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Thailand Wilderness Adventure

Thailand has always held a special place in my heart. I first travelled there in 1991, a wide eyed kid wet behind the ears with a bucket shop one way ticket to Bangkok. My grand plans of a short beach break before heading down to the east coast of Australia joining the 1000’s of Pommie pilgrims earning a right of passage didn’t exactly go to plan. I left Thailand eleven months later to return home penniless, emancipated and full of great stories, which my friends soon got bored with.

I returned a few times mainly to Bangkok and Koh Samui happy to be back in the land of smiles but feeling slightly disappointed at all the changes. The old story of development being good for the locals but not good for my sense of adventure. That didn’t deter me from joining the Imaginative Travellers Wilderness Adventure two years ago.

Arriving in Bangkok this time was different. I had a hotel booked so no lugging my pack in Bangkok’s suffocating mixture of exhaust fumes, heat and humidity looking for a clean bed. I had a group to meet too, this was also good, eating Pad Thai on your own looking for a fellow traveller to strike a conversation with can be hard work. There were 10 of us, a mix of Poms, Aussies, a Canadian, an American and a South African. We all met for dinner and shortly after my first Thai beer I knew this would be a fun trip

Bangkok to me means food and shopping and the best place to find both is the Chata Chuk weekend market. I headed there with belly empty and wallet full destined to reverse the two. The market is huge, really huge, 35 acres of cheap goodies huge and sells everything from furniture to genuine fake designer clothes. The street food is fantastic but remember the Thai’s like it hot. I left my shopping with the hotel to keep safe as I would be returning there once I finished the trip.

Off to Chiang Mai on the overnight train. I like travelling like this, sleeping while moving makes sense to me and the train is clean, functional, safe and fine. I think Chiang Mai is the perfect place to escape hectic Bangkok. It’s a peaceful, happy place and that reflects in the locals. Sight seeing will take you to the Wat Pratat Doi Suthep temple – stunning and golden on a sunny day. The next stage of the trip was trekking in the surrounding jungle, I decided I needed a massage before we set off.

A trek in the hills of Northern Thailand is a chance to escape everyday life and clear your head. The going is not too difficult for someone with fairly good fitness although if it rains the mud can be tricky. I was enjoying my own head space when we arrived at the first village of wooden homes, pecking chickens and lots of smiles, basic but I couldn’t think of anywhere else I would rather have been. Chan, our guide, was a local from a neighbouring village and before long he had us divided amongst our village hosts before the sun set and got too difficult for us city people to do anything without electric light. That night, with the noise of the surrounding jungle lying on a mattress roll on a bamboo floor, was maybe the most peaceful night’s sleep I have ever had.

The next day’s trek was shorter and we covered ground quicker, maybe we were getting used to the trekking but I think it was the excitement of the elephant ride to come that afternoon. Lunch was delicious but we were too busy watching the elephants wash in the river to notice. Elephants are brilliant creatures and being on one journeying deeper into the jungle is a fantastic experience.

The next morning Chan had us up early helping him and the village men build our rafts to take us down river to civilization. It is all part of the experience helping the guys and by helping I mean staying out of their way while they expertly craft our rafts. A serene float down to the nearest small town where our bus was waiting to take us to a hot shower and another massage.

We left Chiang Mai and headed back to Bangkok where we broke the journey up to the south with an over night stay in the city of angels.

I had heard a few good things about Khoa Sok national park, not too popular with tourists or backpackers alike due it not having a major bus stop. To get there you need to stop the bus by the 3rd banyan tree after 17th stream near the big hill and you will find a bakkie waiting to take you into the park. I’m glad we had a tour leader. The first night we slept with the birds in tree houses the second and third we stayed in raft houses on a man made dam. It is a truly beautiful area and a few of us spent the days swimming in waterfalls, flooded caves, kayaking and hiking and some of just sat back and took it all in.

How to finish this Thailand trip? On the beach of course. The islands around Krabi are what we visualize when we think of a Thai beach and they do not disappoint. The Thai’s have a word called sabai, loosely translated it means an inner happiness and contentment. I woke one afternoon from a napping on the beach and understood exactly what sabai means.

This trip can be found on the Thailand section of Travel Light

http://www.travellight.co.za/south_east_asia_tours/thailand_tours.htm

Spencer Neal has worked in adventure travel since 1997. His many adventures and passion for travel has led him to part own an online adventure travel agency Travel Light www.travellight.co.za specialising in world wide adventures for South Africans. You can contact him at spencer@travellight.co.za

Get to Phuket

AIR

Air Thai operates nearly a dozen daily flights form Bangkok. The direct flight takes and hour and 25 minutes, but some flights stop in Hat Yai for half and hour. There are also regular flights to and from Hat Yai.

Bangkok Airways flies between Samui Island and Phuket Island twice daily (once a week in June and September).

Angle Airlines recently introduced flights to Phuket Island from Bangkok and Singapore. Angle’s office is at Phuket international Airport.

THAI flies between Phuket Island and several international destinations, including Penang, Langkawi, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taipei and Sydney. Other international airlines with offices in Phuket are: Malaysia Airline, Silk Air, Singapore Airlines and China Airlines.

Southern Helicopter service at the airport charters a seven passenger helicopter. The service covers all of Phuket Island and Ao Phang Nga beach, including Phi Phi Island. Southern Flying Group does small aero plane charters.

BUS

All direct air-conditioner buses from Bangkok’s Southern Bus Terminal make the journey overnight, leaving at approximately half-hourly intervals between 5.30pm and 7pm and arriving about fourteen hours later. Most air-conditioner buses from Phuket to Bangkok also make the journey overnight, though there are a few departures during the morning. There is no train service to Phuket, but if you can’t face taking the bus all the way from Bangkok, a more comfortable (and less nerve-wracking) alternative would be to book an overnight sleeper train to Surat Thani, about 290km east of Phuket, and take a bus from there to Phuket (about six hours). There are fourteen buses a day between Surat Thani and Phuket, all traveling via Khao Sok, Takua Pa and Khao Lak; and six private minibuses a day from Phuket to Surat Thani. Takua Pa is a useful interchange for local services to Khuraburi and Ranong, though there are four direct buses a day between Ranong and Phuket. As for points further south : seventeen buses a day run between Krabi and Phuket, via Phang Nga, and there are also frequent services to and form Trang, Nakhon Si Thammarat and Hat Yai.

Boat

If you’re coming to Phuket form Phi Phi Island or Lanta Island, the quickest and most scenic option is to take the boat. During peak season, up to four ferries a day make the trip to and from Phi Phi Island, taking between ninety minutes and two and a half hours and docking at the deep-sea port on Phuket’s southeast coast; during low season, there’s at least one ferry a day in both directions. Travelers from Lanta Island have to change boats on Phi Phi Island. Minibuses meet the ferries in Phuket and charge 100B per person for transfer to Phuket town and the major west-coast beaches, or 150B to the airport.

Adventures In Thailand’s Wilderness

Thailand has always held a special place in my heart. I first travelled there in 1991, a wide eyed kid wet behind the ears with a bucket shop one way ticket to Bangkok. My grand plans of a short beach break before heading down to the east coast of Australia joining the 1000’s of Pommie pilgrims earning a right of passage didn’t exactly go to plan. I left Thailand eleven months later to return home penniless, emancipated and full of great stories, which my friends soon got bored with.

I returned a few times mainly to Bangkok and Koh Samui happy to be back in the land of smiles but feeling slightly disappointed at all the changes. The old story of development being good for the locals but not good for my sense of adventure. That didn’t deter me from joining the Imaginative Travellers Wilderness Adventure two years ago.

Arriving in Bangkok this time was different. I had a hotel booked so no lugging my pack in Bangkok’s suffocating mixture of exhaust fumes, heat and humidity looking for a clean bed. I had a group to meet too, this was also good, eating Pad Thai on your own looking for a fellow traveller to strike a conversation with can be hard work. There were 10 of us, a mix of Poms, Aussies, a Canadian, an American and a South African. We all met for dinner and shortly after my first Thai beer I knew this would be a fun trip

Bangkok to me means food and shopping and the best place to find both is the Chata Chuk weekend market. I headed there with belly empty and wallet full destined to reverse the two. The market is huge, really huge, 35 acres of cheap goodies huge and sells everything from furniture to genuine fake designer clothes. The street food is fantastic but remember the Thai’s like it hot. I left my shopping with the hotel to keep safe as I would be returning there once I finished the trip.

Off to Chiang Mai on the overnight train. I like travelling like this, sleeping while moving makes sense to me and the train is clean, functional, safe and fine. I think Chiang Mai is the perfect place to escape hectic Bangkok. It’s a peaceful, happy place and that reflects in the locals. Sight seeing will take you to the Wat Pratat Doi Suthep temple – stunning and golden on a sunny day. The next stage of the trip was trekking in the surrounding jungle, I decided I needed a massage before we set off.

A trek in the hills of Northern Thailand is a chance to escape everyday life and clear your head. The going is not too difficult for someone with fairly good fitness although if it rains the mud can be tricky. I was enjoying my own head space when we arrived at the first village of wooden homes, pecking chickens and lots of smiles, basic but I couldn’t think of anywhere else I would rather have been. Chan, our guide, was a local from a neighbouring village and before long he had us divided amongst our village hosts before the sun set and got too difficult for us city people to do anything without electric light. That night, with the noise of the surrounding jungle lying on a mattress roll on a bamboo floor, was maybe the most peaceful night’s sleep I have ever had.

The next day’s trek was shorter and we covered ground quicker, maybe we were getting used to the trekking but I think it was the excitement of the elephant ride to come that afternoon. Lunch was delicious but we were too busy watching the elephants wash in the river to notice. Elephants are brilliant creatures and being on one journeying deeper into the jungle is a fantastic experience.

The next morning Chan had us up early helping him and the village men build our rafts to take us down river to civilization. It is all part of the experience helping the guys and by helping I mean staying out of their way while they expertly craft our rafts. A serene float down to the nearest small town where our bus was waiting to take us to a hot shower and another massage.

We left Chiang Mai and headed back to Bangkok where we broke the journey up to the south with an over night stay in the city of angels.

I had heard a few good things about Khoa Sok national park, not too popular with tourists or backpackers alike due it not having a major bus stop. To get there you need to stop the bus by the 3rd banyan tree after 17th stream near the big hill and you will find a bakkie waiting to take you into the park. I’m glad we had a tour leader. The first night we slept with the birds in tree houses the second and third we stayed in raft houses on a man made dam. It is a truly beautiful area and a few of us spent the days swimming in waterfalls, flooded caves, kayaking and hiking and some of just sat back and took it all in.

How to finish this Thailand trip? On the beach of course. The islands around Krabi are what we visualize when we think of a Thai beach and they do not disappoint. The Thai’s have a word called sabai, loosely translated it means an inner happiness and contentment. I woke one afternoon from a napping on the beach and understood exactly what sabai means.

Thailand Transportation

BY TRAIN

All trains depart from Hualamphong Station except the twice – daily service to Nakhon Pathom and Kanchanaburi, and a couple of the Hua Hin trains, which leave form Bangkok Noi Station (also refered to as Thonburi Station). The “Information” booth at Hualamphong station keeps English language timetables, or you can try the State Railway of Thailand website (www.srt.motc.go.th) carries and English – language timetable and fare chart for major destinations. Tickets for overnight trains and other busy routes should be booked at least a day in advance (or at least a week in advance for travel on national holidays), and are best bought from Hualamphong. The clued-up English-speaking staff at VC Travel and Tour on the mezzanine floor of the station concourse (daily 5am – 8pm), above Coffee Bucks, sell all types of rail tickets at no commission, and can also book discounted mid-range accommodation at your destination. Alternatively, during normal office hours you can buy rail tickets from the clearly sighed State Railway advance booking office at the back of the station concourse (daily 8.30am-4pm).

BY BUS

Bangkok’ three main bus terminals are distributed around the outskirts of town. Leave plenty of time to get to the bus terminals, especially if setting off from Banglamphu, from where you need at least an hour and a half (outside rush hour) to get to the Eastern Bus Terminal, and a good hour to get to the Northern or Southern terminals. Seats on regular long-distance bused don’t need to be booked in advance, but air-conditioned ones should be reserved ahead of time either at the relevant bus station or through hotels and guest houses. Agencies sometimes provide transport to the bus station for an additional charge.

The Northern Bus Terminal or Sathaanii Mo Chit (departure info for both air-con and regular services) is the departure point for a few buses to the east-coast destination of Pattaya, Chanthaburi and Trat, through there are more regular services Thanon Kamphaeng Phet 2, near Chatuchak Weekend Market in the for north of the city; the fastest way to get there is to take the BTS Sky-train to its northernmost terminus, Mo Chit on Thanon Phaholyothin, which is just a few minutes’ walk from the bus terminal. Alternatively, you can take several city buses to Mo Chit, metered taxi and Tuk Tuk.

The Eastern Bus Terminal, or Sathaanii Ekamai, at Thanon Sukhumvit Soi 40, serves east-coast destinations such as Pattaya, Ban Phe (for Ko Samet) and Trat (for Ko Change). The Sky-train stops right by the bus terminal at Ekamai station, as do city buses, metered taxi and Tuk Tuk.

The Southern Bus Terminal, or Sathaanii Sai Tai Mai is at the junction of Thanon Borom Ratchonni and the Nakhon Chaisri Highway, west of the Chao Phraya River in Thonburi. If handles departures to all points south of the capital, including Hua Hin, Chumphon (for Ko Tao), Surat Thani (for Ko Samui), Phuket and Krabi (for Ko Phi Phi and Ko Lanta), as well as departures for destinations west of Bangkok, such as Kanchanaburi, Regular and air-conditioned buses leave from different sections of the Southern Bus Terminal, and anyone there will be able to point you in the right direction for your bus. To get here, take city buses, metered taxi and Tuk Tuk.

BY AIR

Domestic flights should be booked as far in advance as possible, though tickets can be bought at the airport if available; the domestic departure tax is included in the price of the ticket. Thai Airways is the main domestic carrier and flies to over twenty major towns and cities; Bangkok Airways currently covers just a few routes from the capital, including Ko Samui, Ranong and Hua Hin. All domestic flights leave form Don Muang airport.

The fastest, most expensive way of getting to the airport is by metered taxi, which can cost anything depending on where you are and how bad the traffic is. If you leave the downtown areas before 7am you can get to the airport in half and hour, but at other times you should set off at least an hour before you have to check in.

Every guesthouse and travel agent in Banglamphu, and many hotels elsewhere in the city, can book you on to one of the private minibuses to the airport. Those running form Banglamphu depart approximately every hour, day and night, though you’ll get picked up from your accommodation, you should book yourself on to a minibus that leaves at least an hour and a half before check-in commences as it can take up to 45 minutes to pick up all passengers, after which there’s the traffic to contend with.

For more information

Adventure in Thailand

Adventure takes many forms : a new relationship or job, sushi for the first time, or even a walk through an L.A. slum at 2 am on a Saturday night – all qualify.  

Webster’s dictionary defines adventure as “an exciting or remarkable experience.” It’s when we break out of our daily routine and dare to take on a new challenge, boldly going into territory that is unfamiliar to us.  

But most people, when they think of adventure, think of travel. And though pretty much the whole world has been explored before by other people (with Marco Polo setting the benchmark several hundred years ago), what matters is that it is your discovery. Adventure travel is a highly personal thing and what it teaches you about the vast world that surrounds you and its relationship to you is what makes it both worthwhile and essential.

This is probably why adventure travel keeps growing in popularity. In a world gone wrong, cluttered with technology, self-interested politicians, bureaucracy, greed and numerous other complications, it is crucial to get back to the basics of life and to set personal challenges that bring out the noble savage in us.

So remove yourself to another place, with strange people and customs, follow your nose, trust your instincts, and find a part of yourself you’d almost forgotten.

Thailand is an ideal location to live out these dreams – or alternate realities. With more than 25,000 square kilometers of national park land, islands, mountains, and a welcoming people, new and enlivening experiences are waiting for you to live them out.

Though there are endless adventures available here, two of the more popular possibilities involve going as high and as low as you can.

Scuba Diving : The Amphibian Within

There’s no getting around it. It’s programmed into our DNA that we are creatures of the sea, with a deep-seated desire to return to it. Meander aimlessly on thoughtful walk some lazy Sunday and your feet, of their own accord, will inevitably take you to the water – a lake, a pond, an ocean or a very large puddle – whatever is closest. We look out and yearn to return to our roots. Thanks to Jacques Cousteau, it is now possible, for a short time anyway, to return to the sea completely – for as long as the air in the tank lasts.

Thailand, with its countless beaches, coral reefs and modern dive schools is a popular spot to learn to scuba dive. Thousands of proud new divers earn their PADI international dive certificates every year.

It can be a bit scary at first – our instincts also tell us that we can’t breathe under water – but once you master the basic technicalities, there’s no experience like it. You have freedoms undreamed of by land dwellers. You are weightless, and can go left, right, forward backwards, up and down – and you are surrounded by colourful fish and plants. It’s another world down there.

But like anything worthwhile, it does take a bit of work and discipline to make your first dive. Over the course of a week or so, you take a step by step open water course to ensure maximum safety. You’ll start out in a classroom, studying buoyancy and pressure – you even have homework and exams to do (What? Homework at the beach?!!) This is combined with practice, starting in shallow water, learning to use the equipment getting comfortable with the idea – and soon you’re heading off to the open water by boat, working your way up to dives as deep as 18 meters. In less than a week, you are granted your certificate and can dive anywhere in the world unaccompanied – the beginning of a beautiful new friendship with the other two-thirds of the planet.  
Where to Go Under

With more than 3,000 km of coastline and countless islands, Thailand has enough dive sites to keep any enthusiast busy for a lifetime. Most divers head out from island and mainland areas on day trips, but it is also possible to explore more remote and less inhabited areas on liveaboard boats, heading out for several days at a time.

All of the places listed have several certified dive schools.

On the Gulf of Thailand side, or east coast of Thailand’s southern peninsula, the main diving area is in and around the Samui Archipelago, which includes the main islands of Koh Pa Ngan, the well-touristed Koh Samui, and Koh Tao, which is the country’s most popular diving island, featuring several coral reefs a short boat ride away.

On the Andaman Sea side, or west coast, are the islands of Phuket (the most popular holiday island in the country), Koh Phi Phi, the Krabi mainland, and the up-and-coming Koh Lanta.

Central Thailand’s south coast also has a few spots. Some divers base themselves in the wild nightlife town of Pattaya, but it’s a bit of a boat ride to the best dive sites. Heading east, almost to the Cambodian border is the Koh Chang National Marine Park, a group of more than 40 protected islands, surrounded by coral reefs.

Trekking : Because it’s there.

Thailand’s north is a gorgeous place where lushly vegetated mountains rise majestically from the earth – the tropical tail end of the Himalayan chain. For some mysterious reason mountains were made to be climbed. There seems to be an innate desire to struggle to peaks and look down on creation as if we were God almighty. When you are at a great height, taking in vast areas of creation in a single glance, the world, for a fleeting moment, belongs to you alone. In Thailand’s north, you can do just that, with the added bonus that along the way, you can rest overnight with Thailand’s hilltribe people. There are several different hilltribes, including the Akha, Meo, Lisu and Lahu – all with their own unique traditional lifestyle. These people migrated from Southern China into what until relatively recently was uninhabited territory less than two centuries ago, and set up shop as subsistence farmers.

Treks can run from two days to a week or more, as you hike through the jungle pathways on foot, by elephant (a daunting prospect at first), and by bamboo river raft, breathing fresh air, watching abundant wildlife and tiring your limbs, until you come upon the welcoming hilltribe village that you will call home for the night.

An evening with a Thai hilltribe is an unforgettable experience. After your hike, the food tastes fantastic, and along with the villagers you settle sit around the fire, singing songs and watching traditional dances – be prepared to do a number or two yourself from your home country.

After a few hours with these charming people, you may find yourself tempted to give up your career in accountancy, or whatever it is you do back home, shed yourself of all your possessions and live the simple life of honest hard work and a bowl of rice at the end of the day. Tempted, yes, but after a little reflection on the labours you have to put in for that rice bowl, you’ll probably opt to take home a few of the colourful handicrafts, and treasure your memories from the land of comfort from whence you came. Really, it’s better this way.

Trekking : Where to Start

Chiang Mai, in Thailand’s mountainous north was the original home of hilltribe trekking, but in recent years a few other places have gotten into the act. Chiang Mai itself is a relaxed city of about one million people, and the springboard to some great trekking locations, including Doi Inthanon National Park, which is the host to Thailand’s tallest peak at 2700 meters. The second city of trekking is the more somnambulant Chiang Rai, a bit further north. Both cities have very good airports and regular flights from Bangkok and elsewhere.

One young upstart in Thailand’s trekking world is Nan, northeast of Chiang Mai, and the coldest spot in Thailand (which is nonetheless pretty darn warm if it snows in your hometown). New luxury hotels have been popping up here recently, yet many of the hilltribes in this area are new to visitors – so it’s possible to enjoy the best of both worlds.

Also becoming popular is the charming little town of Pai, which has developed into a Bohemian arts center for disillusioned hippie folk from both Thailand and abroad. The town is in the valley, surrounded by evergreen and rugged mountains with several trekking trails and hidden waterfalls.

Thailand has beautiful place very much if you come to tour in thailand , assure that ,you do will not be defeated certainly.