Well, we had a short break, during which I had to go to Chiang Mai for visa stuff.
So far, I've found the documentation process to work here to be rather annoying, and more expensive than I expected. I really don't like having to pay to work someplace, so I'm also rather unhappy with myself for not making sure the school covered those expenses. I came in on a tourist visa and then, after hanging out in Ko Samui, went to get a "non-immigrant B" visa, the first step in getting a work permit. I didn't know, and the school didn't warn me (and I've never heard of this) but I had to have at least 20 days left on my first visa, I only had 19. Yep, one day off. Had to pay 2,000 baht (about 60$) for an extension and then another 1,800 baht for the non-immigrant visa, which is only good for 3 months. Then, you get to apply for a work permit which cost me 800 baht. Get this. The work permit is only set until the visa expires (the three month non-immigrant one I JUST GOT), so I then have to go to Chinag Mai or Bangkok to extend my non-immigrant B to when my contract expires (Oct 2009)-- another 1,800 baht. Now that I have completed that, I have to get my work permit extended to Oct 2009 as it is only good for my old visa. Fun!
Luckily, since Al had time off he could come too so we really did get to have a little fun.
We usually try to stay at a different guesthouse every time we go as there are endless options. This time we stayed at Your House Guesthouse where we got an aircon room for 500 baht (about $15). It was sparse but clean with good hot water showers. The family that runs the place were very friendly and helpful. I had read a few reviews indicating that they pressured people to book treks but they didn't do that to us at all.
So far, no place has come close to beating Three Sis, a lovely guesthouse filled with open spaces, waterfountains, and Lanna art, located in front of Chedi Luang.
Anyway, we got a chance to walk around the sunday night market and have a nice glass of wine at a quaint little antique store-- old records, Buddha statues, and wine? Of course.
We did do a trek, although just a short day trek. I can't say if I recommend it or not. It was right for us as we just wanted to get a taste for everything. We had a private tour, which was ideal as we didn't have to stick to a strict schedule. Our guide, Lulu, who is actually from a hilltribe himself, took us to sites when he knew there would be less people. This payed off as we really did seem to miss the busses by a few minutes at each stop.
Even though it's called a trek, we didn't do any "treking". We wewre driven in an air conditioned car from place to place, starting with the orchid and butterfly farm. It was small, and souvenirs were a big focus, but the displays showing how orchids are farmed were interesting and of course, the flowers were beautiful!
Next stop was an elephant camp. As it's in the mountains it's rather atmospheric seeing the elephants (this camp hosted 75 of them) amongst the trees and playing in the river. However, these are captive elephants, trained to put on a show every day and cart falang like us around every day (falang= foreigner). I'm sure it beats logging though, which is how the elephants used to be employed before it was banned in 1989. The show was definitely entertaining, my favorite part being the man vs. elephant dart tournament.
Next stop was to see the hilltribes. This part we had mixed feelings about. There's a lot of controversy about visiting hilltribes, on one hand you are disrupting village life and potentially causing a dependency on tourists on the other hand, it is the 21st century so isolation is a bit of a dream (in Thailand anyway) and, supposedly, many tribes welcome the income opportunity. The "village" we went to was a creation for tourists, which was clear as soon as we pulled up. There's a welcome sign and everything. Eventually our guide explained to us that the people we were seeing only come here during the day. They demonstrate how to make their handicrafts and sell things, then return to their real villages at night. People from the Black Karen, Lisu, and Longneck Karen tribes were represented here, each in their own section of the "village". At first we were dissapointed, but really, this sort of setup helps prevent our intrusion into real village life and made us feel less awkward about taking pictures (always ask first!) and asking questions. Our guide knew some old ladies there and we were happily the only tourists invited in for lunch. Spicy stuff!!! One of the ladies kept giggling at me and htting my arm, good times were had by all.
From there we went for a jungle elephant ride, followed by a small bit of river rafting (only a level II) and some bamboo rafting. The bamboo rafting, to me, was terrifying. You're just sitting on bamboo, which sinks a bit so the water is flowing over and around you. You are in the horrible, brown river (which I imagine has horrible creatures in it. I was glad to get out.
Well, a good day of adventure anyway!
We're back to work now, I'll let you know how that's going in a later post.