Visiting the Highest Point in Thailand!

It was another early start for me as I was playing tourist again today. This time I was off to Doi Inthanon National Park – the highest point in Thailand. Technically it was part of the Himalayan mountain ranges but I must admit after hiking to Everest Base Camp, every other mountain seemed like a small bump in the ground but I put aside my mountain snobbery and was ready to see the view from the top!

The van picked me up from my AirBnb apartment and we headed off. There was about eight other people in my group and we shared small talk as the van scuttled along the busy highway. We drove for about forty-five minutes before stopping for a food break. One thing about these tours, they like to make sure you never go hungry. I was thankful there was somewhere to get coffee because I was still a bit tired from yesterdays efforts to Chiang Rai. We continued on for about an hour, making the steady climb up the mountain to the top. We drove high into the clouds and I could feel the temperature starting to drop. Thankfully one of the girls from my group yesterday warned me that it can get quite chilly up the top of Doi Inthanon so I had dressed appropriately . There were a few people in today's group who would definitely be feeling the cold in their shorts and singlets!

We reached the top and stepped out into the foggy, cool air. Walking through a small information centre about the National Park, where I learnt the highest point in Thailand was 2565 metres above sea level (similar to Lukla, which was only our starting point for Base Camp!) we followed the wooden path that lead us through to the peak. It was hardly a walk to brag about but the chilly air was a refreshing change from the heat of Chiang Mai! Today was a bit more of a 'stop – take a photo – get back in the van' show. I'd barely had a chance to wander around before we were being ushered on to the next spot. Ah the joy of organised day trips!

Our next stop was the two stupas dedicated to the King and Queens's 60th birthday anniversary. These huge purple and gold stupas and their immaculate gardens would have had a brilliant view on a clear day however today was so foggy that sometimes we couldn't even see both temples at the same time! Nonetheless, the beautifully kept gardens were lovely to wander through.

Our next stop was a horticultural project set up by the late king. This beautiful garden was set up to educate hill tribe people about farming and land allocation. There are an abundance of different types of flora in this royal garden. It is beautifully kept with cool-temperature plants, rice terraces, coffee plantations and a strawberry orchard among some of the types of gardens there. I walked through amazed at all the beautiful gardens and flowers! Obviously my mum's love for gardening has rubbed off a little bit!

We were then taken to our spot for lunch near a huge waterfall. It was another buffet-style lunch with some local dishes. After lunch we wandered up to the waterfall and got in line to take photos. As it was the middle of the day, it was packed with tourists. The serene location was sort of ruined by the tourists but I guess nothing can avoid that! We jumped back in the van after a couple of hours and headed to our final stop, another hill tribe village. This one was a little more authentic but it still felt a bit weird to just wander through someone's backyard and peer into their home. I know they are just trying to make some money and give us foreigners an insight into their life but I couldn't help and feel like I was just an intruder. At least this time we weren't being constantly pressured into buying things like the village yesterday.

After the village visit it was time to head back to Chiang Mai. The drive only took about an hour and it was late afternoon by the time I got home. I rode my bike to the night market to visit my favourite two stalls. I discovered them when I first arrived in Chiang Mai and have become quite the frequent visitor! The Pad Thai lady who cooks a mean Pad Thai for AUD$2 and the mango sticky rice lady who serves the biggest portion of mango sticky rice for just AUD$2! For $4 I have a delicious two course meal which I get to take away and eat in my apartment. It's a tough life but someone has to live it I guess! 😛

My days in Chiang Mai are coming to an end! I have two days left which I'm a little sad about. It's been a lovely two weeks here and I feel like i really know my way around the place. This is honestly my favourite way to travel. Slowly and thoroughly! I'll be heading to Bangkok and then onto Malaysia for the second time! Stay tuned!

J. X

Coffee Plantations & Waterfalls

After our couple of days living in the isolated paradise of Tayrona National Park, we headed back to Santa Marta and got the chance to wash our hair and dry out our clothes and become civilised again. We were only staying for the night before heading to the small village of Minca, which was only half an hour away.

Minca is famous for its coffee plantations and jungle-like surroundings. Hidden away 600 metres above Santa Marta, its the perfect place to escape the heat of the Caribbean coastline. The tiny village is all of one small road long and full of friendly Colombians offering lifts or tours.

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A village local

We arrived in the late afternoon, just as the heat of the day was starting to subside. Our hostel for the night was Casa Loma, which was this groovy treehouse-esque style hostel tucked in high above the village of Minca. We were thankful for only bringing small backpacks as the walk up to Casa Loma was a vertical ascent. Sweaty and out of breath, we reached the open area of the common area and checked in. Already I could tell that i would love this place. Big timber tables sat out on the edge of the mountain, with the spectacular jungle view below us. The hostel was covered in postcards and memorabilia and the staff were super friendly. It was obvious that people stay much longer than they intend here, its just a very homely place.

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Casa Loma

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Our beds for the night

We checked and signed up for the home-cooked dinner that night because a home-cooked meal sounded absolutely amazing (and we didn’t want to have to climb those stairs again!) To tide us over until dinner there was a very welcoming tray of brownies that we tucked into. As we watched the sunset over Santa Marta, with our beer and brownies, it was clear that Casa Loma had definitely won us over.

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Dinner was delicious but slightly on the small side, luckily there were extra brownies for dessert! We headed to bed early that night, eager to make the most of the following day. It was another night in a hammock but these ones were miles better than the hammocks at Cabo San Juan. I managed to get a full night sleep comfortably and woke up feeling fresh and ready to explore the area.

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Sunset at Casa Loma

We walked down the hill to a little cafe and had a filling breakfast of plantain, eggs and chorizo – washed down with local coffee. After breakfast we negotiated a price for some of the locals to drive us around for the day. Our driver from yesterday was there and he happily organised drivers for us and off we went on the back of their little moto-taxis ready for adventure.

Our first stop was the La Victoria coffee farm, about a 15 minute ride from the village. This small coffee farm still uses the original machines and has ingenious systems using water to transfer the coffee to one point from anywhere on the huge farm. We learnt about the coffee making process and the steps that goes into creating the perfect cup of coffee.

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Our drivers and us at the coffee plantation

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Learning about the coffee making process

It was interesting to learn that all the best coffee in Colombia gets shipped overseas and the Colombians only use the second and third rate coffee beans. It seemed peculiar that they would give away all their incredible produce but I guess whatever pays the bills! The farm does keep a small selection of the first grade coffee for their small cafe, which we happily took advantage of! They even had freshly cooked brownies and carrot cake which had our name all over it. This was definitely turning out to be the brownie tour of Colombia!

 

After the coffee farm tour, we jumped on the back of the bikes again and were taken to Pozo Azul to cool off. This little swimming hole was the perfect way to spend the afternoon and we played in the icy water, jumping off the waterfall ledge and taking a few too many GoPro selfies! We reluctantly headed back to the village of Minca, sad that the day had gone too quickly.

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At Pozo Azul

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Defs up for Colombia’s Next Top Model :p

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Unfortunately we were out of time in Minca and had to head back to Santa Marta to catch the bus to Medellin. It was a quick but peaceful stay in the this tiny village and when I return to Colombia one day, I’m definitely going to spend more time there. Its the perfect little oasis to escape the daily grind of travelling.

Now to catch the bus to Medellin! Hello 16 hour bus ride – I’m sure you’ll be a delight! :/

J. x

Don’t Go Chasing Waterfalls.. Because you will get lost.

Just to catch up on the past week (which I will write more in depth about later), I have been residing in the hidden but glorious part of Turkey, known as Kabak Valley. Because I thought two weeks wasn’t long enough to spend in this fascinating country, and I wanted to get my moneys worth for my visa ($60USD for 3 months, whaaat!) I said goodbye to my gal K and caught the bus from Bodrum down to Fethiye.

Another two buses later and I was walking into my new home for the next two and a bit weeks – The Shambala. I found this little slice of paradise of http://www.workaway.com, where in exchange for a few hours work a day I get free food and board. Not bad right! Anyway, I will elaborate on my Workaway experience closer to the end of my time here.

Today however, after spending a few too many days lazing about in this little piece of heaven, I decided to do some exploring. There are some great waterfalls about an hours hike from Shambala, so with my free morning I decided to go and find them.

Now I’m admittedly not the best at directions. North and south mean absolutely nothing to me. I’m a landmark kinda navigator. However when every tree and damn rock looks the same, it was only expected of me to get lost.

I had some basic directions from the staff at Shambala and what I briefly Googled. I figured it couldn’t be that hard. Its a popular hiking trail, surely it must be like Australia and very clearly marked, right?

Wrong.

I started off around 9:30am, feeling fresh and good. I walked down to the beach and up to the cross roads, where the hiking paths begin. There was a signpost with three signs all pointing in different directions, all written in Turkish. I vaguely remembered something about the waterfalls being to the right so I took a punt and headed off in that direction. The rocky path, sometimes indicated by red and white spray painted stripes, led me uphill rather steeply, winding through bushes, over rocks and out of breath. I paused after about 15 minutes, searching for my next red and white striped indicator but couldn’t see anything. I continued along the path which was slowly becoming less and less established. 10 minutes later I hit a dead end. The beaten path just stopped, I didn’t know where to go next.

Views of the glorious Kabal Valley
Views of the glorious Kabak Valley

Sweaty, puffing like a overworked race horse and slightly worried, I tried several different directions that looked a little bit like a path but decided to turn back because I didn’t want to end up in ‘Castaway, The Sequel’. Walking back down, retracing my footsteps until I reached the crossroads, where I asked a Turkish woman which way to the waterfalls. Of course, like most elderly Turks, her English was very limited. With lots of nodding and hand gestures I was sent off in another direction, with hopes there was a waterfall at the end of the track. This track was more clearly marked, this time with red and yellow stripes, and I was feeling more optimistic. About ten minutes into my hiking, I met another hiker. A Turkish man, who certainly looked the part of the hiker exchanged greetings and he asked if I was headed for the waterfall. His English was just as bad as the lady before, so the hand gestures came out again, until we agreed we were both searching for these elusive waterfalls.

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We hiked, him in front by about 20 metres, for awhile, clambering over rocks, in a steep ascent. By this time the sun was starting to really give it to us and the sweat was pouring out. We continued to hike uphill, and I was thinking this so called ‘moderately easy’ hike was severely underestimated. We walked along the edge of the mountain, only inches between our path and the rocky descent below. There is no such thing as safety railing in Turkey. If you want to be crazy and hike up a mountain, do it at your own risk! We reached the mountains corner, where we had a breather. The view was AMAZING.

Best view despite being in the absolute wrong. direction
Best view despite being in the absolute wrong direction. Photos just don’t do it justice!

 

The water below ranged from baby blue to aquamarine and the white pebbled beach glowed in the bright sunlight. Across the bay I could just see the wooden bungalows of Shambala, hidden amongst the green topped trees that clustered on the mountains edge. The severe white and grey mountain faces looked Photoshopped against the clear blue sky. Even though there were no waterfalls in sight, just seeing this view was enough for me.

Obligatory selfie with the best view in Kabak Valley.
Obligatory selfie with the best view in Kabak Valley.

We saw another sign post, with absolutely nothing indicating a waterfall. The Turkish man luckily had a mobile phone with reception. He called the camp site he was staying at and even with the lighting speed Turkish being spoken into the phone, I could tell we were in the wrong spot. Crestfallen, we decided to head back to the starting point.

After jumping down rocks, using trees to balance and walking slowly where path was slippery we eventually made it back to the starting point. I was almost ready to ditch the waterfalls and lay on the beach for the rest of the day. The Turkish man pointed in the direction of the camps and indicated waterfalls. He kept saying ‘Follow, follow’ and pointing towards the bush. I was a little hesitant to join him, every horror story of stranger danger flashing through my mind. I did want to see the waterfall though. .Sizing him and his skinny arms up, I reasoned that if worst comes to worst, I could definitely hold my own against him (sorry Mum). I let him walk ahead a bit, keeping an eye out for any big sticks.

We walked along what seemed like a dried out creek. Pebbles of all different sizes made for difficult walking, but it was nice not to be trekking in a severe ascent. We walked for 15 minutes or so, with me debating with my conscious as to whether I should turn and run. When suddenly we heard voices up ahead. Ah! At last, other people! And English speaking people, heading in the direction of the waterfalls! Feeling safer, we made some quick introductions and continued on our way. A funny group of Turkish, English and Australian, the six of us followed the red spray painted arrows, with hopes of a refreshing discovery. Of course, the way we were heading was the shorter, yet more dangerous way. Free rock climbing as they called it, we pulled ourselves up rocks, waded through creeks and ducked under trees, with hopes of getting closer and closer to our destination. I had taken my joggers off and found my bare feet were better than any shoes at climbing up rocks. Surprised at my strength, I easily climbed up rocks and feeling a bit like Bear Grylls, I got excited as the sound of rushing water was getting louder and louder.

Finally, after one particularly scary climb up a huge rock with not much to hold on, we reached the middle waterfall. These waterfalls were a set of several different terraces, with little ponds of crystal clear, icy cold fresh water. Ripping off my sweaty shirt and shorts I jumped into the frigid water, losing my breath at the sharp shock of coldness. It was so nice to be in fresh water after so long swimming in the sea. I felt clean and refreshed.

MADE IT! The icy cold fresh water was so worth it!
MADE IT! The icy cold fresh water was so worth it!

We hung about the waterfalls for awhile, chatting and laughing about our little adventure. There was another terrace higher up which the others wanted to climb to. I was running out of time, as I had to be back at Shambala for my shift. So after a long while, I pulled myself out of the fresh water, said goodbye to my new friends and headed back off to play Bear Grylls once again.

Making new friends and bonding over the wonders of the selfie stick
Making new friends and bonding over the wonders of the selfie stick
One of the beautiful fresh water terraces
One of the beautiful fresh water terraces

The climb back was equally as hard, as I had to jump down the rocks we had clambered up early. Thankful for all the push-ups I forced myself to do at the gym, I found it easy to use my arms to lower myself down, instead of just jumping onto the hard ground. I managed to find my way back to the campsites, with only a few moments of ‘where the hell am I?”

I reached the beach and bought myself an iced tea and bottle of water to quench my hard-earned thirst, before trekking up the steep hill to Shambala. I got back to my tent, exhausted but happy. I had found the waterfalls and met some lovely people. Just goes to show what happens when you trust a few strangers and don’t give up!

Next time, however, I’ll do a bit more research as to what way I need to go :p

J. x