21 DAY TRANSIT IN THAILAND.
A story of how it can go, when you want out where no one else comes.
I should find a new destination, preferably in Asia, and preferably very little visited. Jysk Travel Agency had in their Asia On Your Own organized tour through Northern Lao's sparsely populated mountains. It would be with buses, trucks, boats and trotting boots, right out there, where a white man never comes. In retrospect, I must note: He still does not!
First, nobody has time / advice to join, then Steffen will, but he will be head-hunted by Danisco. Jesper finds out that Laos is probably one of the most exciting places at the moment, and buys tickets for Morten and himself. They have to fly with ThaiAir, I with SwissAir / ThaiAir. My first flight is wide-open to CrossAir.
05.04 1998. With the train to the main train station, where I charm me on the SAS bus, and is in CPH, one hour before scheduled departure.
The CrossAir aircraft is 65 minutes late in CPH, as we first have to wait for a delayed passenger, and then have to wait in the line of scheduled aircraft. Before we take off, while in the air and while taxiing into Zurich, we are told that all of our further connections are waiting. It's just a lie. My SwissAir was left on schedule 8 minutes ago.
Discusses the reasonableness of this for a while, gets a ticket to Frankfurt in 5 hours, and the lady telexes to her colleagues in Bangkok that they should tell Jesper and Morten, that I am being delayed. The telex just didn't arrive, and even though it had, no one was in the office.
Finally to Frankfurt (1 hour back
north). It's been 12 hours since I left Hestetorvet. Wait an hour
and then with Garuda (Indonesian) to Bangkok. Along the way,
I see 7 YEARS IN THE TIBET, actually as we fly over - Tibet.
A bit excited, I arrive at Chang May. Not over the city, but whether Morten and Jesper are waiting at the airport. I do not have the name of the hotel, where we are going to meet. They are there, thank God/s. I was supposed to wait for them. The plane they had ticket for, just didn't exist, so they had arrived much earlier, and were expecting to find me, when I came to pick them up!
We drive together in Tuk-Tuk to the hotel, where we will be picked up in a few days. I am just asking for a security fault, if they have a representative form TSI. They don't even know TSI! I call, what I think is TSI's headquarters in Bangkok. Speak English with a guy, who doesn't quite understand what it is about. We agree to fax our ticket to him. It won't be until later, since the manager of the hotel is not right there, and only he faxes.
Meanwhile, we go for a walk in the city. Here
we see Wat's, some cone-shaped temple-like things, really beautiful
temples, more Carlsberg signs than Coca Cola commercials (The
world's largest brewery is Carlsberg's in Bangkok), street vendors,
good-natured and smiling people, gray-sparrows, geckos, bül-büls,
calotes and the city's huge square moat. As in the rest of Thailand,
the most dominant flower is bourgonvilla, which stands in white,
blue, red and purple everywhere. It is around 35-37C and it does not
get much colder, as the sun sets at 18 o'clock. We book an excursion
It goes off a pedestrian path, but I feel, I can get the beast to do a bit. Kick it behind the ear and it goes to the other side. Move back and forth, and it goes forward faster. How the brake works, I do not know. Then we are unloaded and trudged through the sunburned countryside to a Moari village.
The houses are primitive plank / bamboo cottages. In front are the women sewing cross stitches. Otherwise, it's pretty quiet. We trot on, drive a bit, and get fried rice or noodles by a small humble road hut. Up on the truck and into a Karen village. This tribe lives in pile huts, and weaves. We have walked along a tributary and now reach the big river, where we have to sail on bamboo rafts.
The first raft hits the bottom with a lumb as Morten gets on. They find a slightly bigger, and with the ass in the water crust, we sail down the river. There are many groups of people down by the river. They celebrate the water festival (their New Year) and sprinkle water on us and we on them.
When we land again, Morten's boots are missing. It is a problem, because he is wearing 45, and I find it very difficult to find sandals in 42. Only in the evening does Morten get his Ecco boots. He won't let them out of sight on the rest of the trip!
There was no reply to the fax, so I faxed to
Copenhagen. They don't answer either, so I call the Jysk Travel
Agencies Bangkok office. Here I talk to a somewhat confused Dane
named Hassan. It was also him I spoke English with yesterday, and he
thought I was an Englishman, and did not understand why I book
through Jysk Rejsebureau. Not at all, as he has told Copenhagen that
the tour in question has not been running for the last 8 months. I
do not understand this, as I have received clear indications that
not only was it mine and Steffen's turn for something, but that
Jesper and Morten could come along as well. According to Uffe, who
took over the case after David, there has been keen contact between
the companies. We have been given 3 passport photos, given our
passport numbers for visas, and been told we should not have
sleeping bags, cookware and the like. Not to mention the ticket I
got last Thursday!
We can't find one of the many tour organizers in Chang May who will touch Laos with a tong. There is a 2 day wait for an aircraft and it takes 3 days to get a visa at the border. And how do we find a guide that has boat / truck / overnight. As it seems now, we would get 2 days in Laos before our Vientiane-Bangkok flight.
We can't get to Bangkok until tonight, so we start today's experiences with going to an elephant school. 60 elephants here learn to tumble tourists and tree trunks. Unfortunately we are a little late so, there is little activity. Jesper and Morten try out hand-feeding elephants. A sign says it's smart to hold the bananas and the camera in their own hands. I "claw" with a young elephant - it wins and I get a reprimand.
Then we head out to the National Museum, but it has closed. We try the zoo instead. Here we encounter a larger gathering of monks in front of the tiger tomb. They (the monks) look great in their bright curry-yellow robes. Here in the zoo there are, like everywhere else (except in the far south) small sacrifice altars everywhere. In large trees, on house walls, in the middle of gardens and in fields. Inside shops, hotels and factories, along roads and trails.
The most impressive thing I see in the zoo, is
an aviary of about 100x200 meters in a ravine. Even the largest
trees look covered. There is an aquarium with giant specimens of
known aquarium fish, a large enclosure with about 15 species of
turtles. Local animals, large open spaces, many birds and real warm.
In Copenhagen, David is taken on vacation, Brian totally useless, Uffe a liar, John on vacation and in Bangkok Hassan's stomach ulcer erupts. Our Laos adventure a joke, and 4 days are spent waiting - on what? Well then, we have Lonely Planets Thailand, and experience in planning ourselves. We are doing a detachable planning for the next 10 days with national parks and aircraft.
We trudge through Bangkok's vast commercial area, and a total saturation of sensory impressions, from beautiful temples to open sewers, we recover at the hotel in the evening. We have also moved to Hassan's Newrotel. Then we are free to sweep back and forth.
In the course of today, we have learned that
advice from those who turn Latin letters upside down must be taken
with a grain of salt. There are only very few, even by the hotel
staff, who know just a few words of English.
We arrive at 2pm, get some food and at 3pm, we start the day's excursion. First to a cave temple, high up on a hillside. The Thai wife speaks in fair English about religion and herself. Then we drive to a bat cave with 40,000 animals. Again we climb up a mountain and reach the stinking cave in the dark. The first animals take off, and then it become wild. It has become almost completely dark, as we stumble down the mountain again.
Back in town, we have dinner at the night market: apples and rice with delicious soy for 0.80 DKK. Here, like almost everywhere else, it is very clean. It is rare to see any of the otherwise numerous plastic debris lying and floating on sidewalks or roads. There are strikingly few beggars; I see maybe 7-10 , most in Hat Yai.
Have a strange experience: Something is falling on the floor, I crawl around on all fours, but can't find anything. Head down to the common bath area to brush teeth. When I get back to my 1st floor room, my medicine box is standing on a plank above the bed. The poltergeist? Head to bed early (but not early enough).
10/4. Up 4.30, breakfast and up on the truck by 5am. We drive out to the national park, where we start walking in the dawn. The Gibbones' loud concert mixes with the deep screams of the hornbilled and the monotonous sound of the cicadas.
Right at the watering hole, we spot completely
fresh tiger tracks, slowly filling up with water. As I pursue them
through the thickets, I come to think of the respect I have felt for
Black&White heroes who, with loaded rifle, have pursued tigers into
Well sweated, we reach a 12 meter high waterfall, at which foot, there is a very deep lagoon. The water is refreshing and after some of the others have jumped, I get myself talked into a jump too. Well done by someone who has not even taken it from the 1 meter!
At one point, the guide hisses on us. We hear something that is a bunch of wild dogs. People at first thought it was fun, but as our native guide picks up a big stick, I do the same. She tell; last year she lost one from her company to the dogs. When they returned an hour later with armed assistance, only the bones were left. The fun of wild dogs disappeared!
We meet a small bunch of Japanese trackers. Their armed guide is a local hero -and her borther. He was assaulted by a tiger a few years ago. He was down by the river to wash clothes, so all he had to defend him self with, was his fists. He boxed, but the tiger left him with wounds to his hip and arm. It was shot a few days later, at another village.
We trot a lot that day, a total of about 20km,
but it's Thai and they are likely miles! We come across savannas and
mountains, through primeval forests and rivers, and everywhere there
is an incredibly rich wildlife. I've put in sandals, the others in
mountain boots. The last 15 kilometres I go barefoot, it is actually
works fine on the leaves.
We get a little drink, and then drive to a viewing cliff. It's probably high. A bare horizontal shelf ends in a vertical fall of 1-200 meters. The 50 meter high trees on the bottom look small, and those on the other side of the 7-800 meter wide gorge seem even smaller. A giant beetle gets noisy past and darkness subsides.
We drive to another place in the park, where
we climb onto the back of another truck, which is equipped with a
powerful searchlight. We see an incredible mass of samba deer, some
other animals, but unfortunately not some elephants.
We listen to a tree that sounds like a downpipe. It is called; "the tree you can hear the water running into". We see some white feathery ticks that live on liana juice. We are told there are 10 different ginger species, tasting of spice, food and medicinal plants. We get to a 35 meter high waterfall, but here we just swim, no jumping. All the rivers, streams, rivers, water holes and lakes we see, are full of fish, many incredibly colourful.
I find a porcupine's spike, we see and hear jungle hens, magpies, starlings, various monkeys and not least: We come very close to a bunch of gibbons. It's amazing how fast they can move in the tree tops.
We will return to the guest house at 5.30 pm,
so we have just an hour to shower, pack and eat, before our bus head
to Bangkok. We see several cars and buses sprinkled with some chalky
white. God knows what this is all about?
Many street vendors sell water guns. Some are designed as machine guns with huge tanks a la diving oxygen bottles. That water festival is something that is taken very seriously! In the old days, you stood with a small bowl, and with your fingers sprinkled on each other. Now it is completely different means used and it gets worse as the days go on. Jesper encounters a tourist who walked with a small water gun. He acknowledges it is for self-defence.
The brothers come back and then we head down to the river and board a river bus. It is surely a fast way to get through the town!. For 1 kr we come 5-10 kilometres up the river. Pile towns, temples, cola barges, skyscrapers, tugs, long-tails and what do I know, are passing by. We jump off, get once fried rice for 4 kr. The water costs 1 kr / l in sealed plastic bottles. Almost by chance, we come across the giant big upright Buddha figure. In front of it sit some monks, drinking Pepsi and reading newspaper while people pray on the figure's feet.
We tread on in the somewhat deserted city, the
holidays can be felt. Late in the afternoon, we head to the airport
to fly down to Phuket. Ph should be pronounced as hard P, not
At the airport we are lured aboard a VIP bus to the "concrete beach". Morten complains about the price, but it's a much longer trip than expected. The beach is on the other side of the island and not down by the waterfront of Phuket.
We are unloaded at a booking office, which tells us it is difficult to find rooms for us. Finally he finds some and Morten accepts a price of 400 kr, which turns out to be per room! It is 40 times more expensive than the Swede in Pak Chong, and further more without breakfast! Not only that. The doors are too low, the bed too short, stinking of open sewers, very dirty with gecko shit and cobwebs and there is lots insect life.
We walk down to the main street. It is incredibly reminiscent of Art Deco in Maiami. 90% tourists, 10% whores. It is incredible that so many grandfathers have brought their grandchildren into town! The shops deal exclusively with tourist clothing, the restaurants only have tourist prices. Gray-haired Europeans roam half-rigid with large water guns and syringes. Many people use coloured water.
We try some of the local tour organizers. They
have some completely screwed-up prices, and otherwise sold out. The
only fun we experience, is a guy in white hotel towel asking;
whether they sell shorts in a clothing store. We go back to the
hotel. There is a corner of open sewer in my room. I complain at the
front desk. They send a girl down, with a nebulizer of scented
water! They do not have other rooms available. There is a sign at
the reception: Ladies company; 40 kroner. Consider renting a
few - to clean my room. We decide Phuket should be pronounced Fuck
The ticket boy has a thermos bucket with towel
over standing. Aha- refreshments! Nix, water to spray with. The bus
stops, when we meet local groups standing with their buckets at the
roadside, or our ticket boy has run out of water.
We drive through dense primeval forest, over
fertile plains, through pineapple, rubber, and papaya plantations.
We get very far out in the countryside, before we get off. Trudge
off a dirt road and come to Tree Top Bungalows.
14/4. Jesper has slept poorly, he thinks the squirrels that live on his roof, were partying tonight. I slept poorly as the big bats basked loudly. Morten's night's sleep was disturbed by the electric water pump under his cabin, supplying the entire camp with water from the river. Our hired guide shows up after breakfast, and we embark on the day's hike. It goes fast, in fact, so fast that you spend more time finding a foothold, than enjoying the fashionable nature that surrounds us. Nevertheless, we see a few waterfalls (almost without water), and quite a few reptiles and butterflies, on the 10 km march.
We had actually ordered him for the afternoon as well, but fortunately he did not show up. We take another track ourselves. Here in the area they are easy to follow, as they are fairly used. Not understood in the way that nature has been damaged, but that the ½ meter wide path is free from withered leaves.
The slower pace allows us to see more animals and to admire stunning views and motifs. We see a little adder, leopard frogs, toads, calotes, skinks, lizards, tree shawls, brightly coloured magpies and starlings, termites, ants, giant butterflies, giant spinning spiders (hand-sized!), Loricariidae, barbes, tadpoles, squirrels, geckos, eagles, paradise birds, leafy birds, jungle singers and butterflies, bird spiders, cicadas and then all those I don't have names for. There are ferns, palm trees, mahogany trees, orchids, ginger, vines and an incredible amount of other green things.
I'm starting to get a little sore at the hair
roots, the totally vertical sun is amazingly strong, unlike my hair
growth. Apart from that, my hours in the solarium are well spent; I
will not be red as usually. Morten and Jesper have evolved into
aquaholics - they drink 5-10 litres of water a day, I only drink
1-2½ litres. We start introducing "after-track" where the addicts
quench their thirst in unrestricted amounts of water, and I try to
control my coffee delirium. When we sit on the terrace in the
evening, long after the sun has set, a walking stick faithfully
comes up in the chair next to Morten. What it wants on the bare
bamboo furniture remains unclear.
We set ashore and trot across the river, through some scrub, through mud that goes up to the middle of the belly of the animals. Through a forest where there is hardly room for us. The brothers' elephant overlooks a tree, thick with a thigh. It just gets overturned. Other vegetation is goofed, especially by the cow, which has a penchant for bamboo.
Next to us, on the ground, is an avid photographer. It turns out to be the boss, who is taking photos for his first commercial. That explains, the superb virgin landscape, the newly built bamboo huts and the dense vegetation along the track. We are simply the first customers!
We stop at a small waterfall. As we investigate the surroundings, our drivers think and wash the transport animals. We trudge back while Thai eagles scream over our heads. My elephant jackets with mud, but the brothers' farts, and that's not to joke with elephants! In between you can feel more than hear, the deep rumble that is part of the elephant's language. We also got a single trompet at the start of the trip. Well back to the starting point, I feed the grains with bananas.
I feel the water in the river, it's hot - very hot! "There's a hot spring up in the valley, will we see it?" Up in the truck and through the overheated valley bed. Here we stop at some almost completed cabins, that will probably turn into restaurants and toilets. They seem rather out of place in the otherwise deserted and very beautiful scenery. A quick walk across the plain and we stand by a blue pool about 12 meters in diameter. It is clear to see the flowing water and the temperature is near 70 ° C.
We drive home to the tree-top cabins, and decide to investigate the neighbours. There are other more or less primitive bamboo bungalows tucked away in the densely planted area. We descend to a fairly wide river that we have to cross to get to some amazing limestone formations, with caves. We pass a piece of newly burnt primeval forest, where they are still small flames. I see a 2-3 meter gray / brown snake crossing the path. A local tells me it must have been a cobra. I see the first kneeling matay, and some pretty big beetles, a giant and an armoured centipede. There is a wide selection of red blue and green ticks and snout beetles.
We find a primitive restaurant, and flosh some water down. The darkness starts to creep in, and after 20 minutes it's dark, so we head back to our own Tree Top Lounge. Morten's walkingsticks pops bye, we get dinner and coffee. Night safaris reveal large amounts of toads, leaf frogs, frogs, morphs, and a single firefly. We return to the "restaurant". Here we must be repeatedly impressed by the stupidity of the servant. A girl of about 16, standing and saying yes-yes, laughs happily but is unable to receive an order of 3 cups of coffee. Sometimes there will be 2, sometimes nothing, possibly a bottle of water. It gets even worse when we order food!
One of the common power failures occurs, and we sit in the dark for a long time, until we get something that is most reminiscent of a layer cake candle. The air is echoed by deciduous frogs, Ranas, cicadas, toads, crickets, geckos and night birds. Morten sits and changes colour as he gets through his chilli-pepper dish.
We wanted to book a trip to one of the islands, but the phone is dead. We could also use a phone to revive Jesper's closed Visa card. The magnetic strip on mine is dead and Morten has run out of US $. Even though power is finally returning, the phone is still dead so we crawl up into our respective cabins.16/4. Jesper looks a little groggy at breakfast. He believes his squirrel colony has held can-can parties all night. Morten has been awakened by one of the camp's dogs, who inexplicably has a fondness for his porch. When it's not tramping around there, it's barking competition with the other dogs from 4 o'clock, and the gibbons tune in at 6 o'clock. My only problem is that my beautiful bath frog have disappeared, and a toad has appeared in my bathroom instead.
We check out, and take the bus to Phuket town. The buses are all in good condition. The common ones are pretty old, but clean and whole, and with ceiling fans. The VIP buses are brand new and have air-con. In the old ones, there is a ticket boy, in the new a bus stewardess, but here the ticket price is also 3-4 times higher.
Along the way, we stop for half an hour in a major provincial town. I roam the square, see the locals and their fruits and fish, find a cabin hook for my hat, get a bun, and reach right back as the bus departs. We arrive in Phuket, find the telephone booth, and for 15 kr. Jesper revives his Visa. The banks have just closed, leaving the promised consumer party a bit exposed. However, we book into Hotel Imperial, Phuket Road, at Jesper's expense.
We find a tour organizer who sells us
excursions to 007 Island and Simili Island, where there should be
the best coral snorkelling. We spend the rest of the afternoon and
evening going to local malls, night markets and shopping districts.
We end up in a small cosy inn, where we get coffee and a couple of
the local whiskeys. The accessories for the 3-finger drinks are
dried guppies. As we lightly spirites slips home, Morten and I,
against our instinct, follow Jesper, who leads us in the exact
opposite direction. We make the formula: Jesper + map + compass =
We sail back to a Muslim pole town, where there is lunch. We find with difficulty the bridge we arrived at, and explore the rest of the pole town. Nice houses, ruins, polished snails, dried fish and squid, clothes, naked children and a few tourists. Find lunch at a local eatery. Don't know what it was, but it tasted good.
We sail on, passing through a large cave. Once back in port, we get into our minibus and drive to some big caves. In one there is a giant statue of a reclining Buddha. In the cave next door, there are truly beautiful limestone deposits. Into the bus and to a Casio nut factory. It's called it, but it's just a gigantic business, with a single working woman. The Casio nut looks like a tomato, with a peanut underneath. We talk to a Romanian girl. She has taught English in China, and is now on the world tour.
Next stop is a "Handy-craft Shop". Clothes, jewellery, ivory horns - Oh man, where are we a little interested. We drive home with the Romanian girl, when I noticed that across from her hotel was a money changer taking Visa + a dive shop, where the brothers might get diving glasses with strength. Exchange and dive shop closed, but we'll have a date with the Romanian later in the evening.
I have to admit that once again, I have too
much clothes and junk, so I send 2000 grams home by airmail. It
costs DKK 200, and should arrive after 14 days. For the next 10
days, I got to walk a lot with my now 1500 gram backpack, so it was
a good idea to send the shit home.
We arrive at the Simili Islands, located 90 kilometres off the coast of Thailand. We are given mask and snorkel, but no swimming feet. I ask one of the local boys, where the corals are the most beautiful. Off the beach we landed on, there are no living corals left, only the plinths. Amazingly, there are quite a few colourful fish, but I also want to see corals so I swim over to the bay I was assigned.
Here, a lot of debris floats around the
surface, but there are some living corals left between the dead, and
quite a few fish. Splash around for a while, swim back to join the
large buffet, and then head out to the bay again. The mask tightens
and gnaws, so I return to the others and just bake at the water's
edge. It's not too bad now. The chalk white coral sand is dusty.
When you walk on the water's edge, you sink to your ankles, both in
wet and dry sand. In between, big waves come in, and I succeed in
body-surfing. After 3 hours, and somewhat burnt, we return to the
mother ship and start the 3½ hour boat trip back to Phuket.