Thailand 2007

Bangkok Travel Blog

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Thailand

 

Having worked solidly for about 10 months doing an incredibly boring job - at a Prison!! I decided to stop and do a bit of travel, before I regretted wasting my gap year and before my brain died. As I’d never done anything like this before, decided that travelling in an organisation would be the best thing. Looked at various Gap year sites and destinations and finally found one that sounded good, was fairly cheap and was exotic. Thailand!

The organisation was RealGap.

The trip highlights included, a weekend in Bangkok, temple visits as well as a night in a Buddhist monastery, Dinner Cruise on the Chow Prya, a day at the zoo and a trip to an Elephant Sanctuary! There were several options in terms of what you could do and how long you could stay but I booked to go for a month and to do the teaching option. However nothing was too set in stone; I could upgrade to do the trekking and to go for a further month, while on the trip, if I decided I needed more time travelling or would enjoy the trekking more.

Part of the reason I’d started getting anxious about my Gap year was due to climates. I knew that tropical countries tend to have a rainy season in what I normally call summer so I wanted to go before they started. I wanted to get a cultural experience out of this but I also wanted a tan.

In Thailand the best time to go is November to February; this is the cool dry period of their climate, where the humidity drops below 90%.

This is followed by the hot season, March till mid May, and from then on it’s the rainy season. Being April at the time, I chose May. At least I’d get some sun, I thought.

About two weeks until departure I received an email from the company, with a huge list of emails of all the people going. There were a hell of a lot but at least I would now be able to get to know some of them. And quite a few had Facebook, so that job was made all the more easier. Through the use of this I was able to chat and look at pictures of some of the people I’d be living with for the next month.

There was Sam, a beautiful Jewish girl from London, Katie, who could have won an Anne Hathaway look-alike competition and Rachel and Rosie from Bristol, who’d be teaching with me. There was Drusilla and Arrabella who had gone to Sherborne School and knew an old friend of mine, James and Claire who’d be on the same flight as me and the wonderfully named Coco Fennell.

We got to know what everyone would be doing, and how long they’d be going for and we were able to share travel tips. One of the most strikingly obvious things I become aware of, was the number of girls on the trip, and not only that, the number of good looking girls.

 

This, for many reasons, was going to be the best thing that I’d ever done!

 


 

Thursday ��" On My Way

 

A journey of 100 miles must start with a single step”

 

I didn’t sleep very much in the night; couldn’t stop thinking about Thailand!! I’d heard so much about it, read articles, spoken to people who’d been, I’d even “googled” pictures of the beaches and temples out there.

It was crazy to think that tomorrow afternoon I would be thousands of miles from home. I couldn’t wait!

 

I completely finished packing as soon as I got up and was amazed I got everything in my room into just two bags.

Said goodbye to mum, she was going to be working all day. It was another new job; she’d only just started this week, so she couldn’t take the day off unfortunately. Breakfast therefore would be the last time I’d see her for over a month.

My flight was with “Eva air” an airliner from Taiwan; the aviation arm of a large shipping company, apparently.

My flight left at 9:30 in the evening from Heathrow. So I had the whole day but as I was fairly nervous, being the first time I’d ever really travelled on my own, I wanted to get to Heathrow as soon as I could.

Dad kindly volunteered to drive me there leaving the house at 3.30, which turned out to be more than enough time. The roads, well the M25 in particular was much better than we thought it was going to be considering it was rush hour. It was a nice sunny day and it felt good to be on my way. Got into Heathrow, and navigating the construction work made our way to check in. There was no queue, must have been one of the first there. Got checked in fine but being slightly green forgot to ask for an aisle seat!! Dam it!!

Said goodbye to Dad there and it started to dawn on me the length of time and distance I was going to be away from home.

Saw all the terrorist notices on my way up the stairs; crazy to think how travel has changed in recent years.

No Liquids, aerosols, and none of the obvious stuff, although toothpaste was now allowed again, but you couldn’t have anything with over 50cl so I had to throw away some sun tan cream.

Had some excitement going through passport control; my bag got stopped by the X-ray machines. A busy looking assistant pulled me aside and told me to open it. I began to empty it as instructed becoming increasingly paranoid about what it was they didn’t like; my spare change of clothing, my travel documents and then finally my Ipod charger. I assume the wires looked dodgy but they were happy for me to keep it!

So I found myself in the departure lounge with about 3 hours to go. This was going to be fun!!

Explored the Duty free area for a bit, did some people watching, looked at the restaurants for some dinner but I didn’t feel like anything too much so just got myself a sandwich and newspaper in the newsagents. Found a spot in front of the departures board and sat down to eat, and after flicking through the paper I made a start with the book Dad had recommended, “Restless”. As I was just getting into it I got a text from James!

Turns out he’d been around for a while too. It was nice to finally meet in person somebody on the trip. And although it can be a little scary meeting someone for the first time, we chatted as if we’d known each other for years. He’d literally only just booked it this week, so he was even more apprehensive than I was. Soon after that we were joined by Rosie and Claire. “The Crew” was formed.

Claire and James were both doing the trekking; Rosie and I were going to be doing the teachin. As teachers we’d been told to bring stuff along for the kids and for this Rosie had brought Operation, which she was desperately trying to figure out how to play.

At last the gate number was put up. Turned out I wouldn’t be travelling on the same flight as the three unfortunately; they would be going with Thai airways; one of the three I’d looked at but rejected being the most expensive. They left and arrived within 10 minutes of each other. Mine was less because it was a flight to Taipei, Bangkok was the stopover. So I would be on my own!

Left them in the departure lounge looking for batteries for Rosie’s Operation and made my way to the gate. According to the Departures Board boarding had already started so I thought I better quicken the pace a little.

It turned out to be a fair distance from the Duty Free area, had to use several of those travelator things and ended up getting pissed off by people standing on them, blocking the way. The idea is you walk on them. Lazy fuckers!!

Got to my gate, triple checked I was at the right one and joined the end of the queue.

Looking around was interesting to see my fellow passengers; there were Thais and Taiwanese, young couples some with children, some without, old retiring couples, lads’ holidays and fat old white men looking for Ladyboys and Thai brides….

 

Got on the plane was disgruntled to find my seat was in the middle of a row of three; the worst place!

Window seats are good because of the views, especially if it’s a clear day but aisle seats are the best. You have more leg room, more freedom and you can get up and take a walk or go to the toilet whenever you need to, which can be invaluable on a long haul such as this.

But No! I was stuck in the middle!! The window seater was already there reading his newspaper. He was an Oriental looking man probably going all the way to Taiwan. Didn’t chat to him very much, don’t think the conversation would have been too good or lasted long. I do know a little Chinese (or Mandarin I should say): Hello (pronounced Ne-haw), Thank you (Chi-chi-ni) and Happy New Year (Con-si-fachoi). Oh and I do know how to say “fuck your mother” (Chow-ni-niang) thanks to an AC Milan supporting Chinese exchange student we had at my School called Ken Cheung but that I didn’t think was appropriate so I just stuck to a Hello. He just gave a grunt in response and returned to his newspaper.

The man in the aisle seat when he showed up was slightly drunk, very pink, Ralph Lauren shirted man. He was in his late 50s early 60s at a guess and he was quite overweight - I noticed his watchstrap was on the last hole and looked stuck fast to his skin - He struggled to get into his seat, which was more than accommodating for the Taiwanese man and me. All in all quite a revolting fellow.

He was an accountant, worked in London, but being close to retirement he was able to make trips to Thailand for a few weeks every other month to see his Thai wife! It made me want to burst out laughing; I had to hold back a wicked grin from forming. But it was more the way in which he said it, as if he were almost looking for some kind of reassurance that got me. I actually felt quite sorry for him in a way, though not as much as I felt for the poor Thai girl.

The flight wasn’t that packed. There were spaces towards the back of the plane. I was so happy when the fat man said he was going to move!! I’d been thinking about it, though being kind of pinned it hadn’t been able to move. But my joy was short lived. He didn’t move, he just sat there. By the time he asked we were in the air and the stewardesses wouldn’t let him change seats. I’d be stuck next to him for 11 hours!!

They brought round some dinner, which I hand’t been expecting. Because I chose the veggie option mine was brought round earlier. It was not very nice, plane food rarely is, especially veggie plane food. Thing is I’m not a vegetarian, its just easier than explaining I’m allergic to Poultry and Shellfish. They’re weird allergies so people tend not to believe them. Thankfully on this trip, at the accommodation, we’d be eating only vegetarian meals, so I didn’t need to worry so much.

It was quite late now. We’d been delayed on the runway for about twenty minutes and we’d been flying for at least an hour, must have been close to 11pm. It had been a very long day!

Blew up my inflatable pillow and went to sleep.

 

Friday ��" Bangkok beckons

 

Didn’t get much sleep again; the fat man in the aisle seat kept farting. They were vile; thick and suffocating and lingered in the air around him. And at some point in the night a baby in the next compartment woke up; it truly is one of the most irritating sounds on the planet.

Had Breakfast and then made use of the entertainment provided; watched a couple of films before we arrived in Bangkok. It was 3pm local time and I saw on my monitor it said the outside temperature was 32 C!!! I couldn’t wait to get off the plane and into the sun!!

The International airport just outside Bangkok is fairly new. It’s a glass and Steel structure similar to what a mars space station might look like, I’ve been to a few airports but from the window it looked impressive. It actually hasn’t been officially opened by the King yet, there is still work going on.

 

Made my way through immigration with no problems; I’d had to fill out an immigration card on the plane and I hadn’t been sure whether I’d filled out correctly, but yet again I’d been worrying over nothing!

In my letter from RealGap I was told to meet at the ATTA office on the second floor. I had no clue what it stood for but RealGap assured me that was where I would find an air-conditioned taxi, waiting to take me to The Royal Hotel.

Although the Airport looked incredible from the outside, it wasn’t well designed on the inside so I spent ages looking for this office. Asked for directions form airport officials and Taxi drivers who kept sending me in the wrong direction

Finally found it and Rosie, James and Claire arrived minutes afterwards. We sat down in front of the large glass edifice and were told to wait. It was boiling hot and very sticky. There were taxi drivers everywhere… and we were constantly harassed by them; “do you need taxi”“cheap cheap”“anywhere for 200 baht”

I couldn’t wait to get into our air-conditioned taxi and to the Royal.

Soon we met Arun and Stuart, they were on the trip too.

Arun was doing the kickboxing option, which I hadn’t even realised had been an option. He was an Arsenal fan like James, and despite his poor choice in football teams, seemed nice.

From what I gathered he was friends with Stuart. Stuart was at the start of an 18 month gap trip, this was his first destination. He was talkative but that was nice. At that stage making conversation was still a little awkward, so it was nice to have someone to break the ice. He reminded me of an old teacher, or what an older brother might have been like.

We were taken outside to our taxi. It was the first time we’d been outside and it’s a huge cliché but we were hit by a bathing wave of heat.

We got in the taxi and were immediately relieved to have the cooling affects of the AC. We stank of travel but it didn’t matter too much, we were all just so glad to be here.

Made our way to the hotel, passing some great scenery on the way. I was so glad I’d decided to do this… it was exactly what I needed!!

 

Arrived at the Royal and got checked in straight away. Went up to my room, which was chilled and very spacious and unpacked a little. Got into my trunks and made my way to the pool, it was so nice to cool off at last!! Was joined by the rest of the Crew, Stuart and Arun.

After the swim, I made use of the shower and unpacked a bit more before meeting the other crew members and going for a short walk round the surrounding area. Just outside the Hotel there was a large park green. At one end were the glimmering lights of the Grand Palace. It was the anniversary of the Kings coronation the next day so there were decorations and lights in the trees. It looked spectacular! There were many stalls already setting up for night business in the depleting twilight. The food they were preparing looked and smelled delicious but I knew it was probably not such a good idea, so we admired it and made our way back to the hotel. We’d be meeting everybody else on the trip in the lobby at 8pm, it wasn’t long before then. We decided to go back to Rosie’s room and play cards and her Operation game for a bit, which I sucked at but it was good fun all the same.

At 8pm we made our way downstairs and discovered a lot of people were already there, seated in a circle. They all stopped talking and looked at us as we came down the stairs, it was fairly daunting!

But soon we were all chatting… I met almost everybody on the first night…

I was able to recognise a lot of people from their facebook profile pictures… Alex the singer/songwriter from Norwich was there as was Sam and Rachel who I’d spoken too online… Seamus was there eating a cheese and bacon toastie which looked delicious and Coco and Jodie were there being hit on by a very drunk Thai lady… I met Atheal, PJ, Holly, Harry and Saul, Katherine from Tanzania, Ryan, Alice and Anna. A few were arriving later so missed the first introduction but we’d see them all tomorrow so it didn’t matter too much! A lot of them were instantly likeable. To some relief, I knew I’d get on well with most of the people on the trip, although for the third week most people had decided to do the trekking, there were only a few of us doing the teaching and all but two were girls!

After a few beers at the heavily overpriced hotel bar we made our way as a group to Koh San Road.

It is a crazy place. Market stalls, street sellars, beggers, bars, tuk tuks, clubs and ladyboys; a Backpacker haven with people from all over the world, words don't, can't describe it, you have to see it to believe it. 

 

So first off we went to a few bars. Started off at the Silk bar and found it quite easy to get drunk. That could have been to being dehydrated or that the beer wasn't too bad and relatively cheap. You could get a large bottle (approx. 1.5 pints) for about 100baht. The local one is Chang, which means Elephant in Thai, and being the local one makes it even cheaper. There’s also Singha, which means lion as in Singapore (Lion city) and Tiger beer which are both similar in price.

There are nightclubs but they don't really compare to the ones back here and you have to be quite careful. Spiked drinks and muggings are quite common.

 

There’s also a lot of shopping to do; Seamus, James, Katie and I decided to do a little bit even though it was the first night. Quite a few traders only arrive for night business but you can find seemingly anything you need/want; T-shirts, CDs and DVDs, Carvings, Guitars, Material, Silk, Jewelry, Tattoo parlours, Tailors, ATMs, Sarongs, fake IDs and even Pot if your stupid enough.

With shopping in the markets it really helps to get the basics of bartering. Having a little knowledge of the language helps as it gives the impression you've been there a while and therefore accustomed to their ways. You will ask them how much and they will give you a ridiculous price. Knowing this they will ask you to make an offer, too low and they won't take you seriously especially if your speaking English, too high and you've lost.

It can be quite tiring though and it doesn't help that they will hound you as soon as you look at an item even if you don't want to buy it being able to say no thank you (pronounced MyChy-Kappunkrap) will help.

 

So we went to a few bars and of shopping too… went past a stall selling Bangles and Necklaces… which I knew Emily had asked me for so I decided to get in on the souvernir buying early…

I didn’t get too drunk… but I was now exhausted

Made my way back to The Royal before midnight and went to bed!

 

 

Saturday ��" Sightseeing

 

First good night sleep of the trip; may have been something to do with the consumption of alcohol. Got up early and had the buffet Breakfast. I was so hungry as I hadn’t eaten properly since I’d been home. The food wasn’t that great to be honest but I decided to start with the Thai food. It’s all I’d be eating for the next month or so I thought I better get used to it.

We’d been told to meet in the lobby at 9:00. RealGap had organised a Riverboat cruise. I did want to do it but there was so much else I wanted to see while I was here in Bangkok. There was the Thai boxing I’d been told about, Pat Pong Night Market, The Grand Palace and Reclining Buddha. Thought it was a bit cheeky that we had to pay for it but seemed it was worth spending 600 baht (just under £10) for a three hour tour and fortunately it would still leave enough time to get a bit of sightseeing done too…

 

 

Walked from the Hotel to the Pier; was a little hectic due to the number of roads we had to cross. And there were at least 30 of us but we made it there in the end.

Looking at Bangkok’s skyline from the river bank was quite breathtaking. A city of ancient tradition and modern Skyscrapers split down the middle by a fantastic expanse of water, connected by an impressive Suspension bridge. We were split up at the Pier as the boats could only safely take 10 or so. They were long and thin, traditional looking vessels, which sat low in the water. It required a little agility and fearlessness to hop from the Pier, but I’ve had to do worse. I sat next to Laura who was lovely. She was on a gap year like me; she’d be going to York in September to do English Language. 

Saw some temples and the Grand Palace as we sliced through the river before darting down a “side street” river and exploring the shanty style river villages. The houses varied from shacks perched precariously on stilts on the man made banks to comparatively plush estates with 8ft fencing. But it was very dirty, and there was little sanitation. Though luckily it didn’t smell to bad because the water was flowing. It really was quite interesting. Couldn’t imagine myself living in the squalor they have to, and couldn’t think of a worse place to build houses. What if it flooded? They had clearance for about 3 metres at most. 

We were ambushed by some riverboat saleswomen; some with the normal tacky tourist stuff, others with traditional objects, like peasant Hats and rattan baskets and then there were some selling food. Bought a bag of some fried Banana, which was delicious but very sticky and sweet.

About half way through the trip we stopped off at a Fish farm where we could buy bread to feed them. It was very weird. There were a lot of them and they were huge. They went crazy when food was thrown into the water, scrambling over one another, effectively jumping out to be first to the grub.

After that we moved onto an Orchid farm. I’m not particularly interested in flowers but they were beautiful and there were thousands of them; Pinks, Blues and Oranges. There was a shop at the entrance where you could buy samples. Had this been the last day I would have bought some to take back, but didn’t think there was any point.

Made our way back and were dropped off at the pier. You could go back to the Royal in a local bus with our guide if you wanted or go sightseeing on your own. Although taking the bus sounded tempting I didn’t want to go back, I wanted to see some of the temples!!

A group of us then made our way to the Grand palace and its temple. It was quite a long walk in the midday sun but was well worth it when we arrived. I was only wearing shorts so I had to “hire” some trousers, which were a lovely shade of purple!!

This is the first time I remember meeting Ryan; he was telling everybody that he’d just spent 10000 baht on an umbrella!?!? About £140!! I liked him

pretty much straight away and it wasn’t just because he was Liverpool fan!!

We got into what we thought was the Grand Palace but was in fact the temple attached to it.

It was awe inspiring; the murals, gold and marble statues, the architecture were such a contrast to the hustle and bustle of the westernising city outside.

Spent about an hour there exploring but there was more on my list to see. The Grand Palace and the Reclining Buddha were a must see I’d been told. So after we’d seen enough and taken enough pictures we made our way outside to look for a taxi or Tuk Tuk that could take us. Unfortunately we couldn’t find a driver who knew where we were talking about!! You’d have thought they would have known where their most famous attractions were but they didn’t. So a group of us went off and explored the city a little; immersed ourselves into the sights, sounds and smells of a local market. The air was heavy with the smell of incense and my eyes were blinded with colour from all directions! James, Sam and I practiced our bartering skills and bought some funky trousers. It was an extraordinary place. However we did also see some unpleasant sights; beggars and the poor with terrific abnormalities; growths on their necks, horrible rashes and skin lesions and a lot of severely emaciated children. It brought me right back down from the high I’d been having.

On the way back to the hotel we passed a temple. It looked as if it was under refurbishment or something but after speaking to someone outside it appeared to be open and sounded as if this was where the Jade Buddha was so we went in to have a look. The Girls weren’t that interested so stayed outside, they were also a little nervous of our surroundings but Seamus, James and I went in to take a look. We didn’t see very much in the way of Jade Buddha’s despite trying to fool the girls we had. They had met some local children at the front and were cahhting to them. Nadia noticed that the baby was wearing a Phallus around her neck, well, what we thought was her neck. She asked about it, we all did and then one of the kids pulled down the child’s pants to reveal she was in fact a boy!?! He was dressed in girls clothing had earrings but was in fact a boy. A baby ladyboy?!? It was bizarre…

The Thai culture contradicts itself so often. You have all the ancient history, the temples and monks; where showing your bare feet is considered unashamedly rude but in complete contrast you have Lady Boys, Ping Pong Shows and Prostitutes, which probably are frowned upon but exist all the same?!! But here we were in the grounds of a holy place, a temple. I guess it may be another Thai custom, like the old English practice, where the first son goes into the army, the second goes to the city and the third becomes a priest. Here one of your sons becomes a Ladyboy

Anyway, a little shocked we made our way back to the Hotel but we were all a little hungry by this stage so decided to stop off at a café. It turned out to be an Israeli restaurant and when we indicted we needed menus they gave them to us in Hebrew. Did they think we were all Jewish? It was actually quite ironic because we had Sam with us, though she couldn’t speak or read that much Hebrew. To our relief they did have menus in English. I had falafel for the first time, which were really good and filled me right up

It was nice because we’d had a day together, already forming friendships and now I’d met all but two of the people on the trip. We got back to the hotel and got ready for a night out.

Met everybody outside James room including David, who looked like he was in his mid twenties thanks to a incredible beard but was in fact 18. We talked for a bit then made our way to the Silk Bar on Koh San Road. It was becoming our regular. Some people had already started the evening without us and had gone out for a meal. They’d found better places than our Israeli restaurant but it didn’t matter too much, we’d just have to go another time.

Ended up getting pretty sozzled at the Silk bar before moving to a nightclub. Don’t remember what it was called but did a little bit of drunken dancing on the limited space provided.

Soon afterwards we made our way back to the Royal Hotel and all piled into James’s room. We did a little more drinking and dancing while listening to music from my Ipod.

Found out that a few people had similar tastes to me which was nice… Sam, Alex and Emma were the DJs

Had a couple of complaints about noise levels, from the neighbours which stopped the fun, so went to bed!

 

Sunday ��" The Reclining Buddha

 

Overslept, missed Breakfast, but didn’t mind too much. I’d had another great night’s sleep. Had to be checked out by 12 but had until 2pm to explore Bangkok a little more. I hurried my packing a little, in so doing forgetting the bangles I’d bought Emy. Checked out and left my bags in the safety of reception.

Sam, James and I wanted to have one last look for the Reclining Buddha before we left for the Eco house.

But again we found it difficult to find any Tuktuk or taxi driver who knew where we were talking about, went back to the hotel reception to see if they could help, found out that the name of the temple was Wat Po.

So we went back outside with this new information hoping it could get us further. It was strange though, the whole place seemed different to what it had been five minutes ago, everything had come to a standstill and there were police all around. We’d heard that the previous night there had been a bomb explosion in a telephone box in a rough area of the city; but this was something else. Everywhere people had stopped what they’d been doing and were all looking in the same direction, for what appeared to be no reason. But it made us stop?!? It was quite eerie; we guessed it might have something to do with the anniversary of the Kings Coronation.

But as nothing seemed to be happening we walked on a little and at last found a Tuktuk who knew where Wat Po was. Result!!

When getting a Tuktuk you must first tell them your destination and then agree on a price, you can barter! we managed to get to Wat Po for 60 baht, about £1, quite good we thought for the distance we travelled.

It was quite an experience. Similar to being on the back of a motorbike; the way we whisked through traffic at great speed. It was quite an adrenaline rush the first time. Though when we arrived he dropped us off at what we soon realised was the entrance for the monks so we had to walk a fair distance, passing stalls and street sellers, as well as a couple of Beggars, to get to the main entrance.

Being a temple you had to cover up so there were trousers and shirts you could hire but I’d learnt from the previous day as I was wearing the funky Thai tie-dye trousers I’d bought the day before.

Anyway we joined the end of a queue and took off our shoes. At the centre of the temple was an elaborate building, which housed the reclining Buddha. I’d been told stories about him, but they didn’t do justice to what we saw.

        

We entered the hall to see an 80ft giant of pure gold looking down on us. It was stunning. The room had a honey glow and although it was packed full of people, was relatively quite. Side by side were tourists from all over the world, monks and local Thai people coming to pay homage to this ancient wonder. There were bowls down one side, where the locals would walk passed dropping prayer beads on the way. But tourists could go it too, so we all had a go!

There was a lot more outside though. We found a secluded area of the temple with a very old tree covered in orange cloth. It was so old that it was having to be supported by wooden struts. It was a very tranquil area, more so than the temple we’d been to yesterday.

After exploring the rest of the temple we decided to visit Koh San Road for one last time. We managed to get a Tuktuk for 40 baht, even cheaper. We all felt a little bad about this because we didn’t realise how far Koh San Road was from Wat Po, but as we’d agreed a price, we should stick to it. Spent a little while on Koh San road and the three of us bought some more funky trousers but it was nearing 2pm so we looked for a Tuktuk back. But they were all heavily inflated being on Koh San road, the Royal was not far away. We’d walk it. But crossing the road proved fairly hazardous. And I was already suffering from Blisters.

After hurrying back to make it in time for 2, we ended up waiting around for ages. Alex had bought a miniature guitar and we were passing it around. I wanted to get one too but 1000 baht especially at the beginning of the trip seemed a little dear, so I thought against it. Especially as hers couldn’t stay in tune too well; and plus Saul and Harry both had guitars so perhaps I wouldn’t need one anyway!!

Harry and Saul had just seen the King that morning, all that waiting around had been to see him, felt a little gutted we hadn’t waited around but it wasn’t as if I hadn’t seen him yet; the Kings image adorned everything in the city.

I met the other two people I hadn’t met yet, Max, who I’d chatted to online and Stuart Pringle, or little Stuart as became known.

We got called to our minibuses. We’d be split up again, groups of 8-9. We had a 3 hour journey ahead of us. Sat in the front with Tom and little Stuart.

It wasn’t too bad, though the air-conditioning could have been a bit stronger. Tom had been travelling for about 7 months, he’d been to Namibia, New Zealand and Australia. Thailand would be his last destination before going home.

Played old car journey games, which James demonstrated to be quite adept at and passed fantastic scenery. Mile after mile of Shanty on the way out of Bangkok made way to endless Rice Paddies, Palm trees and Prime jungle. It was fairly reminiscent to a Roger Moore Bond film. One on which he vaults a river in a fantastic sports car.

But anyway with just one stop off on the way, where we experienced Asian toilets for the first time and sampled some of the snacks on offer we made it to Brown House for the early evening.

It was a rather large place, with a communal dinning/meeting area at the front, open to the elements. But not what I was expecting at all. When I booked the trip I thought that Brow How was going to be far more rustic so I was pleasantly surprised in a way. Though I did initially think it might have been more of an experience if it had been more remote. Although it was within a village it was only about 100 yards from a main road

Most of the other buses had arrived already, so we hurriedly grabbed seats and listened in to the programme organisers.

We met Jackie; a stocky set Thai who spoke quite good English and had even picked up some colloquial phrases from past travellers, which he loved to drop in like, “when it rains the cats and dogs”

Then Oliver introduced himself with the use of a Loud Speaker. He was paler than Jackie, looked more Chinese than Thai. His English wasn’t as good but it turned out it was his first time so cut him some slack, there were about 50 of us after all.

We met the Chef, who was very Camp and Gad/God a large tattooed Thai who despite his size was just as nervous to be put on the spot as all the others.

Along with those who’d come from England, were a group from Holland. I’ve always liked the Dutch; I knew a lot of them at a very young age growing up in Jakarta. There was Kirchjen and Martjin an then five stunningly beautiful girls.

We were told to stand up when our names were called out. We were being split up into rooms. At some points there was a little difficulty as Oliver couldn’t pronounce our names very well. It already felt a bit like school again.

I was going to be sharing my room with Tom, who I’d spoken to on the bus, Long haired David, Sean who was the only other guy doing the teaching and Max.

After we’d settled in a bit we played a little football. Older Stuart had bought one at the petrol station on the way from Bangkok. Played keep up before kicking it inevitably over the wall into next door. The wall was about 5ft so one of us could easily have cleared it but the top was laden with jagged pieces of broken glass. The resident, an old Thai man was in the garden. He looked like the leader of a militia, an ex member of the Vietcong. He was shit scary! And he was living right next door. He did return the ball but we lost the motivation to play. I guess we didn’t want to piss him off!!

Got cleaned up and then went for dinner. It was quite dark by that stage so the lights were on. Sat down to eat and was swamped by insects. They were everywhere; dropping in my food and drink, snuggling up to my white t shirt, exploring my hair and flicking my ears. It was so frustrating; my arms were flying everywhere to try and rid these pests. I didn’t have time to eat it was hopeless and after a while there were too many flies in my food for it still to be regarded as appetising, so I gave up and went back to my room. Felt a little down. I’m not squeamish but I didn’t know how I’d cope if it was going to be like this for a month.

In the Realgap brochure it had said there was a local bar in the village. “Literally a few benches under a tree” was what we were told. A couple of us asked Oliver where this was!?! It turned out our next door neighbours; the militia man and his wife had a room at the front of their house and were the bar keepers. Didn’t feel like drinking that night especially in the house of a guerrilla fighter, so I didn’t stay long before going to bed.

I didn’t get to sleep for ages. It was hot and sticky and I’d completely covered myself in the sheet for some protection against mosquitoes which only made it more uncomfortable. The party at the bar what became known as the makeshift went on for a while and the main road was still quite busy so it was late before I was able to shut my eyes…

Tomorrow the RealGap programme would start… Four weeks of adventure!!! 


 

Thailand

 

Week 1

 

Week 1 was the introduction week… we did a lot of getting to know each other… Saw some temples and the ancient capital city… saw some Elephants… went to Palm Fruit farm… Had a dinner Cruise on the Chow Prya and made bracelets and jewellery at a workshop…

 

Monday ��" Welcome to “Brow How”

 

Woke up early dripping of sweat. Hopefully I’d acclimatise soon.

Brown House was not a hotel; our room did not have air-conditioning, just two fans. I had not noticed the positioning of the fans the previous day and so had not chosen a very good bed. Tom with experience of travelling for seven months had found the best spot, right underneath both fans.

Anyway had a shower and made my way to Breakfast. Pancakes!! Wasn’t expecting anything quite so nice!! They didn’t have maple syrup so had the thai sauce which was provided. Whatever it was, it was nice and the mix was nice.

After Breakfast met Badt. She was charming, quite obviously a lot of fun and thankfully she had much better English than Oliver.

In the morning we had a long chat over what we were going to be doing over the next four weeks. Felt it was a fairly pointless way to spend two hours but we were able to ask any questions we had. The answers we got especially from Oliver did not always make the most amount of sense but it was a little helpful.

Had the first of our Thai language lessons; learnt that as a guy you have to say Krap after everything you say, which we all childishly found amusing

Met Ali too. Don’t know how he was connected to the chef but they seemed related. I could tell he’d get quite irritating!!

After Lunch we had a trip to town which was the capital of the province, Sing-Buri. It was about 15 minutes away. Our transport was two converted trucks. There was space for about twenty on each which meant that some had to stand up. This was incredibly dangerous but great fun. Had fantastic views of the surrounding countryside as we made our way.

We were dropped off at a shopping centre, which had an internet café and supermarket as well as ATMs. Wasn’t able to get online; it was full of local Thai children. Some were looking at Sports websites but most were playing online computer games, which was highly irritating for me. But I went off and browsed around the rest of the store. It was quite unreal. We’d seen a lot of the poorer areas since arriving but this was the first time we’d seen the middle classes. I went in to a small Thai record shop and was surprised they had no CDs by western bands on sale. None. But it was fun looking through what did have. Most of the bands were terribly commercial; going through the Spice girls-esque era. And there were a lot of Karaoke CDs, a Southeast Asian staple. I ended up buying a CD by Kala; it was their Greatest Hits, apparently! I was completely judging what they were going to be like from the front cover. Never a good move but from this shallow observation they didn’t seem too manufactured.

Stopped off on the way for a Buffet lunch, with all the egg fried rice one could eat! Before heading back to Brown House or “Brow How”, as it had now become known due to the way Oliver and the other Thais pronounced it!    

When we returned we were told that we were going to be given a surprise party in the evening. A prospect at which I was slightly dreading. Alcohol was not permitted in Brow How, so the “party” would be somewhere along the lines of old school discos, where boys and girls stick to separate sides of the hall for fear of embarrassment. Parties without alcohol suck!!!

Thankfully they were using the term party loosely. A group of local school kids had got together to perform a little welcome show for us. It was a traditional dance and they were wearing traditional costume. The girls danced while the guys played the drums. Oliver was really into it!

They then called for volunteers. 5 girls, 5 boys to join in. The lack of alcohol in my system made me hesitate but Dave for one shot up as ever throwing himself into everything offered!

We’d all get our turn though because soon we were all called up to play a Thai game.

We made a large circle and were given three pieces of ribbon to pass round much like pass the parcel, until the music stopped. When it did, the “lucky” three had to dance in the centre with a few of the Thais. I didn’t get called up, thank god. The ribbon didn’t stop on me but that was down to dodging tactics. When the ribbon came anywhere near us, Ryan, James and I would jump out of the circle. It was hysterically funny… to us anyway!!

After their game we had to show the Thais something from our country. We ended up doing “Head Shoulders Knees and Toes”  and It occurred to me that they must be so bored of it!! They obviously do this performance every month for each new group.  And that predictably each English group gives them “Head Shoulders Knees and Toes”

Anyway after the welcome party was over… it was time to make use of the Makeshift!!!

I’d been cautious the previous night for fear of pissing off the old man. But a few people judging by their appearances this morning had had pretty heavy nights, so I thought it was safe!

I got hammered. Well and truly. But it was nice. I got to know a lot of people, a lot better!!

Staggered back into my room at about 2, and hit the hay!!     

 

Tuesday ��" Thai food

 

Had a fantastic nights sleep.

Because I was slightly tipsy I didn’t notice the heat as much and as I was very tired my head hit the pillow and I was gone! I’d been worried about getting bitten the previous night which was one of the reasons I had such a rough time falling asleep. But although I hadn’t bothered to cover myself, I didn’t awake to find any bites. The room did have a mosquito/insect mesh over the door but I hadn’t had too much faith in it, though it seemed to have done the trick.

Didn’t have a hangover either, never had one of those yet! I’m lucky I guess because no matter how wasted I’ve been, I’m fine the next morning! My fellow travellers on the other hand were not quite so lucky.

In actual fact I’d been riding my luck so far. Already on this trip there had been several trips to the hospital. Nicola’s feet had swollen up pretty badly soon after arriving, probably something to do with the palne journey. A lot of people had horrible bites; Stuart, Katie and Alice had smallpox style pimples all over their feet. Some had been throwing up and others diarrhoea, but so far I’d escaped!

We had another Thai lesson in the morning, with Badt, Oliver and Jackie;

Oliver using his trusty loudspeaker. Badt sung us the traditional Thai greeting song, which was sweet of her… but instantly forgotten; through one ear out the other. I had decided after missing out on the traditional dancing that I’d try and do as much as I could on this strip, to get the most out of it. A lot of people though didn’t have the same ethos and were sitting in the sun getting burnt.

After the lesson we had a Thai cooking lesson; we were going to be making ourselves lunch!

There were two courses to make, the first, the starter was a Thai Green Papaya salad and the second was a Tofu and noodle dish.

Using a knife we chopped the Papaya up into long thin strips over a large wooden bowl. When we had enough Papaya we diced some chillies up, and added them to the mix along with slices of tomato, then the bean sprouts and spring onions were added. To finish it off there was a salad dressing but unfortunately I couldn’t make it as one of the ingredients was vaguely called “Thai fish Sauce”. Luckily there was ready made Chilli sauce you could add instead… as if it wasn’t spicy enough already!

The main course was much more fun to make. The Chef gave us a very impressive demonstration.

There were fierce flames and stoves on the go. We were doing a stir fry, using Woks. It great fun chucking in the ingredients. First we put in a little oil and let that heat before we added the noodles. They were a sickly brown and looked, and felt, like a cross between some sort of intestinal parasite and thick mucus. In they went though followed by the Tofu and all the veggies. You could add chillis if u wanted, but I thought the salad would be able to satisfy me so I left them out!

The meal was quite nice in the end, especially all the vegetables in the main course.

After Lunch we had a tour round the village. The village was split down the middle by a river, I guess if not the Chow Prya itself, it must have been one of its larger tributaries. It was very peaceful on the river bank; we could have been miles from anywhere. The water looked very tempting, especially when we came across a bridge, which would have been great to dive off. Unfortunately, Jackie told us, the water wasn’t clean; the villagers used it has a rubbish dump and sewer.

The road that went through the village was encroached by large trees on both sides; it seemed like we were right in the jungle. The whole place was a wonderful blend of all the greens in the spectrum. Every so often Jackie would stop and show us a plant which had a special property. Some were good for women, some were used by men and others were to deter insects. He had an amazing knowledge of their uses; like a Thai witch doctor! Who knows what cures could still be out there?!

Went passed many houses, varying from simple huts to larger western style houses; much like when we had gone on the boat trip in Bangkok. But each and every one had their shrine. And across the river we could see the village temple. An impressive place; obviously this village was quite wealthy.

There were a lot of stray dogs, who barked quite fiercely at us and followed us with interest. But all the local people were warm and welcoming. I did my best to remember the greetings I’d learnt this morning, which was met by smiles as broad as Cheshire cats’

Stopped off at the village store, obviously a local gathering area before heading back. We were going back into town for dinner that evening.

Piled into the back of the bus and made our way to Sing Buri. We were a little early so we had some time to explore before we had to be at the restaurant. So I made use of this by getting online again, thankfully this time the place was empty and it was nice reading emails from friends and family. I also checked out a landmark institution in this part of the world, the 7-11. There is literally at least one of these in every town in South East Asia! Sing Buri had two!

Dinner was good; but for veggies there wasn’t that much. It was a buffet, with plenty of colourful Thai food but unfortunately most of it was Chicken! The annoying thing was that the non-veggies took the veggie food as well their own! There had been a plate of chips, but that was gone in seconds flat. The coolest thing was a sort of fondue style hot dish they came round with, where you could fry your own food up. Again though this was chicken, but it was fun to look at.

At one end of the place there was a movie being projected onto a wall. It was Ong Bak; a massive film here. The main character, is played by Tony Ja, Thailand’s most famous export! It’s got plenty of action/kung fu fighting/explosions and even though there were no subtitles it was easy to follow the story. I can understand that they are proud of him, but being the film it is, it seemed like a weird choice to show at a place serving food.

When we were stuffed enough we made our way back to Brow How.

With the “makeshift” right next door I could tell that the temptation would be great to drink every night. But instead of hammering my liver, I decided not to go tonight. Instead I spent the night in. First I had a game of scrabble with Aniekk; one of the Dutch girls, David and Tom. And to our complete embarrassment she won; although she was helped and on occasion used Dutch words. But even so, it was shameful.

After that we made our way inside to make use of the TV, piling into the room with pillows and sleeping bags. Watched some local shows and adverts laughing at the naivety of them; saw some Premiership highlights and finally chose a movie to chill in front of. I felt so wonderfully snug.

 

 

Wednesday ��" Ancient Temples

 

Ended going to bed quite late. The film we chose, Apoccolypto, was good but quite a lengthy movie. And again woke to find no bites, having not covered up. Thankfully I was beginning to acclimatise to the hot sticky nights.

Breakfast was more egg fried rice, and battered vegetables, which were actually quite delicious.

After Breakfast we jumped into the back of the busses and were whisked off to the scene of an ancient battle ground. To mark this site they converted the area into a large park, with a small museum, a lake and in the centre a large statue of heroes of the day. I hadn’t realized before but the relationship between the Thais and Burmese is quite hostile; they have been in dispute with one another for centuries. It’s the same if not worse than the less than friendly bond the Greeks and Turks share. Here in this garden of calm, an heroic battle had raged hundreds of years before, which sent shivers down my spine. There was something very creepy about the whole place; but exploring the park a group of us came across a Turtle farm. It was completely random.

From here we stopped off for lunch before a short journey to the temple of a reclining Buddha; another centre of serenity. Although we’d seen the most famous one in Bangkok, this was none the less still a dramatic sight. He was huge and covered in robes. Unlike the one we’d seen in the capital there were a lot more monks around and monks in waiting. A lot of them were quite young; some must have been less than 10. And they were busy. There was also a special shrine, “a fortune teller”. It had a small box of  sticks and the idea was u shook the box until one of the sticks fell out. Each is marked with a number or symbol. And so to receive your fortune, you look at the corresponding message to the number on the stick. Some people had nice fortunes, telling them they would be successful in love and money but others weren’t quite as fortunate. Katie received the unwanted news that she would get ill very soon! Bought two bracelets as souvenirs at the shop, which are meant to be for good luck and then investigated the rest of the establishment. It had been such an interesting and relaxing day.

On our way back to Brow How we made a visit to a large department store, called the Big C. It was intriguing to see what Thai people our age got up to; there were a lot of stalls selling mobile phones - it was amazing they made any money ��" there were video arcades with Premier League Football games etc McDonalds and KFC ��" which had been influenced by local cuisine and added a rice dish to their menu ��" and there were several Karaoke shops. They love their singing! Apart from playing Pro Evo’ there didn’t appear much else to do so Ryan, James and I went in to have a go! Ryan beat me. A lot.

The place was packed but luckily as we entered a group left. The assistants were surprised to see us and it took a while for them to sort out our booth. I don’t think they got many English customers. They couldn’t speak a word of English but we managed to get the message across. There were no Western tracks so we’d have to sing along to Thai music. Trouble with this is the Thais have their own script and it doesn’t translate it into our language very well. So guessing pronunciations is tricky; you’re going to be wrong 90% of the time. Plus as we discovered they sing fast, especially on the track we tried, by a Hip-Hop/Rap group called Buddha Blessed. But it was such good fun. We didn’t sing along to the music on screen very well; it was just too fast to keep up with. But we went for it and ended up singing music we knew over the top. It was one of those occasions where it doesn’t matter you’re making a complete ass of yourself, because the likelihood of seeing anyone around you again is very small; the safety in being a stranger. The locals were excited to see us in their shop and were smiling and laughing through the booth windows. Karaoke is good fun; I think we should have more of it here.

We left with new made fans, hopped back in the bus and made our way back to Brow How.

When we arrived back we got dressed up to go out for dinner again. On the way to the restaurant we stopped off in Sing-Buri for a bit of free time. I was enjoying the fact that we went into town enough for me to give friends and family almost daily updates, and it was cheap as well. But we didn’t have very much time, so had to hurry back to the bus. It was also nice that we were going to dinner every night and although I couldn’t eat the meat, it gave the non-veggies a chance to satisfy their carnivorous side.

The restaurant turned out to be quite a fair distance from Sing Buri, but it was well worth it when we got there. The food was delicious. They had done, battered vegetables which proved a hit with everyone.

But something was wrong. The vegetarian table had too much food, there were people missing.

“Oh no where were Rosie and Claire???”

“Shit… Did they left Brow How with us.”

“Well, I remember Claire didn’t feel well this morning, she wasn’t with us in the ancient city.” 

“No I definitely remember her on the bus to Sing Buri”

“They’ve both been left in Sing-Buri”

“Christ that was almost an hour ago”

The frustrating thing was the organizers hadn’t noticed, and on top of that they didn’t seem to be too bothered about the situation that faced the girls. Although there were plenty of taxis in Sing Buri we had no idea what the address of Brown House was. After what felt like an eternity the decision was made to make a rescue trip to Sing Buri. Emma, Sam, Alice, Ryan, James, Rachel and I led the expedition, with Badt orchestrating. It then took ages to get into Sing Buri again. Wisely we all took each others mobile numbers down, didn’t want more people to get lost. We split up into two couples and a group of three and gave ourselves an initial 15 minutes to search the town. We had no idea where they could be; but we checked all the familiar places; the restaurant we’d eaten at the previous night, the shopping centre, the 7-11 and the dozens of internet cafes. But there was no sight of them. Sing Buri was a fairly safe area during the day time, but at night it got quite rough. RealGap had warned us about this before setting off. We all started becoming increasingly worried, until just before our 15 minutes were up, Badt got a call from the Chef at Brow How to let us know they had safely returned!

We got back to Brow How and laughed off the evening’s events, but I was so glad to see them again! I had been so worried.

The others got back soon afterwards; we went to the Makeshift and played a few drinking/card games before relaxing in front of another film.

 

Thursday ��" Harry’s Head and Hand

 

Set off fairly early in the morning to visit the monkey Temple in Lopburi. The journey was long and uncomfortable, made worse by the fact I was standing on the back of the bus. But it was worth it.

The whole town had succumbed to the significance of the ancient monument in the centre, much like Mecca or any holy city. There were monkeys everywhere. It was incredibly busy too; this place got a lot of pilgrims. The temple was an island; surrounded by a busy road. It was a small place but nonetheless impressive. And there were hundreds of monkeys.  

Although I didn’t let on, I was fairly hesitant about the day. I’d been to a monkey temple before, as a child, when I visited Ubud in Bali. Like the one here you could buy feed for the monkeys, and on our visit to the  temple in Indonesia I’d got swamped by them. I was only four and so from then on I’ve been a little fearful of them. They are like giant rats, they are just as disgusting, spreading diseases and they are almost always aggressive. But I thought, as long as I didn’t buy feed, or take any food in with me I’d be ok.

On one of the sides of the temple they had a small pool. It was fairly hilarious just watching the monkeys; they would climb the trees and then leap into the water, jump out, and do it all again. Just like kids.

Seamus had brought some water in with him, which was soon his no longer. One plucky monkey took his chance and swiped it, ran up the side of the temple with it and sat there starring at Seamus as he drank it down.

But Seamus wasn’t the only one to have encounters with them. David almost lost his camera, Tori got swarmed and Harry got bitten!

Both Tori and Harry had bought food, but Harry had not given up his packet in time and one monkey bit him on the hand and head. They were deep bites too.

Bites are nasty from any animal, just because of the dirt and bacteria that live in the mouth. But from something semi-wild, especially a monkey, you have to immediately think of Rabies. This shouldn’t be a problem as long as you can get to a Hospital within 24 hours. So he was whisked off with Badt and Oliver. Yet another Hospital visit!

After we’d all calmed down, we got back into the busses, and made a journey to a palace, in the Ancient capital city of Ayutthaya. When I’d been home researching the trip this had been one of the things I was really looking forward to. On the way we were followed by a local troop of Thai soldiers; standing perilously on the back of a pickup. They were only young guys, and just like all the locals we’d met so far welcomed our attempts to speak their language with broad gleaming smiles. Lopburi was made into the Thai armies Headquarters in the 1920s

When the busses pulled up, I was taken aback by the site I saw. Wikipedia had not prepared me enough. It had been the capital of Thailand until it was sacked by the Burmese army in the 18th century. Having been deserted for about a century the rainforest had started to reclaim the land, and although not as impressive as Angkor Watt in Cambodia, it was still very picturesque. The muscular roots of the large regal Banyan trees, smothering the ruined temples and palaces of the old city; disfiguring the faces of holy symbols and with their leaves, branching out, sheltering us from the intense heat of the midday sun. Like the garden at the battlefield, there was a peculiar vibe. It was quite tranquil though, and it was nice walking around.

There was a small museum there as well. Unlike many of its neighbours Thailand had never been under colonial rule from Western countries in the 18th/19th centuries. They were rightly proud of this.

From here we made our way to another Temple. The main building was on a small hill, and its spire reached high into the sky. The smell of incense again hung in the air weighed down more than usual by the torrential rain we’d just driven through. It was an impressive jewelled place similar to…. In Bangkok. The local guide told us that an American a few years back had stolen a gold spike from the temple and taken it back with him to the States. After a few days of being back his arm began to wither away. His arm was dying. It only started getting better again once he sent the piece of gold back to the temple.

The rain had made the marble steps treacherous particularly as most of us were wearing flip flops. But thankfully there were no more hospital visits that day!

After investigating the temple, we went down into the sprawling market opposite. The stalls varied, there were artisans with fantastic shops filled with wood carvings and material and then there were shops with food for sale, busily frying up vegetables and rice. But it was here I came across a music shop. I’d wanted to buy a small guitar in Bangkok but I’d been priced out. Even the ½ size Alex had bought was 1000 baht; but here there were ¾s and full size guitars for less. It did look like they had been on the shelf for twenty years, most were terribly out of tune, the strings looked ready to break and the intonation on all of them was terrible but I didn’t really mind too much. With a little bit of haggling I managed to get one for 600 baht. Just less than £10 for a ¾. It was the best there too.

Got back on the bus and did my best to tune it to itself and as anticipated the bottom E snapped.

Arrived back at Brow How late afternoon. Harry was there with bandages on his Head and Hand. Everything had gone smoothly so far. When he’d been home he’d got a rabies shot. I didn’t know they existed but it gives you a little longer to get to a hospital before the pathogen starts to take hold. It was good to see him. We’d had so much drama on this trip; there were already a lot of stories to tell. It was now just over a week since I had left dad at the airport. It was amazing how far I’d come and how quickly I’d made friends on this trip.

Went to the makeshift, hadn’t been there the past few nights. And after a few card games and Slaps, I whipped out my guitar and serenaded everybody despite it missing the bottom string. It was the first time I’d ever played to anybody other than my dog but there was enough alcohol flowing which enabled me to be a little more confident and not too much that I was malcoordinated.

 

Friday ��" Nelly and friends

 

Today was all bout Elephants. In the morning we went to a show, in amongst a ruined city of the Ayutthaya period. This was an eye-opening experience.

The place was obviously influenced by Tourism. It was small but there were at least 30 animals there. We were given an hour to explore, which was more than enough time; there were only a few things to do anyway. First I bought some food for the Elephants. I have no idea what it was but I suppose it looked like bamboo, or some sort of shoot but they loved it. Holding out your hand the giant animal would grab the snack with its trunk and then pull it in towards its mouth. In appreciation one blasted my hand with warm mucus!!

For 500 baht you could have a ten minute Elephant ride. It was pleasant; and thankfully there was a two person saddle, so you didn’t have to dislocate your hip to sit down. Rachel and I rode through the ruins of the ancient city for a while before taking photos by a Lake. Ten minutes was all you really needed as the novelty soon wore off and there was something very unnatural about it. The elephants were elaborately dressed up, with bright silky cloth, and hats. On the way back, our Elephant, lost his hat, exposing a dreadful open wound in his head. It made me feel a little ill. Got off by the entrance and waited on the platform for Tom and James who’d been behind Rachel and me. We’d taken each others cameras to get photos. It was waiting for them I realised how our elephant may have picked up his injury; all the guides had bull hooks attached to their belts.

Suddenly the place took on a sinister appearance. Waiting for others in the group we sat down and watched the show itself. Although we’d been told this place was necessary to bring enough money to provide for the elephants, I couldn’t help think they were being exploited. This was no place for a noble animal. Performing for Snappy Happy tourists was ripping them of any dignity. The show was sickening.

I got back on the bus and hoped the sanctuary we were visiting later on that afternoon was indeed a sanctuary. First though we went off to another shopping centre.

Wasn’t really in the mood to buy anything so went round and helped James look for a digital camera. He’d brought disposable ones for the trip and almost used them all, plus they were quite bulky to carry around. Trouble was although the place was huge there wasn’t a great range. Like the mall a few days earlier there was a whole floor devoted to mobile phones and sim cards. We eventually found another Karaoke shop.  But this was even more packed then the one we’d been to two days ago. There was a stage at the front, exposed to passers by, which was the only place apparently still available. So we went for it “Carpe Diem” as they say. They gave us two microphones between the four of us and then put on a track. Like the first time, despite them putting up the pronunciations in English underneath it was incredibly difficult to keep up. So we just tended to shout out the last word on each line for a bit before reverting to lyrics we knew, and just singing them over the top. Soon a small crowd had gathered, curious about who was singing so sweetly. We were being applauded. To top it off a guy came from the crowd and starting Break Dancing in front of us; he wasn’t bad either. It was the most random event of the trip so far.

After our singing exploits we hopped in the busses and headed for another temple. Before we got there some people got off at the Bus station. They’d decided to go to Bangkok for the weekend. James had wanted to go too, to get a digital camera but hadn’t persuaded Ryan, Tom or me. So we all carried on with the tour to the next temple.

It was another impressive monument. The main building even to this day rising high above the whole town. It was a bit of a walk up to the top, not helped by the worn and uneven steps but it was worth it; the views were quite spectacular. Within the top of the structure bats had made it their home and the room reeked of guano.

Like all the temples we’d visited it maintained tranquil despite the number of people walking around. The grounds were littered with hundreds of Buddha sculptures, and there was even a reclining Buddha; though nowhere near as impressive as the equivalent in Bangkok.

As we made our way back to the busses the weather started to close. There was the smell of rain on the way. Although it was mid afternoon, within minutes the sky was black. A flash of lightning and crack of thunder was followed by the heavens opening. It tipped it down. We’d had some light drizzly rain during the first few days but this was a heavy downpour. Through this we made our way to the elephant sanctuary. I was glad not to be sitting on the back this time.

When we arrived the rain was still coming down unfortunately. It didn’t look like we’d be doing the trek. Almost everybody including myself had not brought waterproofs, so most stayed on the bus. The sanctuary had turned into a small muddy sea but I jumped out anyway to explore. All those of us who’d decided to walk around found shelter with a mother and calf under a big barn style shelter. It was quite dark in there and I hadn’t even noticed the calf until it moved. I was surprised how close we were to them both. It didn’t feel right; a bit like Dumbo. This place was a far better establishment than the “show! We’d seen in the morning but it still didn’t seem natural. I got back into the bus and dried off while looking through my pictures.

I’d bought a digital camera for the trip. It was quite good, and surprisingly sturdy. It wasn’t expensive but went through batteries very quickly which was a pain. The good thing about it though was its zoom. I could get fairly detailed shots.

The next stop was a dinner cruise on the Chow Prya. We’d all been looking forward to this, not least because we were promised more Karaoke! Thankfully the rain started to die down as we made our way and the lovely smell of watered plants filled the air.

The boat was a lovely old vessel; just what I’d expected. Sat down and drank up. I knew it would be Ryan, James and I singing first so I needed to get the beer down me before singing.

I managed it.

I was up there first with Jackie; it was hilarious! We were soon joined by Ryan and James, who didn’t really sing as just shout. I thought that was funny too, but most of the group failed to see it, especially Stuart!

I was a little tipsy to fully appreciate it but we passed many temples and ruins lit up majestically on the way down the river. The gold shimmering across the river like honey. Arrived back at the restaurant and got back into the busses.

The singing and drinking continued all the way back to Brow How. We stopped off on the way for a pit stop and to get more drink. In my eagerness I slipped on the pavement, landing on my back, somehow breaking my watch.

Got back to Brow How and finished the evening in the Makeshift playing my guitar.

 

Saturday ��" Bracelets, Necklaces and other Jewellery

 

There wasn’t much planned for today, which was probably just as well. The amount we’d drunk last night meant that most people were not up before 11:00.

But after a late breakfast we staggered on to the busses for the first stop, which was at a Farm. There had been more rain during the night but it seemed to have cleared now thankfully. The Farm was like a marsh though and I didn’t really feel too comfortable walking through long sodden grass in flip flops. I hadn’t yet had any real problems with bugs and bites and wanted it to stay that way. But the sight of the Farmer who was barefoot reassured me a little.

It turned out he was a Palm Fruit picker. He gave a demonstration to us for those who were still a little confused at what that actually meant. It was amazing. With no aids, holding a knife between his teeth and carrying a rope around his waist he clambered up to the top of a Palm tree. He must have been at least 10-15m up.

He shouted down and then chopped the fruit free; lowering it down on the rope he’d taken up with him.

Then he asked if anybody wanted a go at climbing. As ever, Stuart and David were up there first, but they were joined by Kat. To be fair Stuart did start to climb up, but all found coming down more difficult and painful.

We went back to the front of his house which was a fairly large place and tried some. The fruit was a jelly like substance, similar in appearance to snot and to be honest not much tastier. I thanked the farmer though and shook his hand which was as rough as Sandpaper and then got back into the bus and joined James who was not feeling well. I was tired myself.

We spent the rest of the morning in a Jewellery workshop, just down the road from the farm. We made our own Bracelets and Necklaces. It was difficult, delicate work to start off with but then a pattern started to form; by the end it was almost second nature. The Thai girl who was teaching us had obviously been doing it for years; she used both her feet and hands to make each item and was very quick! It was mesmerising. There were all sorts of items you could make, and for those who couldn’t be bothered to make their own, there were some on sale too. They were good but much more expensive then I’d seen elsewhere so I passed.

In the corner was a Premiership Football arcade game. When I’d finished making my Bracelet I went over. There were two local Thais playing on it. One was playing as Liverpool the other as Everton. I thought it was fantastic that the Premiership was watched and enjoyed so far from England.

Just before I left for Thailand Liverpool narrowly beat Chelsea in the semi-final of the Champions league, which meant that for the second time in three years they would be playing in the final. Trouble was the final was being played in the third week of May; right in the middle of the Trekking/Teaching week.

As the trip had gone on and I’d made friends my mind had started to sway towards doing the Trekking; It just sounded more fun to me. But if I chose to do it they’d be less chance of me watching the game, then if I were back at BrowHow. It was understandably a big decision.

Got back to Brow How and had another meal of Egg, rice and vegetables, before sitting in the sun. The rest of the weekend was free.

Later on that afternoon, we hired a taxi/truck to take us into Sing-Buri. Was able to get online again, uploaded some photos and stocked up on food. I also bought a beach towel. The Thai girls who served me couldn’t stop giggling at me, and whispering in Thai; it was fairly intimidating. But I realised it was because of the pink nail varnish I was wearing. One evening after some drinking, Ryan thought it was a good idea for all the BHBs (Brown House Boys) to put on our thumb nails. I played along much to their amusement! I also amazingly found a guitar shop, and was able to buy some plecs and strings. I would be able to retune my guitar!!

Did more sunbathing late afternoon before another night at the Makeshift.

 

Sunday ��" Sunbathing and Swimming

 

We had free time all day today. It was nice not to have a plan again. We spent most of the day in Sing-Buri.

First off we went off to the Pool. Laura and Kat had found one the previous day and it seemed like a good idea to cool off. It was another hot morning. Unfortunately when we arrived the clouds came in again. Within ten minutes the sky was black. It was a full blown storm though. Lightning lit up the sky and the Thunder bellowed; it was quite breath-taking. At the same time it felt quite dangerous. So we got out of the pool; especially as the gap between a flash of light and Thunder was almost non existent.

We’d pre-organised the taxi to pick us up, but we had two hours until then. There was nothing to do but sit inside with the owner watching western films dubbed in Thai!!

Thankfully with about an hour to go the lightning stopped. It was still raining though, which made quite a weird sensation.

Got back to Brow How mid afternoon and set up to sunbathe. Annoyingly the rain and clouds had completely gone now and we weren’t at the pool!!! There was a way you could cool off though.

There was a large tank behind “Browhow”, which collected rainwater I think. But you could fill up a bucket from there and tip it over your head!! It was funny to watch and very refreshing. Despite the heat around it, the tank kept the water at a cool temperature!

But there we sat Listening to music, playing guitar and chatting in the sun as the evening approached.

Just after dinner a group of us left BrowHow for a little explore round the village. I’d wanted to several times during the week, just kept forgetting. The village was beautiful though, and the river although a bit dirty was very serene. It was early evening and on our way through the village we met a lot of locals. Some were sitting outside their houses eating or just watching the night approach. Others were tending to their shrines and there were a few kids sitting by the river. They were all welcoming as always and if we didn’t say a greeting in Thai quick enough they would jump in with what English they knew!

We made it to the local shop. But we’d misjudged how much daylight we’d had left; It was pitch black. David had seen a sweatband Sam had bought and wanted one for his own. The silence was broken though. Across the river, there seemed to be a party going on at the Temple. Our Adventurous side took over and we started to the bridge to take a look.  From the Bridge we could see over the Temple walls; there was a lot of colour and the music was very loud. We noticed though there were large looking people “guarding” the entrance. It didn’t seem the best idea after all.

Started walking back and soon realised how similar everything looked. There weren’t many street lights and it was a cloudy night so we didn’t get much from the moon. How were we going to find our way back? The Village had lost its serenity too. Just like we’d been warned about SingBuri at night, the village was a much gloomier place at night. The locals had gone inside but had been replaced by their dogs, who kept guard dutifully. Some of the dogs lay in their drive ready to pounce anyone who entered, but a few were free to roam and barked and screeched at passers by. It was intimidating; especially when a group decided to pursuit us. They came out of a drive snarling, hackles raised and foaming at the mouth. I seemed to remember something about told not running away, but that seemed like shit advice now. They were very quick, and were at our heels within seconds. We ran for about 200 yards before they eventually gave up. They stopped together in the middle of the road, silhouetted against the moon, standing guard and still barking at us.

It all became very funny! I’d broken my flip flops in the chase, which now made it uncomfortable to walk. But we were shitting ourselves just moments before. We managed to find our way back to BrowHow without anymore drama but over a couple of drinks at the Makeshift told the edited story of our adventure.

 

 

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photo by: Deats