We made our way North up the backbone of Thailand via an overnight train, stopping back in Bangkok for the day. We weren’t overly adventurous and decided to spend our day at the Siam Paragon – a mall filled with locals spending their Sundays bowling and watching movies. After Bangkok was the second leg of our trip, a 14-hour train to the city of Chiang Mai. We both agree it’s our new favorite way to travel. Sleeper cars equipped with clean linens, electricity, air conditioning, and more than enough time to sleep left us feeling energized and ready to explore our new home.
Chiang Mai is the second biggest city in Thailand, but couldn’t be any more different than Bangkok. It is centered around what is referred to as the “Old City” – four square miles surrounded by a moat and a 20-foot high wall. We did our usual search for a good place to settle, and chose Rama Guest House as our base for the next week.
Chiang Mai welcomed us with a combination of 50-degree weather and unrelenting rain for three consecutive days – a bit odd considering it is now the hot & dry season. Streets were lined with patchy awnings that protected you just enough to allow a little dampness on your shoulders. Locals were eager to inform us this weather never happened in March, ever. For us though, the melancholy vibe was fitting for this town with endless cafes and pool tables.
Once the rain cleared, we decided to skip any tours and once again rent some motorbikes. Contrary to everything we’ve heard, city-driving in Thailand is actually very enjoyable. Traffic rules come second to common sense and awareness. Red lights, stop signs, and one-way streets are not much more than a suggestion. If you’re aware, sober, and don’t mind a lot of improvisation, driving can be pretty damn efficient. Cutting people off is as common as changing lanes, so no need to get upset.
After we had our fill of circling the moat and weaving through traffic, we decided to head out to the mountains in the Northwest of town. After about a 2-hour drive up a snaking but very well-paved road, the views started becoming better as the temperature decreased. Under-dressed and shivering, we pushed on. The villages were becoming more local as the mist was becoming more dense. Almost at the top, we arrived at Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep, a very large and bustling temple. It’s easy to get “temple-fatigue” in SE Asia. Every city claims theirs as an attraction, so it’s best to be choosy and not just walk into every wat you see. With that being said, any temple at the pinnacle of a 5,500 ft. (1700 m) mountain overlooking a large city is probably worth it. After fueling up with random foods from the street vendors, we ascended the dragon-lined staircase towards the temple. Looking up at a daunting amount of stairs, we decided to make a friendly wager on how many there were. Gaby – 180, Evan – 175, Mike – 210. See the video for official results. Opening up at the top we entered a large courtyard of marble floors, jade buddhas, and golden spires filled with many devoted worshippers offering candles, incense, and lotus flowers.
The 2-hour drive up the mountain ended up being a 30-minute drive down. We decided to shut our bikes off and see how far we could “coast” down the mountain. A Thai dare-devil had the same idea with his girlfriend on the back, and when we all decided to turn our engines on again, things got pretty fun. Using the Thai as our unofficial and unknowing guide, we emulated his technique for getting down the mountain at a faster pace than most, barely being able to keep up. When we all got to the bottom, he was surprisingly excited we were able to keep up and decided to share a celebratory coffee – waiting about 20 minutes for Gaby to arrive.
The weather turned for the next few days…back to the warm, sunny Thailand we had been getting used to. In need of a stretch, we decided to find a yoga studio in Chiang Mai. After one class, we were welcomed with open arms. The prevalent but small yoga community here is amazing. A more detailed post on this is coming in the near future, but we did a photo/video shoot for our new friend and instructor, Cristophe Cappon. We had full access to his 2.5 hour yoga “rock-out” session. The 12 or so people in the class were extremely accommodating in allowing us to film their practice. After the class and for the rest of the afternoon the majority of the Yogi community met in the park to chat, stretch, walk the long-line, and do some acroyoga. Exchanging stories of lives, travels, and all the in-between, we were informed this is the typical Sunday occurence. From there we experienced the Sunday night market of Chiang Mai in which the majority of streets in the Old City are shut off from motor traffic and become jam packed with vendors, locals, and travelers. The end of the night left us feeling completely welcomed into a community of truly amazing people. Well done Chiang Mai.
It’s only 18′C (64′F) and constant rain here in Chiang Mai, so we took a minute to put together some fun stuff from Koh Tao in a vid.
When you’re travelling so much, a routine can actually feel pretty good, even if it only lasts a few days. We made a point to eat breakfast every day at the same relaxed little spot at the top of a hill. This particular hill was owned by a pitbull with a body chiseled from stone. Intimidating as that may sound, his demeanor was in direct correlation with his surroundings - chill. Catching him during his daily assault on his tire – flappy gums, wagging tail, panting from exhaustion – is a routine I could get used to.
The little things about living in SE Asia are sometimes the best. Driving around with nothing to do, we just decided to spend some time comparing prices on standard goods in a grocery store - USA v. Thai. In the back were two kids jumping around half-naked in their playground of cereal boxes, paper towel, and metal towers. Their creative energy was so strong. One can only dream of capturing a fraction of the imaginative thoughts flowing through their little brains as they scurried around. Their mom stocked the shelves – pausing only to yell at them to calm down every minute or so. These kids are going places.
We were sitting on the beach, enjoying the sunset over some dinner and cocktails, and to our delight some local kids started a game of footie in the evening low tide.
One of the coolest things was that they didn’t keep score. If a goal was scored, the defending team did 10 pushups, and the game went on until the sun was gone.
When the sun goes down on the island of Koh Tao, the fires are lit. Beachfront bars turn into enchanting displays of skillful fire weapon dancing. While you can find many amateurs on the streets practicing for tips, there is no fire poi experience like the one happening at Lotus bar. For two hours every night, the five most skilled poi artists on the island perform together.
As they walk through the crowd spinning, dancing, twirling bo staffs, nun-chucks, and ropes, you can feel the intense heat coming from their weapons. It’s hard not to back away when the flames come only a couple inches from your skin. But it’s best to stand your ground and experience it as close as possible.
By day, you can see the hopeful tourists and aspiring Thais practicing their poi skills throughout the island. But watching the inexperienced struggle mightily only strengthens the conception that these guys are extremely masterful in their art.
Think of your lungs as a balloon – air hissing in and out slowly, but fully. Now imagine your pursed lips as the the rubber valve at the end, controlling the pressure of the air intake. Once the balloon inside your chest reaches near full capacity, you descend into the limitless blue. Total Apnea…
Our lungs only use 8% of their potential volume. Today, we learned how to make use of 90% – training our lungs with conscious effort. We transformed our bodies into propelling submarines holding nothing but our suit, fins, mask, and snorkel.
“When we talk about Freediving, we talk about sensation, beauty, personal experience and challenge. It is so much more than just depth and minutes.”- http://www.apnea-total.com
With the guidance of our amazing free-diving instructors Monica, Patrick, and Marc, we were able to push our bodies and mind to become one with the deep ocean blue.
Special thanks to our awesome and extremely accommodating videoographer and uber-talented apnea free-diver Jason Rivard at Oceans Below. http://www.oceansbelow.net/
From now until the rest of our lives, the once-normal act of breathing has transformed into a realm of focus, meditation, and possibility.
Shortly after our arrival in Koh Tao, we were fortunate to meet another Swede by the name of Gaby. Almost instantly after meeting her, our conversation switched to yoga. It’s not a stretch (pun intended) to say she’s the most flexible person we’ve ever met. She was attending a class just at the end of Sairee beach, so why on earth would we not go? The class itself was one of the best we’ve ever taken.
Gaby’s display of acroyoga after the class was totally awe-inspiring as she would glide through the air smoothly and effortlessly on the bottom of her friends’ feet.
Soon enough we were doing a sunset session on the east side of Koh Tao at Hin Wong bay. We set up on the sundeck of a little cafe overlooking the rocky shores. Interested viewers were enjoying their supper – properly staring in wonder as we held poses they’ve never seen (and we’ve never done). There was even some applause. Props to Gaby for introducing us to such an amazing practice.
So we took a two hour ferry in the gulf of Thailand and have arrived at Koh Tao. This island an eighth the size of Koh Phagnan. We still have some exploring to do on it, but we woke up at the crack of dawn to dive.
There were plenty of other divers in the water but we were lucky enough to get our own cute little Swedish divemaster. Enjoy.
As I lay in my hammock in my $8 beach bungalow, I reflect on the night. Tired, groggy, exhausted. Those are the words I would usually describe after a day and night of adventure without even a ten minute nap. But right now I just feel uplifted.
Before I talk about the island we’re on, I’ll explain the process that got us here – a quite exhausting one. Taking a chance on traveling without proper reseach was a quickly learned mistake. One simple confusion can take you from on the right track, to being swindled by a team of Thais. At the end of a cold, uncomfortable overnight bus ride is a great time to take advantage of someone. A local gentleman, seeming quite sincere, pulled us off the bus yelling “Koh Phangan! Koh Phangan!”. And that’s all we wanted to do, get there. We figured he knew where we were going. So with him we went into the bed of a small pick-up truck, complete with hard wooden seats. From there our trip became a cycle of complex bargaining with one Thai local after another – all who have mastered the art. We didn’t stand a chance. Word to the wise traveler: research of average prices is very valuable.
Taking a 2 hour ferry from the mainland Thailand to Koh Phangan was actually a breathtaking change from the hustle and bustle of the busy streets of Bangkok. It was the first real feeling of wilderness in Asia. We ended up passing out in the sun and sea-breeze on the deck of the boat, waking up to a breathtaking view of the Koh Samui and Koh Phangan islands. Getting into the fairly busy little port, walking to our unknown destination, it soon became obvious how we’d be getting around. 150 baht ($5) for a beautiful polished and cleaned 150cc bike. Making a large island into a small one with a signed piece of paper. So we’ve just been spending the past fews days flying around the island from waterfall to beach to elephant. Without any true plan in mind, we have taken the exhaustion out of exploring every part of this island from the inside out.
So we already left Bangkok. It’s a crazy city, but to be honest, living there as a traveler is pretty exhausting. It’s huge, it’s super crowded, it’s hot, and it’s difficult to navigate. Don’t get me wrong, it’s awesome. I would have loved to have spent more time there, but my body is thanking me for leaving. Here are some of the few photos we took with our limited time in this nutty city.
Just got to Ko Phangan after a crazy 18 hour commute including taxi’s overnight buses, motorcycles, and tuk-tuks. This island is famous for it’s parties. Half-moon party is tomorrow night. See ya after then.
I’m writing this 30,000 feet above the Pacific and around 1,200 miles from any land that I know of. I don’t want to make this sound like an ad, but damn, Korean Airlines does it right. The bibihmbap meal I just devoured was totally delicious, well prepared, and appropriately proportioned considering the sedintary situation me and my fellow air voyagers must endure for the remaining 7+ hours to Seoul. These flight attendants are completely on point. Their impeccable uniforms of beige khakis and teal silk blouses put the unoriginal, navy blue, janitor-style outfits worn by most American airlines to shame (excuse the stock photo, the modest attendants weren’t too keen on being our models). They glide through this jumbo jet delivering the drinks at twice the speed I’m used to. The slippers and toothbrushes are a nice touch, too.