Sunday, February 14, 2010

Six Months

Today marks six months of traveling since we left Seattle on August 15th of last year. Our first adventure in the Enchantments of central Washington seems far away in both distance and time from our current adventure in Bangkok Thailand.

From Langkawki, Malaysia we took a ferry to Satun, Thailand, where after a fairly painless border crossing (didn't speak a word to the customs agent), we bused it to the town of Hat Yai where were caught an overnight train to Bangkok. Pulling into the dock at Satun, this is our first view of Thailand:
From Bangkok
Public transport in Thailand is interesting to say the least. If it has a motor, people use it as public transportation - motorcycle taxis, "tuk tuks" - small vans or converted three wheel motorcycles, boats of all kinds, vans, taxis, etc. For example, they packed 12 adults into the back of a two-wheel drive Toyota pickup (not an extended bed truck either) to get to the bus station in Satun. (Why they don't just put the bus station near the ferry, I don't know...) We took this picture, pitying the poor people who had to ride in it before we realized we were taking one as well:
From Bangkok
The train ride was not very comfortable, but what 17 hour train ride is? We bought a 2nd class "sleeper" car, but that's a misnomer; someone comes through around 9PM and converts all the seats into "beds", essentially five foot, 10 inch sofas (I'm six feet tall). Plus, the only seats available were upper bunks, right next to the air-conditioning vents. It was like sleeping outside in the winter it was so cold. I actually pulled out my 25 degree sleeping bag, which had been pretty useless since we got to SE Asia and crawled inside it to try and sleep, although with the florescent light on right above my head, there wasn't much sleeping.

Once in Bangkok, we worked our way over to the area of town where our couchsurfing host lived. We took the subway (yes, Bangkok has a subway), the sky train (ditto) and finally a taxi. We later realized taking a taxi the whole way would have been both cheaper and faster, but what did we know?

Our host, Nuch, met our taxi (the taxi driver had to call her on the cell since he couldn't understand our instructions or read the English script version of the address), gave us the keys to the apartment and said she was "busy" and had to go. We let ourselves in to discover one room with a double bed, a small empty wardrobe, and a bathroom. We didn't understand what was going on. Did she live here? Were all three of us going to sleep here? Only when she came back three hours later did she tell us this is an extra "apartment" that she has for family and friends. So, we had the place to ourselves.

The neighborhood reminded me of the Puerto Rican/Dominican neighborhoods of New York City (do these even still exist?) because of all the mid-rise apartment buildings, lots of little convenience stores and tons people on the street. Nuch says she likes having couchsurfers stay here because they get to see how real Thais live, as opposed to the touristy (or sex business) areas. There certainly were no tourists in this area, and we've enjoyed the relaxing atmosphere of having our own apartment. Our first evening we caught a beautiful sunset off the roof of her building (we're staying on the 12th floor):
From Bangkok
I was still feeling kind of sick our first full day in Bangkok so we took it easy just wandering around and not doing too much. I started feeling better toward the evening and we went to the Khao San district and had an amazing organic vegetarian Thai buffet at May Kaidee. I think after a few days of not feeling well and not eating very much, I was ready for scrumptious healthy food. I shoveled in loads of curries, spring rolls with peanut sauce, tempura vegetables, noodles, rice and salads. It was super tasty, amazingly fresh, and lucky for us since they only do the buffet once a week on Saturday. And the best part? It was only $3 a piece, including fruit shakes!

Yesterday, we took the canal boat by the apartment out to a floating market, a meeting place along the river where every weekend hundreds of boats meet up along a dock and form an impromptu market to sell various products and food. We had a scrumptious lunch of rice, noodles and spring rolls (we could live off these things!) before taking a three hour canal tour. Our boat was a low slung affair packed full of holidaying Thais. It was Chinese New Year, after all. We got squeezed into a bench built for much shorter people, right next to a young man who was "on the spectrum." Jaimee believes she is a magnet for people like this. You know the ones; personal space issues (either you are in their space or they are in yours), always facing the wrong way, and that nice mumbling and singing. While sitting beside this fellow he spread way out in the seat causing us to have less than half the row for the two of us. Then when we piled back into the boat after a stop he was RIGHT behind Jaimee, exhibiting his personal space issues again... The best part was when there was a big splash (the canal was full of fish) and his family wiped the water off his face for him. Jaimee felt nervous because a family that jumps to at a time like that only does it for one reason - to avoid a meltdown.
From Bangkok
The tour was pretty lame - there was a guy who would talk about all the sights (including at least 10 temples), but he only spoke Thai (maybe that's why we were the only white people on the boat?) and one of the stops included a visit to a zoo where there was a snake show.

Before ever complaining about conditions in American zoos again, I'll realize the animals could have it much, much worse. This zoo was depressing, and although it was kind of amazing how close the snake handlers got to the snakes, we also felt kind of bad for the snakes. Here's one performer with three cobras:
From Bangkok
We're staying one more night in Bangkok before heading North to Chiang Mai tomorrow night. We plan on heading up there to see the forests and mountains of Thailand, as well as take some cooking classes at a farm we read about on the Internet. To be able to make anything close to the amazing green curry we've been devouring here would be awesome.

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