Trip Start Aug 25, 2010
10Trip End Jun 30, 2011
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January 14th, Friday - China
After school ended I had an entire week to do nothing but think about Thailand so when Friday arrived I couldn't have been more anxious to start the twenty day adventure I had been dreaming up ever since I saw Nick’s pictures two years ago. But the first order of business was a quick purchase of swim trunks before meeting up with everyone else since I didn’t own a pair and they would be a MUST in Thailand. Before I knew it, the six of us were on a train to Shenzhen, then bus to the airport, and off to Bangkok! Aaron’s brother and childhood friend, Jason and Ben, had flown from Washington to travel with us for the next couple weeks so when I saw them waiting at 3:00am in Bangkok’s terminal I knew it was official… LET THE VACATION BEGIN
January 15th, Saturday - Bangkok
We woke up early and headed for breakfast, which was hands-down the highlight of my day. Being in China, you forget what it’s like to eat normal food so instead of the basic rice stew, noodle soup, or rice with vegetables, I went wild. Omelets, potatoes, bacon, sausage, Cheese and bread, exotic fruits, smoothies, milk, cereal, jam, and coffee while actually able to eavesdrop on people’s conversations… it was pretty cool. After my food binge Mom and I took a water taxi shuttle into the city to visit the Bangkok weekend market. I’m not going to get into that too much because it was just like any other market in China: A million people everywhere and tons of shops basically selling the same thing. I did buy a pair of $7.00 flip-flops and a $2.50 T-shirt though which would be a lifesaver since I only packed half a backpacks worth of clothes for the trip -- The coolest thing about that market was the coconut water: A young coconut with a hole chopped in the top for the straw
January 16th, Sunday - Bangkok
Today was a travel day so we checked out of the hotel and just chilled by the pool till 6:00pm where we then took a cab to the Bangkok train station to board the 7:15pm, eleven hour overnight ride to Chumphon. We had a sleeper car that I thought was supposed to be nice, and it would have been if Thailand didn’t have the bumpiest rail system I’ve ever experienced, but it was really hard to sleep. However, we did arrive on time and transferred to a catamaran ferry that took us to Koh Tao, a small island in the Gulf of Thailand. Before I jump into Monday I need to talk about the three-hour ferry ride because it was hilarious. It was like 6:00am when we boarded, I’m exhausted and the only thing that’s keeping me going are the scrambled eggs and toast some local was slanging on the street outside the train station. I thought I’d be able to just pass out on the boat and wake up ready for Koh Tao, but what I forgot about was the stormy weather that day and small ferries don’t mix well with big waves
January 17th, Monday – Koh Tao
We docked at Koh Tao around 9:30am and were met by a driver from our hotel, the Haad Tien Beach Resort. Koh Tao, known as "Turtle Island", only covers an area of about 13 square miles and is most famous for its scuba diving and snorkeling, the perfect beach island to relax without metros, skyscrapers, and pollution. After checking in and exploring the property Mom and I took the hotel shuttle back into town to sign up for a snorkeling trip and check out the most populated beach where all the restaurants and action were (Sairee Beach). After walking up and down the beach we found a restaurant for an early dinner. The restaurants were so legit; they all lined the beach and had huge decks jetting out with beanbag chairs that you could lounge on and relax, just looking out at the sun setting over the water with a drink in your hand
January 18th, Tuesday – Koh Tao
Mom and I woke up early, had a huge breakfast and got ready for the long day. An 8:00am pick up and we were off to our boat with snorkel gear in hand, ready for some tropical fish. Overall, snorkeling in Thailand was absolutely amazing but it still didn’t crack #1 on my list – Yes, Hawaii, you still, and probably will forever, have the title; second place isn’t bad though. I hadn’t done legit snorkeling like this for about five years and I forgot how cool swimming with fish are. I think I saw every color in the rainbow that trip, and on a few occasions on one fish. However, the most memorable experience that day wasn’t the fish but my first encounter squaring up face to face with a shark. The first bay we stopped at was called, "Shark Bay," proving its name three different times
The Free Birds had gotten in earlier that day so I was excited to meet up with them and hear all their stories and kick it for the evening. After an hour of debriefing and a million laughs the Free Birds and their newest member sought out a local Thai to book a private long-tail boat for an afternoon the next day – we all wanted to do something together and since the snorkel trip Mom and I did was so fun everyone decided they wanted to do it too. After setting a price and time, the eight of us searched for some dinner and stumbled upon a BBQ - for $5.00 I got two shish kabob meat and vegetable sticks, corn on the cob, and a baked potato. After we finished, we walked to one of the beach restaurants, kicked it on the lounge cushions, ordered a few drinks and watched a fire show before everyone said goodnight and went to their rooms
January 19th, Wednesday – Koh Tao
We woke up around 8:30am and by 9:15am the boat was coming towards our beach with all the boys in it. Because the first stop for our snorkel trip was in Shark Bay and our hotel happened to be in the same location it was easiest to just pick us up there. That day was perfect for snorkeling, not a cloud in the sky, no wind, no waves, and HOT. Shark time! We all jumped in and it only took a few minutes before we saw our first one, a four-foot shark swimming about ten feet underneath us. I know a four footer is no Great White, but swimming right above an actual shark in its habitat definitely got my juices flowing. Everyone eventually saw at least one and back to the boat we went because besides the sharks, not many fish were hanging around; I don’t blame ‘em though! Ao Hin Wong was our next stop and what happened here was wild because we brought a ton of bananas after the locals said that’s how you attract the fish - apparently they love bananas? So we tried it from the boat first, throwing a chunk overboard near us, and, no joke, close to 100 swarmed around doing their best to squeeze in and get a bite. Game time. We all jumped in and started swimming towards the clump of fish. It was almost like cheating because the boat driver would throw chunks around our area every so often and attract everything in the bay (there were so many you could actually reach out and touch them before they swam off)
As our time was winding down (we only had the boat for four hours) I wanted to show the Free Birds Koh Nang Yuan, so our driver dropped us off for a couple hours to explore and do everything Mom and I did the day before. Most of the snorkeling happens right next to the beach around the rocks in the lagoon, but Sean and I decided to explore the outer bay to see if we could find anything else cool. Like I said earlier, Koh Tao is mostly famous for it’s scuba diving and the outer part of Koh Nang Yuan is best for that so naturally we headed there. We were about half way out when we saw this giant fish swimming by itself so Sean and I started following, swimming as fast as we could to stay over it. As soon as it got out of reach we turned around to swim back but some girl was waving at us to come over and when we got close she started laughing. We were confused as to why until she said we were following a triggerfish, an extremely territorial fish that if provoked or threatened will attack and can leave a nasty bite worth up to seven stitches
January 20th, Thursday – Railay
Today was another travel day so we checked out and caught a boat back to Chumphon around 10:30am where we would take a six-hour van down the southern strip of Thailand to the deep south. It was cool because since we were traveling during the day I got to see the Thai countryside apart from the other tourist-run-areas. We arrived in Krabi at 6:30pm just before sunset and took a long-tail boat to Railay where we would spend the next four nights and three full days. Railay was probably the coolest place we visited because it was unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It’s a small peninsula that jets out into the Andaman Sea. There are no roads for cars or bikes and it’s only accessible by boat because of the high limestone cliffs cutting off mainland access
January 21st, Friday – Railay
Like every day on this trip, we woke up early and had an amazing breakfast at Railay Bay Resort and Spa’s buffet - just like in Bangkok, this place had everything. Before we knew it the time had reached 10:30am and we needed to figure out what to do. Kayaking is very popular at Railay because there are caves, coves, and small beaches everywhere so we rented one for four hours and paddled off into the open sea. The Kayaking was awesome because we were able to explore the whole peninsula and everything the area had to offer. We found a private beach with a cliff that I could jump off, small caves to climb in along the coastline, massive jellyfish bobbing up and down in the crystal clear water (like in Finding Nemo), and small limestone cliffs randomly spread throughout the ocean. After seeing everything around our location – literally everything – we were exhausted and wanted to relax a bit at Phra Nang, recently voted one of the top 10 most beautiful beaches in the world and described by Wikitravel as arguably the finest beach in Thailand, if not southeast Asia
When I got back we hopped into the kayak, cruised a bit more around Phra Nang’s cliffs and headed back to Railay. Railay in the evening is real cool too because around sunset the tide is way out and the locals bring out a volleyball net and mini soccer goals. It begins as all locals, but eventually someone gets the nerve to join in until the ratio is around 50/50. I was in no mood to run or play after my hike and day of kayaking so I sat on the lounge chair, looked out at the sunset, and watched. The night before Mom and I ate at a BBQ on the west side near our hotel so we decided to walk the beach and check out a restaurant on the other side of Railay West. This side is where the backpackers normally stay so there were more food options available at a cheaper price. We got another BBQ (I was obsessed with them most of the trip) but decided to try something new this time, shark, to accompany the usual potato, beer, corn, and a banana pancake for desert – I mean, if I conquered the sea swimming with one, I figured I should step up my game and eat one.
January 22nd, Saturday – Railay
We woke up real early today, 6:20am, because we were meeting a long-tailed boat at 7:00am to see the surrounding islands before they got crowded with tourists in the afternoon
The beach has a real cool food system because since there are no restaurants: long-tailed boats are docked on the beach with a fully equipped kitchen selling coconut water, banana pancakes, hamburgers, smoothies, pad thai, pineapple fried rice, beer, and chicken. We got some pineapple fried rice, banana pancakes and coconut water and set up shop on the beach. After a couple hours swimming, napping, and people watching we started getting burnt and took a path around the limestone cliff that disconnected Railay and entered basically through the back door. Originally we were going to leave Railay the next morning and journey to Koh Phi Phi but we weren’t ready yet so I went online and booked one more night to delay the inevitable ending.
Mom wanted to get a pedicure (or whatever girls do at a spa) so I was alone for the next few hours. Obviously I had to so something so I went to the quickie mart down the beach, got a few beers and different snacks, wandered back to the beach, spread out in front of our hotel, popped my ipod in, and before I knew it I was sleeping. (I think the hardest decision I made that day was whether or not to cool down in the ocean; the sun was scorching hot and I was dripping in sweat but no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t move… decisions, decisions, so hard to choose). After the sunset and a nice shower, Mom and I started walking towards the east side of Railay to explore the restaurants, and just like we had done almost every night before, we predictably chose, yes, another BBQ. But this spot was different because of the exotic shish kabob choices
January 23rd, Sunday – Railay
We basically did everything around Railay the past two days so today we wanted to just relax at the hotel, swim in the pool and ocean, listen to music, and eat some good food. This was the first day in a while we had no plans so it felt real nice to have nothing on our plates. Time flew and before we knew it we had an hour till sunset. Since it was our last night I wanted to go out with a bang and do something memorable so we decided to rent the kayak again and take it on the water to watch the sunset. The idea sounded good but when we got out, probably 45 minutes till sunset, the water had a strong current that was too much work, so we paddled around the cliff and saw Phra Nang – EMPTY. All of a sudden we both knew where we’d be watching the sunset and started paddling towards our own private beach. After seeing a perfect sunset, there was nothing left to do there but slowly paddle back while enjoying our last night on Railay. To celebrate Railay we ate some traditional Thai food at the resort before bed.
January 24th, Monday – Koh Phi Phi
Today was another travel morning, but since Koh Phi Phi is so close to Railay, the 9:30am boat ride only took two hours
By the time we reached mainland, and after eating some pizza, Tim, Jason and Aaron had finally woken up and met us on the beach with a football to throw. Eventually everyone came out, including my mom, to kick it, play some football, and watch the sunset. What I didn’t realize though was that throughout the whole trip, the Free Birds were playing the ICE GAME, I don’t want to get into the rules or explain the meaning behind it but we played it a lot the last semester of college. Anyway, apparently I was the only one left that hadn’t been Iced yet so someone bought a bottle and gave it to my mom. Mom says to me, “Mark come here, I need to give you something I found while shopping.” So naturally I walk over, but out comes an Ice and all my boys go nuts with laughter. I was so confused. They got me real good. When the sun had set we all parted ways for an hour or so to shower up for dinner. Everyone ate together, said ‘goodnight’ to Mom, and it was official, my first night going out with the free birds had started
January 25th, Tuesday – Koh Phi Phi
Jason and Ben were leaving today for Railay so we spent the afternoon together eating lunch before they left. After saying ‘goodbye’ to two members of team Free Bird with an honorary Icing, F2E Ventures and Mom rented another long-tailed boat for the afternoon to cruise around the additional six islands of Phi Phi. But most importantly, we wanted to visit Maya Bay – the famous lagoon and beach where the movie, The Beach, was filmed in 2000. The water happened to be real choppy that day so our voyage out and back was an adventure in itself ending with our clothes soaking wet but we got to see two really cool bays (Loh Samah Bay and Maya Bay) and snorkel in Maya for over an hour
January 26th, Wednesday – Chiang Mai
Today was another travel day and both Mom and I were ready to leave; Phi Phi was amazing but because the island is so small we basically saw everything it had to offer, and besides the young party vibe it had going on there wasn’t much else for a mother and son. Unlike our previous travel days, we were about to leave the deep south of Thailand and travel to the upper north. We caught an afternoon ferry to Phuket, got a shuttle to the airport, and flew to Chiang Mai that evening. After touching down at 10:30pm in Thailand’s largest northern city we found a cab to our hotel, The Rim, and immediately went to bed. Mom really wanted to experience the culture of Thailand and Chiang Mai was highly recommended for that so it would be our home for the next 3 ½ days. The city has long been a major center for handcrafted goods, jewelry (particularly silver), and woodcarving so I knew I’d be forced into a few shopping excursions - especially to the Night Bazaar which is probably the most famous shopping area… located in the heart of the city it’s famous for handicrafts, portrait paintings, jewelry, toys, clothing, local food dishes, and massage parlors. There are also over 300 Buddhist temples threaded throughout the city and since Chiang Mai isn’t very big they were apparent everywhere – it seemed like every time we turned a street corner we ran into another one
January 27th, Thursday – Chiang Mai
Mom and I both woke up excited to explore the "Rose of the North" but I think Mom had an extra jump in her step because I gave her the morning to do as much shopping as she could handle. Like I mentioned earlier, Chiang Mai is famous for silver so she HAD to visit Silver Village to see if they had anything to make jewelry with. After breakfast we got a map from the front desk and headed for the streets to find this village. With the help of the friendly Thai people we found it without a problem (along with like ten temples) and started at the first shop slowly making our way down the street. A few hours had passed and I had seen so much silver I couldn’t handle it anymore so I hinted at getting lunch and we headed back where there were some restaurants and a few parks. The two of us both found a great restaurant down the street from The Rim and I wouldn’t have mentioned it but they had the best coconut ice cream I’ve ever tasted.
It was my turn to pick an activity now: I had done some research before we arrived and forty-five minutes outside Chiang Mai was a Tiger Temple where you basically get into the cage, pet them, play with the babies, and watch them interact with one another – It’s Thailand, there are no rules
On our way home, Mom apparently wasn’t satisfied with Silver Village (or she just really liked looking at metal) because she insisted we make a pit stop and tour one of Chiang Mai’s silver factories where all the jewelry is made
January 28th, Friday – Chiang Mai
Following the exotic animal theme that Thailand has to offer, we booked an elephant tour at Thai Elephant Home. I had been looking forward to this for a long time because we would be able to hang out with an Asian elephant for the day – feeding, bathing, and riding it throughout the jungle while learning about its historical existence in Asia. We were picked up at 8:30am and shuttled to the Home, which was about forty-five minutes outside Chiang Mai. When we arrived, Mom, a Swiss couple, a Chinese family, a lone traveler, and I were introduced to the Asian elephant’s historical importance in Thailand, and SE Asia, through a college-like lecture. After learning the Thai commands necessary to control the elephant we wandered down a path to meet the friendly giant
When Mom and I got home we went to the coconut ice cream restaurant, had a nice dinner, returned back to our room exhausted and a bit sore, watched a movie, and went to sleep.
January 29th, Saturday – Chiang Mai
Because Mom HAD to do a cooking class while she was in Thailand, today was another day full of culture learning authentic Thai culinary secrets. Senior year in college was the first time I didn’t have a meal plan conveniently laid in my lap - and that year I averaged about 3-4 Quiznos and 1-2 Qdobas a week - so this was probably a good thing for me as well. The class was hilarious because there were three couples (one pair of honeymooners, one couple that was basically married but the homie hadn’t popped the question yet, one couple that I think was newly married with a kid on the way) and Mom and I. They were all in their early thirties and acted just like those couples you see in the ‘family Home Depot commercials’ (China won’t let me get on Youtube or I’d post the link)
January 30th, Sunday – Chiang Mai
Since Mom’s flight wasn’t till 4:30pm, we slept in, ate a late breakfast, and chilled by the pool till it was time to go. I went to the airport to see her off and then caught a cab back to my new hotel, Chiang Mai Plaza, to check in. I’d be in Chiang Mai for one more full day before traveling to Bangkok to meet Tim, Aaron, and Sean so I signed up for a downhill mountain bike trip that started on the top of Doi Suthep National Park and ended at the bottom of Huay Tung Thao Lake. After I checked in to the Plaza the last thing I wanted was to be social or explore more so I went to the pool and hung there for a bit, got a good workout in at their gym, and went back to my room for some rest.
January 31st, Monday – Chiang Mai
I woke up early to get a good breakfast before the bike trip began and was picked up around 8:00am in a shuttle that went straight to the mountaintop
February 1st, Tuesday – Bangkok
Unfortunately my train to Bangkok left at 8:20am so I had to wake up real early to pack, have breakfast, check out, and get to the train station. The ride was twelve plus hours but no one sat next to me, which made it a little better for space. I like riding trains because you get to see the countryside, but countryside for over twelve hours gets real boring, and fast. Nothing eventful happened because I didn’t have a book and there was no Wi-Fi connection so I just slept, listened to almost every song I have on itunes, reviewed my Chinese lessons, and daydreamed. However, once I got to Bangkok everything that was boring quickly disappeared. Bangkok sucks. There’s nothing special to see, just a big and extremely dirty city with hustlers trying to make some bucks. I didn’t have a place to stay but had heard of Khao San Road, the famous Bangkok street that was also featured in the film The Beach, and known as a backpackers ghetto because of the cheap accommodation and hundreds of travel agents slanging visas to Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, and Vietnam (reinforcing it’s other image as the gateway to SE Asia)
February 2nd, Wednesday – Bangkok
RingRingRing, RingRingRing, I looked at my phone and Tim was calling at 6:30am. They were in Railay and took the night train to Bangkok but were supposed to find their own hostel. Apparently they had been denied by every hostel too and wanted to know if mine had room
February 3rd, Thursday – Bangkok
After sleeping in and checking out, we looked for a breakfast spot. We had done all our shopping and didn’t want to explore the city so we sat down and had a three-hour meal, which consisted of Tim icing me at the end. Tim, Sean, Aaron and I had our ‘One night in Bangkok’ and were ready to go back to China where we would be reintroduced to the crowds, stares, language barrier, cold weather, and work.
Goodbye Thailand; you provided some of the best moments I’ve ever had; you showed me some of the most beautiful beaches in the world; you were amazing; I will never forget you; and one day we will meet again.
*Free Bird: Someone with no obligations, no commitments, no worries, and no plans. Someone who is able to fly anywhere, at any moment, without letting anyone know. Someone wanting to experience the freeness of traveling wherever the wind blows. = F2E Ventures + Jason Hallerman + Ben Thielsen