Tuesday, April 19, 2011


Yesterday was our last day in Thailand after one month. I've been trying to figure out how I feel about Thailand before writing about it, but as of today we're in Laos and I still haven't really decided, so... crap. I guess I should just write something mildly coherent and call it a day.

I hated Thailand the first week. We started in the south, which is where all the world-class beaches and scuba-diving opportunities are. This would've been the perfect place to start if we liked beaches, or if we had lied about Ross's childhood asthma on the medical forms and had actually been allowed to scuba. Or if the entire region hadn't started flooding. Or if it hadn't been saturated with Pajama People, as we've started to call the Hammer-pants-wearing, dreadlocked, guitar-playing hippies that seem to infest every corner of the south that the cockroaches and bedbugs haven't already called home. Wow, I didn't expect so much bitterness to come pouring out in this post, did you?

As we got to Bangkok, our motivation plummeted. I think traveling for 7 months (plus the sheer exhaustion of being so irritated for a week) finally caught up with us. When we found a comfortable hotel room, we hid there like hermits for 2 weeks. We did some serious sleeping, interspersed with brief periods of visiting temples and hanging out with Ross's brother. (And, more regrettably, checking out the infamous "go-go bars." Ew.) Perhaps what brought us out of our comfort-induced stupor was when Ross was taken into custody by police one night after coming out of a pub. They picked him out for a random search, found a packet of Valium in his bag, and detained him. (This was ridiculous because, for one thing, Valium is literally sold from street stalls in Bangkok, but more importantly, we have a prescription for it. We use it sometimes to help us sleep on long bus rides. This was apparently an irrelevent detail.) After 4 hours, one (clean) urine test, and many threats of being put in jail forever and ever, he was allowed to go. Nothing like the prospect of spending the next decade in a Thai prison to get the ol' blood flowing again, so that's when we decided it was time to get the fuck out of Bangkok.

Then came Thai New Year, a very strange time when everyone suddenly decides that having a manic, 3-day-long water-fight is a great idea. We tried to hide inside the first day, but this did not work because we still had to go outside to eat. Stupid hunger. By the third day, we had just accepted the fact that dryness would not be a part of our lives during this time, and this helped us to get over our grumpiness. We even ventured outside to do a bit of sight-seeing in Sukhothai, a city with ancient Buddhist temples. On our way back to our hostel, as we rode through the center of the town in an open-sided bus, we were caught in the middle of the insanity with no escape. We got absolutely drenched, but we also managed to get some of the most fantastic pictures of this whole trip. Thank god for waterproof cameras. And for really playful Thais. Check out this album, it's my absolute favorite of this year. (Click on the picture to get to the album.)

But in the last 5 days, I enjoyed Thailand more than in the rest of the month put together. 5 days ago we arrived in Chiang Rai, the northernmost part of the country. When we stepped off the bus, we were standing around looking very perplexed because there were no tuk-tuks or taxis anywhere. A Thai girl approached us and explained that, due to Thai New Year, the police had shut down all the transportation from this bus station except buses. She showed us which bus we should take to get us to the town center, then drew us a map so we could walk from there to our hostel. Then she spoke with her mom and grandma in Thai for a few minutes, and they decided to offer us a ride to our hostel in their car! After a brief debate about whether or not this was a wise situation to get into, we agreed. (Ross: "I could probably take the grandma, if it comes down to it.") It turned out to be a wonderful ride. We learned a lot about her and her family, and my faith in humanity was not just restored, but flying pretty high for a few hours there. (And thanks to facebook, now she can read this story too. Hi, Eve!)

This struck me as just unbelievably nice. I can't imagine a family in North America doing something like that so freely. But this turned out to be only the first instance of how unabashedly and spontaneously friendly the northern Thais are. More examples:

1. We happened to go for dinner in a restaurant where all the signs were in Thai, none of the staff spoke any English or acknowledged us in any way, and people seemed to be ordering food using a combination of voodoo and interpretive dance. Seeing our utter confusion, 3 different people helped us order and get settled. One explained the process, a second helped us translate our orders, and a third gave us spoons when we couldn't find any on our table. Yes, we require the help of 3 people to eat in Thailand. Don't judge.

2. One night it was raining really hard, so we ordered pizza to our hostel for dinner. The owners of our hostel got a call from the pizza guy, who had gone to the wrong hostel. Without a second thought, the owner jumped on his motorbike to go meet the pizza guy at the other hostel to bring the pizza back for us. I was just about to be really embarrassed to have caused such a kerfuffle, but fortunately the pizza guy found our hostel just then. I was blown away by the owner's response.

3. We went to swim in a waterfall pool where lots of Thais were swimming too. Thai women are pretty modest, so they swim entirely clothed, leaving me as the least dressed (and WHITEST!) person in the entire forest. Hello, self-consciousness. But as we were getting into the water, they started splashing us, which lead to us splashing them, which resulted in a rambunctious water fight. (Thais evidently love their water fights.) One guy kept sneaking up on Ross and poking him. Ha! When we got out of the water, the pokey guy gave us some whiskey, and another dude offered to roll us a cigarette! (We declined.) We felt immediately accepted and befriended and I never wanted to leave. Compare this with when we went to swim in a different area, where there were only white people swimming. We ended up having the typical, "Where are you from? How long are you traveling?" conversation, and that was it. Fun was nowhere to be had.

I could go on and on. The northern Thais have absolutely astonished me. They are, without a doubt, the friendliest people we've met anywhere in the world. In fact, I'm having a hard time coming up with adjectives that are powerful enough to describe how friendly they are. Extraordinarily friendly? Outrageously friendly? Let's just say, they've made me feel ashamed by how unfriendly, unsocial, and generally aloof I can be, and I'm going to try to be more like them in the future. Eek, now I'm getting all cheesy on you. Sorry. Let's move on before it gets too real up in here.

This area also tops the charts in terms of culture and art. We visited one inexplicable place called The Black House, the home of an artist who has been building it for over 30 years. Each "room" (actually separate buildings) was filled to the brim with, shall we say, 'eccentric' items: chairs made of antlers, a ceiling fan made of tusks, giant Buddha statues, animal skins and bones... I think pictures do a better job of conveying this deranged place than words.

And this guy LIVES here. Make of that what you will.

As a complement to The Black House, we also visited The White Temple, a Buddhist temple built in 1997 by a different (but equally insane) artist. I think this may be one of the most beautiful buildings I've ever seen. It had bits of mirrors all over it, so that it sparkled in the sunlight. It looked like something out of a fairy tale.

As you get closer, suddenly it starts to get a bit creepy. To enter the temple, you walk past hundreds of hands desperately reaching out from hell. (The Temple is meant to be a representation of heaven on earth.)

And then you get inside and you notice the walls, which were painted with the artist's own interpretation of heaven and hell. I think his vision of hell wasn't too far off - it included Keanu Reeves, George Bush, Spiderman, and Osama Bin Laden. I think it was probably the first and last time I will have visited a Buddhist temple featuring Keanu Reeves. It was at once bizarre, creepy, and beautiful... it was perfect.

And on top of ALL OF THAT, I haven't even mentioned the elephants in Chiang Rai. There are elephants. And they are cute and wonderful and the one we rode was called Mr. Diamond and I want one.

So, that has been Thailand. Beautiful, frustrating, intense, eye-opening, annoying, and somewhat indescribable. I'm mostly relieved that we've left, but I'm also a bit sad. I'd like to come back someday to explore the north a bit more. But for now... Laos!

1 comment:

  1. Best entry so far! Marina I loved reading this...will have a closer look at the pics too. Safe travels you guys!