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Chul's Far Eastern Adventures....

Welcome to my blog where I will endeavour to keep you all updated on my travels, to remind you I'm still alive, and to let you know I miss you lot's.

Diary Entries

Saturday, 20 May 2006

Location: Ko Tao, Thailand

Probably my final blog...sniff!

Well, I made it to the Thai island of Ko Tao and I am currently winding down and repeatedly pinching myself to remind me how stunningly beautiful this place is. But before I regale you with more fascinating tales of life on the's the story from my first day in Thailand. I may have to be a bit vague or this blog will be mammoth sized...

I spent a few days quietly exploring Chiang Mai, yes I was quiet for a change, having a couple of excellent massages and spending a fun but expensive night bargaining at the night market. Seriously, when you know how to do it properly and with a sense of humour you can not only get a fantastic bargain but make great friends. In the end I had to shut my eyes and get out of there because I couldn't walk five metres without buying something.

Anyway, determined to actually DO something I went on a two day trek to the Mae Tang, a river north of Chiang Mai. The group was pretty small and friendly, as the only native English speaker I felt the usual pangs of being a lazy traveller but my companions were patient as ever! We swam in and around a 50 ft waterfall and it's lagoon, trekked for a few hours until we finally arrived at a village in the heart of the jungle. There we were treated to a great meal cooked up by our guide and some of the friendly locals. I loved the fact that this was so clearly not a tourist attraction and just a welcoming village who were happy to put up with nosy tourists like us.

The next day we had an elephant ride down the banks of the river and then finished the trip by bamboo raft. I am ashamed that I ignored my gut instincts about these poor elephants and continued with the trek despite the elephant clearly not wanting us on it's back, and not wanting to go down some of the steep banks or into the water. That's the one thing I have done this trip that I regret and will never do again.

The following day I finally made it to the Elephant Nature Park and it was one of the most exhilarating and enlightening experiences of my life. The park itself is run by a woman named Lek who looks after sick, retired, and orphaned elephants. It covers a huge area (100's of acres) and the lush green grass is spotted with bamboo buildings where the staff and the volunteers live. I had heard so much about the park from my friend Jacqui in Hanoi and was so excited about meeting the elephants and the fantastic Lek. What I learnt over the day made her stoicism even more impressive.

I can't tell you each elephants story. Suffice to say, they have all had terribly difficult lives, it's heartbreaking, and you can see their pain visibly in their eyes. However, there is a young 4 year old named Hope who has been cared for by the park since birth and he will not undergo a week long torture by which these animals are taught to be submissive to man. Lek is trying to prove that the best way is to work with the animals peacefully. Hope has such a smile and sense of fun, throughout the day he was playing with the other elephants and had great playfights in the water (pretty scary to us guys trying to wash them though - you don't want a ton of elephant on your foot). I will bore your ears off at home telling you about these amazing creatures but visit to see for yourself.

I was totally awed the first time I saw an elephant roaming free, not shackled to a post, and wandering a few feet away. Having been introduced the volunteers, who basically feed, wash, and clean up after the elephants, I got the chance to feed some of my new friends! Literally, this meant grabbing a fistful of bananas or corn and letting them wrap their powerful trunks around it, helping them secure it and patting their trunk as they stuff themselves. They eat one tenth of their body weight everyday, mostly grass, for them the bananas and corn are like a snack, say a packet of crisps, and they each had a huge basket! That's the first time you feel like you are really connecting with these intelligent animals.

The it was bathtime! Out came the buckets and brushes and volunteers, elephants et al tramped down to the river and, having been given strict instructions to get out asap if the little ones start running amok, we started scrubbing. Elephant skin is very sensitive, but it feels thick, and leathery and one of them is actually a white elephants so once all the mud has been cleaned off her back you can really see her colour! It didn't make much of a difference to the others, especially as they get out and immediately throw more mud on them (it's a sunscreen and insect repellent for them - I tried it, it works but people avoid you....).

In the afternoon we were introduced to the oldest male elephant, Max. The tallest elephant in Thailand according to some, and he is a hulk. Well, in height, but his legs are quite skinny so he looks like a gangly but wise old elephant. The ladies love him.

Finally, a final bathtime where myself and a few of the volunteers were nearly run over by some playful elephants, I was so scared! They might be babies but they could do some damage. It was great to watch from the safety of the banks though. We followed the elephants back, watched them have a scratch (bit too graphic on occassion...) and then something unusual happened. Almost all the elephants had congregated together (normally they hang around in their family groups) and Lek gave them a football which lasted 20 seconds before it burst sending hundreds of polystyrene balls across the park.

It was so hard to drag myself away from there, I was even collecting the polystyrene balls from the sand! But finally the day had come to an end and I needed to race back to Chiang Mai to get my bus to Bangkok. I consoled myself knowing that I will be back, and for longer next time.

I missed the bus, but my wonderful guesthouse got a guy to take me on a motorbike and it was so exciting being whisked through the streets of Chiang Mai! I did feel awful for holding up the bus and apologised to my fellow passengers but we didn't leave for another 30 minutes so my shame turned to frustration pretty speedily but finally we set off and I was on my way to Bangkok!

After being refrigerated for approximately 12 hours we turned up in a sleepy, early morning Bangkok. As I got off I recognised a friend from the slow boat from Laos, Julia, and I somehow managed to wreck her plans and persuade her to hang out in Bangkok with me and then to go to Kanchanaburi the next day! And she had been heading to the beaches, we're still travelling together so it can't have hurt too much.

Bangkok was so unlike I expected it to be. I thought I'd had the hectic, oppressive atmosphere but it's actually one of the cleanest, friendliest and diverse cities I've visited. Plus I'd bagged myself an air-con room, with a TV and a sofa! Heaven. We shopped, we ate, we went on a boat, the skytrain and the weekend market (somehow without spending anything - so unlike me!) before having a brilliant night terrorising Khao San road.

Next day - Kanchanaburi. Famous for being the site of the bridge over the river Kwai. Otherwise it is a sleepy Thai town, and one of the friendliest places I've yet visited, and we spent an informative day wandering round the museum and on the bridge. For those of you who don't know the background (and haven't seen 'Bridge over the River Kwai'), the Thai-Burma railway was built by the Japanese army using POW's (mainly Brits and Dutch) and many more civilians. It is known as the Death Railway because 16,000 POW's died while building it, and tens of thousands more civilians on top of that.

The bridge itself has another dreadful story, the Allies bombed it, but not before the Japanese had made the POW's stand along it waving their arms in the hope that they would not bomb. Of course the pilots had no choice and the bridge was pummelled with bombs. Half of it sank with many dead or badly injured men, into the river. It's an appalling story.

But we encountered a really wierd thing, the Japanese had erected a memorial in 1944 to comfort the souls of those who had died building the railway. I think that has more to do with the Asian idea of life after death rather than regret but it is an interesting footnote.

Wishing we had longer to relax in this haven we forced ourselves to leave because the time had come to go to THE ISLAND!

More than a day later (and another friend, Ju's travelling companion Al caught up with us as we boarded the bus from Bangkok to Ko Tao), two buses, one boat and a jeep and we arrived!

It didn't sink in that I had made it until we managed to find myself a bargain diving course attached to a cheap but roomy guesthouse (thanks for a great tip from a Swede on the trek) and I stood on our balcony overlooking the bay. It is everything a tropical island should be, everything I expected; crystal waters, palm trees, golden sands, reggae music.....

The first evening we braved the storm (whose bright idea was it to come to Thailand in the rainy season!!!!! - oops) and had a delicious Thai curry, I am seriously addicted now! The next day however, was beautiful. I spent the first four hours doing diving academics with Tom, my instructor (turns out I was the only one on the course - one on one tuition, I am very lucky) and had the rest of the day off to top up my tan! I am glad we made the most of it. For the next three days it has basically rained non-stop.

That night was the Champion's League final. We were battered, literally and metaphorically. I was gutted Arsenal lost, especially as eveyone else in the bar appeared to support Barca! Great game, great night.

The next morning I was not a little relieved to be told by Tom that I had passed my exam, but that because of the conditions (it was still stormy, windy and rainy) we wouldn't be able to dive today. I feigned dismay and promptly ran back to bed to nurse my poor aching head.

I made my first confined water dive yesterday, which is normally done in the pool, but what I love about Reef Riders (who I am learning with) is that they don't mollycoddle you so I was straight out to sea! Well, two metres of sea anyway. There were definitely fish and crabs down there so I'd say that counts.

I felt like such a prat with all the gear on, especially when my flipper came off when I jumped in, but it was rescued and returned to my foot and we happily swam towards the shore and I descended under water for the first time, breathing through my regulator. What a wierd sensation, and then you get used to it and look around and see what a wierd and fascinating world you just entered and ache to explore and not do all the silly procedures which may save your life but aren't at all fun.

That done, we swam deeper to about 6 metres and did a few more tests which I mostly did ok on except I had a little trouble putting my weight belt back on after removing it and had an insy bit of a panic attack, but it was only a small one and I recovered quickly.

When we finished I was amazed that we had been underwater for one hour and I couldn't wait to get back in the water and actually be able to concentrate on what was around me rather than remembering to breathe properly, equalize, etc etc etc

So today were my first two proper dives and if I felt like I was in another world before, then that was nothing compared to what I saw today. Coral laced with fish of the most exotic colours! It is amazing how colours on a shell suit can look so disgusting on a human and so beautiful on a fish. Bright blues, greens, yellows and pinks on just one fish. I loved the sparkly little blue ones who were just everywhere. We swam through shoals who paid us no attention whatsoever. We didn't see any sharks that tend to roam that edge of coast but I'm hoping to see some tomorrow on my final dives, and this time I'll be armed with their underwater camera. I absolutely cannot wait. I'm not saying that I don't find diving scary because it's a strange, unnatural feeling thing to do, but once you are into it it's fun, fascinating and I can safely say I'm now addicted.

Sorry for this huge blog, I hope you have found it interesting since I have actually done things in Thailand and I do find it amazing, there is a new challenge around each corner. So I may not finish evening out my tan but it has been an awesome place to end my trip and I best go now before I get too sad.

Coming home though, is not something I am dreading. I am so excited to come back and see everyone again, I shall miss travelling but the real world beckons and I can't be a waster all my life....

Love to you all, sorry if I bored you to tears



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Recent Messages

From Richard (Not the Chi
Hey Rach

You missed Eurovision. Hard Times :(
Finland won anyway Have a great few last days.

love Rich xxxx
Response: Thanks Rich, gutted I missed Eurovision! It's such a classy musical competition. I bet we came last. I'd consider that a complement to the British actually!

See you soon Rich, good luck with the finals! Soon be over.



From Emily
Hey Rach,
Hope you're enjoying your last week away in Thailand. Make the most of it, cos soon you'll be back to the reality of England! I'm in the middle of exams, which is rubbish, but at least it's sunny! 29 days until the greatest reunion the world has ever seen!! Have a Singha for me, see you soon,
Emily x
Response: Singha?? Sorry mate but it's Chang all the way for me. I am enjoying my final week in Thailand, but I must admit I am looking forward to coming home as well as soaking up every amazing minute here.

Good luck with exams and hopefully the thought of tons of football related madness afterward will help see you through it!

Can't wait to catch up Em!



From Zoe
Hey You!

So to sum up Laos: Beer, water and one very wrong monkey!!! Lol. But seriously, still sounds like you are having an ace time, which I am very glad about! Looking forward to seeing you soon though!
Love Zo x
Response: And you Zo. Spots and stripes! That really has got me thinking......

I hope you are having an ace time too! I can't wait to see all those Oslo pictures.

Enjoy steak night, have an onion ring for me please....

Love and hugs


From Richard
Erm. I've never been to China?...I like Wales too much :p Emily thinks that you think I'm Rich from Norwich.
Anyway, I've been revising for Finals finals finals and rocking to 80s music.
Response: Sorry Rich! Good luck for your finals! Great to hear from you and I would love to catch up with you when I come up for our huge Cuth's women's football day!

Look after yourself, and of course Emily as well!

From Richard
Rachel! Emily finally remember to give me the address for your page. Hope you're having a nice time - it seems like you are. A load of us went on the tuxedo princess last night in newcastle and we went on ther revolving dancefloor so today my head hurts.
Stay safe. Don't do anything I wouldn't do. Actually, maybe you shouldn't do anything I would do...
Response: The Tuxedo Princess?! Ah, those were the days...I hope your head has recovered but I don't have too much sympathy. Alcohol and revolving dancefloors are a recipe for the world's worst hangover!

From Tom Simonetti
Wow I gotta say I'm not only well impressed with all these places you've been and all the things you're doing, but I'm also well jealous! Glad you're ok and happy. Hope the rest of your trip goes just as well!

Tom xxxx
PS Very brave of you with the snake. Think I'd have run of screaming if I came within about 10 feet of a python!
Response: Thanks Tom, but I think if you can handle Mrs Brennan then a 10 ft python is easy work!

Hope you are enjoying Loughborough uni life.

Catch you when I get back.

From Simon
Afternoon there,
I've finally got round to reading what you've been upto and seeing your pics. They bring back some great memories for myself and glad you're having fun out there - it looks like you are! It's cool that you went to Mui Ne too, we loved that place, and the cows on the beach gave it that extra touchI
Speak to you soon and look after yourself,
Response: Thanks Simon, I am indeed having shed loads of fun. Especially tubing in Vang Vieng...will post more on that later.

Glad the photos are helping you reminisce and I hope you are enjoying working with all those special Druck ladies, hope they've not been too mischevious with you...

From angie
The pics are amazing esp the sunrise.
I have to say you are looking very tanned hope ypu are not doing to much sunbathing!! lol!
Of course i still have the car still need my girl racer car especially now the sun is coming out!!!!
Hope you get your flight ticket back! Take care n speak to u soon
Angie xx
Response: My face may look tanned my dear but beware the curse of tan lines!!!!

I got my ticket back just fine, going to write another update asap.

Glad to hear the sun is finally showing it's face! Say hi to all at Druck for me please honey.

From Nikki Chapman
you look so happy - i cant remember seeing you smile so much!!!!
i am also glad you went for the snake around the neck - that is cool.
miss you loads
lots of love
Response: Thanks Nix, I couldn't miss out on the snake!

Miss you too.

From Jonny
Hey Rach,
It sounds as if you're having a reeeally good time. We're all missing you. I hope you're still checking up on me on my LJ, feel free to leave comments on it whenever you want, I'm sorry if it's a bit depressing, i can't help it lol. Anyway, you continue to relish your time away from boring old Blightly, but drink a beer for St Georges Day. I know you don't usually need an excuse to drink beer, but that's a ready made one hehe.
One slight thing though, you might wanna change the comment where you're holding a python. Some people with dirty minds may mis-construe it into something sexual.

Lots of love and hugs, the Shaler Clan
Response: Point duly taken Jonny! My comment has changed but if anyone did read into it then they must be pretty sick!

I am still keeping an eye on you, never fear.

Look after yourself, good luck on the job front and be happy.

Hi to Mary and Dave too!

From Katie
Hi Rach,
glad you're having a great time in Cambodia, even with its dark past. Durham is really quiet at the moment (term doesn't start for another week), except for these strange undergrads who are working... It's getting vaguely spring-like here, but I'm still envious of anywhere where the sun means it's actually warm! Anyway, keep having fun and Happy Easter!

Katie xx
Response: Hi Katie!

Undergraduates....working? That didn't happen in our day!

I hope it warms up for you, it sounds like England is due for a great summer after such a long winter....I'll be back just in time! Please don't hate me.

Hope you had a fab easter - lot's of chocolate. I actually dream about our hot chocolates and cake sampled all over Durham, great days. When I get back we'll relive it!

Good luck with your final term! Don't work too hard and have lot's of fun!

From Pete

Sorry for the lack of e-mails lately - been busy, then went to runcorn (long story) and now busy again. Will try and give you one of my "not a lot happening" e-mails soon.

In the mean time keep having fun, try not to swallow another dictionary (your linguistic skills are putting us all to shame) and will speak to you anon.

Pete x

PS. New Snow Patrol single is very average tho Gary still has his 'big' hair in the video
Response: What is runcorn???? Am intrigued.

No e-mail lately but seems like you've been very busy making one of my close friends very happy so I'll let you off!


p.s. It's not about the music! It's all about the hair, and Gary.....yummy!
From Zoe
Did you get the six yr old back then??!
I have realised that you have mentioned chocolate a LOT, so there will be a big bar waiting for you when you get back!!
Love Zo x
Response: Ah, I love you Zo, chocolate......

The six year old was too bloody fast!

Good luck with the driving! Have read your e-mail, sounds like it's going really well. Just watch out for those mini-roundabouts, they are tricky buggars!


From James C
Sounds and looks like you're having a bit of an awesome time. Am pretty green with envy. Some of us living in the real world having jobs and paying friggin council tax - and suchalike. Anyway take it easy and continue having what seems to be the chance of a lifetime.

Response: Council tax?????? What is that when it's at home? I have no idea. That's what university and parents are for! Heee hee. That's the sound of me being thrown out!

Hope you've had a good easter James.


From Nikki C
hi sweetie,
all there is to say is "you lucky bugger". miss you loads
lots of love

Response: Thanks Nikki! Miss you too.

Keep smiling honey, I'll send you back some S-E Asian sun!

Love and hugs

From Angie
Hi Rach!!
Well i have to say sounds like ur having a great time the pics are amazing! Hows the alcohol out there is it better than england??
Just to keep u up with the goss... Ash has moved to Rugby but all is good!!! Take care of yourself!! xx
Response: Hi Angie!

I'm glad everything is good, that's big news about Ash! Hope you still have the car though!

Tha alcohol isn't better, but the local beer is very cheap and there are more happy hours here than in England! I'll try and bring some back for you to sample...

Happy Easter!

From Lynne
sounds as though your still having a brill time. I now understand what you meant about Cambodia being "dark" - I shed a tear. Good Friday not so good cause we're at GE but roll on Mon/Tue. Going to see my son-in-law bike racing at Mallory on Monday - he got a trophy at Croft Circuit last weekend, so he's off to a good start (mind you it was freezing)
Roll on more pics
Response: I hope he had a good race Lynne! And you stuffed yourself with good food and loads of chocolate.

From Beccy
Hi Rach, sounds really good and the pic's are fab! Sounds like your really enjoying it.....!!! Keep us updated and enjoy Beccy xx
Response: Thanks Beccy, I will! Hope the hand is well on the mend.



From Sarah Mustin
It's Monday morning again and I am even more envious now that I have seen your photos.....China looks fab! We are off to Ireland on Thursday so I will have a glass of Guinness for you! How is the Rucksack doing?!
Sarah, Paul and Joel
Response: The rucksack is superb! It's like an old friend, looking tattered just like me! Thanks so much. Enjoy Ireland! Still my favourite place on earth. Thanks for the Guinness!

Love and hugs to you and little Joel,


From Intrepid becks
aww your photos are wicked!
Glad to hear you're keeping up the St Paddy's Day spirit! Well...and all the cultural stuff too of course.

keep smiling xx
From Lynne
Hi Rachel,
I new the photo's would be fabulous it is the most amazing country. I am so envious, I think the chance to go to China has passed me by so I will have to live the dream through your photos. Hope your putting some more China ones on

Lynne x
Response: It's never too late Lynne! I will try and put some more on for you.
Hope Man U are having more luck than Forest!
From Emily Gage
Hey Rach,
Great to hear about what you've been up to. Glad to hear you've been finding the best bars (we spent a few nights drinking at the Barracuda Bar). I'm so jealous! Glad you liked Halong Bay, its just amazing, and I loved Hoi An too (I also bought too many tailored clothes)! At the moment I'm bored in Norfolk trying to write essays and revise! Take care, and keep enjoying it, looking forward to reading your next update.
Emily x
From Sue
Not enjoying the trip too much then !!! send the piccies asap. Played the last game on Saturday - 0-0 half time but ended up going down 5-0 - 3 very soft goals. The girls all say Hi and hurry back for training.
Response: Aw, say hi to the girls back from me please Sue! I am impressed with the result, it's frustrating when they work so hard and the other team gets some lucky goals.

Thanks for updating me,

From Sarah Mustin
Hello Rachel
I have just come in on MOnday morning and have read your latest letter......I ma so envious! You sound as though you are having the most fabulous time. Can't wait to see some photos!!! Take care. I will look forward to the next installment.
Hi Sarah!

I hope Paul and Joel are doing well. Have you been to Ireland yet?

From Angie Waring
Hello Rach!!! Sounds like you are having a great time. Ill have to keep checking your web page for updates, when can we see ur pictures??? love Angie
Hi Angie!

Pictures are on their way but computers here are really slow and it takes forever. But keep checking, I am working on it as ever!

I hope everything is good with you honey.