Thailand (Part II) - Bangkok, Chang Mai

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March 21st 2012
Published: March 21st 2012EDIT THIS ENTRY

Thailand(Part II):

One of the nice things about traveling is when friends put you in contact with friends. Or, when you meet people on your journey and then meet up again. So was the case in Bangkok. I was planning on heading straight to Chang Mai, Thailand from Vientiane, but I would have had to backtrack. I knew 3 people who were going to be in Bangkok between the 7th and 12th of March, so I decided to take the night train from Laos and meet everyone.

I have to say that riding a night train was much better than riding the night bus (the one I took from Hue to Hanoi). I met a Russian couple that was my age and we had a good talk about Russia and Communism and just the world in general. I love traveling because I meet so many people who are just as interested in the world as I am. The guy, Serge, had studied in Mississippi when he was in high school and spoke great English. He said the kids thought he was a Russian spy. His girlfriend looked like she could have been Melania Trump’s little sister. They talked about how American films always portrayed Russians as being very angry and upset and serious. They were really mad about that! Serge told me that when they grew up they were taught that Americans were fat and money hungry and didn’t care for their poor, even though they have the money to help them out. Mainly that Capitalism was a brutal system that exploited the weakest elements of society. But, he liked the Americans and saw that America wasn’t as bad as he thought it was going to be. Listening to him explain their view I could see the truth in it. His point was that even though those things are true, there is also a good side he hadn’t expected to see. They both said that most people who are 45+ in Russia would prefer Communism today because of the security it provided for the society, the descent wage that let you have a stable home and take a vacation or two a year to the Black Sea. They talked about how scary things became after communism fell, the food shortages, and the money being devalued. But now things are better.

Bangkok – A few weeks back when I was in Bangkok I was extremely sick with some bacteria infection. I took some antibiotics that kicked it out of me, but I didn’t get to see the city. Since I knew three people who were going to be there I opted to head to Bangkok first before heading to Chang Mai. The first person I met was Mel, a friend of my friend Jason Lenar from Oil City. Mel was on vacation and making her way to Perth, Australia. We walked around town a bit and made our way to Khao San Road. Khao San Road is famous for travelers. After walking around we made our way to the Royal Palace. I really wanted to see the Royal Palace, since I had gotten sick there the last time and never made it inside. Unfortunately, it was closed because of a national holiday (second time I couldn’t get in). We headed back to my hotel for the free happy hour at the Sheraton, where we consumed more food and beverages than I paid for my room.

The next day was another attempt to see the Royal Palace. Apparently, the King of Thailand (who is on just about every billboard) was coming through and everything around the palace shut down (third time I couldn’t get in). We decided to head to the Big Buddha and then to the National Museum. The Big Buddha was impressive, though not as impressive as the one in Phuket. After walking around a bit through the market we attempted to go to the National Museum. We finally found a cab driver to use the meter and take us there. Unfortunately, he thought we meant National Stadium. I tried to confirm with him a few times when I saw we were passing landmarks on the map that were far away from where we intended to go. “I know, I know”, he kept saying. Well, he didn’t know. We got out of the cab and I gave him about 20 baht for his time, versus the 80 on the meter. The only reason I even gave him that was because I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt that he misunderstood “Museum” for “Stadium”. We ended up going to a hotel to get a cab and making sure the bellboy told the driver where we were going. Since it was close to the time the museum was closing we decided instead to head to Wat Arun. This was one of the nicest temples I had seen in the city. It sits right along the river. My previous time in Bangkok, a few weeks back, was overcast and smoggy. This time there were perfect blue skies. The sunset make the temple look amazing, along with the riverboat ride back to the hotels. Before Mel came to Bangkok she emailed me and asked if I wanted to have dinner with her on the rooftop of the Lebau Hotel, where she was staying. It was about 55 floors up and outside. The view was unbelievable. It was the same hotel that The Hangover 2 was filmed. It was nice to have a proper meal. And by proper I mean our bill came to about $250. I also Facetimed with Jason and walked around the outdoor restaurant showing him the view.

Most people know me to be patient and well tempered. However, a side of me most have not seen has been coming out when I deal with taxi cab drivers in Bangkok. Every time I try to get a cab the driver either asks how much I want to pay, or he gives a price that is 2 to 5 times what the meter will cost. Not being ripped off has become the PURSUIT OF MY LIFE! I refuse to take a taxi that doesn’t use the meter. This has resulted in a lot of slammed doors and me explaining my feelings about not paying more than any non-tourist. There comes a point in ones life where you just don’t care what anyone thinks of you or the country you represent and you hold your ground. At least the taxi cab drivers of Bangkok know that not all Americans will just pay extra, even if it is relatively less than what one would pay in a big US city – Not me!

I needed a visa for Myanmar and Bangkok was the place to do it. I went to the embassy the next morning only to find that I wasn’t the only one trying to get into Myanmar. The line was about a block long. Luckily there was a place around the corner that became a one-stop shop for everything you need to get the visa (forms, pictures, passport copies). I used the opportunity to get some extra visa pictures for later. The cost was about 150 baht for everything. I offered the lady 250 baht for everything, plus 8 extra photos. She countered with 200 baht. I never had that happen before in Asia but I took it. I then made my way to the long line and waited to take a number and finally submitted my forms.

After I turned my passport into the Myanmar embassy I met Mel and we attempted to see the Royal Palace again. Finally we were able to get in. The Royal Palace was one of the most amazing things I had seen on the trip so far. Everything was in gold. The palace grounds had multiple temples and the artwork was amazing. It’s definitely a must see if you are in Bangkok.

The next day I helped Mel transfer hotels. I had taken the morning to work out and catch up on emails and my blog. The plan was to go to the hotel, pick up my visa from the Myanmar embassy and meet Jeremy and Kim, two of the Australians I had met in Hanoi. Bangkok is notorious for bad traffic and I could see that going back to get my visa would take forever in a taxi. Plus, I didn’t have the time or energy to deal negotiating an inflated rate. I opted to take a motorbike. I had ridden on motorbikes before. I was in an accident in Rome one summer when I was in college while riding on the back, which is always in the back of my mind ever time I get on one. This was quite possibly the most insane ride I had ever been on. My driver was driving faster than the cars and was weaving in and out of traffic. He basically got me across town in 15 minutes. I was just waiting for a door to open at any point and could see us being ejected in slow motion and flying 200 feet before torpedoing into the back of a truck. Or worse, being hit by a car driving perpendicular to the direction we would be flying through the air. These kinds of things go through my head and I try to figure out how I would be able to sustain the impact. When I was a consultant and flying for work I would often fanaticize about crash landings or having to jump out of the plane at 30,000 feet without a parachute. I would think about how I would have to hold my breath until I was at an altitude with more oxygen, or how I would sustain the cold air that high up – and then land in different situations - be it land, water, or night landings on land or water. I had it all planned out. I’d even think about how I’d make my way back to civilization if I was in the middle of nowhere (watch Bear Grills – Man vs. Wild). Then explain it all to 60 Minutes or CNN. I can’t believe I just wrote that for everyone to read.

After getting my visa, and avoiding any injuries, Mel and I went to meet the Australians. It was good meeting up with them again. We had such a great time in Hanoi and Ha Long Bay. We grabbed a few drinks at their hotel and talked a bit, then went to dinner. The dinner was great and we headed off to a few bars. Obviously Bangkok is known for being a bit risqué in many parts. There were go-go bars and ladyboys everywhere. We went into a bar Jeremy knew that had a mechanical bull. There are just certain things you will never see in the United States. Walking into a bar and seeing two dancers and a 2-year-old riding a mechanical bull is probably one of those things. The bull operator was making the bull go slow, but it was funny to see. We sat down and watched as people tried to ride the bull and get thrown off. The bar offered free drinks at first. I passed because I was still feeling good from the gin and tonics in the hotel room, plus the gin and tonics at the restaurant. The drinks the waitress brought out were florescent blue. It reminded me of the movie Eurotrip when they go to the bar in Bratislava, Slovakia. It was that florescent. Everyone who tried it said it tasted like Windex. We stopped at a few other places and then called it a night.

Mel had taken off the next morning for Ko Samui. I switched hotels too, to be closer to Kim and Jeremy. We met up later that afternoon and went to the market. I now know where the clothes you donate go. They inevitably make it back to this market. There were tons of used and new shirts, shoes, trinkets, ect. everywhere. Jeremy had lived in Bangkok for a year teaching English and knew the area well. You could buy all sorts of exotic pets too. The market was huge. I had never been to one so big. Perhaps the best part was this place we ate lunch at, which had cheap gyros. I think I had four. That evening I took my wash to their hotel, which had a washer/dryer, and we went to dinner at an Italian restaurant. I had a great time hanging out and talking to them. Hopefully I’ll see them if I ever go to Melbourne.

Chang Mai - Since the wash/dry cycle took about 3 hours to complete I decided to pick it up the next day before my flight to Chang Mai. I took the sky train to the airport and boarded my flight. Chang Mai is Thailand’s old capital. It’s also the country’s temple rich area.

I checked in at Le Meridian because I got an awesome rate. My junior suite was amazing. There were three things I wanted to do in Chang Mai: Take a cooking course, ride an elephant, and see the temples. I signed up for the half-day cooking course. There were 8 people in my class. I met three girls from Washington DC. Of course, one of them works at Deloitte. That’s the second Deloitte person I’ve met on this trip – both of whom had worked in the one of the two offices I was based. The cooking class was great. I learned to make pad thai, beef salad, kho soi, and a chicken curry dish.

I signed up for a daylong trek, which consisted of a bunch of activities. The first of which was elephant riding. This was a first for me. Elephants are such powerful creatures. My elephant, Noi, kind of went at his own pace. It wasn’t the most comfortable ride, but siting so high offered great views of the area.

Next it was off to do some whitewater rafting. I was teamed up with 3 people from Poland. How many people does it take to whitewater raft down a river?? – Ok, I won’t go there. The rapids were slightly more exciting to what we had growing up on the Allegheny River. After the rapids were over we boarded a bamboo raft to float down the rest of the river until we got to the lunch location. Lunch consisted of a chicken rice mix wrapped in a palm leaf and some pineapple.

After the rafting it was on to the waterfall. To get there we had to hike for about 40 minutes. It was well worth the trek. The waterfall wasn’t as impressive as the one I saw in Laos, but the water wasn’t nearly as cold either. The other guys in my group were all from Spain and we had a pretty good time hanging out.

The last part of the trip was the tiger cage. I didn’t pay to go in the cages with the tigers to get my picture taken. I’m highly skeptical that the tigers are drugged to make sure they don’t get too aggressive with people trying to take pictures with them or who lay down beside them. Still, they were amazing creatures to see.

My last day in Chang Mai was pretty laid back. I got up and went to the gym and organized some things. In the afternoon I went to the temple up in the mountain called Wat Phra Doi Suthep. The temple overlooked all of Chang Mai. One of the things I’ve noticed about the Asian countries I’ve been to is that there is a lot of haze. I’ve head a lot of theories on this, from fires to the barometric pressure to pollution. Either way, I’m sure some of the views would be amazing after a good rain. Wat Phra Doi Suthep was amazing with a giant pagoda in the middle. There were also a few groups of young dancing girls in festive outfits.

My last night in Chang Mia I met up with the American girls from DC that were in my cooking class. I headed back early because I had an early flight the next day to Bangkok and then on the Myanmar.

Next stop – Myanmar (Burma)!

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