Note #1: Pictures from Khao San time can be accessed via the link to the right titled, “Thailand: Days on Khao San Road.” I haven’t created a Chiang Mai album yet.
Note #2: Please scroll down to Oct 27, 2010. I recently posted three additional “Guest Blog” entries with that date. Jan Mueller has been sending me her writing and I wanted them to fit right in to the right timeframe (Hong Kong). Please scroll down and have a read!
It’s been a few days since I’ve posted, but that’s partially in keeping with my enforced slowing of pace and change of mindset in the past few days. I’ve been focusing more on writing and replying to e-mails, updating Facebook pictures a bit and letting Thailand make itself known to me rather than forcing myself to know Thailand.
Sunday evening’s Halloween and Couchsurfing get-together was fun but as I was no feeling strictly party-ish and social, I only lasted about two hours. I wore a mask part of the time, just for fun, and played a few games of pool. I talked for a short time with a very handsome Canadian, for a longer time with a Dutch girl, and for the longest with a strange guy from Austria. All in all, it was a good, mixed and friendly crew of couchsurfers, just what I’d hoped for!
That night, Sunday, I went to bed and completely sacked out until about 9am the next morning. I let myself wake up slowly and wondered vaguely what I was going to do with myself, absorbing the twinge of panic and merely closing my eyes again. After awhile, I pulled myself upright and began preparing for the day, making myself presentable, neatening my room and packing my day bag. First mission of the day, of course, was to find breakfast!
I turned right out of the little lane my hostel was situated in and followed the curve of the road to the left. There was a fair trickle of people out, primarily backpackers of all different nationalities, but not the flood the night before had seen. I quickly came across a streetside place offering Phad Thai for 30 baht ($1), so I nabbed myself a plate and a short stool and plopped down next to a nice Czech kid, with whom I began to converse cheerfully once my stomach began to get filled. Eyeing his cool fruit shake, I ordered one for myself and enjoyed the treat. Breakfast equaled out to about $2USD and was enough to tide me over for most of the day! The Czech guy did recommend that I buy my Chiang Mai bus ticket earlier rather than later, as he had tried to buy a same-day ticket and been foiled due to buses being full at several places.
After my streetside meal, I decided to make as my goal for the day Dusit Park, which seemed in walking distance on the map and which held a number of interesting sightseeing objects: the world’s largest golden teakwood museum, Asia’s finest zoo and a number of smaller attractions. So off I went, smiling and shaking my head at all the tuk-tuk drivers who decided I should be driven for ten or twenty baht, special price for madame! I was determined to walk, however, so I politely and cheerfully declined and kept on my way. My mood was good and I had a direction, so all was well! Before I quite left Khao San Road, I stopped in at one of the hundreds of travel agents and bought a one-way, overnight bus ticket to Chiang Mai, just 350 baht and leaving Tuesday evening, giving me time to wander the area for another full day.
About a third of the way to the park, a Thai man waved at me and started to talk to me. My fine mood didn’t waver as I prepared to be told that Dusit Park was closed, but that this guy could take me elsewhere, then the ensuing gentle argument that I could walk and would just go anyway. This, however, didn’t happen! In this case, it seems the guy just wanted to practice his English and chat to a foreigner, and he in no way tried to direct how I spent my day or offer me any good deals. Instead he just confirmed my directions, asked where I was from and how long I’d been in Thailand, what I thought of everything, and so on. After five minutes I was on my way, spirits bolstered even further by the good luck of meeting a friendly, non-tout Thai.
Dusit Park ended up being a bit further of a walk than I anticipated, which resulted in my arriving pretty sweaty. I also got turned around so that while I found a number of landmarks marking the park, I couldn’t actually find the park entrance. I passed the zoo but wasn’t excited about entering and after first impressions, the inaccessible throne hall lost it’s appeal. Sure enough, I found a Thai who told me the museums were closed and that I could be much happier if I’d just let him drive me across town to another, much better place, but I declined, getting a little frustrated that I was close but not quite at my destination.
Finally I would my way around and into the park, buying a 100 baht ($3USD) ticket to all the museums. Inside the park it was serene and empty and quiet, which suited me fine. I eventually found my way to the teakwood museum and cheerfully ambled up the path. Inside, I learned that I could not take my phone or camera on the tour with me, nor even my backpack at all, and must pay for a locker to store all of it in. Fine, did that, keeping my passport purse on me. The next English tour wasn’t for about twenty minutes, so I sat and waited in the waiting area. Right up until the last moment I was the only English-speaker, but then three others joined my waiting area and I was relieved. We lined up and went through a metal detector and were then wanded. I forgot to take out my iPod from my passport purse and the demanded to know why I had a phone and a camera on me. I explained that the iPod had neither and showed how there was no camera and no earpiece. They weren’t to be appeased, however, and pointed imperiously back towards the locker.
I sighted and went back, but then was approached by the locker lady, who informed me that I would have to pay for the locker a second time if I unlocked it now. I tried to explain what had happened but she wouldn’t budge. After all, it was a coin locker, so there was nothing she could do, but I got suddenly upset, feeling that the hidden cost of the locker and the long wait and the new rule that no iPods could go past the medal detector were all quite unjust. I’m ashamed to say that I just took my bag and left, in a fury for no particular reason.
And so I wandered about the park, almost in tears I was so angry, and got angrier as I saw lockers outside each of the museums my ticket allowed me entrance to. What a scam, I told myself! How outrageous! Never mind that the cost for the lockers was less than a dollar. I finally found a section of the park that didn’t require me to store my things in a locker, and oddly enough the Elephant Museum rooms seemed to calm me down. Nothing more than removing my shoes was necessary and the nice guards just handed me a pamphlet explaining what I was seeing, which it turned out were converted elephant stables.
After the calming quiet of the stables-turned-museum, I walked to another museum, this one of Thai art forms, and found that the lockers were free. This was a beautiful (and air conditioned) set of rooms that contained all sorts of samples of Thai art, including many items inlaid with translucent beetle’s wings, silks, bamboo baskets, and jewelry of different kinds. After this, I was finished and decided to head back to Khao San Road. I began walking back and decided if I could get a tuk-tuk for twenty baht or less, I’d take it. The first one offered me a ride for 150 baht, which I quickly refused. The second guy seemed positive and agreed to take me, telling me he had to stop for gas once I’d boarded. I started to decline but he took off and I shrugged, resigned to whatever sales pitch I might receive.
It turned out the tuk-tuk driver had a friend who ran a silk tailor shop, and it was there that he dropped me with promises to return in ten minutes to take me the rest of the way, and with assurances that just looking was ok. The gentlemen inside did their damnedest to sell to me, so that I eventually used my pocket-excuse of having a husband who controlled my funds and so I couldn’t sign off on anything without first consulting him. They offered to have a car go pick him up from our hotel, but I refused and eventually was able to escape. The tuk-tuk driver was there and off we zoomed, until he ascertained that I hadn’t bought anything. Then he stopped his tuk-tuk and pointed vaguely in front him, saying, “Khao San that way.” What a complete jerk!
So I walked the rest of the way back to Khao San, grumbling and mumbling but not getting too upset, since after all, I should have known better. And besides, I didn’t end up paying anything, so no harm! I decided to Skype with my folks and got to talk to both of them for awhile, which helped me keep my mood positive.
The rest of Monday evening consisted of wandering the streets in the Khao San Road area, people watching and enjoying the street scene: music, backpackers both hardened and wide-eyed, street vendors, bars, massage places, and so on. I ended up eating Vietnamese-style noodles for dinner, which made me sweat but was extra good. I had with it a bottle of Coca-Cola, which I almost never drink at home but find myself enjoying now and then abroad. My last main event of the night was to get a thirty minute foot massage for 100 baht (~$3USD), which was fabulous and put me in the right frame of mind for bed.
Tuesday morning I slept in a bit again and showered. Actually, I ended up eating breakfast at the same streetside vendor as the morning before, too, although I didn’t chat with anyone this time. After breakfast I checked out of my room, got my deposit back, paid a fee to store my larger pack in a locked room of the hostel, and then headed out. Today’s goal was to return to the National Museum, which Jeff and I had visited but only gotten to see a tiny piece of. I checked my map and was off. As I left the Khao San Road area, I passed a Thai guy gesticulating and chatting loudly with a white backpacker who looked patiently confused. I smiled to myself and kept on going, wondering if the Thai would be successful convincing the backpacker of… whatever.
A few minutes later, as I was waiting for traffic to lighten up so that I could cross the road, the backpacker caught up to me. I smiled at him and said, “So, did you get lots of good advice?” He laughed and shrugged, and we began talking as we waited for a break in the traffic. This was Loren (lo-REN), from France, just arrived that morning in Bangkok from Ko Phi Phi. He’d been traveling for almost nine months, of which three had been spent in Australia with his girlfriend, who was an Aussie. That didn’t work out, though, so he took off traveling on what funds he had left and here he was. We finally got across the road and had walked a block or two together when I asked where he was going. He grimaced and said he had no idea, that he just wanted to walk around and see what there was to see.
I invited him to come to the museum with me and he agreed affably, pleased to have gained a guide, as he said, since he had no map and no idea what to go see or do. The museum turned out to really be closed, as a matter of fact, and so we walked to the amulet market, and then turned down a side street and began wandering in earnest. We kept up a lively chat the entire time and I felt pretty good, felt confident that I knew where I was going (to some extent) and seemed to know a bit more about Thai culture than this guy with the easy smile and thick French accent.
We ended up taking a ferry across the river, which hadn’t been our plan but turned out ok. We picked a place for lunch and ate, then wandered the markets until we saw a Wat and decided to take a look. I told him what I’d learned about Buddha and wats in general and he said again how lucky he was to have found a good, free guide. We got along splendidly and I’ll admit that as the day went on, we flirted outrageously. I was having a great time with it! Europeans flirt much differently than Americans and I liked it. At one point he solicitously took my hand, under the pretense of hurrying me across the street to avoid traffic. Hah!
We eventually ended up back on Khao San Road and I convinced him to get a foot massage at the same place I’d gotten one the night before, since I wanted another one. He agreed and we splurged on an hour apiece, relaxing in the chairs and watching the foot traffic go by, commenting on where we thought people were from depending on their looks or accents. By the time our hour was up, it was time for me to get my pack and go to the bus pickup place. Loren went with me and we grabbed a fruit shake before parting ways, wishing each other a good trip.
Feeling a little giddy from my successful day of wandering, flirting and having a general good time, I resigned myself to the small crowd of backpackers which had gathered. I met some German women and we all began walking, following the tour company lady. We were stopped every so often, amassing more and more people as we got further from the main Khao San Road. Finally, we arrived at our bus and we all piled our stuff underneath and clambered on board. It was one of those buses where seating is just upstairs. I had hoped for a window seat but the bus was already crowded. I quickly took an aisle seat next to a Japanese girl named Yakoko, who was friendly and quiet.
That began my twelve hour, overnight bus ride to Chiang Mai. While the bus was air conditioned, and the seats reclined and the lights eventually all turned out, I was not the most comfortable. When you reclined the seat back, a foot rest also extended, but it was at an awkward angle so my legs never felt at rest. Also, the seats reclined an awful lot, so that the head rest of the seat in front of my was maybe six inches above my lap for most of the ride. Ugh! There were three rest stops that I can remember, one at about 10pm, another at 1am and I’m not sure when the last one was. Somehow, I had begun chaffing again and so at one stop I removed my underwear. This only seemed to worsen the situation, no matter how much baby powder I applied. So, for me the bus ride wasn’t as easy and comfy as I’d hoped. I think that I will splurge for a second-class train back to Bangkok.
However, I was able to get about four hours of sleep, starting at around 2am, and so when we arrived at 7am to Chiang Mai, I was ready and mostly alert. The bus company piled us all into seongtows, which are pickup trucks fitted with benches and a cover, and we were dropped at a guesthouse where we received tea or coffee and a thirty minute sales pitch on treks we could take with this company. There I met Nia, who had on a splint and had stitches under one eye. Of course I asked about it and she told me about being run over by a motorbike trying to steal her bag in Vietnam. Her wrist was broken, but because of problems with drug trafficking checks at borders, she didn’t get a cast. Poor girl! She seemed a bit shell shocked, as it had only happened a week before, but she was forging on ahead! We walked a ways together before I caught another seongtow to Wat U Mong, the agreed-upon meeting place between me and my Couchsurfing host, Lucy.
After I called her, Lucy met me at the Wat, which was really a meditation center, on her motor bike. She took my smaller pack, directed me up the road and said she’d meet me at the turnoff. Five minutes later, we turned down a lane and arrived at her house.
Lucy’s house is magnificent! Many windows, very large, a beautiful garden and a monk who apparently lives there with her. Lucy herself is an older woman with a dry sense of humor. She has hosted over a hundred people and is well-versed in giving directions, advice and discussing the rules of staying with her (which really just include common sense guest-rules, like cleaning up after yourself, etc). She loaded me up with a map and several brochures, directions to the laundry, a tour guide and her favorite Wat, and fed me toast with honey and some coffee. She’s an expat of over twelve years, having first tried New Zealand and disliking the locals (who are friendly to tourists but apparently not so friendly to those trying to move in) and then coming to Thailand. She dislikes Thai food but seems to like everything else, being involved in Couchsurfing, gardening when her body doesn’t hurt, and a local theater. After coffee, she was off for an appointment and I was left to myself. Actually, the monk was still there and he told me that the two channels from which I could get news of the elections were Fox and Al-Jazira, with the latter being better news but the former being focused on the US.
I relaxed and made up my bed, which is a corner in the living room on a soft mattress pad. Lucy seems to be a fairly fastidious person, so I’m working very hard on keeping all my things in a tidy pile on my pack. After taking a walk in the direction I thought was towards the old city of Chiang Mai, the chaffing got too bad. I stopped for a lunch of spicy soup, read on my iPod for a bit, and then made my way back to Lucy’s, sweating from the soup and the sun both. At Lucy’s, her other surfers were just arrived, an older couple from Canada. We all chatted for a bit and then I decided to take a shower and relax. I ended up taking a several hour nap, which felt really good. Guess the bus ride took more out of me than I’d supposed. Another benefit of the nap was the chance to powder my chaffed areas and air out.
Once up from my power nap, I groggily got online, caught up on a few things, made a few couch requests for this weekend and generally just took an hour to wake up again. Then I wandered out to the main road, about a ten minute walk, and perused the street vendors there. It’s a bit of a night market, although a small one, set up for the university students. I walked the entire line of stalls, maybe two or three blocks long, and got hungrier and hungrier. Eventually I picked a phad thai kind of dish and then three chicken meatball things with a nice sauce on them. I also treated myself to a banana-kiwi shake. Pretty nice dinner, huh! After eating I wandered a bit more before deciding to head “home.” Back at Lucy’s, John and Janet, the older couple, were chatting about possible plans for the next few days. We agreed that we’d like to maybe go together to the wat on top of the hill next to Chiang Mai, so we’ll probably do that Friday or Saturday. After trading travel stories and advice, John and Janet headed for their showers, and I headed for my pack. In trying to stay neat, I reorganized how things were packed, prepared for tomorrow, and in general got everything together.
Tomorrow I am meeting up with Stanley, one of the two guys I met in Bangkok at the Blue Elephant with Jeff, for a day tour of Chiang Mai. It promises to be fairly touristy, but hey, I get to ride an elephant so I’m excited!