Thursday, July 30, 2015

Thailand Part 6 - Sabaidee

Tuesday, March 10th

Well, I used up my $40 USD in 24 hours! Oops! Most things cost between 10-40k kips and I guess I bought a lot? Dinner last night... Breakfast ($3), lunch ($4), dinner ($4)... And I got my laundry done but didn't even have enough kips left to pay her! And the money exchange place was closed after 5:30pm, so I felt really bad, and have to return to her with 5k more kip tomorrow (about 50 cents). Ugh, oops. I'm gonna exchange $20 more USDs which should surely last me until I leave for the airport around 1. Breakfast, lunch, cab ride... Hopefully that's enough. I'll leave extras for the house keeping cleaning people. And buy some snacks!

Today I did not end up biking, but rather visited some caves with the Argentinean girl, Ralima, and 3 French ladies. I ran into Ralima (her name is something like that) on my walk back from breakfast this morning and we decided to so the caves together. It turned into quite a day, as what I thought would be about a 2 hr journey was more like 4-5 hours. We went waaay down the Mekong river by boat to see the caves, then pretty much came right back. It was a long way, but I really enjoyed the boat ride. We split up after that and decided to meet in the morning (530am) to watch the monks walk the street for their daily alms. I've already seen more monks in 1 place than ever before, just walking around to/from, but I am quite sure tomorrow will be pretty neat.
Luang Prabang, Laos

my journey to the top of Mount Phousi

Temple at the top of the "mountain."

mid-morning break before the boat ride

The French tourists on the boat ride with us

On a boat ride to see some Buddhas

Ridin' in style down the Mekong

monks in Laos

Real Laos

the caves

some of the 1,000s of Buddhas

More of the Buddhas

Really excited about the elephant behind me

Monks heading home for the day
Well, it's 7pm here and I'm exhausted. I was gonna go get a Laobeer at the bars down the road but... I ran out of money. Haha, shoot. Guess I have to go to sleep. 

Thailand Part 5 - From Chiang Mai to Laos

Monday, March 9th

Today I am eating pineapple fried rice for breakfast. I do usually just eat 3 meals a day, but timing is just as I feel like. I had dinner at 5ish last night, then dessert around 730. I got a famous Chiang Mai noodle soup for dinner, the second day in a row I've had that meal. And mango and sticky rice again, my favorite. I will be sad to say goodbye to that treat. Yes, I'm eating more noodles and rice than usual, and tons of fruit. Smoothies are like $1 USD, and soo good. Just fruit +ice. I have had 1 or 2 each day. Not as much dairy as I eat at home, but I don't really feel any different with the diet change.
Koi Soi Noodles

mango with sticky rice

Last night I went to the famous Sunday walking market. I bought a lot. Now hopefully today I can figure out how to mail everything back to the states okay. I have not had a massage yet, am going to try to do it today before my flight leaves. I walked by the place I want to go, it just wasn't open yet. So I'll head back to my guesthouse after breakfast, grab my bag, then walk back to the massage place I saw. If I have time I will also walk to the post office so I don't have to lug my bag of gifts around until the airport.

Farewell Chiang Mai
March and April in Chiang Mai is burning season, when the farms to the north and east burn off their fields for the new season. So, the air quality is pretty rough. I didn't realize how bad it was until our tour yesterday went way up on a hill overlooking the city. You could hardly see below because of the smoke. And today it is much worse, you can smell it and my eyes can feel it.

usually you can see the city from this view point
Good thing I'm leaving, as I'm sure it's bad for my lungs. And my feet aren't really better, but they are healing. I have been wearing sneakers and socks. Didn't do laundry yet, just wearing the same clothes day after day. I will probably do laundry in Laos or Cambodia, before I meet up with my friends this weekend. My shorts have dirt stains from biking and also soup stains from eating last night (oops).

fish prep at the market across the way from my guesthouse.
I leave for Luang Prabang, Laos at around 3pm today. I signed up to take a cooking class for the Tuesday that I am there (tomorrow). Hopefully I can get in, as those group tours seem to be the best way for me to meet people. I am not sure if my guesthouse will have internet either. Hard to tell from the website. Laos is supposed to be very laid back, slow paced, and friendly. If I don't get into my tour I'll just wander the city all day. There are also some caves I'd like to see with old Buddhas in them. The town is pretty small, so I should be able to see it all.
Then on Wednesday mid-day I leave for Siem Reap, Cambodia to see Angkor Wat. And on Friday I fly back to Thailand to go south and find my friends. I'm really excited to have people to talk to again!

That Night
First sunset in Laos

View from the tip of the Peninsula
Well, not to worry, made it to Laos and my guesthouse has Wi-Fi. And! A balcony! Thus, I went to the market and grabbed some dinner togo, and am chilling outside watching ppl walk by. I got a bunch of spring rolls for $1.25ish, a Lao beer, and some basil flavored potato chips. Less than $2 for the beer and chips.

Laos uses the kip, but dollars and bahts are accepted at most places too. But, to buy from a street vendor you need kip. The money is really weird, I only exchanged $40. Hope that lasts me 2 days (I have a feeling that will be too much, and I might have to buy more souvenirs, I'm told that once you have kip, nobody wants it back!)
My guesthouse overlooks a big temple on a hill/mountain, I'll walk up it tmr. It's also at the end of a busy restaurant bar/area. I'm also told Laos shuts down by 830pm, but I've seen a ton of backpackers walk by, so we'll have to see if that's true. I will venture to that area tomorrow night since it's an easy walk home.

view from my balcony
So far I really like it here. I met a solo female traveler from Argentina on the plane, and we shared a taxi downtown. She's staying in a hostel around the corner from me. She is waaay more play it by ear than me. She had no idea where her hostel was until we got to my place and she asked the desk man for directions. Also I think I've seen more white ppl here than anywhere else yet, and heard some obnoxious sounding Americans, so I'm sure I'll find more ppl to talk to. I didn't get into the cooking class, so looks like I just have to explore all day tmr. I will try and find a bike again, it's faster than walking temple to temple.

Oh, and I successfully mailed everything from Chiang Mai airport to my work address. Should arrive in about a month. I paid $22 USD. I bet the stuff in the box is worth about that... Will have to add it up when I open it. Cross your fingers it makes the journey. The box had no return address so I really hope I get it!

Oh, and I did the Thai massage this morning too. I was not a fan. The girl was really nice and I think she knew I was in pain. They stretch you and move you around, it's much different than normal ones I've had. I was so tense though i was afraid she would injure me. I think i will get another type once I go back to Thailand, maybe. More relaxing, less pain...hopefully.

Oh, and there's smoke here too! Not as bad as in Chiang Mai, but I reeeally miss blue skies! Was not expecting this at all.

Thailand Part 4 - Chiang Mai Day 2

Sunday, March 8th
Yes, I may have taken 3 showers since my last email. My guest house is very quiet and nice. Great A/C! It also has a pool. I am leaving in a few to go on my group temple tour. Hoping to find some breakfast beforehand. I should have bought some bananas yesterday in prep, oops. Asia has 30 different banana varieties! I learned that the Portuguese introduced the main variety that we know today to Europe, and then Americas when they moved west. I wonder why they didn't introduce more types. Also, the Portuguese introduced the Thai chili pepper to Thailand. Very important trades!

OK I'm gonna hurry and find something to eat. I must be back at my guest house in 30-60 min for tour pickup.
Oh, and I bought Band-Aids from 7-11. 18baht (under $1). I don't think the open wounds from my chacos will heal up quick enough, but my flip flops work fine with Band-Aids. I brought antibiotic ointment, so I'm using that and monitoring them. Also, after looking at the fish pedicure places I am definitely not doing that. Looks like an infection waiting to happen.

Later that day
My tour was alright, I met a really nice solo-female traveler from Korea/singapore. She works for Expedia as a Korean-to-English translator. But, the temple we went to was super touristy. Lots of Chinese people. But it was still beautiful. We also went to a village that used to sell opium but now sells trinckets. Not a place I'd want to live, pretty depressing. We did not see any long-neck tribe people. I think those dwellings are a little further out of town. I did buy a bag of strawberries for 40baht, about $1.25.
Our tour guide with an Italian couple

my solo female traveler friend
Wat Prathat Doi Suthep

smoothies every day

Now I am enjoying a nice mango smoothie on a patio cafe in town. After I drink it i think i will go back to my guesthouse and enjoy the pool until 5-6ish. The famous night market is tonight. So I want to rest up before checking it out. It goes until midnight, but I don't think I can stay up that long. I was asleep by 8pm yesterday. And I think I leave for Laos at around 2pm tomorrow, so I should have time for a Thai massage before finding a ride to the airport. I haven't booked any tours yet in Laos, so I'll look into that. It's a good way to assure I will meet some other people.
Koi Soi Noodles at the night market

Thailand Part 3 - Arrival in Chiang Mai

Saturday, March 7th - morning in Chiang Mai
Made it to my next destination, Chiang Mai. It feels much more like real ThailandAlso its about 15 degrees cooler! Bangkok was stressful. It's a really big city. Glad to have moved on. I cannot check into my hotel until noon, but I found it and spoke with the front desk lady. She was very pleasant, and asked if I was traveling alone. The reviews I read said to inform the desk person that you're solo and they will be on watch for you. In the meantime, I'm relaxing at a coffee shop. I'm getting eaten up by mosquitos. Also, no usable shower on train so that will be my first task when I get into hotel. I'm about as smelly as I was after hiking for 6 days. Again! I already saw several bikes in front of the hotel so hopefully there's still one for me after my shower. My feet are pretty beat up from all the sweating and walking I've already done.

OK I'll update you again later. I'm at a nice coffee shop drinking deliciously sweet iced coffee right now. Pic attached!

After Noon
Got into my hotel. Going to rent a bike for the day for 50 baht, less than $2. I'll email you longer tonight. Gonna go explore now and find some food.
Tha Pae Gate

smoothie break

That night
I'm a little sunburned from biking around the city today. It was a lot of fun, but difficult to take many photos. 

Yesterday at the train station in Bangkok I saw a dude wearing a Kansas shirt and today I saw a guy in a Longhorns shirt! I'm wearing the Royals tank top Dad got me hoping somebody will notice and say hello, but no luck so far. I didn't really say anything to either of those guys in the other shirts, so I guess that's fair.

For dinner tonight I got mango with sticky rice. It's sooo good. I might just eat mangos for the rest of my meals here. They add coconut milk to make the rice sweeter and dang, it's good. Mango is super fresh and flavorful. Tomorrow I am doing a group tour to see a big temple from 8am-12pm and in the afternoon/eve I'm going to a huge market where they close the streets off from cars.

dinner for adults

On the train I met two girls from France, one spoke much better English than the other. But i mostly just slept. I ate dinner in the dining car and coffee there in the morning, but didn't talk to anybody else. But, when we got to the station I joined up with a guy from Finland to walk into town. It was only about a 7km walk and the guy at the info booth thought we were nuts to walk that far. But I haven't really found any travel friends. It makes me very excited to know I'll meet up with whole bunch of my American friends next week! I don't know if I want to travel abroad alone again, it is sorta lonely. But it is also nice to just do whatever I want.

OK I'm gonna take a shower and head to bed shortly. Oh, and they have given me a fork/knife and chopsticks for all my meals so far. So I've used both.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Thailand Part 2 - One Night in Bangkok

Friday, March 6th - Morning in Bangkok
Good morning from BKK!

I made it to my bike tour yesterday, but was in a bit of a rush getting there. I wanted to take public transit to avoid traffic. Best way- a canal boat! Just like in Venice. It was great, really really fast and no traffic. Total cost was 23 baht (less than $1). I had to ask a few ppl for help navigating which boat, how much, and when to depart, but ppl were really helpful. One guy saw me looking at the map and just offered to help. I'm one of the only white people around, so ppl assume I need help and just provide it.

I also had to get bottled water yesterday to quench my thirst. That was part of the rush to the bike tour place. So before the canal boat ride I went to 7 Eleven and got 2 big big bottles for 13 baht each. That's less than $1 total. The hotel is selling fancy mineral water in tiny containers for 150 baht ($5). Same price as my breakfast today and more than my cab ride home yesterday. To get home from the bike tour place it was a 20-25 min ride. The cab driver was the most dishonest person I met yet, because he didn't have his meter running when I got in. Fortunately my pre-trip research paid off because I told him to please pull over and I would find a ride with a meter. And just like that he turned it on. I was a bit nervous he would take a long, indirect way, but he drove me right back home. For less than $3! I bet he could have charged somebody else like $30.

The bike tour was about $40 USD, and definitely worth it. We biked about 7 miles around town, from 6-10pm. I saw most of the temples I was planning on going to this morning, but at dark when they are not crowded at all. Plus, it was much cooler temps at dark. We didn't get to go inside any of the famous Buddhas because they were closed, but... I think I'll survive not seeing those in person. The bike tour had 2 guides and 11 tourists. Of the tourists, there were 2 other solo females, one looked like she was in college and the other was from Europe, a bit older than me. I didn't really talk to them much. There was also a couple from Germany that I talked to a bit. They were so nerdy and really nice, also around my age. We tried some fried grasshoppers! It just tasted like fried oil. I was not a fan. But I ate a grasshopper, haha. I also got a watermelon in a bag with hot chilis on it. The watermelon was sooo good. The tour company bought those for me. Everybody got to try some random snacks. I was too afraid to eat any of the meat on a stick though... Today I will get some Pad Thai and egg rolls from a stall, and hopefully some coconut ice cream and sticky rice. The experience last night helped show me buying food stall food is easy and people are nice so i don't need to be nervous. Our bike tour also went to the famous flower market. It's where most all the flowers from Thailand are sold. It was awesome, smelled great. You could buy 50 roses for 50 baht (less than $2). The guide said that goes up to like 500+ baht during valentines day. Biking around the streets/alleys of BKK was nuts though. It's so crowded, and there's motorbikes all around, plus ton of stray dogs and cats and ppl walking. But, I really liked it. I got to see lots of the city. I want to rent a bike in Chiang Mai tomorrow so I can see all the temples I researched on my walking tour. Biking is way faster than walking and doesn't hurt my knee. I think the grand canyon really messed my knee up. But, it would probably help if I rested it instead of walking everywhere. Not really gonna happen!

So today, I have until my train to Chiang Mai departs at 6:10pm to explore Bangkok more. I'm going to take the public transit to the train station and see if I can get a locker for my bag so I don't have to carry it around all day. I want to walk around Chinatown, which is right near the train station. I'm looking forward to the overnight train ride, as hopefully I can meet some other travelers. There probably won't be internet onboard, but my hotel in Chiang Mai should have it, so I'll try and notify you when I arrive tomorrow. Chiang Mai should also be cooler, but even if not, it's a much smaller city, so hopefully not as chaotic. Bangkok is intense, kind of exhausting.

Double checking that all the bikes have lights

just like the cool kids


Temple of Dawn (Wat Arun)

Fried bugs at the Flower Market. I tried the grasshopper.

Folded Lotus Flowers

Watermelon with chilis on it. YUM.

The Grand Palace
Ready to travel from BKK to Chiang Mai

bike share in Bangkok

Bangkok Train Station. Where I spent way too long.

Thailand Part 1 - From Chicago to Bangkok

I'm feeling nostalgic for my travels earlier this year, so it felt like a good time to journal together some of the happenings. Although I didn't blog during my trip, I sent a whole lot of emails to my parents. So, this summarizes.

Wednesday, March 4th, 4:45pm in Chicago
Thursday, March 5th, 5:45am in Hong Kong
Howdy! I made it to Hong Kong. I sat next to two of the very few other white people on the plane. They were headed to Bali for only four days. The girl's college friend is getting married in an Indian wedding (4 days long for 1 wedding). The flight from Chicago was about 15 hours. I watched the newest hunger games movie while eating dinner, then started watching Birdman (just the won oscar for best picture) but fell asleep for a few hours. I watched the rest of Whiplash, then slept... Then finished Birdman, then slept a bit more, then watching the kids movie, Big Hero 6, while they served us breakfast. Big Hero 6 was the best of all the movies I watched. For dinner we had 3 choices, chicken, beef, or pasta. I got beef. It came with potato salad with salmon and cheesecake. Sort of a weird combo but not bad. For breakfast we got eggs with bacon, spinach, and tomato. And yogurt, fruit, and a muffin. The breakfast was really good. All in all, really not too bad. It's around 6:30am here and my flight to bangkok departs at 9:10. I'm gonna wander the airport a bit more. Flight from here to Bangkok is about 3 hours. I'm having a great time so far, already excited to shower again though. Sure am glad we did the grand canyon before this, it really set the bar for dirtiness and the amount of stuff I need. I'm so proud of how little I packed! But I think I need a new water bottle. I packed the same one but it smells weird, might be moldy or something.
OK that's all I have to report so far. I'll touch base next time I have internet!

Scene: March 5th, mid-afternoon in Hong Kong
Made it! Free wifi in my room. It's soooo hot. Humid hot. I walked about 10 min from the train stop to my hotel and was drenched. Might be doing a lot of laundry. I'm at the pool now and will head to my bike tour around 4. I'll update you more tonight.
my hotel room in BKK

One word describes my arrival in Bangkok, HOT.
view of Bangkok from my hotel room