My trip began from Texas to San Francisco where I stopped for a night for a family engagement. The following evening, I flew from San Francisco to Manila with a re-fuel stop in Guam. From Manila I had a nonstop flight to Bangkok, Thailand. It was a long trip, but I was prepared with a pack full with my ipad and 3 books.
When I arrived in Bangkok I took a cab to Koh Sahn Road, Bangkok. This road is the Bourbon Street of Southeast Asia. I noticed hundreds of shops, bars, hostels and merchants packed full in this tiny little street. Although cumbersome and somewhat difficult to navigate, I was able to quickly find Dan and Avi and reconvene at The Cherondee hotel (a simple and relatively quiet place to stay in Bangkok!). From there the three of us ventured out on Koh Sahn Road, mingled with the locals, and then took a 1-hour long boat ride through the river of Chao Phraya . On the river boat we were able to witness the hustle and bustle of Bangkok, several temples, and a few slums located on top of the river. Although poor and dirty conditions, all the children still swam in the river with smiles on their faces from ear to ear waving at their tourists passing by. Avi and Dan went out on Koh Sahn Road, while I caught up on sleep and did my best to shake off my jet leg.
The next morning we caught our bus to Kanchanaburi, Thailand, located two hours west of Bangkok. That afternoon we planned out our next few days, and made a great friend named (lets call him Mr. Hammock), who helped us with planning our upcoming journey to the south islands of Thailand for the full moon party and rock climbing. That evening we went out on the town of Kanchanaburi, partook in 10 Baht shots with two Israelis, and enjoyed the company of numerous Thai locals.
The following day was packed full with a 5 part tour. In the morning we enjoyed a long stay at Erawan Falls National Park, which had a series of 7 waterfalls. A challenging hike to the top proved worth it, and each waterfall was more unique and picturesque as the last. We were able to swim around the falls, and even slide down one of them. You can check out our fun youtube video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t5ScbAPoi58.
The next part of the tour was a 45 minute outing on an elephant through the mountains of rural Thailand. The stunning views provided for a unique trek. I was able to bum an unfiltered cigarette (don’t worry mom, it was only tobacco) from my driver, at which he chuckled at my attempt to inhale. After feeding the elephants, we drifted down the river on man made bamboo rafts which may or may not still be floating today (they literally had water coming over the tops while we were floating). Subsequently, we traveled to long wooden bridge built by POWs during WWII known as “Death Railway”, and rode a train four stops down seeing the Thai countryside along the way. The last stop of our tour we caught a glimpse of the Thai train running across the Kanchanburi bridge where we indulged in amazing chicken skewers for under 30 cents!.
The following day, we rented 3 motorbikes from our friend “Mr. Hammock”. It was a 37km drive to the “Tiger Temple”. Avi and Dan although not seasoned vets on the scooters, seemed to be a bit more accustomed than the amateur that I was. We were forced to drive on the left side of the road (opposite of what I was used to in the US), weave in and out of semis and cars, and get to the road we needed to get to. With mountains in the backdrop and as wind and gravel flew into my face it was here I noticed we were truly traveling in majestic lands.
At the tiger temple, we were greeted by 20-25 lounging felines getting their much needed rest and sunshine. They were very calm and at ease even with the hundreds of tourists glaring and awing at their beauty. The three of us took our large creature on a 5 minute walk down to the canyon, as we watched the rest of the beasts make their trek behind us. We were then allowed to pet and hug several tigers, and lay with them in the sand. Our journey back to the town eventful to say the least, and I was lucky enough to still be able to write this with a full head on my shoulders after taking a small little spill on the gravel.
That evening we had our train tickets booked on a third class car down to Surat Thani. Since it was peak season, a comfortable seat or bed, although affordable for us, was most certainly unavailable. The train was packed solid with Thai travelers, with some sleeping in the bathrooms or even standing for the full 14 hour trip. Noinetheless, we chugged along and tried to get any sleep on these uncomfortable seats and acknowledged the fact that we were “roughing it out.”
When we awoke from the train (and thankfully we were all able to sleep… a little), we took a short ferry ride to the island of Ko Samui. We were able to set our stuff down at a hostel, and began the expedition over to Ko Pha Ngan, to enjoy the “Full Moon Party”. This is an important party to the Thai people and mostly its travelers, with thousands upon thousands flocking to the island in search of fun and freedom. Details of this evening may not be suitable for all readers, and thus can only be discussed through private conversations. (The We Travel tight boys will be posting a video and small blog on this later)
The next morning we arrived at the 5 star resort of the Conrad Ko Samui. Blessing #839 of my job allowed the 3 of us to stay there essentially for free. Inside the elegant room we had a large 75 gallon bathtub, a shower with a waterfall coming from the ceiling, a toilet with a phone, personal robes and slippers, and to top it all off: our own private infinity pool. It was luxurious to say the least, and we were no doubt traveling “tight” by being well stocked with peanuts and ramen noodles to avoid the $40 dollar meals the hotel offered. We spent the next few days and nights lounging around the resort, watching the Vikings game playoff game , having it streamed to us at 4 in the morning in the Villa, and were treated to a boat ride to a nearby private beach on Ko Mat Sum. In addition, we made it back to Koh Pha Ngan to another Full Moon Party, this time to ring inthe New years of 2013 with the many thousands of our other travelers alike.
With the new year and new beginnings welcomed, we made our way off of Ko Samui and continued the trek to Krabi on a VIP bus packed solid with 10 other men (3 from the U.S., 3 from Chile, 2 from New Zealand, one from Australia, and one from Swaziland). We met a nice Californian named Max, who recommended we stay on the beach of Ton Sai. From Ao Nang (and are we glad we took his advice), we took a tug boat with him and Henry (who I think has my iphone, if you are reading this please give it back if possible) to Ton Sai. It is not an island, but the towering cliffs and terrain of the area make it impossible to access by road. Ton Sai appeared to be one of Thailand’s best kept secrets among traveling backpackers. Hundreds of rock climbers descend on the location from all over the world to climb up its cliffs every day. It had a distinctive look, as if it could have been pictured in a Dr. Seuss book.
The next morning, we went to the other side of the peninsula known as Railay Beach. As there is no road, the only other way would have been to take a boat; however, there is somewhat of a path but it is best suited for adequate hiking shoes (it only takes about 10 minutes, but it is accessed through small crevices up and down large rocks). We spent the rest of the day, afternoon, and evening with Avi’s brother Eli and his girlfriend Jessie. We relaxed on Pranang Cave Beach, and ate dinner back at Ton Sai.
The next morning we took a 2 hour ferry to Ko Phi Phi, which we quickly learned isn’t a secret anymore and is in fact a very very popular Thailand tourist destination. Although the island is stricken with beauty, it is very crowded, and not well maintained. If you do travel to Thailand I suggest you stay on the northeastern side of the island, as although it is a bit more pricey, the smell will be much more of what a Westerner is accustomed to. Unfortunately it proved to be much too hectic to meet up with Eli again, so the three of us took a boat ride to Koh Phi Phi Leh, and Maya beach. This was the filming location of the Danny Boyle movie “The Beach”. It is a national park, and there are no permanent inhabitants on the island. Spending the afternoon snorkeling felt like an important pilgrimage for me, and as if I had successfully reached the destination myself and Leo (DiCaprio) had been seeking. That evening we enjoyed an extravagant fire show on the island of Ko Phi Phi, a Muay Thai boxing match (Tourist fighting other tourists after a few cocktails) , and an authentic Thai massage.
The next day we went back to Ton Sai, and upon our arrival Avi smiled and proclaimed “Welcome Home”. Some people wouldn’t dream to call a place like this home, but while traveling, it becomes real. We spent long hours with our good friends on the beach with Mr. Chang, and Mr. Pancake, who exemplified Thai people through hosting us with their laughter, fun and food.
My trip was winding down and the boys gave me a good sendoff as if they were sending their first child to their freshman dorm. I had graduated the life of a traveling man, and was prepared to make the long journey home solo. I spent another day in Bangkok, got a grand tour of the city on a tok tok, saw Big Buddha, the Grand Palace, and the Thai export center. I spent another evening on Koh Sahn road, and arrived back at the airport the next morning to begin 33 hours of flying on 4 different planes and through 3 different countries.
One could say traveling is a drug. Although not a substance, it has a physiological effect when introduced to the body. This effect has greater implications when you are young. Thousands upon thousands of young adults travel to these corners of the world in search of whatever may be: enlightenment, excitement, enjoyment. It cannot be stressed enough to enjoy these pleasures by whatever means necessary, at any point in your life, and where ever you may be in life”