Chiang Mai – Day 1

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Last night we took the “sleeper train” from Bangkok to Chaing Mai. It’s about a 12 hour ride overnight and after they serve you dinner they turn your seats into bunk beds. Eric and i both ended up with top bunks. Between the swaying, the noise, the intermittent braking and accelerating, and the bright flourescent lights that were on all night…we did manage to get a 3 or 4 hours of sleep.

I’ve been on old trains before, but this one was really old. The toilet was a hole to the earth so your stuff just splatters all over the tracks. Eric couldn’t muster the courage to go #2, so he held it in all night. We got up early and went to the “dinner car”. Passing from one car to the next was a little intimidating since the two cars were moving so much. Stepping into the dinner car was like stepping back in time. All the windows in the car were completely down…big enough to fall right out of. The tables were old..like in a 50’s diner. The train crew wore unifroms that reminded me of military uniforms worn by the vietnamese officers during the war. One old Thai guy was smoking a cigarette…jsut watching the scenery. The kitchen was open into the car…and the cooking was loud and messy. It was awesome. We stayed there until we reached Chiang Mai and took about a million pictures. I don’t have any way to upload the images until i get back…so you’ll have to be patient.

Chiang Mai is pretty awesome. A lot slower paced than Bangkok, but still a major city. Eric and I agree that that much of Thailand is “2nd World” …if that even exists. Not quite 1st world, but not quite 3rd world either. The sewage smells isn’t as bad here…but it’s definitely not missing. It will be nice to be out in the woods tomorrow night. Today we basically walked and Tuk Tuk’d around the city and checked it out. We got to see cheap labor in action…the insides of a jewelery factory and an umbrella factory. There are countless street vendors selling everything from mini buddah statues to fried chicken.

I read in the LP guide that Chaing Mai started as a place where bordering counries imported things into China through Thailand. All the street markets and handicrafts made and sold here are the remnants of those days. We are heading out into the night bazar now to check out what’s for sale. Before i take off though…here’s a few things we’ve noticed during our first few days in Thailand.

  • People smile a lot more.
  • Personal space is much less (when driving or walking).
  • Hot water is a commodity and not found in most places, however…the cold water isnt cold..it’s luke warm. Probably because the earth is boiling hot from the sun everyday.
  • Nobody honks their horn unless to warn of danger. Even if they get cut off. Nobody gets mad…they all just drive crazy like it’s some kind of fun race.
  • 95% of Thai people are thin. I’m convinced it’s their diet. They don’t eat cheeese and milk like Americans do. Lots of rice, fruits, vegetables and lean meats.
  • Many wives allow their husbands to be with other woman, because they work 12 horus days 6 days per week. However, if the woman have had children, they aren’t allowed to be with other men.

Eric’s got a weblog now too. Check out his version, which probably contains much more detail, since I forget half of what happens by the end of the day.

Bangkok – Day 3

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The weather was a bit different yesterday then on wednesday and thursday. It was 94 degrees instead of 93. The humidity and the sun were the same though. For some reason i wore the same shirt two days in a row. By the time i took it off last night it had turned from white to brown, it had bird shit on it from sitting under a tree, it had blood on it and a hole in it from the cut i got while climbing a tree with nails in it (more about that later), and the neck was stretched from pulling on it i an attempt to cool myself out. It was pretty funny.

The locals really are friendly here…even in the city. Thursday when we were checking out a temple a random Thai guy came up to us and started chatting. His name was Pong. He was a tall slim man with arms like pencils..he had dark skin and a big smile. Pong sells insurance and drives a honda. He and his wife had the day off yesterday because it was Buddah Day. She was busy meditating when we met her husband. Pong’s wife is great, but she likes to follow him around…so sometimes he has to lie about what he’s up to. Pong’s got two kids…10 and 11. We know all this because Pong ended up being our friend for the day. After chatting with him at the temple and looking at our map with him, he gave us his number and told us to call him at 4pm. We did and he picked us up in the honda. He took us to the travel center. He said because he was Thai we would not get overcharged. We were skeptical, having been scammed so many times already…but it turned out Pong wanted nothing but some new friends. He is saving money to visit America one day with his family, so he was excited to make some friends from there.

With Pong’s help, we ended up booking some stuff for the rest of our trip. We’re taking a sleeper train to Chaing Mai tonight, and then on Monday we are heading into the mountains for a three day trek on foot, by bamboo raft and on elephant backs. We’re supposed to stay with the Hill Tribes…the ones you’ve probably seen in National Geographic where the ladies have the metal rings around their necks. After that we fly south the Phuket to check out the amazing beaches, do some diving and maybe some rock climbing. In Phuket we’re staying at a pretty high class hotel. Supposedly they don’t have hostels on the islands..but it’s still onbelievably cheap. We fly from Phuket to Bangkok the same night we fly home. All this stuff…flights, train, trek, 8 nights of hotels, and some meals…cost us $19,500 Baht each…which is about US$500! Cheap travel is so awesome.

So after booking our trip, Pong took us to a fancy restuarant in the nice part of town. We ate some great food, learned some great Thai and taught Pong how to say all the things you can’t find in an english dictionary. The heat and jet lag had taken a toll on us, so after dinner we went back to the hotel and got some sleep. That was Thursday night. My Bangkok – Day 2 post was made on Friday morning.

Friday was a great day. It started early. We couldn’t sleep late since the time here is flipped upside down, so we just showered and headed out. We got breakfast (chicken curry and soup) at a Thai bakery, the headed for the east par of the city. Until then we had only seen the old part of Bangkok…near the river where we were staying. That’s where most of the history and culture is. The east side of the city is more like Boston. Big buildings and clean streets. We hung out all afternoon in Siam Square. I don’t wanna say it…but it’s Bangkok’s version of Time’sSquare is the best way to describe it. Big tv’s on the outsides of buildings, music blaring in the streets, lights everywhere, and the whole scene is very fashion oriented. We saw a particularly large group of girls dressed to impress and when we saw them later we ended up being models doing a photo shoot. The photographer looked at me and i pointed to the girls then my camera. He nodded and smiled, so I got in there and took a few shots of the group of Thai girls dressed in trendy indie slash techno gear.

After Siam Square we went back to see our travel agent Nikon. He says “my name is Nikon, like the walk and carry camera, but you can call me Nicki!” We had to pay him for the rest of our flights and what not. This guy is funny. He’s a retired Thai boxer, probably mid 30’s. He showed us his shins by banging a glass ashtray on them. Now he wears a tie, makes toursits laugh and sells them trips into the more Thai parts of Thailand. Nicki sold us tickets to the Championship Muay Thai Boxking match taking place last night. We left Nicki’s place and headed to Lumphini Stadium. As the Tuk Tuk pulled up, we could feel the roar of the crowd, it was so loud. Nikci had placed Muay Thai stickers on our shirts. We thought they were souveniers, but evidently he marked us as special guests. As soon as we stepped onto the sidewalk, a girl in a Muay Thai Official jacket instantly wisked away into the stadium. We walked past the guards, through the crowds, onto the floor and were seated in the front row behind the judges in a packed stadium. Fight 2 of 7 had just begun. If you’ve never seen Muay Thai before, just imagine boxing with much smaller gloves, add elbows, knees and feet and allow one extra strike when your opponent falls to the ground. The fights were fierce as was the crowd. With each strike, the crowd chants a quick and loud grunt for whoever they’re rooting for. It added to the intensity. In the 4th fight one guy got hit so hard he fell like a brick. He tried to stand up but his legs wouldn’t work. He fell again. The fight was over and out came the stretcher. Luckily he lived and took the wheel chair out of the stadium instead. Seeing that bare shin strikes to the head are allowed…they losers don’t always live.

The stadium was not air conditioned, so the heat and the jet lag were taking their toll again. I was falling asleep on the ride home every 10 seconds. Eric had to keep yelling at me to wake up, so I wouldn’t fall out of the Tuk Tuk.

Last night was the first night we got a full night’s sleep. Today we did some shopping before leaving the west side of Bangkok for good. We dropped off our bags at Nicki’s office and he had his driver bring us to a great place to get lunch. Both Eric and I just had our best Thai meal yet. His was chicken and rice, mine was chicken pad thai. After eating, the owner of the restuarant brought us next door to his treny and hip internet cafe slash hair salon. That’s where we are now. Another good biz idea I haven’t seen in the US yet.

It’s about 3;30 here now and we’re going to head for Siam Square again now. Our train leaves at 7:30 tonight. If I don’t post tomorrow, then you won’t hear from us until the middle or end of next week, since we’ll be out on the trek.

Until then… keep it real America.

Bangkok – Day 2

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Yesterday we saw about 342 of the 8 million temples in Bangkok. The death rides on the TukTuk’s aren’t even scary anymore, however i’ve lost track of how many times scams have been attempted on us. First off we paid 650 Baht for a taxi from the airport and last night we fuond out it should of cost about 100 Baht. The TukTuk drivers try overcharging all the time…but we’ve toughened up. I jumped out the window of one after we were already in…and the guy finally lowered his price so i would get back in. It’s freaking annoying how much the tourists get harrased here. I read about it, but thought…ehh….the people have to make a living. It’s unreal though. The personal space thing and culture is so different. The drivers get right up in your face and saying NO THANK YOU even in thai, won’t get them to leave. These dudes get off their TukTuk, come talk to us and follow us, then run back to the TukTuk, drive ahead of where we’re walking, park, get offf and come talk to us again. At first we were giving in, but we quickly caught on that this is why they are so persistant. It works. It’s only been 3 days but we’ve become pretty street smart already. Oh and these drivers are also in some organized crome ring with jewelery and fashion store owners. They get you on the TukTuk and tell you they’ll take you to ALL the Temples for 40 Baht ($1), which they will…but not without stopping at the jewelery shop and suit store. The store pays for the Tuk Tuk drivers gas and in return they get a flow of confused customers to push into buying 3 Thai silk neck ties for 900 Baht, when they don’t even wear ties that often. Shit!
Oh yeah…the temples are amazing. Yesterday was a holiday here. Buddah Day. So there were lots of things going on at all the temples. People hanging out in front of the Buddah’s letting birds free, dipping flowers in water and then dripping it on their heads, lighting candles and bowing to the statues. Basically a bunch of your run-of-the-mill, wierd, religous ritualism and symbolism. I’m interested in the teachings of Buddhism though. We might take a meditation course at a temple on Saturday.
Oh there is more to tell about yesterday…but we’ve gotta get going!

Bangkok

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It’s freakin hot here. 94 degrees, the sun is blazing and and the air is massively heavy. This is a nice medium for which Bangkok’s sweet sewage smell can use to permeate the air.
On the up side…this place is insane. People drive their cars, motorcycles and Tuk-Tuk’s (motorcycle with a backseat) so recklesly…but somehow i haven’t seen a crash yet. The 40 Baht ride around the city last night was the highlight so far. Coco, our driver , tried to get us into a ping pong show….but we wern’t gonna pay 800 Baht to see that!
The flight was long…i was ready for it to be over about 8 hours into the 17.5 hours in the air. Luckily we had person screens so i watched a couple movies and played super mario brothers. I can’t believe I remembered where all the hidden mushroms were…it’s been like 15 years!
The Thai language is tough…but we’re trying. Thai’s seem to respond well when we make an effort.
Oh the hotel we got last night was 560 Baht. That’s about US$7 each! We have our own room, a private bath and air conditioning. We’re staying there again tonight. It’s call Nana Inn and it’s on this crazy street with bars and markets that are open until 1am. It’s a HUGE backpackers spot. As soon as we walk out the building we’re bombarded with people trying to sell us stuff…young Thai guy’s trying to take us away on their Tuk-Tuk’s to see the “ladies make love show” and the Thai girls talking to us and smilng at us. One girl even grabbed my arm while i was walking down the street! Blam!
We got up at 5am this morning. Still on East Coast time. Ok…we’re off to finish out walking tour of the old city….see some temples. Tonight is the Thai Boxing match.

Thailand

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On Tuesday morning Eric and I are leaving for Thailand. I will be making posts as often as possible, which could end up being daily or never…depending on where we end up. We have no plans and we’re packing light. One pair of shorts, some t-shirts, hiking gear, meds, our camera’s and our iPod’s.

It’s the rainy season in Thailand. Check out Bangkok’s 10-Day Forecast. However the word is that the rain is on and off and a refresher from the blazing heat.

The time in Thailand is 12 hours ahead of Eastern US time, but they don’t use daylight savings time, so right now they are 11 hours ahead. If the sun blows up, I’ll know before you.

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