A Travellerspoint blog

Aonang, Thailand

Day 43-49 - May 29-June 4

Lets just say my guard was down.

I've climbed ice mountains in New Zealand, volcanic peaks in Indonesia, and steep granite ranges in Canada. So when it came to a small lookout along a serene and sandy section of Thai coastline I was unconcerned.

Things that I was remiss in considering before setting off:

- the typhoon rains the night before
- the importance of proper footwear
- that bloodsucking Thai insects simply devour bug spray from Canada
- that the climb was mostly vertical

When my guide pointed out the way up to the top rated local attraction ( http://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g1597036-d5546706-Reviews-Railay_Beach_Viewpoint-Railay_Beach_Krabi_Town_Krabi_Province.html)
I assumed it was in jest. Where she was pointed was simply a wall of red clay, slick and in some places still flowing from the recent rains. The set of jungle cliffs that loomed overhead would have been all but impassable were it not for thick mooring ropes dangling over each cascading ledge.

While my trusty Sperrys had served me well so far throughout Asia, they may not have been ideally suited to the terrain. That said, it appeared as though only thumb-sized mosquitoes were suited for this jungle trek.

Admittedly, once the first pitch had been conquered and the difficulty of climbing a rope through a flowing river of clay was fully understood, being harried by thirsty insects is perhaps the only reason I ever saw the view from the top.

While the tradeoff of exertion and blood loss may be a better balance in the dry season, the stunning views of coastal Thailand from the top are well worth the effort even in the rains.






Posted by evancampbell 18:25 Comments (0)

Chiang Mai, Thailand

sunny 35 °C
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Day 40-42 - May 26-28

A historic respite from the southern heat of the Kingdom of Siam, Chiang Mai proved to be just this - a modern refuge from the madness of Bangkok. While Bangkok may appear sharp to the unwary, with taxi and vendors shouting at every visible foreigner within their eye-line, the unofficial northern capital of Thailand has a slower, more spiritual, and softer shape.

The streets are void of horns and the din of peddlers, the locals are unconditionally warm and friendly, almost embarassed by the necessary commercialism of their lives. The densely packed temples in the old city
the loudest reminder of the local's focused spirituality.

The road was paved but full of dusty holes. The driver calmly lumbered our oversized SUV along the jungle switchbacks at a clip one would have thought reserved for outpacing hijackers.

My local guide Mon had already given the day's first lesson in jungle survival and advanced horticulture - what to eat when you're dying, what not to eat unless you would like to hasten your departure.

Also oblivious to the reckless speed, Mon was turned towards the driver while laying out the planned morning trekking route. At that moment the car abruptly cornered, and with only the slightest flicker of his eyes forward, Mon was bent over with his hands pressed in front of him, eyes tightly shut, murmuring a quiet prayer.

I was not alarmed.

In fact this had become such a routine over the last 30 minutes I hardly looked out the window to confirm we hadn't careened carelessly myself. Mon was a fairly religious man, with a focus all his own - animism and nature. We had simply passed one of his many notable spiritual monuments along the roadside. Perhaps a tree, perhaps a sacred animal, and occasionally a small shrine. Not a word of explanation was ever provided nor requested.

The prior day another guide Dhong had explained the religious nature of the people of Chiang Mai - based on Buddhism and including ideas from Hinduism and animism, and acceptably practiced at any degree desired.

Go to temple, don't go to temple. Pray to every buddhist god, pray to your favourite, pray to Hindu gods, pray to sacred animals, don't pray at all. Try being a monk, don't try, it doesn't matter to anyone else. Although being a monk for even a short time is quite the feather in your cap.

"How can someone else judge my spirituality?" - Dhong

Good question Dhong, good question.

It is perhaps an unfortunate reminder of human tendencies that this open, understanding, and pacifist city of Chiang Mai has been frequently raided, overrun, occupied, and even abandoned since its founding.







Posted by evancampbell 07:25 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Bangkok, Thailand

sunny 35 °C
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Day 36-39 - May 22-25

The first challenge in describing Bangkok comes in the form of a mad urban thicket of 14 million people sprawling over 1.5 million square kilometers of traffic, heat, and towers. This dense historic trading outpost continues to be a global mecca for visitors, according to Mastercard ranking as the 2nd most visited city in the world (behind London, but well ahead of New York and Paris).

Tripadvisor's ranking of sights paint the city as a home for ancient temples and palaces, modern arts, and a destination for gastronomy and mixology. The latter was the second challenge that impairs my ability to provide a more broad review of this effervescent city.

I can however verify that one can have a lovely time over the course of 3 days without treading much farther than 2 blocks from one's hotel. I can verify that street vendors continue selling food and wares (and dubious services) from 7pm through to 7am. I can verify that the diversity of food, drink, and entertainment is more than comparable with any modern city I have ever visited. Finally I can verify that if you are determined not to have wasted a 4 day trip, get particularly lucky with traffic, and are willing to test the boundaries of heat-stroke, you can in fact see nearly all of the top sights in an exhausting single day.

Bangkok I will see you again shortly my friend.







Posted by evancampbell 18:45 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

sunny 38 °C
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Day 34-35 - May 20-21

I knew something was wrong as soon as landed.

It was a Wednesday, it was 9pm, and as the doors to the plane opened a rolling fog of thick air flowed into the cabin. Phnom Penh is too hot to be inhabited by humans.

Despite the 6-lane chaos where neither right-hand nor left-hand right of way seems to dominate, despite the depressive pall of 20th century genocide, despite the massive disparity between locals and ex-pats (Range Rovers vs. 5 shoeless friends to a moped), and despite the outrageous heat (39C with 80% humidity), the people of Cambodia are lovely, kind, and graciously hospitable.

I had to adapt the standard itinerary presented by my driver Phoong, as I have a daily tolerance limit for the sickeningly shocking and depressing. The Killing Fields were somber, the Genocide Museum at S-21 was blood curdling, the National Museum was ancient and serene, the Royal Palaces were beautiful, and the military-run shooting range where you could fire a rocket-propelled grenade... was bizarre.

Neither Phoong nor the infrantrymen in the military compound seemed to understand my reticence to fire a weapon only 500m from the site of a mass genocide that occured within my generation.

If it ever was present the realization of this irony had long since been lost to the song of the US dollar. A similar glimmer of dark irony was also absent in the bird sellers at Wat Phnom, who encourage tourists to buy the freedom of birds from overcrowded cages... not far across the city from the S-21 Khmer Rouge prison.

I suppose it is easier to be sentimental when you're not concerned about feeding your family day by day. Never before have I considered introspection to be a luxury for those with time.







Posted by evancampbell 07:45 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Singapore (Redux)

rain 33 °C
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Day 32-33 - May 18-19

The rain stopped!

I kid, of course the rain continues to follow me.

However, this time around in SG I learned the ways of the underground walkway system. In Toronto it exists to prevent frostbite, in Singapore it exists to reduce your dry cleaning bill. Regardless it works!

From the Raffles Hotel to Marina Bay's Cloud Forest with a change of clothing not required. Not only that but this biodome is climate controlled to support flora found at 2,000m+ altitude. Eureka!

Unfortunately the temperature and humidity shock on exit rendered my camera temporarily unusable for the rest of the day, so this is what you get.






Posted by evancampbell 03:05 Archived in Singapore Comments (0)

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