Archive for the ‘adventure’ Category

The Gateway

Location: Khao San Road, Bangkok
Soundtrack: Hardcore house trance

Coming back to Khao San is an appropriate end to a trip, as well as a fitting place to start.

It’s a place of beginnings and endings, a gateway from one world into the next. It envelops you in gaudy neon advertising, shouts at you with the latest dance tunes, spins you around with touts and tuk-tuks and street food. You’re slammed with a sensory overload that is uniquely Khao San.

But all of that is a gloss over the surface, a veneer rubbed on to give the impression that this is what Thailand is. But scratch at it – travel away from Khao San, Ko Samui, and Phuket – and you’ll see the real Thailand underneath. A land full of amazing people and stunning scenery, mixing ancient history and modern experiences together into an intoxicating elixir.

It makes sense, then, that Khao San is a fitting final counterpoint to your Thai experience. Sit at any one of the plentiful bars or cafes along the street, and just watch the wide eyed backpackers fresh off the plane stumble through the gateway and into the adventure that awaits them. You know it’s going to be an adventure – after all, you’ve just finished yours.

And you take with you your memories, and your learnings from the road. In my case, I took the clarity I’d been seeking, and had finally found in Pai.

Harold Stephens, writing for Thai Airways, summed the road up well:

So what is Khao San Road?  It’s a street, or a road, that is true. But it’s more than that. Khao San is about people. It’s a place where not all dreams may come true but at least those people who go there dared to dream. For the young travellers, it’s a place they will remember all their lives. For the young Thais, it’s meeting these crazy foreigners and perhaps even imitating them, for one night at least.

Then the time arrives.

You pay your bill. You pick up your bags. You take one last glance around at the veneer of Khao San, and behind it – your Thailand.

You promise you’ll be back, and know that you mean it.

Then you straighten up, and walk towards the gateway that the backpackers are coming through to start their adventure.

And without hesitating, you step back through the gateway and start your own journey home.

 

What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.
~ T.S. Eliot (1888 – 1965)

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The Eve

Location: Pai
Soundtrack: The breeze in the trees, the running of the water

I woke up on New Years Eve morning and stretched in my little bungalow by the river. I hadn’t prebooked a place – I’d tried, but everywhere was booked out, so I gambled on finding a place when I got there. Lying on the mattress on the raised bamboo floor, looking up at the mosquito netting, I stuck my hands behind my head and listened to the early morning noises outside and the quiet flow of the river.

I was finally starting to unwind from 2010, just as 2011 approached.

At breakfast at Pai Country House, I watched as the town slowly filled with more and more Thai as the morning rolled on. The Thais came on scooters carrying backpacks and tents to camp beside the river, or with their family 4WDs and sedans packed to the brim with luggage. I felt like, in a way, I’d intruded on their secret oasis.

But then I likened it to a German backpacker turning up at Maroochydore at New Years – I’m not an intruder, I’m just another face in a rather large crowd of holidaymakers. Sure, my face is a bit different, and I was stopped twice by people who wanted a photo with a 6 foot redheaded white dude wearing purple shorts and mismatched blue and yellow socks (it was laundry day!). But I wasn’t intruding on anything private.

My choice for breakfast was also where I found the expat enclave, and they were taking a different view to what was happening in their town.

One old Dutch guy bemoaned loudly “I’ve been here 12 years, and it’s never been like this,” he said, gesturing at the traffic choking the main street. “I’m thinking about leaving.”

He passed an article over to two French expats sitting at the table beside mine. “You want to cheer yourself up? An article on Pai.” It was by Anchalee Kongrut in the Bangkok Post, and you can read it here.

To Pai or Not To Pai
For many, Pai is the latest case of cultural and environmental decadence and negative gentrification. Antique shops have been converted into beer bars and shops selling T-shirts bearing the word “Pai”. Investors from Bangkok have rushed into town and opened either cheap guesthouses or boutique hotels if not chic coffee houses, Italian restaurants or herbal spa retreats. Ethnic villagers are no longer living cultural heritages, but are fast becoming eye-catching exotic subjects for Facebook photos.

As much as Ms. Kongrut paints a picture of a changed Pai than the one from her past, it’s not an overly negative picture.

I love it here, so it’s easy to imagine that I’m not the only one. But I’m not a Pai local. So when your quiet little town gets invaded every year, and the invaders keep increasing in number, what happens? Over time they’ll keep leaving bits of themselves and their culture behind – a few new tourist-oriented businesses, an increase in guesthouses, a few more market stalls selling more trinkets and souvenirs, another coffee shop or juice bar. The banana pancake trail effect.

Each year, the path to Pai gets easier for people to follow, and they’re welcomed with open arms by local business for the influx of easy capital they bring. It’s nothing new; it happens to small awesome places the world over, time and time again.

Ms. Kongrut sums it up well: “To Pai or not to Pai is still a question to be asked. But it is time for another question, not about the place or the impact of tourism. Places change, for better or for worse, or both. And so do we.”

The question of whether or not to visit Pai is redundant – of course you’re going to visit Pai. It’s a wonderful place. The question is really whether or not you’re comfortable with the changes that make it an easier place to visit.

As the sun started going down, the town reached capacity. Every now and then I saw a foreign face flash among the crowd, then vanish again. This was definitely not going to be a Western New Year: this was going to be a completely Thai celebration.

So many markets!

We are not the same persons this year as last; nor are those we love. It is a happy chance if we, changing, continue to love a changed person.
~ W. Somerset Maugham, (1874-1965)

The Journey, Conclusion

Previously: The Journey, Part One | The Journey, Part Two

I knuckled down one night and did my research.

I decided that I wanted to do another Thai cooking class, so I settled on Thai Cookery School in Chiang Mai. Gorgeous website, and a celebrity chef? Yes please. Booked.

I skimmed Thorn Tree forums and found out about an overnight stay at an Elephant Camp for AUD$120. The first time I saw an elephant in the wild, it was 7am and I was wandering back to my hut in a north Thailand mountain village after visting the loo. I stretched, looked at the top of the hill, and standing right beside a tree silhoutted against the rising sun was an elephant. That moment will stay with me forever. So of course I want to stay overnight with some elephants! Booked.

I was going to be in Thailand for New Years Eve, so I wanted to find somewhere up north to have a bit of a party. Pai came up as the right place – so I’ll be heading there.

But I also heard that Mae Hong Son was pretty awesome for scenery and day treks, and formed part of the Mae Hong Son Loop. Definitely needed to see that. Add to the itinerary.

And then I promised my mum I’d buy her a “blingy watch”. So I needed to go shopping in Bangkok, and what better place than the MBK Centre in Siam Square. So that’s on there.

I fly out of Thailand at midnight on 8th January. It wouldn’t be a trip to Bangkok without a visit to Khao San Road and maybe I will finally, after years of hope, get the chance to eat deep fried grasshoppers. That’s my final stop.

There you go. That’s a trip organised.

Parts of my accommodation are being graciously provided by my hosts, so there’s that taken care of.

I visited a travel doctor – someone who specialises in overseas adventures – to get my jabs and pick up an Emergency Medical Kit. If I eat something that disagrees with me, I’ve now got the medicine to save my dignity and laundry costs.

I dropped into a discount luggage warehouse in West End and picked up an awesome bag under 48cm that I can use for both international and domestic carry on.

Visa? I’m an Australian citizen – under 30 days stay in Thailand, I don’t need a Visa. Tick.

Insurance? I Googled travel insurance and came up with World Nomads. Another quick Google came up with a discount code, so I could save 10%. Easy stuff. Tick.

Money? I’ve been saving more than I need for a trip to the United States. With the bulk of the accommodation covered by my hosts, I had some breathing space. I dipped into my savings. Tick.

So: am I ready?

You’d better believe it.

If you go looking for Adventure, you usually find as much of it as you can manage.  And it often happens that when you think it is ahead, it comes on you unexpectedly from behind.
– Gildor the Elf , J.R.R. Tolkien, early draft of The Lord of the Rings.

A Stitch In Thai

Life is full of opportunities.

Sometimes they’re little things, like the opportunity to go get a cold can of fizzy beverage with a friend.

Sometimes they’re big things, like the opportunity to move to Antartica to fulfill a lifelong dream of studying the migratory patterns of the Gentoo penguins.

And sometimes, they’re amazing things, like the chance to head to Northern Thailand for two weeks and review some awesome hotels, experiences, and adventures.

I fly to Chiang Mai on 26th December 2010, and over the following two weeks I’ll be chronicling my adventure under four categories:

Adventure
Food
Relaxation
Experience

Each post is going to be focusing on at least one element of  “Ayatana“, which is kind of a sense-sphere of the six perceptions: sight, taste, smell, hearing, touch and feeling.

It’s all for a greater purpose, which I can’t reveal right now, but rest assured you’ll find out in due course!

So, from here:

Drop me an email and let me know of some cool things I should do. Or if you want to catch up for a tower of beer, I’m all for that as well.

It is a strange thing, that in sea voyages, where there is nothing to be seen, but sky and sea, men should make diaries; but in land-travel, wherein so much is to be observed, for the most part they omit it; as if chance were fitter to be registered, than observation. Let diaries, therefore, be brought in use.
– Of Travel, Francis Bacon (1561-1626)