Friday, January 21, 2011

Good Bye Beaches, Hello Northernn Thailand

Hi everyone, today I am in Chiang Mai the northern part of Thailand with Brendan and his friend Ryan.

My last look at Railay Beach. Because Railay East is a very shallow piece of water, you ride in these boxy, homemade 4x4 trucks from the waterline to about 200 feet out where the water is deep enough for the longtail boats, which was just over a foot deep at most. As they drove us out to the boat to drop us off, they also were loading food and supplies from another longtail into the truck to take back to the shops on the beach.

Once I was on the longtail, I had a short ride to the pier at Krabi Town, where I caught a mini-bus. That mini-bus took everyone on a ride to the 'bus station', where we waited around for an hour and a half. It was really just a shack off the road with overpriced junk food, and I passed the time talking politics mostly with some Brits and Aussies. Naturally the ticket seller lied to me and everyone else when they said it was a direct bus all the way, because it certainly was not the case. At around 5pm, we left the 'bus station' in another mini-bus, which we rode in for almost two hours to another shack down a dirt road in who knows where. There, we only had a few minutes to get on the real bus, no time to eat or anything. The bus played the new GI Joe movie, which was just as bad as I expected it to be, but still a decent way to kill time on the long ride. For some reason the toilet was locked, and unlike the buses that make too many stops, this one didn't seem to stop at all and I just about had to pee in a bottle. At just past midnight we finally stopped at a food stand where poor quality and overpriced food was unenthusiastically consumed, then we hopped back on the bus for the rest of the drive.

At 5:15am, well before sunrise, the bus arrived in Bangkok and I had a lot of time to kill. I'm not a coffee drinker, but I got less than 4 hours of uncomfortable sleep on the bus, so I stopped at a little stand that served coffee and fried dough for 20 baht to keep me awake for the long day ahead. I wandered back down Khaosan Road, which actually does sleep apparently, then sat down on a bench on one of the main roads to read my book and wait for sunrise.

At 8am, I went to the hotel I had stayed at with Nick's family to pick up my passport I'd left with them three weeks earlier and picked it up with my new Indian visa. They charged me 3100 when I'd paid for it, but when I got there I was told it was actually 4000 baht and I needed to pay the rest of it. I was a bit annoyed, but that price was inline with the priced I'd been quoted from other places when I was looking where to get it, and still well below the 'official' price of 6800 baht. I then paid 100 baht for breakfast, but the food is good and all you can eat, plus they have wifi. So I sat around their lobby eating for two hours until the food was put away, then another 3 hours taking care of business on the computer and then just killing time. With my visa ready, now all I needed to meet Sazzy in India was my plane ticket.

Because Brendan was arriving at 2am or so, I went ahead and got a room for both of us to stay in. I picked one right on Khaosan because that is where I told him to meet me, and because it is a crazy scene to witness. I ended up with a room in Lak Guest house, because it was cheap, 260 baht, was right across from where I told Brendan to meet me, and had a cool rooftop deck with some decent views. The room was what you expect for that kind of price on Khaosan, but it ended up being a poor choice. What I didn't know was that it was above one of the loudest clubs on the road, and the bass was shaking our room way up on the 5th floor well past 4am...

Ok first of all let me just say I'm not nearly as tan as this picture makes me look! I've been on the beach for a long time up until now, but that looks like some Jersey Shore levels of tanning! Weird lightning or something... Anyways, Brendan arrived about when I expected, shortly before 2am, and after putting his things down we walked around the area, chatted for a while and went to sleep quite late. Brendan was kind enough to bring a package from my mother containing some brownies marzipan. Thanks for the treats!

In the morning we moved into a different guest house on the other end of Khaosan, 7 Holder Guest House (10 baht less and much quieter), and since I knew the area a bit from my last time in Bangkok I took Brendan around the area. Because I thought Wat Po was so nice last time, I was happy to go there again with Brendan and we also spent a while sitting in a park that was once the Royal Garden, and just wandered around for a few hours exploring the neighborhoods away from all the tourist attractions.

Being Asia, most people don't have cars and instead have a moto if they have a vehicle (even in Bangkok which has more cars than any other part of southeast Asia I've been to yet). Most are just 100-125cc Hondas, but there are tons of bikes around and from time to time you see a really nice one like this vintage BMW. My other favorites are the mini-bikes, not sure what they are called, but are about pit-bike size but use the same 125cc engine as the normal motos, and the 125-150cc sport bikes. Being out here really makes me want to buy a motorcycle, but I'm going to try and resist!

In the evening, again there was lots of time to kill. Brendan’s friend who we would also be traveling with was arriving at about 2am so we walked around some more, I bought my plane ticket to India (February 2nd, very excited!), and we waited on Khaosan. These were just two crazy Swedish brothers we met while sitting at the bar. They had wasted lots of money in wigs, hill-people hats, and trinkets like the annoying wood frogs people sell everywhere, and were quite amusing. Brendan's friend Ryan finally arrived at 3:15am, and we rather promptly went to sleep in what was probably the most uncomfortable bed I've had yet.

In the morning, the three of us took off walking and we went to a small park by the river. Brendan and Ryan are both big birders, and we sat on a bench for a while just looking at birds that were new to them. We had the bus to Chiang Mai at 5:30 so we couldn't make big plans for the day and just wandered around until we got tired of walking. We did come across a weird little place behind an old fort wall that sold all kinds of fireworks (not very good prices), walked through a market that was I think devoted entirely to Buddhist nick-naks, among other local discoveries.

At 5:30pm, we took off for the bus, and had an uneventful overnight ride to Chiang Mai which is 12 hours away and in the very north of the country. I managed a bit more sleep on this ride than the last one, but still not great. The bus dropped us off and we were then loaded onto a mini-bus and drive into Old Town, where they then dropped us off in front of the guest house they were hoping we would stay at. We kept walking of course, and found another place farther down the street. I was glad to be out of Bangkok and back in a smaller city.

Once we were situated in our rooms, we rented three bikes and headed off for the Warorot Market to get some breakfast and look around. I haven't ridden a bike since Phnom Phen with Nick and Ellen, and it was fun to be back in the saddle. We walked through the market, ate at two different food stalls and went on our way riding around the town.

One of our main stops for the day was Wat Phra Sing one of the many wats in Chiang Mai. I'm not sure the reason for it, but Chang Mai is second to only Bangkok in terms of the number of wats it has, which means you seem to see one every few blocks. We have two right near our guest house that are both surrounded in similar white walls, confusing us on more than one occasion already. Like many others, this complex houses a number of different buildings and Buddha images, including the 'Lion Buddha' which is the oldest and most revered in the area, arriving in the 1360s. The Wat is nice, but seeing this after seeing the wats in Bangkok is sort of like my diving experience: starting out at some of the biggest and best makes everything else seem a little underwhelming in comparison.

This complex housed a school of about 1,100 students, including a school for monks. We hadn't planned on doing one of the 'monk chats' but as we sat down at a table to decide what to do next we were approached by one monk, then another. The idea is to be able to ask the monks questions, and they get to practice their English skills. The two monks we ended up chatting with were both 19 and had been studying together for 6 years. It was pretty interesting to talk with them, about subjects such as how monks couldn't play sports of music, why people become monks, that it is hard for those who become monks to get into university later on, and that one of them liked Chang Mai University 'because it had lots of girls' haha...

Speaking of Chang Mai University, it was the next stop of the day. About 2km from Old Town, we rode down a large road and into the main entrance. Some sort of graduation is happening soon, and students were out in their caps and gowns getting photographed everywhere we looked. The university isn't supposed to be much to look at, but is situated on a tree and grass covered campus at the base of the 'mountain' that overlooks the city. There Brendan and Ryan saw a number of new birds, and we ran into a 18 or 19 year old missionary from Montana who was teaching English to students as part of his training.

We then took a long, late lunch and headed back to the room with plans of relaxing a bit and then heading out in the evening. Instead, exhaustion seemed to catch up to all of us and by the time we had woken up at about 10:30pm, we quickly realized we were not going to get out that evening, and should take a rest day the next day as well.

In the morning, we woke up to return the bikes to the shop (since we were expecting to ride to the bar last night), went out to breakfast, and then went back to the room to plan. After some planning, we headed out and wandered into one of the many previously mentioned wats to look around. It contained a building and Buddha from the 1400s, and strangely enough a statue of Donald Duck with chopsticks...

In our efforts to find transport tomorrow, we returned to the Warorot Market which was much more interesting this time. We entered the dry-good section and clothing section, which had a big screen TV showing music videos, and people working stands were dancing a bit. Also, for some reason there was a guy in a military-style uniform and a microphone walking around talking. I wish I knew what he was saying! At the market I bought a new hair brush (still getting used to this long hair thing) and some avocados, I think the first I've seen here in se-Asia!

At the moment the three of us are sitting at a restaurant where we all had some great curry dishes, and are using their wifi. Tonight we are going to go to a bar for some live music, and tomorrow into the park to see a view of the city and do some nature watching (well, birding in particular). Until next time!