Monday, May 17, 2010

Bangkok and Chiang Mai

After island hopping a bit in Thailand it was time to race north for the border before over staying my 15 day VISA. An overnight bus from Chumphon dropped us who knows where on the side of the road in Bangkok at 4:30am where the pink taxi's notorious for overcharging and not using meters were waiting like vultures. Not knowing where we were and seeing no other options most of us were stuck paying the excessive fees to get where we needed to go. I headed for the train station, got myself a ticket on the next available train to Chiang Mai, and decided to explore a little of Bangkok.

The train station in Bangkok

I landed there on May day so it was pretty quiet as most shops were closed for the holiday. The flower shops and various markets were poking along though and it was pleasant to just walk through and observe with out anyone trying to sell me a ride, tour, or massage. I passed by numerous temples and parks and eventually made my way (not intentionally) to where all the Red-Shirt activity is going on. It was quiet, not much happening, and aside from the obvious military presence and barb-wire topped barricades you wouldn't have known anything was brewing.

A flower display in a roadside market in Bangkok

A barbwire barricade in Bangkok

The train ride to Chiang Mai was an overnighter through some beautiful countryside. Nothing like hot, sweaty travel to the rhythm of the rails!

Chiang Mai was a great town. I really liked its vibe. Lot's going on, but of a manageable size (some good used bookstores too!). Wanting to get in as much as possible with my 1 full day there I packed it in with a day tour. Got to see orchid and butterfly farms, several hill-tribe village folk, ride elephants through the jungle, cross a river in a suspended cage, river raft, ride a slow bamboo raft (or bamboo submarine as our guide put it).

One of many temple entrances in Chiang Mai

An orchid at the orchid farm

A karen longneck tribe woman weaving a scarf while her little one snarfs a banana

My elephant asking for more bananas, she wasn't always so polite with that snout.

The caged river crossing, weirdness.

This is how you hold an oar right. Suited up for the trip down the river.

Our bamboo raft captain, he was all grins and really sweet. Loved his hat.

The next day was my run for the border and I along with a french couple managed to make it out of Thailand, across the Mekong, and into Laos with 5 minutes to spare. Yippee!

Cruising across the Mekong with Thailand in the background