Monday, April 28, 2008

Mae Sai, Portal to Burma - I have made it!!!

immigration to burma
Immigration to Burma at Mae Sai


I have officially crossed the whole of Thailand!! All on buses alone, travelled vertically from Kuala Lumpur, through to Hatyai, cross Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and finally Mae Sai!!! Woo hoo~~~!!! 3900km and 37.5 hours of bus rides in total!!

nicolekiss journey into thailand and cambodia
37.5 hours on the red lines.


I feel so achieved!!!

My bum hurts.


Important facts:
Hatyai – Bangkok = 993km (RM75 on second class bus, 13 hours)
Bangkok – Chiang Mai = 656km (RM42 on second class bus, 10 hours)
Chiang Mai – Chiang Rai = 191km (RM12 on first class bus, 3 hours)
Chiang Rai – Mae Sai = 68km (RM3.5 on public bus, 1.5 hours)

Upcoming facts:
Mae Sai – Bangkok = 924km (RM65 on first class bus, 13 hours)
Bangkok – Aranyaprathet = 275km (RM4.8 on train, 6 hours)


Two weeks ago I took my last journey up north from Chiang Rai and into the border town of Mae Sai, the most northern town in Thailand if you don’t know.

in a tuk-tuk to bus station
On the tuk-tuk to Chiang Rai bus station.


Bloody tuk tuk costed more than my bus ride to Mae Sai. (RM5) -.-

Tuk tuk driver brought me right in front of a public bus which I got on without a second thought the moment the conductor told me it only costs 35baht to get to Mae Sai. (what a sucker for cheap ticks)

Two hours later, I was blogging at my guesthouse looking into Burma.

looking into burma
O.. there’s burma~


Mae Sai is a beautiful little town with little to offer except for sheer serenity and peace & quiet. Many small family run guesthouses are set up alongside the river separating Burma and Thailand, the one I stayed in was run by a British man.

guesthouses by the river in mae sai


There’s a small market here, where Burmese would come over during the day and go back in the evening to earn a small living from the occasional travellers who come here to renew their visas. You can find more locals here than foreigners as Thais love to take a weekend visit over to Burma for some cheap buys.

market next to immigration


Here, I met Steve (an old Australian drug dealer/trader who has earned his fair share and decided to live in Thailand for the rest of his remaining life, funny old guy) and Dino (a German who came to Thailand and decided never to leave, set up his business in trading and retailing online and earning three times the salary his country pays).

steve and dino


Me and Dino hooked on pretty fast (since both of us are living off the internet) and decided to tour Mae Sai on a motorbike.

dino and big scorpion
Giant scorpion on top of a temple hill


me and scorpion


Enjoyed the night scene of Mae Sai on top

mae sai at night
Nice isn't it?


Our very cute motorcycle key holder.

motorcycle key


We also went to a street side steamboat,

steamboat on the road
Give a whole new meaning for food on the road


That served a lot of bloody meat.

bloody meat


Dino and I had a fun time chatting and exploring new areas and opportunity what internet could bring.

dino from germany


And cam-whoring as well. Dino taught me how to ride a motorcycle!! Yay!!! I managed to get as far as 500m!!!

nicole


The next morning, I woke up with a little (big) surprise on my face.

Somehow in the middle of the night I got stung by an incredibly horrible insect which I know nothing of and my eyes has swollen reducing my eyeball to half its size!!

I looked in the mirror in horror, nearly shriek to death thinking that my face was permanently destroyed, which of course I didn’t.

I have to become a timothy-to-be with the eye-patch I bought from a local pharmacy.

my eyepatch
arg.... Shiver me timbers..


But still it’s still looked very palpable. So I resort to a Chanel by the street.

me and dino biking in mae sai
Nothing beats a good shade to protect your ugly appearance.


Steve and Steve brought us youngsters to see a home they bought in Mae Sai some distance away. A acre of land and a three storey house!! I want to retire too!!

steve and steve


That very same day, I went to Burma for a stroll! :D (Raj, you can tie me to a pole and call my mom now)

union of myanmar


Almost everyone who comes to Mae Sai was here to cross this immigration border.

monks crossing to burma
Monks crossing to Burma


Now for a day’s pass to Burma, you need to pay $10.

permit to enter burma
I’m Rambo!


And you’re on your way to the city of the Golden Triangle.

city of the golden triangle


At the other side of the border, you’ll be able to find a lot a lot of imitation goods, that to my presumptions most probably come from China. There’re many small handicrafts and trinkets sold too. But every other shop was selling almost the same thing over and over. So the price was pretty much fixed. But it’s good to haggle too.


monks shopping for crinkets


Be prepared to get harassed by kid beggars though. There were lots of them roaming around the street barefooted begging for money, it’s a sad sight to see.

burmese kid


Burma is clearly a little less developed as compared to Thailand, you can pretty much see the instant difference the moment you crossed the border.

burma


It was a little too unbearable to see really. I got back just before the immigration closed at 5pm.

That evening, I boarded a bus back to Bangkok. Half an hour into the journey, the bus stopped and police and soldiers came abroad to do a check up. To spot for illegal immigrants from Burma, said Dino.

police looking at me
Policeman posing for my camera before asking for my passport -.- (so vain)


The control was really tight. No one was left unchecked. Not even Dino.


soldier checking dino's bag
Soldier checking Dino’s plastic bag.


Just when I thought it would be another blind check.

A guy was called forward from behind. (A Burmese I presumed)

burmese guy


He was holding some documents when he stepped off the bus after the police.

The bus soon departed, without him.


It’s really depressing when you imagine how these people wanted to badly to come over to Thailand to make a better living just because they can’t find one back home. I heard from Dino that just few weeks ago, nearly a hundred Burmese illegal immigrants died hiding behind inside a bus due to suffocations while crossing the border.

This journey into the golden triangle, third world countries, and countries I would not have known through discovery channels and misunderstood because of Hollywood block buster movies has really opened my eyes.

Till now, I couldn’t forget the face of that kid who begged me for money the day I visited Burma.

burmese kid

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Moon Set

To stretch on budget and time, I have done enough night travelling to discover the existence and beauty of moon set.

Rounder, bigger, pale with yellow, sometimes even appear to be a bit more orange-y and apparent with details (of its crevices) as compare to its facade at midnight; the moon setting near the border of the earth shone out enchantingly like a big block of yellow cheese, hung lowly over the black, sometimes starry, night.

During the early night, occasionally even before the sun sets, you will discover it climbing up from the other side of the soil apposite the fire planet, glowing in its pale silvery shade, shying away from the bright blazing evening sun that stood out like a phoenix’s burning feather.

But once the sun crosses the border, drawing its last streak of light over to the other side of the sphere, the moon will shed its layer of satin pearl, often pallid with a hint of grey, and replace it with a lucid lustrous white coat. Tracing the same path its masculine half surfed through during morning, the moon will crawl over the globe and across the land, as though pursuing after an elder brother like a younger sister would in a game of tag, before maturing into a ginger-yellow as it is now.

Moon set, unlike sun set that usually burns menacingly and mercilessly at all the planets around it, wields a melancholy feel that entices you to stare mindlessly into its solitude existence that stood out in the pitch black.

My Ipod is playing “A love that will last” from Renee Olstead, one of my favourite tune of all times. How am I here? Why am I here? On this long winded journey and is taking me to no where, coming from places of so few memories left for. Fresh pieces of memories sweeping over the old, and I begin to embark on another journey before the new piece becomes old again, replaced by yet another fresh layer of land and people.

I don’t desire a complicated past, I want a love that will last. Say that you love me, say I’m the one. Don’t kiss and hug me, and then try to run, I don’t do drama, my tears don’t fall fast, I want a love that will last.

Complicated past? How true. This seems that I am running away from the past or seeking for a new one. But no, as much as I left my past behind me, they will forever remain in my heart, good or bad. It had been thrilling to have many short memories shared with numerous people whom I know for sure will never meet again in my current life. But I’m tired of short span of memories that will make no impact on my life. I want something more, and I’m moving forward~

I don’t want just a memory, give me forever, don’t even think about saying goodbye, coz I~ just want one love to be enough, and remained in my heart till I die.”


What am I looking for? What do I seek in this journey? I have the answer, but reluctant to reveal it even to myself. It’s almost irony how this song is replicating my inner thoughts. Something permanent than mere diminutive existence, bitter sweet memories.

I~ m not the kinda of girls to complicate the past, I want a love that will last~ I want a love that will last~

This is getting cheesy.


The bus continue to advance on a dark lightless straight road, going over an occasional bump that will shake the whole board of passengers awake, who in no time, will tilt their heads and go back into snooze. Swaying left to right like a boat due to its massive body weight and height, unable to sustain balance for the upper and rear deck, the bus will gently (or aggressively) rock, like a boat, to woo me to sleep.

As the air-conditioning wind crept up the goose pimples on my arms and slowly wriggle its way “into” my heart, I wrapped the thin washed-up cotton towel about my shoulders in poor attempt to hide myself from the merciless cold blasting from the two holes above my head; which seems to be impossible to shut off the egress of the air no matter in what angle I direct the cylinders at.

I endeavour another attempt to hover myself into slumber, marvel in excitement to wake up at daybreak to find myself again in an unfamiliar, unexplored, brand new piece of land.




moon set

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Two Chiangs - Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai

So as I arrived at the Chiang Mai bus station, my guesthouse has arranged a pick-up waiting for my arrival at the station, with my name on a cardboard.

The guy looked shocked when he saw me, thinking Nicole is a name of some “farangs” (what Thai people call caucasions, literally means “long nose”, lol, worse than our “gwai lou” – “ghost”) but saw a Thai-looking Asian girl walking towards him, followed by a white dude, Simon.

Chiang Mai is overally, very new. Or at least that was the impression it gave me.

chiang mai riverside trees


Everything is just so wonderfully beautiful here, the trees, the river, the roads, the “castle stone” gates, etc.

If you look at the map, Chiang Mai city is basically a square, surrounded by artificially made river.

map of chiang mai


Don’t think the square is tiny, that’s a 2-3 km wide square you’re looking at. Rent a bike or curse like me when walking from one end to the other end thinking it would be no more than a few steps to reach.

My guesthouse is especially a lovely place to stay in.

chiang mai home garden


Gong Kaew Chiang Mai Home (quite a mouthful) is 4 months old, according to the owner, is a family-run home. They have few rooms and dorms settled on a lovely garden with fruit trees of all sorts, hand plucked and eaten to your delight (lychee, mango, banana, etc), serve free toasts and jam all day and free wifi! (yay!)

Air-conditioned with hot shower, RM25 for a bed at the female dorm is most worth hostel guesthouse I have stayed in so far. (Super clean too)

This is the place where I sit and blog/chat all day. :D

chiang mai home


There are two dogs which I especially adored during my stay there. A Shihzu called Brownie, and her daughter Panda (a poodle and Shihzu mix, omg so cute). There’s Toffee the grandma too and Porkie the poodle father.

me with panda and brownie
Panda on my lap, Brownie lying beside me.


I have never seen a Shihzu and Poodle mix before, curly hair with brown patches all over. Panda is my all time favourite.

me hugging panda


We blogged together.

blogging with panda


Web cam together.

chatting and blogging with panda
Panda looked bored.


And cam-whored together.

me with panda


Simon loved Panda too.

simon and panda
But panda was giving no response, lol.


Chiang Mai has a lot of Wats (temples), you will spot one every 100 metres you walk.

wat phoenix


It was the Songkran hence many people came here to pray.

giant joss sticks
Giant Joss Sticks


I prayed too.

me banging gong
Or at least I tried too.


The police that came here to pray was eyeing me suspiciously. So I stopped playing praying with the gong.

But guess what I saw?! He cling wrapped his gun for songkran!! Hahahaha!

police during songkran
What if there’s robbery and he needs to shoot at robbers? Slowly unwrap the cling?


Actually I shouldn’t be laughing, because I plastic wrapped my camera too. LOL

chiang mai songkran


One thing I couldn’t forget during Songkran in Chiang Mai was the ice.

selling ice during songkran
RM5 per block. Most expesive H2O ever.


All that ice cold water throughout the day, it’s amazing I haven’t got sick yet. To be honest, I don’t know whether I should miss the festival or thank the god that Songkran’s finally over!

I mean, I missed the time and expressions of the people when I splashed ice cold water at unexpected motorcycle and tuk-tuk drivers who thought my water was just plain warm water from the tap/river.

But I really froze when someone did that to me. -.- which you would come back with a vengeance with more ice and more water repaying other people and hence making the icemen very very rich.

me holding watergun and bucket


At the end of the day, Simon and I realized that we should have gotten our passports cling wrapped too. -.-

simon with his soaked passport


There’s a famous hill temple 8km from Chiang Mai – the Doi Suthep Hill Temple. My suggestion is to rent a bicycle/bike, and ride out to the zoo, park there and take a tuk-tuk up the hill which would cost you 40 baht (another 30 baht to return) instead of 500 baht if taken from town.

bicycles
Locked our bicycles at the big ass poll.


Once up there, it’s a 309 steps climb up the hill,

doi suthep staircase


hmong tribe costume
Little girls in H’mong tribe costume: “100 baht each photo please~”


where you get a see a lot of golden monks and monuments.

golden monks
Note: Never stand higher than the monks, kneel down when you approach them


me at doi suthep temple


me and big buddhe inside doi suthep


Rub the big gong.

me rubbing gong


Count the bells in the temple

bells at doi suthep temple
15 baht each, spotted a price tag behind, tee hee.


And a magnificent view of the city of Chiang Mai.

me at doi suthep hill


To be honest, Chiang Mai was rather foggy.

foggy chiang mai


It’s the dry and hottest season, so I have been sweating every single day since I arrived in Thailand.

doi suthep hill in chiang mai
Sweaty Simon and Me.


Many people came here to pray, I think it’s overrated, with all the tourists and foreign visitors, there wasn’t anything special worth looking at here.

pouring praying oil


There’s a lot of things sold here.

buddha statues


One of my favourite buy in Thailand.

pineapples


Seriously, no pineapple in the world beats the pineapples in Thailand. Every one I have tried here so far is juicy, sweet and juicy, and sweet. :D

There’re also cups of strawberries that cost 20 baht each.

strawberries


At night, cycle out of the “square” to a night bazaar located in the East. Chiang Mai night bazaar is somewhat well known in South East Asia if not.

kalare night bazaar


Hundreds of stalls selling everything can be found here. Almost like the weekend market in Bangkok.


accessories


samurai swords
Samurai swords!


I found this really cute candle which I was so tempted to buy. But I know it would be just those spur-of-the-moment-buy-no-use-leave-on-shelf-to-rot items.

love candles


But they were really gorgeous.

valentines candles


During my stay in Chiang Mai, I also visited the Orchid farm and Elephant Nursery camp (do not attempt to cycle here, it’s suicide up-the-hill mission).

orchid farm


40 baht to enter Orchid Farm.

pink orchid


purple orchid


orange orchid


red flower 2


red flower 1


I love orchids, don’t you?

I’d say skipped the whole bloody Orchid Farm. I have just shown you possibly all the collections of Orchids they have there.

Unless you want to buy a side gold plated orchid.

gold plated orchid


Or butterfly

butterfly sample
Which in my opinion was rather cruel.


But do visit the elephant camp, the show was very entertaining. 120 baht each.

me in front of elephants


There’s a show at 8:30am, 9:30am and 1:30pm. And I can bet my 10 dollars bill that you will catch the afternoon show than waking up 7am in the morning.


Ripley’s Believe or Not once showcased an episode about elephants painting flowers and trees on a canvas. Yep, this is the camp where you will find the priceless elephant paintings that cost from a minimum 2000 baht to NOT FOR SALE.

elephant camp
The artists marching out.


And then my camera died. -.-


sleeping elephant


So no photos here. T_T


I stayed four days in Chiang Mai, and move up north to Chiang Rai – a suburb small town with nothing but peace and quiet to offer. One of my favourite place in Thailand. In the late 80’s, many wealthy businessmen spotted opportunity in Chiang Rai and came here to invest.

mass work out in chiang rai
A park with old folks doing synchronized aerobics


main roads in chiang rai


It’s easy to get around town on a cycle.

cycling in chiang rai
This is becoming a habit.


The only way where you can get cheap transport. My guest house offered free bicycles for rent. :D


They also have free pick ups from the bus station to the guest house.

akha pick up truck


backpack behind pick up truck
My backpack chucked behind the truck


Btw, I stayed in Akha River House (recommended by Lonely Planet).

riverside house
That’s my room on the second floor, 150 baht per night.


It’s facing the river, which was nice.

riverside


With a construction going on next to it, which wasn’t so nice.

riverside construction


That night, I did the same as I did for every town. I scouted the night bazaar in Chiang Rai,

chiang rai night bazaar


which said to offer some exquisite jewelleries.

jewellery


But not before dining at this super nice restaurant.

cabbages & condoms


It’s said to help promote awareness of AIDS/HIV with the concept that condoms are as easy to obtain as cabbages.

condom shapes and sizes
The flasher, LOLOLOL


This restaurant has a really nice ambience to dine at.

cabbages and condoms restaurant


And a lot of quirky, but cool board tag lines hanging all over the place.

funny sign


At night I stopped by Doi Chaang café for a drink.

doi chaang menu


Actually I was halted while cycling because I was so captivated by the beauty of this café.

doi chaang cafe waterfall


Not even KL’s café and beat the gorgeousness of this little corner coffee shop that serves ice chocolate at the price of 40 baht each.

doi chaang cafe


I decided to order a drink here. Just for the sake of drinking and sitting next to an artificial waterfall in a rural town.

What does a traveller like me with tight budget order from this café?

drinking water


Water, that’s what.

drinking water got a problem look


What? Drinking water very ‘throw’ Malaysian’s face meh?