Category Archives: Thailand

In Search of: An Island Escape

It’s been too long since the last installment of my Southeast Asia trip.  Shall we carry on?  Last I recall, we spoke about about the day I kayaked down a breathtaking river in Laos.  It’s still one of my fondest memories.  But, alas, Southeast Asia is not all rainbows and puppy dogs.  I took a wrong turn on occasion.  Which is where this next story leads us.

After a week in Luang Prabang, I decided to return to Bangkok.  I could have stayed there forever.  Honestly, I’m not sure why I headed back so soon.  But it was my first solo part of the trip; perhaps I was lonely.

Unwilling to risk another 32 hour bus ride, I risked my life on this little prop plane instead.  (Yes, to the average person, it’s not so dangerous.  But to a girl afraid of getting on even the biggest, fastest jet in the sky — slightly terrifying.  Let’s just say, I fondly refer to prop planes as death traps.)

They handed us umbrellas to carry to the plane as we walked along the tarmac.  Lao airlines surpassed my expectations — certainly better than any American airline I’ve flown on in recent years.  And I didn’t end up being scared at all.  As a matter of fact, I’m quite proud of the progress I’ve made in the “fear of flying” department.

After a weekend in Bangkok, I decided it was time for a little island fun.  I searched the guidebook and decided on an island on the gulf coast called Ko Chang.  The book described it as “off the beaten path”, and a little R&R seemed precisely what I needed.

I packed my bags and hopped on the back of a motorcycle taxi, heading toward the bus station.

Arriving in Ko Chang, I wasn’t sure what to think.  The area was sort of dirty, and the taxi ride to my guesthouse didn’t help the situation.  Miles upon miles of closed up shops.  I knew it wasn’t tourist season, but the way in which the place seemed like a ghost town was sort of eery.

The guest house, however, was exactly as described by the guidebook.  Rustic little bungalows sat next to a lagoon.  It was peaceful and charming and really very simple.  Exactly what I ordered.

The guesthouse was called the Blue Lagoon Bungalows.  I loved how I felt like I was camping yet without giving up basic necessities.  Like beds.  And hot showers.  The place was so quiet I was nearly sure I was the only guest.  Which, in some ways, was absolutely perfect.  Though in others, well, let’s just say — many scenes from horror movies start in a near abandoned hotel.

The wall of one side of the bungalow completely folded out.  A large porch wrapped around and a grass hammock hung over the water allowing for the most amazing sunset view.  I took a number of naps while lounging in that hammock. 

I also took many walks down this path to the beach.  It was so peaceful and quiet.  Definitely a good place for reflecting.

The beach had the potential to be absolutely gorgeous.  The water was warm as a bathtub, the waves rolled in gently enough to swim, and the sand was soft.  The palms trees were picture perfect.  And the wooden swings tied to random trees were pretty much to die for.  Unfortunately, the beach washed up trash with each wave.  There was so much evidence of human contact, it was sad.  There were light bulbs, old shoes, juice containers.  You name it, it was on the beach.  It’s terribly sad how people can ruin such a perfect paradise.

Tree houses like this one dotted the beach.  I remember thinking of my grandma when I took a picture of this one.  I’m not sure why.  Maybe because she’s a painter, and the rainbow colors seem art-worthy.  Of course, my picture is rather lacking.  But you get the idea.

So that was my trip to Ko Chang.  There was also a lovely lady named Diana that practiced her English with me each time I ate at her restaurant.  She was so sweet and soft spoken.  She smiled and waved each time I passed and always offered me food, even if the restaurant was closed.

I suppose Ko Chang wasn’t so bad after all.  We’ll skip the angry British man and his crying Thai girlfriend.  We’ll skip the debacle at the travel agency and the reason I decided to leave rather hastily.  Instead, I prefer to remember the peaceful tranquility of a lonely island in a time when I needed to take care of me and spend some time alone.  Funny how hindsight changes your outlook.  Perhaps Ko Chang really was all rainbows and puppy dogs after all.

Also posted in Southeast Asia Tagged , |

In Search of: A Visa Run

As promised.  The story of my trip to Southeast Asia continues…

After three days in Bangkok, it was time for a visa run (not for me).  So the next logical step obviously meant heading to Laos.  We took the overnight bus from Bangkok to Vientiane.  One thing I wish I took more pictures of was food.  When we reached the bus station in Bangkok, we had time to spare and spent that time gorging on street food.  It was total YUM.  But anyhow, here’s the story of Vientiane in pictures.

We reached the border between Thailand and Laos without visas, which meant we spent a few hours waiting for the border to open in order to get a visa on arrival.  My dear friend, the master of sleeping anywhere, continued his slumber on the plastic chairs at the border using a plastic water bottle as a pillow.  Somehow this worked for him.  I was envious.  After sleeping on a bus and hours spent at the border, it was good we made friends with a monk named Sien that helped us cut in line, avoid extra fees and catch the cheapest bus to the capitol.  Sweet man, that Sien.

An evening walk in front of the river after having reached Vientiane.

Vientiane was once a French colony.  Lots of buildings are left over from the French, including this mini Arc de Triomphe.

Drenched in rain each time we stepped outside, we opted to spend a lot of time at this juice shop.  I believe this marked the start of my fruit shake obsession.  Dragon fruit.  Avocado.  Mango.  Triple-yum!

On the plus side, all that rain forced me to relax and enjoy the moment.

After four days of overeating and lounging around in a fruit shake induced coma, we decided it was high time for a little culture.  The day before my very first venture alone, we visited Wat Si Saket, the oldest Buddhist temple in the area.  Yes, I know it’s a temple and you’re supposed to be all solemn or something.  But hell, I was excited!

Next time: a flood, a ditch, a mudslide and a 32-hour bus ride.  Find out why I fondly refer to my time in Laos as Adventures in Transportation.

Also posted in Laos, Southeast Asia Tagged , |

In Search of: Heat Exhaustion and a Palace

The second day of my trip, I was even more determined.  I was not only going to get food, I was going to do some site seeing.  What do people like to see in Bangkok?  The book said the Grand Palace was good.  Of course, the question was – how the heck was I going to get from Rangsit into the city?  And where was the Grand Palace anyway?

I sent John a text message at work and asked him how to get to Bangkok.  He said to take the motorbike taxi to the main road, then flag down a white minivan shuttle and tell them I wanted to go to Victory Monument (Anu Sauli, in Thai).  Um…okay.  One thing I knew for sure: I was NOT taking the motorbike taxi.  I mean, really, how could anyone expect me to hop on the back of someone’s bike with no helmet in this crazy traffic?  I decided I would walk to the main road.  It didn’t seem that far.  Sure, there are no sidewalks, and someone might run me over, but it’s safer than the motorbike taxi — right?

I started walking.  And walking.  And walking.  At this point, I was drenched in sweat.  My shirt was soaked.  My face was sunburned.  I was sure the main road was closer than this.  Was my memory that bad?  And then I had a very unfortunate feeling in the pit of my stomach.  I walked in the wrong direction!  Do I keep walking, do I turn around?  Am I going to die of heat exhaustion?  After a few minutes of continuing in the same direction, I decided to turn around.  And about the time I thought I might have heat stroke, I decided to hail a taxi (a real taxi, not a motorbike).

The taxi driver saw my sweat drenched self and turned the A.C. on full blast.  “Tesco,” I said.  The man didn’t speak English, but I knew Tesco (sort of the Thai version of Walmart) was close to the shuttle stop.  I attempted to explain to him that I wanted to go to the “big Tesco”.  I also knew there were two other small Tesco’s along the way.  As we passed them and he tried to stop, I just kept repeating, “No.  No.  Big Tesco,” and gesturing with my arms something very large. He figured it out eventually.  He dropped me off at the big Tesco, and I was feeling pretty accomplished.  I sat down at an ice cream shop inside, hoping the air conditioning would dry my shirt.  Once ready, I headed back into the heat to the shuttle stop.  Now all I had to do was flag down a shuttle going to Anu Sauli and get inside.

Of course, the signs on all the shuttles were in Thai.  I couldn’t tell where they were going.  So I had to stop every white minivan heading in my direction.  I would open the door and say, “Anu Sauli?”  No one understood what I was saying until I said it at least four times, at which point, they all said no.  I stopped four shuttles.  Everyone said no.  I felt a bit like a dumb-ass.  I’m not exactly sure if they just didn’t understand my accent and said no so they could continue their drive or if they really weren’t going to Anu Sauli.  My hunch?  They didn’t understand me.

All the while, a taxi sat in front of me at the curb.  The window read, “I speak English.”  The man in the taxi watched me as I tried to flag down the public shuttles.  I gave in.  I walked up to his window and asked if he could take me to the Grand Palace.  He didn’t understand me either, so finally I got inside, pulled out my trusty Lonely Planet, and showed him where I wanted to go.  “Oh, yes, yes, of course.” And he started driving.

One thing I’ve learned about Thai people that speak English — they love to practice with other English speakers.  So although his accent was strong and I could only understand about 50% of what he was saying (and I suspect the same on his part), he talked the entire time we drove.  Which was a long time.  The Grand Palace was NOT close.

One thing I did understand.  After hearing that I was traveling alone, the driver asked how old I was.  I told him 33.  He looked at me confused.  “Are you married?”  “No,” I replied.  He looked even more confused.  “Do you have kids?”  Again, I answered, “No.”  A look or horror overtook his face.  “You’re not married, and you have no kids, and you’re 33 years old?  Why wouldn’t you be married?  Do you need me to introduce you to a nice Thai guy?  I’m sure I could find one that would be willing to marry you.”

Great.  I’m an old maid.

Finally, I made it to my destination.  It was a whole other world compared to Rangsit — it was filled with tourists.  This would be easy.  My taxi driver gave me his cell phone number and offered to be my personal taxi while I was in Bangkok.  “Just call me, I’ll take you anywhere.”  He was sweet.  But let’s be honest, he saw me as a cash cow.  I was a western person, staying in Rangsit off and on for two months.  Given his usual route, he didn’t make much money and wouldn’t often get the chance to drive people as far as Bangkok.  In his eyes, a win-win.  In my eyes, taking a taxi everywhere would break the bank.  I would need to figure out how to get around like a local.

In the end, the Grand Palace was beautiful and a perfect example of a Thai temple.  Plus, I got a good laugh from the sign at the entrance.

And so, Day 2 was a success.  Next time I’ll tell you all about making friends with monks and adventures in Laos.

Also posted in Southeast Asia Tagged , , |

How I Survived My First Day in Thailand

The first picture I took upon arriving in Thailand was not what you might expect.  I took a picture of my friend John’s bathroom.  Is that totally lame?  But in my defense, I’d never seen such a bathroom.  The shower isn’t separated from anything else in the room.  Which is handy if you find yourself in the shower and suddenly need to pee.  Otherwise, if you care for dry toilet paper, it can be a bother.

Reading through my journals from the first days of my trip, one thing stands out.  I had no idea what I’d gotten myself into.  Seriously.  I booked my tickets with only two weeks notice and had no time to plan before leaving.  Instead, I was wrapping up and leaving one job, and writing and grading finals at the other.  On John’s advice, I ordered a copy of Lonely Planet’s Thailand, and that was about as far as I got.  I knew pretty much nothing about my destination.  I didn’t know what I wanted to do once I got there.  I didn’t know a single word of Thai, not even how to say thank you.  And I’d never traveled on my own before — not to another country anyway.  And speaking of traveling on my own, I didn’t even know how much I would be on my own.  Oh, and did I mention?  I sort of had a gargantuan crush on said friend.  I know — that’s a recipe for a Disney ending, I tell you.

When I arrived it was after 11 p.m., so I went to bed.  I woke in the morning feeling rested.  But I had no idea what to do with myself.  John lives in Rangsit, a ‘suburb’ north of Bangkok.  There’s nothing touristy about it.  It’s a small city.  Local.  And I had a funny feeling no one spoke English.  And did I mention John left for work early in the morning?  I was on my own…and hungry.  Oh, and there was no food in the fridge.  What the hell was I going to eat?

After getting dressed, I actually made a video I planned to post on the blog.  Sort of a first-day intro.  Unfortunately, the sound quality was non-existent, so it’s not worth showing.  But here’s what I said:  “I’m afraid to go outside.”  Haha.  Yes, that’s actually what I said.  How was I supposed to go outside and find food?  What the hell was I supposed to order?  Where was I supposed to get it?  Would anyone understand me?  And would they all look at me like some crazy white person?

So I got dressed and gave myself a pep talk.  I went walking along Khlong Si.  I walked up and down the road.  Roadside stands looked to be setting up something, but I couldn’t really tell if they were open.  I wanted to stop and ask for food.  But instead, I kept walking.  I essentially paced back and forth along the road, trying to look inconspicuous.  That went well.

Did I mention the 90 degree heat and 100% humidity?  I was a sweat-ball.  Maybe I should get something to drink.  I stopped at a stand and pointed at a bottle of Pepsi.  That had to be easy enough to convey.  He understood, opened the bottle, opened a small plastic grocery bag, placed a scoop of ice inside and poured my drink in the bag.  He topped it off with a straw and handed the bag to me.  What am I supposed to do with this?  Perhaps I’m an idiot, but should I be carrying around a bottle of Pepsi in a plastic bag?

Just act normal.

I paid, took my bag and drank as I walked down the street.  Which was all fine and dandy, except I hadn’t managed to get anything to eat.  Wait.  There was a guy roasting chickens nearby.  I turned back and made my way to the chicken stand.  “Can I get something with chicken?” I said.  He stared at me.  He started speaking Thai.  Fast.  I stared back.  “Chicken?”  I said.  He stared.  I pointed to the chickens roasting on the grill.  He rattled on in Thai.  I had no idea what he said but thought best to say yes and nod.  He kept speaking Thai.  I kept smiling and nodding yes.

Finally, he walked over to the chickens, pulled a whole chicken off the grill, chopped it up and put it in a box.  He wrote down a number.  I handed him some cash and grabbed my whole chicken.  Not exactly the Thai food I was hoping for, but at least it was something.  He chuckled as I walked away.  Oh, who am I kidding?  The man laughed at me.

When I got back to the house, I ate my plain chicken and drank my bag of Pepsi.  What was I to do with the rest of the day?  I came up with a brilliant plan.  Go back to bed.  Wake up when John gets home from work.  Feign jet-lag.  And then let him do all the talking.  Brilliant I tell you.

I did just that.  And as the day ended (after having an awesome dinner of Thai food with John), I thought to myself, “Okay.  Not so bad.  Now I just have to do that for 49 more days.”  What could go wrong?

Also posted in Southeast Asia Tagged , , |

Thailand Bound

Okay.  I’ve been wanting to share this for a while.  But I also wanted to be sure things were really happening before I let it out.  Here goes.  I have officially leaped! Long story short, I was offered a full-time teaching position with the school I work for.  I accepted.  Perhaps more import to this story is that a friend living in Thailand invited me to visit over the summer. And you’ll be proud.  It took me about half a second to think about it and answer with a resounding YES.

It sort of worked out perfectly that I accepted the teaching position just before I was offered a chance to do some serious summer traveling.  Having the teaching contract gave me the comfort of knowing I wouldn’t be jobless upon return.  And having someone awesome to help me figure out the trip gave me the confidence I needed to jump at the chance to travel.

So.  On Sunday, I booked a 50-day trip to Thailand. I leave on June 18.

Yes, you read that right.  That’s next week! I’m sort of running around like a crazy person, making sure I have everything I need and attempting to do a small amount of trip planning before the plane takes off.

I have little idea what to expect.  I do know a few places I’d like to see.  But the rest, I’m leaving up to the moment.  Luckily, that friend staying in Thailand right now has been there before and happens to be somewhat of a professional traveler.  I have no doubt that even when I jaunt off on my own, he’ll be able to give me lots of direction.  It’s sort of the perfect first big trip for me.  I’m going solo, but I won’t be alone. I’ll be in great company.

After I pressed the submit button and purchased my plane tickets, I had a small moment of freak-out.  OMG.  This is actually happening. And, yes, I’m still a little nervous.  But mostly, I’m just seriously excited.  For so many reasons, this is absolutely the perfect thing for me right now. So much so, I’m having a hard time focusing on everything I need to get done before I go.  Like I have to grade final projects and final exams.  I have to do some prep for biology class next year.  And I still have another job that I’m committed to until the 17th (and I want to do a good job each of those days).

But at the same time, I sort of want to run down the street, with my hands in the air, screaming, “Woohoo!  I’m actually going!!”

While I’m gone, I hope to blog regularly and update you with pictures and stories.  I’ll tell you all about my adventures in Thailand (and Cambodia and, who knows, maybe Laos).  Seriously, peeps, I’m so excited.  So, so excited.

So send me good vibes.  Have I mentioned how terrified I am of flying?  No worries.  I’ve got my Xanax (my favorite flying partner).  This is all going to be such an awesome experience.  I just know.  I can feel it.

photo credit: 1, 2

Also posted in Southeast Asia, Trip Planning Tagged |