This following blog is written by Cam & Cathy Bender:
Cathy and I were happy to be asked to be guest writers of the Thailand portion of Carter and Brittany’s most excellent adventure, since we would be experiencing Thailand for the first time. It is our pleasure, after all, how many 60 year olds get asked to go travel with their son and his girlfriend on an adventure of a lifetime. But first, we’d like to say, how proud we are of the two of them, putting their careers on hold to take on this incredible journey. The drive they have every day to get up early and climb a mountain or spend hours travelling from country to country then to still find time to sit down and document their experiences, edit video and put it all together beautifully for all of us to enjoy back at home. It’s pretty awesome!
Day 1 - Getting to Bangkok
Anyway, here we go! As some of you readers may or may not know, Cathy and I have taken on a major project with our new home renovation in Southampton. So when the time came, we put down our hammers and grabbed our old backpacks from our travels to Europe in the 80s and started the 24-hour trek to meet Carter and Brittany in Bangkok.
After arriving on time at the airport we still somehow managed to be the last two people on each of our flights. (It’s not good when you hear “LAST CALL for passengers flying China Eastern Airlines to Shanghai” and you are still about 15 gates away from yours.) WE RAN!..And thankfully made it! The flights themselves were great, the layover less so, but we arrived in Bangkok and hopped into a cab (the driver kept speaking into a translator app on his phone then holding it for us to read. Most of the translation didn’t fit the context of the conversation we were, sort of having, about where we were from and how many children we have and so on... quite funny). We got to the hotel at about 4:30 am to find Carter and Brittany standing out on the street waiting for us. It was so great to see them! Surprised they were both awake. We went to our rooms, exchanged small Christmas gifts, caught up for a bit then got some much needed sleep.
Day 2 - Bangkok!
We got ourselves going in the morning and went out into the crazy streets of Bangkok looking for breakfast. Carter and Brit are already experts at everything Thai: the currency, the food, and the fast pace. So we just let them do all the thinking for us. It was nice to be in a place that was so different from what you are used to but not have to worry about being on your toes trying to figure everything out. We sat at their favorite restaurant around the corner from our place watching everything and enjoying a late morning breakfast.
After we were finished, we started walking though the narrow crazy streets (I mean crazy), motorbikes, scooters, bikes flying by you about two inches away, loaded with any where between 1 to 5 people, or piled with anything and everything possible. Food carts with people making things you don’t recognize and buildings and wires everywhere. It’s MADNESS! But pretty soon you get used to the whole crazy thing and you are just walking around risking your life at every turn just like everybody else. It quite fun and amazing!
We took a tuk-tuk to the Grand Palace, the largest Wot (temple) in Bangkok, but found we weren’t dressed appropriately (knees and shoulders must be covered). As we were leaving, a water-taxi tour guide approached us. Carter and Brit negotiated a cheap price for an hour river cruise and a trip to see the sleeping Buddha at a Wot on the river. So that guy waved over another guy who took us to the boat launch on the river. The boats on the river were almost as crazy as the bikes on the roads. Long thin boats with long propellers attached to car engines precariously balancing up on a swivel were flying in every direction. We sat there waiting on the pier while some lady screamed into a microphone at every boat that went by. We had no idea what she was saying or if anyone was even listening to her. But she seemed to feel that what she was doing was entirely necessary. Finally, the oldest boat and driver on the river came sputtering up to pick for us. He took us up and down a few of the canals, which had every type of building; modern condos then broken down wooden huts on stilts that didn’t look like they would last through a high wind.
Our boat driver didn’t speak any English and didn’t seem to know where he was supposed to take us so we got off at one of the Wot stops and started to search for the Wot with the sleeping Buddha. No one seemed to know where it was so we just walked around for a while longer, then gave up and jumped in another tuk-tuk and headed back for dinner. No one ever asked us to pay for the boat ride. I guess maybe we were supposed to get back on another boat and go back to the pier we started at. We weren’t really sure what happened there...
That night as we were walking past a crowded patio bar on Kho San Road, whom should we see, but Hayden Smith, who was still in Bangkok. We spent the evening having a few beers, searching for the best street cart Pad Thai, watching the girls shop for elephant pants and to top it off, some special male bonding. It was a really fun night but we had to say goodbye to Hayden since he was off at 4:00 am in the morning to Cambodia for some Dirty Dancing and a visit to Angkor Wot. It was great fun hanging out with him!
Day 3 - The Grand Palace
The next morning, dressed as required, we headed to the Grand Palace. But before we got there, Cathy insisted I go to the same barbershop that Carter just got his hair cut at the day before we arrived. Brittany showed us the way, and when I sat down, we told the barber to do exactly like he cut Carter's - moustache and all... but then I backed out before he started trimming.
After my cut, we arrived to the Grand Palace to find we were amongst hundreds of tourists, taking selfies, while many more carried parasails since it was about 100 degrees. The palace was amazing with all types of ornate Wots and ancient buildings that had housed the Kings of Siam (later Thailand) since 1782. Here we saw the Emerald Buddha but were not allowed to use cameras within the Wot. Here are some photos we did take on the grounds:
As we left the Grand Palace we split up and turned our heads away from the guy we had arranged to boat trip with us the day before. Cathy and I were just doing what Carter and Brit told us to do. They were just being budget continuous...
That night we headed off to the Bangkok train station to catch a sleeper train to the Gulf of Thailand. The sleeper trains were pretty cool with rows of berths for sleeping. The only issue was that we were near the bathroom car so all night long people kept opening the doors beside us to get to the other railcar. And for the first few hours every time the train stopped people would get on with food or something to sell.
Not very well rested we arrived at Chumphon at 5:30 am. For some reason the door of the train only opened half way. We had to basically throw Mama from the train. With backpacks on the front and back she got really lodged in the door. So we were pushing and pulling from both sides until she popped out. Similar to how this guy was stuck:
We had breakfast right beside the tracks while waiting for the bus to the pier for the ferry to Koh Tao. We spent most of the ferry trip sitting out on the deck at the front of the boat watching the sunrise and the island appear in the morning fog. That was a pretty special morning!
Day 4 - Koh Tao
Upon arrival in Koh Tao (meaning Turtle Island) Carter and Brit went into ‘search for accommodations that are in our budget but where Mom and Dad don’t have to sleep in a dorm’ mode. They found a nice little room for the four of us beside a pool and the beach. Perfect!
The place was great with a beautiful view of the beach while you were sitting having lunch. We swam at the pool, had a few drinks at the swim up bar and did some walking up and down the beach for a very nice relaxing day.
That night we hired an off roading taxi to take us up to the top of the mountain to see the sunset from an amazing lookout perched on top. Carter and Brit had found a young couple from BC that would share the cab with us (Cathy- ‘they were so cute’). The road up was nothing more than a motorcycle path, but we bumped our way up getting thrown around the whole way. This was an experience in itself! The view from the top was spectacular! There was a little covered wooden lookout on stilts, with little pillows and low tables, and hammocks, and swings to sit and enjoy the view. We relaxed there, for a least an hour, had a beer (or two) watching the sunset while people took turns painting messages on the wooden planks of the look out (very bohemian). Then we piled into the truck and bumped our way down again in the pitch-black night. That was another really special night!
Day 5 - Around Koh Tao
The next morning we woke up early and headed out for an around the island snorkeling and sightseeing boat tour. It was a beautifully warm sunny day so we packed up or suits and sunscreen and headed for the port. The double-decker boat loaded with about 30 people started off on our adventure. The thing that you notice about Koh Tao that is different from the rest of the islands in Thailand is the huge round boulders along the coasts that makes the island look like something out of a Flintstones cartoon. These rocks are huge! And nestled beautifully in them are small resorts with cabins and decks all surrounded by lush greenery and palm trees.
We travelled along the southern coast enjoying the view for about 20 minutes before we made our first snorkeling stop in one of the large bays.
The boat had a closed under deck and an open upper deck with a light sun shade with a nice bench across the back so that is where we spent our time. It was also a great spot to jump from. Koh Tao is a popular driving destination so the snorkeling was some of the best we have seen anywhere. Carter and Britt were one of two couples to see a black finned shark here!
We made another stop in a cove that was surrounded by these mountainous boulders. The water was azure blue and the underwater life was amazing. The four of use had swam away from our boat and were all by ourselves. All of a sudden we noticed we were over a school of what must have been a few million small blue/green iridescent fish. Their changing directions made glistening colours of the huge school, which looked like an ameba changing shape before your eyes. It was an incredibly massive school that went as far as you could see in all directions about 10 feet below the surface. Carter, Brittany and I took turns swimming down into the school and watching the ameba shape change as the school parted to move away from us. Carter had the GoPro so I am looking forward to seeing that video footage. We all surfaced for a moment to talk about how we couldn’t believe what we were seeing. Cathy said, “Okay, watch me! Film this”, so we all got ourselves under the water to watch as she attempted her dive down into the sea of fish. Well, she started to kick feverishly and pulling with her arms to go down, but it just wasn’t happening! The more she kicked and splashed, the more she didn’t go anywhere and her backside was fully out of the water. We all surfaced, pulled our snorkels out at exactly the same time and began laughing. It was so funny. Since we were in this cove with the huge rock surrounding us it made the laughter bounce back off the rocks. We laughed for a long time, (I think Brittany was actually crying laughing) and anyone near us must have wondered what was going on. Then Cathy tried to justify why she couldn’t go down. “It must be that I don’t have any flippers on or maybe it’s the salt water”, and we laughed some more about why those reasons probably weren't right. Side note: they don’t give out flippers to snorkelers in Thailand to protect the coral and underwater life.
We swam back to the boat and went on to the next snorkeling locations. The boat made 6 snorkeling stops in all.
I thought we were heading back to port when the tour guide starts talking about choosing between climbing the mountain or going to the beach at the island we were heading to next. The crazy thing about this was that this was now about 3:00pm and we’d been out here since early morning and this trip only cost 500Baht (about $20 CAD). After what we had seen that day, I thought we couldn’t possibly see anything more amazing. Well I was wrong, Nang Yuan Island was ridiculously beautiful, two mountains and three converging coral sand beaches. Carter, Brittany and I climbed the approximately 200 stairs, then some big rocks for the last 30 feet up. The view from the top was nothing short of spectacular. It looks so perfect it’s hard to believe it’s just there naturally.
(Below is a drone shot Carter took. The photo above was taken on top of the cone shaped island pictured on the right)
We met up with Cathy on the beach and had a swim in the beautiful blue water before we had to meet back at the boat at 5:00. What a trip!
Day 6 – Koh Yao Noi
This was the night they lied to me. Apparently, I had made a comment about how I didn’t sleep well when I have a very early morning ahead. So Carter and Britt thought they would spare me the anxiety by telling me we were leaving at a later time, but then actually waking me up earlier. We were planning to leave in the morning to begin the long haul to Koh Yao Noi. Carter and Britt organized the departure time with the tour company. They told us to meet for breakfast at 8:00 before heading to bed. Little did I know (Cathy was in on their plan) that we were schedule to be picked up at 5:30 am. Talk about a rude awakening. Stumbling out of bed and straight into a cab for a 6:00 am ferry to Surat Thani. Uugghh! The high-speed ferry got us there in a few hours. Then onto a 5-hour bus ride to Krabi and finally a long tail boat the Koh Yao Noi. That was a long morning of travel.
We took a cab to Holiday Resort, a place Carter and Britt had stayed in before on the East coast the year prior. We stayed in two little cabins right on the water with spectacular views of the Karst formations (giant rock islands) of Phang Nga Bay just rising up out of the water across the entire horizon.
Later that evening Carter rented a motorbike for about $4 for the night to ride us around the town to shop (of course) and for dinner. I suggested we all get on at the same time like the locals do (Cathy just gave me the look). However, she was eventually convinced to get on the back with Carter. Something she said she would never do. Here is the photo evidence:
Day 7 – Sunrise on Koh Yao Noi
They woke us up at 5:45 to see the sunrise and the amazing horizon of Phang Nga Bay right in front of our rooms. We Facetimed everyone we knew, to show them this incredible moment (it was dinner time at home).
While Cathy and I had breakfast, Carter and Britt found a local to take us on a tour of Phang Nga Bay. At 9:00 am he picked us up in his car (actually, I thought he must have borrowed it from a friend, since I have never seen an island driver drive more slowly and carefully. It was almost like he was driving it like a boat, that doesn’t have any brakes). When we finally got to his boat we jumped in and took off for the islands. You can’t really describe the beauty of this part of the world. In every direction the views are breathtaking. There are dozens of islands that just rise up 100 feet (30 meters) straight out of the water with sheer rock faces with trees and vegetation on top. And at the bottoms of many of them are beautiful sandy coral beaches.
Upon arriving at the first island, there were about 5 other long tail boats there and a few speedboats, everyone walking around enjoying the view or swimming. We stopped here for about 20 minutes then headed off to another island and beach. It seemed that around every corner of every one on these amazing islands was another beautiful beach. The next one we stopped at had a large cove beach with the rock face completely surrounding the beach. We slide in next to the two or three other long tail boats that were there before us. Here we went snorkeling. Again, the underwater life was unbelievable. Near the beach we actually saw a bomb from the Vietnam War lying on the bottom. I stood on it for a few moments while I adjusted my mask and tried to keep my feet away from all of the sea urchins in the rocks on the bottom. We saw bright pink and red fan coral growing on the side of the rock face as it went straight down into the darkness of the water. We were enjoying our snorkeling adventure when all of a sudden it seemed like we were surrounded by hundreds of Chinese tourists with underwater selfie sticks kicking and splashing and bumping off of us. We fought our way back to the shore to find that in the 20 minutes we had been snorkelling peacefully, about 8 speedboats loaded with tourist had arrived on our private beach, (how dare they take over our beach).
Our captain informed us the speed boats were coming from Krabi and Phuket, much further distances and tourist packed than our small near by island Koh Yao Noi. Unfortunately, that’s what happens when the moneymakers find ways to bring in the hoards of people. So we quickly left and went to an island where the speed boats don’t go, luckily there are still lots of those. We ended up on a nice secluded beach and sat down to eat the lunch that our tour guides wife had nicely prepared for us. The next stop was in a lagoon in the centre of Hong Island. The main island and largest island of Phang Nga Bay, Koh Hong is uninhabited, except for the birds, white-faced gibbons and giant monitor lizards that can be often spotted on the main white sand beach (at quiet times, at least). It’s interior is home to a large lagoon (the “chamber” to which its Thai name “Hong” refers). This is best accessed at low tide by kayak, as the diminishing water level makes its colour change drastically from a deep emerald green to a clear turquoise; during mid-tide which was what it was for us so our long tail boat could enter.
This was where Carter almost lost his drone. He had launched it from the boat outside the lagoon on our way in, he flew it around the island for awhile taking some shots like the one above. As he was flying it back, possibly because we were in the centre of a lagoon with a 100 ft wall around us, he lost the signal of the drone. It said on the screen that it was GOING HOME... well home was where the flight had started and that was on the outside of the lagoon, we were now on the inside! The drone had started flying on its on, and was already outside of the lagoon. Not good! As the drone began to lower towards the water. Carter panicked a bit then thought, I’ll un-plug my phone and plug it back in. He did that and a few seconds later it re-connected! He was able to fly higher, away from the water and fly it back to us, in the lagoon. Phew! Very close call.
After that excitement we continued on to a spot to snorkel where it was just the 4 of us. After this we headed back towards Koh Yao Noi but made one last stop on another climbing mountain. Carter and I did it while Cathy and Brit enjoyed the beach.
This one was a little more difficult than the previous climb since there were no steps and only a few ropes and branches to use to pull yourself up the rocks. It was quite exhilarating and satisfying for this old guy to get to the top but not quite as satisfying when on the way down we came across an Australian family with their 4 year old daughter, we watched as she descended the whole thing by herself (the Aussie mother said her daughter would not allow anyone to help her).
Day 8 - Phuket
The next day we headed about midday by ferry to the mainland. We found an amazing hostel near the airport. It had been opened for only a month so everything was brand new. Our own 4 bedroom dorm below, bunk beds!
We threw our stuff in our room and headed out to see Phuket. We walked to the market and saw all the local fare; there was a lot to see. At the end of that street was Sirinat National Park. We walked along the beach and through the park. It was a bit eerie seeing all of the huge trees laying down that would have been there since the tsunami on boxing day of 2004 that killed 8,100 people in Phuket. On our way back to the hostel it poured and poured. I think we got wetter than if we had been swimming (if that’s possible).
Day 9 - Elephant Jungle Sanctuary
This was the morning Brittany had been looking forward to for over a year. She and Carter had been to the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary the year before and fell in love with the elephants, especially the baby named Choke. This is an ethical no riding elephant sanctuary that provides a safe, healthy environment, free from work and abuse. They have approximately 20 elephants ranging in age from 1.5 years to 77. Many of the older elephants have been rescued from situations where they were mistreated. So it was incredible to spend a few hours with them. We prepared food and took it to their feeding area and helped feed them. Brittany would actually grab food and put it right in their mouths, while saying “Boooon” or something like that (which is supposed to tell the elephant not to bite hard since your fingers are in there).
After the feeding, we then went to the pond where they get their mud bath. Some of the people got muddier than the elephants, throwing mud and whatever else was in the mud at each other (quickly looking like an out of control mud wrestling team). I didn’t want to get myself that dirty so I decided to be the videographer for this part of the adventure, avoiding the dung mud.
Then came the elephant car wash, which was a giant overhead sprinkler system to rinse the elephants and everyone off. After this the elephants headed back into the jungle and we went for a shower and an excellent meal.
If you ever get the opportunity to visit with elephants, be sure to visit a sanctuary and not a place where they ride the elephants, as they explained that over time it breaks down their back and causes irritation and sores. Carter mentioned that his first experience in Thailand was just that and he wished he had known how poorly they are treated.
After our last meal together, it was off to the airport to catch a flight with Carter and Brit to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, from there we thought we were catching connecting flights; us to Hanoi, Vietnam and Carter and Brit to Sri Lanka. Well it turned out that theirs was connecting with the same airline so they were able to stay in the airport. They found a comfy sort of area to sleep in a lounge for their 4-hour layover. But we on the other hand had to exit the airport and wait until the kiosk opened at 5:30 am. So Mom and Dad, just wandered around the departure area with no Malaysian money and hundreds of other people going different places. (Cathy says, “It was fine, the time flew by.”) We finally got in and found them and we curled up on the floor near them. Our flight was leaving earlier than theirs so we gave a big hug to each of them and we parted. It had been an incredible 10 days.
Thailand was wonderful; the people were so friendly and helpful. The accommodations were very reasonable some nights $8 for both of us and meals were great. Some of our lunches with a beer were $9 - $10 total and that was with an app.
It was a great experience, we think we kept up with them, had many laughs and we actually think they may ask us to join them again some time. We saw them having lots of fun, they really enjoy each other’s company and are best of friends for sure. Thanks again for this opportunity and good luck on the rest of your adventures!
Carter Bender & Brittany Wilson left Toronto, Canada to travel the world. Where will they be next? Follow their #cbwtravels blog to find out!