So, FINALLY, I get to write about some of the travels so far. Gone are the days of sitting in our apartment waiting for this trip to finally begin. So let me catch you up since the last time I wrote.
We finished selling, donating and throwing away 99% of the things we owned just before we left in mid January. Our last weekend in Toronto we spent getting the last 1% of our things out of our place and into storage. The weather was awful, well below freezing, so by the time we finished Sunday night I actually was running a fever. I wish I could say that’s unusual, but every…single…time I go on a big non-business trip I get sick. I had a chest infection before our Europe trip, pink eye in New York and the flu in Utah. Lucky me. I spent the night shivering in our airport hotel and hoping to just feel a little better by morning so we could get on our flight to Japan. I was good enough in the a.m. and nothing was going to stop this from happening so off we went. Our entire travel time to get to Bangkok was 27ish hours, which actually sounds worse that it was. By the time we caught our last flight, from Tokyo to Bangkok we were so exhausted we just slept for that entire flight and I left my fever somewhere over the pacific ocean.
We made it to our hotel and spent 3 nights in Bangkok exploring the city. I didn’t think I would like the city much, but after our time there it grew on me. It is not an easy city to visit and is full of contrasts. It is busy, hot, dirty and very smelly with extreme wealth/privilege sitting right next to extreme poverty. The city isn’t pretty, but has a Blade Runner city of the future quality to it. What it doesn’t have in beauty it makes up for with vibrancy, there are people everywhere and most notably, food absolutely everywhere you look. It feels like there are food stalls covering the city. Coming from Canada, it is shocking to see chicken being barbecued on a dirty sidewalk under a bridge, giving me my first moment of culture shock. While Evan dove right in sampling chicken wings and ice cream I kept trying to find somewhat western looking places to eat. They all were very disappointing. I can confidently now say, if you want to eat well, eat like a local. Trying to have pancakes like back home is just going to lead to you having and expensive terrible meal. The highlight of Bangkok for me was sitting on our first day in a quiet corner of a large Wat realizing that we were warm again (YAY) and for the first time in years that I had time. Time to explore, time to spend with Evan and time to just enjoy a slower pace without pressure. Bliss.
After our three days and nights in Bangkok, we flew south to Koh Samui to catch a ferry that would take us into our first southern Thai experience. By the time we flew for an hour, waited 2 hours for the ferry and then experienced the joy of a rocking and rolling ferry for 3 hours we finally arrived in Koh Tao. We were met at the pier by someone from our hotel and driven to the far side of the island to our temporary home. The ride to the hotel sitting in the back of a pick up over rather harrowing roads ended with us checking into our very small, very smelly hotel room. No AC, just a bed with holes in the sheets the the smell of hot mildew. I nearly lost it. I tried not to show it, but I was freaking the fuck out. We just sold our comfortable condo so that we could travel half way around the world to sleep in this fucking dump? If this is the way this trip is going to go I didn’t want to do it anymore. Definitely not bliss, more like extreme disappointment mixed with a strong sense of regret. So we did the only thing either of us could manage and that moment, we passed out. We were so exhausted and still jet lagged that we fell asleep at 6pm and slept till morning. We got up and tried to make the best of it, had breakfast, checked out the diving school at our resort, walked the beach but after a few hours it became clear, I hated that place and wanted to leave. We went to the other side of the island and found a nice looking resort with a professional dive school that would give us accommodation for 5 nights if we took their scuba diving course, so we were sold. One more night in the stinky room and we would be staying in (a comparative) paradise.
We spent the next 3 days learning how to dive. It was incredible, but also challenging and more than a little frustrating. The monsoon season came late in Koh Tao, so the weather was not perfect, the sea rocky and the visibility a little murky. However, the experience of breathing underwater is incredible. I had wanted to learn to dive for most of my adult life and never made the time so to actually have done it is extremely satisfying. I can’t wait to do more as we travel over the next few months and years.
After a week on Koh Tao, we headed further south to Khanom, a quiet town on the mainland with a long beautiful beach on the Gulf of Thailand. We found a great little hut for $18.00 a night and rented a scooter for $10.00 a day so we could explore. We had met a expat local who helped with everything, renting a scooter, finding our hotel and recommending local hangouts. That has been one of the most amazing parts of this trip so far. Time and again, we have encountered people who have been generous with their time and so welcoming. I will write another post about the people we have met and some of their stories. Khanom is quiet and much more popular with Thai people than out of country tourists, so it was peaceful and felt a world away from the the craziness of Bangkok and the slightly tourist trap feeling in Koh Tao. We spent two nights drinking and laughing with a mix of locals and mainly european guests in a little beach bar owned by a former DJ named Joe, the type of hole in the wall place with a sand floor and a bar that is help yourself. It was incredible.
We left Khanom after 3 nights and headed to a national park called Khao Sok. We spend one day trekking through one of the oldest rainforests in the world and had our first experience with wild monkeys jumping from tree to tree. The next day, we took another rented scooter and drove the hour west of where we were staying on a gorgeous twisty highway passing by stunning lush mountains as we headed to the parks big draw, a man made lake that was created in the 1980’s as part of a hydro project. It was absolutely stunning, blue/green water framed by high limestone cliffs. Never in my life have I seen a landscape like that. We rented a long tail boat with a Russian tourist and took off on to the lake. We spent a few hours riding around the lake and swimming in the warm fresh water. Arguably the best February 1st I have every had. It sure beats the hell out of a Canadian winter.
It was time to head further south, so we caught a mini bus to Krabi, stayed one night and then took another minibus to catch a speedboat to Ko Lipe. It is the only island that has a wide selection of hotels and restaurants that can support the many tourists that head all the way down to this southern part of Thailand to see Tarutao national park. While the island is gorgeous, white sand powder beaches and crystal clear turquoise water, 95% of the island feels overrun. We did find a fairly quiet beach that was not covered in beach bars and spent a few days lounging on the sand and swimming in the incredibly warm water. The absolute highlight was spending the day with a small group of Romanian tourists on a longtail boat traveling through the national park. Hopping from one uninhabited beach to another. We swam, snorkelled, ate and napped the entire day. It is hard to describe a day like that, but it was as perfect a day in the most gorgeous surroundings that I have had yet and that’s saying a lot considering that there have been a lot of perfect days. That night, we sat on an empty beach under the stars and took a midnight swim in the ocean. It was exactly the type of experience I have longed for all those years and months sitting in meetings wishing to do something more with my life. You realize in those moments how little you need to be happy. It was everything.
Ko Lipe is however, much more expensive than other parts of Thailand because 1) it is a small island and everything is imported and 2) it is a tourist trap, with mainly european and Chinese tourists. So after 4 days, we were ready to go north again and spend some time in Chiang Mai and spend less money. We have spent a week here, hanging out, visiting Wats seeing the local sights and eating the incredible food. It is much cheaper here, lunch costs us the equivalent of $5.00 Canadian for BOTH of us and and extravagant dinner is $20.00 including booze. Our airbnb is $30.00 a night and is serviced every day with fresh towels, toiletries and drinking water. Our scooter is $8.00 a day, the cheapest so far. We took a Thai cooking class and ate the tastiest food I have ever cooked in my entire life. Later that night we came across a food truck that was owned by a Thai/American named Bruce who made the most incredible sliders. We ate like kings for less than $10.00 and had a little break from all the Thai food. As perfect as I am making it sound, it does have some challenges. It is not pedestrian friendly in anyway, there is pollution and today we were stopped by the local police and fined 500 Baht (about $20 Canadian) for not having an international drivers licence. We had been able to avoid most of these police traps, we have come across one every single day, but today was our unlucky day. It is not the prettiest city, but it is cheap and fun and is on my list of places we might spend some time living in the future. We’ll see.