We arrived into Bangkok last night to 30 C temperatures and very clean air compared to most big Indian cities. Not saying the air is perfect but you can’t taste it and our lungs weren’t getting clogged up so that’s saying something for the air quality in Bangkok. We splurged and upgraded to Business Class for our short 4 hour flight from Delhi to Bangkok. No we didn’t win the lottery. For this flight we cashed in some of our Aeroplan points which cost a total of about $12.00 CAD for fees and taxes so the upgrade cost was probably less than we would have paid for two one way economy seats. When we arrived and not having our proverbial shit completely together (we hadn’t applied for our Myanmar eVisa yet and hadn’t looked after some, shall we say, critical details to answer on the visa application), we gave ourselves until Wednesday to get the visa approval (typically 3 business days) so we booked a flight to Mandalay for Thursday the 22nd. We applied for the visas today at 11:10 am. Three business days would take us to next Tuesday if the Myanmar bureaucracy was efficient so best to be safe and there were no flights to Mandalay on Wednesday. Three hours later, “you’ve got mail”. Visas approved! That’s great and okay because we thought we had to and were therefore going to spend a little time on a nice nearby beach somewhere for a few days so no big deal. When we landed in Bangkok we both noticed a very large number of Chinese all throughout the arrivals area. Thailand must be popular with the Chinese we thought. Yes it is popular with the Chinese we were told to the tune of millions of visitors right now (well many thousands anyway) because it is frigging Chinese New Year! A nice little beach somewhere close? Not so easy to find now.
Well we lucked out in the sense that we thought we wouldn’t be able to find a place to veg for a few days. All of the popular spots and islands within a 1/2 day drive from Bangkok were fully booked but we did find a nice little spot outside of Cha-am on the northeast coast of the Gulf of Thailand. Booking.com said there was one garden view villa left so hurry and book now! Well, I will have a little diatribe about Booking.com in a few minutes. We booked a nice garden facing villa, the last one remaining and the last villa remaining according to BDC and made our way out of Bangkok three days ago. When we checked in they told us they upgraded us to a beach front. Nice! But um, we thought there was only one garden view room left? It’s a very nice villa, the beach isn’t much, the pool is nice and the grounds are nice but we’re only here for four nights so no problem. There are 34 villas in the resort and a grand total of three were occupied on our arrival. Us, a French family of four and another couple. The next morning the couple departed leaving a total of six guests in two villas. Very interesting so we checked BDC to see what was available for the next few days. Same thing, “ Only one garden villa left, no other rooms, book now, others are checking this resort as we speak”. We have now learned that Booking. com is, for a lack of better words, a scam. They make you think that if you don’t act “now” you will miss the great price and property and you will be shit out of luck. Now, we have used them before and the site works but we saw first hand the manipulation they use to get you to book pronto!. We tried to bring this to the attention of the front desk but they just smiled not understanding a bloody word we said, which brings us to “The joys of travel in foreign lands”. We had the whole place to ourselves. The pool, restaurant and a motorcycle to use to by beer at a market for 1/4 of the cost they charged in the restaurant. Ordering meals was a lesson in biting your tongue, keeping your cool, playing charades and hope you get what you ordered. If you ask for cold water you get coke. Coke/cold, okay, I get that. If you ask for a plate to put your food on, blank stares. This is a resort in highly developed touristy Thailand and they didn’t even understand “toilet” and I had to make a bum wiping gesture to make them understand we needed toilet paper. Holy cow! No wait, that’s India where there’s a billion people and they at least understand “toilet”. Anyway, we virtually had this whole resort to ourselves. It’s nice but definitely not a place to spend more than a few days which brings me to the French family. They arrived the day we did and they had 9 days booked. They used BDC and the pictures on their website are wonderful. Beautiful beach, (but not your typical Thai standard), no beach chairs with umbrellas (but shown on the web site), great looking restaurant, (staged for their website), and people having fun and enjoying themselves around the pool and bar but there are no people and no bar but a nice pool. We felt very sorry for them as they are stuck here with a restaurant that closes at 8:00 pm and there is nothing to do. Moral of the story. Take everything you see on Booking.com with a very big grain of salt.
Anyway, we head back to Bangkok tomorrow for one night and then fly to Mandalay, Myanmar on Thursday for three weeks of wild and wacky adventures. Well, adventures and some sight-seeing and then probably more beach time before heading back to Thailand. Our motto: “Adventure, for sure, beach time, absolutely!”.
Below a couple of pics of our place near Cha-am and a litter of 2 month old Chihuahua’s.
Joyce and I met Kristina and Lucy at the airport after a very long flight from Vancouver and both were tired but in good spirits after about 16 hours of flying (Business class I might add) and a total travel time of about 19 hours. It was about 11:00 pm when we got back to our hotel and we had a 5:30 am shuttle back to the airport the next morning. Not much sleep time.
With their clocks totally out of whack they slept till 3:30 am and at 5:30 we headed to the airport for our short flight to Surat Thani where we would be met by our ride to take us to “Our Jungle House”, a small resort of tree houses and bungalows on stilts nestled between lime cliffs and jungle and the Khao Sok river in the heart of Khao Sok National Park, the oldest pristine natural jungle on earth. It is the largest area of virgin forest in southern Thailand and is a remnant of rain forest which is older and more diverse than the Amazon rain forest. Amazingly this relatively small park is estimated to contain over five percent of the world’s species but they of course are very well hidden and very out-of-the-way from human habitation.
We had a great double cabin/tree house supported by stilts sitting alongside the river and it was very hot and humid but this is the jungle after all and did I say it was very hot and humid? When we arrived we were greeted by very loud high-pitched sounds from the millions of Cicadas that inhabit the jungle canopy and at night we were lulled to sleep with an extraordinary symphony of jungle insects, lizards and whatever else made their existence known in the quarter moon lit Jurassic forest.
Not long after our arrival we needed to cool off and just a few minutes away along a path jumping with lizards was a very nice gravel bed swimming hole in the river. In we went and it was oh so refreshing. Actually the water could have been cooler but the whole thing was so cool that just getting wet with the occasional little fish darting for a nibble on our fingers or toes while we sat on the riverbed in a nice flowing current with giant karst formations towering above us was more than refreshing. It was magical, it was something we had never done, it was a first, it was wonderful.
Our bungalows had signs everywhere warning us about the pesky little simians that inhabited the area so we were all a little paranoid about leaving our windows open at night but there really wasn’t much choice because the heat and humidity was so close that it stuck to your every fibre. A shower was only refreshing while you were showering and then the hot air embraced and wrapped around you and squeezed the sweat out of every pore. Did I mention this is the jungle after-all?
There were mosquitoes. I am not bothered by mosquitoes but the ladies were so I had to listen to all of the mosquito complaints and conversation although I can honestly say I did not see one mosquito except once while hiking in the jungle but the welts and redness displayed on my girls’s obviously virgin jungle skin made me believe them. Fortunately they weren’t “itchy” mosquitoes because this could have the potential to kibosh the whole adventure. Whew!
We weren’t attacked by monkeys on our first night so we all slept very poorly anyway. Well, I did, didn’t. No air conditioning, just a fan that blew hot air. Not very conducive to a good nights sleep however I loved the sound of the jungle at night, it was incredibly alive and very loud but my sweat drenched pillow and sheets were rather uncomfortable but apparently I’m the only one who sweats like Homer Simpson and the gals slept quite well I’m told.
We had three nights and two full days to spend in the jungle and we wanted to make the most of it so the next day was full of fun, adventure and some seriously amazing geography. First on the agenda was a visit to a nearby elephant sanctuary. The Thai elephant is the official national animal of Thailand and is in fact the Indian elephant, a subspecies of the Asian elephant. In the early 1900’s there were approximately 100,000 domesticated or captive elephants in Thailand but by mid 2007 only an estimated 3,400 domesticated animals remain and approximately 1,000 wild elephants (statistics vary greatly). It became an endangered species in 1986. One of the major issues facing the elephants in Thailand as well as Myanmar was the banning of logging in the hardwood forests and this has left thousands of elephants unemployed as they were used as the vehicle to get the logs out of the forests. Although good for the forests it has left their Mahouts without any income to care for their animal. Fortunately tourism has helped to change the plight of these magnificent beasts as it brings in dollars to help the Mahouts, the elephant’s lifetime caretaker, to feed and look after them until death. It is estimated at least 1/2 of these unemployed animals now work in the tourist industry and are treated very humanely and ethically and although these animals are “domesticated” they are still wild and therefore hold enormous potential in the conservation of their “wild” kin.
So, we had a short ride to the sanctuary and we were introduced to a 45 year old female named Swy, Thai for “beautiful”. She worked in the forests for over 20 years and when we met her she was calm and seemed happy but best of all was not chained or restrained in any way. There were 8 of us in the group and I made the first advance and walked over to her, stroked her trunk and head and then whispered sweet nothings in her ear and asked Lucy to come over and do the same. Lucy was hesitant but after several sugar cane and banana trunk grabs by Swy, Lucy was in love. We spent about 15 minutes feeding her and then off we trekked through a palm plantation down to a very muddy bathing hole where we shed our cloths and plunged into a sticky mucky brown water hole and proceeded to rub mud all over Swy’s naked body. I think she loved it. I know I would. Once done covering her with her herbal mud bath we slithered out of the hole and slip slided our way in our gooey flip-flops and made our way to the river for a rinsing session. Swy was led into the much cleaner water, she laid down on her side and all of us proceeded to scrub and rinse the mud off of her. We would like to think she enjoyed all of this attention, she seemed to and it is done four times a day and the Mahout makes pretty good coin doing this for his lovely lady elephant. It was worth every penny to ensure her survival. Elephants live as long as humans so we have a responsibility to take care of these very intelligent, caring and social animals. This is the good news side of elephant conservation. We all know about the other side and certain politicians who are lifting bans on trophy hunting and ivory importation. These are the animals that need to be culled from the face of this earth.
We walked back to our starting point and fed Swy a few more bananas and then headed back to our sauna in the forest for a quick dip and lunch before our afternoon canoe/rubber dinghy meander down the Khao Sok river, which was actually more like a stream/ creek as the water level was quite low with some travel inhibiting gravel bars along the way. The scenery was, I’m lacking words now so I’ll just say beautiful as we drifted along the current and listened to the jungle forest surrounding us and the incessant talking back-and-forth of the two guys paddling our boats down the river. It was driving me (us?) nuts. They wouldn’t shut up! I was very irate but didn’t know how to tell them to shut up because they didn’t understand English so we floated “Somewhere down the lazy river”, (Robbie Robertson) and felt a little pissed off because the beauty and tranquility was so rudely interrupted by these two talkative Thai tranquility torturers talking in a tongue that was totally transgressive to the transcendent nature of our tiny little boat tour! Hmmm. I get a little carried away sometimes.
Anyway, we made it back in the late afternoon, had a quick dip in the river and then a shower and headed over to the restaurant for a refreshments and a nice evening listening to great tunes in the bar and then some really excellent Thai food to end a great day.
We left our second and final full day open to wander three nature trails in the area and then made our way to a little town/village nearby for a pizza lunch. We loaded up on some Lays potato chips to snack on in the bar later on and sweated our way back to our place for a well deserved dip and rinse in our local swimming hole which unfortunately wasn’t to be as the local council had authorized some river bank remediation and it just so happened to start at the swimming hole. We were so lucky to have been able to experience the swimming earlier. I went to check it out and the whole area had been dredged up by a huge front end loader and was rendered un-swimmable. We had received an email the day before alerting us to this but we had no idea where it would be taking place and believe me, we would not have been happy if we had arrived a day or two later. I wandered up and down the riverbank near our bungalow to see if I could find a spot for a dip but no luck. The water wasn’t flowing very fast and was definitely not inviting so we hung around our deck for a while and then made our way to the restaurant for some cool refreshments and Lays potato chips.
Joyce and I had showered but Kristina and Lucy hadn’t so they wandered back to the shack with the last bag of chips to have a shower and then, a barrage of frantic texts! “Monkeys!”. “They stole our chips!”. “We’re trapped!” This was the best news we had heard so far. There actually are monkeys in the area! Fantastic! So of course Joyce and I made a bee line back to rescue the girls from this impending threat. The pesky little beasts were everywhere, swinging from trees, running all over our roof and having a great time while Kristina and Lucy peered cautiously from their slightly ajar door. We assured them there was no threat, they are more afraid of us as long as we don’t act aggressive towards them so we went down our stairs into the forest and hung out watching probably 20-30 monkeys doing what monkeys do, monkeying around. We stood within inches to feet from them and Lucy was in heaven and we were so happy they made an appearance. It made the day and the stay. Before long, as quickly as they showed up, they disappeared but did make one final wake up call the next morning by running back and forth over our roof at 5:30 am. A very nice way to end a really fantastic and different start to our 15 days with Kristina and Lucy.
Some final pics from our jungle retreat.
Ahhh…the beach, the sun and the sand. We finally arrived after a 2 hour drive from Khao Sok National Park and a 2 hour fast ferry from Surat Thani and little did we know the Russians have invaded this place. More on our experience with Russian travelers (and others) to follow. They are not nice people. Well, all the ones we’ve been around so far anywhere we’ve travelled but we’re sure there must be a couple of good apples amongst them so I’ll just leave it at that since they are not alone among a few select citizens of a few select countries who have no manners and treat the locals like s..t.
Sorry (so typically Canadian) but I’ve been meaning to add a post at some point, which is now, about the lack of common decency and friendliness that seems to exist in this world. Maybe Joyce and I are just too friendly but I’m confident this is why we have never experienced any negative situations among the myriad of people we have met from all walks of life from many parts of the world. We treat any and all people equally. We were brought up that way. No one person is better than the other regardless of your stature, wealthy or poor and your status in your community. These days it seems everyone has a giant chip on their shoulders. No one smiles and being the happy smiley people we are it bugs the hell out of us that everyone else seems to have a giant stick shoved up their bums. I just don’t understand it. So, here’s the question I want to ask anyone who reads this blog. Why are people so rude to the locals, their hosts in their country? Why don’t people smile more often? Why do foreigners treat the people in the country they are visiting like they are idiots? Why does everyone expect the locals to speak English (or Russian or German or French) when 99% of the time the local’s English is a hell of a lot better than what the tourist can say in their language? Why don’t people (foreigners) acknowledge each other with a nod or a smile when walking alone down an empty beach or street? Worse yet, why don’t foreigners stop to say hello and chat with the locals or at least smile and say hello? Is everyone so preoccupied with their “selfie moments” that they don’t have two seconds to acknowledge and appreciate what is going on around them? I feel very sorry for these people because they miss the whole idea about travel. But here’s the thing that we have learned. There are “Travellers” and there are “Tourists”. The tourists suck the life out of their destinations while the travellers revel in the culture, people and food that a country has to offer. I think a traveller treats the locals with respect while it seems to us the tourists don’t really give a damn. Maybe I’m a bit harsh but it sure seems that way and please understand this isn’t the case with many of the visitors but it is so glaringly obvious so often that I had to say something. Thoughts please.
Time sure flies, it seemed liked yesterday we met Kristina and Lucy at the airport in Bangkok and so much has transpired since then. The jungle house was a definite highlight but the remaining 12 days we spent together were just as fun and exciting.
We arrived at our resort, Thai House Beach Resort at around 2:30 pm on the 21st and were treated to a Beach Villa upgrade x 2 for two nights so the resort could get us our Deluxe Family rooms adjoining each other two days later. We were hesitant at first. We didn’t want to unpack and re-pack but it worked out nicely and ultimately our rooms had a nice distant sea view and some breeze. It has been very hot here. 30+ C and 37 C with the humidity so the breeze was a saviour when sitting outside on our balconies. We spent 12 great days together with mostly beach and pool time but a few other extracurricular activities thrown in to breakup the non stop paradise beach and sea that surrounded us. It was such a chore, wandering down to the restaurant for breakfast, lathering on the sunscreen and then lazing on the beach or at the pool loungers watching the waves while we cooked under the tropical sun. So exhausting that after enduring this extreme relaxation we would hit one of the many bars for a few cool ones, alcoholic and non while Lucy kicked our butts at the free pool tables. This became a bit of a ritual and we had a good laugh when we asked Lucy what she wanted to do tonight and her reply was “ let’s go to the bar and play pool”!
Our first foray from our resort was by car. We rented a car, forgot what kind and we headed out to visit Big Buddha, Mae Nam beach and some waterfalls. Big Buddha is/was a revered site and I had the neat perspective of being on this exact spot 30 years ago. My how things have changed. The statue is located about 3 km from shore and is connected by a narrow causeway. When I was last here, at the end of the causeway was the “Big Buddha”, standing alone and looking quite stoic. Now access to this amazing statue is shrouded in small kitsch shops selling everything their neighbour sells and it has turned into a circus of sorts but this is tourism.
Most temple sites have signs telling you to “remove” your shoes before entering the temple areas. The sign we saw said ”Don’t remove your shoes between 9-5:00 pm”. This sign left several people confused including us so we took our shoes/sandals off and climbed the stairs to meet the Big Buddha. In all of our past experiences when visiting a temple, shrine etc., I guess except for a church, you take your shoes off. A simple act of respect.
Next stop was Mae Nam Beach which was not that easy to find. It’s very clear on the tourist map but the roads aren’t exactly easy to follow but we did figure it out and Lucy, Kristina and me (I?) had a dip, dried off and then continued on to, well, we weren’t quite sure what to do next so we drove on with the idea of visiting one of several waterfalls on the Island. We just weren’t quite sure which one would be best and, considering it was the dry season, which one would be worth visiting. I mean, where does the water come from if there isn’t serious rain? Long story short, we stopped at I think, Tar Nim Waterfall but to be honest, it could have been Wang Sao Thong waterfall but regardless, we were met by a couple of guys and for only 100 Baht each we could get a ride to what might have been a trickle instead of a fall of gushing fresh water and hiking to the falls was about 1 km and it was way too hot to entertain that idea so, we headed back to our resort. It was a great day and the evening was spent loosing pool games to Lucy (sharp-eye) Roberts at the local bar.
The next two or three days were spent basically doing nothing except of course eating, sunning, swimming, eating, playing in the waves with the gals, relaxing, drinking, eating and then sleeping. And repeat.
After a few days it was time to do another little adventure so we booked tickets on a speedboat and headed out with several other people, most of who were really not that friendly and spent the day exploring the islands of the Mu Ko Ang Thong National Park. The boat was great and even heading back to KS in fairly rough seas the ride was smooth although a little wet for some. The marine reserve hosts many idyllic beaches and coves but to explore the actual marine environment we only had about one hour of snorkelling in sub prime conditions. There was some nice coral although I have to say I am alarmed at the changes I’ve seen from my first trip to this part of the world 30 years ago but there were lots of fish and I think Lucy really enjoyed it. We departed on the next leg of our cruise which unfortunately didn’t include any more snorkelling. The island scenery was beautiful, we stopped at a fishing village for a lunch that lasted way too long and then hung out at a couple of very beautiful beaches. The area is truly stunning but I will save my final evaluation of the condition of Thailand’s beaches for a little later. It was a really fun boat trip back to KS through some great waves. Lucy slept most of the time and I can relate. When I fly, if there is turbulence, it lulls me to sleep.
The Big Buddha, Mae Nam Beach and the marine park were our only extracurricular activities. The rest of our time was spent doing the relaxing thing. Breakfast, beach, some beach walking and pool time, lunch beach side with some great chicken satay, beer in the late afternoon, and then hit the bar so Lucy could kick our butts at pool before finally heading off for dinner. All was not completely slow motion. We explored the Sunday night market, were entertained by a beach side fire show and had our share of long sunny days and cool evening breezes.
April 2nd arrived in the blink of an eye and we bid the ladies farewell and then spent a couple more days before our departure on the 5th.