Saturday, October 18, 2014

Thailand: The Land of Smiles

Kimber and I try to take advantage of our life transitions, in this case school to residency, to go and see the world, because who knows exactly what the future will hold for us. This year we planned a trip to Thailand, this having been our first trip to Asia. We had heard that the area was beautiful and expenses while there were relatively cheap so when we found reasonable airfare we went for it.

A few nights before we were to fly out we got a call from Brig and Barb, a childhood friend and his wife who we were planning on spending a portion of our trip with, who informed us that there was a military coup going on in Thailand and were concerned. The capital of Bangkok had a 10pm curfew and there was always the possibility of getting stuck in an airport as other travels had stated happened in the past on various travel forums. We kicked around the idea of maybe changing to South Africa but ended up just sticking to the plan and not spending much time in Bangkok.

Just missed our flight out of San Francisco….that's my unhappy tired face. 

After pulling an all-nighter cleaning our apartment, Kimber editing photos for some clients that were due and preparing information for the new building manager to take over we were off to try to catch our flight, which we missed. Being completely exhausted Kimber broke down in the airport and rather than take the 45min BART ride back to an empty apartment we ended up just booking a nearby hotel and getting some much needed rest before catching the first plane out the next morning.

Bangkock Air has awesome waiting areas with food!


After our 18hr flight to Bangkok which included a short layover in Tokyo we arrived and were blasted with oven like humidity as we stepped out of the airport. We spent the night at a hotel near the airport and flew out to Krabi early the next morning. From Krabi we took a bus and a long-tail boat to the small isolated peninsula of Railey. After wandering all over the area with our gear we finally hooked up with Brig and Barb. We spent the day climbing and swimming at Phra Nang Beach and taking in one of the most awesome sunsets I have seen. Earlier in the day we got friendly with the local monkey population. They look cute but quickly multiplied and became uncomfortably curious and friendly to the point that as I tried to get one off of Kimber I had a mother come after me. Those things scare the crap out of me. They are deceptively cute and I would like to see the statistics on how many tourists lose a finger. We grabbed a small bungalow nearby that night that ended up having sand in the sheets....

The next morning we did a climb up on the Thaiwand Wall that topped out into a cave that went through the mountain and popped out on the far end of Phra Nang Beach on the opposite side of the island. It was pretty impressive. Swimming at Phra Nang left most of the group with jelly fish stings and myself with a ruined cell phone after forgetting to take it out of my pocket.

Ko Lanta

Communicating with the Thai people can be interesting because you aren't always sure if they understand you and visa-versa so it is kind of a toss up as to what you will end up with. We caught a long-tail boat to a minibus that had to be taken on two ferries to get to our place on Ko Lanta. We started the trip thinking it would only take about an hour but after 5 hours of traveling our bladders were overflowing and we were relieved to have made it to the hotel we had scheduled in time to find only a few restaurants still serving food, a tasty burger joint owned by an Australian guy.

The next day we rented 150 and 200cc trail bikes and toured the island. We stopped at a simple restaurant with a gorgeous overlook of the southern part of the island and chatted in depth about life. It was great to hear and share our thoughts and feelings and see how things had changed over the many years since we had last talked. Brig and I took the ladies to get a massage and we raced off to find some jungle trails to romp. We found exactly the type of trails that we were looking for and luckily came out with out harm to ourselves or the bikes. We watched the sunset on the beach before meeting the girls for dinner. Poor Kimber had eaten something the day before that didn't jive well with her system and was feeling pretty junky. After dinner we took advantage of our hotel's deserted pool and took a dip during a rainstorm under a nearly full moon. It was nice. The resort was mostly empty due to this being the low tourist season.

Something deep is being discussed here.

Ko Phi Phi

We hopped a ferry to the nearby Ko Phi Phi island the next morning and spent the day climbing at Tonsai Tower in a light downpour and later hiked to the Phi Phi Viewpoint. The climbing was pretty easy and the views from the wall were overlooking Tonsai beach. The hike up to the viewpoint was steep and the views from the top showed the majority of the island. There was a sign that showed how a tsunami in 2004 had washed over the island and taken out a lot of the buildings. That night we walked through the crazy tourist town of Ko Phi Phi, that reminded me of Mexico during spring break, and ended up in the Raggae Bar where they allowed volunteers to enter the kickboxing ring and fight.

Kimber had mentioned many times over the last few years that she had wanted to try boxing. This was her chance and she took it. She got another girl to fight her who claims she was "just doing it for the booze". Fighters were given a bucket of rum after their fight. The girl came out strong, which was a bit of a surprise to Kimber. They went three rounds and the other girl ended up tapping out at the end of the 3rd round after Kimber decided to keep hitting her without stopping and popped her good causing her to stumble back to her corner where she admitted, "this just isn't worth it". Kimber for the win!

Having a wrestling background and not wanting to be outdone by my wife I volunteered to fight when the owner started inviting people from the crowd. Brigham got pretty excited and at one point pulled me up on a table and taunted the entire bar for a challenger. We ended up getting a guy from Canada to volunteer. I went over and introduced myself before the fight. My opponent spent the 30 minutes before our match chain smoking and meditating. During the fight my many years of wrestling took over and I found myself crouching low and was constantly grabbing the guy's leg and throwing him on the ground when he would try to kick me. We went three rounds and things were pretty equal but the guy got a good hit in right at the end of the 3rd round that put me on the ground and caused me to see stars. That sealed the deal. I lost. I gave the other guy's team my bucket of rum, as it didn't look at all enticing while I was still covered in sweat and breathing hard. I had a stiff neck for the next few days and a sore rib for rest of trip but overall I don't regret it and had a good time.

The next morning we caught an early long-tail boat ride to Maya Bay and around the beautiful Ko Phi Phi Lee island and did some snorkeling. Brig and Barb took off headed back to Bangkok and back to the states. Kimber and I booked another hotel and got in some rest as our time with Brig and Barb had been a whirlwind of activity. We ended up switching hotels the next day to nice bungalow where we stayed for two nights. Kimber and I just enjoyed some R&R and even got in a short climbing session. We walked the shops and came across a kid with a spider monkey that Kimber was able to hold, watched some fire throwers and "tried out" a swimming pool at a nearby 5 start hotel. We both got cheap 1hr massages (8.6 USD) and enjoyed traditional Thai food. We were ready to leave after 4 days on the island and booked an overnight train to Bangkok and another train to Chiang Mai up north.

Train Through Bangkok to Chiang Mai

We caught a ferry and a bus to Surat Thani where the train station was. From what I have heard Thailand trains are rarely on time and ours wasn't an exception. While waiting for our train which was 2 hrs late I laid down on a bench and awoke to a man standing over me, mumbling in Thai and pointing at me.  Thinking I had a spider or something on my shirt, I got up and the man, looking irritated, held up a fist, looking like was going to hit me, and started yelling. The guy was pretty small and I sort of thought he was joking. Being right next to the police office at the station, a bunch of officers rushed out and the man bolted. I never could get anyone to tell me what the guy was yelling. I found the whole deal pretty amusing for some reason. The Thai people are just to nice and peaceful for me to actually believe that he would have done much to me.

The highly desired bench….
Our train arrived, around 11:30pm, and we hopped on and found our beds. The train was old and loud. The beds had curtains for privacy and Kimber and I, in normal fashion, shared the bottom bunk and were out. Our ear plugs and eye masks made sleeping more peaceful. The bathroom on-board the train was interesting with a squat toilet that had a hole where you could see the tracks below and bars over an open window.

After awaking we spent the morning checking out the landscape as we chugged along and buying cheap vendor foods from locals that would board the train and walk the isles. We arrived in Bangkok before lunch and spent the day checking out the Chinatown area. We visited the Buddhist temple of Wat Traimit which houses a 10ft tall, 5.5 ton, solid gold Buddha. The Buddha was originally covered in plaster and was discovered to be solid gold in 1955 after it was dropped while being moved. It is thought to have been covered as protection from thieves. We walked the crazy streets and markets trying various street food. That night we caught another sleeper train to Chiang Mai.

Cover those shoulders.

Chiang Mai

We arrived at our hotel via a Tuk-tuk (too-k too-k) in the afternoon and called Mr. Son to schedule an elephant training session/trek for the next day per recommendation by Brig and Barb who had explored Chiang Mai before meeting us in the south. That afternoon we grabbed some Thai food and crazy enough, met another couple from Oakland. What a small world. We stumbled onto another Buddhist temple and ended meeting some monks and getting pictures with them. One of them even friend-ed me on Facebook.  The monks loved talking to tourists so they can practice their English. The temple was similar to the other one with multiple gold Buddha statues and some older structures. When it started down-pouring we headed home.

Women always must sit below the munks…..

The next morning Mr. Son picked us up at 8:30 and we traveled to the mountains with two other couples, one from Holland and another from Spain. We stopped at a Butterfly farm before arriving at his place. On the drive up we saw multiple elephants working in fields, carrying people and just grazing. We spent the rest of the day learning how to command an elephant, riding the elephants through the jungle and bathing the elephants in the river which included a water fight. I rode the elephant named Mona and Kimber rode Jumbo. We also had cooking lessons where we learned to make Papaya Salad (garlic, pepper, sugar cane, lime, papaya and tomato). The rest of the group left and we spent the night in a small bungalow by the river. Kimber got a workout in while I took an awesome nap. We had chicken for dinner and watched fire flies in the dark after the rainstorm stopped. While Kimber was in the shower she found a HUGE spider and from her reaction made me think that she was being attacked by a rabid monkey. She was scarred her for the rest of trip.



The next morning we rode the elephants around for a few hours while they grazed. The elephants who had previously been used for labor or the circus were in the process of being taught to live in the wild. Later we went whitewater rafting down some 3rd class rapids and transitioned to a bamboo raft down a slow section. After being taken back to Chiang Mai and checking into our hotel we caught a shuttle to the Sunday Walking Street which was a crazy busy market. Kimber instantly got suckered into buying a tin bracelet from a tribal lady with a baby on her shoulder for 1.66 USD (50 BHT) who wouldn't stop begging and holding onto her arm. We explored all different types of foods including BBQ squid and various local meats. We bought some traditional rice farmer pants (baggy capris) and also ended up buying a quilt from a lady that cut her original price by more than in half when we told her we didn't want it. Kimber was drawn to the many different colorful scarves and couldn't make up her mind between all of the pretty designs. We grabbed a ride back in a tuk-tuk from a kid that we are pretty sure was on Speed but made it back safe.

So many pretty colorful scarves. 

We spent the next day just wandering the streets and markets. It was nice to just cruise. We ended up finding the climbing shop and scheduled for a shuttle to take us to the Crazy Horse climbing area with some other people. The next day we ended up climbing with Kate (from San Francisco), Angus (from Scotland), Ethan and Nina (from Boston) and Gee (from Thailand). It was a great day to climb some hard sport routes. Kimber even ended up getting up a difficult 5.11c called "Beehouse" that I couldn't even do because I was to blown. Other good routes of the day were "Bamboo Rider" that was a link up with anther route making it super long and "On the Hot" which was a creative route that went up an archway, requiring creative maneuvers. We went to the street markets for dinner with Kate and Angus and ended up trying some chicken anuses which were pretty tasty, as long as you didn't think about it too much.

We flew out the next day to Bangkok after spending to day exploring the area of Chiang Mai near the university which was more upper class. We had coffee at Ristr8o which could have been the best cup I have ever had. We ended up getting my hair cut by a native transsexual girl who gave me the fastest, best hair cuts I had ever had for $8. We stopped in at a modern mall which was weird to see. Before heading to the airport we decided to get one last massage. I got a foot massage and Kimber got a head, neck and shoulders massage.

Foot massage.

After landing in Bangkok we found out that the hotel that we had booked didn't have a free shuttle even though it stated on the site that they did. This was unacceptable. Kimber ran the phones and we ended up giving the hotel a horrible rating on after speaking with the hotel owner and going to a hotel recommended by a nice lady that was aware of our issue who we met in the airport. The flight home was pretty uneventful.

Great trip.

Actual trip dates: May 26th - June 12th 2014.

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