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Thailand’s Songkran Festival

From April 13-15, Thailand celebrates their new year with the Songkran Festival. During these three days, the entire country participates in the biggest water fight in the world.

The throwing of water started as a way to pay respect, by capturing the water after it had been poured over the Buddhas for cleansing and then using this “blessed” water to give good fortune to elders and family by gently pouring it on the shoulder. Over time, this tradition has evolved among young people into a full blown water fight including full on dousing of random passers by. Some also carry a bowl of talc powder mixed with water, which they then smear it on people’s faces and bodies as a blessing for the new year.

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My Songkran Experience

A few years ago I was in Thailand for this festival and was not prepared for how crazy it would be. We decided to spend it in Chiang Mai, where the most famous Songkran celebrations are held. Chiang Mai is surrounded by a moat with streets that run alongside it, providing a perfect (but dirty) water source for this celebration.

We arrived the day before the festival began so we could prepare. We found our hotel, dropped off our bags and went shopping for water guns. This Minnie Mouse super soaker was my weapon of choice.

Mariska Songkran Weapon

We left the hotel to join the festival the next day and there was a group of kids waiting outside and I immediately got a full bucket of water to the chest! That was how the next three days went from start to finish. For the next three days I would wore the same clothes, still wet from the day before, as there was no point getting my limited supply of clean clothes all soaked.

This went on for three days straight! The Thai people loaded up in trucks with giant barrels of water and drove through the streets spraying water at people. Some got a bit nasty and added ice to their water buckets, which was absolutely shocking when you were doused with it. Most of the Thai people were fairly respectful not to spray water in people’s faces, which was great. It was the Western crowd that tended to take things a bit too far, spraying people in the face or in the ear with a super soaker full of ice water. Not cool.

Overall the festival was an absolute blast! When dusk hit in the evening the water fight would end for the day, and around about nine the next morning it would start up again.

Here is a taste of what those three days were like:

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 What festivals have you attended while traveling? Share in the comments below.

 

A Thailand Liveaboard Adventure

I arrived in Thailand at the end of March 2011 armed with my PADI Open Water certification and a mere 7 dives under my belt. After a Scuba Review dive with terrible visibility off Koh Tao, I did the Enriched Air Nitrox specialty course and then the Advanced Open Water course at Buddha View Dive Resort, with PADI instructor, and friend, Robert Scales.

On the dive boat off Koh Tao. Diving on Koh Tao

For my PADI Advanced Open Water Course, I chose to do deep, navigation, peak buoyancy, night and, of course, photography as my adventure dives to complete the course.

Everything went smoothly, and I did not feel the effects of nitrogen narcosis during the deep dive segment. I was fairly nervous about doing the night dive. Diving in the dark, where you can see only where your light shines was hugely intimidating for me. But surprisingly, I found it to be very peaceful and even relaxing. It was probably my best dive experience off Koh Tao.

So, just like that, 3 days later, I was an Advanced Open Water Diver! Yes!!

So… The whole purpose of doing the Advanced Open Water course was to do a three day liveaboard trip to the Similan Islands and Richelieu Rock with Eden Divers in Khao Lak. Our experience with Eden Divers was better than I could have imagined. Never having done a liveaboard before, I was unsure what I should expect, but this far exceeded my expectations!

 

We chose Eden Divers because of the small number of people on the boat. The Sea of Fantasy can take up to 13 liveaboard guests plus crew. We were not interested in going out on a massive boat with 30+ people, where you would constantly be running into people while diving. 13 seemed like it would be a much better and intimate experience. So, we splurged (just a tiny splurge) and booked ourselves one of the two air conditioned master cabins on the ship. Awesome!

The trip included 5 amazing meals a day, coffee, tea, drinking water, fruit and snacks, and you could also purchase soft drinks and beer on the ship, or bring your own. You could do up to four dives each day and if you were nitrox certified (which I now was), the nitrox was included at no extra cost. And to top it all off our guide, Fariborze, was amazing!

Diving courses were also available on the boat, as each guide is a certified instructor. So, for example, if you didn’t have your nitrox certification when you boarded the ship, you could upgrade your knowledge and skills while on the trip and do your dives on nitrox. We had one fellow guest who had started her Open Water course a couple of days before the trip, and she completed it on the boat and decided to also do her Advanced Open Water and Nitrox courses on the boat as well.

The crew on the boat was nothing short of awesome! Our rooms were cleaned and made up each day. The meals we ate were super tasty. The deck crew below, helping with our gear thought of everything before we even had a spark of an idea in our minds. We barely had to do anything except climb into our wetsuits, strap on our BCDs and jump in the 29 celsius water! Awesome!

So, on to the fun stuff! What did we see….??? We woke up on the first day to a tornado/water spout! Very cool! We did 11 dives over 3 days and saw all kinds of crazy creatures: lion fish, dancing shrimp, many giant moray eels and barracudas, many different nudibranchs, trigger fish, box fish (one of my favourites), black spotted puffer fish, porcupine fish, groupers, travellys, the biggest lobster I’ve EVER seen (I’m probably evil for wanting to see it on my plate…), sea horses, harlequin shrimp, ghost pipefish, trumpet fish, jans pipefish, spider crabs, leopard sharks, napoleon wrasse, bandit sea snakes (very poisonous), stone fish, scorpion fish, honeycomb moray eels, and that just scratches the surface! Of course we saw all of the more common creatures like clown fish, anemones, urchins, corals, etc. The two things I was really hoping to encounter were the manta rays and a whale shark, but they did not reveal themselves to us on this adventure. It just means I will have to keep looking and finding many other critters in the process!

So as I stepped off the ship, I now had logged 24 dives in my log book, and I feel much more confident underwater.

It’s funny… when most people look out at the ocean, they have no idea of what lies beneath. There truly is a whole other world on this planet that we share, and I have not even scratched the surface with what I have seen. I could get used to being on the water more. A different view each time you look out, and a new world to explore each time you jump overboard. Doesn’t sound half bad. I could get used to that life.

A HUGE thank you Eden Divers for an amazing experience in the Similan Islands! Thank you Fariborze for being a brilliant guide! And thank you Robert, for being my instructor and dive buddy throughout our Thailand diving adventures! The trip was truly amazing.

[miniflickr photoset_id=72157626990617591&sortby=date-posted-asc&per_page=48]

 

Elephant Nature Park

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Elephant Nature Park 89, a photo by mariskar on Flickr.

My visit to the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, Thailand was one of the most amazing experiences ever! This is a photo of my favourite pachyderm at the park, Medo.

Adventures in Bangkok

Our first day in Bangkok was somewhat adventurous. After breakfast we grabbed our cameras and set off to first, sort out our travel plans to Koh Tao, and then to explore the city.

Sorting out our travel plans wasn’t as simple as we expected. A friend had arranged our train and ferry tickets to the island of Koh Tao and had sent the tickets from Koh Tao to a Bangkok travel office. However, due to the storms in the gulf of Thailand at the time, the tickets never actually made it to Bangkok. So, day one in Bangkok, we were told to come back the next day to see if the ferries were running again for our tickets to make it to the mainland… So, off we went to explore Bangkok!

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Within minutes of leaving the travel office we were approached by one tuktuk driver after another offering to take us to various tourist attractions. We were standing on a corner looking at the city map, when a woman walked up offering to help give us direction to the Grand Palace. She told us the easiest way to get there was by tuktuk and so we climbed in. The ride was exceptionally cheap that day, as it was a Buddhist holiday and the government was sponsoring the tuktuks for the day, so we ended up paying 20 baht (about 64 Canadian cents) for a two and a half hour tour of Bangkok with several stops along the way. Not bad!

View from the back of the tuktuk in Bangkok, Thailand

First stop, the Standing Buddha. This was the the first big Buddha I had ever seen and I was blown away by its sheer size! This was also my first experience watching Buddhists leaving offerings and pausing for prayer. They would pay a donation to the temple and in exchange they were given three incense sticks, a candle, and gold leaf. The incense and candle were lit and left in designated areas, while the gold leaf was pressed onto a Buddha statue for luck. Next they would kneel in front of the Buddha in prayer.

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We made a couple of other stops before the driver took us to Top Ten Tailors, the first sponsor of the adventure. I had read about this so was not surprised. Basically the tuktuk drivers are paid in gasoline coupons for bringing tourists to their sponsors (usually tailors and jem shops). So, we played along… Although the clothes were truly beautiful, and much more affordable than back home (a 3-piece men’s suit was $75 CAD), we weren’t about to lug something like that all over Thailand with us for seven weeks… So after listening to the half hour spiel, we politely declined and were on our way again.

We stopped at one more temple before we told our driver that we were not interested in any more sponsor stops, our tuktuk tour abruptly ended right back where we started, and the friendly woman who had been so helpful earlier pretended not to even know us. Haha! Quite hilarious, really…

From there, we carried on on foot. We explored the famous Khaosan Road, where you can buy anything and everything you can imagine!

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We eventually made our way to the Grand Palace. However, by this time it was later in the afternoon, and there was not enough time before the palace closed to do it justice for exploring. So we decided to go back the following day. But we’ll save that for another post…

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For more photos of my Bangkok adventure, please visit the set on Flickr!

Bangkok: Grand Palace

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Bangkok: Grand Palace, a set on Flickr.

New photos posted to Flickr of my visit to the Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand.

Off to a Rough Start…

My trip to Thailand didn’t have the greatest start… For starters, the morning of my flight to Bangkok I woke up to find that my car window had been smashed. I had to leave for the airport at 10:30am, and found my smashed window at 8am while taking the dog out for one last good walk before being away for 7 weeks… Ugh… Thanks to great friends and amazing family, it was quickly looked after so I could focus on getting my last minute things done before heading to the airport.

My journey was in two legs: Vancouver to Beijing, then Beijing to Bangkok. The flight to Beijing was a long 11 hours. And thanks to the six kids who took turns screaming, throughout the entire flight, it just that much longer… After a 4 hour layover, the Beijing to Bangkok flight was much quieter, and I actually slept through almost the entire trip.

The arrival in Bangkok was smooth. The luggage came quickly and the next thing I knew, I was in a taxi and headed to the hotel.

Quatchi's last photo at YVR

Quatchi's last photo at YVR, enjoying a ceasar while waiting to board the flight to Beijing.

We arrived at the hotel after more than 30 hours of traveling and just as the taxi drove away I realized I had left a bag in the cab… Which wasn’t a huge big deal (duty free booze, a scarf, and travel slippers), except that there was one item in the bag that I’ll miss a lot during the trip, and was a huge part of my little travel project… Quatchi. Quatchi was in the bag. :(

So… as much as I intended to post plenty of photos of Quatchi checking out Thailand at @QuatchiTravels, Quatchi has embarked on his own personal undocumented journey. I’m thinking that the driver was quite happy with the gift of rum, his wife has a nice new scarf and slippers, and his kid has a fun new toy…

Surprisingly, after more than 30 hours of travel and maybe 4 hours of sleep, sleep did not come easy on the first night in Bangkok. So, what better to do at 2am, than to search the streets for some tasty tom ka (coconut soup).

My luck was changing, cuz we found such a tasty soup not far from the hotel at a street vendor. Tom ka seafood! YUM! With a belly full of soup, sleep came much easier! Not a bad way to start the Bangkok adventure!

Good luck Quatchi! I hope you find happiness as you embark on a whole new adventure!

Travel on the Horizon

There is travel on the horizon, so close, I can almost touch it! T minus 6 days and I will be leaving Vancouver for 46 days!

Monkey Forest, Ubud, Bali 040 I’ll be flying from Vancouver to Bangkok, Thailand. I’ll spend a month exploring Thailand and then will make my way to Bali, Indonesia for some more exploring and hopefully some diving! I don’t have much on my itinerary at this point and am somewhat planning on a “no-plan” plan and talking to people once I arrive there as to what the must-sees are in their personal experiences. The few things that are on my list however, are to do my advanced scuba diving course on Koh Tao, to experience the Songkran Festival for Thai New Year in Chiang Mai, to visit an elephant rescue sanctuary, to spend a few days on a liveaboard diving boat off Phuket, and of course to visit many temples. And of course, this goes without saying, I plan to photograph the entire experience!Ubud Wanderings 17

After about a month in Thailand, I’ll head to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to catch a flight to Bali, Indonesia.  This is where I’ll spend my last 10 days of the trip diving, and seeing sights that I did not get to the last time around. As an added bonus, I’ll be spending a few days in Lovina in Northern Bali, at my aunt’s home, visiting with friends that I met on last year’s trip to the island.

So far, in preparation for the trip, I’ve booked my flight, purchased travel medical insurance, applied for and received my Thai tourist visa, and have ensured that my travel vaccinations are up to date. The main vaccinations my doctor said to concern myself with were: typhoid, tetanus, cholera, travelers diarrhea, and hepatitis A and B. Most of these were already up to date due to my travel to Bali last year, but the cholera/traveler’s diarrhea required a booster dose, so I did that, and the doctor also gave me some all purpose antibiotics (cipro) as a “just in case” solution to some potential problems that I may or may not encounter.

Ubud Wanderings 9 Having to deal with a house move before my departure has not helped my stress levels, so make things a bit simpler, and to save some cash on a month’s rent, I’ve chosen to put my life in storage until I return from the trip… It feels a bit strange to put it all back into a storage locker only six months after pulling it out of one, but somehow it feels like the right choice for the moment…

So there you have it… I’m booked and preparing for an adventure of a lifetime! I realize that many people never have the opportunity to make such a trip, so I plan to live it to the fullest and experience all there is to experience. The travel bug has bit me, and I have a feeling that this is only the beginning of my globe trotting adventures!