Bada Bing, Bada Bang – Luang Prabang, Laos

Taking the slow boat to Laos is kind of like Burning Man: an amazing adventure and a once in a lifetime experience – and if I only do it once, that’s fine with me.

From Chiang Mai it takes 5 hours in a minivan to the border, a sleep over, a long slow boat ride (covered from the sun – thank a goddess), a stop over in Prabang, Laos, and then another day’s journey in a different (faster) slow boat until reaching the main port of Luang Prabang. There’s variations of this of course, but if you are a traveler with a bit of time and thinking you will save a buck, you are better off flying.

No, seriously. It was a great adventure, filled with uncertainty, new experiences, touching daily life of Laos commuters (it’s like a river taxi) briefly but deeply for myself, and I appreciate the suggestion to do so. I didn’t save much money, and it was a little touch an go for a minute there.

Let’s begin by saying:

If a significant motivation is to save money, it’s going to cost in other ways.

The ride night before the ride: I slept in a place where I got my own bungalow but it was way cheaper than what I had paid before (which was still reasonable). Well, it cost me some of my blood with those mosquitos that came for me through the walls (I could kind of see through them).

The bus ride:

5 hours in the evening. We had to talk a bit to the driver since he started to nod off…he was also real road ragey. He’s not like any Thai I’ve met so far. Maybe he’s not Thai. There was a big language barrier. But he did enjoy he Sees candy I gave him!

I had a great time chatting with a Swiss guy most of the way up. I also got to see how men and women divide themselves when we stopped for dinner. I even just wandered over to the table with the rest of the guys since I had made friends with the Simon from Switzerland. It’s fascinating to see some of the ways people divide themselves.

IMG_2328
The morning after: The Mekong is breath-taking. Truly other worldly. Across, my first glimpse of Laos.

“sleeping”: bed bugs in this particular case. It was quite the bonding experience for me and this guy I roomed with. Sleeping in our sleeping bags on the floor after an hour of tossing on the bed. I kept trying to tell myself I was just feeling my hair move – there were no bugs on me….but alas. He woke up an switched on the light just as I had started to sleep. Something about fearing for my life at the end of the ride just got me started in my next wind, even though I only had a certain number of hours I had to get before the next stint of travel.

IMG_2334
The Mekong is epic, stretching from Tibet to Vietnam

Immigration was a cinch after that bus ride. I started chatting up one of the men who were putting luggage under the bus (and later, taking passports, and giving us our tickets, they did loads of things). I learned a few words, and was relieved that some words are the same in Lao. Some are radically different though, “delicious” in Thai means “house fly” in Lao. So, I had to be careful once again – but it’s still not as delicate as bad luck/beautiful in Thai. I wrote some notes, but mostly I just practiced with my new friend (he was so sweet, and playful!) and the other travelers around me. I would quiz them after a few minutes and then after a longer period of time, a few times needing to go back to my luggage loading teacher for a refresher. You can bet he got some candy as well. I had to crawl under the bus for it and dig it out of my bag, but it was totally worth it.

After loading up on snacks…The boat was incredible, and frightening all at the same time. It was cool to take our shoes off – gave a more homey feel since the floor was very clean (before all the drinking), and very creative that the chairs looked to be recycled from both minivans and airliners – with a nice flair of curtains that would flap in the wind (there were practical tarp like flaps to keep the rain out when it stormed, but I quite enjoyed the rain. It only lasted about 5 minutes anyway). Certain things were enter-at-your-own-risk though.

I’d show you a video of the Mekong currents (there are several, always changing) but I have the free version of wordpress, so maybe some day. Though, you should really see it for yourself if you can.

I had a variety of experiences on that boat the first day, most memorable perhaps was watching a young traveler (not much younger than myself) ask my new friend very personal questions with no tact whatsoever. She had a morbid curiosity that made my palm smack my head with some of her questions. Kind of like a 4 year old, but then again, she had anesthetized the part of her brain that was older…and I was a bit buzzed at the time, so forgive me that I don’t remember what the questions were, but they involved asking very blunt, prying questions into this man’s near-death experience. I am sure you can relate to the sentiments.

A curious topic that came up was a young Englishman’s questions about ladyboys. It turned out to be a tricky place for me to navigate, and I made the decision not to come out to either one of them, both of which I roomed with for that night in Prabang. Lucky too, since one of them turned out to be a very violent drunk. But, we survived and I had yet another sleepless night.

Upon arrival at the port for Luang Prabang, there’s another scramble to get a ride and find a place to sleep for the night. This is not at all difficult, since every half step contains “tuk tuk? Mr, tuk tuk?” Or “come stay at my hostel…$”

The familiar feelings about being a stranger in a strange land come up…adding to that, I didn’t want to have to turn down the violent drunk (who is a very nice person and I had a fun time getting to know during the day), so I had to find a place to hide and wait for the Englishman, since he was pretty chill to room with. Plus, we kind of bonded over that experience. In any case, I was happy to get a good night’s rest for the first time in several days.

The food was good, and some of it way more expensive. The architecture was lovely indeed, as I had been warned. There is an underlying tension there that I haven’t immediately gotten in Thailand, and I’ve been here more than 2 weeks in one general province. I also didn’t really read up on Laos (except for the phenomenal waterfall) and only went with what people shared. I was happy to only spend a few days.

The highlight of my trip besides the whole thing being a huge adventure?

Tat Kuang Si

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Kuang Si Waterfall (Phonetically: Quong See) is spectacular, with the color of the water thanks to the chemistry that results from the limestone reacting with it. It is the most spectacular waterfall. I wish I could have stayed longer, but, alas. I did not bring my waterproof sack and when I reached the top after a few hours (I took my time getting there), it stormed. Thunder, lightning, rain – the whole bit. So, I ran down the mountain after seeing some large branch fall at the top (though, in retrospect, I would have stashed my bag under one of the tables and just enjoyed the storm, which lasted 20 min after the rain started). It wasn’t the wisest idea, but I enjoyed the thrill.

IMG_2478
Those of you who know me, will also be amused to learn of the serendipity in the name of the waterfall: Kuang means Deer.

I had originally been talked into a tour ride, when in fact I only wanted a ride up, so I got half my money back and had a lovely picnic with myself in between bouldering and hiking around (I brought some left over rum and bought sandwiches at the base of the mountain). One of the driving motivations for my run down the mountain was to catch a tuk-tuk before they all left, as I had no way of getting back otherwise. Kuang Si Falls is about 45min in a car from Luang Prabang. It was unfortunate, but again, a lively adventure. There’s a theme developing here.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

After dripping sweat and hiking for about 45min in thick jungle, I had a severe Fern Gulley moment when the trail abruptly turned to a construction site.

On my last evening, the Englishman and I discovered a drawer full of books in our guest room. This was wonderful. Big Brother Mouse is apparently a well-known reading program started by a teenager from a local village outside of the city. Its goal is to help raise literacy for both Lao and English through story telling. This short story has grown into a non profit where kids and teens can practice their English with Tourists. It was the saving grace of my trip.

img_2627.jpg

I learned all about the night market and got brief histories of where certain things came from. I also got to hear (since we were doing double time) Tommie’s reading of some short stories, retold from village kids. I ended up buying a book written by a 17 year old from the Hmong Village an hour or two outside the city of Luang Prabang. I learned so much about his life, and I am so thankful to have found it. It touched me in ways that all the delicious croissants could not. But really, it was soulful, earnest, and made me want to stay longer.

My last few hours in Laos, I ran around to some historic sites (a bit sloppily, I might add), I went to get a massage (which ended up torquing my back….so from that, I would not recommend it) and stopping by the Big Brother Mouse site to experience helping some kids practice their English skills. I met an 18 year old Monk, a 17 year old who wants to be many things when he grows up, and a woman from Brazil who extended her stay a few days to do this.

I got to hear about their lives, and it was incredibly sweet. I loved the chance to talk with some locals and help them. I don’t think they can ever know (even if I were to find the right words to express) how deeply grateful I am for the chance to speak with them.

I mentioned that I read about James, a Hmong villager who shared his whole youth. I am so thankful too to the Laos government who allowed that book and many others to be published (they have final say).

Moral of this adventure: Be careful about whims, don’t have the main motivation for any decision to save money, and pack more underwear.

 

Screen Shot 2017-04-28 at 12.08.00 AM.png

My new friend Dani, มาลี (Maa Lee is her Thai name) runs a company based on conversations. Besides the fact she’s a wonderful human, I think she provides a highly sought after skills training. The video is quite wonderful if you get a chance to watch it: https://glish.guru/about/

Or, if you prefer facebook: https://www.facebook.com/glishguru/

More and more, I am seeing that, even though I have mixed feelings about the context and the history of why English is a prolific language in this world, it’s practical to know it. More than that, it can create a bridge to connecting with others (though, I think we could all use some cross-language training. I think it could take us a long way in mending all kinds of issues).

“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world.” – Neil Gaiman

This trip was filled with adventure, and for that, I am happy.

This trip is over and I am back in Chiang Mai, and for that, I am happy. 

IMG_2422

Advertisements

Knowing What I Know Now about Chiang Mai

Now that I’ve been here for a little over a week, I see more of what has worked and what does not, for me. This is not necessarily a list of recommendations. Those are scattered throughout my posts, but maybe I’ll put some here. There are some definite DO NOT recommendations in this post though. All sides are useful perspectives. Here’s what I know –

IMG_1657.JPG
Definitely check out a Muay Thai match. I love the ritual, friendly sportsmanship, and the bloodsport nature, all wrapped up in one evening. Bring small coins to pay for the toilet. Don’t expect tissue.

I’m Glad I…

  • Got my visa beforehand
  • Spoke to many friends who have gone
  • Organized all the notes above in a document to get an idea
  • Have a phrasebook (but phrasebooks and a good Nancy Chandler map are cheap AF here so…)
  • Brought my country’s (quality) signature hard candy (See’s). Seriously. One of the best pieces of advice I received from a friend.
  • Brought Sunscreen
  • Brought plenty of synthetic underwear
  • Brought a P-Style
  • Brought bio degradable wipes for moments when there were no toilet paper (I haven’t worked up to using the bidet)
  • Took a language class here. Best $35 spent here.
  • Am so social. A lot of the great places I’ve gone and the cool things I’ve experienced are because I strike up conversation, am polite, try to learn the culture and language (and act on it whenever I can).
  • Checked out other packing lists
  • Brought a dry bag
  • Brough a Sea to Summit sleeping bag liner with insect repellent. That was the other best piece of advice advice from a friend.
  • Brought coconut oil for burns, moisturizer, etc. Though, they have it here.
IMG_1333
Monks at the Open Meditation Night at the temple with the City Pillar. It’s on Fridays from my understanding.

I Wish I Would Have…

  • Read the mandates on what you can bring on a checked bag and what you can bring on a carryon a bit more closely. Nothing like arriving to a foreign country to find that your charged up extra Anker battery has been taken out of your checked bag.
  • Read this before arrival. Though, it’s been fine to read here: https://www.into-asia.com/thai_language/grammar/krapka.php
  • Learned a little Thai before arrival. At least off of youtube or hooked up with a Thai-speaking friend. This website is good, and this article on it is useful for language.
  • Brought a back up thing of eye drops. Little comforts, and I really needed them last night, but misplaced/lost my bottle.
IMG_1041
On the trek to see the elephants

Modifications to my Packing List:

  • No jackets, but yes to a long sleeve shirt. Jackets just take up space.
  • Bring less clothing. The clothing is cheap and nice (but make sure you wash it first, as I am writing this with a Smurf butt, thanks to Songkran and new blue shorts).
  • Life straw is not necessary (unless you plan on backpacking)
  • Bring less bug repellent, but still bring some. I prefer Repellent with Lemon Eucalyptus Oil.
  • Less sunscreen – worth bringing, but I brought a few bottles too many. I would have brought two. One full bottle of Badger Sunscreen because it has citronella, and one for face.
  • Still get a visa prior to arrival if you plan on coming for more than 30 days. This is for peace of mind. But, order it from a local Thai Embassy. The govt website just lists the DC address.
  • Bring one nice hat, maybe one broad rimmed hat as well. Or, get them here.
  • I brought my thai tourbooks and a phrase book. The phrase book has been more or less useless, but it has been helpful to have in strange situations. Google translate is just as useless.
  • Pony up the cash (less than $10 US) for a Thai sim card so you can get data anywhere. They sell them at 7-11 standardly.
  • Bring a nice chunk of US cash. I am here for 1.5 months, exchanged $800 US before getting here at my bank (order at least one week in advance) and only brought ~$200 US with me – bring more, and here’s why: with an ATM you will pay about 220 baht per transaction. That’s about $6 US you could be saving, an entire days worth of food.
  • Bring US hard candy (See’s is great) because they are cute gifts and great icebreakers/kind things to offer Thai people
  • I would not bring a water bottle unless trekking. And even then, I would just hang onto a plastic one I think. This one has been mostly a hassle. If I was to bring one, I’d never bring a wide mouth one again. Impossible to drink while moving in a tuk tuk, etc.
IMG_1692
Bhubing Palace

Upon Arrival:

Take a Thai language class. It will come in handy. Besides being useful and getting you friends, negotiating room, you will quickly become a popular farang and invited to more Thai-specific gatherings. I wanted to learn because I didn’t want to feel like an oaf, and it helps me feel a bit more grounded and capable of being respectful. But, different people, different motivators – which is why I list all of this here.

Chit chat with others to see what worked for them. There are many friendly people, and the Thai folks in particular do business with each other, through each other. Sometimes it’s a win, sometimes it’s a miss, so use your best judgment. Elephants and zip line were a win, but below was a recommendation from a good man, and it went horribly wrong.

IMG_1789.JPG

On Motorbikes –

Know that you might get stopped by the po and fined. I was fined 400 baht and I know some who were fined 1000 baht. Theoretically I won’t get fined anymore if I have the receipt on me next time they pull me over, but I don’t want to find out. So, if you see the po, get off the bike or turn ASAP. They don’t harass like they do in the US, so you’re in luck. But, I’m also white, so take what I say with a grain of salt, and don’t be a dick. I’d also learn the word for Mr Policeman followed by the masculine or feminine particle to be extra polite. I’d tell you what it is but I’ve forgotten currently.

Screen Shot 2017-04-13 at 1.47.33 PM.png
Do not go here to rent your motorbike.

Do not, I repeat, do not: rent your motorbike from “Motorcycle Rental Chiang Mai”. They will over charge you, and then your battery will die. I was past Doi Suthep on my way to Doi Pui. If it wasn’t for a very nice thai man with a man named Sam from the UK, I would be seriously SOL.

Google Translate was useless, and my Thai phrasebook was pretty useless as well. Luckily, I had a few hours of Thai instruction under my belt, so I was less stressed than I otherwise might have been. Several Thai folks stopped by and were incredibly nice. The one pair stayed with me, and then another man went to go get a truck. He and his friend are from the Mong Village and towed me back (for half the price they could have charged) to Chiang Mai (about an hour’s trip). The motorcycle rental folks gave me a different bike (which they tried to charge me another 100 baht for, but I wasn’t gonna do that). Suffice to say that new one they gave me broke down as well, and within 12 hours. So, don’t waste your time, money, or stress on those people. 

Also, carry candy with you from your country. It makes for a great ice breaker and helps me feel like less of a deadweight for not knowing much Thai. 

IMG_1791
As another Thai person put it, “There are many option in Chiang Mai to rent motorbike. They response for their bike. This not good place. Go to other place” when I told her about my trials as I was getting ready to have some of her delicious Phat Thai (40 baht).

A Note About Food –

Put it in your mouth.

IMG_1883

Lastly, there’s good food, tourist food, cheap food – it’s all good. I haven’t gotten sick, but I haven’t been completely stupid about it, and I have a strong constitution.

I’ve eaten ice in Chiang Mai, raw salads, fruits, used the water to brush my teeth (she said don’t swallow), all with fine results. The dairy hasn’t even given me as many problems as it normally does at home (they use a lot of dairy).

I haven’t tried the look-alike food to US stuff. There’s burgers, french fries, other things available here. I have heard that you are actually more likely to get sick from that. I’m told this is because they don’t now how to make it as well (which I don’t know how much of a reason that is, how hard are french fries to make?).

My guess is that actually, it is so foreign to the land here that a person will get sick not because the foreign food is made wrong, but because you shouldn’t be eating that shit in this country. The weather is wrong for it, the activities are wrong for it; the whole food culture has developed here more or less in sync with the land and the seasons.

True or not, why would I come all the way to Thailand to have a burger I can have any day of the week in the US? I’m here to experience the culture. That includes the food. I get the homesick aspect and the comfort aspect. I get it. Being homesick is part of the ride. If you have kids, this may be a different story at some point, but that’s not my jam so good luck.

RIP –

IMG_1468.JPG
So sad.

I’m sad that this little guy died on me while I was weight lifting. I’ve had this water proof watch since I was a kiddo, and had just replaced the battery before this trip. I learned from a person from Seattle that I could have taken this thing to a shop and gotten it fixed – Thai people are incredible like that – but alas, I thought it was a lost cause and had already tossed it. I know I’m an American because…

Elephants, Waterfalls, Rafting, Oh Mài!

Mai can mean new, or no, depending on intonation. Mai is new and Mài is no.

Seriously, if you spend holiday here for more than one week, spend two or four hours in a language lesson. I paid less than $40 US for a total of 4 hours of instruction (two hours each day) and I now understand a lot more and can count (you still need to practice on your own and check with the locals). I can also say suay, with an inverted marker over the û, which means beautiful. Suay, on the other hand (with no accent on it), means bad luck. So, it would behoove you to learn.

We are, after all, visiting someone’s home by traveling to another country, and you try to be respectful of someone when you get invited to their home, so this isn’t much different. It doesn’t mean you won’t make a fool of yourself in the mean time. That’s part of the ride. Enjoy!

In fact, I am seeing it can be the difference between creating cultural exchange and cultural consumption, extending all the way to appropriation/exploitation on the extreme end.

But anyways….Elephants!

We got to pet them and feed them and make tasty treats for them, and then bathe them! I won’t mention the part about where they shat and pissed in the water we had to wade in to bathe them. Big turds as large as baby heads, floating in the water – one of the guys chucked them out of the pond for us farangs. But I won’t talk about that part.

IMG_1079.JPG
We first put mud on them in this pool, and then took them to a cleaner pool below to wash them.

Our tourguide, Fufu, explained that having elephants is a sign of status, because they require a lot of land and food. They were also trained for labor, and this made them valuable as well. It is fine to have one person sit on the neck and work with the elephant, as this is how they have been bred over the generations. Their necks are also very strong, I mean, look at those heads and trunks they have to carry around. 

The problem arose with tourism, and lots of people wanting to ride the elephants because, A) they would have way more people on them for long periods of time than they should and B) they weren’t sitting on the elephant neck. They were on the head, on the back in carriers, all that.

Thus began a new breed of tourist who saw how much pain the elephants were in, and they don’t want to ride anymore. So, now they have places called sanctuaries where you can pet and play with elephants, and the elephants basically do whatever the want…like shit in the water you bathe them in.

They eat bananas, the banana trees, all kinds of funky seeds, tamarind, and other plants (I have some pictures in my last article).

Their trunks are wonderful. they have a tip to them that is kind of like a fat finger, and some of those elephants shove like 8 bananas in their mouth before chewing. The ones we were with were 8, 20, 40 and 60. The one that was 40 I think was the one in heat, and that one did need chained because they are like sailors back from a long bout at sea, and they smell nasty like that too.

IMG_1102
You can see it secreting things outside of its head. Well, you can in real life anyway.

Afterwards, we went rafting, but before the elephants we went hiking, visited a tourist trap market and Karin tribe, and then swimming in the Mae Wang Waterfall (which means mother water or something. I forget. I’m 90% sure about the mother part).

IMG_1054
A member of the Karin Tribe hand making scarves. I also bought some banana leaf-rolled cigarettes because, well, the people here are pretty much on display for people like me, so they should get something out of it. I also brought little hard candies from America (See’s) at another friend’s suggestion. One of the best pieces of advice I have received. Candy makes people happy!

This whole day was phenomenal, and I met some folks about my age from near Denver, CO. They were a fun group. I was invited to dinner and a dance party with them later that night. It was a nice experience. I do rather enjoy being a solo traveler. Today was a good day for that.

IMG_0032
It’s kind of like floating on the river near Portland, OR or anywhere there’s a community that enjoys drinking and floating down a river. There were boat port-like structures along certain points where people were drinking or selling food, and splashing us as we went by. One of them was nice enough to hand us a beer for the rest of our hour-long ride.

It was more or less “easy” to steer the 10 foot narrow raft, but for the three of us on this raft, we also had another man who was our raft guide and he was masterful. He also would bring us to a bank periodically, where he would check a post stuck in the river bank. In the picture above, you can see one of the posts sticking straight up.

He was looking to catch cicada, or a bug like that. He would cup them in his hands, buzzing angrily away, and stick them in his pouch. It is very clever to put posts around like that.

This way, he can do his raft guide gig, and collect bug snacks along the way. He told us he fries them and eat them as snacks. I would totally try it.

IMG_1126.JPG
I would do this weekly if I lived here. I like lounging and I like steering. Now I just need some Thai friends with a raft…

It was a long, fun-filled and prosperous day. I am so happy for booking this trip with the tour group I worked with. I also booked a PHENOMENAL zip line day through them too. A total of 4,100 baht for two days that were magical. Highly recommended.

I don’t have an address or picture of the tour group, but it’s located near 7-11 on Samlarn Road in the old city. It is between Wat Muen Ngoen Kong and Wat Puak Hong, near Samlarn Rd Soi 6. There are sliding glass doors and an overhang, with 4 desks inside.

Screen Shot 2017-04-13 at 1.12.07 PM.png

Khorp Khun Khrap!

 

Food Tour: Chiang Mai, Thailand

Here’s a teaser until I finish some other writing. FOOD! Click on the pictures for the captions.

The featured picture is of Chiang Mai’s “Sunday Walking Market” which takes place in the evening (not like farmers markets) into the night. About 10:30pm. At this one, smoking and drinking are not allowed, which is a good thing, because there are tons of people. I mean, tons. It is not as overwhelming as Saturday Night Market, mostly because I was focused on food, and was waiting for the water at my guest house to come back on.

I have to admit, I was a bit grumpy to get back from weight lifting and a grueling Muay Thai class (a total of 3.5 hours of working out in ridiculous heat) to find that my shower didn’t turn on.

So, since I am at the mercy of deregulated business, I got the clues that they were trying to fix it, and decided to go fix my hangry spell.

I topped the excursion off with a purchase of logan berry juice in my own bamboo cup I purchased yesterday at the Saturday Night Market for 20 baht – cuz I wanted to save a cup since the bamboo was already chopped. PS 20 baht for what I got yesterday: a 12-16 oz carved bamboo cup with the logan berry juice in it (same thing both nights for me. delicious) is less than $1 US. WHAT.

I arrived back at my guesthouse with more peace in my heart because of my full belly (Amor Fati, after all) and the water was still not fixed. The owner asked a guy to let me shower at the annex to the Thai language school. Incidentally, I had scheduled to take a Thai language class the next day at that location. I love how everyone helps everyone out.

Since I was getting a shower, I thought, “why not?” and washed my swim shorts with the bar soap (thank god there happened to be soap in this bathroom). Then I noticed the spider. Large spider.

That was enough adventure for me for the night. I stayed in and finished a scholarship application essay for NHSC. Wish me luck!

Now, more food!

Saturday Night Market turned out to be quite a beast. I was excited to go, since my new friend from Portland, OR had told me all about it (we connected through a mutual friend on fb – thank you!). I wanted to try the fruit wines and see the Silver Temple all lit up!

She did warn me about the fugue from reason for spending money, but I was just like, ‘I got this’. I know how to keep my wallet closed and just eat my way through the market. Well. I’m a silly farang. I basically have a new wardrobe now.

I didn’t even know what was happening when I was spending the money. I was compelled. I wasn’t even allowed to try it on, and as a queer from America, we really wanna model that fabulous before we put our precious cash on the table for it. It was some sort of hypnotic group-think, or something. To be fair, all my clothing was at the laundry…

Thank Ganesh they all fit and look good. It’s a miracle.

Fun fact: most Thai kitchens are outdoors with a propane stove of some sort, and it is fashionable to have “slow food” because all their food is fast food – woks are wonderful.

Ps: that Silver Temple is harder to find than Platform nine and three-quarters. There are no. I repeat: no. maps that have all the streets on them – not Google, not tourist. There is literally a street between the main Wua Lai Road and Chang Lor Road at the same angle (about 30 degrees at Chan Lor). I did eventually find it, but I was at the end of my rope and really having trouble keeping my wallet closed.

I did eventually find the Silver Temple. Wat Sri Suphan, but not until the entire market was packing up. These folks like to party on their temple grounds from the looks of what was left. But, this is a tourist city – and I am becoming hyper aware of that after my visit just out of town.

IMG_1457
Magnificent Ganesh in Silver.

Less fun fact: the swastika sign on the rat’s belly used to mean good luck, before Hitler appropriated it.

Backing up in my trip even more, here’s some food from Elephant Day.

Some of the most satisfying food I have had has been – well, all of it. But, loads of my food got eaten before I thought to take pictures. I also bought some snacks at 7-11 here (really nice air conditioning and a decent place to get money exchange, but I would have rather brought more cash from the US to exchange with no commission – they charge 220 baht per transaction as far as I can tell).

I picked up some funky seaweed snacks with little krill on them or something. Minerally replacing is important in this country (and yes, I made mineral into an adverb). I think that’s why there’s so much fruit juice etc here: besides the cooling effect many fruits have, minerals and other salts are important to replace.

Clients, don’t get any ideas. Juice and other liquids do not count toward your water intake unless you live in a climate where people routinely sweat off their skin.

Coming full circle. Below is showcased my first meal in Thailand:

Coming up next Monday, the first day trip I will take in the new year: a Thai cooking class. Because, when in Thailand, eat food.

Ok, well, I guess this turned into an actual post. I have loads to fill most of you in on, but that will probably happen when I am hiding out from Songkran. It goes on for a little longer here, and I don’t know how crazy it’s going to get, but if it’s anything like the other night, I’m going to be perfectly content spending a good deal of time indoors. Who knows though. I’m open.

First Impressions: Chiang Mai, Thailand

I skimmed and read through three different tour books – National Geographic, Culture Shock, and a much older one I received from a mentor 4 years ago called “Thailand”. I put off reading my Thai Phrase book until my 24+ hour travel over here because it was daunting and for some reason I can avoid doing those sorts of things (which actually stresses me out more but I’m still unraveling that habit….). I had consoled myself by listening to others say (and reading in the tour books) English is spoken often and a person doesn’t need to know a lot of Thai. But, like most places, they appreciate the effort to meet them where they’re at.

So here we are: Day 3 in Chiang Mai and I know how to say “hello”, “please” and “thank you”.

Sawadee, khorp, khorp khun respectively. Each three terms have polite endings: khrap if you are masculine presenting, kha for feminine. so, it would be Khorp Khun Khrap for me to say Thank You.

IMG_0990

What I noticed first when I arrived, was that I was nervous. This is the first time I am traveling internationally alone, to a country where I know no one – and have no language skills. I had waited several years to do so because it scared me. There’s that habit again… Plus, many people I know in the US tend to be rather judgmental of the rest of the world – that it’s not safe, clean etc. The second one is sort of true. The US does enjoy its sterility. FYI ice is safe in large cities here – at least, I haven’t gotten sick in the three days I’ve been here.

It took me 4 hours to feel at home in this country. (It helps?) that most of the music is American. The clubs are a throwback to 50-cent and the like from the 90’s and early 2000’s.

Chiang Mai is a very diverse place, thriving on reasonable tourism and people vacationing. Though, I’m here in the off season. I’m also within the old city (surrounded by a moat), so this has a lot to do with the feels. The picture below is of the Thae Pae Gate entrance. I looked at my handy tourist map that I nabbed at the taxi station at the airport where I paid (too much) for a taxi to Gap’s Guesthouse (featured image at the top of this page).

IMG_1136

Once I had some delicious curry (somewhere above), a few wonderful glasses of iced green tea at 90 Fahrenheit (at a thousand percent humidity) and grappled with my aloneness and I-have-no-idea-what-is-going-on foreigner feelings, it was time to make some decisions.

What was I going to see first in this amazing new-to-me land? The oldest temple in all of Lanna Kingdom of course.

IMG_0961

More about Wat Chiang Man (constructed in the 1200s A.D.) in this entry. Fun fact: Temple is “Wat” in Thai.

I am blown away by the playfulness, joy, kindness, and hospitality (not to mention the patience) of the people in this place so far. I wanted to immerse in Thailand many years ago when I first heard about their reputation because I craved to grow into that way of living.

I have gotten into some great fun – today I went zip lining with a place called Jungle Flight where I had a surreal experience zooming a kilometer suspended over a deep jungle canyon, and yesterday I played and cared for elephants, swam in a waterfall, rode on a bamboo raft down a river. I’ve been dancing with new friends from Colorado, shared meals, had two hand made suit measurements made, and it’s only day 3. Every moment is radically different, but all part of the adventure.

IMG_1028

Today, on an empty-stomach kind of nauseous, hungover van ride to the zip line, I was rather emotional, and tears would come between serious Pranayama 4x4x4x4 breathing (my anti-nausea medication-action).

I was the only white person in this bus, couldn’t read any signs, everyone seemed to be able to communicate with each other (but mostly it was a silent 75 minutes) and I had sudden spells of utter loneliness, all while trying to keep myself from being that farang who puked.

I have had moments in these first 3 days where I have the fleeting thought: why the fuck did I decide this for a month an a half? Alone! I can’t fully articulate why this angst. My guess is that it involves a breaching awareness of myself, a transformation of sorts, re: my first international solo trip.

And then I get to walk whimsically, map in hand, and experience a fullness of life that this trip has already blessed me with on multiple occasions. The sweetness and the isolation, tug and pull, is like a (way better) version of puberty, a coming of age.

IMG_0992

I have a feeling that this will be the first trip of many in my lifetime like this, all over the world. In fact, I just might live and work part of the year in Thailand. 

My experience of the zip line, with the tour being almost all in English (when I refer to English, it’s rather broken, like some of my sentences in this article), and something my new friend from China said, reminded me of two things: English is a united second language most of the world is mandated in school to learn – and today strangely, I’m deeply grateful for that. A very related reflection: there is no other “universal language” that I know of. Politically, it’s an interesting power dynamic with an eerie history of colonialism (which may be a redundant statement).

My new friend from inner Mongolia likes to read, write, and participate in neutral activities. She had never been on a zip line before today. She says she will never do it again. For her, she knows she can do it now, and that’s enough. Kind of like the adage,

“Do at least one thing each day that scares you”

We have similar values around experiencing life. I describe mine as ‘exposure therapy’ whereby I do little things that scare me or make me uncomfortable with the goal to transform my reaction into a relatively positive (or at least neutral) one.

She too, was traveling alone. She though, is 4’9″. Her bravery astounds and inspires me.

IMG_1204.JPG

In related news: I was informed by her that it’s by Gregorian calendar year, and not lunar year that the zodiac changes. I am indeed the year of the Snake, not Dragon. Which has completely rocked my world.

Prepping for my ‘Last Hurrah”

I’ve looked at lists and better lists and gleaned a bit of insight into what I really need to bring. I have seen that medical school starts before medical school starts (thanks to the email of several assignments that are due on the first day). I understand I should have filled out my FAFSA earlier because now I will be applying for scholarships and loans while in a timezone 14 hours ahead of the one I currently reside in. In fact, I am so organized, that I have it all planned out: from my truck prep to travel cross-country to my laminated documents and researched options of things to do in Thailand – even down to already knowing which 13 (exactly 13) button down shirts I will take with me to move and begin medical school. It sure as hell doesn’t feel like organization. It feels like an obsessive (and not-so-seductive) muse of the never-ending to do list with a time urgency similar to that of a water-breaking pregger with twins.

Now that you have a picture of my current state of affairs, it won’t surprise you to learn that I’m stressed out AF. But, not to worry, because I leave in 5 days and everything will be fine.

Then, I’m back for just long enough to (hopefully) finish the mods to my truck (big shout out to my buddies in Oaktown!) including water tightening and platform building – some sound deadening installed in the cab cuz people can’t even hear me on the headphones now – to head down to the best party in the desert of PS. Then I turn around after that’s put away, spend LITERALLY a few hours at home before getting into a different car and driving up to see my sister graduate, coming back down – and – drumroll: spending less than half the week at home (long enough to pack up my things into the truck) to head down to SD and pick up some precious cargo on the way to the cross-country road trip for medical school.

IMG_3974

And actually, most of the Thailand stuffs are things I have been very on top of. It’s the timing of everything else that is a little shifty and frankly, semi-shitty. But, no matter. I will make due. Amor Fati, after all (wikipedia has a good page for this Latin concept, but you can look it up. This one was more exciting to me).

Onward!

IMG_0414

Oh, and I’ll be gone in Thailand for a month and a half, so look for updates.