Idiot’s Guide to 8 Days in Thailand

I just returned from an amazing 8 days in Thailand. While I expected 8 days to be pitifully inadequate to explore someplace halfway across the world, we jammed an awful lot into that short trip. Totally fortuitously, we ended up seeing many of Thailand’s gems and skipping many of her blemishes without any foresight or planning. That said, I would highly recommend this itinerary to anyone headed to Thailand for a short jaunt.

The trip came about because my travel companion, Jeff, wanted to meet a few friends over there after they finished up a work assignment in Australia and I wanted a second jaunt to celebrate all the hard work that went into launching Site Scan. While our dates didn’t line up for the entire trip, we were able to overlap for a day in Bangkok, so that’s where we began.

Bangkok: 05/03-05/04

We arrived in Bangkok at around midnight (minor sidenote: our flight was $650. How is is cheaper to fly to Thailand than Mexico?) and headed directly for our hotel. We stayed in a strange part of town near the embassies at a international hotel chain. I would not recommend this as we ended up with horrendous 45 minute long Tuk-Tuk rides to and fro, but this decision was out of my hands. Miraculously, given the jetlag or excitement of being in Thailand, we woke up at 6 am the next day and got straight to being good tourists.

Bangkok, 6am, 05/03

Bangkok is laid out around the Chao Phraya River and many of the tourist sites of note are positions on the banks. We took one of the said horrendous 45 minute Tuk-Tuk rides to the southern side of the river and began our touring. Chinatown sits on the southern edge of the center of Bangkok and we wandered through various alleys and side streets. I unfortunately didn’t take any pictures, but I found it so interesting that half of the district seemed to be preoccupied with repairing old auto engines. Next to a row of a dozen stalls cleaning blocks was a row of stalls polishing cylinders next to a row of stalls adjusting valves next to a row of stalls aligning driveshafts and so on. It was like all of Detroit’s sprawling robotized assembly lines were distilled down to a manual concentrate dropped into the middle of Bangkok. I simultaneously impressed by the ingenuity of all of these laborers repairing complex objects with simple tools (no way in hell would I tear and engine down to the block without a full shop) and puzzled by why a good 100 block chunk of Bangkok was devoted to repairing engines. What were these people in Bangkok doing to need so many engines? The answer would come while exploring the Andaman Sea.

engine shop

This image was shamelessly stolen from someone else’s travel blog, but shows on of the Chinatown engine shops.

Bangkok, noon, 05/03

After wandering around the southern edge of the center of Bangkok for the morning, we got going with our Wat and Buddha tour. Bangkok is absolutely chalk-full of Giant Buddhas, Reclining Buddhas, Sitting Buddhas, Standing Buddhas, and Buddhas in nearly every other position imaginable. We saw all of them. No real reason to rehash all of the running around Bangkok, but TL;DR the highlight was taking the river boat up and down the Chao Phraya River and hopping on and off to see the sites.

Bangkok river boat

Me at the bow of the Bangkok river boat. Notice the Wat spire being repaired over my left shoulder. This is Temple of Dawn.

Reclining Buddha Wat

Jeff and I under one of the gates at the Wat housing the massive Reclining Buddha, which is a must-see in Bangkok.

Bangkok, night, 05/03

After visiting every site we could find on the tourist map, it was time to kick back and have a few drinks. Khaosan Road in Bangkok seems to be the capital of Southeast Asian backpacker culture. It is overrun, in a good way, I think, with tourists from all over the world who make their pilgrimage here to plan the next leg of their trips, share their stories, and have a grand old time. Only on Khaosan Road, you can eat fried scorpions, get 3 am foot massages, and witness a melting pot international block party that will blow your eardrums out. A night out here is highly recommended.

Khoa San Crew

Our crew out at dinner. We learned very quickly that food in Thailand is good. Everywhere.

Khaosan Road

Khaosan Road at night. This photo doesn’t even come close to capturing the magnitude of the party.

3 am foot massages

3 am foot massages are highly recommended. Beginning that night, we made it an objective to get massages every day in Thailand.

Patong, Phuket: 05/04-05/05

Patong really doesn’t even deserve much of a mention, aside from the fact that it is one of the most disgusting places on the planet. I would highly recommend a visit for the sake of putting a human face on the evils of the sex industry, but you will not have fun here. We stopped through for a quick night for logistical reasons and to meet the one and only Pete Ryan. The next day we left bright and early for Phi-Phi Island.

Koh Phi Phi Don: 05/05-05/08

Koh Phi Phi Don, or Phi Phi Island, is the largest of the Phi Phi islands. It supposedly used to be a sleepy paradise for hippies backpacking across Southeast Asia, but is now a booming tourist hotspot. On and off Phi Phi you will find beautiful snorkeling and diving, abandoned beaches, jungle hikes, wild parties, delicious food, and lots of fun. We spent two nights here and I would recommend the same to other travelers.

Phi Phi island from the top

View from the top of the viewpoint on Koh Phi Phi. It’s a bit of a hike to get to the top, which strangely deters 90% of the tourists on the island, but well worth the view.

Jungle hike to Rantee Beach

Jeff and I hiked over the top and down to Rantee Beach. Sperry Topsiders were not the ideal footwear for the slippery jungle trail.

Rantee Beach

Rantee and the other beaches on the far side of Koh Phi Phi were absolutely abandoned. Fortunately, as we were famished after the hike, we convinced a restaurant to open for us and make us the best Pad Thai on the trip. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, they only had beer to drink and he had a lot of rehydrating to do.

Longtail back from Rantee

Luckily we were able to flag down a Longtail to bring us back home as it would have been a hell of a hike after getting out fluids replenished. We very quickly became very familiar with the Longtail boats that consume all of Bangkok’s Chinatown handiwork with the motors.

Slinky's

Koh Phi Phi is also famous for series of fire parties along the Loh Dalam Bay, on the north side of the isthmus (right side in the photo from the viewpoint). A limbo contest is pictured, but shortly afterward Jeff convincingly dominated en fuego musical chairs.

Breakfast on Phi Phi

Phi Phi is absolutely beautiful. A view from breakfast overlooking Phi Phi Leh (the island in the distance) and Ton Sai Bay (to the south of the isthmus, left in the viewpoint image).

Leaving Phi Phi

And the view from the other side from our boat headed toward Phi Phi Leh.

Monkey island

I made a friend at Monkey Beach en route to Phi Phi Leh, the smaller island visible from breakfast. Tourist boats have been coming here for so long and feeding the monkeys that they have become sadly domesticated. It was probably not the smartest move to partake as another on our boat sadly received a real-life monkey bite and I know my wildlife biologist friends would be aghast, but when in Rome…

Koh Lanta: 05/08-05/09

After three days on Phi Phi, we hopped on the ferry over to Koh Lanta. These two hour ferry rides became oddly therapeutic. After touring hard at each destination, we always would have a few hours to unwind, watch the world go by, and meet other travelers on the boat.

Koh Lanta was much sleepier than Phi Phi and I really wish we had more time there. It is quite a large island with a relatively bustling northern and a mellow southern half. The island is dotted with national parks, trails, caves, beaches, and all kinds of secrets. I recommend renting a scooter and just exploring.

View from Koh Lanta

View from our villa in Koh Lanta. Amazing what $50/night gets you in Thailand.

Elephant swimming pool

They even threw in a couple elephant fountains overlooking the infinity pool.

Off-road through jungle

One of the highlights of the trip was riding singletrack on scooters through the jungles of Koh Lanta. I could have stayed here for a few days to explore every last inch of trail.

Jungle cave

At the end of one of these trails, we found a hiking trail. At the end of the hiking trail, we found a cave.

Ladder into jungle cave

The cave was a little scary, but we dipped our toes in.

Koh Lanta lighthouse

A beautiful national park exists at the southern tip of Koh Lanta. Rocks, beaches, a nature trail, and an old lighthouse are all on display.

Koh Lanta rocks

Gorgeous rock spires over the ocean define the islands scattered around this part of the Andaman Sea.

IMG_0930

The diagonal lines cut into the cliff below me are metallic (iron, I think) deposits that crystalized out during some geological event. They like nothing I’ve ever seen before.

Railay: 05/09-05/10

After a far too short stay on Koh Lanta, we grabbed the ferry to Krabi, which serves as the access point to a number of beach towns back on the mainland. We had heard wonderful things about Railay from a number of other travelers we met on the road, so grabbed a Longtail over as soon as we docked.

Railay did not disappoint. It is an interesting little peninsula accessible only by boat that hosts three beautiful beaches, dozens of famous climbing routes, a number of jungle trails, and plenty of relaxing beachside restaurants.

Driving a longtail

I piloted our Longtail from Krabi to Railay. Great fun, but actually quite challenging to hold a course in the choppy water because the hull is so flexible. After a successful first run, I am considering giving up my day job at 3DR and becoming a Longtail captain in Thailand.

Rai Lei longtails

We were greeted to this beautiful vista after my rather alarming Longtail parking job at the Railay pier. These spires are world famous among rock climbers looking for the climbing gym experience outside. Massive jugs get eroded from their faces, letting even novice climbers play with vertical and slightly overhanging faces.

Rai Lei pano

Beautiful pano of Railay Beach West.

Rai Lei

Longtails moored on the west side.

Cave beach

Cave beach is a short walk from town and well worth it. There is a shrine to fertility here full of penis sculptures, a few caves you can swim to, and an island across the bay with its own cave and beach.

Rai Lei sunset

Sun setting on the last night in Thailand. See you again soon!

Transamerica Trail 2009: Change’ll Do Ya Good Tour for Adventure Motorcycle Magazine

After writing up my tour of Jalisco blog post, I was reminded of the article my dad wrote about our journey across the country on the Transamerica Trail. Download the Adventure Motorcycle magazine article here or feel free to flip through the viewer below.

TL;DR: Between college and graduate school my dad and I rode a few thousand miles off-road between Colorado and Oregon on the Transamerica Trail. It was the experience of a lifetime that I would highly recommend to any motorcycle enthusiast.

2016-04-28 05.40.47 pm

 

 

(Almost) 1000 km through The Free and Sovereign State of Jalisco: A motorbike tour through time

For my 30th birthday, I flew down to Puerto Vallarta (all the cool kids just drop the Puerto, so I’ll follow suit) to ride the Four-day Adventure Tour with Bike Mexico. Due to a little chaos with the Site Scan launch and my dad’s recent return from Panama, the trip was planned at the absolute last minute. We had no idea what we were getting into. Fortunately, everything worked out beautifully. Jurgen Dano was a fantastic host, giving us the opportunity to ride beautiful terrain in rural Jalisco and visit historical Mexican villages.

We covered almost 1,000 km of mostly dirt roads (sadly no single track) and ran a nice little figure-eight through Jalisco. An interactive map of our GPS tracks is available here for those who would like to follow along.

Map

 

The first leg (Day 1 morning)

Our first leg took us from Vallarta to El Cuale, which was once a very rich town that served as one of the silver mining capitals of Mexico. Its population once numbered in the tens of thousands and spurned the Genghis Khan approach to riches (at one point in history, Genghis was the wealthiest man on earth but left nothing behind). Rather than extract wealth and move on as happened throughout my home state of Colorado (please visit Leadville today and tell me you could recognize it as one of America’s wealthiest towns in the the late nineteenth century), the early El Cualens built a massive cathedral, beautiful cobbled streets, and a stone and brick structures that will stand the tests of time. However, this once glistening town is now inhabited by only a few hundred residents employed mostly in the agriculture whose relatively modest means starkly contrast what once was.

Vallarta to El Cuale

Google Earth’s directions from Vallarta to El Cuale should provide a general sense of context.

Dad and me riding

Google Earth’s directions from Vallarta to El Cuale should provide a general sense of context.

Barbed wire overlook

A nice view of a village we passed along the way.

old mill

The ruins of this old mill hint at El Cuale’s industrialized past.

Sierre Ocidental map

My dad and Jurgen posing in front of a map of the region. Notice the El Cuale cathedral dome in the background.

Day 1 lunch stop

The only restaurant in El Cuale resides in a nice woman’s house. She opened her door to us, made tortillas on a wood-fired stove, and served up one of the most incredible meals I had in Mexico. It’s pretty amazing to think that this village was at one point one of the wealthiest in the country.

Lunchtime

Here we are eating lunch. I wish I could have another round right now.

Cathedral in CualeCatherdral in Cuale 2

A few more shots of the El Cuale cathedral. Due to the topography, it was difficult to get a single good shot, but the building is massive and solidly constructed. This would be a mid-eight figure construction project these days.

The second leg (Day 1 afternoon)

The second leg took us from lunch El Cuale to Talpa de Allende, another formerly very wealthy silver mining town where we would spend our first night. Unlike El Cuale, Talpa has reinvented itself as a destination for pilgrims, who flock to Talpa from all across Mexico, some on their knees, to pay their respects at the Our Lady of Talpa Church, another massive cathedral in the middle of the Jalisco mountains. Beyond the cathedral, Talpa looks and feels like any old town in Spain from the beautiful central square to the characteristic blue street signs affixed to old stone buildings.

El Cuale to Talpa

Google Earth doesn’t know about the route we took, but this map gives an approximate sense of geography. In reality, we rode a fairly nasty, ungraded mining road directly over the mountains from El Cuale to Talpa.

Superfund site

This was the only photo I took on this leg, as the riding was fairly challenging. All of the mining in the area turned many of the rivers into superfund sites that appear incapable of supporting life.

Talpa cathedral

A stunning view of the Talpa cathedral. Not many towns of 13,000 can lay claim to a monument like this one. This cathedral anchors the local economy, which is built around hosting and serving pilgrims. Nearly everything related to the Catholic church in Mexico requires payment. One must consider what kind of development and infrastructure projects could be funded if the money went toward a broad public good rather than erecting tributes to Catholicism…

The third leg (Day 2 morning)

After spending our first night on tour, in a lovely pilgrim’s hotel in Talpa, we set out toward Mascota, a little town that was fairly unremarkable aside the fact that fact that it hosts not only a finished cathedral, but an unfinished one as well. I’m not entirely sure what the logic was behind building a second one mere blocks away, but they never got around to finishing and likely never will.

Talpa to Mascota

We ended up riding some additional loops through the mountains, but, aside from those, this Google Earth route is approximately correct.

Water crossing

A nice water crossing shot in the midst of a village we passed through.

Cactus next to me

Midmorning break at a lakeside restaurant after finishing up some of the most interesting riding of the trip. The doubletrack was driven infrequently enough that I could nearly pretend the second track didn’t exist.

Me next to cactus

Same place, same time. View through Jurgen’s lens.

Me taking a break

Taking a break in front of a magnificent vista.

Agave plants

We were not too far from the town of Tequila and stumbled upon fields and fields of agave.

Resort with orange tree

We emerged from riding a few hours through the jungle and discovered a luxury resort build by a Vallarta developer tucked away in the mountains of Jalisco. It was complete with an all-white horse-drawn carriage, a tree painted orange, a lake full of paddle-boats, and everything else you’d expect from an idyllic, WASPy, East Coast summer camp.

Mascota cathedral

Mascota cathedral #1.

cathedral ruins

cathedral ruins 2

The ruins of the unfinished cathedral several blocks away. Very little information was available about this site, but the ambitions were grand.

The fourth leg (Day 2 afternoon)

After lunch in Mascota, we rode north, to San Sebastian del Oeste, a picturesque mountain village that has been designated a Pueblo Magnifico by Mexico’s Secretary of Tourism. Even despite the nice journey to get there, the destination is quite pleasant and ranks as my favorite stop in the Jalisco mountains. A highlight that did not get captured by a photo involved riding motorcycles across the deck and through the courtyard of the little pension that hosted us for the night because the owner wanted us to keep our bikes safe behind locked doors.

Mascota to San Sebastian

This leg of the voyage was mostly on cobbled roads through the mountains.

Dad and me descending

Beautiful riding through the Jalisco hills.

Cell tower above San Sebastian del Oeste

Once we got into San Sebastian, we began exploring the environs. This cell phone tower sit atop the highest peak in the region, which received snow and hail the prior week. From the top of this peak, the high rises on the beach in Vallarta are visible.

exploring the mine

After descending the mountain, we headed up another to explore an old mine shaft. I know they tell you never to do this in Boy Scouts, but exploring the old tunnels was irresistible.

Me riding over creek

Me on the way back to town from the mine. My favorite technical challenge of the trip was riding over that little single track bridge visible at right in the photo.

alley in san sebastian

A cute little alley in San Sebastian. The entire town seemed abandoned when we got there aside from an Italian restaurant spun up to serve ex-pats and a michelada bar on the main square that consistently was devoid of more than a couple customers.

The fifth/sixth leg (Day 3)

The fifth and sixth legs took us south, back through Vallarta, and beyond to a little resort in the middle of nowhere called El Cielito. This was the best day of riding. We rode twisty highways from San Sebastian down to Vallarta and explored unmapped roads on which we say nary another internal combustion engine but a plethora of cowboys on horses. Jurgen’s typical trip takes a more standard route from just south of Vallarta to El Cielito, but we all decided to scout out a new route.

San Sebastian to El Cielito

This time Google Earth leads us quite far astray. We hugged the coast for much of this leg.

Bridge

The only photo I took during the highway portion of the day was of El Progreso bridge.

Jungle riding

Over the course of the day, the flora transitioned from alpine scrub to jungle.

rooster houses

All these curious little structures out in this field are rooster houses. Apparently this farm raises cock fighters.

Yalapa paradise

This beach belongs to the town of Yelapa, which sits at the south end of the Bay of Banderas. It looks like paradise as far as I am concerned as is only accessible by boat or by the nasty dirt road we were riding. To my left is a paragliding take-off pad so tourists can fly back down to town. Sounds like something I should do next time around.

leaving Yalapa

Leaving our vantage point over paradise. Notice the wind sock for the hang gliders.

Dad and me cruising in the desert

Burning through the desert to make it to cold beers and hammocks at El Cielito.

made it to paradise

After the longest day riding, we made it to El Cielito just in time for sunset. Nothing like relaxing in a hammock with a cold beer as the sun sets over the Pacific.

beers by pool

Jurgen outdid himself with lodging on the last night. Infinity pool overlooking the beach? Yes, please. Remarkably, there was only one other party sharing the compound with us. When I return to Vallarta, I will absolutely make the trip back down here.

The seventh leg (Day 4)

After three relatively hard days of riding, Jurgen decided to give us a break. We slept in, kayaked around the inlet, lounged in the pool, and pushed off around 11 am to return to Vallarta.

last day

Before we pointed our bikes back home, we visited a little fishing village with an interesting entryway.

remote beach

And an empty sandy beach that stretched for miles in either direction. Not quite Sayulita!

Dad and me climbing with ocean in the background

Finally it was time to climb out of our hidden little bay and motor back toward Vallarta. Huge thanks to Jurgen and my dad for taking me on this amazing trip. Looking forward to the next time I can get down south.