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Back From Belgium, But The Question is…

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Scotland, Aye!

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With Jessica off for two weeks at Easter and Aaron off for the Friday and Monday.  We decided to head up to Scotland with a couple from the house we stayed in when we first got here.  After Aaron finished work on Friday at 17:30 so we rushed to Kings Cross station in North London to catch our 18:15 train to Edinburgh.  We made it with time to spare and we can say the first leg of the train was nice, but when we had to switch in York then things got interesting!

As soon as we got on the next train we saw 5 or 6 young Scottish guys sitting with a whole bunch of 12 packs.  From that moment on we knew it’d be a rowdy carriage.  The guys were quite and reserved at the beginning, even gave a beer to Jess, but as we went further into the black of night it got loud.  First off it was louder and louder talking and then an iPod playing to accompany.  Soon it turned into chanting and singing.

There were ten bombers in the air,

There were ten German bombers in the air,

There were ten German bombers, Ten German bombers,

There were ten German bombers in the air,

And the army from Britain shot one down,

And the army from Britain shot one down,

And the army from Britain, The army from Britain ,

And the army from Britain shot one down,

There were nine German bombers in the air,

They subbed in Scotland half way threw and did a few numbers a couple times. It was entertaining, but towards the end of the four and half hour train it was unbearable.  Even when the train arrived in Edinburgh we couldn’t escape their chanting as we could hear it throughout the train station.  Eventually we got away and wound up at McDonalds for a quick late night supper before our search for the apartment we rented for the weekend.

The couple we went with, Scott and Raphael, took the bus from London and got there at 1900.  They didn’t have any issues finding the apartment and now at 23:30 we were going to attempt to do the same.  We were on the right trail, until Jessica had to ask a guy who turned us around the same way we came.  Then we asked these two girls who told us we were going the right way!  Oh boy!  Once we finally arrived, the apartment we rented really WOWed us and Scotty and Raph too.  It was a good size, really well equipped and had a home feel.  We can’t remember the name of the company, but we found it on Edlets.com.  Highly recommend it.  To stay here it was cheaper then a hostel and way cheaper then a hotel.  Plus we could cook our meals.

On top of Carlton Hill

On our first full day in Edinburgh we wound up walking up and around Carlton Hill.  Where you can get great views of the city, although not as good as Arthur’s Seat, and see some cool sights.  Now an extinct volcano, Carlton Hill has an unfinished replica of Athens’ Parthenon called Edinburgh’s Folly, Nelson’s Tower for an even better view, a Portuguese cannon, the City Observatory and a few other things.  It would be a great place to take in a sunset or rise.  After that we wound up walk to the National Portrait Gallery and learn about some famous Scottish people.  To finish up the day we wound up walking around almost aimlessly, but sort of towards the Royal Botanical Gardens.  When we finally did arrive it was closed and we wound up at a pond full of swans and other types of birds.  The last few breathes the day had left, we spent here before heading home to cook dinner and relax.

The following day we had our eyes set on Edinburgh Castle, but had a few distractions and we got there in the late afternoon.  Sited on top of an extinct castle as well, Edinburgh castle provides great views and natural defense too.  In fact, it had such good defense it was never taken over from one single attack (the only way it switched hand was by waiting their water and food supply out) and no army ever got past the 3rd or 4th gate of 7.  There is a lot see here including the Scottish Crown Jewels, the 1 o’clock gun, and the National War Museum of Scotland.  One cool thing about the 1 o’clock gun is traditionally they set off 12 cannons at noon for the ships, however the Scots being cheap on set off 1 at 1 o’clock.  Does the same trick, costs less cannon balls and gives them more time to eat haggis.

We were a bit rushed touring the castle as we had a ghost tour booked at 17:30.  A bit of a shame giving the ticket of admission is a steep £14.50, oh well.  Now the ghost tour I don’t have much to say on that, it was interesting at time but ultimately boring I thought.  Jess enjoyed it and it was sort of neat being in the underground roads/passages of the city.  Earlier in the day we had plans to cook a big Easter dinner and erase our memory of the terrible movie Rob Roy with Braveheart.  We went to Lidl, got all the fixings for supper and headed home.  Everything was going smoothly, the pork roast was in the oven and supper was only a couple hours away.  Until Jess checked on it and noticed the oven was on broil.  Here we had a crispy top with a pink bottom.  Fast forward to around 23:30 and we finally ate a la super rich.  Dinner was fantastic, but maybe not for the wait we had to do.

The Forth Bridge

The following morning after our late night, we had to rush to the city for our Scottish Highland tour with a company called Hairy Coo.  On a suggestion from a teacher Jessica knows, the Hairy Coo runs their tour for FREE!  All they as for is a tip for what you feel the tour is worth.  This deal is great considering most companies charge over £40 for a day trip to highlands and you don’t even get to ride in bright orange buses like the Coo’s.  It was our tour guide, Nicola’s, first tour with the company and she did a great job aside from hitting a pheasant.

The Forth Road Bridge

This tours first stop was at the Firth of Forth where we saw the Forth Bridge an iconic cantilever bridge for trains and the Forth Road Bridge which is a suspension bridge.  Next stop was the National William Wallace Monument, located on top the hill which is where Wallace supposedly watched King Edward I gather his army before the battle of Stirling Bridge.  The monument looks like a Gothic style watch tower that over takes the treed landscape.  After the Wallace Monument, Nicola took us quickly to short look at Stirling Castle and then on to highlands.  Just before the highlands we stopped at the only lake in Scotland, the only lake you ask.  Well it’s the only lake in Scotland that is referred to a lake, the rest are lochs the Scottish Gaelic word for lake.  Not a 100% on the background, but it has something to do with the English on why it’s called Lake of Menteith and not Loch of Menteith.

Lake of Menteith

Almost as soon as we drove a bit from Lake of Menteith the scenery changed pretty dramatically.  What once was fairly low lying land was now hilly with valleys and a more colourful landscape.  It reminded us of the Okanagan with a bit more rock, fall colours and not as green.  It was really pretty to say the least.  After a bit of driving we stopped in a small town for lunch and after a bit of convincing Jess we ate at this on the suggestion of our guide, Nicola.  WOW!  The food here was unreal, they made good sandwiches, pie, burgers.  Out of the four of us nobody had a bad thing to say!  Just full cheeks and big smirks.

Once lunch was done we all piled back on the bus and made our way to see some Hairy Coo’s.  Now you might have asked when you told you the tour company we went with, ‘what is a hairy coo?’  Well it is a hairy cow, just the way the Scottish accent comes out cow sounds like coooooooooooooo.  They are pretty darned cute!  The rest of the tour went pretty quick we stopped at a couple look out points, one other loch, a famous hairy coo in Hamish The Highland Cow, and Duone Castle which is famous from the Monty Python films.

A Hairy Coo!

Overall, all four of us thought the tour was great and a good alternative from the cookie cutter bus tours out there.  Something we would recommend if you are ever in Edinburgh.  After we said our goodbyes to Nicola we went to a whisky bar to indulge.  Just a block or two from where the bus dropped us off, we quickly melted into the pub chairs and drank.  We met this gentleman Stevie who was in town from Glasgow watching rugby.  After a while of chewing the breeze he offered to take us to the Scotch Malt Whisky Vaults in Lieth, Edinburgh.  Scotty and Raph had to jet off cause they were going to meet up with a friend and so off we went with Stevie in a cab to this place called heaven.  Now the Scotch Malt Whisky is a members only and is the only place in the world where they buy casks directly from the distillers.

Both Jess and I learned a lot about Whisky here, Jess even got into Whisky!  Some facts about whisky we learnt were to be considered Scotch whisky it must be oak casked in Scotland for atleast three years and one day, they usually use old wine casks to mature now and even ones from the American bourbon/whisky industry as regulations require them to use new casks everytime.  The gentleman we came with Stevie and the bartenders were fountains of information on whisky.  When we were picking out something to drink we soon found out the whiskys here can be a lot more then to 40% you see on the shelf.  Most are inbetween 50% and 60% however there are some in the +70% range.  So it’s not unheard of for some people to water them down, as they do have water on all the tables here.  Whisky can vary a lot cask to cask and for a brands like Glenfiddich, Macallan, Glenlivet, etc they dilute it with water and use colouring to give it a rich and consistent appearance.  We soon asked the questions well why not cask a whisky and leave it there for 50, even a 100 years.  Every year the cask loses about 1.5-2% a year of alcohol and volume which is known as the angels share.  If you leave it too long you’ll have nothing left and also anything below 40% from the cask is not known as Scotch whisky.

Inside the Scotch Malt Whisky Vaults

After we got schooled in whisky we ordered up a round and some beers and then another round and some beers.  Soon it was last call and time to leave.  We said our thanks to Stevie and parted ways.  That was the end of our last full day in Scotland!  On our last day, we had time to kill until 15:30 when our train left for London.  Scott and Raph were staying an extra day since they didn’t work Tuesday  and Scott has a cousin in Edinburgh.  Our train ride should have been easy, however somebody wanted Subway and we were left with little time to get to our platform.  Running around like a mouse in maze we found our train platform through the construction mess of Waverly Station as our train was leaving.  Well, atleast we live in a major city and the next train was in 30 minutes.  We found some unreserved seats on the train, didn’t get a fuss from the ticket collector, all in all it was good end to Scotland and a quick 4 1/2 hours back to London.

There is another long weekend on the first week of May and Oslo might be the plan.  We’ll report back in then!

Cheers,

Aarissca

Thailand Lessons Learned

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Oh my that must be some of the Kiewit culture still in Aarissca speaking, lessons learned oh my.  Here’s our list of lessons learned and tips picked up from our time in Thailand.

General Tips

  • For the most part, if you are travelling in low season don’t book your accommodations in advance unless it’s a highly popular place.  The people we found who got the best deals just showed up to the hotel, Koh Phangan during the Full Moon included.  Doing this during high season might be risky.  Also if you book in advance spring the question when you check in of if they have any deals on right now.
  • If money allows, spend some nights in one of Bangkok’s 5 star hotels. They are reasonably priced and some of the best in the world.
  • Northern Thailand is worth a lot of your time.
  • The Full Moon Party has encompassed the party part and is really overrated in our eyes. We thought  Ton Sai &  Loh Dalum on Koh Phi Phi were better party scenes.
  • Koh Phi Phi is really as beautiful as everyone says.
  • Koh Samet has beautiful beaches but they are pretty developed.  Also watch out it gets really busy on weekends from all the Bangkokers escaping the city.
  • Tourist Police can be super helpful.
  • Koh means island and Ao means bay in Thai.
  • Thai is a very tonal language (think yes. versus yes?) so just give it a go and practice.
  • The Chatuchak Weekend Market in Bangkok and Chiang Mai’s Night Bazaar were are two favorite markets.

Getting Around Tips

  • This one is a double edged sword, book flights well in advance because they are dirt cheap.  However don’t plan your trip to the littlest detail, you will like certain places more and others less.  A rule of thumb that worked for us well was, take a guess on how many days it will take to do the things that interest you and add 3 days on top.
  • If you are travelling by bus make sure not to get on any private buses that aren’t sanctioned by BKS, they are shady and huge scams.  BKS is the government bus transport commission.  Read about our private bus encounter here.
  • Research what local transport should cost then barter till you can’t barter no more.  Because there will be a time when Thailand bartering will break you.
  • Cheap tuk-tuk drivers are too good to be true, they will stop at many shops in hopes they can make a commission off you.
  • If a driver tells you something is closed for repairs, holiday, out of business they are trying to scam you.
  • Always insist on using the meter in taxi’s that have them.
  • Renting a scooter is a good option in most small towns & islands.  Just make sure your travel insurance covers it and you are a decent driver. We saw way too many hurt tourists from crashing them.
  • Walking in most places is tough due to traffic, so having a hotel in a good location is a great idea.

Staying out of Jail Tips

  • Carry a copy of your passport and visa stamp.
  • Keep your Visa dates in mind, you automatically get 30 days on arrive via air and 15 days on arrival via land .  It’s a big deal in Thailand to over stay your visa. 500 Baht a day penalty when you exit and if they catch you on the street with an expired visa that is ‘uh oh’.  You can apply for 60 day visas and 7 day extensions.
  • They do ask for proof of onward transit from Thailand sometimes, so have e-ticket for a flight or bus ticket in hand just in case.

Culture Tips

  • It’s impolite to sniff food before eating it.
  • In public places they play the national anthem at 8am and 6pm, stand up for it.
  • The head is view as the holiest and feet as the dirtiest on the human body.  Never touch a Thai on the head and if you do apologize immediately.  As for feet don’t point at or touch people with them and stepping over someone’s feet is a no-no.

We used Fodor’s and Lonely Planet’s travel books both did the trick, but we preferred Fodors.  Other then that, that is all we have for you folks.

Safe Travels,

Aarissca.

Islands, Thailand, The End.

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After Koh Phangan and the Full Moon Party, we hopped back on the mainland and switched from the Eastern Gulf to the Andaman Coast. Everyone talks about how beautiful Koh Phi Phi (pronounced Pee Pee) is and that was where we wanted to go on the Andaman side. In order to get to Phi Phi we had to drive to Krabi and catch another ferry from there, but as things always seem to go in Thailand we arrived at the port well past the time of the last ferry. As we jumped out of the van at the port, there were tonnes of Thai hustlers yelling at us “you need a place to stay? My friend, my friend good price for you!” Tired from the long day of travel, we decided to look at these brochures and choose a place to sleep for the night, with plans to resume going to Phi Phi in the morning.

Oddly enough the place that we chose to stay was called the N.S. Mountain Resort and had a full on cowboy bar in the middle of nowhere. It was no surprise however, that the only other people staying there were Canadian (2 German girls too, but they don’t count). Animal heads mounted on the wall, staff with cowboy hats, yep that would draw Canadians in wouldn’t it. We arrived at a dude ranch in the dead of night, with a man we just met, in the middle of nowhere. Visions of a slasher movie were galloping through our minds, but we were more than thrilled when the escort to our room revealed a spacious, clean, comfortable, poolside room. In fact considering that this place was a bargain price of 500 Baht ($16 Canadian) a night, we couldn’t be happier and settled in for some much-needed sleep.

Kayaking

The next morning we woke up with the best intentions of heading to Koh Phi Phi, but the hotels hustler wasn’t letting us go that easily. The before you knew it he had us convinced that Koh Phi Phi was just too expensive to go to and he could arrange diving, kayaking, and ocean tours here, with the bargain price for our room attached. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that we kind of got “lost” here for a few days. In fact, every single day we tried to leave we were reassured once again that this was a terrible idea and wound up right in our room again. After having a Aarissca team meeting we decided that if we were going to stay in the twilight zone then we might as well make it worth while and planned to do a few things.
On day 2, we woke up early and met our tour guide at the front desk to go kayaking.  For the tour we went around a few of the limestone islands, into a couple of bays, through a mangrove forest and peaked into a cave or two. Some of these areas were tight and tricky because they aren’t always accessible as the tide plays security guard. Since the tide was still high we were, barely, granted access in and we’ll let you decide on who was the kayak master to get Aarissca out of this conundrum. Maybe say who you think it was in the comments section, and we’ll reveal the hero in the next blog post. We can give you a hint though, ONE of us continued to spin us in circles, and whine how sore their arms were. The other was the master of kayaking and made sure to proclaim “look how good I am at this! I’m the best!”

After we managed to kayak back to where we started the tour, there was some refreshments and once they were done we headed back to our hotel. Our plan was now to try to head over to Phi Phi with the rest of the afternoon left in the day, but again this plan didn’t come to fruition. Later in the afternoon we decided to take a day trip and hopped on a boat from the pier by our hotel a nearby island named Railay. The cool thing about Railay is it’s connected to the mainland, but it’s not.  There are sharp limestone cliffs that separates the two and make it impossible to get to here by land, so now it’s only accessible by boat. A short 20 minute long-tail boat ride (our first on the trip) later we set foot on Railay Beach, ahoy matey! Starving for both food and a sunset view we walked from the East beach where we were dropped off to the Western facing beach.

Sunset At Railay Beach

Being a small ‘island’ we didn’t have much choice once we got on the West beach and just did ennie, meanie, minnie, moe with a little bit of which one is busy. Shortly after we finished eating a fork in the road came up. Do we catch a boat back now and beat the late night hike in price or take in this sun set fully? Feeling naive and like high rollers, catching the rest of the sunset with some deep-fried ice cream was our choice (Aaron is now hooked). Once we were tired out, we walked back to the Eastern beach to hail a boat but the story didn’t go that way. We walked up and down the Eastern beach to find anything that floated that was heading back to our pier, but there was nothing. Eventually a resort worker informed us there were no boats here and nothing was probably coming to the island. He did mention a resort boat for the workers was coming, but was not sure at what time, and that we could catch a boat on the West beach to Ao Nang still… probably. With that being our only option, off we trekked back to where we caught the sunset in hopes of finding a boat to Ao Nang and then a cab back to our resort.

Once we got to the other beach we saw a taxi boat docked in the water, so we promptly started looking for its captain. Eventually we found him in a bar, half cut and eager to charge us out the ears for our misfortune. The drunk sailor wanted us to wait for more passengers and more beer, so he said just wait on the beach for a bit. We waited on the beach alright, if wait means running back to the one on the opposite side. Hoping for the last time, we made the walk to Eastern Beach to try and find a fluke boat or the resort one. When we got to the beachone half of Aarissca went to buy water, while the other half kept watch. Not a 100% sure, at the time, but there was something in the distance that resembled a boat that we needed to check out. Off we sped walked to the other end of the beach with our fingers crossed. Quickly we started asking everybody around the tractor (the tide is so low they carry people by tractor to/from boats at night) “where is this boat going?” Everything was peachy it was going to where we needed, except it was a staff only boat. After some discussion among the security guards and a few of the staff they said we could get on. Phew! That was a big relief! Once we got to the pier we gave the boat driver a big thanks (and our luck the ride was free!) and walked back to our dude ranch resort to crash.

Boat on The Water By Phi Phi Don

The following day, we made our way to another pier in Krabi to catch a ferry to Koh Phi Phi (pronounced Pee Pee). We were going in blind with no place to stay, until we broke down at the ferry terminal and booked four nights online at the PP Natural Resort. The ferry ride was about 2 hours long and 350 Baht a person. The ferry arrived at Tonsai Bay on Phi Phi Don (Koh Phi Phi is actually 6 different islands) and right off the boat they charge you 20 Baht to keep the island clean. Which you will notice is probably true, the island is better looking then Miss USA. We knew our resort was located on the most northern tip of Phi Phi Don and was only accessible by long-tail boat. So when one driver said 1,500 Baht to get to our resort we choked. Seeming like a lot we looked around to see if anybody else was going where we were. Eventually we pulled out our change from the keep Phi Phi clean fee and said 960 Baht is all we have. He reluctantly accepted and got his boat ready.

A 30-40 minutes long tail ride from the main pier and we were at our new place of residence. The boat dropped us off on the opposite side of the beach as our resort and we had to walk a good 500 meters to the resort. Once we got the PP Natural they greeted us with a juice, cold towel and the bags off our shoulders. This resort isn’t the nicest on the beach (Zeavola or Holiday Inn are), but it is still nice and has a lot of amenities and is less expensive. Once we got all checked in, we got into a golf cart and went to our bungalow. The place was nice, big, and private. The decor was a little dated, but wasn’t a big negative at all. That evening we went out for supper and had great pasta dinners on the beach in candle light.

Taking a Lunch Break From Diving

For our first full day, we slept in past the free breakfast buffet, did a bit of snorkeling off the coast, swam in the pool and oh yeah booked a diving trip for the next day(which Aaron did not want to do at all but Jessica made him.) We opted to try diving in the resorts pool the following morning in order to get the nerves out safely. Learning the hand signals, how to clear your mask, operating your BCD (Buoyancy Control Device), clearing your mouthpiece, etc in the pool also. The best part of this was the totally rad underwater hight five the instructor gave you when you did it right! We even got to witness some wildlife in the pool on our first dive as their was a dead giant crab sitting at the bottom. After that, we loaded up a long tail boat with all the gear and headed to the Northern tip of Phi Phi Leh to do a couple dives. On both dives we saw lots of fish, coral, artificial reefs, giant clams and eels. The seas were really rough that day (our boat just about flipped heading back). The hardest part was getting into the water because you had to hold onto the edge of the boat and jump in, with a weight belt on and hold on for dear life that you didn’t sink untill your gear was tossed into the water and was put on you to cause you to float. But we had a great time, so great, we booked to dive again the next day when we got back.

Scuba Diving on The Second Day

On day 2 of diving, we had a speed boat this time and about 10 people. However only 3 customers and 4 instructors were actually diving. We were going with the same gentleman as yesterday, Peang, and the rest were going with a German girl. I think people at this dive shop just look for excuses to go diving. We dove the same island as the day before, Phi Phi Ley, but did the southern part of the island in hopes of seeing turtles and sharks. Both dives this day were great, we hung around sea turtles for a good 20 minutes as the just swam around us and then hunted for sharks. We did manage to swim with some black tip reef sharks but when one came close to us Jess would swim over and grab the instructor to hide. Not exactly the bravest fish in the ocean. After our two days of diving we were probably better off doing our PADI or SDI (getting certified so you can dive up to 15 meters by yourself), but we only had two and a half days. Where it takes at least 3 to 4 days to complete the classroom time and dives for either PADI or SDI. Just a couple of notes on scuba diving in Thailand, Koh Phi Phi has a price freeze all dive shops comply with for getting certified, 13,900 Baht. Koh Tao on the Eastern Gulf Coast is where the most divers are certified world-wide. The diving there isn’t the best they say, but you can get a steal of a deal to get your PADI/SDI there. If we had a rewind button and more time we would have gotten certified in Koh Tao or Phangan, then head to Phi Phi and Similan Islands to dive a bunch of times for cheap.

One of Our Sea Turtle Friends

Later that evening we headed to the main pier on Phi Phi Don to meet up with Ian & Sheree, who we met in Koh Phangan, for dinner and drinks. Our first stop was for a drink at the bar formally known as Poo’s Bar, but now goes by Pu’s Bar. Pu was a really interesting guy and gave us a bunch of laughs all the way from the neck of the bottle to the bottom. Next, was finding a restaurant called the Orange House. Which we were all shocked Ian found, it was really tucked away far back. The lady who owns and cooks the food here is known as a crazy lady with a bunch of cats, but the food is to die for. The only gripe against the place is they don’t serve beer, so Ian and Aaron took care of that by borrowing the lady at the restaurants bike. Doubling up (and cradling each others male body’s oh so gently) on that tiny bike didn’t work what so ever, and Aaron just ended up biking to the store and back while Ian waited in the street. Convincing the store owner that Aaron can manage to carry ten bottles of the big Chang Beer on a bike took a bit, but 500 Baht ($16 Canadian!) later he was off to meet Ian and then back to the restaurant. Successful mission! Minus the gash on Aaron’s leg from the crash.

Once we were all full, we wandered around the town off the beach browsing here and there. Eventually we landed back at the beach at a place called Stones where we watched fire dancers. These guys were so much better than the ones on Phangan at the Full Moon Party. We thought the whole party scene here was more of our kind of party over the Full Moon actually. It’s an expensive little island, but we enjoyed it the most out of all the ones we went to. As the night went on we remembered the boat we hired was still probably waiting. We told them to wait for us till 10:30pm, but we’re having too much fun and kept on partying. When the night finally ended for us, we crashed on Ian & Sheree’s spare bed in their bamboo hut. Then the next day we all headed back to our resort so we could check out and take in some of the good snorkel right off our beach.

Hermit Crabs Hanging Out On The Beach

Then we all headed on the ferry from our resort that stopped at the main pier, so Ian and Sheree could get back to their place, while we carried on to Phuket. We arrived in Phuket late in the afternoon with no plan for the evening, just a plane ticket to Bangkok the next day. Sitting in the dock terminal finger dancing thru books to find a place to stay, we decided to head to Patong and finally just wing it. We whistled for a cab and when it came near he saw right through us and knew we didn’t have a place to stay. So he drove us to his uncle’s tourism shop where we booked a room for a really good price at the AO Mansion.

We got all checked and settled in then headed out to change over some more money (Phi Phi wasn’t easy on the pockets) and have dinner. After walking up the main drag a time and a half we decided on eating at a Korean BBQ restaurant. The food was good and really filled us up! After supper we went back to the hotel to catch some Z’s and eventually a flight; Or so we thought. The next morning we got out the door around 9am and proceeded to hound a cab to the airport down. After a lot of walking and bartering we finally got a cab for a not bad price.

Enroute to the airport we hit some bad traffic and it was now after 10am. So a little scared about our 11 am flight time we dug in the bag for our tickets and saw our departure was actually 10:20am…opps. Eventually we arrived at the airport at 10:30ish and proceeded to do the walk of shame to the ticketing office. We tried the sob story that our cab broke down on the way here, but we got no sympathy and had to pay a change fee. 2:30pm was the new time and needed no double checking. After killing a lot of time in the airport, meeting a couple Canadians and a couple hours of flight delays we finally broke the sky. The plan was to be in Bangkok for 2 full days, but now we had 1 and a bit. For the nights in Thailand we booked our stay at the Banyan Tree Hotel and boy was it nice. Bangkok has some of the top rated hotels in the world and they are cheap by North American standards. Whether it’s the roof top bar of Lebua, the unique experience of the Chakrabongse Villas, wicked infinity pool of the Hilton Millennium, the good nightlife at the Conrad or the world-class spa of the Grand Hyatt Erawan, Bangkok has something for your tastes.

Our package included a 90 minutes spa package, 2 free set meals at the restaurants in the hotel and access to the Banyan Tree Club. As you can imagine we were tired from packing our lives around every two days, a few shady places to sleep, and the life of a vagabond in general. It may sound fun but somewhere in between the bartering, living on a non replenished cash diet, adjusting, and then re adjusting, we were quite run down. This two night hotel heaven splurge was just what we needed. We were given refreshing towels, champagne glasses full of a mystery juice, and our heavy bags of burden were removed from our shoulders and we were escorted to a private check in lounge for the elite on the 19th floor. This place had everything! Smoked fish on crackers, chocolate mousse, jars full of all kinds of treats including chocolate chip cookies and m&m’s and FREE BOOZE!! In fact everything in this place was free for us big ballers, too bad our clothes made us look like we were invited here by a help the needy committee. In fact, by the way we were slurping down glasses of red vino and salmon carpaccio we defiantly looked shady… to say the least. Jess continued to repeat “have I died? Are we in heaven?” and Aaron was eating too much to even talk. The lady who escorted us up here was arranging everything for us as we enjoyed ourselves and then came over to hand us our complimentary tickets and to escort us to our room.

Located on the thirtieth floor, was our heaven. This room sported a bathroom larger than Aaron’s bedroom at home, no joke. It was contemporary in decor and the best part was a gigantic soaker tub with incense, bath oils, epsom salts, and a candle. I mean honestly, we had been showering over the toilet the entire trip. We actually had a bath tub. Incredible. The next two days, were fairly uneventful to tell our readers. We ate delicious food, snuggled, enjoyed a complimentary massage each, Jess had a pedi, and just really enjoyed spending some tlc together.

We only ventured out once to the largest farmers market in the world, the Chatuchak weekend market. This market was divided into sections, clothes, electronics, art, and pets. Yes that’s right, pets. This was the most disarming part of the market. Everytime we have seen a pet dog in Asia they have seemed a little, lets say, not right in the head, and at this market we found out why. The dogs here are smaller than any dogs we have seen in the world, obviously inbred from people wanting smaller and smaller versions and shady laws regarding animal rights in general. We both felt terribly sad to see a little pug with eyes on the side of his head instead of the front, and cages and cages full of pups crying for someone to take them home. We were not aloud to pet the dogs, or take pictures and after trying to pet one puppy a lady pointed to a posted sign that comically stated “no fingering the dogs.” We decided it was time to find our way out of this nightmare, which was a little easier said than done. Jess wandered to see them all, almost drawn to witness their plight but repelled at the same time. There was more than dogs here, turtles, fish, lizards, kittens, and flying squirrels to name just a few. Finally we wandered out of this maze and ended up on a street full of clothes. If you ever go to Thailand we recommend that you season yourselves with other markets before this one because even being avid market goers we were lost, overwhelmed, and cross-eyed by the time we found the exit of this place. In fact their was so much stuff here that we really didn’t purchase much at all. All the decisions and varying prices just made us want to run back to the hotel and crawl into a big ol’glass of wine.

So that’s exactly what we did, drank a glass a wine and looked out the window at the glittering night lights of the country we had come to love. Thailand had its hardships, and we can’t say that things always went the way we wanted them too. In fact some things in Thailand were downright confusing and frustrating, but as we were leaving our room with our packs on our back for the last time, we both had teary eyes. Neither of us wanted to leave this beautiful country, there were so many more things to do, more adventures to discover, more hardships and set backs to face, things we wouldn’t change for the world. Thailand opened our eyes to a different way of life, to accept being three hours late to everything, to plunge headfirst into a deep blue ocean, strapped with eight pound weights on our wastes, sink, and trust that whats below would be spectacular. It taught us how to let go and be free, to just enjoy whatever was thrown at us and to realise that in the end we had each other, and as long as we stuck together and looked after each other it would turn out somehow in the end. So in reflection and hesitation we caught our last cab to the airport, and had to giggle when the guy refused to take us the cheaper route and made us pay the toll fee for the “express highway.” At the airport we hit our final snag, the border police. Now don’t get carried away thinking we were drug mules or harbouring weapons. No we were just illegal aliens, having come to Thailand on foot from Cambodia we had only a 15 day visa instead of a 30 by air travel. So we were pulled out of line, had to pay a fee, and sign a ticket stating our 5 day over stay.  Then with an empty wallet and shiny new stamp, we were set free to board the plane to India and leave our new home behind.

We are now safely in India and have no Internet, but keep with us, the next leg of our adventure will thrill and excite you, remember to leave your guess on who the kayak master was in the comments section below,

Thanks for reading!

-Aarissca

Chiang My Oh My

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Well,  were sorry to say that we don’t even recall where we left off last. We have so much to tell that we might have to scrap the blog and do a novel!  On our final day in Bangkok we ventured out of the city a bit to a place where they hold a market called the Damndensaduak Floating Market, which sounds really original and cool.  At this market you hire a boat and they paddle you down this canal to all the different vendors.  You can also hire somebody in a boat with car engine transplanted on the back and the drive shafted in the water with some kind of propeller attached.  Here’s something Jess would say, only Americans would hire those boats cause they are loud and obnoxious.

The Floating Market

The market really was a massive tourist trap of the worst kind, because once a vendor got a hold of your boat (with a long hook and pulls you in whether you want to or not!) you almost had to swat at their hands to get free, and the constant “you buy, you buy” was enough to make you want to throw your wallet into the river and watch everyone dive in whilst you paddle far far away from there. The market had lots of non-interesting souvenirs at ridiculous prices, but their was  some good food here and there.  It was pretty interesting to see how they do sales when you want to buy something that is on the other side of the canal.  Jess was the initiator for that one, they pass a basket on a stick with the goods over to you then you drop your money in it and send it back.  A lot harder then it sounds, especially with all these tourists stopping to take pictures.

We braved one of these transactions for some Thai carrot pancake things, but soon had buyers remorse as all the passing started a boat to boat to boat traffic jam that Bangkok would be jealous of.  Oh yeah, and one piece of advise keep your hands in the boat at all times or the angry old lady driver will lose it.  Seriously, she made the I punch you gesture at us, and then later asked for a tip. I don’t think so lady! After the market we had boat tour of the further canals where the vendors of the market lived.

Passing of The Food & Money.

Once we got back to Bangkok, we had a night a train to catch to Chiang Mai.  Which was interesting in it’s entirety, 4 bunks in a room and a strong lingering smell of urine.  I didn’t think it was that bad, Jess would rather walk for three days with her pack on her back.  We didn’t expect the train to be exactly on time, but by the time we actually rolled into Chiang Mai it was almost 4 hours late…sort of killed the day for us but we were told that things here run on Thai time, must be a great excuse to be late for work. After we got checked-in to our guest house, we hopped into a cab with some  delicious supper from the place next door and headed to the Tiger Kingdom outside the city.  Waiting for the dinner to go made us a bit tight on time as the place closes at 6 pm, but with some insane driving from our taxi we got there just minutes before.  Since it was so late in the evening and the tigers were becoming active they couldn’t let us play with the larger ones, we had to settle on the smaller ones, still pretty great!

Playing With The Little Tigers

In we went, to play with these little 2-3 month old Tigers and they play hard!  Biting, scratching, jumping, these guys almost had endless energy and actually were pretty gentle with people but aggressive among themselves.  When they did go a bit too hard with people all the trainers did was give them a little bonk on the nose and they’d stop!  Since it was so late in the evening we got to see the tigers get fed their nightly meal of chicken and play fight with each other. It gets super dark early here so it was hard to get good photos, but in the hour we spent watching and taking pictures of these big cats we got a few good ones.

One of The Big Cats

The following day, we walked around Chiang Mai looking into different stores and Jess trying to find a place for a pedicure.  We did go upstairs to one place, sat down and waited for the lady to do it.  However, soon left because the nail polishes she used weren’t up to Jessica’s standards, so she eventually went to a place beside our hostel. (come on those nail polishes were crappy and had no good colors!) That evening we went to a night market where Jess broke down her shopping famine and bought her first things on the entire trip, who would believe Jess had trouble shopping. Picking up some cool bulb lights, a tank-top and a panda egg holder.

Day 6 in Thailand, involved a tour of the Doi Inthanon national park where Thailands highest peak is located.  On the way up our tour guide was asking us whats the highest mountain in the world, then South-East Asia and then he started going into specific countries of where people in the tour were from.  Our guide knew Germany’s & USA’s off the top of his head but not Canada’s!  Which is mount Logan in the Yukon at 5,959 meters. Our first stop at Doi Inthanon was a waterfall called Wachirathan. We greatly enjoyed this tour as the temperature at this height was only plus 16 degrees c and gave us a break from the sticky heat that we have endured on this trip. We were hopeful of a swim in the falls but after we saw them we realized that these falls were much too fast for swimming.

The king's waterfall

At the top of the mountain

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The tour guide on this trip was excellent and told us, that the king and queen of Thailand had been trying to help the mountain people who lived in these high northern mountains because they were clear cutting much of the forest for money and killing much of the wildlife. Causing a migration of the animals that lived there.  Apparently there even used to be tigers in these mountains, but due to the tribes all of the animals moved to deeper jungle. The king and queen in these mountains had their own waterfalls and temples as well and we were able to view both on our trip. We were also able to go to a real village, not a tourist trap one and see the king and queens idea to help the tribes people make money, to prevent them from deforesting the mountains any further. The kings waterfall was the first one we saw, as we mentioned called Wachirathan and was very large and fast moving, the queens was smaller but more remote and the more beautiful of the two by far.

Playing on elephant statues in the park.

There were also many elephant statues around the national park, as the elephant is sacred in Thailand and considered the national symbol. Everyone laughed when the tour guide asked us what Canada’s national animal is and we sheepishly replied, the beaver. So after the waterfalls we went to the village and we saw first hand the coffee plants growing beans that the king had given to the people as a way to make money, we were also able to drink a cup of it for 20Baht and it was fresh and delicious. Then we were taken to a room with a loom and were able to see a women making wool scarves, but as it was a real village there was no one there bugging us to buy things and there was a small donation box, we were told that this was the queens idea to help out the villagers in making some money.

The kings temple and a view of the gardens.

 

Lastly we were taken up to the highest mountain in Thailand and to the king and queens temples, which were built to honor them and there efforts for the mountain people. The kings temple was much like the water fall, grand in size but low in decoration. The queens was very ornate and delicate and Jessica’s personal favorite with a narrative batik made of colored clay tiles on the roof. The grounds between the two temples was also a beautiful garden with many flowers in bloom and was very well kept! The tour was then over and we headed back to Chiang Mai to rest up for the exciting adventure we had planned the next day.

 

That’s all the time we have for this installment, have a train to catch back to Bangkok and then onward to Angkor Wat.  We’ll leave you with this picture below to give you a hint on what we left for next time!  Thanks for reading!

Dun, dun, dunnnnnn

-Aarissca

Trekking Into Thailand

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View from our hostel

On our first full day in Bangkok, we finally rolled out of our hostel sometime after 12 in search of something to eat and to find a currency exchange. As soon as we cleared the back alley and came face to face with a road we were lost. Out came the map and blank stares in every direction. If our ethnicity didn’t scream tourist, this sure did. In 20 seconds flat a man in a tuk-tuk pulled up asking where we wanted to go. We told him this noodle place we heard of, but before we could even finish he said ‘no, no, I bring you somewhere Thai’. Eager to eat, we just went along with it and hopped on.

Weaving through traffic that has a mind of its own, our tuk-tuk driver dropped us off at a fresh seafood place. You pick out what you want to eat and they cook it for you, pretty neat. One lobster, a couple of prawns and one crab was on the bill to fill our tummy’s. What was supposed to be an “authentic Thai hangout” was an overly apparent tourist trap as we saw tuk-tuk after tuk-tuk dropping tourists off. In fact we don’t think their was even one Thai person in that place, but the food was still pretty good, price not so much.

Outside Jim Thompson's House

After our seafood feast, we jumped back in with our tuk-tuk guy to head to the Jim Thompson House. However, he dropped this little bomb on us ‘can you come to this store for 10 minute so I get commission?’ Thanks Jess…(what did I do?!) so off we went. I had in mind some dingy nick-knack store, but he brought us to a custom tailor ran by some wannabe Russel Peters meets Steve Bushimi. Him and Jess started talking about custom blouses and pants, but the two couldn’t come to a price point. No middle ground between free and the world I’m afraid. We exited the tailor shop right after then continued onto our original destination.

The Jim Thompson House, is a house built by an American Designer/Architect, named… You guessed it! Jim Thompson. He enlisted in the army during WWII and was stationed in Thailand for a bit. When he exited the army he loved Thailand so much he moved to Bangkok and started building this house in the 50’s. By taking old South Eastern Asian houses and combining them into one cohesive home while still using Thai rituals and traditions. As well he collected Thai art, before it became world recognized and sought after, some of the pieces in this home are ‘classics’. To fund this project, Thompson worked in the Thai silk industry and pretty much revitalized the whole silk industry in the country, bringing some wealth back in and recognition by the rest of the world to the Thai silk market. The home he was building was located on a canal right across from the silk trade market. So every day he’d go across the canal to work.

View of the courtyard at Jim Thompson

The house was completed in the late 1950’s and soon became the buzz of Bangkok. Thompson then soon opened it up to the public and gave all proceeds to charity. The major twist on this story is Thompson disappeared on a trip in Malaysia and was never found. It’s a very interesting story and worth the read on Wikipedia.

We closed the book on day one after the Jim Thompson House and went back to the hostel to plan out our time in Thailand. Which didn’t go to well because we fell asleep instead, oh well. The following day we got out of the hostel at a better time and hopped in a cab to the train station to find something to eat, exchange money and book some way out of Bangkok. This time we went three for three, got pretty much all our travel for the 5 weeks in Thailand, had a bite to eat and changed our money over. Pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty good.

 

 

Inside one of the houses at Jim Thompson

 

Our itinerary looks a little like this:

September 23rd to 28th – Chang Mai, Pai

September 29th to October 2 – Siem Reap/Angkor Wat

October 3rd to 9th – Island hopping

October 10th to 14th – Ko Phangnan

October 14th to 21st – Island hopping

October 22nd to 24th – Bangkok

 

 

 

 

 

Feeding Fish at Siam Ocean World.

To cap the day off we went to Siam Ocean World, a fairly big aquarium in a posh mall. It was an enjoyable 3-4 hours looking at all the different species of salt water fish and the coolest part the sharks. The aquarium is home to a bunch of different species of barrier reef sharks and hammerhead sharks! Overall it was a really cool place to end our day.

And were off!

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We have the packing blues

Well it’s the night before the grand adventure and how are we feeling? Anxious, unready, nervous, and flippin’ ready to get on that plane! The airport journey starts bright and early departing at 7:30 am and landing in San Francisco before our destination of Tokyo, Japan. We are trying to stick to a tight budget on this lengthy trip and have discovered that Tokyo and Budget don’t really go together, so we have opted out to stay outside the city in Yokohama for the first four nights. We have complete faith in our abilities to find the public tube that will take us to our destination… We think.  

The most anticipated part of Tokyo for Jessica is going to be meeting her highschool friend Lisa Uno, who lives in Tokyo. And eating fresh sushi, YUM!   For Aaron it is seeing a sumo fight.

Things at home are wrapping up and we are completing some last minute packing before having our goodbye family dinner. What have we requested for our last home cooked meal you ask? STEAK yum! Mom and Dad Sturtevant have been so helpful getting things together for our trip. Jim has promised to shave the mustache he has had since he was eighteen years old as our goodbye gift. Oooh we (mostly Jessica) hope he does! It will be one last go out with the girls tonight too for Jessica before the departure, that’s definitely a must. Well it’s time to get back to that mess called our luggage in the dinning room.

 “A journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.”

 – John Steinbeck

Keep you updated as much as we can, thanks for reading

Aarssica