A Travellerspoint blog

Living like a local in the Karen Villages

Hilltribe treks north of Chiang Mai, Thailand

semi-overcast 93 °F
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Today is May 21st, 2010 and I woke up pleasantly surprised that my stomach was feeling top notch. Lisa and I checked out of the MD House and walked over to Tony’s Tours to drop off our big backpacks and anxiously awaited or tour guides arrival for the adventure to begin. Tony informed us that we would be with 7 other travelers taking in the experience but in the end it was just 1 other guy, Robin, from Sweden. So much for meeting some cute singles on this trip.

First up after the ride north was a trek to a waterfall. Funny as we walked through the woods all the trees were brown and appeared to be in need of water. We heard no waterfall and there was “no” waterfall. Okay, we can live with that but what is in store for us next? To think we really researched this tour also. Now that I think of it, Lisa did inform me a few days prior that she doesn’t have the best of luck and she is very protective of all her belongings in fear of them being stolen. Maybe some of her “luck” was rubbing off on me and not in a good way. No worries, we are here and making the most of the 3 person tour. I’d like to think that we were given the full “Thailand Hill Tribe Trek” experience. We weren’t on your typical touristy tour by any means.

After the waterfall trek, we took in some grub and began our 3 ½ hour trek to our first Karen village. We stopped along the way to take in some sights, sample the fruit from the trees. I am a big mango fan but the sour mango Sunshine had us try was a bit too much. I preferred the lychee and couldn’t get enough of them. We arrived around 5pm to the first Karen village and got settled in to our bed area if you could call it that. This was exactly what I expected. No thrills, no real bed and no real shower. We took a breather and took turns using their form of a shower. A bucket, very cold water and a few splashes on myself to refresh.

The three of us sat around and took in some more lychees. The other two tried pig intestine while I opted against that one. Not unless I am fighting for 1 million dollars would I choose to eat that. I will say I have come along way though and I did try catfish for dinner. I mean the fish where they just cook and serve, no de-scaling or de-anything. Straight up fish! After dinner there was not much more to do than call it a night. It was pouring down rain and we had an early start with many kilometers ahead of us. Call it a first in ages but I got very cold and had to use the blanket at the end of the bed that appeared to be last washed maybe 5 years ago. I used my flashlight to check for crawlers and after about an hour of feeling all itchy, I managed to fall asleep.

No sleeping in at the village. Those darn roosters are up at 4am trying to wake you up. One day gone, another day of trekking begins. Breakfast was simple and we started our 9km trek up and down the hills north of Chiang Mai in route to another Karen Village. Bring on the elephants please! We would stop for lunch at the elephant village for some grub then a 1 hour ride through more bush. Good thing we waited a few minutes after lunch because those elephants don’t give you the smoothest ride in the world. Lisa and I shared one, while Robin went solo. A few times I couldn’t help but get that Grand Canyon imagine of the woman that was trampled by the mule when I was volunteering out of my head. We had a few crazy turns and steep down hills but we made it.

What better way to end a hot, sweaty day than with a proper shower. We arrived at the second Karen village in time to lounge for a bit, shower, walk around and see the village and then some dinner grub. I can’t help but long for a bed someday, a real one. Who knows when that will be but as for now I am living day to day and taking in all that I can. It is amazing to see how these people live and many never leave their tribes. They don’t know about wii or fight over the latest Nintendo dx because they don’t know any better. They play in the rice fields, chase pigs and enjoy the outdoors. Well, with all that said, I did see a satellite set outside a home. Even still, let them watch a little television. They deserve it.

After dinner, Robin and I opted for some Thai massages. We had the candle light and massage in our bed mats. However, I am convinced that these women were NOT trained in massage what so ever. I’d call it a “spine rub” more than a massage but the woman meant well. At least the price I paid her would help out the village. Off to bed it is as tomorrow would come quick.

The last day was full of bamboo rafting down the river. We had our leg workout so why not work our arms for a bit. Their were a few bumps along the way but for the most part, we did very well and Sunshine was a great guide. We had lunch on the water after 5 hours of rafting and then headed over to check out one other waterfall on the way back to Chiang Mai. This one ACTUALLY existed.

So long hill tribe treks and it was time to head back to Chiang Mai, get our backpacks and find a place to lay our heads for the night. This was an amazing experience. Okay, so it wasn’t what we thought exactly. We didn’t see the actual “longneck” tribe or had many others with us on the journey but we did take in some Thailand culture and learned about different types of rice, saw how hard the tribes work and what little they have as far as material things. Family is everything to them.

Goodbye Karen village, Hello Chiang Mai for round two. Let’s hope the curfew is gone and the night markets are back.

Cheers!
Jk livin’

The Dish is out...

Posted by Dishtravel 20:22 Archived in Thailand Tagged foot Comments (0)

Time to venture up north

Chiang Mai, Thailand

91 °F
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Today is May 19th, 2010 and the time is 11:00am. Lisa and I just arrived at the Chiang Mai train station only 2 hours after the scheduled arrival time. I call it “Thai“ time. I’ve realized that traveling with a buddy has its perks. I don’t have to lug my entire “house” of a backpack to the toilet anymore and the price for accommodation is cut in ½ most times. Not to mention I have stopped talking to myself for the time being and now have a real person to carry on an English conversation and take in the culture.

We were greeted by many offerings of accommodation and seeing we had nothing booked, we took them up on a free ride to town to check out their guesthouse. It was a bit out of the way for us so we put on our lovely backpacks and trekked around Chiang Mai for what felt like ages but probably just 1 hour. We arrived at the MD House that was very central to the new and old city. It was a bit more than we wanted to pay but took it because we just wanted to settle in and walk around without a huge weight on our backs. They did have free wifi!!!

These two girls are hungry and we proceeded to find some grub but went all over the place before we settled on what soon became a favorite of mine, Taste of Heaven. It was a vegetarian restaurant and something I would find back in LA. It was a great change from the typical Thai-style food. This is where I started my fresh spring roll obsession to add to my mango and sticky rice addiction as well. I also gave in on having some pumpkin in coconut milk for dessert. YUMMY!

After lunch I spotted a dentist and made an appointment for the next day. I wanted to check on fixing an implant I’ve had for 16 years and was told Thailand is great for this kind of stuff. What did I see on the wall? The dentist studied at UCLA which was reassuring to me. Lisa and I spent a bit of time just walking around and stopping in at tour places to see what they had for the hill tribe treks. That was a must and the reason for my Chiang Mai visit. We spoke with Tony’s Tours and it seemed the best but we didn’t sign up just then.

The daylight is growing dim and it is that time again…Thai massage time! As Lisa got a massage, I got a pedicure and leg wax. Next up, massage for me. Well, that was the plan but circumstances got in the way and I had to pass on it. The massage place closed down and we were informed of the fire 100 meters away near the Starbucks that we were at just an hour earlier. Apparently, the red shirts have come up to Chiang Mai now and were causing a bit of trouble putting fire to some car tires in the center of the new city. Have no fear, we will just go to the night markets and take a different route there to avoid all the chaos. Turns out, no night markets because the entire city is put on an 8pm curfew. Really? We just left our one night in Bangkok and didn’t go outside of the Hilton to avoid the red shirts and now they are here?

Back to the MD House it is for the two of us but we wanted some grub for dinner first. We spotted a local guy making food on the corner by our accommodations and he had fresh spring rolls!!! Score! We waited for quite some time because the poor guy was all alone and had 5 people ahead of us. It was worth the wait. We brought them back to the our place and chatted with some fellow travelers having some evening cocktails. A night isn’t complete when you have free wifi until you actually use it so I tapped on for a bit. You know I keep checking on flights back to Sydney as I still weigh out my options of “Do I stay or do I go?” Only time will tell.

One night down, another day in the city of Chiang Mai begins. Today’s agenda involves a bit of shopping, the dentist and signing up for the hill tribe treks. After picking up our laundry and some morning lounging I set out for the dentist. I didn’t get the best of news. Just as the first Iphone is out of date, so is my darn screw on the implant. I grew very frustrated and what better way to help me out than to go to my new favorite restaurant, the Taste of Heaven. On a positive note, I finally got my teeth cleaned after 11 months. What a great feeling!

I met up with Lisa to help find some trainers for the trekking at the day markets. I’m not feeling the best and think I must stay away from the papaya salad because they are far too spicy and this could have been the culprit to my last stomach issue. We signed up for the 2 nights in the Karen Tribe Villages and I set out for a massage. It was by far the best one yet. I actually changed into a different shirt and she used some great oil. I had the poor Thai girl sweating afterwards because my back was so tense but she helped get some knots out which was a great feeling. Can’t beat a Thai massage for less than $5 American.

Another day is almost done and I decided to check out this so called “gym” at the hotel. I couldn’t help but laugh at the equipment and tried the elliptical (the manual version of one) for 10 minutes. The treadmill was off limits because it was a very small belt and it was manual as well. I attempted but no run there. The whole experience gave me a laugh and I forgot about my stomach ache for a bit. Nothing like life on the road and in a third world country.

As the night progressed, I was feeling a bit worse but positive a good night’s sleep would allow me to go on the hill tribe adventure in the morning. I was beginning to get some flashbacks from Koh Phi Phi and holding my stomach. Sleep was difficult but somewhere between 4am and 8am I was pretty much cured. Thank you God!

So long Chiang Mai and hello Karen tribe villages. Hill tribe treks here we come!

Cheers!
jk livin’

The Dish is out...

Posted by Dishtravel 20:13 Archived in Thailand Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

One night in Bangkok...

"flash" packing and staying safe at the Hilton compound

semi-overcast 87 °F
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Today is May 17th and I left off with the last 4 hours of our bus ride from Koh Tao to Bangkok where I would finally share this “flash” packing lifestyle with a fellow travel friend, Lisa. Ever since this day I can’t help but sing that song “One night in Bangkok…!” I can’t think of any other lyrics than those though.

The time is 9pm and the bus has stopped at a random bus stop in the city. There, we got a taxi to the Millennium Hilton. Funny how you tell someone where you want to go and they say 1 hour (partly because they don’t know where it is and that 1 hour means 50 minutes of asking for directions). After much back and forth and stopping at the wrong hotel we have arrived at the HILTON. If we went direct it would have been maybe 15 minutes. We don’t care, we are here. Thanks to my gold status we checked in at the honors desk and got an upgrade to all day access to the executive lounge on the 31st floor for free food and wifi until 11pm. We were both stoked to have the luxury life for the next 21 hrs and wanted to soak it all up. We felt no real need to leave seeing how there is still trouble around with all the red shirts. We would be back and plenty of time to explore later.

As tired as we were for traveling all day and sitting on a bus, we got a bit of a second wind when we saw all that we could do. I hit the gym for a late night run and Lisa opted to take a whirlpool bath. We called it a night around 1am and up for free breakfast around 930am. I know life is pretty rough right now. The weather wasn’t real sunny so instead of sitting by the pool we roamed on the net, took in free snacks and the city view from the lounge. Lisa dipped in a pool a bit and I took on the gym again. We didn’t have to check out until 4pm and at that time we stored our luggage and back up to our lounge life. Cool, more snacks and at 6pm we would get drinks.

“Excuse me, do you have a skirt?” I didn’t think that comment would lead to such a big deal but after 30 minutes of explaining myself, they brought my luggage up where I searched for some pants or skirt and in the end created a skirt from a dress so I could stay and take in happy hour for 30 minutes before our boat to the bus stop. I guess the Hilton has standards which is great but not so much for this backpacker at times.

All good things must come to an end and it is time to trade in my Hilton key for a train ticket to Chiang Mai. Good bye for now but something tells me I just may see this Hilton again someday. Seeing it is on the river, you get free ferry rides to the other side. Once over there we took a Tuk Tuk to the train station and bought 730pm tickets on the sleeper train with air con. I’m getting flash backs of TIE 1999 when I traveled Europe in college. As we headed to the train I spotted corn in the cup. Score! I got a cup and once settled on the train I ran back for 2 more for the trip. I love this stuff. Lisa and I chatted and shared a little bottle of vodka and orange juice to wind down before our night on the train. Sleeper trains rock! You leave one city and wake up rested in another.

It’s a new day, and we arrived in Chiang Mai just 2 hours after scheduled. The time is 11am and it is time to take on a new city. I know for sure that I want to do a Hill tribe trek but other than that, who knows. Bring on this new adventure in northern Thailand.

Cheers!
Jk livin’

The Dish is out...

Posted by Dishtravel 20:09 Archived in Thailand Tagged luxury_travel Comments (0)

Mermaid time once again

Scuba diving in Koh Tao, Thailand

semi-overcast 87 °F
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Let’s see, I left off with myself finding a place in Koh Tao after an adventurous and long boat ride, followed by a van to bus to ferry and a trek up hill to the Sairee Beach area. Today is May 15th, 2010 and Prick Thai is my new humble abode for the next few days. Basically, the room isn’t too bad, or so I thought. It is similar to a single hostel room in Australia really, having cement walls and nice floor was a bonus in picking it over the bungalow that had many cracks, holes and space for friendly crawlers to join me on this stay. Note to self, not having your own bathroom does have its downfalls when it is pouring down rain in the middle of the night. Upon check in, I forgot to notice there was one small window for ventilation and the bed was set between two cement walls as if they were built around it.

The time is 4pm and I finally settled in my room, and ventured on to find a dive shop going to Chumpon the next day. I stepped out of my door and down poor all around. Glad to know I still have my raincoat and umbrella with me on my travels. After waterproofing myself, I walked down to find Seashell Dive and noticed they will dive Chumpon and White Rock in the morning. Score! I signed up and the rain stopped. I made my way back to my lovely room and ran into two fellow travelers coming out of their rooms with what appeared to be a laptop. Kirsten and Lisa were their names and they were both from England, both traveling solo as well. I asked if they knew of free wifi and they informed me of several bars and also the dive shop across the street. The two of them met doing a course at Scuba Junction. We parted ways and I met them up later for dinner on the beach where we were able to see fire throwing and watch the tide come up to our table almost submerging Kirsten towards the end of dinner. It was great to chat with them and compare travel stories and the lives we all have back at home. We all had one common denominator, being jobless. What better time to travel when we have nothing keeping us grounded at this point in our lives.

After a great grub, we all headed to a pub to use some free wifi and chatted about our next adventure. Lisa was set to leave for Chiang Mai in a few days and I considered going along or possibly meeting her later. It is nice to travel with someone while in these countries. She was planning for a Monday departure and me probably Tuesday. However, we know I don’t have any real set plan rather just go with the flow. I still have it set in my mind that I may need to be back in Sydney around the 8th of June.

Remember I mentioned my great tiny room and how I didn’t think it through? Well, not so good on the sleeping. It was very hot and no air flow. I tossed and turned for what appeared to be hours before I came up with this next plan. I opened my door, used my chair as a barrier for animals and my bungey cord around the knob. I was impressed with my plan and somehow found myself able to sleep an hour or so before my 6am departure for the dive shop. The storm finally subsided and we had 2 great dives. I met a fellow American and he was my dive buddy, however, he had to go up early both dives due to his massive air consumption. I don’t mean to brag but I am very good on air and people like to have me as a buddy. I think I could stay down for ages if they’d let me.

While diving Chumpon, I saw something that I never have before, someone participating in the 100th dive ritual…a NAKED dive. Talk about scuba diving being a “freeing” experience! My lovely dive buddy found it fun to point underwater and having me turn smack into this gentleman’s white butt. No, I did not hit it but I was very close.

It’s almost 11am and we are back on shore, 2 dives down, and the rest of the day to wonder around. I loved the dive but realized how much I miss my own fins. I had to use kid fins today and I have a bunch of blisters. After chatting with Adrian, my American dive buddy, I really want to stay traveling and worry about a return ticket later. It is always on the back of my mind. I went back to Prick Thai and had to change rooms. I am now in a bungalow right next to the girls from last night and I am so happy to have my own bathroom again. I am not sure what came over me but I decided to sign up with Scuba Junction to complete my Advanced course in the morning. I have 2 dives left. I sent a face book message to my friend Amy’s awesome hubby Rob on some advice just to make sure. His answer said it all. Did I really need to complete the dive course here when I can already go 30M? Also, do I really need to pay $200 when I can go to Key West and do my last 2 dives with Rob to get certified later? Let me think on that for a minute.

What better way to think on an issue than with some happy hour drinks. I met up with Lisa and we hit a bungalow bar close by and before you knew it, all was so clear to me. I decided to pass on the 2 dives, go to Bangkok in the morning with her and called the Hilton for a night of “flashpacking.” It’s a done deal! Kirsten met up later and we informed her of our latest decision and she was sad to see us go, a tad jealous of where we would stay tomorrow evening, but excited for us none the less. Just a random piece of information, Kirsten and I discovered we had the same birthday! CRAZY!

The evening is almost complete. The three of us headed to the pub for some wifi before retiring for the evening. I slept like a baby that night. The morning came quick and Lisa woke me up around 8am so that I could finish packing up my things, buy a bus/boat ticket and tell the dive shop that I would not be doing the 2 dives. Kirsten had the best reason for me, I got my days mixed up. So common with travelers. I hit the shop right as they opened and told them that I had to back out because I got the date wrong and actually needed to be in Bangkok. No problem! A guy heard me mention that and couldn’t help but inform me that he actually went to the airport a day early once.

Let the journey from Koh Tao to Bangkok begin. Free taxi to the port at 930am to catch the 2 hour ferry at 10am to Chumpon. There we waited for an hour before our 8 hour bus ride to Bangkok. Little did I know how much this 8 hour bus ride would kill my butt and make me wish I could transport myself telepathically to the Hilton. We made a stop ½ way for grub and a chance to buy some thai snacks. I opted to get some dried bananas while others on the bus bought some dried fish. Yes, dried fish I said. As we walked back on the bus, there was a very STRONG fish scent that made me want to vomit. Apparently the guy in front of me decided to try the fish but I asked him to seal it tight when he was done.

4 hour on the bus done, 4 hours to go before our “one night in Bangkok!”

Cheers!
Jk livin’

The Dish is out...

Posted by Dishtravel 20:04 Archived in Thailand Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Bring on the rocks, the ropes & the chalk

Rock climbing in Railay, Thailand

semi-overcast 89 °F
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Railay in the rain here we come! I am not sure if I mentioned how great it is to travel with a heavy backpack, a front pack, rain, and searching for a place to sleep. Glorious! Absolutely Glorious!!! Okay so maybe I am being a bit sarcastic at this point. The date is May 13th, 2010 and I am in Railay Beach with an English girl Tina and a German girl Hannah. After much travel in the rain we found a place and Tina and I decided to share a room with Air Con. Hannah checked in down the street from us in a Bungalow because there were no rooms for 3 people. We all got settled in and met up for dinner down the hill and discussed climbing the next day. We all talked about how chilled this place is compared to Phi Phi. What a difference!

Finally after much back and forth between different climbing companies, we were able to get a good deal and booked for the next day. I am still coming off of being sick and wanted nothing to do with any alcohol. The other girls had a few drinks but I opted to check online for a bit then met them at a chill bar with live music. Funny thing was a grasshopper really wanted part of the action and stuck on the singer’s head the entire time. Very amusing!

Call me a loser but this girl was ready for bed and called it a night. We all got up around 7am to hit the climbing place and start our journey. This may be partly my fault because I asked to go by the cave but we trekked quite a bit of the island in our thongs before getting to a bit harder climb than a normal beginners. It was great though, challenging but fun all the same. I even got to belay the guide as he did a lead climb. Talk about a bit of pressure. Later, Tina belayed me on a climb. We all did a few challenging climbs (5c was the hardest and you may think that is easy but not when you’ve only gone a few times).

Next up, a climb through a dark cave in thongs again before we absailed down 25meters to a great lookout. It was like 3 activities in 1 and we all enjoyed it. Well, maybe me a bit more but I liked the challenge of a dark trek. We all headed back to the beach and to return our gear. I think I found another new hobby to dabble into every now and again. I will have to take my cousins up on their offer to bring me climbing now. I even asked the guide on prices for shoe but I can not buy any just yet. This journey is all about trying new things and I like that motto because it keep things interesting and new. Once we got back Tina and I took a dip in the pool (yes, we have a pool this time) and showered up for a walk around with Hannah joining us.

Another rainy night has set in and we walked around the island a bit then got stuck at an expensive place to eat before returning back to our side. I had to plan my escape now and because I am still unaware as to when I will go back to the US, it makes my planning a bit difficult. I am going with the idea that I will get back to Sydney to make my return flight on June 9th at this moment but things do change. One minute I thought I was going to Koh Samui then Koh Samet and I ended up on heading to Koh Tao on an early boat/bus ride the following day. I heard good things and I wanted to dive again. The word on the street (and the Lonely Planet) is that Koh Tao is a place. It is known for taking diving courses but seeing how I spent massive amounts on that in Cairns, Australia, I just wanted to go dive a great site. I was told to do Chumpon by fellow travelers. First mission is to get there, next find a place to stay and then a dive shop that will do Chumpon the next morning. This girl can’t waste any time.

I spent my last night at the live music bar again watching several bad karaoke sessions and chatted with an American girl from Virginia that moved to Bangkok to teach. Seeing that sparks my interest, we had a great conversation. She and her boyfriend have been away for 2 years teaching in Korea and now Bangkok. We exchanged emails in case I made it back to Bangkok before her US return. I stayed a bit with Tina to take in the music then we headed back where I packed up and watched a little TV.

7am came too quickly and I am nervous for this long journey to Koh Tao. I am not the best with boats or long bus rides but sometimes you have to suck it up and go with the flow. First form of transportation, a longboat for 20 minutes to a waiting van for several hours, I think 4 or so. Next we got in the back of a truck for a minute, then a larger bus in which we picked up randoms along the way. Yes, I found it funny how the driver would pick up his local friends to give them lifts to work as we tourists just waited. Once, his friend forgot his belt. No problem, we just sat on the side of the street while he went to get it. Another girl got a lift by flagging the bus driver down. Once aboard, she asked him to open the doors so she could get out to give her boyfriend a kiss. As all this was going on, I couldn’t help but make eye contact with a fellow traveler and just laugh. Only in Thailand!

Last transportation, a ferry over to Koh Tao. I was so tired and found myself able to squeeze through the armrests to lay down and take a snooze on this 2 hour ride. My arrival into the very chaotic Koh Tao pier was 230pm in which I was immediately bombarded by locals for a taxi ride, accommodation, diving lessons. It was insane. I refused all and decided to walk to the Sairee Beach where I was told to get a place to stay. One large hill really got me puffing and I ran into Crystal Divers along the trek and asked on dives. I also met an LA guy as I made my way through the beach area. This reminds me of the Gili Islands in Lombok from back in September of 2009. I love all the lounging places to chill and watch movies.

430pm rolled around and I forgot I still have my pack on me and I need accommodation. A nice guy at a climbing place suggested Prick Thai so I went there. After looking at various rooms I decided I don’t need my own shower rather did the cheap route and settled on a single with a fan. If only I knew what would come of this room and the lack of sleep. Live and learn I say.

Cheers!
jk livin’

The Dish is out...

Posted by Dishtravel 19:59 Archived in Thailand Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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