Monday, December 26, 2016

Christmas in Thailand

Well, since I've got 6 hours to kill at the Taipei Airport, I might as well post one more blog story about my Christmas Day.

I'm feeling much better about Phuket than my initial reaction.  Although I never made it to Phuket Town (I heard everything there was closed on Christmas anyway), I had a great time around Patong Beach.  The sun was shining and the ocean was calling, so a few of us spent several hours on the beach and in the water.  


I was so excited about a sunny beach day that I underestimated my SPF needs and got pretty roasted.  (It was monumentally stupid to get burned on my shoulders and back the day before I had to travel.  It's very painful carrying a heavy backpack and tote bag around 4 airports.  Ugh.)  I think my mistake was putting on sunscreen for the beach but forgetting to reapply when I walked around town.  Always reapply! 

After some beach time, I walked around to find the craft market and got lost along the way - I ended walking for over an hour.  The only craft bazaar that I could find was in the basement of the big mall in town.  It was still reasonably priced and quite big (plus air conditioned!).  There I found my favorite souvenir from Thailand - a wine bottle holder.  :)

This is going to look so awesome in my apartment.  (I just bought 1, not all 4.)

After the market, it was still really hot out and I could feel my skin burning, so I decided to go back to the hotel rather than back to the beach.  It was only 3:00pm and dinner was at 6:00pm, so what did I do to pass the time?  Massage!  One final Thai massage before leaving the country - that makes a total of 7 massages for the trip.  This massage therapist was much more intuitive about how far my body can stretch and didn't push too far.  It wasn't painful at all.  I'm a little upset that first Thai massage was so bad - it really turned me off of that style for most of the trip.  Oh well.  I had several different variations and enjoyed each one.

The evening entailed our final group dinner and a very elaborate cabaret show.  What a way to end the trip!



And I finally ordered my favorite meal: pad thai.  My plan was to order a different dish for every dinner out, and I certainly saved one of the best for last.  I think that was kind of the theme of my vacation: try a little bit of everything in Thailand.  From seafood curries to pad thai; from Thai massage to aromatherapy; from local craft shops to big fancy shopping malls; from Buddhist temples to cabaret shows; from the northern Chiang Mai to southern Phuket.  I experienced as much as I possibly could in my two weeks in Thailand.

The group from tour #2.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Island Hopping

Apparently, the dry season in southern Thailand is not so dry right now (because of changing weather patterns??).  We've had cloudy skies and light rain for a few days now.

Ao Nang 1
Ao Nang (the town we were staying in) had no power when we arrived, so we decided to do the kayaking activity right away.  It was a bit drizzly, but paddling through the islands was incredible.  Definitely a must when coming to this part of the world.


FYI - The power came back on right after we got back, but I couldn't get any hot water for my shower.  This is was beginning to feel all too familiar.

Ao Nang 2
On the second day, most of my group went on a tour of the Ko Phi Phi islands. Swimming and snorkeling in ocean was so much fun, and by some miracle, the clouds parted to let the sunshine through, just as we were touring Ko Phi Phi Leh (where the movie "The Beach" was filmed).  This island has the quintessential turquoise water around it, particularly in the bays and lagoons.


Ko Yao Noi 1
We took a long boat to reach the island of Ko Yao Noi.  After dropping our bags off in our hotel rooms, we opted for a tour of the island, which included rubber plantations, batik making, and a sunset view from a fisherman's pier.  It's not a huge island (25 km road around the perimeter), but I love learning about local business and lifestyles.





Ko Yao Noi 2
This was supposed to be the big beach/snorkeling day.  Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate.  It was cloudy and rainy almost the entire day.  The good news is that the heat was tolerable and I did not get sunburned - so that's some kind of silver lining.


Taking shelter from the rain.  Ate lunch under a tree.

Oh yeah, and the power went out at this hotel as well.  I went for a massage on the beach to pass the time.  Hee hee.  :)

Phuket 1
On our way to Phuket, we stopped a gibbon rehabilitation center.  My heart always melts at any type of animal sanctuary or rehab center.  These adorable monkeys are used and abused as pets and tourist attractions.  The gibbon center rescues the animals and helps establish new families (i.e. pairs up gibbons for mating) to be released into the wild.  You can check out more information here: http://www.gibbonproject.org/



Our hotel in Phuket is a lovely resort with two pools and a day spa.  Given that the sun was actually shining when we arrived, we all went straight to the pool.

And now, we just got back from checking out Phuket's nightlife, and I have to say that I'm not impressed.  There's way too many sex workers and virtually no other bars or entertainment; we ended up back at the hotel.  I'm a little let down by what the city has (or doesn't have) to offer, but then again, I came here for the beach.  So that's where I'll go tomorrow.  [Update: I should qualify that I'm staying in the Hat Patong area of the island, which is a bit seedier that Phuket Town.  The activities and entertainment here do not reflect the rest of Phuket.)

*You can assume that each day was filled will amazing Thai food (green curry, glass noodles, pad thai, stir fry, fried noodles, coconut curry, etc.)  The cuisine is undoubtedly one of the major highlights of this trip.

Phuket 2
The plan for tomorrow is beach, Thai food, pool, massage, more Thai food, and ending the evening with another cabaret show.  (Nok says this show is much more elaborate and is performed in a theater.)

I expect this to be my last blog post since tomorrow night will be busy, and I have a very long travel day on December 26th.

So with that, I hope everyone has a Merry Christmas!  

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Running Around Bangkok

During this trip, I was only able to spend a total of 3 days in Bangkok (well, 4 if you count the day that I arrived and slept the whole day).  So I tried to cram as much sightseeing as I could into these few days. [I've already written about the weekend market, Thai massage, and group dinner.]

So continuing from my last post:
We took an overnight sleeper train from Chiang Mai to Bangkok.  It was a very nice, clean train, but I didn't sleep well.  We arrived in Bangkok at 6:30am and went out for our last group breakfast and said our goodbyes.  Like I mentioned before, 4 of us were continuing on for the second week to southern Thailand.  Since this was kind of a "free day," we decided to visit the Grand Palace.  



The architecture and history was quite stunning, but it was unbearably hot outside.  Thailand also has strict dress codes for visit temples and sacred places: no shorts/skirts above the knee, no leggings, shoulders must be covered, etc.  Because most people don't know these rules, the Grand Palace provides shirts/wraps/pants to those who are improperly dressed.  I ended up wearing a tank top with a cardigan and a wrap over my leggings, all in 90 degree heat.  It was overwhelming and I only lasted an hour (with frequent breaks in the shade).  But all in all, I'm glad I went.

Now since the second part of the tour was technically a separate trip, a new group of people arrived that day and went out for the introductory meeting and dinner.  I had already made dinner plans with friends from grad school, so I missed the tour group that night.  But I had a wonderful time catching up with Pink, Champ, and Waraporn!  I'm so thankful that I'm able to travel around the world and visit my friends from Leeds.



After dinner, I met up with some of the tour group and went out for drinks.  I also got a little more taste of Thai nightlife on Khao San Road (the touristy bar area).

The next day (Monday) was the official start of the next tour, which began at the temples of Wat Pho.  We saw the giant statue of the reclining Buddha and learned that it was the first university where Thai massage was taught.  It blew my mind to see centuries-old massage teachings on the walls.



Afterwards, some of the new group went to the Grand Palace, while others went for a boat tour down the canals.  



The rest of my afternoon was spent getting another massage (#4) and packing for our next overnight train to Krabi.  (I had a better night's sleep this time.)


Stay tuned for the Thailand beach experience . . . 

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Village Life, Culture, and Cooking

It's very difficult to blog during these tours because there's not a great deal of down time, unlike Peace Corps when I had days and days to write and elaborate about my experience.  These travel blog posts seem to be more of the highlights.

Wednesday (Homestay)
  • Cooking class to make Northern Tomato Chili Dipping Sauce.  (Yum!)
  • Dinner with traditional Thai music and dancing performed by families in the village.



As we were participating in the candlelight dance with the locals, a massive meteor shot across the sky.  I've never seen a meteor, but I have a feeling this one was particularly close, based on the huge tail it had and length of time we watched it.  It was one of the coolest things I've ever seen.

Thursday
  • Bike ride through the village; stopped to learn about processing rice (by hand) and mushroom farming.
  • Left the homestay and traveled north to Chiang Mai.
  • Stopped for a quick visit at an elephant hospital.
  • Walked around Chiang Mai and saw three temples in the historic part of town.



  • Went to the temple Wat Doi Suthep at the top of a mountain; received a blessing from a Buddhist monk and listened to them chanting.

At the end of the evening, the group decided to dive into Chiang Mai nightlife and go to a "Thai lady boy" cabaret show.  Kind of a strange way to end a day of temples and Buddhism . . . going to a drag queen show.  But it was tons of fun.



Friday
  • Elephant sanctuary - we spent the entire day feeding and playing with elephants.



  • Massage #3
  • Farewell dinner at a very nice Thai restaurant (5 people will not continue on the trip to the south)
  • Night market shopping

Unfortunately, it was rainy and cold . . . and the dirt mountain roads had turned to mud . . . and we got stuck in the mud near the edge of cliff.  It was the scariest car ride I've ever been on, but the driver and guide acted like it was no big deal - they do it all the time.

Saturday

  • Thai cooking class - we made spring rolls, hot & sour soup, Pad Thai, green curry.



  • Walked around Chiang Mai - found a French bakery and got some pastries.

Now on to the overnight train back to Bangkok!