Saturday, August 26, 2006

Farewell to the Island

Well, what was supposed to be a quick Open Water Diver course as a bit of an interlude on my travels round Thailand became a two week stay and a bit of an obsession. I'm now a qualified Rescue Diver (which is Padi's way of saying I know a bit of first aid and how to look for dead / drowning people underwater) with 21 dives in my shiny little logbook.

More importantly, I've found something I love doing. I'l still be going back to New Zealand on 1st September as planned. I was seriously considering changing the date of my flight and staying here for a couple of months, living in a small somewhat grotty bungalow, diving almost every day, and working towards instructor certification, but if / when I do that I want it to be something I go into as a conscious decision and not just something that randomly happened.

Plus I do want to see my family and those friends who are still around, stock up on vegemite, go snowboarding, pick up my laptop, apply for PhD scholarships, think about applying for a real job, and organise my backpack a bit better (the things one needs for two or three or more stationary months are different from those needed for a few weeks travelling around.

It's funny, I came on this trip to Thailand trying to work out which door of the ones I already knew about I wanted to go through. I didn't plan to build a new one. I'm not certain it's what I want (another reason that I will be getting on the 1430 ferry this afternoon, so I can make my decision somewhere that I can't see the bright blue ocean out of my bedroom window and am not surrounded by other people who also have the diving bug.

Well, that said (not that I really said much) I think it's time to go sit on the beach and read a book for an hour or two. It's a hard life, as they say. :)

Plan from here is get the ferry, then backpacker bus overnight to Bangkok, then train or bus to Kanchanburi (of Bridge over the River Kwai fame) for two or three days, then back to Bangkok for a day or two before flying back to New Zealand and the real world (or as close as I can come to the real world before going in to some sort of allergic shock).

Sunday, August 20, 2006

No, I'm not dead.

Believe it or not, I have survived 5 days without going on the internet. I also survived a bunch of scuba dives (14 currently and I'm plotting to get on one tonight). Like many things, I am currently completely addicted (I did three dives before visiting Myanmar for a few minutes to get a new visa for Thailand, then returning to Thailand and Ko Tao to take an emergency first aid course and get a rescue diver certification (this may seem a little worrying but about a week after my first scuba dive I am seriously considering going somewhere nice and spending a couple months to get some professional qualifications.

Yes, I love diving that much. Blame my parents for using the pool at ASK as a babysitting device when I was a child, blame my addictive personality, blame the fact that diving is just so awesome, whatever the cause, I think I have found the answer to the "what to do next?" question that was one of the objectives of this trip.

We will see how I feel once I finally escape Ko Tao and am not diving every day.

By the way, I'm staying in an awesome hillside bungalow with 270 degree views over trees and houses in the valley, the beach / bay and rocks on the other side and then the open sea. It's awesome, and 300 baht a night.

If I wasn't worried about my mother disowning me, I'd be sorely tempted to change the date on my flight and just stay here. Plus I am out of vegemite.Gettin out of here is also necessary to clear my head (yes, I need to clear my head after a "clear my head" trip *blush*)

Meh, it's a nice problem to have.

I do wonder what the change fees on my flight would be though...

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Blub Blub Blub

No, I'm not crying (although I came close during the thai massage today when the woman had me arched backwards over her knees and my eyes did get a bit watery when I took my mask off today).

Today was final exam for my open water diver course and then a couple little dives in the afternoon. I saw a bunch more fish and some pretty corals. We didn't get any rays or sharks unfortunately but maybe tomorrow as we're going out early in the morning (all the boats scare them off).

Note for mum - just medium size harmless sharks, this isn't great white country.

I really enjoy diving, so most likely I am going to do the Advanced Open water straight afterwards (allows diving to 30 meters and includes more fun dives - like wreck or cave or something cool).

Anyway, I was going to write a bunch about diving today, but I'm hungry. Suffice to say it was awesome. Plus if I start gushing about today then I'll run out of good adjectives for tomorrow (given we're going deeper and longer I think they'll be necessary).


Tuesday, August 15, 2006

I breathes through my mouth.

Well, only when underwater. *

Today was the first day of my PADI Open Water Diver certificate. A classroom session and then a pool dive. The classroom session was good fun - the instructor was a jovial Northern Irish guy who made the basic information he had to impart enjoyable.

* = Mostly, except when I have a cold or am tired or frustrated.

After lunch (I had pad thai with chicken and a lemon milkshake) we got in the pool to do funky stuff like pretending we were out of air and having to ask our buddy to use his octopus (spare breathing thingee). Even though we were just kneeling on the bottom of the pool, mostly waiting for other people to carry out the little drills, it was pretty cool.

I've always enjoyed being in and around water, so it's probably no surprise that being able to just chill out on the bottom of the pool was pretty awesome for me. I'm considering progressing straight to the advanced open water course (which would allow me to dive up to 30 meters deep.

Well, that's about it, I need to go out for dinner (last night I had stir-fry vegetables and prawns with rice, tonight we're going somewhere else that our semi-local contact says is even better).

Food here is awesome and pretty cheap even at rip off hotel restaurants, most of the people (travellers and locals) are really nice - except for the Germans, they're mostly kinda standoffish and boring. Apologies for any German readers I have. I'm sure you're all lovely people, it's those other Germans I am talking about - you know who I mean.

Anyway, I have to go now. Take care everyone.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Scuba time

Well, after a somewhat long and boring trip (livened up by me falling asleep in a meditation class in Bangkok - full story to come later I suspect since I'm going out for mexican food with some scottish guys in about ten minutes) I'm safely ensconsed at the buddha view dive resort on "sunny" Ko Tao. The quote marks reflect that it's rainy season and therefore the sun has most definitely not got his hat on.

So yeah, I'm here, I'm alive, I don't have the dreaded lurgy (one of approximately ten thousand medical problems you can't or at least shouldn't dive with) so tomorrow I begin learning how to become an uinderwater breathing type person.

Still no photos to share because the memory card is nowhere near full (I do probably have about 100-200 photos, but the weather and my natural disinclination to take photos have combined to make these photos a bit of an effort.

So yeah, after a few days in the wilderness, I am definitely back on the traveller trail again. Which is fine, ordering food using the point and hope method was getting a little old. Plus I have something to do (and a 400 page manual means my shortage of books just got a little less severe - bring on an ebook delivery system that is as eye-friendly as dead trees.

OK, dinner time, so you're not going to find out how my personal path to enlightenment wound up taking a detour into the land of Nod.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Bangkok 5am Blues

Well, the bus arrived early. Normally that's a good thing, but not when it means you arrive in a city whose only function today is as a lengthy, and entirely unwanted, layover between bus rides. It's not that I don't like bangkok - although it is loud, noisy, and packed with people whose goal is to help you (at least insofar as that involves you giving them money).

OK, so maybe it is that I don't like Bangkok. Even Chiang Mai seemed big and noisy and smelly after a few days in the small towns. Kho San road, even at 5am is getting there. Hopefully my "NO I don't want a taxi / guesthouse / massage" grimace will become more obvious as the day dawns and thus spare me the need to inflict physical injury on someone.

Yes, I'm a little cranky. I've been on a bus for most of the last 12 hours, during which I was subjected to several of the world's crueller tortures, to wit 1) Being seated behind two chatty girls with annoying voices and uninteresting topics of conversation 2) being seated beneath a hissing and too loud speaker that is busy garbling the soundtrack of some movie I don't want to watch on a screen that I can't quite see 3) a bus driver who thinks he is a racecar driver while driving 4) a bus whose rear suspension seems to be connected to the brake pedal, causing plenty of lurching.

Somehow I managed to get enough sleep that I'm not sleepy right now. Which leaves me with another problem - a 15 kilogram 100 litre backpack. So I'm killing time on the internet, then I'll go eat something (or possibly someONE, a lot of the taxi drivers are very little), then dunno.

The smart play might have been to try and arrange a room for 12 hours and just try to sleep, but I can't be bothered trying to negotiate this, and don't want to sleep right now as I still have to kill time on the trip down to Ko Tao and my book habit is getting expensive and I want to stay on a somewhat normal sleep schedule.

The plan for today is wander round following Lonely planet's Bangkok in a day route, although that does involve a lot of temples and markets which I am kind of ambivalent about right now so maybe inspiration will strike and I'll do something cool. We'll see what happens I guess.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Don't Tell Mum

Yes, I am aware of 1) The reverse psychology effect of this title, and 2) the futility of expecting my mother not to read something (everything?) I write on this blog. But she has been warned. There are two things in this post that she would probably rather remain in ignorance of.

But anyway, I wound up spending two days in Mae Hong Son (a semi-traveller-ified town in Northwest Thailand) after my rafting. The first day was spent wandering around town being nosy and doing errands (bank, laundry, etc) and climbing to the temple on the hill overlooking the town. It's a nice little temple, nothing too flashy, I got to see a monk using his cellphone during lunch, another one doing the holy laundry (orange, while a very enlightened colour, really does show the dirt), and another one checking his email on the computer under the temple), that and some really nice views out over the surrounding valleys.

Thing number one:

The next day I rented a motorbike (just a small automatic one, I wore my helmet all the time, even during lunch, and the rental lady showed us how to use everything and gave us lots of dire warnings "if you change gear with handle like this [throttle open] - acident", "if you go too fast - accident", "if you go down steep hill - accident" - I'm pleased to report there were no accidents, even when a stray dog ran out in front of me on a wet road.

Unfortunately for my mother I really enjoyed it - we went to see longneck village and KMT (Chinese village). These were interesting enough, but it was riding between the various sites that was the real highlight. The wind in my face (and for a couple of hours the torrential rain too), the views of the countryside, the feeling of control. It's like riding a bike - only a bit faster and with less balance and effort required.

We now reutn you to our Safe for mothers programming:

Today I just got the bus to Mae Sariang, where I will probably try to arrange a trek, might try and arrange a short stay on a gibbon sanctuary, and try to work out a vague plan for the next 20 days.

I know I have a diving course to do (4 days, plus two days of travel and recovery before hand, and probably a few days on the islands afterwards). I'd also like to see the bridge over the River Kwai and Lopburi (or another city with monkey-type creatures roaming free). So really I'm only working with a few blank days and there's lots of stuff I could do.

At the moment, the pencil itinirary is back to Chiang Mai foranother cooking course, a couple days of massage school maybe another short trek although my trusty old boots died on the last one, then down to the islands for diving and maybe rock climbing then back to bangkok, finally seeing the tourist sights there (I will probably do the bangkok in a day that Lonely Planet reccomends and a one day sidetrip because I think I have dog-eared something nearby that sounded pretty sweet).

Your suggestions are very welcome. I've had just about enough of temples and other old buildings though.

Then it's back to Auckland and - Thing number 2 - a brief familial interlude before I jet off somewhere else (or just possibly settle down and go back to university or get a real job - but don't hold your breath, my list of foreign possibilities for next year is pretty long and tempting).

So there you have it folks. I'm glad I'm X thousand miles and 20 days away from seeing my mother again - plus I've been away two years, which is long enough to attain prodigal son status, so I expect the full fattened calf treatment when I get back (although I would prefer lamb I'm not going to stand in the way of tradition, especially when it comes to getting feasted).

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Germans, Monkeys, and on being amphibian.

Ok, I forget just where I was up to with the last update.

Right now I am in Friend Guesthouse in Mae Hong Son. It is a very nice place - I have a double bed in my own large very clean teak room overlooking a lake and a temple for the princely sum of 100B a night ($5 New Zealand).

I've just finished a two day whitewater rafting trip with Pai Adventures, before that I did a cooking course in Chiang Mai, and before that was the trekking, which ya'll have heard about already.

The cooking course was fun. There are no real secret techniques or anything that I am now the master of, but I got to eat a bunch of good food and picked up a couple of little thai tricks.

We (Mark and Gabby, Andrew and Becky, and I) then met up later that evening to go to the Third Annual Chiang Mai Yorkshire Pudding Eating Contest. This fine athletic challenge was held in The Pub (imagine an English local magically lifted, locals and all, and dropped into the heart of Thailand's second largest city, and you'll have a fairly good idea of the look and feel of the place). I didn't plan on participating, but the publican convinced me it was a good idea, and even handicapped by the three cooking course meals I ate earlier that day, I managed 11 yorkshire puddings. It was a little strange, going from chicken and cashew nuts or red curry to yorkshire pudding and gravy but they were good yorkshire puds though, and I haven't had one in a while. Plus, it's such an absurd thing to do, it's pretty much mandatory once you're aware of it.

The road from Chiang Mai to Pai is horrible, very windy and hilly (built by the Japanese in WW2 apparantly). But I made it without throwing up (probably because I hadn't had breakfast) and decided to reward myself by renting a mountain bike and slogging round some of the concrete roads around Pai.

The next morning it was rafting, which was just awesome. Loads of kingfishers, one group of monkeys - they look a little like large otters from a distance but have skinny tails. Plenty of rapids with just enough oomph to keep me happy without causing a full scale German tantrum. I swam a lot - I'd rather spend the flat bits - and some of the rapids - in the water than on a raft.

So now I'm in Mae Hong Son. Tomorrow I will probably wander round town, maybe do a tour, then get the bus the next morning to Mae Sariang (the next town round) where I might do another trek before returning to Chiang Mai and getting the bus to bangkok and then the islands for diving.

It's a hard life, as they say (although they are partially right, I'm a little sore from all the paddling so might have to go get a massage and thai massage is a little, hmm, vigourous)

Enjoy yourselves.


Friday, August 04, 2006

Rain and caterpillars and elephants - Oh My!

I'm going to try to be organised and remember to email everyone every time, but I think I will just start posting these things to my blog as well (after a year of almost hiatus it's probably worth starting again as I have stuff to say now)

The rain in spain might fall mainly on the plain, but in Thailand it falls mainly on everything, especially the jungle.

After my nice little Bangkok / resort stay, I jumped straight into a three day jungle trek up in Chiang Mai (north thailand).

Short version = it was awesome.
Short version +10% = it was awesome and rained a lot.

Long Version.

Got off the VIP bus (a raher nice aircon coach) got the shuttle to the hostel and sat around waiting for the trek guy to pick me up. Got in to a songthaew (pickup truck with an semi enclosed back with seats in it) with two americans asnd a canadian, We went to a local market where I sampled the wares at the insect stall (all were cooked)

Grasshopers = squishy, and fairly disgusting because the legs and everything are still on. A little like eating slughtly old prawns whole.
beetle = a bit soggy and tasted like mud, not reccomended
caterpillars = tasted and felt like stale cheez puffs - 30 baht a bag, a high protien trail food but not likely to catch on in the west until they come in chocolate flavour and stop being dead bugs.

We ate lunch in a small village at the end of the road (there are little restaurant shops everywhere in thailand, even on raods in the iddle of nowhere. Then while eating our slightly old (it was picked about four hours ago) pineapple for dessert the rain started. Thailand takes rain very seriously, and I was soaked through within about ten minutes because I refuse to wear a raincoat when it's thrity four degrees (being wet from water is better than being the same amount of wet from sweat).

Young bamboo is a perfect material for walking sticks, lightweght and very strong (it also makes five storey plus scaffolding if you're in the bulding trade). Me and my walking stick made it accross several flooded streams, along with the rest of the group (about thirteen of us in all, mostly a dutch family).

Switched groups after the first night because one of ur guides got sick so the two of us on the three day version no longer had a guide. he new group were a bunch of awesome people - some of whom might get this email depending on how my address book works.

It's tough to explain why walking up a steep, wet, muddy hill makes me smile, but it does. The views were pretty nice. A lot of the group said this was the most beautiful place they have ever been, but I'm from New Zealand, and did spend some time in the rockies... It's definitely in my top ten though. Reminds me a lot of some of the ranges in NZ - steep river valleys, lots of vegetation, views of more hills and rivers. But maybe I'm just homesick a little and not doing the Thai jungle justice - it really is quite a nice place, and thanks to the english bug magnet girls and liberal applications of tropical strength deet I didn't get bitten more than once or twice the entire time.

Wildlife sightings were limited to spiders and a very small snake (more of a worm with attitude really), everyting else was staying away from us - we made more noise than the elephants we rode on the third day - especally when one of the arachnophobic girls was in panic mode (yes more than one of the group had fully fledged screaming attacks whenever anything insect like was near them).

Elephant riding is a bit like riding a horse, only less comforable and more scary. I am glad I have done it, but won't do it again. They're big, patient, stubborn creatures with skin that looks and feels like hairy concrete. Oh, and can fart for about a minute and a half without stopping.

If anyone is in chiang mai - NamKohn and Lanna house both have very good guides working for them (there are about a thousand companies seling treks from at least twenty suppliers) - Chang and Louie were very informative, cheerful, and pretty awesome at cooking for thirteen people (including quite a few vegetarians) over a fire in the dark.

Tomorrow is a cooking course and a fitting for my three silk shirts and a pair of cashmere trousers. Yes, the guy who lives in cheap t-shirts and shorts is splashing out on on fancy tailormade stuff, it's cheap, and I might need to look good for job interviews in the near future. I got a little manipulated into choosing the lace I did - I was aware of the manipulation - a friendly tour guide took me round the temples, I happened to bump in to another friendly thai man in one of the temples who brought up tailoring being cheap here and gave me the recommendation, but once there, the place looked nice, was mentioned in lonely planet and actually by a traveller I spoke to on the bus, and then the very polite Indian-thai man eventually offered me a deal I am happy with (it includes a free tie, which will look nice in my cupboard if nothing else, and shiping home). Thailand is great practise for negotiating skills, and it's instructive to watch undercover salesmen at work. Maybe I'm rationalising, but whatever, as long as the shirts check out tmorrow (I got a crash course in what to look for when discusing tailoring on the trek the day before.

OK It's stopped raining, and I've got some dried durien to eat (I figure it's safer than buying one of those large smelly fruit directly) then I'm going to go have a massage, and then probably a nice Thai dinner and a bit of sight seeing at the Night Market (I need to buy another pair of trousers since I destroyed a pair along with my nearly decade old hiking boots on the trek), plus I'm sure I'l end up with another t-shirt or two, and maybe some souveniers.

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