Friday, 31 January 2014

The Journey South

Our journey down south was surprisingly pleasant considering it was over 1400KM. We started by taking the sleeper train from Chiang Mai to Bangkok which was awesome, you pay just under 300 Baht more than the bus but my god is it worth it. You get your own little bed with a curtain for privacy and it is pretty comfortable too, they have a restaurant carriage where we popped in for a few drinks and that basically turned into a party where we got chatting to lots of people. The restaurant/bar closed though at a reasonable hour (probably a good thing) and it was time for bed. We got woken at around 5AM the next day by the conductors and checked the GPS to see where we were in the world. We decided we needed to jump off at the next stop rather than go all the way to Hua Lampong (Bangkok's Railway Hub) so we got off, got straight into a taxi and headed for Don Mueang Airport where we had a flight to take us to Surat Thani. I didn't plan on taking any flights while I was out here but its a hell of a distance going all way by land so I thought I could splash out on this one.

When we got to check in they told us we would have to pay 900 Baht each if we wanted to check in luggage. What!? We had checked the small print (well we thought we had) allowing 15KG free but realized we went with a different airline in the end which didn't offer free luggage. After some smooth talking to the lady she told us she would allow us to take all of our stuff on as hand luggage so that we did. It was at that point Dave and I realized how many banned items we were carrying (scissors, liquids more than 100ml, aerosols etc) but we thought we'd 'test' their security and just chance it. Sure enough though we were pulled and they went through all of our stuff, I blagged quite a few bits as I politely argued that the stuff was probably under 100ml but in reality almost certainly wasn't. The main thing I needed to keep though was my medicinal shampoo for my psoriasis as I'm not sure how easy it is to find in Thailand, it was way over 100ml but after a bit of pleading he checked no one was looking and put it back in my bag for me. What a guy! Dave unfortunately though lost his special Thai rice whiskey which we hadn't even had chance to taste.

We had a few hours to wait now before our flight so had a little nap in the departure lounge. It was then time to board, up in the air we then went and one hour later we arrived to Surat Thani. From the airport it was all smooth sailing, we bought a joint bus and boat ticket from the airport to get us to Koh Samui. The bus was ready and waiting and took just over an hour to get to the pier. It was then 1.5 hours on the water until we arrived on Koh Samui. Sweet!

All in all this is the furthest distance travelled in one sitting it took exactly 24 hours on the nose from the train leaving Chiang Mai to us arriving in Samui. I was dreading it before we left but it fact it was all rather quite fun.

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Chiang Mai second time round

I loved it before and I still do, Chiang Mai is a really cool place, end of. We ended up staying for four nights and of course many an event happened, like always its impossible to put them into words but for my future self reading this, and of course you, I'm going to try.

The first night was hilarious, we had travelled up from Sukothai with two German guys who had pre booked a guesthouse, when we arrived though it was full. The lady said it was ok she would call her friend and we could stay at her guesthouse (when I say hers both of them were lady boys but that's by the by. It just added to the humour) after our long journey we just wanted a room so we said we'd take a look. The rooms were huge but it was an almost derelict building, very strange indeed. As Phillip and Ben (our German friends) had already paid we decided to stay with them just for one night and head to JJ's in the morning (The place I stayed last time I was there) our night at the first guesthouse was comfortable and adequate but it was good to back at a place I know (even if half the roof was missing) Once we checked in we rented some bikes and headed up the mountain to Doi Saket.

Why I had not been here before is beyond me, last time I rented bikes in Chiang Mai I went in a different direction but man am I glad we found this place, after the 10 mile ride up the mountain we got to the famous temple. There were a lot of people there but it somehow still seemed really peaceful,  we got blessed by a monk, did a kind of ancient chinese fortune tellin done by Buddhists called see-em see (I dont know how to spell it) and good things are ahead of me it seems.  After our temple visit we headed higher up the mountain, our destination was a small tribal village but getting there involved an very rough dusty road where extreme caution was needed. We arrived and realised we were now quite peckish, they didnt speak any English so I asked if they could knock up khao pat gai kai dow (one of the dishes I can order in thai and they are guaranteed to do) it was aroi (delicious). After our lunch it was getting kind of late so we made our way back, on our way we encountered some Thai guys having trouble with thier car they had got the axle stuck on the side of the bumpy road and need assistance in lifting it off, it took a few of us but we done it, they were extremely grateful. Off then we headed back down the mountain where we stopped for the most spectacular view of the city below.

The evening saw us head to Zoe in Yellow, a.k.a Zoes, a.k.a Yellow Bar, we had actually been there the previous night and had such a blast we wanted to do it again. The place was packed as usual, mostly full of farang but some cool Thai lot too, I spent the night chatting to them and It wasn't until near sunrise that I found my way back to the guesthouse. The following day was hangover day and I spent most of my time in bed whilst the others went on a elephant trek, I had done it before and as my foot is still bad from falling in Lop Buri I thought it was a good opportunity for me to rest it. In the evening though we headed to, you guessed it, Yellow Bar! What a night yet again, this time I crawled back in at 9.30AM so it was a nocturnal one for me again zzzzzzz.

My experience in Chiang Mai this time round was superb, I had been to the city before and seen a lot of things so I used this time mostly to socialise with some of the best Thai people I've met. Now we must make the journey south to the island of Koh Samui, it's a long old way! Ill let you know how it goes.

Friday, 24 January 2014

Back on the road

As I open this post im sat on a bus going from Sukothai to Chiang Mai. Since he arrived in Thailand Dave and I have been to Pattaya, Lop Buri and of course Sukhothai. Pattaya was again a crazy time, although I had my first proper run in with the police which was a load of bullshit, I know all about the police here and how corrupt they are and I've been lucky to avoid it up until here. We were riding our motobikes along Jomtein Beach and came accross a make shift pull over spot directly aimed at tourists, they asked us to produce our international driving license which I do own but didnt have on me, Dave didnt have one so basically we were told that if we didnt pay a 500 baht fine *cough* bribe we would have to go to the police station so we just paid up to avoid hassle. Afterwards we figured it wasnt so bad, it wasn't extortionate money but it didnt end there. In the evening we were still riding around and were on our way back to the hotel where we made a wrong turn, we did a quick U-Turn, something that is perfectly standard and perfectly legal as far as I know but just as we were to enter the main road again a policeman on the corner whistled us to stop. I was not up for paying any more money so I just ignored him and drove past but Dave unfortunately got grabbed on the arm and was a 1000 baht lighter before he was on his way. Pattaya really pissed me off this time by its police conduct, im not sure I'll be returning anytime soon.

Following Pattaya we headed to Lop Buri, the infamous monkey city where I had also been once before. We had decided to stop over the night here to break up our journey up north. When we arrived we found a cool looking guesthouse but unfortunately the last room had just been snapped up by the people before us so the helpful young guy at reception gave us a map and directions to another one just down the road. later on we went back to that guesthouse to drink at their bar then headed to a Thai bar filled with lots of friendly locals. On the way home though I managed to trip over the ridiculously uneven pavement and sprained my ankle pretty badly. In the morning the pain was agonising so I went to the drug store to get some cream and pain killers to fix it,  the lady couldnt speak English and I ended up walking out of there with bloody Trammodol, 10 pills counted loose from a huge pot put into a small baggie, these were given to me with no instructions so its lucky i knew what they were, these are pretty strong painkillers. Then we went to see the monkeys one of which pee'ed on me from a powerline then we headed further north to Sukhothai taking the train to Pitsanulok to change the last distance by bus.

Upon arrival to Sukhothai we jumped in a tuk tuk and headed straight for the 4T Guesthouse, a place I thoroughly enjoyed staying before. I have considerably more hair on my head now but after showing the staff some pictures they remembered me which was nice. We spent three nights here and during that time we relaxed by the pool, explored the old city on motobikes with another girl we met from Belgium, and on the final day I was able to meet up with one of my students from the English Camp we had in Chantaburi. He and his friend run a small market stall selling t-shirts so I swung by to have a chat and buy one.

So I am still on the bus, its the same bus I took before (which was arduous to say the least) and again im sat on a shelf at the back this time though theres two mattresses instead of one but the bus keeps stopping and adding more people. This time though the air con is not flooding the place so it's not so bad. I kinda need a pee though I hope we stop soon we got a few hours to go yet.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Scares and Excursions in Surin

I've been here in Surin now for just over two weeks, I've been working at the Surawhittyakarn School doing my last English Camp (for the time being anyway) We are teaching Mattayom 6 students which is the equivalent to the British 6th form so the majority of the students are 18. The school has 4000 students so its pretty big, we have had to run five, two day programs to enable us to get through all of the year. The school is one of the best in the city and houses some great minds, I have been working with students who will soon be going on to university to study: medicine, pharmacology, engineering and more, they are a seriously good bunch with a great sense of humour! All of the other camps I've worked have been for a maximum of three days but with this camp It's been considerably longer, we've been staying at the pretty decent "Petchkasem Grand Hotel", the thing that pleased me the most when I encountered it was the soft mattress on my bed, it's something I had been without for a long time.

We have been working from 9am until 4pm each day and have been free to do whatever in the evenings. The first night we went out, Will and I decided (of course) to find some bars, after a few drinks we thought we should head back as we had an early start the next day. The problem was we couldn't remember the way back to the hotel or even the name of it. Whoops. Feeling somewhat tipsy we decided to try and retrace our steps, we came accross some familiar looking places but ended up after some time just walking around in a circle. We kept walking until I spotted this very dark, very sketchy looking road come alleyway and I had the bright idea that it was a good shortcut to get where we wanted to go. You're very unlikely to be mugged or attacked in Thailand like you are in England so I wasn't scared of that but why, oh why, did I not think of the wild dogs that could have been, and were lurking down there. Shortly after entering the road thats when the barking started, what we had stepped on was a canine territory I'd wished we never. We thought we play it cool and just keep walking as at that point we couldn't see the dogs, maybe they were barking at something else (we hoped). It then became much louder and it was very aparent that it was getting closer, there was no chance of us running back so we had to bolt it to get to the end. The faster we ran the louder the ferocious noises became, I quickly checked behind me and saw at least four dogs chasing us but assumed there to be more. My heart was pounding and the adrenaline was pumping, there were no other people around in earshot so if these creatures caught up with us we were in some serious shit. I was running in flip flops which is almost impossible so I made the decision to kick them off to enable me to gain more speed, from here we just kept running as fast as we could until we reached the main road at the other side. It was here that the dogs stopped chasing us and we were safe, it was also here that the realisation of what could have happened sunk in, my heart was going a million miles an hour and it took a while for us to catch our breath. We were now out of immediate danger but I was minus shoes and we still weren't in any better position, the street looked vaguely familiar but again we still weren't sure. We continued to traipse the streets all the while my feet collecting everything Surin's streets had to offer. That day seemed to be the day the cockroachs were out in full force, it was pretty rank. Finally we found what we were lookin for; the hotel. Yay! I gave my feet a thorough wash and went to bed, that was enough exitment for one day.

After working the first five days we had the whole weekend off to explore,  naturally we went to find motorbikes as its the ultimate way to do it. We didnt really have a destination so just headed off out of the city to find some inspiration. After an hour or so we started to encounter some incredibly rural areas, the most rural parts of Thailand I've seen to date. As we rode through the village we got some strange looks coupled with some amazing smiles, it was certain that these folk did not encounter farang too often if even at all; they were all highly curious. After riding on through ducking and weaving all the chickens and cows we continued our journey until we spotted a big Buddha statue on a hill, this was obviously now our destination so on we went up the hill to check it out. When we reached it there was the most spectacular view from the top. After taking it all in we continued, in the close vicinity was a number of other interesting places, we found a replica of the Buddha's footprint in a peculiar looking building and a nature trail which we took by foot and nearly got lost in. It was then time to head back, sunset was soon upon us and we knew there wasnt a single streetlight for miles and miles. We made it back to a main road in time, what a fantastic day!

The following day we headed off again, it was much the same although this time we went much further. We came across another village and found a place selling beer, during our refreshment I quickly checked my GPS app to discover we were closer to Cambodia than we were to Surin so we thought we'd head to the border to check it out, we'd also heard of a big market there and wanted to visit that too. As we got closer it dawned on me that I wasnt carrying my passport and there are always police checkpoints in the border town areas. The worst that could have happened is I would of had to of paid a 1000 baht fine (£20) but I didnt really feel like doing that, that sum of money has been lasting me days recently. In any case we thought we'd risk it; might as well. The roads towards to the border were incredible, almost brand new, we picked up some serious speed and it was a mega rush. After an hour riding we reached the market and stopped to check it out, there was lots of stalls and I picked up a couple of Buddhist charms, one for me and one for Sorn my friend from Streetlamp who had kindly given me one a few weeks before. When we were finished with the market we headed the last short distance to the border itself. Almost immediately we encountered an immigration checkpoint although it looked very quiet and it was quite possible the policeman was asleep. We decided to just caine it straight through with no intention to stop, it worked out just fine. A bit further down we passed another and did the same thing, again all was perfectly fine. Then here we were at the border itself, it was a much smaller crossing to that of Poipet and immensely less chaotic. We had only come to quickly observe as we didn't want to push our luck our luck by sticking around too long so we turned around and headed back,  it was again the most excellent of days.

My impression of Surin has been entirely welcoming, it epitomises Thailand's slogan as "The Land Of Smiles" there are some great very friendly people here. It's not a common backpacker destination so should I not have had work here I probably would have never have visited. Tonight is our last night here so we're off out to have a few drinks, im looking forward to heading back to Ayutthaya now as I will be meeting my friend Barnsey who arrives in the country tomorrow. I will be moving out my apartment in a few days to continue my travels and start a new chapter.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Happy New Year 2014

Its been a while since I last posted and in between that time I've done many a thing including another English Camp, this time in the Surat Thani provence down south. We stayed in authentic Thai accomdation where showering involved a bowl and some very cold water from the tap. It was simple, soap yourself up, fill the bowl from the tap and chuck it over your head a few times. Since my last post Christmas has also come and gone, I had a brilliant time celebrating with my best friends, although it was very different to how we celebrate in the west it was still great. We hit Coffee Bar on Xmas Eve and then headed to Bangkok Christmas Day staying at one their friends apartment (Boss) who I'd not met before. I was surprised actually because Thailand is a heavily Buddhist country but there were still many decorations around and in the malls certain places had classic Christmas songs playing which was a nice touch; they seem to really love this holiday. The highlight of Christmas for me was when Fai gave me a present on Christmas Eve, I wasn't really expecting anything but what she had made was a diary documenting some of our experiences and her thoughts, I was so overwhelmed by it it made me well up considerably, it was surely one of the best things I had ever received. She speaks pretty good English but to write it down is much more challenging so I know this would have taken her a long time to make, she had also decorated it with pictures and doodles. A lot of thought went into this and I will treasure it for life. The diary was presented to me with some homemade cup cakes with candles, it was perfect.

After having a wonderful Christmas it was time to start thinking about NYE. I originally had a few ideas but decided it would be good to stay in Ayutthaya, a place I had grown so much to love. I ended up spending my night at Streetlamp, they had so kindly requested the pleasure of my company and wanted me to be the announcer for the night, welcoming everybody, introducing the bands etc (and of course to sing as well), they also tasked me with the biggest and coolest job of all; the countdown! In exchange for this they offered free food and free alcohol all night.. sorted! The night was incredible the place was packed out, the stage was set up outside on the street and looked really smart, it was one of the best NYE nights I've ever had. When the countdown was up, it was HAPPY NEW YEAR and the everyone went mad, I gave a short very drunken speech on the mic whilst everyone was out of their chairs and started dancing all over the street, we were setting of fireworks and sky laterns it was superb.

So here we are into 2014; now for a little time of reflection. 2013 was surely one of the most defining years of my life. It was the year I decided to take on a life of travel and adventure for which I can positively say there have been no regrets. 2014 will see me continue my story, meeting new people, visiting new places and having new experiences I never once believed possible. Since being in Thailand I have learnt a great deal about myself and even more that I'm not aware of. I've been able to see and understand more about the country by getting a job allowing me to heavily submerse myself in Thai culture. I am very lucky as the job I've been doing is also something for which I have great passion for, working with children. I have also been able to learn a lot of the language and only plan on learning more, I have no doubt that one day I will live in this country; I really have fallen in love with it!

I have just one month left in Thailand before I move on to Cambodia for where I will stay roughly a month. From there I'm undecided, I originally planned to go to Vietnam and Laos but I'm thinking to cut out Vietnam this time as it would be very rushed. I have to return to the UK mid April sometime to sort out my Visa for the states as I'm returning to work a second year at Camp Awosting (some readers here will not know but prior to coming to Thailand I worked on a US Summer Camp for 3 months teaching guitar)

I have another English Camp (my final camp) coming up on the 5th which runs until the 17th so this is much much longer than anything previous; it will be in the provence of Surin. I arrive back to my apartment on the 17th when on the 18th I will be eagerly exited to see my friend Barnsey who will be turning up to Ayutthaya. He would have arrived in Bangkok the day before. The tentative plan is to first head back up north visiting some of the places I have already been so I can show him. I am looking forward to this as even though I've already been to these places I'm sure to see new things. After we see the north we will be hitting the Islands down south, a territory that will be completely new to me. It's gonna be sweet!

HAPPY NEW YEAR everyone, lets make it one where we all work together to make this world a better place for all! x