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הגעה לבנגקוק ושהיה שם

Bangkok, Thailand


הגענו לבנגקוק אחרי טיסה שעברה די מהר, כנראה בגלל שתכננתי לקרוא על תאילנד ולתכנן דברים, לא הספקתי בכלל..

לקחנו מונית עם שני ישראלים שהיו איתנו במטוס, ערס מבוגר טיפוסי וכנראה חברה שלו. הגענו לאיזור הקוואסאן (יש כ"כ הרבה דרכים לכתוב את זה, אני מניח שרק בתאי זה נכון). זה רחוב שנקרא גם "רחוב התרמילאים". זה שוק אחד גדול, עם דוכני פירות, אוכל, בגדים, תיקים, מסעדות, נהגי טקסי וטוק-טוק, וכו'.. וכו'.. המחירים ממש נמוכים יחסית לארץ - אננס קר על מקל (ממש ממש טעים!) עולה 20 באהט (שזה בערך 2.2 ש"ח). ההרגשה שלי הייתה שכל אדם שני שנפנה אליו, הוא ישראלי.

הלכנו לאכסניה שהמליצו עליה מראש (גם אמא של אנה וגם מישהי שאנה פגשה במרפאת מטיילים). לקחנו שם חדר ב-390 באהט (40 פלוס שקלים לזוג ללילה!!) אכסניה נחמדה, עם מקלחת, מזגן (חובה - ההרגשה היא שהולכים בסאונה פינית בחוץ) ומיטה. פשוט ונחמד.

ביום הראשון לא עשינו עוד הרבה - הסתובבנו בקאוואסן והלכנו לישון.

למחרת נסענו לקנות מצלמה דיגיטלית בשבילי - הגענו לקניון עצום של אלקטרוניקה (ארבע קומות מלאות במוצרי אלקטרוניקה שונים). ניסינו להתמקח איתם על מחיר של מצלמה אבל זה היה מאוד קשה - מוצרי אלקטרוניקה לא זולים בהרבה מהארץ. בסוף קנינו מצלמה פשוטה (Canon A550), אבל לפחות עם כרטיס זיכרון של 2G. קיווינו ללכת לראות כמה מקדשים אח"כ אבל הזמן שביזבזנו בהתמקחויות והחום הכבד הכריע את הכף נגד. לקחנו מונית סירה לאורך הנהר חזרה לאכסניה שלנו. בדרך ראינו לטאה ענקית מתחת לאחת המדרגות אבל היא ברחה לפני שהספקתי לצלם.

בלילה הלכנו לשוק לילה - שוק ממש גדול עם חיקויים של כל המותגים שלא נרצה (ואני לא רציתי) ועוד כל מיני דברים נחמדים. ניסינו להתמקח עם מישהי - סתם כדי לראות עד כמה אפשר להוריד את המחיר, והצלחנו לפחות לחצי מחיר, והיינו גם מצליחים יותר אם היינו באמת רוצים לקנות. לכל אורך השוק עמדו אנשים שניסו לשכנע אותנו ללכת למופע שנקרא Ping-Pong - אישה שעושה כל מיני דברים עם איזורים אינטימיים שלה (אין צורך להסביר את מקור השם אני מניח) - לא ממש עניין אותנו ללכת אבל זה לא הפריע להם להציע עד בלי די..

אח"כ ישבנו שם במסעדה באיזור השוק, ואכלנו שרימפס. רמת השירות שם מאוד גבוהה - שלושה מלצרים/יות שירתו אותנו ועקבו אחרי כל צעד ושעל. הארוחה יצאה כמובן, בערך חצי אם לא פחות ממה שהיה עולה בארץ.

עד כה אין קלקולי קיבה רציניים..

היום בבוקר נסענו לשוק צף, שמרגיש ממוסחר משהו אבל עדיין חוויה מיוחדת. נסענו לשוק שנמצא כמעט שעה מחוץ לבנגקוק, עברנו בדרך חלק ניכר מהעיר הזו - היא פשוט עיר ענקית! בדרך ראינו גורדי שחקים לצד בתי כפר רעועים, ובכל בית - מקדש רוחות (בפעם הבאה - מה זה מקדש רוחות?)

זו הייתה הפעם הראשונה שהרגשתי ממש במזרח ובאיזור טרופי (חוץ מהלחות המטורפת). הצמחייה ירוקה וגבוהה, ובאיזור עירוני שבו לא בנו, הייתה צמחייה גבוהה ועבותה.

אחרי שחזרנו נסענו לארמון המלך ולמקדש שלידו - ממש יפה, אשלח תמונות.


permalink written by  Omri Har-Shemesh on April 20, 2007 from Bangkok, Thailand
from the travel blog: Traveling to Thailand (and Laos, and Cambodia, and Vietnam)
tagged Hebrew and Thailand

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Aaron Gershfield leaves Thailand

Bangkok, Thailand


Well the journey has begun.

Aaron Gershfield has left Thailand and is now on a round the world trip of a lifetime!!!

Thailand has been my home for a while now, and I have so many brilliant memories but I thought it's now or never so it's time to go and see the world!!!!

It was amazing flying off from Bangkok, and looking back at Thailand waving goodbye to me. Sad and exciting at the same time.

I'll write when I get to my next destination, until then goodbye from Aaron Gershfield.

Aaron Gershfield.
Thailand 2007


permalink written by  aarongershfield on October 1, 2007 from Bangkok, Thailand
from the travel blog: Round the world
tagged Thailand, RoundTheWorld, AaronGershfield, Aaron and Gershfield

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Counting down and Planning...

The Hague, Netherlands


There are only a few days left before the two of us meet up in London, from where the we will set off with nothing more than our Packs into the backpack haven of Thailand. The official departure date is Thursday 6 December, arriving in Bangkok at 06:10 on the 7th. Now all that is left is to say our goodbyes, enjoy the luxuries of first world comforts, plan, budget, start malaria courses and gain as much travel know how as possible.

A bit of Background...

The two of us went to High school together back in Natal in South Africa. Since then, as that is quite some time ago, we have seen each other on the rare occasion. Both of us are done with our studies, both highly intellectual business minded men, and are keen for some serious adventure. How this duo was formed was over a reuniting beer in the worldly London suburb of Wimbledon after expressing our desire for something awesome, something that should be done before we were to serious about a career. This in conjunction with looking at some photos of a Cape to Cairo trip, an epic adventure.

So this year, the career minded Iaki has been slaving away at the London commercial sector after changing his mind on the Greek army. So after having written his SIMA examinations just a few days ago cannot wait to let loose and to trek the chartered lands of South East Asia and at the same time hope to catch a record size Mekong Catfish and become a pro photographer.

I have been somewhat of a free spirit this year, working enough to do what I really wanted to do, being travelling. This work has been the opposite of career minded work and has been in the catering/event industry.
After I finished my degree in Cape Town, two friends and I set out to conquer the mother continent on an epic adventure from Cape Town to Cairo. After this we trekked through Eastern Europe, before I somewhat settled (in very loose terms of the word) in Holland, from where I have made countless trips around Europe.

This trip is what I have always wanted to do, and I am really glad that I am now doing it with an excellent travel compadre.

Keep checking back at this site, as it is going to be nothing short of entertaining!

permalink written by  ourindochina on November 29, 2007 from The Hague, Netherlands
from the travel blog: The Indo China Adventure (incl Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia)
tagged Departure, Thailand, Iaki, Pieter and Iakovos

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Dreadlocks and Ladyboys

Bangkok, Thailand


Finally completing the intensive traveling (and jetlagged) part of my trip is a godsend, and being able to relax without having to necessarily go anywhere or do anything has been great. That being said, many interesting things have happened, from my Ringat-less, fraud-protected-credit-card scare, to a longboat/bike journey through the city, to excursions throughout the diverse megaplex of Bangkok.

I have seen more dreadlocks on white-people and more ladyboys in Bangkok than I have ever seen in my entire life. As a sprawling megaplex (I Like that word), Asia's #1 backpackers hotpoint, and the center of Thai Art, entertainment, and high-society, Bangkok is a youthful, exuberant city with something for everyone. It is a more dynamic city than I have ever seen, and on every street there are people struggling, living, cooking, caring, flirting, selling...everything.

Instantly the amount of Westerners, the cheapness, and the hip-ity of Khao San Road overwhelms most travelers as they sprawl out on the promenade, weaving the complex maze through tourists, shops, sellers, masseuses, and tuk-tuks. Khao San Road(above) is the first stop for travelers and the #1 backpackers hotpoint in the world. The amount of westerners in this area is overwhelming, and between the run-down bohemian style of the area, added to the warm scents, alternative bookstores, wacky t-shirts, hip hairdoos and casual strolling, you get a wonderfully wacky cross between Greenwich Village and Venice Beach, creating a dynamic entrepot of culture and life.
The cheapness of everything too is overwhelming, something giving way to a particularly different feeling of being a king or queen or such. 2hour massages for $12! Dinner for $2-5! Cool t-shirts and books for $5! Exchange rates are (once-again) wonderful.

Although Bangkok is cheap, their history and culture is as rich as gold. This golden Reclining Buddha, is the largest Buddha in the world in terms of length, and it is absolutely MASSIVE. It is hundreds of years old and part of the larger Wat Pho Temple complex, which includes hundreds more golden Buddhas, some of which contain the ashes of noblemen. The three great pillars pictured above are markers for the tombstones of three kings, and their is immaculate ornamentation, stone-work and gardens all throughout the temples acres of grounds.

Some particularly cool statues of lions I saw...

I must take my leave for dinner now, but I will post the 2nd post pertaining to Bangkok shortly, hope you enjoy!


permalink written by  JohnJack_Crestani on January 21, 2009 from Bangkok, Thailand
from the travel blog: I Meet the SouthEast
tagged Buddha, Thailand, Bangkok, JackCrestani, Khaosan and Watpho

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Dreadlocks and Ladyboys (Bangkok Part 2)

Bangkok, Thailand


Through all the dazzle and glory of Bangkok's economy and culture lies massive amounts of pollution and Western influence. The photos above were taken from a longboat on Bangkoks main river, Chao Phraya. Los Angeles has nothing on this! The taste of pollution and raw sewage in many places are enough to give the average person headaches.

Although the boat tour through the city led us through some of the most pollution infested areas of town (Chinatown and industrial areas), once we got towards the suburbs of the city I was able to experience scenes, normal people living, that you would never get in the touristy and city areas. Interestingly (to me at least), the suburbs of Bangkok are surprisingly integrated in their mixtures of social classes, especially up against the model of US cities. Rich estates and their gardens reside next to farms, peasant shops and makeshift housing peacefully. An upper-class house averages around $200k, about half is the land. Their gardens sit right next to subsistence farmers, who live almost completely unaffected by modernity, and only sell meager amounts of their crop to the market if they have extra left over.
Riding my bike through the elevated sidewalks/roads which snake around the suburbs, kids would shout friendly 'Herro's to me, as I am guessing they don't often see white faces, something completely different from the city. Life is calm here, and not much seems to have changed over the centuries in these parts.

Western influence has affected full-force the high-society and upper/middle classes of Thailand, and although I am standing in front of a special walk for chinese new years, it is a part of a megamall that is perhaps the greatest symbol to Western influence in Thailand. Siam Paragon, a recently built megamall features multiple McDonalds, Dolce & Gabbana, Quiksilver, H&M etc, etc, etc. It is completely and absolutely indistinguishable (creepily so...) from a USA mall scene...except all the people are Asian. From flirtacious and gossiping teenagers, to desperate housewives, to young adults on dates at the movies, to prep students finished with school, and every other mall stereotype, it can be found here 5000 miles from Los Angeles.

This was the only place where I felt really awkward, like I didnt belong. My school group was not part of the actual makeup here, this was no tourist site, and they didn't specifically need our money. The art installations and center-mall galleries were absolutely stunning on a scale not seen in America. Hands down nicest, cleanest, richest mall I've ever been to...and I am in a 3rd world country. (Side-note: I actually walked into the mall during a Thai movie premier happening there which added to the feeling of being in my native Los Angeles, very glitzy)The one quite different aspect from American malls is the presence of many white-Thai couples here on dates.
The amount of prostitutes in Bangkok (in the downtown area near the nice hotels, not where the other backpackers and I were staying) is absolutely insane. Tens of thousands of women come from all over SE Asia to be sold for about $30 to Western customers coming from mainly around Europe, Australia, America and the Middle East. The amount of creepy old white men walking around with their Thai 'girlfriends' is stunning, mainly because it is such a common sight. Places like Starbucks, mid/high-end hotel lobbies (nice hotels are around $100-600/night) and street promenades are very populated by such dates. Although it is sad that women feel the need to sell their bodies, I feel it is also an equally bad problem that generations of men have been raised unable to successfully bed a woman, or achieve a happy relationship, that they must resort to a 3rd world country for a relationship.

Overall, Bangkok has been quite a trip, it is a fast-paced, multifaceted city full of delights, joys, beer, women, tourist attractions, culture, cheap goods, and something for anyone and everyone. I highly recommend a visit to Bangkok for all, it is an incredibly safe city (the laws protect foreigners more-so than the native Thai), and I never at once felt at unease.

At the same time, I am glad to be out of the smog, traffic, sellers and commercialism and out in the country now.


permalink written by  JohnJack_Crestani on January 25, 2009 from Bangkok, Thailand
from the travel blog: I Meet the SouthEast
tagged Temple, Buddha, Thailand, Bangkok, Watpho and Dreadlocks

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Something new To Try, Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai, Thailand


Pie in the sky Chiang Mai finally doing the laundry Chiang Mai its good to ask why Chiang Mai� buy a lady get a guy Chiang Mai�These area all the names our group thought up to help market the city in the States because, in the words of Tony the Tiger, its grrrrrreat!

Chiang Mai is a blast and a half and during the course of the last few days our group got a much needed massage, completed an amazing race, visited a wat , and spent a morning at a Burmese children's school. And of course many amazing Thai meals along the way. (Note: Chiang Mai's time was cut in half by a 2 day visit to a rock-climbing and caving area which will be covered in a separate entry)

The economic powerhouse of northern Thailand, Chiang Mai's atmosphere is more relaxed than the massive-city appeal of Bangkok, with a mixed appeal of riverside live-music bars, beautiful temples, a sleazy sex-tourist district, numerous open-air markets, rooftop lounges, and noticeably cleaner air than its larger city cousin. Our first activity upon entering the Chiang Mai's fray (Chiang Mai literally translates to 'New City', the northern Thai area was recaptured from the Burmese only three hundred years ago), was embracing a much needed massage after three days of trekking to the Karen-tribe village. It was awesome.

The next day (Feb 1st) we were off to visit Wat Suan Dok, a magnificent temple built hundreds of years ago highlighted by the ridiculous 300-some steps (I lost count) to climb up into the main temple area, adorned with a massive golden Buddha (but beware the wandering elephant, for it expects bananas).

The 'Secret Activity' ended up being The Amazing Race: Chiang Mai. We were set-off in three groups to complete a dozen tasks as fast as possible and return by a set time to the hotel. After grueling hours of beer, sweat, and tears, The Pimp Daddies (Jeremy, Taylor, Emily Long, Mackenzie) completed the challenge first (albeit using questionable strategies), the Tiger Paws (Shannon, Jack, Katie, Emily Maeder) completed second (completed every task perfectly),
and then the Buddha Bellies (Colin, M.E., Will, E'Beth, Sam, Audrey) finished last, although (coincidentally perhaps?) they seemed to have feasted the finest that afternoon. The race involved a mix of learning about the city with visiting various places all around Chiang Mai from temples to a mall to a restaurant and more. By placing exploration in competitive circumstances, it created an inventive twist to get many of us exploring the city and interacting with the locals.

Children are the best. Yes I know there are many parents reading this who may say otherwise, but I'm talking about the younger, cuter sort. The group taught at a Burmese school this Wednesday. Some of the older students practiced their English by interviewing some of our group, while the rest (and most) of us played and drew pictures with the children. The older students were surprisingly good at English, and displayed a real drive to learn the language, while the younger kids were, well, typical kids and a lot of fun.

All-in-all, Chiang Mai is an awesome city that I wish I had the opportunity to stay in longer. The dynamic nature, fun, chillaxed people, amazing temples were a great experience for everyone, and a welcome breather from trekking, although now we are off to Laos, tune in sometime soon for the next post!

Here is a picture at the Chiang Mai Elephant Santuary of an elephant painting a self-portrait of himself....really.

Here is a picture of the Ratchadameon Sunday market, its still early so there arent many people but this place gets really crowded

Funny grafitti



permalink written by  JohnJack_Crestani on February 6, 2009 from Chiang Mai, Thailand
from the travel blog: I Meet the SouthEast
tagged Thailand, Elephant, ChiangMai, JackCrestani and Johncrestani

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Cimbing and Crawling

Chiang Mai, Thailand


I am a dirty man. In the happiest, sorest and most satisfying sense of the word. Caving on your stomach through tunnels barely wider than your body, in 100-degree putrid heat, and with little underground streams and bats occasionally paying visits, you would be just as dirty. Pepper it all up with some 300-foot rock climbing and rapelling, and you'd be cimpletely pooped.

During my Pacific Discovery tour group's 2-day break from Chiang Mai, we went to and stayed at Chiang Mai Rock Recreation Center, where we climbed, caved, roasted rice cakes, played games, and camped out.

A combination of chess and pull-ups, climbing is alot of fun, and something I enjoy dearly. Strategizing each succession of grips, clenches, and footholds combines thinking and tests your physical limits in a game where theres a clear goal, reaching the top. Thats me over to he left rapelling (descending) down one of the walls I had just scaled. If it wasnt so damn expensive of a hobby, I would definately treat myself to more climbs, more often, in more places.

We also did some rapelling into caves, loads of fun. Pretty scary though when the difference between life and falling to your death depends on how tightly you hang onto your rope as you slide down it. I prefer hanging onto at least something, alhough the 'motto' of the camp was, Discomfort=Growth. The more you put yourself into uncomfortable situations, the more growth you undergo as a person. And the more discomfort people go through, the more they turn to 'comfort' items as a reaction, such as the 'Pizza and Beer' meal our group mandated after 3 days of trekking in the wilderness. Embrace the awkward/discomfortable!

Caving was a trip. A 3-hour trip that only got deeper, hotter, wetter, and putrid-er. But we managed to embrace the discomfort, and look at how we ended up! It was a great experience, with most people agreeing never to try it again, while yours truly wanted to holy-mole deeper until I eiher found gold, dinosaur bones, or both. Calcite from the limestone formed these caves, similar to the ones in Kentucky and Tennessee. he calcite becomes slightly acidic when mixed with water, and underground streams of this acidic water form along the grooves in the rocks and eventually form large (or small) caves, slalagtites, bat dung ecosystems, etc. We crawled through spaces barely as big as our body, treaded water through underground streams, and monkey-crawled through mud and rocks. Bats even flew in our faces; One got within a foot of my face, while another actually smacked into a girls head! To say the least, after we exited the cave, we were spent, our knees all rightly bruised up, but still in good spirits.
The victory picture!

(Skip over this next part if your not into politics)

The camp was run by a Princeton graduate, I finally learned a bit about the Thai coup that happened late last year. Thai is split between two political parties, the Reds, based in the north, and the Yellows, based in the south.
The Reds are the party of the nouveau-riche, the police, and many people in the north especially around Chiang Mai. They are the new guard, business-friendly and might be compared to the GOP in the US. They were the ruling party until late last year, until they were forced o forfeit their presidency because of major money scandals, an undermined police force, and dissatisfaction. he president was also the richest man in Thailand, but was wracked by corruption scandals and abuse of loopholes.
The Yellows are considered the old guard party and represent the south (around Bangkok), the military, and the King. They took power late last year after some very symbolic non-action by the military in letting the Yellow protestors (most of the protestors on both sides were hired) to take over and shut down the airport. Bangkok airport is the only international airport in Thailand, and being very dependent on tourism, this affected the economy greatly, with many travelers jumping at the chance to cancel their trips abroad altogether because of he already sorry state of their home economies. It will be interesting to see how the politics in this country develop during the year.

(End of boring political part)

At the end of all the hoopla, camping and outdoor activities, I came away with new loves of climbing and caving, and some great times around the campfire with all the camp leaders and my Pacific Discovery friends. Here are some more pictures for everyone to check out. I will be in Laos for the next week or so, with absolutely NO internet access (it is one of the 10 poorest countries in the WOLRD) but upon my arrival in Saigon in 7 days, I will fill everyone in. Thanks for reading!

The name of the camp was Crazy Horse, aptly named after this distinctive looking rock that crowns the mountain from which all the climbing walls and caves run around and under.

Some of that beautiful cave light. This is NOT the cave we went caving in. This cave is like a walk in the park compared to that one.

Me pooped, lying on a bamboo mat, after climbing and caving.



permalink written by  JohnJack_Crestani on February 6, 2009 from Chiang Mai, Thailand
from the travel blog: I Meet the SouthEast
tagged Rockclimbing, Caving, Thailand, ChiangMai, JackCrestani, Johncrestani and Crazyhorse

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"It is the journey that matters..."

San Francisco, United States


The title is the caption on the back of the t-shirt I'm wearing right now. It's a quote from a noted science fiction author [1] and it seemed an ideal sentiment to summarize my feelings as I get ready to start my Big Asia Tour, 2009.

This will be a very open-ended and spontaneous tour. Except for the first two weeks, I have neither schedule nor itinerary. I have only a general idea of the countries I wish to visit; the specific dates, places, and order of travel will be decided by me on a day to day basis.

The first of my trip will be sailing down the coast of Thailand and Malaysia on this old style clipper ship. Isn't she a beauty!? This will include short trips to Cambodia and Singapore as well. After that, I may visit the following countries: Philippines, Japan, Vietnam, Sri Lanka. But as I said, this is all subject to change. On this trip I expect to do: sailing, swimming, snorkeling, scuba ,diving, sightseeing, trekking, eating, drinking, partying, meeting old friends, making new friends, painting, drawing, writing, talking, laughing, and ... other things :)

I have my little travel laptop (cutest laptop in the world) with me, so I expect to be blogging on a daily basis, and you dear reader, are invited to follow me and share in my adventures! I invite your comments to these blog entries as well (but please don't use my real name -- just address me as "Panini").

Panini

[1] Here is the full quote:

"It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey
that matters, in the end.” –-Ursula K. LeGuin

permalink written by  panini7 on February 15, 2009 from San Francisco, United States
from the travel blog: Panini's Asia Trip 2009
tagged Thailand

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Chiang Mai: Songkran at its craziest!

Chiang Mai, Thailand



(S)he only really belongs at the end of the blog, but I think the photo deserves prominence.

Waiting for the bus from Chang Rai to Chang Mai, we bought some drinks and snacks for the journey from the 7-11 in the bus station. 7-11 is absolutely everywhere in Thailand, although they've been surprisingly ubiquitous throughout Asia. The Thais seem to really care about drinking straws, but I had to laugh when I opened the bag. We'd bought two big bottles of drinking water (Thailand may be more developed that the rest of South East Asia, but you still can't drink the tap water), two cans of Coke, and two little bottles of Yakult. The bag also contained six straws in three different sizes: long, thick ones presumably for the bottled water; medium-sized ones for the Cokes; and two tiny little narrow straws for the Yakult. I wonder how many different types of straw they have easy access to at the counter, and for how many different products!

Last time I was in Thailand I stayed at a little backpackers' called Eagle House and as they had been so friendly and incredibly cheap we had taken the unusual step of booking ahead so that we could be sure of somewhere to stay over Songkran, during which we had heard Chang Mai books up very fast. The Irish owner, Annette, who run the place with her Thai husband, Pon, did not have very good email communication skills. In fact she had almost completely failed to confirm that we had a booking at all: “I think the staff have booked the room for you” was the best we got from her. When we arrived it was pouring with rain so I did not relish the thought of looking for another place to stay. The guy at the desk told us it was the first time there had been rain in Chang Mai since last year. Either people were lying to us about the weather, or the apparent early monsoon was just for us, and was following us around Asia. There was a bit of confusion and delay but, yes, they did have a room for us, although I soon realised it was not what we'd asked for: this room had a hot water shower, a totally unnecessary luxury we had not been bothering with. The “cold” water comes out pretty warm when the ambient temperature is 35C and over, and you don't want anything warmer when the weather is that hot anyway. Also, hot water showers are usually electric “power” showers, which means that the water tends to trickle out much more slowly than water straight from the mains. I went back to the desk and explained to the young guy that I had booked a small cold water double room at 150 Baht, but he said they don't have any, just hot water rooms at 180 Baht. The price was about £3.60, a considerable increase on the 75p per night I paid before, but I suppose five years is a long time! The difference between cold and hot didn't seem too bad, so I agreed to stay where we were. There was apparently a trek leaving the next day, but we wanted to see Songkran in Chang Mai. Unfortunately he could not confirm when the next trek would be leaving, nor could he confirm whether we'd be able to stay a couple of days longer than the three days we'd booked. “Ask again on your last day” he told me.


We ventured out onto the street and it was quickly clear we would need to be armed, so we got Joanne a lady's-sized super-soaker type of water gun, but the water activity seemed to die down in the early evening, so we left the gun in the room and investigated the Chang Mai nightlife. We found quite a nice club called THC, which was playing a good mix of psychedelic trance, hard trance, and drum'n'bass in lovely soft-cushion fluorescent decorations surroundings. It seems to be a little slice of Thai beach culture migrated to the northern end of the country. We were starting to notice that loads of people were smoking in Thailand compared to anywhere we'd been so far. There are no real smoking restrictions anywhere we'd been in Asia, but it hadn't bothered us much because there were never many people smoking at once. I suppose other than Thailand the locals are too poor, and as for the travellers, it is more the backpacker end of the tourist industry outside Thailand, so maybe the tourists there can't afford to smoke as much either. But now we were in Thailand it was stinging eyes and the smelly clothes and hair again we used to suffer from before the excellent smoking ban was brought in for bars and restaurants in Scotland.

One of the things I'd liked about the Eagle House was their “honesty system”: you help yourself to soft drinks, beer, or whatever from the fridge then write it down in your room book, and if you order food, you write that down too. This was still in place, but there was no longer beer available, which was a bit of a disappointment. In the morning, when writing down our breakfast order, I noticed that the room rate had been written in for me: 240 Baht, not the 180 I was expecting, so I took it up with them at the desk. It turned out we were in a large hot water room, not the small hot water room I thought we were in, and certainly not the small cold water room I'd booked. I complained about this and suggested that they should let me have the room for the rate I was expecting, but they were having none of that and closed ranks, claiming (falsely) that everyone working in reception had heard him telling me yesterday that the rate was 240 Baht. They were able to move us to one of the cheap rooms we thought we were already in. I think it was right next door to the room I'd had five years previously, but the nostalgia was somewhat ruined by “improvements” they had carried out in the room. The ceiling fan had been replaced by a light and a small fan mounted on the wall instead. Ceiling fans are really nice, effective, and quiet at night, but they seem to have been replaced by noisy little ineffective wall-mounted ones in many places. I suppose they must be cheaper to replace when something goes wrong, but they really are useless. The gushing cold-water shower was now a trickling hot water electric shower, and the clean-but-basic flush-with-bucket squat toilet had been replaced by a western-style flushing toilet, but as is the case all over Asia, the cheaper western-style toilets are worse than the Asian-style ones: they leak, the seat is never properly attached, they don't flush properly and so on. All in all I was becoming pretty disillusioned with Eagle House, and Joanne wasn't at all impressed with my choice of dwellings.


We had to go looking for a camera shop, to see if we could get my grit-damaged one repaired, but before we looked for it we had some preparations to carry out: Joanne transferred all of her stuff from her small rucksack into the dry bag we had bought for Tubing in Vang Vieng; I also had a smaller dry bag designed to go inside a rucksack, so I transferred everything into that; we filled Joanne's gun up from the tap; and the first place we went out on the street was a stall selling a huge range of water weapons. I settled on 1.5 litre super-soaker, which I paid about £8 for, although I was tempted to get one of their top-of-the-range twin barrel guns, or a weapon with a back-mounted water supply for about £15, but it seemed like a rather silly expense when our daily budget is only £35 between us, including accommodation. The only camera place we could get information about on a Chang Mai tourist map we had, was a fair walk away. We were a keen to do it that day because Songkran officially started the following day and we were fairly sure they would close for the holiday, however an extra twist had been added by the government declaring a state of emergency and three extra days of holiday, which meant it had actually already started. Our walk took us through some less central parts of the town, but there were still plenty of people ready to soak us from street corners, outside shops, or from the back of moving vehicles. We were able to retaliate most of the time with our newly purchased weapons, and I noted that many people actually want you to wet them. A couple of people had pointed at me and said things like “wet me, farang, for good luck!” so how could I refuse? We soon came up against the limitation of our guns which is water supply, but we discovered that everyone is very friendly and happy to share their water supply with you, which is usually a huge plastic bin full of water. Of course they usually give you an extra soaking while you're filling up, but it's a price worth paying. When we couldn't find the camera place, it occurred to us to call the number on the leaflet: no answer.


On the way back from our largely futile shop search, we came to a busy bar with rock music belting out, where the clientele were almost exclusively Thai. Outside there were several farangs, though, and a few Thais waging a very intense water war with the passing traffic and people stationed across the road, at the corner of the moat. The centre of Chang Mai is surrounded by a square moat, and standing next to it clearly gave those people the massive advantage of a limitless water supply, however I worried about the cleanliness of moat water being chucked all over people. I think the moat may be the reason that Chang Mai celebrates Songkran more vigorously than anywhere else in Thailand. The bar seemed like an interesting place, so we confirmed it was OK to go inside dripping wet and sat down at the bar for a wee drink. We got chatting to a friendly girl at the bar called Aey, who told us that her sister, behind the bar, was the manager. She told us that all the farangs outside water-fighting had Thai wives or girlfriends and children to them. While we were in the bar it started to pour with rain again, so I asked how unusual it was to get rain at this time of year. She claimed that this is the first time that it has ever rained in Chang Mai during Songkran. She went on to tell us how Songkran was a gift from Buddha, when during his life there was a very hot year (40 or 50 degrees she said) and he wondered how to ease the suffering of all the people, and he apparently came up with the idea of a water fight. She was really quite drunk so I'm not sure she knew what she was talking about; I had thought that Songkran was all about washing away bad luck rather than cooling down, hence some people's desire to be wet. Also some, usually older, people tend to sprinkle a little water over you with their fingers as if anointing you. There is also a tradition of washing your Buddha figures during Songkran, and I had seen someone pouring water over the large Buddha at the Sunday Market, so I think it is more about luck, although it was a nice story Aey told us. We sat and chatted to her for most of the afternoon, getting drunker and drunker. At one point she produced some very tasty Tom Yum Crisps and told us she works as quality control for the company. Tom Yum is usually a hot and sour soup, so these were quite an unusual take on it: most of the same ingredients, dried i.e. shrimps, chillies, lime leaves, nuts, squid, etc. I thought they were very nice and I told her I thought they would sell well in Scotland; I was thinking of posh shops like Pekhams. She assured me that they do export and kept trying to give us free packets. We only took one because it didn't really sound like the business had properly taken off yet and I've not been able to find any sign online of them in the UK, but I'm sure they would sell because they're delicious. The water fight had started to spread indoors as people got more and more drunk. As far as I can gather everyone in Thailand gets drunk continuously for about five days over this festival. Since we had Aey on our side, she helped by filling our guns with iced water which makes for an excellent secret weapon. When you fire iced water at people you can really see the difference: the shock on their face, the sharp intake of breath, and the stiffening of their back. Great stuff!


Eventually we staggered back outside into the battle zone, where I started to notice that the iced water idea was neither original nor very unusual: we were frequently hit by streams of water that made us gasp, or worse, whole buckets of water over our heads. When I spotted huge icebergs floating in some of the large bins people were using as water supplies it all made sense. The iced water is just one element in the huge range of weaponry on the streets for Songkran: there are the ubiquitous super-soakers like we had, but many people had those guns with water supplies on their backs like rucksacks, which allowed them to go longer without a water source, while others had gone in the other direction and were using long, thin water canons which expend their aqueous ammunition in one powerful jet, or had gone for the cheap and simple option of using a bucket; both these groups of people would often be found gathered around the large water bins, never able to stray to far from a water supply, but able to deliver the most devastating assault when next to one, especially when the bin was full of ice too. Quite a few people had complimented their weapon with a comedy or horror rubber full-face mask. Let me tell you, it's quite scary to see George Bush coming towards you fully armed. Many of the bucket-packers had stationed themselves along the moat, and were re-arming their weapon by lowering it on a string they had attached. In fact, so many people were using the moat as a water supply that by the end of the day, the road next to it was flooded several inches deep and even before then a little river ran down the road all day. Another two weapons at opposite ends of the spectrum are those who carry around a little cup of water for dipping fingers into and sprinkling over people, and those who have a hose, though the hose is usually used to refill the big bins it is occasionally turned on some unlucky or deserving opponent. This raises the question: who is your opponent? Mostly it seems almost as if there are two teams: the people standing by the bins against the people driving round in vehicles. But then the people standing on opposite sides of the street also have a rivalry, even if it comes second to the war against vehicles, and of course there are plenty of peripatetic warriors like us, who are happy to take a shot at anyone and definitely get it back in at least equal measure. But even with these loosely defined enemies, you still see plenty of in-fighting: you can often witness short bouts where a few people round the same bin, or on the back of the same pick-up, start going for each other, but this is usually brought to an end by a passer-by refocusing the team effort. Some people seem to pile as many of their friends as they can onto the back of a pick-up, along with plenty of beer and huge bins full of iced water, which is also good for keeping the beer cool, and drive round and round the square of the moat all day. You can even charter tuktuks with buckets of water, by the hour, to drive you round and round. Plenty of people even opt to drive round and round on mopeds or bicycles. The result of all of this, of course, is that there is a constant traffic jam all the way around the moat, but nobody seems to mind much: it just gives them enough time to have a mini-war with one group of bin-dwellers before the traffic frees up enough for them to move onto the next campaign. Many of the vehicles and lots of people faces have white pasty stuff all over them. We had asked Aey what this is and it is apparently talc, used to protect against the sun. I had thought it was maybe a symbol for the bad luck which would then be visibly washed away. One of the fantastic things about the fighting is that it is very mixed: young and old, Thais and farangs, men and women, monks and police, they are all equal targets and everyone is having fun together, without resorting to grouping along racial or gender lines or suchlike. It's just a great big happy party, with music thumping out of various stages set up around the city.

Passing a Mexican restaurant advertising free wifi, we spotted Lambert from Chang Rai, so went in to chat to him and use the wifi. He was heading back to his guesthouse for a bit of a party with the other guests there, so we agreed to join him. On the way to his place we passed a stall selling durian. I had to buy some: all this time in Asia I'd been buying durian products, trying to understand what it tastes like, but I had not thus far seen actual durian. I didn't try it immediately but the smell was rather powerful; I had to keep moving it around the bar of Lambert's guesthouse so as not to offend people. Lambert seemed less worried about offending people and ranted for some time about how he hated Phuket, where we were going soon, mostly because he had objected to all the ladyboys there. I don't think he was the sort of person who would object to ladyboys in principle, but he had apparently found that those in Phuket were very forward, to the point of extreme harassment. He posed the question why there were so many ladyboys in Thailand and quickly presented his theory that it is all because of the Thai language. His theory centred on the fact that Thai is unusual in that the first person personal pronoun (“I” in English) is different depending on whether you are male of female: “dichan” for females and “phom” for males. There is also a very frequently used “politening particle” (don't know what the correct linguistic term is), at the end of most sentences unless a conversation goes on for a while, and this too is different depending on your gender: “kap” for males and “kAAaa” (falling tone) for females. Thai is the only language, he said, which does this, and consequently allows people to choose their own gender simply by changing what they say. I thought his theory was interesting, but I was only half-convinced, and I could not believe there were not more similar languages. He assured me that he had been all over the world and learned enough of every major language to be sure. Joanne later reminded me that the word for “Yes” differs in Khmer according to the speaker gender, and I think we found something in Vietnamese too, however the fact it is “I” that changes in Thai is maybe significant and the high frequency of the changing words in Thai may be too. We were probably already a bit too worse for wear to be joining another party and after a couple of Thai whiskies from Lambert, Joanne was a bit worse for wear, so we said our goodbyes to the concerned-looking people at Lambert's guesthouse and went home to ours.

When we arrived back we realised that Joanne no longer had her camera, so I put her to bed and ventured back out to see if she had left it in Lambert's guesthouse, however I was too drunk myself to remember where on earth we had just been and after about an hour roaming the streets looking for it I had to give up. I returned home and ate one of the two pieces of durian: very odd tasting. The next morning I ate the rest if the durian as a hangover cure and Joanne was very unwell. Eagle House confirmed that they would be unable to extend our booking for two days, which meant that they had allowed other people to check in after I let them know we wanted to stay on. By now I was so annoyed with them I decided to write to the Lonely Planet and Rough guide to give them a very negative review. It wasn't a good day: we still couldn't remember where Lambert was staying and Aey's sister confirmed nobody had found Joanne's camera there. We had no idea where the Mexican restaurant we met Lambert was, but it was now our best bet for Joanne's camera. Luckily my phone had stored the name of the wifi point, “Miguels”, when I'd connected to check my email, and we spotted a place with the same name when retracing our steps. They were closed for the holiday, but we found an employee hanging around. They had found nothing either and he told us that stuff often gets lifted from there because they are right on the main street. Increasingly depressed we went looking for new accommodation, but instead we found an open camera repair shop, where the owner said he could repair mine and I could collect it later that day. Maybe our luck was changing. We continued the hostel hunt, but most just said that they couldn't tell us until tomorrow, by which time we'd be walking around with our huge packs getting soaked. Finally we found a place who told us that we couldn't book but, if we came back tomorrow, they would definitely have something. It was a much bigger place aimed at younger people, where you had to pay for each day up-front, and which the LP described as noisy, but we were desperate. We collected the camera which was working again, but unfortunately still had the sticky beer problem it had been suffering from since Laos. I went to try and blog, but I was too hungover even for that, however we did receive an email from Sia and Willemijn inviting us to lunch the following day. The water fight continued unabated and we got so wet that we both had chafed thighs.


The next morning we were up early so that we could move to our new guesthouse without everything in our big rucksacks getting soaked. I had put everything in plastic bags inside the rucksack, but I didn't trust them to the amount of water we had endured the previous day. In fact we had left early enough, but people were already starting to get set up along the moat. At lunch time we met the Dutch girls who didn't seem to be all that impressed at the constant soakings, but I think it was just because they wanted to go shopping instead. Meanwhile I tried to put my newly revitalised camera to good use by putting it in a clear plastic bag and taking some photos. My camera stayed dry despite the serious efforts of strangers, but the photos didn't come out all that well: most of them seemed a bit "steamed up". It started to rain heavily again, so that we asked each other if there really was any point in Songkran this year. We met Sia and Willemijn again for dinner then we all went to see what was happening on the stage in the main square, which had seemed to be hosting variety performances earlier in the day. Now it appeared to be a beauty contest in full swing. We couldn't catch much of what they were saying, but one thing we were sure of was that one of the facts they gave about the girls as they were introducing them was their weight in kilograms. Surely that shouldn't be allowed! We ended the day by taking the two Dutch girls to the THC club we had enjoyed so much a couple of nights before. It seemed to be full of Dutch people surprised that you can find “this kind of music” outside Holland. This time the youngsters weren't such a bad influence on us because Willemijn thought she had eaten something dodgy so wasn't drinking, even after I had recommended that a large Sangsom would kill any infection.

Last day of Songkran: rinse and repeat. I finally managed to find some spicy food in Thailand in the shape of som tam, which is a fantastic green papaya salad, incorporating lime juice, fish sauce, tiny shrimps (krill maybe), chillies, garlic, and peanuts all bashed together a bit. We'd had it in Laos a few times, but it's much nicer in Thailand because the Lao one is a bit simpler. Walking around looking for photo opportunities, out attention was attracted by Sia and Willemijn shouting from the back of a pick-up, apparently getting much more into the swing of things today.

They dismounted briefly to explain. Someone had been throwing buckets of iced water from the back of a vehicle and had accidentally scooped up a full can of beer and thrown it at them. They saw their opportunity and told him he could only have it back if he and his friends allowed them to join their party. So they had been driving round in circles for the couple of hours since and seemed to have no intention to quit. They asked me to take a photo, which didn't come out very well so after they left I decided to chance taking the camera out of the bag for brief instants to take photos and little snippets of video before quickly sealing it all back up again. I was very careful with my timing, but there were still some near misses. This time we finished the day off with a tower of Chang beer, which I had been eyeing up ever since we first spotted one.

We were going to leave the next day. We had seen no tourist attractions in Chiang Mai, but we had partied with the locals for a few days and, judging by the number of other farangs doing the same, Songkran itself is now a major tourist attraction in Chiang Mai. Only now it was over did we think we would be able to get transport to move on, but I had wanted to stay to the end anyway.



permalink written by  The Happy Couple on April 15, 2009 from Chiang Mai, Thailand
from the travel blog: Michael's Round-the-World honeymoon
tagged Drinking, Thailand, Chaos and Songkran

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Same old country, brand new friends

London, United Kingdom


6:00am. So today the greatest adventure of my life was about to begin, but I wasn't thinking about Thailand...I was preoccupied by the fact that, in less than an hour, a girl who I'd never met (if you don't count chatting on facebook) was going to turn up at my front door so that we could drive to Heathrow airport together. Her name was Lauren, and it was the ultimate coincidence that we'd both happened to have applied to International Student Volunteers' Thailand programme at the same time...and that we lived ten minutes away from each other. We could have passed each other in the street so many times, never realising that the other existed, but now we were about to spend a month together in a foreign country, sharing everything from running jokes and tears to medical details and photographs. Starting with this car journey.

We spent the journey getting to know each other and speculating about the other four British volunteers, who we'd be meeting at the airport. As we all gathered together with our huge backpacks at Terminal 3 and introduced ourselves, we six Brits - Sarah, Andy, Jenny, Julia, Lauren and me - had no idea what lay ahead. I wish I'd known then that the month to come would change my life...maybe I could have prepared a bit better!

To Be Continued (one very VERY long plane journey later...)


Me and Lauren on a longtail boat (first week)


Lauren and I at the Siam Niramit cultural dinner show (last day)


permalink written by  lucy3119 on August 7, 2009 from London, United Kingdom
from the travel blog: Thailand 2009
tagged Thailand

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