Monthly Archives: December 2012

India!

We’ve finally made our way to India. It’s been on our list of places to visit for quite a while, and now we’re here. We arrived on December 8th in Kolkata (Calcutta) after traveling for a few weeks in Thailand. There was no specific reason for choosing Kolkata as our starting point, other than the fact that Air Asia flies from Bangkok, Thailand to either Kolkata or Chennai. After some quick online research, Kolkata won. So, this posting is all about Kolkata.

One of the Hindu statues at the India Museum in Kolkata.

Hindu statue on display at the India Museum in Kolkata.

The experience of India actually started before we even arrived, and even before we left Thailand. The flight from Thailand to India included mostly Indians on the flight, which is to be expected. And with them came a bit of the Indian culture. As is commonly known, India has a large population, about 1.2 billion people. And in many places the population density is very high. According to the 2011 census, the population density of Kolkata was around 69,000 people per square mile. For comparison, in 2011, New York City had a population density of around 27,000 people per square mile and Boston was around 12,750 people per square mile. We’ve come to realize that this density can create competition for space.

This competition for space appeared on our fight to Kolkata. As soon as it was announced that boarding of the plane would begin, people dashed to the doorway leading to the buses that were to take us to the airplane parked elsewhere. Now, out of fairness, this happens at airports in the U.S. and other places we’ve traveled, though, to a lesser degree. People were jockeying for position, cutting the line, and there was a general sense of panic and anxiety in the air. It was clear that the folks at Air Asia on this particular flight were used to this and sent people away from the front of the line. At which point they cut in other sections of the line.

Passports and Visas had to be checked, so the line moved at a little slower than the boarding of most flights, but still a totally acceptable pace. As we waited in line, a couple of men directly behind us were outwardly troubled by the slow pace of the line. They were moving side to side trying to catch a glimpse of the front of the line, maybe trying to figure out what was taking so long. They sighed anxiously every 15 seconds or so, while bumping into my and Sarah’s backpacks almost constantly. Other travelers we met before India warned us that line cutting was common place in India and that you had to hold your ground in order not to lose your place in line. So Sarah and I gave gentle, yet obvious nudges backwards to make them aware of their encroachment.

Throughout the ordeal we couldn’t help but laugh out loud. Once I had reached the front of the line one of the two men made a last ditch effort to make it to the front of a second line parallel to ours. He was quickly rejected and sent back to his place in the other line. I finally asked the men what they were worried about and commented that the plane wasn’t going to leave without us and the 40 other people still waiting in line behind us. One of the men chuckled because he knew it to be true, yet, their anxiety persisted.

After our visas and passports were checked we boarded the buses that would transport us to the airplane. The frantic atmosphere was present there as well. People refused to give up their positions closest to the door, making it hard for others to enter the bus and make their way to empty space. Once the bus reached the airplane, everyone hurried to the side of the bus that was closest to the stairs leading to the entrance of the plane. The doors opened and people squeezed their way through and  then wedged themselves in front of others at the bottom of the stairs. There was still more jockeying for position on the stairs. Sarah and I got a little joy out of creating a human barrier, blocking anyone from passing us.

Once we were on the plane it became apparent why there was so much competition for line placement. Many of the passengers had purchased duty free items and wanted to ensure they had a place in the overhead storage compartments. There was a small group of men that had far more bags than was allowed and took up more overhead compartment space than you’re supposed to. Even without the fight for luggage space, many people had a hurried pace for no apparent reason. All the while, the flight attendants were clearly frustrated, and at times appeared to take their frustrations out by aggressively jamming luggage into the overhead compartments. Luckily, we found space for our bags near our seats, though, not above our seats where they’re supposed to go.

And that was our introduction to India.

After arriving at the Kolkata airport, we had to take a taxi to a hotel we picked out of the guidebook. We were told by a security guard that there were metered taxis outside. So we tracked down a taxi driver who claimed he had a meter. I was skeptical from the get go and once arriving at his car refused to enter until he showed me the meter. He pointed to a very old analogue gauge of some sort, clearly not resembling any kind of meter for tracking the cost of fare. So I said to him, “that’s not a meter”, to which we agreed and then quoted us a ridiculously high fare, 850 Rupees ($16). I’d read on a recent trip adviser posting that the fare should run around 220 Rupees ($4). So we walked away from his cab as he tried to negotiate price, all the while refusing his still too high quotes. The same trip adviser posting mentioned that there was a prepaid taxi. So we walked, carrying our large and small backpacks, surrounded by 5-8 taxi drivers all vying for our business until we found the prepaid taxi booth. We paid the 250 Rupee rate and finally got a taxi to the hotel.

The hotel we stayed at appeared to be a building from the British colonial era. It had an old style lift and a nice classic feel to it. There were bell boys on every floor, always trying to find a way to serve you. We’d read about this ahead of time and always politely told them “no thanks”. They were eager to serve solely in an attempt to receive a tip. We’re budget travelers, so tipping is something we avoid when at all possible. The room we stayed in cost enough, so paying for a service we didn’t want was not going to happen.

The old style lift in the hotel.

The old style lift in the hotel.

It's become a custom to have a beer our first night in a new place.

It’s become a custom to have a beer our first night in a new place.

The room at Hotel Broadway we stayed in.

The room at Hotel Broadway we stayed in.

Our first official meal in India. We started off with Pakora (deep fried veggies). Yum!

Our first official meal in India. We started off with Pakora (deep fried veggies). Yum!

We soon found out that bell boys weren’t the only people wanting money. We were either asked for money directly, or given a service we didn’t want and then asked for money, somewhere in the range of 40-50 times during our three days in Kolkata. Some of these were vendors that approached us in the street asking us to visit their “shop”. The conversation always starts with “where are you from?”. Unfortunately, we’ve had to resort to outwardly saying to people after hearing this question, “we don’t want anything”. So far, this only seems to be a problem in areas that tourists frequent.

Our first night out we walked from our hotel to the tourist area near Sudder St and Park St. We threw ourselves head first into the sea of people and the madness of the street traffic. Crossing the streets in Kolkata was the most challenging and scariest we’ve experienced so far. The best tactic is to join others in a critical mass until you can block the flow of traffic.

This sort of captures how congested the roads are.

This sort of captures how congested the roads are.

An easier way to navigate the city was to take the train. The train line runs past most of the areas we wanted to see during our visit so we took it often. A train ride usually cost us around 4 rs ($0.08) per person per ride. Not bad. As can be imagined, the train got pretty packed at times. On especially crowded rides we had to join the other riders in jamming ourselves into the already packed train cars. The crowd becomes a huge moving mass of people.

Kolkata city train

Kolkata city train

The first night out we discovered Kathi rolls. Think buttered burrito tortilla filled with Indian food. They became a staple food for us because of their low price, around 15 – 45 rs ($0.30 – $0.85) per roll. One roll was sufficient for a meal. The fillings that we tried were paneer (cheese with the consistency of tofu), chicken, vegetables, egg, and combinations of any of those, all with Indian spices. They were a little on the greasy side but very delicious.

Our first Kathi rolls. One chicken and one paneer, both with veggies and spices.

Our first Kathi rolls. One chicken and one paneer, both with veggies and spices.

The master Kathi chefs. The youngest guy on the left rolled the dough into flat circles Then the guy in the back fried the dough and also cooked the fillings on the huge concave frying pan. Next the guy in red filled the fried wraps. The fella in the foreground took orders  and money, and then passed out the goods. Very efficient operation.

The master Kathi chefs. The youngest guy on the left rolled the dough into flat circles Then the guy in the back fried the dough and also cooked the fillings on the huge concave frying pan. Next the guy in red filled the fried wraps. The fella in the foreground took orders and money, and then passed out the goods. Very efficient operation.

Not surprisingly, one of the reasons we were excited to visit India was because of the food. There was plenty to try in Kolkata.

Breakfast a Radhuni. Lentils and vegetable curry with Chapati bread.

Breakfast a Radhuni. Lentils and vegetable curry with Chapati bread.

Breakfast a Radhuni. Lentils and vegetable curry with Chapati bread.

Breakfast a Radhuni. Lentils and vegetable curry with Chapati bread.

Vegetable dosa (pancake with veggies)

Vegetable dosa (pancake with veggies)

Momos from a food cart.

Momos from a food cart.

Paying the bill at the momo cart. Five momos and a small bowl of soup cost 15 rupees ($0.30).

Paying the bill at the momo cart. Five momos and a small bowl of soup cost 15 rupees ($0.30).

We didn't try any of this fruit, but the sidewalks were filled with guys like this selling all kinds of Indian foods.

We didn’t try any of this fruit, but the sidewalks were filled with guys like this selling all kinds of Indian foods.

Chai stands were ubiquitous.

Chai stands were ubiquitous.

Some of the chai stands used disposable clay cups instead of plastic. This is good because there was lots of plastic litter everywhere. Some food carts also used bowls made of dry leaves.

Some of the chai stands used disposable clay cups instead of plastic. This is good because there was lots of plastic litter everywhere. Some food carts also used bowls made of dry leaves.

Close up of the clay cup filled with chai.

Close up of the clay cup filled with chai.

And of course we found McDonald's soft serve ice cream.

And of course we found McDonald’s soft serve ice cream.

Kolkata was the British era capital and is full of architecture and some monuments from that era. One of the most impressive monuments is the Victoria Monument, built in honor of Queen Victoria.

Police car parked outside of the monument. Kolkata was full of this exact car, used as taxis, private cars and police cars.

Police car parked outside of the monument. Kolkata was full of this exact car, used as taxis, private cars and police cars.

Back of Victoria Monument.

Back of Victoria Monument.

Back of Victoria Monument.

Families use the grounds around the monument as a picnic area and to the escape the hectic city.

Statue of Edward the VII.

Statue of Edward the VII.

Entrance to Victoria Monument.

Entrance to Victoria Monument.

The crowd of people entering and exiting the monument. There were so many people that a tour of the monument meant walking in a fast moving crowd/line through the monument from start to finish.

The crowd of people entering and exiting the monument. There were so many people that a tour of the monument meant walking in a fast moving crowd/line through the monument from start to finish.

While trying to buy train tickets to our next destination we walked through what used to be the business district of British era Kolkata. The buildings have held up pretty well and seem to be heavily used to this day.

P1060733 P1060734

This guy is sharpening knives on a peddle powered sharpening wheel.

This guy is sharpening knives on a peddle powered sharpening wheel.

P1060930 P1060934

Trolley system still running in parts of the city.

Trolley system still running in parts of the city.

Central A/C.

Central A/C.

Would you buy insurance from these guys?

Would you buy insurance from these guys?

Small lake in the old business district.

Small lake in the old business district.

You figure it out.

You figure it out.

The Indian Museum was founded in 1814 and is a huge old building housing some amazing artifacts, ranging from fossils to ancient Hindu stone carvings. We spent the better part of a day exploring the museum and waiting for some of the exhibits to open. Aside from the artifacts, the building and old display cabinets were reason enough to visit the museum. It felt like we’d traveled back in time.

A couple hours after opening the museum really started to fill up.

A couple hours after opening the museum really started to fill up.

175th Anniversary plaque.

175th Anniversary plaque.

Queen Victoria statue.

Queen Victoria statue.

Museum hallway.

Museum hallway.

Museum courtyard.

Museum courtyard.

Giant deer.

Giant deer.

One of the exhibit halls.

One of the exhibit halls.

Beautiful old display cabinets.

Beautiful old display cabinets.

It looked like many of the exhibits had been locked up for decades. Many artifacts were covered in a thick layer of dust.

It looked like many of the exhibits had been locked up for decades. Many artifacts were covered in a thick layer of dust.

Some of the exhibits were unfortunately closed.

Some of the exhibits were unfortunately closed.

Human fetus.

Human fetus.

Eight legged lamb.

Eight legged lamb.

Hippo and Asian Elephant skeletons.

Hippo and Asian Elephant skeletons.

After finding the foreign ticket office and bringing the correct documentation, we bought our tickets and made are way to Darjeeling by train. This was our first experience with the train system in India. According to our guide book, the Indian rail system is the largest employer in the world with roughly 1.5 million workers, and transports around 20 million people everyday. Wow!

Being our first experience with the train in India we didn’t know what to expect. The station in Kolkata is huge and was filled with hundreds, maybe thousands of people. Similar to our experience on the flight to India, the train station was a frenetic place with people running back and forth every few minutes or so as platform numbers were announced. Each platform was full of people, luggage, and tons of cargo. As is common in densely populated areas in India, the smell of urine and feces was in the air. There were dogs everyone, food venders, and men moving cargo bag and forth from platform to platform. While waiting for our train we got to experience many more of the curious stares from Indians we’ve come to accept. Suffice to say, it was an exciting, slightly overwhelming experience.

The train ride itself went off without a hitch and we arrived in Darjeeling the next day. There were a few more surprises though. Many beggars, people giving blessings and asking for merit/payment in return, and what I can only describe as rude gypsies clapping loudly in your face and then expecting some money in return passed through the train several times. This gave us more practice at saying “No” in an even more convincing manner. All in all an interesting experience to say the least.

One of the many farms we saw during our ride to Darjeeling.

One of the many farms we saw during our ride to Darjeeling.

There was no need to buy the more expensive A/C train tickets since the temperature was plenty cold.

There was no need to buy the more expensive A/C train tickets since the temperature was plenty cold.

The sleeper car we stayed in. The Foreign ticket office worker reserved us the two bunks on the right, as opposed to the six grouped together on the left, stacked three high.

The sleeper car we stayed in. The Foreign ticket office worker reserved us the two bunks on the right, as opposed to the six grouped together on the left, stacked three high.

The train platform in Kolkata. Of course, people were eager to enter the train to get to their ASSIGNED SEATS!

The train platform in Kolkata. Of course, people were eager to enter the train to get to their ASSIGNED SEATS!

This young guy came through our train car to sing and drum in an effort to earn a little money. It worked.

This young guy came through our train car to sing and drum in an effort to earn a little money. It worked.

Kolkata was a great introduction to India. It gave us a taste of some of the many characteristics of the country. That said, I’m sure there’s much more to experience.

Categories: Architecture, Cities, South East Asia, Traveling | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pak Chong, Khoa Yai National Park, and Silk in Surin

After our break in Railay we decided to get back on the travel wagon and head for the great outdoors of Khoa Yai National Park near Pak Chong.

We took a brief research detour to the city of Patong, which is on Phuket Island. The one night stay was enough for us to know we didn’t want to stay there in the future with my family. Patong is VERY touristy, the most we’ve experienced so far. And with that comes the frustration of saying “no, I don’t want a taxi or tuk tuk, no I don’t want a suit, no I would not like a massage” over and over again. We booked it out of there the following day and heading up north and then east to the city of Pak Chong.

Pak Chong is  a smaller city that doesn’t have many tourist come through. It’s always refreshing to stay in a town like this. The people are more curious about you and very willing to help without expecting you to visit their shop or buy something from them. Dave and I have come to realize we enjoy towns like this much more than any touristy town out there. The lonely planet guides usually do a really good job of creating touristy towns, so these small gems are a lot harder to find.

We were both exhausted from the 13-14 hour overnight bus to Bangkok and the 3 hour bus from Bangkok to Pak Chong, so we decided to stay in the closest hotel we could find. The hotel was called Pak Chong Hotel and was right across the street from the night market. We indulged ourselves in the best Pad Thai we’ve had so far in Thailand, these crepe type things, waffles, and Happy Milk shakes. All of these were a total of 160 Baht ($5.20), which is what Dave and I spent on dinner or lunch in Railay. These night markets or even the day markets are perfect for us and our budget.

Making the crepe things.

Making the crepe things.

The food station where we got our pad thai.

The food station where we got our pad thai.

Best pad thai so far

Best pad thai so far

Night markets are cheap and offer lots of yummy food.

Night markets are cheap and offer lots of yummy food.

Waffles. We tried the coconut, chocolate, and corn one. They all tasted like butter to us.

Waffles. We tried the coconut, chocolate, and corn one. They all tasted like butter to us.

Happy Milk milk shakes.

Happy Milk milk shakes.

The "American" breakfast that was included with the hotel. Some how they think Americans eat hot dogs and various other forms of pork for breakfast. Not sure where this came from.

The “American” breakfast that was included with the hotel. Some how they think Americans eat hot dogs and various other forms of pork for breakfast. Not sure where this came from.

The following day we decided to book a tour of the national park with one of the companies that offered it. We decided to go with Bobby’s Apartments and Jungle Tours rather than Greenleaf, which was the only other option, for multiple reasons.

  • The cost of the tours was the same 1500 baht/person, BUT, the rooms were only 200 baht per night vs. 300 baht for Greenleaf
  • They included free Wi-Fi – not sure if Greenleaf does, it’s not on their website
  • Hot water showers
  • They both have 5 stars for reviews
  • And to top it all off, we had called Greenleaf the day before when we were undecided about doing a tour or not and they told us “no tour, then you can’t stay here, bye” which we didn’t appreciate at all

The tour was split into two days. The first included a swim in a natural spring, a tour of a cave where a bunch of bats live, a yummy fruit and cracker snack, and then watching millions of bats leave the cave at dusk. When I say millions, I am not exaggerating. It was amazing. They started to come out around 6:15pm and were still coming out when we left around 6:35pm. We were told it takes about an hour for all of the bats to leave the cave. It was an awesome experience that I know pictures won’t be able to capture.

The water was a little cold, very refreshing. A lot of the locals went in with all their clothes on.

The water was a little cold, very refreshing. A lot of the locals went in with all their clothes on.

Dave checking out the source of the spring

Dave checking out the source of the spring

Another section of the river

Another section of the river

Bats sleeping in their cave.

Bats sleeping in their cave.

Sun setting at the farm where the bat cave entrance was.

Sun setting at the farm where the bat cave entrance was.

It's a little hard to see them, but you can see a zig-zag trail of bats coming from the mountain.

It’s a little hard to see them, but you can see a zig-zag trail of bats coming from the mountain.

Another picture trying to capture the bats.

Another picture trying to capture the bats.

Enjoying a local beer after our first day.

Enjoying a local beer after our first day.

The second day was our trip into the Khoa Yai National Park and consisted of a visit to the visitors center, a hike through the jungle to look for animals and have lunch, a short walk to the biggest waterfall in the park, a swim in a smaller waterfall, and a never ending search for monkeys, birds, and elephants. Guess what? We got lucky and got to see all three plus a very poisonous viper and the pincers of a scorpion. Our guide did a very good job finding the animals and sharing the experience with us. I would recommend Bobby’s Jungle tours alone for the guide we had, of course, I didn’t experience other tour guides they might be just as good or better. I’ll never know.

Panoramic from the view point in the park. Reminded us of the smokey mountains.

Panoramic from the view point in the park. Reminded us of the smokey mountains.

The pick-up truck ride that drive us around for the day and our fellow tourist.

The pick-up truck  that drove us around for the day and our fellow tourist.

Monkeys and their babies.

Monkeys and their babies.

P1060348

Headed into the jungle to look for gibbons.

Headed into the jungle to look for gibbons.

Found some. Apparently these guys are very shy and you don't see them much. We got lucky.

Found some. Apparently these guys are very shy and you don’t see them much. We got lucky.

They have a really cute face and are pretty fuzzy.

They have a really cute face and are pretty fuzzy.

Hanging monkey.

Hanging monkey.

Our blue leech socks.

Our blue leech socks.

Sun bathing turtle

Sun bathing turtle

Barking deer

Barking deer

We also got to try some Holland candy. Which tasted like licorice and salt. They like them, I do not.

We also got to try some Holland candy. Which tasted like licorice and salt. They like them, I do not.

Scorpion do not like to be woken up during the day with a stick.

Scorpion do not like to be woken up during the day with a stick.

Still trying to get the scorpion to come out.

Still trying to get the scorpion to come out.

Huge termite nests.

Huge termite nests.

Huge trees.

Huge trees.

This is a fig tree. They grow on other trees until the other tree eventually dies and then gets eaten by termites.

This is a fig tree. They grow on other trees until the other tree eventually dies and then gets eaten by termites.

Trying to wake up another scorpion. No luck.

Trying to wake up another scorpion. No luck.

Bird watching is hard work. They move very fast.

Bird watching is hard work. They move very fast.

Gross spiders

Gross spiders

Cool trees.

Cool trees.

Lunch was rice with lemon-grass curry. Very tasty.

Lunch was rice with lemon-grass curry. Very tasty.

Trekking through the jungle.

Trekking through the jungle.

Large fig tree.

Large fig tree.

Lizard.

Lizard.

Very poisonous viper that was only about two feet away from the trail.

Very poisonous viper that was only about two feet away from the trail.

Wild Elephant!

Wild Elephant!

So many monkeys

So many monkeys

Largest waterfall in the park.

Largest waterfall in the park.

Swimming hole.

Swimming hole.

To finish the day off, a beautiful sunset.

To finish the day off, a beautiful sunset.

The day after the tours we decided to go further east to Surin by train. We were told that the trains were a little unpredictable, but decided it would be easier than buses. Well, the train showed up 2 hours late and took about 45 minutes longer than we thought. But, it didn’t cost much and we were in no real rush, so it worked.

When we got off the train we walked into a festival happening in the square. We were told it was a Chinese Opera, but to us it seemed like a lot of singing, dancing, and carnival like games. We didn’t find the Chinese opera until the last night and it was very hard to hear and understand them. We think this was all for the king as it was the King of Thailand’s birthday the day after we arrived. The festival lasted the whole time we were there, which was very lucky for us as Surin is a small sleepy sort of town. But we did enjoy all of the food that came along with this festival. We did get Pad Thai again, but we tried some different things that looked like egg rolls and these cake type things with different toppings. We also got to see the whole town stop what they were doing and sing happy birthday to the king, or maybe it was the national anthem, either way, it was a cool experience. But this was only an added bonus for coming to Surin, we didn’t actually know that was happening until we got there.

Also, all the actors looked very distracted and annoyed that they had to perform at all.

Also, all the actors looked very distracted and annoyed that they had to perform at all.

Again, they were speaking and singing in Chinese, so even the Thai people didn't know what they were saying.

Again, they were speaking and singing in Chinese, so even the Thai people didn’t know what they were saying.

One of the characters in the opera

One of the characters in the opera

This was part of the Chinese Opera. They gave you burning incense to pray in a distinct order throughout this tent. We were someone lost and Dave burned himself numerous times. It was interesting though.

This was part of the Chinese Opera. They gave you burning incense to pray in a distinct order throughout this tent. We were someone lost and Dave burned himself numerous times. It was interesting though.

Traditional Thai dancing by 6 year olds.

Traditional Thai dancing by 6 year olds.

Rides and carnival games for the kids.

Rides and carnival games for the kids.

The cake dessert with different toppings. One was port, we didn't get that one.

The cake dessert with different toppings. One was pork, we didn’t get that one.

Dave trying the egg rolls.

Dave trying the egg rolls.

I think this is jelly fish. We didn't try it.

I think this is jelly fish. We didn’t try it.

Roasted chestnuts.

Roasted chestnuts.

This guy made some sort of egg dish all night on this giant frying pan.

This guy made some sort of egg dish all night on this giant frying pan.

The king projected on the big screen

The king projected on the big screen

Everyone stopped and singing what we think was happy birthday to the king.

Everyone stopped and singing what we think was happy birthday to the king.

Surin was more famously known for it's Elephant round up. Which has thousands of elephants playing games and such. It was in November so we missed it by a week or so. But we still saw elephants in the town.

Surin was more famously known for it’s Elephant round up. Which has thousands of elephants playing games and such. It was in November so we missed it by a week or so. But we still saw elephants in the town.

The reason we did come to Surin is the nearby silk villages. The experience to and from was more exciting than we had expected. Our hotel recommended we take a tuk tuk to and from the village as it would be easier. It was also going to cost an estimated 300 baht ($10), most likely both ways. In our book it says you can take a local truck for 15 baht or 30 baht ($1) total for both of us, a tenth of the cost. Being budget travelers we went with the cheaper option, we’ve taken local trucks before anyway, no biggie. We set off with only the name of the truck we were suppose to take and the town it was going to. We stopped in a local store where the 3 people working deciphered what we wanted from our poor rendition of the Thai words for truck and the town name. Eventually they pointed us in the correct direction, which was the market down the street. We managed to find the market from the direction they gave us, but there was 10-20 trucks all with Thai writing parked around the market. Again, we asked some locals using the same Thai words as before. This time they laughed after we mentioned the town, Ban Tha Sawang, and pointed us towards a street that held most of the trucks. Still not knowing which truck to take, we proceeded to ask every truck “Ban Tha Sawang?” and were pointed in the general direction of the trucks behind them with a laugh afterwards. Finally we found it, but people from other trucks were still yelling out “Ban Tha Sawang” and then laughing afterwards. We were amused by the whole experience and still not fully sure we were on the correct truck. I don’t think many non-locals opt to take these trucks.

Thai iced tea stand.

Thai iced tea stand.

Iced tea in a bag!

Iced tea in a bag!

The truck we took to the silk village.

The truck we took to the silk village.

We arrived!

We arrived!

Anyway, we were on the correct truck and made it to the village. We checked out how they make the silk and shopped around for a couple of hours. Finally decided on a silk handmade scarf for me and a silk scarf that we’re going to use as a table runner whenever we get a table back home.

Silk weaving location

Silk weaving location

A couple of the women weaving. We are still not sure what everything is for, we did not get an explanation.

A couple of the women weaving. We are still not sure what everything is for, we did not get an explanation.

We did see this women take this wooden stick and throw it back and forth. The stick had gold silk attached to the end of it.

We did see this women take this wooden stick and throw it back and forth. The stick had gold silk attached to the end of it.

One of the weavers putting silk onto a bobbin.

One of the weavers spooling the silk.

I tried on one of the silk skirts and asked them to tie it how they normally would have.

I tried on one of the silk skirts and asked them to tie it how they normally would have.

Pretty cool. But I would never wear this.

Pretty cool. But I would never wear this.

One of the many shops.

One of the many shops.

Trying on a one-size fits all dress. Not flattering on me at all.

Trying on a one-size fits all dress. Not flattering on me at all.

After this, we went to the location we were dropped off at and waited for a return truck. Thirty-five minutes into the wait a nice, older gentleman on a scooter asked us if we were waiting for a truck back to Surin. We said yes and he proceeded to tell us that sometimes they come and sometimes they don’t, so he was going to try and tell someone that we were waiting. We said thanks, both slightly confused as to what he meant. He went over to the side of the road and started to wave his hand, the equivalent of holding up your thumb, to hitchhike a ride back to Surin for us. Both of us kind of chuckled and wondered if this was 1. allowed and 2. normal practice. There was no stopping him, so we went along with it. Well, no luck and he said he was very busy. So we thanked him and waited another 10 minutes when we decided that after a total hour of waiting we would walk the 8km (5 miles) back if there was no ride. Another 10 minutes went by, 5 minutes before we decide to hoof it, Dave gets up the courage to start to wave at people. We had decided we would have better luck with pick-up trucks and we got lucky, there were three in a row and one of them actually stopped! Lucky us! Two nice young ladies in a pickup brought us back to town and wouldn’t even allow us to pay them. All in all, I’m glad we didn’t opt for the tuk-tuk, because the experience to and from the silk village ended up being better than the silk village itself.

This is just to show how rural the place was.

This is just to show how rural the place was.

Hitchhiking. Dave actually did this for our ride.

Hitchhiking. Dave actually did this for our ride.

Wahoo, we don't have to walk back.

Wahoo, we don’t have to walk back.

We didn't get a picture with the ladies, but we snapped a shot of the truck.

We didn’t get a picture with the ladies, but we snapped a shot of the truck.

Categories: Cities, Handicrafts, Nature, Outdoors, South East Asia, Traveling | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Railay, Thailand

There are many things about Thailand that attract tourists. One of its biggest draws are its beaches. Neither Sarah nor I are big fans of beaches. They usually involve a lot of sitting around baking in the hot sun, with an occasional dip in the ocean. But Thailand’s beaches, specifically those near the town of Krabi on the west coast along the Andaman Sea, have a lot more to offer than, say, the beaches of Florida.

A shot of West and East Railay from above.

A shot of West and East Railay from above.

This section of Thailand is full of huge limestone cliffs that aren’t found elsewhere in Thailand. These limestone cliffs add a flavor that most other beaches don’t have, and it’s that extra flavor that drew us to the small coastal town of Railay. Though small, Railay packs a good variety of activities, including climbing, kayaking (near the beautiful cliffs), spelunking, snorkeling, short hikes, and of course, lounging on the beach. Also, Railay can only be reached by boat, which adds to its allure.

This is the main mode of transport to Railay. It's a long tail boat. The name is derived from the long propeller shaft coming off the back of the boat.

This is the main mode of transport to Railay. It’s a long tail boat. The name is derived from the long propeller shaft coming off the back of the boat.

A closer shot of the long tail boat's propulsion system. It's a little scary if you're close to the boats when they lift this thing out of the water.

A closer shot of the long tail boat’s propulsion system. It’s a little scary if you’re close to the boats when they lift this thing out of the water.

The workers on the island are ferried from the boats to land using a rolling platform pulled by a tractor. We had to walk through the water.

The workers on the island are ferried from the boats to land using a rolling platform pulled by a tractor. We had to walk through the water.

Long tails lining the beaching waiting to transport riders.

Long tails lining the beaching waiting to transport riders.

We went there with the intention of doing a little bit of relaxing on the beach, especially after our Myanmar travels, and climbing. We ended up doing nearly everything but climbing. We’re both climbers and were psyched to climb but, we procrastinated long enough that heavy rains showed up by the time we were ready to commit to renting gear. So, sadly, we didn’t climb. But we’re way out of climbing shape anyway, so there wouldn’t have been much climbing happening. Here are some photos of the climbing we didn’t do.

This set of climbs is right on the best beach in Railay

This set of climbs is right on the best beach in Railay

More popular beginner climbs.

More popular beginner climbs.

One of the more popular areas for guided climbing.

One of the more popular areas for guided climbing.

It was common to see beach goers watching climbers. This guy seemed to be a local and was very much performing for the crowd.

It was common to see beach goers watching climbers. This guy seemed to be a local and was very much performing for the crowd.

More of the climbing performance.

More of the climbing performance.

Because of the beautiful scenery, Railay is definitely some of the best beach bumming I’ve ever done. And with the cliff overhangs you could even swim while it was raining. Bonus!

This was one of the coolest areas to swim, solely because of the crazy stalactites hanging overhead.

This was one of the coolest areas to swim, solely because of the crazy stalactites hanging overhead.

Good size beach backed by huge cliffs. Awesome!

Good size beach backed by huge cliffs. Awesome!

Probably the oddest thing we saw in Railay were the two caves filled with phallic wood carvings. Didn’t really get the story on this but I think it’s some sort of offering local fisherman make to the goddess Phra Nang.

Penis cave 1

Penis cave 1

Penis cave 2. It's not a contest but I think cave 2 has the biggest collection.

Penis cave 2. It’s not a contest but I think cave 2 has the biggest collection.

The long tail boats also act as portable restaurants, or food trucks of the ocean. Beach area is obviously pretty expensive. So to avoid paying the cost of opening a restaurant on the beach, several boat owners converted their boats to kitchens that they pulled up to the shore each day to sell food.

Pad Thai from the boat kitchen. Cost about 60 Baht ($2). That's about double of what it costs from a food cart in a bigger city. Everything in Railay was more expensive though.

Pad Thai from the boat kitchen. Cost about 60 Baht ($2). That’s about double of what it costs from a food cart in a bigger city. Everything in Railay was more expensive though.

The daily menu. Pretty large for such a small kitchen.

The daily menu. Pretty large for such a small kitchen.

Satisfied customer.

Satisfied customer.

There were even more cliffs further out, completely detached from the mainland. We rented kayaks for a couple hours one day to explore some of them. While checking them out we discovered that surrounding them was crystal clear, shallow water, great for snorkeling. So we decided to do a bit of snorkeling a couple days later.

Unfortunately, we didn’t bring our own snorkeling equipment but were lucky enough to have some lent to us for free by one of the hotels. They felt sorry for us because there wasn’t any for rent anywhere else. Hotels typically provide it for their guests. Our hotel didn’t. This would be a good time to mention how awesome Thai people have been to us during our time in Thailand. They are some of the nicest folks we’ve come across, anywhere. There have been several occasions where someone has spoken up for us or offered help when it was obvious we needed it.

Long tail boat hanging out near one of the small island cliffs.

Long tail boat hanging out near one of the small island cliffs.

Sarah leading the way on the kayak.

Sarah leading the way on the kayak.

It's so clear.

It’s so clear.

We kept wondering just how often those stalactites break loose.

We kept wondering just how often those stalactites break loose.

Being a remote tourist destination, Railay was a little more expensive than some of the other areas we visited in Thailand. The west side of the Railay especially so. That said, we were able to find an affordable bungalow to rent and a couple restaurants that served good, cheap food. Our bungalow only had a fan but, that’s all you really need at night. It cost us 400 Baht ($13) per night. The two restaurants we frequented served great dishes for 60 to 80 Baht ($2-2.75). For comparison, we’ve found street food for around 30 Baht ($1) in Bangkok and other cities in Thailand, and decent rooms as low as 200 Baht ($6.50).

P1060181

Rapala Restaurant

We visited this place the most. We're not sure why, but we think the owner didn't like us. Every time after our second visit, he always found a way to make us feel unwelcome. That didn't stop us from coming though. They had great food at good prices.

We visited this place the most. We’re not sure why, but we think the owner didn’t like us. Every time after our second visit, he always found a way to make us feel unwelcome. That didn’t stop us from coming though. They had great food at good prices.

Delicious green curry served at Yam Yam Restaurant. Ran us 80 Baht ($2.50). It was so good we splurged.

Delicious green curry served at Yam Yam Restaurant. Ran us 80 Baht ($2.50). It was so good we splurged.

Me enjoying a fruit lassi (fruit and yogurt drink) at Rapala Restaurant.

Me enjoying a fruit lassi (fruit and yogurt drink) at Rapala Restaurant.

Our bungalow.

Our bungalow.

Railay also has a family of both Macaque and Langur monkeys. The Langurs were pretty chill, seldom seen and stuck to eating leaves. Macaques on the other hand were always making a showing on some part of the island, typically where they had easiest access to food. We witnessed, on a couple occasions, them stealing food from unsuspecting tourists. Anyone carrying a bag that was obviously filled with food was a potential victim of the Macaques. They simply walk straight over to the person and take the bag out of their hand before they know what hit them. It’s really pretty funny. The victims usually found it humorous as well. When’s the last they had a monkey steal their lunch?

Cute little Macaque monkeys.

Cute little Macaque monkeys.

Not so cute thieving Macaque monkey.

Not so cute, thieving Macaque monkey.

Langur monkey. He won't steal your food.

Langur monkey. He won’t steal your food.

Our last full day in Railay was probably our busiest. I think we spent so much time relaxing that we crammed everything in on the last day. We finally decided to do a trek to a viewpoint on the island that yielded the photo at the top of this post. It also gave Sarah a few scratches and bruises (no surprise there…she’s a peach after all). It had rained heavily the day before, leaving the trail muddy and slippery. We also did the quick walking tour of a popular cave called Diamond Cave. It wasn’t anything spectacular but it was Sarah’s first caving experience.

Inside Diamond Cave

Inside Diamond Cave

Should of brought a climbing rope is what she's thinking.

Should of brought a climbing rope is what she’s thinking.

Finally to the top.

Finally to the top.

Still unscathed at this point. Only muddy hands. Later she ended up with a scrape and bruise on her knee. Bonus!

Still unscathed at this point. Only muddy hands. Later she ended up with a scrape and bruise on her knee. Bonus!

Diamond Cave.

Diamond Cave.

Diamond Cave

Diamond Cave

We finished the day off observing the Loy Krathong Festival. It’s a day each year that people of Thailand say thanks to/for the water for all that it provides. At least that’s the story we got. I think there’s more to it, though. People create small floats made of leaves and flowers and send them afloat in rivers, lakes and the ocean. Small translucent hot air balloons are also released into the night sky. To cap the celebration off, one of the local restaurants put on a fire show. We’d witnessed the same show our first night there but didn’t have the camera with us. Basically, a couple of guys perform tricks/routines with lit rods and chains to music. The show is pretty spectacular.

Some of the flower floats in the ocean.

Some of the flower floats in the ocean.

Hot air balloon let loose. This night was particularly windy, making it difficult to light the balloons and causing a few failures.

Hot air balloon let loose. This night was particularly windy, making it difficult to light the balloons and causing a few failures.

The fire brothers performing together.

The fire brothers performing together.

Awhhh, look at that. It's a heart. Every show they pull in a "volunteer" to twirl fire around their head.

Awhhh, look at that. It’s a heart. Every show they pull in a “volunteer” to twirl fire around their head.

This guy had a shaft lit at both ends.

This guy had a shaft lit at both ends.

For the finale he lit a cigarette with the spinning inferno near his head.

For the finale he lit a cigarette with the spinning inferno near his head.

Railay was pretty good to us. Maybe we’ll make our way back in the future and partake in some of the world class climbing it has to offer.

Categories: South East Asia, Traveling | Tags: , , | 5 Comments

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.