Spending the past four days on a non-tourism based island has completely changed my perspective of Thailand. Most people arrive to the hustle and hustle of Bangkok, filled with very western shops and food all mixed with Thai culture. The same can be said for many of the well known islands. It’s like this for one main reason: people like familiar.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t the same, until now. I’ve usually been on the hunt for the local McDonalds just in case I don’t like the food. Well, no longer! This island has nothing familiar, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. No 7-11, McDonald’s, shopping or anything related to tourism. The handful of resorts of course have motorbike rentals and will help you arrange boat tours, but it takes some effort and that’s OK. Off the beaten path and worth the journey.
For example, today I woke up to the sounds of the jungle and waves crashing. No pumping EDM or motorbikes. It was glorious! I sauntered down to the beach and had pancakes with pineapple, along with some terrible instant coffee I enjoyed far too much. Then lazed around, backed up all my pictures and headed to a local festival in the middle of a boat race. It was filled with food, drink, and even some carnival games. I attempted to win a prize by shooting plastic caps at the toys, all while local kids watched and laughed at how terrible I was. I had so much fun!
Just a laid back Saturday, with no rush or plan for anything. Failing to plan is….awesome. It may not work in the “real” world, except if you’re quick on your feet and come up with Plan B.
Before we headed off again for the evening, Gallame (the bungalow owners daughter) and I explored the beach and drew pictures in the sand. Later that evening we headed up as a group to the festival again, grabbed some food and drink and sat on the beach. I had some sort of dim sum, plus a chicken and rice dish which was fantastic.
I also rode the super sketchy Ferris wheel, which I thought may break due to me being a giant compared to these people. I’m happy to say I survived!
We then listened to the live band, danced and had some drinks before heading home. Another day filled with so many cool things, and falling aleep this time with the windows wide open to hear the sounds of the jungle and sea for another amazing night of slumber.
This islands is truly a gem. Off the beaten path enough to be quiet, yet with enough people to not get lonely. After my adventure yesterday, I had headed back up the beach to the Dugong Bar for dinner.
FYI a dugong is an animal similar to a manatee. Apparently way back they were thought to be mermaids. The more you know!
Our Christmas dinner was on the beach, full of fresh prawns, chicken, salad, duck, Chang, good conversation and the best pina colada I have ever had. The freshly harvested coconut and pineapple help. It was so nice to spend Christmas with a random group of people that were so gracious.
This trip has reinforced my faith in humanity, and washed away any doubts I ever had about people being friendly and helpful in this world.
During dinner I met a couple from Barcelona, well actually the guy is from there and his wife is originally from Russia. They are around the same age as me and were staying at the same resort. They were planning on doing an island boat tour on Boxing Day and asked if I wanted to come along. Of course I said yes.
After breakfast on Boxing Day we set sail on our own private adventure, and had no idea the awesome that was in store. Just the three of us and the two boat drivers.
The first stop was an island meant for snorkeling. We weren’t allowed to get onto the island, which would have been impossible anyway as it was all cliffs. We hopped in the water but the current was way too strong. After a minute we were about 20 feet away from the boat and swimming proved to be pointless so we moved on to the next island.
This island was perfect and had a fantastic, untouched beach and great snorkeling. We wandered around the beach and collected shells. After about an hour we headed to my favourite spot of the trip.
I’m going to call it the secret island, because there were no other people there except for a guy who lived in a hut. We wandered along the pristine white beach, making sure not to step on the broken glass. The one unfortunate thing about a lot of Thailand is there is garbage everywhere. People just don’t seem to care about keeping everything clean. Despite this, the incredible cliffs that rose from the beach added to the majestic feeling this place gave us. I kept saying how much the islands in Thailand remind me of the movie “Avatar”. Must be seen in person, pictures don’t do it justice.
After what seemed like a short time, we headed over to another island for lunch and a beer. This island had people camping on it and was a little more populated. As we ate fried rice and fresh fruit, these giant wasps took notice and started to buzz around. We just kept moving, but I would not like to be stung by one of those guys!
We swam, explored and lay in the sun until it was time to go back. As we had a one hour journey to the island, I looked up into the clouds, daydreaming and reflecting on all the amazing things I’ve seen so far.
Once I checked out of my resort, I got a motorcycle ride to the guest house I was going to be staying in. It’s absolutely gorgeous and the beds are so comfy.
I have the place to myself, and it’s a quick walk to the Dugong Bar on the beach. I grabbed a quick bite and had a couple pina coladas but could feel I had way too much sun on the boat trip. I looked like a lobster and the sea breeze was making me shiver! I decided to head up early, drink water and pop some Advil while I watched TV. There was a documentary on about the tsunami, as it was exactly ten years to the day it happened. It was so upsetting, I actually cried a bit. Can’t believe such a crazy thing happened in this magical place, and yet they rebounded so quickly. Yet another humbling experience, making me even more gracious for everything I have.
After a bit more TV, I went to bed while listening to the sounds of the jungle, mixed with the super loud music from the festival happening up the beach. A minor annoyance but I passed out anyway and had the best sleep ever! More adventures await.
As I write this post I’m sitting on the most gorgeous beach, enjoying the heat, humidity, crabs wandering by met feet and….rain! OK, I didn’t count on it to be raining but who cares. It will pass.
As promised this is the continuation of my journey to this remote isle. After getting off the bus at the station, there was some confusion to where I was actually going. Despite me showing the island on Google Maps, a lot of people had no clue. The more confused people got, the more determined I was to find this paradise!
After almost being led to the train station on a motorcycle taxi (to an island?) a helpful Thai man booked me a severely overpriced private taxi ride to the pier. Once there, I hopped on a longboat and arrived in Koh Sukorn. A quick tuk tuk ride later and I had arrived.
I was famished, so had some fried rice, a Chang and turned on relaxation mode. Unlike the past week, the next few days are all about R&R.
Christmas Eve was uneventful, just how I wanted it. I had big plans for Christmas Day. Had a good chat with a few couples from Wales, then headed to bed on my brick of a mattress in a room with a fan. No complaints here, I slept like a baby!
Today, Christmas 2014 I finally rode a motorbike! I figured why not learn on a quiet island. Let me tell you how glad I was to take the chance. I had a permanent grin on my face as I zipped around the island past beaches, rubber plantations, water buffalo, lizards and through the jungle to explore.
I even found an abandoned resort with a super secluded beach.
It was so freeing, perfect and I am hooked. Lesson learned: Turn fear into excitement.
After doing a loop of the island, I popped into a bar I heard was owned by a Canadian man and his Thai wife. Best decision ever….I have never been greeted so warmly in my life!
They grabbed me a beer, helped me top up my phone data, and invited me to Christmas Dinner. Wow! They also have a guest house they offered me super cheap, just because I’m Canadian and nice. Their young daughter was so excited too. Needless to say after tonight I’ll be headed there to stay for who knows how long. I just need to be in Krabi by Dec. 30. Best day ever!
Day 2 in Chiang Mai turned out to be super awesome. I headed for breakfast around the corner from my hostel with no plan in mind. I ended up running into a girl named Regina from Holland I’d met the night before, and after breakfast we set off to visit some temples around the city.
After checking out a couple of temples, we decided we both wanted to get out of the city and head up the mountain see the jungle, temple and waterfall. We ended up hiding a taxi for the afternoon to drive us around.
It’s so cheap to hire someone to drive you anywhere you need go, and then they will wait for you so you don’t have to worry about how to get back. It’s absolutely fantastic!
The ride up the mountain took about 45 minutes and was a twisting, bumpy adventure that was a lot of fun. I didn’t even think about the fact we had no seatbelts and the back door is open so you could fall out!
First stop was a viewing are that allows you to see the entire city of Chiang Mai. It was much larger then I expected, and there was a lot of smog which is sad.
Next up was Wat Phra That Doi Suthep which is famous for it’s giant staircase. We opted to take the little tram up the hill, and walk down after we were finished. The view from the top of the mountain was breathtaking, and the grounds covered with lush vegetation. Although I later discovered that a lot of the orchids and other flowers were fake!
Next up was a quick stop at a waterfall on the way down the hill, just at the entrance to Do I Suthep National Park.
Such a tranquil place, in the middle of the jungle. Exactly what I wanted to see.
Afterwards we headed back to town and grabbed a bite to eat. I had a chicken and rice dish, along with iced tea. I sure love my iced tea!
We decided we wanted to get massages, so Regina got a full body while I got a foot massage. That’s two foot massages and one full body so far….gotta take advantage! After that we just chilled out with some other people from the hostel, then headed out for some food on the streets. We almost ended up going out to the bar, but most of us were almost falling asleep at this point we went to bed. Smart decision!
Saturday was my last day in Chiang Mai and I left it up to chance what I would do. I’ve learned keeping an open schedule Jere always works out for the best. I woke up and waited for Ed, Dallas, Stef and Josh to get ready. They were planning to head to Tiger Temple but I didn’t have a scooter to get there, and didn’t want to get one yet. I also wasn’t sure if I had to me as my flight was at 5:35pm. Well, they suggested I hire a taxi to take me there while they followed on their scooters, and I could just head the airport from there. Excellent plan, so I did.
I grabbed my stuff and we took the 35 minutes drive out there. Once we arrived, bought our tickets see a big tiger and wandered around a bit.
I wasn’t 100% sold on the idea, but it looked like the tigers are taken care of really well so I convinced myself it’s OK. I’m glad I did it, because getting up close to these majestic cats was so awesome!
We got tons of photos and video, then decided we should stop at the waterfalls nearby. Hey, more waterfalls? Why not!
These were much more impressive than the other ones, with a huge train heading up the hill and about 10 different interconnected waterfalls. We hiked to the top (which almost killed me!) then worked our way back down.
Not going to lie, in the back of my mind I was afraid of seeing a snake. Luckily we only saw a few small spiders, then a giant venomous looking one above us on the trail. It was pretty cool!
After trekking back down, I said my goodbyes to the group and hopped in the taxi to the airport. Such cool people, had an amazing time and I hope to cross paths with them again.
After being dropped off at the airport, I checked my bag (they made me!) and grabbed some food. I flew Air Asia to Krabi and arrived at about 7:30pm. Met a couple beside me from Greece and Croatia who were also heading in my direction to Ao Nang so we split a cab. Arrived at Slumber Party Hostel, but didn’t realise their were two. I was at the wrong one, however one of the guys who works there gave me a motorcycle ride to the proper one about a 10 minute drive down the road. Checked in then headed right into a beer pong tournament. Once again met a huge group of amazing people!
We ventured out to some local bars and I went to bed at some ungodly hour. Really enjoyed the night and can’t wait to do it again!
Yesterday was a day of random and exciting adventures. After waiting around for a while, I found the rooftop secret garden and had a nap there I til about 7:30am. I waited out front for the office to open as a bunch of other backpackers arrived and we all chatted and got to know each other. Finally after 8 the office opened, but we could only leave our bags there as actual check in wasn’t until 12pm.
I ventured off with my new friends from the U.K. and Canada to grab some breakfast and do a bit of sightseeing.
After a couple of hours, we all got officially checked in and they headed up to sleep for a bit as they had been up all night in a bus. I wasn’t as tired as expected, so I ventured off to get some lunch, a Thai massage and wander around the city.
The people at the hostel also arranged a BBQ for the evening, so we all pitched in some cash. It ended up turning into an impromptu street party with around 20 people there, come places like Slovakia, Holland, England, Scotland, Portugal and a couple other countries. We ate the delicious chicken skewers, which had peppers, onions and pineapple on them.
A few beers and whisky shots later, a large group of us headed out to the bars. It’s so easy to make friends in hostels, I don’t want to stay in normal hotels ever again!
It was bittersweet to leave my hostel today, because it had such a cool vibe and was in a great location. I may stay there again on my way back to Japan in a couple weeks because so far it’s been my favourite hostel yet.
As for Bangkok, not sure how I feel about the city. I didn’t get to see a lot of it, so maybe when I’m back I’ll give it another chance. I won’t miss the traffic and noise though!
Before I left Bangkok, I wanted to visit the famous Golden Buddah while I had some free time
It was was conveniently located a ten minute walk from the Bangkok Railway Station so I headed there after taking the metro.
It was beautiful as expected and of course crawling with vendors at the entrance trying to sell stuff. I applaud the effort, but no thanks!
After purchasing a ticket for 40 baht, I headed up the stairs to the floor. After taking off my sandals, hat and sunglasses, I entered into the temple. It was so beautiful with gold adornments everywhere, trance like music and perfect natural light.. despite the amount of people inside, it was a peaceful environment.
After spending a bit of time there, I headed to the rail station to grab some lunch and wait for the train. I must say I was happy to head to a quieter place for the next few days, Chiang Mai. It’s located in Northern Thailand and I took the train there, a quick jaunt of only 15 hours! I took a 2nd class upper berth in a sleeper car and it was such an authentic experience.
A bunch of backpackers were on with me, so we chatted and compared travel tips. This time it was people from Holland, Switzerland and Columbia. As food vendors walked up and down the aisles selling their goods, I looked out at the beautiful scenery for a few hours and read my travel guide. The sunset was amazing, and having open windows blowing the country air into the cabin was a refreshing change from the smog in Bangkok.
For dinner I headed to the dining car and had a chicken, veggie and rice dish with hot peppers. It was good but not nearly as tasty as the street food I’ve had.
At around 7pm, they brought down the beds and I headed up to the top to chill out for a bit. I popped a Nytol and it worked it’s magic.
I actually managed to sleep pretty well for the duration of the train ride. Something about the rocking motion and white noise created by the train. The Nytol helped too!
At 4am, I was woken up by the conductor saying we had arrived in Chiang Mai. The girl I met from Holland and I shared a ride to our respective hostels, with me being dropped off first. Of course the office is closed until 7:30am so I had some time to kill. I walked to 7/11 to grab a drink and snack, headed back to the hostel and found a place to chill out until the office opens.
Hopefully once the office opens I can get into the room, have a quick nap and start my day. Until then, I’m glad I have my iPad and have found an outlet to plug in my phone.
Since I went right to bed after arriving at the hostel, and stayed by the airport last night, I don’t really count that as my first night in Bangkok. Tonight will be, and after a day of minor setbacks I must say this is a pretty cool place, of not overwhelming at times.
I ended up sleeping in this morning before taking a motorcycle taxi to the train station. The hostel people said it was quick and cheap so I got them to call me one. I’m not one to hop on the back of a motorcycle anywhere, let alone in a foreign country, but when in Thailand right? It was a totally scary and outside my comfort zone, in addition to me with my backpack and bag with me. I held on for dear life, but gotta admit it was really fun. Check that off the bucket list.
I took the super efficient train into Bangkok and wandered through the streets to get to my hostel called Suk 11, recommended from one of my favourite travel blogs Nomadic Matt’s Travel Site. Walked past a couple of “adult” oriented places, one was called Doctor BJ’s or something so you can fill in the blanks as to what that is. Also got used to being approached every 10 feet by tuk tuk drivers looking for business.
The hostel is super cool, with a ton of character. There is writing on the walls everywhere from visitors, and just a cool cove overall.
Once I checked in, I headed upstairs to my room to drop off my stuff. Yet again thought it would be shared but it’s all my own. I forgot that things are cheaper in Thailand, so for what a 10 bed hostel costs in Japan, you get your own room here. Excellent!
I didn’t really have a plan today other than booking my train ticket for Chiang Mai at the main station (you can’t do it online), and figured I would just wander around. I headed up Sukhumvit Road and took in the atmosphere and enjoyed the hot, humid weather. At certain points of my journey the smell of incense was in the air, followed by periods of nasty smelling things. They say Bangkok is a city of smells, so I was getting the complete experience.
At the train station, I attempted to buy a ticket for the overnight train with no luck. All the sleepers were sold out (even the ones without AC) and I was not sitting in a chair 13 hours! December is high season here, so I just rolled with the punches and came up with Plan B to take the train tomorrow at 12:45pm. It gets in just after 4am, but it’s a sleeper bunk. Problem solved. I don’t need AC anyway. I’ll just open the window.
The other minor bump was that the zipper on my small backpack broke somehow, rendering it useless. I just bought it! Not the end of the world, I’ll find something to replace it with. And that folks is how to enjoy travel, find solutions to problems and just let it go.
I was starving at this point so I stopped at a street vendor and got a chicken and rice dish. It was delicious as expected and cost me a total of 40 baht, or just over a dollar.
I also sat for a while trying to find a reasonable flight from Chiang Mai to Krabi as I didn’t want to get stuck taking a train or bus as that would take a long time. I finally found a flight for around $140, which is super expensive any other time of year. Note to all those who told me to just book things when you’re here: Have you ever been in December? No, you haven’t. Book as much in advance a possible. The end.
After that I took the train back to my hostel and decided that after the last week of walking 12 hours a day and being cramped into economy class seats on planes, I needed a foot massage. It was 250 baht for one hour of one of the most relaxing experiences I’ve ever had. Not only do they massage your feet and legs, the do your back, head, arms and shoulders. I think I’ll be getting a couple more.
I headed back to the hostel and ended up chatting with a couple people from France, a girl from Southern Thailand and another from Belgium. We had a few beers and compared similarities and differences between our countries. I also grabbed more street food, this time a chicken dish with peppers, onions, noodles and a bunch of other things. All that matters is it was so good, and only 55 baht. I’m going to have a hard time paying $9+ for Thai food ever again when I’m back at home.
That’s about it for today. Going to get a good night a sleep then head to the train station tomorrow for my journey into the north!
First up today was browsing through Family Mart, which I found out as I explored is the Japanese Walmart. The only reason I was browsing a grocery store at 10am was that I needed to kill some time as I waited for the rest of the shops to open.
I wanted to go to the Uniclo right near my hostel to buy the winter jacket I saw the other day. I decided I really liked it and is worth shipping home. I managed to grab a couple of boxes from a local 100 yen shop (Dollarama type store) and hoped it fit (it did). Got the jacket and won a scratch and win prize of 500 yen to use in the shopping centre I was in, and used it to buy an assortment of Japanese candy to ship home as well.
I wasn’t planning on sending anything back, but I want some of the cool stuff I’ve seen.
After wandering around for bit, I dropped my stuff off at the hostel and headed for Ueno. There is a giant park here along with a place called Yanaka Ginza that’s known for the wandering cats that hang by the Yuyake Dandan staircase. Sadly I only saw one cat, so that was slightly disappointing. However I did manage to have some delicious crispy snacks from a local shop, along with some street side dim sum. So tasty, I just love trying random foods everywhere I go here!
Next up was Ikebukuro, home to Sunshine City entertainment complex and about a billion arcades.Sunshine City is home to a couple of mini indoor theme parks, J-World Tokyo and Namjatown. It is also home to a Pokemon store, which was the most insane crazy crowded store I have ever seen. The line must have been 250-300 people long and wrapped around the whole place. Just for Pokemon!
As I wandered the streets, I popped into a couple of the arcades and pachinko places. These people mean business. There were so many types of games I have never seen, and their favourite is called the UFO, or as we call it in North America the claw game. The prizes are stuffed toys and action figures, but people treat these games the same way as gambling. Interestingly enough, gambling is illegal in Japan so this fills the void for people since they cannot win money, prizes are given out instead by trading in your tokens or balls.[pe2-image src=”http://lh3.ggpht.com/-WYyD9VTg6UA/VI08jfMUF3I/AAAAAAAAMqQ/5tPHB34Djlw/s144-c-o/IMG_20141214_161742.jpg” href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/106936826608506155895/20141214?authkey=ORypHgJ55F0#6092592451268384626″ caption=”” type=”image” alt=”IMG_20141214_161742.jpg” ]
My next destination was something right up my alley called Tokyo Dome City. It is an entertainment complex that has an amusement park, stadium, hotel, shopping and other awesome stuff. Totally my thing. As I wandered around looking at all the attractions at the park, I was awestruck about how cool Tokyo really is. I know I keep saying it, but there is so much to discover here. My style of travel is to do a lot of research before my trip, then as I venture around I find even more things to see. I like to be flexible and just wander, which is how the best experiences always happen.
Since I was at an amusement park, I had to ride something. I didn’t want to pay for a full pass as it was around $40, so instead I picked one attraction that was very unique: The Big-O Ferris Wheel. It happens to be the worlds largest centreless ferris wheel. Tickets are 820 yen, so about $8, but the experience was priceless. Not only do you get an amazing view of the city for 15 minutes, there is a built-in multimedia screen that lets you select music for your ride. I listened to some incredible J-Pop as I made my journey up and around. How cool is that? I’m totally terrified of heights, but this was so much fun.[pe2-image src=”http://lh3.ggpht.com/-E71nUoQbYN4/VI1ngsNL1SI/AAAAAAAAMsk/e_3j9UCbmHU/s144-c-o/IMG_20141214_182319.jpg” href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/106936826608506155895/20141214?authkey=ORypHgJ55F0#6092639682222085410″ caption=”” type=”image” alt=”IMG_20141214_182319.jpg” ]
I also managed to visit the 45th floor of the Tokyo Dome Hotel. FYI I always walk through the front door of many hotels like I am staying there and never have any problems wandering around and exploring. You can have some awesome experiences this way, like incredible views of the city and super nice bathrooms, all for free!
Finally my last stop was to visit Akihabara, home to a million electronic stores and a large hobby shop filled with awesome comic and manga fan-boy things. I don’t know about 99% of the popular anime, manga and other things here, but I plan on getting into it more in the future because it’s all so cool. I keep overusing the words cool and awesome because I really don’t know how to describe everything im seeing. Sensory overload. That is how I would describe this whole experience.
As always after my 12 hour day, I am exhausted. Off to bed in a bit and spending my last half day tomorrow heading to Tokyo Skytree before flying to Bangkok tomorrow night. I know I’m going to miss the magical toilets here, along with about a million other things. It is all good, because I come back for 24 hours on my way home to Calgary! God I love this place!
After successfully navigating to my hostel using the very complicated yet super easy to use train system, I decided to head out and explore a bit before I headed to bed.
It’s was very strange sitting in a Japanese style quick service restaurant last night and realizing I’m actually in Japan. As I was walking down the street and looking at all the shops and signage, I kept thinking I’ll turn a corner and see the CN Tower in Toronto. I popped into what the nice girl at the hostel dubbed “Japanese fast food” after I asked for a place that is quick and cheap. The cool thing is you use a vending style machine to select and pay for your meal, then hand the ticket to the server at the diner style seating area. I ate a delicious pork & rice dish, along with tofu soup…I think. I attempted using chopsticks, but quickly got frustrated and used my spoon. I’m sure this is the case with many westerners!
I wandered around the area and walked into this Japanese arcade filled with Pachinko machines. It smelled of smoke and reminded me of the slot area in casinos, but much louder with a billion times more flashing lights. I have no idea what was going on, but it was really energetic and exciting!
I don’t know if it’s jet lag, the uncomfortable bed, excitement, or a mix of all three but I cannot get back to sleep. It’s 4am! After tossing and turning for the past hour, I’ve given up on the sleep thing and am now here on the computer in the common room sipping green tea. I was planning on getting up at 6:30am, so I’m only up a couple of hours early. Tonight I should be able to pass out after a 14 hour day at Tokyo Disney Sea.
In unrelated news, I finally got the notification to update my phone software to Android Lollipop. That took about an hour last night and I thought everything was ok. It is not, my phone is totally janked up and I now need to factory reset it. Don’t do the upgrade on your phone, especially if you’re on a trip! I’m currently working on erasing and resetting my phone. Maybe it’s a good thing I’m up early?