Alright, so its almost been 6 months of traveling, and Im still here!!!
The blog has over 7,500 hits! Ive really got something to party about...
I never mentioned it, but something like 17 years ago (damn Im getting old!!!) I visited Thailand with the fam. This is why I took a sissy picture with Johan below, so relax.
So, from Krabi:
Went from Ko Samui to Ko Tao
Hung out in Ko Tao for awhile
Went from Ko Tao to Bangkok
Ko Tao is absolutely amazing if you are coming from Ko Samui. Its a totally different vibe which is amazing. Its low key, but has a cool bar scene for those who take their partying serious. When we first got there we went out for a night, then started diving. Apparently Ko Tao has the highest number of divers that are certified by PADI than anywhere else in the world. Something like 5% of all divers worldwide get certified in Ko Tao. This means that some of the dive sites can get crowded, but its an ocean out there and giving a friendly wave and passing a couple of fellow divers has never been considered such a bad situation in my book.
I had done something like 12 dives up until this point, so I went for my Advanced Open Water, which involved 5 dives which were all unique on their own. The purpose of the advanced class is to make someone a better diver. There are 2 mandatory and 3 elective modules that you do for this. The mandatory skills are night diving and navigation. The electives that I chose are: PPB (buoyancy control), a dive where you hone skills in recognizing fish, corals, and invertebrates, and a deep dive (18 - 30 meters).
There are other ones for underwater photography, a session just on fish identification, boat diving, etc... They are all found at PADI.com. I didnt get nitrogen narcosis on the deep dive (23 meters max depth), but it was cool. Nitrogen narcosis is something divers think is cool, but its basically when your body reacts to the pressure by acting drunk. Its like the adrenaline, or high that they get similar to skydivers, or any dangerous and thrilling hobby.
If you have never dived, a lot of this may not make sense - so get out there and dive!!! Ko Tao also has pretty cheap rates, and when you consider that you get free accommodation when you or a friend book a dive course, you can see why its so popular. There is also a good set of bars there. You've got Lotus bar, where they have fire dancers with some being as young as 6, Choppers which always has an English Premier League match playing and has really awesome food, and then for late night beats head down to the bar at Banz dive center which keeps it thumpin till 5:30 or so and makes for an interesting next day when you have to go diving early. I wouldn't know anything about that, but so I hear...
Pics we (me + Elina) took during our dives:
Clown fish and anemone
Blue spotted slug
Our instructor, Charlotte is directly related to Gene Simmons
Getting ready to get off this damn seasick boat!
Red breasted harte fish
Surface on the way up...
The reef at the dive site pinnacle
Clown fish and anemone 2
I will spare all the details about the diving, but it was pretty sweet. I was taking the course with a Dutch girl, who hadnt dived in a long time and our instructor, Charlotte was a real tighfist so she didnt have mutch patience with the Dutchie. It rained for 6 full days on Ko Tao, and one night the rain was so hard that on the way back from the bar at half four, I had to put my wallet in my mouth and hold the umbrella with two hands because the water was above my waist. Just about every day we went out for a dive the boat would hit 2+ meter waves which made a lot of people sick. It was then that I learned I wasnt invincible to sea sickness. I never actually got sick, but when its rocking and a rollin and you see other people get sick around you the natural reaction is to feel a bit sick yourself. When me and Johan eventually left Ko Tao the high speed catamaran ferry was getting tossed so much, nearly 70% of the boat got sick and these Thai dudes just went up and down the aisles passing out and picking up bags of puke. Man, and you thought you had a shitty job!!!
After Ko Tao I was supposed to go to Ko Phangan for the full moon party on the 12th, but because of all the flooding in Ko Samui I figured it would get rained out. Turns out it didnt!!! Nobody knows why the full moon party exists, but around the world it is known as one of the crazier party's out there in existence (and I missed it!). Oh well, looks like I will have to come back to Thailand. Its weird, but a lot of the travellers I have met here, and especially those in Bangkok seem to have been here at least a half a dozen times.
From Ko Tao, the ferry takes you to Champorn where you catch the 9 hour bus to Bangkok. Me and Johan posted up near Khoa San Road, which apparently is pretty famous in England. The road is about two city blocks long, and is packed to the gills with filth and booze. Anything is possible on Khoa San Road. They have bars on the street which are just a small cabinet filled with liquor, and stools so you can buy a drink and just sit down. The area is well trodded by the backpacker crowd, so this is a pretty popular option as opposed to paying more at the actual bars. The cheapest and best way to party there is just to walk up and down the street and go from 7-11 to 7-11 buying beers and drinking them on the street. They sell everything there - booze, cigarettes, patches of all the countries you have traveled to (popular with backpackers), tshirts, wallets, necklaces, tattoos, giant sized zippos bigger than your head, cigarette dispensers, prostitutes, 6 year old girls that sell flowers and bet you in thumb war and rock paper scissors all night long, fake ids, fake diplomas, ping pong shows, piercings, and a partridge in a pear tree... One of my nights as a resident on Khoa San I had the pleasure of witnessing a ping pong show, and I will not elaborate here as to exactly what went down but I will say that they are interesting. There are tons of mafia hawkers who smack their lips as you walk by on Khoa San which is almost the code word telling you he can take you to a ping pong show.
In Bangkok I rode a tuk-tuk, which is the standard touristy thing to do. Tuk-tuks arent for Thais because they are all mafia owned and are a huge ripoff if you ever decide to hire one. They have so many scams, that if you go for a ride it would only be 10 baht ($.2) for three hours of sightseeing, but then they hit you with the gem scam, or take you to a silk, suit, or other factory "only to look", and it wastes plenty of time and money. Me and Johan never fell for it, but they have slick talking non-Thais approach you and tell you they are a teacher or something like that and ask if you need any help. Then they try and give you good advice and tell you that all the temples or whatever you are looking for is closed today and that you need to go to these other ones that are farther away, but that if he helps you that you can get a good rate with a taxi and then next thing you know - boomshakalaka, your toast bud!
In Bangkok I pretty much partied for a bunch of days and met a lot of great people. Since Bangkok is the transit hub of SE asia you get all sorts of characters here that are staying from one day to years. Bangkok also has a really high concentration of sex tourists as well as expats who fancy Thai women. You will see heaps of white men everywhere, and if you approach them and they are married 99 times out of ten they have a Thai wife, and decided to leave their country and make a life new here.
On the third day that we were in town, there was a massive ceremony for the Kings sister. Thailand has a king and queen which are held in the utmost regard. Everywhere you go you will find "long live the king" plastered up, along with pictures of the man with his wife. Nearly every street has a store where you can buy king paraphernalia (posters, paintings, flags, etc.). At 7-11s you can buy wristbands similar to the livestrong ones that supposedly give long life to the king.
The royal family is held in such high regard that when the Kings sister died earlier this year it was decided that they would wait to hold the funeral processions untill a massive temple would be erected. Well, that they did. A 10 acre park was entirely covered in flowers, temporary buildings that held exhibits on the woman, and about 500,000 people showed up to mourn the countries loss. For the most part all of Thailand shut down for three days, and transportation went to a screeching halt. All the TV channels showed the processions, and all streets within a 10 block radius were shut down. Every soldier in Thailand must have put on their dress uniforms, and performed in a parade. It was quite elaborate. It was a pretty massive event, with free food given out at dinner time, and a certain flower with a pungent odor given out in the early morning to keep people awake if they chose.
Temple for the Kings sister. She actually died in January, but it took untill November to complete the building that you see, which holds her cremated remains.
Just to prove that I was there...
Sooo many people paying their respects. It was a sea of black.
People would put flowers in these trays, and there was a ceremony that the police would have to put out new trays for people to place the flowers in.
View from afar
View of mourners just outside Grand Palace
There is no doubt that the Thai mafia are strong. They definitely control almost every aspect of life here in Bangkok. The beggars are owned by the mafia, similar to a pimp they have to hand over all their earnings and are in turn given a small "salary" for their efforts. There are fake monks which go around begging, and these as well are owned by the mafia. Public transportation covers a majority of the city, especially with the introduction of BTS skytrain (like a Tram), but none of it reaches out to Khoa San road or the vicinity. This forces tourists to use taxis and tuk-tuks that are owned by the mafia. All the taxis here in Bangkok have meters, but mafia taxis arent allowed to use them. A normal everyday tourist may not notice all these aspects of control, but if you stay here long enough you see how even your life is controlled by the mafia.
So the main highlights of Bangkok are:
1) Temples - there are tons and tons of temples. Get yourself a good map, and just walk it out between the major ones: emerald buddha, marble buddha, standing buddha, gold buddha, and reclining budda. There are many more, but these are the highlights
45 meters high - snap, this thing is tall! For good luck you can release birds from a cage at its base for $2, and you can sign roof tiles that will adorn any one of a number of new temples going up across the city.
Wat Arun -
Outside of Wat Arun
We saw these queer sailors and they really wanted to take a picture with us, so we let them come over and they were really into it! So much so that this one dude felt obliged to give me a hug around the waist...
Temple outside of Wat Arun
Wat Po -
Stone man at Wat Po
The architecture at Wat Po is amazing
Cool war guy at Wat Po
People praying to Buddha
Head of reclining buddha. 46 meters high x 15 meters tall - this guy is fucillo huge!!!
Close up of hair
Wat Sakrit & Golden Mountain -
Temple just next to golden mountain. I think Wat Sakrit...
Ceremony for a man to convert to being a monk at Wat Sakrit
This is the most touristic thing ever, but I like how this pic turned out
Cool buddha at golden mountain]
Closeup of golden monk
Wat Traimit -
Golden Buddha. It was originally covered in stucco, untill 50 years ago they went to move it and the stucco came off. It is solid gold, weighing something like 2.3 tons and was covered to prevent its theft from invaders.
Nothing to do with anything, but RB - this one's for you!
2) Take a trip down Khoa San road and revel in the mayhem at the heart of SE asia
Farewell pic. Go AFA!!!
Gavin, Johan, Me - Khoa San rd. crew
3) The Damnoen Saduak floating market. There is a market two hours from Bangkok that requires you to get in a boat, and float down the river to visit all the areas of the market. There are stores that line the waterway, and if you are interested in any of their products they hook you in, and then the bartering begins. A lot of the products can be found in Bangkok, and they are similar from shop to shop, but the experience is more the draw than what you can purchase. There are many boats that linger around that sell anything and everything. You can find the hat boat, the banana boat, the fruit boat, the boat with drinks, the boat making pancakes, the boat making kabobs, you name it they have it. If you can do it on land they can do it sitting down at the convenience of their own little boat.
I own this. When you put it under hot water it pees! A must have!!!
17 years ago when I was in Thailand I went to the cobra show, and it was cool. Unfortunately I didnt have enough cash or patience to see it this time.
Cool temple after floating market
4) The bridge on the River Kwai. I have not done this yet, so I cant say for sure what it is like but apparently there is a stretch of railroad track that was built to link Bhurma with Bangkok and the area was so treacherous that 100k prisoners of war during WWII died trying to assemble that area. More on this in the next post.
5) The tourist thing to do is to take a tuk-tuk. Never do this. Its entirely a scam that is too lengthy to spell out here. It involves silk, gems, suits, and petrol.
Inside of a tuk-tuk. These things suck, and their drivers are even worse.
But me and Johan are Bangkok vets, so we can still smile about it.
6) Chatuchak Weekend Market. This place is cool, and has cockfights...
Making tea at Chatuchak (known as JJ by expats). This guy is really famous in Thailand, and for $.75 you can get an ice cold tea that has defied gravity over a dozen times. At JJ they have cockfights, and all this other craziness. You can find anything there, all you have to do is look.