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Entries about ecotourism

Luang Nam Tha - Lao countryside and kayaking

View Around the world ın 8 months on chrisvasil's travel map.

From Thailand and through Northern Laos was some of the best countryside we've seen. The mountainous landscapes were breathtaking, comparable to Cape Breton, while the road passed by many villages of thatch houses built on stilts. After 2 months in Asia this was the first large area we were in that hadn't really been touched by modern technology.

Our original plan was to go to the northern end of Laos, known for having more authentic hill tribes and being less touristed than parts of Thailand (the tribes part of the Chiang Mai trek seemed more like a zoo than like a village). Unexpectedly (because working out basic itineraries from a map has worked out well so far), it would have been something like 10 hours each way to get to Muang Sing, which has the best trekking. We settled on only going halfway, to Luang Nam Tha, from where Muang Sing would have been 6 hours each way for 60km of distance on a map. Transport in Laos is generally very bad - takes a long time to cross short distances, and overnight transport is generally not available so instead of getting free lodging on a bus we waste a day each time we have to go from place to place. We checked in to a pretty fancy hotel room for $3.50/night, though we changed place the next day because the plumbing and electrical were both extremely wonky (for example, the bathroom sink tap does nothing: the water is controlled by a knob on the wall, which when turned makes water come out from both a faucet on the wall and the sink).

Northern Laos in December is pretty cold, about 20C during the day and 5-10C at night. We therefore decided to not do an overnight trek, and instead did a 7-hour river kayaking excursion. It was very hard to keep the kayak straight, and it seemed we paddled faster and went slower than anyone else on the trip. But it was an exciting experience at times, and a chance to get some exercise beyond walking. We also made a couple stops in villages, and a stop where the guides cooked some fish and buffalo they had bought in the morniing.

Posted by chrisvasil 13:27 Archived in Laos Tagged ecotourism Comments (0)

Phuket - Tropical Beach Paradise

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We spent longer than we had planned to in Phuket, staying in town and going to a different beach from there. Our hotel, Pengman, was real cheap (120 Baht, under $4 per night) and conveniently located near the wonderful Day Market (lots of fruit and cooked food vendors, which we mostly went to at night).

The first day we spent at Kata Beach, and hung around on a near-isolated spot on rocks. There was a small pool with schools of fish, mostly shielded from the sea by a wall of rocks, and on the rocks in the sea were also lots of green crabs.

Walking on water

We made a sand castle before going home, but with the rising tide it didn't last very long

It turns watermelon seeds are a food in this part of the world. Potato chips are available in either French Salad Flavor or with Seaweed.

Phuket town is full of colonial houses and has a few temples, and a sign saying the Buddha's instructions: Not to do evil, To do good, and To purify the mind. I can probably do that.
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Praise to the king - I don't fully understand, but the images of the youngish king are everywhere and the country is run by a democratically elected government (except when there's a coup).

A clock tower roundabout on the way home

We went to Patong beach, which was crowded but an excellent beach. A day was also spent at Surin beach, which had amazing waves where we spent the entire day playing and getting dragged, and it was definitely the most fun we've had at a beach ever. It was a cloudy day, so it was less busy and not too hot, but I didn't wear sunscreen and got burned. Still though, it was a good time. Unfortunately we have no pics from Patong or Surin, we didn't want the camera getting wet.

Posted by chrisvasil 21:25 Archived in Thailand Tagged ecotourism Comments (0)

Kumily - Tea, spices, "India's best nature reserve"

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When we got off the bus in Kumily we fended off the usual slew of tuk-tuk drivers that wanted to help us find a place to stay (with unmentioned commissions to them for the referral). Then as I was buying water someone got talking to Sue, offered to take us to "his brother"'s new hotel, and she thought it would be worth a look. I'm usually more of a sucker for a sales pitch than she is so I followed, ignoring my useful reflex of wanting to shake off people trying to help me spend money. It ended up being a great decision. 5 minutes walk from the places recommended in the guide book and city center, there were several very nice places, some even living up to the title of hotel. The one the tuk tuk driver dropped us off at was not quite done being built, had almost no customers (being off the guide book map), and we eventually bargained them down to 250 Rs ($5.50) for a large room with king-sized bed, tv (including HBO Movies), and hot water. Great value for money, and confirmation to trust woman's intuition over my own. Unfortunately we didn't take pics of the place.

We took a scheduled tour of a tea plantation and factory and a spice garden, and we were the only two people on the tour. Having never even seen a tea plantation I found it very interesting. Because of the way the tea is harvested (new leaves are cut), each plant is trimmed in such a way that it does not touch the neighboring plant. Also, the trees are cut very short and pruned regularly, so that a 100 year old tea tree, which could grow 20 metres tall, will in fact be the same size as a bush shrub so that all leaves on the surface of the tree can be reached by a labourer.

The spice garden and flower garden had some wierd stuff, like a fruit which is a hallow spiky ball with nothing inside; trees with long furry leaves ("cat's tails"), and pineapple plants.

The tour ended as night was falling, with a quick stop at a coffee plantation, which had lots of big spiders on webs between the trees (spiders about 6 inches including legs, nets several feet across).

That night we found out the wonders of chicken 65: spicy chicken deep-fried on roadside woks, and sold for the bargain price of 15 rupees (30 cents) per 100g (roughly $1.50/lb for freshly cooked chicken). So good, so cheap. Next to one of the stands was a truck full of cows.

That night Sue wasn't feeling well, so I went alone to a Kalari (Indian traditional martial art) demonstration. It was good, but because the fighting was choreographed (especially with weapons - like dagger vs cloth; sword vs bare hands) it was hard to tell what an actual battle would look like.

The main reason we went to Kumily because our trusty guidebook raved about Periyar national park as the premier nature reserve in India, with an awesome boat ride that offers the opportunity to see much wildlife and varied forest. Unfortunately a week before we got there, one boat from the fleet sunk, killing 30 people; since then all boat rides were suspended. It is also not permitted to walk off the paved road without a guide. So we walked along the main road from end to end, saw the docked boats, saw a couple monkeys, a hornet nest and a deer, and were generally disappointed about our stop at Periyar nature reserve.

Posted by chrisvasil 21:16 Archived in India Tagged ecotourism Comments (0)

Allepey - Slow Kerala backwater boat tour

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Somewhere on Lonely Planet's list of 10 things you need to do before you die is to take a houseboat along the Kerala backwaters in Southern India. We did the next best thing, taking a 5-hour rowboat tour, just the two of us and the driver / rowing guy (costing 500 Rs, or $11). It was a rainy day, which was good because it wasn't too hot or crowded, though it also meant the villages were a bit less active than usual. We saw lots of jungle, villages of people fishing, doing laundry, getting married (at least it seemed to be a wedding), rice paddies, and lots of houseboats. It was a nice, relaxing ride though I wouldn't rate it as a must-do - it is not too different from a boat ride along any river or lake in a natural setting.

A row of houseboats about 1km from the city, waiting for high season and throngs of tourists.

Villagers bathing. I'm sure they don't mind being watched, otherwise I guess they would have to move.

Typical riverbank in an area without villages or farms.

Our driver was really nice, and found a couple flowers for Sue to put in her hair. He especially liked orange flowers, or maybe thought it's her colour - 3 of the 3 he picked were in shades of orange. Anyway Sue looks even better than usual with flowers in her hair.

During construction season clean fill needs to be moved, and the most convenient way to do it seems to be by longboat.

Same with tractors, though those take up more than one boat.

We passed by what was possibly a wedding, where we saw more people in a minute than in the rest of the 5-hour boat ride.

The next day we took a 2 hour ferry to get out of town, where we saw many similar sights to the rowboat at a fraction of the price (30 Rs or 65 cents per person).

Posted by chrisvasil 21:16 Archived in India Tagged ecotourism Comments (0)

Chiang Mai - Jungle Trekking Adventure

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From Chiang Mai we took a 3 day/2 night trekking tour, with 3 others and the guide.

Orchid garden and butterfly farm

Sweaty Sue and dry me with jungle fruit (cucumber and banana flower) as our guide looks on unimpressedly

Thai jungle spiral plant

The first night we stayed in a chicken farming small village of 10 people and a few cats, terrifying Sue. We washed ourselves and our clothes in the brown river, and slept in a bamboo hut with 10 straw mats and mosquito nets.

The next day started with a trip to the elephant farm, where we rode for close to an hour

Bamboo rafting is the same as riding on a gondola, only not as high-tech

The long-neck hill tribe "village", which (before negotiation) costs an extra $10 to visit, is a series of about 20 gift shops staffed by people taken from refugee camps. They got to the camps after fleeing persecution in Myanmar. The "village" we went to had mostly long-neck hill tribe people (all women: they are taken unmarried and get married to locals thereafter). There were also a few long-ear people (who wear the earrings that make holes in the ear lobe). The dress between the two tribes is different, but one thing they have in common is tight metal bands from the middle of the top of their calf muscles. The guide said these are to keep them from running away from their husbands, but I suspect it's to keep them running away from their colony. They are only paid subsistance amounts of rice for working in the village, though the guide said that if they sell stuff they can use profits to buy other things (presumably for inflated prices from the company - there are no stores in the jungle).

After some more trekking, we stayed in thatched huts in a different village, and it rained the next morning

The following day we hiked to a summit overlooking the whole area. It was a couple hard hours to get up, but we all made it in good spirits.


Later in the day was whitewater rafting, which had a few good rapids. Apparently in the dry season it's just rafting rather than the whitewater type on account of the slower currents. The first day when we saw the river water we were really hoping that wouldn't be the whitewater rafting water, but after washing and doing laundry in the same water it didn't matter.

The price of the whole 3 days, including transport, elephant riding, bamboo rafting, whitewater rafting, 2 nights' sleep, 3 meals a day, a guide shared between 5 people, and a stop at the hill tribe "village" was 1200 THB or about $40, per person (negociated from an initial price of around 2000THB).

The next day we did ziplining, which was great fun. The company we went with - Jungle Flight - is locally owned, advertises much less than the other, and is apparently much better.

On the way back we stopped by some hot springs. They smelled sulfurous, and were really hot, probably around 80C

On our last night in Chiang Mai we got locked out of our hotel - unbeknownst to me they lock the building at 11pm, and I didn't bring the hotel keys because our room lock was a padlock so I used one of our padlocks instead. After plotting for awhile, Sue flagged down a motorcycle driver who was delivering something to another hotel in the area. He woke up the manager of our hotel in her room, and she angrily came out to open the door. The next day her arm was in a cast, but she told us it was unrelated.

Posted by chrisvasil 10:59 Archived in Thailand Tagged ecotourism Comments (1)

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