Chapter 5: Rats, Ripped off, and Reunited
October 30, 2018
Sawadee Kah [sah-wah-dee-kah] Chiang Mai.
One hour later, and we found ourselves at the border of another country. Flying was the fastest, and yes unfortunately, most expensive route to take, but we were scarred from our night bus experience from Vientiane to Luang Prabang. There are a few different routes to get from Luang Prabang to Chiang Mai: night bus, long boat, speed boat, and flying; we had no regrets about hopping on that plane.
We followed routine: acquire SIM cards (300 baht = 6GB for 30 days). Then, Ryley called Meena. What a hilarious experience.
Meena: a middle aged, Thai woman whom Ryley made friends with when he stayed at the homestay she was working at during his last visit (take a deep breath after reading that). She calls Ryley “Lylee”, and would do anything for us to make our visit in Chiang Mai as pleasant as possible. This included: picking us up from the airport, and finding a reasonably priced guesthouse that was close to where she lived…so she could visit us. She’s a mile a minute kind of gal, and loves taking photos…especially with her yellow sunglasses. God bless Meena, you will never meet anyone like her.
She picked us up in her little hatchback and took us to her favourite place for lunch. We then drove around to two different guesthouses to find one that best suited our needs. For $14.00 CAD Meena found us a room at Bann Elephant House. After settling in and a quick nap, we found ourselves scouting the streets to find dinner. A small grandmotherly looking woman had a food stand with all things deep-fried. Two bags of sticky rice, two fried drum sticks, and two ice cold Chang beers. Beforehand, we had indulged in a bag of greasy meatballs, but they weren’t very satisfying. Back to the guesthouse we went, where we would inhale these culinary treats and be so fortunate to meet a wonderful British couple named Emily and George. George sounded like John Snow (if you don’t watch Game of Thrones, get your shit together), and we couldn’t help ourselves but to tell him. After chatting for a while, we found out that the newlyweds were travelling around Asia for seven months. We were heading to Chai Lai Orchid the next day, and would be staying overnight; we’d be back the following evening, and planned to get together before we parted ways to different countries.
I couldn’t wait until morning. It was the event I had been (not so) patiently waiting for since planning our trip to Asia.
October 31, 2018
The elephants were calling my name; I could hear them from forty-five minutes away. Containing myself turned out to be a real task. We signed up for the two days one night tour (Karen Tribe Homestay and march with the elephants).
A tuk tuk scooped us up, and took us to the place where the most peaceful beasts on earth get to roam free. Walk-slow jogging is the best way to describe my child like entrance. We crossed a long narrow bridge, where a group of sweet dogs were waiting at the end to greet us. The group we came in with were equally ecstatic, which made me feel like I wasn’t overreacting. As we were sitting down, a giant grey creature made her way over to us. A long grey nose poked around the corner, searching for all things banana. Overwhelmed is a nice way to describe how I was feeling. Ryley and I exchanged glances, and mouth open; I slowly approached the old woman. My hands ran up her thick-skinned sides, and caressed her large forehead. A group of friendly Mahouts (trained elephant minders) greeted us, and split us off into our groups for the day. Our first experience would be playing with the baby elephant, and then feeding the adult elephants. But before that could happen, we had to shuck bananas…a lot of bananas.
Chai Lai Orchid Fact: The baby elephants are always kept with their mothers. The whole time we were playing with the baby, Mama was very close. She was kept content with bananas and human interaction. At no point were they ever separated, or were they in any type of distress.
The elephant child was small, but mighty. She weighed 600 lbs, and acted like a small puppy. Ryley was playing with her, and she would lay on him with her full weight. I tried to follow suit, but was scared when she threw herself on top of me. Being crushed is one of the scariest feelings, but also adrenaline inducing when it’s by a baby elephant. The pure joy we received from this little trundling ball of energy was indescribable. After our play date, we headed to an open area where a group of six were grazing. I have never been so excited to feed another being in my entire life. So many noses poked and prodded you for a yummy snack. I danced around flinging bananas into the mouths of all near and far, and then our Mahout announced that it was time to split into even smaller groups; we had booked a private elephant tour, which was about to start.
Into the forest we went, Ryley, myself, our Mahouts, and of course our elephant friends. It was time for a bareback ride. A running leap was what would get me on top of the gentle giant, as well as a hand from our Mahout. No saddles, no chains, and no hooks; bareback on top of six solid tons.
**Ethical Elephant Tourism Background: Elephants have been domesticated in Burma and Myanmar for over 4,000 years. Like horses, but slightly bigger, elephants were used for logging and hauling lumber. In recent times, exploitation has taken over as economies have shifted. You can point fingers at the treatment of Asian elephants in recent times, but I need not remind you of the abuse and exploitation of elephants all over the world (circuses, zoos, etc.). In Asia specifically, unethical elephant tourism has grown into an extremely lucrative industry; EVERYONE wants to see the elephants, and I don’t blame them. But do you know what you’re supporting? That’s why research is critical to ensuring you’re doing your part in supporting the ethical treatment of elephants. The human – elephant interaction is a beautiful thing, if it is done safely and with care and respect. This is why we chose to support Chai Lai Orchid. They home rescue elephants, who have experienced some sort of neglect or abuse. Chai Lai is transparent with the way they treat their elephants, and that is an organization I feel good about supporting. Knowing and seeing first hand that these wonderful creatures are fed, bathed, and rested properly is so important. Also, the elephants don’t have to do anything they don’t want to do… but to be honest they have a pretty sweet life. They have a routine feeding schedule, sometimes rest in the shade all day, and are never forced to do anything they aren’t feeling up to. The elephants go to elephant school to learn commands, as this is part of the domestication process. All wild animals who are domesticated need some sort of formal training to keep the peace, which is completely understandable. In a perfect world I would love for elephants to roam free in their natural habitat, but this isn’t always possible. As long as humans exist, elephants will continue to be poached for their ivory, mistreated, and used for unethical elephant tourism. The fight to spread awareness on behalf of the well-being of the elephants, and support ethical elephant tourism is all I can do. They are in a safe place, treated well, and have autonomy. Plus, the proceeds of Chai Lai Orchid go towards ending trafficking of the Karen Tribe women, as well as keeping Chai Lai running smoothly. Most Mahouts who work at Chai Lai Orchid are Burmese refugees or belong to the Karen Tribe. Everyone wins: jobs for refugees who are actually people with a genuine understanding for elephants engrained in their soul (historically), the elephants are living well, and humans get to interact, learn, and spread the love to the largest but most gentle creatures to roam this earth. You may agree with me, or you may disagree, but this is where I stand on the topic. Seeing things for yourself in real life is what’s important. Talk to the owner, like I did. Find out their story. Ask questions.
I sat close to the back of her head, with my legs nuzzling the sides of her neck. She was quiet, only stopping to gather leaves or grass; I was a mere 110 lb speck on the enormity of her six ton being. Not once did our Mahouts make physical contact with our elephants, but instead used guiding words; it was like something out of a movie. Towards the end, I laid my cheek on the top of her head, and listened to her constant breath. I wondered what she was thinking; our time together had come to an end. We said our goodbyes and headed back to the meeting area where we met a new friend. She was much younger than the Grandma I rode, and was quite energetic. Ryley and I guided her down into the river, and our Mahout followed with bananas. She stepped into the water, sat down and then happily laid on her side. We grabbed handfuls of mud and sand and rubbed her sides for a nice elephant exfoliation. She sprayed water all over us, and we took turns washing her off. A giant trunk came out of nowhere, and guided me to the front of her body for a hug; I’ve never felt so close or safe around such a large creature. After we had washed off most of the mud, we walked her back up to the common area where she was able to roam freely. Our elephant time for the day had come to an end, but the adventure had not. We were introduced to our tour guide for the rest of the evening, Zen, a former Buddhist monk with more pep in his step than anyone I’d ever met. He walked us to the back of the tuk tuk, and introduced us to the couple we’d be spending our Karen Tribe experience with; an American couple.
The first part of the experience was to go grocery shopping at the local store to pick up ingredients for our dinner. Zen recommended buying snacks just in case we wanted something to nibble on. Ryley and I went to town: a bag of roasted peanuts, two hard boiled eggs (Ryley not me), apples, and of course beer. We looked over at the couple and what did they buy? Lays chips and Mentos. Okay, maybe they had sensitive stomachs? Then we got back in the tuk tuk, and were listening to them tell us about their travels to the Middle East. They explained that EVERYONE was so rude, and that “those Muslims” have no manners; automatically, I stopped listening. My initial gut feeling towards the Lays and Mentos was correct; they continued to refer to the country the“Philippines” as the “Philippinos”, and it all went downhill from there. The girlfriend barely cracked a smile, and the boyfriend was quite obnoxious and needed to feel important at all times. The tipping point for me was after our Karen Tribe weaving experience.
Second part of the experience, weaving; Zen directed us to some small open bamboo huts, and explained that only women are allowed to weave. It’s an ancient practice which has been passed down for hundreds of years. My weaving trainer strapped me into a contraption that supports your back while you weave. Not a word of English was spoken between us, only grunts and head nods. It was such a cathartic experience, and I sat there for nearly forty-five minutes, repeating the process over and over again. The weavers’ beautiful designs hung all around the hut; the precision, and unique patterns of each design were infatuating. I couldn’t help myself but to buy a scarf. #supportlocal
Back in the tuk tuk with the American couple, and off to our traditional homestay.
As Ryley and I chatted, I told him that I had bought a scarf from the weaver lady. We discussed what an incredible eye you would have to have in order to produce such work. Then, the dweeb of a boyfriend pipes up and asks the most ignorant rhetorical question.
“Why would anyone want to buy a scarf there, when you could just get one that’s mass produced and way cheaper”?
That set me off. I explained that the unique qualities of each scarf cannot be replicated, and that you’re supporting a local village by buying one of their scarves. Anything can be mass-produced these days, but that’s not what it’s about. I continued on about cultural insensitivity and ethnocentrism, at which point he shut his mouth very quickly. I was judging, and judging hard. I had no patience for this fool, or his wet blanket of a girlfriend. Ryley and I placed our tolerance caps on for the evening buckling them on extra tight.
We reached a turnoff which took us down one of the bumpiest roads I’d ever been on; four wheel drive was a necessity in order to access the dirt road safely. After a jostling 15 minutes, we arrived to a peaceful scene: bamboo huts and a rushing river. Zen showed us to our hut, which backed onto the flowing water. There was only two hours of electricity in the evening and no cell service; we were camping, but Karen style. After supper, we sat by the fire and an older gentleman approached with an incredibly old looking instrument. He smiled, sat down, and started playing an old Karen folk song. The instrument he played was called the “Dana”; he sang and played the same song over and over again. We made a joke that we couldn’t leave until we knew the song off by heart. Zen offered beer to everyone, and both Ryley and I indulged; beer and a camp fire go hand in hand.
The night ended early, but Ryley and I took a moment to sit in the middle of the field and revel at the little dipper.
November 1, 2018
7:00 AM wake up call.
Twenty minutes of yoga, and ten minutes of devout mediation was in order. I wanted to cleanse and prepare my mind for the hike we were about to endure. We said goodbye to our bamboo hut, and started into the forest. Zen proved to be a man of the land, and put most boy scouts to shame. He cleared through Banana spiders, and educated us on the flora and fauna we encountered or had questions about. He also warned us about land leeches. Yes, like the leeches we all know to live in the water and suck your blood but on land. Throughout the hike he pulled up his pant leg to reveal the sneaky suckers attached to his leg and ankle. I was so glad to be wearing long pants on this particular hike. At one point we crossed through a rocky stream, to be greeted by a magnificent praying mantis. Zen grabbed a stick, and the noble creature attached itself to it and showed off its slim and slightly strange figure. We continued on, until we reached the waterfall. It was tucked away near an arrangement of rocks. Zen had been collecting these large waxy leaves along the way, and as we ate lunch he made us little leaf hats. I didn’t want to take mine off, as it made me feel one with the forest. The whiny two watched as Ryley and I indulged in a quirky improve skit using our new hats for props. As we got up to leave, the boyfriend got weird about bringing the hat with him and didn’t know what to do with it. Zen calmly explained that he could leave his hat near the waterfall if he didn’t want to bring it with him. Ryley and I exchanged glances, and marched fast and forward with our leafy cone heads. Even though the hike was only 7 km, it felt much longer as the terrain was quite challenging to maneuver.
Thailand Fact: On the way back up towards civilization, we noticed a large strawberry plantation. This is one of many projects the King of Thailand has put in place to help stimulate the Thai economy.
A sweaty yet satisfying trek. Back to Chai Lai Orchid. Back at Chai Lai, we were able to ditch the brats and spend some more quality time with our elephant friends.
Touring Tip (pardon the upcoming pun): If you embark on a tour, and are pleased with your experience…put aside a gratuity for your guide. Even though Zen asked for nothing, it was important to us that he know what a wonderful job he did; everyone’s trying to make a dollar out here. Gratuity in Asia is personal, but we like to gauge how much the person would make in a day and double it. It usually doesn’t come out to a lot, so by tipping one-two days worth of pay can make a huge difference.
We said our goodbyes to our beloved extra large friends, and hopped back in the tuk tuk to make our way back to Chiang Mai. Once back home, exhaustion took over. Dinner was noteworthy, as we stopped at a papaya salad stand. The salad man made everything in a large mortar and pestle. A young Thai girl had ordered her salad before us, and we watched him make it. One, two, four, then six peppers found their way into the mixing bowl.
Thai Spice Fact: “Spicy” versus “medium spicy” are two very different things in Thailand. Ryley and I love spicy food, but when you ask for “spicy”, the person taking your order will give you “Thai spicy”. It’s a whole other caliber of spice that one may not be able to enjoy, even if they claim they dabble in the way of the spice. It’s a mouth burning, gastro nightmare. Don’t be a hero with your spice abilities whilst in Thailand, because you will be sorry.
Keep in mind: remnants of the six peppers he used in the previous salad still lingered in the mortar. With raised eyebrows of concern, he asked how many peppers we would like. Ryley held up two fingers, while I held up three. The man looked at me, and so did Ryley.
LET’S LIVE ON THE EDGE, YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE.
What in the actual hell was I thinking? I knew it was going to be spicy, but this was next level. Precautions were taken by buying two large bottles of beer. No amounts of water could have saved us. The salad man came out from behind his stand to deliver cucumbers on a plate to us. It seemed that worry clouded the air, and for good reason. This was the spiciest meal I’d ever eaten, but my god it was delicious.
Papaya Salad Fact: Papaya salad is delicious when it’s fresh and made with the right amount of fish sauce. It doesn’t taste the same everywhere, so tread lightly. We had an unfortunate experience in Khao Lak, but I’ll share more about that later.
You’re probably getting to know that we are repeat customers when we really like something. So yes, you guessed it: we indulged in some fried chicken and sticky rice. There was no stopping us.
Back to the guesthouse, where we would meet up with Emily and George to play a few hands of cards and laugh way to hard. It was so much fun hanging out with such a quirky, and genuine couple.
November 2, 2018 (Chiang Mai - Phuket - Khao Lak)
You’ll never guess who picked us up to take us to the airport…
Chiang Mai is one of the largest cities in Northern Thailand, and traffic can be hectic, so it was very helpful that Meena found us a guesthouse so close to the airport. She dropped us off, and we said our goodbyes.
Off to Phuket we went. But not without a layover in Bangkok.
Don Mueng Airport Fact: Dong Mueng is one of the most intimidating airports I have ever stepped foot in. If you have an hour layover, and think that you have lots of time, you’re wrong. Don’t get comfortable until you’ve found your gate, because it could be half way across the airport…which could turn into an easy thirty minute walk.
Finally, we landed in Phuket but we had no intention of staying there. Our goal was to get to Khao Lak, because it was the closest and most efficient way to get to the Similan islands to go Scuba diving. Getting there was an absolute treat. Don’t trust airport taxis unless it is your last resort; you will, I repeat, you will get ripped off almost every time. We walked from stand to stand, as we didn’t have walking access to the road to hail a taxi. After a bit of research, we realized we could get a taxi to take us to the bus stop which shouldn’t be too expensive. Most taxi companies were asking 800 Baht ($32.00 CAD), just to take us onto the main road so we could catch our bus. It was a 4.5 km drive. No.
A taxi driver agreed to drive us to the bus stop for 300 Baht ($12.10 CAD), which was the lowest rate we were going to get. As soon as we got in the car, he asked us where we wanted to go. We told him Khao Lak. Most taxi companies were charging 1500-2000 Baht ($60.00-80.00 CAD) to take us there. It was an hour taxi ride, but a two and a half hour bus ride. He said he could take us to the city centre for 1000 Baht ($40.00 CAD). It was 30 degrees outside, and his car was air-conditioned. We decided that by biting the bullet, we would arrive before the sun went down and have more time to find a place to stay. A verbal agreement was made, and then he pulled into a gas station. He filled up his tank, got back in the car, and demanded 1,200 Baht. I have never been so infuriated. We had just made an agreement, but he said that because he had to fill up his tank we had to pay an extra 200 Baht for him to take us there.
With a burning rage simmering inside of me, I TOLD him that he was being dishonest, and by going back on his word was shady. He wouldn’t budge, so Ryley and I decided that we would go to the bus stop, and take our chances catching the bus to Khao Lak. At this point it wasn’t about the money, it was the principle of not going back on your word. This was his karma to deal with, not ours.
We waited at the bus stop, and with the help of a few locals caught the bus to Khao Lak. 100 Baht/person ($4.00 CAD), and the bus was air-conditioned. This was a much more economical choice, with a fixed price.
Khao Lak was filled with tons of tourists, which was surprising as it was low season. We made our way to our hotel, and settled in. Everything was much more expensive in Khao Lak, as it is a tourist town (we had no idea, we just wanted to go Scuba diving). After renting a motorbike, and scouring the area, the only place that wasn’t over priced and looked decent was a soup stop right beside our hotel. Super local, and super cheap.
Better luck tomorrow.
November 3, 2018 (Khao Lak)
Goal of the day: find out how much it would cost to get me Scuba certified and dive in the Similan Islands.
We went shopping around, but kept running into the same issue. Most people were in the middle of diving tours, or started Scuba certification training in the middle of week. We did not want to have to stay in Khao Lak until Tuesday. Finally, we came across Sea Turtle Divers. Not only could I complete the pool training the next day, but we could also make our way out to the Similan Islands on a liveaboard tour for the next three days. This would certify me for my open water dives, and offer an additional five dives, with a grand total of nine dives by the end of the liveaboard. Most places aren’t able to certify people in the Similan islands anymore, as it is a national park, and the laws have recently changed. We were lucky to be able to get out there when we did.
Background on Similan Islands: a group of islands off the West Coast of Southern Thailand, located in the Andaman Sea. The water surrounding these islands is crystal clear, and full of coral reefs and incredible marine life. National Geographic ranked it as “one of the top ten dive destinations to visit in the world” (insert link). In other words, one of Thailand’s Scuba diving hidden gems.
My night was consumed with completing the online modules, as I would have my written test in the morning, accompanied by the hands on training in the afternoon. It was go time.
November 4, 2018 (Khao Lak)
My motorbike Uber driver: also known as Ryley, dropped me off at the dive shop. There, I met a German couple and solo travelling German man, who were also writing their tests. We all passed, and headed next door for a quick lunch. I ordered the Panang Curry, which was probably not the best idea before serious physical activity. It was so spicy, and did not sit well with me. Off to the pool for noon. Before we could suit up in Scuba gear, and learn the hands on skills, we had to swim. Katja (Cat-Tee-Yuh) our dive master, had us stay a float for 10 minutes. To me, this meant floating. No problem. Oh no, no, no. She wanted us to keep our heads above the water, so we could listen to her instructions. We were not allowed to touch the bottom, so this meant treading water for ten minutes. NEVER in my twenty-one years on this earth have I ever had to tread water for ten minutes straight. About five minutes in, I truly thought death was upon me. Only an hour earlier, I had ingested a seriously spicy curry… and it was starting to crawl its way back up my oesophagus. The heartburn was so real. Did I hear a word of the instructions she gave us? Nope.
The actual Scuba training went really well, except for one part. There were many different drills that we had to complete and master. Draining your mask is the most terrifying thing I’ve ever experienced under water. You have to allow water to fill your mask, then blow out through your nose. I blew out through my mouth, and accidentally inhaled the water in my mask. What a twit. I bailed very quickly, and Katja dragged me up to the surface. After a few more tries I’d mastered the technique.
We were in the pool from 12:00-4:30 PM. Prune would have been a kind way to describe my waterlogged state. But I had officially completed my in-pool Scuba training; next stop, the ocean.
My Uber driver picked me up, and took me to the nearest food source. Ryley had an amazing day, which included: buying a fishing rod, going on a fishing adventure, touring around, and paddling around in a small random boat. His enthusiasm was almost tangible. It was nice to be able to share the day’s activities with each other. Half way through dinner my eyes started to get extremely heavy. My entire body felt like it had been put through a blender. After a hot shower, I put myself under the covers and was not heard from again until the following morning.
November 5, 2018 (Khao Lak - Koh Bon)
7:10 AM start.
Off to the pier , as that is where we would catch a speedboat to Koh Bon; our liveaboard tour was about to begin.
A quick debriefing of what to expect, and before we knew it we had arrived at Koh Bon. We boarded the double decker “apartment’ boat that we would be living on for the next three days. An introduction to the dive leaders, crew, and captain, and within the hour we were suiting up for our first real dive. Well, three of us were. Everyone else on the boat was a veteran diver, including Ryley.
*I’ve decided to spare you all the details of each dive.
By the last dive, we were past the point of tired. The dynamics of the boat were split up into a family of five with teenagers, two single males, and the couple I met at my pool training session. We connected with them immediately, and became dinner and lunch mates. They’d only been dating for six months, but acted like an old married couple. We would really come to enjoy our evening conversations together.
During supper, the lead dive master announced the air conditioning wasn’t working in any of the cabins. It was twenty-nine degrees that evening. We had the option to sleep under the stars at the front of the boat. There was a leisure area with padded mattresses for lounging during the day, but would prove sufficient as something soft to sleep on rather than acquiring heat stroke half way through the night.
It was quite pleasant being out in the middle of the ocean, and watching the stars as the boat rocked us to sleep.
November 6, 2018 (Richelieu Rock)
6:30 am wake up call.
A light breakfast, and a water bottle packed with electrolytes to start the day on the right foot. We would be logging four dives, and would need as much energy and alertness as humanly possible.
After my first dive of the day I was officially open-water certified. I was finally able to dive with the big kids. Ryley’s dive master was the coolest out of the three on board. He was Thai, and had an incredible eye for spotting marine life. He was also the most relaxed out of all three, which made me want to dive with him even more. As soon as we hopped in the water, everything happened so much faster than it had been the day before.
November 7, 2018 (Boonsung Ship Wreck)
A bittersweet yet fulfilled feeling to end to our last day.
We’d gotten into the routine of, wake up – dive – eat – dive – eat again – dive – sleep – repeat. It was exhilarating yet consuming.
The first dive was great, but the second dive was beyond noteworthy.
We dove 18 m into an old shipwreck, and saw things that I had only ever seen on television: schools of Pufferfish, Trevally, Octopi, Honeycomb Eels, Moray Eels, Parrot Fish, Cuttle Fish and the list goes on. It was incredible watching such a complex underwater eco-system exist so magically. It wasn’t until we started ascending that I was really taken aback. Our dive group noticed that there were thousands of baby jellyfish surrounding us. Then Ryley pointed to the left, and there she was. Mama jellyfish. My breath became more rapid, as I watched her dance her graceful self over our heads. What a way to end our last dive.
Scuba diving taught me a great respect for the ocean. The underwater world is one unto itself; a diverse ecosystem home to creatures we haven’t even discovered yet.
And just like that, our live aboard came to an end. We hadn’t planned past our Scuba diving adventure, so as we headed back to Khao Lak we decided to get back on the bus to Phuket and figure out which island we wanted to go to next. Unfortunately, it wasn’t that easy. The last local bus stopped running at 3:00 PM, and it was 3:45 PM. We assumed that the buses ran all day, since it was a weekday… but an important lesson was learned: never assume. Ryley ran to the taxi station across the street to see how much it would cost to taxi back to Khao Lak. The look on his face spoke louder than words. Just as he was crossing the street, a familiar bus came honking down the street. The same conductor, who dropped us off, was flailing out the bus door. He yelled “Phuket” at us, and we jumped on as fast as we could. I’ve never been so grateful for a bus that was running behind schedule.
Our bus ride consisted of research.
Koh Yao Noi would be our next destination, as it was one of the quieter islands with a more mature crowd.
Thank you Ryley and Maps.Me for figuring out where to get off the bus. There were no signs or obvious landmarks, so you have to gauge your stop by tracking where you are. Our goal was to get to the pier, and take a ferry to Koh Yao Noi. As soon as we got off the bus, we debated what the best option would be. This can be the most stressful and anxiety producing part of travel, as you’re in an unfamiliar place and there is nobody to tell you what your next step is. Two Thai scooter taxi drivers approached us, and asked if we needed rides. They offered a great rate, and off to the pier we went. Again. Never make assumptions. We arrived at the pier only to find out that the last ferry left at 6:00 PM. It was now 7:30 PM. The lady at the dock explained we could come back in the morning as the ferry ran every hour.
Next issue to tackle: accommodation. Thank goodness there was an inn near by, and a nice one at that. We were in a very local area, and weren’t sure we would be able to find a place to stay. Everything worked out in the end, but was quite frustrating at times.
If anyone tries to tell you that travelling is stress free, don’t believe them.
November 8, 2018 (Phuket - Koh Yao Noi)
9:00 AM long tail boat to Koh Yao Noi - 100 Baht/person ($4.06 CAD).
As soon as we arrived, there were tuk tuks lined up everywhere ready to take you wherever you needed to go. We hadn’t actually booked a place to stay, but thought that we might be able to score a room at a bungalow house that we found on Agoda.
Booking Fact: Agoda and Hostel World have been our bread and butter for finding accommodation. The apps are wonderful, and very easy to navigate. You have the ability to read reviews, and make a favourites list for the area that you are staying in. My only recommendation is to make sure that when booking or looking at different hostels/hotels that you’re searching in the correct currency. We have accidentally booked in USD and thought we were getting a deal, when we actually paid more than we intended.
We showed up at the bungalow house, and found out that they were fully booked. I looked on Agoda again, and found there was a property near by for even cheaper AND we were able to rent a motorbike for the duration of our stay for 200 Baht/day ($8.10 CAD). Our tuk tuk driver dropped us off, and it turned out to be in the middle of a swamp.
Namtok Bungalows was 500 Baht/night ($20.30 CAD), and the cheapest place on the island. Travelling with someone is way cheaper than travelling alone, because you can split the cost on accommodation. This helps conserve funds, and can make your trip last longer.
Our bungalow had so much personality. The porch consisted of a wonderful work area, accompanied by a hammock that turned into our favourite nap spot. Little crabs waddled around the property, which turned Ryley into a ten year old boy.
Lunch time consisted of a small restaurant on the side of the road. We ate our meal in a small bamboo open-faced hut, and watched the cars and scooters zoom by. Mid bite, an elephant in the back of a pickup truck went by; not something you see everyday.
Our goal was to stay away from the tourist strip, and eat at the local restaurants (this is usually where the best food is, for the most reasonable price). For dinner, we hit the jackpot. This was a pivotal moment in my journey of learning and loving Thai food. We would indulge in Massaman curry, and Tom Yum seafood soup, for the next three evenings.
November 9, 2018
We apply the same rule for all meals. Find the best local spot, eat, repeat. Not only are you enjoying your meals, but you grow a relationship with the people who work there.
Breakfast would be eaten every morning at a small restaurant beside our dinner spot. This was our first real cup of coffee since we’d been in Thailand. We’d been drinking nasty instant coffee every morning, which just doesn’t cut it. Our breakfast consisted of the same meal: chicken broth soup with cilantro, soup donuts (deep fried donuts that you can dip in soup = magic), curried chicken and yellow rice.
We found a secret beach, where we roasted ourselves into crispy brown peanuts. The white sand and teal waters were a sight to see.
Lunch would consist of street food: two bags of sticky rice, chicken skewers, and a chicken cutlet. The lady behind the stand sold the food out of her house, which is very common in Asia; open to the street, with living quarters inside. She too, would get to know our faces very well.
We took our bags of food, stopped to fetch fried bananas on the way back, and picnic-ked on the beach stairs while watching the ocean. With a food coma coming on full force, we posted up on our porch. And to our surprise, a long dinosaur like creature crawled out of the water. A large monitor lizard slithered his way around the pond, and behind the bungalow into his swampy home. He would make an appearance everyday between 12:30-12:50 PM. We’d greet each other after we’d both had our fill of lunch.
Our bungalow community homed a variety of travellers, but one couple in particular stood out: a Spanish couple from Madrid, who always greeted us in passing with a warm smile. I’m so glad we stopped to chat, because they turned out to be the most down to earth humans. They’d just come from a month of trekking in Nepal. That was our next destination, and we were so excited to hear about their experience. It was nostalgic chatting with them about their life in Spain, as I spent time there five years ago. I left Spain enamoured with the culture, food, music, and people. Being able to share my love for Spain with two Spaniards in the South of Thailand truly was a memorable experience.
November 10, 2018
Did you know: you can drive across the entirety of Koh Yao Noi in exactly thirty five minutes?
The island is very small, but has so much to offer. We spent the day adventuring around, watching the water buffalo, and exploring the rubber plantations. Every other person on the island has a cat. We later found out that the cats help to keep the rat population under control.
Lunch: you know where. And we made an accidental discovery across the street… an ice cream shop, which made mango shakes for 30 Baht ($1.22 CAD) - we’re fiends for reasonably priced mango shakes.
Mango Shake (Fruit Shake) Fact: Do not buy a mango shake if it costs more than 40 Baht ($1.62 CAD). I know this sounds ridiculous, but if you’re on a budget, this is important. Also, know the cheapest price you can buy it for so you don’t get ripped off by tourist prices.
It was just after sunset, and I was working away on my computer. All of a sudden, I hear an “arghhhhhh” from the bathroom.
*By the way our bathroom was a literal pit, which was attached to the bungalow after it was built. Full of ants, and creepy crawlers, but we learned to live with it.
I assumed that Ryley was being silly, until I heard it again, and a little louder the second time. I ran to the bathroom, to find Ryley standing at the top of the stairs, staring down at a fat squeaking thing. An overweight rat had fallen from the rafters onto his head. The poor thing was disoriented and scared. It kept jumping around and throwing itself at the walls. Of course we wanted to free him, but we weren’t sure how to do it. Earlier in the day, Ryley had been washing some clothes in our garbage can (we are heathens), which was still full of detergent water. Out of nowhere, the rat accidentally jumped into the bucket and started drowning. Ryley bravely kicked the bucket over, and our rat friend started skidding around on the shower tiles. At that point in time, we deemed it appropriate to name him Bob. Bob had had a rough go at things, and was chilled to the bone. We needed to act fast. He continued hopping erratically, until he hopped into a bag. Ryley placed a piece of paper over the bag, and carefully carried him outside. Bob was safely released into the wild, and we all decided to stay in touch, especially during the holiday seasons.
November 11, 2018 (Remembrance Day)
Our last day in Koh Yao Noi.
At 11:00 AM Thai time, we took two minutes of silence. Always take time to remember, even if you are half way around the world. Shout out to our veterans, and thank you.
We spent the day driving around on our scooter trying to find the perfect spot to practice using a new tracking feature on Ryley’s drone.
I practiced driving around in the field, as the drone buzzed behind us. It was amazing watching this tiny piece of technology track our movements, and follow us in an intelligent pattern to capture the footage in a cinematic way. All of a sudden, the air got very heavy and little droplets started splashing onto our faces. We ducked under a little swing that was covered with a slanted roof. It came down in literal buckets. Staying dry was not an option, but we didn’t mind because the sun was back out within 10 minutes. I jumped on our soaked scooter, and drove us all the way back to our bungalow. This was my first time driving for more than five minutes, and with someone on the back of the bike, and on the opposite side of the road.
Overall: exhilarating experience. Would do again.
November 12, 2018 (Koh Yao Noi - Krabi)
The last breakfast on Koh Yao Noi. We enjoyed every sip of that last cup of real coffee.
As we were returning our motorbike, the owner of the bungalow noticed our back tire had popped. He smiled at us, and told us not to worry. This was something that happened frequently, as the terrain around the island was quite uneven. He even went to the extent of offering us a new bike, so we could drive ourselves to the pier. The hospitality was REAL.
Another long tail boat, but this time to Krabi.
As soon as we arrived at the pier in Krabi, we were bombarded by people offering us taxi rides. We’ve learned that if there is a local means of transportation, then we will take it.
Travel Tip: Try to take local buses anywhere you are. They will be way cheaper than any taxi ride,
and will get you to or very close to your destination all the same. It might take more time, but it will ultimately make less of a dent in your pocket.
A local bus (truck with an open backed bed) drove us into the heart of Krabi for 50 Baht/person ($4.06 CAD). The taxi drivers were offering rides for 1000 Baht/person ($40.00 CAD). #conservethedollar
As soon as we arrived close enough to our hotel, we hopped off our “bus”, and made the journey down the street. We wasted no time at all, as it was still early in the day.
We rented a motorbike from an external vendor, because the motorbike rental prices at our hotel were ridiculous.
Went to Tiger Temple – strange yet incredible experience. There we met a monk, and he gave us woven bracelets that he had blessed. Tons of small caves surrounded the area, and we found one to sit in. It was pitch black, and quite unnerving. A walk through the forest, and listened to the loudest cicadas we’d ever heard.
The day started to catch up with us. We were staying as hydrated as we could, but headaches started to set in.
Next stop: the national park. Bad idea. We trekked through a small jungle like setting to get to a waterfall. We both weren’t wearing the proper footwear, and I was slowly becoming irritated. Ryley had a close call at the top of the waterfall, and almost lost his camera and bonked his head. It was time to venture back home. We’d had enough.
Energy Tip: When you’re tired, admit it to yourself. I highly recommend carrying around a few packets of electrolytes while travelling, especially if you’re travelling through hot and humid climates. You’re sweating more than your body is used to, and even if you’re drinking lots of water, you’re losing salts. Tossing a teaspoon of electrolytes into your water bottle can be a life saver/game changer (plus they’re really cheap).
Shout out to Krabi Pitta Hotel, which had a laundry machine that you could use by the load for 30 Baht ($1.22 CAD). They even provided detergent.
Our first tiring day in Krabi had come to an end, and we were about to watch a movie when Ryley realized that his speaker was missing. Every place we stay, we triple check the entire room before leaving. There is no time to lose things, as we are constantly on the move, and don’t have time to back track. This time we got lucky. There was only one place it could be, so I called Namtok Bungalows and asked the owner if they had found a speaker. They sure did. Since Koh Yao Noi was only thirty minutes away, we asked the owner if we paid him would he bring us our speaker. In broken English he arranged for one of his good friends to meet us at the pier the next day, gave us his name (Mr. Lan), and the time. He said he would bring it, and that it was no problem. What a guy.
November 13, 2018 (Railay Beach)
Everything happens for a reason.
If we hadn’t forgotten the speaker, then we would have never been pressed to drive back to the pier and have been able to take in the stunning views. As soon as we reached the pier, we asked one of the local vendors if he knew where Mr. Lan was. Oh yes, he was eating some lunch right beside the pier. Perfect! He walked over to us, we retrieved the speaker (which he had kindly wrapped in plastic so it wouldn’t get wet), we paid him, thanked him, and walked away knowing that good people really do still exist.
Off to Railay Beach.
Our research showed that Railay was one of the closest and most beautiful islands, which we could access from Krabi. Yes, it was beautiful. Did we enjoy it? No.
Tourist upon tourist laid elbow to elbow on the white sandy beach. People littered everywhere, which was constantly being cleaned up by the resort staff. The only redeeming quality of the island was the beautiful teal water. Everything was over priced, and there was a serious waft of entitlement that stunk up the air. We agreed that this was our least favourite island. Getting a cheap long tail boat back to the pier was also a pain. Due to tourism, the long tail drivers charge much more than normal, which made getting a deal incredibly frustrating. We were grateful to leave.
Krabi had been okay, but we wouldn’t recommend staying for any length of time. It’s a giant tourist hub, that didn’t have a great deal of personality; we were ready to make moves to Koh Lanta.
November 14, 2018 (Krabi - Koh Lanta)
There’s a notable theme here: don’t assume.
We assumed that since Krabi was such a big hub, and had a few different piers, that we would be able to catch a ferry to Koh Lanta without any issue.
Ha. Joke’s on us.
There was only one ferry leaving, and it was going to leave in the next five minutes. We also happened to be at the wrong pier, so we needed to get into the tuk tuk to transfer to the correct pier, where the ferry was patiently waiting for any last minute customers (us). 350 Baht/person – ($14.20 CAD), which we later found out was the running price for this particular ferry.
Two hours later, and we took port in Koh Lanta. Onboard, the ferry helpers arranged a taxi service for us for 150 Baht/person ($6.09 CAD). The staff at Lanta Sabai Hotel greeted us warmly, and made us feel welcome right away. For $16.00 CAD/night we had a wonderful room with air conditioning and a fairly comfortable bed.
Lunch was almost too easy to find. Directly across the street from our hotel was a local restaurant, which was reasonably priced. The food was wonderful. It took about an hour, but was well worth the wait. Each dish was made from scratch and to order. There was one cook, and she was a very old Thai mama, whose children ran the restaurant. After lunch, we adventured to a beach about five minutes away. We landed in front of a Rasta bar, owned by a Canadian woman and a Thai man. We sipped mojitos on the beach, and watched the sunset.
Of course we had to find out where the cheapest mango shake was located, and lucky us, it was located down the street. 40 Baht my friends, 40 Baht. The mango shake lady would get to know us real well, as we would stop by up to two times a day.
Observations: Koh Lanta was quiet, reasonably priced, and the tourists were much older. It was safe to say that Koh Lanta was going to be enjoyable.
November 15, 2018
We spent most of the day lounging in front of the Rasta bar, and playing in the waves.
But the real highlight was dinner at Pinto.
Pinto was located in old town, and backed onto a dock that overlooked the ocean. The views were incredibly romantic, but the food was even better. Sometimes you just have to treat yourself. We enjoyed deep fried garlic pepper soft shell crab, and herb crusted jack fish. Only the finest Chang beer to compliment the wonderful seafood we had just indulged in, followed by deep fried chocolate and white chocolate spring rolls.
Keeping date night real and alive even when traveling through another continent.
November 17, 2018
I took the full day to blog, while Ryley ventured off to film. There was a massage studio connected to our hotel, so after I finished blogging I decided to indulge. My massage therapist used tiger balm instead of oil, which helped relax my muscles faster than normal. I was feeling quite tired before the massage, and felt even more jarred afterwards. Thoughts of possible dehydration ran through my mind, but I had been drinking water and electrolytes all day. At dinner, I struggled to stay warm even though it was still thirty degrees outside. Goosebumps covered my entire body, and my joints started to ache. I thought I might be coming down with something. Violent shakes woke me up in the middle of the night, and I couldn’t get warm again. It felt as though my nerves were being ripped out of my body. A fever tore through my system, and refused to go away. I was finally able to get warm in the morning, but then my body began to over heat.
November 18 -19, 2018
Web MD will make anyone crazy, especially when you’re experiencing seven out of the ten symptoms listed for Malaria. I had been taking the preventative medication, but it doesn’t fully protect you from the virus.
This is where travel insurance comes in handy. I didn’t want to take a risk, as my symptoms were blatant, and matched up too closely with a virus I DID NOT want to mess around with. $120.00 later, I tested negative but the doctor noted that my platelets were a bit low. She suspected it was Dengue Fever, and explained that this is a very common virus spread by mosquitoes in South East Asia. There is no medication to cure it. You must let it run its course (two-seven days), and take Tylenol for the fever, and drink lots of fluids.
Travel Insurance Tip: If you think you’re invincible and don’t need travel insurance… then you’re playing with fire. Make sure you’re insured before you leave the country, and understand what you’re actually being insured for. Anything can happen at any time, and you want to make sure your covered.
It was a stay in bed for the rest of the day, kind of day. And I was grateful to have Ryley there beside me, feeding me a cocktail of Tylenol and Advil every few hours.
I ended up spending another full twenty four hours sweating out the fever, and letting the chills run its course.
Dengue Fever sucks.
November 20, 2018
I woke up and tested out my body.
The aches were gone, my fever had fully subsided, and my head felt clear. Goodbye Dingus Fever (Ryley’s creative nickname).
It was our last day in Koh Lanta, and after being confined to bed for the last two days, I wanted to do a fun activity.
So we visited Lanta Animal Welfare.
On their website it stated that you could walk the dogs, which I assumed would be a fun activity. The volunteers run tours every hour, which I really had no interest in participating in. I just wanted to pet the dogs, and talk one on a walk. It turned into a whole ordeal of going on a guided tour, with a bunch of random people who had small children.
Finally, we were able to meet and socialize with the dogs! We were put into a group of six, us paired with two other couples. We were shown the route that we would be walking the dogs, and it looked simple enough. Unfortunately, half of the dogs did not know how to operate in such a large group setting and got frantic. I was walking a medium sized boy, and he couldn’t handle himself. I’ve never been so exhausted from walking a dog in my life.
On the flip side, Lanta Animal Welfare is doing a great thing for animal rescue. They’re a nonprofit rescue that relieves animals of suffering and pain by giving them the medical care they need, to help them later be adopted. They offer free sterilization services for all animals, and have sterilized over 90% of the island. Their “Kitty City” was also quite memorable. It’s a cat zen den, where over fifty cats roam free and can interact with visitors and live happily.
After our animal ordeal, we went back to the hotel to finish packing for our trip to Hua Hin in the morning. We had purchased our bus tickets a few days previously, and got them for a steal of a deal. 900 Baht/person ($36.52 CAD) for a 10 hour bus ride.
Our last dinner would be spent at our favourite dinner spot. It usually took one hour for meals to be prepared, so we invented a system: place the order, and go back to our room and watch a few YouTube videos until it was ready. We were fixed on the Massaman curry and fried morning glory.
We’d miss Koh Lanta, but it was time to move on.
November 21, 2018 (Koh Lanta – Hua Hin)
11:00 A.M. - on the dot, and the van picked us up and took us back to Krabi by car ferry.
We had a few hours to kill, so we took a leisurely lunch and picked up snacks for the ten hour ride.
4:00 P.M. - and our bus took us to a dilapidated bus station, where we were to be picked up at 6:00 P.M. Ryley and I passed the time by playing round after round of rummy.
7:30 P.M. and our bus rolls up, but it wasn’t clear which bus it was. The bus men were yelling random things, and we had to listen very closely to make sure we boarded the correct bus. We had to board the bus to Bangkok as Hua Hin was on the way.
10:00 P.M. – We stopped and have to transfer buses. Again, the instructions and communication were hazy, but we made it onto the next bus. When we boarded, we found out that since the other bus was running behind schedule, the bus we were boarding had been waiting for nearly two hours. The people already onboard were quite frustrated.
12:30 P.M. – We stopped again, but this time on the side of the road. Another bus transferred more people onto our bus, and this time there wasn’t enough room. People came up the stairs huffing and puffing looking for somewhere to sit. A British woman, who looked as though she was a rugby player, asked if there were any seats in the back.
Side note: we were sitting in the very back row, on the top deck of the bus. The man on the opposite side was either on drugs or was very drunk. He smelled quite potent, and was making strange noises the entire ride.
The middle area was full of our carry-on bags, as we didn’t have a lot of legroom. The drunken man was half passed out, and we didn’t have enough time to answer her. Before we could open our mouths, she had slung her full body into the middle seat, knocking into Ryley and jostling me. It was late, everyone was tired, but there was absolutely no reason for her to act like that. The people transferring onto the bus had, had a hell of a night and made sure everyone else knew about it.
Everyone settled down, and we were on our way again. The bus stopped one last time, but this time for food. We were running two hours behind schedule, which was quite frustrating. Normally I wouldn’t mind if travel took a bit longer than predicted, but someone was meeting us to pick us up once we arrived in Hua Hin. Also, it was an ungodly hour to pick someone up, so I felt even worse that we were running behind.
November 22, 2018 - November 26, 2018 (Hua Hin)
You’re probably wondering who was picking us up in Hua Hin.
*Context: Gene and Noriko moved into the house beside us nearly thirteen years ago. I remember when their house was still under construction. Noriko was pregnant with twins, and had the girls shortly after they moved in. They had their hands full with two new babies, and we tried to help wherever we could. My sister and I quickly fell in love with their whole family. Noriko’s mom (Miako) came over from Japan to help with the girls, while Noriko gained her strength back. I don’t know how it happened, or if there was an exact moment when it became a “thing”, but we started going over every day after school. Extra hands to hold a baby, change a diaper, or eat Miako’s famous chicken teriyaki. They became our next-door family. Many people might not know this about me, but I had an obsession with any and all things Japanese. When kids were reading Judy Blume, I was reading manga. Their influence on my love for Japanese food, culture, and later language was life defining. They have hearts of gold, and always welcomed us into their home even when they were tired or didn’t actually need a helping hand. Addison and I just loved being around them. They are those kind of people. We stayed in contact on and off over the last thirteen-ish years, but it was difficult as they had moved away and were living on different continents. When Gene heard that I’d be travelling to Thailand, he invited us to come visit. Of course we were going to visit them. They were people I’d always kept near and dear to my heart, and I hoped to see them again one day. This would be my chance.
4:30 A.M. and Gene pulled up to two tired peasants sitting on the side of the road. He called us a Grab, and back to his house we went. Gene drives a scooter, so a car was needed for this part of the journey. He wanted to make sure we got to his place safely and without getting ripped off. I’ve never felt so welcomed, so quickly. I was a child the last time I saw him. It was so incredible walking into their home again – this time on a different continent – and feeling the same familiar feels. The best surprise… they had a dog. I’d been missing my furry chicken back home, and was craving a dog fix. And a dog fix I would get, because Sparkle was the biggest suck I had ever met. She lived to be cuddled.
Morning came, and I stepped out of our room to brush my teeth, but not before I made eye contact with Noriko. Her arms opened up, and she walked towards me with tears in her eyes. The little girl she used to know was now all grown up. It was so amazing hugging her again. She hadn’t changed a bit (the woman literally doesn’t age). The little girls I used to hold and cuddle stared at me with shy smiles as I hugged their mom. I almost fell over. Young, beautiful faces, each with the cutest sprinkle of freckles over their noses. Tall and slender, and with the poise of someone twice their age; who was I looking at? I was looking at thirteen year old Kokomi and Mizuki. It didn’t feel real.
Over the course of the next four days, I would unravel small pieces of my neighbour’s lives. I would find out that the girls had a passion for art, specifically manga. They were obsessed with anime and manga, just like I was when I was their age. Gene and Noriko had been living in Qatar most recently, and it was fascinating listening to their experiences. To fit thirteen years of catching up in four days is not possible, but we reminisced and shared stories every day.
Eating breakfast together every morning was unforgettable. Gene would make you as many cups of coffee as your heart desired (we could only drink one each, as he made them so strong a spoon could stand up straight in it). The girls would shock me a little more everyday. Their politeness was out of this world. Both Ryley and I were in awe at how softly spoken, kind, and caring they were. I didn’t realize the extent of their love for dogs, until I saw the way the family treated Sparkle (a little Havanese-Chihuahua mix). They lived to love her. Every morning, I would be greeted with so much love and tons of cuddles. It made my heart sing to know how that my family isn’t the only ones who spoil the crap out of their dog.
There aren’t enough words to describe our visit with Gene, Noriko, and the girls. I was ecstatic that Ryley got to meet a piece of me that most people don’t know about. I love them, and have decided that waiting every thirteen years to see each other is a thing of the past.
The next morning we would say a sad, but loving goodbye to my beloved neighbours. Our visit was unforgettable, and it’ll always stay near and dear to my heart.
We had no idea what world we were about to step into.
See you later Thailand, bring it on Nepal.
Liv Review: Thailand, oh Thailand, what a wonderful place to travel to. We had an awesome time exploring a bit of the North and a lot of the South. It is an easy country to navigate, and is extremely welcoming to tourists as creature comforts are always within reach. The people are super friendly, and the food can be a total hit and also a total miss. Try to explore the places that you’ve never heard of. It’s so easy to go to the islands that everyone goes to, but guaranteed it’s going to be overrun with tourists. It all depends on your travel intentions. What kind of experience are you looking for? We were searching for quiet, relaxed, and easy to navigate. There are so many stunning temples, beaches, forests, and so much more to see. You won’t get bored in Thailand. Guaranteed.
“Ethical Elephant Tourism”, filmed and edited by Ryley.