Thailand felt a little bit like real travelling again, not that it is a hard place to travel, but just not anything like home. As soon as I stepped out of the airport, the humid, heavy air engulfed me & the sights, sounds & smells of Bangkok took over. Not quite ready for the hustle & bustle of the city, Al & I headed straight to the train station to jump on a train to Chiangmai.
Thailand was pretty much the holiday at the end of a massive adventure. Although it sounds silly to those of you reading this from your computer at work, travelling is actually very tiring. So I figured that considering I would have to start work ASAP when I got home, a holiday from my holiday was in order.
Chaingmai was beautiful. After being in Europe & paying $30 a night for dodgy hostels, our $10 a night room in Thailand was like heaven, our own bathroom, a TV, air con & a bar fridge. What more could you want? A bit of sight seeing maybe? Yep, temples ahoy. After seeing so many churches everywhere else, seeing a few temples was quite nice. I don't know why, but I think it had something to do with the lack of dead guys hanging from the walls, the Temples felt very peaceful & calm. The decoration was amazing, I don't think I ever seen so much gold & mirroring before.
On our second day we headed out to see some elephants at one of the elephant farms. I had mixed feelings about doing this, as I wasn't sure how the elephants would be treated. When we got there it was crazy, so many elephants, who I think were treated quite well, considering that the handlers need them to make money, but much like the elephants in the Melbourne zoo, they looked very bored & a few were kind of rocking.
Part of the day included an elephant show. This was the dodgiest bit of the whole day. Most of it was fairly harmless, pulling logs around & stuff, but there was one activity that was particularly dodgy, where the elephants were made to walk on 2 legs. Now this is all well & good for humans, but with elephants of such proportions, not so nice. The poor things looked as though they were burrowing there stumpy legs into the ground under all the weight. At the end of the show, they showed how the elephants could paint, & I'm not talking about the abstract scribbles you may have seen on the news a few ears ago, they were painting real pictures of elephants & trees & flowers. It was very strange, especially the painting of two elephants making sweet, sweet love. Very funny.
Then it was off on an ox drawn cart to a "village", & I use the term very loosely, where we were pretty much herded up an isle full of people trying to sell you dodgy "handy crafts". Then we got to jump on the back of an elephant & go for a ride. It was kind of scary, they are seriously massive animals. After a little while our elephant driver asked us if we wanted to have a ride right up on the neck of the elephant. Al went first, she wasn't to happy up there though so she quickly jumped back up onto our wooden seat. Then it was my go, it was pretty scary, but kind of cool also. The skin felt really weird on your legs, kind of like a stubbly scrubbing brush.
Then it was time for lunch & a leisurely raft trip down the river. Whist on the raft, kids waded out to us trying to sell all kinds of things from wrist band to beer, they definitely don't miss an opportunity. Once safely on land we jumped back into the van & headed to a factory that made paper & paper products out of elephant poo, then on to an orchid farm. From poo to pretty flower, I'm glad we ended with flowers. Latter that night we headed out to the night markets & perused the many streets full of random gadgets, very good knock offs & tacky Thailand trinkets. Not many purchases were made, but it was fun to soak in the busy atmosphere.
While in Chaingmai we decided to splash out & go for a day of pampering at a local Spa. We both booked in for a package including a steam bath, a foot massage & reflexology, a shiatsu massage, a body scrub & a herbal spa. It was very nice after lugging more than half of my body weight around on my back for the past 7 months.
The next day Alison left to go down south & meet her boyfriend & I decided to stay on in Chiangmai for a couple of days. I didn't do a whole lot in this time, but I did manage to get to a cooking class, which was a load of fun. It was a bit scary trying to cook, after not making anything harder than pasta for the previous 7 months. I managed to make 6 dishes, thom ka soup, sweet & sour veggies, jungle curry, tofu salad, pad Thai & mango with sticky rice. It's really great to learn some new stuff, skills that I still haven't made use of now that I'm back home, but just getting to eat it all at the end was worth it.
While on the course I meet a girl named Megan who happened to also be staying at my hostel. I spent the rest of the day & night having a few drinks with her & another guy from the hostel named Gavin. The movie of choice that evening at the hostel was Saw 2, the original of which we had watched a few nights earlier. Now I'm not so good with scary movies, so after that I convinced some of the others to stay up with me & watch The Company, a very un scary dance movie, before I could go back to my room & sleep.
After Chiangmai, I headed down to Krabi on a plane because it was pretty much the same price as a bus or train. When I got to Krabi Airport I shared a cab into town with a French Canadian guy named Martin. After dropping our things off at our hotels, we headed out for dinner to a very funny restaurant which had tables & chairs outside, along with a huge TV screen that played Thai Pop video clips. They were possibly the funniest things I have ever seen, each one like a tiny soapy, most of them ending with a break up & some crying in the shower, fully clothed - interesting.
The next day I jumped on a long tail boat & headed to Rai Lei beach. I got a cute hut like room of my own & pretty much as soon as I put my bag down, the rain started bucketing down & pretty much didn't stop for more than 3 hours at a time for the whole time I was there. I did manage to get some sun & sand while there though & a Thai massage which was well worth the 10 bucks it cost me.
After a few days I jumped on a boat back to Krabi. On the boat back I meet yet another French Canadian, who was a strange little creature, if I ever want to film a movie about Goblins & Elves, he would be the first cast member I reckon. We went to a café called May & Mark's (after the owners) for lunch, where they make their own bread. They had opened their home up to travellers years before & had been learning recipes from all over the world & cooking them for other travellers ever since. It was very tasty. During the afternoon I explored my options for a kayaking tour around some sea caves. My only real constraint was that I had to pay for my tour on my credit card, which was a bit of a problem. I found one company who said that I could pay on credit, but it required me to go for a ride on the back of the owner's scooter to some machine, which turned out to be an ATM, no luck. But after running around a bit I found one & I was all set.
The tour was heaps of fun, although it was pouring with rain, pretty much the entire time. The place where the tour started was very pretty - a salt water river surrounded by mangroves. The caves were awesome with stalactites & stalagmites all around & one was full of ancient drawings. While kayaking along you could hear & spot monkeys in the trees on the banks & there were little crabs scurrying around everywhere. Lunch was had on a floating restaurant, which luckily had a sturdy roof, as the rain kept on a coming. After a good feed we jumped back onto the mini van & headed to an awesome swimming hole that looked like it had come straight out of Where the Forest Meets the Sea, one of my favourite books as a kid. The water was bright blue & the forest very green. It was truly beautiful. Once back at my hotel, all I wanted was a warm shower to warm my soggy bones, but sadly, no hot water, a cold one had to do, but the amazing Pad Thai from the night market made up for that.
I then headed to Koh Lanta, an island off the coast. Because it was off season I managed to get an awesome bungalow all to myself for $6 a night, right on the beach with, you got it, a hot shower in a bathroom bigger than many of the rooms I had stayed in. There was a good restaurant, & kittens to keep you company at breakfast.
I took it easy the whole time I was in Koh Lanta. The most strenuous day I had was when I & Matt, an Aussie from Canberra, headed off for a walk to explore the island. The walk turned into a big day long adventure. When we returned back to our hotel we had both managed to burn the crap out of our lily white skin, even though there was pretty much no sun. Unfortunately for me I was protecting my eyes all day with my very large sunglasses, so I ended up looking like one of those red tree-climbing pandas with the goggle marks.
The rest of my time was spent wandering the beach taking photos of the crazy things that had washed up on the shore.
After Koh Lanta, I headed back to Bangkok for a few days before the final journey home. The bus to Bangkok was interesting. I was picked up from my hotel in a four wheel drive, transferred to a mini bus further up the coast of the island where a few other customers joined me. After driving for about 10 minutes, the driver stopped the van & asked all the passengers if anyone could roll joints. One of the passengers said she could, and rolled him a joint that we were all hopping he was going to save for later, but no, he jumped out of the bus & spent fifteen minutes puffing away before jumping back into the driver's seat & off we went.
Once we reached Krabi, we were transferred yet again to another slightly bigger bus which drove us to Surat Thani where we waited for an hour before being loaded onto the funniest 1970's player bus I have ever seen. It was equip with mirrored overhead panels, pink & beige leather seats & to top it all off, scalloped tasselled curtains.
The bus didn't stay funny for long as after about half an hour the air con broke. This pretty much transformed this very elaborate bus into a tacky moving sweat box. We stopped at every service station along the road trying to get it fixed, everyone piling out at each stop as the windows didn't open and we were all slowly suffocating in the stench of human body odour. This resulted in what should have been about one hour's travel time taking two & a half & people nuding up at a fairly rapid rate. At one point they did manage to fix the air con, but that only lasted about 3 hours & then it was back to the moving sweat box.
When we finally reach Bangkok we were dropped off very close to where I wanted to stay, but as it was only 7.30 in the morning I had to bugger around for hours before any rooms were vacant. Once I finally got a hostel, it was great. I had my own room with bathroom & a rooftop pool, right in the heart of all the action. It was a great place to end my trip.
I spent the final 3 days of my trip just bumbling around the Kho San Road area. Being the backpacking hub that it is, I wasn't alone for long & I was seeing familiar faces everywhere.
Kho San Road has a market that anyone who has travelled to Thailand will know is full of a whole lot of crap, but on Friday & Saturday nights can be fun. I headed down there to get some dinner on my first night there & managed to catch a concert of Thai Punk Rock which was great. I sat on a gutter eating my dollar pad Thai & watched the crazy punks jump around in front of me. I would have loved to join in, but it was way to hot for that kind of behaviour. While I was watching I meet a German guy named Thomas who was also travelling alone so we headed out for some drinks. It was fun to be out in all the hustle & bustle & I think Thomas, who was on his way to Sydney to study, was just happy to have someone to practice his English on. I'm not quite sure why he visited Thailand though, because he was pretty much too scared to eat or drink anything from a restaurant there, let alone a street stall, which all his friends had told him would make him violently ill. Pretty funny.
On my last night in Thailand & of my trip I meet back up with Alison & Pete & had a celebratory last night away dinner & drinks. It was good but sad also because the fun of the last eight months was coming to an end. It was exciting for the exact same reason. We were heading back home to our friends & family & the lives that we had been missing for the past eight months.
Being back at the airport was a little bit surreal. There was no need to figure out how to get to our next destination, no need to book that first night's accommodation.
There was no sleep had on the plane on the way home, I think I watched every movie available to me & listened to all the CD's on offer. The most painful part of the trip was the stop over in Sydney. I don't know why, but being so close but not quite home yet was a very weird feeling and I couldn't even sit still let alone sleep.
When we finally arrived in Melbourne we walked off the plane (feeling a little bit jipped that we had to come out of the domestic terminal) & were surprised not to be welcomed by any family or friends. Our flight number had been an international one & they were all doing laps of the airport trying to find us. We finally did find each other while waiting to get our bags. It was really fabulous to see everyone again; I don't think mum & dad have ever hugged me quite so hard before.
So that was it, the trip was over & it was back to the real world, where your family & friends are only a quick trip away, so it's not all bad