Tag Archives: South Africa

Adventuring to the North, home stays & trekking.

12 Dec

Cambodia to Bangkok – Let the Journey Begin! :)

In a previous post I mentioned the bus trip from Bangkok to Siem Reap. Like I mentioned, the trip was relatively painless and easy which led to our decision to bus back to Bangkok at the end of our stay in Cambodia. This trip costs $28 and the ticket is bought at the Nattakan Cambodia Company in town – which is also the final destination when arriving in Siem Reap. The bus leaves from Bangkok at 8AM daily, with a free pick up service from your hostel/hotel on the morning of your departure.

Our trip back to Bangkok was definitely more draining and complicated than our trip to Siem Reap – primarily due to the long and tedious border crossing into Thailand. We were made to offload all our luggage off the bus, carry it across the border, up and down a steep flight of stairs to passport control. Lack of signage and incredibly difficult border officials who spoke minimal English, meant that people were reaching the front of an hour long queue, only to be sent to the back of another – with little or no reasonable explanation… My mom decided to bus back with us, rather than fly  and I am extremely grateful that we were with her to guide her through the mixed hand signals, abrupt officials and offer a little bit of support. I, once again, felt incredibly sorry for the many young travellers (particularly females) who were left to edure this crossing alone. We arrived back at Mo Chit Bus Station in Bangkok just before 5PM. (We were told the bus journey back would be 7 hours – but bank on 8/9 hours to be safe!) With 5 and a half hours to spare before our 9:40PM bus departed for Chiang Mai, we headed off to our favourite little coffee shop to relax and get ready for our next journey….

Direct bus drop off and departure point in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Direct bus drop off and departure point in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Double Decker Cruising, Local Living, Elephant Riding and Ranting Roosters

Our first class bus tickets to Chiang Mai were booked on the top level of our extremely comfortable double decker bus. Having not travelled such a far distance by bus in Thailand, we were slightly unsure of what exactly to expect of our chosen mode of transport. However, we were pleasantly surprised. Ample leg room, reclining sets, a complimentary blanket and clean toilets on board – resulted in one very easy trip to the North! I highly recommend catching the bus at night if you do not want to spend an entire day travelling – you arrive at your final destination (although a bit tired) with a full day ahead of you, so you can choose whether you want to recover or get exploring!

When looking for a place to stay in Chiang Mai – I will admit that I was completely overwhelmed by the number of options and entirely confused of my bearings and figuring out where the best place to stay, proved a little challenging for me. Many an hour on TripAdvisor had me follow some trusty reviews and book 3 nights at a home stay I’m one of those people that likes to plan, compare options, ask for advice and book accommodation in advance – especially since I knew we would be arriving at 7AM after more than 24 hours of traveling from Cambodia. So, what’s a home stay? A home stay is a type of accommodation which allows you to rent a room/bungalow from a local family. I booked the Rice Field Hut  at the Ban Chunsongsang Home Stay –  located a fair bit outside of the main town of Chiang Mai. I thought it would be nice to try something different and having received a Certificate of Excellence in 2012 and 2013 from the trusty TripAdvisor site, I was pretty confident we would be happy with our stay! Miss Nong (the owner of the home stay) and her family are some of the most lovely people we have had the privilege of spending time with in Thailand. Always willing to offer advice, help out where she can and converse in excellent English – made us feel so welcome and happy with our decision to stay.

Our first night was filled with amusement… Just as we were about to fall asleep, a round of shots exploded outside of  our bungalow! Our terror was mounted by the fact that we suddenly realised that no-one actually knows where exactly we are! After we awkwardly managed to reassure each other that we were not under attack in a tiny Thai village in the middle of nowhere – we dozed off to sleep. Only to be woken up by the loudest rooster I have ever heard in my life. There must be daily meeting at dawn where every cockerel in Chiang Mai meets in the fields alongside our bungalow – because never ever have I heard such a racket!! Anyway, on a lighter note – we were informed at breakfast that in Thai culture – when a member of the village passes away, fire crackers are let off momentarily in order to lift and aid the deceased’s spirit to the Gods.

…Gunshots explained.

With the intention of staying in Chiang Mai for only 3 nights, we decided to book a Tour Package – which was recommended at our home stay. The three of us decided to take the complete package which included a little bit of everything… Elephant trekking, bamboo rafting and walking through the mountains to experience a local village and tribe. So, once we joined the rest of the group, we were off. Our first stop was at the elephant trekking………….

This experience left the 3 of us quiet and – quite honestly –  ashamed to be taking part in such an activity. These poor elephants, who looked completely sedated,  were made to walk laps all day – just to impress a bunch of ignorant tourists who had little comprehension of the absolute beauty, power and elegance that these incredible creatures inherently possess in the wild. We stood back for a few moments – reflecting on just how blessed we are to come from South Africa, to have seen these majestic beasts roam free. I managed to put my feelings aside (either that or I was going to tell the guide how I really felt – which probably would not have been the best idea…) and enjoy as much of the experience that I could. After a 40 minute mountain trek on the back of one of these beasts, my blood sugar dropping, my heart racing and my ‘expressive’ face displaying my unease, I was more that ecstatic to have my feet on the ground and move onto the next stop.

After the elephant experience, we were off Bamboo River Rafting down the Mae Wang River. We were told by the guide that we would get “97% wet…” so we were half expecting some extreme water rafting and rapids. Once we made ourselves comfortable on the long bamboo raft – and after not a single safety rule was given to the group, even though a large sign loomed in the car park declaring all guests must wear life jackets – we began our decent downstream. Well, the trip down the river was very relaxed and we all enjoyed the scenery around us. The best way to describe the bamboo river rafting, is to compare it to the Thai type of supping – the increasingly popular water sport.

Oh yes, I must add – I was highly unimpressed with the water snakes which kept popping their heads up and down along the way – but Jecket (our raftsman) got the drift pretty quickly that I’m not a snake lover and trying to toss them onto the raft with his bamboo oar, was not a good idea… Once the river cruise was over, we headed off for lunch – which was lovely and located on the side of the road en route to our next activity.

The final activity for the day was trekking and visiting the Karen Village. If you are expecting to visit a tribe filled with locals and see first hand the way in which these people live – then change your expectations. The walking was lovely and stopping off at a powerful waterfall along the way was wonderful, but the village did not appear to be lived in by anyone – with a few tables set up, selling souvenirs for the many tourists passing through.

All in all, we were exhausted by the end of the day but content with our decision to do the tour. Chiang Mai is difficult to navigate on your own and with an abundant amount of tour operators and guiding services on offer – it is not easy to decide which package is the best. Personally, I am no fan of the elephant trekking, but I do understand that we are extremely privileged to come from South Africa and have a different understanding and respect for these animals. Next time, I will definitely opt to spend a bit more money and go on a tour which is governed by environmentally friendly, Eco, motives.

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog – I really do appreciate it! Have a happy day everyone! :) 

It’s about Time.

29 Oct

Admittedly, my commitment to writing and updating my blog has been rather shocking. To those who enquire where I have been – I can only say that I just haven’t been in a good ‘writing space’. After 8 months of living in Thailand, we decided that October would be the perfect month to go home whilst the Thai schools closed for the end of the term. Time in the comfort of my own home, surrounded by friends and family finally allowed me to clear my head and get back on blogging-track!! :)

Home is where the Heart is...

So, we have been teaching English in Bangkok since May this year. We came to Thailand to travel, experience a new culture and soak up the invaluable lessons which come with living abroad. Unfortunately, our experience has been (for the lack of a better description) – bitter sweet. Thailand is the most incredible country, filled with wonderful, caring and genuine people – but (like anywhere else) is not perfect. One thing I cannot say enough is that traveling a country and actually living in a country are two entirely different things. People are often firm believers that if they have spent a night or two in a city, they are completely acquainted with the challenges which come with residing on a permanent basis. The lesson which I learnt from such, is that you cannot base your decision or predict your own experience to be like anyone else’s… Your job, your colleagues, your income and ability to save all influence your overall experience and cannot be based on  Jack or Jill’s 2 week getaway in 2005.

Along with its beautiful beaches, passive culture and smiling faces – Thailand is one of those places that unless you have experienced first hand what it is like to live there, it is very difficult to explain or generate understanding from people – even those closest to you. Whilst at home, I met people – people I know  well and people I had just met – all of which had lived in Thailand, taught English and could instantly relate to my joys and frustrations. On one of my first nights back home, I crossed paths with a girl who taught English in Thailand last year and I think we were both so relieved to meet another South African who could really relate to each others independent experiences. Those who believe that living in an Asian culture is all about sitting on the beach all day, beneath palm trees with a coconut in one hand – you are mistaken. Living in Bangkok has been difficult. Adjusting to the lifestyle and fitting into the Thai culture has been challenging, but we have done our best to make the most out all the situations which we have been faced.

We are now back in Bangkok after a wonderful month away. After settling back in, we were once again reminded of the reasons why we love Thailand and why we have stayed in this country for close to 9 months. I look forward to the many adventures which are still to come, the beautiful neighbouring countries which are yet to be explored and the people we will meet along the way. I miss South Africa, I miss my home and I miss my family & friends – but for now, we are on a journey which has forced me to grow up, laugh when all I want to do is cry (although, sometimes I just sob!) and taught me more in 9 months than I could ever have imagined…

Here’s to the next chapter of our adventure! :)

x

Magnums, Purple People & Sweat Towels.

20 Apr

“The happiest of people don’t have the best of everything, they just make the best of everything” – Unknown

Post Songkran and the Purple People

Although we had a great time drenching ourselves (and others) during Songkran – I was quite happy to see the celebrations come to an end. From Thursday until Tuesday, the majority of the (limited) street food vendors and restaurants were closed in our area – which resulted in two grumpy individuals who wanted nothing more than to enjoy a steak on the braai, a Webered chicken, creamy potato bake and some fresh veggies.

There are only two (controllable) situations I am placed where I struggle to maintain my sense of humour… When I’m hungry and when I’m tired. Combining the two has never been too pleasant for the company I am surrounded, but being hungry myself and having a starving boyfriend, did not lead to the happiest of looking couples. When we first moved in, we were introduced to this street food vendor which earned the nickname “The Purple People”. The waitresses all wear purple aprons and because the vendors generally have no formal name (well, at least not in English), naming them ourselves has been the way to go! Anyway, the Purple People make the most divine “Western meals” – you can order a chicken breast with fries, salad, pork chop or chicken nuggets for the equivalent of R15! But, sadly, not paying rent or being bound to any formal lease agreement means that the street vendors come and go as they please… Our favourite little dinner spot has been MIA for the last 2 weeks! Nonetheless, we still walk down every evening to check if they are back in action. So, lets hold thumbs…

The Magnum Cafe

For my friends and family, it is no secret that I have a raging sweet tooth. I’m not really a sweets or chips-kinda-girl, but chocolate… Oh wow. Until the end of May (apparently and sadly) a Magnum pop up store has been set up on the ground floor of the Siam Shopping Center. This delicious outing included some great fun, excitement and a taste bud frenzy! In my marketing course last year, we discussed pop up stores at length, but never before had I actually witnessed or experienced such creativity and out-of-the-box thinking. Once you arrive at the store, you are welcomed with a list of options – starting with your choice between milk or dark chocolate, then you choose 3 toppings from a list of 30 and finally the type of chocolate you would like to drizzle over your concoction. The toppings ranged from corn flakes, to red velvet, to chocolate brownie to sea salt and caused a vast amount of confusion amongst our indecisive counter parts (Kyle)…

IMG_1055

The store was immaculately decorated, with each and every piece of furniture, music and decor having been clearly thought of so as to enhance your Magnum experience! I’m actually not sure what I was more impressed by – the Magnum itself, or the marketing team who developed the concept? If you are heading to Bangkok anytime soon (diet or no diet), you MUST go and have a look at this prime piece of creativity and experience a piece of taste bud heaven! :)


Same Same, but Different

A widely used saying in Thailand is “Same same but different”. The phrase can be seen printed on numerous t-shirts and is a quick response to bargaining tourists who are trying to windle their way to lower prices – “Same Same!” Although I do believe that a vast amount of similarities exist across nations, there are a few things I have noticed in Thailand which I just did not think I would ever come across. For starters, we noticed that many of the Thai men have long baby finger nails. At first we thought maybe it had some religious or spiritual meaning, until we asked someone who has been living here for 5 years… He informed us that it was in actual fact a nose picking aid. Need I say more?

A second phenomena which I have not quite grasped, is the notion of utilizing a communal sweat towel at gym. We have a really nice, really basic gym in our apartment block but one thing I cannot fathom is how fitness enthusiasts share two towels which are neatly folded at the entrance to the gym. Now, you must understand, the heat in Bangkok is sweltering and often the aircon is switched off. Such a combination leads to intense sweat workouts – so sharing a sweat towel is just another thing I just have not quite gotten used to!

We start training in just over a week and I am really excited to get into a routine, start learning and finally get a pay check! We are still sleeping in our camping sheets which we brought over for traveling, as linen is a luxury we have not yet been able to afford! Having so much time and very little money to do fun things has been quite a challenge as neither of us are the type of person to sit indoors all day. But, we have tried to make it work as best we can. Getting out and doing something fun every now and then has been great and we just have to remember that, soon, we will have money to go out and enjoy ourselves, go shopping and buy a bottle of wine! :)

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In the past week, we have met up with two stunning South African couples which has really made us feel SO much better! Hearing from other people about their experiences, traveling and budgeting together has been both comforting and hilarious at times! When you are at home, in your comfort zone, you tend to take for granted the friends, family and company you are surrounded by. When you move to a new country, you realise that if you are going to make things work, you have to go out, meet new people and make new friends. The best advice I can give to anyone leaving home on a new adventure is to accept offers to go out and meet new people whenever you can – it is through others that you learn about places to see, things to do – what you should definitely do and what you should definitely avoid. The one thing we have learnt and gathered from others who are in the same/similar situation to ours, is that things do work out! Most of the time, you have to hit rock bottom, contemplate packing your bags to go home and shed a few tears in the shower before (and almost suddenly), things fall into place…

Happy weekend to you all! :)

Evelina Galli

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