[ ARRIVAL ]
Arriving just shy of midnight into the oppressive humidity of Bangkokâ€™s International Airport, we were hustled in amongst the four lane hoarde of meter-taxis by a driver, supposedly next in the invisible queue, to a waiting car. Coming from Perth and a relatively small, grid designed city, this was pure chaos. The cab swerved and veered through the lanes of the motorway that the airport opened directly out onto and the true expanse of Bangkok was revealed as we drove over the raised tollway that ran the through and round the city.
A point to make is that should you find yourself in Bangkok and need a taxi, the meter-taxi is one of the best options. The thing is that it is necessary to ask the driver to actually engage the fucking meter!! Otherwise he simply dreams up a figure based on his imaginings of your affluence.
Having partially melted by the time we arrived at the hotel, stepping into our heavily air-conditioned room was sheer bliss and we greeted the morning light with frosty toes and a vow of air-con moderation for the next time 🙂
[ THE GROUP ]
The five others in the group were really cool: Jordan and Melissa – an English couple from Bournemouth, Mat – a cool Welsh dude with a trumpet, Rachael – a kiwi and lastly Pattie – an unfathomably aggravating American woman, whose misplaced self-assuredness annoyed everyone she came into contact with. In addition, we had Trent – the tour leader and Hali – a trainee tour leader, who both had the perfect attitude and personalities to be great at what they did.
[ TEMPLES ]
We got to see some amazing temples and the Buddas inside them. Buddas hundreds of feet tall, golden and glistening after a morning rainshower. Itâ€™s a shame to say it, but we got totally sick of temples!!
Bangkok. temples. Kanchunaburi. temples. Chiang Mai. temples.
Even if they did get a little â€™same old, same oldâ€™, I personally found them very inpspiring and they left me with a very sincere feeling of a nationâ€™s communal respect for both tradition and the idea of the human race not necessarily being the top dog in this life. With a minimum of three monthsâ€™ compulsory monkhood for each and every Thai man at the age of 20, there is a very real sense of religion and mutual respect amongst the all people and maybe just an inkling that us degenerate Westerners are overlooking some fundamental issues in the way we live our lives.
To be honest, one of the most memorable times of the trip for me was waking up in the early morning on the sleeper train from Chiang Mai to Bangkok, drawing back the curtain and seeing a massive Golden Budda float past my window surrounded by lush green fields, not hardly a single building in sight.
We found ourselves at one temple, climbing up the inside of a dragon that snaked down the side of a mountain. Murals and finely detailed paintings depicted stories such as the enlightenment of Budda all the way up to the top, where the tail of the dragon ended in the mouth of a temple, carved out of the mountain itself. Inside, apart from the Blackpool/elevator style musak and the fact that I had squidged a watery dog egg between my respectfully sandal-less toes upon entering, I was completely awed by the setting.
A large Budda and shrine sat squarely in the patch of sunlight that came through a huge hole in the side of the temple. Moss, plants and trees grew around the opening. Water dripped from the rocks around us as we knelt before the shrine and were shown how to give offerings and bow to the Budda. The huge red and black caterpillars that crawled around and the monks seated to one side all leant to make the whole scene feel like a set from a chinese kung-fu film, only without the subtitles (oh and the fighting). A complete antithesis to Christian prayer offering, the tie between nature and religion was blatantly evident. No stuffy pews, services or hymns here.
[ SUNYA RUXâ€™s MILLION STARS HOTEL ]
On the first day of the tour, we got a longtailed boat (a long boat with a bastard-huge truck engine in the back. The long tail is the extended propeller shaft that is lifted in and out of the water) down the waterways and canals of Bangkok, checking out the floating markets. Not an actual entity, the floating markets are people cruising slowly around in small boats, selling handicrafts or food – their boats carry small gas burners with a wok balanced precariously on top!
Now we continued the water theme with a two-day lazy raft extravaganza, courtesy of Sunya Rux and his unmissable, unbelievable, life fullfilling, two-storey raft. The raft rocked big time! Rubber rings were deployed and dragged along for a cool off, a â€™Viagra Fallsâ€™ plastic pipe waterfall was rigged to a pump on the front â€™deckâ€™, spurting river water and microscopic local wildlife alike. The second storey sported a rubbery, non-slip runway for a good run-up as you flung yourself off the raft into the suspiciously brown water of the river – probably worth mentioning that the landing zone overlapped more than slightly with the sewage outlet from the raftâ€™s toilet. The run-up therefore was most likely an afterthought, giving passengers the option to leap clear of their own effluence. Nice.
It was hauled up river by a small tugboat, piloted by a deaf and dumb (thankfully not blind) driver, and passing under a low bridge on the first day, we limpetted ourselves to its underside, clasping the concrete with our arms and lifting our legs as the raft lumbered on oblivious to our absence, then dropped into the river. Would have been cool if we could have stopped for an hour and actually jumped off the bridge, but there were only three of the group who partook anyway – the hardcore bridge hangers 😉
[ EREWAN WATERFALLS ]
This place was great. Basically a series of seven waterfalls, it just seemed to get better and better each new level you reached. We walked the paths to each new level through thick forest with the sounds of insects louder than you would expect and we cooled ourselves off in the blue water of the pools beneath the waterfalls.
Although we never actually reached the top two levels, stopping at level five for a quick dip and then back down, it was well worth every minute. The pool at the second level was one of the largest and most popular.
It was also home to the majority of the cleaner fish that sucked and nibbled at your skin whenever you stopped moving for a second. Some of these things were bloody huge – I saw a couple that must have been at least 1.5 feet – but they didnâ€™t really bother you unless you stayed still for a few seconds. It was really wierd as you knew exactly what they were and what they were doing – that they werenâ€™t actually hurting you – but I still let out a couple of girly squeaks in shocked response to their nuzzlings.
[ THE RIVER KWAI ]
Quite a tourist trap, this one. The memorial museum was pretty cool.. in a harsh way. Sketches of atrocities and malnourished allied soldiers decorated the walls, one of which even had maggots eating their way through the picture – whether or not the maggots were supposed to be â€™part of the experienceâ€™ or not is doubtful.
The museum was in a straw-roofed house, so the maggots could have possibly been resident anyway. We took a wander over the bridge itself, with its wobbling, wood-beamed walkway not really instilling the most faith in the sturdiness of the bridge and thoughts of time-delayed sabotage came to mind as a huge diesel train appeared and trundled heavily across it.
We ended up in the river anyway as a little later in the tour we had the opportunity of kayaking lazily down the river and passed underneath the bridge as the sun was setting. Didnâ€™t really trust my camera to my kayaking skills, so unfortunately, I didnâ€™t get any pics.
[ CHIANG MAI AND THE PANG-PANG ACTION ]
The overnight train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai wasnâ€™t as bad as weâ€™d expected. Nothing stolen or interfered with (more than Jordan could say, having been near exposed to by a silk panty, fishnet wearing man in Chiang Mai public toilets.) and, personally speaking, not a terrible nightâ€™s sleep.
Chiang Mai was another hive. The night market was immense, stretching the length of one of the main streets, each side of the road packed with stalls. In actual fact, a lot of the wares repeated themselves as you walked along and the amount of â€™Dieselâ€™ clothing was incredible, although Iâ€™d imagine that the focus shifted continually to the latest brand name. One place that had us all captivated was in a basement off the main street. Artists had gathered there and were faithfully re-creating photographs to the line, shade and scale. I grabbed a couple of business cards as you can order these sketches over the internet – something that I must get around to doing when I get home. These guys were incredibly talented and it felt a little illicit buying such honed skills for such relative pittance.
We trawled the stalls and found our bargains. Trent, our tour leader, had phonetically taught us a few handy bits of Thai – numbers, hello, goodbye, thankyou and a couple of bargaining phrases – and we generally found it welcomed by the locals who responded well to people who actually showed an interest in interaction and who had put a little bit of effort in. Pang means â€™expensiveâ€™ and so was chanted after every price quote. The rule of thumb was to simply take their initial quote and basically halve it.. then the calculator appeared and the bartering was on! The main thing I was after was some light clothes for wearing on the trek that was coming up. A Muay Thai fight was also on, but was missed due to being completely shagged.
[ GOING TRIBAL ]
From Chiang Mai we took a coach to Chiangrai to get ready for the hill-tribe trek. Leaving on the Saturday, we headed out to our starting point, ate a home-cooked meal with sticky rice on banana leaves and slept under mosquito nets on a straw mat. Saw a couple of fireflies milling about in the sky, one landing on the mosquito net and crawling about a bit. First time Iâ€™ve ever seen one in the flesh and gotta say they were damned cool. Would love to see a swarm of them – would be an incredible sight.
First day of the trek was bastard hard. The morning was spent hiking through the nearest thing to real jungle Iâ€™ve ever seen. Forests of banana trees were amazing to walk through and small streams popped out of nowhere. Lunch came when we caught up with the guides, who had pelted on ahead and we found a small clearing carpeted with huge banana leaves. We sat and ate fried rice that weâ€™d carried with us (coincidentally also wrapped in banana leaves).
After lunch, the track went vertical. We hiked for about 2 hours, drenched in sweat up an unrelenting incline, resorting to lunging for branches in order to avoid collapsing back down the hill.
I speak for myself here, by the way. The other guys on the tour seemed like they were having an equally tough time of it, but Iâ€™ll let them tell their own stories. smile
Making it to the first village, was sheer fucking bliss. I found a watermelon for sale in the village shop and we shared it in exhausted silence in the school classroom.
The entire trek was tough and I must have lost some of the extra gut Iâ€™ve been carrying around with me since I gave up smoking and started eating. It wasnâ€™t without rewards, however, as the views were incredible and sleeping on the bamboo huts of the huts we stayed in made getting back to the relative civilisation and clean clothes of Chiangrai a treat.
We were above or in the clouds for most of the trek and in the highest village we stayed in, the mist rolled in with the evening and fogged out the entire village, with everything beyond the nearest huts becoming greyed out until the mid morning.
Mat brought his trumpet along on the trek due to his admirable trust of the local population 😈 and entertained the villagers with a few short tunes. I imagine that they knew what the instrument was, only theyâ€™d probably never seen one played live in front of them. Would have been good to have had a guitar there.
[ KARAOKE ADVENTURES ]
Once back in Chiangrai, a few of us bundled down to the nearest karaoke bar and hired out a private booth. To be totally honest, the place didnâ€™t sell any of my preferred tipples, so I never got the opportunity to lose my inhibitions enough to let rip, but the others made up with funny renditions of loads of tacky, 80s songs and one Thai song that Trent did, of which I couldnâ€™t ever hope to recount the lyrics, tune or even name now.
We farted around and ordered drinks for just over an hour and generally had a great time.
Coming out of the booth when our time was up, we were accosted by a large French lady who was completely bladdered. As half of our group were being talked to by this rambling piss-head, one of us took the opportunity to quietly take one of the establishmentâ€™s staff aside and inform him that this kind lady had become our fondest friend and benefactor and had offered to pick up our bill. On the way out we graciously thanked the lady and she told us not to worry about it – all strangely within earshot of the staff – and once outside, we looked at each other, realised that we really shouldnâ€™t hang around… and ran for it, laughing our arses off!!
The rest of the trip was simply homeward bound. We arrived in Bangkok bastard early and hit the hotel pool. All there was left to do now was to wander Kao-San road, deliberating whether or not to buy myself a British driving license and a couple of degrees from Harvard Business School or to simply get arsed on Sam Song Whisky, Red Bull and Coke – not a totally undrinkable concoction.
That night, we all got together for a final meal in a local restaurant. I started the evening off with a little drinky in the hotel foyer – paying for a single measure of Southern Comfort and then â€™topping myself upâ€™ when the barman wandered off and left the bottle there.. ( a textbook error in any western bar ). The evening peaked when, full of alcohol and curry, we loudly â€™noticedâ€™ the adamâ€™s apple on a passing pre-op ladyboy 😈 . Hesheit retalliated by throwing a drink in our direction and, swinging manly hips, strutted back to confront us when we laughed at his/her/its poor resemblance to anything female.
Acting overtly female, it seemed as though not using physical force would be a natural reaction, but the gender-confused fella tried to take the piss out of Trentâ€™s Thai girlfriend and, obviously not unused to the concept of “a man acting as a woman is still a man”, stepped straight up with intent. The little Thai fella shrank further and, sensibly, retreated. We went and got pissed on Sam Song.