It was about 4pm this afternoon, and I was trying to get back to Khao San Road, after my shopping spree in Pantip Plaza and nearby Pratunam Market. I managed to get a metered cab in the morning — and this was good, since as far as taxis in Bangkok go, meter is cheaper. For getting back, however, it seemed that competition was a bit more fierce: the majority of taxis around Pantip were full; and of those that were empty and that I did manage to hail, they all refused to use their meter, and instead quoted me their outrageous farang special flat fees, which I rejected. In the end, I was forced (reluctantly) to take a tuk-tuk. And when the driver said: "velly cheap, but make some stops on the way", I knew that what I'd managed to heretofore avoid in Bangkok was now inevitable — I was going to take the famous "Bangkok Scenic Route".
I'm usually not too bad at absorbing useful snippets of the local language, wherever I go. But the Thai language is a different story: it's Really Hard™ to learn. So far, I've been going at a rate of about one commonly-spoken word per week, and I'm struggling to maintain even that. I've got kop-khun khap ("thank you") down pat, as well as the famous sawadee-khap ("hello" / "goodbye"). I'm working on sabadee-mai ("how are you"), sabadee ("I'm fine"), and sabai ("good"). Also picked up a few food-related words, such as gai ("chicken"), goong ("shrimp"), khao ("rice"), and kha ("coconut"). Plus, being here on the island has helped me pick up some geographical terms, such as hat ("beach"), ao ("bay"), and of course ko ("island"). But it's slow going, and the Thai words have a habit of being awfully slippery against my memory.
This afternoon, I commenced the first session of my PADI Open Water diving course. We're a big group: 16 people in all (although 1 person dropped out the following day) — but we're being split into two groups for the actual diving. This afternoon, the course's introduction consisted largely of boring but essential theory information: we had a short lecture from Flav, and then we sat and watched parts I-III of the PADI instructional video series. Not the most boring educational videos I've ever been subjected to in my time: but then again, not far off it. One thing I couldn't help but observe: never before in my life have I been in a classroom with such an amazing view :P.
My brief stint up in northern Thailand is now complete. Trekking and elephant riding are all well and good for a time — but let's face it: romping through tropical jungle is bollocks, when compared with lying on a gorgeous tropical beach. And if it's beaches you're after, then the direction to go is south, and the place to find (and there are plenty of them to be found) is a nice, idyllic island. My destination is one such island: Ko Tao. And after the overnight bus that I caught last night, from Chiang Mai to Bangkok, I'm now halfway there.
This morning marked the beginning of my trek in Doi Inthanon national park, the area south-west of Chiang Mai that's home to Thailand's highest peak, and a rich jungle-covered region that's home to several remote hill tribes. I got picked up from my guesthouse at 9:30am this morning: and to my surprise, I had to take my big backpack with me, and drop it off at the agency's office — apparently you can't leave your luggage with the guesthouse, unless you book the tour with them! I've never seen things work like that before. There were 7 of us in the back of the small pickup truck that was our lift — half of our group, which is 15 strong — and it was a quiet, sleepy and rather cosy ride out of Chiang Mai. We were all too tired, and too reserved, to introduce ourselves properly: we saved that for when the trek began.
Anyone who's ever visited Bangkok will recognise this ever-present, oh-so-classic sentence. It's the call of the city's extremely numerous tuk-tuk drivers, who endeavour to solicit a few baht from whoever wanders their way, and who seem to have a deep-rooted belief that it is nobody's God-given right to actually walk anywhere — everyone should be getting a lift, and they should be the ones providing said lifts. Tuk-tuks also seem to genuinely believe that they know better than you "where you go": as far as they're concerned, any and every male farang, at any time of the day, has a desperate desire to be driven to see "pretty ladies" and to get "nice massage"; and as such, it is to such venues that they will endlessly offer you a ride. In Khao San Road, the tuk-tuks are at their thickest, and a swarm of flies does a worse job of buzzing and hovering — after the first few offers, they become little more than an annoying buzz in your ears.
It was a long evening, getting out of Barcelona and back to London tonight. A long bus ride to yet another dodgy Ryanair airport. A long wait once at the airport. And an extremely long delay once we'd arrived back in dear old Inglaterra. Exciting, ridiculous, and heated at times. But most of the way, just long and extremely tedious. Travelling in Europe during the Christmas-break rush, and getting stuck right in the thick of that rush, simply ain't fun at all.
The long 3-legged train ride from Kitzbühel to Frankfurt took up most of today. From Kitzbühel-Hahnenkamm station (the secondary station at Kitzbühel, where there's no office or ticket machine, just the platforms and the tracks), I jumped on the 10:55am local train back to Wörgl; and from there (with a mere 6-minute change gap!), I caught another local train up to Rosenheim, which is just over the German border. Then, it was 4½ hours on an InterCity train, direct from Rosenheim to Frankfurt (via Munich, Stuttgart and Heidelberg). Not the most eventful of days — but no problems on the trains, and I reached Frankfurt at a reasonable hour.
Christmas lunch was cancelled today, on account of having better things to do; but we made up for it this evening, with a fine dinner of roast chicken. Craig, Sarah, Kade and myself feasted on chicken breast (originally frozen — they were out of fresh chook), crispy potatoes, corn cobs and various vegies — with a side of seasonal cranberry sauce. Sadly, the roast (as roasts do) took much longer than expected to cook, so we were bloody starving by the time it was ready. Shots of Jäger and several card games comprised dessert.
Such is the life of a Eurail pass holder: today was another "day on the tracks" for me; this time, from Dresden to Munich. After saying goodbye to the terribly-located Herberge der Jugend hostel, this morning I packed up my stuff, and hopped on the tram into the city centre. I was hoping to catch the 11:56am train out of Dresden Hbf (central station): however, I didn't have a ticket to ride on the tram; and since it was my misfortune that a ticket inspector jumped on halfway through my journey, I had to rapidly jump off, and wait for the next tram. By the time I reached the station, I'd missed the train by an excruciating 2 minutes. Stupid biatch inspector!