Flash Trip to Kanchanaburi


As earlier mentioned, we were unable to catch a direct bus to Siem Reap until January 28th, giving us two days to kill before we renewed our visas. Since we were at a bus station already, we just opened our guidebooks and started looking into places, concluding with the decision to check out Kanchanaburi.We stayed for just over 24hrs, arriving mid afternoon and leaving around noon the next day, and due to the slow pace of the town, this was enough time for us to do all that we wanted.

Kanchanaburi:

The pub street/walking street- though dead during the week, spare the occasional middle aged tourist- is unlike the WWII historical sites that see a steady stream of tourists, beginning with the Death Railway.

   Set off by an iconic bridge spanning the River Kwai, the Burma railway was constructed during WWII and cost over 100,000 lives in its rushed construction. Because of this, you can also find a massive (and admittedly crowded) graveyard in the middle of town, as well as a large memorial stone, surrounded by Japanese cherry blossoms.

 A museum hovers at the foot of the bridge, skirting a courtyard full of vendors.

Often when we’ve been going to these communities, we’ve walked to our accomodations because they’re usually not further than 3km and explaining the address/showing the driver often isn’t enough if our hotel isn’t well known.

 A good tactic we’ve adopted is finding a land mark, a hospital or a shrine, near our place and taking transportation there. Having a map (hardcopy) is also incredibly helpful for showing where you need to go when the language barrier towers. Hard copy maps are everywhere, often found in train stations or other outlets of travel.

 Our room was right on the river, floating actually, and had a pretty good restaurant upstairs, but it was also a bit of a walk to the bridge. We stayed at VN Guesthouse for 300TB/night.

All in all, Kanchanaburi is worth seeing, but we were fine with 24hrs. Many of the other tourist draws (treks, water sports) can be done in better places (treks: northern Thailand). AKA, here (and everywhere else we’ve been) we didn’t get crazy excited and sign up for generic things like snorkeling, diving, trekking just because they were an option; we have been trying to do the events that are region specific, which just logically has led to better, more authentic excursions.

We headed back to Bangkok, stayed one night at a very trendy hostel near Mo Chit northern bus terminal (Adventure Hostel, highly recommend)

 and woke up early to catch our direct bus to Siem Reap, which you will very soon hear about.

All the best,

Em

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The North Further Explored 

 We ventured outside the city of Chiang Mai once more, this time finding ourselves in Chiang Dao- a small community with a single large mountain and a series of complex and holy caves.

After a day of looks and eager smiles from the locals (the children would shout hello, an excuse to practice their English) we quickly realized that Chiang Dao doesn’t see a lot of tourist activity. We were lucky enough to be there for the twice a month walking street where members from the surrounding hill tribes come to sell their wares, but other than the cave and the walking street, this is a very slow paced town and depending on where you stay, quite the sprawl.

 The cave is 6km from town, we stayed halfway between the two and rented mountain bikes for 200 baht a day ($9 CAN) from another guesthouse. Well worth it.

 We also stumbled on this great restaurant and unadvertised (atleast online) guesthouse called Bamboo Mountain Coffee House. Hands down the best bread and honey I’ve ever had

 and the cinnamon-banana pancake (just one, it’s huge) was amazing, topped off by a grotesque looking but fantastic tasting passion fruit shake. Perfect combination of sweet and sour.

 We stayed two nights in Chiang Dao, doing the walking street the night we arrived (we got there early afternoon), exploring the cave and discovering Bamboo Mountain Coffee House the next day, before leaving back to Chiang Mai on the third day.

Upon returning to Chiang Mai, we were shown the extent of true Thai hospitality and kindness, a story of which deserves its own blog, and so it shall get one when the time is right.  
We took a night train back to Bangkok and had every intention of heading to Cambodia, however, it seems many others are also wanting to go to Cambodia. We have two days to kill before our bus so we’ve wandered out to Kanchanaburi to briefly experience the Wild West of Thailand.
Sneak peak of our first night here


All the best,

Em

Conscious Tourism: Riding Isn’t Ethical

 What I’m going to talk about here isn’t exclusive to traveling; it’s about the organizations and communities we choose to support through our financial involvement.
I want to talk about this because today we went to a nature park devoted to rescuing and rehabilitating abused and neglected animals- for the elephants, the abuse came from either logging careers or unethical tourism.


The reason this seems to be an issue while abroad is probably due to the fact that we as humans have a fascination for the foreign, exotic, and even dangerous; this leads us to support questionable organizations and events, because as “tourists”, we are ignorant and not responsible for the laws and regulations of the country we are visiting.
Okay, so I’m preaching. But the second you pay to experience another life-form entertain and amuse you, even if it’s not against the country’s law, you are morally responsible for supporting that industry.

For example:

– Getting a Thai massage. The massage therapist has chosen this job, they are personally selling their services and reaping the benefits.

– Riding an elephant. I’m going to take a wild guess and say that elephants, if given the choice, would not be swathed in chains and prodded with sticks while you munch snacks on their back.

– Petting tigers. Unlike elephants, these animals are evolutionarily designed to kill or hide. So logically, if you are petting one, there is clearly something wrong in that situation.
So obviously do your homework/ feel it out before you get a Thai massage, do extra homework and don’t ride an elephant (care for one, feed one, wash one), and just avoid the tiger temples entirely. Believe it or not, humans weren’t meant to do/see/touch/taste everything! Just because we can modify the circumstances to make it happen doesn’t mean we should do it.

Executing a highly elaborate escape plan would be the the only way I would touch a tiger. And that’s probably because I’d be running away after the drugs wore off.

No matter how cute and fluffy they look. Yeah. That’s coming from me, someone who freezes, drops everything, and loves them instantly so much I want to cry.

Trust me, doing it ethically, you get to experience a happy, healthy, and social being that is as curious about you as you are about it (the more watermelon you have, the more popular you are, it’s just how it goes).

 We went to Elephant Nature Park for the day, where hundreds of dogs, cats, water buffalo, and exactly 66 elephants roam completely free (not a fence in sight, spare the ones to protect a few trees) in the huge expanse of land set aside just for the park.

 

  
 Volunteer opportunities and a tourism industry designed to educate- rather than utilize- make this place a fantastic way to see the local wild life up close and personal, and most importantly, happy/healthy.

We were lead around the park by a tour guide named Andy who knew tons about the elephants including their names, back stories, and which family they belonged to (the park had 5 functioning elephant families, formed by the elephants themselves). We were taught safety rules, as we were literally walking around hulking Asian elephants while they went about their day, eating, flinging dirt on their backs, and playing with roped tires.



 Each elephant had a mahout, a trainer/guardian of sorts to which it was clear the elephant had bonded. We also bathed an elephant, just to watch her walk ashore and fling dirt all over herself again.

We were given a glimpse of how much food they consume, how valuable each worker was to the park, and overall, how simply choosing one organization over another really made a difference.


I urge all friends, family, and readers, do the homework- keep your adventures abuse free.

All the best,

Em

Pai


There’s a long list in my head of people that I would love to personally address in this blog, but seeing as that list might be longer than the actual blog, I’ll keep my silence and trust that you will all know who you are.
The pursuit of peace and calm ends at a little town in northern Thailand called Pai. It’s a long and rough road to get there, but once you do, all the car sickness and mistakes of your past (the grieving for my camera continues) seem to melt away with an amazing chill night market,

   cheap scooter rentals, and immediate contact with a vast and sprawling landscape.

   Waterfalls and teetering narrow canyon hikes compete with natural hotsprings and cliffhanging viewpoints that remind you of your complete insignificance (in a good way).

  “My soul is being cleansed at 34 degrees Celsius.” -Darrian
 The food is cheaper (even for Thailand… So it’s basically the dollar menu at McDonald’s for Canada), the people are exceedingly kind, and we managed to find a great place to stay.

 Happy House Pai is run by a laid back Australian who streams NHL games in the common area every night because he’s a die-hard Habs fan; it has a great location and it’s only costing us each $12CAN/night.

We love our accommodations, the town is just a joy to be in, and biking (pedal and motorized) makes tons of natural wonders accessible and inviting. If you only had 72hrs in Thailand, I would expect you to take a night train immediately to Chiang Mai, and then a minibus to Pai where you spend the day and night before heading back down to Bangkok and leaving the country. THAT’S how great this place is.

Also, this puppy lives here.

As if you need more convincing. When do you leave?

The Journey North

   So there’s good news, and there’s bad news. The good news?

Ayuthara, an old city outside of Bangkok, was very cool and not what we expected, as it is still a functioning city. You have these temples and ruins that are hundreds of years old, scattered throughout a living modern city- It’s exactly as odd as it sounds. We rented bikes and pedaled between temples with the help of some French travelers we befriended.


It was at this point we were shown the app “maps.me”, which is the best travel app ever. Literally. It uses the satellite in your phone, so when you have wifi you download a county’s map, and when you’re out exploring, you can use the offline map to see where you are, where you’re headed, and what’s around you. It’s pretty great.
The other good news?
The overnight train was a success, and we managed to find our hotel, and after resting we wandered another 20km around Chiang Mai.


 Edit


With temperatures more mild than Bangkok, it was actually comfortable to be out and about without having to find cover in a cool building.

 


Among other things, we took a fantastic cooking class

 


and the next day we went tubing down the Mae Ping River, arriving at a beach and sports club.

All in all, we love Chiang Mai.

The bad news:

Very quickly with backpacking, you are confronted with the dilemma of materialism. Your shoulders ache from the weight of your bag, you reassess the value of every item on a regular basis (more often when you’re constantly packing/unpacking), and you cringe at the thought of packing even more.
For many, it is an eye opening experience, and often liberating by the end. Why do we value the things we do? What purpose do they serve and what do our lives look like without them?
Well I can tell you exactly what my life looks like without my Fujifilm waterproof-shockproof camera:

My bag is not lighter, I have yet to experience any sense of “liberation”, and an entire memory card with 3 years of pictures now floats (ahem, sinks) somewhere along the Mae Ping River.

After realizing that I would’ve rather lost ANY other item I have with me (yes mom, even my passport), it stings, but it’s not the end of the world.

We continue on from Chiang Mai today to the “hippy” town of Pai.

All the best,

Em

Koh Samed 


Ko Samet has everything you’d expect an island in Thailand to have:


Stretching beaches with white play dough sand and vivid blue water, a night life scene that has the crescent bay of Sai Kaew lit with neon lights and firedancing shows after the sun goes down,


and most importantly, tons of accommodation and local food that hardly costs more than a single outing to the movies in Canada… Per day… After we’ve splurged on dessert after every meal, soda instead of water, and chips to nibble in the evening.


There were tons of roaming dogs and cats, but I thought I would share this one, who, with a newfound bone, could care less that he was in fact the cutest puppy on the whole island. (Yes Samia, they were all mangy and rougher looking, but they all appeared to be eating well enough and receiving good attention from the locals.)
That being said, there have been downsides. Having rented a scooter, I learned that I in fact hate scooters (the weight of the bike made it impossible for me to drive by myself, so Mackenzie, make sure you get small scooters when you make your way to over! And ask about the gas!). Among other things (the huge spider we saw roaming the streets; we now sleep with a towel pressed to the door), the island itself is quite busy being so close to Bangkok, but it’s infinitely quieter than Bangkok, which is what we wanted.


“This spot is perfect, let’s set up shop!” Said Emny, moments before an aggressive wave soaked their towel and they were both thankful they had hung everything else in the tree.

We move through Bangkok and on to Chiang Mai in the days to come.

All the best,

Em

Bangkok 

What should have been a clear day in Beijing, China.

After an 11hr flight to Beijing (and the worst air quality I’ve ever experienced in my life, literally burns your throat) and a 5hr flight to Bangkok (which due to my exhaustion I don’t actually remember) we took our first steps on Thai soil, and walked right into confusion and culture shock.
I’m a planner, it’s what I do; I like to know times, places and directions. First thing I’ve learned so far? Planning has only cost us money and comfort: I wouldn’t call myself a “girly-girl” but I do like my bed and shower to be mostly bug free. A couple bugs, sure. Hell, even a hundred collectively because they’re so small. Needless to say, there are more than a hundred bugs at Amazing House Hostel, but at $12CAN/night it’s hard to say we’re above a little grime.

  1.  

(Looked up while brushing my teeth, guess they weren’t kidding about the 24/7 surveillance)

Thai iced tea is awesome, Khao San road is popping, going to the ministry of tourism and adventure was a huge help, and staying just off of khao San road has been a really good call (river view above beside Korbua House, a little pricey but awesome).

Cream cheese (shout out to Jason for Darrian’s great new nick name) hasn’t burned yet and is infinitely better than me at crossing the network of chaos they insist on calling “roads”. With an average of 30+ degrees everyday, I’m thinking a burn is just around the corner though, potentially for both of us.

Having decided that Bangkok isn’t exactly our style, and having done a fair amount of walking and wandering the past two days, Darrian arranged a beach escape to one of the islands in the northern gulf of Thailand (Koh Samet) where we will explore for a week and then head north.

All the best,

Em