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Thailand

Thailand Hike, Bike & Kayak

On the move in Thailand for a month ...

sunny 105 °F
View A Rough Outline of our Trip on daveliz's travel map.

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From infant to elderly, motorbike is the main form of transportation in Thailand. I cringe when I see families of four on one bike, or a ten-year-old or ninety-year-old behind the wheel.

It didn't take long for Dave and I to learn that Thai people work extraordinarily hard, often seven days a week from sunrise to sunset, with just two days off a month. The economy is weak so people work to survive, rather than take part in luxury activities like travel. With that said, and with all of you working hard at home, I feel a little guilty about sharing our adventures, but when it comes down to it, the Thai people depend on tourist dollars as a main source of income. With political unrest becoming public globally, the Thai people worry about the future of its tourism industry.

For two weeks, Dave and I went on a trip with the tour company Gap Adventures. We will also travel with them in China and parts of Africa, primarily in areas that are harder to reach as independent travelers. With the group we are able to visit places we may have otherwise not gotten to, giving us better insight into the people and culture. Thank you Gary, Lisa, Cheryl, Jared, Joanne, Sue and Art for your GAP wedding gift. It was such a treat!

Our group was a fabulous international collection of people ranging in age from 19-48; Lucy (Australian living in London), Graeme (Scotland), Brigitte (Austria), Essa (Sweden), Paul & Lindsey (father & daughter from Canada), Matt & Alice (brother & sister from Wales), Gernot and Katja (dating couple from Germany) and us (Team USA), plus our guide Koko (Thailand).

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Our first overnight train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai in the north of Thailand. You sleep better after a few drinks with Lucy and Graeme - a.k.a. Grrrrrraaaaaame (say it with a Scottish accent!)

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The sleeper car is meant to host one person on top and one on the bottom - insert appropriate joke here! But since our bags wouldn't fit under the chairs, they got the top bunk and we squished below.

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No time to rest in Chiang Mai. We got into a pickup truck with seats in the back to head for the mountains for a three day hike.

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It is common to pass elephants along the roadside.

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Our Hilltribe trek took us through small villages in the mountains where people live, work and go to school. The people live a rural lifestyle in these mountains with many young adults moving to a bigger cities when they grow up, putting the survival of these communities at risk.

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We hiked like warriors uphill for about four hours the first day. Paul led the charge!

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The first village we stayed at was quite rustic. The second photo is of the bathroom....inside you'd find a hose for the shower and a hole in the ground as the toilet. There was one western-style toilet with a seat, but as you'll notice on the far right, there is no door.

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The hilltribe children loved looking at themselves in our modern cameras.

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We cooked, ate and slept on this floor. Yum!

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The next morning, we made lunch; noodles held in a bamboo leaf wrap. We ate it with bamboo chopsticks. A delicious meal with completely biodegradable trash.

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The second day of hiking was for much longer, but it was a little easier on the legs with more ups and downs, plus a few watering holes to cool off in.

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The second hilltribe village we stayed at was much more modern. Each of us had a bed, western-style toilet and shower. The village people also gave us traditional Thai massages. Child labor laws prevented the little one from working solo.

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By the end of the third day I was ready for a beer! But before we got to our accommodation for the night, we got a ride on an elephant.

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These animals used to work on farms and in construction in Thailand, but now much of the work for elephants is against the law, so many owners have turned to giving rides to make a penny. According to the locals the elephants now have a much better life.

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Dave and Koko help two school girls with their homework. They want to learn conversational American English. Dave writes that for them in English for their teacher.

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One of the best things we did in Thailand was Smart Cook Thai Cookery School in Chiang Mai. With the instructor we visited the market to learn about local produce and then we made ten delicious Thai dishes ranging from curry to sticky rice with mango to pad Thai. Whose coming to dinner at our place (of course when we have a place)?

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Along the River Kwai we stayed on a raft house, allowing us a perfect spot to kayak or swim, and a beautiful sunset. Other raft houses either floated by or rested by the shoreline.

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Autthaya, a city surrounded by water, was the capital 0f Thailand for more than 400 years until the Burmese destroyed it in 1767. What remains are extensive ruins of temples, palaces and pagodas. We toured the area by bike.

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On a scorcher of a day we strolled the seven tiers of Erawan Falls at Erawan National Park. Each level has its own unique waterfalls, many with swimming holes full of snipping fish. None-the-less many in our group jumped right in!

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On a bike tour, we visited the bridge over the River Kwai which was built by prisoners of war during World War II under Japanese control who wanted a speedy route to Burma to supply their troops with ammunition and food. At a local museum we learned the Japanese pushed thousands of POW construction workers to their death from grueling environmental conditions and malnutrition. Engineers estimated construction should have taken five years, but under Japanese control it was completed in 16 months. During the war the bridge was blown up by the US, later rebuilt by Thailand to use for regular service train travel which continues today.

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We stopped at several Buddhist temples. We liked glutton Buddha. Here we learned that a Buddha is assigned to you at birth based on the day you were born. I suspect Dave and I were not born on the day honoring reclining Buddha.

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There were also several mini monks, children dressed in traditional Monk orange at the monasteries. These children live and get educated by the Monks. They often come from poor families who feel the Monks will give their children a better quality of life. The children can decide for themselves if they want to become a Monk when they become an adult.

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Graeme turns 40-something...shhh..... The group lets loose and celebrates with cake, drinks and dancing in Au Nang, a touristy ocean side town outside of Krabi.

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Alcohol is often served in buckets in Thailand. We shared a bucket of rum and coke for the cost of one drink in Boston.

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Clearly, I had one too many sips....is the US gymnastics team looking for a new member? To my future boss...this is a rare occassion!

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Again, child labor laws are out the window. The youngest DJ in Thailand knew how to get his groove on!

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Before heading to the ocean we kayaked through mangroves and caves outside of Au Nang. Lucy and Graeme are looking for wild monkeys....they hear them....just can't find them!

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Dave tries some coconut juice, a traditional drink in Thailand.

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From Au Nang, we took a very loud longtail boat to Bamboo Island passing many other islands along the way. The water was a beautiful turquoise blue, which oddly seemed very clear and clean. Longtail boats are quite popular in Thailand and usually driven by 15-year-olds. Unfortunately they seem to use old car or truck engines creating massive noise and pollution in the water.

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We were supposed to kayak around the Hong Islands, but the government was there checking things out, so we had to re-route to Bamboo Island, one of the Phi Phi Islands, which you may remember as the target of a major tsunami in 2006. The islands have rebounded with extra evacuation plans now in tact.

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Bamboo Island is extremely remote and unfortunately our dodgy local leader was not a great chef. That, along with poor refrigeration and poor cleanliness, 90 percent of us developed stomach problems. Let's just say mother nature was a more appealing toilet than what was offered. As a result, we don't have too many photos of the actual ocean kayaking. Sorry!

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Dave did strike a chord or two with the locals.

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On the boat, Matt strikes a few poses for his calendar.

Overall our Gap trip was phenomenal. With a few tweaks to the kayaking portion of the trip we'd highly recommend it. As most of our group headed back to Bangkok, we decided to go to Koh Phangan, an island off the east coast of Thailand to chill out.

The island is known for having some very remote, beautiful beaches that are great for swimming. In one week we checked out three different areas; Haad Rin Nok, Ao Thong Nai Pan Yai and our favorite AO Thong Nai Pan Noi.

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View from La Polita Lodge, Haad Rin Nok.This part of the island is best known for its full moon parties, which we gladly missed by a week. It sounds like a location for 'Girls Gone Wild'.

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Relaxing at Thong Noi Pan Noi.

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A handful of friends who have been here before told us of beach-side bungalows with a hammock for $5, well those days seem to be long gone as the island has been built up in the past ten years. We were able to score some beach front views though for $20-$30 and in some cases, pool included!

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Local digs for clams.

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This week was the closest Dave and I have come to a traditional honeymoon, and we thoroughly enjoyed the peace and quiet, of course with a night mixed in with new friends from Sweden, England and Australia.

A few final thoughts about Thailand as we get ready to travel by bus, tuk-tuk and taxi to Cambodia ...

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In a country where supermarkets rarely exist and street vendors are where you buy everything from jeans to pad Thai, 7-Eleven has invaded. There is one on almost every corner. You can see two from our hotel room on Khao San Road, a popular place for backpackers.

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My favorite treat is Thai iced coffee served in a bag from a street vendor.

- People from Thailand, and I suspect most of Asia, have strong legs and knees. The Thai toilet, or squat toilet, as we like to call it, is everywhere except for hotels catering to westerners. It is basically a hole on the ground surrounded by porcelain with a bucket of water nearby to manually flush. Comfort goes out the window and balance is a must. Try using one of these on a moving train or ferry. Photo to come!

- Thai people are always smiling. They are extremely welcoming, although one smart 15-year-old let us in on a secret. He says the Thai people smile when they don't understand the westerners ; - )

- The Thai New Year, April 13-15, is normally celebrated with massive water fights. This year the festivities were minimal as most locals were ashamed of the violent protests regarding the country's current prime minister in Bangkok. People we talked with did not feel it was an appropriate time to celebrate. They seem divided amongst the two sides of the issue, yellow and red shirts, although all agree Thailand should aim to move forward and try to boost its economy.

- Thailand is full of colorful sex tourists and lady boys. In order to stay kosher I'll keep my thoughts quiet. If you want a story or two...just ask!

- In Thailand you bargain for everything from dinner to a hotel room. Even if the price seems inexpensive to its equivelant in the US, I never know if we are getting a fair deal. I much prefer when prices are marked, and you just have to go with it.

- Dave picked up his sports coat and it looks good. Scam avoided! (reference to last Bangkok blog entry.) Of course it is on the slow boat to the US now.

- Two funny notes about me. In the past week I've been confused for an Israeli several times, by Israelis and shop owners. I gather it is from my tan among other things - don't worry, I'm using 40 spf multiple times a day. I wish I remembered Hebrew and could respond! And many Thai women have come up to me and pointed to my nose and said "so-ay", which means beautiful. I'm flattered, but think many western noses get compliments here!

You'll hear from us soon from Cambodia.
For those of you on the GAP trip, go to our photo gallery for more pictures of the trip. You'll likely find one or two of you!

- Elizabeth

Posted by daveliz 22:46 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Bangkok

Senses overload in Bangkok, Thailand

sunny 100 °F
View A Rough Outline of our Trip on daveliz's travel map.

We arrived in Bangkok, Thailand, after 16 hours of travel with tiny petite Chinese and Thai flight attendants serving big burly men on their way to see The Sevens, the super bowl of rugby tournaments which takes place in Hong Kong. Elizabeth and I got a kick out of the contrasting people sizes. We got upgraded on the last leg of the trip for reasons we're unsure of, but we didn't ask questions and welcomed the nice seats and delicious food!

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Livin' in style in first class.

We spent three days exploring the amazing and overwhelming mega metropolis of Bangkok. Extreme sweat and exhaustion followed each day as our senses were continually bombarded by the city's seemingly endless strands of street vendors and shops. Within five steps, we would smell five different odors - delicious, disgusting, sweet, rotten, & intolerable. We were dizzy with the sight of all the colorful vendor food and knock-off clothing. The sounds of deafening tuk tuk taxis, a little three-wheeled vehicle named for the sound of it's high pollutant engine, also dominated the streets.

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Fish and other meats line the streets. Traditional supermarkets are not common.

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In this overwhelming city it's amazing that Thailand lives up to its reputation as the land of smiling people. The Thai people are very handsome and friendly, always greet you with a smile, and are incredibly appreciative for any attempt to speak their language. However, with a smile on their face, many of the vendors and tuk tuk drivers will try to scam you. Never-the-less, haggling is easy, and they will quickly agree to a reasonable price and will happily do business with you.

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Even Ronald greets people with the customary bow and a smile!

Elizabeth and I explored for two days before joining our first organized group tour with GAP adventures. In that time we saw the Wat Pho temple which is known for it's giant reclining Buddha. The temple has beautiful and intricately tiled Pagodas and statues of warrior gods guarding each doorway. You are guaranteed to be within a few kilometers of a temple in Thailand which has a rich Buddhist culture followed by 90% of it's people.

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If I only had a staff like his.

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Gong beware!

We also visited the Chatuchak market. This market is the epitome of the Bangkok vendor scene. It puts all other markets we've seen to shame with 10,000 vendors selling everything from knock-off clothing and accessories to beautiful and original hand made clothing to food and kitchenware. The smell and heat were overwhelming and the narrow alleys and giant matrix of market vendors were difficult to navigate, but everything was dirt cheap! Too bad we can't fit anything in our travel bags. To Elizabeth's mother's dismay, we only walked away with a knock-off Diesel watch for me (my 20-year-old Casio finally gave out) and two tank tops ($4 US total!) for Elizabeth.

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We had been warned that tuk tuk drivers are almost guaranteed to scam you, but we couldn't resist the experience. We hopped on one to show us around town for 20 baht (about 50 cents US), but we ultimately got taken for more of a ride than we bargained for. These guys get kickbacks from jewelery and clothing stores they "convince" you to go inside, so they basically park outside until you promise to go in for five minutes. It works! We had been told by several friends that you can get high quality, well priced custom clothing from the same factories that take orders from top American brands. When the tuk tuk driver stopped at a tailor we splurged for a nice sports coat for me to wear at my sister's wedding. Sensing his profit had been made (and his gas tank full from the jewelery store he stopped us at), on our second to last stop he ditched us before even collecting his 20 baht! We had to take a taxi to our next adventure, a traditional Thai massage, but didn't feel too bad since the tuk tuk experience was exhilarating!

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I didn't know what to expect from a Thai massage. After changing into Thai pajamas, Elizabeth and I lied down side by side, and it didn't take long to realize this was no western-style massage. Before we knew it we were being whipped around and stretched in ways we didn't know were possible! These little Thai women used their entire body to stretch you, walking on your back and legs, using their feet to dig into your muscles, bending you backwards and forwards. Finally, I lost it. With my masseuse's arm under my arm and her leg wrapped around my waste in a way bordering on inappropriate, she rolled both of us back as if we were doing ballet. My back cracked so loud it startled Elizabeth. I couldn't stop laughing for the rest of the massage, yet fearing I wouldn't be able to move the next day! My masseuse and Elizabeth were laughing with me too. In the end, I felt like I'd finished a week of intense yoga in an hour all for $6 US, and thankfully, I felt fine the next day.

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The next day, we joined a tour group whom we'd be with for two weeks. Our first activity was a bike tour of Bangkok, which was an incredible way to see things missed by most tourists. It gave us a better sense of the local lifestyle. We biked through busy streets, over bridges, down narrow alleys, and through people's houses and restaurants! It's all too much to describe, so hopefully the following photos will do it some justice...

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Posters and billboards of Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej are everywhere. He is loved by the people and so revered he is on par with a Buddhist god.

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The base of most temples are shaped like boats. Notice how the base of this temple is curved.

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A scripture storage house surrounded by a moat filled with turtles to protect from rats. People donate a turtle for good luck on special occasions.

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Navigating through a restaurant/house.

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Our always smiling GAP adventure guide Koko.

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A common Buddhist theme.

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Safe water is only available in bottles or from these vending machines.

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Copper worker works near flame in 100 degree weather!

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Mmm... taro treats.

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Our wonderful guide Nok, from Grasshopper Adventures, sings us a song of Bangkok's full name. The official name is the longest city name in the world!

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Bangkok's full name is a mouthful.

We're recuperating from our 14 day GAP adventure tour of Thailand on an island in the south east, away from the protests happening in Bangkok regarding the current Prime Minister. The protests should fizzle out after the Thai New Year before we return to Bangkok on our way to Cambodia.

- Dave

Posted by daveliz 23:13 Archived in Thailand Comments (1)

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