Rachel and Matt’s World Tour
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Category — Thailand

Northern Thailand

Hello all,

From Laos we crossed the border back into Thailand and headed straight to Chiang Mai, a great town with plenty of stuff to do, so we hung around for 11 days. We took a brilliant cooking class with just the 2 of us and our teacher, Mr Visut, who’s english was hilarious!

The class included a tour of the market, cooking up and devouring 5 delicious Thai dishes of our choosing, a garnishing lesson (be impressed by the photo of my perfect tomato rose!), and an awesome cookbook to take home. We spent a couple of evenings at the vast night market, buying gifts for some of you, and treats to eat for us.

We also went on a disastrous 2 day trek to visit tribal villages, ride elephants and go bamboo rafting. On day 1, after starting with a tiring uphill trek it began to rain…very heavily…for several hours.

Not only were we uncomfortably drenched from scalp to toenail, but the leeches came out for supper. I had one on my belly (no idea how he got there) and Matt had several on his legs, as did another of our companions, also Matt. Gruesome. The other girls in our troup, Elaine, Sarah and Frances, luckily escaped unsucked. It was then very slow going to the village which was our stop for the night, as the pathway turned into a stream in some parts and a mud slide in others. We cautiously crossed a rickety bamboo bridge across to the village where we were so exhausted we surprisingly slept right through in our ‘shack’. We found out in the morning that the bridge had been swept away by the river in the night and so our alternative walk back out of the hills was greatly increased. Of course the rafting and elephant trekking were now out of the question as a result of the dangerously swift river, and ruined tracks. Our optimistic/ lieing little git of a guide, Tri, told us our walk out of the hills would take 5 hours. After 4 hours of steep uphill walking, we were ready to drop but luckily a couple of lifts from very friendly locals much reduced the walking (which we estimate would have been at least 10 hours as we were in a car for over an hour). We had a relay of lifts as the rains had caused flash flooding which had completely taken out several patches of the track, so vehicles were stranded. After lunch, we foolishly felt relief thinking our hardships were over, and were collected by our vehicle to take us back to Chiang Mai. We soon came across a stream that had overflowed, cutting off the road. We waited for over 4 hours for the water to slow and drop, which it did appear to do, but slowly. As it got dark our guide finally decided to try to cross the flooding. When Matt (not Doran) asked why we were trying this now, and why the locals were building rafts, the encouraging response was that the dam upstream was going to burst, so we had to get going to high ground. Of course the truck got stuck almost immediately, so we ended up in the fast flowing waters, in the pitch black, trying to push the bloody thing out. We did not succeed and I was petrified. The 4×4 that had been watching our antics decided that it would be sensible to also enter the water from the otherside. His intention was to get close enought to rope pull our vehicle out but the fool also got stuck immediately. In this sorry state our patience and calm broke and we collected our bags and demanded we get going up the road, and leave the vehicles. Our guide encouraged one last push of the other vehicle which did actually get back out of the water. So then he told us to head up the hill and he disappeared off into the night to get help. Stranded alone in the dark we tried to laugh off the days events, but I think in actual fact we were all pretty scared, and just praying he was going to come back. Luckily our rescue vehicle was quick to return as the police/ranger station was not far down the road (no idea why Tri failed to tell us this or get help earlier). So not much later we were safely back in Chiang Mai with an exciting story to tell and a new bunch of friends – funny how bonding a near death experience can be! The following night was spent drinking to our bravery and dissecting every minute of the trip! The photos indicate that there was also dancing but I don’t much remember that! Matt, Frances, Sarah, Elaine – we couldn’t have been luckier than to ‘enjoy’ the experience with you guys. Thanks.

We did get taken on our elephant trek the next day but refused the offer of rafting. We had seen more than enough of the river. The elephant ride was brilliant. Our elephant was a mummy, so baby followed along. He was very cute and even more greedy for bananas than his mum!

From Chiang Mai we had to take a day trip to the Myanmar border do extend our Thai visa. Not much to tell except the border towns are dumps and the ciggy sellers in Myanmar are way pushy even though their goods are EXTREMELY cheap.

We took the train to Phitsanoluk to enjoy a day cycling around the stunning Sukhotai ruins, which was once the Thai capital. The grounds were beautifully kept. We also stopped in Lopburi to visit the cheeky monkeys that swarm around the ruins there. There were literally hundreds including babies that were only a few days old.

We have been enjoying the increased modernity of Bangkok for a week now; never ending malls, massive cinemas, and shamefully, Starbucks and McDonalds. I had a great day at Chatuchak market which has over 10,000 stalls. Matt says it was hell on earth following me around. It didn’t help that late in the day the rain blessed us with yet another downpour, and the market flooded. We also visited the very impressive Grand Palace, The Temple of the Emerald Buddha and Wat Pho, which has a 46m long reclining Buddha, with pretty pearly feet! We had a great seafood dinner on the streets of Chinatown and many of 7’Eleven’s banana cakes for breakfast (mmmm!).

It is hard to believe we have been in South East Asia for nearly 6 months. Although it has been awesome for the most part, the delicious food, jaw dropping scenery and some great people, we are not completely unhappy to eventually leave. The slower pace of our Nepal trek, and escape from tuk-tuk drivers, various touts, and in particular suit sellers, is now very welcome!

Our next update should be in a month or so when we are back from our trek in the mountains. Fingers crossed for no twisted ankles or altitude sickness!

September 22, 2009   10 Comments

Island Hopping

It’s been a while since our last post and nearly a month since we arrived in Thailand.

After arriving in Phuket we had our first taste of Thai hospitality when our taxi driver conveniently forgot where our guesthouse was. After a very frustrating visit to their travel agent ‘for directions’ (and a sales pitch) we did eventually manage to get the driver back in the car and get in the general area of our hotel. After a call to the owner he managed to find us arguing with the driver at the end of the street. The driver was maintaining that after being given directions several times that he still had no idea where it was, but of course he could take us to a much nicer hotel. That’s pretty much how it works in this part of the world- not quite the land of smiles, more like the land of con artists, touts, scam merchants and seedy bars, but after a month we are used to it and can avoid most of them! Phuket was an odd place. It was low season when we were there and in the bars the tourists were far outnumbered by the go-go girls!! The beaches were great though and I had some fun with a body board.

After a few days we took a boat to Koh Phi Phi. The movie, The Beach was filmed on one of the islands though it was far from tranquil when we saw it having been invaded by loads of boats loaded with day trippers. We stayed in a nice bungalow on Long Beach, a short walk from the main village on the island. Phi Phi was badly hit by the 2006 tsunami so a lot of the bars and hotels are newly rebuilt. Long beach on Phi Phi Don was a gorgeous place to while away a few days with great views across to Phi Phi Ley (although we still have yet to find anywhere more idyllic than Kecil, one of the Perhentian Islands in Malaysia).

Next we headed to Krabi, back on the mainland. The beach where we stayed, Ao Nang, didn’t have much to do, so we took a day trip kayaking. The route took us along a river, towered over by limestone cliffs, we paddled through some cool caves and lagoons, though our arms were seriously aching the next day!

I had been thinking about doing some scuba diving on our trip for some time, but kept putting it off. Our next island destination, Koh Tao off the east coast is a diving mecca so I decided to take the plunge and signed up to do a 4 day open water course. So now i’m a certified diver! We stayed at Ban’s Diving Resort (highly recommended) which is where Rachel did the same course 6 years before. She was very surprised to see how much the island had changed. Although the resorts are springing up all over the place we still loved the place and could happily have hung around for a while, but the next island adventure awaited – Koh Phangan for the full moon party!!

We learned another valuable lesson relating to Thai business practices – NEVER pay up front! We were panicked into believing that at full moon everywhere gets booked up, so instead of our usual practice of just turning up and finding a room when we get there we booked on the web. We chose what looked like a lush hotel, bit pricier than we usually pay, but what the hell?! Anyway it was a dump, and each room looked like it had been broken into many times. Rach attempted ‘negotiations’ for quite some time but as we had already paid we had little bargaining power, so we were stuck with the place. Thankfully we were not robbed and the party was brilliant so it’s not all bad news! There was fire dancing, fire skip rope, buckets of booze, dance music, fluro painted bodies everywhere (including us), palm and tarot readers, all through the night til sun up.

After a day to recover we took the ferry and night bus to Bangkok, and from here we fly to Hanoi in Vietnam on wednesday. So until next time……

July 13, 2009   6 Comments