Sunday, August 12, 2001

Bangkok - August 2001

Days 1-2: I left Phoenix at 6 am on August 1st, and arrived at my hotel in Bangkok's Chinatown around 11 PM (on August 2nd). After I checked in to the Grand China Princess Hotel, I looked around the area briefly, then collapsed on the rock hard bed for the night.
Day 3: I got up early and wandered through the streets of Chinatown but most stores were closed and the markets were just starting to set up. This picture was taken from a pedestrian bridge early in the morning - BEFORE traffic got heavy. I found the fabric market and wandered through that for a while, then flagged down a tuk tuk to take me to the historical sites of Bangkok.
The reclining Buddha (Wat Pho) was enormous. Too bad they were restoring the murals on the walls... the scaffolds were everywhere! I also visited the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Keo (The Emerald Buddha)

I hired a long tailed boat to drive me up and down the river and canals. It was pretty fun. One of the places I stopped was the Royal Barge National Museum. This is the front of one of the barges. Another place I stopped was across the river at Wat Arun (Temple of the Dawn). This temple was huge, and the detail on the outside was incredible!
This picture shows a close-up of a section of Wat Arun. The outside was covered with tiles and dishes!
View of Bangkok from the river. If you saw what I did, you would know why the river and canals were brown. People were using the river for EVERYTHING. I saw people standing in it washing clothes, bathing, swimming, and fishing. I also saw one woman empty a pot of rice in the river, and a man standing on his back porch urinating into the canal.
After I had spent the day sightseeing, I headed back towards my hotel. I ended up on Memorial Bridge, which I crossed, then crossed back after walking around on the other side of the river for a while. From this vantage point, I foolishly thought my hotel was within 10 minutes walking distance. I nearly got heat stroke walking to it. A cool shower, a long nap, and a Thai massage went a long way to helping me feel normal again.
Day 4: I learned my lesson about the heat, humidity and pollution yesterday, and hired a tuk tuk to take me to the different attractions. About six blocks after I negotiated a price to go to the Golden Mountain, he pulled over and asked if I was interested in hiring him to drive me to various sites and pay him by the hour. I asked how much. He said he would do it for 100 bahts (about $2.20 US) per hour. I thought that sounded very reasonable, so agreed without further bargaining. After I saw everything I wanted to see, and asked him to take me back to my hotel, we HAD to make the obligatory stops at the tailor and gem stores. It was actually kind of fun. I found something wrong with everything that they showed me, so didn't buy anything from them.
One of the places I visited was the Golden Mountain. When I got out of the tuk tuk, the driver asked if I planned on going to the top. When I said yes, he cautioned me that "There are many steps and you are very fat." Gee, thanks! So much for his tip! There were about a zillion tiny steps around the outside, but because they were so small, it was quite easy to skip every 1-2 steps on the way to the top.
The temple itself wasn't all that exciting, but there was an interesting view of the city from the top.
View of Bangkok from the top of the Golden Mountain
After leaving the Golden Mountain I went to the Giant Buddha, which really was giant. I think this is the second tallest Buddha in Thailand.
Another wat I visited that day. The walls were covered with beautiful murals. Later in the day, I caught a flight to Chiang Mai in the northern part of Thailand.

Northern Thailand

Day 5: After spending the night in Chiang Mai and buying assorted junk at the night market, I had a good night's sleep. At 7 am, Track of the Tiger Tours picked me up to start a 4 day tour of northern Thailand. I knew they were a small tour company, but I didn't realize how small. The tour consisted of a driver, a guide and me! In a way, it was good, because any time I wanted to stop to take a picture or just enjoy the view, I could. This is a picture of a tea plantation I visited.
I also went to an elephant farm to ride an elephant through the jungle. It is a very bumpy ride, and you have to hang on for dear life every time you go up or down a hill. Most of the time the mahout (elephant trainer) was riding on the neck of the elephant. He got off for a while to take this picture.
After riding the elephants, I went to the Water Buffalo Show. The actual show was pretty lame, but it was part of a living museum, where they showed how traditional Thai rice farmers used the water buffalo to help in the rice fields and to press sugar out of sugar cane. That part was rather interesting.

Using the water buffalo to plow the rice field. This is the girl who explained how rice was grown and was the narrator for the water buffalo show. Her English was quite good, and she was really funny! They had a tip box and I left a tip that was about twice the admission price because I liked her so much.

And now the show..... this is the Water Buffalo Band. They spent about 5 minutes walking down this muddy field playing a cymbol, a drum and a ukulele type instrument. After that they demonstrated for 5 minutes that the buffalos could turn right, then another 5 minutes that they could turn left, then for 5 minutes the different ways to get on the buffalo. As the grand finale (are you sure you are ready for this excitement?) they demonstrated that you could even sleep on the buffalo!! It was so bad, it was hilarious!
The red globs on this plant are clusters of snail eggs. I thought they were very pretty. The girls showing me around was amazed that I would take a picture of them, since the snails eat and destroy the rice plants.
One of many rice fields in Northern Thailand.
My tour included visiting 2 Hill Tribes. We were unable to get to one, because recent storms washed out a section of the road, and it was closed and was being rebuilt. Part of the road to the Paulong tribe was unpaved and had deep ruts from the recent rains. It was very bumpy and steep. Going up that road was as fun as going 4-wheeling. It was great. I liked the road better than I liked the tribe! I actually hated visiting these people. To me, it felt like I was in a human zoo, and I was gawking at people on dislay. As I walked around the village, my guide would just walk into these peoples' homes - without knocking! I refused to go in, because it seemed like such an invasion and I was put off by it. To top it off, only about 10% of the adults were wearing traditional clothing, which made me wonder if people were assigned to dress up for the tourists on a rotating schedule. The three little girls in the background of this picture started following me around as soon as I got there. They were playing a little game, where two of them would push the other into me from behind. I thought they were just playing a 'touch the tourist' type of game. It turns out, that they were picking my pocket! I hope they find many uses for the dirty kleenex that they took!
Because I didn't get to see the second tribe like my tour promised (no big loss there!), my guide asked if I wanted to stop at a food market. I agreed, because I wanted to be able to know which of the weird looking fruits were what names. It was fun.... I was able to know what a lychee, longon, rambutan, durian, etc actually were. I bought a durian (which was prohibited in my hotel in Bangkok). After cutting it open, I know why! In the market, there was one woman selling wasp larvae (still in the hive) and giant water bugs (Belostomatidae). Both of these insects were sold alive and I didn't have any way to cook them. Had they been cooked, I would have bought some to taste.
Day 6: The day started off with a hike. We walked from my hotel to the big grassy field (about 2 km), which was actually a plantation for longons, but the trees were quite small, and difficult to see in this picture. After hiking up the field, we then hiked into the dense jungle area and to the Standing Buddha at the top of the hill (see arrow). It had been raining for the past few days, so the ground was muddy and slippery. Every time I stopped to catch my breath, hundreds of mosquitoes would land on me!

Now I know why this hike was rated for 'Above Average Fitness levels' OOPS! :-) The last hundred meters or so were extremely steep (about a 75 degree incline) and very muddy, although it is hard to tell that from this picture. If it wasn't for these trees, I don't think I would have made it to the top. I had to use every ounce of strength to make it to a tree, then stop, catch my balance and breath by leaning against the tree, and when my legs turned black from the mosquitoes, struggle to the next tree. Eventually I made it to the top!
This is the Standing Buddha. Just for scale, the fence in the background came up to my waist.
This view of the hillside and Kok River made the torturous hike worth it! Just past the hill at the top (back) of the picture is the Myanmar (Burma) border. When I took this picture, I could see both Thai and Burmese army camps, but I guess they are too far away to see them in the photo.
After the Standing Buddha, we hiked to the Sitting Buddha. The hike here wasn't quite as bad, because it was a mixture of level, up, and down hill terrain. The mosquitoes still attacked any time you stopped, though. I think they thought my DEET was a yummy appetizer!
From the Sitting Buddha we eventually reached this White Buddha, which looks over the village of Ban ThaTon, where I was staying.

Finally relaxation. I spent the afternoon floating down the river on a bamboo raft, covered with a thatched roof. Ths view from the river shows you the three Buddhas on my hike. The arrow points to the Standing Buddha. At about 9 O'clock from the arrow (below and to the left) is a tan dot, which is the Sitting Buddha. Below and slightly to the right of the arrow is a white dot, which is the White Buddha.
For the next few hours, I floated down the river and enjoyed the scenery. I saw quite a few fishermen and rice farmers, not to mention a lot of interesting birds. There was some rain in the distance, but only a few drizzles were near me, and the raft's thatched roof kept me from getting wet.
Day 7: It rained in the morning, so I spent a lazy morning in my bungalo, then spent the afternoon in a fruit and vegetable carving class. I totally sucked at it! After the class, I wandered around the village of Ban Tha Ton for a while, and wandered to the next village across the river. The people were very friendly.
Day 8: In the morning, I took a cooking class. I was much better at cooking than I was at carving, which probably isn't saying much. After the class, I checked out of the lodge, and headed back towards Chiang Mai, so I could catch a flight later that evening. On the way back, I really had to use the bathroom. Up until this point, I've been able to only need the bathroom when I'm near my hotel and can use a western toilet. My luck ran out at this point. Since my eyes were turning yellow, I asked if they could stop at a gas station or someplace so I could use the bathroom. There were several places we passed, because they said the bathroom was not clean. This is where we finally stopped. If they consider this clean, I'm GLAD we didn't stop where they thought they were dirty!
On the way back, we stopped at a snake show and watched a guy play with cobras, pythons, and assorted other snakes. It was pretty funny, because the announcer ended nearly every sentence with "so sexy". For example,
"He's holding the cobra. So sexy"
"He's touching the cobra. So sexy"
"He's kissing two cobras. Oh, so sexy"
I was cracking up!
To top it off, my driver was scared of snakes, so every time the snake charmer guy pretended to throw a snake at the audience, my driver would shriek like a girl and run! After the show, I picked up a bent stick and walked up to my driver, then wiggled the stick near his face and said that I thought one snake got away. He screamed and ran!

We also stopped at an orchid and butterfly farm. I was really looking forward to the butterflies, but unfortunately, only the orchid part was open. There must have been a good 5 -10 acres of orchids. Very lovely.
There were also an assortment of flowers in the area. Later that afternoon, I was dropped off at the airport, so I could fly to Phuket, which is in the southern part of Thailand.

Phuket and Southern Thailand

Day 9: First thing in the morning, Sea Cave Canoe picked me up at my hotel to take me sea kayaking though limestone caves that allowed you to pass from Phang Nga Bay into small lagoons. At first, I was a bit disappointed that guides did the paddling for you, until we entered the caves. Parts of the entrances/exits were so close to the water that you had to lie down in the canoe to make it through. There were places that I was glad that I decided to wear the suit guaranteed to trim you by two inches!!! I wouldn't have wanted to try to paddle my way through that.Once you went through the caves, you found yourself in calm lagoos, completely surrounded by sheer limestone cliffs. In one of the lagoons, we watched monkeys in the treees for a while. In another lagoon, the tide started rising too quickly, and there was a mad scramble to make it back through the caves before the opening got too low to get through! We were served a delicious lunch on the main boat, then headed to an island for about an hour, to swim, paddle the canoes, or just mingle or sunbathe. It was quite fun.
Day 10: I booked a tour through Phuket Sea Land to go elephant trekking and white water rafting. They misplaced my reservation and didn't pick me up. After a phone conversation, I convinced them that I did have a reservation (which they later found) and they sent somebody to get me. White water rafting was so much fun, and the water was freezing cold (ok... actually about 70-75F...but that's icy to me!) The rapid weren't huge - class I and II, but enough to be really fun without being really scary. This picture was taken in a very slow spot... when I didn't have to paddle or hold on for dear life.
After rafting, we went elephant trekking through the jungle. It was fun, and we were able to buy bananas to feed the elephants. That was pretty cool. They served us lunch (mediocre) and then on a full stomach we hiked up a rather steep hill to go play in the icy water under this waterfall. You could swim up to the waterfall where the water is white, then grab onto the rocks and pull yourself through the opening in the rocks, and stand directly under the waterfall. It was great feeling the water pound on your back. If you lost your footing though, the current would shoot you back through the gap in the rocks, and you would have to start all over again!

That evening, I headed to Patong Beach. It was clearly an area that catered to tourists - and drunken ones at that. There were lots of little shops, but they all sold basically the same things. There were tons of bars, many filled with young Thai women who were throwing themselves at drunken tourists. Even the food had a watered-down spice level. I stopped to get a foot massage and in the process was also talked into a pedicure. After the torture of the foot massage, the pedicure was very relaxing! I must admit, my feet felt much better after that, and I was good to walk for another few hours!
Day 11: An early morning view from the balcony of my room at Kata Beach Resort. After breakfast, I walked up and down the beach for a while, then went to a half-day cooking class at the Boathouse.
After my cooking class, I went to the Butterfly Garden and Aquarium in Phuket town. I skipped the aquarium and headed straight to the butterflies. There were so many that were beautiful. If I didn't have a taxi sitting outside waiting for me, I probably would have spend 3 hours there, instead of the 1 that I did.

Later in the afternoon, I walked the length of Kata Beach. Near Club Med, I stopped to watch this game of soccer for a while.

Kata Beach at sunset.
Later that night, after the sun went down, I took a tuk tuk to Karon Beach. I was wandering through the shops there, then went down a side street. After a while, the shops ended. I thought the side road would connect back up with the main highway, so continued walking....and walking...and walking. I met up with a road I thought was the main highway, and decided the shops were probably on the other side of the next hill. They weren't. At this point, I didn't know whether I should continue walking or turn around, so I continued. It was rather peaceful, actually. There was lightning in the distance, and lots of frogs were singing, so I kept walking.
Eventually, I came to a road with a sign indicating that the Boathouse and Club Med were .8 Km away. Since my hotel was between them, I took that road. And walked...and walked...and walked. I walked past Club Med, but didn't come to my hotel or Boathouse. Then, I saw a road sign pointing to Karon Beach (in the direction I was heading) and Kata Beach (in the direction I was leaving). I was walking in circles!!! I flagged down a taxi and paid him way too much to take me back to my hotel, which was only about 5 blocks away (but I would have never found).

Day 12: In the morning I had my second day of cooking lessons at the Boathouse. We actually got to cook something today. In the picture I'm making a seafood stir fry. I added a bit more lemon juice and pepper than I was supposed to. I thought it really perked it up, as did the other students in the class. The chef teaching the class wasn't as impressed, and informed me that it was no longer 'Thai' because I didn't have the proper balance of sweet, sour, and salt. I didn't care.... it was still tasty, and people from other groups even snuck over to eat it!!

After class, I wandered around the area and beach for a while, then got a foot massage. This one was even more torturous than the first. It was closer to reflexology/accupressure than a massage, and she poked a blunt stick into the nerves in my feet! OUCH!!!

It was nearly time for me to go to the airport, so I headed back to my hotel to change clothes and get my bags.

Just as I got to my hotel, out of nowhere, a huge storm started. At first it was just wind. The palm trees were really swaying and coconuts actually started to fall off them. Then the rain it- hard stinging pellets, which gave way to sheets of water. After about an hour, the storm passed, and I went to the airport

Day 13: My flight left Bangkok at 8 am, and I arrived in Phoenix around 3 PM. The flight from Hong Kong to Los Angeles was incredibly long, and the plane was totally packed. While the flight attendants on United Airlines were horrible (they rammed the cart into my foot and elbow at least a dozen times, and never said 'sorry' or 'excuse me') the guys from the USDA in customs were wonderful. They generously washed my muddy shoes for me so I didn't have to do it when I got home. What gentlemen!! :-)

Actually, one of the things you were supposed to declare on entering the country was muddy shoes - to prevent hoof and mouth disease from spreading - so I declared my muddy shoes, even though I didn't think I had been in an infected area. To be on the safe side, they washed my shoes for me.

Hmmm...... I wonder if I would have 'accidentally' dropped all my laundry in mud, if they would have washed all my clothes for me on my return too! Maybe next trip I'll find out! :-)

Go to Thailand. It's AMAZING!!!