Posts Tagged With: thailand

Ruins of Angkor

After our week of fun with the family in Phuket, Thailand half of them headed home, but Jen and Paul were able to stick around and join us for the next leg of the journey into Cambodia. The four of us booked it out of Thailand and into Cambodia so that Paul would have enough time to see as much as he could before heading home one week later. It took us only one full day to make our way from Phuket to Siem Reap, Cambodia–the gateway to the ruins of Angkor.

By this point in our trip Sarah and I were seasoned land-border-crossers, but it was a first for Jen and Paul. There’s really not much to it. You get an exit stamp from the country you’re leaving, walk through some sort of buffer zone to a building to pay for and receive your visa, and the finally walk a bit further to get an entry stamp for the country you’re entering. Most of the time this process is pretty straight forward, but occasionally you encounter someone trying to run a scam. In this case the only scam we encountered, but avoided, was a fake visa issuing building that charges double the going rate for a visa. In the case of Cambodia a visa costs about $23, which is what we paid.

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The contrast between Thailand and Cambodia was immediately obvious at the border. As soon as we entered Cambodia the feel of everything changed. Cambodia was less organized, a bit more hectic and there was far more trash lying around. Sarah and I had seen places like this and worse but it was interesting to see it settle in for Jen and Paul. Thailand is a pretty clean and well organized country by most standards, so leaving it and entering Cambodia created a whole new vibe for the trip.

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From the border we took a two hour taxi ride to Siem Reap. We researched the trip ahead of time and knew approximately what the two hour journey should cost. With a little negotiating we easily reached that price ($12 per person). Our taxi was a fly Toyota Camry from the early 90’s. Cambodia is full of Toyota Camrys. It seems like it’s the only car on the road at times. Maybe they get some sort of bulk discount. 😉

The taxi driver dropped us on the side of the road in an unknown location where a few tuk tuks (I think they call them Motos in Cambodia) were waiting to receive us. We’d read that the tuk tuk drivers will take you to your hotel for free if you agree to use them as your mode of transport around the Angkor ruins. The ruins area is a massive complex and so this is the most popular and easiest way to see them. Before knowing what the going rate for this “tour” around the ruins was we didn’t want to agree to use these particular tuk tuk drivers. So we instead negotiated on a set price to take us to the hotel of our choice. With the four of us and our luggage we had to hire two tuk tuks.

Instead of taking us to the hotel we requested, and that they originally agreed to take us to, they took us to a different hotel where they presumably hoped to receive a commission for bringing us to. We don’t like to support this kind of tactic and so refused to even look at the rooms and insisted they take us to the hotel we requested. Either because of language barrier issues or shear stubbornness, they wouldn’t take us to the hotel. So we grabbed our bags and walked away without paying them the fare. We quickly found another tuk tuk driver who was willing to take us to the correct hotel and at a reasonable price. Being the nice, honest fella he was, we decided to hire him to be our driver for the next two days to make our way around the Angkor ruins complex.

Map

The Angkor complex contains many temple ruins, with the most well known being Angkor Wat. We spent two full days touring the temples via tuk tuk and walking. Both days had beautiful skies, though the heat was a little oppressive at times. The first day of the tour consisted of seeing the temples along the large loop road (green road shown above). The second day we arose early to see the sunrise at Angkor Wat (the largest religious temple in the world) and then continued along the small loop road (red road shown above) to see a few more ruins sites. The complex dates back 1200 years and more temples are still being discovered.

For more info on the Angkor ruins check out Wikipedia or the UNESCO site. It’s an amazing place and I feel fortunate to have seen and walked in such a fascinating historical site. The pictures below don’t do it justice but I hope you enjoy them. Click on any of the images to view all of them in a slideshow format.

Categories: Ruins, Traveling | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

Learning to be a Mahout!

Our very first guest blogger. I’ll let you figure out who it is through the post! Enjoy.

 

OK I can’t preface all of what led up to the elephants but if you’re reading this you know all about Sarah and Dave and their amazing travels around the globe. We all thought they had been having too much fun on their own so we decided to crash their world trip.
After a very early morning pick up from our respective guest houses, an impromptu stop at 7-11 for some supplies, and a scenic hour long van ride, we arrive at Baan Chang Elephant Park.
The first thing we did when we got there was change into our elephant uniforms. Wait, what? Uniforms?  Why can’t we just wear our regular clothes? Oh, what’s that, because elephant skin is like 200 grit sandpaper over concrete? OK yes thank you, large please. 
The group in uniform.

The group in uniform.

So we all get changed and excitedly bound over to become best friends with 25 rescued elephants… Hold on, pause, Aof has some important info and safety details first. That seems logical.  Our kick ass guide, Aof, gives us a brief run down on the ins and outs of interacting with elephants. Most of them are super friendly and love attention, but a few of them are uncomfortable with strangers, or nervous.. around… I can see them from here! What did Aof say? 
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Finally we get to go see them. They are huge and gentle and majestic. This is what I was most looking forward to doing for the entire trip. It’s all we’ve been able to think about for days and here I am, and I. Am. Terrified. WTF!? These things are enormous! OMG we are supposed to go up to them and feed them? For real?…Like, for real?  If one of them accidentally swings that 9 foot trunk at me, I’m done, lights out. Aaahh! That one almost touched me! Why didn’t I listen more closely to Aof?
Apparently the rest of my group didn’t seem to be plagued with the same unexpected anxieties. 5 minutes in and everyone else was feeding them banana bunches and bundles of sugar cane, posing for pictures, and getting kisses from a baby elephant. I was still strategically wandering around (just out of reach of any wayward swinging trunks) pretending to be satisfied just taking pictures. This went on for about 40 minutes until Jonathan realized I had yet to even touch one. He helped and a few minutes later I was giving one some bananas and sugar cane. I don’t know why I was so nervous!
Jonathan getting an elephant kiss.

Jonathan getting an elephant kiss.

Dave feeding the elephant sugar cane and bananas.

Dave feeding the elephant sugar cane and bananas.

After Elephant kisses.

After Elephant kisses.

During elephant kisses.

During elephant kisses.

Fast forward to Phase 2
After everyone had a chance to get acquainted and comfortable (sort of) we got our first try at practicing getting on and off of them and learning and giving the commands that we’d need for our trek through the jungle. Luckily my anxiety sort of evaporated at this point, because getting on them and sitting on them wasn’t quite as easy as I thought it would be. Even though they lay down on the ground, an elephant is still a huge huge animal. You climbed up via her leg sticking out conveniently and hoist yourself up and over her back in a rather wide straddle. Some members of our group had a bit more difficulty with this than others.
Jonathan mounting the elephant.

Jonathan mounting the elephant.

I did it!

I did it!

Sarah demonstrating how to step on the elephant to hop on.

Sarah demonstrating how to step on the elephant to hop on.

Little extra help for Mom (and Dad)

Little extra help for Mom (and Dad)

We all took turns first just getting up and down, and then riding in a small loop with a guide. It was thrilling! Their skin really is super rough and some of the spiky hairs on the top of their heads could stab you through the hand. Seriously, this was maybe 2 hours into what would be a 6 or 8 hour experience and I had already drained my camera battery (but no worries, everyone else had one too).
Elephant commands 101:
 “Nonlong” (must be pronounced with authority) – means lay down please if you don’t mind so I can climb up or down off of you.
 “Kway”  with a gesture with your (opposite!) foot behind their giant ear means turn this way please.
 “Poi” means forward
 “Hou” means stop. This is an important one because they will plow right through the jungle if you don’t encourage them to stop.
 “Didi” with a solid pat on the trunk means ‘Good elephant’ or ‘thank you for giving me a ride’ or whatever other positive message you’d like to communicate to your pachyderm.
Dad practicing his elephant mahout skills.

Dad practicing his elephant mahout skills.

Mom saying thanks with some bananas.

Mom saying thanks with some bananas.

Phase 3 The Trek
Unbeknownst to all of us, while we were interacting with and learning about the elephants, the Mahouts (elephant trainers) were determining which elephant we’d each fit best with for the trek based on our interactions. Considering I spent the first 45 minutes trying not to get near one I figured Jonathan and I would be paired with a gentle small one. Nope.
Despite my mouse like bravery, my husband took to the elephants to a duck like water. He’d either squashed down any minor initial anxieties he had right away or more likely; didn’t have them in the first place. He was literally an elephant expert after 5 minutes, and was helping other people feel more comfortable. As a result of this, we were paired with the bull leader of the herd. This wasn’t actually scary like it sounds. Our elephant; Golden Diamond, was steady and reliable, unlike the one Sarah and Dave got. They seemed to have been paired with the wild card, (perhaps the Mahouts could sense their adventurous spirits). At no point during our trek, was their elephant following the others. It was sideways on the path, or halfway up a tree grabbing some vines, or (literally) trumpeting loudly in protest of Dave’s attempts to correct him.
Sitting on the head riding.

Sitting on the head riding.

Jonathan and I on our leading elephant.

Jonathan and I on our leading elephant.

Mom and Dad with their hungry elephant. They also had the biggest elephant in the park. They got the Cadillac

Mom and Dad with their hungry elephant. They also had the biggest elephant in the park. They got the Cadillac

Sarah, Dave, and us on the elephants.

Sarah, Dave, and us on the elephants.

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Our trek took us through into the dry jungle up a path so steep that I would have had trouble navigating it on foot. The elephants trudged up like it was a breeze; they didn’t even miss a beat, holding onto them, however, was a different story.
As the driver, you sit on the back of the elephant’s neck, and have to work to keep from pitching forward, as the passenger you sit on their shoulder blades and have to get into the rhythm on their gentle but massive weight shifts with every step.
Here are some fun videos:
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 The trek ended at a little pond where we got off the elephants and the mahouts guided them into to water so they could get a drink. After they drank their fill, we all got into the water and went over to our elephant to give him or her bath! It was awesome! They love the water so much, they just lay down and you splash and scrub them with these rough bristle brushes. The water is so relaxing they just poop and pee freely and you’re standing waist deep in the same water and you’re so happy that you don’t even care! In my opinion this was the best part of the day. (Also they had showers there so that was good too.)
Best of the day!

Best of the day!

Sarah scrubbing the elephant.

Sarah scrubbing the elephant.

Big mama wants to be scrubbed down.

Big mama wants to be scrubbed down.

Dave on the elephant.

Dave on the elephant.

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All in all, everyone had a great time!
The group.

The group.

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

Bangkok…Stop and Reflect

As Sarah mentioned in the previous post, we restarted our travel with the added company of family, Sarah’s family to be exact. Some of the family had international travel under their belt but it had been many years since their last trip and they’d never been to any countries like Thailand. So, to say the least, this was going to be a whole new experience for all of them. By the time of this particular leg of the trip, Sarah and I had been traveling for about seven months total, with five of those months in south and southeast Asia. So we were familiar with the style of travel that the family was about to be thrown into. We planned to do our best to give them a taste of our style of travel, i.e. budget travel. I think the two of us were just as excited about observing our new travel companions experience Thailand for the first time as we were to be out traveling again.

The entire trip entailed two weeks of travel in three specific areas in Thailand, i.e. Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and Phuket, the middle, north, and south, respectively. Because of the two week time constraint (us Americans get a fraction of the vacation time that other Western countries get) we had a relatively tight schedule and could only spend a few days in two of the locations. The first few days of that two week trip were spent in Bangkok.

Thailand is almost exactly on the other side of the planet from where we live in Massachusetts. This required everyone to do their best to adjust to the new time zone as quickly as possible, which is eleven hours ahead of the Eastern Standard Time zone we were coming from. By the time the flights arrived in Bangkok around 2 PM, we were all feeling like it was 3 AM. From then on it took us all nearly the the entire three days we were in Bangkok to adjust not only to the time difference, but also to the completely new environment, the heat and humidity, and the fast pace we’d set for ourselves.

The first day in Bangkok was spent getting to our hotel and familiarizing ourselves with the surrounding area. Sarah and I had stayed in this area before and because of its easy access to the excellent public train system, inexpensive hotels, and abundance of food and shopping markets, opted to stay there again with the family.

Making our way to the hotel. The group's first taste/smell of Bangkok.

Phil and Karen making their way to the hotel. The group’s first taste/smell of Bangkok.

Bangkok welcoming Abby and Sarah by embracing them into her bosom.

Bangkok welcoming Abby and Sarah by embracing them into her bosom.

Karen, Sarah, and Jen waiting for their first meal in Thailand. Not actually Sarah's first meal there.

Karen, Sarah, and Jen waiting for their first meal in Thailand. Not actually Sarah’s first meal there.

Phil and Jonathan waiting for their first meal in Thailand.

Phil and Jonathan waiting for their first meal in Thailand.

The lively little street outside of the White Lodge Hotel.

The lively little street outside of the White Lodge Hotel.

Phil and Karen riding the BTS train system in Bangkok.

Phil and Karen riding the BTS train system in Bangkok.

The two of us did our best to prepare everyone ahead of time in an attempt to properly set their expectations. This is a challenging thing to do for two reasons. The first reason is that it’s hard to know just how adaptable each person is when thrown into a new situation and just what kind of information might help them best prepare. The second reason is that no matter how well you think you’ve described what to expect, you can never paint a complete picture. Lack of a complete picture is probably a good thing though, because part of the joy of travel is being thrown into completely foreign situations that surprise you and take you out of your element, and often times, your comfort zone. It’s safe to say that Bangkok, and Thailand in general, did those things for most, or all, of our new travel companions.

This adjustment phase created an array of emotions and some interesting interactions within the group. Not only did each individual need to make their own adjustments, the group as a whole went through a melding period, where we as a group of travelers had to find our collective groove. Anyone who has traveled with other people, especially a larger group, will understand the challenges that come with traveling as a group. Making decisions take longer. Some people are reluctant to speak up in fear of upsetting the group. Each person has a different pace and different interests. And sometimes people are just having a bad day. I’m happy to say that everyone, though at their own pace, successfully found their groove and settled in nicely.

The next two days were jam packed with as much activity as was possible. The second day started with breakfast at a chicken noodle soup food cart right outside of our hotel. Everyone in the group loved both the soup and their first authentic food cart experience in Thailand.

Phil ordering morning coffee at a coffee/tea cart. These guys put about three different forms of sugar into coffees and teas.

Phil ordering morning coffee at a coffee/tea cart. These guys put about three different forms of sugar into coffees and teas.

Happy customers.

Happy customers.

Yummy chicken noodle soup.

Yummy chicken noodle soup.

First food cart meal.

First food cart meal.

Where the magic happens. And for only 30 Baht ($1).

Where the magic happens. And for only 30 Baht ($1).

Next we headed off to China Town to explore the markets and more food carts. We opted to take a Tuk Tuk so that everyone could experience a ride on one of these whacky three wheeled “taxis”. I think some in the group feared for their lives a bit. Driving in the U.S. is a pretty straight forward experience, though, still considered a relatively dangerous activity. Driving in a country like Thailand takes it up a notch for sure, especially when you’re the passenger in a Tuk Tuk. They’re open air and there doesn’t seem to be any safety precautions taken in regard to a passenger’s well being. We crammed four people into one Tuk Tuk and three into another. It was a little tight and we were definitely busting at the seams, so to speak, but it worked and we made it safely to our destination. As part of our trip through China Town we tried to find India Town, but only scratched the surface of that area because we had to rush off to make our way to the floating market that was quite a ways outside of the city.

Tuk Tuk!

Tuk Tuk!

It was a tight fit but we made it happen.

It was a tight fit but we made it happen. Sarah’s hiding in there somewhere.

Exploring China Town while sampling the local fare.

Exploring China Town whilst sampling the local fare.

One of the many packed alley ways in China Town.

One of the many packed alley ways in China Town.

More delicious local fare.

More delicious local fare.

Browsing in China Town.

Jen, Sarah and Jonathan browsing in China Town.

Shop where Abby purchased some beautiful textiles.

Shop where Abby purchased some beautiful textiles.

Getting to the floating market was another interesting transportation experience. After making our way to the minibus depot, we purchased our tickets and found out that the next available minibus for a group our size didn’t leave for about another hour and a half. This meant that once we got to the floating market we’d be strapped for time, but opted to do it anyway. It was a now or never situation. Sarah and I have taken many forms of public transportation around the world and in many cases it’s a first come first serve setup. Meaning, you have to be aggressive about getting a seat or you may not get one at all. I saw people hovering near the parked minibuses and assumed that this was going to be the case. So we gathered the troops and staked our claim in the parking lot waiting for our minibus to arrive. It turned out that despite all outward appearances, there was order and we would indeed be guaranteed a spot on the minibus that we purchased tickets for. Why did we ever doubt Thailand? Thailand, you’re so good at whatever you do.

Holding our ground while waiting for the minibus. It was even hotter inside of the station, with the added benefit of car fumes.

Holding our ground while waiting for the minibus. It was even hotter inside of the station, with the added benefit of car fumes.

As we had expected, we arrived at the floating market with just enough time to walk around and maybe take a boat tour. Rushed as we were, we quickly agreed to take an hour long boat tour. Rushed as we were, we overlooked the details of the boat tour and ended up riding the boat on a long loop around an island at night on the hunt for fire flies. Fire flies are not why we came to the market. We thought the boat tour would drive us through the floating market. Not the case. So we encouraged the driver to make the hour long tour more like a half hour tour. So he sped along, stopping a few times to check out fire flies, and that was plenty by the way (side note: it’s hard to take pictures of fire flies at night, on a moving boat without using your camera’s flash. If you use a flash you don’t see fire flies and if you don’t use a flash the picture is blurry …what to do?). After our compressed boat tour we quickly made our way through the land portion of the floating market. Our return minibus was leaving soon so we ordered food to go and headed to the minibus stop.

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Jen, Phil, Karen, Sarah, Dave and the boat driver.

The floating market was cool but not what any of us had pictured in our heads. The romantic image of local Thais floating around in wooden boats selling produce to market goers is a thing of the past, at least at the market we experienced. The market was more geared towards tourism and grabbing a bite to eat. Regardless of that it was still a fun and memorable experience.

What we imagined the floating market would be. This is an old post card that Jen took a photo of. The Thailand of old.

What we imagined the floating market would be. This is an old post card that Jen took a photo of. The Thailand of old.

Cheers to an awesome day!

Cheers to an awesome day!

Day three, our final day, started off a little slower but ended up just as busy and exhausting as the day before. In planning for the few days we were to spend in Bangkok, Sarah and I decided that the group might like to check out the Grand Palace. During our first and second visit to Bangkok—Sarah and I had been there twice before—we held off on visiting the palace, knowing that we’d see it during the family trip. So when we found out that the palace might be closed, we were very disappointed. It turned out, unbeknownst to us, that there was a special coronation anniversary celebration going on during the three day period that we were there. Someone at our hotel informed me of this one morning and a couple other sources seemed to confirm this. But no one was really sure which days the palace was open or closed during the celebration. From experience, we’ve found it’s best to take a poll from several local people before making a decision. Some people just don’t know, but won’t tell you that they don’t know. And others find clever ways to mislead tourists so that you might instead partake in one of their organized tours of some other interesting site. After asking around we decided to risk it and take the bus journey to the palace. I’m happy to report that the palace was indeed open and was one of the most amazing palaces I’ve every seen.

Walking around the palace walls trying to find the entrance. It was a toasty day, so the extra walking was not appreciated.

Walking around the palace walls trying to find the entrance. It was a toasty day, so the extra walking was not appreciated.

Waiting for Jonathan to rent pants. Evidently his shorts didn't meet the dress code.

Waiting for Jonathan to rent pants. Evidently his shorts didn’t meet the dress code.

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Phil's shirt acted as a thermometer. Based on the location of the sweat line it must have been around 9 million degrees with 1000% humidity. So not too bad really.

Phil’s shirt acted as a thermometer. Based on the location of the sweat line it must have been around 9 million degrees with 1000% humidity. So not too bad really.

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That day was maybe one of the hottest and most humid days we’d experienced thus far in Bangkok. So after returning to the hotel some of us opted for a nap to rest up for whatever our last night in Bangkok might bring. After waking from our nap we gathered outside of our hotel and relaxed while some of the group enjoyed frosty beverages (as frosty as you can get in muggy Bangkok) and chilled wine. At some point during this relaxation session we were joined by a friendly German couple also on their last night in town, in fact it was their last night in Thailand before heading back to Germany. The couple had been to Bangkok several times before and suggested that we experience Khao San Road before we leave. Khao San Rd. is in fact a road, but also an area popular with backpackers, especially those looking to party. After a bit more consumption of frosty beverages and one member of the group “falling asleep” early due to too much consumption of frosty beverages, we decided to roll with it and make our way to Khao San Rd. Paul, our German friend, would be our guide for the night.

Spending our last night there was an awesome experience and great way to cap off our time in Bangkok. Ma and Pa Caulfield (Sarah’s parents) joined in on the festivities and truly got the full experience. These Caulfields know how to have a good time. I’ll let the photos below tell the story from that night.

Prepping for our trip to Khao San Rd.

Prepping for our trip to Khao San Rd.

Khao San crew, from left to right: Karen, Dave, Sarah, Phil, Jen, Paul and Jonathan.

Khao San crew, from left to right: Karen, Dave, Sarah, Phil, Jen, Paul and Jonathan.

Jonathan challenging and paying for his mom to eat a scorpion.

Jonathan challenging and paying for his mom to eat a scorpion.

Karen accepting the challenge to eat a scorpion. Well done.

Karen accepting the challenge to eat a scorpion. Well done.

9 Baht icecream anyone?

9 Baht icecream anyone?

Will work for beer.

Will work for beer.

Sampling the street food.

Sampling the street food.

This is when they realized that the meat on a stick was really just fat on a stick.

This is when they realized that the meat on a stick was really just fat on a stick.

Hipster Thai baby shirt I should have bought.

Sweet tats cute little Thai baby.

I guess at this point in the post I should explain the title of this post, “Stop and Reflect”. I don’t fully recall how it came about or who exactly said it, but it became the motto of the trip. I mentioned some of the challenges of travel, specifically some we experienced in Bangkok. At times those experiences created a bit of stress and anxiety for the group. And in those times someone in the group would inevitably say, “Stop and Reflect”, to help remind us just how amazing it was that we were in a place like Thailand, with great people, having the time of our lives. So with Bangkok in the bag and our new trip motto to help us along, we made our way north to the quieter city of Chiang Mai.

Categories: 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).

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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

Bangkok, Thailand

Ahhhh…a sigh of relief from the chaos that was Myanmar.

Since we already bought our flights to India for Dec. 8th and we want to be in India and Nepal at certain times, we have about 3 weeks to spend in Thailand before we head out. Which gives us time to prepare for my families visit to Thailand come April or May.

The first chunk of time we decided to spend in Bangkok to recover and be close to a hospital if needed. This wasn’t mentioned in the last post because there was so much information already on Myanmar, but I had a fever of 101.6 for four days, severe headaches and joint and stomach pains. I didn’t get a rash, but all of those are symptoms of Dengue Fever or who knows what else.

When we arrived in Bangkok I was feeling a little better, no fever even though I still had headaches and exhaustion, so I decided not to go to the hospital. We’ll never actually know if I had The Dengue or not. But, I’m sure glad that’s over. I’ve never been so sick, so often then the 3-4 months we’ve been traveling. It’s a good reminder that travel is not fun all of time and there is no place like home.

While we were in Bangkok, we did do some interesting things.

  • The first is figuring out McDonald’s has 9 baht ($0.30) soft serve ice cream cones. What a good way to cool down in HOT Bangkok with ice cream. After we figured this out, we had them everyday. Maybe once we had them twice in one day (what?! we’re trying to fatten Dave up).

Yay! Cheap, good ice cream!

Dave with Ronald McDonald in Thailand.

  • Dave finally got a haircut! It only cost 160 baht ($5.20) and it came out really great.

Looking good in pink.

Finished Product. Looking smexy.

  • See Muay Thai Boxing for free

Dave ready for the fights.

Warming up the first fighter.

  • Eat lots of street food

This was breakfast. There were about 8 different sides you can choose from and two with a bowl of rice costs $1. We couldn’t beat the prices.

This was very good chicken noodle soup that cost $1. Dave ruined his with too much spice though.

  • Sell our Myanmar book in Banglamphu. Which is a very popular backpacking area and also VERY touristy with annoying tuk tuk drivers, over priced restaurants,  tattoo parlors, and lots of massage places. Not our place to be.
  • Thai iced tea with cookies

I got the Thai iced tea with cookies. Which sounds horrible and is on the first sip, but then you get used to it and love the little cookie crumbs.

  • Yummy dumplings!!!!
  • Cooling down in all of the crazy huge malls Bangkok has. Seriously there are 4-5 GIANT malls in one little area.

They had a new aquarium that they were promoting with this. We had fun with it.

Holiday spirit in 80 plus degree weather. It feels weird.

  • Crazy sidewalk clothes market. Worst idea ever. People are shopping and other people are annoyed behind them trying to walk.

Sidewalk madness.

  • Traffic, traffic and more traffic. Also, they drive on the left, which made crossing the street that much more difficult.

Lots of traffic.

  • Fresh fruit juice in the food court

Finally some fruit!

  • Overpriced drinks with live jazz music.

Dave enjoying his beer.

The band.

This is just fruit juice. And they tried to charge me $7 for this alcoholic drink with out alcohol.

It was a nice refreshing break.  I’m sure we’ll come back at some point in our travels.

Categories: Cities, South East Asia, Traveling | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

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