Month 5: Thailand

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I had been in Thailand 4 years before for only 2 weeks and that time I was in Bangkok and the North, so this time I wanted to see the South and different things and was lucky enough to do so with my good friend Tabea that I had met in Indonesia.

We arrived in Krabi and from there went to the Phi Phi Islands (pronounced pee-pee Islands), and in the van from our hostel to the ferry we were lucky enough to meet 2 Colombian girls,  a guy from Ecuador and a guy from Spain who we would hang out with for the next few days.

Below images from around Krabi & Koh Phi Phi

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The beautiful and famous karst mountains that come out of the Sea in the South of Thailand.

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The full crew: From left to right Tabea, Myself, Alejandra, Carlos, Mary and Santiago.

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Before…

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And AFTER offending our boat pilot, and more importantly the “Gods” as he was really upset after this jump. I thought he didn’t want me to climb and jump from the front of the boat because he thought I’d get hurt. So when he saw me up on the front and asked me not to, and I disregarded this and jumped anyway he got VERY upset. AFTER my jump I learned that the front of the boat is sacred and there was a holy cloth or symbol that I stepped on before jumping…. I felt TERRIBLE. I was now the ignorant tourist who was not respecting the culture and people. EXACTLY what I try not to do! And to make matters worse, right after this a series of events occurred that made my friends say that it was clearly because I had offended the gods! 1. Our boat’s motor didn’t start again and we had to wait over an hour in a tense silence with our boat pilot (he didn’t accept my first apology) until another boat came to pick us up.    2. The weather got bad and as we were arriving at Maya Bay where the famous Beach from the movie, THE BEACH was filmed, a huge rainstorm began.         3. And the more serious and scary was that when we left Maya Bay, since our boat had broken down and the one that had picked us up now also had its original passengers we were way too many people on a not so stable boat and the sea was very angry and there were massive waves crashing into the boat almost knocking it over and people started to cry and scream and it was tense. Luckily after a few dramatic moments, another boat came and we got onto that one and were taken safely back to land.


Below images of Maya Bay and the famous beach from the movie, THE BEACH.
Apparently it is insanely popular to visit this beach now and usually when you go it is packed with people, but thanks to my upsetting the gods and the weather when we arrived a sandstorm and downpour began and the people who were there seemed to run away and we had it to ourselves…although I was never there on a sunny day, I felt it was probably even more beautiful to see it empty in a storm.

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 Koh Phi Phi, I didn’t know before, is a bit of a party place and the many bars on the beach compete to attract people with drink specials such as free shots and by doing many spectacles such as fire shows, tightrope walking, fire limbo, etc…

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 One night we went out to party and got “buckets”, or bucket sized stiff drinks and partied at one of the places on the beach and had a great time.

Koh Lanta, as seen in the images below is a beautiful island and on the ferry on the way there a friendly local man said he had a great place for us to stay at if we wanted where he would take us for free when we got there.  We had nothing to lose so we went and were delighted to find he took us to a pretty resort that had 3 pools, was on the beach with private bungalows with air conditioning, mini-fridge, etc all for $10 usd, and since I was sharing $5 usd a night for some luxurious backpacking.

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The beach in front of where we were staying. Beautiful.
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Delicious food with view of the ocean.
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Luxury Backpacking. One of our swimming pools outside our bungalow.

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 Tabea and I had left our friends at Koh Phi Phi who didn’t know where they would go next, and when we got to Koh Lanta and fell in love with the place, we wrote the others to come and join us and when they decided to come, I asked the same man who convinced us to go to go and pick them up at the ferry with this sign. The name on it is of Colombian football legend, Faustino Asprilla, and if you look closely on the bottom it says Alejandro Tours 😉

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Reunited at our fabulous resort in Koh Lanta.

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Below are some images of some beautiful elephants we came across one day when we rented motorbikes and explored Koh Lanta. These elephants are used all over Thailand for tourism purposes where people pay to ride them or hang out with them, etc, but sadly almost 99% of the time the elephants are mistreated and baby elephants are stolen from their mothers and raised in captivity and trained with pain and violence.

I love animals and for that same reason I did not go and pay to continue this sad cycle for these amazing animals. We were lucky to be able to see some resting and give them some affection. and have the amazing experience of being near them.

Here is a link you should definitely look at to learn more about these elephants and the proper way of interacting with them if you want:

http://www.onegreenplanet.org/animalsandnature/what-you-need-to-know-about-elephant-trekking

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After we left Koh Lanta, we went to Tonsai Beach, next to a more famous Railay beach. We went to Tonsai because it is famous for its rock climbing, slacklining (like tightrope walking, which I love) and having a nice laid back vibe. Tonsai is only reachable by a hike when it’s low tide and only has electricity 12 hours a day. This makes only certain type of travelers go there, and makes it pretty special. I was delighted to do slacklining, which I love doing back home in Bogotá and hadn’t done any in several months. I actually had hopes of trying highlining, which is slacklining high up with safety harnesses, etc.
here’s an example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K2Cx4H95KVk

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 The beach at Tonsai.

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The view from Railay beach.

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 Some amazing Tofu Curry.

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 View from island hopping tour we did on Tonsai that was supposed to take us to 7 islands, and only took us to 3, but very nice ones!

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  It wasn’t long before Tabea was walking, a natural

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It was a lot of fun to do when it was  high tide and 
you could do and fall into the water if you messed up.

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Deep Water Soloing, is rock climbing when you are next to 
deep water like the Ocean, where you climb without a rope and you just fall into the water below if you mess up. I was so excited to try this, and any climbing in Tonsai, but it was NOT meant to be.
We tried on 4 separate occasions to go climbing and no luck. Twice our morning Deep Water Solo trips got cancelled due to bad weather and 2 other times we got stood up by companies or people we met to go climbing!

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  Here in the background is a famous mountain coming out of the ocean and famous place for Deep Water Soloing…so people would be climbing on the right side of that mountain and when they fall, it would be to the ocean below…sad I couldn’t do it, but at least on this
island hopping trip we had a great time.

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While we were waiting for our climbing instructor one of the times we got stood up. We hung out with this amazing cat that was incredibly affectionate and loved playing and cuddling with us. We visited him often after meeting him.
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SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESSometimes he’d just come and take a nap on us.
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Tabea practicing some hula hoop moves.
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Some climbing and slacklining going on at the beach.
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Our friend Maxi above, doing some nice climbing.

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After some nice days in Tonsai and Railay beach, we then went up a few hours north to the Khao Sok National Park, a beautiful and huge extension of rain forests with the amazing Cheow Lan Lake where we spent a night in a “boat house”, which was beautiful and the combination of Thailand’s rainy season and rain forests  made for some beautiful green and wet vegetation.

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View from the guesthouse we stayed at before going to the National Park, where it would not stop downpouring!

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 This is us sad about all the rain.

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 But we found some things that cheered us up! Our bungalow at the guesthouse had a Mangosteen and Lychee tree on each side and we could pick these delicious food from our terrace. Yummy and free.

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 The lychee tree next tour bungalow.

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Boat houses on the lake surrounded by beautiful mist and rain forests, where we slept.

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The lake was perfect for swimming and exploring on Kayak.

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 Tabea got this picture of me enjoying the beautiful landscape after a swim.

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 There is an amazing cave that unfortunately we couldn’t go to because of it being flooded in the rain season, but we did an awesome trek up some waterfalls and up the river with beautiful nature all around.

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DCIM104GOPROSome of the gorgeous views from the Lake.

We then took went up a few hours north and took a night ferry to the island of Koh Tao, where we spent almost a week there diving (I took my Advanced Diving course here), enjoying the beautiful beaches and charming island.

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This was the night ferry and luckily there weren’t many people on the boat and we could use extra mattress space.
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Action shot of our ride to the quieter end of the island, Chalok Bay, where we stayed.

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 The nice beach in front of our bungalow.

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A beautiful but, sad monkey on a leash we saw.
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In Koh Tao we did some volunteering of helping nurse some inured sea turtles back to health. We helped feed them and to apply some medicine on their wounds.

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 A little spider that we became friends with.

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 On the boat getting ready for one of my dives during the course.

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Photo by Arnaud of Alvaro Diving


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Photo by Arnaud of Alvaro Diving

 

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Spectacular massive school of fish that would move around like one big creature!  Photo by Arnaud of Alvaro Diving.

 

We then took an overnight train to Bangkok. Each of us had been in Bangkok before so we just explored a bit, and ate some good food.

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Delicious egg rolls.
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The fabled Khao San Road, by day.

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After Tabea left, I tried some couchsurfing in Bangkok to be able to connect with some local Thai, people, but some good news and bad news. The bad news is that I couldn’t find any local people to host me. The good news is that a really nice french couple that could host me were amazing hosts and live quite comfortably in Bangkok so it was some luxury couch surfing. My own room with queen size bed, with terrace and view and the building had a pool and was in a great part of town next to public transport to explore the city the next few days.

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Helen and Joaquim, who made me feel at home and here Joaquim who is a cook, had made some amazing duck and potatoes for us and some delicious wine to wash it down.

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My “couch”

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The nice pool I enjoyed very much.
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In Bangkok I went to see this Art and Culture Center I had not seen the first time I was in Bangkok and loved it.
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An amazing fact displayed outside the Art Center raising awareness to fight Elephant poaching for their Ivory.


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I watched some of the artists do portraits for money of people who passed or even from cell phone images and they were amazing.

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I was also amazed to see this Graffiti shop in the Art Center that sold special aerosol cans and paint for graffiti. Quite a lot has changed from when I used to do it, but cool to see.

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 I also saw a performance art piece at the Art Center which was very interesting to see, as I have not seen much of this at all.

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 This performance piece was by this man, Chumpon Apisuk, who has been doing performance art in Thailand and around the world for 30 years.

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View from the top of the Art Center…a really beautiful space.

One day in Bangkok I went to a “Meet and cook” event that was promoted on CouchSurfing Bangkok, and my host Joaquim recommended. Several people from different countries comprised of backpackers traveling through Bangkok, expats living in Bangkok, and locals got together at a guesthouse and went to a local market to buy ingredients and then all prepared the food and ate it together. It was an excellent experience where I met lots of people and learned a bit about preparing delicious Thai Cuisine.

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This reminded me of when we had our Lychee and Mangosteen tree, and didn’t have to buy the fruit!

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This is how they made Coconut Milk we used to cook. They place the coconut pieces in a sieve type bag and then basically squeeze the milk out of the coconut in this machine.

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Erhan from Turkey, a really nice guy had this amazing shirt which asks, “Are you living your dream!?” I told him about my blog requesting the same.

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All of us preparing the food together.
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Some of the fresh ingredients.
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Preparing probably my favourite Thai soup, Tom Kha

After leaving the luxury and comfort of my couchsurfing set up in
Bangkok, I decided to go a few hours north of Bangkok to go camping in Khao Yai National Park a beautiful park with tigers, wild elephants, lots of monkeys and tons of other animals. I spent the 2 days hiking and exploring the parks attractions like waterfalls, etc.
I opted not to do an official tour or rent a motorcycle, but to hitchhike around the park and many people were kind enough to give me rides.

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Luckily I could put my tent under this roof thing, because it rained A LOT. and that deer in the picture actually ate one of my snacks! 

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This guy was kind of long but when I went to pick him up,
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He rolled up into this perfect armored ball. Impressive defense.
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After crossing a river I checked to see if I had any leeches, and found none. Then after a few hours I saw blood coming from my feet and sure enough two leeches, here was one.
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This part of the road was a big hangout spot for the monkeys who would be searching for food on the side of the road.
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A mother and little baby monkey hanging below.
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And breast-feeding.

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I arrived at the park and campsite alone, and was lucky to leave with these 3 new friends from Italy and England. Ryan, Giovanni and Enrico were great company to explore the park with and hang out after the park.

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Apparently this waterfall was also in the movie, The Beach

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 hitchhiking around the park and even into the town close to the park afterwards where we went to stay.

From Pak Chong, the town closest to the park. I had no idea where to go next, but last minute decision I grabbed a bus to Sukhothai
a few hours up north to see the ancient ruins of this ancient capital and Kingdom full of temples and beautiful things. I also found the people here the friendliest in Thailand. It is a very nice and relaxing place.

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A monk enjoying some street food.

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A woman I saw in the river fishing or searching for something.

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This unlucky soon to be pet or meal in this sad temporary home.

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Some signs I really liked at a temple in Sukhothai.
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I explored the ruins and the ancient remains of the Sukhothai kingdom by motorbike and there was beautiful nature and ancient Buddhist ruins all around.


The King and Thai Culture, Buddhism and Taoism and Food

Thailand is a monarchy and it is common to see images of the King around avenues in towns, cities, etc. And at many places at 8am and 6pm people stop what they are doing to listen to a song honoring the king.

A song and a film lauding King Bhumibol Adulyadej are played before every movie while an on-screen message instructs cinema-goers to stand. Many Thais regard the king as semi-divine. Here is a you tube clip of what is played at the movie theatres :

Below some images of King and royal family propaganda:

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Images like this calendar are omnipresent throughout Thailand. A touch of propaganda in my opinion, but what I like is how they portray the King. Here he is a communicative man overseeing things and still has time for the arts as he enjoys photography, but at the same time it might mean that the King sees all and hears all.

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 Monument dedicated to the wife of the King, or queen.

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Monument dedicated to the daughter of the King.

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Thailand uses the lunar calendar, so you will see dates written with 2558 as the year. Here are some tickets and receipts showing the year as 58.  At first I didn’t believe it, but towards the end when I would check in to hostels, i would put my check in date with 2558.

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 Thailand is 95% Buddhist and monks are granted special privileges like this one on Bangkok’s subway.

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The food in Thailand, is really amazing. Last time I was here I was obsessed with Pad Thai noodles. However, this time I was obsessed with the curries and soups like Tom Kha, Tom Yum, etc… lots of sweet, sour, and savory flavors with fresh ingredients like lemongrass, coconut milk, ginger….absolutely delicious food.

Thailand is a beautiful country with amazing food and nature, great beaches, and a very well-developed tourism infrastructure. Maybe it is for this same reason that I don’t love traveling Thailand as much as other places. It has become so touristy and you are rarely far from a 7-Eleven store that of course is convenient, but ridding and replacing the local culture with a culture catering to international travelers.
I think traveling in Thailand takes away a little bit of the excitement of traveling, but is definitely worth going for the food and landscapes.

Sadly, the situation in the country is precarious. The King is and aging and ill, and has stopped making public appearances. No one know what will happen when the King dies as he is seen as holding the country together, as he is alleged to have given his blessing to the ruling military party after a coup last year. One of so many coups in Thailand that suspend the constitution, and the right to vote, meaning democracy. Instead censorship, brain washing (children in school have to recite 12 ” core values” every day). Hopefully this situation will get better for this beautiful country.
You can read about this in this great article about Thailand’s past and present situation:
http://harpers.org/archive/2015/06/a-polite-coup/1/

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