November, 2009

Nov 09


Shai is a tall, slim and handsome young Thai man. He has one of the most open and happy faces I have met in a while with a smile that makes you feel instantly at ease. He has lived on this tiny island in the Thai gulf all of his 24 years of life. Two hours from the mainland on a wooden fishing boat. And he is perfectly content to stay put. When you live in Paradise why leave home? His life follows the rhythm of the seasons on a Thai island. His biggest joy as he puts it is fishing alone on his old wooden boat through the night hours. When I ask him where he learnt his near fluent English he tells me, ‘island school’, referring to his life in general on this island as there is no actual school.

We came across this island somewhat by fluke. Unlike so many other beaches and islands in Thailand now, this island has few people on it and very little development. Just a few simple beach hut resorts, which for the most part hide discreetly in the palm tree shade. Most of this tiny island is uninhabited. There are no roads, just a few trails through the jungle and rubber plantations. No shops, no internet. Nearly no noise other than that of the ocean and the tiny ‘ghost’ crabs that make their homes in the sand. This is exactly what we want right now.

I am sitting on the front porch of our primitive little beach hut on our quiet stretch of secluded beach. The hammock is swinging in the sea breeze. I look out at the white sand spread in front of our hut , running down to the turquoise water. Giant palm trees cast delicious shade upon us, and fallen coconuts lay strewn across the sand. That wonderfully hypnotic sound of the sea lapping on the shore. I can’t believe this is real.

I’ve never been very good at sitting still and just relaxing. But after being on the move so much, having our own little beach hut to call home feels pretty magical. Our days have fallen into a lovely slow rhythm with early morning yoga followed by a leisurely day of swimming, snorkeling, strolling on the beach, and multiple hours just lying and swinging in the hammock watching the sea or reading. Simply delicious.

This is the life, as they say…

More photos to come (when we can find some faster internet) …

Also check out the photos of Koh Chang

Nov 09

Moto Fiasco

The key refused to turn. Hmm, that was a problem. Okay, relax, we’ll try this again from the start. The key slid out of the lock core, closely followed by a small spring and various bits of smashed plastic. Shit, that definitely wasn’t supposed to happen.

The road had been beautiful so far (good surface, lots of curves and flanked by jungle). The bike we’d rented, a Honda Phantom, was very similar in style and engine displacement to the bike we had spent 13 days on in India, only it seemed to run slightly better, perhaps due to the more pleasant air that it was allowed to breathe here in Thailand. But here we were, on the side of this wonderful road, with this wonderful bike and we couldn’t go anywhere. The wheel-lock was jammed in the locked position, effectively blocking any movement.

The frustration had only begun to boil up when the smiling face appeared. The security guard from the Botanical Gardens had ventured over to us from his hut. We’d barely been messing with the bike for more than a minute or two. With no english, all he could do was watch and smile, but it didn’t take long for him to figure out what our problem was. He took the key and, giving it a go himself, came to the same conclusion: We were stuck. But where we’d been getting stressed about what to do, his response was to smile and laugh. This, he knew, would help us save face (a very important concept in Thai culture). And, what do you know, it worked! There was some humor in being stranded on the side of the road.

A moment or two later a pickup truck pulled into the lot next to us and its passengers, a couple, got out and came over to investigate. Again, the key was taken, the lock tried and our situation confirmed. Again, the smiles and laughs. The girl called the bike rental shop, only to find that they wouldn’t do anything to help us (and their stranded bike) get back to Chiang Mai. Some rapid Thai was exchanged between the two men and the decision was made. They motioned at the bike and then pointed to the back of the pickup truck. They wanted to put the bike the truck and take us and it to the locksmith! And after a few minutes of disbelieving apologies from us, that is precisely what happened. They called over a few more lads and, with our help, the bike was lifted straight up on to the truck and they drove us to the locksmith, fifteen or twenty kilometers away, who fixed the lock straight away and wouldn’t accept any payment in return.

If there is anywhere that you could call anything that crazy typical, it would have to be Thailand. People seem to go out of their way to help you find things, help you get what you need, or help you get yourself out of a spot of trouble – always (and most importantly) with a smile and a laugh.

Nov 09

Train Journey

For the last 10 days of our trip in India, before returning to Delhi, Jeff and I did a wonderful giant loop of a journey by train. Our selected stops along the way: Amritsar with its Golden Temple, close to the Pakistan border, Jodhpur in the heart of the deserts of Rajhastan, and Varanasi, one of the most sacred cities in India located on the shores of the Ganges river.

Anyone who has travelled by train in India will agree that it is definitely one of those situations where the destination really is only one part of the whole experience, the journey itself being such an event to remember. My brother Diarmuid has been known to say that sleeper class (the lowest of classes on overnight trains) is the only way one should travel in India if they want to really experience India. I am now in a position to wholeheartedly agree with him. In these cheap, low class carriages it seems that drama after drama unfold before your eyes. Although at times it appears calm, the next stop it suddenly seems as if the entire population of an Indian town has entered the train, mostly in your booth. Little kids with endlessly deep brown eyes running amok and clambering from bed to bed. Friends sitting 3 high on laps when no other seating is available. Loud chatter, shouting, people playing music on mobile phones (they are everywhere here), and the endless stream of merchants selling chai (tea) or snacks who have to push their way through the aisles as they shout their own rhythmic team tune “Chai, Chai, Chaaaiiiiii” ! Mayhem Indian-style. And all the smells and dirt of India rushing in through the open windows and doors. A veritable assault on the senses.

Other than the obvious joy of watching the beautiful countryside roll by, what I enjoyed most were our interactions with people sitting near us. The friendly Sikh couple sitting opposite who insisted on sharing all their food with us. Not a word of English between them, and so conversation consisted of smiles, nods and hand gestures for the duration of the journey. Then there were the multiple people who came to sit with us to practice/show off their English, and those that switched seats to sit by us even though they spoke no English. And the boy who sat beside Jeff and chatted enthusiastically with him, complimenting him repeatedly on his “beautiful hair”. These experiences were only slightly tainted by the unfortunate theft of Jeff’s runners while we slept on one of the night trains. What they’ll do with technical climber’s approach shoes on the streets of India we’ll never know…

Proper hygiene is essential

The highlights of Jodhpur for me were the magnificence of the fort, and the wonderful gentle giant of an elephant we met wandering through the market streets. This is a city which truly brings one back in time, to the medieval ages with castles and royal courts, except with warriors on elephant back instead of horseback. Further East on our train journey, Varanasi is a city built on the shores of the Ganges and is in keeping with that whole medieval theme. A truly bizarre, and mystical place. This is considered the most sacred place for Indian hindus to be brought after death, for public cremation in an open fire by the river. The ashes are then sprinkled in the river, which for us westerners is a little disconcerting considering that that same water is used for bathing, washing clothes, and also drinking. Even the open sewers draining into the river don’t put the locals and pilgrims off.

Blue city

Bathing Ghats


And now after 6 and a half weeks, the India episode of our travels is over. A truly wonderful experience. One filled with many new things for Jeff and I, with one adventure after another. India has also dished out many challenges for us, mental and physical. My guts are happy for a change. It has sparked numerous debates about tolerance, cultural differences and spirituality. It has driven us mental at times, and at other times been our magical wonderland. It would take an entire novel of words to try and describe the ups and downs of our relationship with India, and even then we’d probably miss the point.

We have now arrived in Thailand, a holidays from our holidays…

More photos: Train Journey, Jodhpur, and Varanasi