Food, Fun and Flooding

The last stop on “Courtney and Edward’s World Tour” was a weekend in Chiang Mai, Thailand.  From there Edward would head home and Courtney would continue on for a couple more weeks on her own.  We had heard from many people how great the city was so we were very excited to see it!

We arrived at our hotel and checked in, where Courtney would be spending 9 days there (or she thought – more on that later!).  However when we went to our room to unpack, there was a huge leak in the ceiling from the air conditioner!  The manager was very apologetic and upgraded us to the suite since we were there for so long.  SCORE!!!  The place was bigger than our apartments!!!

Admittedly, on Friday after all the traveling and running around we were a little burnt out on seeing temples and sight-seeing.  So we decided instead to do something a little more relaxing – hit golf balls.  After Courtney continued to show her aptitude for a new sport, massages were next on the list.  In case you haven’t heard, they’re dirt cheap in Thailand.  So we walked over to the closest massage place and got hour-long massages for $6 each.  After being beaten up for an hour, we looked at each other with the same thought – how long has it been since those sheets we just put our faces on have been washed???  Since neither one of us got headlice or came down with a strange disease, we seemed to be OK.

Saturday Edward ventured out to try a Muay Thai boxing class and Courtney went in search of a cheap mani/pedi.  Two hours later Edward came back, sweating and looking like he’d been in a fight.  An ice pack and a couple beers and he was ready for the evening.  When the going gets tough….take two beers and call me in the morning.  Speaking of tough, Courtney learned that the Elephant reserve in Thailand where she was going to volunteer next week in fact had a spot reserved for her on campus and they’d be picking her up on Monday morning for the entire week.  Ooops.  So much for 9 days in the suite.  And based on the photos, the accomodations at the Reserve would be, well, let’s call them spartan to be diplomatic.  More on that in a later post, to be sure.

Chiang Mai is known for their night markets – it’s one of their big draws.  It goes on every night, but Saturday night is their big night.  Not only do they have the market for shopping, they have a street food area, and you know how much we love our street food!  So the first thing we did was head over to eat.  For around $6 we got 10 dumplings, some of the best freshly-made Pad Thai ever, and two beers.  As we were eating, one of Thailand’s infamous rainstorms moved in.  Wind, intense rain, and massive amounts of thunder and lightening.  It actually got so bad that the streets flooded and everything started to shut down.  This went on for over an hour before we decided to just make a run for it and try to get back to our hotel.  Thailand isn’t known for their underground powerlines so there was no small fear that we could get electrocuted.


Best. Pad Thai. Ever….

Fortunately we were only a few blocks from our hotel.  At this point, most of the vendors had closed up shop and headed home.  The streets were so flooded the water was up to our mid-calves.  But do you really think a little flooding is going to deter Courtney from shopping? No way!  So as we made our way back, we stopped and picked up a few things from the vendors brave enough to stay open.  The other thing out and about in this rain?  COCKROACHES!!!!  And we don’t mean the little ones we have back home.  These are big, huge (like 2 inch long), flying things.  Courtney provided plenty of entertainment, screaming and flinging her arms around and running down the street every time one came into her sight.


Flooding. It got worse after we took this photo.

Surprisingly, Sunday dawned bright and clear.  Not only that but the streets were totally empty and dry.  Thailand may not have the best power line system but they do know how to drain their streets.  Another lazy day for us.  More golf balls, food and drinks during happy hour at the hotel.  We ventured out Sunday night to the market, but our hearts weren’t in it and it was apparent neither were the locals.  The street food area isn’t open on Sunday nights and half the stalls were vacant.  Not sure if it was the day or because of the rain, but it just wasn’t the same.  We picked up a few more things and headed back to the hotel.

Monday morning and it was time to go our separate ways.  Edward, while sad to leave, was up and off early to start his 26 hour journey home.

Courtney was preparing to shovel poop, I mean go work with the elephants for the next week!

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Island Tour Ooops

Courtney used to be a wedding planner.  I used to run a small business.  So together we’ve been pretty strong on the details of international travel.   Tracking all the details of travel can wear you out though so we decided to hire a private, two-day tour on Koh Samui and let someone else deal with details.  Day one was the land tour, day two an exploration by sea kayak.

Our first stop on day one was Wat Khunaram, a temple where a mummified Monk was entombed sitting up in a glass case and whom legend had it still required a haircut every month (which is more often than me, so we call bull-shit).  The curators of the temple adorned the Monk with a new pair of sunglasses every day.  I guess the dead Monk’s future was still so bright he had to wear shades.   Creepy, if not curious.


We then ventured on to Na Muang, the largest waterfall on the island.   I wanted to jump in while Courtney was more cautious, until a 6 year old blew by her, essentially shaming her into the natural pool.  For my money the waterfall was the funnest part of the day.

Us before we went in the water.  Yes, we went swimming in that waterfall behind us!!

Then we drove to the highest part of Thailand to see the Secret Buddha Garden.  The gardens are a creation of an old Samui fruit farmer, Nim Thongsuk, who in 1976 began erecting several statues and temples around his family’s verdant land. The statues depict a number of animals, deities and humans in various poses, including one of Khun Nim himself, in a relaxed position sitting on a rock. Khun Nim continued to work developing his garden until his death at the age of 91.

Now, we’ve seen a lot of temples, shrines, etc. on this trip.  Honestly they start to blur after a while, but we continue to go because we feel we need to.  Then every so often we come upon a place that just feels magical.  This was one such place.  We could have spent hours here wandering around and just taking it all in.  Alas, we didn’t have all day as we had other things to go see.

These statues were everywhere!  They were like hidden treasures we had to find as we explored the garden.

Edward resting and contemplating life 🙂

After the secret garden we ventured to see Big Buddha, a several-story high golden Buddha exposed to the open air sitting on top of a hill such that he is the first thing you see on approach to the island’s airstrip.  Following Big Buddha we toured three temples adjacent each other at the North end of the island, perhaps a testament to different religions coexisting peacefully.  Our favorite was Wat Plai Laem….

Guanyin, Goddess of Mercy.  Guanyin is very highly revered by Chinese people and is known as the protector of women and children, the sick and the poor. She is said to have so many arms, so she can help many people at one time. In one Buddhist legend, she even has a thousand arms.

Fat, laughing Chinese Buddha (I swear that’s what he is!!)  In Chinese culture, a fat Buddha represents wealth and prosperity. This very impressive statue is 30 meters high and painted in expressive colors like red, white and gold.

Peacefully is how the day would have ended had Courtney not discovered that we in fact were scheduled to leave the island the next morning.   Oops!  Thank-you Google for sending a reminder message to Courtney’s phone to “Enjoy your trip to Phnom Penn tomorrow”.   So much for our sea kayak tour.  Instead we spent the evening lounging at the pool, packing and planning our next phase.  Oh, and yes, room service.  The food at The Kala Hotel was excellent – especially after they learned we could handle the authentic spice level and made it the real Thai way.

We will miss the view and the tempo of Koh Samui.  It’s on to Phnom Pen and the mysteries of Cambodia.

Songkran

When we came down for breakfast Thursday morning the hotel staff greeted us by dumping cold water over our backs and smearing white chaulk on our faces.  Normally, I’d be upset.  But not today – it’s Songkran! AKA: Happy New Year to the Buddhists here in Thailand. What began as a simple purification rite hundreds of years ago has morphed into a veritible bathing of the country.  We ventured into the heart of Chaweng, which is the center closest to us on Ko Samui, bought Super Soakers (Courtney’s was Hello Kitty) and joined in the festival of throwing water on anyone and everyone you could see.  A giant, country-wide indiscriminate water fight!  Kids dousing parents, foreigners dousing motorcyclists, shop-owners dousing patrons…if you were alive you were getting wet.  (Well, ONE dude was bone dry: the cop standing guard at city hall – fair enough!).   We commented to each other that we’d not seen so many people having so much childish fun together.  The water washed everything away but the smiles on everyone’s faces.

Someone’s ready for trouble….

Looks like Songkran was successfully celebrated!!

Three hours later and thoroughly soaked, we ventured back to our hotel.  Much to our surprise, the taxi driver didn’t mind that we soaked his leather upholstry seats getting in.  Half the hotel staff was out front dousing anyone and anything that came by with water, so we got another soaking.  Of course at that point it made the most sense to order happy hour mixed-drinks and head down to the pool.

A swim, a nap, and some incredible curry delivered to our room later and we were sound asleep by 10 PM.  Yet another successful day celebrating the local traditions in the vein of continuing our grown-up version of Spring Break 2017!

Two Worlds and a Large Moat

Most people go on Spring Break in their late teens, early 20’s.  We went in our 40’s.  The Koh Phangan Full Moon Party had everything a college student could want: scantily clad members of the opposite sex wandering around with buckets (literally) of alcoholic fruit punch, multiple bars on the beach banging out pop, DJ and House Music, and a full moon on a warm spring night to blame every bad decision on.  It was a drunken festival that made Lollapalooza look like Sunday School.   And who couldn’t have fun at that!

Getting to the Full Moon Party was no small investment: a plane, a boat and several taxis, not to mention thousands of sweaty tourists at every turn.  We thought we also made a decent investment in a hotel room outside walking distance from the fray, giving us at least the best chance possible of escape if we needed it.  Turns out, we really needed to escape the hotel, not the party.

(Courtney taking over now…..)

When we walked into the hotel room, my first thought was “OMG I can’t stay here”. But since I knew we were only there for one night, I was trying to be a good sport about it.  Then Edward turned to me and said “What a shitbox!” and I was like thank goodness!!  It didn’t help that we booked the “Sea View Deluxe” room at the top of their line.  We laughed it off and knew we would have a good story to tell.  Additionally, their “elevator” was an outdoor trolley rigged up to the side of the mountain that went up and down, but couldn’t stop once it started moving, so you had to wait for each person to get to their destination.  Did I mention I’m afraid of heights?  We walked a lot of stairs in those 24 hours.

The “trolley” elevator at the hotel

Our bed – hard as a rock.  Notice there’s no other furniture?

Our shower – notice it’s missing a shower curtain?  And it’s made out of concrete.

All in all though it was a very successful night.  We had a blast and wouldn’t have missed it for anything.

(Back to Edward)

Our final act on Koh Phangan was a mad dash to the Ferry – a desperate and successful attempt at beating the hung-over hoards to the last boat out of Dodge, as it were.  The plan was to spend just one day on Koh Phangan for the Moon Party and jump islands to Koh Samui, the fairer, larger and swankier of the two.   Another taxi to The Kala Hotel in the Lamai province of the adjacent island and happily we now find ourselves atop the cliff of Koh Samui sipping fruity drinks and staring at the most audaciously beautiful view of the Gulf of Thailand one could imagine.

So while we indeed barked at the moon with thousands of  Millennials, we now dine under the stars at an intimate table for two on our private deck.  And that’s how you enjoy two worlds separated by a large moat.

From the Streets of Bangkok

(A view of Bangkok from Edward)

Bangkok is the definition of extremes.  Extreme heat, extreme humidity, extreme poverty, sitting next to extreme wealth…but what hit me most about this giant city of extremes are the streets:  tuk-tuks (three-wheeled taxi’s with passenger “seats” affixed to the back-end, really motorized Romanesque chariots on fire);  an endless sea of cars, trucks, buses and motorcycles; vendors selling god-knows-what to whomever winds by, homeless currying favor with passers-by; tourists checking Google Maps and TripAdvisor to find the next attraction; and Thailanders fighting all of this and each other for a rung on the ladder of security.

The most exhillirating and frightening moment “in the street” for Courtney and I was taking a tuk-tuk from our hotel to Ruen Malika, a restaurant roundly recommended by a local Thai entrepreneur we met the previous night.   She promised us a very “local” experience.  Our driver turned a 20 minute ride into a 10 minute ride in rush hour traffic.  More than a few times I braced for collision only to be amazed at the chaotic “rhythm” of the road that Thai drivers observe – fast and furious, on the edge of disaster, yet somehow always averting it.   If you want to lose the lunch you just had, I know a tuk-tuk driver you should meet.  Sadly, the meal was poor.  But getting there was more than half the fun.  If you like playing chicken with Death, that is.

Our best experience on the street was only a block form our hotel.  En route to the sky train on our way to Wat Pho, where the famous Reclining Buddha, well, reclines, we chanced upon a woman making traditional Thai breakfast from her street-food cart.  It was the best Thai meal we had in Bangkok.  To boot: we scored bonus points with the locals for heaping hot sauce on our chicken and fried rice meal.  I’ve never seen a bigger, more surprised smile on a woman’s face than when Courtney asked her for more hot sauce.  The language of laughter united us all.

Sometimes the streets were liquid.  By that I mean rivers and canals.  Taking a long-tailed boat up the river to see the Grand Palace and the Wat Arun Temple included navigating the “street” of ferries and barges that mostly carried tourists from attraction to attraction.  Our first boat ride was a bust, as we over-paid for underperformance in a rickety boat with a pushy driver.  Wiser, our second boat trip was far more successful and moved us quickly up and down the polluted central river at far lower a price.

Our adventure in Bangkok concluded on the street to the airport in a taxi driven by a man dreaming of the Indy 500.  It occurred to me more than once in Bangkok that street signs and traffic laws are optional for drivers, and yet somehow it all worked to move the city in whatever direction it was meant to go that day.  There is much to see and do here, but we anticipate our next adventure in Ko Phangan will bring a very different sense and feel from the streets of Bangkok.