Thursday, June. 18, 1:46 AM
Chiang Mai, Thailand
After the airline rejected us from flying on Sunday night for lack of visa/proof of ongoing travel, we checked-into a hotel not far from the airport. I stayed up until what I thought was 4am writing my last blog (first in 5 weeks), which, strategically, turned out to be a big mistake, as I wouldn’t catch-up on my sleep for 3 days! Our clocks played tricks on us… I set the alarm for 8, and we actually arrived the Visa office on the other side of Chennai the next morning an hour early (7am)… only to find out we must have gotten up before 6am (so then again maybe I only went to bed at 2AM)… anyway, it was early, and it was a looong day of bureaucracy. I had to get more $ from the ATM to pay the visa fees, and for some reason my pin wouldn’t work. On my third try the machine reported that my card was blocked and my card was detained. In other words, it never spit my card back out! So after I went to another ATM and paid for the Visa with my spare card, we went hoofing around to banks to find someone to pry open that machine. Miraculously, after much stressing, sweating, some arguing, complaint-writing, proving my urgency, and lots of walking, within only a couple hours it was returned. We still had 4 hours to kill before we’d get our documents, I was so tired that I fell asleep over a lime soda, and finally they let us back into the Visa office to wait out the remaining 3 hours in AirCon. After much nodding-off, we were on our way back to the hotel, ate our last paratha/kurma/dosa meal, showered, and rickshawed back to the airport… Just when we thought India would never let us go… we were finally on our way.
We left our bikes in India. I plan to go back and get them after Thailand, in 2 months. Amy seems very relieved, which is good.
From the moment we got onto our plane, and were sipping red wine and eating yummy airline food (I love it!), I knew we made a good move. It was a red-eye flight leaving just after midnight, so I stayed-up eating, drinking, writing, wiggling-out in my seat to some new music (Kitsune, yay!), not sleeping. It was only a 3 hour flight, but we arrived at 6AM. Stepping into that terminal, I knew life would be much different. Less than 2 years old, the new Bangkok International airport is stunning… from where I was coming, I felt like I was in a massive space station, only it had giant colorful Thai warrior statues everywhere, reflecting gorgeous off the all-stainless steel and glass architecture. I was unabashedly taking photos, so green with awe of its modernity and love for everything Thai.
Right off the baht, still a novice with the new currency, I agreed to a $5 ATM fee. (Oops, that’s 1/2 my daily budget!) Following our vow to take it cheap in the relatively expensive new country, we took the bus into central Bangkok. (30 baht, $1, is still 5x more than a comparable fair in India ): It will take some time to stop the comparing. Getting off at Victory Monument, so tired, it might have taken 3hrs, but neither of us can be sure… we were both nodding-off during the long ride through rush-hour traffic. We got off, stumbled, tired, into a little park. Little shops and vendors were neatly arranged throughout the area, and our red eyes widened at the sight of an array of colorful baked goods unlike any I’d seen in half a year…. We ate Dunkin Donuts and drank iced coffee, hopped onto the elevated Sky Train, zooming around through the sky-skrapers, garnished ourselves with stylish new knockoff sunglasses, and connected to the subway to get to the railway station. (So yes, plane > bus > monorail > subway > railway within 4 hours…) We decided to head straight to Chiang Mai, a city 700km north, in the cool mountains near the first Thai Wwoof farm we plan on visiting. Got the ticket, had a day to kill before the 6PM train, stashed our big bags in the left luggage, and walked towards Chinatown for an adventure.
First thing I noticed is MEAT. It’s everywhere, and in everything. In countless little outdoor corner shops, noodles and soup were being served up, but they were all meaty. Within an hour we found our fix, and were happily noshing on dragon fruit, friend bananas, tofu noodles, and more iced coffees. (It was one of those days where coffee was FUEL, and I required frequent refilling!) Ice, man… freakin’ better than I remembered it. I only had ice twice since America: One time I found a partially frozen Coca-Cola in Nepal… and devoured it like a slushy. Second time was in a fruit shake… I didn’t realize it was blended-in until it was too late, and I drank it anyway (cuz it was soooo good despite it being soooo bad!) Anyway, the ice is good and plenty here. (Sorry, Jamey!)
What would Chinatown be without a market? We got to a small crossroads, and in every direction it was endless market. Not an ideal activity for the weary, but we forged in anyway, and I was dazzled, make that dumbfounded, no, stupefied! The Bangkok Market (dare I call it that… I believe there are dozens of them) is the most impressive labyrinth of goods I’ve ever seen. Nice shit, in huge stores, going on forever. Convincing Birkenstock imitations for $2, sandal warehouses with no two pairs alike, hat shops with endless varieties – thousands, and Oh the jewelry (Mom would freak), clothes, food, everything. We found our way out and saw the sign for Thai massage. Bingo! For 150 baht ($5) we each got an hour-long massage, Amy got reflexology (feet) done and I went for the full body. It was the MEDICINE! Best massage I ever paid for, hands down. It was one of those moments where I was like “Oh Thailand, she found the way to my heart!” Besides all that, everything is so aesthetically pleasing, clean, nice-smelling, girls are beautiful, and the temples are awe-inspiring, not to mention the Buddhist temples everywhere, huge, golden and fantastic. Thailand is very easy on the senses. Eventually it was time to catch our train, we grabbed some noodles to go, and before I knew it we were off and I was sleeping like the dead with the shades drawn in the upper bunk of my sleeper car.
This morning we arrived in Chiang Mai. In the RAIN (so nice, cool, wet… exotic you can say!) we found a guest house, and slept some more (7am-3pm!) In the afternoon we rolled-out, ate some pad thai, and strolled effortlessly along the pretty canals and the ‘moat’ that encircles the lovely inner-city. Temples galore, every kind of western food, espresso drinks, bars, clubs, waterways, garden restaurants, monks, dragons, wi-fi, thrift shops… Chiang Mai is too easy. We went out again after midnight to find some food, no problem, and saw lots of sex workers, many of them ‘lady boys’, whisking guys away on their scooters. Tomorrow we’ll leave these conveniences and head to the farm to work in the rice fields. Now that we’re caught up on sleep, I think it’ll be a really nice change of pace. I have a feeling that, whatever we do here, it’s gonna kick butt.
We really need to learn Thai language. There’s virtually no English here, even in the big cities, so the language barrier is huge. Amy and I hate sticking to the tourist trail, so if I want to get the most of out these two months we’ll need to get with it and learn that new alphabet and the five tones! Much easier said than done… wish me luck! Mái mài mâi mâi mǎi (New wood doesn’t burn, does it?)
song: Buddha Lovaz, Bone Thugs-n-Harmony