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Remembering my first encounter with Bangkok

I had been looking forward to my friend from home, Leslie’s, arrival for a while, and as she finally arrived in Bangkok, I was ready to just ditch the last day of camp and head down to meet her. I endured the grueling last presentations where activity teams gave their final presentations – ours was a song about our environmentally friendly house model. “If you want to save the world use solar power” sung to the tune of “if you’re happy and you know it” all the while describing the attributes of the model they created, complete with a water powered electrical plant, solar powered house and solar powered car.

I say endured, but in reality the last week had been an epic week full of fun and laughter and arts and crafts. I had a lot of fun and was really proud while the kids were coming up with their own ideas for the model based on the lessons throughout the week.

Once the kids had been picked up by their parents, it was time to head home for a quick meal (SUPER quick – literally take a bite, straighten my hair, take a bite, change my clothes) before heading to the bus that would eventually take me to Leslie.

I had forgotten how overwhelmed with Bangkok I was when I first got there. If I remember correctly, Khao San completely scared me away. I don’t really like Bangkok, initially I was completely appalled; Leslie, I think, was the same. While we are both city girls through and through, I watched her watch the streets and people passing literally wide-eyed trying to take everything in.

She had made it to the Grand Palace in her first day, so after a night out on Khao San with some of my teacher friends, we braved the rain for a visit to the John Thompson house. It wasn’t really what I was expecting, but is literally in all the travel books as a place to visit. John Thompson was an American who built up the Thai Silk industry to what it is today by endorsing it and establishing world-wide trade. However, his home isn’t really as much a history of the silk industry as it is a museum of Chinese collectables that he accumulated over time. After a brief wander around his beautiful Thai / Western Style home, we headed to the real China town just in time for everything to shut down, and for us to get lost trying to find the ferry docks. We were hoping for a moonlit ride down the river, (how romantic) only to miss the last boat by mere minutes.

The next day we attacked the markets at Chattuchak. Chattuchak (or the Thai name for it, JJ) has become my new favourite place because of the endless maze of amusement and things that anyone can convince themselves they need – especially when they’re so cheap. Clothing, jewellery, furniture, trinkets, pets, bedding, the list goes on; whatever you could possibly need – if you can find it. After taking the long way home just to incorporate the ferry ride down the river, and a quick stop at MBK to check out the electronics section and buy a couple things I’ve been lacking in my life, I think it’s safe to say that I had Bangkok’ed her out and it was time to head to the beach.

Despite my frequent visits to Bangkok, I still can’t seem to stand the city for more than a couple days. I can completely understand how people could love it, but I wanted to move to Thailand to experience Thailand, not a watered down Western version of it. Which is the same in many tourist places throughout the country, but it is ever present in Bangkok. Despite that, it is a good place to visit to ease into the culture, and acknowledge the differences before heading out to greener (or bluer) pastures.

From Sensory Overload to Satisfaction

After only two nights in Bangkok, we decided to GTFO and head to Chiang Mai. I think the problem was that while we situated ourselves on Rambuttri Road, which is really just a quieter, less alcohol soaked version of Khao San Road, we were still in the heart of the tourist district. Everything was go-go-go 24/7 and I’m getting too old for that shit. I honestly despised most of the people I saw, couldn’t enjoy the late night markets, and really didn’t want to sit and drink until I was as stupid as half the morons roaming the streets. (Although maybe I would have had a better time)

Offerings outside of the palace with the emerald buddha

I’m sure it would be different if I was in a party mood, or if I saw a different part of the city. And I’m open to experiencing it differently. But any subsequent visits will NOT be anywhere near Khao San Road.

We were able, however, to make it to the Grand Palace to walk around for an afternoon and see the temple and old palace grounds. It was beautiful and fantastic seeing all the intricate detail on the pagodas and in the temple and watching the Thai people praying and giving offerings of incense and flowers and lighting candles for Buddha.

So we booked our sleeper train to Chiang Mai. 4 girls were heading out, while Theo and Melisa stayed behind to meet up with friends and wait for Visa’s to get sorted.

Sarah from my bunk in the sleeper train

The sleeper train was a lot of fun. I’m not sure if we were as loud as the guys just down the hall, but there were times when we were having some serious girl talk and giggling ‘till we cried. The morning was beautiful, chugging through the countryside and seeing all the beautiful landscape.

Chiang Mai has been fantastic. Everyone that I’m with loves the city and barely wants to leave. We were able to fit in a lot while we have been here. The first night was Sunday, so we were able to visit the Sunday Walking Market in the old city. But not before we spent the entire morning walking around the city trying to figure out where we wanted to stay. Knowing nothing about Chiang Mai and trying to stay as far away as possible from another Khao San situation, we decided to stay outside the old city. While this was a mistake and we ended up moving the next day inside the old city, it was nice to see a few different neighbourhoods around the city.

The Sunday Market was beautiful, people lining the street down both sides and the middle selling unique artisan crafts alongside stalls of people selling the regular tourist goods of harem pants, Thai fisherman pants and silk scarves. The market itself, however, doesn’t seem to be a tourist trap, but a place that locals come, kind of like a flea market mixed with the One of  a Kind show. Shopping without spending money and with a bunch of girls who are going crazy buying souvenirs and gifts for home is exhausting. Luckily, Theo made it down and Louie, a Scottish / English guy we met on Khao San and adopted were also there and I was able to escape with them for some beers.

That night we found an awesome bar called “Inter Bar” on Tae Phe Rd. that did a lot of rock covers, were we spent the night singing along to Nirvana and AC/DC until stumbling home to our guest house.

Monday was kind of a slow start, but we went to the Tiger Kingdom and petted and cuddled with tigers. It was pretty terrifying, but fantastic. I was initially/ concerned about going because of the controversy about whether the cats are drugged in order to remain so lucid with people and not to attack them. Now I’m not sure what I think, while there is the possibility that the tigers are trained from birth not to attack or bite and how to follow orders, the fact that they were sleeping almost the entire time that people were in the cages made me second guess. The nature of a tiger is to hunt and attack, but if nurtured properly can anything truly be tame and ignore their instinct?

Yesterday, we organized an overnight trip to Pai, in Northern Thailand because most of the group wanted to get up into the mountains and swim in the hot springs. After about four hours of winding roads and mountain views, we arrive fully nauseated and ready to eat and figure out the next couple days. Since we’re only here for one night, we wanted to fit in as much as possible. So after dinner, we went to the hot springs for a swim at sunset. While I have pictures of everyone hanging from the vines, I’ve been warned not to post them on the internet because not one person actually looks good in the pictures. Considering that I couldn’t see anything until the flash went off on my camera, I think I did a pretty good job though!

Now Melisa and I are heading back to Chiang Mai tonight to catch an overnight VIP bus into Laos. While it’s super sad that we’re going to be leaving the group, it’ll be good for us to be able to get things done without trying to herd everyone else along or agree on a plan with 7 people. Also, considering that she’s going to be traveling alone for the next 3 months, and I’ll be on my own for the next year, we’ll need to ease our way out of the comfort of being surrounded by other people who will plan, navigate and keep us company.