Rotorua to Lake Taupo

As I have previously mentioned, it’s frustratingly difficult to get around here without a car. My fun German companions from yesterday have all checked out of the hostel, which means I’ve also lost my wheels. I do some mapping to figure out what activities I can get to today, and realize I literally require a car if I want to do anything cool. I’ve never driven on this side of the road, but there’s no time like the present, so I say let’s dooooo this, and rent a car. When I tell my Texan dorm mates about my plan, they decide to tag along which is great because now we can split the cost.

We pick up a rental from the Hertz literally next door to our hostel for $47, and head towards Kerosene Creek. This is an area with a naturally heated creek (obviously) that’s a suitable temperature for swimming.

I’m a little uneasy getting into the car for the first time, and the weirdest part about it is probably that the turn signal switch is on the opposite side, but staying in the left lane is just fine. Within 15 minutes I’m cruising stress-free.

We follow a little trail down along the water until we find a good spot to take a dip. I channel a little Kiwi and go shoeless for the walk. No one here is ever wearing shoes, I swear.
Some parts of the sand in the creek are insanely hot. If you dig down a little it’s unbearable, but the water temperature itself is perfect. Of course, there’s that yucky sulphur smell that comes along with any Geothermal pool, and call me crazy, but I’ve come to like it. It reminds me of beautiful places. Places like this, like Iceland. It’s grown on me.

As have the Texans. They’re tons of fun to be around and we’ve discovered there are millions of other topics besides gun laws!

Next up on our docket is the Lady Knox Geyser. We’re just blindly choosing places to go based on what we can see on Google Maps. There’s so much cool stuff in this area we can’t go wrong.

Well, that’s not entirely true. Some stuff you have to pay for, like this Geyser. Before seeing a price we decide to cap it at $5. Anything more and we’ll find something else to do. Well, it’s a whopping $32.50 for entry to this “Thermal Park”, and thats straight up not even close to within budget, so we move on. Byeeeee!

We decide to take the long drive down to Lake Taupo. We get 200 free kilometres on the car, and Taupo is pushing it a little, but we should still make it there and back under the limit.

We stop at a view point above Huka Falls on the way. It’s got some of the brightest blue water I’ve ever seen un-glaciated. I don’t understand.

Finally we reach Taupo, which is a MUCH more lively town than Rotorua. Rotorua actually has a really weird ghost town vibe. I’m not a fan. Most things are closed on Sundays, which is when I’d expect most people to be visiting? The weekends, no? It’s somehow acquired the nickname “RotoVegas” and while I’ve never been to Vegas…I can promise you it’s nothing like this. Anyway. Taupo makes more sense and is cooler.

We get out for a walk along the path surrounding the lake, and encounter a funny little driving range…aimed out into the water. I’m not much of a golfer (or a golfer at all) but one of the Texans is. He buys a basket of 25 balls for $20 and starts driving ’em out towards this floating dock. There’s a “hole in 1” target, but the staff say it’s only ever reached about once every two weeks. The best part is the scuba diver out there, retrieving balls in his bright yellow helmet. Imagine having that job? Hilarious.

Please note the gator boots!!

The boys are set on buying some Jade jewelry so we find a cute little shop selling everything from necklaces to table ornaments in the shape of kiwi birds. I’m trying to stick to as low a daily budget as I can manage, but I find this really cute Paua shell necklace for $19 so I buy it. Paua can only be found around New Zealand which makes it unique to me, and it’s a super pretty iridescent blue so I can’t help myself.

On the drive back to Rotorua I want to stop at some mud baths, which Google tells me are free. Turns out I totally confused the mud baths with bubbling mud pools, which are not the same. I pictured a mud spa tub where I could relax and slather myself in clay. But no, the bubbling mud pools are way too hot to touch, so we get to admire from behind a fence. It’s a fun stop to make anyway because they’re pretty rad looking.

After the pools we’re getting close to our kilometre limit so we head back to the hostel. We use the car to go pick up groceries from the “Pak n Save”, which I can equate to Costco without the membership fee. It’s hella cheap. We pick up some veg, shrimp, and chicken for dinner and cook two different epic stir frys.

Tomorrow I’m heading back to Auckland for a night, before catching a flight down to Wellington. I love a good city, but it’s clear that the best thing New Zealand has to offer is its incredible nature. I plan to settle in a city but now that I’m an expert left-side driver, I’m thinking I might invest in a car for weekend getaways.

Daily Costs

$47 car rental

$8 breakfast

$20 hostel

$10 for a third’s share of a 24 pack of beers

Free tea/coffee at the hostel

Free entry to Kerosene Creek, Huka Lookout, wandering around Lake Taupo, and Mud Pools.

Total Day Costs $85

(Plus my $20 necklace but that was unnecessary…)

Paid by the Texan boys:

$35 petrol (for half a tank)

$50 dinner groceries

Take me there!

Rotorua – Redwood Forest

After arriving in Rotorua in the late afternoon, I didn’t have much time to do any exploring yesterday. I settled into my hostel, The Spa Lodge (which is mad cute, by the way) and went to a local pub, Pig and Whistle, for some live music in the evening with my dorm mates.
Ohhhh, my dorm mates.
My 8-bed room is mostly German, with the exception of 2 undeniably American Americans. They are like a walking stereotype. Gator skin boots, camo, a tattoo of Texas, star spangled banner swim trunks, the whole deal. After spending a few hours together, one of them pointed out I was the first person they’ve met on the road who didn’t ask them about Trump. I had absolutely zero interest in having that conversation with them, because I knew exactly how it’d go. Having been raised on political discussions around the dinner table, I have developed strong opinions and a love for debate. However, I don’t see this one going well.

We all spent the night dancing and talking about literally everything else, having a grand ol’ time, but once back at the hostel we slipped up, something sparked a discussion, and a heated argument broke loose. One of the Germans acted as a moderator while the Americans and I hashed it out…until 4am. Oops.

So this morning I’ve gotten up to meet the Germans for a hike through the Redwood Forest, unsure of whether or not the Americans and I are still cool. They’re still asleep so I won’t know until later.

Most travellers I’ve met here in New Zealand have rented or bought a car. All the best spots are often far from the city centre and it’s really the only way to get around. Buses can take you between major locations, but otherwise you have to go with a tour package and I have no interest in doing that. Even though the Redwood Forest is relatively accessible from our hostel, there’s a difference of an hour walk or a 5-minute drive. Luckily, one of these guys has a car.

It’s a rainy morning which has brought out the contrasted colours of rusty red and lush green in the forest. I’m not a botanist or anything, but I never expected Redwood trees to grow in the same area as these giant, Jurassic Park-resembling fern trees. It makes for a super interesting trail. Entrance to the park is free, unless you want to follow the hanging bridges that are hung up in one small area of the forest, which looks pretty damn cool, but it’s also $25, so no thank you. We follow the arrows for a 3 hour route, which ends up taking us a little longer because we get lost more than once. I swear someone has stolen some of the arrows off the posts just to confuse us. Rude.

The 3 people I’m hiking with are all lovely. One thing I’ve noticed about German people when traveling is that they are really considerate of the language barrier and will speak to each other in English even when I’m not necessarily involved in the conversation, just to be polite. Usually other people revert back to their native languages which doesn’t bother me in the slightest, but I still think it’s really nice of them to keep me in the loop.

By the end of the hike my legs are pretty tired and I’m dreading how I’ll feel tomorrow. I’m a city walker; flat surfaces only. I can’t handle this incline business. Fortunately, our $20/night hostel has its own geothermal sulphur spa pool! and it’s free!In the morning, before it’s filled

We take a dip to relax when we get back to the hostel, and I run into the Texans. We have a quick awkward like, “heyyyy sorry ‘bout the yelling…I stand by everything I said….but we good? Yeah we good. Good.”

We vow not to talk about it again, though.

Costs for the Day
$20 hostel
$20 dinner
Free park entry
Free ride
Free tea/coffee at the hostel

Total: $40

Take me there!

Rangitoto Island

Guys. I have to tell you about how much I love this cafe. It’s my new home. There’s a “take a book, leave a book” shelf, couches, solid wifi, a decent selection of teas, a giant window I can sit in with my laptop, and a random little vintage pac-man arcade game in the corner. I’m obsessed. This is where I spend every morning.

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I’ve been operating without much of a plan each day. The only problem with this is that all the activities around Auckland require a bit of travel time and therefore a bit of planning. I decide it’s a good day for hiking, and look up ferries to Rangitoto; an island visible from the Auckland port, and home to a dormant volcano! It’s not painfully expensive at $33 return, especially when you consider that’s the same price as visiting the Sky Tower (Auckland’s imposter CN Tower – erected 20 years later, I might add).
A volcano hike seems like a pretty good bang for my buck!
The last ferry heading to the island is in an hour, so I rush back to my hostel to change into some more appropriate hiking gear and walk down to the ferry terminal.

Before boarding the boat, we’re asked to clean our shoes off on these little brush things stationed outside the entrance, and to check our bags for rats, mice, and ants. Yeah, alarming. Apparently people find them in their bags “more often than you’d think” and I am horrified to even look. Thankfully, I’m clean.
Rangitoto has a fragile and well-contained ecosystem that New Zealand is working hard to preserve while still allowing for tourism. There are no shops, hotels, cafes, or anything on the island. Not even a place to fill up a water bottle, so they advise you to bring all the water and/or snacks you might need for the day. I didn’t know this in advance, so I’m extra stoked that I thought to bring my reusable water bottle, and filled it before I left!

In half an hour, we’ve arrived on the other side, and I head straight for the trail. It’s 1:45, and the last ferry back to Auckland is at 3:30 so I want to get a move on. It’s possible to leave after the last ferry, but it’s an extra 50 bucks, and that’s a hard no from me.

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arriving on the island – I don’t know what’s in the little house!

I follow black trails lined sometimes with unfamiliar trees, and at other times with nothing but stark black volcanic rocks. The higher the trail takes me, the better the view becomes. It’s an easy walk, especially for the first half as it’s pretty flat. I’m a city walker; Toronto has no hills. I’m not used to all this stair and hill climbing, and it’s roasting hot out. If this path weren’t partially shaded, I might have died from heat stroke. I apply my weak 30SPF sun screen twice during the walk, just to be sure I don’t burn.

Once at the top there is a view point that looks out over the old volcano crater, which is now entirely covered in greenery. Without the sign post to tell me what it was, I’d never have known. The real sight though, is the 360 degree view around the island. You can see Auckland off in the distance, and epic teal blue waters all around. Pretty fantastic for a 1 hour hike.

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You can see the fake CN tower from here!

I soak up the views, finish the rest of my water, and head back down. I end up chatting with a nice elderly couple from Malaysia on my way down, who start a conversation by calling out “where are you from!?” as I pass them on the trail. We talk about Malaysia, Canada, and they tell me all their opinions about “Mr. Trump”. They’re pretty adorable.

I’m back down to the pier by 3pm and have 30 minutes to spare, so I find a shaded bench where I can lay down and take a little siesta, but set an alarm so I don’t miss the last ferry. Not that spending the night here wouldn’t be rad af.

When the boat arrives they have so much trouble docking due to the high winds, that they have to try 3 times. I’m a little concerned about the choppy waters back to the city, which weren’t this bad on our way over this afternoon.
They make an announcement on the way back that “If anything should happen, life vests can be found in the lockers”…which I notice are secured and tied up with ropes, so if this ship starts goin’ down, I’m pretty sure I’m done for. R.I.P.

After more trouble docking back in Auckland, we make it safely off the boat and I head back to the hostel. I have to double take when I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror. I look like a god damn tomato. Noooooooooooo! I applied my sunscreen! I tried to be responsible! I am heavily regretting leaving the 100SPF in my drawer back in Canada. I brought that Nicaragua a couple years ago, and came back just as pasty white as when I left, so I didn’t wanna go totally tan-less again. Huge mistake. I knew about the absence of ozone layer down here but… I thought double sunscreen would do it. Nope. How embarrassing. Now I gotta walk around like this for the next few days. So much regret.

Aside from the burn – solid day.

I go out at night and try to get a look at this blue moon/super moon/eclipse thing, but it’s too cloudy, which is tragic.

Costs for the Day

$16 breakfast at Remedy Coffee

$33 return trip to Rangitoto

$16 for 2 pints at a pub in the viaduct area

$8 fast food wrap for dinner

$20 hostel

Take me there!

Piha Beach

Wandering around Auckland has been fun, but I’m dying to see some of what New Zealand is most famous for – it’s beautiful wilderness and beaches! I’ve found that getting around is almost impossible without a car, and while I made sure to get my international driving permit before I left Canada…I’m still not sure I’m ready to drive on the other side of the road. I still haven’t even gotten used to walking on the opposite side, much less driving.  Continue reading “Piha Beach”

Goodbye Thailand, Hello Australia!

Today is 12/12/12. What an awful day to choose to fly. If there is going to be an end of the world, it’s surely now. The choice is not mine to make though, and I will be getting on that plane and out of Bangkok no matter what. Even if there is to be an apocalypse. I would rather spend my final moments in life eating stale airplane food than being heckled by a suit salesman on Khosan Road, even just once more.
I actually don’t really know much about the predictions of the end of the world, besides the fact that it is due to happen this year and I guess by default, this month. I don’t believe in any of it anyway, but I have to say that if such a thing were to happen, I would be content in the fact that I spent the last months of my short life doing exactly what I’ve been doing.

I pack up my things and check out, but oh how I have time to waste. I don’t need to be on my way to the airport until at least 5:00pm and it’s only noon now. I walk down and find some breakfast where I can also charge my phone. I have a long plane ride ahead of me and will need some music.

After breakfast I walk back over to the clinic I visited yesterday so that the doctor can check on my ankle and bandage it back up before my journey. It’ll be cheaper to visit a doctor here too, instead of Australia, not that it matters because OHIP’s got my back. I am obsessed with getting as many cheap things squeezed in as I can before the shock of having to spend normal amounts of money again. I’m not ready.

I decide to waste some time by getting a Thai massage. I had planned on trying to go back and visit Wat Pho Temple but forgot to wear pants and a shirt that covered my shoulders when I was getting dressed this morning. I could easily buy another pair of comfy pants from a market stall on Khaosan, and I came prepared with a thin sweater in my bag for the plane, but it seems like so much effort when I could just lay on a mat and get a massage instead. So I do. It costs me 220 baht ($6) for one hour. The only thing about Thai massages that I forget every time I walk into one, is that they are not in any way relaxing. They actually hurt a little bit, but then I always feel fantastic afterwards so it’s worth it. I spend one hour of my day getting a massage and then another hour getting my legs waxed, because they are atrocious. I roam around Khaosan one last time, refraining from buying anymore tank tops, which I already had trouble shoving into my bag this morning. I require two pieces of carry on luggage for the plane ride this evening -my backpack as well as my purse- because I’ve already got too many things. Some backpacker I am.

I find a cab and hop in quickly because he’s blocking traffic. He says he will take me to the airport for 400 baht. It seems expensive, and I try to haggle with him once I’m already in the car, but he won’t budge. The drive is an hour long and traffic is bad around this time, so I accept. I feel like he probably isn’t trying to rip me off, he seems like such a nice man, but he didn’t even try to bargain a little bit. Sometimes I feel like if they are unwilling to haggle down a price, it’s probably a fair one. I will emphasize the “sometimes”.
At the end of the day I’m paying 12 dollars for an hour long cab ride. I can manage. I feel like I’ll never be able to take a Toronto taxi again after seeing how cheap they are here.

I arrive at the airport, extremely early for my flight, but I feel better at least being here instead of roaming Khaosan aimlessly. Now I can aimlessly roam here, but with checked baggage. The airport is expensive though, that’s the downside. No $4 comfy pants here. I get a snack and then hangout and wait for my flight. By the time I’ve made it through baggage and security I’ve only got 2 hours to waste. I am so eager to get to Australia!

I am simultaneously very sad to be leaving Thailand and excited to be getting to Australia. The classic ‘one chapter is ending but a new one beginning’ scenario. I spend my aimless time in the airport thinking about all the awesome people I’ve met and the cool things I’ve done while in Thailand and Laos, and find myself missing it already. Like I said though, a new chapter is beginning in Australia! New people and new adventures. I look forward to exploring a different part of the world, even though I am prepared that it won’t feel as foreign and exciting as Asia has. I am mostly excited that I will have the opportunity to wear high heels again. Oh what an fantastic moment that will be!

I am finally able to board the plane. It takes off on schedule and to my delightful surprise, the seat next to me stays vacant! There shall be no apocalypse after all! Today is a good day. I do have another neighbour on my left, who is around my age and lives in Sydney so he is kind in telling me what there is to do and see. I have a very long list that I have acquired along my way after meeting many Australia-loving travelers.
I start the 9 hour journey off by watching some TV. I choose Wilfred, a comedy on FX which is the same channel that plays one of my favourite shows, American Horror Story. I’ve never seen Wilfred before, but heard that it’s good so I give it a shot. I am literally laughing out loud during the first episode. The guy to my left probably thinks I’m nuts, but I wasn’t prepared for such a hilarious show!!
Half way through my pilot episode, the pilot (no pun intended, it just happened, and I’m leaving it) makes an announcement that he will be re-booting the entire tv system because some people’s tvs aren’t working.
Well after re-booting it, mine doesn’t work. Just great. Thanks a lot. For nothing. Now I will have to wait to finish watching Wilfred. I am displeased. But seriously, if you have a sense of humour, or like dogs, or Elijah Wood, watch this show.

I try to sleep but am restless as always on plane rides. Even with an extra seat beside me for leg room, I can’t seem to get comfortable. I listen to the carefully selected music of my travel and sleeping playlists, and finally I fall asleep, right up until we’re landing. Perfect timing, because it’s 10:30am when we land and now I’ve rested enough to start my day!

Miss you already Thailand. We’ve had some good times.

“Mom Guesthouse”

I wake up to someone rapping outside my door. And not like, rapping along to some Jay Z or something that’s already been produced, but just free stylin’ without any music.
It was awful. He kept rhyming swear words by changing the way he pronounces them…. and taking a long time in between versus to think about it. Extremely bizarre at 7am, BUT I am in Bangkok so I shouldn’t be surprised by this.
I lay in my rock solid bed trying to fall back asleep, and reading my books when I can’t. At 10 I decide it’s time to venture out into the world and look for a clinic. My ankle is a god damn mess.
It takes me about 2 hours of wandering around Bangkok before I find something. I keep asking shop keepers and wait staff at restaurants I pass by, but they either don’t understand what I’m asking, don’t know where it is, or don’t care. Some point in various directions and I follow their advice but I find no clinic. I even come across a street sign pointing me in the direction of the “Bangkok international clinic” which is exactly what I need, but when I follow the signs I still end up lost. Finally I do manage to stumble upon it, WAY further down the road than I ever expected it to be. Whatever. I’m here.

The doctor is very nice and cleans my ankle for me before bandaging it up and telling me to return again tomorrow. They give me some antibiotics for the infection as well, which is awesome because I need this thing to heal STAT. I have already accepted that I’m going to have a scar, but I don’t want a nasty scab on my ankle for my first few weeks in Australia either. Unfortunately that is my fate.
The good news is that when I ask her about my leech bite, she laughs and says the head is not lodged in my ankle (MOM!) but that the small bite wound was infected by my ankle. It should go away quickly with the antibiotics. Thank the baby Jesus. I really didn’t want to cut off my foot.

I return to Mom Guesthouse (what a name) where I have to sit in the hallway on the floor in order to charge my dying phone. They didn’t find it necessary to add any sort of wall plugs to the room I’m in. Not a one. The one thing this place is good for though, is wifi. It’s free and fast and doesn’t cut out every 10 minutes like some of the places I’ve stayed. So that’s a plus. I hang out in the hall until my butt is numb from sitting on the hardwood and decide that my phone has charged enough for now. I go back to my room and rest my ankle while I finish reading the mystery/thriller novel that Ilona had been given by one of the girls we met on the slow boat. It’s called The Executioner if you’re interested, but I don’t really think I’ll be reccomending it to anyone. It was okay, but I also haven’t read very many mystery novels.

When I’m done reading, I decide I should probably go back out into Bangkok to find some food. I only have a few Asian meals left so I want to make it a good one, but there’s so many choices! Street food stalls are abundant on Khosan, so I make a couple of stops instead of choosing just one. I buy some watermelon, which comes in pieces inside a small plastic sac with a long, thin wooden stick for cutlery. I eat the watermelon on my way over to another food stall where I buy spring rolls, which are ungracefully cut with big scissors into smaller pieces before being placed on a plate, so that I can eat these too, with a thin wooden stick. Finally, as I walk around I decide on pad thai, which I knew I would all along but thought I’d take a look to see if anything else caught my eye first. I order a pad thai with chicken and watch as they fry it all together in a large black wok right there in the street. This one, thankfully, comes with a pair of chop sticks instead of a thin wooden stick. That would take far too long for me to figure out how to eat.

I take a look at some of the street stalls on my way back towards my guesthouse, because I would really like to purchase a painting before I go. Now is the time to do it, because I wont have to worry about it being crumpled in my bag while I tote it all over the place, but I only have 1000 baht left, and do not want to have to use an ATM again until I’m in Australia, so I decide to save my money for tomorrow.

I come back to the prison cell of a room in Mom Guesthouse where I pick up where I left off in Life of Pi. What an appropriate novel to be reading on my travels!
While I read, the silence in my room is frequently interrupted by horking guests outside in the hallway and in the washroom next to me. Charming. I have noted that if theres one thing I truly hate it’s people who hork. I don’t think I find anything more offensive than when I’m walking down the street and a man horks in my pathway. Please refrain from making that awful noise and spitting where I am about to put my feet, until I have passed. I say ‘man’ because I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a horking woman. Not yet. I am sure they exist, but it’s definitely something I see A LOT of men doing as opposed to women, and not just abroad but back home, too. Though it’s much worse here, and even worse in India. I just don’t understand the point of it at all, but I digress. I just can’t help but wonder ‘WHY’, and then hate it.

I leave later in the evening to visit the Wat Pho Temple and Grand Palace, which I read on trip advisor as being even more beautiful at night. I leave around 8:30pm. If theres one thing I have learned as a backpacker, it is that taxis and tuk tuks will always, ALWAYS try to take advantage of you. When they see a white tourist they try to charge as much as they possibly can. I have no idea how much it should cost me to get to this temple because I don’t even really know where it is, and therefore decide to ask a couple tuk tuks about a price and try to haggle to see what the best deal is before actually choosing one. I must ask 6 different tuk tuks or taxi drivers what the cost would be to get to Wat Pho Temple, before finding one who will take me for 50 baht (which honestly still seems a little bit pricey, but it’s better than the 100 I’ve been quoted numerous times).
I hop in the tuk tuk for a 3 minute drive down the main road where he turns off onto a dark and quiet street. I’m a little sketched out, but I’m still not far from the main road and he seems like a nice man. He pulls over and points at a gate on the side of the road and says “Wat Pho”. I pay him his 50 baht and get out. There is a security guard having a cigarette outside the gate and I ask him how much the entrance fee is. He points at the sign informing me that Wat Pho Temple closes at 6pm. I am too late.
Why not even one of the taxi drivers I asked to take me to Wat Pho thought it would be helpful to mention that it’s actually closed, is beyond me. But now I am here so I try to make the best of the 50 baht useless tuk tuk ride. I kindly ask the guard if there is any way he would let me step inside the gate walls and take some pictures and he is kind enough to let me. When I am finished I ask him where the Grand Palace is, because I’ve heard that they’re very close. He points to the end of the street, where I can see some lights still on outside another gate, and smiles at me. I try to confirm the fact that it is still open and he nods. I make the short walk down to the gate, which is obviously not open. I don’t even know why I tried. I’m not even sure if this is the Grand Palace. The guard was extremely nice, but he didn’t speak a word to me. Just a lot of smiling and nodding. Oh well. I take some pictures from the outside, across the street where I can get a shot of the temple or the palace or whatever it may be, sitting behind a relatively low gate wall. It’s quite classic Asian architecture, with pointed tips on its roof top and gold trim. But it also features a beautiful brown and gold shimmer on portions of the building. In the night sky and reduced lighting, in combination with the gold trim around the edges of the palace/temple, it is absolutely stunning. I snap some photos on my new camera and take one with my cellphone as well. I’m hoping I can later try to mark my location on Instagram and have it give me options for where I actually was. I have to assume it was the Grand Palace. However, the other day when returning from the Siam mall in a tuk tuk with Ilona and Carrie, I had pointed at a building covered in sparkling lights and giant photos of the King on display, and asked if this was the Grand Palace. Carrie informed me that it was the train station…where I have been twice before. So who knows where I could have been tonight. The pier?
I find another tuk tuk who tries to quote me 100 baht to take me home, and I am sure that I still over pay when I talk him down to 50. I don’t care, I just don’t want to walk.

I get back to my guesthouse and walk upstairs past fellow backpackers pre-drinking before going out to the madness of Khosan road. I wish I had the energy or the desire to go out to the street party tonight, but I simply do not. I am more than ready to leave Bangkok tomorrow, and I look forward to packing my bag, maybe trying to re-visit Wat Pho temple when I know it is open, and then getting on my plane to Sydney.

Wandering Khaosan

We wake up and check out of the hotel. Ilona is leaving to Australia this evening and I cannot afford to stay in a double room all alone, so I’m going to go try find a hostel. First, breakfast. Carrie joins us, and as per usual we go to our regular Khosan breakfast spot. It’s just so good. Chancing breakfast is the worst. You don’t want to start your day with a crappy meal, ever. Especially when traveling. I feel weird stating this, because at home I don’t even eat breakfast, so what do I know? But out here I know my days are usually better when I’ve eaten something yummy in the morning.

Carrie goes to meet a friend she met while traveling earlier on in her trip who happens to be in Bangkok, so Ilona and I stay on Khosan and look for a new hostel for me. She carries a pink elephant shaped balloon, kept from the first night we got back to the city. I’m not sure why/how he’s survived this long but he gets carried around with Ilona all day. Normal social rules don’t apply here, and no one bats an eye when she brings it inside restaurants/shops/hostels.

I have trouble finding a good place to sleep. Mostly because I’m poor and lazy, but also because Bangkok has some really awful hostels. I find some that are literally jail cells with mouldy walls and no electricity, and then others that are lovely, but 600 baht ($18) for one night. Pffffft. Way above my price range.

We give up our search for a while because I’m getting nowhere, and can always look later. I have no fear because I know that I will always find SOMEWHERE to sleep, even if it sucks.

We get hair wraps on the street, where I get two different shades of blue and one lilac purple string braided into a small section of my hair. I’m not really sure how I feel about hair wraps yet, but I decided to try it out anyway.
We walk around Khosan a little longer before the fatigue hits me and I want to nap. Ilona leaves to get to the airport to catch her flight, and I go back to my search for a hostel. I find one with extremely basic rooms for 250 baht ($7.50) a night. That’s expensive for what it is, but I’m right on Khosan road and the room looks clean so I take it. The room is legitimately a small rectangle with just enough space for a single bed and some space for my bag. There is a fan on the ceiling and a long horizontal “window” on top of one wall. The “window” looks into the bathroom, which I share with everyone else on the floor. Luckily there’s a small curtain so I can pretend it isn’t there. None of this really bothers me, but it’s definitely not mon my top list of places I’ve stayed.

I fall asleep on the rock hard bed and wake up in the early evening. I know it’s my last few days in Thailand but I am just SO tired, and I like having nothing to do for a change. I take advantage of it. I don’t leave the room except to walk down the road and grab a quick dinner, and spend the rest of my time reading, updating my journals, and trying to repack my bag to fit more stuff in it.

Carrie comes to visit me around midnight when she is on her way home from a bar. She is leaving for Cambodia tomorrow morning and we haven’t said a proper goodbye so she drops by for a few minutes before going to bed.

After she leaves, I make the mistake of Web MDing my symptoms for my ankle because I’m 90% sure it’s infected. I should seriously delete this app and block the web page from my phone because I always regret it instantly. The results suggest that I have a sciatica, and I will spare you the details but it was not pretty to read about. I know I probably don’t actually have it but… now I’m all grossed out.
I Facebook my mother and ask her to look at my wound. I send her a picture and even she thinks it’s gross. She also suggests that it’s possible that the leech that bit me in Koh Sok left its head behind IN MY ANKLE when I pulled it off. Now I need to just chop off and toss away my whole god damn foot. I plan to go to a clinic first thing tomorrow morning. Ugh.

Out in Bangkok

I’m leaving for Australia in a few short days, where my parents will be meeting me to visit over Christmas. I need to buy presents, STAT. I have been trying to pick things up for them along the way, but honestly the thought of carrying anything around in my backpack that I don’t need to, wins out most of the time.

Ilona, Carrie and I head out downtown to the Siam Paragon Shopping Centre…again. Realistically, I don’t plan to find any gifts for family there because it’s all regular priced items in stores where I can’t haggle (what?) but I need a new camera and some make-up from a real make-up store, so it needs to happen. We shop around a little bit in stores that we cannot afford, admiring all of the things we cannot have. Ilona actually buys a pair of shoes that are expensive for backpacker standards, but cheap for normal people.
I make the mistake of walking into a shoe store… just to look. Seriously I wouldn’t go into any stores in which I didn’t think could contain myself, I skipped coach entirely, but this store catches me off guard. I did not know that they would have Julian Hakes heels laid out on display in an array of colours in the middle of the store. I have never ever seen a pair of these in any stores before, and I’ve been in love with the signature ribbon-like design ever since I saw them about a year ago on the Internet. Damn StumbleUpon. I must try a pair. I ask the sales woman for my size, which, because I’m in Asia, is the largest they have. Ugh.
She brings me a white pair with red soles, which is a little too Christian Louboutin knock-off for my taste, but I slip them on just to see if they’ll fit anyhow. They fit like a glove. Well actually, the shoe only really fits me on my left foot, but I know that it’s only because my right ankle is still swollen af from my motorcycle incident. When I realize that I am trying a pair of these absolutely gorgeous shoes on, in a fancy store in a fancy mall, while my legs are prickly, my ankle covered in bandages, and my feet almost permanently black on the bottom, I am mildly embarrassed. I realize the sales associate has no real interest in helping me because I clearly look like I’m not going to buy anything, and she’s right. I try on another colour anyway (just plain black but with a green sole) and walk around looking at my feet in a mirror, doing the math in my head and trying to figure out how I could successfully stuff these in my backpack, until Ilona and Carrie come to join me in the store. They are good friends, who talk me out of a completely unnecessary purchase. Alas. I leave the store, plotting ways to make enough money in Australia to order a pair.

Next, we walk into H&M which I think is silly, because we’re in Asia and I can shop at H&M every day (and do) if I want in Toronto. It’s massive like all H&Ms are, and when we exit the store we’re in an entirely different place from where we came in. It has lead us into a department store, which is somewhere between the Asian equivalent of Holt Renfrew or a good The Bay. I use the opportunity to purchase some make up that I know hasn’t just been pulled out of a cheap bottle and then stuffed into MAC container,. like I see on the streets all the time.
On our way out we walk through the electronics department where I find an array of waterproof cameras. I fall in love with one in particular, a blue Panasonic that is both a good price and seems like perfectly good quality. Most importantly it is not just waterproof but shockproof, dustproof, and sandproof too, which I definitely need. Almost entirely Naomi-proof, except for the fact that it does not float… which would have come in handy on my last camera when I was paddling down to Vientiane….

I play with it in the store for a while before actually buying it, after remembering what happened to my father when he bought a “good” camera in HongKong a few years ago, which was a total piece of garbage. I feel like the department store cannot possibly be ripping me off, so I buy it. I can FINALLY take more pictures! The ones on my phone just aren’t the same and it must be getting close to full with over 1,000 pictures on it already. I am so happy!

We go back to our guesthouse where we get ready to go out on Khosan Road again tonight. It’s Ilona’s last night in Bangkok before flying to Australia, so we want to make it a good one. We meet up with Jake again and go to all the usual bars on the street where they all play the same 3 songs on repeat. You cannot escape. I swear to god, I didn’t think I’d get sick of them so quickly, but I will be content if I never hear Gagnam Style, Starships, or The Whistle Song ever again. The street is not as busy as it was last night, and I realize later into the night that it’s because it’s a Sunday. I never know what day it is, but I guess I’ll have to go back to reality when I get to Australia.
Jake is staying at the hotel where they filmed
The Hang Over Part 2. Not the shitty one they wake up in, but the fancy one where they have a meeting with that famous guy. I can’t remember his name… You know the one. Not Mike Tyson. He’s in Barney’s Version. It doesn’t matter, it’s a fancy ass hotel. He invites us all to go check it out, and tells us about his fabulous room while we’re sitting in our basic double bed square box of a room, but it’s really far away from Khosan so we don’t go. I know I will regret this later in life. Probably tomorrow.

Shopping in Bangkok

I had a very well deserved sleep in a real bed, which I haven’t had the luxury of doing in a couple days, unless you count the slanted mattress in Koh Sok as a bed. I personally do not.
Ilona checks her Facebook, and finds that Carrie has sent us a message letting us know that she is in Bangkok after deciding to stay here another couple nights instead of going to Cambodia right away! We obviously meet up with her as soon as we are ready to begin our day, but not before I take a nice, very long, hot shower. I have not been anywhere close to truly clean in days, and it’s getting out of hand.
We all go for breakfast on Khosan just down the street from where we are staying and catch up on what we’ve all been doing in the last…3 days. We need to do a little bit of shopping, and go back out into the madness that is Khosan Road after a delicious breakfast. We are instantly bombarded with people yelling at us to come into their shops, men in the streets telling me that I need to buy a suit, fortune tellers saying that they know the name of my (non-existent) boyfriend, and street food stalls blocking any sort of path that we try to follow. After having been down in the islands for so long I feel like I have lost my immunity to such pestering, but all it takes is stopping in a couple stores before I get my barrier back up, and have my haggling skills at the ready. They do haggle in the islands, but not like they do in Bangkok. Here for example, I can be quoted 900 baht for an item, and walk away having only paid 500 by the end of it. Sometimes you really have to fight them on it, too. In the islands I would save a maximum of 100 baht if I was lucky, and sometimes not even get them to budge at all. It’s an adjustment to be back, but this is where I find the most fun anyway. I was born for busy cities.

After buying a billion tank tops and a few other Khosan items we all walk out to the main street to find a cab to take us to the Siam mall, which is a big shopping centre in Bangkok. I haven’t been to a mall in months, so if we’re being honest, I’m excited, but we’re only going so that we can look into getting Ilona’s phone fixed.
We arrive at the fancy, clean, and beautiful shopping centre which is still just as over populated as Khosan Road, but with more locals instead of backpacking tourists. Backpackers can’t afford to come here. Shoppers are wearing high heels, which I haven’t seen unless they were on the feet of a lady boy, since I left Toronto. I do not count the two inch wedges that the women from Beijing wore into the jungle. That was weird, but the ladies at this mall are wearing proper HEELS… in an appropriate environment. I see people walking around with Coach, Zara, and other American brand shopping bags. I use an escalator for the first time in a long time. I walk into actual stores, with set prices, different sized items, and real fitting rooms. Of course, I can’t even come close to being able to afford any of these things, it’s just nice to look around. The absolute best part about this mall is the food court, where they have a Subway!! They have some asian variations on the menu, but for the most part it looks just like what we have at home. I go all out and get a chicken bacon ranch sandwich with lettuce, tomato, black olives, and pickles. It’s heaven in my mouth and I almost die I’m so happy. I genuinely do enjoy Thai food, but I cannot deny nor suppress my extreme love for subway sandwiches. There is nothing that compares.

We eat after we’ve dropped Ilona’s phone off at a mock Apple Store. I was surprised to find that there is no Apple Store in all of Thailand, but this shop looks almost exactly the same, it’s only missing those signature immaculate white walls, floor, and ceiling. We need to leave Ilona’s phone with them for half an hour, which gives me just enough time to fully enjoy my Subway.
When we return to the electronics store, Ilona’s phone has been entirely restored and almost looks brand new. She receives it back free of charge which is the most incredible part, considering that this isn’t even a real Apple Store. How is that even possible? We’re not complaining, though. She is so happy, that we decide to celebrate by doing more shopping. Not in the mall of course, but there is a market outside on the main street of the mall, where they don’t just sell t-shirts and tank tops like on Khosan. The sidewalk is absolutely packed, to the point where I can barely get past some stalls because the volume of people is simply too high. There are numerous shoe stalls, where I find lots of cute and cheap flats that I could use in Australia, but all of the vendors look at me like I have two heads when I ask them for a size 40. The curse of being a tall white woman in Asia.
The market is packed with such a variety of things and my ADD kicks in instantly. I can’t help but be distracted by a sparkly top over there, and a fun spikey purse over here, while trying to dart through the crowd from stall to stall. I’m loving the change of scenery. I liked shopping on Khosan road but every tourist buys the same things. Here, it’s more genuinely where the locals go when they want a cheap top. No “I heart Thailand” white t-shirts here.
It’s like Kensington market… but not. Same same but different, really.

I love exploring different parts of Bangkok, because I’ve been here three times now but haven’t really had the chance to leave Khosan road. As much as I know that going to the mall is silly because I can’t afford it, it’s still a major part of what Bangkok is really like. It’s not all street markets and monks, and I enjoy reminding myself of that by venturing into the real city, not just roaming what they have sectioned off for backpacking tourists.

The traffic is absolute insanity, and finding a tuk tuk is easy but getting home takes forever. I’m happy we chose to take a tuk tuk instead of a taxi though, because this way I can still fully absorb the sights and sounds of Bangkok. One of their main roads is decked out in beautiful sparkling lights hanging from every tree and lamppost, which we assume was for the celebration of the King’s birthday just a few days ago. We try to ask our driver, but he doesn’t understand and gets extremely stressed out about our question so we just give up. I don’t really care why they are there, I’m just happy that they are. I try to take a picture from within the tuk tuk and fail miserably, but I’ll still post it.

When we get back to our hotel we do my favourite thing to do after a day of shopping, which is go through all the wonderful things you bought. Carrie goes home early because she’s tired and wants to have energy for tomorrow night, which will be Ilona’s last night in Thailand (for now), and Ilona and I get ready to go out on Khosan road for the third time.

We have loads of fun, and run into our friend Jake who we met on the slow boat to Laos, which is awesome. I love reunions! But I can’t help but feel like I don’t know what to do when I’m out and have no beach to go to after the bar. What will we do? It’s a weird feeling to know that I will be going to bars on Khosan Road, and staying there for the night. Another island-to-city adjustment, but one that I don’t mind making because Bangkok always brings on a good time.

Oh yeah, and I meet someone with a Mike Tyson face tattoo. Classic.

 

 

Farewell, Islands

I sleep so soundly on the boat, that I only wake up when a Thai woman wakes me to inform me that my alarm has been going off for the last 5 minutes. Somehow in my sleep my headphones have come loose from my phone, and the alarm is playing over the external speakers. Apparently loud enough to wake someone at least 10 mattresses down from me, but not myself. Whoops!! Sorry everyone, my bad. I had set the alarm 20 minutes before we are expected to arrive, so that I could make sure to get all of my things together and wake up enough to get off the boat. Everything besides my phone is already safely tucked away in my backpack, which is strapped around the front of my body and being hugged like a teddy bear by my chilled arms. They always blast the AC in these things. I spend the next 20 minutes outside of the cabin and on the boats’ deck, trying to warm myself up and watching the sun rise as we approach Koh Tao.

Even though I know I’ll be leaving the island again in a few short hours, I’m happy to be going back. I try to be sneaky and get a free ride to a resort just walking distance from where Ilona is still staying. They always offer free car rides if you are going to check out a place to stay so I pretend to be interested, but my plan to disappear from the group as they show us around fails, when I am the only person going to the location. They have me figured out pretty quickly, when I have absolutely no luggage besides a small day-trip backpack. I give up and pay for the tuk tuk ride, and just walk down the pathway to the cottages where Ilona is. You can’t blame me for trying.
It’s only 6am, so I wake her up when I knock on the door. We get to sleep a little while longer because check-out isn’t until 11am.
I could shower, but I’d rather sleep longer. My hygiene is at all all-time low.

The rest of the day consists of more traveling. We get breakfast at our favourite Koh Tao morning restaurant, stock up on snacks at the 7/11, and bring our luggage to the pier. Our boat is the fanciest I’ve been on yet. Flat screen tv’s and large, comfortable leather seats are laid out in rows like there would be on a plane, with a small snack counter in the middle. It’s always a gamble when you book these things. It’s a “high speed” boat so we get to Chumporn (yes. The name of a town in Thailand. For real) very quickly. We only have to wait another half hour before our bus to Bangkok arrives, where I will be sitting for the next 7 hours of my life.

My ankle is still slightly green and swollen due to the fact that I can’t keep it out of the water, and that the bandaids in Thailand suck. They do not stick to my skin properly, and always fall off before the day is done. I would just buy a billion bandaids, but they cost a Thai fortune. The ones big enough to cover the wound on my ankle cost 350 baht a pack, and only 5 come in each box. Ridiculous. They must know that westerners like me are prone to accidents.
I buy two boxes and some cleaning paraphernalia at a pharmacy so I can take advantage of this travel time (with no chance of swimming or other contact with water/dirty things) to try and heal.

Finally, at 2am, we arrive in Bangkok. We walk down crazy Kohsan road, and pick a guesthouse which is right on the street and therefore extremely loud with base pumping music. I don’t even care because I’m so exhausted and fall asleep basically instantly.