Thailand is nicknamed The Land of Smiles. There is a reason for this. Simply put, it is a place that greets you with a smile [whether the intent is a sweet or swindle] and leaves you with a smile. The food, the people, the sunshine, the scenery, the beer, the silliness, the awe, the visitors, the idiosyncrasies, the smells, the tuk-tuks, the monks, the shopping, the vibe will put a smile on even the most bitter face [and I would know since I was with her, or at least I think she was bitter, it was hard to tell after the botox.]
My trip to Thailand was in flux up to the last minute. First, it was to be Koh Samui. Then Samet. Then Bangkok. Then Chiang Mai. Then the flights were full, or hotels were booked out, or in some cases not finished being built. But the thing about Thailand is, there always seems to be a way to make it work; you can’t really be concerned about the details, and time, well, no one cares about the time… and even when they say there is no room at the Inn, there always seems to be a special deal “just for you.”
BANGKOK: Thailand Take One
So, I left on the 26th from Hong Kong International Airport on Emirates Airlines (I highly recommend utilizing their services…) bound for Bangkok. Only a two and a half hour flight, but a good meal (seriously – halal food and free beer… isn’t that some sort of a contradiction?) and my new favorite feature on planes: the option to watch the take off and the landing from the ‘nose cam’.
Arrived on time, relatively, and headed to Sukhumvit Soi 1 where I would be for the next few days. Sukhumvit is not too touristy, though being on the BTS Skytrain route it has become more so. You can find all the standard Thai stuff for sale on the surrounding Sois… food, t-shirts, porn, jewelry, leather, elephant feeding, girls, silk, watches, beer, massages… all right there for a fraction of the US price. (While I was there the exchange rate was US$1=41 Thai Baht. A good meal can be had for 100 Bht, a one hour foot massage for 150 Bht, a beer for 60 Bht.)
Psyched to be in Bangkok a moments rest before heading out
I said I wanted to see an elephant, I didnt realize there would be one on my street.
Anything to eat? Whats your fancy?
Hitting the fruit market on Suk. Soi 1
View from the backside of the EuroPark Hotel on Sukhumvit Soi 1
Papaya Salad @ the MBK Center [thanks to Ben, but she was not understanding when I said no shrimps too crunchy for me. Oh, and that cost 45 Bht yeah, thats like US$1]
*Side note to Anna: I decided that giving up beer was very short sighted of me, so I am over that silliness and suffice it to say this kid is back in the saddle. And that put a smile on my face.
So many choices, so much time what a great combination.
Now seriously, that is a kick ass happy hour, wouldnt you agree?
Saw Silom, Saw the Chao Phraya. Tried to see a temple, and got the tuk-tuk scheme put on me. This is a strategy whereby you are approached by a “tourist guide” who suggests you take a tour of part of Bangkok via tuk-tuk (a three wheeled, two stroke engine vehicle/cart that affords a fabulous intake of exhaust fumes.) The deal is they say they will take you here and there for a certain amount of money, but the rub is you have to go to these stores and are pressured to buy things. I got lucky. My driver was totally helpful and completely clear about the store scam. Told me how long (in minutes) I had to be in each store, where I had to go and how to get out without buying anything and not being hassled. So, I ended seeing almost all of Banglamphu and had a five hour tour at the hands of the most honest scammer I have ever met. I even got a great meal from a local restaurant out of it and a ride back to the Chao Phraya.
Silom, BKK. Arent those nice piles of fruit?
Views from the Chao Phraya Express Ferry
The coolest tuk-tuk driver ever. And a Love Dad too.
View of BKK from the Wat Sakhet, Golden Mount
The Wat Sakhet, BKK
CHIANG MAI: Thailand Take Two
On arriving in Chiang Mai I met a hilarious Aussie, muscle car freak, in a Queensryche (yeah that is not a typo, I said Queensryche) tee shirt, who was going to be in town for two weeks before heading home to Brisbane and gave me several suggestions for what to do while in Chiang Mai… very philanthropic don’t you think? But it was indicative of the wide variety of people I would come across in this town, er… city. The old city of Chiang Mai is a great walking town, made even better by the fact that you can get a Thai foot massage on just about any corner for about 150 Bht/hour. An hour. How RAD is that? The city is an interesting combination of wats (temples), bookstores, and 7-11s. Oh, and they have five Starbucks there, seems odd since the coffee is just as mediocre as it is in the domestic Starbucks… ahhhh, globalization. My hotel was awesome, though REALLY expensive by Thai standards; I paid about US$20/night and had a huge room, breakfast and liberal use of the minibar.
Garden @ the River View Lodge, Chiang Mai, Thailand
The, uh river view. Mae Ping River, Chiang Mai.
Wat Bupparam, Chiang Mai
Can you see my beacon in the background Oh thank Heaven even in Chiang Mai.
The night market in CM is also way cool, I got lost, but like the casino strategy, I think that is the point. It is this huge area with bars, restaurants, live entertainment, shopping (obviously), and did I already say bars? If I have your mailing address I bought you something. I don’t know what yet since I am looking at a HUGE pile of stuff on the floor of my flat right now… so I suppose if I don’t have your address and you send it to me I could send you something too. It was just too much fun buying stuff. The whole process was fun, selecting things, bargaining, conversing, refusing, buying… again, the Thai attitude is just so much easier to deal with than some places I have been, it is a no pressure situation… “You give me 150 baht, good for me good for you, good for everyone.”
Entertainment @ the Night Market, Chiang Mai. I think it was some sort of contest.
I did get a new tattoo while I was in Chiang Mai, again hard to resist because the price was so right. With a twenty five percent tip (which I had to force the artist to take) the thing cost me less than US$40. (I love you Randy Janssen… hot (and talented as you are, you are no bargain.) It was an amazing experience to be tattooed by someone who speaks NO English at all. Makes for a slower process but a good cultural exchange, I think. The guy who was running the shop (not a tattoo artist, but a sketch artist) was an adorable Cambodian who had a solid 10-20 words of English. He managed to get the tattoo artist, Noon (not the intended artist,) to come in from his home to meet me. Noon is a Hmong Thai who speaks NO English. The majority of translating was done buy the Cambodian’s Thai wife in the massage parlor next door. It was an interesting way to spend my evening on December 30. During the four hours of work I met all the bartenders from the Elephant Bar next door who kept coming over to see the progress, I babysat for my translators who had a four-year old who brought in the local newspaper and pointed at pictures so I could tell him the English words while I hung over the chair to give Noon access to my back. The studio is set up in a way that there is no privacy, I mean people on the street can just look in and see what’s up (I am glad I wasn’t getting the tattoo put somewhere, you know…) and people would just come in and chat for a while and see how it was going. Three people actually made appointments for tattoos. Maybe that is the point. Anyhow, it was honestly one of the most entertaining nights of my trip.
My new friend @ Bloodhound Tattoo, Chiang Mai.
The Guys after four plus hours of tattooing
Thank you, Noon
I did some tourist-y stuff too… I went on a tour with a random group of people… Me, a couple from DC named Greg and Wanda, three medical students from Australia who are doing their medical electives in a clinic in Mae Sok on the Burmese border for four weeks and then heading to a clinic in New Delhi for four weeks, and four Asian college kids who all happened to be Hmong – three of them are from Minnesota and have the accents to prove it, and one of the cousins lives in Thailand. They had to communicate with the resident cousin in Hmong because he spoke no English and the Minnesotans no Thai. It was pretty cool to have some people who could talk to the Hill Tribe folks… made it seem less like we were weird leering tourists… yeah, I know we still were. I road an elephant, and my riding partner, one of the med students named Sam was a total riot. She refused to let the guide use the hook to prod the elephant on (they use these absolutely brutal tools right on the elephant’s head or ear, except for us… we used positive reinforcement and the elephant did seem to respond quite nicely.)
Sam and me, cruising hook-free. Grumpy driver with no hook.
We hiked up to see some of the Karen Hill Tribes and a Hmong Tribe also, really amazing to see how people are living out there in this day and age…
Hmong girls who let us see their house in the hill village we visited.
Hmong village, mother and son.
Taking a break from the hike
And we also went bamboo rafting… our “captain” was a 15 year old Hmong boy who seemed to get a ridiculous amount of pleasure out of yelling “My Buddha!!” at random moments and splashing his passengers (me in particular) with his paddle/stick.
My Buddha!! On the raft with Wanda and Greg.
New Year’s Eve was absolutely rocking in CM… in fact, several of the local people told me they thought it was a drag to be there during this time because all the Bangkok people flood the place, to me it looked like Germany had invaded, but whatever, it’s all good. The bars were packed; the central area down by Tha Phae gate was a profusion of people, beer, lanterns, pad thai, curry, and general cheer. The lantern thing was especially cool… these huge paper things that are propelled by flame. And they just go up and up and up… dotting the sky like big gold stars. Only a couple looked like they had the potential to cause a serious problem, but no one seemed too worried about it and none of them ended up being a problem. I hung out in the rooftop bar (or is that ON the rooftop bar?) of the THC Bar and Café because it was a great view and the music was happening… and then it was the New Year. 2006. Unbelievable. And there I was taking it all in, in Thailand.
Outside Tha Phae Gate, New Years Eve 2005-2006.
God (Buddha?) bless the hippies.
BOOM! It is 2006
On the first, I headed up to Doi Suthep, one of the most important wats around Chiang Mai. It was definitely worth seeing and I am glad I made the trip up because I met Tobiyah from Bangkok via Marin County and UC Davis, who is completing his Master’s research on the Buddhist temples in Thailand while teaching in a local school. Like my dad always says, you gotta “know a guy…” and so now I have someone to hang out with when I return to Bangkok.
Thailand: Concluding the beginning
So, for everyone who keeps asking me what it is about Thailand that I liked so much, I am not sure I can put it into words. The things that really stand out to me are little things, like the news casters bow their heads in the traditional wai before they give the news, that is pretty cool in a day and age where we all should pray before we endure the news. Even Ronald McDonald salutes you with a wai outside his local franchise.
Please buy a burger.
And while communication was much more of a challenge verbally than it has been in Hong Kong, it was really easier to communicate with the Thai people just because they were willing to work with you… I took a taxi back to Sukhumvit from Khao San Road (which I was trying to avoid because I wanted to save money to get more… I don’t even remember what, silk? Beads?) and the entire time the driver and I taught each other words and expressions using my Lonely Planet book and sign language. Now he can say “Freaking traffic!”(I tried to teach him “Pinche traffic!” because I think it is funnier but we got really lost when we tried to incorporate Spanish.) I also taught him how to say “Sweet!” as a silly expression of affirmation, which he thought was hilarious, and we were working on the concepts of cheap and expensive as I started to worry about the cost of the lengthy cab ride. (It ended up costing 60 Bht, see above for a reference to what a bargain that is.) I learned to say the days of the week, “what time is it?” “do I look like a farang?!” and “do you really think I understand you when I just said I do not speak Thai?”
Posted in all taxis and tuk-tuks. I especially love the I heart Farang part.
There are monks everywhere, and that is cool too… I don’t know why but you have to give it up for a religion that clothes their people in head to toe day-glo, it just makes for a more interesting spirituality in my mind.
From young to elder: monks @ Wat Phra Singh, Chaing Mai
Chao Phraya ferry seats.
In Chiang Mai there are bookstores on every street, and this funky, Santa Cruz-y sort of feeling that was so comfortable that when I found out my flight back to Bangkok was delayed for six and a half hours it didn’t even faze me… I just went back to town. Sort of hoped the whole thing would be cancelled and I could just stay, but that is another chapter for another time.
I think it is good to be somewhere where people like to read.
Bangkok is wild and crazy, and at the same time full of cool out of the way places if you are willing to check it out beyond the mainstream hangouts. I think the vibe in a Buddhist country is just a little different than you might find other places and since I have not been to Nepal or Bhutan (yet) it was all very new to me and left a real impression.
In the end it was a trip where everything seemed to come together for me… plus everyone loves a New Year, right? It is great to have a whole year of adventure to look forward to…
Now, that is one BIG Buddha immortalized in Murray Heads One Night in Bangkok, the reclining Buddha @ Wat Po
One really popular guy… T-shirt on Khao San Road
Escher would be proud, dont you think? Wat Phra Singh, Chiang Mai.
Outside the Eagle House Hotel, Chiang Mai.