Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Chiang Mai to Bangkok Pictures

Chiang Mai to Bangkok Update

We've had a fantastic time in Chiang Mai. We haven't done what most people seem to do here: go on treks to hill tribes and whatnot. Instead we've taken to the relaxed and easy-going attitude of the north. We've pretty much been getting up and going to bed with the sun, which has been interesting.
We've been spending most of our time just wandering about, enjoying the town and its food. We took cooking classes and made four dishes: papaya salad, chicken satay, tom yum soup and khao soy noodle curry. Delicious! We also went along to a dinner and traditional Thai dance show which was great.
Less excitingly, we've used our time to make some serious progress with the Korean job-hunt. We were a little slow getting our CVs out to the recruiters but in one afternoon we applied to about 20 different recruitment agencies in Korea and heard back from about half a dozen of them. We had an interview with a school in Daejeon and subsequently got offered the position, which we accepted! So as soon as the visa madness is sorted we can hop on a jet plane back to the land of the morning calm.
We took a sleeper train down from Chiang Mai to Bangkok. It was quite a chilly night, (which doesn't bode well for us turning up in Korea during the middle of its winter!) and neither of us got much sleep. We decided to stay on the infamous Khao San Road. It was a bit of an ordeal trying to find a place to stay. My huge wheelie suitcase has been slowly dying on me so I decided to ditch it in favour of using the various separate bags I have already. So instead of one backpack and one wheelie suitcase I'm now traveling around looking like a human Christmas tree decorated with luggage. I was walking along with a backpack, a stuffed out satchel, a camera bag and my 300mm lens in its soft case. Still, I have less luggage than some of the chumps staggering around this place. I'm still in awe of Courtney with her small rucksack, small wheelie case and laptop bag. So much better than what I'm lugging! This basically meant that on very little sleep, with about 30+ kg hanging around my neck we were dodging tuk-tuk drivers, tailors and motorbikes, trying to find a place to that stay that a) was a good price and b) didn't look like a place where we'd be killed in our sleep. We did managed to find a very nice place. It was through an alley way and opened into a very pleasant courtyard. They had a Labrador puppy and free coffee and toast for breakfast. So we were sold on that. The room was pretty small and no private bathroom but it was clean and did I mention the puppy?
Arriving in Bangkok, both Court and I were getting pretty saturated with traveling. Little annoyances like not staying in one place for more than a few days, a lack of sleep and the general hustle of being in such a touristy country were starting to wear us down. But we were aware of this and decided to try and take it easy. So far we've still been hitting it up pretty hard. We went off to Wat Pho the day after we arrived. It's an amazing collection of stunning buildings that had me in awe. In the afternoon we went off to Chatuchak Weekend Market, the biggest in Bangkok. We saw crocodile skulls, porcelain bulldogs and Thai cowboys among the usual assortment of clothes, Buddhas and food.
Yesterday we went to Wat Rajnadda, which is home to Bangkok's biggest amulet market. Thai's can be seen wearing reams of amulets and I guess Rajnadda is THE place to get them from. We didn't find the market that interesting, mainly because we don't have a clue about amulets. The wat itself however was fantastic. It was a multi-tiered building that was quiet and cool. You make your way up gradually smaller floors via a central spiral staircase. The top has a shrine and offers great views of the city. After thoroughly exploring that, we wandered along one of Bangkok's many canals and eventually found ourselves at the Golden Mount. It's another temple very close to Wat Rajnadda that has a big golden wat on the top and offers even better views of Bangkok. The wat itself isn't quite as nice as Rajnadda.
Today we've been taking it easy. We've sent off all the relevant documentation to get the ball rolling on our Korean visas. That means that we have to stay in Thailand until we've had our Korean visas processed here. So we've decided to actually try and move ourselves down a notch and try to enjoy a slower pace of life.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Kata to Chiang Mai Update

For the past few days we’ve been doing a whole lot of traveling. We moved on from Kata to Khao Sok National Park. We stayed at the Khao Sok Rainforest Resort for two nights. It was a really nice place and we were very lucky to find it. We took the bus from Phuket to Khao Sok with no real plan other than to turn up. The bus drops you off about 2km from the main grouping of accommodations that line the road to the park entrance. 2 km is pretty far to haul the luggage that I’m lugging around at the moment. I’m certainly not packed for traveling around Thai public transport.
So we got kicked off the bus on this dusty crossroad. Fortunately another foreign couple was kicked off along with us. They had a place booked, so when a fellow with a flatbed truck came up offering free lifts to the hotels we thought we’d just tag along with them. We chucked our suitcases in the back and jumped in with them.
We stayed in a little cabin with a river in front of us and the rainforest behind. It was a nice little get up. We ate at the hotel, and were very happy with what we got. Which for me was mainly pad thai. Love the stuff.
As for the Khao Sok rainforest itself, we hiked 2 of the 4 trails that were open. Most have been closed due to flooding and conservation efforts. We walked about 10km in total. We saw several lizards, a couple of snakes slithering away into the undergrowth, a BIG beetle Courtney named ‘Bert’ (Bert was fantastic), several butterflies, a tiny frog, LOADS of ridiculously large ants clinging annoyingly to the handrails and a family of monkeys crashing through the bamboo. There were also some leeches. The less said about them the better. I’m just glad we brought salted cashew nuts along with us on the hike. As Courtney said, she loves nature, she just doesn’t like it when nature loves her back.
After the Khao Sok Resort we decided to fandangle our way to Cheow Lan lake. It’s still within the Khao Sok National Park and most people take trips there through their hotels. We decided to not take the easy route. It was a bit of a struggle. Buses go close to the lake but stop 10-15 km from where the boats leave. So we managed to get a taxi. Of course our taxi driver had a friend who had a boat. We were told that his boat, for 2,200 baht, wouldn’t leave until 6pm, which would mean a 7+ hour wait for us. If we wanted to leave there an then it would be 3,000 baht. As the place was rammed full of boats, we decided to try and find out what other options were out there. We didn’t have much luck. So our taxi driver was leaving and we didn’t want to be stuck there so I said to call it quits and not miss our ride out of there. Our taxi driver dropped us off at the bus stop for buses to Surat Thani where we would take a train up to Chiang Mai. At the bus stop, Court, in her wonderful glory, decided that we’d come too far to give up now, so she got us a lift back to the boats and we found a boat and a place to stay for two nights with meals included for about 5,500 baht.
I am so glad Court decided we should give it another shot. We stayed in a little floating huts in the middle of the AMAZING lake. It’s really fantastic and I thoroughly recommend it to everyone. We kayaked, hiked to a cave with beautiful formations. We saw gibbons, great hornbills, rhesus macaques, pig-tailed macaques, dusky langurs, eagles and oodles of geckos. Waking up on a lake to the sound of gibbons hooting is not one I will soon forget.
After our time on the lake we hopped a minibus to Surat Thani from where we caught a 12 hour sleeper train to Bangkok. We pulled into Bangkok at 5:30am after not a great deal of sleep. The train was super comfortable but at every stop food hawkers boarded the train and loudly tried selling food. We then caught another 12 hour train at 8:30am to Chiang Mai. That was a bit of a rougher ride, but it was certainly interesting.
Currently we’re in Chiang Mai, enjoying the slower pace of life that goes on here in the north.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Fun in the sun

Courtney and I went snorkeling yesterday. We took a half-day trip out to Khai Nai and Khai Nok, two tiny desert islands off the east coast of Phuket. We snorkeled at three sites and had a great time. The fish were vibrant and inquisitive. There was a mention of an opportunity to see some sharks but sadly that never happened.
I couldn't help but compare the diving to my experience on the Great Barrier Reef in 2007. The Barrier Reef trip involved a 2 hour boat ride out into the ocean before we reached our dive sites so the water was crystal clear and the diversity was amazing. I'm not sure how much the reefs in Thailand have changed as a result of the tsunami or if their relative disrepair is due to tourist traffic.
Still it was a great experience. Even if we didn't go snorkeling, just going out to the islands and sitting on creamy white beaches with the surf lapping at your toes, eating watermelon, would have been enough for me.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Life Update

The last month was a rather busy and extremely informative one. It was spent primarily on the CELTA course. (For those of you that don't know, teaching English abroad is what pays my bills and lets me travel to strange and far-off lands). I took a full-time, 120 hour teaching English as a foreign language course and probably spent about 200 hours on it. The course gives you a LOT of information, fast. Not only does it give you all this new information, you're also expected to assimilate and use it pretty much as quick as you're getting it. It's not an impossible amount of work, but for someone used to working half-days and leaving work at work it was a bit of a shock to the system. The course was incredibly informative and I hope it will prove itself to be as helpful as I expect it to be. It was a bit cringe-worthy, getting told what not to do in the classroom and realising that I was teaching like that not so long ago. Mainly it was the seemingly simple things that I've found to be the most ground breaking for me. The biggest was that every class should have a task-cycle in it: Setup-Task-Feedback (STF). It's super-simple, you basically talk about what you're going to do, do it, then talk about what you did. Mind blowing. So I managed to pass the course with a Pass Grade B, one up from a Pass, one down from a Pass Grade A. I kinda think that on paper the my grade looks the worst as its the only one out of the three that indicates that a better grade is possible! Still, I'm pleased with the result and looking forward to putting it all into practice.
After the course, Courtney came out to join me in sunny Thailand. The course meant that I didn't have any time to explore Phuket properly. A hike through a rainforest and watching the Vegetarian Festival has been about it for experiencing what Phuket has to offer. With that in mind, Courtney and I have decided to spend some time exploring Thailand before settling down to work. Today we've relocated to Kata beach, on the west coast of Phuket island. As a beach town it's much more touristy than Phuket town is, plus it's a little pricier. One night in Patra Mansion, where I was staying in Phuket Town, is 500 baht. Chanisara Guesthouse is costing us 800 baht a night. However it is just a hop, skip and a jump away from the beach. Which is lovely. Soft white sand and warm blue water. You do have to put up with people trying to sell you sarongs, watches and jet-ski rides every 10 minutes, but they're polite and not too pushy. Just smile and say no and they tend to move on. While I'm on the subject of hawkers, we had a fantastically ambitious moped-taxi driver approach us this morning offering us a lift. Nothing unusual about that, three people ride around on mopeds all the time. Three people, two wheelie suitcases, two large backpacks and a laptop bag however don't tend to ride around on mopeds all the time. Kudos for trying.
The food in Thailand is great. Phad Thai is delicious and inexpensive. It's easy to eat to about a £1. It does mean that everything else seems expensive to me as I break down the price of most things to how many meals I could buy for that. Compared to Korean food its a little greasier, but really it depends on what you order. Thailand does seem to have a better range of dishes within each restaurant than Korea does. And while Thai iced coffee is great I do miss Korean coffee.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Butterfly Garden

Courtney and I visited the Phuket Butterfly and Insect Gardens. It's a short tuk-tuk ride outside of Phuket Town and is a nice break away from the usual tourist attraction in Phuket. It has lots of information in Thai and English and I recommend it as a little half-day trip.
Our tuk-tuk driver did however take us to a gem shop. We found it hilarious as the place was full of tourist like us, not entirely sure what they were doing there, surrounded by pearls, rubies and emeralds, being told that, just for today, they're on sale.