Tag Archives: backpacking

Infinity Pools Are Infinitely Cheap In Pai, Thailand

Infinity pool in Pai Thailand

When you look at things like infinity pools, it’s easy to assume that these things can be only can be enjoyed by the super-rich, who have the cash to burn at $300/night hotels.

But those are the rules of the developed world.  In Thailand, things are done just a little bit differently.

On the grounds of the Baan Krating Resort in Pai Thailand, there is an amazing infinity pool located just above the banks of the peaceful Pai River, with clear views out to the mountains that rise on the other side of the valley.  While it is definitely more affordable to enjoy a touch of luxury here than back in the West (room rates start at 1800 baht or $60 USD a night), the common people can also sample an afternoon beside this aqueous oasis for an entrance fee of (drum roll please) …

50 baht.  That’s about $1.65 USD for those of you doing the currency conversion at home.

To find this place:

Front of Baan Krating, Pai, Thailand

Rent a scooter in town if you don’t have one already, and follow the handy dandy map I constructed for you below (I love Microsoft Paint 🙂 )

Map to Infinity Pool in Pai Thailand

Have you ever been to Pai, Thailand?  Got secrets to share?  Divulge them to the travel community in the comments below!

A Walk Through The Forefield Of The Columbia Icefields, Jasper National Park, Canada

Columbia Icefields, Jasper National Park, CanadaThe approach to the Saskatchewan Glacier at the Columbia Icefields, Jasper National Park, Canada.

Lying almost on the border of Jasper and Banff National Parks alongside the highway that bears its name, the Columbia Icefields are the most visited attraction in Jasper National Park, and the second most trafficked destination in the Canadian Rockies, only bested by the more convenient Lake Louise.  Were it not for the distance involved in getting here, and the lack of a luxury hotel (though you can stay here in relatively basic but clean accommodations for upwards of $270/night in the high season and as little as $140/night in the low season), its visitation numbers might be higher.

Mountains in the Columbia Icefields, Jasper National Park, Canada

Here you have access to the land above the trees, where you can pick over rocky scree slopes that were once previously glaciated, and feel the bone-chilling glacial water that populates the outlet rivers and lakes formed by the nearby Saskatchewan Glacier.

Mountains in the Columbia Icefields, Jasper National Park, Canada

Walking along this relatively barren landscape, your mind shifts to the introspective aspects of its mission, evaluating one’s life to this point, and focusing on what one needs to do to advance to greater things in the future…

Mountains in the Columbia Icefields, Jasper National Park, Canada

Staring up at the ice that has accumulated over centuries and millennia of cold, snowy winters, one can’t help but be in awe of the chilled beauty that supplies that dry portions of the Canadian West with the water they need to survive from year to year, while providing them a legendary place to go and be at one with the wildness of nature.  All the more reasons to do what we can to reduce our impact on a warming climate to the lowest extent possible!

Ever been to the Columbia Icefield?  Have a humbling glacier in your backyard? Tell us about it in the comments below! 

Thai Food Markets: Your Source For Battered Chicken Feet

Thai Food Markets (like this one in Mae Hong Son) are home to plenty of interesting food

Back in 2010 on my first trip to Thailand, my good friend Katie introduced me to the cheap and abundant cheap meal source located in every Thai city, town, or village: the local/neighbourhood food market.  While modern supermarkets are spreading more and more with each passing year in Thailand, many Thais still pick up the ingredients they need to cook their meals at home at the local market every day.

Giving some chicken feet a try

For those who don’t want to cook or choose not to: there are also plentiful options for picking up a freshly cooked dish.  In the photo above, Katie, being the kind, supportive, horizon-expanding pal that she is, goaded me into trying a battered chicken foot.  It tasted like breading … and cartilage. 😛

What was the most bizarre thing that you have ever eaten?

Photo: Hilltribe Farmland, Pai Valley Region, Thailand

Hilltribe Farm Pai Thailand

Travelling to any area is made infinitely better when you have a local contact that knows about the many hidden secrets it possesses.  For me, that was my friend Katie, whom I worked with at Maligne Lake in Jasper National Park back in Canada for three years.  In the winters, she typically lives in Pai, located three hours northwest of Chiang Mai on a winding mountain road (762 puke-inducing curves, yeehaw!), a pastoral mountain valley with a series of small friendly towns and villages, and a lazy river running through the middle of it all.

This part of Thailand is also known for its hill tribes, people who have been traditionally nomadic, having immigrated and migrated across silly imaginary lines on a map for centuries.  Back in the 1970’s, there were at the centre of a troublesome drug trade, growing opium poppies to get by from year to year.

Realizing the importance of getting them out of this destructive trade, the King and Queen of Thailand initiated a program to get them to grow high value temperate zone fruits and vegetables, allowing them to interact with the Thai economy in a legitimate fashion.  Today, alongside a burgeoning handicraft industry, this is what keeps these folks gainfully employed and productive in Thai society.

The pic above is of recently cleared farmland, reached by muddy pathways that needed to be negotiated with great care, as the wet Earth can lead to slippage, and potentially a motorbike on top of your legs! Ouch!

Ever been biking in Pai?  Share your favourite places to go to outside of town below! 

Photo Series: James And Bob The Elephant, BFF’s For Life!

Elephants in Thailand

On my first trip to Thailand, I spent a lot of time in the mountain paradise of Pai.  About two weeks to be exact.

During that time, I experienced many of the things that the Pai Valley had to offer, including one of many elephant camps.

Thanks to my friend Katie, who seemingly knows half the people in town due to spending seven winters in this sleepy place, I was able to meet my new pal shown above.

Feeding an elephant in Thailand

Bob, was hungry, so I fed him some delicious elephant grass…

elephant hugs in Thailand

… and found out that he was more than pleased with my generous gift.  Awww, elephant cuddles!

Have you connected with a friendly pachyderm on vacation in Thailand?  Share your tale below!

In Motion: A Rainy Night In Itaewon, Seoul, Korea

Itaewon Seoul Korea

Standing out like a patch of North America in the middle of South Korea, Itaewon is the preeminent foreigner hub in Seoul, and by virtue of this, the biggest gathering place for expats in the entire country. Western-style bars, restaurants, and stores with appropriately sized clothing are all available in relative abundance, leading to frequent trips to this area by desperate teachers from the provinces. Also, many Koreans find it to be the best place to experience foreign cultures in the whole country, made all the more significant by the fact that this country is very homogeneous (Korea is 98% ethnic Korean), making it hard to connect with all things international outside of this area.

Below, I make my first foray into this vibrant district, on a moody and rainy night in Seoul

Have you ever been to Itaewon?  Have a favourite bar/restaurant/shop you frequent there?  Let us know about it in the comments!

Maligne Lake – The Hidden Gem Of The Canadian Rockies

Maligne Lake Jasper National Park CanadaMaligne Lake, as seen from a viewpoint on the Lakeshore Trail, in Jasper National Park

During my transformation from your average working man to a global and outdoor adventurer, I took a job driving boats and giving tours on Maligne Lake, located at the end of 55 kilometre dead end road in Jasper National Park in the Canadian Rockies. The nature of its location, away from the main tourist trail further south near Banff, and the journey to get there turns off most time-constrained or lazy travelers … that is their loss, as Maligne Lake is a place of raw beauty, of peace, and of abundant wildlife.

Those that plan ahead and make the trip are amply rewarded … this post will aim to get you to steer your sails in the direction of this emerald-green gem in Jasper’s crown, for she will seduce you with her beauty, leading to many returns in the future and rave reviews to family and friends!

Tour boats at Maligne Lake Jasper National Park Canada

After buying a ticket from the head office, stroll down the brick pathway and be boarded by very friendly and knowledgeable guides (many of which I know personally still at this time of writing!)  Take your seat aboard one of seven possible boats, all of which are heated, because it gets cold here …

Snow in July 2010, Maligne Lake Jasper National Park Canada

… even in July (23 centimetres fell over two days in 2010 when this photo was taken)! Most of the time, the weather is quite enjoyable, if a bit brisk.  Maligne Lake is at 5,500 feet (1,700 metres) in elevation, so it is a hill station in terms of weather when you compare it to Jasper, as temperatures are 3-5 degrees cooler than in town.  Bring a hoodie or a coat, just in case.

Maligne Lake Jasper National Park Canada

Maligne Lake Jasper National Park Canada

The cruise takes you 14 kilometres down the 22 kilometres long lake, with ample vistas of towering snow-capped mountains everywhere you look, as the boat heads into a rare example of a box canyon (where a mountain range wraps around in a “U” shape) that has a lake in its core. The second photo above shows where our boats cannot go, as Parks Canada limits our operations as a compromise that keeps part of the lake away from the noise impact of our diesel motors.

Spirit Island Maligne Lake Jasper National Park Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kiwi_cam/

The destination of your journey is the world famous Spirit Island, which graces the desktop backgrounds of many computers around the world, and after Lake Louise is one of the images most strongly associated with the Canadian Rockies.  Which is amazing, considering how many fewer tourists make it up here compared to Lake Louise, but shhhhhh!  Don’t tell anybody else that, ok?  Don’t want to start a stampede or anything…

Maligne Lake Jasper National Park Credit: http://www.whyvisitcanada.com/

If you have a canoe and some camping gear though, you can get a camping permit from Parks Canada and go back there yourself to Coronet Creek, where a backcountry campsite will have you leaving with the idea of what it truly feels like to be alone in an expansive wilderness, apart from all other influences of man!

Canoeing in Maligne Lake Jasper National Park

If you not up to the 22 kilometre in, 22 kilometre out epic paddling journey, you can still see a lot within the northern confines of the lake within an afternoon.  Rent a canoe, kayak or rowboat from the boathouse and explore numerous hidden coves and islands.  Don’t forget to take a rod and reel if you are a fisherman/woman (get a license from Parks first though) and stake out a hidden spot and pull in one of the many brook or rainbow trout in the lake – they were stocked in the lake many generation ago and have thrived since then!

Maligne Lake Jasper National Park

If you’re planning an itinerary to the Canadian Rockies, leaving this place off your list would be a sin.  Even you just hike around the head of the lake and have lunch at the cafe on-site, it will still make for a very memorable afternoon!

Have you ever been to Maligne Lake?  Feel free to share your stories below!

Photo: The Wisdom Of The Buddha

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Buddhism has a huge influence in Thailand, with 95% of the population claiming Thervada Buddhism as their religion. As such, there are many exotic (to us foreigners, that is) golden and brass houses of worship across the country, along with countless centuries old brick stupas.  When you walk into these sacred places, there are a number of different things you might see, ranging from idols that honour various animals, to gold leaf covered Buddha statues.  One thing that I always scope out a temple for though are the sayings of the Buddha.  Frequently, you will signs in Thai and English, imparting the wisdom of the Buddha to visitors.

The above saying is particularly apt in today’s modern world.  Technology has us constantly distracted, deflecting attention from the things that truly matter in the real world: beauty, the taste of food, the laughter of a friend, and so on.  Also, the careful considerations of one’s actions could make a huge difference in the life of many people.  So often, we live our lives on autopilot, making automatic decisions that may be creating sub-optimal results in our everyday lives.  By questioning seemingly easy decisions that we take for granted, we may, as the sign says above, begin to prosper where prosperity had not been present before.

Try it.  What do you have to lose anyway?

A Purrfect Afternoon In Seoul: Visiting A Cat Cafe In Hongdae

This Cat Cafe In Hongdae was heaven on Earth for me...

Seoul, Korea is known for many offbeat, quirky attractions in the expat community, but few places are quite as famous as the Cat Cafe. Located all over the city, with new similar businesses popping up all over the country (and internationally, I recently heard that there is at least one here in Bangkok), it exists as a place where urban dwellers that can’t afford or have a cat due to landlord restrictions can go for some feline de-stressing.

Or for cat obsessed people like myself, it’s a convenient place to surround oneself with the most awesome creature to ever walk the Earth … teh kittehs! (clearly, I’m a bit obsessed, but I don’t care 😛 )

To enter the Hongdae Cat Cafe, you need to buy a drink ... I got an iced chocolate

Upon entry, you remove your shoes and are presented with a menu and a list of rules to follow once inside.  After ordering your drink for 7-8,000 ₩ ($6.30 – $7.20 USD), you are admitted to the kitty wonderland, which boasts an assortment of feline subspecies to play with, feed, and to simply admire as they grace you with their awesomeness.  In case you’re wondering, I ordered an iced chocolate that was incredible, though it killed me to drink/eat the barista art on top of the whipping cream 😛

A sleepy tabby rests on a window at a Cat Cafe in Hongdae

A fluffy white cat sleeps high on a ledge

This cat doesn't want to be touched

I could just end the post here, as the kitties showed above trump anything I could ever write, but I got something better: video footage!  Enjoy 🙂

Want to know how to get to this specific cat cafe that I visited in this post? Check the map below and have a happy afternoon of connecting with man’s favorite master!

Map to the Cat Cafe in Hongdae

Love cats? Think they leave dogs in the dust? Jive with me below!

Back To The Canadian Rockies – Part 1: Miette Hot Springs

My beasty rental: getting lunch in Hinton before heading to the Miette Hot Springs in my Jeep Grand Cherokee

After several months of working hard at my day job after having moved back to Calgary, I was overdue for a trip to the mountains to rest and relax.  Before my last trip overseas, I had ditched my terminally ill Cavalier (RIP Blue Rocket 1999-2012), so I was without wheels.  What to do?  Rent one, of course!

Except for one little problem … reserving a car online doesn’t guarantee you the car you select, it’s only a preferred vehicle.  In other words, they give renters ahead of you whatever they request, and only hold what’s left over for you.

In my case, I wanted a Toyota Versa … I got a Dodge Grand Caravan.  A turbocharged beast with tonnes of space I didn’t need, and extra girth I had to account for when making turns and parking and such.

Had I encountered a situation where I had to make a tight maneuver, I would have risked damaging my tires. At least in the United Kingdom, I would have been able to use Tyre-Shopper.co.uk tyres to replace them without the rental company being the wiser.

Failing that,  National.co.uk tyres would have had exactly what I was looking for.

But I digress.

Good thing I had experience driving giant tour boats at Maligne Lake prior to this 😛

The Miette Hot Springs is is a pretty chill place

After dropping my bags at my friend Steph’s place and enjoying a wonderful evening catching up post-Maligne Lake (I was a tour guide there for three summers, hence the earlier remark about driving tour boats), I had a full day ahead of me.  The first place decided to drop in on was the Miette Hot Springs area.  Located an equal distance from the towns of Jasper and Hinton, it is a wonderful place to soak away an afternoon in 40c waters, all while admiring the scenery of the Front Ranges of the Canadian Rockies, soaring thousands of feet above you.

The old pool complex at Miette Hot Springs

On this day, though, I intended to earn my time in the hot springs, as I set out on a hike down the trail that led to the source of the Miette Hot Springs.  The old bathhouse was in an even more starkly beautiful area than the current one, but overcrowding issues due to the popularity of the site, and natural erosion led to its closure in the mid-1980’s, and the opening of the current pools.

What remains today of the old bathhouse at the Miette Hot Springs

Still, it’s quite cool to have ruins of this nature in the middle of a narrow mountain valley!

Mountain stream, Miette Hot Springs

Mountain stream, Miette Hot Springs

The natural beauty of my surroundings just improved from there on, a glacially cold creek tumbling down the hanging valley from where it spawned, overlaying a source of water almost hot enough to scald at first touch.

Natural source of the Miette Hot Springs

You know when you’ve reached the source of the Miette Hot Springs.  Depending on the prevailing winds on the day that you stroll down the trail, you can smell it many hundreds of metres away.  The sulphur and calcium laced waters deposit their solid particles on the rocks over which it flows, creating a stone known as tufa.  Underground pipes carry the waters from this aquifer to the hot pools themselves back near the parking lot, which is where I headed with great anticipation, shortly after the shot I took above! 🙂

Bonfire with friends outside Hinton Alberta

After the day’s tramping and soaking had run their course, there was only one proper way to end an active day in the Canadian Rocky Mountains … have a bonfire and beers!  Heading out to a campsite with friends, meeting interesting new people and sitting by a bonfire that offset the chill of a high country evening was the perfect way to cap off my first day back in the mountains since I had lived there!

What would your perfect day in the Canadian Rockies look like?  Hash it out for us below!