Thailand

Trip Start Aug 25, 2010
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Trip End Jun 30, 2011


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Thursday, February 3, 2011

~~~TWENTY DAYS AROUND THAILAND~~~

 January 14th, Friday - China


After school ended I had an entire week to do nothing but think about Thailand so when Friday arrived I couldn't have been more anxious to start the twenty day adventure I had been dreaming up ever since I saw Nick’s pictures two years ago. But the first order of business was a quick purchase of swim trunks before meeting up with everyone else since I didn’t own a pair and they would be a MUST in Thailand.  Before I knew it, the six of us were on a train to Shenzhen, then bus to the airport, and off to Bangkok!  Aaron’s brother and childhood friend, Jason and Ben, had flown from Washington to travel with us for the next couple weeks so when I saw them waiting at 3:00am in Bangkok’s terminal I knew it was official… LET THE VACATION BEGIN!  I’d be traveling with my mom for most of the trip so I wouldn’t get a chance to go crazy with the boys much since we planned our vacation a bit different, but I made sure to overlap three full days with the crew – later self proclaimed free birds.  After a quick 'Hi’ and ‘Bye’ I left the flock, caught a cab, met my mom at the Marriott, and passed out.

January 15th, Saturday - Bangkok

We woke up early and headed for breakfast, which was hands-down the highlight of my day.  Being in China, you forget what it’s like to eat normal food so instead of the basic rice stew, noodle soup, or rice with vegetables, I went wild.  Omelets, potatoes, bacon, sausage, Cheese and bread, exotic fruits, smoothies, milk, cereal, jam, and coffee while actually able to eavesdrop on people’s conversations… it was pretty cool.  After my food binge Mom and I took a water taxi shuttle into the city to visit the Bangkok weekend market.  I’m not going to get into that too much because it was just like any other market in China:  A million people everywhere and tons of shops basically selling the same thing.  I did buy a pair of $7.00 flip-flops and a $2.50 T-shirt though which would be a lifesaver since I only packed half a backpacks worth of clothes for the trip -- The coolest thing about that market was the coconut water: A young coconut with a hole chopped in the top for the straw.  After shopping for a few hours I went back to the hotel with Mom, had some dinner, took a hot tub, tried to lift a few weights in the gym (which I’m still bitter about since I discovered I was stronger as a sixteen-year-old then now), and went to bed.

January 16th, Sunday - Bangkok

Today was a travel day so we checked out of the hotel and just chilled by the pool till 6:00pm where we then took a cab to the Bangkok train station to board the 7:15pm, eleven hour overnight ride to Chumphon.  We had a sleeper car that I thought was supposed to be nice, and it would have been if Thailand didn’t have the bumpiest rail system I’ve ever experienced, but it was really hard to sleep.  However, we did arrive on time and transferred to a catamaran ferry that took us to Koh Tao, a small island in the Gulf of Thailand.  Before I jump into Monday I need to talk about the three-hour ferry ride because it was hilarious.  It was like 6:00am when we boarded, I’m exhausted and the only thing that’s keeping me going are the scrambled eggs and toast some local was slanging on the street outside the train station.  I thought I’d be able to just pass out on the boat and wake up ready for Koh Tao, but what I forgot about was the stormy weather that day and small ferries don’t mix well with big waves.  When we sat down in our seats, a guy came around and passed puke baggies to everyone and within the first five minutes of our journey I was outside on the top deck with my fellow nauseous teammates.  The nights box scores were about 50/50 regarding puking and the only reason my name wasn’t added to the puking stat was because I looked at one dot on the ground the entire time praying I didn’t embarrass myself in front of the amazingly gorgeous girl standing next to me.  And yes, Mom puked, but she toughed it out in our original basement seats where it was the bumpiest.

January 17th, Monday – Koh Tao

We docked at Koh Tao around 9:30am and were met by a driver from our hotel, the Haad Tien Beach Resort.  Koh Tao, known as "Turtle Island", only covers an area of about 13 square miles and is most famous for its scuba diving and snorkeling, the perfect beach island to relax without metros, skyscrapers, and pollution.  After checking in and exploring the property Mom and I took the hotel shuttle back into town to sign up for a snorkeling trip and check out the most populated beach where all the restaurants and action were (Sairee Beach).  After walking up and down the beach we found a restaurant for an early dinner.  The restaurants were so legit; they all lined the beach and had huge decks jetting out with beanbag chairs that you could lounge on and relax, just looking out at the sun setting over the water with a drink in your hand.  Although we ordered an actual meal, there were guys my age with only a simple coke set on the table, using the restaurants Wi-Fi and just chillen for hours upon end without a bothering waiter pressuring another order.  The vibe was unreal because there was no concern about hustling tourists or trying to make $$, everyone was laidback with no real care in the world.  After dinner we caught the shuttle to the hotel and went to bed so we’d have some energy for the next days adventure.

January 18th, Tuesday – Koh Tao

Mom and I woke up early, had a huge breakfast and got ready for the long day.  An 8:00am pick up and we were off to our boat with snorkel gear in hand, ready for some tropical fish.  Overall, snorkeling in Thailand was absolutely amazing but it still didn’t crack #1 on my list – Yes, Hawaii, you still, and probably will forever, have the title; second place isn’t bad though.  I hadn’t done legit snorkeling like this for about five years and I forgot how cool swimming with fish are.  I think I saw every color in the rainbow that trip, and on a few occasions on one fish.  However, the most memorable experience that day wasn’t the fish but my first encounter squaring up face to face with a shark.  The first bay we stopped at was called, "Shark Bay," proving its name three different times.  We hit four bays that morning and ended at the most beautiful beach I have ever seen.  I mean, it’s one of those beaches you see on posters and are like, “Damn, where in the world is that?!” Koh Nang Yuan is the name of the baby island and it’s beach, and there’s nothing left to say about the place besides: look at the pictures, there’s a great viewpoint you can hike to, and it’s snorkeling had the best fish.  Mom and I did it all in the two hours we had there -- we hiked to the viewpoint, snorkeled, walked the beach, and got some beers at the beach bar. 

The Free Birds had gotten in earlier that day so I was excited to meet up with them and hear all their stories and kick it for the evening.  After an hour of debriefing and a million laughs the Free Birds and their newest member sought out a local Thai to book a private long-tail boat for an afternoon the next day – we all wanted to do something together and since the snorkel trip Mom and I did was so fun everyone decided they wanted to do it too.  After setting a price and time, the eight of us searched for some dinner and stumbled upon a BBQ - for $5.00 I got two shish kabob meat and vegetable sticks, corn on the cob, and a baked potato.  After we finished, we walked to one of the beach restaurants, kicked it on the lounge cushions, ordered a few drinks and watched a fire show before everyone said goodnight and went to their rooms.

January 19th, Wednesday – Koh Tao

We woke up around 8:30am and by 9:15am the boat was coming towards our beach with all the boys in it.  Because the first stop for our snorkel trip was in Shark Bay and our hotel happened to be in the same location it was easiest to just pick us up there.  That day was perfect for snorkeling, not a cloud in the sky, no wind, no waves, and HOT.  Shark time!  We all jumped in and it only took a few minutes before we saw our first one, a four-foot shark swimming about ten feet underneath us.  I know a four footer is no Great White, but swimming right above an actual shark in its habitat definitely got my juices flowing.  Everyone eventually saw at least one and back to the boat we went because besides the sharks, not many fish were hanging around; I don’t blame ‘em though!  Ao Hin Wong was our next stop and what happened here was wild because we brought a ton of bananas after the locals said that’s how you attract the fish - apparently they love bananas?  So we tried it from the boat first, throwing a chunk overboard near us, and, no joke, close to 100 swarmed around doing their best to squeeze in and get a bite.  Game time.  We all jumped in and started swimming towards the clump of fish.  It was almost like cheating because the boat driver would throw chunks around our area every so often and attract everything in the bay (there were so many you could actually reach out and touch them before they swam off).  Nick has a digital camera that’s also waterproof so we all decided to get individual shots underwater with the fish surrounding us.  We each had a banana chunk above the water and when it was someone’s turn he’d just drop the banana, wait about ten seconds, dive as deep as possible to pose in the middle of the school. 

As our time was winding down (we only had the boat for four hours) I wanted to show the Free Birds Koh Nang Yuan, so our driver dropped us off for a couple hours to explore and do everything Mom and I did the day before.  Most of the snorkeling happens right next to the beach around the rocks in the lagoon, but Sean and I decided to explore the outer bay to see if we could find anything else cool.  Like I said earlier, Koh Tao is mostly famous for it’s scuba diving and the outer part of Koh Nang Yuan is best for that so naturally we headed there.  We were about half way out when we saw this giant fish swimming by itself so Sean and I started following, swimming as fast as we could to stay over it.  As soon as it got out of reach we turned around to swim back but some girl was waving at us to come over and when we got close she started laughing.  We were confused as to why until she said we were following a triggerfish, an extremely territorial fish that if provoked or threatened will attack and can leave a nasty bite worth up to seven stitches.  I was amazed because the fish was so beautiful but we decided not to mess around out there anymore and headed towards the beach to catch a boat back to the main island.  After a late group lunch, Mom and I said ‘goodbye’ to the boys and parted ways for what would be five days.  We caught a shuttle home and hung out on our beach till dinnertime.  I wanted her to see the BBQ and fire show so at 6:30pm we went back to the main beach and got some drinks at one of the beach bars – where they had the bean bag lounge chairs– and relaxed before dinner and the show.

January 20th, Thursday – Railay

Today was another travel day so we checked out and caught a boat back to Chumphon around 10:30am where we would take a six-hour van down the southern strip of Thailand to the deep south.  It was cool because since we were traveling during the day I got to see the Thai countryside apart from the other tourist-run-areas.  We arrived in Krabi at 6:30pm just before sunset and took a long-tail boat to Railay where we would spend the next four nights and three full days.  Railay was probably the coolest place we visited because it was unlike anything I’ve ever seen.  It’s a small peninsula that jets out into the Andaman Sea.  There are no roads for cars or bikes and it’s only accessible by boat because of the high limestone cliffs cutting off mainland access.  These cliffs attract the best rock climbers from all over the world, – something we were able to watch – but the area is also famous because of its beautiful beaches and relaxing atmosphere.  Railay has four main sections in the area that Mom and I explored: Railay West, Railay East, Phra Nang (known as Princess Beach), and a clump of islands in the distance called Chicken Island and Poda Island.  Railay West is layered with white sand, is the best spot for swimming, and like I previously mentioned, blocked off by two large limestone cliffs on either side… an ideal place to stay and hang out.  Railay East is the mangrove side of the peninsula, used by long-tails as transportation to and from Krabi.  It’s not good for swimming or sunbathing because it doesn’t have a beach but most of the restaurants and bars are on this side.

January 21st, Friday – Railay

Like every day on this trip, we woke up early and had an amazing breakfast at Railay Bay Resort and Spa’s buffet - just like in Bangkok, this place had everything.  Before we knew it the time had reached 10:30am and we needed to figure out what to do.  Kayaking is very popular at Railay because there are caves, coves, and small beaches everywhere so we rented one for four hours and paddled off into the open sea.  The Kayaking was awesome because we were able to explore the whole peninsula and everything the area had to offer.  We found a private beach with a cliff that I could jump off, small caves to climb in along the coastline, massive jellyfish bobbing up and down in the crystal clear water (like in Finding Nemo), and small limestone cliffs randomly spread throughout the ocean.  After seeing everything around our location – literally everything – we were exhausted and wanted to relax a bit at Phra Nang, recently voted one of the top 10 most beautiful beaches in the world and described by Wikitravel as arguably the finest beach in Thailand, if not southeast Asia.  It was cool just relaxing a bit, and swimming and exploring on the beach because the wandering eventually led us to a path where we had our first monkey encounter – even though monkeys were everywhere from there on out, seeing one jump around in the trees and interact with others for the first time was pretty sweet.  There’s also a popular viewpoint that looks over Railay so I wanted to find it, but after we saw the starting point was basically the beginning of a vertical climb, Mom returned to the beach and said to come back in a hour or so.  I gripped the rope that was hanging down and began my adventure.  It took about twenty minutes but was well worth the effort because the view was awesome!  After catching my breath and taking a few pictures, some lady told me that if I kept going on the path there was a lagoon that was worth seeing.  Naturally, I couldn’t say ‘No’ so I started the journey up the path, sorry Mom - she would have to wait longer, a lot longer.  It took forever to get down to ground level (the lagoon was surrounded completely by the limestone cliffs that obviously had an underground hole somewhere because it was fed by the ocean) but luckily it was high tide so I saw it.  The hike was unlike anything I had ever experienced, I felt like I was in Jurassic Park’s ‘The Lost World’ because all civilization had disappeared and I was scaling down rocks with thick canopy and palms over my head; it was so intense there was a European family with their kids strapped in rock-climbing gear/ropes, lowering them down from one cliff to the next.  Anyway, thirty minutes later I made it safe and sound to the lagoons ground level to take some pictures and hang out for bit before I made the trek back up to the viewpoint, then down to the beach. 

When I got back we hopped into the kayak, cruised a bit more around Phra Nang’s cliffs and headed back to Railay.  Railay in the evening is real cool too because around sunset the tide is way out and the locals bring out a volleyball net and mini soccer goals.  It begins as all locals, but eventually someone gets the nerve to join in until the ratio is around 50/50.  I was in no mood to run or play after my hike and day of kayaking so I sat on the lounge chair, looked out at the sunset, and watched.  The night before Mom and I ate at a BBQ on the west side near our hotel so we decided to walk the beach and check out a restaurant on the other side of Railay West.  This side is where the backpackers normally stay so there were more food options available at a cheaper price.  We got another BBQ (I was obsessed with them most of the trip) but decided to try something new this time, shark, to accompany the usual potato, beer, corn, and a banana pancake for desert – I mean, if I conquered the sea swimming with one, I figured I should step up my game and eat one.

January 22nd, Saturda– Railay

We woke up real early today, 6:20am, because we were meeting a long-tailed boat at 7:00am to see the surrounding islands before they got crowded with tourists in the afternoon.  We had four hours to snorkel and hang out on the different beaches, but most importantly, take a picture I had dreamed about after seeing Nick’s in his college room – I call it "The Poster Picture.”  It’s one of those tropical pictures that no words can describe and when he told me he took it at Railay, I immediately knew I had to do the same someday.  We were the only ones on the water that morning and the sun was shining on the cloudless day with Mom and I island hopping and snorkeling – it was a great four hours.  We first toured Chicken Island to let the sun get a bit higher for the picture at Poda but because the tide was still pretty low we couldn’t dock anywhere so we circled the island from the long-tail.  Eventually we got to Poda, docked on the beach near to the limestone rock and climbed out excited to get the perfect shot.  It was hard for the driver to move the boat so we were basically stuck with its current position and had to just work with it.  After snapping around twenty photos, and hoping one was similar, we spent a good chunk of time walking the beach.  I know Phra Nang is supposed to be one of the top beaches in the world but I liked Poda better because the beach has a bend to it that I have never seen before.  Rumor had it that Chicken Island was amazing for snorkeling so eventually we decided to leave that piece of paradise and search for the next one.  We found it in a small cove on the island and spent an hour snorkeling and feeding the fish.  Before we knew it our time was up and back to the mainland we headed, but instead of going back to Railay we had our driver drop us off at Phra Nang for the day. 

The beach has a real cool food system because since there are no restaurants: long-tailed boats are docked on the beach with a fully equipped kitchen selling coconut water, banana pancakes, hamburgers, smoothies, pad thai, pineapple fried rice, beer, and chicken.  We got some pineapple fried rice, banana pancakes and coconut water and set up shop on the beach.  After a couple hours swimming, napping, and people watching we started getting burnt and took a path around the limestone cliff that disconnected Railay and entered basically through the back door.  Originally we were going to leave Railay the next morning and journey to Koh Phi Phi but we weren’t ready yet so I went online and booked one more night to delay the inevitable ending. 

Mom wanted to get a pedicure (or whatever girls do at a spa) so I was alone for the next few hours.  Obviously I had to so something so I went to the quickie mart down the beach, got a few beers and different snacks, wandered back to the beach, spread out in front of our hotel, popped my ipod in, and before I knew it I was sleeping.  (I think the hardest decision I made that day was whether or not to cool down in the ocean; the sun was scorching hot and I was dripping in sweat but no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t move… decisions, decisions, so hard to choose).  After the sunset and a nice shower, Mom and I started walking towards the east side of Railay to explore the restaurants, and just like we had done almost every night before, we predictably chose, yes, another BBQ.  But this spot was different because of the exotic shish kabob choices.  I ended up getting crocodile and Mom got barracuda. 

January 23rd, Sunday – Railay

We basically did everything around Railay the past two days so today we wanted to just relax at the hotel, swim in the pool and ocean, listen to music, and eat some good food.  This was the first day in a while we had no plans so it felt real nice to have nothing on our plates.  Time flew and before we knew it we had an hour till sunset.  Since it was our last night I wanted to go out with a bang and do something memorable so we decided to rent the kayak again and take it on the water to watch the sunset.  The idea sounded good but when we got out, probably 45 minutes till sunset, the water had a strong current that was too much work, so we paddled around the cliff and saw Phra Nang – EMPTY.  All of a sudden we both knew where we’d be watching the sunset and started paddling towards our own private beach.  After seeing a perfect sunset, there was nothing left to do there but slowly paddle back while enjoying our last night on Railay.  To celebrate Railay we ate some traditional Thai food at the resort before bed. 

January 24th, Monday – Koh Phi Phi

Today was another travel morning, but since Koh Phi Phi is so close to Railay, the 9:30am boat ride only took two hours.  The Free Birds were also meeting us on the island and had arrived the day before so Aaron was waiting for us at the dock when we arrived and showed Mom and I a simple place to stay for the next two nights.  Phi Phi is unlike any other island I have seen because of the million shops consuming the walkways that sell clothes, food, tour packages, and stuff like that.  Just like Railay, there are no cars but it didn’t matter because Phi Phi’s so small you can walk everywhere - it wouldn’t even show up as a speck on the world map.  The island we stayed on, Phi Phi Don, is the largest of the six Phi Phi islands and consists of two main sections.  From what I learned the next two days Phi Phi Don is basically just a party island for backpackers to go wild on at night, sleep in, and be lazy throughout the day – a completely different vibe than what Mom and I just experienced.  Mom hadn’t done much shopping yet so she wanted to explore the island and it’s shops, which was the perfect excuse to hang out with my boys, except the only one up was Nick (Aaron went back to bed after he showed us a hotel).  Luckily he was down to do something fun so we met up at the beach and rented a kayak for the afternoon and cruised over to monkey beach, a small place where a ton of monkeys live and run wild.  Nick and I bought some bananas and peanuts to feed them but it's a crazy feeling because they literally just take it from your hand like a human.  We hung out for about thirty minutes but eventually a monkey is, well, just a monkey, so Nick and I hopped back into the kayak and paddled across the cove to a different spot that was recommended to us as having a beautiful private beach hugging a lagoon.  It took about 20 minutes of hard paddling but we eventually turned the corner and saw it for the first time.  Paradise!  We docked our kayak once again and immediately put our snorkel gear on and explored.  When there was nothing left to see we swam back to the beach and just kicked it for a while before making the journey back. 

By the time we reached mainland, and after eating some pizza, Tim, Jason and Aaron had finally woken up and met us on the beach with a football to throw.  Eventually everyone came out, including my mom, to kick it, play some football, and watch the sunset.  What I didn’t realize though was that throughout the whole trip, the Free Birds were playing the ICE GAME, I don’t want to get into the rules or explain the meaning behind it but we played it a lot the last semester of college.  Anyway, apparently I was the only one left that hadn’t been Iced yet so someone bought a bottle and gave it to my mom.  Mom says to me, “Mark come here, I need to give you something I found while shopping.”  So naturally I walk over, but out comes an Ice and all my boys go nuts with laughter.  I was so confused.  They got me real good.  When the sun had set we all parted ways for an hour or so to shower up for dinner.  Everyone ate together, said ‘goodnight’ to Mom, and it was official, my first night going out with the free birds had started.  Thailand is absolutely insane… the partying is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced because the bars and dance floors are outside on the beach and everyone puts body paint on themselves.  That was just the beginning though.  Phi Phi had adopted the idea of buckets as its standard drink:  for $5.00 they open a pint, Red Bull, and coke, poor it all in a bucket with a straw, and hand the concoction to you with a big grin.  We each took our bucket and proudly headed for the beach.  Before the dance floor gets crackin each bar has a few guys that put on a fire show and run a jump rope / double dutch / limbo contest that we made sure to take full advantage of.  To say the least, we had a good time that night.

January 25th, Tuesday – Koh Phi Phi

Jason and Ben were leaving today for Railay so we spent the afternoon together eating lunch before they left.  After saying ‘goodbye’ to two members of team Free Bird with an honorary Icing, F2E Ventures and Mom rented another long-tailed boat for the afternoon to cruise around the additional six islands of Phi Phi.  But most importantly, we wanted to visit Maya Bay – the famous lagoon and beach where the movie, The Beach, was filmed in 2000.  The water happened to be real choppy that day so our voyage out and back was an adventure in itself ending with our clothes soaking wet but we got to see two really cool bays (Loh Samah Bay and Maya Bay) and snorkel in Maya for over an hour.  Upon returning, Mom and I parted ways from the group to shower before dinner.  Like the day before, the seven of us had another nice dinner together, said ‘goodnight’ to Mom, bought some more buckets and headed back for the beach for some games, dancing, and socializing…

January 26th, Wednesday – Chiang Mai

Today was another travel day and both Mom and I were ready to leave; Phi Phi was amazing but because the island is so small we basically saw everything it had to offer, and besides the young party vibe it had going on there wasn’t much else for a mother and son.  Unlike our previous travel days, we were about to leave the deep south of Thailand and travel to the upper north.  We caught an afternoon ferry to Phuket, got a shuttle to the airport, and flew to Chiang Mai that evening.  After touching down at 10:30pm in Thailand’s largest northern city we found a cab to our hotel, The Rim, and immediately went to bed.  Mom really wanted to experience the culture of Thailand and Chiang Mai was highly recommended for that so it would be our home for the next 3 days.  The city has long been a major center for handcrafted goods, jewelry (particularly silver), and woodcarving so I knew I’d be forced into a few shopping excursions - especially to the Night Bazaar which is probably the most famous shopping area… located in the heart of the city it’s famous for handicrafts, portrait paintings, jewelry, toys, clothing, local food dishes, and massage parlors.  There are also over 300 Buddhist temples threaded throughout the city and since Chiang Mai isn’t very big they were apparent everywhere – it seemed like every time we turned a street corner we ran into another one.

January 27th, Thursday – Chiang Mai

Mom and I both woke up excited to explore the "Rose of the North" but I think Mom had an extra jump in her step because I gave her the morning to do as much shopping as she could handle.  Like I mentioned earlier, Chiang Mai is famous for silver so she HAD to visit Silver Village to see if they had anything to make jewelry with.  After breakfast we got a map from the front desk and headed for the streets to find this village.  With the help of the friendly Thai people we found it without a problem (along with like ten temples) and started at the first shop slowly making our way down the street.  A few hours had passed and I had seen so much silver I couldn’t handle it anymore so I hinted at getting lunch and we headed back where there were some restaurants and a few parks.  The two of us both found a great restaurant down the street from The Rim and I wouldn’t have mentioned it but they had the best coconut ice cream I’ve ever tasted. 

It was my turn to pick an activity now:  I had done some research before we arrived and forty-five minutes outside Chiang Mai was a Tiger Temple where you basically get into the cage, pet them, play with the babies, and watch them interact with one another – It’s Thailand, there are no rules.  Before Mom had time to change her mind we were in a taxi headed towards Tiger Temple to meet our new friend, the Asian tiger.  Mom refused to get into the large tiger cage so after signing our lives away on the liability forms we compromised with the babies and supposed medium tigers that ended up being not ‘medium’ at all.  We first wandered in the baby den to play with the three-month-year-olds.  They were about as big as Calli when she was a baby, and, just like Calli, kept trying to bite my fingers and bat at my body; it was real funny though because they were almost identical to a naughty puppy.  After playing with the tigers for a while we decided to check out the bigger ones and wander throughout the temple.   We found two that were playing a cat and mouse game with one another so we stopped to watch for a bit, but eventually they turned playfully aggressive and we quickly left before psyching ourselves out.  The medium tigers were around three years old and didn’t look that intimidating from the outside but once we were in their home the whole ballgame changed.  My heart rate started to increase and I suddenly became more aware of my surroundings but everything went smoothly, especially when the two cage keepers helping us gave one of the tigers a coconut as a distraction.  Looking back at the experience, I think the tiger is my new favorite animal; they truly are powerful, yet graceful animals. 

On our way home, Mom apparently wasn’t satisfied with Silver Village (or she just really liked looking at metal) because she insisted we make a pit stop and tour one of Chiang Mai’s silver factories where all the jewelry is made.  Two hours later, after walking around the display room pretending to be impressed, our driver dropped us off at the Night Bazaar for… yes, even more shopping - I have to admit though the Night Bazaar was real cool, especially the dinner stalls.  I don’t know how women do it, I could run, hoop, or ski hard forever without getting that tired but shopping all day killed me, I was physically and mentally exhausted and needed a break so I got an hour Thai massage for $5.00 to cap the day off before bed.

January 28th, Friday – Chiang Mai

Following the exotic animal theme that Thailand has to offer, we booked an elephant tour at Thai Elephant Home.  I had been looking forward to this for a long time because we would be able to hang out with an Asian elephant for the day – feeding, bathing, and riding it throughout the jungle while learning about its historical existence in Asia.  We were picked up at 8:30am and shuttled to the Home, which was about forty-five minutes outside Chiang Mai.  When we arrived, Mom, a Swiss couple, a Chinese family, a lone traveler, and I were introduced to the Asian elephant’s historical importance in Thailand, and SE Asia, through a college-like lecture.  After learning the Thai commands necessary to control the elephant we wandered down a path to meet the friendly giant.  It was funny because the guides gave us all man purses filled to the brim with bananas that I thought were supposed to be slowly used throughout the day but in the next five minutes my elephant ate them all, shoving around six at a time into it’s mouth.  When I had no more bananas to give it was time to practice riding the elephant around the property before setting off on our jungle trek.  We journeyed for around an hour into the jungle on small paths and it was obvious my elephant wasn’t completely satisfied with the bananas because once in awhile he’d break off a tree branch and eat it.  When we arrived at our lunch point and climbed off the elephant, they all immediately went to a small water hole to drink and spray their hot bodys down which was fun to watch.  The next hour was filled with both the elephants and our group consuming food and enjoying the scenery.  After lunch everyone got back on their elephants and off we went to the mud hole where we watched the elephants get dirty in their natural spa.  When they were completely covered with mud we climbed back on and continued throughout the jungle, eventually trekking to the river.  The river was probably my favorite part because we went swimming with the elephant.  They were all very playful and provided us with a ton of entertainment, enticing a water fight by shooting us with their trunks.  I felt like a ten-year-old at Chuck E Cheese playing, washing it’s body, and messin around with my new friend.  Eventually they were all clean and it was time to return back to the Home, the only problem was we were still forty-five minutes out.  By the time we got back my thighs and butt felt like they were going to fall off from straddling the giant for more than three hours that day so I felt better when I saw the hot tea, water, and watermelon lined up to eat and drink. 

When Mom and I got home we went to the coconut ice cream restaurant, had a nice dinner, returned back to our room exhausted and a bit sore, watched a movie, and went to sleep.

January 29th, Saturday – Chiang Mai

Because Mom HAD to do a cooking class while she was in Thailand, today was another day full of culture learning authentic Thai culinary secrets.  Senior year in college was the first time I didn’t have a meal plan conveniently laid in my lap - and that year I averaged about 3-4 Quiznos and 1-2 Qdobas a week - so this was probably a good thing for me as well.  The class was hilarious because there were three couples (one pair of honeymooners, one couple that was basically married but the homie hadn’t popped the question yet, one couple that I think was newly married with a kid on the way) and Mom and I.  They were all in their early thirties and acted just like those couples you see in the ‘family Home Depot commercials’ (China won’t let me get on Youtube or I’d post the link).  Anyway, they were all real cool and I have to admit I did have a blast spending the day tasting bomb food.  We each picked an appetizer, soup, salad, stir-fried vegetable, curry, and dessert – I chose Pad Thai, Chicken Coconut Soup, Mixed Pork Salad, Chicken with Cashew Nuts, Red Curry with Pineapple, and Sticky Rice with Mango – and spent six hours cooking and eating.  But they first took us to the marketplace where all the food was bought, explaining each ingredient we would be using.  After the market tour and picking out our meals for the day, we started with phase one of the appetizer, soup, and salad and ate/socialized for a good hour – but the conversations were funny too.  Each couple was great, but because they were all basically at the newlywed stage of life the conversation ranged from basketball, to married life, to “OMG I can’t wait to make this for our friends back home,” to furniture, to “Are we going to get a cook book?” to “What do you do for a living?” to how fun this was, to “This is the best food I’ve ever had,” to this place is so cute. I felt like a thirty-year-old woman, especially when the owner brought out carrots and told us to carve them into flowers.  Just before my masculinity completely disappeared, the ‘pause button’ was hit and phase two of stir-fried vegetables, curry and the dessert began - thank God!  Phase two was my favorite because after messing up more times than I have fingers to count I started getting the hang of it and we got to play with fire while cooking the stir-fry.  After a good amount of chopping, slicing, grinding, and mixing, someone hit ‘unpause’ and the episode of Jessica Simpson’s Newlyweds began to play again.  Before we knew it all the desserts were licked clean and it was time for the goodbyes, but not before exchanging email information (obviously).  Seriously though, it was a fun time and I promised Nancy - the owner - I’d write about it so if anyone goes to Thailand and wants to spend the day at a Thai Cooking School, check out Siam Rice Thai Cookery School.  When Mom and I got back to the hotel we were both still in a trance from the food coma we experienced and passed out for a solid two hours.  Unfortunately this was Moms last day/night in Thailand before visiting Liza so she wanted to hit the Night Bazaar one last time for a massage, maybe another souvenir, and one last taste of Thailand before pasta, vino, and gelato. 

January 30th, Sunday – Chiang Mai

Since Mom’s flight wasn’t till 4:30pm, we slept in, ate a late breakfast, and chilled by the pool till it was time to go.  I went to the airport to see her off and then caught a cab back to my new hotel, Chiang Mai Plaza, to check in.  I’d be in Chiang Mai for one more full day before traveling to Bangkok to meet Tim, Aaron, and Sean so I signed up for a downhill mountain bike trip that started on the top of Doi Suthep National Park and ended at the bottom of Huay Tung Thao Lake.  After I checked in to the Plaza the last thing I wanted was to be social or explore more so I went to the pool and hung there for a bit, got a good workout in at their gym, and went back to my room for some rest.

January 31st, Monday – Chiang Mai

I woke up early to get a good breakfast before the bike trip began and was picked up around 8:00am in a shuttle that went straight to the mountaintop.  They gave us helmets, shin and knee guards, elbow pads, and biking gloves.  I didn’t know why I would need all this protection but throughout the day I would come to understand.  The all-day trip that had 1,200m (3,9370ft) in elevation change was insane: creeks, rocks, branches hanging down, no paths, nothing flat, no signs, and no rules.  Everyone flipped off the bike at least once, one guy went to the hospital after he dislocated his finger, two guys quit half way down after they had major wipeouts, and another flipped so hard he smashed his sunglasses into a couple pieces.  My only flip came when my tires got stuck in lined groves that were created from the rain water coming off the mountain; I tried getting out of it too soon and my tire got stuck in the grove.  I didn’t even have time to react and before I knew it I was super-manning over the handlebars.  Once everyone was equipped we began the descent down, stopping every so often to make sure no one had died.  The mountain was real cool because coffee fields were laced everywhere around the local mountain villages; we took a thirty-minute break at one of them and tried their local brew.  I asked our Thai guide ‘why coffee?’ and he said the area used to be full of opium fields but when the government began cracking down on the opium trade, villages were forced to grow something else and the climate was best suited for coffee beans.  I had never mountain biked quite like this before but it was a great experience, especially doing it in the mountains of Northern Thailand (The Golden Triangle)  - it kinda felt like skiing, where you never look straight down but always aim at least twelve to twenty feet ahead for a good line… but unlike skiing, my hands were on the breaks the whole time trying to keep control over the bike.  When we finally reached the bottom lunch was ready but since there was more food than people I got to eat basically as much as I wanted before the shuttle back to the hotel.  After showering and thanking God I didn’t get hurt I went out to explore the Night Bazaar one last time.

February 1st, Tuesday – Bangkok

Unfortunately my train to Bangkok left at 8:20am so I had to wake up real early to pack, have breakfast, check out, and get to the train station.  The ride was twelve plus hours but no one sat next to me, which made it a little better for space.  I like riding trains because you get to see the countryside, but countryside for over twelve hours gets real boring, and fast.  Nothing eventful happened because I didn’t have a book and there was no Wi-Fi connection so I just slept, listened to almost every song I have on itunes, reviewed my Chinese lessons, and daydreamed.  However, once I got to Bangkok everything that was boring quickly disappeared.  Bangkok sucks.  There’s nothing special to see, just a big and extremely dirty city with hustlers trying to make some bucks.  I didn’t have a place to stay but had heard of Khao San Road, the famous Bangkok street that was also featured in the film The Beach, and known as a backpackers ghetto because of the cheap accommodation and hundreds of travel agents slanging visas to Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, and Vietnam (reinforcing it’s other image as the gateway to SE Asia).  Anyway, I went to the information desk to see if anyone knew how to get there and was in the middle of my conversation before I realized a gigantic cockroach was halfway up my foot with three others crawling on the wall next to me.  These are the directions I was told:  Go outside, walk up the street to the KFC, go behind the building and wait, Bus 5 will pick you up, and in forty-five minutes you’ll be there.  So after waiting in some alley for ten minutes the number 5 actually came and I joined the 100% Thai occupied bus.  I liked the bus ride though because I got to see how bad Bangkok actually was:  Bums everywhere, ladyboys/hookers roaming the streets with stray cats and dogs and litter scattered on the ground.  I had asked the bus driver for Khao San Road and when he gave me the nod I hopped off, eager to find a place for the night.  After walking up the street and getting denied a few times by hostels that were fully booked, I went off the road a couple blocks and found a place for fifteen bucks.

February 2nd, Wednesday – Bangkok

RingRingRing, RingRingRing, I looked at my phone and Tim was calling at 6:30am.  They were in Railay and took the night train to Bangkok but were supposed to find their own hostel.  Apparently they had been denied by every hostel too and wanted to know if mine had room.  It did, and after meeting up with them at the front desk we all crashed for a few hours before exploring the hype of Khao San Road.  It’s packed during the day with street venders selling tons of clothes, Free Bird bracelets, food, and touristy souvenirs… so we spent basically the whole day people watching, shopping, and just hanging out on the road.  We thought about leaving the road to see something touristy but after looking at our options on postcards and in travel agencies, there was nothing worth seeing.  But it was real nice to be back with my friends again so I was just pumped to hangout on the road with them.  Eventually we began seeing the same stuff over and over so we headed back to our hostel to drop off our things and get ready for dinner.  What a difference nighttime compared to daytime is on the road:  All the street venders had disappeared and were replaced by dinner tables, the bars were beginning to pop off, and the vibe had totally changed.  We found a restaurant in the middle of the action and got a table facing the road.  After a little over an hour eating and people watching, we invited a group of girls to our table to mix things up and have some drinks.  They ended up being from Sweden and were traveling SE Asia for three months together; I was so jealous.  Anyway it was fun hanging out with them but eventually we all looked at each other, nodded and decided to move on to something else.  It was still kinda early for a club so we pulled our usual move and went to 7/11, got a beer, and walked the street some more meeting people and watching the local talent shows (soccer jugglers, break dancers, musicians... things like that) until we finally made the move to a club.

February 3rd, Thursday – Bangkok
 
After sleeping in and checking out, we looked for a breakfast spot.  We had done all our shopping and didn’t want to explore the city so we sat down and had a three-hour meal, which consisted of Tim icing me at the end.  Tim, Sean, Aaron and I had our ‘One night in Bangkok’ and were ready to go back to China where we would be reintroduced to the crowds, stares, language barrier, cold weather, and work. 

Goodbye Thailand; you provided some of the best moments I’ve ever had; you showed me some of the most beautiful beaches in the world; you were amazing; I will never forget you; and one day we will meet again.

*Free Bird:  Someone with no obligations, no commitments, no worries, and no plans.  Someone who is able to fly anywhere, at any moment, without letting anyone know.  Someone wanting to experience the freeness of traveling wherever the wind blows. = F2E Ventures + Jason Hallerman + Ben Thielsen
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