Bike Transformation

Once again we were back in Bangkok, but this time should be the last one ^^ We haven’t been on our bikes now for a while and to be honest we were missing them a lot! Thanks to Phil they came through the separation well and we were really happy to eventually enfold them in our arms 🙂 But there was not much time for cloying sentimentality, we had a lot to do in the next days to get them ready for their first plane ride – destination New Zealand!

One full Day of Cleaning

It took us one full day of most painstaking cleaning to ensure that neither the Australian nor the New Zealand customs would retain our bikes in quarantine for six months and to disassemble them to make them fit in the required boxes with strictly limited dimensions. Since we had a baggage limitation of 30kg including the bikes, it took us nearly another full day to go through all our stuff and separate them in one pile we can’t live without and a “maybe” pile, that in the end we had to give completely to other travelers or send home.

But the really tricky part was waiting ahead of us. At the airport they refused to let us check-in before we wouldn’t have an Australian visa since our transit in Sydney would take longer than 8 hours – bam, 90€ per person! The next unpleasant surprise didn’t take long, no check-in before we didn’t have a return flight – another 300€. Plus the additional baggage fee, the whole process summed up to nearly 650€ – pew 🙁 Nevertheless we were really happy when we boarded the plane – luckily without weighting our carry-on luggage!

On arrival in Christchurch, after enduring two hours of baggage checks, at 3 o’clock in the morning we weren’t allowed to sleep on the floor in the waiting area (although sitting would have been alright). Completely jet-lagged and full of adrenaline because our bikes actually arrived, we directly started assembling our bikes. At sunrise we were ready to continue our journey in New Zealand!! 🙂

Sawadeeeee-kap and Merry Christmas in Thailand

Christmas was relentlessly coming closer and we had plans to spent these days somewhere far from everybody on an idyllic island. Koh Tao was our elect choice, but before we could set out for Thailand’s paradisiac islands, we had to find a place in Bangkok where we could safely store our bikes for some weeks. A mission that seemed impossible after two days asking in every bike shop we came across and asking everybody that seemed halfway trustworthy enough. Like usual, our luck intervened and by sheer coincidence we started a conversation about our Bike for Dad experience at Bangkok’s “best chicken in town” place with Phil, a big-hearted American, who is living in Bangkok with his family and a cycle freak by himself. He generously offered us to store our bikes in his yard and truly saved more than just our day. Again a million thanks to him!

Paneers to BagpackAfter overcoming this last difficulty and managing to cram all our precious stuff into our newly purchased original fake backpacks, nothing else could get in the way between us and the eagerly awaited “beach holidays” – not even an overbooked 12h night train where we forced to squeeze in the corridor 😉

Railay Beach

ArghhhhhOur first dream destination was Railay, a free climbing and kayaking paradise! Far from the crowded luxury resorts, we found a basic but cheap bungalow in the middle of the jungle and a greedy horde of monkeys, and our own little private beach – a marvelous place with velvet-soft white sand and crystal clear water with the tiny little drawback that high tight would cut you off from the mainland and required a marathon swim back home.

Koh Tao

Arrival in Paradise

Some action loaded days later, the night ferry brought us to Koh Tao, an especially for Gui’s stomach unforgettable passage. There we spent the Christmas days in a lovely hide-away on Koh Tao’s mostly uninhabited east coast. The charming bungalows were made all out of bamboo and driftwood and the spacious porches offered an amazing sea view. Breakfast was served on the terrace overlooking the coast and a steep wooden boardwalk was leading down to the rugged cliffs that provided an outstanding snorkeling spot. Since the next shop was kilometers away following a breakneck dirt-road, we were happy to be self-sustaining with our fuel stove. We only had to share our copious pancake and banana supplies with a horde of ruthless squirrels 😉

Ready for Snorkling

Only the weather didn’t mean so well with us. We had three days of endless rain in straight in a row and this added some dark vibe to the fact that we were already not feeling so light-hearted to spend Christmas far from our family, despite being literally in paradise. We were missing the whole Advent atmosphere, the roasted chestnuts, the Glühwein and the mother-made gingerbread, not to mention the Christmas tree, the snow and a big hug from our beloved ones. But a delicious Christmas Eve dinner and a cheerful card game evening with new friends mixed with generous amounts of Gin Tonic, made this Christmas after all a precious memory.

BottlesTo give ourselves a little Christmas treat, we afforded three days of fun diving. We had both made our Open Water dive certificate 10 years ago on Koh Tao (not knowing each other at his time) and didn’t have a chance to dive since then. But we both immediately rediscovered our passion for the magical underwater world and the truly magnificent feeling of weightlessness, all the more with such a great buddy to team up with 😉 In Koh Tao’s bustling underwater playground of tangled anemones and neon corals, we encountered a sheer endless number of Butterfly-, Angel-, Banner-, Parrot-, Clown- and Triggerfishes, Giant Groupers, Blue Spotted Stingrays, Red-Eyed Morays… The list of multi-colored sea dwellers could easily be extended, but the most majestic of all the remarkable creatures we saw, was without any doubt the sea turtle we were following in our last dive – a worthy culmination for our dive adventure. And although we had some heartbeat accelerating experiences with our air supply, the magical magnetic energy of the diving once again caught hold of us. (Traveler Tip: There a more than 75 dive schools in Koh Tao, we can definitely recommend Big Blue, they have friendly staff and don’t pack dozens of people on a single boat. Ask for Jerome, a professional but nevertheless relaxed and humorous dive master)

The only incident that spoiled our perfect Koh Tao experience was the one evening that we spent in busy Sairee Beach. Our good old memories about this once sleepy town suffered the same lethal fate as the remaining rustic cottages that got bulldozed by corporate resort owners to make blaze for yet another earsplitting night club.

Happy New Year

Lucky LampionFor New Year’s Eve we got invited by Sandrine and Damien, friends who Gui first met 10 years ago on his first Southeast Asia trip but didn’t see since years. Together with some friends they had rented a luxury villa on the hills of Koh Samui, so that we had the pleasure to spend a cheerful and boozy New Year’s Eve with old and new friends and a relaxing day at the beach and the impressive infinity pool.

Phetchaburi

Remnants of Angkor KingdomBefore heading back to Bangkok, we wanted to fill up with some ancient Thai culture after all those lazy bum days on Thailand’s outstanding beaches. Phetchaburi is the perfect spot for that. It offers temples and palaces like Ayuthaya paired with a delightful slice of provincial life, busy markets and literally a Wat around every corner.

Bangkok

Loha PrasatBack in Bangkok we used our remaining days in Thailand for a profound expedition to Bangkok’s extensive shopping opportunities and spent a day in Panthip Plaza, a multi-storey electronic market full to bursting with any kind of electronic gadget every lonely nerd could ever think of. The sheer overwhelming range of devices made us fall into a real shopping fever, so that we finally cut the chains that tied us to our iPhone 3 for the last seven years and bought a brand new smartphone where you can actually install a recent app 🙂

As if this wouldn’t be enough innovation, the end of our Thailand trip also held another premiere for us: for the first time since we started our trip nine months ago, crossing 11 countries, we gonna board a plane to depart to the next country on our wishing list: the Philippines!

From Laos to Thailand

After awaiting the eventual stop of the unending rain in Vang Vieng for three days, we could finally continue our journey through Laos and set off for our last stage goal, Vientiane. Once one of the main hubs in French Indochina and nowadays Laos’ capital. Due to the increased traffic and the pretty plane landscape (a couple of month ago I would have never Imagined myself saying that we actually prefer mountainous terrain), the last 150km in Laos were less appealing than the north.

Bamboo WorkBut nevertheless we encountered another side of Laos’ broad culture when we – in absence of any alternative – shyly asked at a Buddhist temple to pitch our tent in the spacious garden. The master of the monks immediately agreed with a big smile to host two sweaty and smelly travelers, as long as we would obey the strict “no touching in the tent” rule 🙂 Spending the evening and the following morning with the monks, offered us a great opportunity to experience a firsthand insight into the daily rituals and everyday life of the monks  –  especially as the novices were bluntly answering all our cautious questions, sharing their dreams about studying, getting rich and having a family after their religious life over a glass of Coke.

DCIM101GOPRORich in new impressions, we left the next morning just to stumble across another piece of unexpected Laos lifestyle. A giant wooden panel was pointing us the way to a Traditional Lao Sauna. Despite the blistering heat, our curiosity led us down the stony path and when we found ourselves half an hour later in a ramshackle little hut filled with sweltering steam and the fragrance of aromatic herbs, we surely didn’t regret to once again play a hunch.

World Peace GongAfter all, in spite of the busy road, we enjoyed our last days on the road in Laos, before arriving in Vientiane, a proliferation of French bakeries, luxury spas and Indo-chic restaurants blooming at every corner. For us, Vientiane simply served as a gateway to Thailand, where we wanted to apply for a Thai visa because we heard rumors that Austrians only get a 15 days visa when entering Thailand via a land border crossing. As things turned out, our odyssey through town where we nearly got roasted alive, was to no avail since the Thai embassy as well as the consulate (both buildings kilometers apart) were closed due to the one-week birthday celebrations of His Majesty the King of Thailand. Astonishing that none of both institutions knew that in advance…

Bike for Dad

Therefore, we set out for the Thai border with quite some misgiving, where our concerns were realized as the immigration officer was deaf to our begging and stamped a 15 days visa, valid right until the 25th December, in Martina’s passport. Luckily a less tight-lipped officer could give us the information that we can immediately extend our visa at the immigration office, only one kilometer from here. Phew… our Christmas plans were saved!

Departure B4DThe next good news we got at the immigration office – besides the hefty visa extension fee and some free pizza slices – was that in celebration of His Majesty’s birthday, who is obviously a big cycling enthusiast, huge cyclist gatherings are organized right at this day in selected cities all over Thailand. And this little border town happened to be one of them! No question that we had to be part of this big event and although there was not enough time to get the proper Bike for Dad t-shirt, we were lining up with thousands of other fellow cyclists for a “little” 30km tour around the area. It was our first cycle gathering and a unique and truly awesome experience!