Thailand

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January 3 - February 1, 1998

I made it in to Thailand on my second attempt. The airline didn't ask about an onward ticket. When I arrived, Thai customs didn't ask about an onward ticket.

I got a taxi to Khao San Rd. It's a block long road, which is the backpacker ghetto in Bangkok. I got a room at the Royal Guest House. It was a hole, but it was only 80 B. Less than $3. Everything was dirt cheap in Thailand, thanks the recent economic upheaval in Asia. The guide book said the dollar was worth about 20 baht. When I arrived it was worth 32 B. After five days it was worth 37 B, and seemed to stabilize there.

The next morning I decided I could afford a better place, and got a spotlessly clean room at the 7 Holder Guesthouse for 120 B.

The first thing I did was go to a travel agent to look into getting my Laos and Vietnam visas. It was going to take five working days. I really didn't want to spend five days in Bangkok, so I booked a three day trip out west. I took the train out of town. I was picked up at the train station and driven to Sai Yok National Park, where I stayed in a hotel floating on the river. It was quite nice. There were all sorts of floating houses that people could rent, and then have towed to a part of the river that they liked. Did an elephant ride, and a bamboo raft ride. Went to the hot springs. Explored a cave. And relaxed.

We went to see the Bridge on the River Kwai. Or at least the bridge that they built to replace the one that was blown up.

Back in Bangkok I did a day trip to Ayutthaya, the former capital of Thailand. Saw the summer palace. Did a boat trip up the river. Saw various temples and ruins. There was an American couple on the trip who had spent Christmas Eve in a parking lot in India, while bodies lay strewn along the road, as drivers drove like maniacs through the fog.

Went to the palace, and the temple of the reclining Buddha in Bangkok. Went into Buddha overload again.

Finally got my visas, and so caught the bus down south to Krabi. From Krabi I went to Railay Beach, which is only accessible by boat. It was beautiful there. Sheer cliffs rising straight out of the water. Warm, blue water. I wanted to go scuba diving, but the next morning I woke up with a cold. So I layed around on the beach. Wrote a few short stories.

I did do some rock climbing. Railay Beach is the place for rock climbing. I did a half day. First the instructor climbs up the cliff, stringing rope as he goes. He makes it look so easy. Then it was my turn. I was doing pretty well. But when you're twenty metres up, it's pretty scary. Even though you know that if you fall, the rope will hold you. Still, when you're reaching for that next handhold, and you're other hand starts slipping, your heart just starts pounding. But I made it to the top without falling.

The second time I was almost at the top when I got to a point when I couldn't reach the next handhold, because my other hand was slippery with sweat, and I couldn't get a grip with the other hand in order to get at the chalk. Finally I went for it, and fell, but the rope held, and I was swinging in mid aid. I chalked up my hands, and finished the climb.

The third route was pretty easy. By the last one, though, my arms were shot. They were jelly. There was an overhang to start, and I couldn't pull myself up. Finally the instructor gave me a boost. I got three quarters of the way up, and there was a section I just didn't have the strength to negotiate. I tried and tried, but would end up swinging each time. Finally I told the instructor to lower me down. He told me to try one more time, and I finally made it.

I caught a long tail boat back to Krabi. We came around one of the cliffs sticking out of the water. But then we kept turning. I thought maybe he wanted to hug the coast or something, but he kept turning. We were headed straight at the cliff. I thought he better stop the engine, or we're going to crash. He didn't. I realized that even if he did stop the engine, we were still going to crash. I braced myself. We crashed. Luckily we weren't going all that fast. The thing that sticks out the bow of the boat broke off. The gunwales were floating in the ocean beside us. The front of the boat was wedged under the cliff, so we all had to move forward. A French woman kept saying, "Why did you do that?", but he ignored her. They lashed the gunwales back on, and finished the ride to Krabi.

Another all night bus back to Bangkok. There were only about eight people on the bus. As we were stopped at a bus station, one guy went back and got out the blankets, because it gets quite cold on the buses at night. He distributed them to everyone, and most people took a couple. Then the driver's assistant got on the bus, and said we were only allowed one blanket each, and took back the extra ones. In Bangkok I stayed at the Chada Guesthouse, another total hole, but it was only one night, and only 60 B.

Then the all night bus to Chiang Mai. When you book the bus, you meet at the travel agent where you booked it. Then a guy gathers you up, and takes you down the street. Once he's gathered everyone up, he marches everyone down the road, through alleys, to a main road, where you get on the bus. But this day there were big traffic jams because of protests by lottery ticket sellers. So in the end they ferried us across the river, where we got the bus. There are two buses; the regular AirCon bus, and the VIP bus. Because of the confusion, I ended up on the VIP bus, which has seats that recline almost all the way back. Also, when you book the VIP bus, you get a free night at a guest house in Chiang Mai. So I got a free night at the Paradise Guesthouse. It's only 100 B, and it's the nicest place I stayed in in Asia.

Chiang Mai is a pretty nice city. It was a walled city, although most of the wall has crumbled away. But the moat is still there.

I walked downtown looking for a trek. I went to a tour place at the same time as Ray, an American from San Francisco. We both signed up for the four day trek, and also a Thai cooking course.

I did the cooking course the next day. It's run by a Thai guy who's married to a Brit. First he takes you to the market to show you what everything is, which was really good. Then we drove out to his house in the suburbs. There were about fifteen of us, and we watched as he showed us how to make about six dishes, which we then ate.

That night at the night market I ran into a couple of girls from the course. They were from Madison, WI. One of them was teaching English in China. It was her goal in life to cycle from Beijing, up to Siberia, take a ferry across the Bering Strait, and cycle down from Alaska to San Francisco. Her other goal was to cycle from Vancouver to the tip of South America.

The next day the trek started. There were five of us on the four day trek. Me, Ray, a Dutch guy named Eric, and Cath and Cath from Brisbane. As well, there were eleven doing the three day trek. First we drove up to a waterfall. Only the four day trek people went swimming, the three day people being too wimpy.

After lunch it was back in the trucks to the start of the trek. It started out uphill. Nino, our guide, set a brisk pace. We were running to keep up. I felt like I was hiking with the sportifs. Then there was a long, long downhill. It was treacherous, because it was very steep, and the dirt was loose.

Finally we got to the Lisu village, where we spent the night in a shack. Johnny Boy, the guide for the three day trek, told how the men worked very hard until they could buy a wife. 30000 B for a hard working wife. 5000 B for a lazy wife. Once he bought his wife, he didn't do any more work, the woman did it all. If she worked really hard, she could save up enough money so the man could buy a second wife, and then the second wife would do all the work. Also, if a hard working wife turned lazy, the man could get half his money back.

On the three day trip was a couple of Brits, Angie and Tracy, who, it turns out, were booked on the same flight from Laos to Vietnam as me. Also Bob and Vivian from Montreal. They were in their late forties. Bob sold out his business to his partners, and then they left home, because their 20 and 21 year old sons wouldn't leave home.

It got very cold in the night, and every one was freezing except me, with my nice, warm sleeping bag.

The next day we set out again. It was a long hike. We passed opium fields. Got to a village where the old addicts were smoking inside a little hut. We thought we lost Ray there.

We got to the point where the three day people did their elephant ride. We could stay there, or walk to where the three day people were staying. We decided it would be nice to stay with the others, so we walked. It was a tricky bit of walking, with cliffs to climb and rivers to ford.

When the elephants arrived at the village, Johnny Boy wanted his group to walk to another place to stay for the night, but they refused to budge. Johnny Boy and Nino were having a fight, and we were caught in the middle.

The next morning the others set off on bamboo rafts, while we waited a couple of hours for our elephants to show up. They finally did, and we rode down stream for about an hour before getting on our raft. We had the raft that Johnny Boy didn't want, because it was sinking.

We spent most of the time ankle to knee deep in water. We went down one set of rapids, and crashed, and Ray got his shins all scraped up. Nino kept saying he crashed because there was a big snake on the tree, but we didn't see it.

We arrived at another village, and got kick boxed by the little kids.

The next morning we rafted the rest of the way down the river. We arrived in a village which was a grave yard for bamboo rafts. Hundreds of them. Then we had to wait for hours for our truck to arrive to take us back to town. Everyone came to the Paradise, because it was such a good deal. We played some ping pong, and I was the champion, until I got challenged by an Israeli guy. He beat me, and I left the table to him and his friend.

The next day Ray and I went up to Doi Suthep, the temple on the mountain just outside of town. Then down to a waterfall, where we saw the monks come to bathe.

The next day the two Caths and I headed up to the Golden Triangle. No cushy tourist bus. A long, dusty ride up to Chiang Rai. Then a really beat up bus, packed to the rafters, to Chiang Sean. Then a tuk tuk to the Golden Triangle. It wasn't very interesting. Just a river. Tonnes of souvenir shops and restaurants, but no tourists. And no tuk tuks back to town. We ended up hitching a ride in the back of a pick up.

The town was totally dead. We looked for a guest house recommended by Lonely Planet. Some guys said it was closed. We took a tuk tuk there. It turned out it was closed. We went to the next choice. It was full. We ended up in a dump called Siam House. We walked around town. We wondered where all the people were if the guesthouses were full.

The next day Cath and Cath headed back to Chiang Mai, and I caught a minibus to Mae Sai, squeezed in between a bunch of monks. Mae Sai is the northern most point in Thailand. From there I walked across the border to Myanmar (Burma). But, like the book says, there's nothing to do the but shop. And with hundreds of stalls, there weren't even any good t-shirts. Or bad t-shirts for that matter. No t-shirts at all. I was there for less than an hour before returning to Thailand.

I saw a brand new temple they were building. In fact it was so new the Buddhas were still wrapped in plastic.

It was Chinese new year, but there didn't seem to be any celebrations going on. So the next day I headed back to Chiang Mai.


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Last updated: January 27, 2014