We are currently on our way to Thailand. I am in the Fairfield Inn at JFK airport and we fly out on Korean air tomorrow. In the meantime, here is a post I’d written earlier and not published about my last Thailand trip.
I went to Thailand in June, 2001 for a month with Adventure Center travel. I went on a 14(15?) day Northern Thailand trip with them and then went directly on the 14 (15?) day Southern Thailand trip. Neither of these trips are the same as I took. The Active Northern Thailand is somewhat close. The Thailand Encompassed trip has some of the same things on the Southern (below Bangkok) part of it except that we went to the east coast, not the west coast. There is an Active Southern Thailand trip that might be similar, but it is not offered at the moment.
Adventure Center handles tours from several different tour companies so the company I went with is no longer with them. It might have been similar to Gecko adventure tours. I can’t seem to find anything like the tours I took. Here is a post from TripAdvisor Oct, 2009: Adventure Center has been around for many years, serving as a tour broker (selling other people’s tours). As you surmised they don’t run any of their trips. They were bought recently by TUI, a huge travel conglomerate, which also owns Exodus, Peregrine, TrekAmerica, etc. Their tour offerings now tend to feature operators owned by their parent company, rather than the very broad selection they had previously.
It was relatively cheap (I thought it was ridiculously cheap until I went on it and found out the actual prices for things). I honestly cannot at all recommend the Adventure Travel tours (or any tours like them). As near as I can remember, it was around $700-800 for each 14/15 day leg. But this did not include airfare or any meals. And the places we stayed in were essentially hovels. One of the nicer places in Koh Samui cost something like $5/night. Air conditioning was nonexistent, as was western toilets, hot showers, or even in many cases, electricity or showers at all (buckets and faucet).
It was billed as a small group that sees things not normally seen by tourists, is less isolated from the thai people (no western chain hotels, resorts, etc), leaves a small footstep, is green and are “travelers” (not tourists). That last statement should have told me everything I needed to know right there.
Here there be dragons. And my rant on “travelers”
Here is what travelers “think” they are. Nice sentiments and well worth following (as I try to). But in reality, no one is more pretentious (and less interested in the culture of a country) than people who call themselves “travelers” (follow the link for a good explanation and see the bottom for traveler traits). They refuse to be called tourists and denigrate all those people who in their minds, are. But basically they are a bunch of either rave kids who follow the parties or middle class kids who just don’t want to work or who want to feel “hip”, who travel around the circuit with each other and mooch off the indigenous population. They stay in western run backpacker hostels with a bunch of other western kids and the only interaction they have with any local people is with whoever works there (whom they ignore, except to get something). And lets not forget the total disregard for anyone and anything. It doesn’t even cross their mind to think about what they are doing to the people or property around them. It is the absolute opposite of leaving a small footprint where you travel.
And that is who I had to spend one month with. I thought I would go mad. Totally vacuous, pretentious, obnoxious kids that travel in packs and have their own little cliques and are like high-school all over again. The people in our tour were traveler-wannabes and the places we stayed were populated by hard-core travelers.
End of Rant
So needless to say, I was not thrilled with my Adventure Center vacation. And after getting there, I realized that it is very easy to travel on your own and if you really want to travel without a large tour and see out-of-the-way places, you can just go yourself and ask at any of the places you would stay and they can arrange any trip you would want, cheaply, no matter how remote it may be. The infrastructure is good, the trains are easy and go lots of places, there are small busses you can catch that are especially for traveling to see various places. Heck, you could hire a guide, have them travel with you and pay for their travel, room/board and fee and it would not cost that much.
I did some interesting things, like staying in a floating (sinking) bamboo hut in the middle a a huge manmade lake, camping on a remote island in the Angthong marine reserve without fresh water (except for drinking) or food (except for what was brought or caught) or electricity for 3 days. We also took a boat from our camp to the one island they let daytrippers go to called Mother Island. A quote from wikia travel: Ko Mae Ko (Mother Island) is a must to visit. Here, an emerald seawater lake in the middle of the island is encircled on all sides by limestone cliffs, but linked by an underground tunnel connecting with the sea. Reaching the lake entails a strenuous climb of 40 minutes or so, but is rewarded with a spectacular view across the whole park. What they don’t mention is that the climb is actually a pretty difficult trek (see pictures at bottom of the site). Then you have to climb down. Also, the lake is pretty, but deadly. You can walk out over it on a rickety bamboo/plank dock but they warn you not to put any part of your body in the water. There were all sorts of pretty but dangerous sea life there.
There is also a lookout point on the island, but if you thought the trek to the inland lagoon was tough, it was nothing like this one. From the wikitravel site for the Ang Thong Marine Park: Probably one of the best hikes in Thailand. In the National Park headquarters there is a path leading up the side of the rocks. This will take maybe 25-30 minutes to walk up, and well worth it. But be warned, this is not a hike for the faint hearted. Make sure you have good footwear as there are sharp limestone crags which will be your foothold, especially towards the peak. With a breathtaking view of all the Ang Thong islands, the end result of the hike is well worth it. Beware though, the hike is very steep in some sections and offer questionable ropes to hang on to. But this hike will justify the trip to Ang Thong alone. And with limestone boulders to climb up and the last 100 yards or so is straight up in direct sun and you about die from the heat. NOTHING we did in Thailand was easy and they sure don’t go out of their way to make things accessible (for regular people, at least regular U.S. people). Still, this is the only way to get there and so it is worth it. Unlike the caving, where we hiked/climbed for 6 hours, a good share of it along a road.
We went hiking (climbing) 6 hours carrying 3 liters of water, lunch, a caving helmet and huge battery to power it, to go through 2 caves where you crawled on your belly in mud and then climbed up a side of a pit with a waterfall that you couldn’t see the bottom of (or hear when you dropped something) to get to more chambers. Actually, the caving (and elephants) were my favorite parts. I love caving. Line’ (my roomate) and I were the only ones who went on to the end of the cave, up the side of the waterfall pit. But I got such blisters and screwed up feet from the hike that I couldn’t go on the hill tribe trek the next 2 days. And worst of all, there was a road for a long distance that we hiked! I don’t mind if the only way to see something is to suffer some, but I just don’t hold with wrecking myself for other things for no reason.
I got to the point where I wanted to say, I’ll just pay the extra $10.00 and get a private room with air-conditioning! Which I actually could have done, except that I was so beat-down by the heat, people and exhaustion that I couldn’t make rational decisions so I just followed the path of least resistance. I was also by myself and if it would have been Sean and I, it would have been a lot different.
I really need to sit down sometime and just write up my previous trip experiences. Actually, I have emails that I wrote home back them (few and far between, this was the dawn of the internet cafe era and the fact that I could find them in Thailand was amazing.) Thailand surprisingly had them even in smaller towns. I remember finding an internet cafe in Pai, when there was only 1 public telephone in town, in the Post Office on the other side of town. I walked there and stood in line (Thai people were in line for the phone too, maybe because it was an international phone?). Then I filled out a bunch of paperwork. Then I got to talk for about 4 minutes at some ridiculously expensive price. On the other hand, the internet cafes were like a baht a minute, with 40 baht to the dollar. If not for them, I could not have heard from home at all.
So I will have to go back and just paste my old emails into a post. Then you can hear about the dead dog outside my hut one day, etc.
At this point, I realize that I have all kinds of pictures from my trip that would be good for this post, but they were all taken pre-digital camera era and I only have prints. I really need to scan them into my flickr account, but that takes so long with a regular scanner. I realize I really do need the Pandigital SCN02 PhotoLink One Touch Scanner w/Memory Card which was on my budget gadgets want list. I will have to buy one when we get back from Thailand.
Next time I post, I hope to be in Thailand!
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