Sunday, March 25, 2012

The journey to the other side of the world. Thailand-Cambodia-HK

The flight from Toronto to Bangkok was 23 hours in total including 3 hours stop over in Tokyo. It was not that bad actually. We were worried whether kids would survive it, but they did it just fine. Air Canada was serving free alcohol (at least, because the food was quite shameful), which kept us, adults, happy for the entire flight.

We stayed 1 full day in Bangkok, we were told that the city is dirty and noisy and the only things worth seeing are the King Palace and transvestites show.  We took a tour guide to show us around.
First he took us to the floating market were people cook and sell food from their boats.

It was quite an experience to get there by so called long-tail boat through the narrow, muddy and dirty river. Once you get used to the piles of crap along the shores and inside and around the houses piled up alongside the river you'll find this ride quite attractive. We tried lots of stuff on the market, buying food from the boats. 

Everything was very cheep, quite tasty, cooked in front of our eyes in a woks mounted on the boats. The markets is very authentic and unusual but so irrational, I doubt it is just a tourist attraction since many locals come to shop there.

Then the tour guide took us to the King Palace. It was quite something! Mixture of Buddhist and Hindus temples, lots of gold and bright colors, it is a real gem in this indeed dirty and noisy city.


Bangkok has about 4000 temples, not less. They look so nice in contrast with the surrounding hovels of the poor. 

Thai teenagers when reached age 20 have to become monks and leave in a temple for several months. This is a mandatory service during which they eat a little (2 times a day and only food that is donated to them by people from outside the temple), prey a lot and meditate most of the time.

We took a boat ride along the main river of the city hoping to get some nice city views but all we saw were poor shacks and hovels on the pylons nestled alongside the river, and piles of junk everywhere. It would have looked much different if they cleaned all this crap, but looks like it's part of their culture to completely ignore the crap and discomfort they live in. Anyways it was quite an experience and shocking for our spoiled kids to see how little people need for living.

The long-tail boats - main floating transportation units are powered by automobile-like engines connected with the propeller though a long shaft playing also the role of the steering wheel. It is quite a challenge and needs lots of strength to steer the boat by moving the shaft with the motor mounted on it.

We took a 2 days trip to Cambodia to see the Angkor Watt temple - one of the 7 wonders of the world. It was quite a trip (!) and a "life changing experience" for the kids.
We exchanged our $$ in the airport to the local currency and felt like millionaires, holding thick pack of 1000 KHR bills. The rate is 1$ to 4000 KHRs.
We booked a private 2-days tour with a guide who picked us up right from the airport. We started the journey right a way heading to the jungles to see hidden ruins of the abandoned Hindu temple that got destroyed by the invasive forest.
The villages and rural sights on the road were quite stunning. The dust on the roads did not seem to bother the villagers who settle their 3-wall huts along the road. 

They build their houses on the pylons to be protected from the wild animals. They live very simple life, so simple that in order to go to the toilet they take a shovel and go to the fields...

Seems like the best entertainment for this guys is their religion (Hindu), …and they take it very seriously. They believe that you have to sacrifice and suffer a lot to show your love to the gods. The guide told us about cases where people would torture themselves such as hanging by hands on a tree for couple of weeks, standing in the water (river) for a month without leaving the spot. Or best favorite was the nail growing right through the palm squeezed into a fist. They wrap their fist with tissues to keep it squeezed like this for about a year until the nails grow through the palm to the other side.
Wild, wild east...

Anyways, we reached the temple ruins, which were surprisingly amusing to climb. 

The temple was abandoned about half a century ago when Thai people invaded Cambodia. Since then the termites that softened the foundation and the trees transformed the temple into a nice "playground". 

We were told to be aware of snakes…flying snakes (?!!). They "fly" by jumping from one tree to another; their body is flattened during the jump, which lets them soar, or "fly". I was skeptical about flying snakes and was about to ask the guide that may be you have chicken that swim…until I actually saw swimming chicken (!) on the way back from the temple. The guide sworn they were ducks, but I who spent all my summers in the childhood in a village can tell a chicken from a duck! Yeah, this country can't help amazing us…

The next stop was a Fisherman’s village ...Holy! That thing looked like a sight of a post nuclear war settlement from a futuristic/apocalyptic movie…not less.

How do they live in that thing?!! 

It's about 20 meters above the ground, very unsafe, especially for their kids.

Those people dwell on the river; fish in the muddy waters of the river and an upstream lake and that's the only trade they know. They dry up their catch and grind it into a fish meal/flower to live on during the rainy season. When the river floods up they don't leave their houses for months.

Believe it or not, but these people are happy… in their own way. They live the same life as their fathers did and are not aware of any other. Some have TV and probably are aware of other life somewhere, but they understand that it's only a movie. Anyways, the people were quite friendly, their kids were smiling to us and no one begged for money though you feel like you want to empty your wallet and give them all the money you have.

This was quite an eye-opening experience for our kids and us adults watching the aboriginal’s lifestyle from our boats in a bit of a shock.

Next day we had a mountain bikes trip around the ancient Cambodian city of Angkor Watt. 

We did not realize it was over 45 degrees until we felt on our knees soon after lunch. The city had many nice temples and was very rich in the past before the Thai invasion. The temples since then underwent several conversions from Buddhist to Hindu and back several times. All statues/bas-reliefs of Buddha were destroyed or converted into a penis symbolizing Linga, the god of fertility in Hindu. That part was very amusing for our kids as you can imagine.

The tour was exhausting so we all needed a foot massage.. the 3$ one :)

On the next day we've booked an ATV trip to see the on rural Cambodia "in style". It was fun!

The most fun apparently had our friends family, who's son, Max, wearing a read t-shirt got attacked by a bull. 

One can imagine that it was not funny at all to see this horned monster running at you. 

Somehow he and his dad managed to escape the bull on the last minute. Max got so proud of himself so we called him a "bull-fighter"... but I don't recall him ever wearing red after.
Next we flew back to Bangkok and then south to the warm beaches of Krabi.

The endless beaches and islands of this south coastal province were simply amazing! Each one so unique and picturesque makes you want to live there through your retirement. 

I had though through several plans how I'd come here for the retirement, buy a motor boat or yacht and travel the Andaman sea or just start in a business of touring with my boat…until I realized after 3 days that there is no escape here from the ever burning sun and +40 in a humid air and all my plans crushed...
We did several tours from Krabi, full of activities - island tours on the long tail boat, jungle trekking to the hot springs, elephant riding and sea kayaking.

Elephant riding was as fun as it was unpleasant. You can only imagine how "bumpy" it feels when this creature transfers its weight from one leg to another.

To our surprise the Sea kayaking was much funnier than we anticipated. There was a guide on each kayak that paddled us though the dense mangrove forest and under the caves. I grabbed the pedal myself and started steering between the trees - it was sooo cool! 

At one point we had to go through a tiny cave/hole in the rock, but the kayak was just a little wider than the hole, so the guide opened the valve and deflated the kayak (forgot to tell you that the raft was inflatable). We also had to lay down flat in the raft to pass through the cave... 

We saw there a walking fish - very amusing creature that walks on the water, trees, out kayak :-). This country just can't stop amusing me with its flying snakes, swimming chicken and walking fish.

We got lucky both times with our private tour guides. The first, Tom, was a very flamboyant guy who was proud of himself so much so he always called himself in a 3rd person and added an -s suffix to every word (quite common among locals) like this:
"Hello, Toms is heres!" You should imagine that said in a high-pitched voice with his hands fluffing around. Very funny guy, girl, ah, whatever. The other guide was a real transvestite. They call them lady-boys. His, sorry, her name was... Pepsi (?!!). Pepsi tuned out to be very cute girl (though you can tell it right away she was a guy in the past). 

We obviously bombarded her with questions about how it is being who she is, how and why did she do it and why Thailand is so notorious for having so many lady-boys. The truth, guys, is far from what we heard. Changing gender is not actually in fashion in Thailand, it has nothing to do whatsoever with their Buddhist religion, it’s all personal in every case. Usually when a boy is born in a family with only girls he may become acting like one and may have a good chance to "convert", thanks to their chip and liberal healthcare system where this operation costs under 1000$. Pepsi told us that she always preferred staying in the kitchen and helping her mother versus hard work in the fields with her harmer dad. Sounds reasonable to me :-)
In the city were we stayed there was nothing much to do except eating, drinking, strolling through myriads of tourists and having a cheep massage every day. It is only about 8-10$ for an hour of massage: foot massage, traditional Thai, relaxing, you name it. You can really afford getting the massage for the entire family every day...which we did:-). They offer massage everywhere you go, so it looks like massage is their main industry.

We tried their famous fish massage..that really tickles.

Though the city was quite noisy, dirty and crowded, our hotel was surprisingly quite an escape from all that. This is definitely a place were I'd spent my retirement:-)

 Gorgeous views from the room and balcony

That's how the hotel shuttle works:

We loved that simple lifestyle, no rules, no worries..
5 nights we spent on Krabi under the burning sun before we took a ferry to the Phi-Phi Island.

Phi-Phi Island.
This was truly a paradise place. Our boutique hotel (reachable only by boat) was an amazing escape from the crowds and filth of the main city. 

The see had this calling turquoise color, was crystal clear and at times was boiling hot on the calm days. 

Oh, and those tides…In the evening, within an hour the sea would retreat for about 100 meters revealing some ugly rocks and dead corals. Tourists who came from the main city in the evening are transported from the boat to the shore by the tractor-trailers :-) The sea comes back in the morning when it is welcoming and nice again.

We took a couple of snorkeling tours around the surrounding islands and were amazed by the abundance of the underwater see life. On one island we observed lots of wild monkeys; they are fun to watch and feed, but can become quite dangerous if you are not playing it safe. 

In an instant this peaceful and funny scene turned info a nightmare when some tourist inadvertently stepped on a tail of a baby monkey and those fucking creatures decided to attack someone from us and out of all 200 or so tourists watching them they picked … my son Gary as a victim (!Â₥£#&%!) Whether he was the closet or the smallest human that could not possibly defend himself, so they decided to attack him even though he was a mere observer as many others there. In an instant after the baby-monkey was stepped on, several monkeys jumped on Gary with an awful scream and knocked him down. He was by my side, but I did not see what happen. All I heard were monkeys’ screams down low beside me and then I heard my son screaming along. I lost probably a second trying to understand the situation before I rushed down and got Gary on my hands away of the trouble. He was so frightened, poor guy! He was not bleeding much, most likely he only got scratched, not bitten, but no one could tell, even the locals. Anyways they sent us to the hospital for the rabies shot. Thanks God it ended up this way, though it could have been much worse. These fucking macaques (hate them!!) have huge fangs, 3rd the size of their head. Don't want to imagine what could have happen should they decide to use them.
In the hospital it was not pretty either. The only 2 doctors on duty were too busy in the emergency room doing CPR (pumping heart) to a local guy that lost consciousness while diving. When I saw the guy in the diving suit, breathless, being carried over by someone on the shoulders and leaving blood trail from his mouth I realized that something is really fucked up here. It shocked us quite a bit and caused to cancel the 2 dives booked for the next morning. My wife saw in this a sign (as usual for her) for us to keep us from diving.
I actually don't know if the doctors managed to revive guy, they were still pumping his heart when we left the hospital after getting the shot. I want to hope the poor guy is alive. I tried to talk to the divers who brought the guy to the hospital to understand what happened, but they were silent, ignoring me. Understandable. At first I thought it may have been bubbled nitrogen in the blood as a result of fast ascending, but his skin looked normal. Later, speaking to the dive master from the dive shop at our resort, I was told that most likely that the accident happened while so called "skin-diving" - a popular among locals diving technique where they practice diving to depths of up to 30 ft. without oxygen tanks. The technique requires special training of proper breathing. This is a very dangerous technique and accidents are quite often there. If not breathing properly, the lungs may not have enough CO2 to exhale. Scary, …definitely does not something you want to see when you are on vacation.
After being on the beaches for 9 days we flew North to Chiang Mai to seek escape from the scorching sun.

Chiang Mai
Capital of northern Thailand, capital of Thai Buddhism. Here we had planned a 2-days jungle trekking tour booked ahead though a local agency.
We liked the city much better than any other city we've seen so far in Thailand. The first thing we noticed though was smog all over the city, and later we found it everywhere we went to.
The weather was much more pleasant than we've had in the south which helped us see some stuff around. We've had a free day before the tour so we rented a driver and went around the city and ended up in local tourist attraction - tiger farm where we were supposed to pet real tigers. Quite intriguing, especially after having the experience with wild animals on Phi-Phi, but there was not doubt about it that we are going inside the cage with a live tiger.
Large tigers were so playful so it seemed they quite enjoy their habitat though being held in captivity.

We had watched them play for about half an hour to get used to the animals before entering the cage. Courage, bravery, stupidity, yes, but above all was hunger for a new experience and excitement from being one on one with a live carnivore on his territory. We felt it was quite safe when we watched other people entering the cage and petting the animals. The key is to follow some safety rules that are mostly about approaching the animal from behind and avoiding their head, neck and front paws when petting. Quite simple.
So we got inside... Exciting, intriguing, frightening, and so cool!!!!

Definitely a nice candidate for a Facebook wall picture :-)

Kids were excited too, they we given small few months old tiger cabs to play with.

Fun for the whole family:-)

We came back to town to tour the old city with its ancient Buddhist temples and the Sunday night bazaar where locals sell crafts hand made by craftsman from the remote villages of the Northern provinces.
These are typical selection on the gourmet food/snacks they offer in the bazaar :)... fried worms, crickets, grasshoppers, bugs e.t.c.

This one was a little more appealing

We've tried all these exotic fruits ... and we already miss them, they were so delicious.

The next morning we were ready for our 2days jungle trekking tour. I knew it won' t be plane and simple for the kids, but it exceeded all my expectations :-) We came back barely alive, but happy!  

The tour was a private arrangement for our group of 2 families that had an ATV and elephant riding in the mountains

 followed by the 3 hours long accent by foot through the jungles to the hill tribe village. There we were supposed to be greeted by the tribe people and spend the night in their bamboo huts. Following day was for descending from the hill (3 hours) and whitewater rafting.

The trekking part was very hard actually, and not only for our kids. It was 3 hours long rising up the hill, at times very steep and slippery. We passed an elephant training camp where locals live together with the elephants and train them on those narrow and steep trails.

 From the camp on we were trekking on those elephant trails. I just could not imagine how those monsters can walk these steep trails. I asked the guide if elephants ever fall on these trails, he said he never heard of any accident. Amazing!

The mountain jungles could have been much prettier if they were not burned left and right. This was the cause of the smog in the whole Northern Thailand. The fires are actually set by the local farmers.
This is the Thai way of de-weeding the mountain rice fields for the farming season… literally, “quick and dirty".

The Lahu hill tribe we were heading to is notorious for their farming of opium. They grow opium in some remote places far in the mountains, unreachable by the local authorities/police. That’s the reason this tribe has chosen to settle in such a high altitude. The only way to get here is by walk, climbing few hours uphill. Kids from the village get to school by feet - 2-3 hours downhill. 

In the village they had a "hotel" waiting for us. It was a bamboo shack with no rooms, just few rows of blankets lying on the floor side by side. Amazing :-)

The tribe people offered us some authentic massage, and before we said "yes", we found ourselves "invaded" by the tribe ladies, mostly old and ugly. 

Sleeping in the "hotel" was quite challenging as you can imagine :-), but it was a fun, authentic experience after all.

In the morning we started our descent back to the grounds in hopes that going downhill should be much easier than climbing uphill, but it was not the case.

Once we were back on the sea level we had a white water rafting through the rushing stream with lots of rocks and rapids. 
It was a blast! It was quite scary at times where we were about to flip; we were screaming like pigs from the thrill and excitement.
The trip was very hard and challenging, but we did it and we called it a big success - "what does not kill us makes us stronger!"
From Chiang Mai we flew back to Bangkok and on the next morning to Hong Kong.

Hong Kong
What a contrast with what we have just seen a day ago!
Hong Kong looked like a futuristic city with all its civilization wonders the city offers.


Business people here commute to work on a … chain of escalators.
We took a city tour on the double-decker bus and we loved it.

Our favorite part by far was the Stanley bay. This suburb is very popular among the business people. Real estate here costs more than 3k USD per sq. foot.

Another day we spent in Macau, China's Las Vegas. They have pretty much the same hotel/casino chains as in Las Vegas stuffed with expensive boutiques. It was also a nice experience, mostly because of its contrast to the things we've done before.

And now, finally, we are heading home, back to our routine life which we apparently missed so much in those 3 weeks :-)
We are coming home, bitten by monkeys, attacked by bulls, but still in one piece, happy and full of memories, and that’s all that matters!

March 24, 2012.
AC flight: Hong Kong-Toronto.


  1. Very cool. Great shots too:'(!

  2. Obaldet'

    Very cool. Kids are great, u 2

  3. Wonderful pictures! Very cool text! Nice staff, especially those big cats;)!

  4. WOW!!! WOW!!! WOW!!!!
    Such a great trip, pictures and the 'story' of it!!!
    Great Job!!

  5. Amazing places, amazing pictures.