Monday, 20 February 2012

Thailand: Reloaded

So the last leg of the trip was a return to Thailand, the only country I will visit twice on the trip. I set off in good spirits from Luang Prabang to begin the end of the trip. The bus journey over, it was rather pleasant except for the worst karaoke videos ever, worst film ever and then said karaoke songs played on repeat. The only other niggly detail was the 'free dinner' only had a limit of 10,000 kip ($1) and the only things on the menu under that were 'rice' and 'vegetable soup'. Either way I returned to Thailand with relative ease, did the usual; found my hostel and got orientated. In the evening I headed out for a beer with some fellow west country people I knew from Cambodia. I am currently chasing them around (Vang Vieng, Luang Prabang and Chiang Mai & Bangkok it would seem). We wandered to the night market where I behaved like a small child wanting to play with all the things I should have grown out of: laser pens, bb guns, lighters, knives etc! We found some cheap ish food and headed to respective homes.

The first days plan was basically "Orientation number 2, trekking research and temple time" I had agreed to pick Loes up from the airport in the evening so this was also planned, due to this I did my favourite new activity of hiring a moped, which led me to venture out of town to the Temple known as "Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep" on my new wheels. It was an interesting ride especially as my new wheels decided not to work, so I returned and got a better newer bike that worked this time. The temple was (when I eventually reached it) quite nice, perched on the hill but far too touristy (as usual).

I returned to Chiang Mai proper, parked off my bike and went for a wander visiting the temples I had originally planned to visit. My favourite time to visit a temple is late afternoon, because it is usually quieter and more inviting. I have visited like a million temples now, my favourite is probably still Potala Palace (although not technically a temple) nothing can compare to it or Zenkoji in Nagano because it was so quiet when I visited it. My point really is that I do enjoy wandering around them, although I am no buddhist these temples do seem to have a calming effect, and on this adventure it was no different and this time I did something I hadn't done in a long time (even with all the temple visits) and just listened to the monks chanting. My head clear I got dinner and practised my Zen by waiting around for Loes to arrive from the airport and fulfil my chauffeur duties. 
Monk Painting

Temple Square

Loes arrived and we headed back to the hostel before heading out to meet Helen (another friend from Koh Phangan) in a Thai restaurant/bar/live music venue/club/whatever the otherside of town. It was pretty awesome to say the least, the live cover band were excellent, whacking out the usual pop classics but with some gusto and talent that even those bands fail to achieve at times. Kick out was at 2am and so we searched for other places to continue, the preferred place had been shut down by the police so our next line of adventure was a tuk tuk driver who promised to take us to a place we could buy drinks, he fulfilled his promise by taking us to a...  brothel. Loes broke a vase inside and we decided it was too expensive and shoved 6 people in to one tuk tuk. Ironically we then found an open bar about 100 metres from our hostel.

The next day was time for 'Flight of the Gibbon' a series of ziplines high up in the Jungle. This was immensely fun and at times scary (leap of faith superman zip, 40 metre mission impossible style rappelling) - mainly cause I don't like heights unless I'm roped up (I was). A quieter night followed where I watched England win the Rugby(possibly the only one cheering them in an Irish bar) and we shared stories of what happened in the period between our first meeting at the full moon party and the second in Chiang Mai. On the last day me and Loes wandered around looking for a electronic shop (unsuccessfully) and took in the temples before a quick goodbye with Helen and Marie before Loes left and we all went back to relax after a hectic weekend.

Strapped up

Flying Backwards

Elephant Statue

Tulips(Loes was shocked by them)
The following day I did nothing except book buses and a 2 day trek. In the evening I met Helen and massage crew for dinner and 'quick' drink that turned in to a late night. I woke up for my trek and headed off to a local market before we set off on a 4 hour trek in lush jungle via a waterfall slide to eventually reach a mountainside village which was our home for the night. All tour guides are slightly crazy and this one was no exception, at the market he had asked a girl "How much for Bang Bang?!" (Turns out he was joking an it was a chocolate called "Beng Beng"). He would stop every few minutes to cut down some bamboo and either make a vuvuzela or a slingshot. In the evening he cooked an amazing dinner with far too much food. Later we got out the guitar around the fire and drank horrible Thai Rice 'Whiskey'. He also drew us caricatures in his book, in all he was one of the best tour guides I have had, look him up "Mr Ping Pong".

Second day was a fun trip down to a waterfall for a "swim" and shower before bouldering further down to the Elephant camp for lunch and a ride before we went white water rafting down some rapids with a peaceful bamboo raft to finish. I returned to Chiang Mai to meet Helen one last time for a farewell dinner.
Waterfall Slide

Valley of Green

Guides singing around the fire
Can you guess which one I am?
Champion of the Waterfall

Elephant rides with baby elephant too

It was time for Bangkok, the final 'proper' destination. (Not including a brief trip to london). Easy as night bus which arrived at 530am, not breaking a cardinal rule this time as I am familiar with Bangkok I knew exactly where I was and walked down my road and got a beer while I waited for a reasonable time to check in to my hotel. Which they actually let me do around 7am, so I went to bed for a few hours. I did some totally boring admin stuff for when I am home, job stuff, transport etc before I headed off to see my last set of temples and the Grand Palace which me and Welsh had not done the first time around. Both large and impressive sets of temples I enjoyed them but truly am now all templed out. 
A recurring theme in South East Asia I waited to meet Loes who is practically based in Bangkok for her internship and we headed out for dinner near the infamous Khao San road before heading to the Reggae bar for a bucket. This place reminded me of the Star and Garter (if the Star did buckets) before we headed up to roof bar on Khao San to drink before hitting 'the club'. Without having much else to do in Bangkok on saturday went to Chatuchak Market, a huge market open on the weekends before going to the cinema. The lack of choice was a bit disappointing but we settled for "Safe House" a film where Denzel Washington basically drank nice wine and ran away from 6 million bullets. It made little sense but was enjoyable enough.

In the evening we went back to Khao San road for the same old shenanigans, buckets and street dancing. Sunday was a pretty lazy day which was spent in Lumpini park. In the evening had a curry before parting ways with Loes yet again. Last remaining things to do include buying new shorts (I know england is freezing but I have lots of jeans) and MAYBE buying some gifts for people.

Grand Palace Temples

Gargoyle things

Reclining Buddha
Bangkok near Chatuchak Market
So that was the last two weeks of the whole thing. I'm definitely ready to go home now, it has been an amazing year which I have written a review of which I will post shortly, probably when back in the UK and it will cover everything. Now to make my way home over a few days, stopping in London if anyones about...

Addendum: The Journey Home and the End.
I thought I'd add this here rather than in the review of the year. I ended the trip the exact same way I started the trip in more ways than one. A rather sleepless night an I got my airport transfer at 6am before a quick breakfast to burn the last of my Thai money on a Dairy Queen breakfast.... grimm. Easy enough flight to Mumbai complete with Bollywood film and a second breakfast (of omelette and curry). After an incompetent security check at the transfer in Mumbai and I bordered the second and longest flight of the day. This time a personal screen I went in to travel mode and watched a lot of films; Contagion (better than the advert), In Time, Puss in Boots and Moneyball. The flight was otherwise uneventful apart from the worst landing so far and some poor service.

The real fun started in immigration, a huge queue insured with obknoxious shouty man getting all upset over having to queue. He lost his rag when a woman with two young children who had been in the wrong queue was asked to move to right one, nobody minded letting her in except this massive tool who shouted too all who would listen, ie nobody before security came over and politely told him to shut his massive fucking gob.... he did not. He continued to rant at the lady and then anybody else who was in his vicinity, then the racism came out "go back to India, Indians". Welcome back to England and people wonder why people leave. Obviously not all English people are like this, an my thought was can't we kick him out? The immigration officer joked about the 'entertainment' with a disdainful look on his face, typical sarcasm it was ace. 

I put my warm clothes on and filtered out to the tube and listened to "London Calling" as I felt it was rather appropriate before eventually arriving at Jacobs for a catch up, bangers and mash and to drink some Thai Whiskey/Rum. Thus ending the trip exactly as I had begun it (minus a lunch with Natalie).

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