Thailand

During our summer break in our masters degree program, my roommates and I decided to spend a month traveling around Thailand.

Oct 31, 2010

My friend and I left on Halloween. It was my first Halloween that I didn’t dress up or celebrate, but I was writing papers all the way up until I had to pack and leave. Thailand is such a nice reward for all of our studies. We flew in and avoided all of the sketchy swarms of people trying to sell stuff at the airport and took a taxi to our hotel. We didn’t do much that night because it was late, we just wanted to settle in, and because we heard from our other friend that Phuket is very seedy. So, we laid low and avoided the clubs. The next morning, we woke up and had massages. The non-relaxing muzak set an interesting mood and the spa is right next to the kitchen, so we had to drown out all of the clanking of silverware. It happened to be a couples massage! Although we got the relaxing Swedish massage, I guess people in Thailand are a bit different, and decency is thrown out the window. I did not get as “manhandled” as my friend, but she was definitely shocked when they touched more than she was expecting!! We had just enough time to check out and catch the ferry for the Phi Phi Islands, which was a long boat ride on choppy waters.

Nov 1, 2010

We got to Ko Phi Phi and found our hotel, which was far away from the main part of town and up a steep hill, next to a lake that may or may not have been all waste water. We did not feel comfortable or safe there, so we spent the rest of the afternoon changing hotels. There are no refunds, so we might have to eat the cost of that hotel, but we are much happier at another place, closer to the town and a little bit nicer. We ate dinner and had some drinks at a few bars, trying to make the best of the monsoon rains. One waitress told us that with the storms, no boats were going to Ko Samui, but that the storms were supposed to let up in 3-4 days. We are supposed to go to Ko Samui in 3 days! Suddenly, we freaked out that we might be stuck on THIS island!!

Nov 2, 2010

It rained ALL night long, not just a little rain, like POURING… So, in the morning we were pretty depressed about not being able to see the pretty island beaches and being stuck inside with the rains. But in the afternoon, it cleared up a bit and we took a boat tour around the islands. We are soo glad we did it because it cleared up the rest of the afternoon, we got to see blue sky and monkeys and Maya Beach, where “The Beach” was filmed, and one of my favorites, “Lord of the Flies”. It was gorgeous!!! I also snorkeled for a little bit, which was fun because it was only my 2nd time doing that. My friend didn’t because apparently everything after Cairns is just disappointing, so I’ll have to do that back in Australia at some point…. Then we came back, had dinner and were feeling tired, so we just got some Thai massages, which I think bruised my back permanently, and went to sleep. We slept in very late, almost missed breakfast, but rushed to do that and check out, now we are spending the last hours on Phi Phi shopping and checking emails!

Nov 3-4, 2010

We headed back to the mainland and met up with two of our other friends in Nai Yang. We ate a lovely dinner on the beach and had some drinks before heading to bed. The next morning, we woke up early and took a car, to a 4 hour bus ride, to a hole-in-the wall transfer place, to a larger Charter bus, barely making it on a ferry and then an hour taxi ride to our hotel in Ko Samui. Whew! What the lady told us was going to be 3-4 hours was actually 10 – island time! We saw a lot of flooding in the South. Our hostel (iBed) on Ko Samui was SWEET. Best hostel we’ve ever seen, it was brand new and very modern. We also had the place to ourselves. The next day, we took a tour of Ko Samui and saw some infamous rocks in the shape of private parts, a sad monkey show, fed some elephants, saw a lame waterfall and a bunch of buddist temples that were very colorful and pretty. We did a little shopping at night and went to a pub. The next day, we relaxed at the luxury resort across from our hostel on the beach (still overcast, but at least I swam in the ocean a bit) and then caught a sunset ferry to Ko Phangan with some very high waves that made my friends a little green!

Nov 5-6, 2010

We planned to be on Ko Phangan for the Black Moon party the same night we arrived, but quickly learned that because of the typhoon here, it has been postponed to the 10th. When we got to our bungalows at Munchie’s “Resort” (the name should’ve tipped us off), we realized it was very far away from everything and that the owner was high out of his mind. We drank some beer while we waited for them to clean our bungalow and met the other few victims that were staying the night… The owner couldn’t string together a sentence, told us that he drinks ~4 beers an hour from 4pm-midnight, and we watched as he shoved the Thai wife/gf/helper/mistress (??) that was the only sane person around. The conviction for selling or even smoking weed in Thailand is VERY strict, so we were surprised he was smoking and selling it so openly. We set up our mosquito net (with holes!) and peed in our semi-western toilets (no TP and flushing was with water and a bucket). The bungalow was open to the elements with large holes in the door jams and floors and walls, we’re pretty sure the sheet on the bed had never been washed, no covers, no sink, and we got woken up in the middle of the night by scary animal noises (roosters, and the other strangers at the hotel hooking up with each other).

Nov 7-8, 2010

I slept all of two hours with the bed springs poking into my back, so I was in a pretty foul mood in the morning and basically demanded that we not spend another night at this place. We checked out, got a taxi to the other side of the island and booked a bungalow for almost half the price in a much nicer location. Then, with the rest of the afternoon, we rented a jeep and took a self-tour of the island, shopping, waterfalls, elephants and sunsets on the beach! What a nice way to end our day that started out pretty horribly.

We went back to our hotel and sat by the pool, with a little rum for my friend’s birthday. The man at the hotel was very nice and turned on the pool lights and brought out some music for us. Then, we walked out on the shore because the tide was VERY far out. Suddenly, I looked down and the sand was glowing under my feet! I took another step and it lit up! I called the other girls over and we marveled at the glowing sand until one friend explained that they are plankton. It was magical. Like something out of Disney or Avatar or something… I don’t know how to describe it. Here’s a video that kind-of shows what it was like: Bio-luminescent Plankton in Cairns  They would also stick to you, so we played around in the water for a long time, splashing around. You could see the line of the waves, because it lit up too. It is one of the most amazing things I have ever experienced. To start out in such a crappy hotel and end with this was completely surreal. What a difference a day makes…

Nov 9-11, 2010

The next day, we took a ferry to Ko Tao. Only one boat has been operating lately because of the storms, so we caught the same boat as these guys we’ve been traveling the same schedule with (two Germans and two English guys). The boat was over-packed and the swells were gigantic. At first I was laughing about it, but pretty quickly, everyone was getting sick. And I mean EVERYONE. Many passengers were fighting for room on the edge to throw up over the side of the boat. Below deck, people were screaming and vomiting inside, making it reek of puke. We saw one girl get vomit on her face from the guy next to her, it was crazy. I was mostly just scared that the boat wasn’t going to make it. At one point, we hit a giant swell and the boat engine turned off. It was an hour and a half ride. One friend closed her eyes, another talked incessantly, and I counted and sang to myself while staring at the ground (I didn’t want to freak out about the waves or look at people throwing up). We finally made it to POURING rain and got absolutely drenched from head to toe. Our backpacks were soaked and everything inside was wet. I really wish this rain would let up, we have had maybe a couple hours of sun on this whole trip.

Each island has a different personality, but we like Ko Tao the best. It’s a little bit smaller and after a few days we got to know many people on the island, waving at shop owners and taxi drivers as we walked by. The island is known for snorkeling and scuba, but it was too rainy to see anything in the water, so we spent our days with our guy travel buddies, walking around the island, taking a Long Boat to other beaches, and getting massages, etc. We will get to see each of them in Bangkok, but separately, so because it was our last night with everyone together, we went out for a goodbye party. We are very sad to leave them because we’ve bonded with them so much.

Nov 12-13, 2010

Yesterday, we took a ferry to Chumpon and then a night train to Bangkok and arrived at 7am this morning.

We are 2/3 of the way finished with our trip and it seems like we’ve been traveling for a while. I can’t believe we still have a week left. But we are excited to see Chiang Mai. I can’t wait to get back to the states for some skiing, family and friend time…
In Bangkok, we got settled for a day, and by the time we were ready to do something, it was a little late, so we just booked tours for the next few days, sent our clothes to a laundry service and then met up with our German friends for the evening on Khaosan Road, which has a lot of street vendors, bars, etc. On Saturday, we went to the weekend market, which is like a HUGE flea market. It’s so big that you probably couldn’t see everything in one day and definitely get a little lost, meandering your way through the stalls. We decided to meet at the clock tower in the center at 12:30, so we could all go in separate directions. Despite feeling so hot and dirty and sticky, we trekked on to some temples. We went to the Palace in Bangkok and had to borrow appropriate clothing. I don’t know how capri pants that cover my knees are more offensive than a mini skirt, but apparently girls have to wear skirts. We missed the memo. Anyway, it was gorgeous. We went to another temple with a reclining Buddha and then I wanted to go to the Temple of Dawn, but it was getting late and we needed to pick up our laundry before it closed.

Nov 14, 2010

Sunday was the first day tours were running to Ayutthaya because of the flooding, so we woke up at 6am for a tour to the ancient temple city. We went to Ban Pa-In Palace and Ayutthaya, pretty amazing! Then back to Bangkok and off to a Cabaret Lady-boy show. They played around a lot with genders and mixed it up so much that by the end of it, you were just left with the fact that it doesn’t matter, everyone can dress and move feminine or masculine. Then we went back to our hotel and went downstairs to the Absolut Ice Bar that is next to our hotel. None of us had ever been to an ice bar, so we thought it would be fun – and it was.

Nov 15-16, 2010

Another 6am wake-up for a tour to the floating markets and then off to hang out with Tigers!! The floating markets sold the same crap we’ve seen everywhere else, but it was one of those must-do’s. The tiger place was really far away, but we got to pet them and take photos with them. Man, those Tigers have the right kind of life – they get thai massages everyday from monks, fed everyday, as much as they want. Next life, I’m coming back as a Tiger in that sanctuary. We made it back to Bangkok just in time to get ready and meet a couple of the English boys for our last night in Bangkok. Khaosan Road repeat.

Nov 17-23, 2010

We left our 4th musketeer in Bangkok (she flew back to Australia) and we headed north to Chiang Mai! Got settled into our hostel, ate dinner, etc. One friend was feeling a little sick, so the other and I went to explore the neighborhood. Long story short, the one friend ended up with a fever of 103 in the middle of the night and we decided it was best to take her to the hospital. Our very first tuk-tuk ride was at 2am to the Emergency Room! At about 4am, they decided to admit her and thus began our trip to Chiang Mai. For the first two days, the only thing I saw was from a taxi to and from the hospital at all hours of the day/night. We went from 1 hour of sleep on hard wood benches in the hospital to switching off the next night – my friend stayed from 9pm-3am, I took over at 3am-9am. Quite miserable, but you gotta do what you gotta do for a friend. We were surprised how good quality the Thai hospital was and how much everyone seemed to know. She had a bacterial infection in her intestine and stayed on an IV drip of antibiotics for the next couple days. Luckily, she was released on the 2nd day after regaining a stable temperature. We headed to the night market that night for some souvenir shopping and to look at all of the lanterns on display all over the city. We really like Chiang Mai. It’s got old city walls mixed with modern structures, and very friendly, laid back locals. This weekend is the full moon festival so the whole city is celebrating with lanterns and random fireworks every night! We’ve seen a couple explode on the street instead of in the sky. Whoops.

On Friday, we slept in and then we went on an afternoon tour into the jungle for some zip-wire adventures, flying over the treetops. On the way back we stopped at a hot springs that looked foul, but more interesting was the rice fields next to it, where we picked our own rice, shelled it, and ate some raw grains! Headed back to the hostel and had some massages (massages here are all under $10, so we get a lot of them) and a late dinner. Saturday, we booked a day trip to the Hill Tribes. We saw an orchid farm with beautiful flowers I’d never seen before and a paper making facility where they make paper from Elephant Poo!! It didn’t even smell bad!! Many of the hill tribes are communities from neighboring countries like Tibet, So. China, Burma, Myanmar, etc. One of the most interesting ones was the Karen (long-neck) tribe which puts brass rings around their neck. They start at age 5 and put them on every few years until they are 20. One woman had 27 rings, the most in the tribe. But there is a girl who is only 14 that already had 23 rings (photo), so she’ll probably have the longest neck one day.

In the evening, we went to MaiJo for the Loi Krathong Full Moon Festival, where people were releasing balloons into the air and flower rafts in the river. It was pretty amazing. We bought some and wished ourselves good luck for the coming year. Sometimes they would release tons of balloons (sky lanterns) at once. Definitely a great experience! Then we waded through the crowds to get back. Ons last day, we went in search of cheap Canon EOS cameras to no avail (prices are same as in the US) and went out to the Loi Krathong Festival in Chiang Mai. It was not as crowded, more spread out throughout the city and family-oriented. I decided to float another krathong on the river. I took one step on the muddy shore and my foot slipped out from under me. My krathong went flying, landing upside down on the riverbank just as my butt plopped into the mud. UGH! It was a little more than funny and we had some good laughs about it (after I got over my frustration and pet peeve of feeling dirty). Next, we flew our last two balloons into the air, making my final wish a good one.

Our final day in Chiang Mai was relaxing. So we didn’t see half the stuff we should’ve, but we got everything we hoped for, which was some good experiences. We really like the street we stayed on, everyone is very friendly and it feels like a quick community that travelers can implant themselves into for a few days or in some cases, a few years. We came full circle. Back to the two of us, and back to an accidental couple’s massage! Haha. Oh well. We can’t wait to be back home in our own beds, with western toilets, etc!