Archive for the ‘thailand’ Category

Back Where I Started

Saturday, September 24th, 2011

After five months in Australia, one week in Missourri, and another three weeks hanging out with Ryan I now find myself right back where I started, in my apartment in Fredericksburg. It was here that I first hatched the plan to go abroad over a year ago, and from the desk I am currently sitting at that I filled out and filed all the necessary paper work that enabled me to travel all those thousands of miles away.

Since being back at school almost everyone who I have run into me has asked me about my time in Australia. I have run into people who I wasn’t even that close with who have made comments to me about my blog and how much they enjoyed following it, and I have been surprised, bashful, and flattered every time I have encountered this.

The study abroad office here at Mary Washington encourages those of us who have already studied abroad to take an active role in promoting the studying abroad program. To this end they put out an email advertising two opportunities to do so early this semester. They held a study abroad photo contest asking for photo submissions from student’s time abroad. Each student was allowed to submit up to three high resolution photos, and ten winning photos were to be selected and then printed on canvas, framed, and given a permanent home hanging in the study abroad office. I submitted three photos, two from my trip to Thailand and one from Sydney. Much to my surprise two of my photographs were selected among the ten winning images! Ironically neither of them were taken in Australia.

Me and my kitty friend La La will forever hang in the Study Abroad office

Monks praying, forever in the study abroad office

Even with the promise of having my face forever hung in the study abroad office, they just couldn’t get enough of me, and after seeing a small sampling of my photos, I was asked to sit on a study abroad panel discussion for the first UMW discovery day in September. Since I was already going to be there giving a tour for the Washington Guides, I figured why not. The panel ended up being me, a male senior who had just returned from being in China, and a friend of mine Sara, who had done a faculty led summer program in Italy. Out of the three of us I was the only one who had kept a blog, so I put my blog up in the background on the projector and scrolled through all my images for an hour while we took turns talking about studying abroad and how to go about it. At the end of the presentation a high school senior from Fairfax County came up to me and told me that she was very interested in going to Australia to study government. I almost laughed in her face, because the ideal place to do that would be Canberra, but as that is also a location I wouldn’t wish upon my fiercest of enemies, I cautioned her against it. I ended up chatting with her for a good twenty minutes after the panel discussion was over and she asked me all sorts of questions about flights, transferring credits, places to go in Australia, and how to do it all on the administrative end. I ended up giving her my phone number, email address, and the name of Bill Bryson’s book on Australia so she could be sure and understand the horrors of Canberra before she committed to going there.

In addition to becoming the poster child for studying abroad at UMW, I have also been killing myself trying to graduate early by taking 18 credits this semester in addition to working a job part time at a restaurant downtown to repair some of the damage that Australia did to my bank account. I have been doing all of this with about five inches less of hair.

 

Right before coming back to school I decided I needed a change. So, the Friday morning before Hurricane Irene hit I went and got my hair cut by a woman named Irene, whose birthday was that day. Hows that for a coincidence?

 

So the plan for now is to survive this semester, get an internship for next semester, graduate in may, and get on with my adult life. (which will probably involve moving back home, such is the state of the economy these days) I’ve started looking into programs where I could go abroad again to a spanish speaking country and teach English for a year or so if I can’t find a decent job in the US. I might even end up chasing my boyfriend ( I will never get used to using that word) somewhere as his career moves him around. Who knows?

As this is my 89th blog entry I think I am going to say that this venture in blogging is officially finished. What started as a way to keep my mom informed of what I was up to while I was half a world away, ended up becoming a passion of mine and a scrapbook of my adventures abroad. I never intended for it to be widely read by my friends, or for anyone to discover that I am an atrocious speller, often hopeless at punctuating, and occasionally funny, but this happened anyway, and I was pleasantly surprised that it did. While I probably won’t post again on this blog space, I hope to have another blog in the future when something more interesting than working every weekend and reading english literature till my eyeballs roll out of my head is going on in my life.

I would like to thank everyone who ever took the time to skim one of my incredibly verbose ramblings for stopping by and allowing me to share my experience with them. I had a blast living this experience and writing about it, and despite the occasionally misspelled word I hope you have enjoyed reading.

Thanks and g’day.

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

The Ping Pong Show

Friday, May 6th, 2011

Before going to sleep the night before Lindsay and I had pulled the window curtains in our room, and they were so thick that we both woke up independently of one another around nine am and went back to sleep thinking we had woken up in the middle of the night because it was so dark in our room. By the time we actually got out of bed, unable to lie there trying to sleep anymore we had no idea what time it was because there was no alarm clock in our room. We fumbled around in the dark looking for some sort of clock and then opened up the window curtains to be greeted with a blindingly sunny morning. We both had a good disbelieving chuckle and once we found a clock found out it was past ten am and not four in the morning like we both thought it was. Since we had mistakenly slept through the hours during which breakfast was being served we leisurely got ready for the day and munched on some fruit from the complimentary fruit basket in our room. We had a few hours to kill before we needed to meet the speed boats again, so we went and purchased stamps in one of the small postcard shops in town and then sat in the hotel lobby writing postcards to our friends and family.

We rode around the islands in two boats that looked like the one on the right- this is the dock in Phi Phi

Around noon we loaded onto the speed boats once more for a thirty minute ride to another coral reef where we then got to snorkel for another hour. Many of the people in our group were still hungover from the night before, and this coupled with the sunburn that had acquired over the last few days made them very grumpy. I have never been hungover and on a speedboat in the midday sun, but judging by the faces of some of the heavier party-ers in our group I am guessing its not all that enjoyable of an experience. This was day eight of a ten day trip and it seemed like everyone was starting to drag a bit. Even Lindsay, Anneka, Danielle and I who had been diligent about going to bed early and hadn’t really gone out drinking, were beginning to feel a bit worn down. The snorkeling turned into more of a floating and hanging out, and after an hour of that we all piled back into the boats and sped off towards a small island where a picnic lunch was waiting for us on the beach. We were also treated to wine spritzers and spent a good two hours resting on the beach and chowing down. Everyone seemed to have already had their fill of the sun at this point because almost all the girls who had been slathering on tanning oil and taking naps by the pool in the midday blaze were now hiding under towels and beach umbrellas.

Where we stopped for lunch

Once we had eaten our fill and rested a bit we loaded back up into the boats and sped off towards out final destination for the trip: Phuket. Once we had settled into our hotel, been reunited with our checked luggage, showered, and changed, me and my three favorite Thai travel companions set out in search of somewhere to eat for dinner. We ended up eating at the Banana cafe, which was an inexpensive thai/american restaurant along the main strip of the commercial district.

Courtyard pool at the Mariot Hotel we stayed in in Phuket, it had constellation lighting in it at night which was AWESOME

After dinner we spent some time walking around the various shops and vendor stalls, but most of the stuff we were seeing was no different from what we had already seen in Phi Phi and Chiang Mai, but here things were a bit more expensive since this was a very heavily touristy area and the vendors knew they could get western tourists to pay exorbitant prices and not haggle for them. Lindsay wanted to get a cocktail, and in search of a place to fulfill that desire we stumbled across this cute little VW van that had been refurbished to be a portable party bar. It had a sweet sound system with massive subwoofers blasting dance music, so while we stopped to have a little dance party on the street Lindsay ordered a bucket of pineapple rum for 300 baht (about $10). While we sat on the curb singing along to the music we met this really friendly asian girl who started talking to us and then asked if she could take a picture with us. We ended up hanging out at the VW bar for about forty five minutes and then around 9:30 headed back to the hotel lobby to meet our group leader Christian and most of the rest of the group for what Christian had been hyping all week as an “optional cultural experience.”

VW van curbside party bar

*******ATTENTION READERS*******

*****SOME OF THE INFORMATION IN THIS POST IS GRAPHIC AND DISTURBING, YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED*****

Ever since our first night in Chiang Mai Christian had been talking about this “cultural experience” that we simply had to have called a Ping Pong show. Christian had been mum on the details of this initially, but as the week progressed we had gotten little snippets of  what this would be like. He described it as being a weird strip show type of event where women pulled odd things our of their….well….vaginas. Judging by the name of the event I assumed that there would be some sort of spectacle made out of ping pong balls being birthed vaginally, but I honestly had no idea what to expect. This was a purely optional event, but he had put to the group that he would be going and that anyone else who thought they were brave enough was welcome to come along.

Anneka opted out, but Danielle and Lindsay both had their curiosities peaked, and I figured when in Rome, play ping pong with the Romans! While there were a few people who didn’t go, there was a group of easily 30 or so of us that did. Christian led us away from the hotel down a boulevard that was lined with high end bars and strip clubs with dozens of people standing in the streets trying to pass out fliers and pictures in hopes of luring customers into their various dens of inequity. Among the strip bars along this street some of them were inside with tinted glass doors so that you couldn’t see anything from the street, but many of them were open air bars where you could plainly see Asian girls devoid of any curves dancing on poles in skimpy underwear.

Naughty nightlife district

We arrived at a small establishment called “Playschool A- Go Go” and I wondered what in the hell I had gotten myself into. Lindsay, Danielle and I took seats close to the back, but Lindsay was a bit tipsy from before and as soon as she saw that there were open seats right on the edge of the stage that no one was sitting in she dragged us down there.  There is no cover charge for the club, but they will not start the show until everyone has purchased a drink, and since it was the end of the trip and I was trying to go home with some money in my pocket I went for the cheapest item on the menu, which was a beer for 100 baht (about $3). I have never purchased a beer for myself before, nor have I ever liked any American beers that I have tried, but the Thai beer that I had, a Singha, which was recommended to me by some girls in the program who had said it was their favorite, wasn’t all that bad. While everyone was ordering their drinks there were three or four girls up on the stage which was in the middle of the room. The girls looked very young and somewhat disinterested in being there. They weren’t stripping they were just apathetically dancing around each other and around the two poles on the stage to American club hits.

Going through this door I had no idea of the horrors that awaited me

Thai wheat beer: not half bad

Once everyone had their drinks in hand the show began. To call what we saw a ‘show’ would be up playing it up a bit. It was really more of one older woman showing off a very odd skill, like a peculiar circus act. A woman came out wearing nothing but a teddy lingerie top and proceeded to do all manner of odd and peculiar things with her baby maker. The first thing she did was to pull out a string of fake flowers out of her vag and then drape it across all the boys sitting in the front row of the audience. That was the most tame thing to happen all evening. After the flowers came a whistle that she played by putting it up to her lady parts and pushing air through it. I think she may have even been attempting a tune, but it was hard to tell admist all the awkward laughing and giggling.

With every passing minute the items to come out from under this woman got stranger and more alarming. The next item that was brought onto stage was a fishbowl with water in it. O no. I almost didn’t want to see what was going to end up swimming in there. The woman squatted over the bowl and squeezed out two small eels. Next a small cage was brought out onto stage. I tried to look away. She squatted over the cage and birthed a small terrified looking brown hamster into the cage. In between each inter-species birthing the woman went offstage and the dancers took over for a few minutes, I assume so she could reload with the next critter. She also had a bottle of lubricant off stage so thank goodness for that. Someone needs to alert PETA because this is animal cruelty if I have ever seen it. The next critter to be forcibly birthed out of this woman was a small bird with clipped wings, and then two small turtles and two fish joined the eels in the fishbowl. After escaping from this womans lady parts they crawled around and tried to escape from this hell pit of freakish fantasies, so I am sure they were real animals. As if pulling enough critters out of her vag to fill a small pet store wasn’t disturbing enough she then proceeded to light a cigarette and blow smoke through it out of her hoo ha. She also loaded two ping pong balls into her cha cha and popped them out sending them across the room. One of the more alarming props to emerge from the depths of her coochie was a string of razor blades, which she proved were razors by slicing up a plastic straw into tiny pieces after she had removed them. For the grand finale she put a blow gun loaded with two darts into her coochie and sent the darts flying through the air to pop balloons that were taped to the ceiling.

This whole ordeal lasted about thirty minutes and the faces of all the kids in our group who were there were priceless. I can’t say I really enjoyed the experience, it would be more accurate to say that I was oddly horrified, but watching the reactions of everyone in the room almost made the trip worth it.

The horror

The feeling I was left with post show is similar to what I imagine boys feel when they witness another boy get kicked in the balls and they shrink back in horror due to the imagined pain. This is how I felt. I was shrinking in horror imagining the pain that would come from putting small rodents and sea creatures and RAZORS into a place where they most CERTAINLY do not belong.

Reaction shot post ping pong show

group reaction shot

While some of the other kids went out to party on the town for our last night in Thailand, Lindsay, Danielle and I were too emotionally disturbed and exhausted to do anything else, so we headed back to the hotel to get a good nights sleep since the next night we would spend trying to sleep on a ten hour flight back to Sydney.

Just Another Day In Paradise

Thursday, May 5th, 2011

Lindsay and I awoke early for our last morning in Krabi, went to breakfast with Danielle and Anneka and then had a few hours to kill before we needed to meet the speed boats on the beach that would take us to Phi Phi. On our way to the beach the previous day we had spotted a rock climb area that led to a lookout point over the peninsula, so we decided we would conquer that before leaving. This was a climb that did not require special shoes or a harness but it was by no means an easy climb. The first part of it wasn’t too bad because it wasn’t incredible steep and there was a rope to hold onto, but it was easily a thirty five minute climb the middle part which was the most rigorous. Eventually it evened out and the last bit of it was actually a dirt path through the trees, but we were all quite literally dripping with sweat once we got to the top. O and rock climbing in flip flops, probably not one of my better wardrobe decisions, but they were the only shoes I had with me on the island and I wasn’t fearless enough to attempt it barefoot.

Climbing up to the lookout

The view from the top- the estuary is on the right and the Andaman Sea is on the left and the resort bridges the space between the two

We came, we climbed, we conquered.

Paradise: the view from above

Sweaty, but still smiling

Estuary side

After we caught our breath we began our climb down and arrived back at the bottom sweaty and mud streaked but feeling accomplished. We spent the rest of the morning lounging by the pool before having to pack up and meet the speed boats on the beach that would be taking us to our next destination: Phi Phi. On our way to our next hotel we were told that we would be stopping to have an hour long snorkel! I have never snorkeled before and I was super excited to get this opportunity.

So excited

The water is so pretty and clear

I was a little nervous to jump into the water because there were fish EVERYWHERE, but once I did and I put my face into the water I was AMAZED at the sights that met my eyes. Had I not been breathing through a tube they would have taken my breath away.  (the following pictures are not from my camera as my camera does not operate underwater, they are from another girl who was on the trip)

Fishies!

So. Many. Fishies!

After many years of watching Finding Nemo and flipping through the pages of National Geographic magazines in medical waiting rooms I was expecting a rainbow of colors in the coral beds, what we came across was quite different. Due to rising ocean temperatures in the last two or three years the coral in this region has been bleached, a condition in which the coral looses all of its color due to a stress-induced expulsion or death of their symbiotic protozoa or due to the loss of pigmentation within the protozoa. The corals that form the structure of reef ecosystems in tropical sea areas depend upon a symbiotic relationship with unicellular flagellate protozoa, called zooxanthellae that are photosynthetic and live within their tissues. Zoonanthellae give coral its coloring and under stress corals may expel their zooxanthellae which leads to a lightening of color or sometimes a complete loss of color leaving the coral gray or white. Once bleaching begins it tends to continue even without continuing stress. If the coral colony can survive the stress period zooxanthellae will often return within weeks to months to a normal density, but this is not always the case as some zooxanthellae and coral species are more resistant to stress than others. Increasing ocean temperature is the most common cause of this, as even a 1-2 degree change annually can trigger this phenomena. Increasing ocean acidification also can exacerbate bleaching effects due to thermal stress. (all information researched from Wikipedia)

The Coral Seekers employee who was our guide on the boat was explaining that in the last two or three years almost all the coral in this area has lost its coloring, but the fish have stuck around.

Sea Urchins- do not touch!

Bleached out coral

After an hour or so of snorkeling we were taken to check into our hotel in Phi Phi (this is pronounced ‘Pee Pee’ which I was not able to hear someone say without snickering, I’m so mature, I know) where we checked into our rooms and then headed to the hotel restaurant for lunch.

The pool at our Phi Phi hotel

I never actually swam in this pool but it was very pretty to look at

I love these flowers, they are everywhere in Australia too

Walkway to the beach

While we were eating lunch they had the Royal Wedding coverage on the big screen TV in the hotel, so even though we were in a country that is in no way affiliated with the British crown, nor do its inhabitants speak English, we could not escape the Royal Wedding. After lunch we loaded back onto the boats to do a tour of some of the other islands in the area.

There are these huge rocky outcroppings everywhere, it looks like we are on an episode of Lost

These caves are home to a rare species of bird that only nests in this one location, so there is a small tribe of people who live here to protect these birds and their nesting grounds from poachers

Island magnificence

Our main attraction for the afternoon was a stop on the island of Koh Phi Phi which is where the 2000 adventure drama film The Beach, starring Leonardio Dicaprio and Tilda Swinton was filmed.

Link for the trailer to the film: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1EJ1T0cf-Wk

the beach from the movie "The Beach"

View from the shore

Doing more silly things with my arms. At least I'm consistent

Mountains beyond the shoreline

We spent a few hours hanging out in Ma Ya Bay, during which time the Coral Seeker employees who had been driving us around all day on two boats brought out two huge coolers of cranberry and vodka mixed drinks and jello shots, so we got to have a little early evening cocktail on the beach before dinner. A storm was moving in over the island and as it began to rain we loaded back into the boats and headed back to our hotel. Once there we changed out of our bathing suits and went out to check out the night life in Phi Phi. Unlike in Krabi, which is more of a resort town with very few local residents, Phi Phi had a bustling commercial district that was mostly filled with beach wear shops, dive bars, restaurants, massage parlors, internet cafes, souvenir shops, and island tour companies. It was a loud, cramped and crowded district filled with lots of drunk sunburned tourists and local shop owners getting up in your face about taxi rides and snorkeling trips. Lindsay, Anneka, Danielle and I pushed our way through all the madness to find a cute pirate themed restaurant where we had a light diner before heading back to the hotel where we collapsed into bed.


How Wonderful It Is to Do Nothing, and Then Rest Afterwards

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011

Lindsay and I were up early the next morning and met Danielle and Anneka for another complimentary hotel breakfast, only this time our view had much improved. The breakfast at the resort was good, and the selection of fresh tropical fruits was certaintly impressive, but it wasn’t as good as Chiang Mai. The bar had been set very high by the Imperial Ping Hotel in Chiang Mai, and the four of us spent every morning debating the merits of every other breakfast we encountered and comparing it to the one in Chiang Mai. After breakfast we had no scheduled activities and the whole day to do as we wish, so we went straight to the beach. There are two main beach areas on the resort that are separated by a big rocky outcropping, so you could swim from one beach to the other but you couldn’t walk to it unless you wanted to climb up the mini rock mountain. Of the two main beach areas one has a pool overlooking it and its where the main reception area is and the restaurant, and the other has to be accessed by a wooden path that goes around the island and its more secluded. This latter beach was where we opted to begin our day. Along the path to the beach are stunning cavernous rock ledges, similar to what you would see in Luray caverns, only they are above ground. So on our way to the beach we did a little poking around. We only caught glimpses of the monkey population that lives on the island, but the day before we saw some monkeys scampering across the roofs of one of the hotel buildings, which was so crazy. Monkeys, just, you know, hanging out.

Walking past the estuary side to get to the other beach

Exploring the caverns lining the path to the beach

Anneka caught off guard

The view of the path from underneath the rock ledge

Anneka, Lindsay and Danielle posing for me

I always seem to do this with my arms when someone points a camera at me

The beach!

Rocks over the ocean! They had rock climbing courses set up on these rocks over the sand but only for the really adventurous and experienced climbers

Phangnga Bay, the body of water that Krabi sits on is known as being a very fertile area, and this is the fertility shrine that pays homage to that. There is a legend about a woman and three suitors that is the reason for all this, but the plaque on the shrine explaining it was written in Thai and I couldn't find it anywhere on the internet.

An appropriate shrine to have near a honeymoon resort

We threw our stuff on the sand and jumped in. There are a bunch of cool caverns you can swim up to and then explore on foot so we spent most of the morning doing that. We saw bats and sea enemies and all sorts of cool sea birds and ocean critters. After a long morning of swimming we laid out on the beach and waited for the sun to get high enough that the rocks no longer kept us in the shade. When the sun became too intense we headed back to our air conditioned rooms to cool off and snack on some complimentary fresh island fruit and watch more HBO movies. Later on in the day we explored some of the local beach shops and once the sun was beginning to set headed back to the main beach area to watch the sunset. Danielle, Anneka, and Lindsay wanted to go check out the bars, but I wanted to eat dinner, and specifically I wanted pizza. After six days of eating Thai food, which, like all Asian cuisines includes no dairy, I was really craving something cheesy. So the other girls set out in search of nightlife and I hung out by the beach with Courtney and Kaela and watched the sunset and then enjoyed a veggie pizza and some cheesy garlic bread with them at the hotel restaurant.

Second sunset in Krabi

So pretty

After dinner I met back up with Lindsay, Anneka and Danielle and as we were exhausted we didn’t even bother trying to go out, we just went back and lazed around chatting and watching movies before going to bed in our super large and very low king sized beds.

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.