An amazing video abour Cambodia by extremely talented video maker Vincent Urban

AMAZING THAILAND

Hi guys,
I’m switching to english in order to let everyone enjoy this post. Maybe it would have been wiser to do it from the beginning. Same for the tumblr theme, that I FINALLY changed into a photo oriented one, with infinite scroll. But hey, when I first created this place, there was no such default theme and I had to do ALOT of coding (with scarce results).
So welcome to the new DOWNUNDERPIRATES!


Today I’m finally taking you to amazing Thailand, a place that everyone has to see at least once in its life. Thailand it’s an extremely easy country to travel in. It is South East Asia’s tourist hub and the final gateway to wilder destinations. A cosy country that welcomes you with a sticky hug and lulls you with its wonderful beaches, luxury accommodation, tasty food, bright colours and infinite smiles.
Thailand is the perfect destination to have a glimpse of South East Asian lifestyle without behind swallowed by the hardcore frenzy of Vietnam, Cambodia, Philippines and so on.

Coming from the challenging journey through Burma, Thailand was like a breath of fresh air for us. Easy transport system, english speaking people, edible food (even western food sometimes!) lovely accommodation and no open guts anywhere to be seen!!
I know I might sound a spoiled western tourist that travels around in hers stilettos and fancy dresses. But try to backpack your way overland through Cambodia and Burma for two months, experiencing a very hard core food poisoning along the way, and then we can talk.

We stepped in the northern part of the country as March and the hot season were approaching. Northern Thailand is a lush highland territory, known for its temples-filled cities,  Chiang mai and Chiang Rai, and its backpacker trail of small mountain communities and former hill tribe villages that still populate the border areas.

As we still were in the mood for meet ups with hill tribe villagers, we embarked in an off road scooter adventure to explore the villages near Ta Ton. It was a big mistake. We ended up in narrow mountain tracks, then into a creek and in the end we Andre even had to push the scooter under the midday sun on an extremely steep and slippery hill. With no water. And noyhing more than penciled map of the area as GPS. Of course there were entire Thai families travelling on the same scooter, who were handling this no worries, but hey, they’re Thai. Personally, I almost cried when we hit bitumen again. By the way there were no “traditional” villages to be seen, just regular mountain huts. Fail.
Anyway, totally worth it. (Not.)

The next stop in our northern circuit was backpacker’s paradise and hippy headquarters Pai village. Pai is like a (not so) hidden gem into the northern mountains, reachable only with a 4h minibus journey from Chiang Mai. The road is wonderful. Dotted with traditional wooden huts shadowed by lush vegetation. It’s extremely winding as well, and you have good chances of smelling puke on your way into town. If you’re lucky it won’t be yours.

We spent four lovely days there, enjoying fellow travellers company again, strolling through night markets (where we ate THE BEST PIZZA in more than one year) and chilled by the pool. Basically it was like a playground for people in their twenties.

From there we moved north again, close to Burma, to have a last glimpse of the hill tribes before heading south for the islands. On the way to Tham Lot our scooter got a flat tire (yay!), so while we were waiting for the renter assistance (Thai’s half an hour = rest of the world’s two hour and a half) we met this old couple that was chasing edible ants. Yummy!

Once we got to our destination, we the spent a couple of days exploring the surroundings of Tham Lot cave, staying in the charming Cave Lodge and definitively stating the we will one day get a Thai style veranda. Their wooden designs kick ass! Despite our best efforts, we didn’t find any other “traditional” tribe. At least not as traditional as the ones that we met in Burma. I fear that in today’s Thailand hill tribes have been exploited for tourism purposes for so long that nowdays are (almost) blurred into modern Thailand. (Thus said, Thai constitution does not consider them as citizens, basically leaving them to themselves without even basic services such as schooling, healthcare, age care and so on). Don’t get me wrong, even if they don’t dress traditionally anymore, they are very interesting people to meet and have a chat with - we spoke a lot with an Akha catholic catechist, that loved Pope Francis almost as Thai whiskey. But please, stay away from all those tourist-trap agencies in Chiang Mai and Chaing Rai that promise to bring you on “hill tribe tours”, often showing you the Padaung -long neck- women in in a very sad, sort of human safari situation. Spoiler: Padaung women are not Thai, they come from Burma EXCLUSIVELY to work in the tourism industry. Please stay well away.

From Pai, we engaged in a 48h trip that involved a minibus and two overnight buses to Krabi. Located on the Adaman sea, Krabi is the heart of a stunning coastline dotted with limestone formations and colourful ocean environment. The final scene of the famous 007 movie “The Man with a Golden Gun” was actually shoot here. In Krabi, we rested on stunning beaches that you can see in the pictures below and took a short boat trip to some small islands, experiencing the stark difference between westerner and Thai habits when on a boat trip. Thai do swim (with “swimming” I mean floating around in life vests and snorkelling gear) FULLY clothed. Which involves sitting on the boat all dripping wet. For them, a darker tone of skin is not desirable, so they make sure that even their hands and face (the only body parts exposed) are abundantly covered in SPF 90 or something. At the same time the few westerners that were with us lied bare skin on the prow of the long tail boat, sunbathing carelessly.

From Krabi, where I happily assisted to my first family friendly transgender beauty contest, Miss Krabi, we moved south to Ko Lanta, which is a pretty plain and boring island. I mean, Lanta’s waters are actually ok, but it’s like choosing to go holidaying in Riccione when you are in Italy and you can go, say, to Sardinia. In other words: a waste. Anyway we got the change to spend some time with some crazy frenchies that are cycling around the world and ate some very good indian food. And, most of all, I did my first dive! There’s no words to explain how great it was. I’m pretty claustrophobic by nature and the idea of going 12 meters underwater didn’t really excite me, but guys, it was seriously one of the highlights of my life. Nevermind if the day after I was so sick that I tought I caught Dengue fever. The corals and the fish that we saw were as fluo as the ones that you can see on a National Geographic issue. Underwater it’s full of life, and crazy creatures and Co2 bubbles that float around. It was just perfect. Ten thousand times better than the poor Great Barrier Reef in Australia, that is now sadly greyish and dying. Not to mention that Australian Pacific waters are freaking cold even with a thick full sleeves wet suit. In Thailand you can dive comfortably with a short sleeves. Or even in your bikini if you’re called Sarah and you are a dive instructor coming from the UK, and therefore laughing in the face of anything warmer of the North Sea.

From there, we finally got to our last beach destination, the ultimate backpackers paradise, the hyppiest party island on planet earth, home of the infamous Full Moon Party that every month brings something like 200.000 people to the biggest beach party of the world: Ko Phangan. That place is legit. Way, way, way cheaper that Ibizia, Mykonos or whatever in Europe we consider a party island, Ko Phangan kicks ass. The good thing about it, is that it actually gets rid of the 200.000 bogans that come for the rave as soon as the morning comes. Leaving the island to the quiet paradise that it is for the rest 29 days of the month. We decided to miss the Full Moon Party, mostly because accommodation prices in those days raise even to three times more than usual, and because going as a couple to a massive rave party didn’t seem to fit. But I’m definitely ready to get back as soon as some of my friends will want to, that’s sure. Ko Phangan is fun. The mix between some of the most beautiful beaches I ever seen, parties (a part from the Full Moon one, there’s plenty of smaller happenings all along the month), cool people in their twenties, good food and charming bungalows on the beach is more than anyone my age can ask from an holiday. We stayed in Ko Phangan six days, the longest stop ever in our year-and-three-months of travelling. That means a lot! It’s not over Ko Phangan! I’m coming back!

From there on, our beach time was over, and our long long trip as well. But bustling Bangkok still stood in the way and offered us four days of crazy shopping, good food, amazing sightseeing (check out the Royal Palace pictures down below!) and a pretty neat insight of what a south east asian megalopolis looks like. I loved it. It was not as messy as Phnom Penh and way more clean than Yangoon or Mandalay. Bangkok is a city of sharp contrasts and surprising beauty. It has water canals and massive highways, majestic shopping palaces and the narrow alleyways of chinatown, historical palaces and skyscrapers. Even the political situation is pretty contrasted. When we got there in march, it was in the aftermath of the Bangkok Shutdown, the massive protests against Yingluck Shinawatra, Thailand first female prime minister. Soon after our departure she was deposed, causing further demonstrations, this time organised by her supporters. Less that a week later, the issue was “solved” by the military, eho overthrew the government, imposed martial law and blocked out most independent media. Thailand is not new to military coups. It suffered at least 20 of them in the last century. Quite impressive for such a quiet and smily people, who firmly believes in its established, beloved and venerated king: Bhumibol Adulyadej (aka Rama IX) the world longest-reigning monarch. You can see he’s iconography everywhere in Thailand. Every street, house, food stall, bus and even tuk tuk will show an image of Rama IX. Sometimes smiling alone, some others with his spouse in their golden years, or in the seventies, with a camera around his neck. Truth is, the 87 years old king makes rare public appearences and there’s not a lot that he can do, if not supporting the military agenda.

Thus said, this may not be the best moment ever to go around shopping and visiting BKK, but Thailand still remains one of the most beautiful holiday dreams on planet earth. As I always repeat to anyone who

would listen: Do yourself a favour, and go visit Thailand!
.

This bus took us from Burma’s border to the first Thai town. As you can see there was aircon (the small fans on top) and a nice driver (guy on the left) that was actually informing us that the cackle coming from a carton box at our feet was actually from a real chicken, travelling to town. The all explaining moment was hilarious. The man didn’t speak a single english word but nonetheless wanted to have a chit-chat with the only turists on his local bus.

Smoothies shop in Chiang Rai, Northern Thailand

Ta Ton, Northern Thailand

Ta Ton, Northern Thailand

Ta Ton, Northern Thailand

Ta Ton, Northern Thailand

Refuelling our scooter before our unglorious off road adventure to the hill tribe villages.

A young shepard who herds some water buffalos in Ta Ton area. That’s where we got lost in a maze of narrow and kinda-scary off road tracks. In particular, that’s where we crossed a creek with a crappy scooter. It worked.

This is Cave Lodge, a charming wooden accomodation in Northern Thailand, near Burma’s border and close to Tham Lot cave. The fascinating man who run this place is John Spies, an australian in his fifties who came here 40 years ago and fell in love with the landscape, the hill tribe’s people and a Thai lady who is now his wife. Together they built this place, that u definitely have to check out if you are going to trek in the area. http://cavelodge.com/index.html

The dining area of Cave Lodge

Andre relaxing on an hammock

The smoker’s area in Cave Lodge. It’s built as a detached structure to avoid¬† eventual fires to spread into the lodge.

Visiting Tham Lot, one of several caves that are spred in the karst territory of Northern Thailand.