The Journey Begins

It’s been a long time between drinks since I posted the first blog for outsidetheframe and in retrospect the idea of posting stories whilst still living in Australia was not what I wanted this blog to be about. Unfortunately through my own naivety and events out of my control, (which I will not go through here), I decided to take a rain check and wait until I had all my travel details complete. 

With this done, and the cancelation of my first itinerary I have decide that my first port of call will be the Phillipines and the Island of Palawan.  Already I am finding the prospect of meeting locals tantalising, especially with apps such as Couchsurfing and online booking apps for accomodation and flights.  Gone are the days where you land in an unknown location and freak out because you have no idea where to stay or what to do.  It blows my mind in todays connected world how incredibly easy it is to meet locals before even arriving.  I suppose I won’t know if this is a benefit or not until I spend time away.  I do wonder if it takes that whole mystery out of travelling?  In some ways I am glad I have had the experience of travelling to many places in the world without connectivity.  In a sense even travel guides and blogs, with their recommendations create some sort of homogenous world, like being on a tour bus, no thinking required or the hard yakka of making an effort.  Now don’t get me wrong, I am 30 years older since I last travelled with a backpack and without an itinerary. Physically and mentally I will enjoy the idea of not having to walk km after km looking for a place to stay and having to use sign and body language to communicate. Also the purpose of this trip is not to be on the move every 2-3 days but to stay put a little longer. I do have the luxury of time. 

How it will work

I have no intentions of writing a travel blog that plots my journey about my experiences and taking photos of exotic places, like a to do list. (although I will update with  instagram) There are plenty of blogs out there that do this. The sole purpose will be to document other peoples stories, both locals and other outsiders who view the world without rose coloured glasses and have their story to tell.

Blog, Vlog, Instagram, FB Group, Twitter account and Podcast.  Seems extreme but each social media platform will show a daily snapshot, a bi-weekly update, a monthly vlog about people I meet and places I get know.  I will also create a podcast for women who travel solo. (This will take some time to organise)  I will need feedback as I need to develop my skills and knowledge. Please don’t just click the like button.  I am a teacher and I need feedback. (thankfully I wont have to worry about data or spending countless hours justifying my existence) I would also like people to use this in an educational sense, for teachers to use me to enhance their curriculum (I have the ability of Skype and periscope) and students to plot a journey and develop their critiquing and questioning skills.  Even if you aren’t a teacher maybe you have contacts that you think would be great to hear about.  Let me know, I don’t just talk Madonna and Collingwood.

My intentions are not recreational but also with an eye to develop my production and story telling skills.  The purpose of this is to hopefully and successfully apply for Filmmakers without borders, a non for profit organisation that grants filmmakers, students and teachers to work with a local community for a year.  I will attach a link so you can see what this organisation does.  If not successful I will continue to travel with the idea of also supplementing  my funds with teaching internationally.  Of course with an open itinerary anything could happen, as long as I keep my ears open and my mouth shut, (at times a difficult skill)

There you have it, so with all this in mind, I leave on the 23rd October.  I am already looking fwd to meeting Jonathan.  See you soon, Outside the frame.

Thanks for joining me!

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton

post

Apartment 101

Siagon– calm surrounded by chaos.

When you arrive at the airport there is a nervousness you feel as you go through customs, work out money and try to organised transport especially late at night.  You feel somewhat relaxed with the drive towards the city as you look out of the window from the air conditioned car.   You can’t see the hustle and bustle or hear the constant noise.  It’s like you are immune to all its vices.  It’s not until I hop out of the Cab (on one leg) and struggle to gain my breath as the humidity slaps me in the face, that I realise we are going to be in for on one hell of an adventure.  The driver dumps our bags on the driveway in front of what looks like a car depot but it’s the building for our Airbnb. ‘Holly molly’, where the hell do we go. The only clue as to where our room is was via the message we received when we booked the place. No meet and great here.  So with no other choice Jody has to carry not just her own bag but mine as well.  She is a strong lass but I am feeling a tad sorry for her and I’m sure she is thinking, ‘what the hell have I got myself in for’, as she leaves me behind disappearing down through the carpark entrance. Eventually and I mean eventually Jody comes back, she is obviously flustered and didn’t realise there was a code, she has left the bags at the front door.  We need to get there quick smart but I cannot go more than one hop at a time so the journey to the 8th floor was certainly an eventful one, including the issue of the elevator attendant, who knocked of at 11pm and it was way past that time.  So we eventually arrive on the 8th floor, sort out the code and let ourselves in.  The room is just that, with a loft and a small bathroom and a smaller kitchen.  Believe me smaller than the cooker I had when living in the bedsit in London.  However it is clean, quiet and hospitable, except that when we booked the place we didn’t realise that it had a loft and only a double bed.  Luckily with further investigation there was a spare soft mattress and with great effort Jody managed to carry it down the stairs to the ground floor where I would sleep.  After a while we were safe again, just like in the cab oblivious to what is happening 8 floors down.  Although in the back your head you know that in 6 hours when the sun rises you will have to learn on the run (or the hop), how this place ticks.

The apartment was one of at least a hundred on each floor within a vast apartment complex. I loved the short time we stayed mainly because I got to meet the locals who resided on our floor. In the evenings I would sit in the corridor next to a wired window that provided a breeze and a view of the world outside, although a narrow one. This was a time when the kids would take over whilst their parents where having some me time. Running up and down the corridors and the stairs, playing chasey, cops and robbers, dancing and singing you name it.  This would go well into the night. A young girl would often sit with me so I could help her with her English grammar book and she seemed very happy indeed that I would take the time to help and listen.  She would run of and tell her parents the new words she learnt. (can someone tell me why Giraffe is a word you would teach to new english learner)  I am sure they had no idea what words were spoken.  During all this mayhem Grandmothers would also help out mum and dad and push the toddlers on their plastic bikes trying to shove food down their throats. I was happy to help at times, pulling a few funny faces often did the trick. The other aspect of apartment living in Saigon was the community of shops and businesses within the complex. Hairdressers, convenience stores, juice bars etc. also the elevator man who controlled the elevator sitting at desk all day, however he also used his time wisely by knitting.  Mainly kids clothes, the quality amazing.  I often hear from people how they couldn’t live in a apartment complex and I totally get it. However if this is an example about how to live as a community within close quarters then this is the way to do it, oblivious to the rest of the world.

Video Link

Vietnam

 

 

 

American Pie

Making the decision to stay in Pia for two weeks whilst on crutches was the best thing I could do. I paid a little extra to have my own room, with balcony and easy access. The bonus was the room faced a beautiful garden and like Pai itself very peaceful. The owners bent over backwards to make my stay enjoyable. The other bonus was that I was only 5 minutes from cafes and convenience stores. The downside is that when you stay in your own room you often miss the interactions of other people. Not that I really cared as I was struggling with myself after the accident. However that all changed in a flash when a new guest (Jody) booked the room next to mine. We hit it of straight away. We had many things in common at the time. Jody had quit her job as a Research and development chef (geez I hope I got that right Jody?) and she was looking for new options in life. One was not to be controlled by others who could only see the bottom line. I am also sure there were heaps of others reasons, but she wanted to travel and most importantly focus on her online business.

Food is her passion, but not just food per say but the process that goes into each completed dish. I was fascinated by her work and folks if you are wondering about flavor in processed foods well Jody is the inventor of those flavors. She also was a chef in many places including New Orleans and what I love about Jody is her passion and willingness to make a success of her life. Jody was also searching for a place to stay and make a base. She was also traveling solo for the first time. It takes courage to give up everything you know and embark to countries and cultures unfamiliar. So the timing of us meeting up was meant to be. I suppose for Jody meeting me, helped her adjust to the oddbods travelers you meet. Pai is a place where the lost often head to. Pai reminded me of where I was at 30 years ago, without a dime to my name. I understood the many reasons why travelers ended up here. That is the beauty of traveling without an itinerary, everyone is on their own personal journey. Not what society expects you to do or should I say the pressures that modern life makes you feel you should do. The comfort of a job that brings in a wage is also the devil in disguise. Work, make deadlines, and then have a performance review so the boss can get their bonus for all the work you have done. Jody also felt this also.

When time had come to leave Pai and travel to Chang Rai (I had another doctors appointment and my plaster was removed) we were happy to start our journey together. I had spent plenty of time in Chang Rai, so it was like a homecoming. I also had to spend a week staying in one location to rehabilitate and get some confidence back. For Jody she again wanted to investigate the flavors of northern Thailand. This was great because I could share food for a change and we certainly had fun doing so. Jody also for the first time stayed in the hostel for a few days. For Jody this was well out of her comfort zone, however apart from the odd issues with sharing a room, she made the most of a hostel I would rate the best I have ever stayed in. Always good to make good first impressions. I knew that it was going to be hard to follow. So after a week we came to the decision that we would go to Vietnam. For me I don’t think I would have gone on my own, as I was still very limited in my movement. We were both super excited and now when I think about it although it was the beginning of backpacking together it was also the beginning of the end as well.

After 2 weeks we travelled from Saigon to Phnom Penh in Cambodia then went our separate ways. It was nice and also a relief to have a travel buddy especially when I was trying to get back onto my feet. I will always be indebted to her. I also hope I had a positive influence, however sometimes living 24/7 can be a challenge and we were starting to find that we wanted to take a different path. Jody atm is based in Vietnam (update now in Bali after 3 months in Vietnam) and uploads daily posts through Instagram the amazing food safari she is on. Here is her link, please follow and do yourself a food favor. 

Link to:

Video

Thailand to Vietnam

Link to

Wunderlustandrootvegetables

 

 

Lessons learned

My mind was racing a million miles and an hour after returning to the hostel from the hospital. I kept on looking at the X-ray which showed a substantial break of my left foot. I couldn’t see any good news and the doctor in residence said that I might need an operation but wouldn’t know for sure until I saw the specialist the next day.  I was stunned to say the least.  How was I going to tell my family and friends why I was returning to Australia? How was I going to tell my friend in Africa that I would not being visiting her after promising time and time again that I would?  I felt stupid, a failure and embarrassed. I kept on repeating the fall in my mind, over and over again. How the hell could I be so stupid? if only? what if? Why the hell was I rushing around, I didn’t need to? I watched people from the hostel go about their usual stuff, coming back from the market, planning their next journey, even just walking to the loo. I was screaming inside, I tried writing in my diary but looking at the photos from the day before made me angry. In my mind the world was ending. I just want to sleep and wake up from a bad dream.

When I did wake the reality of what had happened was made more real when I looked down at my foot wrapped in a temporary cast.  It took me about 1.5 hours to get dressed and pack a night bag just in case I had to stay overnight in the hospital. The little things were taking forever and I must say at this time I really needed some assistance. It is time like these that traveling on your own really sucks. Sure there was sympathy from other travelers but they were busy with their own life. To be honest I really didn’t want their help or sympathy I just wanted my foot back. At least I still had my mind and luckily a positive disposition. So all I could do was to make arrangements with the hostel to look after my gear, because as far as I knew I would probably be going back to Oz in the next couple of days.

As I was wheeled into the specialist office, I was sick to the stomach.  He introduced himself and briefly spoke about his family in Australia and his qualifications, in retrospect if there was a perfect doctor he was it, he invested in me and made me feel like I wasn’t alone or vulnerable.  He then bought up the X-ray on his screen. It looked horrible, the bone looked like it was completely broken.  At the same time this was going on I was able to get hold of the medical team in Australia.  After hours of trying to connect they wanted to speak to the doctor whilst being examined.  This is where todays technology and communication has changed. He sent an email copy of the X-ray, going over the X-ray, looking at the different angles and communication with doctors at home. Broken 5th metacarpal, small crack 4th metacarpal. I could hear the medical team in Oz agree. Diagnosis, no operation required bone still attached, plaster cast and complete rest for 4-6 weeks. Did I hear correctly, no operation? OMG. The doctor put me back on the phone to the medical nurse in Australia. She reassured me and explained the course of action. She wished me well and said with appropriate rest and therapy I will be back on my feet. I could feel myself welling up inside. I think I said thank you a hundred times and started blabbering like one does when overcome with unexpected joy.  The journey to the theatre to have the plaster cast fitted was euphoric. I don’t think I ever looked forward to having a plaster cast as much as this. I was even making jokes with nurses who probably didn’t understand why I was so happy. Sure the hard work was in front of me and I would have to rearrange my plans but it beats the hell ending my journey. At least I can ring my family and friends now.  The first call I made was to my mum. Like usual the rock of Gibraltar. In the midsts of disaster, all alone, she was the one that encouraged me to go forth.  I made a pact with myself that day, that I would not again rush around from place to place, I would smell the roses.

Fast fwd 2.5 months. The bad dream is over I am sitting and chatting to a lovely French nurse in Pakse, Laos when we both see a young French girl (Marine) with bandages and horrible wounds struggling to make it to the entrance. Still with her bloody clothes, we help her inside. She looks pale, is shaking and has tears rolling down her face. She tells her story, how she was riding her bike, trying to get back to town (rushing) because the sun was setting and didn’t see the hole in the road. Within a split second she was sprawled across the road, unconscious. The local community must have seen the fall and took her to a medical clinic to bandage her up and stitch her wounds. She spent the night in the village alone. The next morning they put her on a local truck back to Pakse. We are the first people she has spoken to. She is afraid to call her mother and friends, ashamed that she could do something like this. We sit with her for hours and the nurse gives her new bandages, I give her panadol Forte. We help her to her room so she can rest and sleep. For me, flashbacks of how I felt when I had my accident. The hopelessness I felt.

In the morning the nurse had left for Cambodia and I am sitting at the cafe next door having a coffee, Marine gingerly sits next to me. She is still in shock, still felling ashamed and stupid, replaying the incident over and over again. I try and console her, saying that you can’t take back the past, maybe there is a reason why certain events occur, she agrees, maybe she was doing to much and not taking the time to smell the roses.  A young German lad sits with us and he encourages her to go to a hospital and have a doctor look at her wounds. His girlfriend is a pharmacist and would help her with the appropriate medication. I am starting to feel rather under qualified on this journey. I decide to go with her, she needs support and someone to talk to. We speak about life in France, her wonderful job as a fashion designer, her love searching for new materials and the way local women weave and color their fabrics. It gives her a chance to think about other things. Eventually she sees the doctor and goes in to have her wounds checked and re-bandaged. Whilst in the waiting room I notice the state of the hospital. How bloody lucky we are in Oz to pay our taxes so we have a reasonable health system. Eventually Marine returns she looks grey, what the hell. She then starts sobbing, and shows me a photo of the cut under her chin which has 3 stitches. It looks worse than it is and she probably will have a little scar. In between sobs she blurts out “that no man will love her now that she has a scar.” Suddenly I feel like I am in a classroom listening to an emotional 14 year old after breaking up with their boyfriend, thinking their life is doomed. I put my teachers hat on and listen to her fears and I put my arm around her. I retell all the wonderful things she has told me about herself, her purpose of traveling and her hopes for her future. The same things my mum said to me when I was sitting with my plaster cast in Chang Rai.

I don’t know how Marine is traveling but I am sure she will be immersing herself with her love of fashion and traveling the world for the most beautiful fabrics. I do hope the scar is now a story to be told and not of lost love.

An education from Past to present

After returning to Bangkok to collect my over weight backpack, I chose a route that would take me to northern Thailand then over the border to Laos. I really wanted to catch the overnight train to Chang Mai however the 2nd class sleepers where booked out for the next few days and I really didn’t want to spend anymore time in Bangkok.  So I took a nine hour bus to Sukhothai instead.  There was of course a bonus, I needed to learn a little about Thailand’s history and the Sukhothai historical park seemed just the place.  Its literal meaning the dawn of happiness’, the capital of the first independent Thai Kingdom in the 13th and 14th centuries.  The park comprises the ruins of royal palaces, Buddhist temples, the city gates, walls, moats and the water dyke control system of ancient Sukhothai.  This would surely help me because of my lack of Asian history.  I spent two days at the site.  Although not as mind blowing as Machu Picu, set up in the Andean mountains, or as vast as the Egyptian Pyramids, the Sukhothai site is still a work in progress so to speak.  Beautifully manicured areas and amazing ruins still being excavated and processed.  Actually the place is so big you really need a push bike to see it all and in retrospect I wish I had done exactly that.  However on one day I walked around the main site and the next I spent strolling around other ruins but most of the day I spent in the museum and it was here that I learnt more than I ever could imagined.  I am often in awe of the people who help reconstruct ancient sites.  I do wonder however why these places always make the ancient life look so idyllic.  Like “let’s make the world great again”.  If u know what I mean.  I also wonder who controls the narrative, as many large artefacts have been recreated.  But maybe that’s just me digging deeper than I should.  Religion and past empires are often shown in some glorified way, so we in the present feel some sense of gratitude.  Don’t get me wrong, The ability to design, then construct such monuments and the array of intricate features from such a long time ago is mind blowing.  I am still not educated enough to understand everything to do with buddhism however here is a link for further information about  the various Sukhothai monuments and features.  I’d rather not try.

Apart from visiting the ruins I decided to get a little more aquatinted with the local area. What a way to do this by riding a bike for a day.  We rode around the lane ways of Sukhothai, meeting local market owners and learning about the use of various foods.  We then road through the farmland a combination of rice fields, tobacco and a range of other vegetables and fruits.  The scorching sun made the ride at times unbearable, I don’t know how the farmers and their workers face up to it day in day out.  If somehow wearing their wide brimmed hats with cloth draped down their neck and back, gives them some sort of relief.  To think that is also meant to be the colder months.  At times we would pull over under the shade of tree just long enough so our sweat would cool us down, then back on the bike pedalling at a decent speed.  I suppose what kept me going was the music the played along our journey.  Every 100  meters or so a loud speaker hung from an electrical pole and sounds of traditional Thai flutes lulled me into a time gone past.  Although I have never been to Thailand in a time gone past.  You could hear it from the rice fields from quite a distance and without me asking I am sure it is a way to help the farmers work in the hot sun.  It certainly helped me continue to pedal.  We eventually made it back onto a main road and 5 km’s further to a house owned by a friend of the tour guide.  It was the first time I had been into a locals house and we weren’t there for a tour, but for lunch.  We must have looked like cooked lobsters as I peeled myself of the seat.  I even had problems trying to organise my thoughts and missed the opportunity to have a hose down.  Not to worry, before I had time to say sà wàt dee I was whisked away and given a towel, a foot bath, herbal tea, fresh water and enough food that I couldn’t lift my leg over the bicycle seat for the ride back.  This was more than I hoped for, especially when we met the rest of the relatives.  After we had finished our lunch we were introduced to the family and excitedly introduced to a young boy.  At first I wasn’t so sure why this boy was special, even though he was very cute.  However before long I realised what all the fuss was about.  I kept on hearing boy girl, boy girl, for a second I thought there was going to be a show with boy girls parading around like in Phuket.  Then to my surprise they were pushing the young boy towards me.  He was fully made up and I was a little envious of his eyebrows.  I was then told that they were very fortunate that their family, a large one at that have a boy girl.  They were very excited for me to meet their special child that all the kids performed a song for us and of course guess who had the staring role.  Not only did he have the starring role but a very spoilt child to boot.  He seemed to have the best of everything, the first and last of everything also.  I was fascinated not because they had a boy girl but maybe because they are revered in similar ways to that of the Fa’afafine’s, who are men raised as girls and identify with that gender in Samoa.  I did notice the night before during the market festival, many boy girls also performing.  They weren’t seen as odd or even left out, the complete opposite.  For a second I wondered why I was so intrigued that there were so many boy girls.  Should I be curious? I was told there were many families all over Thailand that have Boy girls and unlike many countries they were proud and saw themselves are privledged to have a boy girl in their family.  Unlike some of the stories I have heard about the Fa’afafine’s where abuse is often common.  However I must note, was he lucky he had a great family because I am sure just like the Fa’afafine there would also be disturbing stories.  However with this only one experience to go on and the belief that boy girls in Thailand are treated with honour, I was pleased to see an inclusive system of respect.  Finally, as I write this I am wondering why I am writing to you about boy girls, why would you care?  Well one reason is that in our society we often see gender differences as an affliction as a curse, arguing over semantics like what toilet should they go to.  How refreshing it is to travel to a country that doesn’t seem to have this affliction.  Oh and how we could learn so much about how to treat a small group of beautiful people who just want to live their lives like everyone else.

I could continue to write about the bike journey as we cycled at a slower pace along the river.  Riding past rickety homes held up by whimsy poles to protect the houses from the rising water when the river floods, old men repairing their equipment sitting under large trees and women crouched down lighting small coal fires in pots ready to cook dinner.  I could also write about the fisherman we met catching small fish by net as his wife drank a bottle of rice whiskey and danced a better version of my bogan dance.  Or the fun we had at the bar we went to, sipping a Mojito and listening to 1970’s hits like Bonney M.  This was all in a days work and more than I could learn ever from a text book, a newspaper, a documentary or a you tube video.

Road to somewhere

The bus journey to Sangkhlaburi was nothing special but I wasn’t expecting a ride through the Himalayan mountains.  I did not read much about this area as I only chose to come his far because I made an error when booking my room in Thong Pha Phum and I had 3 days to kill.  In a way though the unexpected is the most enjoyable.  It’s like going to a movie without reading the reviews and being pleasantly surprised.  Thais visit Sangkhlaburi and the surrounding area for weekend trips and I met very few international visitors.  The hotel I stayed at was remarkable, not just because of the price but the location.  It is not often you stay in your own room for hostel prices right on the lakes edge.  The bonus, you could watch the sun set behind the hillside with a large Wat standing proudly on top.  It’s gold facade shinning brighter than street lights as the sun set behind.   The other unexpected bonus was that a group of photography enthusiasts from Bangkok had booked the weekend away with a photography instructor learning how to take photos at night.  I just happened to be setting up my gear when the instructor started chatting to me.  After a while he invited me to join their group.  At first I was a little hesitant because I am sure the group had paid handsomely for the weekend away, however they all seemed to want me to come along.  They of course had the most amazing camera equipment compared to my kit, however its not the size that matters, it how you handle your equipment.  At first I thought we were going to learn the basics about how to use aperture and shutter speeds at night, something I love to tinker with.  However as I soon found out this course was not just some ordinary photography course, the main aim was we were learning to create light painting, (photo trails) painted by fire using steel wool, sparklers, torchlight and glow sticks.  Sens-bloody-sational, I had always wanted to learn how to do this.  I know I had tried this activity with students once in the dark room with glow sticks and with limited success.  However this was on another level.  I actually think (looking at my photos) I was pretty successful.  I know a teacher who now has some of my technical notes, I just don’t recommend using steel wool in the dark room, but hey you can blame it on me!!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Since Sangkhlaburi is so close to the Myanmar border there were many different groups of people who inhabit this part of the world.  There are many Burmese that live in the area, most escaping the regime, including Karen and Mon. These marginalised people lost their land when the government flooded the area over 30 years ago to build a dam. They lost their livelihood and their land; sound familiar.  Many of the people today live in houses on the lake.  One of the main attractions is the longest wooden bridge in Thailand that you have to cross to get to the other side. Of course there is a new bridge for transport which has now opened up the area for more mundane reasons, like logging and tourist shops selling traditional garments.  I spent a day roaming the streets and taking a boat ride around the lake.  There are Orphanages, mainly housing refugees (none were on their way to Australia) and I met a young girl who has returned for the 2nd time to work with the children.  She helped me learn about some of the issues that the kids face within and outside of the orphanages. There were also various NGO agencies trying to educate the Thais about the work that they do.  I believe that once they complete primary school many children have to leave and fend for themselves, without offical documents or an identity.  Some make their way to Bangkok hoping to earn money however unfortunately most end up with scrupulous men or get caught by police and sent back to Myanmar. Sadly, the Karen’s and Mon’s have become beggars for tourists, children sit on their own or with other children and beg to paint your face or perform.  There is a support network at least, with various community groups making a concerted effort to assist, although I think the government really just gives them lip service.  The weekend I was there like many weekends in Thailand the market area became a place to showcase music and dance and a place to speak about the issues with the Karen, Mon and the Burmese.  I started to feel a pang of guilt that maybe I should stay here and help out.  However after doing months of research back in Australia about volunteering unless you have specific skills, short term volunteering is often a hinderance rather than a cure, so I donated some money and bought plenty of food the kids had made.  I am sure when I feel I can really make a difference I will spend more than a couple of weeks to volunteer.  Teaching english is really not what they need, more a sense of belonging and that someone cares and I needed to get to Thong Pha Phum, in a sense my journey had just begun.

 

Your can do it, yes you can.

I love to go to a place that I often saw in documentaries when I was a young girl.  I loved watching very old episodes of Tarzan and hoping one day I could go to those places. Therefore it was a no brainer, that I would at some point have a journey into the mountains in Thailand.  I knew there were plenty of out of the way places up north, however at the time I wasn’t going to go that far. So when I read about Thong Pha Phum National Park, a park that also stretched well into Myanmar, I was won over. The bonus, the park had tree house accomodation.  This sounded cool, I did find a couple of You Tube videos and the images were amazing.  Another tick was apart from a few paragraphs in Lonely Planet I wanted to challenge myself and explore a few places often only Thais who have transport could visit.  Of course nobody seemed to know anything about the national park or how to get there.  Even the locals including the girl at the tourist office in Thong Pha Phum were bemused as to why I would want to stay there.  Without your own vehicle or the ability to ride a motorbike you are very limited.  I was so nervous about this trip to the national park that I nearly stopped myself from going.  However Bell the owner of the hotel where I stayed in Thong Pha Phum took me to the van stop and the lady who owned the food shop, where the van picked up passengers fed me and helped me with supplies which made me feel a little bit reasured that this wasn’t such a bad idea after all. 

The two hour journey to the National Park started slowly, I was a bit disappointed as the road seemed in good condition.  Maybe the comments I read about the dodgy road must be outdated as the ute was making good progress.  When we stopped for a toilet break I noticed that the driver started tying things down.  I don’t think I consciously knew at the time but in retrospect he knew what was coming.  It was only a few minutes after our stop when the ute slowed down, I peered through the gap between the cab and where I was sitting to see the road narrow from three cars wide to a car wide.  The ute was now laboring, women were using we what seemed to be smelling salts and some were huddling up to each other, it couldn’t be that bad could it?  I think I could have walked faster than the ute, which was also swaying side by side, switchback after switchback.  As the incline increased it also meant that we had to hold onto anything available, often squeezing my legs up under the seat and my hands gripping on for dear life.  At times all you could see when weaving around blind turns was the edge of the mountain, no road barriers and eroded edges that led to the bottom of the mountain. God help us if we met a car or truck coming the other way, but I had trust in the driver.  As we continued to climb the mist began to roll through the mountains.  The stillness of the environment with only miles and miles of lush jungle was awe inspiring.  It reminded me of the journey I took long ago through the African jungle and the Amazon, and I was thrilled that I could have another experience.  There is something about an unlogged environment that makes the hairs stand on end.  To think that there are very few places left on this earth.  A bonus with this trip was that we had the pleasure of enjoying the company of an older lady who was sat in the cab and was from the e-Thon, a closed border town with Myanmar. I am sure she made the driver stop at the scenic lookout or he didn’t have any other choice as she had the ability of talking without taking a breath.  (I think I saw a little of me in her) I also think the driver just needed a respite from the chatter. She was obviously well known through the community as she seemed to know every person getting on and off the van.  She even took me to the police check point when I arrived at the National Park.  Even with considerable language troubles we were still able to communicate.  There was no way anthing out of the ordinary was going to happen at this police check point anyway.  So with a hug and further chatter the ute drove around another bend out of sight.  I paid my money and was given a key and that was it. I was like, where do I go, but without google translator or any other way of asking I picked up my bag and walked past the check point into the unknown.  

I must have walked about 300 meters when I saw a sign, written in Thai but with an arrow and numbers, 400m.  Oh good I thought, not a problem I’m sure this must be where the tree house is.  I was really felling like was the first solo 54 year old out in the middle of nowhere and looking fwd to what would be a great place to stay.  That was until I walked around the corner.  I don’t know who designed the road, but I couldn’t see the top of it and suddenly 400 meters seemed like 10km’s.  Luckily I bought my walking sticks, so with no other choice I began the climb. I think I must have been at a 50 degree angle, I was looking down and my forehead was nearly was touching the ground when I heard an engine.  For a second I was like, hell now I have to try and not fall flat on my face and make a complete dick of myself.  I dropped my bag and turned around to see a Ute slowly moving up the road and in the back a group of army cadets.  As they drove past me, one of the cadets yelled out and the ute stopped. The next thing I know I was being carried and lifted into the back of the Ute. I clambered my way up to the front and held onto the bar with dear life. I sort of felt like a damsel in distress standing on the back with 1/2 dozen army cadets!  I started laughing nervously as they were all staring at me and speaking in a quizzical tone.  Then out of the blue someone says in english “you on your own, lady?”  I didn’t know if that was good or bad so I smiled and said “Ah yeah I am, why is that ok?”  I mean what the hell else was I going to say.  “No, my husband is waiting for me in Thom Pha Phum so you better leave me alone.”  They all turned and looked at each other in either horror or what the F, is she crazy kinda look.  I started feeling a little nervous, I mean, I am on my own, I not what you would call ready to defend myself in shape wise and I don’t speak a word of Thai, let alone there wasn’t any telephone connection.  However before I knew it the ute stopped, they grabbed my bag, picked me up and plonked me down in front of the tree house which faced the most amazing view I have seen in years.  All good in terror and war, I thought. 

After roaming around the park for a couple of hours I decided have a bite to eat. Nothing like cold curry and rice, a few choclate biscuits and warm mango smoothie. What else did one need as I watched the sunlight slowly disappear from the mountains. As darkness took ahold I sat and listened to the night animals take over, sort of eery on your own.  So I decided that I would hit the sack, I sealed my food and hung it up on the hook.  I know from my experience in Tassie that you should never leave food around, but that is another story.  So I tucked mysef in with some background music for company.  I am not sure what time it was but I did wake at sometime and hear some noises, I tried not to freak myself out and went back to sleep. I am not sure how long I was asleep for when I was again woken to scratching sounds.  I froze quickly trying to think what the hell it was, then I suddenly realised, for some reason and I don’t know what I was thinking but stupid me did leave some some food in a bag on the floor next to my bed and I totally forgot. Yeap, you guessed it Mickey mouse and probably his family decided to befriend me during the night and decided to head into my bag.  It’s funny how during a moonless night, in the middle of a strange land, on your own, the million thoughts that go through your head.  There was no way now that I was going to sleep in my bed. So I grabbed the blanket, locked the door and sat on the balcony looking out at a moonless sky. It was when I had to go to the loo that paranoia really did creep in.  I decided that it was better to go down the stairs from the tree house and relieve myself on terra firma than using the pretty primitive loo in the tree house, plus I would have to go back through the bedroom. So as I climbed down with my trusty light, which I still didn’t know how to use properly yet, I noticed a car parked behind the tree house.  My initial thoughts were guards sleeping and protecting the area.  Of course I still don’t know what the guards were thinking when I got my lift.  So I flashed my bright light around and tippy toed around to find an out of view location.  Suddenly as I was relieving myself I heard the car doors open and shut.  Bloody hell, so with half my pants down, I quickly made myself back to the tree house.  Who were they, what do they want?  Suddenly Mickey became the least of my worries.  I listened and crept around the balcony to see who they were.  I heard the doors open and shut again however, after a few tense moments I composed myself and decided that the best course of action was to stay up and wade through the night.  At least if something did happen I had my camera for evidence, a headlamp, a bottle of water and food hanging from the hook.  So for the next 4-5 hours I made myself busy hoping no-one was going to climb the stairs.  I learnt a lot about using my video on my camera during a dark night and how to work my headlamp, whilst listening to a podcast I downloaded from the Record Doctor, the unhcharted hits from Madonna.  Nothing like listening to, “I F’ed up, I did it again, nobody does better than myself” to make you feel at home.  

When the sun started to rise I noticed that it wasn’t guards or even some crazed madman but two women sleeping for the night in their car.  I think they were scared also because when I made my way down and they saw I was just a little old lady, they started laughing hysterically.  For Mickey, he enjoyed my biscuits, thankfully he wasn’t anywhere to be found and he left no trace in my bag.  As the dawn became daybreak I realised I had to get transport back to Thong Pha Phum so I made my way back down to the police check point.  This time without a lift, but at least it was down hill.  So with my limited knowledge of Thai, and my horrible drawing skills I asked the police what time the van came, 7:30 the young man wrote, great I thought only a 15 minute wait.  What a joke, either they had no idea what I was asking or they really had no idea when the van came.  I spent the next two hours watching ants disect and carry a dead cricket away, what amazing little creatures they are. When the transport did arrive I was thrilled (for a minute anyway) to know I was going back until I realised that there wasn’t any room inside.  I spent the next 2 hours, going down the mountain hanging off the back of van with my backpack wanting to pull me down with it. The exhaust spewing carbon monoxide my way whilst the van weaved its way down the mountainside.  To say I was excited about returning to the bus stop was an understatement. Let’s just say I got a lifetime of carbon monoxide, until I returned to Bangkok.  After a 10 hour journey back to Bangkok, I suddenly realised what an achievement. Sure not everything went to plan, but having the opportunity to give it a go and to spend 10 days traveling to areas outside my comfort zone and without the use of a guide book was rewarding.  The moral of this journey was having a dream, ambition, hope and a goal. What would life be without it?

 

A railway to nowhere

Traveling solo can bring a real sense of achievement.  I felt this when I returned to Bangkok after 10 days of traveling along the Thai-Myanmar border.  A route that people often do through organised tours from Bangkok and often ending at the bridge over the River Khwae or the beggining (or end) of the Death Railway.  I sensed that not all was great at a town call Kanchanaburi, the location of the Bridge.  There was a real divide between tourists and locals and part of Kanchanaburi was a place for ex-vets.  The owner of the hotel I stayed at confirmed this to me, lamenting a time gone past.   When he would have bookings for longer than one night.  He blamed this on the many tourist bus in, tourist bus out types of places, where hordes of visitors come, take a photo, buy cheap souvenirs and leave.  I also noticed how large hotel chains were eating up the river for wealthy tourists.  I myself visited the bridge 8 years ago and came here for the same reason to see the bridge but I remember thinking what was further up the line, I also noticed that the place was like a border town.  So this time I wanted to catch the train to the end of the line and continue on, first to Sangkhlaburi, (the last town before the one of the many closed border crossings with Myanmar) although not planned, then back to Thong Pha Phum. 

I am glad I spent a few days in Kanchanaburi, not because I was invited to dinner with a lovely Malaysian couple whom I met in Bangkok or even chatting with ex-vets who wanted to dispel the stereotype.  I’m glad I stayed mainly to educate myself about the history of the famous railway line and the people who were sacrificed and sacrificed their own lives for a better world.  How apt in todays crappy war laden world we live in.  What has changed in 70 years I ask?  By visiting the museum and walking around the cemetery I learnt not just about soldiers from my own country but the realisation that 100,000’s of Asian prisoner of war peoples were slaughtered in the process.  I am sure I knew about this and many diggers told stories about them but I had no idea of the treatment and how they came to such a killing field.  The museum gave me the motivation of going to the memorial at Hellfire pass.  Not easy to get to with public transport but to further understand about war in this part of world it was worth any modern day issue with transport.  Visiting the memorial did give me the opportunity to talk to people I met who also visited the site and reflect on days gone past but also on events today.  We all agreed that the sad thing is, as much as this memorial was an eye opener, why is it that we live in a world that refuses to learn from history?  The events from the past are so short lived that the same issues that were faced back over 70 years ago continue today.  It was reminder that it’s time we take a chill pill and learn how to treat people with respect and not to judge one culture unfairly compared to another.  That messages of hate and fear are often led by people who fear losing their own power.  So with these idealist thoughts in the forefront of my mind, I continued my journey to the border, as Hellfire pass was only a portion of the route the Japanese constructed.  Unfortunately the railway isn’t in use any longer but the road takes the same route up to the border town of Sangkhlaburi.