South East Asia: Thailand Part I

November 7, 2009 - Chiang Mai, Thailand

Next it was a 2 hour flight to Bangkok landing in suvarnabhumi airport. It was bit more of a culture shock than I was expecting - felt a bit like when I landed in Buenos Aires again all those months ago but quite different at the same time! The airport was very crowded with long extremely slow immigration desk lines, the line I was in moved the slowest of them all so much so that when I got finally got through the baggage carousel just changed to signal bags from a different flight. Luckily I found it randomly onto the ground by itself half way between two carousels.

I had already decided to head straight to Chiang Mai in northern thailand as i would be back in Bangkok at a later stage (plus I was still feeling a little disorientated with the culture shock that I didn't really feel like dealing with the hustle and bustle of Bangkok just yet). So I headed to the main train station where just outside the front door the vulture like scam artists try to take you to "Tourist Information" offices around the corner from the station to get train tickets claiming they are tourist info personnel working for the goverment (when you could clearly see the ticket desk inside the building). Luckily i don't fall for such crap to easily - and actually another "tourist info" fella inside was quite helpful as he had good english and explained to the girl behind the ticket desk what ticket i wanted - the catch was he brought me upstairs to a "tourist information" office where they tried to sell me trekking tour and accomodation in chiang mai (for significantly inflated prices I later found out but had already guessed). So my advice for anybody visiting bangkok don't book anything in the Train Station!

I got a night sleeper train which was alright - apart from the fact I found them muslim style toilets quite strange - whats wrong with making advances in toilet technology I mean they have internet and mobile phones and all!

Landed early in the morning to in Chiang Mai which was a nicer temperature and the air seemed a bit fresher. Myself and a dutch guy called Edwin (I nicknamed him 'Van der Sar') who I had met in the train station got a tuk-tuk into the city centre for 25Baht each which is like 50cent - great way to travel they should definitely bring them into dublin I rekon!

Checked into a cool guesthouse called Gaps House which runs a recommended (one day) thai cooking course too! (which we did and it was pretty good and the instructor was hilarious). First day in town myself , Edwin a dutch girl called Linda and two other dutch guys called Stuart and Vincent did a bike tour of the around the city I also got measured up for tailored suit - then we joined the festivities for the local Loi Krathong festival (celebrated on the 12th full moon of the year). It was a good night! They have a number of tradtions one is releasing of small paper hot air balloons to the sky sending your dreams to the heavens, also putting floating flowers candles and incense on the river for some reason and fireworks and lots of them everywhere no safely marshalled fireworks display at a distance from the crowd just everyone buying fireworks and letting them off - little kids throwing firecrackers at each other and throwing bangers into the river trying to time so that it will explode in the water on impact. And on the bridge fireworks going off in the sky above your head raining sulphur dust all over you. Smoke and noise from every angle all centred around the river and the bridge (think halloween in a housing estate in Dundalk and multiple it by 100). Noisy, colourful, crowded and plenty of Chang beer and Thai whiskey being consumed. And the next night was the big night of the festival which was more of the same plus a big parade with brighly coloured gold white and silver floats. This time a few german lads who Edwin had met in Bangkok joined us for the festivities.

The following day I went on a 2 day trek into the Hill Tribes Villages (Karen and Hmong tribes) - we stayed a night in the Karen tribe village - wooden huts on stilts and banana leaf / wooden roofs - and although you know that its a well worn trekking path and tribe are probably sick of the site of tourists trasping through it was interesting the see - they live a fairly simplistic rural but hardworking existence. We also did an Elephant ride and went bamboo rafting down the river which where both good! Our Elephant "Moona" (i think she was called) was a rebellious girl who kept on running off to eat bark off trees! The trekking itself wasn't too difficult and we stopped at waterfall pools to cool off midway each day - I would've liked a more difficult trek longer in distance or time but then again i'm weird like that!

Back in Chiang Mai went for my first Thai massage (and no not the sleazy kind with a happy ending or anything dodgey like that) and have to say it was pretty good - my muscles felt well relaxed afterwards. Then just chilled out for a day trying to shake an annoying but not bad cough i'd had from the Air-Con in my hostel room in Darwin! (in the end i got some antibiotics to try and clear it) Next stop was Chiang Khong for a night then crossed the Mekong river into Laos to get a slow boat to Lunag Prabang!

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