Tag Archives: hiking

Chiang Mai: New Adventures in an Old City

The 300+ temples in Chiang Mai are, as the famous Thai saying goes, "Same same, but different."

The 300+ temples in Chiang Mai are, as the famous Thai saying goes, "Same same, but different."

After twelve hours and one free meal (at what I deduced to be a Thai rest stop), I had arrived in Chiang Mai — at 5:30 in the morning. I had actually slept pretty well on the double-decker tourist bus, but tourist attractions (except for maybe some seedier ventures) aren’t open at that time of day. I checked into my room and conked out for a few hours before exploring the town.

While it isn’t the sprawling metropolis Bangkok is, Chiang Mai still has plenty of places to wander. For starters, the city, founded in 1296, has more than 300 wats, or Buddhist temples — supposedly about the same number as the nation’s capital. It seems like there’s a wat on every other block in the moat-surrounded city center, which only buttresses Chiang Mai’s reputation as Thailand’s cultural center. While it would be easy to loiter in and out of random temples, I asked the staff at my guest house to point out the important spots to see. On my map they circled Wat Chiang Man, Wat Phra Sing and Wat Chedi Luang.

The two-thirds of the chedi at Wat Chedi Luang left after a 16th century earthquake.

The two-thirds of the chedi at Wat Chedi Luang left after a 16th century earthquake.

One of the buildings at Wat Phra Sing, one of the city's most important temples.

One of the buildings at Wat Phra Sing, one of the city's most important temples.

After intentionally losing myself among the streets of guest houses, tourist agencies and food stands, I decided to meander toward Wat Chiang Man. Constructed in the 13th century, Wat Chiang Man is the oldest temple in Chiang Mai, so I had some pretty grand expectations — especially since the weather had turned sour with downpours throughout the day. Unfortunately, the wat was being renovated, so scaffolding and tarps surrounded the premises and left me with little to see. Wat Chedi Luang, dating back to 1401, and Wat Phra Sing, built in 1345, were, however, quite impressive.

This guy really likes bananas.

This guy really likes bananas.

I spent the next two sunny days on a trekking tour through a jungle about an hour outside Chiang Mai. It was the typical tourist package: two days with one night in a native Thai village, complete with elephant ride, waterfall viewing and bamboo rafting. We started with the elephant ride — an hour-long loop through trees and fields along with stands selling bananas for the elephants. It definitely felt kitchy, but the elephants seemed really sweet even though they were probably bored from walking the same path day after day. Every so often, my elephant would stop and curl its trunk over its head in hopes of finding a banana reward from me or my riding partner.

After the ride and lunch, we set off on a hike up a mountain to a Karen village, where we would spend the night. Our trekking guide, who called himself Mr. Ton, threw together a scrumptious dinner, which came with a show. The children of the 200-person village sang traditional village songs for us and then asked us to sing songs from our respective countries. I couldn’t think of one (I was prepared to go with the national anthem), but the Canadian sitting next to me suggested “Take Me Out to the Ballpark.” How un-American of me to forget that one.

The khom fai (hot-air lantern) is one of the coolest things in Thailand. After it floats away, it looks like a new star.

The khom fai (hot-air lantern) is one of the coolest things in Thailand. After it floats away, it looks like a new star.

After lighting a khom fai (hot-air lantern) with the children and listening to some out-of-tune cover songs from Mr. Ton, the 10 of us in our tour group retired to our single hut, equipped with thin sleeping bags, blankets and mosquito nets. The sleep was great — except for the mosquitoes, cold air and the roosters that decided sunrise was time to wake up.

The next day consisted of hiking down the mountain and riding a bamboo raft after lunch. One would imagine a bamboo raft to be a slow, pleasant ride — unless you’re one of the ones driving it. Each raft had a Thai guide (ours being a 12-year-old boy) and a tourist pushing it along with — what else? — bamboo shoots. I happened to be that tourist on my raft, but it wasn’t too bad. Every so often the guide/boy had to turn around and tell me which side to be pushing so that we didn’t die. I still can’t believe they put our lives in the hands of a 12 year old.

Chiang Mai was easily the most adventurous portion of my sweep through Thailand. It was also the part of the trip I was traveling solo, but I had plenty of company along the way — people at the guest house and those I met on the tour. Also, Chiang Mai isn’t so big that I ever felt lost in the expanse of the city. I was quite comfortable traversing the streets aimlessly. After essentially five days of constant movement, though, I was ready to sit down and relax…and what better place for that than the beach?

Up next: Bottle Beach, Koh Phangan.

[click images to enlarge]

Floating ByA Walk in the RainLight at the Guest HouseSitting PrettyMr. Ton, trekking guide and photographer Blue Skies Eye in the Sky

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under travel

A Peek From the Mountains

A view of the mountains in the mist.

A view of the mountains in the mist.

I’ve taken a new approach to my time in Seoul. I’ve promised myself to see at least one new thing each week. It doesn’t have to be anything extraordinary, just something I haven’t seen before. This past weekend, I made a trip to Seoraksan National Park, located on the east coast of Korea and regarded as one of the country’s most popular sights.

I’ve been hiking two other times in Korea, and my experience in Seoraksan completely eclipsed those. After our four-hour bus ride from Seoul, we stayed in a traditional Korean house in Sokcho, the coastal town only 10 minutes from the national park. The area was filled with traditional motels like ours, in which we slept on mats on the heated floors. It was actually very efficient; even in close-to-freezing overnight temperatures, I was sweating in my sleep.

Saturday’s weather wasn’t ideal hiking weather: chilly and overcast with a good chance of rain. We didn’t come this far to mope in a motel. We came to hike, and we did. Saturday’s victim was Ulsanbawi, possibly the most popular peak in the park. The trail had its difficult spots, then we came to this:

The staircase of near death.

The staircase of near death.

This is a lot of stairs to get to the top. The rain that fell as we approached the metal staircase didn’t help matters, either. After some moans and groans and a lot of trudging, we finally made it to the top — and our efforts were completely rewarded. Despite the cloudy skies and walking two hours in unfortunate weather, the view was amazing.

Falling off Ulsanbawi would not have been pleasant. Looking from there, however, was quite nice.

Falling off Ulsanbawi would not have been pleasant. Looking from there, however, was quite nice.

We had lunch and did the usual foreigner/tourist things (read: take an endless amount of photos) before zooming back down the mountain (read: avoiding death on the stairs). Walking a couple hours and miles in the rain only called for one thing: a trip to a Korean sauna, called a 찜질방 (pronounced “jim-jil-bang”). These places are more than just saunas: along with saunas, they have dry rooms, spas, and cold pools along with many other relaxing services.

This was my first 찜질방 experience, and it was nice. The problem, however, was that there five guys and five girls. The guys were done with the place in less than an hour; the girls not surprisingly took their time and fully enjoyed all the place had to offer. We guys then sat around and talked about who-knows-what for an hour before we could head off to the fish market for dinner.

There we found what seemed to be everything that could be taken from the east coast of Korea. Restaurants upon restaurants displayed their menus in aquariums in front of their buildings while smaller ventures — restaurants set up under tents — had smaller tanks in which they usually separated their servings by baskets.

After stopping in a tent for two plates of various and delicious shellfish, we moved on to another that offered us a basket of good-sized fish and two-squid for 40,000 won. With five of us in tow, we figured that 8,000 won a head was a bargain for this much food. Little did we know, however, that the only difference between the fish being sold to us and the fish we would eat was the way it looked.

We were brought one large plate of diced fish and a large basket of sliced squid — none of which was cooked.

We saw this fish and squid when it was still alive.

We saw this fish and squid when it was still alive.

We had our share of the fresh fish, but enough was enough. We bought the boiling soup to cook the rest of our dinner and called it good. Two plates of shellfish and an excessive amount of raw fish (along with the requisite beers and soju) only cost each of us 22,000 won for the night. We’ll chalk that night up as a success.

The next morning, we walked around the park for a little while before taking the cable car up to one of the higher and more dangerous peaks. After getting up to the top, there was still a little more to climb to really see everything. After fighting off old Korean men and women to get up to the top, we had to fight off old Korean men and women to get back down, which really isn’t much fun considering the steep and tricky decent.

img_1838_touch

It's scary how pushy these people can get, even on a steep rock face.

Fitting that climbing to that peak was the last event of my first weekend out of Seoul. The clean air and fresh food really set the mood right. I’m sure I’ll be back to Seorak-san at some point — probably after I run out of new things to see.

Leave a comment

Filed under travel

Only if there weren’t so much smog

I might end up being in better shape than I could’ve imagined myself in an overcrowded, smog-ridden city. Seoul isn’t the most conducive environment for general health with its lack of running areas and abundance of street food. I started this trip — after a year working at a sedentary job and not playing much disc — in possibly the worst shape of my life, and I’m not the kind of person who can go the gym, pump some iron, jog on the treadmill, and call it good. My attention span isn’t long enough for that. If I’m exercising, I need some sort of mental stimulation. I’ve decided, however, to become fitter and hopefully in the process become straight up ripped.

I joined the Korea Ultimate fall league in an effort to motivate myself to play ultimate (i.e. to get out and exercise). Ultimate isn’t as thrilling for me as it used to be. I essentially lived for it while I was in college, but after I graduated, I enjoyed hanging out with people more than actually playing the game. I’m not sure if I’m jaded or if I need the routine of practices, the motivation of winning tournaments, and/or the camaraderie of a team, but I don’t get excited to play frisbee anymore. I think I simply enjoy competition, so once I get into the game, it’s a good time. While the ultimate here isn’t very competitive, the people are super cool, and every Sunday I manage to get on my feet and finally do some running.

I also joined a rock climbing gym, which has been quite the challenge. Before this month, I had climbed one rock wall in my life. The gym, however, focuses more on lateral bouldering — less forgiving to beginners lacking proper technique. Fortunately, the membership fee pays for training from the gym owner for the first month, which has been rather brutal. My hands are covered in blisters and calluses from the first couple weeks, which I continue to tell myself are badges of climbing honor.

Seoul is also surrounded by mountains, so hiking is a cheap and easy way to get some exercise. In my time in Seoul, I’ve been on two hikes. A group of us SMOE kids wandered up Yongmasan (fun fact: “san” means “mountain” in Korean) in northeast Seoul. Yongmasan is still within Seoul’s city limits, so the views were only decent, unless you’re into looking at gray, smog-covered cities.

Smog is so pretty.

Smog, as seen on the way up Bukhansan, is so pretty.

A couple weeks ago, a few friends and I hiked to one of the peaks of Bukhansan National Park, which lies on the northern edge of Seoul if not outside of it. Looking at Seoul from the mountain, my friend remarked that Seoul reminded him of Sim City. That’s not exactly glowing praise, but once we got to a peak, we looked the other direction, and the endless green mountaintops were beautiful. For those moments, I forgot I was in the congested mess that is Seoul.

This is what looking away from Seoul looks like. I also need a haircut.

This is what looking away from Seoul looks like. I also need a haircut.

I don’t see myself falling back into the lazy habits of yesteryear. I have two weeks of Fall League left, and I’m looking into going to Taipei for a men’s tournament in December. The rock climbing is still tough, but I plan on sticking to it — at least until my fingers fall off. Some friends and I are planning a trip to one of Korea’s most beautiful sights, Seoraksan National Park, in November, which should be interesting as the temperatures drop. In that same vein, I can only dream about the first snowfall — the unofficial opening of ski season. This gives a new meaning to “I’ve things to do and places to see.”

2 Comments

Filed under Fun, travel