Thailand

Travel Blogger Calendar 2014 – Help elephants, win a $3300 holiday!

grey Travel Blogger Calendar 2014   Help elephants, win a $3300 holiday!


Before I speak about this year’s Travel Blogging Calendar I have three questions for you:
grey Travel Blogger Calendar 2014   Help elephants, win a $3300 holiday!
 - Who loves Elephants?
- Who would love to win an amazing holiday package worth $3300 while helping said cute old elephants?
- Who agrees that I should never, ever, participate in another calendar featuring my naked ass in a freezing lake?
Everyone?
Same here! Feedback on last year’s charity calendar was pretty much unanimous in that we should keep our clothes on, but do it again in some form or another.
Following months of intensive online brainstorming inside our safe bunker (Facebook group) away from the spotlight we have emerged with an amazing idea, a great charity to sponsor and a truly awesome prize to give away…we are like a bunch of determined, cyber phoenixes.

The Travel Blogging Calendar is back, bigger and better than ever. 

This year we are going digital while holding a raffle. Thanks to the awesome people at Flight Network and Ian Ord of Where Sidewalks End we have arranged a prize package including $2000 towards a flight to Thailand, and an 8 day, 7 night tour where you will get a chance to  explore Thailand and meet some elephants at the very sanctuary this initiative is helping.
Even if you miss out on the trip to Thailand, everyone who buys tickets will get exclusive weekly blog updates written by our team of professional blog experts (and me). Each post will highlight different cultural holidays or events taking place all over the globe.

Even if you don’t win, you win…win/win!

grey Travel Blogger Calendar 2014   Help elephants, win a $3300 holiday!The elephants also win as all monies raised will be handed directly to Save Elephant Foundation founder Lek so she can rescue more abused proboscines (I just won by learning a fancy new word!). Our intrepid Jeremy of Travel FREAK paid a visit to Lek on his way through Asia and learnt that this lady is genuinely passionate about these lumbering, loveable beasts.
I think we can all agree that elephants are magnificent; the way they are treated by captors in Thailand, however, is not. Elephants, as you know, are huge. To domesticate them such that they can be treated like livestock, poachers have to instill fear into them – otherwise the elephant would just stomp on the bad dudes and go about their business.
No doubt you are picturing an elephant in some shit-ridden cage being whipped mercilesly. Even the clean, healthy looking guy with bells around his neck (that you took a ride on last holiday) has been through a horrendous breaking process. This is why the incomparable Lek founded the Save Elephant Foundation in 1995. Lek buys elephants from captors (this is a tightrope as she cannot pay so much that people poach them purely to sell to him) and relocates them onto what is as close to their natural habitat as possible. Here they are allowed to roam free. As the website says, ‘there are no tricks. There are no rides.’ Just elephants doing what they naturally do and generally being wicked.  Currently Save Elephant Foundation are at capacity and urgently need funds to rescue more elephants. Read more here.
Now is the time to think about responsible tourism. Don’t just think about how your holiday affects you, think about how your holiday affects the people, places and animals you meet on the way.
“Enough banging on about social responsibility Ben; I will keep this in mind when I explore,” I hear you say. “You had me at ‘cute elephants’ … how can I donate to be in the running to win this awesome prize?”
Click on the link below:

Donate-to-fantastic-cause-and-win-awesome-prize 

Remember, the more you donate, the more entries you get in the holiday package.

 

Massive thanks to:

The guys at Flight Network who donated this brilliant prize. We expect this year will be huge, largely due to their generosity. Go over, say hi and tell ‘em I sent you! Say thanks for being awesome to Flight Network

Ian Ord of Where Sidewalks End; his startup tour company is both socially and environmentally sound. We need more like you mate!

Jeremy Foster of TravelFREAK; without your energy and commitment this initiative would not be as amazing as it is.

How does bungy jumping really feel? Bungy jump Thailand

grey How does bungy jumping really feel? Bungy jump Thailand

The heavily tattooed man looks at me over his chipped counter, “You want the photo combo mate?”

“No thanks, just a jump” I say shakily thinking about this bungy jump Thailand style.

Already I can feel the metallic taste of fear. Behind and above Tattoos is another man. Pale and overweight he quivers high on a ledge not daring to look down. I watch the man shake on his ledge for a few long minutes before he jumps…when I say ‘he jumps’, more to the point he leans out too far one time and before he can catch himself gravity takes control of the situation. Like a surprised fish on a hook he silently falls until the cord catches and bounces him around. Red faced and visibly distressed he is lowered to a pontoon on the dirty lake where he is released from his bindings. Free again he jumps to his feet before scuttling to a waiting taxi which whisks him away. A trip which no doubt will end at the nearest bar.

Besides Tattoos and a few others I am now alone at the bungee centre.

Random bird noises from a nearby wetlands punctuate a heavy silence over the grounds.Now it is my turn to test gravity. A dark skinned man in a faded T-shirt wraps a towel then some straps around my ankles before calling over a colleague to check. A rusting crane creaks nearby under the weight of the platform. The second man lowers my confidence in this Thai operation by retying my legs before I am allowed to shuffle over to the crane.

The rickety crane laboriously raises me and my dark skinned companion about fifty metres up over the water. The man is trying to make friendly conversation in pidgin English as we rise, ‘Do you like here?’…’Where from you?’ He asks with a wide Thai grin.

grey How does bungy jumping really feel? Bungy jump ThailandI reply distractedly with, ‘Yes. Tasmania…in Australia’ As I speak the view around me opens up to reveal lush green jungle. As the ground slowly drops away so to does my ability to hold a casual conversation. It is fine for the other guy, he only has a commercial interest in the fraying cord. My interest is far more personal. At least the centre is empty so there is no one to hear me screaming like a little girl. My mind throws up a random image of a lone spacecraft orbiting earth; ‘In space, no one can hear you scream.’ The crane shudders to an unconvinced halt but my shuddering continues unabated. Near the car park I see a group of drunk tourists materialise from the kiosk…apparently in Thailand there is always someone to hear you scream.

I must look quite a sight. Last night I checked out my skinny frame in the mirror. Twenty-eight days of hard climbing in Nepal has left my face dark above a snow white torso, I am now long bearded with very unkempt hair. I would certainly be able to scare small children without breaking a sweat. At least I am starting to look like a footloose traveler, if not always acting the part.grey How does bungy jumping really feel? Bungy jump Thailand

I force all thoughts of breaking bungy cord out of my mind and instead focus on the job at hand, overcome all natural survival instincts and jump off this bloody platform. It feels much higher from up here on the swaying platform. A mere fifty metres above the water I am shaking like a poorly maintained VW and cannot see the cord. This is one of the biggest mind fucks with bungy jumping, the cord loops away below and out of sight. It truly feels like a suicidal act.

I look down, trust that my angels have not left me, gulp, then jump and plummet towards the dirty green lagoon.

My mind slows as my body accelerates.

With every cell in my body I feel that amazing acceleration. The whooshing of air past my ears gets louder and louder. The lagoon rushes up at me and my jaw is clenched tight.

Just as I start to panic about the cord my fall slows, all this happens in three weightless seconds.

Despite trying to keep all my openings clenched I think I let out a little squeak of fear mid-flight.  The deceleration is surprisingly smooth because as soon as the cord is fully stretched out it starts slowing the fall, by the time you start to bob upwards again you have gently slowed to nothing. A few upside down bounces stills and leaves me hanging by my feet over the filthy water. My head fills with blood and I can feel my pounding heart as I wait for the crane to lower me onto the small pontoon.

Back on solid ground I decide that maybe, just maybe, doing a bungy jump in Thailand after 28 days climbing in Nepal was not the best way to ‘wind down’.

Oh well, at least I have just ticked off another thing on my bucket list!

(All photos not the author’s, linkbacks and credit provided where possible)

 

I got drugged in Thailand

Most people will not believe that I got drugged in Thailand…this is what happened

‘Massage sir, massage, good for you?’

‘No. thanks.’

Following a busy day underwater I need food, not a massage or other distraction. The locals are obsessed with my burgeoning beard and seem desperate to offer all kinds of grooming services, some much more personal than others. I find a quiet corner in a busy restaurant, order Pad Thai and settle in to let the atmosphere envelop me. As foreign conversation washes over my head tangy odours escape the kitchen I still feel somewhat dreamy after my day underwater. Pad Thai is a very spicy Thai dish this time being presented by a raving homosexual waiter along with a Sambuca chaser, ‘I give you freee drink because you seee naarce.’

With my tongue tingling and belly full I make my way to the Irish Pub which has fast become a local, I order a pint of Guinness then strike up a conversation with a friendly, young English couple here on honeymoon. When we drain our glasses they invite me to find a club for a dance. I agree to join them, after all I cannot spend every night cowering in my hotel room folding T-shirts and dreaming up worse case scenarios. We find a seemingly friendly place and take seats in a corner, I leave to buy a round of beers. Halfway through our second round the couple is clearly feeling more salubrious than I and start talking about having a dance. I tell them I am not in a dancing mood and am content to hold the seat, watch the drinks and people watch.

My friends get up to dance but soon return with another round of drinks, not happy with the music playing. To my right is a table of older American men, they all sport hairstyles that missed them by a generation, their age betrayed by growing crows feet around their eyes. They are clearly enjoying the attentions of many heavily made up Thai women and lady-boys who circle like smiling vultures. To my right a clutch of young Thai friends keep to themselves, clearly they don’t appreciate the crush of drunk foreigners. I ask the couple to look after my drink while I go to the bathroom and soon return to find our table deserted apart from our drinks sitting alone and abandoned. I glance around and spot my two friends dancing frantically nearby, sitting I chuckle to myself, ‘How is this song better?’ and sit down.

My half finished beer is undisturbed on the table so I pick it up and set about people watching, wearily I start to think about retiring soon to rest up for a day of sightseeing tomorrow.

 

It doesn’t hit me straight away but as I sit there watching people dance my reality gives a little shift, like a subtle aftershock. Things seem different somehow, my internal dialogue is becoming confused, lazy, relaxed. I put it down to maybe a bit of sunstroke, I certainly have not drunk enough alcohol to be drunk,

‘…let me think…a Sambuca with dinner, a pint of Guinness, two or three beers total…’ I am staring intently at the table wondering if it is real. ‘Maybe tipsy’

 

‘Wow…reality just gave a huge jump.’

 

I feel as if a large sheet of glass has been lowered between my reality and other people’s.

 

Trying to focus on the Americans next to me I see they have progressed to groping anything within reach with a female shape. I can see but cannot hear them,

 

‘Have my ears broken during the dive?’

 

It feels as though I am still underwater so I focus on breathing properly,

 

‘Breathe, dammit, This could be bad…what is happening?’

 

I manage to get to my feet and bounce around the room aimlessly like a metal ball escaped from a pinball machines. I am trying to find my friends. The floor seems to be moving under my legs and I am desperately tired, just staying upright is a huge effort.

 

At some point my synapses make the connection between my drink being left unattended and suddenly feeling discombobulated,

 

‘My drink has been tampered with, really, no? really, maybe?’

 

Realising that I am completely alone, somewhat lost and not thinking straight I start to panic. I lean against the wall and try to figure out a solution. My brain is not working properly. I keep getting distracted by the music fading in and out like a heartbeat, the walls lean in towards me, like I am inside a living creature. My vision closes up, and, like a blinkered horse I make my way outside for some fresh air. I am tripping over feet, knocking over chairs and annoying people in my desperation to be outside.

 

Outside in the fresh air the street now looks so desperately foreign that I simply cannot get bearings. The flow of party goers passes by me both more quickly yet slower than before, ‘Now, which way to the hotel?’ I really cannot get my bearings.

 

The street resembles a Tarantino movie, cartoonish and disjointed, I can almost make out text bubbles containing people’s thoughts as they pass. I don’t find an escape as much as an escape finds me. A tall, thin lady-boy in a short dress suddenly materialises,

 

‘Boom, Boom?’

 

Needing to get home I give a tired nod, hand over my hotel card with a small map on the back and carefully clamber onto the back of his/her scooter. We race off into the busy streets. I clutch at my gossamer thin reality like a child holding a balloon string. Scooters, faces and tuk tuks flash by, my night has turned into an anime cartoon strip.

 

We pull up outside my hotel, with me somewhat revived by the fresh air and recognising the entrance murmuring ‘Thank you’ to my unwitting saviour. Passing the door guard I remember saying one word to him, ‘ALONE’ and without breaking stride, leave him to placate my heavily made up pursuer turned saviour. Realising that he/she has just been unwittingly used for a free ride my swaying back is treated to a barrage of abuse.

 

I open the door of my room and memory fails me.

 

Waking sprawled on the floor next to my bed at four in the afternoon still dressed with all exposed skin a minefield of mosquito bites I realise I have left a window open. Trying to gather my thoughts under a cold shower I am relieved to find a distinct lack of surgical cuts around the kidney region. It is over thirty degrees but I am badly shivering. Why people would pay money to take drugs and to feel like this is currently beyond me but I am glad to have escaped with only mosquito bites. Maybe it was sunstroke. I walk past the security guard who throws over a pitying look, one perfected no doubt from years of seeing tourists chase or flee the seedier side of Thailand.

 

Rock climbing in Thailand – Patong

One type of adventure I do want to find however is Rock climbing in Thailand. Most of the numerous brochures on Thailand I had previously amassed show pictures of muscle striped guys topless in tight shorts and ballet shoes fearlessly powdering overhanging cliffs with chalk as the sapphire ocean laps at the rocks below. I want to be that guy.

Early the next morning Om my climbing guide picks me up at the hotel and leads me to his beaten up old Land Cruiser. Om is short and dark without one ounce of his weight wasted, despite being friendly and patient he is the kind of guy who makes you feel like a fat, uncoordinated goof. On the way to our climbing site Om stops to show me a Buddhist temple cut into a mountainside. During my time in Nepal I had seen many Buddhist temples perched on windy mountain passes and had developed something of a fascination with this set of beliefs. The whole religion is based on ‘Do unto others‘ and is littered with reminders that material belongings and power are both temporary and unimportant.

Having just offloaded most of my material belongings I am currently finding these beliefs most agreeable. Buddhists believe in reincarnation and Karma; if you are a prick to people you will come back as a disabled ant and have a rotten time, if you are a decent guy you will return with a leg opening smile and have a lovely old time. Previously I simply did not have the time to think about such obscure subjects as religion and what might happen when I check out. I always had a suspicion that Ricky Gervais was right when he said that Christianity is simply one woman’s lie to hide an affair which got out of control. No point worrying too much though, we will all find out one day as my friend Kathy says, ‘Don’t stress too much about life, nobody gets out alive.’

The temple which Om shows me is vastly different to those I had seen in Nepal. There are similarities such as the reclining Buddha and familiar artwork but it is set in a cave and less well tended. The temple is open to the air and as such nearby monkeys have made a home inside and incessantly harass visitors for bags of peanuts sold just outside the gate. The combined smell of bird and monkey faeces melting in the tropical heat is oppressive, maybe my nostrils are paying off some karmic debt for what I said to Mrs Bonney on my last day. I stay inside for as long as the stench will allow then vacate this holy area turned simian toilet to find Om drinking coffee in the sun with one of his friends.

A long-tail boat takes us and our climbing gear through mangrove swamps to the floating village where Om spent his childhood. Wooden huts perch on bamboo platforms over the water and are linked by rickety walkways, the whole village is moored to sheer cliffs behind. Looking around at locals peacefully fishing, cooking and selling handmade crafts I think that this is more like the type of adventure I am hunting, however I am yet to see a penis sheathed tribe member to speak with earnestly.

With Om leading we make our way towards the increasingly oppressive cliffs and onto the island proper. Om immediately scampers off into dense shrub leaving me to wallow in his wake, my ears strain for his movements to follow. The ground becomes increasingly steep and soon I burst out next to Om on a small ledge overlooking the village. Perched halfway up a fifty metre high cliff the view is expansive, a cool wind playing through the shrub make the leaves hiss. I can see the entire village and beyond to a swampy forest where long-tail boats patrol unofficial waterways.

Om has spent a large chunk of his earnings bolting new routes nearby his village, the man’s deep connection with this area is firmly entrenched in his warm smile. We tighten our harnesses which are like a heavy G-string minus the ‘Gee’, and Om asks if I have belayed a climber before I tell him ‘Yes.’ Without any preamble he checks my knots and scampers up the cliff to leave me on the ledge with a pile of rope.

I struggle to feed him rope such is his upward speed. Once efficiently at the top of the route he down climbs and tells me to have a try. I switch my boots for the grippy ballet shoes provided and hesitantly shuffle onto the cliff. I can see the rope securely attached at the top and have easy handholds but the sucking void behind keeps playing on my mind. I furiously try to push plummeting thoughts out of my head as sweat fills my brow but become increasingly shaky and nervous as my height, and exposure grows. At one point I look down and freeze. The sight of Om leaning casually on a tired little tree over the edge combined with the yawning drop below my feet make me freeze. I clutch at the rocks desperately, my arms burn and my calves shake. Om senses my nerves and yells up to me,

‘You OK Ben? Stay calm my friend, I have you.’

‘Getting a bit nervous up here Om, I want to come down now mate.’

Back on the ledge the rocks lose their ominous glow and the climb no longer looks so difficult. A second abortive climb sees us moving lower on the same cliff to climb. The second route which Om has bolted is much more technical but far less exposed and less of a mind game. I thoroughly enjoy working out where to place my hands and feet and trying to reach resting spots before my arms tire. Once I can no longer climb, Om takes me to his friend’s restaurant where we gorge on extremely local fish caught from right beneath our feet. I feel somewhat embarrassed with my inability to trust the rope properly but am glad to have had the opportunity to try out this exhilarating sport in a splendid location.

On the drive back to my hotel we are chatting aimlessly and I rub my stiffening arms when we spot a number of police cars further along the road. Om turns to me and says earnestly,

‘Passport check, have you got passport?’

‘No, did I need it? I had no idea…’

He pulls over and stops the truck, wearing a very concerned look he asks me why I left it behind. Om silently sits there with the same concerned look on his face for a few minutes before starting the car, laughing and saying,

‘It is only a vehicle inspection my friend, I love playing that trick on tourists.’

Scuba diving in Thailand

grey Scuba diving in Thailand
Fumbling and trying to screw the air regulators onto the tank, I am very excited to be Scuba diving in Thailand but have not dived for over a year so feel suitably nervous. Trying to remember what my friend Marek and I leant on our course I simply copy what the others around me are doing. No one has checked my PADI dive licence and I doubt anyone will. The tank to which I am about to trust my breathing is scratched and dented, the buoyancy vest is faded with ripped storage pockets.

Notwithstanding, the scenery surrounding the boat is spectacular, a steady stream of tourist laden boats pass us on sheet metal smooth water to view karst islands. Small green islands rise sharply and dot the bay with patches of green. The whole area provides ideal sightseeing and an opportunity for people to reproduce brochure photographs.

Loaded with scuba gear my delightfully busty Norwegian dive buddy and check each other’s oxygen flow and jump into the water to descend twenty-two metres to a cave. I am wearing only shorts and she a bikini as the water is bath warm even at depth. Our plan is to descend and explore a cave near the ocean floor then to corkscrew our way up around the island to the surface. The steep cliffs as seen from above continue right down to the ocean floor and make for truly spectacular diving.


grey Scuba diving in ThailandA small shrimp nervously pokes his head out from some coral, spots me then darts back into his hiding place. Eels that peek their bald heads out hold a striking resemblance to my grade ten maths teacher, I am relaxed enough to forget where I am while watching and grin losing my mouthpiece. Holding back panic I recover it by following an air hose from the tank, I replace the lifeline, clear the water out and start breathing slightly embarrassed but glad that none of the other divers notice.


We swim a little way into a large cave, far enough in for the light to dim significantly. Normally I am not claustrophobic but sitting twenty-two metres underwater in a dimly lit cave make the walls feel like they are closing in. When I add another dent to my tank by bashing against the cave’s roof I decide to swim for open water and gladly continue exploring open water.Back on the boat my experienced dive buddy, whose wet bikini is losing
‘You have hardly used any air Ben, how do you use so little oxygen?’the struggle for decency leans down to check my gauges. My eyes reluctantly follow to where she is pointing,‘I’m making up for it now.’grey Scuba diving in Thailand‘What?’‘I really don’t know how.’

Maybe my body is still full of red blood cells from the altitude of Nepal, maybe I am just fitter than last time I went scuba diving, on previous dives I gulped

grey Scuba diving in Thailand through my air at a furious rate. We went on to dive around a nearby wreck called the King Cruiser and at a reef called Shark Point which had no sharks.

With my air tanks all on empty and sinuses full of salty water I munch on tropical fruit as the boat slowly chugs its way past myriad other tourist boats exploring this amazing area. My dive buddy is luxuriating in the sun, I am desperately trying to avoid staring as her chest rises and falls in time with the ocean.

 

Thoroughly relaxed I listen to the world and simply revel in the tired floppy-limbed feel that follows a long dive in the water.

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This business partnership has expired.” Ben has no idea what adventures are in store when he sets out to discover what lies over that next mountain.

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