Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Same Same but Different

Our jaunt through the Land of Thais is now complete, after 4 weeks spent throughout the country. It was a different place than we originally expected; for instance, when you go to Mexico you feel like you're in Mexico. We never quite were able to put a finger on what the Thai vibe was to make us feel like we were in Thailand, other than the wonderful food, but we know that we enjoyed the Buddhist lifestyle...maybe that is just what the Thai vibe is.

To pick up where we left off, we hung out with our English friend, Simon, who joined us on our minivan trip into Pai. He was able to bring lots of good conversation, my favorite being his response to finding out that USA is country code 001. "You're 001?! We're 044...aren't we the motherland?" So, now I wonder, do all Brits have the same concern as being 33 codes behind? The highlight of our time in Pai was going to Joi's elephant camp and riding an elephant into the river. Kate was petrified, so the ride down to the river was entertaining to say the least. The 3 of us turned our heads at the giant piece of dung that floated to the surface when the elephant got in, and enjoyed every minute of being drowned while clinging to her back.

It could have been the river water, or it just could have been the first time we relaxed in nearly two months, but immediately upon returning Kate got sick, really sick. Sick as in, antibiotics...stat. The timing was good because the next day, I too got sick, but not nearly to the extent as Kate. However, I had a really strange experience:
While my sickness peaked one night, I woke up with near charlie horses in my legs since I was sooooo dehydrated, and my tongue was stuck to my molars. I took what might have been a full sip of water while still half unconscious. Drifting back off to sleep, I had these dreams and sensations of firefighting ships (like what would be used on a body of water) shooting the mineral water into every part of my body. I could literally feel the H2O being replenished in my legs, fingers, thighs, everywhere! It's when I knew I was over the hump and on the good road back. However, it was by far one of the most bizarre sensations.

At this juncture, we realized we lost about 5 days of travel time just to get our energy and motivation back to even attempt leaving Pai and going...well, who knows! We had to can the portion of our trip to Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. It would have been too much for us at that point, and at least now we have a reason to come back to this part of the world.

Como esta beaches!!

First stop, Railay. The Lonely Planet guidebook describes this as their favorite beach in all of Thailand. It did not explain that this is a favorite destination for day trippers. While, yes, the beach was the most beautiful we saw with the karsts on each side, and yes, there are no cars, it was over crowded. Uncomfortably crowded. We stayed for a couple of days to see what the fuss was about. Fortunately we found a nice spot one of the days and treated ourselves to some BBQ seafood which made the trek worth it! At night the beach at Railay was magical and deserted. It was our favorite time to be out and about.

Onto Ko Lanta. We found what we have been searching for. Peace and quiet, and our German friends Sven and Anna who we had parted with weeks before in Pai. We lucked out and spent about a week on Lanta on a beach with only two places to stay and three bars. A crowded day on that beach was about 30 people at a time. It was hard to leave, but we wanted to see what else Thailand could offer.

We ventured onto Ko Muk, which was a recommendation from some Brits we had met on Railay. The sand and water on this island were exceptional, but with a lack of places for everyone to stay, it was a bit like the Amazing Race when we stepped of the longtail boat. We ended up at a rickety bungalow in the middle of the jungle the first night and were treated to the electricity turning off the fan in the middle of the night - it got hot quick, a lizard mating call above our heads, and an island dog fight near the door. Needless to say after a sleepless night, Kate booked it out of there wide eyed in the morning and secured other accommodations for the following night. We stayed for a two nights and were able to explore the island. We stumbled upon a tsunami rebuilding project that we unfortunately were unable to get photos of. It was interesting to see the mini-village that had been rebuilt from relief funds. Another long boat trip down the coast led us to Ko Lipe, the smallest island that we visited.

Upon arriving to Ko Lipe, we thought that it was going to be another overcrowded, overpopulated island, but we were slowly enchanted and decided to stay six nights. The island does not have any roads, only sandy paths that meander through the jungle from beach to beach. The paths made for some exciting post-bar, late night walking back to our bungalow. We stayed on one of the highest points on the island and had almost nightly thunder storms that raged lightning directly above our roof. The beach that we were based at had a great sandbar that you could swim out to at low tide and sit in the middle of the channel between islands and watch the sun set. There was a bar located right on the beach that we frequented for mid-afternoon shade and soothing drinks. During one afternoon, Kate discovered a fellow Alaskan and his girlfriend who were living on the island and they made for some fun companions during our stay. Our favorite night out on the island wasn't the cloudy full moon party, but the dinner at Bundaya Resort served by Lady Boys. "80's fashion is bad enough, but 80's fashion on Thai men pretending to be women who serve us food, is a whole other story." -Kate Made for some interesting guessing during our walks through the village the next morning, "Is that our waitress, that MAN over there?"

We have finally made it down to a cheap internet connection on the Malaysian island of Langkawi. The plan is to spend a couple of days exploring the beaches here before heading to Kuala Lumpur for our flight out to Sydney. Because of the extra time we spent in Thailand, we decided to head to Australia a week early. We have rented a sleeper van to head north from Sydney to Cairns. We are sure that some epic stories will come from us living in a van...stay tuned! Lots of love to all the friends and family who have written us telling us they miss the blog posts. Enjoy!

Thursday, March 6, 2008

talkin' Thai


No, this isn't an UnderArmor advertisement, but the lovely sound effect heard over and over and over from small confined spaces on public transit by those who love to cut their nails in what must be their only free time during the day. Long fingernails freak me out, and we have seen some freakishly long specimens, but cutting nails in public spaces might be my #1 pet peeve. I swear I saw one fly by me on the train from Bangkok to Ayatthuya.
Please just let our trip go by without getting hit!

We have made it to Thailand, and neither Kate or I can actually talk Thai. This city has been known to many to be the Sin City of the East, but it can also be a wholesome city if you look hard enough.

Kao San Road is the infamous backpacker street where you can be altered to look just like the characters in the Beach because you want to "fit" in. Want some dreads? How 'bout some wide legged pants, or tank tops of local beers? If you want it, you don't have to click your heels more than 3 times, that's for sure. We thought it would be a lot different, and after some perusing the many stalls of DVDs, flips, and knockoff brand name clothes, we took off hoping to not have to return!

We will admit, our trip so far has been a whirlwind around many intense places, so a nicer hotel with a pool is where we retreated to for some much needed R&R. The Thai's have definitely figured out a nice public transit system, consisting of a skytrain and subway, so moving around town was a breeze. You do NOT want to drive here if you can avoid it. Makes the Delhi traffic look like nothing. A large population of students seem to ride these systems, so hopefully they can focus on being doctors or lawyers, right? I think they all still want to be pop stars and nothing else; this being confirmed by the multiple "American Idol" type tryouts seen by all the major malls. I just don't think a bunch of amateurs singing on TV, in any language, will help the situation of any country ;) Fortunately, we did get out to see some great sites!

After waiting a few days to get our Visas for Vietnam, we headed north to a small city, Ayutthaya. It was once a capital city of the province it's located in, but it didn't have that ring to it. It does, however, have a lot of really nice temples! "Temple, Temple, Very nice temples" (as said so often by our driver in India). We chose to rent bikes to see the sites. Wat Mahathat, has the famous Buddha head wrapped in tree roots was an awesome site. After only one night, we were outta there!

A bumpy 14 hour train ride north to Chiang Mai followed by a 3 hour van ride over the mountains has brought us to Pai (pronounced bye). Who would have guessed the 9 hour bus trip we didn't take would have been faster?!?! We have driven on our fair share of mountain passes, but nothing has been even close to pitch or swerviness of the road to Pai. At the beginning of the ride, all 10 passengers were talking and laughing and when we all spilled out in Pai, everyone was a bit green and sick from the ride. It was a killer!

We plan to be in Pai for a couple of days checking out the infamous hot springs and the towns waterfalls before heading on. We might head through Laos and over to Vietnam, but the beaches of southern Thailand seem to be calling our names. I guess only time can tell....