Top 20 Things I Love About Thailand

A list of things I’ve enjoyed the most and will miss once I’ve left the land of smiles….(I will be attaching pictures….it is just that I’m currently working in Myanmar for a couple months (more on that soon!) and the wifi speed here is ATROCIOUS).

  • The FOOD!! Need I say more?
  • My students. At whatever school I’ve taught at, the students have been great and I really enjoyed teaching them
  • Koh Chang, my favorite place in all of Thailand
  • Lonely Beach, Koh Chang; where many days were spent relaxing and partying late into the night
  • Bangkok; I’ll miss the excitement and energy this city has
  • I spent a month here doing muay Thai training and for that it will always have a place in my heart
  • Chiang Mai. The laidback vibe, historical sites, and memories from the Songkran ultimate frisbee tournament
  • The temples….and a girl who .ibe, historical sites, and memories from the Songkran ultimate frisbee tournament own I dated on and off before it ended abruptly
  • Authentic muay Thai training; nothing beats it
  • The low cost of living
  • The women; I’ve dated a few Thai women and two of them were the most memorable women I’ve ever dated, for better or for worse
  • Cheap domestic travel
  • Driving a motorbike on a daily basis
  • The friends I made at camp
  • The cool season
  • Saritdidet public school, I’ve taught at 3 public schools, but this one was by far hands down the best in so many ways
  • My Thai co-workers, besides the Trat debacle, I’ve found them to be super helpful in every way, more so than what I experienced in South Korea
  • The abundance of hidden gems; forget the crown jewels of things to see, there are so many other natural, cultural, and historical sites to see that I’ve only really scratched the surface
  • The sabai sabai vibe of Thailand, this is one mellow country and I applaud it. Sadly, recent events and trends are beginning to change this
  • Low cost of rent, for $280USD you can get a decent sized apartment in a high rise building complete with access to a gym and swimming pool

With the good come the less than pleasant experiences, what I WON’T miss about Thailand:

  • The poor service at restaurants; probably one of my biggest pet peeves is having to wait ages for food with no explanation or apologies offered as would be the case in a Western country
  • The visa process to work here as a teacher is long and overly complicated
  • Tourist scams, foreigner pricing, overzealous vendors; anything that targets foreigners
  • Teaching agencies…..they are bloodsucking leaches who see teachers as nothing more than a paycheck
  • General low pay for foreign teachers; unless you are a certified teacher back in your country Thailand just doesn’t pay enough for most ESL teachers to stick around for longer than a year or two
  • Long bus rides
  • 711 food…..in smaller towns 711 might be one of the only options for quick/late night eating…

So what do you think? Is there something I missed on either list? Let me know in the comments below, cheers!

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The Legend: Sathorn Ghost Tower

One of the most interesting and lesser known, until recently, off the grid attractions of Bangkok was the Sathorn Unique Tower, or more widely known as the Ghost Tower.  This towering building today stands abandoned, decaying, and its future still unknown but back in the heady economic boom of the 1990s it was very different.

Backstory

The 90s were a great time to be alive and in business, not just in the West but also in the developing world where the benefits of globalization were beginning to manifest outside of just the ‘Asian Tigers’ of Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, and Singapore that had blossomed economically from the 1960s onward.  Countries like Malaysia, the Philippines, and indeed Thailand were beginning to catch the interest of overseas investors beginning in the 1980s and peaking in the mid 1990s.

Of particular pride for Thailand and a sign of its seemingly upward mobility in the world economic order was its acceptance into the World Trade Organization in 1995, made all the more remarkable when you consider that China, who’s global economic impact was already huge, was not accepted into the WTO until 2001.  By the time Thailand was accepted into the WTO in 1995 it was not only a growing tourist hot spot but also gaining ground through trade and industry.  With money flooding into Thailand in the 90s and elites eager to display their new wealth, a construction boom was well under way by 1995.  Here the story turns to the Sathorn Unique Tower, AKA the Ghost Tower.

A series of unfortunate events…

Construction began on the 49 floor luxury apartment tower in 1990 and was plagued by a series of unfortunate events that continue to haunt it to this day.  First, you have the fact that the tower is believed to have been built on a former graveyard causing the construction and all those associated with it bad karma and the tower itself being filled with angry spirits.  Then you have the drama that surrounded Rangsan Torsuwan, the designer and developer of the building.  In 1993 he was charged with allegedly plotting to murder the President of the Supreme Court of Thailand and although he was eventually acquitted in 2010 after initially being found guilty, the court case has made it hard to find financing to continue construction.  But perhaps the biggest impact on the tower was the onset of the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis which led to construction being halted as investors and capital fled the country.  Since then the building has been left to decay, which brings us to more recent events.

The legend grows…

The tower gained notoriety on the web among travel bloggers and backpackers at least from 2010 and quickly gained popularity as a unique and eerie place to visit among the more intrepid and persistent visitors to Bangkok.  From what I’ve gathered, initially you could just find a hole in the fence and go right on through to the top. Then homeless people and hard drug users began to show up, asking for money to allow people through, which most people obliged as it only added up to a few hundred baht or so.  Soon, more and more people began showing up leading to a man claiming to be the owner to block people from entering the premises by having guards stationed at the bottom….unless people paid a fee.  Visitors kept pouring in, paying money, posting pictures, writing posts, and then apparently the true owner found out and took action against the imposter.  The true owner (Rangsan?) put his own guards in and threatened legal against a few bloggers to make an example of them and prevent more people from coming.  This all came to a head in 2014 when a Swedish backpacker was found to have committed suicide there and indeed it is possible other people met their ends there, only adding to the whispered legend of the ‘Ghost Tower’.

From what I’ve been able to piece together, 2014 marked the tightening up of security, except that the guards were still taking money but were cautious in allowing too many people in at one time and only at certain times of the day.  Some of the later events described in the last paragraph may be a little out of order but it is hard to be certain as much of what has been written is unconfirmed and unreported besides what is written in other travel blogs.

Too little too late…

Fast forward to August 2015 and I hadn’t even heard of the Ghost Tower until I was in Bangkok doing my CELTA course.  After seeing a picture from a friend of him being there I was instantly captivated and immediately planned on going, except my course turned out to be way more intense and I never got around to going.  Still, interested in the subject I’d Google it now and then to see if new information came up and to see more pictures.  After my course I went through Laos backpacking and then onto Pai in N. Thailand for muay Thai, and finally back home to Canada for a couple months before returning to Thailand on Boxing Day of the same year, 2015.

By this time it seems I was too late.  Rumors of more death and an increasingly firm set of guards, not to mention big locks and big metal doors preventing people from moving on from the first floor, meant the game was up.  From what I gathered the locks and metal doors appeared sometime between August to November 2015 though I may be off by a month or so.  The Ghost Tower is officially closed for business….or is it?

A hypothetical fictional way up to the clouds…

What I write next is in NO WAY intended to encourage people to go there and break the law (in fact I’m writing about a fictional hypothetical building), but if you do, it is your decision and you face the legal consequences, if you are found out, of going forward with your intent to reach the top.  Putting together information from the most recent blog posts from 2016, I think it is hypothetically possible to bypass the locks and barred metal doors but you need to be extremely well determined, have a plan, and be able to locate the necessary resources. 1)  I imagine you need some heavy duty bolt cutters 2) you need to camp out and learn the movements of the guards and the daily movements of people around the site 3) you may need a 30ft plus steel ladder to bypass the locked doors and go around the side.  So, yea, you need to be a James Bond/Macgyver type person and probably need a few people to pull it off.

I will also state that I’ve never actually been there and everything I have written has come purely from what I’ve found online and from my active imagination as to how you could actually do it.  I have also purposely not mentioned specifically where the tower is to further not encourage anyone to go there.  Perhaps the only thing this tower is good for is pictures like the one I posted and the fact it seems to a battlefield in the eternal struggle between Coca Cola and Pepsi as in my picture you can see Pepsi plastered over it and in other pictures online you can see Coke.  I’m a Pepsi man myself, Pepsi Max for the win!

Hope you enjoyed reading this post! I really quite enjoyed writing it and I hope it inspires people to find DIFFERENT ubran exploration adventures in Bangkok as there are many to be discovered. Cheers everyone, like and SUBSCRIBE!!!

 

Safety in Thailand

Long referred to as the Land of Smiles, Thailand has had a rough past few years as public policy reforms, bombings, and most regrettably, the passing of HM the King, have taken their toll on the nation.  While these events have impacted the stability of the country, Thailand is still open for business.

Current Situation

At the foremost of many backpackers, travelers, and teachers’ minds is the situation.  Since the passing of HM, there has been a month of official mourning, and as a further sign of dedication to the King, the ruling junta has declared a year long period of national mourning.  The difference being that the month of the immediate aftermath was the time when entertainment centers were either closed or had to close early.  In public, people were also expected to wear black or white, or failing that a black ribbon available for free throughout the country.  At the current time more people seem to be wearing normal colour clothes.  As a teacher at a public school, I wear a black, grey, or white shirt with grey pants.  To be safe, you could ask people in Thailand through social media groups what they feel to be appropriate in their part of the country.

As I mentioned, the entertainment centers of Thailand; Bangkok, Pattaya, and the islands, were closed for a certain time, but are now back up and running.  The Full Moon Party on Koh Phangan is operating.  While there are less people from abroad visiting Thailand currently, it does mean that good deals can be found on accommodations as resorts do their best to compete for few customers.  You can also expect great deals on drinks as bars seek to out compete each other in a tough industry.

Lèse-majesté

You have probably heard about the strict lèse-majesté laws in Thailand that forbid people from criticizing the monarchy.  Punishments can be severe, including substantial jail time, for any comments thought to disparage the Thai royal family.  Whatever your opinion you may in that it infringes upon people’s freedom of speech, it is wise to keep it to yourself.  My best advice is to simply not talk about it, much better uses of time than being overheard and carted off to a cell and being in deep shit.

My Opinion

Having been in Bangkok the night of the bombing last August and having been worked and lived across quite a few locations in Thailand, I am not worried.  Granted, I live in Chanthaburi, which is not a big traveler destination.  I will say that I have never been a victim of violent crime in Thailand, nor have I felt unease when out in public even in small villages in Isaan where there are few, if any, foreigners.

Also, exercise the same level of caution you would when you visit anywhere abroad.  Watch your pockets in crowded places, avoid confrontations, smile, look out for each other, and keep an eye out for people behaving strangely.

Consulting with your country’s travel advisory page is another excellent way to answer any questions you may have.  Lastly, take the necessary precaution and don’t leave home without decent traveler’s insurance!

Khao Yai National Park

On my day off from working at the English camp, myself and two other amigos headed out from our bungalows, rented bikes, and drove up to Khao Yai National Park for the day.  This post will tell you what’s good.  For clarity, we entered through the north entrance near Pak Chong.

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One of many signs warning visitors about the wild elephants of Khao Yai, though we never saw any!

What makes Khao Yai National Park special?

Khao Yai National Park is the 3rd largest national park in Thailand and was established in 1962.  The park covers an area of 2,168km and is mostly comprised of thick highland jungle as well as some grasslands.  Khao Yai National Park is famous for its abundant wildlife including wild elephants, monkeys, and deer.  It also has two big beautiful waterfalls to visit with Haew Suwat being the scene of the famous waterfall jump in the 2001 Leo DiCaprio movie The Beach.

How to get there?

Khao Yai National Park is about 3 hours north of Bangkok and would make an excellent weekend retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city.  Guesthouses and hotels can be found in abundance around the approaches to the park and in nearby Pak Chong.

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The mighty jungle

Once at Pak Chong, or just outside the north entrance to the park, you can rent motorbikes for the duration of your stay.  Having a motorbike to ride through the park makes a hell of a difference.  It was super convenient as it meant that my friends and I were able to get to see everything we wanted on our own timetable.  Plus, on a bike it is much easier to see wildlife as you can stop where you want to take pictures and not have to worry about missing out like you would if you were part of a tour.  Just be sure to gas up before going in, you don’t want to run out of gas out in tiger country! (Joking, tigers are rarely seen now in this part of the park).

What to see/do?

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Haew Suwat, made famous by The Beach.  Where they jumped was debated as the waterfall has changed a fair bit since the movie came out over 15 years ago.

Most of the park is covered in thick highland jungle but there are some grasslands.  There are also several waterfalls to visit, the most notable being Haew Suwat, of The Beach, and Haew Narok.  If you only have time for one, I’d recommend Haew Suwat.  Not only is it more famous but it really is more exotic, not to mention that the trail to Haew Narok gets extremely steep and is not for those of lesser inclination.  I should also note that while people have jumped the Haew Suwat 25 meter waterfall, you are now prohibited from doing so and it has been like this for at least 10yrs as there have been deaths.

haew-narok
A bit of a hike to get to down a steep path, but still quite an impressive sight to see!

The other major attraction, besides the beautiful surroundings of the jungle, is the abundant wildlife that inhabits the park.  It is possible to see deer, gibbons, elephants, tigers, leopards, bears, wild dogs, and other species throughout the park.  You will almost certainly see deer as they like to hang out around the Visitor Center.  You will also probably see monkeys including gibbons.  On the way to Haew Narok we saw a ton of monkeys.  As for the elephants, obviously a big draw for tourists, it is harder to say.  We didn’t see any, but we saw plenty of elephant poop out on the road to Haew Narok so they must be out there!  The other animals likes the tigers, leopards, bears, and wild dogs, are rarely seen and mostly only come out at night but especially in the less visited parts of the park away from the trails and roads.

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Deer hanging out by the Visitor Center

Besides going for hikes down the numerous trails or driving around looking for wildlife, another cool thing you can do is actually camp inside the park at one of several designated camping grounds.  This is totally safe, though you might wake up to find deer gently grazing outside of your tent. Another word of warning, if you do decide to go hiking along the trails, stick to them!  Every year people get lost in the park, sometimes for days, after wandering off the trails….

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We saw lots of monkeys on the road to Haew Narok.

Another really cool thing we did was go bat watching.  We drove our bikes out into the countryside, after leaving the park, and went to a spot where it is possible to see literally thousands of bats flying together in arching trails through the sky.  The best time to go is just before sundown.  We went on our own but it is possible to pay to get a guide to take you there.  This was arguably the highlight of our day, it was incredible to see so many bats and the sound they made as they flew all around us.

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Giant monitor lizard chilling on the bank of the river near the Visitor Center
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Giant spider as big as my hand trying to get a leaf out of its web, this was on the trail down to Haew Narok….definitely poisonous!

Food and drink?

If you are entering the park at the north entrance near Pak Chong, it is a short drive to the Visitor Center where nearby are a number of food stalls and restaurants/cafes with seating areas.  There is also a small convenience store there for snacks, drinks, ponchos, etc.  It might be an idea to bring your own food and drink.

How much?

It is 400 baht to get in to the park for farangs, but the ticket does allow you to go in and out of the park on that date.  To take a motorbike in it costs an additional 30 baht.

Food can be found in the park for under 100 baht depending on what you are looking for.  It is also more than possible to eat cheaply in Pak Chong and the surrounding area if you eat Thai food.

Motorbikes can be rented for around 300 baht a day but that may change depending on where you rent it.  Typically just a copy of your passport is needed to rent a bike.

Accommodation can be found for as low as 400 baht a night and up near the park and in Pak Chong.

I hope this post proves useful to any trips you make out to this beautiful part of the country!  Like if you enjoyed the post! Leave a comment about your own experience! Share to a friend if you know they’re making a trip this way! Subscribe if you want to see more posts like this!

Summer English camps in Thailand

Are you a teacher, backpacker, or digital nomad in Thailand and looking for an exciting opportunity? English camps are a great way to try teaching for the first time while also being rewarded for your time. If you are a backpacker or digital nomad thinking about teaching ESL then these English camps give you an idea of what teaching can be like  before committing to a full semester or a full year required for most ESL jobs in Thailand.  Non-native speakers can also apply for some of these jobs if their level of English is high enough and they can speak in a relatively clear accent.  Here’s the rundown on English camps in Thailand and how I fared recently trying to find a job for the holiday in October.

English camps are a part of daily life for English teachers in Thailand and are most often ran by teaching agencies and the schools themselves.  These events typically last for a day or two, or even three days.  The English camps are ran by the teachers and sometimes agency staff who come up with a theme, activities, songs, rewards, etc.  I have done a few English camps here in Thailand and similar style events in Korea and I quite enjoy them as a way to have some much needed fun outside the classroom.

As for your duties, these are quite light with teachers operating an activity station in a circuit with other teachers for one or two hours and taking part in other camp activities that incorporate learning English in a fun and entertaining way. For example, you may run a flashcard type activity for 20mins with a group of kids before the groups switch stations and a whole new batch of students stop by.  But what I didn’t realise until recently is how big and popular English camps really are in Thailand.

Schools and agencies run English camps pretty much all year round.  If you work at a public school directly you will probably do at least one English camp a semester.  However, if you work at a public school through an agency, you might be asked to work additional English camps at other schools, which can include meals, accommodations, and additional payments.  While you can find English camp job ads posted online most months, the most lucrative months are March-April and October as these are the months most public schools close for the holidays meaning lots of teachers are free to work at English camps. Wanting to earn some extra money, I looked online for English camp jobs recently.

Basic English camp jobs start at 1000THB ($30USD approx) a day and often include meals, accommodation, and transport.  I went to my usual spot Ajarn.com and gave Craigslist a try.  Sure enough, there were ads looking for English teachers to work at English camps in September and October.  Pay for those jobs ranged from 1000-1500THB and lasted for two or three days meaning a Friday to Sunday camp could net at least 3000THB ($85USD) which is not bad considering you would have accommodation and meals taken care of.  I thought of applying for them but then I came across the top tier English camp jobs.

Big private schools in Bangkok offer top money for English teachers during the peak months of English camps.  The jobs that I saw were offering 2000-3000THB ($60-85USD) a day for 10 day camps teaching phonics while also playing games and singing with young learners under 10.  20,000-30,000THB ($570-860USD) for a 10 day job, with a weekend in between, is not bad at all especially when the starting salary for ESL teachers in Thailand is 30,000THB a/m.

There was no way I wasn’t going to at least try for the top tier jobs.  With my past and current experience with younger learners as well as the English camps and big school events I have worked, I was able to snag two interviews in Bangkok.  After a long ass day that involved waking up at the crack of dawn for a 4hr bus ride to Bangkok, having the first interview, and then hanging around Terminal 21 in Asok for hours before the second interview, I was pleased to be offered a position at the second school before even leaving the interview.    It just shows how fast you can make an opportunity like that happen if you do a little research and line up some interviews

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V for Victory! At Victory Monument, Bangkok

I hope this post helps teachers,backpackers, or nomads who are traveling or living in Thailand and looking to try teaching and be compensated for your time and efforts.  The work is fun, the days are not that long, and a 10 day job at 30,000THB could cover a month of your stay in Thailand!  Food for thought indeed.

 

A Month of Muay Thai

Muay Thai, the art of the eight limbs.  Before coming to Thailand I didn’t know much about muay Thai besides it coming from Thailand.  I’d seen clips of muay Thai fights on YouTube and I’d seen MMA knockouts using Muay Thai techniques but I had no interest in it.

Then one day in Korea, while I was getting over a break up and having trouble at work, I Skyped with a friend of mine who had left Korea to go backpacking and was now in northern Thailand in a town called Pai doing a month of Muay Thai training.  Intrigued, I asked to know more about it and everything he told me just made me want to go there and do it myself.  I’d been doing ultimate frisbee to stay active but I knew it would not compare in the slightest to the intensity of muay Thai.  I thereafter decided that this was a challenge I wanted and that could help to rebuild my confidence, get fit, make new friends, and hopefully enable me to defend myself on my travels.  This post is about my experience and what you should expect from attending a month long intensive muay Thai camp.

Who goes to a muay Thai camp in Thailand?

I was pleasantly surprised by the diversity in people who were at the camp I chose to go to.  There were people like me; a complete newbie to the sport but choosing to better one’s self after a trying personal ordeal, professionals who had dozens of fights under their belt, backpackers who’d come for a day or two just for the experience, people who had weight or fitness issues and looked to the intensity of muay Thai as an answer, and those who wanted to train intensely for a few months before culminating in a fight to test themselves.  Anyone can go to a muay Thai camp and enjoy it, ladies included.  Don’t be discouraged from going there and fearing that you might be surrounded by hardcore fitness fanatics who will make your efforts look pathetic, the truth is everyone goes to a camp with their own goals and I found the atmosphere very friendly and inclusive.

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What camp to choose?

There are literally hundreds if not thousands of muay Thai camps all over Thailand to choose from.  Choices range from the most basic of camps out in the middle of nowhere and limited to a few fighters, all the way up to a place like the Tiger Muay Thai & MMA gym in Phuket and now Chiang Mai where the equipment and trainers are world class but prices are at a premium.

I followed my friend’s recommendation and went to Charnchai Muay Thai in the beautiful little town of Pai.  It was perfect for me.  The trainers, led by Bee the owner, really make you feel a part of the family while you train there and create a fun, positive atmosphere for the students.  The gym itself has more of an old school vibe to it, like the gyms seen in Rocky, but they put more emphasis on technique, hard work, and preservation than fancy equipment.  I also really liked that Charnchai is well priced, meals can be included, and there are special rates for accommodations nearby for muay Thai students.  All in, I paid 15,000THB ($435USD) which is a real bargain compared to the gyms down south where prices can be in excess of $1,000USD and not include meals or accommodation.  If you’re thinking I went to this gym because it is cheap, you should taken into consideration Charnchai has featured in VICE articles in the past and most recently an article was written about the head trainer and owner, Bee, who was a champion in his time as a fighter and works hard to make new students feel welcome and enjoy their stay.  You gotta be doing something right for a major media outlet to notice you.

A typical session at Charnchai

Routines vary camp to camp but most train 6 days a week with a morning and afternoon session.   I think my experience at Charnchai was a good example of what to expect.

7:30am: Wake up, get ready, have a light snack, head over to the gym.

7:45-8:00am: Bike for 15mins or skip rope to start at 8am.  Others more dedicated than me went for runs to warm up.

8:00-8:15am: Start the day with group stretching.

8:15-8:45am: Trainers instruct students about techniques and are taken aside to work one on one with other trainers to do 3 3minute rounds of pad work.  20 push ups between each round is also expected during the one minute break between rounds.

8:45-9:15am: Bag work.  At Charnchai we did a few kicking drills then followed that up with 50 kicks for each leg followed by 100 knees.

9:15-9:30am: You find a partner and do 30 raises and sit ups on the edge of the ring.

9:30-9:45am: Clinching.  Trainers demonstrate techniques, then students practice them on each other.

9:45-10:00am: Group core exercises.  Everyone sits in a big circle and follows the trainer’s lead.  They start off with one exercise, count up to 10, then the student to their right counts up to 10, and this goes on until it has reached back to the trainer. Then the trainer switches to the next exercise.  This is arguably the most exhausting part of the workout but it feels good to see even the fittest of students sweating it out just like you.

The times and activities vary a little day by day but I’d say this is what you can expect at a typical Charnchai session.  Wednesdays and Saturdays are special as they are devoted to sparring and the first hour in the morning session is taken up by a 7km temple run through the town and up a mountain to the big white Buddha, then you head back down and run to the gym.

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How hard can it be?

VERY.  But that is what makes it worth it.  You’re not going to a muay Thai camp to have an easy time, you’re there to be pushed to your physical limits.  Personally, a few weeks before I was set to go to Pai to train I was sitting in a bar in Vang Vieng, Laos, while it absolutely bucketed outside raining, surrounded by empty beer bottles and clouds of marijuana smoke watching a muay Thai fight, and I panicked.  I thought to myself ‘I am in no shape to do this’.  But later on that evening I decided to fuck it and go anyway.  The whole point of going to a muay Thai camp for me was to be test myself and push myself further than I’d been in my whole life.

The hardest session was the first.  Feeling that there was no way I could do this twice a day, 6 days a week, for an entire month.  But I did.  I think the hardest part not physically but mentally.  You can slow down, you take a break, you don’t have to do all the work. But what you do have to do, is to keep going, to remind yourself that the pain is to get you to a better place.  Once you’ve gotten that through your mind, it gets so much easier.

After each session I felt aches, exhaustion, irritation from new mosquito bites, thirst, and hunger.  But when I sat down for the post-training meal with the other students I felt the warm feeling of satisfaction of having completed the training, of not giving up, of persevering through the pain and exhaustion.  It really wasn’t that bad when I look back at it now.

What will you gain?

Everyone has their own motivation for trying out muay Thai or committing to it completely but the gains are the same.  You will feel happier with yourself and sense of worth, you will learn discipline and determination, you will make new friends with your fellow students and trainers, you will have new stories to tell, you will gain a new appreciation for the Thai people and culture, and above all you will get fit.  What I like about doing muay Thai, or any martial art, is that it gets you active and moving while taking part in a group which I think is a better overall experience than going to a gym and lifting weights by yourself blasting music in your ears.

muay Thai pic

I have never been a person who goes to the gym lots or have taken my fitness very serious but muay Thai has given me a sport that I thoroughly enjoy and will continue to practice.  Right now where I live in Chanthanaburi I go to a gym that has muay Thai 3-5 times a week.  It makes me happy and gives me a sense of accomplishment and is a great way to finish a day after the stresses of work.  So, I thoroughly recommend you give it a try if you’re backpacking through Thailand and even just want to give it a go for a day, it might just change your life!

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The Angkor Wat Experience

Back in December 2014 on Boxing Day I flew from China early in the morning and promptly went to my hostel to get changed, meet up with my friend, and head on out to Angkor Wat.  Here are some logistics on getting there, getting around, what to see, and after Angkor Wat.

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Getting to Siem Reap

Siem Reap is the closest city to Angkor Wat so most people choose to stay here for their visit to Ankor Wat.  Siem Reap is easily accessible to the outside world via air, land, and even water!

Air: Siem Reap International Airport is the second largest in the country and is accessible by direct international flights from many Asian countries.  It is also possible to fly from Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville.

Land: Buses and minivans can be caught from Phnom Penh for $6-10+USD. The journey is at least  five and  half hours and it is advisable to take the minivan company Cambodia Post VIP Van at $8 and is more comfortable while stopping less often and  driving responsibly.  Taxis can be caught from Phnom Penh for $60-80+.   If you’re coming from Sihanoukville buses typically cost $20+ and I would definitely recommend taking a night bus.

Water: Fasts boats from Phnom Penh to Tonle Lake near Siem Reap run daily through most of the year depending on water levels.  Tickets are $35 and some people question the safety of these boats but the rewards are great; getting to see the real Cambodian interior and rural life on the waterway.

Getting about Angkor Wat

First off, a one day Angkor Pass to the park is $20USD and $40 for three days.  There are multi day and longer tickets on sale as well.  Most visitors to Angkor Wat hire a tuktuk for the day and split the cost between friends or groups from their hostel.  My friend and I paid $20 for the tuktuk driver to take us to and from Ankor Wat, as well as around the Angkor Wat national park to whichever site we wanted to see.  Plus a tip is recommended.  It is also cheaper to get a tuktuk from Siem Reap than getting one at Angkor Wat.  Bicycles can be rented for a day for a few dollars and Angkor Wat is only 7.5km from Siem Reap for those who choose to save a bit of money and get a day of exercise while surrounded by the marvels of the Angkor Wat national park.

Which sites to see?

AngkorWat

Angkor Wat: The main event. The big tamale. Angkor Wat is the central structure of the national park named after it.  The UNESCO site is simply a breathtaking experience to behold once you first lay eyes upon it.  The Khmers are so proud of it they use the image of Angkor Wat on just about everything, including their national.  Be sure to visit in time for the sunrise and sunsets as those times make for some magical pictures.

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The Bayon: One of the more visited temples and is famous for the many faced towers that look out over the walls.  Not quite the hall of the Many-Faced God, but still a spectacular example of classical Khmer architecture currently being restored by a team of Japanese conservationists.

Ta Prohm: The Tomb Raider temple.  It is among the favorites because of the massive trees growing out of the centuries old crumbling structures that really lend to the feeling this place was lost in time.  This is regrettably one of the temples I missed, all the more reason to go back!

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The Elephant Terrace: A viewing platform for King Jayavarman VII on which to preside over official ceremonies, such as after harvests and battles.  Lots of people flock to get up close to the elephant carvings.  I personally just had the tuktuk driver slow down to get a few pictures.

East Mebon: Completed in 943AD, the temple is actually built on an artificial island that once sat in the middle of a vast water reservoir.  Nowadays it is hard to imagine but it is food for thought as your reach the top and look on out over what the land would have looked like over a millennia ago.  It also has distinctive 2 meter tall elephant sculptures that make for a great picture, just be sure to not climb on them.

After the Angkor Wat

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Siem Reap is a bustling backpacker town with an abundance of things to do besides just see Angkor Wat.  The two biggest things that backpackers do in Siem Reap is to visit the night market street and the famous pub street.  In and around these areas you can find just about anything you need to buy or eat, ranging from budget to more upscale establishments.  Pub street particular is a great place to meet new people after a day out trekking through Angkor Wat.  You can also visit the landmine museum, go to a firing range, go ATVing, a day trip to Tonle Sap lake, take a nature and wildlife tour, have your feet massaged by fish while you sip on a beer, and a whole lot more.

I hope this post helps inspire those thinking of making the pilgrimage here to make it a reality.  I’m not a religious person at all but being there was a religious experience.  I felt very calm and relaxed at the park, especially when I was within the walls of Angkor Wat itself.  Going to Angkor Wat was one of my bucket list items and it was everything and more than I ever hoped it would be in terms of the sense of awe at the architecture, natural surroundings, and what I felt was an abundance of positive spiritual energy.  I want to return one day after having read more on the site and Buddhism to get an even better understanding of this truly awesome place. Safe travels, friends!

Namtok Philo National Park

Another fresh post this week about one of Thailand’s central eastern hidden gems; Namtok Philo National Park!  In Thailand last week we had a five day holiday for the Buddhist celebration of Makha Bucha.  While I spent most of my time on Koh Chang, where else, by day three I was pretty exhausted with the partying and late nights and decided to drive home from Koh Chang early.  It was also fortunate that my lovely Thai girlfriend had time off from work to join me in Chanthaburi for the last couple days of the holiday.  This post is about how to make the most of a visit Namtok Philo National Park.

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Park entrance, tickets sold on the left

What is Namtok Philo National Park?

It is a lovely national park set in Chanthaburi province containing luscious green jungle with a calming river and impressive waterfall at the end of the hike into the jungle.  There are also a few monuments built to commemorate King Rama V’s visit to the area in 1875.  But wait, what makes this place a hidden gem besides an abundance of natural beauty?  The fact that the river is positively TEEMING with fish, and that’s a word I don’t use often!

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These fish positively fill the river and they aren’t afraid of the many people who come to swim and relax in the cool jungle river

How to get there?

From Chanthaburi it is a simple 20 minute drive to Namtok Philo National Park and you should see signs the closer you get.  Just rent a bike for the day if you are in Chanthaburi and off you go!  Free parking was available so there should be no trouble looking for a spot to park.

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What to see/do?

When you get into the park you can just follow the various paths and nature trails along the river up to the waterfall.  At the river you will see an abundance of fish and Thais swimming in the river or relaxing on the riverbank with a picnic.  I really recommend bringing a bathing suit or clothes you don’t mind getting wet and going for a swim.  To really top the relaxing nature of your visit off, act like the locals and bring a picnic!  This place is perfect for an afternoon swim in the cooling waters while getting your feet nibbled on by small fish like the massages you can see in Siem Reap and other places in Southeast Asia.  Don’t forget to bring your camera!

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Food and drink?

My advice is to bring a picnic but there are also a few small restaurants and places to buy snacks and drinks inside and outside of the park.

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How much?

If you are renting a bike for the day, that might cost you 250 or 300 baht.  Full tank of gas? 100 baht.  Foreigner ticket price? 200 baht.  So right away you can see this is a very affordable and relaxing day trip and one that I highly recommend if you are visiting Chanthaburi.

Hope you enjoyed reading and that this post inspires you to add another stop on your Thai travels, take care and stay tuned for future posts!

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The girlfriend and I

 

Roadtrip to Cambodia

I’m back!  Due to a combination of factors; a change of school, no wifi, a touch of laziness, and frankly nothing happening, I have been tardy in posting.  So it gives me pleasure to write about my latest adventure; a border run to Cambodia!

As you may have read before in my previous post about my visa run to Laos, you can see and do a lot as well as meet some great people to make your time worthwhile.  The difference in this trip, to the Baan Pakkad-Phsar Prum border crossing, is that it was not the destination that was the highlight of the trip but the journey itself!

I mentioned to a co-worker that I needed to go to Cambodia to get my visa stamped for another 30 days on arrival back in Thailand and he suggested I take my motorbike.  I think he was half joking but I took him seriously, did some research, asked a friend to join me, and that weekend off we went!

My friend and I, another Canadian, met up for breakfast and did some last minute fact finding before we set off.  As our luck would have it, it started to rain heavily.  The rain was so heavy that I could barely see in front of me from all the rain distorting my vision that I put my sunglasses on.  This helped me somewhat and ultimately helped persuade me to stick to the mission and not head back.

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What really made the drive more enjoyable, after the rain had lightened to a drizzle, was the beautiful scenery; luscious green landscapes for miles around, mountains off in the distance, the occasional waterfall, and the bemused looks of soldiers at occasional checkpoints to see a farang that far out in the countryside driving a motorbike.

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For those who are interested in driving motorbikes on long distance journeys, as opposed to just jetting about in town or on an island, I found no problems on my small bike and I just followed what other Thais on their bikes were doing; stick to the side of the road and you should have no problems!  Occasionally this is not possible and you will have to mix it up with cars but if you just drive responsibly and move out the way for oncoming cars, it shouldn’t be an issue.

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At the Thai side of the border, Baan Pakkad, things were very simple.  We just went to the immigration building, got our passport stamped, had them inspected again at the checkpoint, and walked over to Phsar Prum in Cambodia!  After walking a couple hundred meters through the ‘no man’s land’ we went to the Cambodian immigration building and filled out some forms to get our Cambodian visa which cost 1500 baht but could be cheaper if you pay in USD, which is the de facto currency in Cambodia.  They asked for a picture for the visa but we didn’t have any and it was not a problem.

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Now, because we were only in Cambodia for the afternoon we didn’t write how long we expected to stay in Cambodia.  When the immigration official asked how long we intended to stay we were vague and said a day, this turned out to be important for when we went to leave.  They said ok, and then handed back our passports with the green Cambodian visa attached.

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Immediately after walking down the main road to have a look for somewhere to eat we had guys on motorbikes asking if we needed a ride and if we wanted to go to Battambang.  We politely declined their offers and kept on walking.  The main attraction of Phsar Prum seems to be casinos.  I had not known it before going there but there were at least four casinos in this small town.  My feeling is that because gambling is illegal in Thailand, wealthy Thais come to the Phsar Prum to gamble.  We went inside one of the casinos to have a look and inside we were surprised to see how busy it was.  Inside were mostly middle aged men smoking while playing slot machines, blackjack, poker, and roulette.  My friend inquired as to whether he could play with just 1000 baht and they said yes but what I figured was going to happen would be that he would have to buy in to certain games and that ultimately if he won big, he might not walk out of there with money as we were just two foreigners in a country famous for scams and corruption.  He wisely decided against playing and we left to find a spot to eat lunch and enjoy a beer before crossing the border back to Thailand.

At the Cambodian immigration building we were thinking about what they were going to say considering we had just come to Cambodia a couple hours ago and now we were leaving but figured they must be used to it as to my knowledge quite a few foreigners were doing the same as us; dipping into Cambodia to return to Thailand to get the 30 days on arrival visa*.  To my mild surprise the official said that we had to stay the night because the Cambodian visa was for a minimum of one day.  I said that we had to get back to Thailand that day because we had urgent business.  Then he said, ‘ok, 300 baht’.  I honestly laughed because this was totally something I was half expecting to happen.  After a brief discussion we agreed to pay and then the official promptly stamped our passport and off we went back to Thailand.  I suppose we could have argued with them and asked to see their superior but I felt it just wasn’t worth the hassle.

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Back on the Thai border we had no such problems besides a funny look knowing we had just left and came back, clearly just for the purpose of getting the 30 days as our visas were about to expire.  And with that, we were back on our bikes with a sense of relief and accomplishment with the rain having stopped.  With the rain having stopped and there being less traffic, we were able to cut the drive down to about an hour and a half.  All in all it was a productive day and a new experience for me; a road trip on my own bike in Southeast Asia.  The first of many I hope!

Stay tuned for more posts and thanks for your continued support! J

 

*I should also state that 30 days on arrival by land is for G7 countries and was only relatively recently changed from 15 days.

Ultimate Frisbee in Chiang Mai

Ultimate frisbee is one of my favorite sports and so it was awesome to discover there was going to be a hat tournament in Chiang Mai right on the eve of songkran, Thai new years.  I first started playing ultimate frisbee in Korea where I joined the ROK Ultimate league and played for two different teams in the two seasons I played there.  At the first team training session I felt like I wanted to quit because all the other plays seemed to take it so much more seriously than I thought it to be.  Looking back, I’m glad I decided to stick it through because I find it a great sport to have fun, to stay physically active, to meet new and interesting people, and to be part of a community that takes care of each other and knows how to have fun on and off the field, at the bar!

Unfortunately for me it seems that ultimate frisbee in Thailand is based mostly in Bangkok and Chiang Mai, hundreds and hundreds of kilometers from the two towns I’ve worked in in Thailand.  So after I missed the Bangkok Hat Tournament back in February because I had to work in an English camp, I made damn sure I wasn’t going to miss out on a hat tournament in Chiang Mai.  I booked my flight from Bangkok months in advance and after the day in Ayutthaya, I crashed at the airport for the night and flew out bright and early the next day.

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At Chiang Mai airport I was lucky enough to have arranged beforehand to meet up with another player to split a cab to the fields north of Chiang Mai at  Maejo University.  The other player, a Kiwi, turned out to be a pretty chill guy and we hung out in between games and at the after party events.

Once at the field it turned out that 20 people who signed up didn’t show up.  This meant that there was now one less team and the teams were now mixed up to try ensure a equal strength teams.  For the 1700 baht I paid to register for the tournament I got a goodie bag that had stickers, a mini water gun for songkran, a wristband reading ‘Chiang Mai ultimate’, and a couple other cool small items.  I was assigned to the orange team and made my way over to their field to find them just about to start their second game.

My teammates were welcoming and I was quickly practicing my throws with one of them in order to break off the ring rust from not playing for months.  Now I should say that April in Thailand is part of the hot, dry season and so the temperature was easily close to 40 Celsius which made playing that much more exhausting.  Thankfully, each team had their own shaded area complete with water, a cooler of ice, and a big fan.  When it came for me to play my first point for the team I did quite well.  I made the catches that came my way, laid them off back to the handler, and finished by making the assist for the point.  Not a bad way to introduce yourself to a new team!

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We ended up losing the game on universe point I believe but it was just great to get out on the field after so long away and to be with a team that I felt comfortable with.  After the game there was big buffet of Thai food laid out for all the players who, myself included, were understandably starving and thirsty from running on and off over the 2 hours of games played.  Regrettably I was told by one of the organizers at lunch that I had to switch teams to help another team out with their number of guys.  It was at that point where I should have realized that I could have said I wanted to stay with orange and they probably would have been ok with it, instead I switched and though it was not said, I felt some of the orange players might have been a little understandably let down that I agreed to switch.  Sometimes I’m just too willing to make other people happy when I should just stand my ground.  So after lunch I switched over to Team Teal, or as we became better known as, Feel the Teal.

The new team welcomed me to the fold but right away away I could feel the vibe was a little different, mostly stemming from on of the oldest and most experienced player who was taking the tournament more seriously than the other players.  This turned out to be a running theme throughout the rest of the games over the weekend.  At this level of competition, similar to the level I’ve played in Korea, I think the game should be more about everyone having fun, developing their skills, gaining experience, and ultimately everyone getting some time with the disc, even if it is just catching it up field and then passing it back to the handler.  If this was a more competitive level than I would completely understand more playing strictly to win than to have fun, but that was not the case for this tournament.  Suffice to say some members on the team and myself included, were a little overlooked and overly criticized by one or two more experienced players.  Still, I did not let that issue prevent me from enjoying my field time and doing my best for the team when called upon.

One of the bizarre moments of the day came when in the afternoon a thunderstorm broke out with heavy rain and wind forcing the players off the field and under the stands.  The window blew so hard it actually started blowing away all the covered areas.  Thankfully it didn’t rain too long and before we all headed back out onto the field for the, shortened, remainder of the games.

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After the last game all the players barrelled into the fleet of specially hired songthaews waiting for us.  Teammates, briefly teammates, and others in our songthaew thought we’d be the first back to Hug Hostel, the official hostel of the 10th Annual Ultimate Frisbee Songkran Hat Tournament, but it turns out our driver was running on Thai time and despite his ride being the first full, he decided to have a couple smokes before driving.  The ride back made for a good picture though!

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At night we used the wristbands given to us to go to a bar and restaurant called Big Daddies.  There we were greeted with an all we could eat buffet and an open bar.  Having not had Western food for awhile, I had plate after plate of chicken wings and potato wedges, with a healthy amount of Leo beer to wash the food down.  I even ran into some current and former ROK U alumni.  Not wanting to drink too much I ended up heading back to the hostel early for a good night’s sleep, a far cry from some of the ROK U party nights!

The next day our team fought point for point each match but ultimately ended up not being able to win a game.  What was more important to me was simply getting out there to play and getting to know my teammates better.  In the end the tournament final was contested between the purple and green team.  The final was a really competitive game with the underdogs Team Purple prevailing against the favorites Team Green, the score was 12-10 I believe.

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The tournament itself I believe was very well organized and I strongly recommend it to those coming to Thailand next April around songkran time.  There was the official hostel which had discounted prices for players.  There was free transport to and from the fields back into the city.  Plenty of food and drinks available at the field during and after games.  Lots of Chiang Mai ultimate swag to buy, which I indulged in and bought a disc so I can try and practice more.  The fields were in very condition and much better than I had been expecting.  Games were competitive as the teams were just about even in strength as possible. The party events themselves having the free food and drinks for the Saturday and Sunday nights was a nice touch too.  I think the only thing that people might have changed would have been being able to drink on the campus, because beer is an essential part of any hat tournament, alas Maejo University is a dry campus.  Overall it was a great tournament to be a party of and definitely one I hope to play in again.

Do you play ultimate? What is your favorite ultimate tournament you have played in abroad? Let me know in the comments, cheers!