Planning a trip to Krabi, Thailand? Add kayaking to your list!

Getting Prehistoric in Krabi

Planning a trip to Krabi, Thailand? Add kayaking to your list!
Editor’s Note: I was a guest of Tourism Authority of Thailand during my time in Krabi.

My paddle dips into the glassy green water of Bor Thor, and the shrimp start dancing.

Hundreds of tiny creatures pop out of the water, hop across it like rocks skipping, and then dive back down into its depths.

“We’re almost there,” our guide, Man, who also graciously volunteered to steer my kayak, informs us.

Our three fire-engine-red kayaks skirt around a small turn and into a mangrove forest and then we see it: a half-moon emerging from the water and moving upward into a towering karst shrouded in palm trees and other jungle foliage.

We’re kayaking in Krabi — something I honestly never thought I’d do. Mostly because, let’s be real, I’m not so skilled at kayak navigation.

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In Earth’s belly: the Škocjan Cave

Škocjan cave in Slovenia

The droplets of water plunk down from the damp ceiling, ploink. Ploink. It sounds like a dripping faucet in a vacuum of silence as we all stand, meters below the surface of the earth, eyes adjusting to the nearly black surroundings.

Ploink. Ploink. Ploink.

It’s cold down here. Far colder than the day I envisioned when I quickly threw on a dress and flips for my day exploring the Karst region and Slovenian coastline that morning when I was picked up from Hostel Celica in Ljubljana.

Down here, the dampness, the dark only magnify my senses. They swirl around me, reminding me where I am …

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Tel Aviv’s ultimate street art experience

Gilad Uziely, the founder of Mekomy, picks me up on his motorbike, producing a cushiony helmet for me to wear as we zip along the Mediterranean and head towards Old Jaffa.

It’s a hot day, and the wind hitting my face is welcome as we zoom down the smooth road and towards the ancient city.

The best hummus in Tel Aviv is at Ali Karavan

He’s got quite the afternoon lined up for me — first we’re exploring Old Jaffa, then going to grab hummus at Ali Karavan, which is apparently the best in the country (please order the triple, which treats tastebuds to hummus, flu and masabacha — trust me), then we’re off on a street art tour with one of the city’s most popular artists, Dioz, then to end the day, we’re visiting a new street art exhibition at the Tel Aviv bus station.

Mekomy is Gilad and his wife’s vision after serving as travel agents. When the two were always asked for their suggestions, Gilad saw an opportunity to bring together the curious travelers with the local experts and the start-up was born. Today, his company operates in a few cities and by the end of 2014, he hopes to have experts and tours offered in five cities in Europe and Israel. Guests can select from three tours given by locals: art, culinary and photography.

For me, I find the best way to get to know a city and its subcultures is to check out the street art. In Berlin, I fell in love with the art scene and since then, whenever I can get an opportunity to see the more gritty, creative side of a city, I jump for the chance.

The beginning: Jaffa

The old city of Jaffa in Tel Aviv, Israel

We start in Jaffa, where the summer heat leaves us beading with sweat and we dip into air conditioned buildings to cool off for brief moments before winding our way through the old, historic city.

Jaffa in Tel Aviv

The oldest part of Tel Aviv, Jaffa immediately summons recollections of Europe with its slippery, tiny pathways meandering up hills to secret nooks and crannies. We wander through the ancient port city, climbing the stairs to the top and breathing in the stunning view of the Mediterranean caressing the shore below before Gilad begins to point out street art as we descend towards our lunch break.

Street art in Jaffa, Tel Aviv

A look at an artist’s life

After dining at Ali Karavan, we hop back on Gilad’s bike and drive to the start of our tour — the famous street artist, Dioz’s, house. Located in a run down building with a tiny church below, I enter his home and am blown away.

Street artist Dioz's home in Tel Aviv

It’s the most eclectic, artsy place I have ever stepped foot in. There are works of art everywhere, from traditional paintings hung on walls to unique sculptures.

Street art in a house

To my delight, there is even a cat.

Dioz is tall and rather soft-spoken for one of the city’s most popular street artists. He offers me a water before he takes us on the tour of his flat, which includes an expansive patio/roof.

Standing on the roof of the building, Dioz extends a finger towards the city.

“There, that is one of my latest works,” he says. I follow the direction of his finger to a painting adorning a wall.

The latest work of Dioz in Tel Aviv

It’s really cool.

Then, the three of us are off.

Hitting the streets

Glass crunching underfoot, we explore the mostly warehouse area of Florentin that has emerged as the scene for street art. Tucked between posh and sky scrapers and more rundown areas, it’s easy to see why this neighborhood has emerged as the place for street art. It is where worlds collide and the artists can have the liberty to create on the blank walls of warehouses.

A street in Florentin, Tel Aviv

But, even the bars and shops here embrace the art. Metal shudders aren’t just metal here, they are art.

Street art in Florentin, Tel Aviv

He and Gilad stop me every few feet to explain the art I am looking at, to show me collaborations between other street artists in the area and work done by people from all over the world.

More street art in Tel Aviv

I’m a sucker for street art and here — in this little Tel Aviv neighborhood just off-the-beaten-path from the tourist trek — I have stepped into a treasure trove of glorious work that is nearly on part with street art in places like Berlin.

Street art by Dioz in Tel Aviv

Where street art gets main streamed

After we explore in the afternoon heat, it’s back on Gilad’s bike and over to the Tel Aviv bus station where his friend, Mati Ale, has done something incredibly special — he has transformed a bland and sterile bus station into one of the largest collaborations of street art I have ever witnessed. (Hurry, it’s only on exhibition for a year!)

Street art takes over the Tel Aviv bus station

The entire departures floor is covered in works from some of the best in the country. Abstract, surreal, whimsical works flood my eyes as they dart everywhere, searching for something I may have missed on first glance.

The street art exhibit at Tel Aviv's bus station

More street art at the exhibition in Tel Aviv's bus station

It’s a long day, and by late afternoon the heat begins to take its toll. Gilad whips me back through the rush hour traffic and drops me back at Artplus. Tired. Happy. And a memory filled with amazing street art.

Street art by Dioz

Want more street art? Check out this week’s Escape  for a full photo essay of the awesome.

Editor’s Note: My street art tour was courtesy of Mekomy, however all opinions are my own. If you have questions regarding this, please read my disclosure policy

 

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Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai: the day trip

The early morning rays of the sun are barely creeping through my apartment window when my alarm buzzes.

Time to get up.

It’s a Saturday, and I am awake at 6 a.m. for a good reason: I am going on my first journey outside of Chiang Mai. Today, I’m hopping into a Top North minivan along with two friends, and heading out for a 13-hour tour of the Chiang Rai/Golden Triangle (Myanmar and Laos) area.

We hop into our van, which is filled with other travelers, and begin our journey.

The first stop, around 8 a.m., is a hot spring about 45 minutes outside of town. In my mind, I envision a bubbling, sulfur brook surrounded by lush jungle vegetation.

It is nothing like that. Not even remotely.

Chiang Rai hot springs

 

Instead, there are two little areas with water, both not natural-looking at all. Essentially, a large tourist area has been created around these two warm waters, which are now manicured and contained in stone casings. Around the hot springs are little huts hawking everything from food and coffee to T-shirts, bags, and other random souvenirs. It’s a well-done tourist trap with some water features. That’s it.

Chiang Rai hot springs

Fortunately, the hot springs aren’t really on my radar in terms of things I want to see. What I care about is the next stop: the White Temple, or Wat Ron Khung.

Chiang Rai White Temple

The intricate temple began construction in 1997 and is still a work-in-progress today. Created by artist Chalermchai Kositpipat, the temple is designed to be open to all and to symbolize the passage into heaven, including passing through hell. The details here are breathtaking — from the twirls of smoke on the “no smoking” signs to the hands reaching up from the pits of hell as visitors walk across a white bridge towards the temple.

White Temple Chiang Rai

White Temple Chiang Rai

Even inside the temple, which was under construction when I visited, details abound. The murals, which have sparked some debate, further show heaven and hell, tying the concept to today and news of the world. Painted on the walls is the tragic 9/11, Superman and more.

We stand, silent, taking in these images for a moment before we notice a wax monk sitting at the head of the room.

Odd.

But, it seems to fit with everything else.

The next stop for us is the Karen hill tribe village.

After what seems like forever in the van, we head off the main road and down a windy path to a village with one dirt road. Only, it isn’t really a village at all. It’s more like some huts with villagers selling their goods, encouraging us to buy, buy, buy.

I don’t even take my camera out when we visit the long neck tribe. It just feels like we are exploiting them as they sit there, brass encircling their necks, arms, knees, and smiling for photos. Our guide even pulls out a picture showing us what they look like when they sleep.

I’m not impressed.

In fact, if there was one aspect of the trip I would skip, it would be this. I know there are other ways to support hill tribes and simply heading to a remote spot where they set up shop and are on display for tourists isn’t my idea of how it should be done.

“I hate this,” I whisper to my friend as some of our tour group stops to take photos with the token twins in the tribe. “It just doesn’t feel right.”

My friend nods her head, rolls her eyes and together, we walk back across the rickety bamboo bridge to where a litter of puppies are curled up.

Yeah, we’d rather play with puppies than “ooh” and “ahh” at hill tribe people who essentially are a tourist attraction.

After we don’t buy anything at the “village,” we journey onward to the Golden Triangle. What used to be vast opium fields, today the area is simply where three countries — Thailand, Myanmar and Laos — converge.

Golden Triangle boat ride

Golden Buddha

Its got casinos, huge golden buddhas and a quick boat tour that has  a stop on an island in Laos where people can drink Laos beer, try the whisky with dead animals in it, or shop for “genuine fakes.”

The stop in Laos

We hand over our boat ticket and when we get back on the boat, the ticket is returned with a Laos stamp on it.

Again, not impressed. But, the boat ride is nice and I love the idea of straddling three different countries at once.

Finally, we head to Mesai on the border of Myanmar. Typically, this is where people who need to do border runs head to get their stamp in and out. We are given one whole hour (compared to the 30 minutes we normally have at each spot) to shop (of course). But, its sweltering hot and the shops are all offering the same goods for the same prices.

It’s nearly 4:30 p.m. when we finally head back towards Chiang Mai from the Chiang Rai region. We’ve got a four-plus hour drive back to the city and the rain clouds are hovering. Eventually, they give way to thunderstorms, which at least lull me to sleep for a quick bit.

By the time we get back to Chiang Mai, I’m well-rested (hey, there were ample opportunities to nap in the van during the 14-hour day) and a bit disappointed in the experience.

The bottom line: I would not do the tour again. While the tour guide is great, the tour itself if lacking. It seems there are plenty of tour operators all offering the same itinerary. But, not enough time is given at the various places to explore. And, most of the time is spent on the bus. I’d prefer to head simply to Chiang Rai for two days and explore the area that way, instead of being ushered around with time limits and extensive periods sitting on a bus.

 

Asia Blog Reviews Thailand Tours