After a brief interlude in Krabi, this morning I continued on to what will be my final "real destination" here in Thailand, and for my entire trip: the legendary beach of Ton Sai. I've heard a lot about Ton Sai — particularly from my friends back in Pai — and I think it's going to be a great place to wrap things up, and to have some fun and relaxation.
After only one night here (after getting back from the Doi Inthanon trek), this morning I said goodbye once more to Chiang Mai, and jumped on a minibus to the town of Pai. Pai's about 3 hours north-west of Chiang Mai — as the bus crawls — and it's a chilled-out place where everyone goes to relax, to find inner peace, and to meet the friendly crowd. I got picked up from my guesthouse at 9:30am, and it was a very chatty crew that we had for the morning road trip. As well as Marie and Claire (with whom I hung out almost the entire time that I was here), I also met the two Dutch guys, a vegan Aussie couple, and an older Israeli couple. By the time we arrived in Pai, I realised that I already had myself sorted — ridiculous how easily we travellers magnetise to each other, at times.
Last night, I caught a nice 2nd-class overnight bus from Bangkok (along with my mate Jutta; and this morning, I arrived in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand's largest city. The bus last night was quite luxurious (very comfy seats, snacks served in-trip), but not exactly perfect: they played a loud and annoying Thai movie for half the night; and the air-con was on far too strong, which meant that I almost froze to death in my t-shirt and shorts. As such, I barely slept during the trip, and I arrived in Chiang Mai groggy and exhausted. Still, it's very nice to be here: after the hustle and bustle of Bangkok, Chiang Mai (although still a big place) is refreshingly serene and peaceful.
Farang is Thai for "foreigner". And here in Thailand, all foreigners — no matter how vile or undeserving their behaviour may be — all of us are very welcome indeed. Having just arrived here this evening, I once again find myself a rich, Western foreigner travelling in the developing world. After Europe, that will take some getting used to. Whereas I was previously the "s$#% of kings", I'm suddenly now the "king of s$#%" again: and with this new situation comes the advantages of constant pampering, of being surrounded by all things cheap, and of a heady wonderland where anything and everything is possible, based on nothing more than a fat wallet and an on-the-spot whim. Gringo... farang... same diff, new lingo. It's unfair, it's exploitative, and it's artificial. But hey, it's nice to be special again — nice to be back "in the club".
Thailand, the land of smiles. Hot, cheap, and plenty of fun; plus, it's the final leg of this epic 12-month trip of mine. As of this afternoon, I've finally made it — I may well be the last Aussie on Earth to visit Thailand; but better late than never, as they say. My introduction to the nation's capital — the endless metropolis of Bangkok — was appropriately crazy and surreal. I got lost. I sweated like a pig. I held on for dear life in a tuk-tuk. And somehow, I survived. It sure is good to be here.
I made it to the Kabul hostel by about 4pm this afternoon — only to find the hostel staff hopelessly knee-deep in some sort of paperwork (how much paperwork can a hostel have?), and a queue of about 30 people waiting to check-in before me. Bloody Spanish: they really are an inefficient bunch, aren't they? Anyway, at least they're inefficient with a smile. I grabbed a sandwich for lunch, and played a game of pool in the hostel lounge, while I waited to check-in — which I was eventually able to do, about an hour later. My introductory first night in Barcelona wasn't a massive one, but it was good relaxed fun nonetheless.
Today is the first day of my life that I've ever been in Spain. But it sure doesn't feel that way. After 7 months in Latin America this year, the streets of Madrid seem refreshingly, wonderfully familiar to me. It's very similar to what I felt when I first reached England: England is in many ways so similar to Australia — my home — that it was hard to believe I'd never been there before. Likewise, Spain is in many ways so similar to South America — my second home — that arriving here was more of a nostalgic than a culture-shock sensation. Dios mio — ¡es muy bueno estar aquí!
It's been three months since I last hit the snow, and nine months since I last went skiing; so today, it was good to be back and to be doing both once again. For my first day of skiing at Austria's magnificent Kitzbühel resort, I took it easy, got back into the swing of things, and began exploring the icy but extensive selection of runs that are on offer.
We made it: here we are now, ready to go skiing in beautiful Kitzbühel! This evening was really just about settling in for a week in town. I'm lucky enough to have gotten a 6-bed dorm room all to myself at Snowbunnys: apparently, there'll be nobody to share it with until Wednesday. Craig, Sarah, Kade and myself had no trouble finding ski gear and clothing for hire this evening: the hire shop next door to the hostel was very busy (everyone preparing for the Monday run), but they had plenty of good-quality gear for everyone; and it wasn't too expensive either, especially with a 10% "Snowbunnys discount" :P. Plus, we managed to find The Londoner — one of Kitzbühel's most famous pubs — and to relax there over a few Flying Hirsches, while enjoying the pleasant sounds of the pub's shameless "fake band" (about 80% of the time, they were just pretending to play or to sing, with a backed recording actually doing most of the work).
This morning I said goodbye to the crazy Wombat's Munich — and to Germany, for now — and hopped on the train down to Vienna. Just a quick 4-hour morning ride: I caught the 9:30am train (direct), and I was in Vienna by 1:30pm. The train went through Salzburg, which I'm going to visit after Vienna: it's a bit of a funny route, I know; but I can't help it, since Vienna's somewhat out-of-the-way from everywhere else I'm visiting around here.