Welcome Eric! – Vivir es aventurarse … divertirse Eric!

I want to give a warm welcome to Ericwho has just joined the Traveller’s Playground team. Over the next few weeks his experiences and images will start appearing from his trip through Asia… his next destination, South America! He also writes at Taggart In Asia Here is his transition post… let the travel’s begin!

We’ve gone WAY beyond

It’s been awesome that you’ve followed my travels, and I will continue to awe you with stories of passion, danger, and grand adventure. Most of you probably know that I left Asia and headed back home for the cold and snow. It didn’t last very long. Spending the holiday season with friends and family was a much needed and served as a lovely respite from Thai cuisine. Yet I felt as though I wasn’t quite done out in the world.

I decided that instead of returning to the cubical farm to graze upon spreadsheets and cold calls, I would continue this trip for a little bit longer. So I booked myself a one way ticket to Lima, Peru and intend to spend the next few months exploring a new continent!

So yes, we’ve gone beyond Bangkok. We’ve gone beyond Asia. This will be a new chapter in my backpacking life and hopefully it will bring the noise. I’ll be covering diverse terrain, going from the Pacific to the Atlantic, and then turning south to Patagonia. I’m in exceptionally medium shape, so hopefully I can handle it.


Chiang Mai Round 3

Thailand was great. It was better than great. It had exceeded my expectations. Unfortunately my month there was coming to an end. After returning to Chiang Mai once more (for the 3rd time) I was almost ready to move on. Luckily I had a few days extra in the city before I had to fly out! Good thing because I had yet to tackle 2 main attractions….

The first was Doi Suthep. This is one of the higher mountains in Chiang Mai and at its peak sits Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. This is an iconic Buddhist temple known for its giant golden stupa. The legend states that a white elephant carried a relic of Gautama Buddha to the top of the mountain, trumpeted three times, and died upon its peak. The construction of the Wat was ordered immediately after. After a 45min motorbike ride out of Chiang Mai (one of my more difficult rides through the big city) we made it to the top for some fantastic views of the city below. The Wat was also something to behold. I can’t imagine having to be a worker on that mountain in 1383 A.D.

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The next and final adventure in Thailand was to the Bua Thong waterfalls, also know as the ‘sticky falls’. These waterfalls were about a 90min drive out of the city. Their signature feature is the limestone makeup of the rock. It allows you to literally run up the cascading falls with relative ease. Even as the water rushes over you, it’s easy to find solid footing as though your feet are actually sticking to the falls below. As with most things in SE Asia, I’m shocked that more people don’t die on these falls on a weekly basis. While it was easy to find your footing, if you do happen to slip, the falls are quite steep and you’re sure to find yourself in the hospital. If you do survive a climb up and down the falls, it makes for a pretty unique experience.


Pai 2… and 3… and 4

Finally, I actually have some down time. I’ve decided to take my time in Phenom Penn slowly, cut down on the booze, and actually write something. I’ve been lack luster in my blogging performance. The heart hasn’t been in it. There’s a lot of beer in Asia and I usually sit down for one after my daily excursions. Then you meet someone from Europe who wants to talk about the upcoming election and feel the need to drink at least 12 more while you explain that it’s not your fault. I apologize.

Anyways, once the entire crew was established in Pai, we created our biker gang. ‘Pai’s Angels’ was particularly Caucasian, road mopeds with questionable confidence, and enjoyed mixed berry fruit smoothies. If you’re thinking, ‘Wow what a bunch of f’n bad asses’ you’d be absolutely correct. With only 2 crashes and 1 exhaust burn, we survived. It was a formidable crew, and we roamed the ‘Golden Triangle’ of north Thailand taking over the opium trade from rival Burmese cadres (kidding Nana). We actually just explored the countryside in search of waterfalls and hidden hot springs. The landscapes were breathtaking, but I’ll let the pictures do them justice.

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The first stop was the Pai canyon (the feature pic). This was an odd geographical feature. It was basically one ring of elevated rock with steep drops to either side. It did not remind of of the grand canyon, but more of one giant cliff that made a ring. The views overlooking the valley below and the mountains in the distance were beautiful. The terrain was absolutely not safe but like everything else here, no one really seemed to care. There was one patch where you walked along the ridge with about 2 ft on either side of you and 40 foot drops beside that. It was a little mental and I hate heights but the views were worth it. We hit the road again after that and eventually we made it to our first waterfall, Pam Bok (pictured below with 4 of us next to the falls), where I had my first incident…

I was feeling bold, brazen, young, free, other stupid emotions that helped me forget I’ve become woefully unathletic over the past 6 years. So I climbed to the ledge beside the falls, full of bravado, full of hubris, embracing my inner . I was going to be a real hero. So I went for the backflip, did not rotate, and kneed myself in the eye, only to fall into the water squarely on my face. The crowd of 30 was not impressed. I’m pretty sure I was concussed and ended up with a black eye for the next 7 days. Things were good.

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After leaving Pam Bok we road further up into the hills. I was quite woozy and had a pounding headache. It was about 90 and the sun was high in the sky. Things were not good for me. Yet we pressed onward to the bamboo bridge. The bridge is erected over a vast rice paddy. It’s more of an elevated bamboo sidewalk than a bridge. It spreads for a few hundred meters across the flooded green fields. The view is stunning, but I was a shell of my former self and needed my hammock asap. Luckily, I got my wish within a few hours, recovered my strength and made it to the bars.

The next day we took to the bikes once again. Clad in our leather chaps, muscle T’s, and chains we headed east. On the way to the Mor Paeng waterfall we stopped off at the ‘Piranha fishing pond.’ This man-made fishing hole includes distant cousins to the piranha, and taking a dip to cool off was not an option. When we made it to Mor Paeng, people were lounging on the rocks and enjoying the cool water. This particular waterfall is unique. It’s rocks are so smooth that they create a natural water-slide into the pool below. We enjoyed a few hours at this cool spot and then headed back to Pai canyon to try to catch the sunset. Didn’t make it in time. Someone didn’t account for the fact the sun would set behind the mountains long before the actual ‘sunset’ (spoiler; I was that someone). It was still a nice evening sky. After, we headed back for the night and once again hit the town. We enjoyed a local pizza joint as we were all craving some western cuisine. This is where I learned that some UK people ate their pizza with a fork and knife and leave the crust. I debated getting up and leaving them all forever.

All in all, Pai was the best place I’ve visited thus far. The atmosphere of the town, the beauty of it all was truly moving. If anyone is looking to retire, I’d recommend doing it there. You can get a beautiful home with 3 bedrooms and 2 bath for about $40k. Did some research there. I’m not saying I bought something, but I’m not sayin I didn’t…

Anyways, now it’s back to Chiang Mai once more before I fly to Siem Reap and begin my next journey into Cambodia!

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Pai 1

I’m pretty confident that there’s a 50% chance you die on your way there, but I would take those odds every time if it meant I got to spend another day in Pai. It is one of the coolest places in the world. It’s a paradise tucked up in the northern mountains of Thailand. A 3 hour mini bus ride took us up and over the mountains on roads most would deem unsuitable and speeds that seemed inappropriate. The driver also had a few empty beer cans under the passenger seat that I just prayed weren’t his.

I arrived alone around 8pm and my new friends weren’t joining me until the following afternoon. The town is quaint with small boutique shops and restaurants lining the streets. The night market was in full swing when I arrived and my new hostel was right off the main walking street. I had to navigate through the crowds and stalls until I arrived. Once I was settled in, I decided to head out to the market and see what the little town had to offer. After grabbing a skewer of chicken and veggies from one of the vendors I started navigating the streets. I must have looked exceptionally lost, because an Italian guy asked me if I’d just arrived. We chatted and he offered to show me around as he’d been living in Pai for 4 months. He explained that the vibes were very relaxed because everything was so affordable; even for the locals. Rent typically costs around 2000 baht per month (about 57$) and the local merchants typically have no problem making that from their  stalls.

After I’d walked the entire town (only took about 90min) I called it a night. The next day would be my first of the trip on a moped.


Chiang Mai Round 2

Once more unto the breach. Back to Chiang Mai, this time with new friends and no set plans. The night train sucked the 2nd time around as the AC blasted me in the face for the 13 hour duration, and I was confident the train was going to derail. But, I made it back up.

To be honest, the crew was due for some relaxation time and we found just that in Chiang Mai (sort of). We spent a few days walking through the old city and lounging in the sun outside our hostel. At night, we explored some of the local watering holes to sample the finer hooch. By that I actually mean we put down buckets (literal) of Thai redbull and low grade vodka. My friend Martin and I went to another Muay Thai fight near the city gate. The fights were much better, but once again it was weird to see such young kids fight. I felt even worse when i lost a 200 baht bet on a 14 year old who proceeded to get knocked out via a kick to the head. That will go down as a lower point of my gambling career.

On Sunday night, we were able to experience the famous night market along the main walking street. It was the biggest street market I’ve ever seen. About 1 full mile of road is packed with vendors selling food and goods. They’re shouting prices, haggling, wheeling and dealing from 4pm until midnight. The people pack the streets. The air is filled with music, yelling, laughing, and the smell of delicious food. Options are essentially endless: local sausage, gyoza, chicken and beef on scewers, octopus, fried fish, mangos, dragonfruit, pad thai, khao soi, and much more! If you would prefer to sample the fried crickets or maggots, that’s also an option. For desert there are cakes and ice cream and cookies alongside mountains of fruit. In the stalls the merchants who have come from surrounding villages are selling their goods. Whether its clothing, bags, toys, soaps, or accessories you can find whatever it is you need at one of the stalls. It’s borderline overwhelming, but one of the best things I’ve seen yet in Thailand.

After we had eaten our fill and done some shopping, some friends and I checked out a cultural thai dance show. What that means is that we went to the famous Lady Boy Cabaret of Chiang Mai. It was actually hilarious. It’s essentially what the name describes it as. A group of ‘ladyboys’ puts on a very funny performance while decked out in extravagant outfits. They had us laughing and cheering the whole night. I also may or may not have been pulled onto the stage with a friend, made to wear a wig and a dress, to perform a dance number or 2. I don’t think any pictures exist to prove anything.

All in all, Chiang Mai was great the 2nd time around. It was fun to get involved with the night life and experience the market. I’ll be down once again before heading to Cambodia but first…. we’re headed into the mountains in the north to a small town called Pai!


Back to Bangkok

So I’m back in the big city. This time however, I’m rolling solo. To be honest I was rather nervous to start my onward journey, relying on only myself. It was sad to see Chelsea go. She was a great travel companion and it would have been hard to adjust to SE Asia without her there to struggle with. But with two weeks under my belt already, I felt ready to take on the rest of my trip as a solo backpacker.

It’s been 12 days since I returned to Bangkok on my own and it has been fantastic. Often meeting new people is tough and striking up conversations with total strangers can be intimidating. Luckily the hostels here make that so much easier. Everyone staying there is a traveler, so you already have that in common. Plus most travelers like to drink, so you also have that in common. When you put a bunch of young people together who all happen to be on adventures of a lifetime and add in a few beers, they tend to become friends quickly. I met a great group of friends while going on the walking tour that the hostel provided. Not only that, but I gained a better understanding of the city. We took the water taxi’s, the metro, tuk-tuks, and walked all across the city. We saw temples and strolled through China town. We viewed the Bangkok skyline atop Wat Sakat, the Golden Mount (one of the holiest sites in the Buddhist religion. Bangkok has a unique skyline that’s filled with old abandoned skyscrapers. These were projects that were abandoned when the market crashed in 97. So you have a newer skyline with the modern city and old creepy towers. It’s also absolutely massive! Overlooking it, you might think it’s never ending.

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After settling in with a group friends we took to the Kho San road for a night of partying. I won’t go into detail, but that street is absolutely insane. There are things there that would NEVER fly in the States. It’s like the modern day version of the wild west. I don’t think there are any rules.

After 3 days in Bangkok, I’d met tons of people from all over the world and teamed up with a few travelers from the UK who were ready to head North. My friend Martin from Birmingham, England decided to join me for a day at Ayutthaya before we joined the group in Chiang Mai. Ayutthaya was the original capital of the Kingdom of Siam from 1351 – 1767 until it was burned to the ground during the 2nd Burmese war. Martin and I rented bicycles and toured the old ruins scattered about the city. It was about 90 degrees and we biked almost 15miles so by the end we were ready for a cold beer and a shower.

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Unfortunately, we had to settle for only the beer because we had to catch the overnight train up to Chiang Mai…