Tuesday, November 15, 2011

So You Wanna Go To Bangkok- Twice in 12 hours.

Our last day in Thailand...this trip absolutely flew!  We got up early for our flight to Bangkok and miraculously made it there without any international incidents.

We had heard varying reports on the flooding in Bangkok- Lauren has a friend there who said things were drying out but then we also heard a rumor that they were planning to release some water into the city to relieve some of the pressure on other areas, so we weren't really sure what to do for the day.  The floating markets seemed to be out, which made me sad, but I guess taking a small wooden boat on the river during a flood is generally not the best idea.  At the airport we saw a tour company and thought that might be our safest bet- they would know better than us what areas were still flooded.  So we signed up for the Great Bangkok Travel Co. tour of Temples & Shopping.

The beginning part of the tour was actually pretty cool and very informative.  Since we hadn't planned to spend any time in Bangkok because of the flooding, I hadn't so much as read a wikipedia article about it, so it was nice to have our own private guide giving us the history, answering our questions and identifying important structures.

First he took us to Wat Traimit Wittayarama, or the Traimit Royal Temple.  This is the temple of the Golden Buddha.

When you exit and go upstairs, there are rows of bells to ring for good luck

And also a place to throw a coin & make a wish....you could hear mine spinning around and around the metal dish, so I figure that must be ridiculously lucky.

Before we headed back out, we took the opportunity to grab our last Thai iced teas in all their delicious orange, tamarind, gloriousness.

We then stopped at Wat Pho- home of the reclining buddha.  I had no idea the size of this thing- it's huge!  46 meters long, that's a lot of feet (you do the math)....I don't know what I was expecting, but certainly not this: 

Then we strolled around the grounds for awhile.  Wat Pho is the oldest & largest wat in Bangkok and has the most number of Buddha images in Thailand- I probably have pictures of every single one but I will spare you and just post the "thai-lights" haha.

It was then time for the "shopping" portion of the tour which was not so cool, as we were shuttled to various merchants who stalked us around their stores and tried to convince us that we needed to buy rubies and silk scarves and have suits made for us.  After politely telling people no to things for about an hour, we were released and walked around Bangkok for awhile.

This guy, not so concerned about the flooding......who knew sandbags make great throw pillows?  Spoiler alert- my whole family is getting these for xmas.

Other people proclaimed sandbags to be child's play and erected their own concrete barricades outside their stores to prevent water from coming in. 

The traffic was pretty crazy- I think the city feels really alive because of all the brightly colored cabs.  New York could do with a dose of hot pink Hondas to get us around.

Tuk tuks galore!

The shoulder of the "super" highway (everything's better in Thailand) was turned into a parking lot of busses and cars to keep them safe from flooding.  Just a single file line of cars as far as you could see.

Lauren was continuing on to Bali but her flight wasn't leaving until the next morning and ours was at 1am so she got a hotel room near the airport & Amanda and I decided to relax there for a bit.  On the way to Lauren's hotel, we saw the best sunset of the entire trip....this was the kind of thing I was imagining over the ocean lol.

Lauren wasn't feeling well (come to find out later she had come down with Dengue fever and spent the next leg of her trip in a Balinese hospital!) and the hotel thought we were trying to pull a fast one on them by saying we would be leaving soon to catch a flight, so they asked us to wait in the lobby until it was time to go to the airport.  Amanda and I decided our last 7 hours in Thailand could (and should) be better spent than watching Thai television in a beige room, so we hightailed it to the airport, left our bags with our friend from the morning's Great Bangkok Travel Co. and headed back into Bangkok!

There we did some more shopping, picked up some final pandan flavored snacks at the 7-11, and because we were in Bangkok, went to a show-the details of which I cannot describe on a blog that my mother reads lol.  Let's just say I was traumatized enough afterward to need the deluxe rotee with banana, egg, chocolate, condensed milk, and sugar.  Having completed the Bangkok checklist, we headed back to the airport.

We were concerned our flight to Beijing might be cancelled, because that's how I usually roll when returning from a trip & we had seen two other flights to Beijing on the board with that horrifying little red message next to them, but we made it on and landed with no problems.  It was 34 degrees in Beijing, both inside and outside the airport, which made the 5 hour, middle of the night, layover super delightful.

Two things of interest on the flight from Beijing to NYC-
1.  Two grown men got into a yelling match because one of them apparently repeatedly and intentionally jostled the other sitting in front of him on all six of the times that he got up.  Yelling turned into tattling to the flight attendant, who clearly spoke minimal English and had not a clue what was going on or what to do about it besides nod.  In the end, the jostle-ee proclaimed if it happened again, he wanted the air marshall called and after that I spent the rest of the flight secretly hoping it would happen again.

2.  The man sitting next to me ate some sort of salty nuts for about an hour.  Apparently after consuming each of these nuts, your fingers need to be licked individually in a way that I can only compare to the slurping of a St. Bernard drinking from the toilet.  It was so ridiculous and went on for so long that Amanda and I were crying actual tears of laughter.  I think he may have also been allergic to them, as after every third nut he had a coughing fit while I pondered how I was going to mime "epi pen" to the flight attendant after his throat closed up.

I left for Thailand 12 days ago, I blinked, and now I'm back in NY.  It seems unreal that in that short amount of time I spent a day in China, swam in some of the most beautiful waters imaginable, danced til dawn on the beach, launched lanterns with monks, rode an elephant, touched tigers, learned to cook Thai food and met a ton of incredible people in between.  I feel so lucky & can't wait to see where my next travel adventure takes me....

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Chiang Mai Finale

Today was our last full day in Chiang Mai and the girls, Preston, and I, had signed up to take a class at the Chiang Mai Thai Farm Cooking School.   We had a really fantastic day that started out with a stop at one of the local markets to get a tour and pick up some ingredients.




After the market we took a ride about half an hour outside the city to the farm where our instructor for the day, Durian- who told us that her fruit namesake may smell, but she does not- showed us around the grounds.  She taught us about all the different Thai herbs & vegetables and then took us into the kitchen where we all had our own little stations.


We started off by making a curry paste- we got to choose our color & since I'm now obsessed with massaman curry, I went with yellow.

The next course was soup & I chose Tom Kaa, which is a coconut milk based soup with lemongrass and chicken.  When it was finished we got to take it outside and enjoy it.   We started chatting with other people in the class, mainly about how impressed we were with our own cooking.

Back in the kitchen, it was time to use our curry paste to make the actual curry.  Directly after that, we made another dish and I chose cashew chicken.  There were three choices of things to make on every course and between the four of us we got to try everything on the menu.  After the first three courses everyone was stuffed and they started busting out the doggy bags, much to the confusion of the French and Australians in the group, as they don't really believe in that sort of thing.

Since we were so full, instead of moving on to the noodle portion of the class, they had us do dessert- because no matter how full you are, there's always room for dessert.  It's apparently an international rule.  I made bananas in coconut milk with palm sugar and pandan leaf and I expected to love it, being my two favorite fruits and all, but it was so mindblowingly good that I actually considered licking the bowl (and totally would have done so in the privacy of my own home).

15 minutes later we were back in the classroom for noodle time.  I was very excited to learn how to make Pad See Ew, even if I was too full to eat it.   We packed it up and took it back to the hotel to have later, even though I was pretty sure I would never be able to eat again.  It was even great cold and I am totally asking for a wok for Christmas.

On the way back, in the truck, we chatted with a couple that was staying at our hotel, Robin and Dan.  They quit their jobs and are on a traveling adventure for 6 months, I'm 100 different levels of jealous.  They were really awesome and had some great future travel suggestions for us so I'll be following their travel blog when I get back- waystwogo.wordpress.com.

Back at the hotel Lauren went for a massage while Amanda and I went to check out the Night Bazaar.  I was really excited because I like to get interesting artwork as souviners when I go places and I picked up two really cool things here.  One of the random carts on the street had a woman making these flat leather pieces that she was pounding out with a nail and then painting.  She had different buddhist representations, and I went with an elephant- a traditional symbol of patience and wisdom, I could always use more of both.

Then in the very back of the Kalare Market, there was a an artist's studio that had the most amazing paintings.  I was literally there for half an hour trying to decide which one to get, they were all so great.  In the end, I chose this one of monks walking up towards a temple:

Lauren was beat after her massage but Amanda and I decided to go out for a drink for our last night in Thailand!  We walked around for awhile, and somehow ended up turning down hooker alley where there were a bunch of scantily clad Thai women (women?) hanging out in doorways of mostly empty bars.  A couple did have some customers and interestingly, we saw one group playing Jenga.  Hooker alley did have a rotee stand, so we picked up a pancake and headed back to the main street.  We stopped at John's three level bar so we could look out over the city and had a drink while we watched Naomi Watts have the worst day of her life, dubbed over in Thai, in King Kong.

Friday, November 11, 2011

More Chiang Mai

Turns out challenging a grown man, 3 times your size, to a bucket drinking contest is not a good idea, and that is how this day became known as Lauren's day of death.  I have to say, she was a rockstar, and I was impressed because if I had felt like that, I'm not sure I could have made myself get out of bed and go on the kind of adventure we had planned lol.

Our driver "Big"- name big, body little, he told us to help us remember, picked us up at 8:30 to take us to the Maesa Elephant Camp.  We watched the elephants do a bunch of tricks- one of which included painting and some of the work was pretty impressive!  Then we got to ride up into the mountains on an elephant, which was really cool for about half an hour and then it had the same effect on me as a New York City taxi and I found myself wondering if they would let me down from the elephant to throw up or if I would have to do it over the side.  Luckily I held it together and made it to the drop off with my breakfast intact.

The elephants dropped us off at a sort of series of makeshift villages.  I guess if you don't have time to visit the individual hill tribes, this is the way to experience it all- it's like the Epcot
Center of Thai villages.  We walked around for awhile & saw the different people & their textiles.

After that is was time for the Tiger Kingdom!  This was also a pretty surreal experience- we got to get in cages and hang out with live tigers!  We started off small with the 3 & 4 month olds- so cute!  Then we went for the big guys, which was a little scary when they were moving around, especially when they were moving around while you were petting them.  Some of them were passed out and we were encouraged to lay down and use them as pillows, etc- which in retrospect seems a little insane lol.   The last group we saw were the 6 month olds and they were probably the most fun because they were pretty rowdy, running around and playing.  I did have a close call when one I was sitting behind rolled over and mistook my hair for a ball of string and took a swat at it.  Other than that the experience was really awesome and incident free.

We had planned to go visit a temple that overlooked Chiang Mai but because it was the last night of the festival, there was going to be a big parade and Big wouldn't be able to get us anywhere close to our hotel- so we planned to do it on Sunday.  As it was we got caught in a big traffic jam, but we amused ourselves with the interesting drawings in Big's English Thai-torial books and he entertained us with stories about his birthday plans for later that night & going up into the mountains to make babies.

When we got back we decided maybe it was time to book our flight back to Bangkok for Sunday.  It never occurred to us that being the weekend after a big festival, Sunday might be a popular time to travel and the evening flights might be booked.  So out the window went the Sunday visit to the temple and the lovely afternoon that Big had planned for us- we will be getting up at 7:30am and spending the day in Bangkok- hopefully in some unflooded areas since we heard they planned to release some of the water into the city over the weekend to relieve the outlying areas a little.

After that little setback we headed out for some dinner.  We walked to a random place up the street where we had some pretty unappetizing pad thai- our first questionable meal of the trip. Preston joined us, well rested after sleeping until 4 while we were out adventuring.  We went over to one of the markets to grab dessert.  One of the many things I love about this country is that they use the only two fruits I truly like- bananas & coconuts- in pretty much everything!  Tonight I went for a banana pancake of a different kind.  This was more of a traditional pancake wrapped around a banana and topped with chocolate sauce and dried fruit.  Also delicious!