Cooking, trekking, tattooing, raining and thankfully leaving.
17.08.2011 - 29.09.2011 32 °C
And so it was, we were back in Thailand, the final leg of our journey had commenced. We booked into M.D House, a sort hostel-vibe hotel. It had a pool, which was a bonus but as it turned out we never made it in for a paddle. The night we arrived we basically collapsed into bed after three days of travelling. The first full day we were there consisted of the obligatory 'stroll about' or orientation process followed by a trip to the tattoo parlour. I had been playing with the idea of getting my tattoo(small chinese symbol for courage or chicken fried rice) removed when I hit upon the fantastic idea of covering it up instead (thank you Amy Dollery). So we arranged a time for me to come back in the afternoon and so it was I had a black star placed over my 16 year old tatt, it's still a part of me after all. Poon, my tattoist at Magic Tattoo, was very nice, he told me 85% of his customers are falang(Westerners) and it was a very easy and clean (if a little sore process). He had a lovely dog whose back legs didn't work through some unfortunate turn of fate. She was a bloomin great little guard dog though, so pretty in her pink bow-tie and nappy!
I was minding my new tattoo after that so I had to stay out of the sun and water. So, what to do? Well, we went to a pub quiz, potentially the most difficult and serious pub quiz we have entered. We came 4th last in a field of 16 – which completed wiped out our excellent pub quiz world tour record to date. That was at the U.N Irish pub, be warned if you dare venture, swat up on your German Chancellors since time immemorial.
That Saturday we headed to the countryside. We had booked a cookery course with Smart Cookery which first involved going to a market in the city.
Then we hopped on a train for about half an hour and disembarked to have a tour of the local train station. This was followed by a nice bike ride to the organic farm we were to spend the day on. Our teacher Mai was so funny, she had great English, well enough to kinda poke funny at people in a sarcastic way. Unfortunately the day got off to a rocky start as she is allergic to insect repellent and all of us foreigners were lathered up to the eyeballs so she kept having to run to the loo to be sick(quite noisily). We spent the next 5 or 6 hours picking our herbs and vegetables, preparing our meals and cooking them, oh and the best part of course, eating them! We were eating all day. I made spring rolls, hot and sour prawn soup, a green curry, red curry paste and deep fried banana. Stuart made a spicy beef salad, chicken in coconut soup(v.good), Khao Sok curry and a banana in coconut milk desert (also lush).
When we were all finished up we got back on our bikes and cycled around the village which lives off the farm. It was really beautiful and we stopped to talk to some of the families working there. It was pretty heartbreaking actually, we met some women who were peeling huge bags of garlic. They were getting paid 2 baht per kilo – that's the equivalent of about 4p. Our teacher said if they were fast they could earn about 150 baht per day – about £3. They were so nice and smiley and pleased to talk to us though. We don't know how good we've got it sometimes, it's good to have these reminders now and again. All in all a fantastic day and we didn't eat again for the rest of the day we were so stuffed, actually that's a slight lie as I think we got a burger at the 7/11 on the way home from the pub that night. We had gone down to watch the Liverpool vs. Arsenal game with some people we met that day and ended up meeting some folk from Donegal and had a good ole night.
The following day we headed to the shops, fairly unsuccessfully. We're beginning to get a bit panicked about presents for taking home as we've only a bare 24 hours in Bangkok before our flight. We went to a huge shopping centre but it was really more geared for everyday stuff, we also called into about 5 computer shops as the notebook has been playing up, the battery is dying. Little were we to know it would get worse that very evening and stop working completely. Luckily later in the week Stuart found a guy who figured it was the memory causing havoc so we bought more memory. It's working fine now but has to be plugged in the whole time when it's being used. As I write this I'm sitting on a ferry which luckily had a power point we could access otherwise I would be oversleeping.
That evening we went to the Sunday Walking Street Market. This has got to be one of the best street markets we were ever at and to be fair we've been at quite a few on this trip. It seemed to go on forever though and we eventually had to give up, having made a few quirky purchases. It was time to head to the pub for the Kerry vs. Mayo football match. We watched with our new Donegal friends Aideen and John-Paul. They were hoping for a Mayo victory in case Donegal would manage to beat Dublin the following week, but alas Kerry won the day, and as it turns out we'll have a Kerry, Dublin final – sorry lads.
Up bright and early for our trekking expedition. Chiang Mai is famed for it's trekking but unfortunately it's quite difficult to decide what you want to do as so many places run the trekking tours and they're all kinda similar and no-one talks about level of difficulty really. So we ended up booking with a company that were recommended to us by friends who'd already been there. BPM apparently have an infamous guide, O, so we hoped to secure his services but alas he was off the day we wanted to leave so we took the risk and went with them anyway.
There was a Canadian couple and two English girls in our group so nice and small and social. Our guide Sai was a tiny little guy who appeared to be made of bendy steel. On the way to the mountain we stopped at an Orchid/Butterfly Farm. I'm sorry to say this was extremely boring, not many butterflies and you can only swoon over so many orchids.
Next stop was the 'long-neck' village. This was interesting but is basically a tourist trap. The Karen tribes are actually Burmese in origin. The family groups that stay in this area have moved there specifically to take advantage of the tourism passing through. Our guide explained to us why and how they use the rings. It was amazing to see just how far there necks stretch. Apparently they remove them one day every year, new years day I think, and they have trouble holding their heads up without the support. You can read more about them here.
Then the heavens opened; it had pretty much rained for some time ever day we were in Chiang Mai but my fear was it wouldn't stop raining on our trek. We got to the foot of the mountain where we were to have an elephant ride. We weren't too keen on this as we'd already spent our time with the elephants and these guys used hooks to control the elephants. When we got on our tower you could tell it wasn't attached tightly so we spent the next 10 minutes terrified we were going to fall about 20ft to the ground. Plus we had a very grumpy(understandably) elephant, who only wanted to eat. We were happy to disembark that day. Funnily enough as we did, the Canadian couple, Taryn and Bram were trying to get a picture of them on their elephant before they got off. The mahout kept goading the elephant to move in a particular way and next thing he just charged the wooden scaffolding he was on and let out a roar. He obviously had enough of having people on his back and being poked in all directions. It was a distinct reminder of the power of these beautiful beasts. We smothered our elephant in bananas and then headed for the hills.
Thankfully the rain had gone off by the time we were 5 minutes into our walk. We walked 12 kms that day uphill, through muck, rivers, streams and jungle. It was tough. We didn't take our first break for maybe an hour and a half when we came upon one of the most remote 7-11 shops ever!
After that we must have had a break every 10 or 15 minutes as it was so steep. It was hot too. Hard conditions for trekking, mucky, slippery ground thanks to all the rain we'd been seeing and lots and lots of heat. We made it eventually and seemed to be the only group on the mountain that hadn't either lost some of their number or their guide. We met one girl who'd been completely abandoned and was sitting with a random guy who was working on the land.
We were shown to our accommodation which is supposed to be with a local hill tribe family but it's more in a hut owned by a local hill tribe family. The hut is on stilts and made of bamboo, there's one room with blankets on the ground and mosquito nets and there's another smaller one for cooking, where the guide sleeps. We sat around and enjoyed the spectacular view, chatted and played with the kids from the family.
The older girl who was about 9, had some English as she spent time around trekking folk like us. The babies were so cute, honestly no older than 2, knocking around, up and down these steep steps on sheer platforms, scary. It reminds you of how independent these kids are and how quickly they learn skills – or have to learn skills. It makes you wonder do we molly coddle our kids too much or do they steal their childhood from them? Debatable.
Sai made us a beautiful dinner, which comprised of three different dishes and rice as well as melon for desert. We washed this down with a few beers – there is an ice-box with beers, soft drinks and water that you basically help your self to and then pay one of the kids in the morning- and sat around the fire.
It was actually pretty late when we hit the hay in the pitch black, noisy, bug infested jungle hut.
By this point we had also acquired a very scrawny kitten, whom I named Curry, who wouldn't shut up meowing unless he was being petted, he didn't even really eat anything which made we think he wasn't long for this world. Surprisingly, we slept okay that night, the decibels from the crickets stopped at some stage and actually the only real upset we had was Curry coming in squawking to be let into the mossie net – no chance, allergy heaven for me, he did get some cuddles in the morning before a thorough wash for me.
Breakfast the next morning was a hearty feast of bread and eggs and we bid adieu to our little jungle family and set out.
Downhill (literally) all the way that day. It was pretty slow going thanks to the state of the track and the steepness of some points. However, Stu and Bram showed off their jungle skills and did some slightly dangerous standing mud slides down the hill (boys will be boys!). We were also back in river crossing mode which generally meant getting at least one foot wet every crossing. We did stop a gorgeous waterfall on the way down that day which was lovely and refreshing.
We had good fun at different stops on the way down too trying to hit targets that had been tied to trees with sling shots, I was better than Stuart generally but he did manage to hit one so I guess we're about even(he'll kill me for saying that). The last 45 minutes of our trek turned into a total nightmare. Our guide, misguidedly, took us onto a hill path which he thought would be easier than using the mucky road, he could not have been more wrong. We spent all that time ploughing through 2ft deep muck on the side of a steep hill. It's basically a track where they bring the elephants up into the jungle to feed so it was muck with huge elephant foot sized holes. We slipped, slided, braced, fell, tumbled, got stuck and eventually made it. I lost my sense of humour when I went over on my side into some bushes on the cliffside...thank god for shrubbery.
We were covered in crap when we got to the bottom and really hungry and tired, but our day was not to end there. White water rafting was the next stop. We got in our boat and went down maybe some grade 2s and 3s for about 5 minutes, then we were told to pull in – I thought 'did we just pay to do that?' - thankfully they were just avoiding a rather swollen and dangerous waterfall. We were back in the water 10mins later and saw a lot more action for the following 10mins, including a very exciting near capsize. Then we bobbed along the river for another 10mins, Stuart and Bram had a swim and then, at last, it was time for lunch and the journey home. All in all a great couple of days, but similar to the Inca Trail at points, you can't help but think 'to hell with this'. It's getting to the end and feeling healthy and achy that makes it great as well as the fantastic scenery you see and people you meet along the way. We slept well that night.
The next day my calves and thighs were ruined, so we weren't going to be getting up to much. Following breakfast I went for a pedicure and a manicure, then I met Stu for some lunch and we went for a massage. It's a tough life! This was followed by dinner at the very, very nice Lemongrass, which is near the night market for those of you heading in that direction. We did a bit of haggling and managed to obtain a few things we wanted in the market that night. Also a good market with lots of entertainment in the forms of the local lady boys/drag queens trying to get you to come to their shows.
The next day I woke up crippled, I think the fall on the mountain had wrenched my back so I was walking around like I had lost my horse. We couldn't really do much as a result and so sat around for most of the day waiting on our flight to Phuket that night.
Chiang Mai airport is the most central airport in a city I've ever seen, it's literally in the city. It was quite an easy check-in and boarding with Air Asia but the fun stopped there. This was categorically the scariest moment of my life. We had a bit of turbulence on the ascent, there had been bad weather all over Thailand so sorta to be expected. Then about 10 minutes later the plane started shaking pretty bad from side to side. Then there was a huge drop, where we were thrown up in the air, people were screaming, I didn't know what was going to happen. I was so scared. Stuart was pretty calm thankfully, but the guy on the other side of me was petrified. The turbulence kept on but we didn't have any huge jolt again I'm glad to say. I'm not religious but all I did was pray for the next hour and 20mins. I was so happy when we made it to solid ground. I have never been a nervous flyer but I will board planes with trepidation in future after that experience, absolutely horrifying.
We had arranged for a taxi to pick us up and as it was 1am I was glad he was there waiting for us. We spoke to some other passengers from the plane while we waited for him to bring the car around and they too were just thankful to be on the ground also saying it was the worst flight they had ever been on. The thing that annoyed me the most was the captain never said at the start of the flight there is going to be turbulence but don't worry. It was well into the flight before he asserted there would probably be turbulence all the way and it was best to stay belted up. Anyway, I'm not sure about flying Air Asia again.
We were staying in Patong so it took about 40mins to get there, despite being really tired and still nursing a bad back I didn't get to sleep for ages that night, the fear factor I suppose.
It rained and rained and rained when we were in Patong. I'm not going to say an awful lot about it because basically it's not a very nice place. Think Magaluf on acid with lots of prostitutes.
We had some nice food and one good night out there but other than that it's bars and shops. And god help you if it's raining as it was the whole time we were there so you can't even lie on the beach. We saw more of the inside of our hotel room than we did the whole rest of the trip. We did amuse ourselves recording a birthday message for my friend Catriona in the style of a Zig and Zag birthday rap but that was about as entertaining as it got those few days. I went for a rather fancy facial in the giant shopping mall there which was nice and relaxing but otherwise we were glad to get on the boat to Koh Phi Phi when we did. I should say we didn't venture out of Patong because of the bad weather so the rest of the island might have more to offer – general consensus is that some of the other islands are nicer. And this was to prove evident when we set foot on Koh Phi Phi for the first time despite continuing bad weather.
MD Guesthouse, 8/10 - nice, large hotel come hostel with pool, ask for a rate if you're staying more than a couple of days.
Smart Cookery, 10/10 - couldn't recommend them highly enough and you get a wee recipe book to take home.
BMP House 2d 1nt Trekking Tour, 8/10 - this was a great trek the only gripes we had would be you should be flexible as they don't stick rigidly to a plan, also everyone we met that did 2 nights said the 2nd night was a total waste so 1 nt is better. Also watch what you're paying, we paid 1800baht each and some people on our tour only paid 1300!
U.N Irish bar, 6/10 - no atmosphere, expensive small portions, with a non-fun pub quiz, only good for the sports on tv.
Reggae Bar, 9/10 - a great wee spot with excellent live bands every night.
Moonlight Massage - 8/10 - a very good oil and herb massage.
Christina Beauty Salon, 9/10 - Pedi/Mani very professional and good massage.
Kafe, 9/10 - delicious Thai food.
Mike's Fastfood, 7/10 - probably best after a few beers.
Lemongrass, 10/10 - excellent, near the nightmarket on a side street near MacDonalds
Magic Tattoo, 10/10 - Poon is a great tattooist who will spend time with you and helping with your designs, also very clean.
Atlas Hotel, 9/10 - a nice, clean spacious hotel that's a few streets back from the beach which is good as it is quieter.
Food Have Foodcourt, Jungceylon Shopping Centre - 9/10 - go to the Thai Foodcourt it's much better than the overpriced Western Restaurants upstairs.
Aussie Bar, 7/10 - fine for watching sports but don't expect any commentary and there will be 8 other sporting events on the tv at the same time.
Scruffy Murphy's, 7/10 - only showed on one tv with no commentary on an Ireland rugby game, huh?
Molly Malone's, 9/10 - a fantastic band play here, otherwise standard American/Irish bar.
Lek Murphy's 6/10 - bar girls and dust.