Wow… I’m pretty late on writing this one. I seem to be more focused on helping the kids get their blogs out (since it is school work). When it comes to my turn, I’m pretty blogged out. Anyways here is goes.
I had been looking forward to Thailand. I had heard a lot about it over the years and had high expectations. My initial impressions were good… great roads, nice cars and they even had a 7-11 were we could get some recognizable snacks. It seemed a lot more like home, which I guess I had been missing over the previous months.
Once we got into Bangkok and the rest of the country it was clear that Thailand was caught between two worlds: the Western/tourism influences and traditional Thai culture. This conflict was less positive. The Thai seemed to be struggling with what it meant to be Thai. The massive street protests in Bangkok didn’t help that impression.
As a whole the Thai seemed to be a private people and tourism didn’t fit well with them. They seemed uncomfortable with, and in some cases resentful of the foreigners in their midst. They were, however, happy to get the money. This is especially the case in Surat Thani, which is best avoided at any cost.
Many of the tourists seemed quite oblivious to this situation. They were on their two week vacation and just wanted to get their thrills and get home.
While the culture clash was disappointing, Thailand is a beautiful country and tourism is important to them economically. Don’t let my comments dissuade you from visiting. I just wouldn’t expect Balinese hospitality. In any case, we had some great experiences.
As for highlights, whitewater rafting in Chiang Mai was up there. I’ve done whitewater rafting before in more challenging conditions, but this was a great family outing. The scenery was spectacular. They had a great setting out in the forest. It was beautiful.
They also ran a great program. The guides were entertaining and made it a lot of fun. The rafts were small, so we had one for our family. The whole family got involved paddling, jumping up and down and just hanging on.
The river was safe enough in places to jump in and play in the water which the kids liked. One of the guides even picked up Jacob and rode around with Jacob on the front of his kayak.
The only downside was they Jacob was too young from the really technical stretch. He had a get out and drive around that section. He was not happy about it, but I promised him some whitewater rafting back in BC.
Kanchanburi was a big surprise for me. I thought that it would be a lame tourist trap given the “Bridge of the River Kwai” theme and its proximity to Bangkok. Although the town itself is not all that interesting, the Death Railway experience and Erawan waterfalls were spectacular.
We started with the Erawan waterfalls. This is a series of seven waterfalls in the rain forest above the town. They came in all different shapes and sizes and were really beautiful. Even better, you could get in and swim to them. In some cases you could even swim or crawl under them and sit behind the waterfall and look out. This might not seem like a big deal, but it was always something that I wanted to do. You just had to watch out for the fish that liked to nibble on your toes.
The Death Railway was also fun. You can ride the rails and see the railway as it was built by the POWs and slave labour years ago. At one point the railways clings to the side of a cliff on the side of a river. The view is amazing.
We weren’t supposed to, but we walked along the rail lines for a ways and looked at the construction. It was impressive considering that it was all done by hand in a short period of time.
The beauty of the area was a sharp contrast to the conditions and treatment of the labourers on the railway. If you do go and visit, don’t miss the Death Railway museum beside the war cemetery. It really brings to life the sacrifice that was made in building the railway.
To cap off our visit, we had arrived during the running the the Bridge of the River Kwai cinescene production. In this production they reenact key moments in the building of the bridge on and around the actual bridge. This included explosions, fires, gunfire, an authentic working japanese river gun boat and even an authentic working japanese-era steam train. It was really well done.
Climbing in Railay
Both Emma and Jacob love to climb, so when we got the Railay Beach we just had to do some climbing. As an added twist, in Railay they even had climbing over water where you could drop into the water after your climb. Of course, we had to try that.
Climbing over water is actually done as part of a tour. They take you out to some climbing spots were you can climb for a couple of hours. Then they take you snorkelling and then off to a beach where you can watch the sun set and have a bonfire. It was a good package.
The real highlight, of course, was climbing over water without any ropes. This was a lot more intimidating then I had thought. There was no repelling back down. You had to jump. You had to think about how high you wanted to go because there was that jump at the end.
Emma beat both Jacob and I, since she is far more used to jumping from heights.
New Years in Koh Samui
The final highlight for Thailand was New Years in Koh Samui. Once again, I wasn’t expecting too much. We had all agreed to go to the beach for New Years, so we walked down and found a spot at a beach bar on the sand at Bophut. It was pretty chill. We just relaxed, drank, listened to music and watch the kids running around on the sand.
Then the fireworks started. This wasn’t like the organized fireworks back home. Every hotel, bar and pyromaniac started firing off fireworks. Some were being set off just over our heads (those were a little unsettling). You could see fireworks all along our beach, over on the Big Buddha beach and as far away as Koh Phangan. I had never seem so many fireworks being set off at the same time. Quite the experience.