Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Epic Email #1

To all our lovely friends and family back home!!!
Please do not feel obligated to read this whole thing as it is quite drawn out and rather long. Just know that it is my personal documentation of this journey.  With so much happening everyday, it is easy to forget large chunks.
love you all and wish you were all here!!!!

Wednesday March 10, 2010
Our plane trip was rather uneventful. The first leg of the journey Garrett and I were separated for 13 hours. I sat next to a very sweet lady who was from China. Her name was Enna, and her English was very limited. She kept talking to me as though there was a chance I might catch a few words, but of course, i had no clue. She insisted on giving me Hong Kong dollars, then proceeded to give me Thai dollars as well. I felt very bad, but she was adamant. Then she told me i was “very nice girl, so beautiful”. This of course ingratiated her to me, naturally. The people across the row were also Chinese, and Enna and I traded our cookies for cheesecake with them. The cheesecake of course being the better end of the bargain. Then as we were disembarking, she gave me a big ole hug, and then told all the Asian people around (which was a large majority) something that made them all smile and wave at me. A lady behind me translated and said that Enna had told everyone I was “so nice white girl”. Yup, I am starting an Asian fan club for myself. It should be good. Please feel free to join.

We arrived at approximately 2am this morning to our hotel, Regent Suvarmabumi (or a name close to that;P) . It was fairly close to the airport which was nice. Garrett had slept for a good stint of the journey, whereas I had managed to get maybe 1 hour. My little brother's got the Marks gene for sleeping anytime, anywhere. And since DNA is genetics, not destiny, I have decided to work on that whole conking out wherever, no matter noise or motion. I'll let y'all know how that one goes.

When we walked into the hotel I was all worried because it was smoking hot in there. We had come from 7 degrees C to 32, it was a big leap. Luckily after about 15 min, our room's AC kicked in.
We both woke around 7am but tried really hard to go back to sleep, alas, we were pretty alert, so we crawled out of bed at 830ish. Considering back home it would have been 10 pm we were doing well. By the time we had repacked ( I had re-examined every SINGLE thing being repacked as my bag is quite heavy and difficult to lift, lucky me) and showered etc, it was close to 1130am. We took a taxi to the train station to book our tickets to Chiang Mai. The people in the station were super helpful and really friendly (Incidentally, we had to use the restrooms there, this was the first time Garrett or I had used a squatty potty, we are pretty much pros now, oh yeah, and to whoever advised us to carry tissues and TP wherever we go, I LOVE YOU!!!!). At the airport we booked our trekking adventure in Chiang Mai as well as hotel (guesthouse) and bus/train to Phnom Penh, Cambodia. We got a decent deal (we think), our trek is lots of hiking, elephant ride, white water rafting and bamboo rafting. This also includes a night with on of the hillside tribes (refugees from Burma (Myanmar?), the long necked tribe). We are both stoked about this and cannot wait. It was very handy as we then left out bags with the travel agent for free so that we could explore Bangkok unhampered!

After this we went to Khao San Road. This is basically the Richmond Night Market on one long road and a lot more options. We took a tuk-tuk for our first time to get from the railway station to Khao San. It was fairly tame, but we remembered to barter, so of course we were all proud of ourselves. Once there we just looked around. Garrett was asked a gazillion times if he wanted a suit, they were pretty aggressive. We ran into this guy who seemed super friendly. He was a tuk-tuk driver and was offering to drive us to a bunch of tourist places for really cheap. We didn't really get that great of vibe from him. As we questioned him further, it turned out he wanted to take us to shops and other areas owned by his friends. Or anywhere else he could get a kick-back for himself. Again were all proud that we saw that one coming....and then along came Mr. Panki. As we were trying to figure out how to get to a tourist attraction, we ran into a very nice Thai fellow (“fellow”? I talk like an old person!), anyway he gave us some pointers on what tuk-tuks to take (BTW, these are the modernized versions of rickshaws, little benches in carts pulled by motorbikes). He said that if they had Thai flags on the roof they were government sponsored which means they are cheaper. He then flagged us a tuk-tuk and told the guy where to take us. The guy was Mr. Panki. Apparently today is a Buddhist holiday so there is a promotion for tourist. 20 baht only for 2 hours. 20 baht is not even one dollar, probably close to 70 cents. Because Buddha is kind of a big deal here, the govt pays the petrol for its drivers. We immediately liked Mr. Panki as he said we were “so beautiful people”. Once again it doesn't take much to buy my love! First he took us to a small Buddhist temple. There was a shrine there that was a couple of hundred years old. What was cool here was the actual building in which it was housed. There were intricate scenes painted all over the walls. The windows were quaint shutters but ornately done in gold. The floors we all marble, shoes must be removed prior to entry into the room, so it felt really good on our sweaty feet (ew! Where hundreds of other sweaty feet have all been as well!), also this room was the single cleanest thing I have seen in Thailand yet. The keeper was also kind of cool to talk to, he said the paintings in the temple were done by “old famous guys”. We returned to Mr. Panki. He was very friendly and said he was an English student so he was practising his English on us. He then said he was taking us to the Thai Fashion House as there were many government promotions on for today. He said that the fashion house was having an information teaching session for tourist so we could learn how to not get ripped off. He pulled into the store and Garrett and I walked in. The salesperson was all over Garrett like a fat kid on a Smartie. Turns out it was an infamous suit shop. He quoted prices, offered good deals and in general applied too much pressure for the Canadian liking. Garrett walked out. Mr. Panki looked disappointed but said he would take us to another suit shop. We argued that we just wanted to go to the festival (in the dead Buddha's honour, with lots of yummy food), but Mr. Panki said he had to go get his petrol coupon there. Because Garrett is semi-interested, we acquiesced. This time the place actually was the Thai Fashion House. I think the previous place had been his friends or somethings. We went in but again didn't want to purchase. Garrett is as cautious as they come and didn't want to blow our limited budget as it was only our first day and who knew what the future held. Mr Panki then dropped us off at the festival. We still hadn't paid him yet as he was gonna complete the trip by bringing us back to Khao San road. We went in to the festival. It was a gong show. There were REALLY loud loudspeakers everywhere, with three or four different speakers/singers/chanters doing their thing. There was food. Everything from grubs (right out of the Lion King, remember Timon and Pumba, and they ate those worms and bugs?!) there were beetles, bugs, grasshoppers and centipedes. We were both quite hungry by this point, oddly enough we didn't want to eat:P I think the bugs and other odd arrays of food kind of turned our jet-laggy stomachs. There was a ginormous Buddha that was over 150 ft tall. His toes were HUGE!!!! Anyway people were praying and burning incense and giving flowers to statues and monks. It was an interesting sight to see. It sure made me appreciate Christianity so much more. Not only is our God living but guess what!!! ???I don't have to bow before a statue that is made of disgustingly expensive materials where poverty surrounds it.(Yup, that was a shameless plug for Christians right there!). That was a little sad to see, the Thai people have SO little!!! Anyway we walked by this one platform that was set up with flowers and all sorts of little pictures and books with what I thought was a wax statue or mannequin. At first I thought he was real, but he wasn't moving, on closer inspection he wasn't even blinking, so we decided it was indeed a mannequin. Well a few minutes later, another tourist had found out it was a live dude!!! You couldn't see him blink, or even really breathe. We watched for a long time and took flashing pics and still no sign of life. Even now I think they may have used an embalmed corpse, but I guess the skin would have looked more grey. I don't really know, but it was creepy. He just didn't move!!!! 

After we left the festival we looked and looked for Mr. Panki, but he had vanished. We felt terrible, as we hadn't paid him and he had been driving us around for over an hour. I think he knew we weren't going to buy one of the stupid suits, so he cut his losses and went to look for other “beautiful” tourists. So pretty much we got a free tour:P We took another tuk-tuk- from Khao San to the train station. The guy driving this one was INSANE!!! He was fast, cut corners, and honked his horn a lot. It was one the funniest things all day. We were running a tad late, at one point we were stuck in traffic and I asked him how much longer. Well he took this as an OK to to go even faster and cut as many people off as he wanted. But he was a good driver, we got to the train in one piece.
Currently we are travelling second class on a sleeper train. We are trying to stay awake until 9pm, this is proving to be difficult. It is 830 now and I feel like I might slump over at any minute. I have already had to nudge Garrett a few times. But we are excited to start our northern Thailand exploration tomorrow:P


Our group of 12 have all bonded on a new level as we ate together, slept together and bathed (shampoo and all) in the river together. the trek was out of this world. by far my most fave thing thus far.
The first day a visit to a snake show and orchid farm.  the snake show was pretty amusing, but the orchids were pretty tame. Next we went to the long necked village who are refugees from Burma. The Thai govt does not `recognize' them and considers them to be aliens. They have no rights or privileges in thai society. I felt badly for them so I bought my first tourist trinket there. That was cool, but very marketed. Myself and another guy were the first of the tourists into the village. As the ladies saw us coming they hid cell phones, flicked off radios, a little girl even hid her plastic cereal bowl. I know that this way of life is very different from mine, but this was definitely tourist oriented. Then was a brutal hike for approx 3-4 hours.  the hike it self wasn't so bad.  i have done tougher.  but by the time we started the hike it was 1:30pm so the sun was very hot.  Garrett and i decided to share a pack between the two of us and take turns as all our stuff didn't fit in the mini day pack i had.  anyway when it came time for me to take a turn carrying it, it plum tuckered me out.  it was sooooo steep and hot.  i puked, got the shivers, was dizzy and there was a  twitch in my face and everything.  it was really embarrassing as i wasn't representing the mountainous BC very well. anyway, our guide "Whiskey" would make the faster hikers wait, then by the time me and the other 2 people got there the break would be over and we wouldn't get a rest:(  so at one point i collapsed and said ''puff puff...i ...can't....move!!!!"  of course by this time Garrett had taken the pack for most of the trip.  so i wasn't carrying anything!!! Well, finally we arrived at the Lahoe village in northern Chiangmai. we had the craziest huts with mosquito nets and everything!  once it cooled off i felt considerably better.  so much so that Garrett and i walked around the village and watched the locals thrush rice!! It was insane.  the villagers are so primitive (basic? old school? not sure what adjective to use without being condescending!). anyway, once the village harvests the rice the have a wooden bowl in a hole on the ground with what looks like a teeter-totter above it.  so 1-2 people step in rhythm to make the anvil-y thing break the husks off the rice. i had no clue rice came in shells!! This description of the method may be less than accurate, but there is a huge language barrier there.  anyway, we ate dinner and then we all sat around playing guitar, (yes, i did the Dixie song repertoire) then magic tricks then BED!!! (or rather straw mats on the floor!). Then we stargazed...the stars are crazy bright there! I saw many shooting stars!
i was very tired, but as we are both jet-lagging sleep is tough.  well, let me tell you that come morning that village is louder than any city!! The roosters don't just crow at sunrise, they crow constantly from like 330am on!!! I was all against cockfighting before this experience, but now i know why people want to make a painful ending for these super annoying animals.  well we were both the first ones up the next morning, and we watched the sunrise.  
That was spectacular!
The next morning, we did more trekking, but this time i only drank a tiny bit of water and chewed gum to keep my mouth moist. the day before i think that maybe i had drunk too much water. We started earlier too which was nice around 10 am, then we hiked (me with the pack, and in the front with the guide). Garrett and i stuck to the front of the line in order to see what we could see. I saw 3 snakes, 2 which were deadly. 1 lizard and one egg for the biggest spider in the world! CRAZINESS!!!
Next we went to another village (Karen tribe, refugees from china i think). Then another village, where they are from was lost in translation, Whiskey didn`t speak the best of English. Then we went to 2 different waterfall camps. They were stunning of course. We swam around and had water fights and gold- panning sessions....thanks to Garrett sharp eyes. Finally in the afternoon we arrived at the elephant camp where all 12 of us promptly jumped in the river with one bar of soap and one bottle of shampoo. Then we all tried to get clean!!!!
that night our guide entertained us with stories and interesting games in which you had to pick a card and do whatever the `dare` or rule was . For example if you pulled a 3 you had to run around the table and buck like a chicken. Shanda woulda liked this one as it was reminiscent of quelf.
then this morning i was up at 6. the sleep was better because the river droned out the other noises like white noise. But i just was awake because i was excited for rafting and elephants. also that morning whiskey asked if he could watch me put in my «contracts» (contact lenses), so i gave a little demonstration. It was kinda cute! He had never seen them before.

 The elephants we cool, i liked them, they were really quite adorable!  I got tickled by one. The elephant behind us reached up with it's trunk and tickled me. i laughed so hard. Then we white water rafted, which was hard work as the river was low and we kept getting stuck!

I broke my sunglasses, I was gonna throw them out but the guide `Ong` wanted them. He accidentally dropped the broken glasses in the river, and jumped our boat to dive and see if he could find them. I felt terrible because  he obviously valued them,yet they weren't good enough for me...
after white water we hopped on a bamboo raft and by then Ong and i were buds so he let me drive (steer? pole?). He couldn't speak a lick of English except left and right (and he often got htose mixed up!), paddle forward and backward and GO GO GO GO!!!! he was the bomb.
Finally we got lunch, pad Thai in which we doctored it ourselves with sugar, chilies and or limes. I simply squeezed limes in mine and it was so delicious. Our guide was a really good cook.

That night we all met up at a really cute authentic Thai restaurant. Jackie's. The lady ran it herself out of her kitchen, the kitchen was not at all western standardized, but the food that came out of there could never EVER be replicated in North America!! It was amazing!! She just kept making dishes and bringing them out, She also made amazing smoothies. She just would chop up the fresh fruit of whatever you ordered. I have a pineapple/mango, and a Thai ice tea. We then went to the Sunday night market, where we shopped and I became the shoppers assistant for the guys who wanted to get gifts for the ladies in their life back home, it was pretty funny!

And that my friends, ended my Northern Thailand sojourn.  We are still in ChiangMai, and have just been chilling out. I will keep you posted as to what happens next!

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