Thailand Times – Trip 2

I spent 2 days at Khao Yai national park with the incredibly lovely Greenleaf Guesthouse and tour. Based in Pak Chong, the Greenleaf guys offer reasonable rates for rooms and tours around the park. You can choose a half day tour, a full day tour or take both at a discounted price. You can also arrange to be collected from the bus or train station. Value and service all round. Here’s my account of my days in the wilderness.

I started with the half day tour. The schedule says you will see a natural spring water pool, visit as sacred cave beneath a temple which is home to bats (and other creatures) before watching two million bats exit a cave at sunset. Sounds good, right? It was so much better than advertised. For a start the guides were fantastic. They were knowledgeable and could spot wildlife a mile away. The first cool think was this beetle. Look how unamused he appears!

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We spent a little time at the natural spring pool but it wasn’t all that interesting. I’m going to dive into the good bit, the temple cave. The cave really is used for worship and meditation so there were shrines inside. It was pretty warm and stuffy down there. It’s also used by bats as their home. There are a few hundred bats living in the cave. They hang on walls and ceilings but, because of the dark, it’s hard to get a good picture of them. I managed to get a picture of bats in flight which I like but none of them just ‘hanging’ around.

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The cave floor was covered in guano from the bats. This is collected every few months and sold. I was impressed with the variety of creepy crawlies we saw in addition to the bats.

The first was a spider. I do not like spiders. They are scary and sinister. This one is a tarantula just sitting around in his web, waiting for a sucker to fly/crawl into his trap.

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I was quite brave because I crept right up to the spider in order to take that photo. Points for me!

My bravery didn’t stop though. We found two arachnids in the cave. The first was Glenn (who you just met) and the second was Sid. Sid is as scorpion spider. He has two fake legs that mean he doesn’t look altogether spidery but, he is. I held Sid. In my hand. I didn’t drop him or scream. Here’s Sid.

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The creeping and crawling has barely begun dear reader. It goes on and on! Next was a type of centipede. I’ve forgotten the name of this particular centipede so we shall call him Frank. You can tell Frank is as centipede because he only has 2 legs per body section. They’re lovely long legs attached to a svelte, colourful body.

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Girly parts of my brain think Frank is a bit of a looker (I mean just look at how he pulls off that colour combination) but the rest off my brain thinks Frank is f?!$#*g scary.

Now, let’s talk about Adam. Adam was the least scary thing I saw over the whole day. He’s a millipede. He has 4 legs per body section. I held Adam for a while. He tickled me terribly. I’m Adam’s pal.

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Who’s next? Well that would be Lee! Lee is a very attractive lizard seen here in powder blue and orange. Isn’t he just dashing?!

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Here is where I have to halt the personalised introductions because there’s a couple of million bats in the next photo. I wasn’t you to look for the patchy black swirl and line in the sky. That smoky looking line is thousands upon thousands of bats all flying out of their cave to feed.

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There were 2 lines. One came from a cave to the rear of the mountain and then joined with the line from the front cave. These two lines streamed from their respective caves for a good forty minutes. In that time we saw approximately two million bats set out in search of an evening meal. We stayed until the sun had well and truly set so that we could witness the feast. Bats dived down very close to our heads in order to eat the flying insects emerging from grassy fields around us. Simply amazing.

Another highlight of being so far away from civilisation was the moon. Just look at this.

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Beautiful beyond compare and a great way to conclude a day of terrifying bug hunting.

The full day tour began the next day at 8am. I readied myself for another day if amazing nature. I was not disappointed.

First of all, there were monkeys all over the road. Their novelty soon wore off as there were just SO many of them! This fellow took a liking to us and stalked us down the road for a bit.

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The Khao Yai national park is very large but it didn’t take long for our eagle eyed guided to spot some wildlife. To be more specific, it was a great hornbill bird pair, male and female. The male did a rather better job of hiding behind branches and trees than the female so I have a picture of her to share with you.

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There are other species of hornbill living in the park but this is the largest one.

Not much further down the road we heard strange calling. Our guide was quite excited because we’d happened upon a family of white handed gibbons crossing the road above us in the trees. There were three in the family: Dad, Mum and baby. We saw them swing right across the top of us. I managed to get this photo of Mum and baby before they vanished into the jungle.

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The whole day tour involves a three hour trek through the jungle before lunch and I was obviously anticipating much more nature to attack me. We had been provided with leech socks for the occasion which instantly made me feel at ease…….

Leeches were seen and picked off the socks during the course of the trek but they weren’t the interesting things. About half an hour into the trek, we heard gibbon calls again but, they weren’t from the same white handed gibbon family as before. These calls were coming from a black gibbon family. I couldn’t tell the differene between the two family calls but I could hear the difference in the male and female calls. The males have much shorter, sharper ‘whoop’ noises than the females. The ladies tend to ‘woooooooooooooooooooop’ and the men ‘woop’. Women gibbons like talking as much as all other females it seems. Here’s a picture of a black gibbon making his way through the trees.

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I was constantly looking at the trees, vines and plants during the trek as it’s hard to believe that nature actually works like that. I thought a lot of it looked like a film set but, it wasn’t a film set. The beauty of nature had been busy at this jungle for thousands of years. Honestly, just look at this tree branch. It looks like something from a Lord Of The Rings film but it’s real in the jungle!

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There were obviously many animals in the jungle. We saw many of Adam’s relatives crawling through the leaves beneath our feet. We also saw an impressive specimen of Sid’s kin. This is Sally. She’s rather more deadly than Sid so we left her alone on her web in what I presume is a foul mood.

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Once again, our hawk eyed guide spotted a gem for us. The next picture is of a sleeping snake. It’s a white lipped pit viper and he was snoozing in a tree about 10 feet above the ground. Our guide assured us that the white lipped pit viper is one of the less deadly in the park as you had 48 hours to get to the hospital before the venom would kill you……a cobra’s venom can kill you in 3 hours and they live here too. Fabulous.

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We all made it through the jungle alive and not having been attacked by anything. There are still a few tigers and elephants in the park. The tigers are very rarely seen. The elephants are seen more often but still not all that regularly. We did not see either during our trip despite our guides best elephant finding efforts but I was not disappointed at all.

There are other beautiful things see at Khao Yai that won’t poison or bite you. We went to see one of them. It’s a rather lovely waterfall but as we visited in the dry season, it is not as spectacular as it normally is after the rains. I think you’ll agree it’s still a sight worthy seeing.

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The Greenleaf guesthouse and tours team truly were faultless. I have not a single bad thing to say about either tour or the guest house room I stayed in. They are all friendly and accommodating. Move over, they truly love their jobs and the creatures they hunt for day in, day out. I cannot recommend them highly enough if you are shopping for a tour in Khao Yai book with Greenleaf, you will not be disappointed.

So that is it, I shall leave my last word to Simon. Here he is, just chilling on my shoulder.

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Thailand Times – Trip 1

I have begun my big adventure. I’m on my way around the world.  First stop was Thailand. The currency is Thai Baht and you get abot 44 baht for 1 pound.

I arrived into Bangkok and successfully navigated to my hostel on Kaoh San Road. This area of Bangkok is famed for being the backpackers party scene. Hostels (a.k.a. guesthouses) cover the area. I staued in one just off Kaoh San Road called the Rainbow guesthouse. It was sub par. The mattress was like rock, the dorm was not clean, the bathrooms were not a pretty sight, the beds felt (and sounded like) they would collapse any second and there was a hole in the wall. However, I was only paying 200 baht per night so really, what was I expecting? I spent 2 days and 3 nights at the hostel. I would not go back.

Day 1 in Bangkok was spent having a jolly walk to Dusit. Dusit has a zoo and palace gardens you can look at. I didn’t fancy the zoo and I couldn’t find the entrance to the gardens. All in all, I walked about 7km in the blistering heat for no sights.  On my trudge back, I found a temple to go in so I did. I now know it was the Wat Benchamabophit. It was actually quite pretty and I sat for a while cooling down. It wasn’t a bad view.

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The temple itself was imposing and ornate as you can see.

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After cooling down, I got a cab back to Kaoh San Road. The trick with cabs in Bangkok is to make sure the driver flicks the meter on. If they don’t, make sure you challenge them about it and get the ride on the meter. Cabs are relatively inexpensive so long as you don’t fall for the fixed price cab scam.

I spent the evening on Kaoh San road. I ate 50 baht worth of noodles and drank beer. Kaoh San Road is as advertised: party street for backpackers.  I tired of it pretty quickly and retreated to bed as the walking of the day had left me somewhat tuckered out.

I did some more walking on my second day but it was not as extensive as the first day. I sauntered to the Grand Palace. The King and Queen of Thailand are truly loved and revered.  It is not acceptable to speak in a derogatory or insulting manner about them. The Grand Palace is a complex of many temples, shrines and buildings enclosed within a high white wall. You must be appropriately dressed to enter the palace. Full length trousers/skirts and shoulders covered are essential. You can hire the correct clothing for free when you place a 200 baht deposit per item (this is what I did). Entry to the Palace is a hefty 500 baht. An audio guide is 200 baht for 2 hours hire. I honestly think it’s over priced. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a spectacle to look at but that’s all you can do, look at it.  There is no signage explaining any of the significant buildings, there’s no real information provided by the map you get and actually navigating to the buildings can be tricky as sign posts that are present don’t seem to go where you expect them to. Nevertheless, I would recommend paying up, all be it begrudgingly, and going to see it.

I muddled around the main complex and found the jewel in the crown of the palace, the emerald Buddha. It’s housed in the grandest building.

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The Buddha itself is perched atop a tall column of offerings and is quite small but, seeing as it’s made entirely of emerald, that makes sense when you think about it. No photography is permitted inside the emerald Buddha temple.

There are also plenty of other buildings to look at.  All are gilt and/or glittering. I particularly liked the one that looked like a gigantic Hersey’s kiss.

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Some of the tiling mosaic work is gorgeous too.

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And some of the guardian statues have faces I only see in nightmares.

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They seem more cheerful when they sparkle more, don’t you think?

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After you’re done in the main complex, you head down an alley of smaller buildings. These are throne rooms and a couple of museums. I liked the museum cataloging the renovation of the main buildings.  You aren’t allowed to take photos of the exhibits but it was fascinating to see the original versions of what I’d just looked at in the main area.

There’s also a museum exhibiting lots of Queen Sirikit`s outfits over the years. It also describes briefly the work she has done to introduce fabric making as a viable trade in rural Thailand.  Again, no photos allowed but an interesting walk round.

The Grand Palace complex is definitely worth looking round but I do begrudge paying £12 (plus another £5 if you take an audio guide) for the privilege.

Oriental Outings – Section 3

Day three dawned with the promise of more walking and more sightseeing (which is about right for a holiday). I began the day by strolling to Shibuya. It’s actually a pretty decent walk from Shinjuku to Shibuya but I would rather have walked than circumnavigated the underground.

Shibuya is famous for a few things but only two had made it onto my hit list. I wasn’t interested in the tech for sale or the clothes, oh no. My primary focus was on a stature of Hachi-Ko. This famous canine waited for his master every day at Shibuya station. One day, his is master was taken ill at work and passed away. Hachi-Ko waited and waited for his master to come home on the train but he never came home. Hachi-Ko died waiting. He showed a level of loyalty that touched the Japanese so they erected this statue in his honour.
Hachi-Ko Statue
You can see the Hollywood version of Hachi-Ko’s story but be warned, you’ll probably cry (I cried so much that my nose ran).

Also at Shibuya is the most insane pedestrian crossing you’re ever likely to see. The crossing at Oxford Circus is as almost as bonkers but not quite. There are so many people crossing at once that you’re forgiven if you wince in preemptive expectation of seeing hideous people collisions. What happens instead is a fairly miraculous people mesh when the lights go green. My vantage point was the Starbucks 2nd floor area.

Shibuya Crossing

It was like watching someone with mad ‘skillz’ play lemmings. I could have marvelled at it for hours but I did have other stuff to do.

From Shibuya, I walked in a northerly (ish) direction towards Yoyogi park. The park itself is a decent green space. There were lots of families playing various games as I passed through. I only stopped for a brief time as the weather appeared to be turning windy and I didn’t want to battle with it if I didn’t have to.

My main target was the Meiji Shrine. The shrine entrance is just round the corner from Yoyogi park. It’s a fair walk from the initial entrance gate before you see the shrine itself. The path is covered by trees and when the sunlight shines through them, it’s incredibly beautiful.

You’ll walk under many tora as you GH follow the path. These Tora indicate that the land beyond is blessed. It’s customary to bow once as you pass beneath.
meiji shrine tora

The shrine is impressive. It’s surrounded by low level buildings apart from the entrance gate. Two enormous trees stand in front of the shrine. They must be hundreds of years old.
meiji shrine

Around the base of the right tree, people have been hanging ‘EMA’ boards. These ema are inscribed with hopes and wishes. It’s said that hanging these ema wishing boards will bring you extra luck there were hundreds of them.
Ema wishing plaques under tree

The shrine is nice enough to look around but I was feeling rather shrine’d out by now so probably didn’t appreciate it as I should have.
Remember I told you the weather seemed to be going nasty? Well, it went properly nasty. A massive dust/pollution cloud blew over from China. It made the walk out from the shrine feel very spooky. Everything took on a yellowish tinge and I felt like I’d been sent into Silent Hill.
Spooky walk out because of dust cloud

The walk back to Shinjuku was windy and dusty. When I made it back to the hostel, I resembled a sand myrk (look it up, flight of dragons the film). I didn’t venture back out that day.

That closed off my trip to Tokyo. The journey back to the airport was less stressful as I’d got some experience under my belt but the underground still didn’t make sense.

I feel like my days in Tokyo barely scratched the surface. I would happily return.

Oriental Outings – Section 2

As the underground system in Tokyo had confused me beyond repair, I decided that walking around would be safer for all parties. Day two brought a lot of walking.

First stop was a beautiful spot that I still dream about walking through.  I went to the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden. It is a singularly beautiful place.  I visited during the colder season so many of the most popular plants and trees were bare and looking rather sad but that didn’t bother me. I was able to imagine what the gardens would look like in full bloom and that was enough.

There were row after row of cherry blossom trees.

Cherry Blossoms Shinjuku Gyoen

I managed to get this close up.

cherry blossom close up

One of my favourite areas was the Taiwanese style structure seen here reflected in the water flanking it.
Shinjuku Gyoen temple

There are several beautiful lakes in the gardens with various coveted seating areas and rest houses so you can sit and admire the view. I like the contrast of nature and engineering in this shot.

Shinjuku Gyoen beauty and modern buildings

The garden offers many outdoor areas but also a greenhouse. The greenhouse contains more exotic plants ranging from banana trees to cacti. There’s a fake waterfall and pond in the greenhouse too so you can look on lilly pads and lotus flowers.

lillypads in greenhouse at gyoen

After the beauty of Shinjuku Goyen, the rest of the day had a lot to live up to! I continued my day by visiting the Imperial Palace East gardens. You cannot visit the Imperial Palace itself as it is still a private residence but the east gardens, and the historic items there, are available to the public. It is free to go round the east garden too so, really, you have no reason not to go. You will enter via a bridge and then a great big gate. Once you’re in, there’s an impressive guard house for you to look at. It’s fairy self explanatory but, this is where Palace guards would live.
Guard House Imperial palace
The gardens themselves are tiered upwards via a series of slopes. The slopes themselves are noted as important cultural and architectural exhibits. They have undergone restoration and preservation work so that visitors can use them as they were intended.

Imperial Palace Slope

Once you reach the top, you can see the foundations of the original keep of the Palace which was destroyed in an earthquake hundreds of years ago.

I enjoyed being able apply some of things I learned at the Edo-Tokyo museum to current Tokyo at the Imperial Palace. There is a replica of the first bridge built in Edo at the museum but, I got to see the real one at the Imperial palace. Here it is in the distance:

imperial palace first bridge built

The gardens, for me, were not nearly as enjoyable as Shinjuku Gyoen but still worth a walk around.

Once the Imperial Palace gardens had shown me what they had to offer, I headed back to the hostel for a rest before my night time trek began.

That evening, I walked down to Shinjuku. It was incredibly bright and busy. What I liked the most though was being able to walk down the narrow side streets in the area. These side streets hid many places to eat good food at reasonable prices. Here’s an example of the side streets. You could easily walk past them.

shinjuku side street

I ate my dinner at one of the small food stalls. I had tempura and soba noodles cooked by these two guys (the food was very tasty too).

shinjuku local food

The food shops were crammed in every which way. Some were open on corners, others were flanked by competitors and very cramped inside. Everyone was willing to jostle down the line if needed though.

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Shinjuku is a big area of Tokyo and has one of the most massive transport stations I have ever seen. It’s basically a mall. Anyway, there are government buildings in Shinjuku that have viewing platforms so that you can enjoy all round views of the city for free (woo hoo). Naturally I took advantage of the freeness of these platforms. It’s 45 floors up in the Government buildings and easy enough to find (they have signs directing you to the viewing platform lifts. It looked suspiciously closed when I went but it wasn’t. The main building closes but the platforms are open until quite late in the evening. When you get up there, the scale of Tokyo really hits you. It is an unfathomably huge city.

Tokyo at night from government buildings

The lights seem to go on forever. I spent a good hour looking around at all the views of the city and reading the bits and pieces around the platforms. For free, it’s brilliant.

My day two highlight was definitely Shinjuku Gyoen. I would go back to Tokyo again just for that. Truly so beautiful.