (Internet cafe on Rayley beach)

Okay, so the boat came in to Buddah pier, on the north of Samui. We took a taxi south to Lamai on the east coast - this area is not as lively or touristy as nearby Chawen but my first impressions of Lamai and Samui (from what i saw on the taxi ride) are that it is not as nice as Phangan or Ko Tao, it seems to have been ruined by tourism. Thye cheapest bungalow i could find was 400B and it was one row back from those with the sea view. AS usual, it was quite basic but fine. I share my room with at least 2 adult and 1 baby gecco (cute little lizard that is useful for eating mozzies and bugs). The girls are living next door but they have met up with some friends in a posh hotel so i don't see much of them. I have shaved off my rather impressive 10 day beard!

The weather is changeable - the most annoying thing is that as soon as i lay on the beach there are big gusts of wind and i am covered in sand, so i spend a lot of time walking around the streets instead. There are a lot of uk style bars. Spent an evening with a canadian guy and four german girls, the girls have mopeds and they say that the rest of the island is no better than here - i am planning on getting away as soon as possible.

Each morning i am awoken by what sounds like a half throttled cockerel - thinking of going to finish the job!

The best part of my stay here was a duck platter that i had in an authentic thai roadside restaurant (no frills - looked like a kind of undercover market), 130B and delicious.

Sliced my pinkey on a rock in the sea, bled like mad, i was worried that it would attract sharks so got out quick!

In the evening i went to the lively bar area and was constantly offered massage in a way that suggested something more sinister, quite a seedy area, and no, i didn't accept.

Paid 550B for a journey to Khao Sok national park on the mainland.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

29th July - 6th August (From an internet cafe in Haad Rin, Koh Phangan)

Hello again,

Some people who i met in Koh Tao (a couple of them were in our dive group) have turned up at cookies and they are my new friends for this section of my tour.

They are Simea, James, Maz and Sophia and they all know eachother from living in Dubai although they are a mixture of English, Phillipine and Lebanese origin. Later on James' brother Ben arrives and Simea leaves. They are all very nice and a lot of this week is spent with them, either sitting around chatting, eating, drinking, travelling about the island, whatever.

The weather has been strange, mostly hot but often cloudy and a few storms that appear out of nowhere. I spent about 3 hours on a beach one day without suncream because i could barely see the sun through the cloud - i turned very pink but eventually with a lot of aftersun i am back to my normal bronzed adonis colour.

While i've been here i've read 'The lion, the witch and the wardrobe' (it was the only english book i could find at the time) and 'Saturday' (can't remember the authors name but it wasn't great anyway). I am just starting a trilogy by Philip Pullman that Malachi gave me.

I have been hiring a 100cc moped for 150B per day (no helmet or anything - sorry mum) which has been great fun, whizzing about the island in a pair of shorts, sometimes on really dodgy dirt tracks, trying to find hidden beaches and stuff - sometimes on my own, sometimes with the others. We've made a couple of night rides to Haad Rin (the main party area of the island) which is quite a hairy ride even in the day. Sofia fell off the back of Simea's bike whilst trying to get up a steep hill, but she was ok.

We discovered a bar near cookies, run by an english bloke called Sam who is a bit of a character, there is a pool table and he introduced me to a drink called San Sung which i drink in large shots and tastes similar to vodka.

While i've been here, I have done a bit of snorkelling off the north at Mae Haad and saw a lot of fish in the lovely clear water, went to a half moon party (Koh Phangan is famous for it's massive full moon parties on the beach at Haad Rin but we weren't her for a full moon), and also tried a free yoga session with the others - i was a bit worried about you all taking the piss and calling me a hippy tree hugger if i ended up really getting hooked on yoga (some people stay here for years just for the yoga), it was interesting and the excercises were quite good but the whole spiritual side of it was a bit much for me (apparently there are 7 energy centres called Chakras in your body and the exercises are designed to absorb cosmic and earth energies into each of these chakras, with each exercise designed to bring different positive energies such as wellbeing, lucidity, harmony etc.) There was even some mantra chanting from the instructor. As i said it was interesting and worth a try.

Most importantly of all is food, as usual it has been cheap, usually fairly small, and tasty thai food and although meals are small they seem to be enough to keep me going, probably because i'm not doing much and also the rice expanding and filling my stomach. It's quite nice really to eat small meals instead of eating until i can't move like when i'm in England. My stomach still has the odd bad day but i won't go into that again. Last night we came to Haad Rin and ate in a very hot and busy seafood restaurant, it was expensive compared to what we were used to (300B about 5pounds), i had a nice seabass and also tasted some Shark which was really succulent and tasty.

James and Ben have left today - James needs to sort out a visa then they are meeting their parents in Bangkok. Maz, Sophia and I are getting on a boat in an hour to Koh Samui, the biggest island of the three on this side of Thailand. I'll let you know how i get on. Bye for now.