Bangkok: Adventures In and Around.

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Our first time though Bangkok, our friend Aaron told us he’d found it had charm. We were in the midst of our first few days in South East Asia and thought he was crazy. Two months later and slightly more seasoned (both in travel experiences and with chili peppers) we returned to Bangkok and came to agree. So much so that we spent almost two weeks home based here.
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We spent the first week with a to-do list. Shopping to be done, visas to be applied for, and dresses to be custom tailored for my sister’s wedding this summer! In running through the list, we explored more of Bangkok’s neighborhoods from the touristed Khao San Road to Chinatown, the Ex-Pat areas, the Thai silk markets, and no less than ten different transportation options. Plus our own two feet, which have been getting us everywhere! In amongst all that walking, we did a fair amount of relaxing in parks and cafes, people watching and admiring architecture and atmosphere.
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My favorite – Lumpini Park, right at the end of Aaron’s block. An enormous park with evening aerobics classes on the greens. One night, we stumbled upon a classical orchestra concert of famous cinema scores and hung out all evening listening to locals shout out answers to movie trivia between Mancini numbers.
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J’s favorite? The local canal boat – a longboat set up like a subway car that ferries people up and down Bangkok’s canal system for 10B. It comes complete with tarps rigged as splash guards for pulling up when passing other boats (absoluteley necessary) and a collapsible roof for when going under bridges when the water is to high – so that all the people standing under holding onto the ropes strung along the ceiling just crouch down for a minute until the ceiling can be pushed upright again. The boat pulls up to a pier and people leap on and off, clambering across the gap, over the tire bumpers, and down into the boat while everyone else sort of shifts weight so that it doesn’t tip over.
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Next, we decided to take a trip east with a 4-day bicycle trek around Kanchanaburi. We loaded up our tent and a change of clothes and off we went!  Our steeds were gerry-rigged with paniers made of stuff-sacks and miscellaneous bits of strapping hanging off in all directions, we took a few wrong turns, got laughed at by every passing local, and pulled over on the side of the road a few times swearing we couldn’t go on, but we logged over 200km and had a fantastic time.
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Day 1: Woke up at 5a to bike 15 km across Bangkok in early morning traffic. J had borrowed Patty’s really nice road bike, but wasn’t sure how to use it and got stuck in the highest gear and it took her 12 km to figure out how to decrease. Then a screw fell out of my rear rack and I had to rig it in place with a piece of plastic strapping I found on the side of the road. And that’s just the beginning. It was followed by a 3hr train ride to Kanchanaburi, followed by 70km to Erawan National Park.
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Day 2: After our ridiculous day yesterday, we swear off biking and instead hike around the national park. J at Erawan Waterfall – a 7 tiered falls with countless perfect blue pools underneath low falls and cool rock formations. In one, we discovered the fish most famed for eating dead skin off of people’s feet at spas. So we sat with our feet in the pool for awhile, and let me tell you, it tickles!! Free spa day!
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Day 3: Day trip to Phratat Cave, a mere 8 km away. Except it’s a really steep hill. And 3 km later, it’s still a really steep hill, and we pass a sign that says Phratat Cave is still another 12 km away. Then we pass another, and another, all saying 12 km. And so go the first 6km. But we do it, and emerge onto the top of a picturesque hill with spectacular views of banana and papaya groves and out over the reservoir and all the burning-season smog. The route continues and is still uphill, but now only at a 6% grade, so, y’know, cakewalk. We get chased by a few stray dogs and a few angry-looking water buffalo, but make it to the cave – only to find it’s up a half-km flight of the hugest, steepest stairs I’ve ever seen. We continued from sheer willpower alone, singing mantras to ourselves to drown out the screaming of our quads, and finally ascended to the opening of the coolest cave I’ve ever seen.
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We crawled through a small fissure which opened into a huge cavernous room with coral-like undersea rock formations positively dripping everywhere. We wandered slowly through, strolled around the pleasant countryside, then cruised home at breakneck speeds with a stop for a dip in a waterfall pool before back to camp. A spectacular day.
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Day 4: The reverse of day 1. Just as beautiful, just as fun of a train ride, just as long and tiring of a day. We arrived back at Aaron’s a sweaty, dirty mess and did some quick recovery work because. . .
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Day 5 was a Saturday, and we woke up bright and early again to join Aaron and some buddies rock climbing at Petchaburi, a short drive south of BKK! And boy, it was a fun day. We may have been exhausted and sore, but a couple of Aaron’s buddies were leading 6b’s and c’s and I had a great time playing around on some really hard climbs with the security of a top rope.
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We had a fantastic time with Aaron – he has just started a company called Beervana, importing and distributing craft beer to an incredibly primed and ready market in Bangkok, and has already been really successful. Being in the beer network, we met some great people and he was an incredible host. We’ve now taken off south down the Thai peninsula and I write to you from Koh Tao, a small island on the gulf side where we’ll be meeting up with J’s little brother Alex!

More photos of adventures below:
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Our campsite at Erawan National Park.
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Sugarcane – nature’s instant-energy goo packs.
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J atop a waterfall.
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J making more friends.
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A great trip.

Lots of love,
C and J

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Si Phan (4,000) Don (Islands)

As in, literally, there are four thousand of them.
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We stayed on Don Det, an island divided into the apt-ly titled “sunrise side” and “sunset side”. They have their priorities right around here.
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Si Phan Don is the most touristy place we’ve been all month, but in a way we could jive with pretty well. Guidebooks describe it by stating that “there isn’t much to do on the islands, but then, that’s kind of the point. If you get tired of sipping beer from your hammock while watching the sun set over the river, you could always rent a bike, canoe, inner tube, or motorbike and watch the sunset from somewhere else, but that’s about it.”
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So we spent four days lounging in hammocks and watching the sun set and recovering from our various climbing aches and bruises. And it was awesome. Then, back to Bangkok!
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More photos:
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Our most energetic activity of the week – a 7km stroll around the island.

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J making friends.
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Water buffalo babies!

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Goodbye Laos!!

2013

Life in Laos continues. We rang in the new year in Vientiane, the Lao capitol, where we spent a few days admiring the French influence (below, the Lao Arc de Triumphe) and preparing to head south.

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But wait! Our buddies from Vang Vieng find a new rock climbing haven in the small town of Tha Khaek, where a German couple has spent the last couple of years bolting over 100 routes and now runs a climbers lodge right at the base of the mountain. Could we be convinced to join? Yes, yes we could. So new year’s day, we wake up early and hung over and, 3 hours later, find ourselves sitting in a tuk-tuk on the side of the highway. Weren’t we headed to the bus station? Well yes, but the tuk-tuk had gotten himself lost on the way to pick up his passengers so actually, No, he doesnt have the time to drop us off at the actual bus station: the bus will pick you up on the shoulder of this precarious three lane thoroughfare instead, he says nonchalantly. And sure enough, the bus finally comes, pulls over for us, and we take the last remaining seats. Laos! Not very timely, these Lao people, but certainly honest. We arrive in Tha Khaek after dark and pool together 8 travellers plus bags to pile into another tuk-tuk to get out to the climbers lodge. But wait, we pull over on the side of the road and our driver phones an English-speaking friend.
“You can’t go there, it’s closed. It burned down.” Yeah right, we say, thinking it’s a scam, we still want to go – we just confirmed with them yesterday.
But alas. Twenty minutes later, we pull up to the Green Climbers Home, and it’s still smoldering. Shit. The main building, dorms and gear room included, we learn later, is completely gone -the victim of New Year’s fireworks. Even some of the nearby rock faces had cracked in the heat. Luckily, nobody was injured at all – the fire started at midnight and because it was new year’s many people were drunk, but nobody was asleep.

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The lodge (photos taken later, in daylight)

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We tuk-tuk back into town and spend a day guessing that we’ll just head south, but then discover that life goes on, some gear was saved, and climbers with their own gear are out climbing again. Whoo! We are told to knock on room 4 at a certain guesthouse and by early afternoon we have rented a rope and a motorbike and are feasting our eyes on some of the coolest rock we’ve ever seen.

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We spend the next few days playing amongst the caves and stalagtites on some AWESOME 5s and 6s and having a great time.

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C leading “Rambo Girl”

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J “Dancing with Butterflies”

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Our steed – J driving, me on the back clutching all the gear in my lap.

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It’s a good life.
Love to all, and best wishes for 2013!
C and J