Wednesday, May 28, 2008

We're home! - Eric's report

So yeah, like Julie said... we're home. I'm sitting at home in Arizona right now, reflecting. And by reflecting I mean loading my bootleg games and eating western food again. haha. No, but seriously... it's weird to be back. I am both sad and glad to be back.

Obviously we were very busy taking everything in and blogging wasn't our #1 priority, although we did try to keep it up to date.... obviously there's TONS of stuff to still talk about, report, and laugh about.... so what I'm going to do is continue blogging and fill in some gaps and try and share more.

One thing that was an experience is I actually got a ticket! Yup, pulled over by the Pai police and was issued a ticket for not wearing a helmet while riding a motorbike and was made to pay a $200 baht ($6.71 usd) fine on the spot. Total bullshit. NO ONE wears helmets in this town, especially the locals.... there's 3k people in this tiny town, no car traffic, everyone drives 20km or slower. Basically they set up like a trap at a common tourist intersection (this one was the intersection you must pass through to get to a popular waterfall) and just pull everyone over. Of course the bike rental place never once mentioned that this was actually a law. Anyway, here's my first, and hopefully last, ticket from Thailand.

Monday, May 26, 2008

We're home- sort of. Julie's post

After a 15 hour flight, we arrived at LAX last night around 8:30. This time we were smart and asked for an exit row on both flights. On the longer flight from Taipei to L.A. the plane was so large that our exit row seating really had no seating for 6 feet in front of us which was wonderful. We bought those u-shaped travel pillows and they made all the difference too. I slept a good 9 hours on the last flight. The longer flight had 150 seats free unlike the flight going which was totally packed. So we had no one sitting next to us which also made sleeping easier. I think I'm always going to ask for the exit row when we fly internationally.

Customs was such a procedure, more so than I ever knew. First we got bussed from our outskirts terminal with the hundreds of other passengers. However, we had to wait for the 2nd bus. Then we stood in the customs line for a good while and got asked the standard questions, then got our checked baggage, and stood in another customs line to leave. It only took about 45 minutes but it seemed much longer after still being groggy from the flight.

The last couple days we met up with Jenny in Bangkok and stayed in a very nice hotel in downtown with all the skyscrapers. Some highlights were going to a swanky jazz club at the very posh Sheraton Grand. We paid $12 US for drinks and went in totally under dressed with not a care in the world. When I'd look around at all those international tourists, I swear we were getting the evil eye from a good number of them. The waitress was also very rude and snooty which was kind of bizarre considering she's a waitress at a Sheraton in Thailand. The music was amazing though and that's all that matters!!
Some good points were riding the sky train above Bangkok, going to the Chatuchak market, and last but not least MBK 8-story mall where Eric bought a couple of bootleg games and we gawked at the size and scale of the place.
Our last couple days in Pai were bittersweet as we really didn't want to leave. It was just incredible. Our last full day there we got on our motorbikes and rode around for half the day just looking at the beautiful scenery and taking pictures.

We're in Orange County staying with Eric's parents until tomorrow. Then we'll drive home with the dogs and start our life over again in this crazy place called America. It's been quite a shift just driving around this area and trying to get accustomed with this American lifestyle again. It is nice to be home. :)

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Left Chiang Mai, now in Pai - Eric's report

After more eating, more drinking, more Muay Thai (I won $400B from a Scottish guy sitting next to me), and more shopping, we left Chiang Mai on monday morning. So after a 4hr mini-van ride from Chiang Mai we are now in the little valley city of Pai (pronounced "Bye"). We were only going to spend a few days here but we love it so much we're going to finish out our trip here and stay until Saturday morning when we will mini-van back to Chiang Mai and fly to Bangkok... spend the night in downtown, and fly home on Sunday evening.

Pai is awesome... it's a little city basically comprised of a 2km rectangle... so it's very small but it's very artsy, very hippy, and very beautiful. It's tucked in-between the mountains in a little misty valley. The surrounding mountains are very lush and the skies are clear (during the day when it's not raining.. rain starts around 4pm), clean, and blue. There's a nice river that snakes through the town. The first two nights we stayed on the river with an amazing view... there was a little bamboo bridge that connected our side (side the town is on) to the other side of the river. There were three bridges actually.. all very janky. No lights, no handrails, and not very sturdy. On the other side of the river are these bamboo bungalows nestled right on the banks of the river. Guests of those bungalows had to park their motor bikes on our side and walk across to reach their "home". Monday night as we were sitting alongside the river I joked about the stability of the bridges and laughed imagining drunk people trying to cross at night. Well anyway, it rained all night and when we woke up in the morning guess what... all 3 bridges were GONE! Completely washed away. Julie and I sat and ate breakfast watching the unfortunate people who stayed over there try to cross the swift moving river with 12kilo backpacks above their heads... water up to their chest. Sucks. One dude slipped and fell soaking everything.

So later that day we chatted it up with the owner of a restaurant... an American expat from Alaska who's lived here for about 8 years. He told us that in 2005 the river flooded and washed away all the bungalows on that side of the river. Apparently they are built on flood plains. 30 people died as their bungalows were washed away at 5am. Imagine waking up to that. So after 2005 the Thai government stepped in and said no one could build bungalows there..... so what did the owners do? They built them up the hill and moved them back down into the flood zone. Unreal. Anyone who stays over there is literally risking their lives and they don't even know it. Crazy the stuff you learn when you talk to locals.

More on Pai later, I'm hungry. :)


Left Chiang Mai for the beautiful city of Pai!!! Julie's post

On Sunday night we took to the streets again for the Sunday night market in Chiang Mai. Last week it rained during our shopping adventure so we purposely stayed in Chiang Mai an entire week so we could go to it again. It was incredible and more impressive than any type of street fair I've ever been to. It stretched so many city blocks, you couldn't even count. We spent 4 hours walking it and didn't even get to half of it. Among the mix of cheaply made Asian fare, we came upon some amazing original art and a lot of handi crafts. As the market started to wind down, I walked over to the Taepae gate to take some pictures. The gate is about 2 or 3 stories high and has brick stairs with no railing of course. My heart sank for a second but there was no way I wasn't going to walk up them. I really had to restrain myself from looking down at the ground as I walked up. Surprisingly it was much easier to walk down than up. There were numerous beer bottles and trash strewn about at the top and also a few local Thai teenagers taking glamour shots of each other. The views from up there were pretty impressive. I wish I could post pictures but the cafe we're at won't let me install the drivers for the camera. We bought a card reader for the camera a couple weeks ago in Trang but the slot where my card is bent. So I've been having to install the stupid drivers each time I post pictures. Oh well...we only have a few days left. When we get back we'll put all of them on Flickr.

Two days ago we took a mini van ride from Chiang Mai north to Pai. The drive itself was about 3 hours but with picking up passengers along the way it came out to 4. I heard some horror stories of the drive being extremely windy and didn't want to chance getting sick so I took Dramamine. I'm glad I did because it was hairpin turn after hairpin turn. There's a funny sign here in Pai actually listing the exact amount of turns on that drive and it's over 700! Someones got a sick sense of humor to actually count the turns. :)

When we got to Pai I instantly fell in love. It's quaint and small but still vibrant with tourists who are going a bit off the beaten path. We even rented motor bikes which has been a lot of fun. There's so little traffic and most of it is motor bikes so it makes the windy scenic roads very pleasant to drive on.

The first two nights we stayed in a resort overlooking the river and mountains. The view from the room was phenomenal. Unfortunately they were putting in a pool and doing renovations while we were there so at about 8 AM - 7 PM we'd hear sawing and pounding. Today we moved guesthouses to a place called PAIridise hehe...We even decided to get a fan room instead of AC and saved money. The weather here has been much nicer than the rest of the country. It's not as humid and at night it gets chilly.

While we were in Chiang Mai at our cooking class we met a lovely Irish guy, John. He's from Dublin and works in IT. We had drinks with him the last two nights in Chiang Mai and it just so happened he was coming up to Pai the same time we were. Last night we had a drink with him at one of the coolest bars the most notorious incidents of people who got thrown out of the bar. Then there's another chalkboard with the names of people who've drank the most, complete with the countries they reside in. There was only one woman who made it to above 18 shots, her name was Michelle and she was from the United States. She won a t-shirt. I'm sure she's very proud. :)

At the bar we met quite a few people from all over, Ireland, Australia, UK, Israel, and San Francisco. At midnight that bar shuts down so we motorbiked it to the next bar just down the road, all 8 of us or so in tow. That bar closed at 1, so we motorbiked it to yet another bar until about 2 AM. The bar was mostly outdoors and playing incredible music- a lot of old hip hop and then techno and psy trance. It was pretty neat to see people from all over the world dancing to psy trance. It reminded me so much of Moontribe and brought back great memories. The whole town is a huge hippy fest. We love it so much that we've decided to stay for the rest of our trip and not go North to take a romantic river boat cruise. We're just having too much fun here to leave.

Tonight there's apparently a huge football...errr soccer...match at 2 AM that our crazy Irish friends are staying up for at a local bar. I think we'll have to pass on that. ha

Friday, May 16, 2008

The Elephant Conservatory - Julie's post

Two days ago we went to the Elephant Conservatory outside of Chiang Mai. There are a lot of elephant camps in Thailand but too many of them are run inhumanely.

The one we went to was amazing. We saw a special about it on he Discovery Channel a few months ago. It's been one of the most memorable parts of the trip thus far getting to be so close to the elephants, to touch them, and see them interact.

I've been to the circus a few times and what always bothered me was how much of a show it is. I was worried that the conservatory would give me those same feelings but it didn't. You could tell that the animals were very well taken care of.

Feeding the elephants

Trainers about to bathe them

They started spraying each other with water, and a man with a very nice camera standing in front of me. I saw it coming, apparently he didn't. :)

The elephants paint, and they're not trained to do so. Their handlers just give them brushes with color on them and the elephants paint whatever they wish. It's one of the most fascinating things I've witnessed. This elephant painted elephants. We wanted to purchase the painting very badly but someone beat us to it!

We rode an elephant. It was a bit scary at first but it was an incredible experience. At one point the elephant grabbed a tree branch from above us with his trunk and yanked it down so we wouldn't run into it. I have no idea if they're trained to do these things but he wasn't prompted to do so.

A few times the elephant stopped to make very deep but barely audible noises. The rumbling from being on top of him was unbelievable. It was obvious he was communicating with other elephants. To actually sit there in silence and witness this occurrence was fascinating.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Interesting Thailand Observations #02 - Eric's take

  • Red Bull and other energy drinks are non-carbonated and come in little brown medicine bottles.. and sell for $0.33
  • A haircut costs $2.50 but a single shot of vodka w/ tonic costs $4
  • Whiskey is HUGE here
  • "Top shelf" vodka = Smirnoff
  • Maple syrup is extremely hard to find... pancakes are served with honey
  • Most bars (90% +) are also "boom boom" bars where you can take the girls from the bar back to your hotel... after paying the mama-san, of course

Update and rant - Julie's post

Being in Chiang Mai for the past few days has been quite interesting. We got a great deal on a hotel called the Lanna House right in the heart of Chiang Mai. They're having some crazy deal where the first night is 99 Baht which comes out to less than $4 US, and then each additional night is 800 Baht which is less than $30 US. It's unbelievable the type of deals you can get here, especially now that it's the low season.

It's rained a lot the past few days, usually in the morning and the evening for at least a couple hours at a time.

Yesterday I went to a yoga class here on my own. I walked the many city blocks trying to find it and realizing it had shut down once I got there. I went into a travel agency, figuring they were the best bet for someone in there that spoke English well enough to help me find the place. Sure enough, the studio had moved down the street. The class went well but I quickly realized how much of a wreck my body was. It was unbelievable how tight I was and how many muscles ached from walking and carrying a backpack all the time.

On my walk back to the hotel I went down one of the main streets right after sunset. Many bars and restaurants line the street with tourists and locals eating together at many of them.

One thing that's seemed so strange to me is the amount of old men sitting with young Thai girls. Obviously there's a ridiculous amount of prostitution here, most people know that. However, what I didn't realize was just how out in the open it all is. Numerous bars have nothing going on except a white man sitting with an unamused young Thai woman, who's clearly not listening to the man as her head is cocked the other way. Every night we're out I can't count the amount of men with prostitutes here, it's that many. I really could care less about what these women do for a living as it's not up to me to tell someone what they can and can't do for a living. However, it's hard to not get totally disgusted when day after day you see 70 or 80 year old pervy old men with women who look completely underage, or just over the brink of 18. It's unreal and totally disgusting to me to see men with wedding rings on their fingers, with their arms around these women. I've tried to rationalize that perhaps they are married to them...but please, we're in Thailand. The chances of that being the case are slim to none.

Eric and I went to a Muay Thai fight on Monday night and a few fights into it I got tired and went back to our room. As it turns out, a man from the States came and sat next to Eric and as they chatted it up for the rest of the fight. The man divulged his whole life he lives in Thailand, secretly, away from his wife and four kids. He talked about how wonderful it was that you could just get hookers on a moments notice. On top of that, he rents these young Thai women for a month or so at a time and has them live-in with him while he's here on business. Also, how the women of Chiang Mai and Bangkok are mostly stuck up and a waste of time. What a man really needs is a girl in Chiang Mai who comes from Issan, which is North of here. Apparently the women there are less like that (ie: poorer and less educated). Hearing this story related back to me by Eric was just insane. First off, who goes up to a stranger and divulges this information like they're proud of it? All I could think about was how much of a scum bag this guy was. It's one thing to be with a prostitute. It's a completely different story when you cheat on your wife with a prostitute from a different country, and then potentially bring home diseases that could affect her and potentially your future children. Also, the man told Eric that the next time he comes here, "You know, without your wife and all" where he could go to get amazing prostitutes.

On Monday we're heading to Pai by bus on windy roads (thank god for Dramamine) and spending a few days to relax and take it easy. Then we'll go back to Bangkok and fly home in a week from Sunday.