Friday, April 30, 2010

More Chiang Rai

Chiang Rai
Chiang Rai Clock Tower

We took the bus to Chiang Rai from Chiang Mai* on Tuesday.

*Though they are spelled the same, I want to pronounce Chiang Mai-Chang My and I want to pronounce Chiang Rai-Chang Ray. I am not sure why.


We were met at the bus stop by Jake, the linguist I mentioned earlier. Back when Cale and I were planning our trip, I had asked our facebook friends if they had JE vaccinations before traveling to Southeast Asia. Our friend Joel (who we met in Orlando, but is from Alabama) recommended I become friends with some of his friends on facebook. So I did. One of those friends, Cheryl, went to school in Alabama with Jake, who is now a PhD candidate from the University of Hawaii currently in Chiang Rai working with the Akha hill tribe.

Jake dropped us off at a guest house where we made the mistake of paying for a room before seeing it. Apparently, the new air-con building is quite nice. However, we had requested a fan room, which appears to be in older, neglected buildings. It felt a little like a flop house. We immediately went for a walk and found another guest house. I highly recommend the Baan Bua to anyone in Chiang Rai. We had to just abandon the 200B we paid at the first place and paid another 250B at the new place, but it was worth it to not stay the night at the first one.

We immediately set to finding food, as we had not really eaten yet that day and it was now approaching 5pm. We wandered the streets aimlessly hoping to find some street food, but ended up at The Old Dutch. I think the name says enough about the prices and the food. Later we learned we just hadn't wandered to the correct places and had been in the more heavily tourist and expat area the entire time.

We met Jake for drinks that night. His work is pretty fascinating. He is working with the Ahka shaman to record their religious texts, which are currently only oral and only known by an increasingly shrinking number of shaman. After recording they are transcribing into Akha and then into English. When they are finished, they will publish the work.

From Jake we learned a little about the situation for the hill tribe people in Thailand. Apparently all the bordering countries refuse to claim the tribes as citizens and so most of the people are undocumented and without social services. Also, with out ID cards they cannot travel within Thailand. Even some with ID cards are not free to travel. Jake has friends with pink cards who cannot leave Chiang Rai. If she was to visit Chiang Mai (for example) she could be deported to any one of the bordering countries (that she isn't from) where in turn to she could be deported from that country to one that borders it. Later, when we traveled by bus from Chiang Rai to Tak we saw how the buses have to stop at each province border (within Thailand) and passengers have to show their ID cards. Special attention was paid to the three hill tribe kids that were sharing two seats on the bus. Each time the cops spent more time with them than other passengers and looked through their bags.


Courtesy of Chiangdao.com

Additionally, many of the popular hill tribe villages listed on tours are not true villages, but what other hill tribe people refer to as people zoos. In particular there are no Long-Neck Karens natively living in Thailand. Instead the people living in these villages are been imported from Burma for the sole purpose of being a tourist attraction. Because the women are what the tourists want to see there are few men in the villages. The women spend all day being on display and making and selling handicraft souvenirs. Furthermore, they cannot leave as they do not have ID cards and they cannot remove their neck rings as that is what makes them the tourist attraction in the first place.

Wednesday we wandered around the city of Chiang Rai and I started to want to tear my eyeballs out. I had just spent the last several days wandering around Chiang Mai and here I was wandering around Chiang Rai. It was the same stuff all over again. 7-Elevens, jewelry stores, shops and shops and more shops. At some point, walking aimlessly past yet another 7-Eleven in the oppressive mid-day heat, I turned to Cale. "We have to get out of the city! I want to go to Siem Reap now."

Cale agreed to leave after his cooking class (which he arranged for the next day) and we even went so far as to look into some of the organized tours into the area around Chiang Rai. They all included hill tribe villages (which I didn't really want to do) but they also included hikes and elephants and such. Of course, they also came with price tags of more than 2,000B per person. It seems that it is hard to find ways to do fun things in heavily tourist areas without joining some sort of tour group (especially when you don't know the language) because you cannot find information for anything else.

Luckily, we had met a Peace Corps volunteer in Chiang Mai who lived in a village in Tak. He had offered that we could stay with him as long as we like. So we called Mike up and organized to go stay with him instead. It would be outside the city. Hopefully there wouldn't even be any 7-Elevens. Cale took the cooking class on Thursday. On Friday we failed to see the White Temple by arriving just as it was closing. Saturday we left in the morning for Tak.

— Sara

Up next: Being in a wedding in Tak, morning announcements and adventures in border crossing. I am still about a week behind in my blogging.

More images from Chiang Rai here.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Chiang Rai

Chiang Rai

Before we ever came to Thailand Cale knew that he wanted to learn to cook Thai food while we were here. He also knew he didn't want to go to one of those commercial cooking schools that cater to tourists. From the looks of those on the internets and in the travel videos we watched, you and your closest 30 strangers gathered in a big room and watched someone cook on commercial grade equipment. Not what Cale had in mind.

So he started searching on the internet for some way to have a small, intimate experience. The ideal situation would being able to homestay with a Thai family and just learn to cook from them as part of daily life. However, any homestay information to be found on the internet as part of some sort of tour package that was expensive and cheesy. I guess this is what you get when you are going to a country with a huge tourism industry.

However, Cale did find mention on a message board of a cooking class in Chiang Rai. The message board indicated that there was a woman there who taught cooking and that the only way to find her was to look for her flyer which was found hanging up in the back of some bar. This was enough of a mystery and a mission to intrigue Cale. We knew we were going to Chiang Rai just so Cale could track this lady down and get her to teach him to cook.

Cale's mission immediately became less adventurous when we started talking to Jake the linguistics PhD student we met up with in Chiang Rai. He is working with the Ahka to record, transcribe and translate the oral traditions of the shaman. He also knew the lady Cale was talking about and had her number in his phone. Cale refused to take the number because he still wanted to track her down. The mission became even less adventurous when we passed a large, display sign on the main tourist road advertising her cooking class. It appeared that this hard to find, little-known lady who taught a cooking class was in fact pretty famous in Chiang Rai. Later we would discover she has a web site, is on facebook and has refused Lonely Planet's invitation to be in the book several times.

Even if it wasn't the mystery and mission that Cale was hoping for, it was still pretty awesome.

Suwannee picked us up at our guest house Thursday morning and immediately took us on a market tour. Just the act of having someone show us around the market suddenly made is less intimidating and more accessible. Instead of feeling like we were constantly surrounded by booths selling underpants or exotic seafoods, we started to know where to find the fruits and vegetables and the snacky foods. All the while Suwannee was introducing the market and foods to us we were learning about her as well. She is in her early- to mid-thirties and is quite the world traveler. Thai by birth she went to school in England and worked in Holland for eight years before returning to Thailand to open a restaurant (probably the "bar" where her flyer was seen in that message board post) and to teach cooking. She wasn't sure which one she would like better at the time, however, three years later she has decided to focus on the cooking classes and to stop with the restaurant.

Chiang Rai

The market tour was very comprehensive. Cale was introduced to the nine types of basil found in Thailand and to a surprising variety of one vegetable that will be a "Name this Plant" soon. Afterwards we went back to Suwannee's house. In back of the house, in a separate building she has a traditional Thai kitchen with a max of eight cooking stations. However, Cale was the only student for this class.

Chiang Rai

Cale made three dishes and a dessert, which were all delicious. It was a pretty excellent day.

— Sara

Monday, April 26, 2010

Sorry For the Lack of Posts

We are visiting in areas with out the internet and will be out of communication for a while longer.

— Sara

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Tidbits

Thailand is covered in 7-Elevens.

There is this thing. It looks like a tennis racket. You use it to kill mosquitoes.



Thai toilets do not typically have toilet paper. Thai restaurant tables do.

Things we have seen on the streets:
1. Monkey
2. Elephant
3. Upright bass on the back of a man on a scooter

The upright bass was part of a band that was playing at this bar. I am used to bands loading out of vans. This band loaded out of scooters. Mike stands, guitars, etc all arrived on the back of scooters.

We ate at a Mexican restaurant run by Burmese refugees.

Remember the fans in Samoa with the timers? Remember wondering why a fan would have a timer? Well, I have an answer for you now. Korean Fan Death.

— Sara

Monday, April 19, 2010

You Wanted Temples, We Got Temples

Wat Phra Singh

On Friday we woke up fully prepared to get wet again. All the literature and couchsurfing information indicated that Songkran lasted five days in Chiang Mai. So we were pleasantly surprised to discover that the streets were clear of pickup trucks with barrels, buckets and water guns. It was safe to go outside again.

Wat Phra Singh

Chiang Mai is a pretty decent-sized city. The internets tell me that the city proper has upwards of 150,000 residents and the greater metropolitan area is over one million. All of Samoa has less than 200,000 people. It was easy to walk the city inside the moat, which made it feel very small. However, it definitely had all the amenities you expect in a real city, including the Mac-approved service and sales shop.

Wat Phra Singh

We made a stop at a couple of wats. According to my Lonely Planet, a wat is a temple complex. In this complex you may see a chedi (large, bell-shaped tower also known as a stupa), or a praang (towering phallic spire), and the wihaan (the main sanctuary for the temple's Buddha sculpture).

Wat Phra Singha

In addition to the wats it wasn't uncommon for us to turn a street corner to discover a random crumbling ancient chedi/praang or a brand-new golden one. We used two of them as landmarks when returning to our guest house.

Wat Phra Singh

I had a hard time taking pictures at and visiting the wats because these are not historic relics, these are active religious sites. I am not very good at taking pictures of people living their everyday lives without their permission. Especially when I am obviously a tourist. I don't think I would have a problem taking pictures at a church in the States. I feel like I would blend in. But there was something about taking pictures as a farang in Thailand.

Also, after some visits, I started to feel like a wat is a wat is wat. Lots of tiles and glass, check. Large, golden Buddha, check.

On Monday Cale took a cooking class and I took a walk around the city and then did a bit of relaxing. Cale can cook pad thai for me now and all is right with the world.

We stayed in Chiang Mai until Tuesday morning when we caught a bus to Chiang Rai.

More later

— Sara

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Songkrank Part III

Wednesday morning we caught a bus to Chiang Mai. It was a VIP bus and let me tell you this was a luxury busing option. Air-con that is so effective they give you blankets. Seats that recline into practically horizontal. The seats were also massage chairs! They give you snacks. There is a flight attendant, but since this is on the ground maybe she is a drive attendant? Too bad we had this luxury option for our five-hour trip and not the 10-hour one.

In the Chiang Mai bus station we ran into more Thai Peace Corps and ending up getting a room at the same place some of them were staying.

Chiang Mai was founded in 1296 and surrounded by both a moat and a wall for protection against Burma. The moat and portions of the wall still exist today. Today Chiang Mai is a huge tourist destination, particularly during Songkran. The roads that run around the city on either side of the moat were the hub for Songkran water play. It was literally mobbed with people and practically stand-still traffic of trucks with barrels of water in the back. The moat served as a source of ammunition for the people on the ground as well as street-side stations with hoses and barrels. We were staying just outside the east wall of the city and the east side of the city is also where the tourists concentrate.

Immediately we noticed a different tone to Songkran in Chiang Mai. The Thais call it "water play" the farang call it "water fight" and you can feel the difference. It was significantly more predatory and aggressive. The foreigners were going for face and ear shots, the Thais were going for body and shoulder shots. We could not get from our guest house and into the city without passing through the gauntlet. A road bursting with people and water. We saw groups of sniper farang hiding out at bars and hitting unsuspecting passersby in the face. We were hit by snipers on a third floor balcony. This was not the fun, reciprocital water play we experienced in Uttaradit, it was urban warfare. Like paintball with water in city streets. We hated it immediately.

I was disappointed. Not only was I unable to take pictures of the water activities without ruining the camera, I couldn't take pictures of anything because we could not leave the guest house without being soaked. By Thursday evening after four straight days of being wet (if you count Monday and Tuesday in Uttaradit) I was at the end of my rope. We had discovered that if we got through the wetting on the moat road, we could get into the city and wander around with only the occasional splash or water gun hit. However, when we went out Thursday night to meet up with a friend, we discovered that the water play on the moat road had waned and the participants had moved into the city to stand in front of their homes and guest houses soaking people. I was trying desperately to make it to our destination relatively dry. We would look down streets and go more roundabout ways when we saw water stations.

One farang was at a barrel on the opposite side of the street from us and threw his bucket of water at us. We were sprinkled. Apparently, he was not satisfied with that because he then refilled his bucket and chased us down the street so he could dump the water down my back. I was not sad when he dropped the bucket and it was run over by a car. Just before we reached our destination we had no choice but to go past a family's station in a narrow street. The old man with the bucket poured a small amount down Cale's back and I knew that meant the rest of the bucket was for me. I backed away and pleaded with him, "Please no water! Please just a little water!" But he would have none of it and dumped the contents down my back. Cale told me I had no right to be angry and he was right. I am sure the entire time the man was thinking, "Silly farang. If you don't want to get wet, why did you come to Chiang Mai during Songkran?"

— Sara

PS. No pictures with this post, I didn't take the camera out.

PPS. I am not a total party pooper. We hung out by the moat with some Peace Corps and threw water and got water thrown us for a while. It just wasn't something that I could enjoy for hours on end, much less days on end.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Songkran Part II

Songkran in Uttaradit

Tuesday was the official start of Songkran and we went out to play water with some people from Nancymarie's site. We filled to huge rain barrels with water and drove through the streets of her town drenching passing trucks and people on the side of the road with buckets of water. They doused us in return.

Songkran in Uttaradit

We quickly discovered that dropping a block of ice into your barrel was pretty popular. Getting hit with a bucket of ice water is quite shocking.

Songkran in Uttaradit

Usually the groups on the side of the road had their own rain barrels and buckets. There were also hoses and water guns. As we passed they would throw water at us. On several occasions a group of people would dance out into the street and stop the car for a more thorough soaking. We were quite popular. Standing in the bed of the pickup over a cheering mass of people screaming that they love you and they love America while desperately reaching out to grab your hand (and occasionally kiss it) can make you feel a little like a rock star. Cale had one guy come up to him shouting, "Good morning! I love you!" Only to have him return seconds later with a correction, "Good AFTERNOON! I love you!" Another common shout was "My name is!" One English phrase that must be taught in the schools but never adequately explained.

We played water for about two hours and were thorough soaked. We returned to Nancymarie's house where she made baked ziti in her toaster oven and it was awesome.

Songkran in Uttaradit

— Sara

Tune in tomorrow when I finally start blogging about Chiang Mai, a city we have been in for three days now.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Songkran Part I

Songkran in Uttaradit

Songkran is the Thai New Year. The word itself is a Sanskrit word that refers to astrological passage and the dates used to vary. However, they have since be set as 13-15 April. The holiday is celebrated differently throughout Thailand. In the south, where Hayden lives, Songkran is a time for families to come together and for the elderly to be blessed with water at the wat (religious temple). Songkran is celebrated most famously in the north where the focus is on "waterplay" and people visiting Songkran hot spots like Chiang Mai can expect to spend the entire holiday soaking wet if they venture outside.

In Uttaradit the holiday began on the 12th with a parade and beauty pageant. As I mentioned earlier, Nancymarie was representing her village in the beauty pageant. She was up and ready at 5 am for the hair and makeup guy who came to her house. I was up too so I could take pictures.

Songkran in Uttaradit

He had done up Nancymarie's hair quite extravagantly, with a piece underneath to add height and extra hair tacked to the back for volume, when the decided to put her shirt on before the makeup and discovered she couldn't fit the hair through the shirt and they had to start all over.

Songkran in Uttaradit

Once her hair and makeup were complete and she was in her outfit and strapped to her monstrously high shoes it was time to get her on the float. Nancymarie would spend the day smiling and waving, while Cale, Hayden and I would join the parade in front of her float and dance our way through the parade route.

Songkran in Uttaradit

Almost immediately someone had a beer thrust into their hands. Songkran is also a drinking holiday. Little old ladies danced along the streets with giant bottles of beer in their hands and everyone wanted to get us to try the rice whiskey. As three of the only four farang (Thai for palagi) in town, we were quite popular. Everyone wanted to dance with us or to encourage us to dance when we weren't dancing enough. Everyone wanted to get us to drink. Everyone wanted to take our picture. Everyone wanted us to know that Nancy was beautiful.

Songkran-2
Songkran shirts are ofu tino! I even recognized some of the patterns.

Even though the water festival technically didn't start with until the next day and even though it looked like most of the people in town were dancing in the parade, there were still enough spectators with water buckets and hoses that everyone got wet.

Songkran in Uttaradit

The parade went on for hours. It started at 8:30 am and it was close to noon when it finally concluded. Initially we thought we were stopping so much because there was a problem with the float truck, but we later discovered that the stops were just giving people ample time to get all their dancing in.

Songkran in Uttaradit
Thais are very concerned about getting dark skin (all skincare products are whitening) so these special sleeves were passed out to everyone at the beginning of the day to protect from the sun.

After being fed by people from Nancymarie's village, who I am pretty sure we hadn't even met before, it was time for the beauty pageant. Hayden explained to us that as each girl paraded on stage the announcer was reading out her measurements and information like favorite foods and sports. Nancymarie won Miss Congeniality (which her co-teacher had translated for her as Miss Relationships).

Songkran in Uttaradit

The day that started at 5 am with hair and makeup finally ended back at Nancymarie's around 3 pm. She hadn't had anything to eat and only drank one bottle of water in small sips over the course of those 10 hours. She was hot and exhausted. After the three of us had drip-dried in her front yard we all gathered in her room and she turned the air-conditioning on (that's right people, she has air-con in her room and she only uses it once in a while!). It was heavenly. We were just beginning to discuss finding dinner when we learned her landlady had already bought it for us. After dinner we watched Idiocracy and Cale and I fell asleep before 8 pm. It was a full day.

Songkran at Uttaradit

— Sara

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Not Nazis

Uttaradit

Cale started to notice it on the streets of Bangkok. Nazi paraphernalia for sale in shops and swastikas emblazoned across t-shirts. At first we theorized that because the swastika is an ancient symbol still used in several religions today, including Buddhism, that maybe Buddhist countries had become a dumping ground for unwanted Nazi merchandise. This would explain away the swastika images that also included references to the Third Reich or Hitler and obviously weren't Buddhist. It would also explain away all the SS symbols we were seeing.

However, it appears it is a little more complicated than this. Over the years "Nazi chic" appears to have arisen several times in various areas in Asia. According to AbsolutelyBangkok.com, "Nazi regalia and symbols surface from time to time in Thailand and other parts of Asia, often treated as chic design elements for otherwise unrelated products and services." Read this article to see how Nazi symbolism and Hitler have been used in everything from school plays to potato chip sales.

Very strange and unsettling.

— Sara

Like A Postcard

Uttaradit
Nancymarie and Cale beading for the parade float.

It is easy to be at another volunteer's site for a couple of days (while school is on break even) and think their Peace Corps life seems so much better than yours. Still, the time I spent at Nancymarie's had all the makings of a Peace Corps recruitment campaign.

We road bikes to the local market and Nancymarie would ding her little bike bell at shops as we passed, yelling out "Hello" in that sing-song Thai way. Shopowners and passersby called out "Nancy," adding Thai tones to her name, and invited us in for food. I felt like I was in a Hallmark movie of the week. Nancymarie's village so loves her that they made her the village entry in the district Songkran beauty pageant. (I am not 100% how towns are organized in Thailand, so I am using the word district and it may or may not be correct).

After we woke up Sunday morning and ate Nancymarie's delicious cinnamon raisin bread (I liked it and I hate raisins), Nancymarie had to practise walking. Someone had brought over four-inch heels for her to walk around in and practise introducing herself. Her co-teacher and several other teachers from her school gathered in front of the house and critiqued her walk.

Uttaradit
You try walking in these shoes.

Next we went to visit Nancymarie's float she would be riding on in the parade the next day. We got to help making the decorations. Nancymarie tried to teach us how to fold a leaf into a rosette, but we were failures at that.

Uttaradit
Nancymarie displaying her co-teacher's skirt. Exactly like a puletasi bottom, except they sew the slits into the waist band so you can pull the tie through and they have a button to attach at the waist too. Brilliant!

Later that night we went back to see the float assembled. Apparently even the local monks were in on the efforts.

Uttaradit

More on the parade and Songkran later.

— Sara

On the Move



— sara

Posh Corp?

In some respects all Peace Corps countries are more Posh Corps than they were 45 years ago when Peace Corps started. There's 45 more years of development in place. However, when Diplomatt learned that there are Starbucks in Bangkok, he was pretty jealous of Peace Corps Thailand volunteers. Having a city like Bangkok in country, where literally every first-world convenience you can think of (including a 7-11 on every corner, I am not exaggerating) is available, might make Peace Corps Thailand see considerably more posh than Peace Corps Samoa. However, considering we were on a bus all day on Saturday to reach Nancymarie's site, these conveniences are not necessarily within easy reach.

I had contacted Hayden, a Peace Corps Volunteer in Thailand, through her blog (which I recommend you read, she's an good and entertaining writer). She offered to let us tag along as she joined another volunteer, Nancymarie, at her site where she would be competing in the Miss Songkran contest in her district. We met up with them Friday night for delicious Mediterranean food (something else you won't find in Samoa). We spent the night in a local hostel, Buri House. There was air-conditioning. That was luxurious.

Saturday morning we were up early and hit the Starbucks for breakfast. Then we caught a taxi to the bus station to get the bus that would take us to Nancymarie's site. The bus was like a long-distance Greyhound bus in the states. It even had air-con. Though coolness level was directly linked to the number of people on the bus, more people, less cool. Thais don't sit on each other's laps. However, when the seats were filled, small stools were set down in the aisle and when those were exhausted people stood.

Typically the ride to her site is about seven hours. However, there are two bus routes to her site. We discovered about seven hours in that we were on the bus that goes past Nancymarie's site and circles back to it in the end. So tack a couple more hours on to our trip. We were dropped off in her village in the dark and her co-teacher (that's right volunteers in Samoa with no counterparts, she has a co-teacher!) picked us up. We spent the night at her place.

More on our adventures to come; I am about four days behind.

— Sara

Saturday, April 10, 2010

We Were Not In Bangkok For Yesterday's Excitement



We spent the entire day on a bus with two Thai Peace Corps volunteers. We will be several days here celebrating Songkran with them and I will post more later...I promise.

— Sara

Friday, April 9, 2010

I Will Only Type this Blog Entry If You Promise Not to Freak Out

Red Shirts on the Move

For those of you unaware, there is sort of a political situation in Thailand right now. The Red Shirts have been peacefully protesting the government for weeks now. Today they converged from several protest points on the recently shut down People's TV Channel station. The street we are staying on was on the route. A stream of Red Shirts on motorbikes passed by. It seemed to go on for quite a long time. It must have been a lot of people. Don't worry, we are fine and we are avoiding the protest sites. Tomorrow morning we will leave Bangkok by train and be away from the political unrest.

— Sara

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Conquered the Bus System

Bangkok's busing system is a little daunting. This is a city, a real city-sized city. There are a lot of buses and they run on routes (and not just from their village or origin and to Apia and back). Oh, and the web site is mostly in Thai, obviously. So Cale used the information he could glean from their web site and from Google Maps (Bangkok is conveniently one of the cities whose transportation system is on google maps) to determine what bus would take us to the national museum.

It started out a little sketchy as we couldn't for the life of us figure out how we were supposed to catch the bus from the location Google indicated we should. It is a four lane road going in that direction and the bus was in the lane furthest from the curb. Not likely we are gonna flag it down. So we did some reconnaissance. The bus immediately turned left after that place onto another road with a walk way over it. We watch the bus on its journey from the walkway and quickly noticed that it and several other buses were all stopping a the same spot with lots of people. We had found a bus stop! Hooray! We went and waited there.

Thanks to some previous internets research, we knew that after getting on the bus an attendant would come around, we would tell them where we wanted to go, they would give us a ticket and take our money. We had no idea how much it was gonna cost. We also had no idea how to say where we wanted to go in Thai. Cale used Google Translate to see how to write National Museum in Thai and copied that into his moleskin. When the attendant came around he just showed it to her. She took it and showed it to the driver and they both seemed to agree that the bus would go near this place. Next we would just have to worry about knowing where to stop the bus and how to stop the bus.

It wasn't long before other people got off the bus and we figured out how to tell the bus driver we wanted off. The rider would walk to one of the two doors and press a button on the door that buzzed and lit up. Then the bus driver would stop at the next bus stop he came too. We knew how to do that, we just needed to know where to do that. Luckily the attendant was looking after us and indicated to us when to get off and pointed very excitedly in the direction of our destination.

Right away we got turned around and ended up near Kha San road where all the palagi backpackers stay. We stopped to look at a map conveniently nailed to a post and found ourselves caught in a street hussler's net. He kept asking where we were going. He had an old Thai newspaper showing Red Shirts and the military clashing. He kept pointing to the picture and insisting that if we didn't go with him it would be dangerous and we could get shot. This was indicated by making rifle hands and saying "bang, bang." We knew he was full of crap, but went to an internet place to look at the news anyway, since we were lost and needed to figure out how to get to the museum from there. We definitely decided that we were happy we weren't staying on Kho San. It was like some sort of horrible place to gather all the palagi together and sell them overpriced things. One drink at a cafe we passed cost twice what Cale had paid for breakfast earlier that morning. The streets were filled with white people.

Eventually we found the museum and discovered that conquering the bus system was going to be the highlight of the day, as the museum was less than exciting.

After the museum we found our way home by bus with out even using Google. We found a bus stop in the direction we wanted. We flagged down a Number 3 bus. Cale told the attendant our street. We pushed the button when we got there. It was very successful.

For lunch we ate street food. I had rice with a veggie and chicken stir-fry and Cale had rice and curry. It cost us $1.50 USD.

Cale took an afternoon nap and I got my haircut. Peak walked me over to a salon, told the woman I wanted a haircut, figured the price and left for some errands. I showed the lady pictures of my hair on the computer. She cut it, I paid. I never spoke a word to anyone. Well, that anyone understood. While gesturing at my head i couldn't help but say things like "longer in the front and shorter in the back" but we had no idea what the other was saying. It turned out pretty well. Obviously it was no Nezian experience. My hair lady in Samoa was awesome. It cost me $6 USD. So like going to Great Clips, but they washed and massaged my head too.

I was determined not to nap and power through the day and sleep at a reasonable time and wake at a reasonable time. However, by 7:30 pm I couldn't do it anymore and was in bed asleep by 8.

We haven't really done anything exciting here yet. Today is the day we meet up with some Thai Peace Corps Volunteers. Tomorrow we are supposed to head to one of their sites and then on to Chiang Mai on the 14th. So things should get more exciting soon.

I understand there are things to do and see in Bangkok, but right now I am not that excited with the city. It is just so big. So very big. I am used to a capital city where you can see everything on foot if you want to. Not possible here. I would much rather get out of town and come back to Bangkok later for another try.

Also, some people have been concerned about the whole protesting the government thing. There are more protests scheduled for today. Cale has made a good analogy. Imagine there were protests at the Soldier's and Sailor's Monument downtown Indianapolis and you were in Fishers. The likelihood that your paths would cross are slim.

More later

— Sara

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

More Bangkok

We started the morning with a nice long talk with our host, Peak, who we had not met the night before. She just moved back to Thailand from the States about four months ago. She is here on a mission that is pretty novel and noble. It was fun to talk to someone with such grandiose plans (which she acknowledges are grandiose) and who manages to be so pragmatic and optimistic at the same time.

Once we finally sorted ourselves out in the morning and decided to have a day, we made the 45 minute walk to the Hospital of Tropical Diseases to go to the Travelers' Clinic and get japanese encephalitis vaccines. We looked into getting vaccinated in the States before we left, but the cost was too outrageous. The JE vaccination was either a three-shot or two-shot regimine (depending on who you asked) that cost about $270 USD per shot in the States. It would have cost Cale and I over $1000 USD to get vaccinated. However, in Bangkok our total bills were just over $600 baht. This included a $100 baht doctor's fee. To put that into perspective, a bottle of water costs $10THB on the street. So seeing the doctor is the equivalent of 10 bottles of water.

I was sort of anticipating that we would get to this clinic and make an appointment, maybe coming back the next day. Instead, they assisted us immediately. During most of the process they assigned the only person around with even a small amount of English to sort of guide us through. Having done it once now, it makes total sense. However, at the time it was confusing.

Anyway, we got our shots. It took like an hour (and 30 minutes was observation for allergic reactions) and it cost us $20USD each. Take that American health care system.

Instead of walking home we took the skytrain, which was just like riding the trains in Chicago. Cale sorted out the ticket buying all by himself. I think it helped that the computer had a button for English.

He also managed to conduct an entire water purchasing transaction in Thai with a street vendor. So his language lessons before we left are paying off. I have asked and he claims he can not only ask for bottle water, but also for rice and beer. So I think we are basically set on the language front.

We were pretty hot and stinky when we returned from our adventure, so we jumped in the shower. It was quite an ironic moment for me. For the first time (I think in my life) I wanted to take a cold shower and only hot water was available. In Samoa, the first little bit of water could be sun-warmed from exposed pipe, but after that it was painfully cold. Here, the water tank is on the roof and oh boy is it sun-warmed. It is possible that a water heater isnt a luxury. Instead a water cooler might be.

After that we went to a nearby Wal-Mart like store where Cale got some shorts and we got some bread. We ate at a food court restaurant of safety, but plan on adventuring into street food today.

At around 5pm, I couldn't stand it anymore and fell asleep. I was hoping for a short nap, but ended up asleep until 9 pm. Wanting to sleep through the night and into the morning, we decided to get up for a while and hung out in the main room with some other couchsurfers. One form the UK has been in SE Asia for two months and has a 6-week volunteer teaching gig coming up. The other girl from Canada has been here for four months and goes home soon. The Italian guy has been here for an indeterminately long time (maybe 5 or 6 months?) and will go home in the next couple of weeks. We finally went to sleep after 1am. I slept in until 6 this morning, but it appears Cale had already been up for a while at that point. Our goal is to stay awake until 10 pm tonight and sleep in until at least 7 tomorrow morning.

We hope to see some sort of sights in Bangkok today. So I will report back when that happens.

— Sara

PS I havent taken any pictures yet, but I will.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Bangkok



I am sorry this post is a little late. When we finally arrived at our couchsurfing destination a little after 1 am local time, Cale and I had been up for more than 30 hours and went straight to bed.

However, you can all rest easy knowing we are safe in Bangkok. It's around 6am here now, I had more than four hours of sleep on something that wasn't an airplane seat. Yay! On the other hand, I should have been careful what I wished for. I was so excited for warm weather...well, it was 85 F outside when we landed at midnight and I am already sweating at 6 in the morning. Can't wait for the sun to come out!

— Sara

And I Though 10 Hours on a Plane Was Long




The flight from Chicago to Seoul was just under 13 hours. That's a long time to spend on a plane. In less than 45 minutes I will have been up for 24 hours. I got up in Indianapolis at 4:45am on the 5th. It appears to be like 4pm the 6th here in Seoul, but it is 4am for me.

Having now flown Air New Zealand and Korea Air overseas, I can say that Air New Zealand kicks ass. The seats are larger and way easier to sleep in.

On a side note, they served us keke pua'a as a snack on the flight. I imagine the Koreans call it something else. You know what I call it? The deliciousness that keke pua'a could be. These pork buns were actually tasty. The meat wasn't all gristle and had been flavored (I saw flecks of green vegetables or spice-like things in there) and the bun wasn't just boiled dough. Who knew?

We will be here is the Seoul airport for two or three hours before we take the next leg of our flight to Bangkok, when hopefully, we will finally sleep again.

— Sara

Monday, April 5, 2010

First Leg


 We are in the Chicago airport after a delay of our first flight out of Indy by about 30 minutes. The flight was full and they were encouraging passengers to check their larger carry-on items, saying that they would be waiting for them in the jetway in Chicago. We then got to watch as the conveyor belt that lifted these bags from the tarmac to the jetway in Chicago ran faster than the man could grab them off and proceeded to dump three or four of the unceremoniously on the ground 15 feet below before someone was able to turn the conveyor off. Good times.

— Sara

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Chicago Trip Awesomeness

So the one bright note to our surprise trip to Chicago was the windmills. On the way up to Chicago we discovered that Indiana has a giant windfarm just hanging out doing it's bit to save the planet. We also passed a school with a windmill and solar panels and what looked like some biomass energy stuff on some dairy farms. Cool, cool stuff.

Some people seem to think that windfarms are eyesores, but I can tell you that I thought they looked awesome.

— Sara

More info
here.

Friday, April 2, 2010

They Are in Our Possession with Visas Inside

Passports with Visas

— Sara

Things Get More Interesting...That Means Fun, Right?

For those of you on the facebook who were wondering if my posts yesterday afternoon about an emergency trip to Chicago were a piss-poor April Fools joke, they weren't.

Around 4:30pm Indy time (3:30pm Chicago time) Cale checked the tracking number on the overnight envelop with our passports in it and it still wasn't active. That was when I put forth my hair-brained scheme to call the consulate and ask them if they had mailed them yet. If the answer was no, we tell them to hold on to them and drive up to retrieve them ourselves.

First we needed to see if my parents would lend us a car since traveling that distance in the Jeep would be terrible gas mileage. I called dad on his cell phone on his way home from work. Then we had to talk to the consulate. They close at 4:30pm and we were finally calling them around 4pm (Chicago time). As I sat all nervous on the couch, watching Cale's face for a reaction, I heard him say, "Um, when do you think they will be done processing?" This was not a good sign. The passports and visas that were supposed to be mailed to us on Thursday (that day) were still being processed.

Cale was told to call back in ten minutes so he could speak to the man who could give us more details on the status of our visas. So at 4:20pm (10 minutes before they close) we discovered that our visas would be done being processed tomorrow (Friday). Cale told the guy not to mail them, to hold them there and we would be waiting at his door when they opened in the morning. I wasn't on the call, but I got the impression that they wouldn't necessarily be ready right away in the morning. "I don't care if we have to sit in the waiting room all day," Cale said. "I am leaving with our passports."

Then we made a mad scramble to find a place to sleep in Chicago. Couchsurfing let us down. Cale emailed eight people, only two responded and they said no. We tried our old friends and even my sister's old friends, but no luck. So when we arrived in Chicago around 9pm, we had no where to sleep. First order of business, find the consulate so we would know where to go in the morning. Second order of business, find a late-night Starbucks so we could use the internet to find a place to sleep. Third order of business, pay $17 for parking for like 30 minutes!

We found a hostel on the Loyola campus where we could crash. I didn't sleep at all. The train goes right by the window and I had roommates join me in the ladies' dorm at 12:30am, 1:30am and 2:30am. Why, I wonder, is it that while you are in the bathroom down the hall the light needs to remain on in the dorm? Can't you turn it off while you are gone and back on when you return? Also, do you really need to be making that cell phone call right now?

Anyway, in about 30 minutes I wake up Cale, we find caffeine and breakfast. Then we set ourselves down at the Thai consulate and wait.

— Sara