Trekking: Thailand

March 8, 1998 8:56 pm
March 1

Last month, we shared in the action-packed adventures of Rob and Annie Cornforth as they took a swim at a dam in Indonesia and explored a watery cave. The Ottawa couple packed their bags after wedding at the end of August and set off for an eight-month trek around the world. Ottawa Life Magazine is tracing the couple’s steps every month and telling their stories. This month, Rob describes the weird and wonderful sights and smells of a market in Sungai Kolok, Thailand:

The spirit of a town can be found in one place – its market. The spirit of Sungai Kolok was embodied in a multitude of crowded stalls which lined the dingy back streets. An endless variety of oddities and bargains lined the booths. Fruit, vegetables, raw meat and t-shirts made up the regular fare. But it was the oddities that evoked so many emotional reactions.

Annie and I bought some soup from a vendor, determined to stay open-minded as we sampled the local cuisine. As the mixture was placed in a bowl in front of me a host of ingredients whirled by: onions, carrots, spinach, garlic, gristle and, suddenly, a chicken foot!

A groan escaped my lips as the grey and wrinkled claw settled to the bottom of the bowl. It was like a scene from a horror flick! Discreetly I extracted it, placed it in a napkin and waited for the hurl reflex to pass.

Unlike Canadians, Thais don’t gut their chickens or remove the head. The whole thing is chopped up from head to foot and cooked, with nothing but the feathers wasted.

The next day we took the 45-minute ferry trip to the neighbouring island of Ko Phangan, to take part in the “full moon party.” The idea of this gathering is to celebrate the union of many different cultures, together in harmony under the same moon. The party is the island’s busiest time of the year-people from near and far flock to participate.

We started the night drinking whiskey in our bungalow. Our rooms gave a perfect view of the sandy-white beach and the ocean-blue water. From our vantage point we could see that the beach had been transformed into a fluorescent boom box. Four huge speakers pumped out techno music. We moved down to the sand and sat on bamboo mats facing the ocean as the partiers started to gather. The full moon and its bluish hues cast a reflection on the swooning ocean which stared back at us.

We were invited to have our faces painted in phosphorescent colours. I drew an Egyptian eye in the sand and the local artist tattooed it over my left eye in blue. Annie ended up with smiling lime-green lips and orange polka dots on her cheeks and forehead, which captured the emotions of her face.

The party was really wound up. Repetitious bass beats pounded into our bodies. Painted faces glowed in the black of the night. Festivities didn’t wind down until 1:30 a.m. or so the next day.

In this leg of our journey we were reminded of the difference between a tourist and a traveller: a tourist has more money than time and therefore enjoys the convenience of expensive hotels with all the amenities. Travellers have more time than money and learn to revel in simplicity.

The Big Secret: The Iberostar at Playa Del Carmen, Mexico

8:49 pm
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Playa del Carmen is a Mexican fishing village one hour south of Cancun. In recent years it has become a small resort catering to tourists who like to be comfortable but not inundated with the commercial excesses of larger venues.

Signature Vacations offers all-inclusive packages direct from Ottawa, ranging from $1200 to $2400, for one to two weeks. (Prices vary depending on the time of year you go; it is not possible to be any more specific.) Over the past several years thousands of people from the National Capital area have visited this town and become attached to the warmth of its people and its quaint charm.

The packages include stays at resorts like the brand-new five-star Tucan Iberostar Playacar. The resort, built by a Spanish business consortium, is truly impressive. The entrance rises out of the jungle terrain and the visitor is met by two 12-foot statues of Mayan Indians, lush tropical plants and several fountains in the surrounding jungle. Marble and ceramic floors decorate the entranceway and dining areas, while 12- and 18-foot salmon-and-blue pillars are geometrically spaced to lend a classic architectural look.

Displayed throughout the resort are Mayan sculptures, local etchings and beautiful wood carvings. Visitors reach the dining room by crossing a footbridge over a small ravine. There are no walls in the dining and bar areas of the Iberostar, just the vast array of the natural terrain. Marble floors through the jungle lead to several pastel- coloured villas. Each is no higher than three stories and merges nicely with the landscape. Iberostar was designed to blend with the surrounding terrain rather than overwhelm it, and the grounds are spectacular.

The Iberostar is upscale, yet retains a casual atmosphere. The staff are from the local area, Europe and North America, so most visitors can be served in their own language. The food, served both buffet-style and with table service, is varied and excellent.

Iberostar is only a three-minute walk from a golf course, and a twenty-minute walk or a five-minute cab ride to the villa del Carmen. The village boasts miles of sandy, palm-lined beaches on the crystal-clear waters of the Caribbean, dozens of varied restaurants, and an attitude that is distinctly low-key. The pedestrian walkway is lined with shops of local artisans’ works: fine silver jewellery, delicately carved wood, embroidered linens, stone products, hammocks and a large selection of paintings and sculptures. Every day and evening the local teens play soccer on the beach in the main square, a popular stopping point for both tourists and locals.

A week-long stay at this quaint resort near this beautiful town convinced me that anyone who is looking for a place to visit should consider this one.

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