Thursday, 30 May 2013

Railey & Phuket

Took a flight to a province of Krabi, which I think took it's name from the Russian word - Crabi, which mean crabs, since there are many many of them on the beach making various patterns with sand while they're trying to dig out their hole homes.
Took a shuttle bus from the airport to the pier, man it was going slow. It was dropping off and picking up everybody and everything on the way, and I started to get just a little bit stressed out. It took nearly 2 hours to reach the pier and we arrived 5 minutes before the last boat to Railey beach. We had 10 days on the beaches and wanted to do some island hopping. I told my mom to bring as little luggage as possible. Too bad "little" is a very relative term, and with 5 pieces of luggage which we had to carry in the water to the boat, from the boat through waste deep water to the beach, and from the beach to the pavement, we decided to spend all our time on Railey, and to take day trips out with just our beach bags.
We arrived at a very beautiful cliff enclosed beach with an amazing sunset on our way. It was almost getting dark. We asked for a way to the East beach, but got told to walk there on the sand which wasn't too comfortable. On the way there, we bumped into Russian tourists and just re-asked for directions, cause it was already quite dark, and we seemed to go completely into tree and mud covered trail. They asked us why did we decide to go to the East beach, the West beach is so much better. So we turned around, left our luggage and I run to all the hotels on the beach only to find out that they're either full or way too expensive. By that time it started to rain the famous tropical rain, where you can't even hear each other kind of rain. Even our luggage which was standing a meter inside a restaurant got completely soaked. We didn't know what to do, where go to, it's dark, there are no lights on the street, it's almost getting flooded and we're not in our best moods. We ate at a super expensive (Canadian prices) restaurant with a bad service to add to our disappointment.
At least the good thing is that mom got my life religion of not worrying or getting stressed, and this allowed us to deal with the situation calmly. I went and found the Russians in their resort. They were very happy to see me, and right away offered us to stay in one of their bungalows. The husband came to the restaurant to help us with the luggage. We stayed in 1 bungalow, and the 3 of them (a couple and woman's sister) slept on one bed in another bungalow.
Now, I know I'm writing a lot against Russians, but this is a major points plus plus plus ... it's the Russian hospitality! They didn't take any money and even invited us to a restaurant and brought rum for our friendship.
In the morning we went to the East beach that has a bunch of accommodations, all have space. We took one for $50 and it definitely was not worth it, it shouldn't be more than $20. The resort was very nice, below a cliff, with swimming pool and cute orange houses, but the rooms were plainer than plain. Food is overpriced everywhere, about 4 times the usual, the service and food are terrible and I'm in a cranky mood.
My mood got better though after I finally managed to catch up on my sleep. Mom was getting up, going to the beach before all the tourist boats came, and took amazing people-less and cloud-less pictures, while I was seeing all of that in my dreams :) Sometimes I would even wake up for breakfast, and head back to bed :)
I hiked up to the view point. LP says it's a hike, in reality it's a muddy climb using ropes. Up was pretty easy, just grab a rock and pull yourself up, but to go down, you look at this vertical wall and your heart starts to pump. The best way was to turn around, grab the rope and abseil down, which was very fun! and the view point was definitely worth it :) I looked at everyone who came back from the "hike", brown with mud head to toe, and made a very good decision of wearing my least favourite cloths for the adventure, and what a good decision that was, after a few washes already, they're still brown.
The whole week we pretty much spent on the 4 beaches, 1 we liked in particular, it has a small cave on one side which gave the beach it's amazing look, it has a penises cave, dedicated to some princess for luck, obviously it was made for good pictures :) We ate at the cheaper but still good boat restaurants, read, did beach massages, looked at monkeys stealing people's food, watched fire shows, and spent whole 5 minutes watching mui thai boxing where they were pretty much just hugging each other, so 5 minutes of male intimacy was more than I could handle. Saw a cave and went to another cheaper beach. There is a path that goes over a hill, and mom had a panic attack, apparently she doesn't like hills and a bunch of mosquitoes ... who knew?? I have to give it to her though, she was more that ready for all of my crazy ideas, riding a scooter for 10 hours a day in the rain, climbing waterfalls, rafting, walking over bridges (yes, it is a big deal!), caving - even though she doesn't like closed & dark spaces, and of course travelling without reservations, which is a big no no! Anyhow, we ended up going back, but later we crossed to the other beach at low tide. I couldn't believe it, the water went back more than 100 meters, maybe even 200! Railey is a world class rock climbing spot, so if anybody is a serious rock climber, I highly recommend going there, take your own gear though, as the rent is quite expensive. I climbed one wall on the beach, but it was an easy 5.6.
We took 2 tours of the nearby islands. On the first one we visited 4 islands, some are so dirty, I think they should be embarrassed to take tourists there. Did some snorkeling, saw a bunch of fish, but again, no corals, and the snorkel was terrible, I had to spit the water out every half a minute. Some islands were connected by sand with countless people walking between them, and I wondered whether jesus was born in Thailand? The trip was nice, gave us something to do, but still our beach is better. Railey beach is considered to be one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, seems silly to take tours of the nearby islands doesn't it?
Too another tour to the Phi Phi island, mainly to see the Maya lagoon where the movie "Beach" was shot. I'm sure you wouldn't recognize the lagoon if no one would tell you where you're at, cause in the movie maybe there are 40 people living in their community and in reality there are 400 tourists walking back and forth not giving any opportunity to take any pictures.
I think if you live on Phi Phi, you can somehow arrange to camp on Maya bay and see all the beauty before the hordes of tourist arrive, but we weren't so lucky.
On the way back a storm has started, they cut our snorkeling short, gave us life jackets, hid all our bags in a closet and I sat in the front getting a salt water shower. I was constantly looking at nearby islands to see which island would be the closest one to swim to if the boat would flip. This is a speed boat, and it can only go in calm waters, I don't even know how it didn't break in 2 jumping on these waves.
Last 3 days we spent on Phuket. Probably everyone who's heard of Thailand, heard of Phuket. My piece of advice about Phuket for everyone who wants to go there ... don't!! It's overcrowded, it's dirty, you can't see the beach from the amount of beach chairs on it, the water is too dirty, we didn't even go in. On every step you're offered to go to a ping pong show, and there are no bar except sex bars ... so if you're into sex tourism then definitely Bangkok, Pattaya and Phuket (Pattong) should be on your 3 cities to visit before you die list.
We rented a scooter to get out of Pattong, and scootered around nearby beaches. Most of them are pretty much like ours, long, wide, dirty and non-scenic, and we chose one of the furthest beaches - Kata Noi, which was smaller, cuter, with clean water, and nobody trying to sell you anything every second of your stay in there, though with huge waves which required a pretty advanced getting in and out technique.
Next day our escape from Pattong was a Siam Niramit show. It was super expensive ($50), but it included a free transport, a huge buffet from most of the world cuisines, a traditional village with people "living" the traditional ways of life, and a 2 hour long pre-show, which included dancing, elephant circus, Mui Thai boxing and a bunch of other stuff that we missed. The show itself was nice. Many people, many costumes, a river on stage, rain, thunder, elephants. It was showing the life of Thailand through thousands of years. It was nice, but nothing too exciting.
Next morning was exciting though when I woke up and our street has flooded. We had fun, but some scooters didn't. I hope the shops and scooters have flood insurance.
Last day before mom leaves, we went to a nice mall, did some last minute shopping, had Haagen Dazs ice cream and steak with red wine for dinner, packed up, went to sleep at 12. 4am wake up for mom, 6:30 wake up for me.

https://picasaweb.google.com/100036016632387453128/RaileyPhuket#

Sunday, 19 May 2013

1864 turns


At the train station in Chiang Mai, there were guys holding hotel pictures, we looked at 2 and chose one. They provided free transport, and we didn't have to stay there if we didn't like it. The hotel was good though, big room for $13 with swimming pool, nice reception area, friendly staff and 4 thick books filled with positive comments :)
There is a women's prison in Chiang Mai. Normally no one would want to hire people playing with the law, and most of them return to previous habits due to lack of other options. The director of the prison made a program for these women. They study Thai massage, and half a year before their release, they can already practice on live patients :) This massage by prisoners is very famous and we decided to try it out, of course to support a good cause, but we weren't the only kind hearted people, and the place was full :( We went for a walk, ended up in a very posh area of Chiang Mai where we shopped till we dropped (for me it doesn't take that long, as I hate shopping), and I bought myself 3 pieces of jewellry, compliments of my father who passed me the money for my birthday :)
Walked around the town, saw a temple where there were tons of monks praying, the kids were so bored, and I think they were happy for our presence and picture taking to distract them from monotone brain washing. Then we did a massage by women who exited prison already, best massage ever, they're really professional  the spa looks very nice, it costs less than a massage in other places and the money goes for a good cause, what else can be better? :)
Mom wanted to ride elephants, so we took a traditional Thai tour. We stopped at a village where they make local alcoholic drinks and knit scarves. The price of a 3 day hand knitted scarf is $4 before bargaining! Then we walked around traditional countryside of rice fields and small huts. I shot from the bow, and got 2 arrows very close to the center while the guys shot the trees around the target :) Saw some not very interesting waterfalls, then went on a bamboo rafting trip. Our drivers were so bad, I think they were drunk. They were just laughing when go swam through the trees or ended up on rocks. Once we even crashed on a waterfall. That's good that mom didn't understand the seriousness of the situation and actually had fun crashing and evacuating the raft :) Then was elephant riding, but I didn't like it as much as the time in India. There we sat on the back of the elephant, here we sat on a bench that was mounted on the back of the elephant. The trail also went up and down, and it was not comfortable to hang on. So much better when you can feel that massive animal moving below you and forming body to body connection, than doing a workout by trying to hang on to the bench in order not to fall off of it. We bought bananas to feed the elephant, and it was so cute, it would stop every minute and put it's trunk up to demand more bananas before it would start moving again :) I fed it one banana at a time to prolong the experience :) I'm sure it wasn't much fun for him though :)
Every day I'm not getting enough sleep, and I'm falling asleep since I open my eyes every morning, all day wishing for the night to come. Next week made the situation even worse. Poor mom agreed to my idea of doing a loop around Northern Thailand mountains on a scooter. The loop should've taken at least 10 days, preferably even 2 weeks, and since we didn't have that much time and mom wanted to see the famous Thailand beaches, we did it in one week, and man what a week that was! First day we rode for 130 kms which somehow took us 7 hours, though with breaks. The roads are in terrible conditions too, too many potholes and too many turns. This loop is also called the 1864 curves road. Turn after turn. A lot of times 180 degree turns done on a 45 degree inclinations. Sometimes it's so steep up that the scooter barely makes it, and I'm hoping that it would have enough energy to take us through the next turn without falling. "Sharp turn ahead!" ... wait a minute, if there'll be a sharp turn ahead, what was the turn that I just made now?? I'm making a right turn when in the middle of it there is already a sign for a left turn. "Use low gear", "Signal on corners" didn't make my mom happy, I'm not even talking about a bunch of bruises that somehow appeared on her legs. Oh, and did I forget to mention that it rained almost every day and we almost constantly arrived soaking wet. I put fuel in at every station even if I just refueled an hour ago, cause the fuel stations are never to be found. Always had a dilemma in the evening if to go faster and arrive while it's still light outside, or go slower, save fuel, and arrive after dark... if at all.
Arrived at Pai, which is a very cute little touristic town. I think everybody who's been in Pai fell in love in it. How can you not love a little cute town, right in the middle of mountains surrounded by traditional villages, beautiful landscape of rice fields, flowers, waterfalls and hot springs? In the town there was a market where they sell a bunch of stuff on the street, which is very typical of SE Asia, but too bad that almost everything they sell is identical to the next stall.
Next day scooter-ed around Pai, there are no signs, no directions, I have no idea if some streets are on the map or not. We climbed 2 waterfalls, sat at a very nice "Coffee in Love" cafe which sits right on the edge of a mountain overlooking a valley and mountains behind it. On the way to the 2nd waterfall, stopped at a "crack" cafe on the road. These people had a farm in that place until a few years earlier a crack has appeared in the earth and every year it's taking more and more of their farm land. So now they opened a restaurant where they serve yummy, fresh home made food by donation. We even tried yet another unknown fuit "Roselle" which I haven't seen sold neither at stores not on farmers markets.
Next day we went to a cave. If I was there alone, I'd stay in the region for 4 days maybe as it's rich with caves, and the hostel was way too nice. This cave wasn't that great though. The guides take you on a raft which they pull while walking in front of it. We saw some stalactite formations and 1000-2400 year old coffins with no mummies or other dead bodies :( No other activities for the day and we drove for our nightcap. Passed a village which I loved (mom hated). Very poor, no cars, no bikes, a bunch of children and chickens and an amazing view of the cloud covered valley. But it turned out not to be our village :( While I was searching for it, another tourist started driving beside us and told us to follow him. That's how we found our village which was very scenic too, but it sat in a valley instead of on the mountain. The guest house was very green and flowery and looked like it came out of a fairy tale  There were 2 guys there who stayed for over 2 weeks ... too bad we only had 1 night. 8pm, time to sleep! :) Driving takes a lot of energy to look after all the uphill turns, passing cars, directions, scenery and potholes.
Woke up at 7 to leave early, but as always left around 9 (hoteli kak lutshe, poluchilos' kak vsegda - a Russian saying which means that we wanted to do it better, but turned out to be the same). That day we stopped at a waterfall, just to give our butt some rest and then drove to a very nice Chinese village a few kms from Burma. It started raining and we hid in a tea shop. We haven't even noticed and were served different kinds of tea, dried fruits and nuts. This was the best tea I've ever had in my life, absolutely incomparable to anything else I tried before ... forget about Darjeeling, come to Thailand! It's without any additives, just pure leaves. I haven't seen it sold anywhere, I guess the production is not that big to hit the market. We ate in a restaurant where we ordered 3 dishes, and were served elephant size portions. Tea leaf salad, some soup, and a 3 flavour fish which was the best fish ever. It was big, and I ate it all :) We ate overlooking a picturous lake with village huts on the opposite side. Then we drove to a nearby lake, 6kms took forever on these up down, left right, barely paved road. I think it took me about half an hour to cover that distance. The lake was peaceful and beautiful, but we only had 20 minutes left, most of which was spent looking for a washroom :) I wish we had one day longer so that we could stay in the bangalows overlooking the lake. On the way back it was getting dark and rainy and the mountains turned different shades of grey and dark blue. Every day I try to get to our night cap town at 6, but it's much better by 5:15 because all the mosquitoes and small bugs start to come out and I have a very good protein filled dinner :) 5kms till the town and it started to rain hard. I got all soaked, not good because I have a limited supply of cloths. Mom - "I feel uncomfortable on the bike. First 20 minutes are ok, but then I can't fell my butt, after 20 minutes my legs, 20 more minutes my back. But when it starts raining and those drops feel like 1000s of needles piercing through my body then I understand that everything I felt before was heaven compared to how I feel right now."
In the morning we went to a long neck village. It was an interesting experience, but it's pretty much a touristy thing. They knit scarves and sell souvenirs and you even have to pay to enter the village which consists of this souvenir street. Some of women's necks are really long, but apparently it doesn't deform their necks, and they can take out the rings freely without any adverse effects. It was nice, but would've been much cooler if you'd walk in the middle of the jungle and suddenly bump into them :)
We have a long journey ahead of us. First day we barely covered 130 kms, now we have 160, and the long necks don't count. At least the first 70 kms I went really really fast cause it was a straight road, so I took advantage of it and we covered it in a bit over an hour. I'm surprised mom didn't say anything when I was going that fast, maybe she wanted to finish sooner as much as I did. We did another detour to see the sunflowers. They're not really sunflowers, just yellow flowers that we see constantly on the road, but there, there were many many of them covering the whole hill, with a beautiful view of the mountains in the distance. It started to rain, and we got soaked and cold :( Couldn't go fast, too many potholes, we were running out of gas again, and scooter started making weird noises, running over a huge pothole that somehow camouflaged itself didn't help at all. It was the first time in my life when I exercised emergency breaking and mom almost flew off the scooter. My back starts hurting and my left hand is numb from pressing the breaks so much. We didn't make it to our town, stopped at the guest house on the road pretty much dead. Happy birthday to me :) 1 extra day would've been perfect!
The whole night it's raining, hopefully it will stop in the morning. We ascended the highest mountain in Thailand 2654 meters. On the way there were signs to honk on the corners and mom immediately got scared. On our final day of scooting around, she finally admitted that she wasn't built for that kind of adventure :) Well, at least now, some months later, she still remembers our trip, so that was worth it! (Though I'm sure she thinks otherwise ... an extra week on the beach would've definitely worth more :)  )
On the top of the highest mountain was nothing special, and we didn't have time to go for nature trails. Also it was chilly, the clouds looked scary and there were no views. We drank coffee and drove away. When we got on the highway on the way back to Chiang Mai, the road signs showed 60 kms. It took 3 hours to cover it, much longer than on mountain roads. On approach to Chiang Mai there was so much traffic, 3 scooters in one lane, people driving with no rules, it was pretty scary playing these millimeter games and it was the first time during our trip when I actually started to feel nervous driving. In the city there is an old town 1x1 km where our hotel's at, and we got lost in it for an hour. The map sucks, it missed half of the street names, what's the point of the map then??? and I could've killed the person who invented it!
In the evening we finished our trip in a nice restaurant for my birthday.

https://picasaweb.google.com/100036016632387453128/1864Turns

Sunday, 5 May 2013

KanchanaburryBangkokPattayaAyuthayx


Took another bus to Kanchanabury, in total I've been on the road for 29 hours. In Canada the furthest I've been to is Quebec which is 9 hours away, and even then I thought it was a world away. I wonder where I can get to in Canada in 29 hours? In Kanchanabury I went to a very nice guest house, cheap, in a great location, with a very big and beautiful green flowery garden full of hammocks and lazy chairs overlooking a river. The staff wasn't friendly though and the restaurant staff didn't speak a word of English. Usually in these countries the menu is both in English and local language, so you point to want you want in English, and they read it in their language, but that means that there are no questions and no adjustments to be made. Why would they hire non English speaking staff in the most popular guesthouse which serves 100s of guests? While reading on the hammock I asked a girl if she's been to a national park, she said that she hasn't but asked another girl who asked another guy who she met on the bus, and so the 4 of us spent the next 4 days together. We went to a cool night market where we bought green, purple staffed gooey/slimy thingies, then rice with pork, shrimp, veggies for $.50, fruits, juices, indescribable desserts, all very yummy. I was worried that $2 wouldn't be enough, but I still had money left over and my stomach was exploding :)
The next day we rented bicycles and rode around the country side stopping at a war cemetery where instead of mourning the victims, we run under the water sprinklers to cool down, and then visited a cave. I love riding in countryside, it's beautiful, peaceful, & filled with friendly locals, thought not always very friendly dogs :)
In the evening we went to a small, family run restaurant which has the best and cheapest food. I understood that in Thailand "very little spicy, very very little, my spicy, not your kind of spicy" is about medium/hot in Canada, and "not spicy at all", is about as spicy as I would like it to be :)
In the morning we went to a national park. The bus would stop anywhere on the road to pick you up, and would drop you off right in front of the headoffice/tourist info/restaurant area. We wanted to camp, so we filled a form with which tent we want, do we want pillow, mattress, blanket, lantern, sleeping bag, mat, etc ... all priced very reasonably, for ex, pillow $.60. tent between $3-$7. The tents are set on a green spacious lawn on the river with a very nice gazebo. Everything is so easy!
I think the national park was created to protect a waterfall which runs through it. It's a long waterfall, between the 1st and 7th level it's 1.5kms meanwhile it falls and falls. There is some mineral in the water which makes it very blue and covers the rocks in some yellowish plaque which is non slippery and is perfect for climbing :) All would be great if it wasn't for the 1000s of Russians who came here for the day trip. One guy had a label on him that said "Group 255"! As always they're yelling and very condescending towards each other. If my bf would've talked to me the way they did to each other, at the first try he wouldn't be my bf. Shouldn't relationships exist for love and support and not for yelling and putting each other down?
Woke up sick :( One of the reasons why we stayed overnight in the park is to be able to enjoy the waterfall in the morning before the arrival of the tour groups. It was hard enough for me to get to the restaurant and I just slept while waiting for their return. I ordered mixed veggies with extra garlic, had my natural medicine, did reiki a few times and the next morning woke up practically healthy :) I still could sneeze 10 times a minute, and go through the whole pack of cleanexes in a day, but energy was up and nothing hurt.
In the morning I took a bus back to Bangkok, but it was half an hour late, and took an hour longer, and I was late to pick up mom in the airport who came to visit me in Thailand for 3 weeks. I love Bangkok, there isn't much to do in terms of grand sight seeing, but it's a very live and bustling city that you have to feel more than see it, unfortunately mom didn't feel anything, didn't appreciate the local culture, cuisine, colorful markets ... too bad :( I planned to spend 3 days in Bangkok, but I think even 1 would be too much, so I need to alter the plans. 1st evening we walked around the malls, and next day we saw major sights, which again were the Royal Palace and the big Buddha. It was Sunday and there were way too many people and practically impossible to take any pictures. We then took a boat trip through canals where the locals live. Most of the houses are in bad condition rotting from the water and humidity, and some of them are so tilted that I was scared for its residences' safety.
When we got out of the boat to go to the palace I asked one local in which direction is it, he pointed me in the direction but said that it only opens at 12pm (it was only 8:30 at that time), I gave him a look so he'll understand what I'm thinking of him and walked off. I hate lairs, hate them, hate them, hate them! Thank god for Lonely Planet that lists prices, directions and times, otherwise I don't know how many times I would've fallen for these scams. That scam in particular would go something like that:
"oh, it opens at 12? what are we gonna do for these 3 hours?"
"no problem miss, you can take a tuk-tuk from me for cheap cheap! I'll show you around"
which would involve the famous gem scam of Bangkok, in which you go to a store, and they tell you very low prices for the gems and would persuade you to buy a lot of them and to sell them to their partner in your city of origin and make A LOT of money! They would show you pictures of happy clients, addresses in your country/city, prices for which these gems go for, and at the end you would end up with very shiny, worthless glass thingies, with non existent clients in Canada, and this store would close its location and would move to the next one in less than a week.
The rule of thumb is while travelling if you don't have lonely planet or other source of useful info is to not to trust anyone who tells you that it's closed, it moved, it's full, or someone who is dressed nice and speaks very good English! Always check for yourself!
It was too hot and we decided to spend the afternoon in our air con-ed room. We took 4 taxies in one day and it's always a problem to find someone who will turn the meter on, but some drivers answer in a manner as in "of course I'll put the meter on, is there any other way??!!". We went to a very famous Pad Thai place which supposed to have the best Pad Thai in all of Bangkok. LP says "The Pad Thai you have on Khao San road is not the real thing". I don't know. This place serves only Pad Thai, it's full to it's capacity, but I didn't notice any difference. The thing that was very good in there is the freshly squeezed orange juice in a bottle, on it there is a label "consume within 24 hours". Best orange juice ever, what Tropicana advertises 100% orange juice, I don't know where they found oranges like that to make such a shitty juice.
Too many places to see in such a short period of time, and I'm sleep deprived again. Mom doesn't like Bangkok, and so we went for a day trip to Pattaya. At the bus station there was a real estate office, mom was curious so we went in. The apartments are tiny, some start at 240 sqft. This one building which we saw won the best development in Thailand award, but I didn't like it much. The building felt soul-less, and had some unfinished touches. I wouldn't want to live there. It's for rent, not for living, but the agent said that there isn't much appreciation happening, so what's the point?
We went to the best and cleanest beach in Pattaya, it had so many Russian tourists, the beach wasn't clean, and the water didn't look inviting. We wanted to go to a nearby island, but we arrived a bit late. Pattaya is known for the Russians and for the sex tourism, I wonder how many percent both of these are combined? I wonder what all the tourists doing there? If I had a week vacation, I would not choose Pattaya, even though most restaurants and store owners know more Russian than English. We ate Russian food, cutlets with mashed potatoes and cold soup for lunch and dumplings with sour cream and borsh with rye bread for dinner. It's pretty good, but still not the same as in Russia, or even Toronto :)
Damn taxis want to charge too much (I guess used to the Russian money), and we walked 3 kms to the center. There are so many restaurants, souvenir shops, bars, everything is either Russian or Indian or red. We wanted to go to a transvestite show - very popular in Pattaya, and went to talk to the agent. While talking to her a group approached, so rude it's incredible, and the agent didn't seem too eager to sell anyway. Her answers were "I don't know, everyone has their own taste, I like it, you might not like it, how can I tell you?"
We bought tickets to the Alcazar show - very famous transvestite show in Thailand. Thank god the show only lasted 1 hour because I was so bored, I even started to look through pictures on my camera. Everything was same same same same. There was a song playing, someone was lip-singing it and the rest were "dancing". You cannot really call it dancing, just some unimaginative moves. They were all out of sync, they couldn't move, I guess the only criteria to be on stage is to be a transvestite. The costumes and decorations were amazing though, but that's about it. They finished with a cheerful and energetic Russian song, and everyone left happy. Some "girls" are so pretty, with a very good boob job, but still if you look close enough you could see that they're men. Especially how they're acting. They're over exaggerating women's moves, no woman in her right mind would walk or talk or dress like that.
In the morning the taxi driver took us in the circle till the train station. We went hell knows where to get on a highway (extra charge), only to finish where we started. I told him that he's taking us around in circles, he said no madam, I'm a taxi driver 10 years, I know the way. - Yeah, you know the longest way to take tourists on! When I gave him the money, I told him to be ashamed of himself. I hope he understood it!
Went to Ayuthaya again, had to show mom the ancient city. We have big cities, party cities, old cities, mountains and beaches on the itinerary, and 3 weeks to see it all. We rented a scooter and scootered around the town. First temple we went to, I didn't go to the first time around cause back then I rented a bicycle and it was too far to bike to, but for scooter it was a short ride away. The only temple that I didn't see last time was also my favourite with many sitting Buddhas around the perimeter :) Then we went to 2 more temples which I already seen and then we found somehow a big reclining Buddha. Like in Bangkok but from sand stone. The city is big, there is a highway running through it, there is a lot of traffic, I don't like driving like that and mom feels nervous. We didn't do much this day, but we're super tired. It's good that we left early for the train station, cause on foot it's a 5 minute walk, and a ferry across the river, but on the scooter it's a long way around across the bridge. I drove on the road next to the river, but the bridge started way before the river, to get on it I had to drive in the opposite direction, do a U-turn, cross the bridge, and do a U turn again, because the road to the station was under the bridge. As they say, so close, yet so far away, we run into the station 10 minutes before the departure.
The train was super cool. It had wide seats facing each other that at night convert into beds. The assistance assemble it, put mattresses, sheets, pillows, blankets, constantly walk back and forth looking if people need help. Everything was good, except that I kept waking up every hour for no reason at all.

https://picasaweb.google.com/100036016632387453128/KanchanaburryBangkokPattayaAyuthaya

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Kampot


First off, a few sections from LP which I couldn't fit in properly beforehand:

Landmines - Cambodia is a country scarred by years of conflict and some of the deepest scars lie just inches beneath the surface. The legacy of landmines in Cambodia is one of the worst anywhere in the world, with an estimated four to six million dotted about the countryside. Landmines are not just weapons of war, but weapons against peace, as they recognize no ceasefire. Although the conflict ended more than a decade ago, Cambodia's civil war is still claiming new victims: civilians who have stepped on a mine or been injured by unexploded ordnance. The first massive use of mines came in the mid 1980s, when Vietnamese forces (using forced local labour) constructed a 700km long minefield along the entire Cambodian-Thai border. After the Vietnamese withdrawal, more mines were laid by the Cambodian government to prevent towns, villages, military positions, bridges, border crossing and supply routes from being overrun, and by Kmer Rouge forces to protect areas they still held. Lots more government mines were laid in the mid 1990s in offensive against Khmer Rouge positions. Today, Cambodia has one of the world's worst land mine problems and the highest number of amputees per capita of any country, more than 40,000 Cambodians have lost limbs due to mines and other military explosives. Despite extensive mine risk education campaigns, an average of about 15 Cambodians are injure or killed every month. This is a vast improvement on the mid 1990s when the monthly figure was more like 300, but it's still wartime carngae in a country officially at peace. To make matters more complicated, areas that seem safe in the dry season can become dangerous in the wet season as the earth softens. It's not uncommon for Cambodian farmers to settle on land during the dry season  only to have their dreams of a new life shattered a few months later when a family member has a leg blown off. A number of groups are working to clean mines. Between 1992 and 2008, 820,000 antipersonnel mines, 20,000 antitank mines and 1.77 million UXOs were removed from 486 sq km, but another 4000 sq km still need to be cleared. When travelling in the more remote parts of provinces, you're likely to see de-mining teams in action. Some sage advice about mines: In remote areas, never leave well-trodden paths. Never touch anything that looks remotely like a mine or munition. If you find yourself accidentally in a mined area, retrace your steps only if you can clearly see your footprints. If not, stay where you are and call for help - as advisory groups put it, "better to spend a day stuck in a minefield than a lifetime as an amputee". If someone is injured in a minefield, do not rush in to assist even if they are crying out for help - find someone who knows how to safely enter a mined area. Do not leave the roadside in remote areas, even for the call of nature. Your limbs are more important than your modesty. In 1997 more than 100 countries signed a treaty banning the production, stockpiling, sale and use of landmines under any circumstances. However  the worlds' major producers refused to sign, including China, Russian and the USA.

The politics of disaster relief - The Cambodian famine became a new front in the Cold War, as Washington and Moscow jostled for influence from afar. As hundreds of thousands of Cambodians fled to Thailand, a massive international famine relief effort, sponsored by the UN was launched. The international community wanted to deliver aid across a land bridge at Poipet, while the new Vietnamese backed Phnom Penh government wanted all supplies to come through the capital via Sihanoukville or the Mekong River. Both sides had their reasons - the new government did not want aid to fall into the hands of its Khmer Rouge enemies, while the international community didn't believe the new government had the infrastructure to distribute the aid - and both fears were right. Some agencies distributed aid the slow way through Phnom Penh, and others set up camps in Thailand  The camps became a magnet for half of Cambodia, as many Khmers still feared the return of the Khmer Rouge or were seeking a new life overseas. The Thai military convinced the international community to distribute all aid through their channels and used this as a cloak to rebuild the shattered Khmer Rouge forces as an effective resistance against the Vietnamese. Thailand demanded that as a condition for allowing international food aid for Cambodia to pass through its territory, food had to be supplied to the Khmer Rouge forces encamped in the Thai border region as well. Along with weaponry supplied by China, this international assistance was essential in enabling the Khmer Rouge to rebuild its military strength and fight on for another two decades.

We're on the road to nowhere - Taking a ride on a tuk-tuk is not as easy as it looks. Drivers who loiter around guesthouses, hotels, restaurants and bars may speak streetwise English and know the city well, but elsewhere the knowledge and understanding required to get you to your destination dries up fast. Flag one down on the street or grab one from outside the market and you could end up pretty much anywhere in the city. You name your destination, and they nod confidently, eager for the extra money a foreigner may bring, but not having the first clue of where you want to go. They start driving or pedaling furiously down the road and wait your instructions. You don't give them any instruction, as you think they know where they are going. Before you realise it, you are halfway to Sihanoukville or Siem Reap.


Dinner time came and I didn't feel like eating alone. I passed a restaurant where a guy was sitting by himself, and a guy with a suit, alright! not a backpacker! I remembered Cassidy's comment back in Bangkok when she said that if I like a guy who sits by himself in a restaurant and I have nothing to grab onto, I should just approach the table and ask him if it's ok for me to join him. What guy would say "no" to a girl?? And that's exactly what I did. It's not that I liked him, I just didn't want to eat by myself. I sat at the table, he looked at me and asked me "Who are you?" :)) Then his friends came and for 2 hours we had a nice dinner though he was always very skeptical of the true reason of my presence :) They all work for the UN, and talked about work a lot. I didn't mind as it was different to a backpacker talk of "How long are you travelling for? Where have you been?". Although I still don't understand, why if you work together for 8 hours a day, do you have to talk about work after work?? After finding out that I'm a programmer, one of them asked me if I had all the money in the world what kind of software I'll create. I thought about it for a bit and said that I'll build a chip or something that you put in the ear and it will translate whatever somebody says to you to your language of choice. He told me that he thought of exactly the same idea. I guess people who travel share the same mindset :)
Went to the south of Cambodia again (don't ask me why) :) passing through beautiful Laos like scenery, a bunch of green rice fields, small bamboo huts, cows and mountains in the background. It's sunny and beautiful and when I arrived, I was jumping through puddles. What's going on? Apparently I just missed one of the biggest storms in ages. It rained like crazy for 2 hours, huge trees feel down, hotels got flooded, and I missed it??? Aaawwwww :((((
In the evening while walking around, I looking into one restaurant and couldn't decide if I want to eat there or not. A guy sitting on the terrace asked me if I'm looking for something and if I need help. I looked at him and said no, and that he looks very familiar. He said that I look familiar too. After some game of "clue" we remembered that he was the guy who gave me a ride in Tat Lo in South of Laos 3 months ago, when I forgot my swimming suit. Cool huh? :)
Signed up for a tour of Bokor national park without knowing anything about it. I love surprises! Sometimes I feel very bad that I have to read LP to see where I want to go, it ruins the experience a little. I wish that at times I'll just be taken to places without knowing what's there. But the tour was actually quite boring ... maybe it's good that I read the lonely planet after all :) We saw some old church and a temple and a building, all in decaying state, but with cool orange moss. The scenery was beautiful, but it's just as beautiful on the bus. Then we went to a waterfall where we spent 3 hours relaxing, and then had a sunset tour ... boooooring!! There was one Russian couple on the boat and again they don't speak any English. Time and time again I see that people are travelling from all over the world, and the only 2 nations who don't speak English, or very little of it, are Russians and French. Both of these nations are quite arrogant, so it doesn't come as a surprise. "Why do we have to learn English? Maybe it's the world who should study French!" I'm thinking what they're thinking.
Took a tour of the countryside on a motorcycle. The road is red, and in most cases not paved. I had sunglasses all through the trip, even when it wasn't sunny. When I got back, the patches around the eyes were white, and the rest of the face was red :) We ate at a local restaurant. My driver said it was beef soup. It was a beef soup, but it didn't have any beef meat that I'm accustomed to. It had intestines, tongue  liver, blood jelly, but it looks worse than it tastes :) I asked the driver if he's even been to Angkor wat, and he said no, that it's expensive. We started calculating: 2 buses there and back, a guest house, food. All together it would cost $30. He said that he doesn't have that kind of money, and that he can't save it because if he doesn't work a day, he spends the money that he saved the day before.
Next day I rented a bike on my own and went to another town for the famous crab market. Man, the roads are in bed condition! Time and time again I find myself in a red dust cloud from passing tracks. The crabs were ok. I ordered a large portion thinking that the crab would be bigger, but it was just more crabs with green peppercorns. If it wasn't for rice and the shake, I think I'd still be hungry. Then I Went to the cave. The kids wanted to look after my bike, I said no, then they said that I need a guide, I said no, nevertheless 3 of them followed me into the cave. They were all under 12 and had excellent English. It turned out to be good that they went with me, because we crawled through very narrow paths with their flashlight, where I would never have went by myself. It was slippery  it was pitch black dark, it was dirty, narrow, there were jumps, it was great! :)
In the morning when I went to eat, my stomach started grumbling and hurting wishing for food. I applied the "talking to myself" principle again and told it that I'm looking for a restaurant now and that I'll eat in 10 minutes, so relax, and in exact same second, I felt how the pain went away. Yeeippi !! Weird stuff is fun! :)
Took a 4 hour bus back to Phnom Phen - for the 4th time I'm back in Phnom Phen!! There I bought a night bus ticket to Bangkok. It's a 17 hour sitting bus, well that's gonna be fun! I went to my favourite blue pumpkin and waited there for 4 hours relaxing on the bed with hot chocolate and blueberry cheesecake. The bus was so small, I kept bumping into my neighbour who was a local guy, and certain poses were certainly not comfortable. It's 12 am and the music on the TV is just getting louder and louder. All the video clips are pretty much the same of lost love and usually involve a guy cheating on a girl and then she's all in tears. I look around the bus and everyone is sleeping or trying to sleep. When my neighbour opened his eyes, I told him to go tell the driver to turn the TV off. He was sitting there with his hand in his mouth thinking it over. Why are people so afraid? Of what? Why did nobody go to the driver beforehand? Why tolerate things when just opening your mouth can solve most of the problems? I don't understand!
The bus stopped at the border. One guy almost yells at the driver "The ticket says Bangkok, this is not Bangkok!!", all shaking, and scratching himself. "You have to cross the border sir!" the driver said. Why are people so afraid? What's the point of being nervous and stressed out? It doesn't serve any purpose at all. You just follow the crowd, people will always direct you the right way. If you won't be able to find the bus and it will leave without you, maximum you'll get another bus, and at the end lose $5, what's the big deal?

https://picasaweb.google.com/100036016632387453128/Kampot



Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Siem Reap


The center of Siem Reap looks a lot like Khao San road. Very nice and cheap restaurants competing with each other. One offers free traditional dancing show, another one offers free movie with each meal, every one has happy hour. In massage places $2/half an hour they offer free beer/wine/soft drink. Bicycle rentals, $1/day with free map and water. How do they make any money? I went to the restaurant with a free show. After 1st dance about 3 couples left, after 2nd dance about half of the people left. I stayed for the 3rd dance. It's very beautiful art form with exaggerated hand movements. Every movement is emphasized,  the curve, the finger positions, but the bodies barely move, and oh my god it's so boring. I just read in a book about Cambodia some years ago that women should walk quietly, barely be noticeable,  no talk, be agreeable. How boring is that? These dances represented that. All soft and slow and elegant, and my head is falling into my salad :)
Couldn't fall asleep. The room stunk of dust and cigarette smoke. I put a towel on the pillow, but that didn't help. At 11:30 I woke up and went to the reception to change the room. They showed me 3 more rooms, but they were all the same :( Somehow I fell asleep, but then in the morning I couldn't wake up because the room didn't have a window. Penny was supposed to come that day and changing guesthouses would be a bit problematic. I saw one more room in the morning, and magically it had a window and it didn't stink :) Perfect! :)
There is this amazing ice cream place is Siem Reap - the blue pumpkin.  It's smooth, with a bunch of exotic flavours, plus upstairs is an air conditioned lounge with beds to lie on :) We went in, and I asked for 1 scoop with 2 flavours. They didn't allow it. I told them that I won't buy anything and they'll be losing business if that's the case. They still said no. I didn't get anything :( But we left 2 comments about possibilities and professionalism. I know in Canada they don't allow for it either. What's up with that?? Then we went for a massage. It was very nice. First good massage since Bangkok for $4/hour. Penny as a bonus got a breast massage from her male masseuse :) At the end they said "tip for me". I wanted to leave them $1 each, but ended up leaving $1 for both of them. We told them that it's very rude to ask for a tip!
Woke up at 4:30am to see the temples from the Angkor period. These are considered to be the best temples in the world, and Angkor Wat is the largest Buddhist religious complex in the world. It appears on the flag of Cambodia and is the symbol of national pride. Angkor Wat was built first as a temple to a king, and later to be served as a musoleum. It's was build to represent mount Meru, home of the divas in Hindu mythology.  The temple was build in the 12 century and was dedicated to Vishnu - preserver of the universe.
(LP) The Cambodian "god-kings" of old each strove to better their ancestors in size, scale and symmetry, culminating in the world's largest religious building, Angkor Wat.
Angkor is one of the world's foremost ancient sites, with the epic proportions of the Great Wall of China, the detail and intricacy of the Taj Mahal and the symbolism and symmetry of the pyramids, all rolled into one. The hundreds of temples surviving today are but the sacred skeleton of the vast political, religious and social center of Cambodia's ancient Khmer empire, a city that, at its zenith, boasted a population of one million when London was a small town of 50,000. The houses, public buildings and palaces of Angkor were constructed of wood - now long decayed - because the right to dwell in structures of brick or stone was reserved for the gods.
The god-kings of Angkor were dedicated builders. Each king was expected to dedicate a temple to his patron god, most commonly Shiva or Vishnu. Then there were the ancestors, including mother, father, and grandparents (both maternal and paternal), which meant another half a dozen temples or more. Finally there was the mausoleum or king's temple, intended to deify the monarch and project his power, and each of these had to be bigger and better than one's predecessor.  This accounts for the staggering architectural productivity of the Khmers at this time and the epic evolution of temple architecture.
Even though it's so grand, with a huge bass relief, I wasn't too impressed. The most well known temple in the world and I feel disappointed. We arrived at sun rise to watch the colors of the sky change above the temple along with hundreds of tourists, so the pictures are nice. We went into the temple itself before the sunrise finished to be able to get some people-less pictures. Next we saw some small falling apart temple, and that we liked much more. The huge stones are covered in moss, and there I felt like Indiana Johns exploring the unknown. What a cool surprise it was to run into a huge spider! I called some other tourists and we took turns in having brave waves and got our cameras closer to the spider. We put the camera lid near it for perspective, but it still didn't look big, so I put my hand next to it slowly and I'm not breathing while I move it closer and closer. I have a huge fear of spiders and this task took quite a lot beats of my heart :)
The whole day we're running around, climbing stairs, temples, dancing, jumping, from sunrise till sunset, and the whole day Penny is singing a song: "today i feel like not doing anything, just want to stay in my bed" ... not a very appropriate song for the day :)
Next was the jungle temple which was awesome! These temples were forgotten for 100s of years, and the surrounding jungle incorporated them in it's scenery. There are large trees growing on the top of the temples, the roots are now not only supporting the trees but also the buildings. We got so excited and took many junglie pictures that our tuk-tuk driver got worried that we got lost :) We were climbing some temples and jumping on the rocks. I think in Canada there would be a very heavy fine for that activity. While I was posing and dancing on the rocks, Penny wasn't the only one taking pictures, many passer-by-iers stopped to snap a few shots, people might've thought it was professional as Penny was throwing her comments: come on girl, show me what you got, are you feeling it, I want to see it in your eyes! :) We took 365 pictures :) The other 3 temples were ok. They're not very significant, but I also liked them because no one is going there, and we can get lost and explore at our own will. We saved the best for the last - the Bayon temple. There are 216 faces namely of the king himself looking at you from all directions. Some say it is to signify to the people that king is always watching them, and they can't hide anything from him. When we got in the tuk-tuk to go there, our driver informed us that we have half an hour to see it. What?? I told him no, that we'll be done when we'll be done. He said that we started early, and that in the last temple he told us to go faster and he saw me walking slowly, we start early so we finish early. He argued more and more, and I didn't have the patience for that. Even now when I write it, I feel the heat. I told him that we started early and we paid him extra for it. We signed up for an additional tour, and paid him more for it. I was walking slowly cause I'm sightseeing and I'll take as much time as I want to take. We paid him $27 for the day which is an outrageous amount of money for Cambodia with an average income of $2/day, and he dares to complain?? He should be happy that we took him as our driver! I told him that we'll finish when we'll see everything there is to see, and that it's not negotiable! When we got there, it was the most beautiful temple, and I was in a bad mood. It took me about 40 minutes to convince myself to get out of it, but by that time we've already left to see other things. In the temple the monkey got to my mango, again, I saw it coming and put the mango and pineapple bags on the ground. Thank god it left the pineapple alone :) This temple is where the "Tomb Raider" was shot, I guess now I have to see that movie :)
Next day we took bicycles for rent. We decided to go back to the temples because the roads are green, shaded and quiet. They stopped us on the way there, told us that we need to get a ticket. But we don't want to go inside the temples we tell them, we just want to cycle on the roads. No, it's impossible they tell us. GRR! & there are so many cars on the road. I asked them why aren't they stopping these cars? Because they're locals! That just doesn't make sense, I showed him on the map where we want to cycle to, and then showed him a ticket from yesterday. I guess he believed us at let us through. Next stop we weren't so lucky, but I still tried to persuade him. "It's a public road" I tell him, I don't even understand why Penny stopped. We turned around, and I told Penny not to look at these people, pretend as though they don't exist. This strategy works very well with almost anything where you want to pass something without being stopped :) We turned around, and ended up in a very beautiful countryside where kids as well as adults were yelling "heeellooooo" to us. I stayed a bit behind, and when I caught up to Penny she was talking with a tuk-tuk guy. No I don't need a tuk-tuk she tells him. He tells her that she is tired. Is he talking to the ever energized Penny that I know?? "Do I look tired?" she asks him. I hold myself very hard not to say "In other words, what she's trying to say is: are you an idiot???". Those people have no brains. I don't understand these tuk-tuk guys. There could be 10 of them standing together. You can say "no" to the first one, and the other 9 will still ask you! They spend their days endlessly waiting for clients, sleeping in their tuk-tuks and otherwise not communicating much. Why won't they grab a book and read, or learn a new language, learn history so maybe they could become guides and earn more money? Maybe that's why they're the tuk-tuk drivers.
Another victory of talking to yourself - Penny said that her mind is racing, she has too many thoughts and often can't fall asleep, that's why she always listens to techno/electronic music when she falls asleep to calm her mind. I told her about my monk story (btw, I'm sleeping great after that), and that she should talk to herself, she did, and she fell asleep :)
Back at the blue pumpkin  I found the manager, I approached him, and asked him why it's impossible to have 2 flavours in one scoop? He smiled at me and said that it's possible! Yeeeeihhhhaaaa! Too bad though that we already had ice cream and I just ordered a salad :)
Had a dinner at the local place. It was so cheap and so good. I had noodles with veggies and seafood for $1.25 that you have to wonder what's the point of all the overpriced Western restaurants, of course the next day I missed pizza and enjoyed it in a quite posh Italian trattoria with a glass of white wine :) Had to hold myself from ordering a tiramisu ... that's what the Western restaurants are for :)
We went hunting for cute guys, but couldn't find any, instead we found annoying tuk-tuk drivers who in the tuk-tuk position with hunching back and hands on the imaginary wheel were running around us in circles with their right hand rotating as in giving more gas and offering us tuk-tuk, marijuana and LSD.
I had long island ice tea for our good bye drink, waited for 2 am till Penny's pick up came, and couldn't fall asleep till the rest of night. I always forget how sensitive I am to caffeine and that I shouldn't drink coffee or coke after 3 pm. I couldn't fall asleep on the bus either, even though I was outstretched on the whole back row :(
Back in Phnom Phen, I need to pick up my passport from the Thai embassy. I tell the tuk-tuk driver that I need to go to the embassy and then a guest house. He tells me $8. I tell him $4. Ok, he says, $6 is the last price. I tell him $4. He says that the king died, and the area is closed, and that he has to go all the way around and ... I interrupt him ... yes, I understand, I give you 4 dollars! (which is too much anyway). They talk between themselves. Ok! The pick up time in the embassy was between 3-4pm. I get there at 3:20, there are people waiting and the counter is empty. My suitcase is in the tuk-tuk because I thought it would be half a minute to pick it up. The time goes by, I'm pacing back and forth, occasionally looking out the window to see if he's still there. An HOUR later, the agent unceremoniously comes out, takes his time to sort the passports and without looking at you takes the slip and hands you the passport. The guy in front of me didn't get the visa, and I started to feel nervous. I didn't have any documents which were required for it, but I got it, Yeeii :) We went to the guesthouse, the driver took my suitcase out of the tuk-tuk and didn't say a word, he didn't even mention that he had to wait for me for an hour. I gave him $6 and thanked him very much for waiting. He didn't have enough words to express his happiness :) "Where are you from?" he asked me ... from Canada I smiled at him :)
I've been sitting in the blue pumpkin for a while now waiting for my bus having a yummy blueberry cheesecake and writing this blog. I'm looking around and I see a lot of couples who come together and barely say a word to each other. They look around, through the window, looking everywhere except at the other person. There would be moments where they'll have a fake smile and be back to being bored. Why do people do it? They should either fix the relationship, find something that they both can be passionate about, or break up, or at least that what I would do. Life is too precious to share it with someone who you don't connect with.

https://picasaweb.google.com/100036016632387453128/SiemReap