Dáithí O'Coileáin

Joined October 2016
  • Day18

    Laos-y Gibbons

    October 22, 2016 in Laos

    My dash for the border began with a tuck-tuck ride from my hostel in Chiang Khong at 7am; of course I paid way over the odds for this. Once at the Thai border I was processed quickly but had to wait for the 8am bus across the bridge to the Laos border; this didn't leave until 8:15 due to a troupe of Chinese tourists. At the Laos side paperwork slowed me down before I was once again ripped off by a tuck-tuck driver but I had no time to argue on price. I was off to the Gibbon experience office on the slowest tuck-tuck in the world. After running the last 800m I arrived at the office at 8:55am & the Jeep departed at 9am.

    It took about two hours to reach the village we would trek from in the Nam Ha national park. It was a mountain village made up of simple huts but not lacking modern influences; orange satellite dishes were mounted outside most. It was another one hour trek into the jungle in the sweltering heat. When we finally reached our treehouse we just wanted to rest. There were eight of us in treehouse number one; an Austrian couple, an Australian couple, a Dutch couple, one German girl, and myself. All the beds were doubles with a mosquito net over them so it became clear that I'd have to share with the German girl. Unfortunately for her, I'd a good night's sleep & was snoring quite loudly. After dinner our guides returned to the village and left us to fend for ourselves for the night.

    Day two began at 7:30am with our guides arrival and breakfast. We then went hiking and zip lining around to the other treehouses and in search of wildlife. After an exhausting trek we returned for lunch & a shower. Our guide then showed us some games he likes to play, told some stories about himself and the park before showing us how to make toy fish from bamboo. Before dark some of us went back out for more zip lining and then returned for dinner. We began to notice more and more the various bugs, spiders, and rats that we shared our house with and, most of us, became comfortable with having them around.

    On our last morning we trekked out of the jungle with a heavy heart but enjoyed a well earned beer at the mountain village. When we returned to Huay Xai I stayed at a guesthouse with the Austrian couple before we all met at a local bar for drinks and food. Many of us had the same plan to travel on to Luang Prabang by slow boat the following morning.
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  • Day8

    Chiang Mai Noon

    October 12, 2016 in Thailand

    The train journey to Chiang Mai was an experience, the bed was okay but I'd lost my ear plugs and it was quite noisy. It also felt like for all the hopping around we were doing that we were going incredibly fast. I reached Chiang Mai just after 7:30 and arrived at the hostel to find that reception was closed. I jumped straight into the hammock on the deck and waited for it to open. Once checked in I grabbed a free hostel bike and headed around town, checking out Wat Chedi Luang Worawihan in the centre of town. Got back early enough & headed to bed as I'd booked a trekking & mountain biking trip for tomorrow.

    Got collected at 9am for my day trip & quickly learned that I'd be moved onto the intermediate mountain biking only trip as I was the sole person booked for trekking. We were taken to our start point at the top of the national park & given our bikes there. The bikes were decent at some point in the past but we're in dire need of a total service & we'd later learn that the front only short drop suspension was unsuitable for the crazy trails we'd be riding. After a short downhill spin we reached a coffee plantation run by the agriculture department of Chiang Mai university. The old lady working there was asleep when we arrived but quickly woke to serve us wonderfully fresh and smooth coffee. The cafe itself was a hut on stilts overlooking a lunch green valley. From here we set off down and uphill tracks that had become treacherous because of the monsoon rains. The group was going far too fast given the terrain and bicycles we were equipped with. Once we'd conquered an insanely long and steep climb we were told it's all downhill from here. It wasn't long before there was an accident, myself & a Mexican guy took a spill in the same spot and had cuts and scrapes as a result. We both slowed up from this point but towards the end of the route my front wheel hit a deep channel and threw me off. I landed heavily on my left arm/shoulder but was pretty sure it wasn't broken; as I could rotate it and lift it over my head. Once some tiger balm was applied I finished the route and met the group for lunch on the lake. Whilst uncomfortable, I did enjoy lunch at our lakeside hut before getting dropped back into town.

    I wasn't back too long before I realised that I should probably get myself to hospital; my arm was becoming more difficult to lift and the cut on the same arm was still pretty raw. Once I'd showered the muck off myself, I walked to the closeby hospital. Seemingly deserted, I waited to be seen in the ER waiting room. It wasn't long before I was taken in and sent for an x-ray. The x-ray room had a large bin outside collecting drips of water from the ceiling and the machine itself looked like it was from the cold war era. Once back with the doctor, he explained that I didn't break anything but to come back in two days as I could have tendon or ligament damage. They cleaned my cuts, gave me some drugs, and had sent me home within the hour; all in all it only cost me €20. Back at the hostel I got chatting to two Americans I'd met on my first day here and we headed in to the night bazaar in search of food and a sling for myself. We ended the night with a drink and discussed the king's death in hushed tones; nobody seems to know what it will mean for the coming weeks and months but it is illegal to talk about it.

    After a terrible nights sleep I woke up late and went in search of tiger balm and ice for my arm. I also had a new roommate from the Netherlands and we headed out of town to the nearby temple on the mountain overlooking the city. On the taxi over we met an Irish guy who'd had a scooter accident & got an infection on his cut arm; it seemed to be deep and he didn't seek medical assistant for a week. Now he was going to hospital daily to have the dressings change. We then went out in search of food and a drink somewhere. Food wasn't an issue, we found some from the 'famous' cowgirl street vendor nearby. A short walk across the street led us to the North Gate Jazz Bar, which had been recommended to us but was not open. In fact, we couldn't find any place open until we finally stumbled across a small bar come restaurant. After a quick drink there we went into the adjoining, but busier, late bar. It was full but the atmosphere was slightly strange without music; all entertainment in the country has been 'toned down' for 30 days as a mark of respect to the king. We spoke to some locals about this, the young were quite open and engaging while the older generation told us not to speak of this.

    The following day brought a reunion of sorts with four others I'd previously met in Bangkok arriving in Chiang Mai. I also spent a good chunk of the day trying to sort out credit card issues. After speaking to the bank the card finally worked in the fourth ATM I tried. A few of us then headed to the night bazaar for food; and medical supplies in my case. The night ended with us buying drinks from a coy street vendor as they were unavailable in the shops; again, due to the death of the king.

    We booked a Thai cooking class for the following day and yet another hospital visit was followed up by a Thai massage from from an establishment staffed by rehabilitated prisoners; in fact, I just got a foot massage due to my shoulder but it was divine. Back at the hostel we were quickly whisked off for our cooking class. Our teacher May was excellent and made sure that we used 'emotion' instead of measurements when making our meals. I was impressed with how well my food turned out but this was in no small part down to the instructions. All in all we did five dishes I chose a basal & chicken stir fry, spring rolls, Thai green curry paste (and then the curry), and Tom Yum soup. Stuffed to the gills we walked back to the hostel through the enormous Sunday night market.

    It was getting close to the end of my time in Chiang Mai so myself and the others headed out of town to the 'Grand Canyon'; a swimming point about a half-hour drive away by taxi. When we got there it was obvious that it was a quarry of some sort previously but it had been repurposed as a swimming and diving point. I stayed dry as I was worried about possible infection on my wound. Back at the hostel for some pool and hot tub we headed off to find the 'Casa' restaurant for pizza and a break from rice & noodles. The place was owned by an Italian from Rome who had recently moved to Thailand. The pizza was as genuinely Italian as anything I've ever had and, although slightly expensive by Thai standards, a large pizza and beer came to a reasonable €6.50. Full to the gills, we retired to our hostel for the night.

    For my final day in Chiang Mai, Frazer & I hired scooters and headed out of the city to do the Samoeng loop; a 100km mountainous drive around the nearby national park. Our initial plan was to hire small little 125cc Honda motorbikes but the rental shop only had one left so we settled for Honda Click 125cc scooters. Almost immediately we were pulled in by the police at a mass checkpoint for scooters. I could only find my paper international licence which I gave to them, they immediately laughed before calling me American and then barked at me to 'Go! Go!'. It took us a while to get out of town but once out we were onto mountain roads surrounded by lush green scenery. Our first stop was at 'Max Coffee' a rural multistorey coffee shop with a rooftop balcony overlooking the mountains. From here we continued to head further away from Chiang Mai and into the mountains. Our next stop was at a viewpoint on top of one of the mountain roads, the views were spectacular; strangely, some locals seemed to be hanging out there but with no cars or bikes around we wondered where they came from. Last stop before the city was a ten story waterfall, the largest in the region; the hike up was worth it for the view. Back in the city I discovered that then ticket for the bus to Chiang Khong, booked for me by the hostel, was void as I didn't make payment for it within a two hour window; they didn't mention that I had to do this at the time of booking. The best I could get was a later bus and hope I can cross the border earlier enough the following day to make check in for the Gibbon Experience in Laos.

    The bus to Chiang Khong was leaving at 2:30pm which gave me enough time to say my goodbyes to the others who were heading to Pai, and to get some food for the trip. It'll be the last time I'll see some of them but hope to reunite with some at points throughout my trip. The bus was thankfully air conditioned which provided some rest bite from the 36 degree heat. The journey felt every bit of the six hours but some beautiful scenery helped a little. I also caught some more increasingly crazy sights on the road; including two small kids, their mother, a scooter and seemingly all of their worldly belongings stuffed into the back of a pick-up truck on the motorway.

    I arrived in Chiang Khong just before 9pm and got to my hostel which was a glorified shed beside a British bar; owned by a Belgian. The place was a ghost town & I arranged for a tuck-tuck to collect me for 7am to bring me to the border.
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  • Day5

    Are You Tired...or Ayutthaya?

    October 9, 2016 in Thailand

    It was already getting dark as we arrived in Ayutthaya but we arrived on time at 6:30pm. A short ferry trip across the river got us close to our hostel which we found thanks to two local girls passing on a moped who stopped as we were obviously lost tourists. We checked into the hostel and went straight back out for food at a nearby night market. It was winding down by the time we got there but managed to find a place busy enough for us not to have to worry about the freshness of the food being served. Back in the hostel, things were extremely quiet with just ourselves and one German guy, Alex, sharing our six bed dorm. There was an instant stark contrast with the madness of Bangkok. Just a note on the beds too, they were ridiculously hard and almost impossible to sleep on.

    On Monday morning Eleanor, Alex, and I hired bikes from the hostel and set about exploring the temples. As there are so many we settled on two and headed across the river out of town. It was a nice change to be on the bikes and have a cool breeze to help keep the extreme heat at bay. We quickly noticed that many of the houses beside the lake were flooded and later learned that a man had drown in his home the previous weekend; apparently the flood was as a result of water being released from a nearby dam. We headed back to the food market that evening, this time earlier in hope of having more of a choice. We picked up another German from the hostel enroute and also bumped into a Dutch couple we'd met the night previous on the ferry over. On our way back we grabbed desert in the form of banana and chocolate chip waffles freshly made as we waited. Back at the hostel there were a few new faces including a girl from Cork living in London over on a short holiday; incredibly, my friend aside, she was the first Irish person I had met since arriving.

    Tuesday was my last day in Ayutthaya and also my last day traveling with Eleanor as she was traveling East to go hiking and camping in a national park in the hope of seeing wild elephants. I was getting the overnight train north to Chiang Mai that evening at 7:45pm and was hoping just to relax and do some planning for most of the day. I had just enough time to get food, and waffles, at the night market before leaving for the train station. I got to the station a good hour early as the ferry over finished at 7pm. As I was waiting it was abundantly clear that mosquitoes were becoming an issue now that I was out of the city. They're pretty harmless in Thailand, just an annoyance, but more repellent spray is top of my wish list when I arrive in Chiang Mai. The train was 10 minutes late arriving from Bangkok but I was told to expect this as delays are extremely common. Once it arrived I was ushered to my bed for the night, very happy to be back in an air conditioned space.
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  • Day1

    Warm (very warm) White Bangkok

    October 5, 2016 in Thailand

    Four nights in Bangkok was probably one too many but it was an experience and worth it for the people I met. Once settled in 'The Warm White Hostel' I got some street Pad Thai and headed on to the crazy tourist nightlife centre of Khao San Road with some Canadians, English, French, and a few others that I met playing cards at the hostel. It was an assault on the senses with a barrage of street touts selling tuck-tuck rides, suits, ping-pong shows, suits, fried scorpion, and all manner of other craziness.

    The highlight of day two was going to Chinatown with the hostel owner 'Fernando'; a young Chinese/Thai guy. There was a vegetarian food festival ongoing there and we caught a crazy dragon fireworks display that involved very small kids on top of 100m wooden poles; sometimes being fired into the air with fireworks. It was also my first experience of traveling in a tuck-tuck; the driver on our return journey didn't seem to know the meaning of the word fear. Back at the hostel, there were a few fresh faces, mostly Dutch & German, and a French/English girl named Eleanor who was on a similar route and timescale to me.

    On day three we had developed a core group and we went out to do some sightseeing, mainly of Wat Pho; the one with the reclining Buddha. The heat everyday so far had been incredibly hot, humid, and generally sweaty, we were constantly wanting a shower, and today was no different. Some were traveling onward that day so we headed back to the hostel to regroup and ended out back in Chinatown again, this time purely for the food. We ended up at a buffet style street restaurant and had some very cheap, very delicious, and very, very spicy vegetarian food. We were now negotiating our own deals with the tuck-tuck drivers as Fernando had told us to do the night before. Most of the night was spent back at the hostel just relaxing and talking with a few drinks in the common area. Late that night I briefly met my friend Aoife from home who was off down south the next day.

    Fernando had another impromptu trip for us today. We were off to the weekend floating market just outside the city. With the same core group of us as in previous days, we got two taxies to drive us out there. We were assured that this wasn't the same as the 'tourist floating market' on all week in Bangkok and we weren't disappointed. We were almost the only westerners there and everything was cheaper and tastier as a result. We began with a leisurely canal ride down market and by the locals living on the canal finishing in a small lotus farm before getting back to the market and some food. We loaded up on food and all manner of drinks and treats before getting a lift from another crazed Thai driver; this time in a taxi. Back at the hostel we all chatted to the incoming travelers fresh off their planes, busses, boats, and trains before heading out for one last night in Bangkok. The night was topped off with a trip to the roof of the hostel where we had some drinks into the wee hours.

    It was then Sunday and I was off out of Bangkok. Myself and Eleanor decided to travel up to Ayutthaya together and stay in a hostel up there for two nights. The train journey was two hours and we could only get third class tickets but they were fine and cost us about 35 cent each. The journey was very stop start but it was nice to relax by the open window and get to see another side of the city; including some a Thai model having a photoshoot done incredibly close to the busy tracks.
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