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Tag Archives: Thailand

Bangers to Goldie

Santiago Pinotepa Nacional Chinese Visa, originally uploaded by Mister Wind-Up Bird.

In a few hours, we will be departing Bangkok for Australia, arriving four months to the day from our wedding. Our Chinese visas remain unstamped in our passports. Nepal and India remain unvisited. But as the cliche goes, they’ll still be there for our next trip.

Our journey across Asia started as a bit of a passport-stamp collecting exercise. As a kid, I stared at maps and atlases imagining what was there. Years before starting this trip, I got a poster-sized map of Asia and told myself that after I finished the PhD, I’d go see it all, even if I had to go it alone.

Then some things happened. I didn’t have to go it alone. Instead, I got married, to a supercool chick who was not only willing to follow me far outside her comfort zone, but who was nearly as excited about it all as I was. The post-PhD trip turned into a combined post-PhD trip and honeymoon as we travelled through Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Burma and Laos. Traveling together has taught us a lot about each other and provided plenty of bonding experiences. Not to mention anecdotes we can annoy our friends with by repeating ad nauseum for years to come.

So even though our Asian adventures ended a mere 40km from the Chinese border, and no, I didn’t get to try the Vang Vieng “space pizza”, ride an elephant or go trekking in the Himalayas, it’s hard to be too disappointed. What Janelle and I gained is on a whole other level from collecting photos and passport stamps, even if we will jump at the chance to show off our Republic of the Union of Myanmar visas.

And you know, we did get to see and do some pretty awesome shit.

(Anyway, I’ve got a journal full of notes and a couple of memory cards worth of photos to go through when we get to Aus/Canada, so rest assured, you haven’t heard the last of our trip just yet.)

Soi Bar in Chiang Mai

Soi Bar in Chiang Mai, originally uploaded by Mister Wind-Up Bird.

Ah, Chiang Mai. I’m not even sure how many days we’ve been here, but it’s been a while. We’d been talking about finding a place to hang out and relax for a while, and it seems we’ve found it. The old city at the heart of Chiang Mai is full of temples and surrounded by the remnants of the old city walls and moat. The eastern section of the old city doubles as the tourist quarter, and this is where we have spent most of our time. It’s run through with leafy lanes, called sois (pronounced ‘soys’) meandering between guesthouses, coffee shops, bars and restaurants. ‘Walking the sois’ has actually become a favourite pastime of ours, as they often provide a surprise. Such as the cute cocktail bar set up by a local family, with two tiny flower-painted tables and a few teak chairs atop a metre-wide wooden deck in front of their home. Or being startled by the otherworldly screech of a lone goose patrolling another home’s front yard, neck outstretched, wings spread (we think it actually is a ‘guard goose’—for reals!). The sois have become a real form of cheap entertainment for us. An ancient Buddhist temple seems to exist on every corner, and saffron-robed monks rub elbows with tourists at the night markets. It’s nothing like the noise, speed and intensity of Bangkok.

It’s been nice to stop and catch our breath, read a book or two, play some scrabble, and get to know a place. We have favorite restaurants (Prego, and the noodle soup stand by Wawee Coffee), coffee shops (MoRooms) and bars (UN Irish Pub) that we return to. In fact, we’ve become regulars at the UN, thanks to Canucks games on delay and Thursday night trivia. Not to mention the inexpensive Sang Som sets: a bottle of Thai rum, two frosty old-school bottles of coke and a bucket of ice, all for about $8. Just don’t drink the whole thing before the first round of trivia.

It hasn’t been perfect, though. Food poisoning finally got us. Well, one of us. A street food dinner at the night market took Janelle out for a couple of unhappy days and nights. For those keeping track at home, Janelle has, since we started traveling, had a root canal, been dragged behind a motorcycle by thieves, subsequently re-injured her arm ziplining, and now, the food poisoning. I, on the other hand, got a sore tummy from eating too much fruit, but I’ll be okay.

Aside from that, though, it’s been pretty good. We got our Chinese visas this morning, and spent the afternoon sketching out the route we’ll take to get there, hopping through towns in northeast Thailand and northern Laos en route to Yunnan province.

Ziplining for the Brave Coward

get ready to drop, originally uploaded by Mister Wind-Up Bird.

After a few days in Bangkok watching bad movies, knocking back happy hour drinks and swimming in a hotel pool mostly used by sunbathing Russian prostitutes, we decided our injuries were healed enough to take a train north to the pleasantly touristed city of Chiang Mai.

One thing you need to know about Chiang Mai: the town itself is very pleasant, but there’s not a huge amount to see or do except look at wats (temples) and eat. After eating my own weight in Laotian baguettes avec fromage, I’m on a diet. And we’re all done looking at wats.

So all the signs advertising the ziplining park an hour out of town start to catch your eye. Tiny wooden platforms high in the treetops. Emerald-green foliage. Shrieking tourists in harnesses and banana yellow helmets frozen photogenically in the air. The posters are all over the leafy lanes and narrow side streets of the old city. Beckoning from every guest house and travel agency. How can you resist a come-on like that? You can’t.

And so, we found ourselves with a group of assorted Europeans in little yellow helmets of our own, crowded onto a tiny treetop platform. We wait our turn to be clamped onto the line, peer 20m down to the forest floor, grab onto the harness strap with white-knuckle dedication… and…

1… 2… 3… JUMP!

A falling sensation, then acceleration forward along the line, sailing through a tunnel of leafy branches, and you’re on the next platform. After the first couple of ziplines the fear pretty much evaporated and I enjoyed the experience quite a bit.

Janelle did not. On one of the early ziplines, she was convinced that she heard something rip inside the harness. At that point, it became a lot more… well, I’ll just let Janelle report in her own words:

When Eric says ‘convinced’, it sounds like it didn’t really happen—that I imagined it. I can assure you, fans, it HAPPENED. Definite sound of stitches ripping in the 2cm-wide piece of webbed fabric that was the only thing holding my not insubstantial frame from plummeting to earth. It was the good-natured ‘bouncing’ of the line by the guides that did it. Thinking they were giving us a bigger thrill and all that. Well, on the downbeat, I hear ‘the sound’ and it resulted in me screaming and grabbing for the line (Rule 2 of ziplining: “don’t grab the line”).

So for all of Eric’s ‘sailing through the trees’ bullshit—can I just add that I found the experience terrifying from that point on? I spent the rest of the day with my hands tight on my harness praying for a happy outcome.

Ahem. That’s what she said.

I should also say, our two guides and I all took a good look at the harness and whatever the sound was, everything was intact. But it’s still the kind of thing that captures your imagination in a bad, bad way. Like me, with amusement park accidents. Sure, the odds are in your favour, but really, should you be rolling those dice? Apparently, yes.

The rest of the expedition involved a few variations of ziplining, including a couple of vertical drops and one terrifying combination of bungee/zipline which more than one of my zipliners-in-arms had to be ‘coaxed’ into starting. Not me, though. I just thought to myself, “well, if I am to die here, so be it” and launched myself, arms and legs spread like a chubby little starfish.

I don’t know if the experiences we’ve had in our Asian travels have made me braver, or just more jaded about my own mortality, but things like this seem to phase me a lot less. Maybe next time I go to the Gold Coast I’ll be able to ride The Giant Drop at Dreamworld.

Or maybe not. That thing is freaking horrifying. I’ve had nightmares.

Breakfast On The River Kwai

Breakfast On The River Kwai, originally uploaded by Mister Wind-Up Bird.

Kanchanaburi is the kind of place you could plan to visit for a couple of days and end up staying a couple of weeks.  About two hours from Bangkok by bus, but a world away in terms of pace, it’s a town whose tourism industry is built on, of all things, the infamous bridge on the River Kwai.  Of course, there are other things to do, as well, including sitting on a bamboo patio drinking coffee while reading the Lonely Planet Cambodia and watching the river go by.  Also, cooking classes.  We took an all-day Thai cooking class and learned how to make spicy pork salad, tom yum and green curry, as well as the theory of Thai cuisine.  Definitely a day well-spent.  We are well-equipped to be the heroes of the next pot-luck we are invited to.

It would be fun to stay two weeks, but Janelle has more dental work back in Bangkok (more!) to squeeze in before our visas run out.  We’re making a dash for the Cambodian border on Friday.  

The border itself, we hear, is a mad, lawless, Mos Eisley kind of place without the charm.  But that’s for another blog post.