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A week and a half in Thailand

Hi there everybody. It has been a while, but I finally got another break from uni, which allowed me to go on vacation again. And it's a rather big trip that I had been looking forward to for a long time. And not only was I finally able to pay a visit to Thailand, but I also got the opportunity to do it with my brother, just before he left for Australia. Since the dates of my last exam and his departure happened to be at roughly the same time, the two of us decided to have some fun time together. So, on the best date which you could possibly pick for a flight - the 11th of September - the two of us left Germany for Bangkok. But since he needed a one-way and I a return-ticket, we could not get on the same plane, which sucked a lot. But in the end, we made it and met each other at our hostel (Everyday Bangkok Hostel).

A lot of traffic in Bangkok
Bangkok is a very busy city filled with a lot of smog
A view over Bangkok
A bit of the skyline from a temple
One of the many shrines of Buddhas
A typical shrine, full of golden Buddha statues
Okay, our Bangkok experience wasn't so great. We're both not exactly big city people, so after we had gotten a first impression of the city and seen most of its sitting, standing and sleeping Buddhas, as well as a few temples, we decided to move on. And that happened as follows:

After we had decided that we would leave Bangkok but had not made any more detailed plans, we were just walking around the "old town" having a look at everything, when a guy started talking to us. Obviously, that happens all the time, but in that instant we did listen to him since he did seem to have a lot of good advice. Anyway, he ended up doing what appeared to be stopping a "Tuk Tuk" (a sort of motorbike, but for two passengers to sit on) for us and instructed the driver to stop at a couple of sights for us. Well, it all went pretty smooth, but one of these stops was called "TAT" and basically was a tourist agency. OK we thought, since we're here we might as well go in and have a look, maybe get a firmer grasp on what to do next. The guy at the counter was super friendly and seemed quite professional, starting out by showing us a number of letters from many countries in Europe that former customers had sent him, proving that he was the best tourist agent in the world.

Yeah, so we got into talking, explained to him what we wanted to see and do, and he knew how to do it. And so we actually ended up booking trips for the following two weeks with him, for a total of 27200 Baht, which amounts to 715€ or 840 US$. All we got in return was an envelope containing two pieces of paper that looked like authentic train tickets and a lot of loose papers on which he had written what they were for and how to get there, plus a stamp saying "PAID" and his signature "Joe".

We did save the location of that bureau and took a picture of all the paperwork including the sum we paid him, but we got no receipt or anything else to prove that a transaction of a lot of money had taken place. "Maybe that's the way things are done here", I thought. So we completed our sightseeing tour, another stop of which was a taylor's shop that wanted to sell us shirts and suits, but here we stayed strong and walked right out of it again. Interestingly, at the "sitting Buddha", we met a guy who happened to have a brother who worked in Frankfurt and lived in Bad Soden, which is the town in which I was born. What a coincidence, or was it? That travel agent had seen my passport after all. What was going on here?

So, me and my brother got a worse and worse feeling about what had happened to us by the hour, since it is well known that the local police is not exactly helpful to tourists. My brother ended up spending a lot of the night making plans on how to get our money back and I didn't have a good night either. All the more surprised we were when we did get picked up at the appointed hour from our hostel, by a van with tainted windows...

After that van had picked up a number of other people from different locations, our doubts and mistrust towards the poor driver slowly subsided and we realized that at least the first step of our tour would actually come to a positive conclusion. And so it did!

Our accomodation on the river
There was no luxury, but staying on the "Kitti Raft" was very enjoyable
That first stop was called "Kitti Raft", a floating houseboat on a river in the middle of the jungle, in relative proximity to the Erawan National Park. It was an amazing place, mosquitoes were bearable during daylight, food was included and we did all sorts of activities during our three day two night stay.

Vegetation at the Hellfire Pass
When your not a prisoner of war, hiking the Hellfire Pass is actually nice
The first stop, which was still on the way to the raft, was a museum that was all about World War II. From there we took a "scenic" train ride over the "River Kwai Bridge" for part of the way. Then we got back into the van and had lunch at the raft. Afterwards we took a hike at "Hellfire Pass", a location where prisoners of war had been forced to try to drive a train track through the jungle and its solid rock. That had happened under the worst of conditions, cost many lifes and was never completed. Nowadays, the area is rather pleasant, but learning what had happened there (we had an audio guide) and seeing the evidence of it right there was harsh.

Mangrove like trees in the stream
Lush vegetation in the National Park
One of the seven steps of the waterfall
One of the seven steps at the Erawan waterfalls
And more trees
Another pic to give you an impression of what the National Park looks like
The next day we visited Erawan National Park with its seven waterfalls. It's a magnificient area, the hike starts out very easy and gradually becomes harder, until the last bit of it is actually challenging. You can swim at many of its steps, an experience that is definetly recommendable! We did not have too much time though and only went into the water at the very top, where there are fish that will give you peeling if you put your feet into the shallow water. You won't be able to stand it if you're ticklish! On the way back we were surprised by extremely heavy rainfall. Very authentic in a rainforest, and so strong that it soaked through my backpack and killed my high-end powerbank :/. Then we went back to the raft for lunch and headed out again. Originally, we were supposed to visit a cave, but the rain made that impossible, so we visited another waterfall and took a swim and a heavy shower.

On our final day, we went elephant riding, which is cool but nothing to remember for the rest of your life, and "bamboo rafting" on that overflowing river we stayed on. That was very nice, but also gave us a sunburn even though it was a cloudy day.

Riding a motorbike on Koh Tao
You don't need a licence to drive a motorbike on Koh Tao (inofficially). Be aware of scammers though, it can get extremely expensive
Scenic view over Koh Tao
You usually have to pay a small fee to visit Koh Tao's many lookout points
On the dive boat
Chillin' out on the way back from one of the dive sites
Afterwards we were brought back into the civilized world, visited a big temple and a local night market in a town that didn't seem used to foreigners, since many people stared, smiled or waved at us, with some being even bold enough to say hi, and then be super happy when we replied. From there we took a night train to Chumpon and then a boat to Koh Tao, were we stayed at the Carabao Dive Resort. My brother got his Open Water SSI (a dive certification) and I went for a total of ten fun dives. Diving on Koh Tao is good and cheap, but there is better. So don't expect too much if you've been diving in other famous places already, but it might just be perfect to get your Open Water licence, since most of the dive sites are not challenging at all while still featuring a lot of interesting marine life. Unfortunately I don't have a camera that takes decent underwater pictures, but I got heaps of excellent videos, which I'm hoping to somehow include here eventually. Other than that the island is super small and you can drive all over it in probably less than two hours on a motorbike. In the right places, you get excellent Thai food for 80 to 120 Baht, so in between 2 and 3 Euros.

And now we are on Koh Phangan, the island that has the all famous full-moon parties, and are just figuring out whether we should or should not attend tonights fairly expensive "waterfall party"...

Edit 23rd of September 2018

If you want to check out the video directly in Youtube, for example from within the app, use this link: Crossing the River Kwai Bridge