Sunday, 22 December 2013

Pattaya, the "City of Sin"

After my harrowing adventure at Poipet we headed for Pattaya where we had already pre planned to stay for a couple of nights before heading back to Ayutthaya. Pattaya as you will know is an infamous place in Thailand rife with go-go bars, russian mafia and dirty old men with young Thai girls,  all that being said I figured that I couldnt really come to Thailand and not go to Pattaya. We first went to pick up Fais friend Bew and there we were on our way. We had pre booked a hotel at a resonable price, it had a big room with everything you'd expect of a hotel including a swimming pool, it was slightly out of the heart of the city itself but was still directly opposite the beach. We arrived in the early evening around seven and by nine we found ourselves in walking street, the most infamous street of all. At first glance it lived up to its reputation,  there were many a red light, lots of go-go bars, lots of russians and numerous other farang walking up down in a drunken stupor, thankfully though nothing that I would consider inappropriate.

After walking around drinking on the street for a while we headed into a bar, it was of great benefit to me having friends who are are girls as I knew if I got hassled too much I could just say one of them was my girlfriend. The vibe in the first one I wasnt really feeling so we decided to get a few more drinks from the 7 Eleven and walk along the beach. Here there were dozens of freelance prostitutes but none of them were in your face which is what I thought would happen, we just casually carried on walked around and drinking until we found the perfect bar.

My post cuts short here as I really dont need to write up anymore but what I will say is I had a blast in Pattaya and I was sensible. Pattaya from what I saw was a pretty cool place, I didnt see anything like the media portrays for which I was relieved, in fact Im sure I will return, perhaps for NYE.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Visa run to Poipet, Cambodia

With only a few days remaining on my visa it was time to do the dreaded visa run to activate my second 60 days in Thailand.  There are numerous companys set up to arrange transport and everything for you, but from Ayutthaya to Poipet, the border town in Cambodia it's only a 4 hour drive and Fai said she would take me. I thought we should stay one night in Poipet to break up the journey, I also wanted to visit the casinos, such things that don't exist in Thailand. It's coming up to Christmas and I wanted to treat myself. We found our way to the border very easily and I even drove Fais car for some of it. Upon arrival to the border it was ridiculously unclear on what we were supposed to do or where were supposed to go, we thought we would be able to take the car accross but turns out we couldnt. We found somewhere to park and headed to border control stupidly leaving all our stuff in the car, we thought we could go back to get it but no, we got that very wrong.

After finding a place that looked official (there are dozens of fake touts trying to sell you false information/directions) we handed over our passports and got a stamp officially departing us from Thailand. We then found ourselves in no mans land, we weren't in Thailand, we weren't officially in Cambodia, just on a very bizzare stretch of road full of scammers, casinos and duty free markets. It was then very apparent we couldnt go back to the car. Many expletives were said on my behalf, I knew if I was to go back to the car I would have to activate my second Thai visa thus wasting it. It was then at that point that a guy approached us and said Fai could cross back to Thailand easily so she could grab the bags while I wait, I thought that wasnt too bad so off she went back accross the border while I waited desperately. I figured she should only be 10 minutes but over 20 minutes had passed and I was getting very restless. This place was seriously was a hell hole, I thought she might be in trouble. I decided it was time to ask someone whether I could go back accross the border without activating my second Thai visa, perhaps by paying a small bribe. It was a long shot but to my astonishment they said I could and I didnt even part with any cash. Off I went back accross the border, the wrong way, with no paperwork, it was all incredibly sketchy.

As soon as I was accross I ran straight for the car, here I found Fai with someone I thought was hassling her though I quickly ascertained that he was indeed helping her.  I think he was part of the police or army and he came to her aid after she was being followed and hassled by someone else. I thanked him greatly and offered him a couple dollars, without him who knows what might have happened. After we had our bags we headed back accross into no mans land where I now had to work out how to get a visa to let me into Cambodia.

After chinning off the multiple people offering us bullshit fast track visas I found one place that again looked offcial, they had convincing uniforms but looking back I very much doubt they were. I knew the price was 20USD but he was asking for $35. I told him it was too much and I wouldn't pay it, I tried my hardest to have it dropped but only managed to knock off $1, he had me in a vice really so I had to cough up. He then disappeared across the road somewhere with my passport and 5 minutes later it came back with a sticker. Honestly there were no clear directions here on what to do, I understand the basics of crossing into other countries but this process was absurd.

So here we were in Poipet. My thoughts? That it's an absolutely stinking sess pit covered in clouds of dust and rubbish. You could immediately tell it wasnt Thailand, I mean Thailand has its fair share of rough places but nothing on this! We found our hotel we booked where I immediately cracked into an Angkor (Cambodias national brew) I seriously needed it at this point. After getting our heads together we bravely ventured back out to the streets to hit the casinos.

I expected more backpackers to be in the casinos but in fact I was the only one, the vast majority are Thai who come here to gamble as its illegal in Thailand. I had a 3000 baht limit and played a bit of roullete and pontoon (there was no black jack anywhere?!) The croupiers all looked very jaded and bored and I wasnt really feeling it, after a hour or two I ended up making 500 baht. There was free alcohol so I was playing slowly and just taking advantage of that, it wasn't a good of a night as I had envisioned so we headed back to hotel very much ready to leave the next morning.

We were woken around 6am to excessive traffic noise with people sat on thier horns, it was pain staking. After a few more hours of restless sleep we checked out and headed back to the border. It was here I made the fatal mistake of not properly departing from Cambodia before I joined the hour long que at Thai immigration. After finally getting to the front the incredibly grumpy officer said "you not depart Cambodia,  you not depart Cambodia" I was very confused, I figured the que I was in was to both depart and enter me from one country to the other, I didnt see any other place that I was supposed to go first. I now had to go back out onto the street to find where I obtained the departing stamp, after finding what looked to be the right place I got the stamp, went back to the immigration officer where I was luckily able to jump the que, and there I was, back in Thailand. Thank god!

My first visa run I have to say was nothing but a big headache, I think doing it on my own was a good though, if I had gone with a visa run company who would have done it all for me then theres no real challenge. Its also good because I now know exactly what to do when I finally go to explore Cambodia further in early February. What I also know is I will not be stopping in Poipet, I will cross the border and get as far away from it as quickly as possible.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Beach resort in Chantaburi (English Camp)

After a few days off it was time for the next camp, this one was to be at "Had Saithong Beach Resort" in Chantaburi province, about four hours drive from Ayutthaya. I was really exited for this one, not only was I was going to be do something I love but we were going to be on the beach, I had a feeling it was gonna be awesome. We went up the day before and arrived around 3pm, after check in we headed straight into the sea. It was a beautiful, quiet, secluded spot and the water was so warm. The kids were travelling to us from Sukothai, about 10 hours away, they wernt due to arrive until around 9am the next day so the evening for us was very chilled, we got a fairly early night so we ready for them in the morning.

The next day around 9ish two big buses turned up, there were only 72 kids for this camp with mixed ages (12-17) one kid I noticed had bought a guitar which I really happy about, I envisioned a little jam later on. Once they had all got their room keys and dropped off thier bags we started the program. At first I wasnt sure how well they could speak English as they were a little shy and seemingly very tired but it didnt take long for me to realise these were very smart kids and their English level for most of them was high.

After running the normal activities in the morning we had lunch and then briefed the kids on the afternoons outing, we were going to head to "Kung Krabaen Bay" a nature center not too far from the resort. Here they were given instructions of things to find and take pictures of, it was a great afternoon. When we got back around 4pm we had a two hour break before dinner, all the kids and some of us teachers went straight into the sea, we messed around in there until dinner it was a good laugh. After dinner we had two hours of activities which bought us up till 9pm it was then time for the kids to head to thier rooms whilst us teachers had a well deserved drink. A bottle of Hong Thong later I realised it was 2.30am and well and truly time for bed, the bed I had was hard (something I've noticed very common in Thailand) so I "borrowed" some of the cushions from the outdoor chairs to stick under the sheets, it turned out to be a brilliant idea as I had a great nights sleep although it only a few hours.

Day two came the usual drill, up at 7 for breakfast to start a new action packed day. It turns out the hotel staff thought some of the kids stole the missing cusions whereas they were still on my bed, when the room got made up they realised it was infact one of the teachers, it was pretty funny. After the morning activities it was time for our second outing,  this time we had two places to go, the first "Ocean Sea World" to see a dolphin show and then to "Namtokphilo National Park" to visit a waterfall, the kids group assignment was again to take pictures and also create a short video talking about the different places. It was a brilliant afternoon. Upon returning to the hotel it was straight into the sea again, then dinner, activities and bed time. Much like the night before we got another bottle in and got stuck into that. Half way through the evening Save and Non, two of the kids came and found us with guitar in hand, they should have really been in bed but hey, whatever, none of the other kids were actually asleep anyway. They played us some Thai hits which were really enjoyable. The time came for us to go to bed, tomorrow would be our final day finishing at midday.

I felt a bit sad waking up knowing I would be saying goodbye to such a great group of kids. It had only been two days but I'd made a good bond with some of them. After some awesome games in the morning it was time to say goodbye, the last thing to do was to pick one student from our group to give a prize for being the best overall. I gave this to Boss, a remarkable boy who stuck out to me. He thanked me for everything and told me he would never forget me, that truly meant a lot to me, he will grow up to be an outstanding adult, he will go far as will many of the others.

This camp was by far the best for many reasons, the kids, the location, the trips, it was just perfect. One thing I must point out which didn't impress me (in fact which made me a bit angry) was the blatent use of child labour at the resort. The waitresses can only of been around 15 but the worst was the two boys doing labouring work, one maybe around 12 the other 10 at most, I saw him lugging around bricks and stone basically cleaning up after the builders, the work was too strenuous, he should have been at school. Im not naive, I know this stuff happens in this part of the world bit it is not nice to witness.

I hope to visit some of the students again in Sukothai at thier School, I plan to visit there again with Barnesy my friend who is coming over from England towards the end of January. I have one of the teachers contact details and will call him when im in town.

Today im off to Cambodia to do the dreaded visa run. Fai is driving and we're staying at a hotel in the infamous border town of Poipet filled with nothing but casinos.  We're spending one night there then swinging by Pattaya on the way home for a couple of nights. It will be a little Christmas holiday within a holiday. Im looking forward to it (minus the part of dealing with the Cambodian officials of course)

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Lop Buri - Monkey City

Having been in Thailand for a while now and having not seen any monkeys yet, I asked Fai if she would take me to Lop Buri, a town notorious for them roaming the streets. Although she's not the greatest fan of them she said she was happy to drive the hour or so journey so I could see them. Upon arrival to the main center you could immediately spot them hanging off power lines and just wondering the street. The only time I'd seen this kind of thing was at Longleat Safari Park in England when I was much younger. This was kind of like that minus the safari park, these were monkeys were free to do whatever they want.

After parking up we headed to the shop as I wanted to feed them something. I picked up a bag of crisps and put them down on the table outside so I could put my wallet back in my bag, within seconds though, out of nowhere a monkey jumps up and snatches them, it was funny to watch as he sat down, opened them up just like a human, and started eating them the same. The shop keeper came out with a bamboo stick to chase it off, I guess for the people that live in the town they can only be nothing more than a nuisance. As the first bag was snatched I stupidly decided to buy another one thinking "I'll keep hold of it this time". Oh how wrong I was. As I was walking down the street a few clocked onto what I was holding so I hid them under my t-shirt, this proved to be futile though as one jumped up on me and had those away too. I decided that I wasnt going to be able to feed them civilly so I scrapped that idea and we headed over to the "monkey temple" where the vast majority of them hang out.

There is supposed to be an admission charge of 150 baht for farang but as I with Fai and her friend Biw they explained I was a teacher and the fee was wavered. At the temple there were dozens of monkeys of all sizes, the bigger ones were somewhat intimidating but the baby ones were so cute. They pretty much ignore you (I guess because I didnt have any food) but after crouching down by some of the small ones a couple jumped up onto my back trying to open my pockets up and pinch the bracelets on my arm the cheecky monkeys (no pun intended) the keeper (if thats what he's called) warned me to be carefull they dont bite and told me to keep a tight grasp on my camera which I'd already figured. I also didnt want rabies so was being extra vigilant with the little buggers. After playing with the monkeys outside we went into the old temple, it was only after Fai pointed it out to me did I see all the bats hanging from the low roof, it was pretty freaky, I wanted to spook the girls but resisted the temptation to clap loudly as the thought of any of them moving scared the hell outa me let alone them. Just before leaving I had a some water left in my bottle which I wanted to give to the monkeys, I had one jump up on my knee and it was so cool to feed it, Fai filmed it and at the end of it another monkey out of the blue jumps up on her to snatch the camera, she kept it safe though, it was all pretty crazy.

After the monkey visit we headed to Pasak Dam, the largest resoviour in Central Thailand, here we fed hundreds of fish scrambling around in the water with a couple dozen large soft bagettes, it was great was fun. The dam is here to not only generate power but to prevent flooding at the place I am currently living, Ayutthaya.

Tomorrow I head to Chantaburi on the border of Cambodia to work another three day camp, since my last post I've worked a three day camp in Ayutthaya with kids that had travelled to us from Surin province. This camp was much diffrent as the hours were considerably longer, rather than the usual 8.30 till 4 this was 8.30 till 4 and then 7 till 9. What was great about this camp though is that we went on field trips to the temples and floating market which made it all that much more fun, but at the same time all that more exhausting. This next camp is the same hours but ive caught up on some sleep now and im ready to rock and roll.