A Travellerspoint blog

The Final Entry...

...maybe - I don't know if I want to write anymore

sunny 80 °F
View RTW 2014 on cschelz's travel map.

The final part began after we stepped off the ferry in Wellington. It wasn’t the smoothest boat ride I’ve ever had, and we were both definitely feeling the effects (to put it gently). We found a free legal place to camp a little outside of the city that became our base for the next three nights and four days. While in Wellington, we visited a decent amount of Lord of the Rings sites. I won’t go too in depth here, but the highlight for me was the Weta Cave workshop. It was here that most of the props were made for all of the Lord of the Rings films, in addition to some of the computer generated elements. It’s a pretty cool place, but as they are still working on films and shows that are in production, taking photos was prohibited.
180_IMG_7213.jpg180_IMG_7214.jpg180_4C5743D5C4CF97B627151B0FD61C7A3E.jpg
After Wellington, we had a few more places that on our list before getting to Hobbition, near Matamata, for our November 4th tour. One of these was Mordor, which was on a ski mountain. Even though it was spring, it was snowing when we arrived in the early afternoon. This was the first legitimate snowfall (not mixed with rain/sleet) that Allen had ever seen. The ski mountain is on an active volcano so even though there was a decent amount of snow on the ground, there were plenty of solid black volcanic rocks sticking through the snow to imagine the place as Mordor.
270_IMG_9095.jpgIMG_9097.jpg
One other highlight before arriving in Hobbiton was the free hot springs in Taupo. The vast majority of hot springs we encountered along the way cost at least some money, either by day or even by hour. The one in Taupo was free to park at and we could stay all day. We spent almost two days in those 108* F pools and it was completely worth it.
IMG_9109.jpg
We finally made it to Hobbiton on the last full day that we had the van. The set was originally built for the Lord of the Rings on private land and part of it was left after the crew wrapped. As it was falling apart, the land owner did what he could to fix it up and turn it into a tourist attraction. The production company eventually fixed it even more and then came back to shoot the Hobbit movies there and now it is a much more permanent tourist location. It is easily the most developed of the Lord of the Rings sets in New Zealand.
IMG_9139.jpgIMG_9146.jpgIMG_9148.jpg270_IMG_9152.jpgIMG_9161.jpgIMG_9163.jpgIMG_9164.jpg270_IMG_9178.jpg270_IMG_9180.jpg
Looking Back:
“Why don’t you do something life-changing?” My dad posed this question soon after I started a new job in New York City. I was just happy to have a well-paying, full time job in my field. I ended up staying at that job for seven and a half months, and I enjoyed every minute of it. Subconsciously, though, I think his initial suggestion had planted a seed in my brain. He thought I should just work as much as I could (I had a few side jobs as well), live at home, and save as much as I could. In just under eight months, I had saved almost fifteen thousand dollars.
I had been applying for jobs even as I was working, and half-jokingly, I applied for a job a photographer at Vail in Colorado. We had skied there the previous winter and I had some of the best days of skiing in my life. In the early fall of 2013, someone from Vail asked if I could do a Skype interview. I had pretty much forgotten about that application so I was surprised I had heard anything back. After a few interviews I was offered a job for the winter of 2013-2014. I now had a choice to make – keep saving and working in the city or do something really out of the box, especially for me. I would be taking a huge pay cut to go to Vail and I would have a bunch of other expenses I didn’t have to worry about at home (rent, food, etc.)
I decided to go to Vail. Since this essay isn’t about that trip, I won’t go much more into my experience in Vail, but the pros of working there far outweighed the cons. I was glad I had started to break out of the box.
Throughout most of my time at Vail, I had begun planning something even bigger than moving to Colorado: traveling around the world. I had no idea where to begin, but if you Google “rtw travel” you will find plenty of places to start and you’ll be hard-pressed to resist the call to grab your passport and go.
My savings had taken somewhat of a hit with all the upfront costs of moving across the country, but after reading the budgets of others who had completed round the world trips, I was reasonably comfortable with my financial situation. Getting over this hurdle helped this whole thing seem so much more plausible and I started to accelerate my research. I started to realize I had a lot to do on top of usual vacation preparations. Vaccines, visas, transportation, accommodation, supplies…. It just kept going and soon started to overwhelm me. I realized I had to start solidifying things or I would just be going in circles. At the same time, I was trying to persuade at least some friends to at least meet me somewhere along the way. Unfortunately I was for the most part unsuccessful, but from the start, I recognized that people had motivate themselves to do something like this. I could only give them the option to join me.
Multiple articles had said that one of the most important parts of planning something like this is to settle on a departure date so as to not continuously procrastinate and make excuses to go. I wasn’t nearly prepared enough to pick an exact date during the winter, but I settled on the range of sometime in mid-July (I happened to leave exactly in the middle of July – July 15).

Hostels

The best thing about hostels is the price, but a close second is the locations of some of them. Because I was staying in cheaply in rooms with multiple other people, I was able to stay in some pretty fantastic places. The one that sticks out the most was the hostel I stayed at in Venice. I was less than a 3 minute walk from St. Mark’s Square. I can’t imagine how much a hotel in a similar would set me back.
Security in a hostel is an interesting dynamic. It seems, to me at least, that there is an uneasy truce between roommates in a hostel. Everyone recognizes that their stuff is all equally vulnerable, so people don’t steal things. I never had anything stolen while I stayed in hostel, but there were a few iffy places. I could have just been lucky, but if there was anywhere I was unsure about, I just made sure to bring my valuables with me and just locked my clothes in my bag. If someone was desperate enough to steal my clothes, it would be a bad day but it wouldn’t be as much of a disaster as if they somehow got my camera and/or laptop.
Ear plugs are a worthwhile investment. There are some people that don’t snore at all and then there are others that make the walls shake with their snoring. There are also people that come into the room late at night so if you’re a light sleeper, they’re definitely needed. I can’t stand the feeling of sleeping with ear plugs, so I usually put one in one ear and then covered the ear with a pillow.
Speaking of roommates, I met some really interesting people. Everything from kids just out of high school to a middle aged gentleman from Slovenia that regularly stays in a hostel in Istanbul to work. There were also some slightly anxious moments like a Russian guy in Venice who immediately got into a conversation with one of our American roommates about Russian-American relations a few days after the Malaysian Airlines plane was shot down in Ukraine. I also met a guy in a hostel in Istanbul who had just escaped from Syria.

Money

A checking account from Charles Schwab was amazingly helpful. Instead of being charged lots of fees, an account from Charles Schwab is free to use and any fees charged by individual ATMs are refunded.
The exchange rate was certainly not in my favor in western Europe and England, but as I moved east, things started to improve until I got to Australia and New Zealand. The best was in southeast Asia. I rented an electric scooter in Bagan, Myanmar for a full day for the equivalent of about $7. I got an hour long Thai massage in Bangkok for $5. I was eating full meals (not McDonald’s) for less than $5.
Food
It was a blessing and a curse to start in Italy. If there was one thing that had stuck with me about Italian culture, besides art and religion, it was the food. Pizza, pasta, wine, and so much more. I was glad I had the opportunity to visit the country but I wasn’t sure how the cuisine in the other countries would shape up against my initial experiences in Italy.

Visas

Visas are absolutely necessary to check ahead of time. The majority of European countries, especially western, don’t require a visa, but as you go east, the countries requiring a visa increase. I needed some sort of visa in England, Turkey, India, Myanmar, Vietnam and Australia. The most difficult one was India (see my India entry).

Language

This was the biggest wildcard for me. My plan was to go through as many countries as I could with the time I had. Because of this ambiguity, I felt overwhelmed about trying to learn any languages. I downloaded an iPhone app in an attempt to pick up some key words in languages I thought I might need, but I didn’t really know what direction to head in.
When I arrived in Italy, I realized some additional preparation would have probably been a good idea. There were few words and directions that were obvious, but there were many more instances that knowing at least some basic words in the native language would have been immensely helpful.

Transportation

The trip started with a roughly eight hour flight from JFK airport to Milan Malpensa in Italy. The flight itself was unremarkable, but I really wasn’t sure what to expect when I arrived. I correctly figured that there would be a lot of Italian, but I didn’t know how things like making my way through customs and traveling to my hostel would go.
I activated my train pass a few days after I arrived in Italy. This was to be my primary, if not sole, means of transportation for that first month in Europe. Most of my train rides were during the day, but I did manage to take a few overnight trains. I made a mistake on my first overnight train by buying a ticket in a regular seat (similar to a plane). It was impossible to sleep as the lights in that car were never dimmed. After that, every other overnight train I took in those 4 months, I spent a little extra for a berth.
Through my four months of travel, I rode planes, trains, taxis, ferries, a “rib”, the bed of multiple pickup trucks, an electric motor scooter, a kayak, cars, a small cruise boat, buses, a white water raft, a converted van with a bed and kitchen in the back, a bike, auto rickshaws, and an elephant. My most important mode of transportation, though, was my feet. I knew I was going to be spending a lot of time on my feet, but the few times that I was able to weigh myself told the full story. There were times I was 10-15 pounds under my normal weight.

Technology

I brought my iPhone, my Canon 5D and a small Asus laptop/tablet combo (the lightest computer I could find). I know some people do these trips completely by unattached to the digital world but I wasn’t ready to take that step yet. Besides, as a photographer/videographer, I didn’t want to be in a situation wishing I had my camera instead of a small point and shoot. It was insured and I was glad I brought it as there were many places I was happy I was lugging around a heavy DSLR.
My original plan was to purchase a SIM card in every country I visited but after seeing the rates in Italy, I figured I’d try just putting the phone in airplane mode and look for wifi hotspots. While there were a few places data would have been helpful, using only wifi worked surprisingly well and saved me a lot of money.
I never seriously considered bringing my MacBook Pro as it was too heavy, bulky and I doubt it would have survived being stuffed into my completely full bag. The issue then, was to find a replacement that balanced a weight limit with something that was actually useful. I settled on this Asus that I’m currently typing on. The keyboard isn’t quite full size and it’s Windows as opposed to Mac, but it has a USB 3.0 port and the screen separates to create a standalone tablet. It took some getting used to, but Photoshop and Lightroom run decently well on it (and I can even play some old 90’s PC games).

Solo Traveling

I was nervous about travelling alone. I had tried to convince some of my friends to join me for at least parts of my journey, but they were understandably reluctant to make such a large time and financial commitment.
It ended up going better than expected. I was able to do what I wanted when I wanted. There were some days that I just decided I’d go to a certain country in a few hours and not have to discuss it with anyone. On the other hand, there were a few meals it would have been nice to have someone to eat with. When I met Allen in Australia, I told him it was going to be really nice talking to someone in fluent American English again. Either way though, I think traveling alone was really interesting and I would definitely do it again.

Random lessons that don’t fit anywhere else:

If someone is not in a uniform and they’re offering to help you, they just want your money.
As much as I tried to blend in, there were always going to be places that a 6’4” white guy was going to stand out.
Take some time to put the camera down and enjoy the experience for a moment.
Trust your instincts, especially when it comes to food.

Before (July 15, 2014)
90_IMG_2131.jpg90_IMG_2689.jpg

Posted by cschelz 16:25 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Backtracking through New Zealand

Lord of the Rings sets on the south island of New Zealand

sunny 60 °F
View RTW 2014 on cschelz's travel map.

Allen and I left Australia on October 13th from Sydney, after an excellent time there. We were really looking forward to our month in New Zealand though, tracking down some of the sets from the Lord of the Rings movies. We rented a converted van from Escape Rentals in Christchurch so we wouldn't have to worry about finding a place to sleep. The paint is based off the movie Howl's Moving Castle.
IMG_7116.jpg
The rental began on October 15th and we have it until the morning of November 5th. It only cost roughly $625 so it was a pretty fantastic deal. We set out the afternoon for our first stop, Franz Josef Glacier, on the West Coast. We made it about halfway to a campsite just off the highway. We arrived the next morning.
The glacier was used in "the beacons are lit" scene in The Lord of the Rings. On the way up from the town to the trailhead we picked up three hitchhikers going there as well. These were the first of several hitchhikers we have picked up so far. The base of the glacier is about an hour hike from the parking lot through a really wide riverbed.
IMG_8798.jpg270_IMG_8808.jpg
The path only goes to the base of the glacier and unfortunately it was raining pretty hard by the time we got there.
We drove several hours later that day to our next stop, Te Anau. There are several Lord of the Rings (LoTR from now on) sites near here. The first one we went to was Fangorn Forest. We arrived after dark so it was difficult to find exactly where we were going, but we were becoming experienced night navigators. We spent the night there, and besides being underground it was one of the darkest places I’ve ever been. It definitely felt like the movie. We awoke the next morning to an intensely green environment. Dark moss covered most surfaces and the leaves above blocked out most of the sky. The earth noticeably sunk when we stepped on it.
270_IMG_8858.jpgIMG_8857.jpg
After some an excellent breakfast of bacon and eggs in the forest, we drove about two hours to Mavora Lakes. The two main scenes here were when Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli find the pile of burned Orcs while trying to save Merry and Pippin. The lake was also where the Fellowship land on the beach to travel to Mordor and later where Sam and Frodo split from the group. They were both really recognizable places.

Rather than go day by day and scene by scene, here are some pictures from our travels. Some of them are recognizable from the movies, others are just cool pictures.
IMG_8895.jpgIMG_8899.jpgIMG_8907.jpgIMG_8907.jpgIMG_8913.jpgIMG_8962.jpgIMG_8982.jpgIMG_9003.jpgIMG_9005.jpgIMG_9010.jpgIMG_9031.jpgIMG_9032.jpg
On the 100th day of my journey, Thursday October 23rd, we started in Abel Tasman National Park. We hiked and had lunch on the beach. It’s a really cool place and the water is really clear. We were going to kayak but the wind quickly shut that idea down. Later, we drove to Richmond where my 100th dinner on the road was some Pizza Hut (everywhere else in town was closed) while watching the newest episode of The Walking Dead.
Yesterday, we tried visiting the brewery that made the beer that’s seen in the movies. Unfortunately the brewery has changed owners multiple times in the past 10 years since the movies came out so the beer is no longer made there. We still picked up some of their fresh beer to try something local. We spent most of the remainder of the day in our hostel. It was nice to sleep in a clean bed and take a hot shower. The ping pong table was a nice bonus too.
We are currently on a ferry from Picton on the South Island to Wellington on the North Island. We have about 10 days left in the van to explore this smaller island. We’ll back in the US on November 7th.
A shot of our camping site one night:
IMG_8994.jpg

Posted by cschelz 23:11 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

...And Back Down South

Brisbane back to Sydney

sunny 75 °F
View RTW 2014 on cschelz's travel map.

Allen and I left Brisbane on October 5th for the long journey back to Kiera and Andrew's house in Sydney. We focused mostly on camping on the beach on the way up and decided to try to find some campsites in the forest on the way back. After we stopped at the Macadamia Castle we made it to the small town of Yamba, where after some searching at another McDonald's free wifi hotspot, we found a campsite in Yuraygir National Park. Its right on the water, so it didn't fit our forest plan, but it was along the way to the national parks.
IMG_8484.jpg
We walked a little on the beach the next day, but our main goal was to get to our first national park by that evening - New England National Park. On the way though, we wanted to stop at a place we had noticed on the way up and read about later:
IMG_7046.jpgIMG_8517.jpg
Similar to the Macadamia Castle, it's a bunch of tourist attractions based around a farm, in this case a banana farm, obviously. There was a restaurant, playground, even an indoor sledding hill. We were there just for a banana split though, and it was completely worth it.

We made it to New England National Park later that even just before sunset and managed to get there just in time for some pretty fantastic pictures.
270_IMG_8521.jpgIMG_8529.jpg270_IMG_8536.jpg
Our plan for the next day was to do a roughly 12 km loop through that section of the park on various trails. This was our first really big hiking day and I was excited to see some of the Australian rain forest that wasn't quite as developed as the hike we went on a few days earlier. I was not disappointed. We woke up early to try to catch the sunrise, but we weren't sure when exactly that was. We missed it by about 30 minutes but I still managed to get some good pictures throughout the day.
270_IMG_8538.jpgIMG_8541.jpg270_IMG_8545.jpgIMG_8550.jpg270_IMG_8559.jpgIMG_8563.jpg270_IMG_8576.jpgIMG_8585.jpg270_IMG_8594.jpg270_IMG_8565.jpg
270_IMG_8616.jpgIMG_8625.jpg
The whole hike took 9 hours and 50 minutes (I guessed 10 hours) and we were back before the sun set.

We woke up earlier the next morning to actually see the sunrise before we moved on and this time we made it on time.
270_IMG_8646.jpgIMG_8650.jpgIMG_8654.jpgIMG_8656.jpg
There just happened to be an inversion cloud (I think that's what they're called) that had formed that morning. So it wasn't as clear as the previous morning but it wasn't a problem. Later in the morning the cloud rose out of the park and in a few seconds, we went from being in a bright, sunny day to the middle of a thick fog.
IMG_8661.jpgIMG_8662.jpgIMG_8666.jpg
Our next stop was Barrington Tops National Park for another night in the woods. This place wasn't as photogenic as New England National Park, but it still had some pretty decent hiking.
270_IMG_8679.jpg270_IMG_8684.jpgIMG_8687.jpg
At the same time we were doing all this traveling, someone had managed to hack into my bank account through eBay and PayPal and attempt to steal $2000. PayPal transferred the money without notifying me, even though I have never withdrawn that much with PayPal in all the years I've used it. Fortunately, my bank called my house to let me know that my credit card payment was rejected because I had overdrawn my account. They thought this was unusual because I had never overdrawn in the 10+ years I had an account with them. The unknown person could still be taking money from me without me noticing if this local business hadn't noticed something a big company had ignored. Unable to reach PayPal from Australia by phone or email, my mom managed to call and disconnect my account. To make a long story slightly shorter, I have been refunded $1500 so far.
My bad luck wasn't done yet though. About 10 km outside of Sydney, I noticed our rental car making a weird noise at the same time people started honking at me. I quickly glanced in the mirror and saw smoke from the rear driver's side tire. It was completely shredded.
180_IMG_7080.jpg
Allen and I decided to change the tire ourselves. We were quite close to the road, so a police officer pulled up a few minutes later and called a traffic van to partially block the lane so we wouldn't get hit.
90_IMG_7079.jpg
About an hour after feeling the first vibrations of the tire coming apart we were on our way to Kiera's house.
The next day was spent mostly planning for New Zealand. The weekend, Saturday and today were all spent in Sydney doing some tourist things. We went to the Opera House, the Botanic Gardens, and walked across the Harbor Bridge, among other things.
IMG_8692.jpgIMG_8699.jpgIMG_8702.jpg270_IMG_8716.jpgIMG_8718.jpg270_IMG_8722.jpg
IMG_8728.jpg270_IMG_8733.jpgIMG_8743.jpg
Kiera and Andrew bought us some excellent pizza on our last night here which was very nice of them. We have a flight tomorrow morning to Auckland, New Zealand, where I will be until November 8th (Allen leaves the day before). That will be the final country of this amazing journey.

Posted by cschelz 04:36 Archived in Australia Tagged sydney hiking australia camping new_england_national_park barrington_tops_national_park Comments (1)

Heading North...

Driving from Sydney to Brisbane

sunny 80 °F
View RTW 2014 on cschelz's travel map.

I landed in Australia on September 27th after my overnight flight from Bangkok. Kiera picked me up at the airport and brought me back to her and Andrew's house in Neutral Bay, a suburb of Sydney. A short walk from their house gave me an excellent view of the the Sydney skyline, including the opera house.
IMG_6978.jpg

The next morning, I woke up early to take the train back to the airport to meet Allen, who will be traveling with me for the remainder of my trip through Australia and New Zealand. I was pretty late, but we eventually met later that morning. We spent the next two days planning for our Australia segment of the journey.

We left Kiera’s house on the morning of Tuesday, September 30 to begin our journey north. After picking up our car, a white (of course) Ford XR 6 we went to find a tent to sleep in.
180_IMG_6988.jpg
We found a pretty nice three person tent on sale. It was a little expensive, but we figured if we slept in in the majority of the trip, the money we would save by not staying in hotels or hostels would make it worth it.

We left Sydney in the early afternoon and headed towards our first destination, Seal Rocks. On the way, we stopped at a grocery store to get some food for the next few days. Unfortunately, we spent a lot more time in the store than we would have liked and by the time we left the store, it was dark. We set the GPS for Port Stephens, a town just south of Seal Rocks and made it there around 11 pm. Not wanting to set up the tent in the dark for the first time, we decided to sleep in the car that night. Our GPS brought us to a park near the water, so we parked the car and slept there.

The next morning, we were greeted to a pretty fantastic view. Several sailboats were anchored in the bay nearby and as we walked along the shore (stretching our legs after a stiff night in the car), several dolphins swam by, less than 50 feet from shore.
IMG_8267.jpgIMG_8278.jpg270_IMG_8275.jpg
Later that day we made it to Seal Rocks, a very small beach village with two amazing beaches. We had lunch at one of them and hiked along the rocks by the shore.
IMG_8283.jpgIMG_8286.jpg270_IMG_8294.jpg
We drove a few more hours to Port Macquarie to find a place to camp that night. Unfortunately, Port Macquarie doesn’t allow camping on the beaches, so we drove 15-20 minutes south of the city before we stumbled onto a more secluded beach. By that time it was almost dark, but we set up that tent (mostly by headlamp). We were set up in some trees about 100 feet from the parking lot. There was a sign by the beach that said no camping so we were a little nervous at first, but another guy came a little later and set up a tent right next to the lot so it wasn’t too bad.
IMG_8307.jpg

We awoke early the next morning after an unexpectedly cold night. I made the mistake of taking my socks off in my sleeping bag and Allen is a little more used to the warmth of Hawaii. It also didn’t help he was sick at the time. The view that morning made it ok, though. There were some people surfing and some other guys filming them. We sat and watched them while eating a breakfast consisting of a banana and granola.
The next stop was Dorrigo National Park about an hour west from the coast for a hike in the Australian rainforest. We did a 6.6 km loop trail under huge trees and past two cool waterfalls. There was a sky bridge over a section of the forest that gave a unique view of the surrounding area.
270_IMG_8318.jpg270_IMG_8325.jpgIMG_8332.jpgIMG_8339.jpg

We backtracked after that back to the coast and turned north to Coff’s Harbor, where we spent the next night. This time we didn’t search for a place close to the town, instead we went to another beach near the edge of town and found a nice mown field just off the beach. It was sheltered from the wind and it wasn’t visible from the parking lot so we didn’t have to worry too much about the police discovering us if camping was forbidden. It was pretty dark there, so it was a decent place to take some night photos.

Up next was a long day of driving to Brisbane. We had planned on camping near Surfer’s Paradise, but it was a little more developed than we expected. We couldn’t find a quiet enough beach or park to camp in, so we spent some money on a hostel. After the previous three nights, this was a welcome change. A soft bed, hot shower and wifi, it was a good place to reset. The next morning we drove a few minutes outside the city to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary to see some koalas, kangaroos and other animals. The highlight for me was the birds of prey show, which had several types of owls and a peregrine falcon. There was one owl that seemed to fly only a few inches over the heads of the people in the audience.
IMG_8423.jpg

That afternoon, we walked along the South Bank Parkland in the city. It’s a very nice area of the city, with lots of restaurants and an open air market on weekends. There is also a great view of the Brisbane skyline.

We spent one more night in Brisbane and began the 900+ kilometer journey south this morning. I’m sitting in the restaurant of the Macadamia Castle, a farm with some tourist things (mini golf, petting zoo, etc). We came here for the pancakes and they are the best I’ve had in the past three months. I’ll have another update when we get back to Sydney on October 10.

Posted by cschelz 21:52 Archived in Australia Tagged sydney koala australia brisbane kangaroo owl Comments (0)

3 Continents Down, One to Go

Chiang Mai and Bangkok

sunny 88 °F
View RTW 2014 on cschelz's travel map.

I’m sitting on the floor in the Singapore international airport, waiting for the last flight of the day: TZ 2 to Sydney, scheduled to depart at 2:45 am. I’m going to try to finish this entry before I get on the plane.
The overnight bus ride back to Yangon from Bagan passed uneventfully. I headed to the airport that afternoon and soon I was on my way back to Bangkok. The next morning, I bought my train ticket for Chiang Mai for later that evening. It was roughly a 14 hour journey and the ticket was only $25. I purchased a berth in 2nd class and while it wasn’t luxurious, it got the job done.
180_IMG_6917.jpg
I arrived in Chiang Mai just before noon the next day. The Hug Hostel, the place I stayed the next two nights was a pleasant surprise. It was very clean, the bedrooms were air conditioned, wifi was decent and perhaps most importantly, there was someone there to book tours and excursions. I had a general idea what I wanted to do while I was there, but Benny helped me plan it concretely and he actually booked everything for me. For the rest of that day, I walked around the town/city of Chiang Mai. I visited several temples and monuments while I wandered. I also found a bagel shop where I had lunch, just for the novelty of having bagels in Thailand (kind of like the French baguette I had in Myanmar).
The next day was the first of the two activities Benny helped me find – an all-day Thai cooking class. While not part of my original plan, it sounded interesting so I went for it. It was only me and two girls in the class, one from Switzerland and one from Germany. After we all loaded up onto benches in the back of a pickup truck (seems to be the preferred public transit choice in Myanmar), we drove to a local market to wander around and take pictures, while our instructors bought some of the ingredients for the day. It was an open air market, with a wide variety of fruits and vegetables and another section for meats and fish. I left that section after spotting a pigs head. There was also a rice section where we learned that there are over 20,000 varieties of rice in the world, which is pretty amazing and hard to imagine. We hopped back into the truck for a 45 minute drive to a farm outside the city.
It was a very peaceful place, no traffic noise and surrounded by deep green rice fields. The stoves were under a roof but there were no walls, which allowed a panoramic view of the surrounding fields. The husband and wife that were taught us were very friendly and the made the whole experience enjoyable.
Earlier at the market, we were given sheets of paper with different meals that we could cook. I chose green curry chicken, Thai vegetable soup, chicken and cashews, spring rolls and mango sticky rice. They all came out really well, which I think was more due to the quality of the instruction than my sudden cooking skill.
IMG_8218.jpgIMG_8230.jpgIMG_8232.jpgIMG_8235.jpgIMG_8196.jpgIMG_8198.jpg270_IMG_8209.jpgIMG_8213.jpgIMG_8221.jpg
We returned to our hostels in Chiang Mai later that evening. Felt a little like I do post-Thanksgiving after all that good food so I turned it early that night.
My last day in Chiang Mai was devoted to another all-day excursion. This was going to be more active than the cooking, with some mountain biking, elephant riding, and white water rafting. We drove about an hour and a half outside of the city into the mountains to mountain bike first. I have to admit, the biking was a little disappointing. We just rode for about 20-30 minutes on the road to the elephant camp so it wasn’t really mountain biking at all.
Riding an elephant is difficult to describe. The guy who was with me described it as similar to riding in a boat. I think that might be the most accurate description. It was as if the boat was in really rough seas but travelling really slowly. I’m still deciding what I thought about the whole thing. The elephants seemed to be treated well enough, especially after some of the things I read online. I still didn’t feel good seeing the ones that weren’t giving rides chained to trees. We did some more “mountain biking” back to where we started to have lunch and then raft.
We drove a few miles up-river for the rafting. The ride in the back of the bouncing pickup truck felt like even more of a rough boat ride. The road wasn’t in the greatest condition. I ended up in a boat with a guy from New Caldonia and a couple from California (the wife was from Chiang Mai) and a guide. This was the best part of the day. The weather was almost perfect; the sun was out, but it wasn’t too humid. The water was a comfortable temperature and the rapids were actually a decent size (at least for us novice rafters). We covered the roughly 10 km back to our original camp in just over two hours.
That tour ended too late for me to take the overnight train back to Bangkok as I had originally planned, but it wasn’t a problem, because Benny had found a flight later that night for about $40. I made it to Jamie’s apartment just after 1 am where I spent the night. The next morning, we had a college breakfast – yogurt and muesli in the only plates Jamie has: two Frisbees. Jamie left for work and I went to get my first ever massage, a Thai massage at a place down the street from Jamie’s apartment that he recommended. It was a little more painful than I was expecting, but I guess that’s what Thai massages are supposed to be. Either way, it was well worth the $6 or so I spent on an hour long massage.
I still had a few hours before I had to be at the airport so I went to go see A Walk Among the Tombstones, a movie with Liam Neeson. It was pretty good, but after sitting through a full 30 minutes of mostly commercials with a few trailers thrown in, I decided the amount of time before movies in American theaters isn’t that bad. Interestingly, they play the king’s anthem right before that movie starts which was a little strange because everyone had to stand up for a couple minutes while the video played. I guess it would kind of be like playing the pledge of allegiance before a movie in the US. I boarded a plane later that evening to Singapore.
I’m now on a flight from Singapore to Sydney. I’m stuck behind a guy who has his seat fully reclined even though more than half the time, he’s leaning forward with his head on the tray table. It’s times like these that one of those seat recline blockers seems like a good investment. Anyways, I’m going to meet my cousin Kiera and Allen, my friend from school. We’re planning on staying in Australia for about 2 weeks and then heading to New Zealand for another few weeks.

Posted by cschelz 23:39 Archived in Singapore Tagged singapore thailand bangkok chaing_mai Comments (0)

(Entries 1 - 5 of 18) Page [1] 2 3 4 »