Things I’ve learned about Thailand

In true Laura style, I didn’t do a whole lot of research before I set out to Thailand. In fact, the only reason I had a hotel in Bangkok long before I arrived is because a friend had told me about the Elephant Nature Park and how it gets booked up quickly, so I had to book that and the nights before that adventure to ensure I could get there on time.

My flight was to Bangkok. When I pictured  Bangkok, I pictured a warm climate, tuk tuks and lots of people. Everything else was unimaginable to me. I’ve been to big cities before: New York, London, Rome, Cairo. None of them are comparable to Bangkok. Cairo would be closest, but mainly for the weather.

1. Bangkok is dirty. It is hot. It stinks. And it is not all that exciting. If anyone is thinking of a holiday in Thailand, don’t plan on spending a lot of time in Bangkok. It’s a sprawling city. I stayed in an area that was recommended on a blog, and it’s just plain disappointing. I stayed along the river, which was supposed to be beautiful, but it smelled and was full of plastic trash. It was a 3 mile walk to any of the big sites, I should have stayed near the palace.

It is a tourist trap and things are over priced for what you get compared to other Thai cities. The biggest scam is the long boat tour. It falls on so many lists of ” things to do” but for the life of me, I can’t figure out why. You voyage down a tiny water way covered in trash in a loud boat. And then their friends in canoes try to get you to buy your driver a beer. My advice, don’t waste your time or money, if you want to see the water take a water taxi for less than $0.50. I spent over $100 a day there in the two days I was there. I got to town around 11am and left the next day at 5pm….rip off.

2. Chiang Mai is the place to hang out. There are many day trips from Chiang Mai, prices are more reasonable, hotels are nicer, food is better, and it feels more like a happy town. They have street food vendors at the night market, hiking trails, some beautiful temples, and happier people.

3. You really can afford a massage on the daily. Even in Bangkok they are cheap. But outside of Bangkok I’ve only spent about $30 a day including 1 meal, a mid afternoon snack and a massage. I paid 300 baht for a Thai massage at the fanciest place I’ve seen since I’ve been here. That’s $10. For an hour. Dinner is usually the same price.

4. Thai people are so friendly. If you don’t know what to do – smile. That was something I read. And no joke it works. They smile back, they thank you. If you want or need something they will do what is best for you. I need a ride to the airport early for my flight, they offer a van, but since it’s so early and it’s just me, they said a taxi would be cheaper. And since I’m leaving early they will give me a water, fruit and muffin for my trip. And no cost. This is not abnormal.

5. They take feet very seriously. In Buddhism feet are seen as the dirtiest part of the body. You should never point your feet towards Bush’s, you should always take off your shoes when entering a temple (or room, or massage house, or some restaurants). When you get a massage, wait until they wash your feet before you put them on the clean towel. Don’t cross your legs and point your toes at anyone. Don’t put your feet on things that aren’t made for feet (tables, chairs, etc).

6. They LOVE plastic. In a very, very earth-is-in-trouble kind of way. No matter what drink you buy (water, pop, beer, juice) they give you a straw. And most of the time try to put your beverage container in a plastic bag. Even if you got it in a cup. They even have these plastic things that fit over the cups with handles on them so you can carry it by plastic bag handles. If you are an eco friendly traveler, don’t take the straw or bring your own. I always have a backpack with me so I never take the bag and I don’t care for straws so I deny those as well.

7. Thai food is good. It’s served in much smaller portions than in the states, And it’s the perfect size. Without someone to eat my leftovers I feel bad leaving food on the table, but here the portions are smaller and more reasonable so if I don’t finish It, it isn’t much at all.

8. Maybe the most random. They LOVE 7-11. Like LOVE. They are everywhere. And they are 24/7. They have these crispy things. People said to try them. My understand is that they are basically a panini. And since I don’t like them in the states, I’m not sure a 7-11 panini will change my mind. So I stuck to yellow Gatorade, water and my daily ice cream fill.

My thoughts on traveling….

As I sit by the pool today I’m reminiscing on all my travels thus far, and the few remaining days I have left. I have also been thinking about my previous trips and adventures and how they have brought me here.

I enjoy the solitude of traveling on my own. No pressure, no compromise, just go where my feet go and take it in. At the same time, traveling with others has taken me to places I would have never gone on my own, from countries to cities to museums.

I also am reminded about the realities that have hit while I’ve been far away from home. My step Dad diagnosed with prostate cancer while I was backpacking through Europe on my own. While in Egypt, 29 people were killed during the Arab Spring, luckily we were hours away, but that did little to settle the fear of family and friends back home. While boarding the ship for Antartica, my aunt was supposed to be coming out of surgery, anxious to hear the news I was attempting to reach any family member who knew anything, and right before we left the service area I heard she had made it out and she was doing well. Last year I was in Ireland when my step dad broke his femur. Upon arrival back to the states my real dad had a prostate biopsy that confirmed cancer. And on this trip my youngest step brother passed tragically. It’s a real world reminder why I can’t leave the state. My dreams to live abroad and travel for a living are real. And one day, I will reach that goal, but for now I am (for the most part) content in my yearly adventures and my time with my family and friends in the states. While there will never be the “right time” I know right now it is the wrong time. When the opportunity presents itself to set off on an extended leave from the US, I will embrace It, enjoy it, allow myself to be consumed by it.

I’ll just continue to work hard at the job I love, spend time with those I love, spoil my dog who is my true love, and be thankful for all I have.

I finished reading the Elizabeth Smart book and she is and was wise beyond her years. She chose to move on immediately after her ordeal, giving Mitchell no power over her after she was rescued. I wish I could be like her, give the negativity no power in my life. But this is something I struggle with in daily life. When I am away and traveling, the anxiety, the fear and the depression (for the most part) are gone. I feel truly free and myself when I am in a foreign place. Maybe because I am forced so far out of my comfort zone I become comfortable, but I really think it’s my desire to just take it all in, learn, see, Love. Travelers are not as judgemental, we are all on a journey of our own, crossing paths of others in far away lands, And continuing our own journey.

If traveling has taught me one thing in life – take nothing for granted, and take it all in.

My day ended with street food and a foot massage. But of course it couldn’t be easy going. I left my phone at the hotel to get some much desired away time. I need to learn to just not pick up the phone and always have it with me.

1. My dinner was by far the best I had had yet on this trip and also the cheapest. I got chicken pad Thai and spring rolls (ya know, the usual) and went to the mini mart for a sprite. Best pad Thai yet!! Perfect spicy level, great meat to noodle ratio- ugh so yummy!! And I got no picture. But it was good. The place was right on their little board walk area, across the street from the water. Perfect way to end my last night.

2. After dinner I walked back to the mini mart to get cash from one of their atms (there is rarely, if ever just one bank atm). One girl was using the blue one so I went to the yellow one. I put my card in, agreed to the fee (I did the math today and realized it’s like a $7 fee for the cash, glad my bank reimburses me for those). My money came, the receipt came and then the card, well it only sorta came. Like I could see it and touch it but fat fingers could not retrieve the card. In all my attempts (with another card for leverage, pinky to pinky) nothing worked. And boom the machine ate my card. First of all I am glad I brought my other atm card, for emergencies like this. But I was so upset (as in, damn it now I’m going to have international fees, upset). I walked into the mini mart and asked if they could call. Bit of a language barrier – but they finally figured out what I was asking. One of the girls walls outside with me, looks at me, looks at the machine, looks back at me, and pries the machine from its case and gets my card. I couldn’t believe it. I also couldn’t figure out why more of these machines aren’t robbed. But I was so thankful.

3. My massage was great. Relaxing, allowing me to read my new book on the Vietnam war. I was in a Zen state, I was constantly having to reread a passage. Mainly because it was hitting me that my dad had been on the front lines of the Vietnam war in this horrendous weather!! Like, I who had access to cold water, air conditioning and a real bed; now I felt guilty and gratitude. I feel shameful for complaining about the heat, And the uncomfortable beds. So while I was relaxing I was also feeling guilty.

4. Tomorrow morning is going to come so early. Time zone change, country change, life change!! Woohoo!!

Relaxing day 2

Another slow morning, it’s very odd because even at home I don’t stay in bed late. But I’m forcing myself to relax before I venture on to Malaysia and Singapore.

Today I hung out at the pool. I really realized how bad my back was burned this morning so I borrowed some scissors from the front desk and cut the sleeves off one of my shirts. I realized I didn’t need to have a farmers tan, I just needed to protect my back. So I did. I took the now tank shirt off to swim, only for about 30 minutes at s time. Swimming just feels so good. The pool is cooler than the air, but nice and warm, not hot.

I finished my book, Hidden Figures, I highly recommend the book. Goes in way more detail and history on the girls. Even the epilogue is good!! Now I’ve moved on to the Elizabeth Smart book. I actually got about halfway through it down at the pool.

When I got back upstairs I realized I needed to do some laundry or I would run out of clean clothes in Malaysia. Since this hotel offers laundry I took them up on it. Turns out I could save myself more than half if I did it myself. So for 200 baht I washed and dried my own clothes, they even gave me the soap and fabric softener.

While the clothes were in the wash I decided to try the ear spa. My friend Dana and I had heard about these ear massages so I figured this must be it. The picture shows ear candling, but I figured for 500 baht (roughly $17) I must get a massage. Nope just ear candling. Bummer!!

I switched my laundry and headed out for dinner. I decided to try a place right on the water since the sun was about to start setting. Food was good, views were great.

After dinner I went back to my usual massage house and got a foot massage. They use menthol cream and oil on your feet and legs. I can never get enough though. When you get a foot massage at this place, they finish with a mini neck and head massage. It may be my favorite part.

After my massage, back to the hotel to grab my laundry and head up to blog. It’s been so nice and relaxing, I see why lots of people vacation here. The vibe is just relaxing.

Time to hang out with some elephants!!

I feel the need to address my rock hard bed, or more realistically, my sleeping-on-a-pile-of-2x4s bed. It was super hard. And that is coming from someone who sleeps on the floor is the bed is too soft. So I woke up with a sore hip.

I never got hot water in my shower today, and the only time it was really a problem was when I wanted to wash my back, it was very cold. But when I got out I was thankful I wasn’t hot.

They served me a individual breakfast. I had a warm (yuck) sandwich with egg, cheese, ham, and lettuce. I of course took the ham off. They also had a plate of fruit. It had watermelon, papaya?? Mango?? I’m not sure. I just know I had to eat it not to look rude and it was yucky. All tasted like melon. I couldn’t bring myself to try the weird slimy gelatinous fruit. I’m now wishing I had.

I had to run back upstairs to finish packing before my shuttle cane to take me to the elephant sanctuary. I’m doing an overnight stay in the park, and I am very much looking forward to it. The guide(Ann) picked me up and we drove around Chiang Mai filling up the van of other guests. One couple from Vancouver, one from Aussie, another from DC, and one from Oakland. I’m the solo Rider on this adventure. But I don’t mind!! In fact I realized once I got to the sanctuary I was the only single person. Because of that though I get my own room!!

This place was started as an elephant sanctuary but also rescues water buffalo, cats and dogs.

We got here and immediately got to go out and walk with the elephants.

Rules:

  1. No touching

2. No standing behind (basically horse rules)

3. You have to wash your hands with provided soap before you can feed them.

5. Run when the guide says run.

They gave us a water bottle with a carrying sling, but the water gets hot quick so I’m just using my own. But all the unlimited cold water we can have!!

They made us a hot lunch with a salad bar, and we got there a little late so didn’t get to try everything. But what I had was awesome!! Just the basic noodle and rice dishes but I love Thai food so it’s a win!!

On the food note, so far the only difference I can tell between the Thailand Thai food and American Thai food is ours is not spicy and has usually only a solo protein.  Here they do like pork and chicken or a seafood mix in all their dishes. Also they love seafood so they are mostly seafood dishes.

Anyway back to the elephants!! We got to watch them play, bathe in the river, eat (they love food), and walk around in peace. These elephants are from a tortured past. Either circuses, logging industry, tourist riders, or beggers. These elephants come here to live out their life in controlled freedom. Each elephant has a trainer that stays with them all day everyday. At night the elephants go to bed in their cages where they are safe from each other and warm or cool depending on the season.

We got to feed one of the disabled elephants watermelon. Her foot was injured by a land mine while logging in Myanmar. So she came here to be cared for and free. She took the watermelon out of my hand and she touched my fingers. Her skin was like rubber. Wet rubber. But she was big and beautiful and in her eyes you could see the joy. She was happy to take the watermelon from us and stayed as long as we had some. Once we ran out she just turned back to the sugar cane she was eating and we let her be.

We continued walking around the park and saw a few heards. Some have babies from Jungle Boy. Apparently before they built the housing unit for Jungle Boy he managed to impregnate 4 elephants. The goal here is not to breed, but to rescue. So they realized they had to build him his own pen to stop the reporduction.

There are only 3 adult makes here on site. There are 2 juvenile males as well that are currently being cared for by their heard. Once they become of reproducing age they too will get a pen.

There is a whole nother side of the park that we don’t get to see. That is where the agressive elephants go. They are kept separate to protect themselves and others and humans. Only their trainer is allowed contact with them. And in some cases the trainer can’t get too close.

Once we we’re on our way back to the tables (meeting area) it started to pour. The rain felt good. All of us with our cameras out ran quickly to get them out of the rain. Ann left us here and we got our night and private guide for tomorrow. Her name is Apple.

She assigned us our rooms and took us to them. Because I’m alone I got my own room, which is actually an elevated cabin!! No a.c. to be had here, but we get a mosquito net and a fan. The bathroom has a rain head shower head!! When I opened the door a cat started talking to me on the porch. I left the door open for her (I’m gonna call her Boots) and she came right in. She made herself at home on my bed on the outside of the mosquito net and wanted me to scratch her. Of course I obliged.

At 330 we could go walk some of the rescue dogs on site so I attempted to boot her out of the room but she wasn’t having it. So I opened a window for her if she wanted to escape.

I got to walk dog named LaLa. She wasn’t so keen on walking though. So there was a lot of pulling. She did like walking around by the elephants so we hung out there for a while.

When I dropped her off at the shelter she was happy to be back with her friends. I headed back to my cabin and Boots was still laying on the bed!! And now I have a black lab on the porch!! We have another porch facing the elephant sleeping cages. We heard they wake up around 4 am.

Before dinner I got myself a foot massage. Much needed after my 22k step day yesterday and my 12k day today!! For an hour it was $6!!

We just have dinner left for tonight. Then an early wake up call for some more elephant time!!

When I got back from dinner we had lost power to some of the cabins….mine was one of them. Bummer no lights or charging, glad I got my battery pack

**Boots update: she was here in my room after I got back from dinner. This time inside the mosquito net!! Smart cat. So she’s in bed with me right now.

Bangkok: Day 2

As was so accurately pointed out to me, I did not explain why I am in Bangkok. I have set out on a two week holiday in Southeast Asia. Ill be spending most of my time in Thailand, followed by a few days in Malaysia and ending the trip in Singapore. I decided on SE Asia because originally I had hoped of doing Vietnam with my dad, but that wasn’t going to be a reality this year, so I decided to check out other options and heard great things about Thailand. I added Malaysia and Singapore because of the close proximity to Thailand.

As was so accurately pointed out to me, I did not explain why I am in Bangkok. I have set out on a two week holiday in Southeast Asia. Ill be spending most of my time in Thailand, followed by a few days in Malaysia and ending the trip in Singapore. I decided on SE Asia because originally I had hoped of doing Vietnam with my dad, but that wasn’t going to be a reality this year, so I decided to check out other options and heard great things about Thailand. I added Malaysia and Singapore because of the close proximity to Thailand.

So far Bangkok has not disappointed. Everything is covered in gold. Ok, maybe not everything, but everything important. From the temples to Budha to the palace to roof tiles. The city glistens. It also is very dirty and depressing with the thousands of shanty like houses to run down apartment buildings. And you can’t not see these things. Unlike other big cities that attempt to hide their low income areas, this city does not. And I appreciate that.

I decided to walk from my hotel to the Golden Mount. It was about a 3 mile walk, in 90* heat. Doing this allowed me to see so much more of the city than a vehicle would have. I passed by the hospital, a dozen temples (they really are everywhere), ended up walking down tiny little alley ways where I was not only the only white person, but at some points the only person in the alley.

And then, boom there it was. The Golden peak of the temple. I managed to find a back entrance because of Google maps, and it was super neat to walk through the monk’s quarters. Women are absolutely not allowed to touch the Monk. You cannot even brush up next to them. If a monk wants to hand a woman something they set it down and the woman picks it up. I stay clear of bumping into the Monks I see, don’t want to cause any unnecessary disrepsect.

I made the 344 stair climb to the top of the Golden Mount and had a beautiful 360 degree view of the city. I took my time (as advised by many other travel blogs) and managed to enjoy the climb even in the heat. There are bells and gongs you can ring and beautiful views to stop and take in. I was following these two girls  from China (crazy enough I can somewhat distinguish the Chinese and Japanese from other Asian countries, I just  can’t tell those two apart!) Anyway, all of a sudden I realized they wanted to take a picture with me. So one by one they took a picture with me. I laughed and held up a peace sign. They were so excited.  Once I took in the views, Bangkok has some pretty cool architecture (modern) that puts Salesforce tower in SF to shame (tallest building I’ve worked on). I decided to treat myself to a frozen treat and drink. Sadly they had no water on top!! I couldn’t believe it. So I settled for a lemon lime/cola frozen treat and a Sprite. All for less than $1.50!

After Golden Mount I headed to the see some smaller sites on my way to the Emerald Budha. I saw two more temples. The first one was a temple that held 52 of something. For the life of me I can’t remember the word, essentially they were Golden worshippers all facing Budha.

The second temple was in honor of a famous Thai poet. It was actually a pretty boring temple as far as gaudiness on the inside, but it had stairs to walk up to the rooftop and get another 360 degree view of the city. At that height you were about some of the peaks on the temple and could really see the detail that has been put into making and keeping things colorful.

I realized I should probably stop and eat something so I ventured to where Google highly recommended. Apparently many people had my idea though. I waited about 15 minutes for a seat, and once I ordered I waited about 30 minutes for my food. But I was not complaining at all!! I had a glass of ice water, air conditioning and my Kindle (Heidi, this is seriously like my most used gift ever!!). I ordered crab stir fry and it came with some rice. It was super yummy!! I figured it would be a more expensive meal, and it was even cheaper than dinner!! Ringing up to around $6.50. I had read before I came that they give you a spoon and fork to eat with. And that you should use the fork to put food on the spoon and eat with the spoon. I am a firm believer in spoons being for ice cream, yogurt and cereal….but when in Thailand…

Well fed, rehydrated and slathered with sun screen I continued my now very hot walk to the Emerald Budha. There was little shade on my route, but I did manage to find some under an awning when I was taking a picture of the giant swing. (apparently Thai boys used to ceremoniously swing on this swing and try to reach for a pot of gild, stand remains actual swing is gone).

The Thai tourist industry in Bangkok revolves around getting you on a long boat for a tour. This Thai lady noticed I was a tourist and asked where I was going while waiting to cross the street. I told her and she insisted that it was closed today and that I should take a boat tour. I told her I already had and immediately she walked away. I was sad to hear it was closed, but to my very happy surprise it was not!! The Emerald Budha is at the Grand palace grounds. As I was entering a lady (Cindy) came up and offered me a tour for 1000 baht. Roughly $35, for a one hour tour of the grounds. This didn’t include the 500 baht entrance fee. (everywhere else had been 50 baht, about $1.75). I decided since I didn’t know anything about what I have been seeing and the translations haven’t been good, I would pay Cindy and hope to learn something. She gave me a wrap to put around my waist as this is the most strict temple as far as dress code. Normally my shorts are long enough but not the case here. She wrapped me up and on our way we went. She walked with authority, didn’t care if she walked in front of someone’s picture, if she hit them in the head with her umbrella or talked too loud. I learned a lot about the temple, the palace and the Grand Palace (yes two palaces). I also learned that Clinton and Bush have stayed in the palace and that the current king lives in neither one.

At the end of the tour Cindy tried to get me on a damn long boat again. But she was super respectful of the fact I’d already been on one and encouraged me to save time and money by taking the water taxi back to my hotel. She guided me on how to get there and we parted ways.

I took a tuk tuk to the dock and hopped on a river crossing boat to get to my water taxi. I spent less than $0.10 to cross the river and $0.50 for my 20 minute water taxi back to the bridge near my hotel.

I walked the 10 minutes back to my hotel and was so happy to sit in air conditioning again, I just sat in the lobby for like 20 minutes before I grabbed my taxi to the airport. My taxi driver wanted to take my picture – I must be an odd looking white girl, since I’ve had my picture taken like I’m an attraction today!!

I got to the airport and realized I’d be arriving to my hotel after I’d be comfortable walking around so I had dinner at the airport. My meal was 60 baht ($2) and my water was $0.30, but I also wanted something sweet so I got a blueberry muffin. The muffin was $3!! More than my meal and water. But it was like a blueberry pound cake with the blueberry compote in the middle, good investment I say.

My one hour and 15 minute flight was tight. The rows are so close together. But crazy enough the seats are wider here. They also won’t let you use electronics during take off and landing, super annoying. I didn’t even make it through a 40 minute show. I saw a lightening storm from the sky, that was pretty spectacular.

I landed grabbed my bag and headed to catch my ride to the hotel.  Cute little hotel. Hard bed, which I like, and some much needed rest.