Published: October 28th 2008October 28th 2008
Day 9 - October 18, 2008
Not a very productive day. Spent the whole day at the airport rearranging our travel plans. Gim decided to skip Italy, Egypt, and South Africa (after a lot of effort and dollars) and go to Thailand and Cambodia instead. We are keeping Tibet, Nepal, Malaysia, and Philippines. This is all due to my floating visa (boohoo!).
Day 10 - October 19, 2008
We have finally arrived in Thailand after a long flight from Casablanca.
Our hotel is really elegant. We highly recommend Plaza Athenee Le Meridien Hotel. We got a good deal on our room because Gim is a Starwood member. For you guys out there, do not forget to make use of this opportunity.
We felt so sick on our first day we just stayed in our room. All the street food that we have braved and enjoyed thoroughly in Morocco got the worst of us. We were so sick we stayed in bed for the whole day. Most likely viral gastroenteritis (we hope it’s just that) or maybe E.coli or Salmonella (though we got typhoid vaccines). We got up at 9 pm and went
to Suan Lam night bazaar for some shopping and dinner and unfortunately could barely eat. However, sick or not, shopping we did ☺. After merely 5 minutes in the shopping area, I already got a dress, 2 scarves, a coin purse, a fan, which, including dinner, cost us only less than $20!!! We each got a foot massage for 130 Bhat each for 30 minutes (~$4). We so luuuv Bangkok!
And btw, we noticed that most Thai girls are really skinny. By Thai standards, I am fat ☺
Day 11 - October 20, 2008
Temples and stomach bug
We got up early. Still didn’t feel well. Met with the tour guide Sena and the driver for a half-day tour we arranged yesterday at the airport. We went to Wat Pho temple, the biggest and oldest temple in Bangkok (16th century), where we saw the “Reclining Buddha”. It is huge at 46 meters (~150 feet) long and 15 meters (~50 feet) high. We also saw the temples of the “Standing Buddha” and the “Peace Buddha”, and had a boat ride along river Chao Phraya. I had to cover my shoulders with
a shawl as one is not allowed to have bare shoulders and clothes above the knees in the temple grounds.
The “James Bond boat” ride is a lot of fun. It really looks so funny because it has this huge car engine as the motor at the back (see pix). A lot of houses still exist around the canal. Our tour guide said that the government has been asking most of the houseowners to move out because of safety concerns. She also said that the river is clean because the people that live around it have learned not to pollute the river. They do not use the river for human waste disposal. The government has provided them a number of toilets around the area for this purpose. I had a blast feeding schools and schools of huge catfish. They were voracious eaters.
I do not know how we got over the rest of the day since we were still both feeling so sick. Got to the hotel and gambled on having street pad thai (so good for 30 Baht each) then slept early in between (one too many) bathroom breaks.
Day 12 - October 21, 2008
Floating river and crocodile farm
Woke up early again to go with the driver and Sena to the floating market. The floating market is bustling with vegetables, hats, knick-knacks, and food peddlers. Too bad we got stomach bug or we would have tried all the finger foodies around. Gim got some coconut chips and different kinds of banana chips. We rode on a sampan boat. We bought a Thai white balm (so hot on your skin you forget about your whatever-aches).
Then we went to the Samphran Elephant and Crocodile Farm. First we had a buffet lunch. As usual, we piled our plates high with yummy Thai food, but sadly, we still could not eat ☹.
We paid 100 Baht to have our pictures taken with two tigers. We were able to pet the tigers some (only by the hind legs, not the head though). The tigers were just lying there, very calm and relaxed, while all these people are lining up to have their pictures taken.
After a brief just-okay magic show, we saw the elephant show. This show is amazing!!! The elephants are so intelligent and are really,
really, really adorable! We were given a chance to feed them with bananas and sugar cane after the show. They are just the gentlest, lovable creatures. If they weren’t so big, I would’ve liked to take one home ☺. Gim said it’s like a rainshower when they pee and like a small hill when they poop.
Then we went to see the crocodile show. No, I wouldn’t want to take one home of these… Gim let me feed them with raw chicken, though. If I throw the chicken half a foot away from their mouths, they would just leave it be. Too lazy to move a few inches, they are! And really scary looking too. There are about hundreds of them in the farm just lying around, enjoying the sun (and rain). The show featured some Thai boys putting their heads and hands inside the croc’s mouths (which appear to me to be really sleepy - they do sleep with their mouth gaping wide).
We went back to the hotel, had really yummy dinner (we luuuv Thai food!!), then went again to the bazaar. Got ourselves a wonderfully satisfying, back-popping, hour-long massage for about $10 each! Ain’t Bangkok
just the place to be?
Day 13 - October 22, 2008
Centre Point Q House
Woke up late today. Checked out Plaza Athenee (goodbye luxury) and checked in Centre Point Q House, which is half the price but definitely still really, really nice and convenient. It even has a kitchen and a balcony. They also have a great buffet breakfast, a swimming pool and Jacuzzi, sauna, and a laundry area! You can also leave your luggages here if you plan to go to another area (and come back, of course) at no charge. They even have free wifi! They also have special weekly or monthly rates. This hotel seemingly has everything we need.
That night we went to MBK, the most popular shopping area in Bangkok. It has endless rows of stalls that keep going, and going, and going, and going… Clothes, cellphones (a whole floor dedicated to cell phones!), bags, accessories, and everything in between, it’s all here, folks!
Day 14 - October 23, 2008
A Platinum Day in Platinum Mall
Uneventful, recovery period. We booked our Chiang Mai-Mae Hong Son-Chiang Rai tour for the next 9 days to start tomorrow (about $1000
including hotel stay). We had a 85 Baht lunch (around $2 plus change), went to Computer City (Panthip Plaza). Panthip Plaza is a whole mall for computers, cameras, laptops, and electronic paraphernalia. Super cheap stuff too!
We went to Platinum Mall, only a mere walking distance from our hotel. For us, this mall is much better than MBK. We did not need to haggle much as prices are already low. Predominantly a clothing mall, this is our favorite shopping place so far. My head was spinning, my eyes were as wide as saucers, I had sensory overload at this place! Gim and I came up with a plan. Next time to we go to Bangkok, we would bring only 2 days of clothes and buy everything here, from undies to socks, to our luggage. Simply walk in directly from the airport, and buy everything we need from here. Blouses and shirts start at 10 Baht and dresses for 300 Baht. If you buy 2 or 3 items from the same store, you get even lower prices. This mall is awesome!
Day 15 - October 24, 2008
Chiang Chiang is what I call our Chiang Mai-Mae Hong Son-Chiang Rai trip for short. Airport is big and clean. No shortage of ATM machines here. Unlike Morocco, they have clean restrooms with more than enough toilet paper and soap in the airport (but in some places here, they only have the water-sealed latrines so you gotta squat and flush with water that you have to scoop from a pail -- no toilet paper and no soap either, so ALWAYS have tissue paper and those alcohol gels handy).
Gim said that people in Chiang Mai, located in Northern Thailand, have fairer complexion and that the girls in Chiang Mai are said to be the prettiest in Thailand.
Chiang Mai is only a 3-hour flight north of Bangkok. It is the largest city in North Thailand with a population of 150,000.
Our hotel Suriwongse Hotel is not that nice. It has poorly maintained bathroom and dirty shower curtain. It has also not been renovated as it seems stuck in the 70s era, and it smells like it.
The Chiang Mai night bazaar is something else. Candyland to the maximum level! It is just too big and too
complicated to describe. We shopped and ate and shopped again. The vendors are much less pushy, although there is still haggling. We observed that the Thais are very friendly and nice, always smiling and very polite at all times. We think that they are very lucky living in this beautiful country with great weather, elephants and tigers, lots of orchids and exotic tropical flowers, yummy mangoes and guavas and papayas and coconut juice, amazing beaches, inexpensive commodities, great food - tom yum (we had tom yum twice in one afternoon, with mango and sticky rice, fresh spring rolls mmmmm), spices (saffron is also cheap here) - these are just a few of the amazing wonders in Thailand. We may just decide to retire early and live here forever.
We shopped and shopped. And still we couldn’t get enough of Chiang Mai. Tomorrow we start the tours.
Day 16 - October 25, 2008
Doi Suthep, Hmong Village, and Bo Sang
First stop: Doi Suthep temple, built on top of a hill around 2000 meters high. It was a foggy, cool morning, with the breeze smelling of fresh raindrops on tree leaves. According to legend, a
white elephant carried a Buddha relic to the hilltop after traveling for days and died on the site where the Doi Suthep temple now stands. It’s very a pretty site with lots of cattleyas and orchids and other exotic flowers, with a panoramic view of the city below. We walked around the gold stupa pagoda three times as Thai people do, offered lotus flowers and incense to the Buddha, got blessed by the monks with holy water, and were given cotton bracelets with 9 strands for luck (which we can take off only on odd days after we got them, i.e. 3rd day, 5th day, 7th … ). Monks cannot touch females, by the way, so a lay person did the tying of the cotton bracelets for us.
Next we went to the home of the Meo or Hmong tribe, one of the hill tribes of Thailand. The kids are so cute with their colorful tribal wear adorned with beads. Again a lot of exotic flowers and souvenir shops here.
After lunch we went to the village of Bo Sang, where we saw the Thais busy at work with all sorts of handicrafts. Very crafty and creative, they
truly are. We saw and learned the process of weaving the Thai silk from the poor silkworms (who die in their cocoons, the cocoons they weave provide the silk, about 50 cocoons to make a single thread), making lacquerwares from the naturally black sap of the Thai lacquer tree, paper/silk/cotton umbrellas (they showed us how they make the paper from mulberry tree barks), honey and royal jelly, and of course, my favorite of all time (and Gim’s least favorite since everytime we go there his wallet gets drained), gems and jewelry ☺. I got my shorts pocket painted with purple butterfly by a Thai girl, who did it in about 2 minutes.
At night while wandering around the bazaar, we decided to have our portraits taken, in Chiang Mai style! This is so much fun. We got made up, dressed up, decked with a lot of jewelry. We felt like giggling all throughout this pictorial.
We also saw traditional Thai dances during dinner of Tom Yum (again), fried egg noodles, fresh coconut juice in the shell, chicken and rice. Yumyum.
Day 17 - October 26, 2008
Shows and Rides
Today was a spectacular day. It started
with the elephant show. They danced, played soccer and basketball, musical instruments, and finally painted! Suda, one of the painter elephants, even signed her name! Next came the elephant ride. This is much better than the camel ride because of the seats on top of the elephants. They are so big that they can carry 3 people on their backs effortlessly. The elephants took us into the jungle and rice fields, and the view is just breathtaking. Everything is so green and the air is so pure and clean (except when one of the elephants decided to excrete his five-pin bowling ball-sized poop).
Then we had an ox cart ride. Two oxen are able to carry 5 people plus the big wooden cart on their backs. Now we know where the saying “strong as an ox” came from. the ox cart driver gave me the reins so our carriage went here and there, all over the road. Thankfully no broken bones among my passengers.
After lunch we had the bamboo raft ride. Gim and I tried maneuvering the raft. Nope, we didn’t capsize the thing.
Next came the monkey show. These simians are hilarious! They were trained
to climb coconut trees and harvest the coconuts since 2 years old. They love to kiss your cheeks and are trained to greet Thai style (palms together and bowing slightly). They learned how to ride a bike, dunk a ball into a basket, throw 3-point shots, sell “Monkey balm” (they know how to get the money from you, put the money into their handler’s shirt pocket and give you the goods), retrieve fallen objects from the pool (yup they can dive), sit on your lap for pictures, and one of them even knows how to read numbers! The baby monkey is so adorable. It’s a little unnerving how similar they are to humans in appearance, too bad they do not have opposable thumbs (among many other differences of course!).
Then came another climactic event, the Tiger Kingdom! For 300B for 15 minutes, we played with 6-month old cubs. They seem to be oblivious to humans all around them clamoring for their attention and trying to hold them still for a few seconds to take a picture. Like toddlers, they love to play and play and do nothing else. They didn’t mind us all trying to touch them as long
as we didn’t touch them on the face or paws, or they would think that we are playing with them and would try to claw or bite us playfully. Here, you could also play with the grown up ones (they seem to sleep a lot), or with a newborn cub (much expensive at 500B/15 mins).
Then we went to see the very colorful and delightful orchid farm and learned how to artificially inseminate orchid flowers so they would produce a fruit. From the seeds of these fruits they grow more orchids in an agar medium. We also saw some cattleyas and some butterflies and their cocoons.
After everything we did today, our day is not yet done until we went to the Sunday night bazaar. Shopping here and there is all we did and miles of walking while eating street food like fried ice cream, rosella juice, fish cakes and fish-shaped waffles. The Sunday night bazaar of Chiang Mai is where you can get the cheapest prices that you wouldn’t even need to haggle. Our advise is, if you are in Chiang Mai, do not buy anything until you see the Sunday night bazaar.
Finally we got
the chance to ride the Tuk Tuks! These motorcycle-driven passenger vehicles are unique to Thailand.
In between walking and shopping, we saw around 5 temples. At the end of our day, we found a massage place inside one of the temple grounds. Gim decided to have a “holy massage” and for 120B we got a traditional whole body Thai massage for a whole hour. Very relaxing, after a hectic day.
Day 18 - October 27, 2008
Mae Hong Son
Off we went today to Mae Hong Son. After a brief 30-minute flight, we were greeted by the lovely sight of indigo mountains and verdant fields all around. With a population of only around 10,000, Mae Hong Son is a welcome respite after Chang Mai and Bangkok.
Right away we went to see the Fish Caves where the blue brook carps are protected so they grow so large. We saw them chilling in large numbers in a cave in Thampla Ranger Station and fed them peanuts. Cool!
We drove up one of the mountains to see Pha Sua waterfalls. The healing sound and the serene sight of the waterfalls took our migraines away.
up more to around 1200 meters elevation (our ears popped) to see the Meo tribe, from South China. From their village, we can see Burma (not Russia- just kidding, no political innuendos intended). In fact there are Thai army and Burmese army stationed on each side of the border (but there is no actual fence guarding the border). Gim can speak to some of the Meo in Mandarin, which was fun, finally some common ground, since they speak little English. We had some Oolong tea and ginseng tea and some traditional pastries for 5 Baht each.
By the way the animals rule the streets in Mae Hong Son and Chiang Mai. The dogs, mules, oxen, water buffalos (or carabaos) lie down, sit, or just stand still in the middle of the road. Most Thais are Buddhists and a lot of people in the North are animists, so no roadkill here.
The van dropped us off the Mae Hong Son night bazaar (small compared to the gargantuan bazaars in Chiang Mai), where we saw another temple and lighted our own sky lantern or Kom which flew so high up to the skies! We prayed to our Gods as our
lantern soared high to join the stars.
Day 19 - October 28, 2008
Long Neck Tribe and Caves
The boat trip on the Pai River , the main river of Mae Hong Son, was rejuvenating. We enjoyed the fantastic views of surrounding mountain ranges. Weather was cooperative yet again, even though it’s still the rainy season. It was a 15-minute ride to go to the Long Neck Village of the Karen (or Kayan) tribe. Gim took several pictures of the fascinating women with their necks wrapped in brass coils. I tried it myself and it’s quite heavy, about 5-6 kg according to our tour guide.
We made a quick stop at one of the temples atop one of the hills and got a great view of the town.
Then we drove 2 hours Northeast to see the Tham Lod caves. We took a short bamboo raft ride along the Lang River. Since it’s the rainy season, the river overflows inside the caves so we had to use the raft to go around the caves. It’s pitch black so one of the guides had to use a kerosene lamp for us to see
the way. We can hear the bats and smell their poop and pee inside the enormous caves. We saw stalagmites, stalactites, columns, and sinkholes. We thought we can make up figures of the Buddha, anacondas, crocodiles, tigers, elephants from the natural rock formations. Gim kept on making up more stuff the deeper and higher into the caves we went. It was eerie and slippery.
Then we had a facial mud pack at Phu Klon Hot Springs. We felt our skin got stretched and our pores got smaller after a 20-minute mud pack for only 60 Baht.
There are more photos below