A Travellerspoint blog

All good things come to an end

sunny 34 °C

Well after nearly seven months my Eastern Campaign is coming to an end. I'm leaving Asia tomorrow from Bangkok bringing to a close an epic adventure across 12 countries. It's been an phenomenal trip on which I've done some incredible things, seen some breath taking sights and of course met some wonderful people!

I've spent the last two weeks in the island paradise of Koh Tao in the Gulf of Thailand. I fell in love with this place and 3 days turning into 15. If I didn't have to come home and go do this masters degree I would without doubt have stayed for at least a few months more and become a divemaster. It really was an island paradise and one which I was loath to leave.

Still at least this isn't the end yet. My Eastern Campaign is only morphing slightly into the "Middle Eastern Campaign". Tomorrow I depart for Qatar for a while and then onto Jordan before I return to the Emerald Isle!

Posted by ronanm32 02.09.2009 12:00 Archived in Thailand Tagged educational Comments (0)

The islands of Thailand

Relaxing on the beaches in the Gulf of Thailand

32 °C

Well I won't be updating this blog for a while as I have arrived in the Gulf of Thailand and intend to do some island hopping. Really there won't be much to update you with. For the next 2/3 weeks instead of reading this blog just imagine me lying on a white sanded beach by a crystal clear blue watered ocean under glorious sunshine. The only activity I will be doing is gaining my dive certifications by visiting the reefs and corals in the gulf. However really the only time I will rise myself from relaxing under the sun is to wander over to get a massage, cool myself in the warm waters of the sea or to get myself another cocktail from the bar!

It'll be a strenuous and one that really is hard to comprehend as you sit at work infront of a computer console. So for my Intel friends I thought I'd put it in a format they'd be much more familiar with.

ISLAND STATUS REPORT

Status

  • Relaxed under sun and worked on tan
  • Achieved ultimate relaxation by getting lots of massages
  • Read lots of books while sipping cocktails in a hammock on the beach
  • Visited some amazing coral reefs and saw stunning marine life while achieving my dive certifications

Potential Risks

  • Sunburn

PLAN : Will use sunscreen

  • Hangover

Already triggered - corrective action is to implement 'hair of the dog' cure

Highlights

  • Being on a beach with nothing to do and not being in work

Lowlights

  • Are you kidding me??? ;-)

Posted by ronanm32 19.08.2009 06:52 Archived in Thailand Tagged tourist_sites Comments (1)

Chiang Mai, Thailand

sunny 33 °C

My first real stop in Thailand was the northern town of Chiang Mai.

I stayed here for a couple of days and did a few different activities. I went elephant trekking for a while which was fun. Elephants are quite intelligent and impressive creatures and it was cool to ride on such a powerful creature that you knew could crush you in an instant if he (mine was DEFINATELY a he!!) so wished. Thankfully unlike the elephant I met in Vietnam he didn't try to take my head off with he truck, which was nice. I also went white water rafting which is always alot of fun even though the rapids didn't exceed grade four at any point. Nevertheless we played around alot in the water and the guides were very playful and always for some some messing and joking around. I also did some trekking into the Jungles and forests of northern Thailand and got to visit some minority people villages up in the hills surrounding Chiang Mai. To be brutally honest I wasn't too bothered about this after all the trekking I've down in Laos and really one minority village looks incredibly like all the rest I've seen all around south east Asia. What makes it even less impressive is that these minority villages in Thailand are obviously well used to tourists passing through and have all their stalls manned with the standard ethic souvenirs. One feels they only get into traditional dress as the tourists enter and are back in jeans and nike t-shirts when the tourists depart again.

Chiang Mai is also famous for is cuisine so I went along for a Thai cooking course which was actually alot of fun. It's not some thing I would usually go for but I must admit that I enjoyed the course and learned how to make quite a few dishes. The course itself was set in a beautiful organic farm about 20km outside the city which made for a very pleasant venue to cook and eat the dishes. It was also quite nice to be able to wander around the farm to pick the ingredients for your dishes. We also went to a local market to pick up a few things that were required that didn't grow on the farm. The dishes themselves are actually all quite easy to make, the only hassle would be in sourcing the ingredients. It remains to be seen if I'll actually use this new found skill when I return home. I have a recipe book from my course so who knows!

The final 'Thai Experience' I tried was a visit to a Muay Thai boxing event. Normally I'm not altogether interested in watching two men beat each other up for the amusement of others especially if I have to pay for it. I can just go to the local fast food outlet after the night clubs close in Limerick if I want that kind of 'entertainment'! It's always amazed me how if you fight inside a ring it's ok but outside on the street you'll be arrested for assault! Details, the divil is always in the details!

Anyway I went as there were a few people up for experiencing this Thai sport and oddly enough we saw in the advertisements that one of the main attractions was Ireland versus Thailand - now I had to attend! There were several fights on the cards ranging from low weights up to heavy weights. There were also some 'special' fights in the interval which were quite amusing. One of them entailed blind folding three fighters and have them stagger around the ring blind trying to hit each other. It was very amusing to watch them flail about and punch thin air. The person in most danger was the referee and he seemed to cop the most punches. The other 'special' fight was a fight between two female Thai boxers. Perversely this was the most vicious and frenetic of all the fights on the card that night and served up the only knock out. Women - vicious creatures I tell you!

Anyway my interest peaked when James, "The Dublin Destroyer", entered the ring. He was the stereotypical Irish man which red hair, freckles and a look that screamed "I'm a paddy". I suddenly began to feel very worried that this could be an embarrassment and I would be in for some ribbing from the people I was with. However James was quite altogether looking and obviously had trained in Thai boxing for a while as he started much stronger and landed some excellent punches and kicks to his opponent. It was no short flutter of activity either as he continued to dominant throughout the match and indeed the fight was stopped during the fourth round (there are only five rounds in Thai boxing) which Jame, "The Dublin Destroyer", declared the victor. Go Irish ;-)

Posted by ronanm32 19.08.2009 06:50 Archived in Thailand Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

The Gibbon Experience, Laos

Tarzan like he swung through the jungle trees

rain 19 °C

Well my last activity in Laos was certainly a case of saving the best for last! I had signed up for what is known as “The Gibbon Experience”. This is an eco-tourism project in the Bokeo national park of Laos which is right on the Laos/Thailand border. This project's aims are to protect the delicate eco system in the park from the flora to the fauna using the Gibbon monkey as its poster child. They work to achieve this goals by getting funding from tourism as the Laos government can't afford to pay for park rangers or any kind of conversation in the country's national parks. Indeed Bokeo national park is the only national park in Laos that has park rangers to project the animals from poachers. This projection is fully paid for by tourists who partake of the Gibbon Experience.

As part of this Gibbon Experience I spent three days living deep in the Laos jungles of Bokeo National Park and sleeping in a network of treehouses suspended high above the jungle floor. These tree houses were quite impressive structures complete with beds, a kitchen area and a toilet complete with shower.
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There is very few showers where you look directly down and see the ground 100 metres below you through the floor and then are able to look around you to get a panoramic view of hills and jungles bathed in a gentle mist.
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To get around the jungle and from tree house to tree house you used an extensive network of ziplines.
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These ziplines were over 150 metres above the jungle floor and would allow you to glide over the canopy of the jungle and grant you magnificent views of the surrounding hills and valleys. These were no short trips either, the longest zip line was just short of 400 metres long and took about a full minute to traverse. It was an unbelievable experience to glide for so long. Although you need that amount of time to try take in what exactly you were doing and to enjoy the scenery about you. It was without the best thing I did in Laos and is one of the highlights of my trip so far. It's near impossible to describe the feeling of freedom and giddiness you experience as you glide high above the trees. You are essentially flying effortlessly from tree top to tree top, there really is very little I can compare it to and I certainly don't have the talent to describe it.
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What was particularly cool about the time in the jungle is that it wasn't too restrictive. In Europe if such an experience was to exist it would be totally tamed with health and safety restrictions. Here once you were shown how to attach yourself correctly and how to use the zip lines you were given total freedom on where you went and when you went. This made the experience all the more liberating as you never fell part of a tourist attraction. You really were out on your own in the jungle living in a treehouse. The only time you saw the guides was when the came with dinner or when they would take you to another part of the jungle to experience new tree houses and zip lines.
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On our second a heavy monsoon rain set in and didn't stop until mid morning on the third day. This was slightly unfortunate in one sense as the mists obscured some of the views but yet at the same time it was fantastic to experience the rain forest as it naturally is. Zip lining along became a flight into the unknown as sometimes you could barely see 10 metres ahead of you. All you could see was a cable disappearing into the mist. Suddenly a tree would appear out of no where and you were slamming on the brakes to avoid a crash. It was certainly an exhilarating experience to fly blind. I did a few runs in the dark and that really was a chilling experience as you had zero visibility and you glided high above the tree tops on your own which only the eerie sounds of jungle to comfort you (they were no comfort I tell you). Trekking through the jungle in the rain was also a lot of fun once you stopped caring about trying to stay try. Trekking in the rain through the forest was so reminiscent of a scenes from a certain TV show I like that I was keeping my eyes peeled for polar bears:-)! The only downside of the rain was that it kept the Gibbons away. We unfortunately didn't get to see any, unlike the previous group, but we did hear the gibbons sing during the night. Their haunting song echoing through the dark jungle was we played cards by candlelight in our tree house shelter. I'm thinking about contacting the Guinness Book of records to see if my house of cards can be classified as the highest house of cards in the world since I was about 100 metres up when I completed it!
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It was also nice just to relax and enjoy the view
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and to spend time with some of your tree house mates
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To emphasis exactly how remote we were I can tell you that since we had a day of rain the 4X4 vehicle that brought us to a village near (about a 1 ½ hour hike from the 1st tree house) could no longer make the journey to pick us up as the road was no impassable. We would have to return by foot. We hiked for 22km over very steep hills through incredibly muddy paths to return to the roadside.
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Hell we even had to wade through two rivers, the second having particularly strong currents and a water level that rose to my chest.
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After just shy of 5 hours of hiking some very tired people arrived back to civilization. Tired we might have been but exhilarated and changed people we were having completed the magnificent and incomparable Gibbon Experience. A truly once in a lifetime experience that I will never forget!

I have some videos that I took while travelling on the zip line but I couldn't be bothered uploading them. You can look up youtube to get an idea of what it is like :http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eyN96htgpwU

Posted by ronanm32 17.08.2009 05:14 Archived in Laos Tagged tourist_sites Comments (6)

Bus Travel in Asia

Patience is a virtue

sunny 32 °C

Well I have just arrived in the town of Huah Xai on the Thai/Laos border after an 16 hour bus journey from Luang Prabang. Once again to round off my terrible luck with Lao bus travel the bus broke down.

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I've travelled by bus a lot in Asia now and I have a few thoughts.

    As a foreigner you will be sent to sit at the back of every bus

    Don't sit at the back of a bus if you can avoid it at all. The suspension system will not be able to take it and at the back you suffer every bump and imperfection on the road (there will be a lot of 'imperfections on the road')

    Don't sit at the front of the bus. Unless you have the calm disposition of sloth or are heavily dosed with valium so that you're surroundings are covered in a happy haze you won't be able to stand looking out the front window at all the near misses with oncoming traffic. Unless you are at ease with your own mortality avoid the front.

    Your bus driver will have been an ex demolition derby driver who has been thrown out of the association due to his over aggressive nature and reckless driving.

    No bus in Asia will leave until it's full. Why have seats empty when you could wait for a few hours to fill them and get some extra money.

    No bus in Asia is ever full. You might think that since every seat is occupied that the bus is now full – think again and readjust your thoughts on personal space.

    Air conditioning often just means that the windows will be rolled down.

    Not being a member of the homo sapien species doesn't preclude from riding the bus.

    Always add at least 2 hrs to any bus journey length (more if its raining).

    No bus will leave on time (and won't even leave on Irish time) – there is always wiggle room.

    The bus driver will stop for any local who flags him down.

    Locals don't use the bus station they wait randomly at the side of the road and with an admirable sense of adventure seem to flag down the first bus they see regardless of its direction.

    Your bus has about a 50% chance of breaking down (100% in Laos if my experience is anything to go by).

    Your bus driver will most likely be a competent mechanic and will get the bus going again – if not get ready to wait for a replacement bus or attempt to flag down passing traffic to complete your journey.

    You will go deaf from the god awful Asian pop music that is played at ear drum bursting volume levels.

Posted by ronanm32 14.08.2009 18:44 Archived in Laos Tagged bus Comments (0)

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