Ready or not, here the plane comes! Between last-minute errands and goodbye dinners, Caleb and I forgot to fit in that pesky little chore called PACKING and before you know it, we had T-minus 2 hours to decide on our few golden items and stuff the rest into the basement. Luckily, Roger Heeringa had the foresight to snap a quick “before” shot for the history books.
We made good time at the airport, had an uneventful 12 hour flight and arrived at 5:45am (local time) for a 6 hour layover in Taipei, Taiwan. After 12 hours of sitting with our seat backs in the upright position, we decided to stretch our legs and explore the airport where we were greeted with indoor internet gardens, whole gates dedicated to Hello Kitty, and 7am Scotch Whiskey “free samples”!
Caleb, of course, managed to find baseball, but it meant standing in the middle of a busy gate. He saw no problem with that.
The airport offered a few practical features including a playground (also Hello Kitty themed), a reading room, and prayer rooms, separated by faith.
Eventually the time passed and we were on plane #2 to Bangkok. Customs, bags, money exchange, how does the train work? Bangkok was a blur. Depending on where you set the city boundaries, Bangkok has between 5 and 10 million people, and this is not counting the thousands of tourists that visit the capital city every day. It’s not hard to see why it’s such an attraction – Bangkok is the cultural, transportation, and economic hub of Southeast Asia. It has the largest museum in the region, dozens of significant temples, markets that monopolise entire neighborhoods, and on a darker note, a booming sex tourism industry that attracts its own type of special visitor. We stayed in a trendy part of town on Sukhumvit road which was filled with food stalls, Western (or Australian) style bars, and money exchange booths. Our first night was spent exploring the neighborhood and meeting friends at a tiny little corner drinking booth called “Cheap Charlie’s” (aptly named, they had a healthy pour of Jameson for the Thai equivalent of $2).
After about 12 hours of sleep, we hit the ground running. Just a 20 minute ride on the Chao Phraya express boat brought us to our first temple, Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn). From there we headed to Wat Pho and the Royal Gardens. The greatest lesson we learned from visiting our first temples was just how much we don’t know about the Buddhist faith and ritual. The temples were magnificently adorned with picture perfect chedis and porcelain roofs, but the experience left us curious and perplexed. Which is good, I think. It has certainly inspired us to do more investigation.
After a fantastic stall lunch of pad thai and fish stew, we headed to the nighttime flower market. Outdoor markets have become my biggest pleasure and biggest downfall. They are a sensory overload, filled with exotic hand-made objects you didn’t know you needed and exotic food typically deep fried and attached to a stick. They are lively and full of street musicians (excellent people watching) but can quickly rob you of your better eating and purchasing judgment. A great way to get to know a neighborhood, nonetheless.
At this point we were anxious to escape the hustle and bustle of the big city, so we hopped on a double decker bus destined for Chiang Mai. Little did we realize, Chiang Mai is the “rose of the north” and a sizeable city in itself, nearly packed to the brim with guesthouses, cafes and food. Seriously. There is food EVERYWHERE. Thais opt out of the Western-breakfast-lunch-dinner formula and eat frequent small meals instead, eating while they walk to work, or shop, or ride on the back of a motorbike. Our guesthouse wasn’t quite as charming as the first, we didn’t realize it was German-owned and catered to the older European male crowd but it had decent espresso and a comfy deck. Our first night we stumbled upon what has become our number one sought-after night time activity: free Thai cover bands. The city is full of live-music venues and so far we’ve seen metal, acoustic, ska, and jazz renditions of your typical karaoke standards. My personal fave: A funky rendition of Psycho Killer with a killer trumpet solo.
So now we’re to Sunday October 20. Our full day in Chiang Mai was spent exploring the old town, a square mile of land separated from the rest of the town by a moat (the history of which is a complicated web I’m still trying to sort out). We wandered through Wat Phra Singh and Wat Chedi Luang, the latter of which had helpful signs in English explaining some of the architecture and Buddha hand signals. They also had a “garden of truth” with signs touting Buddhist wisdoms:
That night was the “Sunday Walking Street”, another market! We sampled a dozen different bite sized treats (at 30 cents a pop, how can you resist?) including squid wrapped egg, sticky rice in banana leaves, well-seasoned gizzards and pork balls (after we saw someone making the pork balls, we’ve refrained from picking those up again). My favorite treat is the “fruit shake”, best when it’s just fruit and ice. Pineapple, Mango, Banana, and a fruit we have yet to identify (it resembles a video game fireball but tastes like a sweet kiwi).
We woke the next morning to rain, and lots of. The rainy season is still hanging on and while we’re enjoying the pre-tourist season prices, we have to deal with the wet consequences. We made an improptu decision to head north and arrived in Pai, Thailand that afternoon. Pai is the Thai Portland: where young people come to retire. Dreadlocks, tea shops and elephant pants are ubiquitous. More often than not, locals were once tourists who came to visit, and never left. The downtown area was a little cramped up with street vendors and inexperienced tourists clumsily zipping around on motorbikes so we headed across a rickety bamboo bridge over the Pai river to find a bungalow. We didn’t exactly shop around, the first people to approach us was an exceedingly friendly Thai couple who took us to a beautiful bungalow in the back corner and immediately dropped the price from 500 Thb to 400 Thb (roughly $12.50 a night). We had a hard time saying no. The next morning the lady made us coffee and the old man (a retired school teacher) drew us a map of the area, telling us (in enthusiastically broken English) where the good views were. They force fed us sticky buns and told us about their daughter in college and how she was an exchange student in Ohio.
Our first full day in Pai we were a bit ambitious and decided to rent bicycles and head up to a Chinese Village and waterfall. Finding a bicycle that didn’t make Caleb look like a clown was difficult, but not as difficult as the steep wet and rocky path we rode (and walked) our bikes along. It was a good workout and we were excited about the ride back down until we realized our breaks were not exactly functional and it started dumping down rain on us. The next day we rented a motorbike.
And that is the first week! We have loads more pictures, if you want to see, go here: https://picasaweb.google.com/heeringa/ThailandCaleb?authkey=Gv1sRgCPWT4eb6rbXZHA for Caleb’s pictures
https://picasaweb.google.com/heeringa/ThailandKaytlin?authkey=Gv1sRgCPr_lITXmOmf5AE for Kaytlin’s pictures
Thanks for reading.