Archive for the ‘Chang Mai’ Category

Feels Like Home to Me

Sunday, May 8th, 2011

My last day in Thailand was one that was full of waiting. We had to be checked out of our hotel rooms by 11 am, but our flight didn’t leave until 8pm, meaning we would not be leaving the hotel until around 5, so we had a full day to fill. Lindsay and I woke up, packed, checked out of our room, put our bags into storage and went down to breakfast with Anneka and Danielle. The hotel breakfast at the Phuket Mariot was absolutely incredible. Not only did they have pancakes, waffles, and omelets that were made to order, but they had a whole station of freshly baked breads of different varieties and a whole table of different spreads for it. They also had an entire buffet of nothing but fruit and fruit juices, on top of a section of the room devoted to thai foods, all prepared from scratch. I thought I had died and was dining in heaven. Between heaping forkfuls the four of us unanimously agreed that this breakfast surpassed the on in Chiang Mai that had perviously held the top stop for best hotel breakfast on the trip.

After stuffing ourselves silly we headed back out into the market area with the goal of finding a place for Lindsay to get a massage. Once we had price compared up and down the street she settled on a massage parlor that wasn’t too far away from the hotel and she purchased two massages, and since this was going to take two hours and the three of us weren’t interested in spending any more money we headed back to the hotel to lounge by the pool. Not wanting to break back into our luggage to fish out our swimsuits we sat poolside dangling our feet in the water. Eventually the sun got high enough in the sky that I took solace on a reclining beach chair under an umbrella, and promptly drifted into a glorious sleep. Danielle and Anneka followed suit and we all napped poolside for an hour and a half before going back to the massage parlor to find Lindsay. Not wanting to spend any more time outside due to the sweltering midday heat, we sat inside the hotel lobby and read Thai newspapers, which, like every other publication in the world during that week, were obsessively turning out articles about the royal wedding. We hung out in the hotel lobby for quite  a few hours, chatting, reading newspapers, writing postcards and checking the clock every once in a while to see how much longer we had to wait. As the afternoon progressed more and more kids from our group joined us, and by the time 5 oclock rolled around everyone was more than ready to load into the vans to go to the airport. Once there, we had more waiting to do before boarding our domestic flight back north to Bankok so we could then catch our international flight back to Sydney.

Lindsay and Danielle sitting in the Airport, sad to go leave, but excited to go home.

While we were sitting in the Phuket airport I kept catching myself saying “I can’t wait to get home” but talking about Sydney, not about Springfield. I can remember being home at different points during my freshman year of college and having my mom say “How are you getting home?” and me always correcting her saying, “I am home, I’m going back to school.” I never really felt at home at UMW during my freshman year, but over time of course this changed. My apt with Sydney has really taken on a homey feel. I feel comfortable and welcome there.While Sydney lacks the presence of my biological family I have crafted for myself another family made up of friends from all over the United States.

After our ten hour flight back to Australia I arrived back at my apt and was greeted with hugs and smiles and lots of questions about my trip. I was really excited to see Lindsay and Yaella and catch up with Jill and the other kids who hadn’t been on the Thailand trip. I really feel like all of us Glebe residents have formed a family. Some of my favorite memories from being in Sydney have been the nights where I have stayed in chatting with my fellow Glebians. I have so enjoyed living in my apt with Courtney, Kaela and Jill and have spent so many nights up till four in the morning having the kind of laugh out loud conversations that seems like they could have come straight out of an episode of “Sex and the City.” I really enjoy being here, so much so that it has become a second home for me. A place where I feel completely comfortable and am excited to return to at the end of a long trip. I will be truly sad to say goodbye to everyone here when the semester comes to a close. I have really enjoyed being a Glebian.

It feels like home to me, it feels like home to me
It feels like I’m all the way back where I come from
It feels like home to me, it feels like home to me
It feels like I’m all the way back where I belong

By Land, Air, Longboat, and Tractor

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011

Our last morning in Chiang Mai was an early one, we ate one more amazing hotel breakfast and then loaded into busses for the trip to the airport. We flew from Chiang Mai to Bankok, where we met a connecting flight to the Island of Krabi. Getting off our first flight into the Bankok airport was quite an ordeal, as it was thunder storming quite violently when we landed and so they could not bring out the long metal tubes to get the passengers off the plane and into the airport for fear of them being hit by lightning. However, the personel at the Bankok airport were able to very efficiently resolve this matter by brining rolling covered staircases up to the front and rear exits of the plane and getting everyone off after only having to wait for about twenty minutes. Our layover in the Bankok airport was less than an hour and by the time we landed in Krabi we were greeted with a stifling heat and humidity so thick it felt like we had walked into someone’s mouth.

Waiting for us at the arrivals gate were representatives from the Railay Bay Resort who were holding a huge banner that said “Welcome Study Australia Students.” They escorted us out to the parking lot where we placed our checked luggage into a van that would deliver it to the hotel we would stay at in Phuket, and we were left with only our backpacks, packed with the essentials that we would need for the next three days. The reason for this downsizing in luggage was because the bus then took us to a dock where we all loaded into two long boats, which were not big enough to hold all of our checked luggage.

Views even from the dock were absolutely incredible. All the posters and postcards you have ever seen with images of crystal clear blue water with jagged vegetated mountains in the background and the wooden longboats in the foreground was exactly the reality I found myself in. It was incredible and I was wide eyed and blinking hard trying to take it all in.

Other longboat headed for the resort

view from the longboat ride

more mountain outcroppings

It looked like we were on the set of "Lost" except it was REAL

Longboats are everywhere in coastal Thailand

Almost there!

The estuary side of the peninsula

We had arrived!

When we arrived the tide was on its way out, so a tractor with a large platform on wheels backed out from the shore to our boat and we all loaded onto it and it took us the remaining 40-60 feet to the sidewalk lining the beach. We were given some sort of iced guava juice and cold washcloths upon arrival and were then given keys and sent to check out our rooms. What I did not realize was that this was no ordinary hotel, this was a RESORT. A resort whose predominant clientele base is honeymooners, so the rooms were designed in accordance with that demographic group, meaning every aspect of the room was designed for optimal private honeymoon…activities.

Every "room" was really more of a one bedroom apt, each with a private entrance.

Each room had a private entrance, and a private enclosed patio that surrounded it. It also had a doorbell outside.

Once inside, each room had a private deck area complete with two reclining chairs, two patio chairs, an outdoor shower, and a small hot tub.

Hot tub/outdoor shower

We totally had a moat, the ultimate in honeymooner suite security

Our moat had fish in it, I don't think they were flesh eating, but hey, you can't have everything right?

Bedroom, notice how low and wide the bed is. Like I said- DESIGNED for private honeymoon activities

These rooms were so obviously designed for sex it was hysterical. The shower was HUGE and had a super wide bench seat in it and everything was private and enclosed. If you wanted to have your room made up every day you had to turn on a light that indicated that, otherwise the maids wouldn’t come in. I half expected the mini fridge to be stocked with gatorade and power bars and have a complimentary basket of condoms next to it. Shortly after checking in and throwing our stuff down we all changed into bathing suits and went exploring. There were two pools at the resort, one that was very close to our room and one that was overlooking the beach. After a swim we enjoyed a complimentary buffet style dinner on the beach at sunset, and once the sun went down tiki torches and candles were lit and we enjoyed our dessert via candlelight. After dinner it was dark and a fire spinner came out and did a routine for us, collectively it was the most scenically stunning dinner experience I have ever had.

One of two pools

A monkey. You know, just hanging out.

hotel bar

Sunset over the Andaman Sea

The water was so clear, and so pleasantly warm.

Where we ate dinner that night. It was a complimentary meal provided by the hotel for our group.

Lindsay, Anneka and I about to enjoy our dinner on the beach

Me, Lindsay, Anneka and Danielle on the beach at sunset

Fire dancer

After we had eaten our fill of dinner and finished it off with the freshest pineapple and dragon fruit I have ever tasted we went back to our rooms to shower and change with the intention of checking out some of the nightlife. Danielle and Anneka came over to our room and chatted with Lindsay and I as we got ready, but somebody turned the TV on and because this resort is fancy as hell they had all sorts of movie channels so we got sucked into watching “The Blind Side” on HBO and by the time it ended and we headed out it had started to rain. We ignored the rain at first and kept walking towards the bars but pretty soon the drizzly rain had evolved into a full on torrential downpour. That seems to happen a lot in Thailand. Before we reached any of the bars we decided to turn back, and ran all the way back to our rooms in the pouring rain returning completely soaked but laughing hysterically. So much for blow drying my hair. Since it was almost midnight at this point we all decided to turn in and vowed to get up early the next day to thoroughly explore the island and get in some time on the beach.

Chanting and Dancing

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011

Once we returned to the hotel after cooking all morning we were given an hour to freshen and up and then we had the option of visiting an orphanage that was a mile or two away from our hotel. While most of the kids on the trip were very eager to go, I took real issue with the idea that orphans would be used as a tourist attraction. It made me sick to my stomach that the kids on our trip would go to this orphanage to play with these kids for an hour, take pictures with them and then leave and move onto the next thing. I feel as though this makes a mockery of their whole situation, and their trivializes their lives which I am sure have been very hard. I have traveled to mexico and to various places in the United States to do mission work, and met children with whom I developed personal relationships and yes I have pictures and memories with them, but I was there to help, not just to take pictures and leave. Granted, everyone who went did make a donation of a few hundred baht which will be used to buy medications, and as a group we took up a separate collection to purchase new tricycles for the center, and these are good things to do, but I still did not think it was appropriate to use an orphanage as a tourist attraction. **steps off soap box**

So I didn’t go. I instead took a nap at the hotel, payed about three dollars to use the hotel internet for thirty minutes and changed into a long dress and shirt for the temple visit that we would be doing later. There were about eight of us who did not go to the orphanage, but everyone else just wanted time to get a massage (VERY cheap to do in Thailand, and massage places are EVERYWHERE) or take a nap. After an hour at the orphanage the eight of us who had stayed behind boarded a big tour bus and picked up the kids who went to the orphanage and proceeded to drive about 15km outside of the city up a huge mountain to wat Phra That Doi Suthep or the Temple on the Mountain. To enter the temple everyone had to wear modest clothing that did not expose shoulders or anything above the knee. When the bus dropped us off we had to climb 308 very steep steps up the mountain to reach the temple.

The legend of how the temple came to be as copy and pasted from Wikipedia, the source of all knowledge:

“According to legend, a monk named Sumanathera from Sukhothaihad a dream; in this dream god told him to go to Pang Cha and look for a relic. Sumanathera ventured to Pang Cha and is said to have found a bone, which many claim was Buddah’s shoulder bone. The relic displayed magical powers; it glowed, it was able to vanish, it could move itself and replicate itself. Sumanathera took the relic to King Dharmmaria who ruled the Sukhothai.

The eager Dharmmaraja made offerings and hosted a ceremony when Sumanathera arrived. However the relic displayed no abnormal characteristics, and the king, doubtful of the relic’s authenticity, told Sumanathera to keep it.

However, King Nu Naone of the  Lanna Kingdom heard of the relic and offered the monk to take it to him instead. In 1368 with Dharmmaraja’s permission, Sumanathera took the relic to what is now Lamphun, in northern Thailand. The relic apparently split in two, one piece was the same size, the other was smaller than the original. The smaller piece of the relic was enshrined at a temple in Suandok. The other piece was placed by the King on the back of a white elephant which was released in the jungle. The elephant is said to have climbed up Doi Suthep, at the time called Doi Aoy Chang (Sugar Elephant Mountain), trumpeted three times before dying at the site. It was interpreted as a sign and King Nu Naone ordered the construction of a temple at the site.”

Gold statue near the steps going up to the temple

The 308 steps up to the temple

White Elephant shrine

View of the valley from atop the mountain

Sacred building that only the monks can enter

Prayer shrine

Monk going up to pay tribute

Chinese style dragon. This temple was buddhist, but in Thailand their religion has been influenced by India and by China so the architecture of their religious spaces borrows heavily from those two cultures.

Indian deity Ganesha

Inside the temple

While inside this room you were not allowed to stand. Within the temple you could not wear shoes.

Monks chanting during their daily prayer ritual

Chanting monks. When a monk decides to dedicate himself to a life of religious observance he is no longer permitted to handle money or touch women.

This is a jackfruit tree. There is one outside of every temple because the internal bark of this tree is orange, and it is from this bark that the monks get the dye that they use to color their robes.

Entrance to the temple grounds

inside the temple

Whose mom is this I wonder

We spent over an hour at the temple before putting our shoes back on to climb back down the 308 steps to the busses. We were then taken to a thai dance dinner show.

Ladies sitting outside of the restaurant

This restaurant specialized in northern thai food, which is traditionally eaten while sitting on the floor, but we were totally able to cheat because there was a pit under the table for our feet. BUt we did have to take our shoes off before entering the restaurant

Northern thai food, served family style

Northern Thailand dancing

Thai drumming/dancing

My first and only cocktail in Thailand- a grasshopper. Mint and coconut, YUM.

Anneka, Lindsay, Me and Danielle enjoying our veg northern thai food.

After dinner we were driven back to the hotel and left with an evening to do as we wished. Lindsay was exhausted and went to bed, but Anneka, Danielle and I went back out to the night markets in Chiang Mai in search of some great bargains. We all ended up buying a bunch of postcards, because at 10 baht a piece (roughly 30 cents) they were a STEAL, because in Sydney you can rarely buy one for under a $2.00 and it costs another $1.50 to send it. Danielle proved herself to be quite a bargain shark. She wanted to purcahse a scarf and the stall owner’s original asking price was 450 baht but Danielle told her that she refused to pay any more than 200. They went back and forth haggling over price until the owner finally said that 220 was her final offer. For that price I decided I would buy one and I walked away with a gorgeous purple silk scarf for around seven dollars. Shortly after we walked away the stall owner chased after us and told Danielle that she would sell it to her for 200, and I gave the lady the dirtiest look I could muster for swindling me out of 20 baht. I guess I must have inherited my mothers ability for steely eyed soul piercing stares because when Danielle came away from the stall she did so with her 200 baht scarf in hand and a 20 baht refund for me from the stall owner who had apparently said “you friend hates me, here is her money back.”

After we had shopped for an hour or two we headed back to the hotel and turned in for a pleasant sleep, our last night in Chiang Mai.

Cooking the Thai Way

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011

We woke up early the next day, went downstairs for another phenomenal hotel breakfast buffet experience and then loaded into vans to drive twenty minutes outside the city to the Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School. Riding with us from the hotel were three of the cooking school instructors and before we reached the school we stopped off at a food market so they could walk us through the market to teach us about the foods we would be using to cook with.

Market

Cooking school instructor talking about tofu. The yellow is soft tofu and the black is coagulated pig blood mixed with gelatin. Yum.

Coconut grinder. Dried coconut is virtually unheard of in Thailand- its always fresh.

Chicken doesn't get any more free range than this

Monk bank!

After wandering around the market and learning about Asian vegetables for about a half an hour we piled back into the vans and drove to the Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School. The school was established in 1993 and was the first cookery school to open in Chiang Mai. It is owned and run by Sompon Nabnian and his English wife, Elizabeth. With over ten years of experience in teaching thousands of people from all over the world it is the leading cookery school in Chiang Mai. Sompson has written a best- selling cook book called “A Passion for Thai Cooking” and has made guest appearances on travel and food programs around the world including The National Geographic Channel and the BBC. In 2001 he made his own series for UK television called “Thai Way” which has since been shown around the world.

Cookery school

Once we arrived at the school we found partners, put on aprons and were led into a small classroom where one of the instructors walked us through how to make our first dish, thai hot and sour prawn soup. Once we had seen it demonstrated we picked up our ingredients and were sent back to our individual cooking stations to try our hand at it.

cutting up some veggies

making soup

Thai Hot and Sour Prawn Soup

(serves 4)

Ingredients:

2 cups prawns- washed, peeled and deveined, keep the peelings

3 cups water or chicken stock

6 cloves of garlic- crushed

6 shallots- sliced

2 stalks of lemon grass, slice into 1 in pieces

10 thin slices of ginza, skin removed

2 cups straw mushrooms cut in half

2 tomatoes- each cut into 8 pieces

20 small green chillies- cut in 1/2 legnthwise

3 tbs fish sauce

5 kaffir lime leaves- torn into pieces discarding the stems

2 tbs lime juice

1/2 cup coriander- chopped

Directions: Put the heads and peelings of the prawns in a pan with the water and bring it to a boil. Remove the prawn peelings from the pan and bring the stock back to a boil. Add the garlic, shallots, lemongrass and ginza and bring to a boil. Then add the mushrooms and tomatoes and bring them to a boil. Add the chillies and fish sauce followe by the kaffir lime leaves. Cook gently for two minutes and then add the prawns and cook for another one minute. Turn off the heat and stir in the lime juice. Serve garnished with the coriander.

Hot and sour prawn soup minus the prawns

Linsday and I worked together on this, and since we are both vegetarians we did not use prawns in our soup, but it turned out pretty good despite. We were given time to eat our soup and then we all filed back into the classroom to learn how to make the next dish, green curry with chicken, only the version I made was vegetarian.

Green Curry with Chicken

(serves 4)

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups chicken breast, thinly sliced

1 cup thick coconut milk- keep 2 tbs to use as a garnish

1 cup thin coconut milk

4 tablespoons green curry paste

3 big eggplants cut into 1/2 in pieces

1/2 cup small eggplants

2 tbs palm sugar-optional

2 tbs fish sauce

2 kaffir lim leaves- torn into pieces discarding the stems

1 cup sweet basil leaves

1 big green chili- sliced

1 big red chili- sliced

Directions: Put the thick coconut milk into a wok and fry for 3-5 minutes, stirring continuously, until the coconut oil begins to separate out. Then add the green curry paste and fry for 1-2 minutes. Once the paste is cooked add the thin coconut milk and when it is boiling add the big and small egg plants. Simmer for about four minutes until the egg plants are slightly soft. Then add the palm sugar along with the edge of the wok so that it melts and add the fish sauce, kaffir lime leaves and half of the basil leaves. Turn off the heat and serve garnished with the big green chillies, the big red chillies, and  the remaining thick coconut milk .

Green Curry

Lindsay and I with our green curry sans chicken

This dish was very spicy, we made much smaller portions than the recipe lists since we were only cooking for two people, and we were given seven chilies to include in our soup, but cautioned that including all seven would result in a VERY spicy soup. We put in two and my mouth was still on fire. A bunch of the boys got into idiotic macho chili eating contests, but nobody could handle more than four chilies in their soup. They were crazy hot. We were allowed a few minutes to sample our curry, but then covered it and set it aside while we prepared the final two dishes. The next dish we made was a steamed banana cake, because it required fifteen minutes to cook.

Steamed Banana Cake

(serves 6)

10 small bananas (or 5 large bananas)- mashed

1 cup rice flour

1/4 cup tapioca flour

1 1/2 cup sugar

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 cup thick coconut milk

3 cups grated coconut

Directions: Put the bananas into a large bowl along with the rice flour, tapioca flour, sugar, salt, coconut milk, and 3/4 of the grated coconut. Mix well until all the ingredients are throughly combined. Put the mixture into a steaming ot baking tin (8″ x 8″) and sprinkle the rest of the grated coconut on the top. Steam for 30 minutes in the oven at 360 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes. Once it is cooked turn the cake out of the tin and serve hot or cold.

Banana cake

Instead of cooking large banana cakes we made tiny individual ones in banana leaf bowls. While these steamed we got to work on our final dish, Pad Thai.

Pad Thai

(serves 2)

10 oz fresh rice noodles (or dried noodles soaked in water for 10-15 minutes)

3 tbs oil

1 tbs garlic- chopped

1 tbs dried shrimps

1 cup tofu- chopped into small pieces

6 tbs chicken stock or water

2 eggs- beaten

3 tbs roasted peanuts- chopped

1/4 cup chives- cut into 1 in pieces

1 cup bean sprouts

2 limes cut into wedges

Fresh Vegetables (bean sprouts, cabbage, and chives)

Sauce

3 tbs sugar

3 tbs fish sauce

1 tbs soy sauce

2 tbs tamarind juice

Directions: Put the oil into a wok and fry the garlic, dried shrimps, and tofu until the garlic turns golden brown and then add the rice noodles. Keep stirring over a high heat. Then add the chicken stock and stir-fry until the noodles are soft. Then turn down the head and add the sauce ingredients and stir well to combine. Add the eggs and stir-fry until the eggs are cooked and well combined with the noodles. Add the peanuts and chives. Stir-fry to combine and then add the bean sprouts and stir together. Turn off the heat and serve garnished with the lime wedges and fresh vegetables.

Pad Thai

Our veg pad thai

Once we had finished this dish we took out banana cake out of the steam pot and sat down to a feast.

the spread

Chowing down on the fruits of our labors

After feasting on the fruits of our cooking school labors we were given cookbooks containing recipes for all the dishes we made and a bunch more we didn’t. We then said our goodbyes and headed back to the hotel for some downtime before going out for the evening.

Elephants, Tigers, and Tut Tuts

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011

Waking up from a night spent shivering on the floor of wooden cabin in the mountains I wanted nothing more than a hot shower. My hair was greasy and gross, my face was oily, and my legs were bug bitten and mud streaked. All the twelve girls in our cabin woke up and compared horror stories of nighttime terrors and noises. Four of the girls in our room swore that some four legged creature had been walking around our cabin in the middle of the night, which was perfectly plausible because there were three pigs that had slept under our cabin and I’m sure a few of the dogs had joined them during the monsoon-esk rains that had fallen in the middle of the night. There was no electricity or running water in the village and so when the sun went down it got VERY dark. Only a few people had brought flashlights so we had to take turns using them, but when we were in the cabin without a flashlight on you literally could not see your hand in front of your face it was so dark. A couple girls had gotten up in the middle of the night to go find the tiny mud floored shack that passed as a bathroom in the village, but how the found it in the darkness is beyond me.

Once we had all woken up and scrubbed down as much as we could with baby wipes we went up for breakfast, which consisted of bread toasted on skewers over a fire, cereal and fresh fruit. After listening to the horror stories of the people from the other cabin who woke up with vomit everywhere because one of the boys had a little more rice moonshine than he could handle, we packed up our backpacks, loaded back into the caravan of red trucks and headed back down the mountain.

We were all hoping to be able to go back to the hotel and shower but instead we were taken to an elephant camp about halfway down the mountain to do an hour and a half long elephant ride through the mountains. While I wasn’t too keen on this idea because I had my heart set on a hot shower, but as soon as we got out of the trucks and saw these magnificent animals my mind was quickly changed.

We rode the elephants in pairs and my partner was Lindsay. Our elephant had a very long Thai name which I cannot for the life of me remember, but he was incredibly A.D.D. and hungry. He kept wandering off the trail to munch on leaves and fruit from trees. We were initially the fifth or sixth elephant in the lineup but by the time we got to the end of the trail we were one of the last groups to get back because our elephant had spent so much time wandering off and eating. At the start of the walk we were given a bunch of bananas and a bag of sugar cane and the elephants knew that their passengers were in possession of these items, so every ten or so minutes they would just stop walking and curl their trunk back and poke you until you handed it over. Very clever animals, elephants are. At one point during the walk we had to walk about 100 yards through a river, which was really frightening for us, but the elephant didn’t seemed to be bothered by it in the slightest.

Elephants and their passengers about to go out into the jungle

Courtney and Kaela elephant riding

Elephants behind us on the trail

Baby elephant pesters for a banana

Anneka and Danielle on their elephant

Lindsay and I off-roading on our elephant through a river

View of Lindsay's back and the side of the elephant's ear from atop his back. This is when we went off-roading through a river.

Elephant riding!

Baby elephants never stop being adorable

The beautiful mountain backdrop to our elephant ride

I bought a commemorative picture of my elephant ride for 100 baht (around $3.10 AUD) and since I don’t have a scanner here is a picture of that picture.

Me and Lindsay in my cool Elephant Camp frame. I'm on the right.

After we dismounted our elephant we all loaded back into the red trucks and headed back into the city to check into our hotel rooms and shower. That shower was by far one of the best showers I have ever had. This is not to say that the bathroom I had it in was anything special, or the shower head was fancy or I used special soaps of any kind, but more because I was so in need of one. The linens at the hotel were all white, and when I scrubbed my legs my washcloth came away a dingy brown color. A lovely mixture of sweat, dirt, bug spray and sunscreen all topped off with a nice natural mountain musk and essence of elephant dung. I feel like I must have lost two pounds of dirt off my body in that shower.

After everyone was back to smelling more like human beings we had lunch at the hotel buffet and then had the option of an outing to Tiger Kingdom or hanging out in the city and shopping and getting thai massages. Since we were going to do shopping at the night markets later that evening I opted to go to Tiger Kingdom.

Tiger Kindom is basically a zoo that specializes in tiger training and rehabilitation. Upon entering you decide which tiger enclosure you would like to go into. Your options are the smallest tigers (2-5 months old) for ten minutes, the medium sized tigers (6-9 months old) for 15 minutes, or the biggest tigers (10-20 months old) for fifteen minutes. It cost about $20 to see the youngest tigers but only about $12 to see any of the other sizes, so I opted to go with the medium sized cats. Approaching the cats is really intimidating, but a trainer goes in with you, and if you have ever seen any big cats during the daytime in a zoo they tend to look very sleepy and lazy. This is because they hunt at dusk being nocturnal animals, but during the day they just kinda lounge around just like any house cat. Since most of the tigers at Tiger Kingdom were born in captivity they are also very used to human interaction so they don’t react hardly at all when you touch them.

Petting a girl tiger named Lu Lu

Having a little cat nap

Lu Lu enjoying the belly rub

I'm surprised I didn't start sneezing.

Petting Lu Lu's twin sister La La

La La yawning

Tiger play time

Kitty Cat wrestling

Lu Lu and La La throwing down!

After leaving Tiger Kingdom we headed back to the hotel where we gathered with the people who had decided not to go to Tiger Kingdom and all loaded into a fleet of tut tuts. Tut tuts are tiny little open air taxis that seat two- three people. We were driven around the city for about twenty minutes driving around the original walls of the city and through most of the city centers and by the night markets which were just beginning to open. I was in a tut tut with two girls who lived in Coogee beach and our tut tut driver seemed to have a bad case of passive aggressive road rage. He was zipping in and out of lanes, cutting people off, stopping short, and speeding. Every time he came close to hitting something or someone the three of us clinched together or gasped and he looked back at us in the rear view mirror and smiled or laughed. I was fairly thrilled to have life and limbs still in tact when we came to a stop at the night markets. Once we exited the tut tut we had the rest of the evening to explore the night markets which featured a labyrinth of vendor stalls selling all sorts of t-shirts, crafts, handbags, elephant figurines, and all manner of scarves and silks. Prices here were all negotiable and Lindsay, Danielle, Anneka and I bartered our way into some awesome deals. I was able to get a very large north face backpack for 400 baht (about $15) when the original asking price was 850 baht (about $28). Anneka and I also treated ourselves to mango and sticky coconut rice from a vender for about 40 baht (about $3.30) and then the four of us split a banana rotee, which is a essentially a thai crepe with bananas in it, and its amazing.

Back of a tut tut

Night Markets in Chiang Mai

Next to a Buddhist shrine in the center of the night markets

Buddhist shrine outside our hotel, they are all over the place in the city and people leave food and drink in front of them so that they will have food and drink in the afterlife

Thailand really likes their elephants

Around eleven oclock we were all starting to drag because we had gotten up around six and had such a full day. Some of the other kids opted to go out and explore the nightlife but the four of us headed back to the hotel for an early bedtime.

Basic Mountain Accommodation

Monday, May 2nd, 2011

The hotel breakfast at the Imperial Ping Hotel was INCREDIBLE. They had just about every breakfast food you could possible think of, and it was all made from scratch. The croissants were especially phenemonal and I ate at least four or five every morning we had breakfast there. All the breakfasts we had in Thailand featured an amazing array of fresh fruit and this one was no exception. Lindsay and I stuck together for most of the trip and that first morning we decided to have breakfast with Danielle and Anneka, two girls on the trip who were studying in New Zealand. After gorging ourselves on breakfast we loaded back into the fleet of red trucks with our backpacks packed for an overnight stay in a traditional mountain village.

We rode in the red trucks for about 45 minutes until we reached a small market on the outskirts of town. We were told to purchase whatever we wanted, but informed that in would be in our best interest to invest in some skeletene, which is a highly effective and potent bug spray, and some tiger balm, which is what you use should the bug spray fail.

Its a miracle cure in a very tiny jar

The pamphlet inside the little hexagonal box that the tiger balm comes in says that it is effective for the treatment of headaches, bug bites, itches, scratches, cough, stomach ache, nasal congestion. It contains menthol, camphor, dementholised mint oil, cajuput oil, clove bud oil, and cassia oil. This stuff WORKS. Its phenomenal, I need to find the parent company that makes it and buy stock in it because it is incredible. A tiny jar of tiger balm miracle cream set me back about 20 baht, or slightly less than a dollar, and for all the itchy bug bites it cured me of, it was worth that and so much more. I also purchased some bottled water at the market since no body in Thailand drinks tap water, because if you do you will get sick. All water consumed for drinking or cooking purposes in Thailand has to be purified as the tap water is not clean enough for drinking.

After a few minutes at the market we loaded back into the red truck caravan and rode another hour up a windy and steep mountain road. There were about eight of us in the truck I was riding in, including one of the local Thai guides who was to stay with us for the duration of our time in Chiang Mai. All the way up the mountain the eight of us in the truck asked him questions about Thailand. He was more than willing to answer all of our inquiries and I learned some interesting things. Firstly, being a lawyer in Thailand is considered a bad profession. The Thai people are very forgiving and generous and an attitude of service and caring are built into the culture, so it is not in their nature to want to see damages for someone if they have been wronged, but rather to forgive. Therefore lawyers don’t find much work in Thailand, so to be a lawyer is to be poor. Almost all Thai people have nicknames. Our guide was born very early in the morning so his nickname is rooster. There are about a dozen or so nicknames that are used for everyone, so there end up being a lot of people with the same nicknames. Also- little moped type scooters and motorcycles are very popular in Thailand. They are easy to park and cheap to own so most people have them instead of cars. We saw all sorts of them all over the cities, and it isn’t uncommon to see a mom riding one with one kid riding on the back and one kid riding on the front, and nobody in a helmet.

Me, Anneka and Danielle riding up to the village

Once we had arrived at the base of the trail we were going to hike we all loaded out and had a quick boxed lunch of pad thai noodles and vegetables by a waterfall.

Where we ate lunch

After lunch we started our two and a half hour hike through the mountains to reach our “basic” mountain accommodation for the evening. The views on the hike were incredible, we saw all manner of wildlife, rice paddies, burned hillsides, waterfalls, and jagged mountains. It was hot outside but every once in a while it would sprinkle a little rain on us to keep us cool. The hike took us over mountains and through valleys, over fallen trees and through lots of mud. We were looking and smelling pretty rough by the time we reached the village.

The back of Lindsays head, hiking through the mountains

Water Buffalo!

hiking

Everybody has a water buffalo, yours is fast and mine is slow but everybody hasssss a water buffalo!

With a group of 45 it takes a while to hike anywhere, we stretch out quite far

Once we arrived at the village we were shown where we would be sleeping, which was a basic wooden cabin with straw mats on the floor and blankets. There were two cabins that housed twelve people and one that housed ten. The cabin that Linsday and I picked was all girls and the furthest away from the main building of the village where all the cooking and food preparation took place. We all got settled and most of the girls rubbed down our legs with baby wipes to remove the caked on mud from the hike and then reapplied bug spray. We were then given a tour of the village and surrounding hillside. We got to see the local school, church, and soccer fields. As the sun was going down and things were cooling down a bit a couple of the people from our group got into a game of pick up soccer with some of the village kids. All of the village kids played barefoot, which a couple of the kids in our group tried to do, but its a bit more hardcore than it looks.

our "basic" accommodation

mountain village

Where we slept for the night. On the floor.

All over the village were all manner of farm animal. There were dogs, pigs, cows, cats, chickens, and roosters. There were a lot of dogs and they were very skittish around people and ran away when we tried to pet them to the dismay of many of the girls. This did not however prevent us from naming them, and one of the smaller brown and black dogs we affectionately dubbed “Tim Tam.” The villagers prepared dinner for us in the most traditional way, as in some of the chickens we saw running around when we first arrived became dinner. We watched one of the older men in the village cut the head off and gut a chicken to make soup. Times like these I remember why I’m a vegetarian, but even if you are a meat eater, you can’t get any more free range and organic than that. After a dinner of curry soup, rice and of course more fresh fruit a camp fire was lit and the village children came out to sing and dance with us. They taught us a traditional childrens song about fruit and we taught them “head and shoulders.” As it got darker out we were given thai fire balloons to light and send out into the night sky. It is a Thai tradition to light them as a group and as you wait for the fire lamp to heat up all the air inside the lantern and for it to rise everyone makes a wish, and then you let it go.

Lighting the lanterns, making our wishes

Make a Wish!

Tim Tam!

Piggie!

The view

While we were all hanging out and conversing with the villagers some of the guys partook in the local village vices, tobacco rolled in banana leaves and rice moonshine. There was also Thai beer for purchase and a few people partook in that as well. Most Thai beers are wheat beers and they tend to be 7-8% alcohol, which is a bit higher than most American beers. These indulgences hit some of the boys a bit hard and one of them ended the night by throwing up all over the basic mountain accommodation he was supposed to share with twelve other people, and when you are sleeping on the floor, there isn’t really much of anywhere else for the puke to go, so on top of being sweaty and smelly there was now the natural musk of vomit in the air. But it also meant that nobody was sleeping next to him that night, he had plenty of room to spread out. Lucky for me Lindsay and I had opted to sleep in the all girls cabin which had gone to sleep fairly early and without incident. The night was long and dark, and the stars were many and my dreams were of the shower I would have the next day.

Thai: Smooth As Silk

Monday, May 2nd, 2011

The night before leaving for Thailand I slept a grand total of three hours, but fortunately for me my wonderful roommates pushed me out of bed and we were all out the door by seven am to go to the airport. Me, Kayla, Courtney, Jordan, Lindsay, and Ian were all going on the Thailand trip and all the girls were ended up sitting downstairs in the cab for a good ten minutes while we waited for the boys to show up. We all remarked on the oddity of this, little did we know that waiting on Jordan and Ian was to become a major pastime of our Thailand adventure. We got to the airport, checked in, and within two hours were sitting on our group flight to Bankok, Thailand. Everything about Thai air was purple. The blankets and pillows were purple, every third seat was purple and the airplane was just generally quite colorful.

"Thai: Smooth As Silk", and o so purple

We were served two full meals and a small snack on our flight which was about ten hours, but after the twenty one hour marathon flight from LAX to Sydney, everything else feels paltry by comparison. The in flight meals were actually quite good, I mean as far as airline flight goes anyway. One of the side dishes in the first meal we got was a crab meat salad with cucumber and corn. Not that I ate it being  a vegetarian, but I still found it impressive that an airline meal included crab meat. The second meal had stir fried noodles with shrimp and vegetables, and I didn’t eat the shrimp but I was told they were quite good as well.

The seats were so brilliantly colored. On our airplane we had yellow seats too.

After our ten hour flight to Bankok we had some time to hang out in the Bankok airport and then we boarded another one-hour flight to Chang Mai. While in the Bankok airport I changed my $200 AUD into just over $6,000 baht. I felt so rich carrying around that much money in my wallet. In the airport we found a Burger King, Auntie Annes, Subway, McDonalds, Dairy Queen, and a Starbucks, globalization at its finest. By the time we got off our flight in Chang Mai it was nighttime, and our group of 45 kids and our one fearless leader, Christinan, were loaded into a caravan of small red passenger trucks.

Garden outside the Bankok Airport

Our transportation for our travels in Chang Mai

We were taken from the airport to a Thai restaurant near the hotel that already had tables set for us. We had our first authentic thai meal family style and then headed to the Imperial Pink Hotel to check in.

Family style Thai meal

Cool lantern in the center of the restaurant

First authentic Thai meal post 10 hour flight

I think some people did go out that first night, but after a full day spent trying and failing to sleep on planes and very little sleep the night before I was ready for a shower and a sleep so that is exactly what I did so I could greet my first day in Chang Mai bright eyed and bushy tailed.