Snow Cave 

  
“This must have been what it was like completing the channel tunnel,” said the guide crouched next to me as a spade shot through the wall beside me, revealing a ring of German voices and grinning faces.

We had already been working on our caves for a few hours, which you could tell from the way my gloves and trousers were soaked to the skin. Proudly I can say that, being the smallest person in the group, I helped out a fair amount with the construction. Trust me, being curled up to fit into a tiny hole is no fun. Especially when the only way to enlarge said hole is to scrape snow off the walls and pile it in the entrance. In those couple of seconds when the circle of sunlight shrinks, I got very thankful that I don’t suffer from clostriphobia. 

Despite the tight working conditions, that day was one of the best days. Building the snow cave was great, seeing it go from barely a dent in the snow to a space large enough to fit six people was a proud moment. 

The design of our cave was fairly basic; there was a trench dug into the side of a hill, getting progressively deeper (we tried adding steps at some point, but they didn’t last long). At the end of this there was an entrance, which was a hole just big enough to fit a person through. After this we dug upwards and outwards, so the cave opened up, it was maybe a meter or so tall. On the far side from the entrance we also constructed a rudimentary sleeping ledge, in the end we managed to fit 5 people along this. Then to the side there was another opening, which linked up the adjacent cave. 

Would I recommend building one? Yes. Would I recommend sleeping in one? Let me get back to you on that.

You could say it was the worst night’s sleep I ever had, but that would have meant that I got to sleep at some point. In hindsight, I should’ve worn several hundred more layers, and used a bigger tarpaulin. But hey, hindsight is a wonderful thing. 

After dinner and the required talks (you really don’t want to know about the improvised toilet the guides supplied) everyone dispersed back to their respective snow caves, of which there were 3, along with one improvised igloo. 

Despite the cold it wasn’t all bad though; in the cave there wasn’t room enough for everyone to get ready for bed at once, so I ended up waiting outside (that was good though, I think it was warmer out in the open) luckily the clouds that had been brewing earlier in the evening had mostly cleared. I can now say I actually know which constellation is on the New Zealand flag. 

The real trouble arrived when it wast turn to get ready for bed. Struggling to take off boots and ski-trousers without a) falling over and b) touching the wet snow in small space made entirely of snow was an interesting challenge. We’d also ended up building our sleeping ledge on a slight slope, which meant that we had to dive head first onto it, with the hope that you made it. The 5cm gap between my face and the roof made moving difficult, I actually ended up with only a half zipped up sleeping bag, because I didn’t have enough space to move my arm down. 

Whilst we lay shivering in our cave, the exchange students next door blasted out German pop and had a mini snowball fight, I’m pretty sure that once the laughter died down and the night crept in, that they regretted that a bit.

The worst part about the cave was definitely the cold though, I had on my big ski jacket and gloves, but sadly wearing only thermal leggings doesn’t quite cut it. If I had to guess, I’d say I lost the feeling in my legs 3 hours in? It was a very long night spent waiting for the glow of dawn to seep through the entrance.  

Perhaps I am being melodramatic, after all, I spent the night in a snow cave! Waking up in the morning was magical, and crawling out of what was described as a ‘frozen coffin’ to a Christmas card of falling snow, put a mystical glamour over the whole experience. There was just white, it seemed to absorb everything around it.

Much to our disappointment we never got to collapse in our caves. 

Instead we just shovelled snow to conceal the entrances and tramped back down to the hut in search of breakfast. The guides also let us know that they were intending to let next weeks group sleep in those snow caves too. Yeah.. We weren’t too happy about that.

Regardless of lack of sleep, Hoth-like conditions and damp thermals, I would do it again and hopefully then I could actually say that I slept in the snow cave.

“27th December 2016, that’s the day the world will end…”

“So this is the aliens throwing us a lifeline..”

Rewind a few minutes and I was standing deep in solitary thought at the top of Mount Manunganui. So what happened?

“Where are you from? What country?”

The barked command came out of nowhere. I looked round in confusion, and saw that the question had spouted from a bearded man, wearing steam punk style sunglasses, a woollen hat and a bicycle helmet.

“Uh, England”

“Oh England, I know England. Stonehenge, are you near Stonehenge? Salisbury?”

I mumbled something between an affirmative and a denial.

“So I’ve been telling people from England this for 25 years, what’s going to happen is that Obama is going to tell the Russians that 9/11 was the fault of the homosexuals.  Then the Pope will travel to Buenos Aires, where there will be an attempted assassination, but he’ll survive. Then Putin…” And so it continued, the tales of missiles and international squabbles all leading up to, “And so on the 27th December 2016 there will be a nuclear war, and the world will end.”

“Right-”

“I’ll show you how you work this out now, now it takes an considerable amount of intelligence to figure this out,” he said, grabbing an old ‘Pak’N’save’ receipt. Furiously he began to scribble down lines and circles, each one representing different angles and points between Stonehenge and the Great Pyramid of Giza. “So using this we know the year, because the Mayan calendar actually fits for 2016. And the day we can work out because when the galaxy lines up with this point the planet lines up with this point. Then if you look at this you can see that it is the work of extra terrestrial intelligence throwing us a lifeline…”

I wish I could say that as I walked back down the Mount 20 minutes later I felt as if I now knew some piece of crucially important information, but alas despite clutching the receipt in my hand, I couldn’t fathom it’s meaning. Aliens? Nuclear War? Putin? The Pope? What was that about Stonehenge again?

Hmm.

Hopefully he’ll be there again tomorrow, because I fear I may need to go back over this again..

(In case anyone is interested in this theory, along with the knowledge that I need to make the most of the earths remaining year and a half, I was also given a website with further information; http://archaeoastronomer.simplesite.com)

Sai Ngarm; The Forest of a Single Tree

Sai Ngarm is a web of roots and branches. It’s a shadowy green world that is made all the more mystical since it has all sprouted from a single Banyan tree. Despite wanting to avoid descriptive cliches, there were many times when I could feel groping wooden fingers clutch at my hair, or knotted eyes leer at me from a tangle of roots. As you walk along cracked stone pathways the sweet fog of insense is punctuated by glimpses of orange shrines, which glimmer like sleepy gingerbread houses in the gloom.   

          

Visiting Phimai 

About a week before we even stepped on the plane Dad felt the need to remind me that we weren’t going to Thailand as tourists. As a result of this we’ve spent the last few days house hunting rather than seeing the sights of Bangkok, but since we’re spending the weekend with Dads family up in Korat however, we thought it would be interesting to check out something spectacular. The obvious choice? Phimai; a temple complex said to have been the inspiration for Ankor Wat.

We left Korat at around midday, after a quick brunch of Kai Jiow (Thai ommelete) and dragon fruit. I had stupidly left my sunglasses back in Bangkok, but not to worry, I was provided with an even better solution.  Even as Ya Tew gestured to it, I maintained the hope that it was for Pu Moh, but to no avail, so it was that I was handed a large yellow, glittery sun hat. Despite the fact that this was practical and necessary, I could foresee how I would look in it. Then there was the small factor that Ya Tew insisted on taking photographs of everything. (I had already spent the morning of the day before in various different family poses) Before we left I made a futile attempt to leave it behind.. With no success. Once we reached Phimai and stepped out into the blazing sunshine though, I became rather grateful for it.

It’s worth noting that when visiting a temple or monument, such as Phimai, it is respectful to wear long skirts or trousers. I had happened to leave behind my shorts anyway, so it wasn’t an issue for me, but anyone else who was deemed to be wearing too little wore a sarong like skirt – even men. In terms of admission, the price for a foreigner is 100 baht (which is equivalent to only about £2)   Having paid this we were then able to enter the park. Phimai itself is actually much larger, with ancient walls that encompass the town. However the main temple complex was converted to a park in the 80s, and has mainly been restored.

To see the centre courtyard of the temple you have to first venture through a stone corridor.  The entrance itself is crawling with stone snake-like creatures and Naga’s, who helped to create the idea that as you entered this ancient dwelling something was still watching to keep you in line. Many people theorise that it was a administrative centre for the region during 12th and 13th Centuries, and walking into the sunlight, greeting by an imposing stone building, you can see why it was given this authority.

 The structures at Phimai are impressive in their own right, but what adds to it’s majesty is the realisation that these cities were built in a time without technology, something that has become so embedded in modern life today.

Towards the back of the complex the buildings have been left under the iron rule of the jungle, leaving a lost alien world. I half expected to see a troop a monkeys dancing between the stone windows, but alas instead there was a pack of selfie-stick wielders; something far less rare.

Although compared to Angkor Wat, Phimai could be considered small, the park still stretches a considerable distance, and stone corridors branch off in multiple directions. Walking round to the side of the courtyard there was a squadron of stone warriors standing in silent salute, waiting for a long lost foe beside a collection of green pools. 

Upon returning to the entrance, we were immediately enticed into taking several photos (safe to say I conveniently forgot to wear the hat at this point) As for my opinion of Phimai itself? Well, it’s humbling to visit something with such an impressive aura. Hopefully I’ll return. After all Pu Moh has said that I’m welcome anytime to see my grandfather.. I think I shall take him up on that.

Bugs; desirable delicacy or culinary catastrophe?

So I have just eaten my first ever bug. It was a fat, maggot-like creature, found crisped and curled in a big ladle. We had cycled down to the night market in Korat for that specific reason, and although it took us a while to locate the insect stall, locate it we did. 

 
The market itself was like a neon circuit board; mainly one selling cheap ‘Nike’ T-shirts and phone cases. Having bikes was not a particular asset and I must apologise to Dad here because I suspect that by the time we had manovered  our way around the maze, I was not the most amiable of companions. It felt like I was blocking someone with every step, and was on the verge of accidentally starting a small showdown in the middle of the path. 

 Once we had found the ‘bug stall’ it took a fair amount of planning to be able to find somewhere to put our bikes before we could inspect the goods on offer. Dad asked if we were able to take a photo, as Mum had requested something akin to a ‘bug-on-a-stick’. Then we were offered a sample. 

 
Eating an insect for the first time you something you have to do without thinking too much about it, because if you think too much about it, then you realise that actually, no I don’t particularly want to eat this cockroach. Eat we did though, and actually, I’ve eaten vegetables that have tasted worse.

  The texture starts off with a quick crunch, before morphing into a mushy mess, like over cooked Brussels sprouts. In actual fact, the bug itself was so small that the taste vanished before you could register it properly. 

Overall I’d say it wasn’t too awful, but I am now converted to a bug lover? Would I be happy if, as it’s been suggested, insects are the future of the human diet? Well… I’ll have to get back to you on that one when I’ve sampled a few more.

Day One in Bangkok (A.K.A: A note on my newfound appreciation for rice)

In Westbury you don’t wake up to the boom of a thunder storm. In Bangkok it is an entirely different story.

Today I was awake at 7, something which is only remarkable because it is a rare event if I wake up naturally before 10 on most days. Guess I am experiencing a bit of jet lag after all (I denied this to my mother in the evening, before promptly going upstairs and accidentally falling asleep for 2 hours) The sky outside was grey and the pool had been turned into a test centre for raindrop artillery. Unsure whether anyone else was awake yet, Dad ended up calling Gran and Grandad. I definitely find myself getting more and more excited now that we’ve flown to Bangkok, as it was so straightforward, why would I have any problem doing it solo?

Anyway, after this it was time for breakfast. Therefore so begins my first verse on the versatile brilliance of rice; I have never had rice for breakfast. Never. I intend to do so more often. Not only was rice an agreeable substitute to toast, green curry isn’t a bad replacement for cereal. I have to say, usually by the time it gets to midday I could probably eat someone, but I made it to the afternoon without complaint on a omelet and curry. That’s another thing, omelets are fantastic, as are these strange pork.. Things? They look like they’re made up of string. I can’t do it justice, but if you’re ever in Thailand, I cannot recommend any of the above highly enough.

Since I have started this post on a food based note, might as well continue. So here we go; since I have been in Bangkok (about a day) I have firstly rediscovered mango and sticky rice. Best. Pudding. Ever. I’ve also tried some mangosteen and rambutan,  they have insides that look like hatchlings from an alien movie, but they taste superb.

This evening we also went for a Japenese Barbecue. Despite embarrassing myself with my blatant inability to correctly use chopsticks, I had a great time. Why? Firstly because you sit at a table with a pit full of hot coals in the middle. Actual hot coals. I don’t know about you, but I have never experienced that before, but I see the point; Serves two purposes in one. As for the second reason; it’s delicious.

Basically all of these culinary experiences have taught me one thing. I really need to learn to cook, because it will cost me a fortune otherwise, considering the amount of this stuff I intend to consume.

Flight of the Airbus A380s – Part One, London to Bangkok

Today should be Monday. At least that is what it feels like. Somewhere during my moments skipping time zones I lost a day. Despite the fact that I know I’m writing this from a house in Thailand, not England, this whole experience still doesn’t seem real. It’s overshadowed by a strange surreal aura, which makes me feel like my exams were years ago, and at the same time, like all of this has occurred in the blink of an eye. I mean, I’m here, belly stuffed full with mango and sticky rice, the angry sounds of meteorological warfare loud in the background, but at the same time it all feels too good to be true. Anyway, that’s even more of a reason to make the most of this opportunity, in case it does turn out to be a strangely realistic dream.

I digress however, let us return to..

Part One – LHR TO BKK

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So after a morning of efficient packing by mum and myself, well okay mainly mum, we found ourselves standing in an eerily empty room. I have no clue how we managed to fit the entire contents of my room into a 60l backpack, but kudos to us, because we did manage it. There was one slight problem still however; It was firstly, almost impossible to get on single handedly, and secondly, it turned me into a something resembling a particularly unstable pink turtle. I shouldered this heavy burden anyway and in virtually no time at all, Dad and I were on the train.

I wish I had some amusing anecdote to share about the train journey to Heathrow, but unfortunately, I don’t find it amusing. I was mistaken for a 14 year old. A 14 year old. Now I don’t want to appear melodramatic, but as a 16 year old, I was mildly insulted. Do you know why? Because I have absolutely no doubt that my 13 year old brother could pass for 16 any day of the week. Dad helpfully added that I would be grateful for an incident like this years into the future.

The rest of the check in proceeded without incident, apart from the thing where I was detained at security whilst my bag was searched. Yeah.. take this as a warning. Don’t carry compasses in pencil cases. It causes unnecessary hassle; I learned that the hard way. It wasn’t all bad though, they let me keep the compass!

From a personal point of view, I’m relieved that the journey was fairly uneventful, but from a bloggers point of view, an uneventful journey leaves a pitiful amount to narrate. I supposed all that matters is that I managed to make it to Bangkok. At the airport we met Dad’s Thai brother, who we’re now staying with. (Dad came to Thailand on an exchange year back in the 80s and has since kept in touch with his family) Tomorrow will bring on the house hunting.

As for the flying part of this adventure, that will carry on next Monday.. solo.. so maybe that will lead to more interesting events. Not sure whether I should want that or dread that.

To be continued in…

Part Two – BKK TO AKL