Tag Archives: Thailand

Birthday, lady boys and other highlights of Pai, second time around

Happy birthday me! Such a strange birthday this year as I’m in transit between Pai and China. Left Pai yesterday after 3.5 weeks and caught a bus with a friend all the way down to Bangkok. Slept really well thanks to a Sangsom (Thai rum) nightcap! When I woke up in Bangkok this morning it took about 15 minutes for me to remember that it was my birthday. I’m killing time in Bangkok today and flying to China tonight.

Reflecting on a few of the funny things that have happened over the past few weeks and thought I’d consolidate it into one post, because I’ve been a bit lazy with the blog lately.

1. Ladyboy massage
I love ladyboys, they’re so fabulous, but I never thought I’d spend an hour being rubbed intimately by one. Still, not a bad massage!

2. Meditation
A cafe in town does a free 30-minute guided massage three times a week and I wanted to give it a try. I’d never done meditation before but thought it would be good for me. I went four times and while I’m not very good at turning my brain off, I’d like to try it some more.

3. Being the longest-serving student during my last training session
I knew it was time to move on when, in my last Muay Thai session, I was the person who had been training at Charn Chai the longest (eight weeks). I got to lead the abdominal session at the end, which was a dream come true haha. Power trip…

4. Eating chicken blood, chicken tendons, raw pork…
I think I mentioned earlier that this time in Pai I ate my meals at the gym. It’s all local market or home cooked food, a lot of it rather mysterious. Coagulated chicken blood in soup broth, raw minced pork, deep fried chicken tendons – and I didn’t even get sick!

5. Valentine’s Day rose
I should have realised in advance, judging by the overly dramatic Thai soapies and music video clips, that the Thais would be nuts for Valentine’s Day. As I mentioned in my last post, I woke up on the 14th to find a rose from the guy who managed my guest house (who has a girlfriend and a new baby). Not such a welcome gift, actually.

6. Thai honesty
I was told twice in 24 hours by Thai men that I should do more exercise because I’m ‘too big’. One of them followed up the next day by asking if I’d weighed myself yet. When I explained that Western women don’t like men commenting on their weight, he said ‘I know, that’s why I’m telling you, so that you know’. I think he might have missed the point.

7. Hello Kitty wheels
As I was staying a few kilometres out of town, my guest house provided a bike for me to use. Best part was that it was a hot pink, Hello Kitty, double seater bicycle and it was my constant companion for three weeks. I went everywhere on it, gave people lifts on the back, and actually crashed it one Saturday night trying to ride down the main street with a friend on the back (no major injuries though!). Sangsom strikes again…

My time ended with a three-day birthday celebration – a barbeque at the gym on Saturday night, ice cream sundaes on Sunday and tonight, I’m staying in a nice hotel when I land in Guangzhou, China. Here’s to 24 being as fun as 23.

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Birthday girls Tai and I – note the kilos of icing on those cakes

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Andre and I leaving Pai for our 13-hour bus trip to Bangkok

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Pad work with Turbo

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Life in Pai – again

I’m back in Pai to regroup, settle and plan for a few weeks. Having been on the move for the best part of three months through Cambodia, Laos and the south of Thailand I was in need of a familiar and easy place to call home before heading to China on the 25th of Feb.

I’ve had a lot of downtime and exercise, both of which I’d been craving. I’m training only once a day unlike last time, meaning I have a lot of free time. I’ve finally shaken a chest cough I’d had for about a month, I’m feeling fit and healthy again and I’m only eating out once a day. My other meal is at the gym – straight after each training session we gorge ourselves on food from the markets. It’s mostly chicken, pork, vegetables, soups and white rice but I’ve tried a lot of new dishes which has been great! Eg: pork that may or may not be raw, deep-fried boiled eggs and bamboo soup.

There’s some really nice people training at the moment with whom I’ve been having some meals and drinks. So all in all, it feels very homely and simple. It’s high season in Pai at the moment and I’m really noticing the influx of tourists! As much as I’m loving being here, I’ll be glad to move out of SE Asia for a few weeks and have a change of scenery in China.

In my free time I’ve been putting together a rough itinerary for China and trying to plan my next few months. I’ve booked a flight to Russia but not sure if I’m going to be able to get a visa, so Vietnam may be on the cards instead.

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My cute bungalow – I’m staying a short bike ride from town. I’m loving how quiet it is out here in the paddocks.

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On my first day back in Pai I ran into Annette and Christine from Sydney! Such a weird coincidence. We had an awesome week hanging out before they moved on to Laos.

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This was sitting on my doorstep this morning. A not so welcome gift from my overly attentive landlord (who has a girlfriend who gave birth to his first child three days ago. Seriously Thai men, WTF?).

Applying for the Chinese visa in Bangkok

I’ve now been in South-East Asia for over four months and have started thinking a change of scenery is in order. But first, as I’ve been on the move for the past 11 weeks through Cambodia, Laos and South Thailand with Aimee, I’m spending the next three weeks regrouping in my little adopted home of Pai before shaking things up with a trip to China.

That was the plan anyway, until I found out about new visa rules for China. The process became a lot more complicated in July 2012 and you now need either an invitation (as per the Russian visa application) or to show your flights in and out of China, hotel bookings for your whole trip plus bank statements proving you have enough money. Kind of realised this once I got to Bangkok, when I’d been hoping to go to the embassy that day.

I spent the day reassessing my plans because I wanted to work in China and quickly realised it wasn’t going to be possible. I decided to still go but just for a month or so as a tourist. So that night, I went out for dinner and cocktails and tequila, got home at 1.30am and started cementing my dates, towns and booking flights and accommodation. With the dutch courage I managed to book flights to China, from China to Russia, and put 10% deposits on hostels for the five weeks, all by 3am.

The next morning I was up at 9am, found an Internet cafe that would photocopy my passport and print all my bookings, then hightailed it to the embassy where I filled out two tedious visa application forms and stood in line for an hour to file it. After some hefty questioning about my motives for visiting China, they seemed satisfied although I was worried about whether they would give me the full 38 days I reqested. Amazingly, the next morning was a breeze and I collected my passport with a fresh new Chinese visa for 40 days. So, here I come China! 25th Feb (my birthday) is when I fly out from Bangkok.

Speaking of Bangkok, my three nights there this second visit was heaps of fun, I still love the city. Not even staying near Khao San Road changed my opinion. I got a dose of Western comforts – my first Italian food since Oz, some new clothes and toilettries, and I finally got to see Life of Pi! I have been wanting to see it since it came out last year but literally haven’t been anywhere with a cinema in the past two months. We also snuck into Hansel and Gretel afterwards which was hilariously bad. My few days of nice hotel and city life felt like a much-needed mini-break from Asia.

I arrived in Pai at 11am this morning, pretty good timing considering I left Bangkok at 6pm last night. It feels great to be back, I ran into people I knew right away (one I knew was here, but two girls from Sydney I had no idea were in Thailand), and I’ve found a really nice bungalow which is a ten minute bicycle ride from town. I’m in the sticks but only for four days – on Monday I’ll move closer to the gym. In the meantime they’ve given me a pink bike to ride around with a basket on front and extra seat on the back! It’s nice being out here away from the hoards of people and motorbikes. Looking forward to settling in for a few weeks for some Muay Thai training, planning for China and catching up on sleep.

FYI: Applying for the Chinese visa

There’s so little information on the internet about how to apply so I thought this might help anyone wanting to visit China. Some similar information I found on a travel forum was a lifesaver for me.

What you need to take to the embassy:

Passport (derrr)
One passport photo
Recent bank statement showing that you have money to pay for your trip
Printed flight itineraries (into and out of China)
Printed hotel bookings (it is unclear whether you need to book just your first hotel, or all accommodation for the duration of your trip, I booked all to be safe on Hotel Bookers where you just pay 10% upfront)
Photocopy of the details page of your passport
(and of the current visa page of your passport if applying from a country other than your own)
Also a good idea to look at the application forms online before you get to the embassy, as you’ll need to have details such as your health insurance policy number and contact details of your hotels in China.

    The Chinese Embassy in Bangkok:

Apply between 9am and 11.30am, Mon – Fri
Approval process takes 1-4 days depending on how much you pay
Check the website before you go to make sure they are not closed due to Thai or Chinese national holidays
Allow plenty of time to get there, the embassy is a long way from Khao San Rd (motorbike taxi is best, around 120-150 baht each way)
Pay on collection in Thai baht

Rock climbing and cocktail mixing in Ton Sai

Another month, another country – I’ve spent the past few weeks in the south of Thailand. Which incidentally feels like a whole other country to the north of Thailand. After spending New Year’s Eve on Koh Phi Phi (which was beautiful but so touristy, but a great party island for NYE), Aimee and I caught a boat to Koh Lanta with Marieke and Sanne, our Dutch friends. Koh Lanta is a massive island, touristy but much more chilled out than Phi Phi. I spent the week swimming and snorkelling, and I also added some weight to my luggage with a big ass pink hammock. Pretty bulky but so far, so worth it.

Then it was on to Koh Lipe, which was my favourite island – an idyllic blue water, white sand tropical island. The place is tiny and has a great bunch of expats as well as the local community. We spent every night at Longtail Bar, run by two American women. Every night two guys, one Swiss and one Dutch, played cover songs for free beer and tips. They’d been there for over three weeks and didn’t look to be moving any time soon. The bar also made amazing cocktails and shots, one of them was called ‘Kaaaaaaa’ (you’ll get it if you’ve been to Thailand). The Americans also ran a cafe that had a board-game collection so Aimee and I ended up having epic games of Scrabble every morning.

After Lipe we landed at Ton Sai beach, a twenty-minute mountainous trek from Railay beach, Krabi province. Luckily when we arrived the tide was out and we walked over the rocks with our backpacks. I didn’t know what to expect at all but it’s a pretty cool place. Not very busy or developed, and I had to get used to not having electricity (ie WiFi, hot water, ATM etc). Altogether I spent about three weeks with limited or no access to Wifi, which was really nice (helped break a nasty Facebook addiction). We also met up with Cass (who I met in Pai and then Cambodia) there.

We planned on four nights in Ton Sai before Aimee had to head home, with my plans being more flexible as I had another five weeks before my Thai visa expired. There wasn’t much to do there apart from rock climb – we were surrounded by beautiful, massive cliffs so it’s one of the world’s best places to learn. I figured I’d give it a go, and got a bit hooked. Long story short, Cass and I were offered a job in a beach bar, working evenings in exchange for a beach bungalow, dinner and alcohol so we ended up staying for ten days. We were working nights and climbing days, not a bad life.

We also tried deep water solo climbing, which is rock climbing over the ocean without a rope. You basically climb in your bikini and climbing shoes then jump or fall into the water – fine if you suck at climbing like me, but some people were able to climb really high then had to jump in from about 30 metres. Heaps of fun!

After ten days in Ton Sai I felt it was time to move on so I farewelled the bar and my beach bungalow and hopped a longtail to Ao Nang, the start of my pilgrimage back to Pai via Bangkok. More on that to come.

Highlights of the first quarter

A conversation over dinner with our lovely Dutch friends Marieke and Sanne tonight prompted this blog post. Given that December 26th marked my first three months in Asia, I’ve tried to name my top five moments/days/destinations so far. I couldn’t narrow it past eight but here goes, in date order. And I’m counting the last even though it wasn’t technically within the time frame.
 
Snorkelling in Borneo
Snorkelling off the coast of Semporna was beautiful. We saw an unbelievable number of fish, as well as turtles and coral. It even rivalled the snorkelling on Lady Elliot Island in the Great Barrier Reef. I also went diving for a day which was a pretty cool experience.
 
Pai, Thailand
Not exactly a ‘moment’ as it lasted five weeks, but the Muay Thai training, the people I met and some epic nights out made Pai a definite highlight.
 
Bangkok
After six weeks in rural Thailand, a night in Bangkok was such a shock to the senses. Sights, noises, smells, tastes, rain, sun, shopping, Gangnam style flash mobs and a lovely brunch with a friend made my one night in Bangkok the perfect introduction to the city – I’ll be going back for sure.
 
Otres Beach, Cambodia
The opposite of Bangkok, six days and nights of nothing but swimming, sipping cocktails on the beach with good friends, perving on sexy Swedes and bioluminescent algae. Each day we said we’d catch a bus the next, it never happened, each day disappeared in a relaxed, tipsy kind of haze.
 
Angkor Wat
Through a series of strategic and fluky decisions, plus some heavy negotiations with our tuk-tuk driver, we saw about ten temples between sunrise and sunset and had Bayon and Angkor Wat practically all to ourselves. I have to admit, I had a bit of spiritual moment as the sun went down at Angkor Wat.
 
Ziplining at the Bolaven Plateau
Our private tour of the dense Laos jungle, flying across the face of a waterfall, thinking I was going to die while trying to scale a rock face and sleeping in a tree house. 
 
Christmas in Luang Prabang
If there’s one thing that Aimee inherited genetically from her mother, it is an unhealthy love of Christmas. She seriously brought the cheer with champagne and OJ for breakfast, Santa hats and enough chocolate to satisfy even the biggest chocoholics (actually we ate it all in two days…oops).
 
New Year’s Eve, Thailand
It was exactly what NYE on Koh Phi Phi should be – at midnight I was drinking a bucket of Sangsom, Red Bull and Coke, dancing on a table on the beach and watching fireworks.
 
Here’s hoping the next quarter will bring just as many exciting adventures and lovely friends.

Until next time, Thailand

I wrote this yesterday and am now in Phnom Penh but anyway:
It’s been an eventful week now that I’m on the move again – have been to three cities since leaving Pai on Monday and had more than a few eye opening Asian experiences. Especially in Bangkok, which will henceforth be referred to as The City of Sin.
Arriving in Sukhothai on Tuesday night I liked it right away – it was nice to see a normal Thai town rather than a big city. My hotel was nice apart from my room, which was was incredibly hot and had no windows, and I resolved to stay in an air conditioned place in Bangkok. The next day I wanted to explore the old city of Sukhothai, which used to be the capital of Thailand. The old city was 15 kms from my hotel, and seeing it as a good opportunity to keep up the training, I decided to ride one of the free bikes at the hotel all…the…way…there.
It was really awesome to see the ancient temples, lots of statues of the Buddha as well as town meeting halls etc, all dating back to the twelfth century. I rode my bike all around the area. It was a six hour round trip and I reckon I rode at least 40 kms. And no, the seat was not comfortable for those who are concerned!
It was then straight onto Bangkok by overnight bus to spend one night and one and a half days in The City of Sin to finish off my six weeks in Thailand. I wasn’t expecting great things after most people told me how much they hated Bangkok, but I was pleasantly surprised, maybe because I didn’t stay on Khao San Rd, maybe because of how short my time was there, and maybe also because it was a novelty for me being back in a big city.
I spent my time in Bangkok shopping, eating and gawking. One thing I loved, as a true PR nerd, was the brand presence and out of home media. Took lots of photos of things like a huge pedestrian tunnel made to look like a giant sideways bottle of Coke, another Coke activation in which a flash mob of 500 people did the Gangnam Style dance to celebrate Psy’s imminent performance at the Loi Krathong festival this week, and some support beams wrapped to look like packs of Mentos.
Two lessons learnt: 1. Street food is never as delicious as it looks and smells. Actually sometimes it’s inedible, and for me not to eat it, you know it must be true. 2. All the essentials for your night out in Bangkok can be purchased on the street, from bottles of spirits to outfits to Viagra to dildos and other sex toys. Talk about city of sin. I felt very conservative going to bed at 10pm!
However, bed was on the cards because I had an early breakfast appointment with a friend from Pai. I rocked up to his apartment not knowing what to expect and my mind was fair and square blown. He lives high up in one of the most exclusive residences, attached to a high street mall. As in, his neighbour is the king of Bhutan. As in, he once hung out with Ryan Gosling. WTF. We ate a buffet breakfast overlooking the city on the 42nd floor (he was in his pyjamas, I had tried to dig out my cleanest clothes and even put on makeup) and it was the best Western food I’ve had since before I left Australia! Such an amazing experience after living the backpacker life. As the Bangkok tshirts say, no money no honey, inDEED.
Anyway, that was this morning and I’m now writing this on my plane heading to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, which I’m incredibly lucky to be on! Lost track of time shopping at the weekend markets, then got stuck behind a massive group of Chinese tourists checking in, then got taken away by passport control for overstaying my visa by three days, then literally ran down the escalator to my departure gate as they were doing final call. When I was still 30 metres away they called out “are you Miss Sasha?!” I was like YES!, they ushered my onto a bus which was full of passengers waiting to be taken to their plane (sorry guys) and off we went. PHEW.
Next stop, Phnom Penh where I will meet Beccy and Matt from Pai tonight, and Aimee tomorrow! Excitement!

Diwali celebrations

‘Diwali is the most important and auspicious festival in India. It signifies the victory of good over evil, the return of King Rama and a celebration of Light, Love and Music to bring in the new year.’
 
So reads my invitation to last night’s Diwali celebration, hosted by Krishna, a Pai expat who lives a fifteen minute motorbike ride out of town on a rural property in a large wooden house on stilts, with a separate building housing prayer rooms. The yard has beautiful gardens and was decorated with balloons, lights, music from a local artists, sparklers, fireworks and a giant Indian elephant. Food, chai tea, fruit shakes and drinks were served by local businesses, who set up stalls under the house.
 
The evening started with everyone being invited to pat the elephant and feed it sugarcane stalks, and choose fireworks and sparkers from a big box and let them off (these two activities took place worryingly close to each other). Soundtrack by the Bebop Bad Boys and Gypsy Lily, a American hippie in her sixties wearing shiny gold pants, sequins and a shawl. There was then a jam session by the ‘Pai music family’ which included belly dancers and a Russian guy playing a didgeridoo (very well). Then people danced into the night to the sound of a DJ playing Indian trance and Bollywood music. Truly a night to remember, with most of the expats and more hippie-inclined locals attending to celebrate Indian new year with a blessing of the elephant, dancing and drinking.
 
Couple of other updates – I lived through my first earthquake on Sunday morning. Pretty minor here in Pai, but it woke me up as my whole bungalow was trembling for about 15 seconds. I’m told the most damage was in Myanmar where some people were killed 😦
 
That afternoon we rented a motorbike and went to Wat Pra That (the temple with the steps of doom). We actually drove up to the top, but then scrambled 150 metres up a gravelly slope to where a gigantic Buddha is being constructed. It’s about 30 metres tall and overlooks the whole valley. At the moment it’s covered in dodgy scaffolding and about ten locals were laying concrete high up. We walked around to the back and actually went inside – it’s hollow with a shell of wood and metal. I’m sure it’s going to be beautiful when complete but who knows when that will be!