Sunday, March 25, 2012

thailand highlights

seeing as i didn't get another chance to write while i was away, i'm just going to have to pick a few highlights, so as not to ramble on for pages. but how to choose from the plethora of wonderful options?
after leaving bangkok, we flew south and went to the swanky le meridien resort at khao lak. the pool was amazing, it went on forever! it was so big it had little islands built in it. and it was one of those cool infinity pools where the water goes right over the edge. there was another large pool with waterslides too. fun! of course there was also a beautiful beach that we strolled along.

it was sweltering during the days so we just laid by the pool, swimming now and then to refresh ourselves after getting woozy from the heat. at night we walked along the beach, crossed a small inlet of water that went up mid-calf, and found a very cute little beach reastaurant on the other side where we enjoyed some pad thai. on the way back the tide had come in, making our easy wade across the inlet a shorts-soaking endeavour. and at night the beach was crawling with crabs! it freaked us out.

crap, i'm just going chronologically, it's so hard to skip stuff! but i'd better.

favourite part of the wedding: when everyone went outside after dinner and lit lanterns that floated up and filled the night sky. so pretty!

the islands: after the wedding we went to railay beach, ko lanta, and ko phi phi. railay and ko phi phi are incredible. the karst cliffs jutting up into the sky, the emerald and turquoise waters on golden and white sand beaches, rows of longboats floating serenely on their tethers. every view a postcard! it was impossible not to feel awestruck at the beauty.

on ko phi phi we took a boat tour that included a stop at maya beach - made famous by the movie "the beach". never have i seen water as clear, or felt sand as soft and fine. my words could never capture its perfection. well, it would have been perfection if not for all those lousy tourists crowding it :) ko phi phi at night (at least the town part) is nuts. it's basically just one big drunken party for 20 somethings, with people drinking "buckets" of booze. even when i was there as a 20 something, it was too much for me, so now at 35, it really wasn't my scene. ko lanta was much more laid back. although the scenery wasn't as majestic, we had a super fun time. we rented a scooter for 24 hrs and just scooted around, exploring the island. past beaches and stores and resorts, and little shanty homes with children and chickens running around out front.

chaing mai: flew north for new scenery. although the temperature was still in the high 30s, there wasn't the unbearable humidity. stayed at Libra Guesthouse, same place i'd stayed at back in 2002. one of the women who owns the place remembered me! it was amazing, i felt so special and was immediately glad i'd decided to stay there again. given the time frame, and that we were also traveling with blair's parents, we decided on a pack-it-all-into-10-hours day trip. this included a fairly terrifying 45 minutes or so on an elephant. i've been on an elephant a few times now, so the size didn't scare me. it was the fact that the guide had jumped off and was no where to be seen, and our elephant was walking dangerously close to the edge of the trail, and there was a sheer drop just inches from its feet. we followed that with my favourite part - some fabulous hiking. we clambered over rocks, inched along fallen trees, and maneuvered along narrow and steep paths, all through absolutely gorgeous scenery. unfortunately, because i needed both hands for much of the way, i wasn't able to get photos of the most stunning views. finally, white water and bamboo rafting to finish the day.

sigh... so much for a brief entry of highlights. i think this may need to be a two parter. the remainder of our time in chaing mai was also fun. we took a thai cooking class and made delicious food, including curry paste from scratch. got lost in the endless night bazaar, where i bought a couple of t-shirts and pashminas. ate at a tiny 4 table restaurant and had possibly my favourite meal of the trip, a soup called khao soi. cocounut milk, curry, tofu, noodles, a pile of vegetables... my mouth is watering just thinking of it. yum!

and on that note, i think i will wrap up this long-winded entry. i guess it's just not possible for me to remain laconic when reminiscing about such a wonderful place. i will write about the rest of the trip later!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Bangkok - take two

Back in Bangkok, a decade after my first visit. Traveling with an actual suitcase this time around, not a backpack full of wrinkled clothes! To go along with my grownup luggage, I am also staying at a real hotel instead of a guesthouse, and eating at restaurants, not just street carts. Consequently, I have spent more money in 2 days than i did in 2 weeks as a backpacker. But don't worry, i'm not a real grown up, i'm just playing one right now. And although it definitely has some perks (air conditioning and towels in the room, but no cockroaches), it's not really me. I rarely spend $50 on a meal in Winnipeg, why on earth would i want to spend that here, when I can eat well for a tenth of that, or less?

Anyhoo, getting sidetracked.

After 30+ hours of travel, we finally landed in Bangkok. Hurrah for being off of a crowded plane!!... and into a crowded street. at least we can stretch our legs. Given that we were running off a few hours sleep and it was after 1am when we got to our hotel, i figured we'd be heading off to bed. But Bangkok had other plans for us. First we had a beer with the rest of the crew (we're here for a wedding) in the lobby of the hotel. Ok, close to 2am, definitely bed time, right? Nope, off to have some street food down the block. So a dozen of us sat on little plastic stools, crowded around little metal tables, at a makeshift restaurant on the side of the road. At night all these "restaurants" pop up. They don't exist during the day, they just wheel up carts with all their gear and set up shop on the sidewalks. Food and afterhour beers cluttered the tables. The streets teemed with people and cars like it was rushhour. At 4am, the streets still bustling, we finally made our way back to the hotel, where I gratefully collapsed in bed.

Aside: we're staying in Chinatown and it is totally bringing back memories. I keep wanting to speak Mandarin to the street vendors!

Aside #2: We have this weird 4 post bed with a railing around it and you have to crawl in through an opening at the foot of the bed. It's quite inconvenient, especially when you're disoriented and need to use the bathroom in the middle of the night.

Oy, taking too long to write this, as usual. Will start to condense and give highlights only.

Day 1. River taxi to grand palace - just like the first time i was here. i specifically wore long shorts and a shirt with shoulders because i knew those were the rules for the temple. but apparently my mid-calf length shorts were just shy of long enough. so i was told to pull them down. "Elastic, no problem" says the security guy. so i wiggle them down until i felt like a skater kid with my Calvins showing. Luckily my shirt was long enough to keep me respectful. the palace was just as grand as i remember. the weather a bit hotter than i remember.

On to Khao San Rd. Backpacker central. cheap t-shirts and kitschy souvenirs to your heart's content. Sat and had a beer that went straight to my head in ther 36 degree heat.  We caught up with the rest of the gang at the fish pedicure place, and with a slight buzz I was convinced to immerse my feet in a tank full of hungry fishies who eagerly nibbled away at dead skin. Yes, totally gross. which is why I freaked out for the first 2 minutes. and then i got used to the tingling sensation - like my legs were asleep - and actually enjoyed it. 15 minutes later, my feet have never felt so soft!! Wandered down and watched some amazing street dancers. seriously, do they have a So You Think You Can Dance Thailand? they were flipping around and spinning on their heads, right on the pavement! Didn't buy any souvenirs yet, too early.

Dinner at fancy restaurant. Lucky we got there alive after thrilling (and surely dangerous) tuk tuk ride. Zipped through the streets at about 80 km/hr, weaving in and out of all that lame-o 4 wheeled traffic. Woohoo!!!

Ok, gotta hurry, beers waiting downstairs!

Day 2: stagette. wandered through a market full of almost dead fish and veggies and fruit and pig snouts and other goodies. Went to cooking class where, thankfully, they did most of the cooking. mango and sticky rice - YUM!!!! singing and beers and fruit carving and eating, so much fun! i carved a melon flower, and carrot and cucumber leaves. i'm proud.

Ok, those beers won't drink themselves. More Thailand updates to come!!
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