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Published: March 1st 2010
I arrived in Bangkok, after having a nice flight sat next to a nice Malaysian man who taught me all about Malaysian politics. Malaysians have a big stamp in the front of their passport saying they can't go to Israel. I know it's a reciprocity thing, but I'm glad my passport gets me in anywhere. There were TONS of Chinese teenagers on the plane, who kept taking photos of everything. They were going to Thailand on holiday for Chinese New Year that weekend. I knee-bullied the girl in front of me into moving her seat into the upright position, which wasn't my proudest moment, but I was too tired for confrontation and her tiny Chinese legs didn't need the extra room I'm certain. First day back consisted of laundry and sleeping. I also found my new favourite place to drink on Ko San Road, it has good salad, is outside and the cheapest beer in the area, I think.
The next day, I bought a ticket to Chiang Mai from my old guesthouse and was on the road by 7pm. I left a big bag in Bangkok, and only took my small bag I'd bought for hand luggage in Chennai. So I could avoid extra weight charges, I put all my books I was planning to sell in Bangkok in my hand luggage, and it weighed about 10 kilos, at least! It lasted until I got to Bangkok Airport, and then the second strap snapped. (On the other hand, I did sell all but one of the books I'd bought in India, and made about 2/3rds of my cash back, which is much needed now I'm back in Thailand.) Anyway, the bus driver took my bag off me, by the straps. I was trying to show him how it was snapped and he had to be careful, but just ended up groping his man-boob quite excessively. He thought this was hilarious and every snack stop, he would come find me and see if I wanted to touch his boob again.
In Chiang Mai, I'd found a dorm bed (first time in Thailand) at a cheap but lovely hostel called Little Bird. I didn't sleep at all on the way there, so slept for most of the morning, and just walked around in the afternoon. I met a Slovenian boy that night called Simon. He's a student, and works as an air steward in his part time. How amazing is that?! He's from a little village, which is really just a road but lives in Ljubliana, the capital. His knowledge of European History and Geography is amazing, and he can study at Uni until he'd 30 years old for free. That means he can do four degrees if he wants: with no student loan! Amazing. We went for dinner with a Canadian girl from BC called Jessica. We tried traditional Chiang Mai sausage that was a little bit yucky.
We had big plans the next day, which got totally scuppered when we went for breakfast at a place with 60 Baht cocktails and a nice shady garden. Breakfast came with cocktails, which led to a bottle of Sangsom (crazy slovenian measures, it was gone in two drinks each!), and then more cocktails at a Chillout bar that is really just a big window in a wall & some little chairs outside. We met some of Jess's friends (Canadian) and had a drink in an English bar while we waited for the Chillout bar to open at 4. We had more happy hour cocktails and arranged to meet Liz, a girl who was on Study China and is doing her TEFL in Chiang Mai. We met a Kiwi who was okay, a little moody at first, and then turned psycho later on. We walked for half an hour to meet Liz, who'd emailed earlier in the day to say she'd meet us somewhere else, so we walked back. The Kiwi started chuntering to himself about having to walk so far, when he doesn't even know Liz, and why were we even going. We'd picked him up in the street and were only trying to be nice by asking him along, and he really started to piss me off. He'd kind of demonstrated his nations inferiority complex as compared to the Auzzies earlier and spent a fair amount of time bitching about Maoris, Aboriginals and Auzzies. I told him that if he didn't want to come, he could just go home, which for some reason totally offended him, and he started telling me how rude I was, and how all people from Hull (he'd met two girls from Hull before) were the same, and how I wouldn't make any friends and probably wouldn't get a job in Australia because I just don't understand a polite kind of culture. We'd met him maybe two hours earlier, and suddenly, I felt like I'd been married to him for twenty years, trying to avoid a scene in public. Fortunately I'd sobered up from all the whisky earlier, or it' would have turned into a real slanging match because he was really agressive (in that short & ugly bad-gene-pool way) too. In the end, his short little legs were no match for my long (but rude, ha) legs and me and Jessica just speeded up our walking, and he kind of faded away into the distance. We were late from all the walking and Liz'd gone by the time we got to McDonalds, our meeting place, so we got a burger and went to bed. Early for a Friday night, and the first ones in our dorm to get home, but we'd started early so we thought it was reasonable.
The next morning was my six month anniversary of traveling! We found a really nice hotel that we could have breakfast in, and met a crazy Greek/American author who I liked, but couldn't decide if he was a total dick, or really funny. He'd had a successful book that I can't remember the name of, and was trying to fund a club in Chiang Mai. Him, his Canadian friend, and a Romanian doctor with amazing eyelashes. It sounds like a really bad joke, but it's true. We were going to go look at real estate with them, but at the last minute the Canadian (not Jess, she's ace; their Canadian) decided he wanted to ride three hours to Pai, so we didn't want to go that far and said Goodbye. The hotel had quiche, which was okay for Thailand, but poor on an International scale. That day, we walked and walked and walked. We found the mosque of Chiang Mai where there was some sort of festival and I bought some biscuits that were unexpectedly spicy. That night, Jess left for Koh Tao & me and Simon went to meet Liz. We had a great night, with more cocktails and went to a club where the bar was inside a van. I like mobility in my drinking venue and was very happy. The bar was full of teenage (14-18) boys from the local international school, and me, Liz and the two random Canadian girls we'd picked up Joanne & Jordanna (and Simon too a little bit, I'm sure) all fell in love with this beautiful French seventeen year old who was just the best thing in the world. I think maybe I've been in Asia too long! We ended up dancing at a club until later & I spent most of the time hanging out with an Indian guy from Rajastan who was here on holiday.
The next morning, I realised I'd lost my bag, with my phone, mp3 player, camera, all my money and bankcard in it. I'd also snapped one of my flip flops, so was shoeless. Luckily I'd taken my passport out just before we left the night before. Simon was amazing and lent me cash and bought me new shoes too. We spent the day in Chinatown, as it was Chinese New Year (and Valentines Day) hanging out and eating poor quality Chinese food that was nothing like real Chinese food. We went to the club again, and when we got past the stoned doorman who couldn't focus on my face, the lady in the cloakroom brought my bag out from behind the bar! All my cash, EVERYTHING was still in it, and my hangover dissapeared immediately. I was so happy. So I still had all my stuff, plus I had a really big, expensive, warm DC jacket that someone had given me that night too. We went for steak pie at the Irish bar to celebrate, and it was a good day!
The next day, Simon had to go to the airport to get on standby for his flight home to Ljubliana, and the two new Canadians were doing a trek, and to be honest, I still felt a little bit ropey so I hung out at the hostel all day. It's a lovely hostel, with a few different cushioned areas where you can relax. I was planning to go to the night bazaar to buy some white clothes for a Buddhist retreat I was doing the next day. About an hour before I was planning to go, a girl who'd been sat in the hostel for most of the day too came and asked if I wanted to go together, she was (Another!) Canadian, but a French-Canadian this time, called Mary. Actually she was called the French version of Mary, but I have no clue how you would spell that, so called her Mary all the time. She'd just broken up with her boyfriend while she was away, and was carrying on traveling by herself, which I thought was quite impressive because so many girls would go home immediately. Her boyfriend had gone to Phuket, and his emails said he hated it, so I was glad she was having a nice time with me. She decided to come to the Buddhist retreat with me the next day.
The Buddhist retreat was at Wat Suan Dok, and cost 400B (about 8 pounds) We started at midday the following day, and it started by having a talk from one of the monks. He had great arms. Well, one great arm, I couldn't see the other, I'm guessing it was similar. He talked to us about the 8-fold-path, a central Buddhist concept that I'd read about, but wasn't too sure on. It was a general Buddhist talk, and he used the idea of losing your shoes to explain human attachment & detachment. He said that if you lose your mind (get angry) after losing your shoes, then you've lost twice. Having lost my shoes 2 days before (again), I really wanted to laugh and tell him that I was very experienced with losing my shoes and never got angry, and would do really well on this course. There's two kinds of meditation, insight awareness meditation and concentration meditation. We were doing the first kind, where you focus on yourself and your own body while you meditate, not on an external object. He told us that it's okay if we fall asleep when we learn how to meditate because that used to happen to him a lot, but if you feel it happening you should at least try to wake up. He said that when he was first in the monastery when he was 10 years old, he would tell the head monk that he was practicing laying down meditation and fall asleep in the morning. He talked to us about controlling your mind, so you don't feel desire, and then you can be peaceful. The important things I took from talk was that you have to be mindful of what you do, and focus your mind, not angry, and be critical of Buddhism; don't just accept it as a given, and then you're half way to Enlightenment.
We drove to the Buddhist Meditation centre where they told us (for the first time) that we would be making a promise to be silent while at the centre. By the time we arrived, it was only another 18 hours, but we were all pretty shocked. We started with a basic meditation session. Apparently there are four typ[es of meditation: sitting, laying down, standing and walking. We would not try standing because it's dangerous for newcomers to do because they might fall down. We practiced sitting down meditation for a while, which I found surprisingly easy, and clearing my mind was fun at the same time. He would describe how our mind is like a monkey-mind, always jumping around the room and playing. (I thought that our teacher was just really cool, but this is a common analogy in Buddhism apparently. It reminds me of something Jess said: in China, she'd met two Chinese girls whose English was really good. One of them called Jess clever, and her friend scolded her English, "Clever isn't for people: Intelligent is for people; Clever is for monkeys! " Haha!)
We had to do the Triple Gem, paying respect to Buddha, which really really caned on my ankles because we were only shown how to sit like boys, but the chanting sounded lovely. We did a little bit of sitting meditation, walking meditation (lifting, going, treading & lifting, walking chants) and laying down meditation which felt more like naptime at nursery because we were all sleepy. We went for food, which involved collecting our curry & rice and weird banana thing, waiting until we all had the food, paying respect to the Buddha and chanting to pay respect to the food and making sure we were eating it with the right intentions. By then the food was pretty cold, and we had to concentrate on it while we ate it, and contemplate our selves. One of the boys opposite me really did contemplate his food and he was about a quarter through by the time me and the Spanish guy on our table finished.
We were in bed after another spot of meditation at about 10pm. We had to get up at 5am, and be ready for more meditation by 5.30a.m. Chiang Mai is pretty cold on a night time so it was freezing by the morning. We all had blankets but I was really cranky. Because of all the clearing of my mind & *not falling asleep* that I'd done during the meditation, I couldn't clear my mind and fall asleep that night, so had only had about three hours sleep when the wake up gong went. I tried to do the morning meditations, and the yoga that Mary volunteered to lead, but I kept dozing off, and couldn't do most of the positions in my skirt. I was hungry and cold, and a bit pissed off by breakfast. This started with some alms giving for the monks, which was fun, and I'm glad I don't have to go collect my breakfast from well-wishers in a morning before I can eat. Apparently, so they can focus on the meditation, monks shouldn't cook in the monastery, so this is part of the reason for alms giving. Also, the monks help look after the soul and minds of the people, so alms-giving is the people taking care of the body of the monks in return. I''d always thought it was to help people get into Heaven, but this is much nicer.
Anyway, back to my hungry body! We finally got to eat at about 9am, and breakfast was Coco Pops and Nutrigrain Bars. Only Joking! It was toast and noodle soup. Yum. Another session of meditation followed, where we tried to do 15 solid minutes of meditation. I would have managed it, but I had to pee, so I messed up. We learned how to use prayer beads. That morning we had a question & answer session with the hot monk from the day before, and and old monk who looked awesome and was really cool. He seemed to be asleep most of the time, and the hot monk kept laughing at him. They answered our questions about the meditation, now we were allowed to speak and explained some other things to us about vegetarianism, heaven, religion...you know, regular conversation. The old monk was really chilled and explained really complicated stuff like it was the most simple thing in the world. He talked about other religions and how whether he drinks beer, or I drink beer, we both get drunk. And how it doesn't matter if you have Pepsi or beer, the brand doesn't matter, as long as you're not thirsty anymore. It made a lot of sense, and was nice, and when I tried to repeat it later for Mario (the Spanish guy) & Mary I sounded like a raving loony. (Granted I'd had hardly any sleep, and a couple of beers but still!)
We followed Q&A with a little bit more meditation before lunch, and the same chanting, before we got in thr truck and drove back to Chiang Mai. Me and Mary and Mario (MMM) went for some beer and food before I got my bus down to Bangkok.
I met a really cool Swedish/British Girl called Johanna on the way to Bangkok who lives in Thailand most of the year, and teaches in England in the summer to fund it all. She has several young lovers in Thailand, and is really funny with her crazy Swedish, English Accent. We arrived in Thailand at 5.30am, and I didn't grope the drivers boobs once. Score. I found a hostel and slept. for a few hours, rather than going out and getting my visa for Myanmar, which was stupid because the next morning, my last possible day to get it, it started raining like a bitch five minutes before I was supposed to leave the hotel. This was the fourth possible day I could have done it, and the only day that it rained. So instead of getting a boat down to the embassy which is near Little Arabia & the ex-pat district, I had to pay a taxi. It was a fun ride though, and I realised its only the first time I've ever left Koh San Road, haha.
Johanna introduced me to a British girl from Leeds called Alison who was part gypsy, and a cool guy from Malaysia who was in Thailand for the day buying replica guns and army gear. He'd been in Cambodia doing the same thing before that, and I'm slightly convinced he was part of some Islamic Insurgency movement in Malaysia, but he was so lovely and sweet that I don't really mind. Johanna gallavanted off to her young lovers arms in Phuket, and me, Ali and Fonzi (Malay Terrorist Dude) went for some drinks and food.
The next morning, I got up early, with the rain, and got my arse down to the embassy for my visa. The Buddhist retreat was good in some ways, but it really sorted out my body clock I think. I was at the embassy by 9.20am! The embassy was a bit of a state, and the chairs looked like they belonged in a doctor's waiting room. A council estate doctors waiting room. I was in and out in about fifteen minutes, and had to hang around this end of Bangkok for the day before collecting my passport at 3pm. I bought a Skytrain dayrider and took some rides on that, which was great. It's really easy to navigate. I went for a long walk in the African section, couldn't find any African food. Found an Egyptian restaurant which was full of men with big beards smoking sheesha and had some great lamb. It came with a plate of pickles and veggies which I didn't really know what to do with, but the music was good, and so was the decorations.
I collected my passport and had my visa all ready to go, and took a motorbike taxi back to Koh San. That was the highlight of my day, and I was so scared I was shaking when I got off the bike and handed the driver the money. He kept driving in between buses that were pulling out, and they had to jam on their breaks and driving so close to the buses when they were accelerating and then overtaking alongside them without sounding his horn. I was laughing because I thought we were gonna die, so he kept driving faster and more and more dangerously! It was my favourite part of being in Bangkok so far, it was awesome and I vow to never take a tuk-tuk again!
I spent the next day talking mainly to an American girl I met who'd just come back from Burma, so she told me where to go, and good places to stay. I took the bus to the airport about 7pm, realised I still hadn't bought any dollars (Burma has *no* cash machines at all) and bought them there at a terrible rate at the airport instead. I found a quiet spot, which was also about minus 5 degrees, got wrapped up in my new hoody and slept until about 3am. Then it was time to board ANOTHER AirAsia flight, but this time to Myanmar!!
Chiang Mai was lovely, really chilled, lots to do, if you want, and apart from being too cold at night, dead, dead good! Hopefully, after Myanmar, I'll have time to get over there!
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