Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Seven-odd Days Nearer Tibet

Less than a week left... Jeeeeez. I do not know quite how to feel. One side of me is excited to see what has and has not changed. The other is screaming out that the world is far too big a place for me to return just yet. However, needs must and I suppose this complaint is symptomatic of the notorious...


So where did I leave this? Aha.

Having spent a few chilled out days on Railay for which I took part in the most treachorous trek I have been on yet, I spent around 16 hours travelling via longboat-minibus-'VIP' Bus from Krabi to good ole' BKK. The journey was not particularly pleasant, and the driver did his utmost to make sure that us passengers did NOT feel like VIPs. He clearly thought, however, that blasting 90's techno at 5 in the morning would provide the carriage with some nice ambience. He was wrong.

Bleary eyed, me and my fellow travellers arrived somewhere around Khao San Road and underwent an expedition to find some accomodation. This proved to be a pain in the arse because even at 6:30 AM, pretty much every guest house was full. I understood it was high season, but this seemed particularly strange. Then a thought occurred to me; Wasn't it the King's birthday?

Organisation not being my forte, I had somehow chosen to arrive in the Thai capital during what is one of the country's most important national holidays. It was going to be manic. Fun, but manic. Luckily, I came across some accomodation which was coincidentally the same place I stayed at when I first arrived and having charmed my way into getting a discount ( ;) ), I caught some much needed shut-eye.

I have said it before, but I like Bangkok. I can understand how it intimidates those that have just arrived in Asia, and it is pretty damn polluted. But there is SO much to do. Furthermore, living in BKK is easy. You know what to expect from Rambutri, you can catch a taxi, bus or skytrain anywhere, there is culture or partying to be had if you want it, and its also much cheaper than the South. Unsurprisingly, because it makes such a good travel hub, it was here that I randomly bumped into friends I thought I had said farewell to (you know who you are). For this reason, we ended up celebrating the birthday of Rama IX in a very messy fashion.

It began pretty civil; We took a quick walk to the river only to find that the crowd was 200 people deep. As such, it was decided that we should have a nice Thai meal. From here we had the pleasure of watching the loudest fireworks I have ever seen/heard for which the sky was then filled with thousands of floating lanterns - quite the spectacle. Then we headed to Khao San Road.


I am so glad I had the sensible idea of running back to the hotel to return my camera because waking up in a drunken stupor wondering if you had lost it this time is particularly stressful.

Much in the same fashion as my last outing there, I do not remember anything past 12 AM. I did however have the educational lesson that Chang, Thailand's most prominent beer brand, is really strong for a reason. I knew it was potent anyway for it advertises a 6.4% on the bottle. However, it turns out that due to the lack of a purification (or whatever) process, your individual beer could be anywhere between 6.4 and 10 percent. Wonderful. Having been kicked out of 'The Club' within 45 seconds; (Not for being drunk and disorderly I might add. I just decided to bring my own Chang in with me, and when I argued that I had in fact purchased such a beverage at the establishment's bar, the bouncer then informed that they do not serve Chang); I ended up back at the same venue as last time and once again had another 'Bangkok Blackout'. Good laugh though.

The next day, my Canadian travel partner/Bangkok expert showed me around the Siam Paragon which is probably the nicest shopping mall you will ever go to. One level is dedicated to Lamborghinis, Aston Martins and other elite-class cars that I had never heard of. Then at the bottom there is an aquarium that has a bloody whale shark in it. If you wanted to shell out for the scuba experience they offer, you can tick off pretty much all the big marine sights in one go. The Paragon also has the nicest cinema, ahem, movie theatre, that I have ever been to. I ended up watching that Unstoppable, with Denzel Washington, and it is surprisingly good. Who would have thought trains could be so intense? On retrospect, I realise I was actually quite stressed out at one point, but this is understandable based on a certain viewer's hilarious reaction to a scene which I will leave for personal re-enactment. I am still chuckling now. Long story short, definitely go see it. I give it four stars.

After attending a Thai leaving-party for which an off-duty ladyboy, masseuse and party guest decided to demonstrate his(?) knowledge of spinal-pressure points on me for two hours whilst I ate,  I eventually remembered why I was in Bangkok in the first place and it was time to head North towards the 'culture capital' of Chiang Mai. I would not necessarily agree with such a description, but either way, everyone was raving about the place so I figured it would be sensible to make that my next destination. Furthermore, the desire to leave was fuelled by the fear that I would have a similar experience to what I had in Hanoi (I succumbed to what travellers have coined, the 'Hanoi Rut'). In spite of my previous experience with the 'VIP Sleeper Bus', the low cost had tempted me once again and as expected, I had worse of a time on this one than I did before. Valium would not have helped here, (I sound like an addict now. I'm not). Eventually I managed to catch some sleep, but I woke up in the lap of a very disgruntled Israeli lad. Sleep deprivation, and humiliation. Lovely.

As luck would have it, I survived the journey and was offered some free coffee by very friendly Thai people as compensation. Immediately I noticed a difference between Chiang Mai and Bangkok. The main reason being that whilst they were keen to find out where I was staying and present the prices of their accomodation, they understood that as a customer in a market economy, I actually had the right of choice. In addition, the Bangkok haze has definitely not extended its perimeter north which allows the traveller to enjoy the aesthetic charm of the 'Old City'. Pretty much all the guest houses, spectacular temples, and sights can be found within the boundary of a very large, square moat. The outer-region is where you will find the shopping malls, by-passes and Go-Go bars.

Furthermore, people who visit Chiang Mai like to trek. You cannot walk 200 metres without finding travel agents or guest houses offering SHOCK PRICES for 2D-1N/3D-2N offerings. Personally, I think trekking's alright. Actually, I won't get started here for my rant began and ended in Halong Bay - rhetoric which I think left an impression on a fair few ears. However, if I was to pay big money again,  I would have to be guaranteed that my experience was an authentic one. For example; many people are lured to the North with the illusion that they will re-discover the mysterious 'Long Neck Tribes'. However, when I heard that such people have began to deliberately dress as such for the satisfaction of tourists, I became quite cynical.

Anyway; I spent a couple of nights in the city for which I was invited by a random ex-pat to go for a few drinks at the local Thai student-bar disctrict and nightclub. This was certainly an experience, and being one of but a few farang certainly turned a few heads. Another highlight was when one of my friends stated that there was an elephant in the vicinity. I just frowned, thinking that she was making a sly comment about someone who was somewhat obese. But when, after their insistence, I turned around, my expression had turned to shock when I discovered that there was actually an elephant, in the main road, outside of the bar I was in. An elephant being offered a drink by a prostitute - only in Thailand.

Tiger cubs are also incredibly cute.

So Chiang Mai. A lot to see and a hell of a lot to do there - the adventure capital/Venture Capital (ha), so to speak. However, I certainly did not love it enough to regail other travellers with my impressions in a certain lusty voice that everyone seems to do when you ask about the place. In fact, I was beginning to wonder what the big deal was about the North. That is until I reached my current destination - Pai.

After around 774 mountain turns, curves and hairpin bends later, I had reached the sleepy town of Pai. Or at least it would have been sleepy if I had not made the cock-up, once again, of not consulting my guide book for, you know, guidance, and not arrived during one of the only times that Thais from throughout the country make the pilgrimage north to celebrate... uh... something.

Having searched for accomodation for around 2 hours (I was sprinting barefoot over pretty much every hill in the area whilst my buddies looked after my bags), and having been charitably offered shelter for free by both a Georgian and a Thai worker (which of course I appreciatively, but stubbornly refused) we very nearly had to set up camp by the river and pay the extortionate fee of 300 Baht for a tent. That was until, under the blessing of a guardian angel, a random Thai guy popped out from what looked like a bush and questioned...

                    Random Man: "Yu wan' room?"
Me: Exhaling deeply. "YES! HOW MUCH!?"
Man: "500 Ba--"
Me: "DONE!"

The accomodation was pretty shit for which security was in the form of a bamboo lock, but it was a roof. And I am travelling, I am not looking for The Ritz. Just not a bloody tent. At least not in mosquito-valley. I am aware that they would not have been able to bite me, but with them and 200 hippies, quite literally, buzzing around me, it would have been more tranquil to have slept next to one of the many electric-generators here.

The next day we awoke early to scope out some cleaner accomodation, for some of the Thai tourists would be leaving, and we were luckily able to scavenge a room at a guesthouse, the name of which I still cannot pronounce. Pa-vee, Ra-yee, Pra-vee, Ra-jee's House or some bollocks like that. Actually, just a tip for those of you who might be considering your first trip; It is a great idea to actually look at the title of your accomodation before you venture out on a night out. Otherwise, getting back is a bit of a problem. It has been over 3 months and I still just see my accomodation as a room-with-no-name.

My days here so far have certainly been some of the more exhilirating ones of my trip, and the beauty of it is that I do not have to pay some agency or get some tour guide to set up my activities for me. Furthermore, Pai is stunning. As far as landscape is concerned, Pai's views easily sit as some of the best of my trip. So much so that one of my new-found Dutch friends was actually crying on the mini-bus as we scaled the beautiful terrain. I am assuming that this was due to the sight of Northern Thailand's mountains and paddy fields, because she was also busting for the toilet at one point.

There are a lot of hippies here though. Its like Sussex University in the mountains.

Today, I awoke half-hungover, half sore from the Muay Thai beating I received two days ago. Muay Thai training, not bar brawl I might add. And the thing is, I did it to myself. My trainer hardly hit me. Instead, he pushed me BEYOND LIMITS (AKA; A pretty good workout at the gym. I have been travelling and drinking with only occasional exercise for 3 months) for which I learnt that I can punch, kick, knee and elbow pretty damn hard. At one point I actually hurt the poor guy because I misunderstood his spar command and instead of a jab, I sent a shin straight at his rib. Whoops. I shall definitely be continuing this sacred sport upon my return home though.

Furthermore, for the first time in at least a decade, I CAUGHT A FISH at an absolutely stunning location. I make this sound more epic than it actually was, because for the next two hours, I spent my time untangling the line, stabbing the hook into my fingers, and casting, only to find my bait flying towards the windows of one of the resident guest's huts. Provider, I am not.

And that, I believe, is my Northern Thailand update. I could continue but I am bloody starving and I need to get on it in preparation for another 'Half Moon Party' un-exclusive to Kho Phangan. As such, I shall love and leave you once again, but check in next Monday for the epilogue of Chapter Uno of my travel exploits. I still cannot believe I am flying out in less than a week. I bet its bloody cold there as well.

Actually, its pretty chilly here too. Its probably 20 degrees.


Kob kun kap for reading. Sawadee kap!

P.S: My family will be pleased to hear that I am accumulating souvenirs. If anyone desperately needs anything, let me know and I will do my best to get it. It is not the hassle of finding such items, but there are only so many straps on my backpack that I can tie shit to. I've already got extra clothes on there.