Sunday, January 30, 2011

Chiang Mai!

I hopped on an overnight train from Bangkok and arrived in Chiang Mai early yesterday morning, successfully getting a room at A Little Bird Guest House, a place a friend had recommended me to go. Turned out to be a good find. Excellent place to meet people, and at 120 Baht a night for a dorm, Kyle is happy. The train ride up here made me question why the hell I had been taking buses so much in the south when the trains in Thailand are obviously ok. Pure luxury compared to India. My AC sleeper car was very nice and clean, and the conductor even makes and strips your bed for you! The food was a little expensive, but you get a lot and it's quite good.

So far Chiang Mai is in my cool books. It's the second biggest city in Thailand at roughly 150,000 people, but it still has a small city feel to it. On my first stroll around the city I ended up wandering into a Wat (temple) and ended up sitting in a lecture from a Buddhist Monk, which was really cool. It was interesting hearing the rundown on Buddhism straight from the horses mouth. That night I cruised up and down the Sunday night market last night with a couple other Canadians I met in my Guest House. It seems to sprawl on forever, covering three or four city blocks, not including the cross streets. The food there was amazing, I ate the cheapest sushi I've ever had, pigged out on Thai sweets, and even braved trying a fried cricket. I wouldn't go as far as recommending it.

Tomorrow I head out an one day jungle trek/elephant ride/white water rafting trip, so there will be another blog post, if I survive...

Friday, January 28, 2011

Cambodia Wrap-Up

Ok so I finally got around to doing this. Cambodia exceeded my expectations, to say the least. A country I had heard was very sketchy and dangerous turned out to be exactly the opposite of what I experienced there. I only had one time where I felt I was in a dodgy place, but it was minor at best. Cambodia still is the wild west in some respects, but much safer than I expected. I had some great times, traveled with two great people, and saw some great things.

The good: Angkor Wat. This will go down in my books as one of the most epic things I've ever seen. The sheer magnitude of the temples that fill the area around Siem Riep is amazing. Siem Riep itself is a really cool city, full of great night life and people. Speaking of the people, I found the Cambodians to be very warm and hospitable. Our tuk tuk driver we hired to do Angkor Wat, Ang, was a really cool guy, so much so that we decided to take him out for dinner and beers after our tour. The shooting range in Phnom Penh was totally awesome, apparently I'm deadly accurate with a light machine gun. Seeing the old abandoned French villas in Kep was very interesting, and there is no shortage of them! Ripping around the Kampot countryside on scooters was definitely a highlight, and so much easier and more fun than doing the same thing in India. The boat tour we took in Sihanoukville was epic, one of the most fun days I've had so far on this trip. And I can't forget the prices. Cheap cheap cheap!

The bad: Getting pickpocketed by hookers. Bitches. Although I can't attribute this to Cambodia, as I've heard of this happening everywhere in Southeast Asia. The last bus ride sucked too, being stuck in a plastic chair in the isle of the bus for four hours would make anyone unhappy, but since I was seated next to two friendly, good looking girls, I can't complain too much. Phnom Penh was kind of a hole, big and dirty, with no good night life to speak of. Not too many bad things to say about Cambodia from the Kyle front.

The costs: Again, I drank quite a bit. Likely to happen when you hang out with an Austrian who also likes to drink. In all, Cambodia can be done for around $20 a day if you drink less than I did and eat at food stalls when possible.
Total days spent: 10
Total money spent: $576.50 ($180 spent on shooting machine guns, $40 for Angkor Wat, $55 for the boat tour and scuba diving, $20 pickpocketed, $20 on purchases)
Total daily expenses: $281.50
Average cost per day: $28.15

For the present, I'm heading straight to Chiang Mai on an overnight train to start exploring the jungles of the north. My original plan had been to go to Mae Sot, but my time is short so I have to start trimming my itinerary.

To the North!

Back in Thailand again to tackle the north. Being in Cambodia really kicked me back into travel mode, to the point that when we got to the beach resort of Sihanoukville I didn't really want to stay more than 4 days, I've had enough of beach bumming and clubbing. It's time for a change of venue. I'm looking forward to the different kind of travel Northern Thailand has to offer.

Yesterday I took a day trip to the ancient city of Ayutthaya, the old capital of the Siamese Kingdom before it was invaded and sacked by the Burmese hundreds of years ago. I caught the train in the morning, and was pleasantly surprised at how much it cost. Literally $1.33! It was cheaper to get there and back, including cab rides to and from the train station, than it would have been to take the bus one way. I rented a bicycle and cruised around the city for four hours, checking out the different ruin sites. While very cool, after seeing Ankor Wat it just didn't impress me as much, it's been outdone.

Today I was supposed to take another day trip to Kanchanaburi to see the Kwai River Bridge, which was part of the Death Railway built by slave labour for the Japanese in WWII, and the topic of the movie Bridge On the River Kwai. Supposed to is the key phrase here, thanks to a dumbass cab driver that wouldn't listen to me when I told him I needed to go to Bangkok Noi station, not the other, main train station. I missed the train. So now thanks to that dumbass and the limited time on my visa stamp, I have to skip seeing that in order to have enough time to see what I want to see in the north. Tomorrow I'm going to catch a bus to Mae Sot, a supposedly pictuesque town in the north. If only the bus timetable site was in English...

Monday, January 24, 2011

I'm On a Boat Muthafucka!

Today was one of the days where I feel like the money I spent was worth every penny. Yesterday while chilling on the beach of Sihanoukville a guy approached us selling a boat tour, for $25 we would be gone the whole day on a three deck boat, doing some snorkeling, drinking, beach bumming, drinking, a jungle walk, drinking, then more drinking. Turned out to be an awesome day, and I'm posting this still half cut from it. We started in the morning, headed out to a snorkeling site where I opted to do a scuba dive (for $30 you can't go wrong), then went to a beautiful secluded beach, then to another beach where we waded up a jungle river with a guide who explained to us some of the workings of the environment. All in all an absolute great day, one where it feels incredibly good to be here traveling and living life.

For the past few days, we've been taking it easy. Sihanoukville is a very touristy place, full of the young backpacker crowds and good night life. Mickey and I were thrown a curve ball when we ate a happy pizza the first night which turned out to be way more than we bargained for (sorry Grandma and Grandpa). I later learned you should only eat half, not the whole thing! My accommodation situation worked out really well, two girls I met on the bus offered me to stay in the extra bed they had in their room instead of staying in a shitty dorm. It's good to see that traveling spirit still alive in some people, willing to help out another fellow traveler. And I'm definitely glad I came to this place, in Thailand I had convinced myself I wouldn't hit up Cambodian beaches simply because I spent a month on them in Thailand, but life has those funny ways of directing you sometimes.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Seaside In the Cambodge

The past few days have been pretty great. After deciding to skip Kratie and it's long journey, we evacuated Phnom Penh to the seaside town of Kep, about 170km south on the Cambodian coast. It was a quiet little place, we took a stroll around a ring road in the nearby national park and through the town, which is littered with abandoned French-styled stone houses from the colonial era, most in complete disrepair and overgrown. That night we took a tuk tuk to Kompot, a town about 35km away.

Today we tore up the Cambodian countryside on rented scooters, and I must say driving in Cambodia is twenty times easier, relaxing, and more fun than driving in India. I still had to watch out for cows and wild dogs though. We had planned to take the scooters to Bokor Hill Station, an abandoned French resort on the mountain west of town. Unfortunately the road to Bokor was closed for construction. Instead we took a drive to some supposed waterfalls, which turned out to be dried up due to a new hydroelectric dam being built upstream.

We then headed to a zoo near there, which was definitely an odd experience. It looked as if once there had been quite a bit of money put into it, but everything was long since neglected and has fallen into disrepair. An old ferris wheel and small rides sit unused and rusting, the concrete waterpark is empty and cracking, and the animal cages are dirty and overgrown. The animals themselves are obviously sad, as you could see when the chimpanzees would hold out their hands to be fed, something that obviously doesn't happen enough. I felt sorry the most for the otters, who's ponds are completely layered with thick algae. You could see it the most in the tiger, who paces back and forth in her cage, which I've heard is an obvious sign of stress.

The end of the day was more positive, with a good plate of excellent spaghetti for lunch and an awesome scooter ride to a Wat south of town, where we were guided through a network of caves full of bats and small Buddhist shrines, then to a Stupa that had excellent views of the countryside. Tomorrow we head to Sihanoukville, the beach resort town of Cambodia.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Instruments of Death

I sure got my fill of those today, visually and hands on. We started the day with some shooting at a Cambodian range. It's really Mickey Mouse, you go inside where they sit you down and give you a menu full of options for weapons to shoot. I had no idea where to begin, but I started out shooting an M-16A1. Mickey, one of the two Austrians I've been hanging with, fired an AK to start, then we moved on to a belt fed Russian PKM Machine gun. That was kick ass, probably the only opportunity I'll ever have to shoot a heavy caliber machine gun. I finished it off with a PPsh 41, a WWII Russian submachine gun.

Then we moved on to see the genocidal history of the Khmer Rouge regime. Up until now not much of the historical things I've seen on this trip have been that dark, maybe fort's but nothing quite as evil as what we saw today. It was truly grim, seeing the dark side of humanity. We walked around the Killing Fields where Pol Pot's evil minions bludgeoned thousands, then to be buried in mass graves. Walking around the sights you can see the big craters where the corpses were exhumed, and their skulls still sit on display in a pagoda that serves as a memorial. Then we went to S-21, the prison where people were imprisoned, tortured and most likely killed. The exterior of the building just looks plain evil, and is the biggest candidate for being haunted I've ever seen. It has a institutional, dark look to it, and even without an explanation of what happened there you could still have a good idea that evil deeds were committed there. Some of the individual rooms are full of mug shots of prisoners taken when they were imprisoned, and some that were taken after they died, some very graphic. As morbid as all this was, I think it's definitely important to see these things, as they are reminders of mistakes that never should be made again.

Anyways, as a city Phnom Penh sucks, it's a lot like India in terms of traffic, noise and pollution. The night life is lame at best. We're going to look into a bus ticket to Kratie tomorrow, where we can go see some endangered River Dolphins.

Saturday, January 15, 2011


Here I am in Cambodia, Siem Reap to be exact. Spent a whole day galavanting around Ankor Wat, the huge, famous, Wonder of the World temple complex with an Austrian couple I met on the bus. The temples are amazing, and there's so many of them! Even after a whole day we still need to do another one tomorrow to see the rest of them. Our tuk tuk driver, Ang, is great, and at $40 for two days of him chauffering us around the temples, a person can't go wrong.

Cambodia is great so far, and cheap too! I'm paying $7 a night for a really nice room, when we were told by the touts we would pay around $25. Food is great, you can get a dish of fried noodles and chicken for $1. It's really weird with the currency, US dollars are used a lot, but if you buy something you could get change in Cambodian Riel. So far it seems to have worked out though. Siem Reap seems like a pretty cool place, the night life here is great and the alcohol is cheap, which could be a problem for me. Now that I say that, it was a problem last night. On the two minute walk from the bar to my guest house I was swarmed by five Cambodian hookers who felt me up and pick pocketed me in the process. Luckily they only got 500 Baht and a $20. Bitches.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Southern Thailand Wrap-up

Well since I'm heading to Cambodia tomorrow I figure I might as well do a wrap-up on Southern Thailand.

I had a great time here, it really turned into a vacation after some hard traveling in India. It seemed to me like traveling through this part of the country isn't really traveling at all, it's vacationing. I didn't really see a lot of culture at all. I mean the people here are amazing, and it was cool to see the laid back island life, but as far as sightseeing it's really all beaches, snorkling, scuba diving and bars. Not that I'm complaining, I had a great time doing all of those things. It's easy to understand why everyone retires out here, life is great in Thailand.

The highlights of this leg are not few and far between. Ton Sai, I love you. That little laid back rock climbing community was the coolest place and had the best atmosphere out of anywhere I went in Thailand. The rock climbing course I took there showed me that I'm beating my fear of heights. Partying in Koh Phi Phi. I met and partied with a ton of really great people on that little island, and that Christmas Eve will go down in the books as the drunkest one yet and probably ever. The New Years Eve Party on Koh Phangan has to be mentioned, it was and probably always will be the craziest party I've ever been to. Scuba Diving was excellent, I'm incredibly glad I'm certified in what will be a new hobby for me.

There's not a lot to mention as far as the bad goes. The bus/boat package system can be a little disorganized at times, but it was leaps and bounds better than it was in India. Koh Samui sucked, I would never recommend that island to anyone, it was the most unsocial place I went to in Thailand. Taking the boat from Koh Samui for the New Years Eve Party was also horrible (see the 'New Years Eve Mayhem' post). The Hell Day I had on the way to Koh Phi Phi was just that, hell (see the 'Hell Day' post).

All in all, I love this country, and will be back for sure in the future. I partied hard, I don't think my blood alcohol level has ever been consistently so high. I can't wait to see what's in store for me when I come back to do the north in a week or so. Needless to say, I'm excited about it.

Money Spent:
Roughly $1500 on daily expenses (food, lodging, transport, misc stuff like internet)
My Open Water Diver course was $317, and I did a $40 tour of the south islands. I could have done this country quite a bit cheaper, I did A LOT of drinking, and that is a major budget killer. Also the wasted expenses on the Hell Day from missing my boat/having to return to Ton Sai hurt my budget a little.

I'll also mention my last couple days before departing. Bangkok was MUCH better this time around, as it's now high season. It's great what a little more Farang (tourists) and a little less heat will do for this city. I hit up Wat Pho today to see the Reclining Buddha, which was awesome. It was funny to see the same touts trying to scam me, and my Veteran Traveler responses to them. I even recognized one of them from when I was here four months ago. Tonight I'm going to try and catch some more live music, which the area around Khao San Road is full of.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Bye Bye Beach

Yesterday was my last day with the beach, we decided it was best to part ways for a while. This guy needs a change of scenery, so now it's the big city for a bit and then to the wild wilds of Cambodia, where I'll spend a week or so visiting the Khmer Temples of Angkor Wat, chill out in Phnom Pehn and fire some machine guns at the notorious shooting range there.

Hua Hin was a definite Farang-ville. It's very obvious with the amount of old guys with young, Thai girlfriends, the sheer amount of real estate agencies and the staggering amount of seniors on the beach (when I'm trying to find a girl to talk to) that this place is a retirement hotspot of Thailand. Unfortunately I was unable to meet up with the guy I used to work with, but I filled my day with a couple first experiences in Thailand. The first one was a Thai massage, which I mistakenly thought would be very relaxing. The first part is, until she sat me upright and drilled her knees and elbows into my shoulder girdle. I'm still a little sore from it today, but oddly enough my muscles feel good.

The second first was a Muay Thai fight. Good fun had by all. Out of five fights two of them were kids around thirteen years old. It was pretty funny watching that knowing that in Canada it would totally be against the law. The atmosphere there is great though, older Thais (probably trainers and family) crowd the base of the ring, shouting and hollering the whole time, and letting out ecstatic cheers every time a good kick lands home. I was really stoked to see the world's greatest Muay Thai matches at Lumpinee Stadium in Bangkok, but unfortunately I leave the day of the match so it will have to wait until I get back from Cambodia.

Monday, January 10, 2011

I Heart Scuba Diving

You are reading the blog of a man that is now certified as an Open Water Diver. My scuba diving course was awesome to say the least, I can't wait to go diving again. Over four days we learned the basic theory behind pressure effects and diving skills, and the second day was spent in the pool going over basic skills like removing and replacing your mask underwater, then clearing the water from it, doing buddy breather, stuff like that. The second and third days were the fun stuff, actually going out to dive sites to do some open water dives. The first one was shit for me, I had major problems trying to equalize my left ear so I didn't really get to enjoy it. The other three were great though, my ears finally started to equalize properly and I could actually spend some time looking around at the multitude of fish around us, including Sting Rays, Angelfish, Moray Eels, and Clownfish.

I wish I would have had more time to spend on Koh Tao, especially to carry on and do my Advanced Open Water course, but unfortunately my visa stamp is about to run out in four days so I have to get my butt out of Thailand. I'll have to do my Advanced course in Indonesia, since there's really nowhere else on my future list that's any good for diving. It's looking like Cambodia will be the best bet for my next destination, I'll go spend a week roaming around there before heading back to Thailand for two weeks in the north. I'm in Hua Hin right now, where I'll meet up with a guy I used to work with back in my Revelstoke days. It's more laid back here, which is good for me, I could really use a break from all the clubs. I've never been a big club person myself, I've always liked a more laid back atmosphere, and after a month of them, I'm done for a little while.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Rain, Rain, Go Away!

I call bullcrap on the weather I've had in Thailand so far! Bullcrap! It was rainy and cloudy my whole time in Ton Sai, it rained on my speedboat tour to the southern islands, it was shitty almost every day on Koh Samui, it was rainy yesterday, and today the biggest thunderstorm I've seen in a long time rolled through here at 7:30am, and it's still cloudy. Bullcrap! It had better clear up soon or I'm going to start dumping Freon and DDT's liberally.

The good news is I started my PADI diving course today, only a half easy day watching boring videos and going through small quizzes. Tomorrow morning we do our intro confined water dives in the swimming pool and then some more classroom stuff in the afternoon. Luckily for me diving goes on no matter what the weather looks like, which is good considering by the end of the course I'll only have five days to do get off the island and do a visa run to Cambodia so I can get another fifteen day stamp for cruising around the north of Thailand.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Koh Phangan. Without the Mayhem.

I can't believe I stayed so long in Koh Samui when paradise was a thirty minute boat ride away. I caught a ride on a ferry back to Koh Phangan, this time to stay. My original plan was to head to Bottle Beach in the north, but I took the cheaper route and went to Laem Son Beach with a Dutch girl I met on the boat. Great decision it was, the place I'm staying has the nicest beach I've been on so far. I'm planning on taking a sunset photo this evening so I'll be sure to post it up. I'm really glad I'm off of Koh Samui, it was the least social place I've been in Thailand, and the most commercialized. I'm planning on taking a ferry to Koh Tao in a couple days to sign up for my Open Water certification course for scuba diving, my intro to the sport.

I'm going to go nurse my hangover now...

Saturday, January 1, 2011

New Years Mayhem

Well I survived it. The Full Moon party was pure insanity. And another SNAFU day getting there too. I booked a return speedboat ticket that included a pickup from my hotel. One that didn't show up for two hours. When I finally got to the pier, there was a ton of people there waiting for various speedboat companies to take them to Koh Phangan. Then it developed from SNAFU to FUBAR (Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition). It started pouring rain, while backing a huge speedboat into the water with a tiny jeep the jeep became horribly stuck, then the other jeep trying to pull it out rolled down the hill, nearly into a crowd of people. E-brakes are important!

I was starving at this point and went up to get some food while I waited. This Thai dude told me I could have a whole fish for one hundred Baht, a very good deal. Then he throws a ten pound fish on my plate, not skinned or anything. I laughed while I ate that damn fish, it was actually pretty good. When the boats finally showed up, it literally turned into anarchy, like something out of the end of the world. People would flood towards the boats, pushing and shoving like it was the boat to their salvation. I ended up being the second last guy to get on one of the speedboats, and the boat staff were nearly getting in fights with asshole tourists desperate to get a bucket.

When I finally got to Koh Phangan I paid my one hundred Baht entrance fee, quickly downed some cheap Pad Thai, picked up a bucket and headed for one of the paint booths. Everyone at the full moon party gets covered up in neon paint, straight up voodoo. I had the guy paint a big neon gecko on the side of my neck going up around my jaw, and traced the bones of my hand and fingers in neon paint. I ended up hanging around with three English guys that were getting painted as well. The beach is insane, it's elbow to elbow people for a kilometer, trance and house music pumping, people skipping a rope that's on fire, and black lights. The countdown was the epic, as well as the fireworks show that went on for it. I ended up partying until about 5:30 am, walking up and down the beach and dancing my ass off in the various bars.

The speedboat situation going back was about the same as coming to the island; anarchy. It's incredibly unorganized, it's literally every man for himself, and that's exactly how I played it this time, butting in front of everyone to get the attention of the boat staff to look at my ticket. It worked. He waved me over, and I had to monkey my way around the crowd on edge of the pier, holding onto the edge of the roof of the pier so I wouldn't fall into the water. I finally got back to Koh Samui at 6am and crashed hard in my bed. Thankfully Mr. Night Light had his light off...