It’s been soooo long that I’m backtracking a few months to pick up where I left off. At least for my own sake of remembering everything, I don’t want to skip it 🙂
Our next three weeks in Thailand flew by! Next after Krabi was Chiang Mai and Pai in the north. Chiang Mai was one of the few cities we spent time in that I thought I would enjoy living in for a season. It was also a city of “firsts” for me. It is quite developed and has a bit of a western vibe to it because of all the clean streets, cute coffee houses, and western restaurant options. It was fun just to walk the city and stop at whatever looked interesting. On our first day that included two coffee shops and both Levi and my first authentic Thai Massage. We were standing outside of a more official looking spa checking out the service list, and an older white couple walked by and told us it was, “FABULOUS!” I have had quite a few massages before and a few of them were in the Philippines, so I was used to the difference in professionalism and personal space boundaries lol. Levi had never had any sort of massage before though so he was adamant about only getting a back massage. Thai massage is a combination of assisted stretching and massage, so the therapist will put you in a stretched position and then massage the muscle while it is being stretched. Afterward I felt awesome, but there was definitely some not so pleasant moments during it…
We also got to do a “Monk Chat” while in Chaing Mai. At some of the Buddhist temples you can sit and talk with one of the monks to help them practice their English. We had an interesting chat and learned quite a bit about Buddhism and the 200 something rules that monks must follow compared to the five that lay-Buddhists follow. At the table next to us was a giant, bald, 40-year old white guy, with tattoos all up his arms. Our monk said that he was English and had become a monk at this temple seven years ago after visiting on a vacation and loving it so much.
Renting motor scooters for a day in each city had become a bit routine, so Levi and I each rented our own bike and spent the day driving around, going to a mountain top temple, the “Grand Canyon Chaing Mai”, and seeing a bit of the country side. One of my main highlights in the city was going to a legit Muay Thai fight. I’m not quite sure why I enjoyed it so much, but I loved every minute. There were nine fights, with some that went the full five rounds and some that actually ended with a knock out.
After three days, we got on a bus for the few hour trip to Pai. One of the first things that comes up if you Google “Chiang Mai to Pai” is the fact that there are 217 turns on the way up to Pai. This was definitely not lost on the poor Korean girl who had to get out of the van to puke twice. We had booked our stay at a hostel a bit out of town that sounded like a hippie commune 😉 They advertised for free morning yoga, homemade Kombucha, an herbal sauna, and peace and quiet to meditate in. We got off the bus and walked up the dirt road for 20 minutes with our packs only to get there and find out that the older, American guy that owned the hostel had recently started using Booking.com and didn’t know how to manage it yet, so he didn’t actually have any room for us… We got lucky though, because he let us sit in the back up his pickup and drove us back into town. Being the weekend, the only place we found within our budget was a room made out of plywood, with a concrete bathroom, and a bed on the floor that was the hardest I’ve ever felt in my life. Levi was on his side of the bed when I took a flying leap onto mine, and he felt nothing.
The beauty of Pai for me was the food 😛 Kombucha, wheat grass shots, vegetarian burgers and cheesecake, delicious coffee, and vegetables everywhere! Eating was one of the most exciting parts of my day. They also had a fun night market with a good variety of stuff. We took motorbikes out for a day and got away from the tourists into some of the local villages, went to some natural hot springs, and got to feed an elephant sugar cane. Neither Levi or I thought it was worth the money to do the half day with the elephants, and there is so much floating around now about which places are cruel to the elephants and which treat them well, so we just stayed away from it.
While in Pai I decided to go to a training session at a local Muay Thai gym. The few things I learned are that 1) I am super out of shape now, 2) Jump roping is over rated, and 3) I think I could really get into martial arts as a form of fitness. One of the neatest things is that three of the fighters from the fight in Chiang Mai trained at this gym. The one that had the best fight of the night was out because of an injured leg, and he also had a split lip and massive black eye. There was several backpackers that were staying in Pai for one month or several to do twice a day trainings at the gym and really learn some Muay Thai skills.
We had almost a week between leaving Pai and needing to be down in Bangkok, and honestly, the places we spent time in that week were a bit boring. We saw some really scenic temple ruins, but there were really only two funny things to remember…. One of the worst “taxi” rides ever when we got off the bus in Ayutthaya and had to get from the bamboo hut of a bus stop to our hostel 10kms away in town. The only option was the back of a motorcycle with no helmet and my 20kg backpack on my back. It took all of my core and inner thigh muscles to stay upright on the bike, especially every time we came to a stop and accelerated again… I thought I was going to fall off the back! The second was when we went to the night market for dinner a day or two later and with a stroke of luck ended up running across a Thai body building contest. I’ve seen a few body building contests before and knew that the spray tans and body oil were a bit exaggerated, but it is even more funny on a person that is already tan and gets sprayed orange but doesn’t put on any face makeup, so there is a solid, defined orange line around the middle of their neck. Some of the guys were actually impressively buff, but the others didn’t really have the physic that lends itself to success in bodybuilding……
I was just ready to get to Bangkok because we would be meeting up with two of my friends from New Zealand, Clem and Marion. Levi and I had two days in the city before they would get there, so we did the typical tourist sightseeing. I think I would need to spend more time in Bangkok with someone that knows the city before I could appreciate it. One our first night there we stumbled into the Red Light district while wandering around for dinner. Kinky massages places, guys trying to get us to buy tickets for the “Ping Pong show” (don’t look it up), and bars like I’ve seen on Walking Street was enough to ruin my night and give me a bad first impression of the capital of Thailand. In general, it was too hectic and busy for me to really enjoy it…. Luckily we met up with Clem and Marion and went straight to the island of Koh Si Chang which isn’t too touristy to begin with, but combined with it being low season and the middle of the week we were the only whities on the island 🙂
We stayed at probably the nicest place we stayed on our whole trip. It was an aircon bungalow with two big beds, a completed bathroom and a flush toilet, towels provided, and a delicious pancake and egg breakfast included every morning. Our hosts were fabulous and joined our evening routine of attempting to play poker and drinking beer.
Since our Thai visas only had a few days left, we had decided to spend Christmas in Cambodia instead of renewing them. I had done so much research on a good place to be for Christmas that they all ran together and nothing really sounded good anymore, so my expectations for our choice on Otres Beach was pretty low. We found a new hostel a five minute walk off the beach, so it was a bit cheaper and was far enough away from all the beach parties to be quiet at night. The other thing I had researched a lot was the border crossing from Thailand to Cambodia. It was an all day trip from Bangkok that required transferring busses three times, a nerve wracking hour when our passports were taken from us at “immigration” until they were given back by an old lady who had no uniform at all, and the unknown of what transport options we had once we actually crossed the border.
Several blogs call the crossing we took “Scambodia” because most likely you will get ripped off at least once while crossing, and since the police are corrupt and usually the offenders, there is not much to do about it. I had read that the $30 visa price would most likely get jacked up if we waited to get our visas until the border, so we had gotten them sorted out in Bangkok to avoid that. As soon as we got out of the van we got approached my men asking where we were going to try to sell us bus packages or convince us that a taxi was worth the extra cost. For a tip, another guy took our passports and visas and shoved us through to the front of the approval line. We ended up taking the taxi for a few more dollars at his suggestion (secret suggestion though because he didn’t want to get on anyone’s bad side), but I still wonder if his advice wasn’t so much for our benefit as the “taxi” driver was his buddy and he wanted him to get the money. Our taxi ended up being just a regular car driven by a regular looking, Cambodian dude, and Levi sat shotgun while I shared the back seat with an older Russian guy and a young Cambodian girl who was definitely being trafficked. She seemed as though she knew him though and had spent enough time with him to be comfortable. He said he lived in Cambodia and the two of them had just gone on vacation together…. When we stopped for gas and the driver was out of the car, the Russian guy asked how much we had paid, and we had definitely paid more than them. He said because he had her with him they give him a lower price, and that our driver was most likely part of the mafia. Hmmmmm………
But we made it the two hour drive to where we were staying, and were immediately happy with the choice 🙂 Our dorm room at BOHO was much bigger than any other dorm we’ve stayed in and since it was new, and owned by Europeans, the bathroom was beautiful lol. Of course, we spent one day on the scooter driving all over the place, but most of the time was spent chilling at our hostel or on the beach. The beach in Otres was beautiful and the trees that covered a good chunk of it were unique. Our hostel served really good food and there was an authentic Thai restaurant just down the road.
For Christmas Eve we went to the Saturday Otres Market which was not at all what I was expecting. Instead of the normal night markets throughout Thailand which locals selling food from street carts and people selling random stuff, this one offered food from all over the world, made by people from those countries who had been living there. I ate a burrito made by Spanish speaking Latinos, drank homemade Kombucha served by a 50 year old, American hippie, and had delicious cheesecake baked by some other white girl. There was live music, lights everywhere, and a lot of alcohol. Levi wasn’t feeling the hottest, so we didn’t stay too late, and made it back to our hostel in time for the rooftop showing of Home Alone.
Christmas Day was sunny and we planned to spend it on the beach 😀 On the way to the beach was a woman with a smoothie cart who I got something from almost every day that week. I got my smoothie and went to lay out. There was Cambodian families everywhere on the beach having picnics which was fun. I was sitting with my Adult Coloring Book (sounds like such an oxymoron lol) when this whole group of kids came over to see what I was doing. They were out on the beach collecting plastic bottles to sell for a bit of change. They got really excited about the book and my markers, and sat and colored for quite a while. So cute!
So, it was a great Christmas in Cambodia. We had one more week before our visas for Vietnam opened, so we kept going east and stopped in Kampot for our second week in Cambodia. Our hostel, Karma Traders, was also perfect and we ended up sharing our quad dorm with a super cool American couple (hey, Teague and Sofia :). We actually had a good, little group at the hostel to spend the week and New Years with. Of course, we rented bikes for the whole week and went out to the several caves in the area, and at one of the caves hired these three super young little girls – I think they were 7, 5, and 3 – to lead us into the cave through the tunnels which was really cute. They kept pointing out different rock formations that looked like animals, and I’m guessing those few animal names was the only English they spoke 🙂
For New Year’s Eve we decided on a plan that was a bit more low key than the main party in town, since we could all guess how that would end… So, we went to the Rusty Keyhole which boasts the best BBQ in Kampot, Cambodia. What a statement 😉 After a half rack of ribs and some beer, we wandered home on foot and stopped at Khmer New Years “festival” in town and played a few fun, fair-type games and watched a few Cambodian entertainers wearing hot pants sing pop songs. Sofia had a hankering for Bailey’s which I totally hopped on board with, so after winning a bottle of Super Whiskey (the most watery whiskey I’ve ever tasted) by knocking over some stacked aluminum cans with a ball, we went back to the roof top loungey area at our hostel and enjoyed one of the most delicious drinks on the planet. I had just watched the movie “New Year’s Eve” the day before which has the ball drop in NYC as a main part of the story. At the moment, it sounded like the best idea ever to me to recreate our own ball drop by throwing a coconut of the roof. 3… 2… 1… SPLAT! HAPPY NEW YEAR!!! And 2017 was here!
A few days later we headed out for Vietnam since our visas were officially open! The boarder crossing leaving Cambodia was much more low key than coming in and we made it to our homestay in the Mekong Delta without hassle. I’d been really excited to go to the Mekong Delta, a vast maze of rivers, swamps, and islands which has developed it’s own method of commerce through floating markets. Early in the morning, everyone goes out on their boats (a lot of the sellers live on their boat as well), to buy and sell for the day. It’s quite the experience! The first boat that pulled up beside us and threw over a rope was an older lady selling Vietnamese coffee. Next we pulled up by a giant house boat loaded down with pineapple and watermelon and got one of each for 40,000 Vietnamese Dong or $2.
We spent three days in the Delta and then made our way to the largest city in Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City. Surprise, surprise for Levi (apparently, he had seen some of our messages when he was using my phone so he wasn’t actually that surprised) Andie, his fiancé, came out to travel with us over her Spring break, which was fabulous! After spending our two days in Ho Chi Min touring the tunnels the Vietnamese lived and fought out of during the war and visiting the Memorial Museum which really doesn’t make you proud to be American, we headed to Dalat, the mountains of Vietnam, and spent a few days in the cool at a guesthouse that served family style breakfast and dinner for all of us guests. I personally found Vietnamese food pretty boring and not terribly delicious, so this was the best I found to represent the country.
The rest of Vietnam was pretty empty for me because I came down with Dengue Fever and Typhoid at the same time which completely wiped me out and put me in bed sleeping alllllllll day for about 10 days. I first started to notice my exhaustion on our bus trip North out of Dalat. Our 6 hour trip on a sleeper bus (totally reclined the whole time) turned into 10 when the only route was blocked by a land slide…. When we finally reached our hotel at 1am I thought I was just stressed and tired from the unlucky trip, but the next day I napped for six hours and did the same every day for pretty much a week. In Hanoi I went to the clinic and got diagnosed and put on three days of IV antibiotics. While I recovered, Andie headed back home and Levi and I prepared for our last week in Vietnam and our last week of travel together. We were both tired of moving around every few days, so we decided to spend our whole last week in Halong Bay, another place beautiful enough for people to dub it the 8th Wonder of the World.
A week of relaxing by the ocean, drinking coffee and eating lots of Vietnamese pancakes, doing quite a bit of job searching for back home, and playing pool and cards was a great way to end our trip. We both agreed it had been fabulous, but it was a good time to wind down because we were getting tired of that style of travel. I was really looking forward to being in the same bed and using the same bathroom for over a week. We also hadn’t cooked a single meal for ourselves on the entire three month trip, since none of the accommodation offered cooking facilities…. We were lucky for a hot water dispenser to make instant noodles!
On January 30th, I headed back to Angeles City, Philippines and Levi went home to get set up to marry his future wifey 🙂 It was such a whirlwind of a trip and I’m so glad to have done it with my brother. Love you, Levi!
I went back to the Philippines for six more weeks and want to do a separate, probably more emotionally charged post on what that looked like…. Currently, I am back in New Zealand working at the same winery as last year for Harvest 2017. BUT I will be home in May, TWO months away, and I am also so looking forward to that 🙂 See ya all soon!