Bangkok, Chiang Mai and to the border beyond
Trip Start Oct 17, 2007
49Trip End Feb 04, 2008
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Bangkok is a bit of a sensory overload, and being in a state of recovery from being ill in Phuket, it made things a bit more difficult to deal with. Everything is overwhelming, the traffic, the smog, the food stalls, the vendors, the crowds, the noise, the smells... it is definitely a city to be tackled in good health. I refrained from eating anything but crackers and fruit and only drank water and ginger ale when I could find it, as the thought of or the smell of any food made me nauseous.
In the evening we officially begun our tour with Gecko's and met our guide Al (that's the shortened version, his Thai name is very long) and one of the people we were touring with, named Katherine. All formalities aside, we told Al we wanted to go to some markets to have a wander, maybe get some dinner. Trying to hail a cab was one of the funniest experiences. Al, being a local, but surrounded by three tourists would stop a taxi, talk to the driver, shut the door in his face and flip him the bird. We giggled, wondering why this was happening, and Al responded with, "He's %#@ing crazy". The taxis, you see, saw us with him and were trying to charge an inflated amount for the trip, without turning on the meter. By the fourth occurrence, the three of us moved away from Al so he hailed the cab alone, and what do you know? The driver agreed to use his meter at which point the three of us came running over and piled into the back
At the markets Katherine and I went on a quest to find knee-length shorts which are not offensive in conservative South East Asia, but were slightly turned off when the vendors said to us repeatedly "It's ok, have your size, extra extra large!" Wow, thanks. That's incentive to buy, can I buy a new self esteem along with that 'cause it is now extra extra small... In all seriousness though, compared to the local population we are larger women. We only wished it was only extra large, not extra extra. Bruised egos aside we looked for food and were surprised to find an open air hawker's market, where Katherine and I shared the compulsory fruit plate and water while Scott had a Tiger with some satays. And guess what was on a big screen hovering above the market? Premier League football, Manchester United versus Arsenal. Who ever knew the Thai people were such Man United fans? Oh, the cheers, the screams of horror, the roars, the shouts they made at the big screen! They gripped their chairs and pounded their fists in the air for their favourite team! The tension was thick! Emotion ran high! I can go on with the clichés! I'll stop! Thank goodness Man United tied, I can't imagine the ruckus if they had lost. Our trip back to the hotel was pretty uneventful, and Scott only had to shut two doors in taxi drivers' faces before we got one with a meter (he did shut the doors nicely though and say thanks, and there was no bird flipping, that would make him a very rude tourist).
Our next full day in Bangkok we met the other girl on our tour, the very tardy Hannah, and jumped on the local buses to visit the Wat Pho (the Banyan Tree Temple), which has a reclining Buddha which is 46 meters long and 15 meters high
Our time in Bangkok was rounded off with some walking and shopping around and with a newfound game invented by Scott and I called "Things You Can Put on a Stick!". It's lots of fun, you should try it some time! We saw many unidentifiable foods along the streets, and I did promise myself I would be more open minded with my palate, but... easier said than done, especially when already sick. There are endless little rolled balls of stuff (meat? multicoloured?) on sticks, whole fish on sticks, bbq banana on sticks, little eggs that are obviously not from chickens (pigeon or quail?) with shells and all on sticks (one stick fits four), chicken feet on sticks... shall I go on? We also saw endless amounts of seafood and sea life and various parts of a pig, we think, and the notorious and personally distressing shark fins hanging from windows for the popular shark fin soup. This is just the tip of all the food we saw, we couldn't even identify or imagine what a lot of it was. There is definitely no fussiness in the Bangkok palate, essentially anything goes my friends!
Two days in we took the overnight train to Chiang Mai
Our sleeper train was actually pretty excellent, but c-c-cold! Set up as a bunk, the bottom seats facing each other became a bed, and the top bunk clicked down. All beds and bunks were efficiently made and organized by a very nice, quiet, but grumpy-dispositioned crew member wearing a mask who is probably sick and tired of dealing with stupid tourists and their bunk beds. Although the beds were comfortable, the lights in the cabin remain on all night (for safety and for the crew I assumed) and the air con vents are strategically placed to blast out their -30 degree air directly above the beds and onto your numb, cringing face (face, what face? Is my head still attached, because I can't feel it!), where you lie shivering miserably under your little summer blanket. Mental note: warm clothing must be accessible when in South East Asian transport! Ok, lesson learned. I think. Will inform if I remember next time.
Chiang Mai was a breath of fresh air compared to Bangkok, and we were quite sad to only have one day there, we would rather have spent three days there instead.
Our next activity was especially exciting and one of our favourite yet: Thai cooking lessons! The four of us went with our adorable teacher Pui to the markets where she taught us about different fruits and vegetables we had never seen before. We diligently followed her around with our little cane baskets, buying ingredients like happy little Vegemites (that's like good, healthy little children for you Canadians). We then went to the fabulous outdoor cooking school where we learnt how to make Pad Thai (Yummy!), red and massaman curry (Yum Yum!), chicken and coconut and tom yum soup (Mmmmm!) and sweet sticky rice with mango (Ohmagawd!)
Our evening was dominated yet again by night markets where I devoted my time to buying trinkets from people whose photo I actually wanted. Fair exchange, I say. Both parties in transaction left satisfied!
The next mode of transportation was the local bus, of the fancier, and severely over air-conditioned variety to Chiang Rai where we then switched buses to the no frills, air-conditioning via open doors held by bungee cords variety to Chiang Kong at the Laos border. Personally, I preferred the latter after we all made a mad dash to the back of the bus where there was leg room. Now, we're not being fussy "westerners", but we literally could not fit in the other seats, Scott barely squeezed in with his legs stretched out over the two seats. The back was heaps of fun though I thought, five of us thrashing around over every bump and pothole of the unsealed road, our guide Al bobbing his head up and down excessively with a big grin on his face during the 3 hour journey. It was hilarious! Particularly with my full bladder! It's funny how an uncomfortable, bumpy and slightly painful bus ride can become one of those favourite moments, but it really was for me
And the end of Thailand was upon us already... we said goodbye to Al and headed to the customs office to get stamped and board our little boat across the Mekong into Laos, where I will continue our story...
BBQ banana on a stick: 3 when sick, likely 4 if healthy
Our pad thai: 5!
Our cooking class massaman/red curry: 5!
Cooking class in general: 5+++
Smells of Bangkok: 1, for the "interesting" factor
Market shopping: 3
Bumpy bus ride: 5 for funny
Sleeper train to Chiang Mai: 4, just need to be prepared with warm clothes