Yep, Thailand! We both wanted to take a big vacation, but not anything too expensive, and it just so happened that Ravi and Katie were currently stationed in Thailand and available when we were. This also coincided with our first anniversary, making it a little more special.
We did so many little things each day on our trip, and people have been asking for all kinds of different details, so I think I’ll try to describe the trip day by day and cover all those questions at once. That will make this post really long, so maybe just scan through the pictures if you want ;).
First, in summary, Thailand was pretty amazing. So much so, it’s one of the places we’d consider for some kind of eventual retirement! We spent our time in Bangkok, Koh Chang (an island to the East of Bangkok), and Chiang Mai up in the mountains.
The costs are generally low. Anything imported is almost the same cost as it is in the US since they have a 100% import tax, but that also means that most of what’s there is made in Thailand rather than China or anywhere else. There’s a lot of local industry and individuals supported by this, and since Thailand has the resources to be mostly self sufficient, it appears their strategy is working. We were buying clothes for $3 to $5, lunch would run us $1 to $4, and even renting places to stay wasn’t expensive. Our beach resort was about $80 per night and the townhome we rented with Ravi’s family (three bedroom on the river in Chiang Mai) was about $100 per night.
Thailand is clean. The food is safe to eat, drinking water is available pretty much everywhere except from the tap, bottled water is everywhere and even the food stalls and trucks use clean water to cook with, and there are people actively sweeping up the streets and sidewalks everywhere you go.
It’s also a very safe place. We had no trouble walking around as tourists, and Katie regularly takes her kids out to walk in the parks nearby and on public transportation there. I can’t think of a single instance where I felt concerned about having money on me (it’s very much a cash society) or that I was in some kind of place I shouldn’t be in. They tell you to beware of pickpocketers in the various temples that are heavy tourist spots, but even there, we were never hassled at all.
The people we met were all very nice and helpful. English is common and menus and signs tend to be printed in both Thai and English characters (and about 80% of the time, in English itself). It still takes some exploration to figure out what some things are, but you can always ask for help.
The transportation was fairly easy as well. In Bangkok and Chiang Mai we took taxis, light rail, and water taxis to get just about anywhere we needed, usually for only a few dollars each way. In Koh Chang, we walked most places we needed to go, but busses and taxis were readily available there as well.
As far as places to retire to, we also noted the availability of internet almost everywhere (I brought my phone and used that for email and pictures throughout the trip) and Thailand is known for high quality medical care as well. Electricity is a little more expensive there, but we mostly noticed that people simply run room to room air conditioners and only cool the rooms they’re in.
That said, it was really warm. Not scorching hot like a ninety degree day in Colorado, but since we were out and about all the time sightseeing instead of relaxing inside while it was hot, we spent many evenings looking forward to a shower or two and most of the pictures of each of us show a sweaty, tired individual.
Days 1 and 2 – Flights
We started our vacation at 5am. We were scheduled to fly from Denver to Seattle (Alaskan Air), Seattle to Seoul (Korean Air), and Seoul to Bangkok (Korean Air). We covered about 1900 miles, about 18.5 hours of flight time, 25 hours of actual travel time, and traveled from 5am our time till 11:30pm the next day in Thailand. The Seattle layover was a couple hours, but the Soul layover was only about an hour, which worried me a little.
I can’t say enough nice things about Korean Air, though. The planes were fairly comfortable, tickets were only about $100 more expensive than the cheapest airline (we paid about $850 each to fly), meals were good and plentiful (every 4 hours, a meal was available), and the entertainment pads were loaded with dozens of movies and TV shows. Well worth the extra cost to go with them.
Seoul airport was also surprisingly easy to navigate. All the signs were in English and mostly were numbered with maps everywhere (Seattle was harder to figure out than Seoul). That turned out to be good because we only had 40 minutes to cross terminals in Seoul and clear a few security checks there due to a delay in Seattle. We made it with a few minutes to spare.
When we arrived in Bangkok, Ravi actually came into the terminal to meet us and walked us through a diplomatic priority station to get us into the country. Working at the embassy has some perks, it would appear!
Ravi then took us back to his amazing condo in the sky. He’s right off of Lumpini Park and Ratchadamri, and has great views of both areas and much of the city.
Day 3 – Bangkok. Lumpini Park, Shopping, and Nightlife
Our first full day in Thailand. We got up fairly early (7am), but with sleeping on the plane and the time change, it felt ok to get up that early on the first day. Katie showed us (pointed out the window) at a food cart Ravi had recommended to us the night before. I was a bit surprised that they both recommended eating out for something as simple as breakfast, but we decided we’d try it and then walk around Lumpini Park for a while.
Once we got to the food cart, I understood why they’d recommended it. We each got a decently large omelette, chicken sausages (quite popular over there, and I don’t think I ever saw “real” sausages), and thai iced tea for about $2 each. The tea was almost $1 of that and was so rich, I didn’t even finish mine. But breakfast for $1 that’s freshly made with fresh ingredients and is actually pretty good for you? Sure!
Lumpini Park is pretty large. It’s about a half mile on each side and has several lakes, pagodas, shrines, exercise stations, and paths within it. We spent most of the morning just walking around in it and saw about a dozen organized (and free!) groups doing everything from Tai Chi (with or without weapons), ballroom dancing, working out with dedicated machines and weights, and even gardening little plots of vegetables! It was a very cool space to have right next to your house, and certainly might encourage someone local to be much more active since everything was free and activities went on all day long.
After we were done walking most of that park, we met Katie back at their condo and she took us out to one of the local malls for some clothes shopping. Coming from Colorado, we really didn’t own clothes appropriate for hot, muggy weather, nor could we buy them at home easily. Luckily, those are relatively cheap and obviously in high abundance in Thailand! (This was part of our plan from the beginning)
The mall was exactly what one might think of as a crowded shopping mall in some ways. Most of the floors had a few big stores with escalators going between the floors and lots of small stores along the same walkways. One whole floor, however, was basically a giant open space (think: Wallmart or Sam’s Club size) that was filled wall to wall with booths that couldn’t have been much bigger than 20ft by 20ft. These sold everything. There were booths of wood carved knick-knacks, booths full of watches, booths, with records, and lots of booths with clothes (including plenty of knock-offs).
So we shopped around for a while. The most interesting part of clothes shopping in that kind of environment being that you can’t try the clothes on very well. An outer shirt, sure, but you certainly wouldn’t strip down in public (conservative dress is encouraged) and try on undershirts or pants, so you just get them and hope they fit! For sizing and pricing, most of the communication either happened through Katie, or when she wasn’t available at the moment, through a calculator that they’d use to show you numbers and some hand gestures. They knew US sizes, so I actually got a couple shirts, a pair of pants, and some flip flops without much trouble. Liz bought pants, a dress, and a few shirts as well. I lucked out in that the pants I got fit fine. Liz found out the hard way that the Thai sizes are for people who are really slight in build, so the dress ended up being fine, but the pants were a little too tight. Not a big deal since I think we paid about $5 per shirt and $7 to $10 per pair of pants or dress. We could easily have spent quite a while longer there and in other stores to dress more fashionably, but these clothes would do the job for the two weeks we needed them, so we called it done.
Lunch was at the mall’s food court, which had about twenty stations set up for all kinds of ethnic foods, including a few Thai stations, but also Italian, Mexican, Japanese, and many more. I was definitely tempted to try the Thai take on Italian and Mexican since they don’t usually do a lot with cheese there, but I stuck with Thai food and got a nice spicy noodle soup instead, again, for very low cost for a meal.
Liz and I spent some more time wandering the mall and exploring, then found our way back to the condo where both Ravi and Katie pushed us into getting massages like the aggressive people they are (kidding). The massage parlor was less than a block away, and cost about $15 per hour, so we both got an hour long Thai massage. I think this was my first professional massage ever, and while I definitely can appreciate the idea and the technique (those tiny women are strong!), I still can’t say I like massages that much. I get all tense with people touching me, and then, especially in the hands of these women who are kneeling on you and forcibly contorting you (with your permission) into all kinds of positions, I think I might have walked out a bit more sore than I went in. They also did an abbreviated Thai foot massage which had some very nice bits to it, but then a lot of intense pressure as well. It was a very nice experience overall … semi-private curtained rooms, tea served to us, relaxing music. If it weren’t for the actual massage, I think it might have been very relaxing! Liz reported that she liked it a lot, though, so it must have been a good massage place for people who aren’t neurotic.
In the evening after some more relaxing and some play time with Auggie and Orion (who still didn’t quite trust us yet), Ravi and Katie’s housekeeper … which is a thing there, and we’re both very envious … made a Burmese dinner that was fantastic.
After supper and putting kids to bed, Ravi took us out on the town. We went to a couple rooftop bars first, and these things are no joke! There’s no over-attention to safety, so while you are safe, nothing is really preventing you from doing anything ridiculously stupid (check out the last image … nothing below me and I’m just behind a light railing!). This gives you a completely open air feel and amazing views of the city at night. We could tell that a few of these spots were somewhat exclusive, and the drinks were definitely priced appropriately for that, but it was worth it for some of the views from sixty floors up and higher!
After those, we went to an “ice” bar, which was completely new to me. From the name, I was expecting some strange place where you go and try fancy kinds of ice. What that meant in my head was a little confused … was it going to literally be ice from various places for us to sample? Was it going to be fancy “shave ice” with interesting flavors? I was dubious about this experience that Ravi was recommending. When we got there, it turned out the bar was made of ice! Over ninety degrees outside, but here we were putting on heavy coats and sitting on ice sculptures! Pretty cool.
We followed up with a whiskey / beer bar where I learned for the second time that night that Thai whiskey isn’t something I like that much and that I’m a little picky when it comes to beer (thanks, Colorado!) … there’s only a few varieties of Thai beer I sampled. Singha is a light, crisp beer that didn’t seem to have a lot of flavor, but it’s cheap and readily available. Chang tasted better, but was still a “light” style of beer (where I generally prefer an amber beer). I didn’t get to it until later, but Leo, which is a little more expensive (by about a dollar) is a much fuller flavored beer and was quite nice to drink.
We had wanted to try some of the local drinks, but aside from those beers, we were told a few different times that really, the locals preferred Jack Daniels whiskey! I was definitely surprised. Not only is that not one of my favorite whiskeys, there’s an import tax on anything not made in Thailand that is set at 100%, so everything non-Thai is at least double the price.
I stuck with the Thai beers and some cocktails after learning that!
Day 4 – Flower Market, Grand Palace, Wat Pho, and more Nightlife
We got up “early” again and joined Katie and Auggie on a trip to the flower market. We took the train to the water taxi to get there and then walked up and down a few streets and back alleys looking at thousands of flowers. A dozen roses could be had for a dollar. Hundreds of varieties of flowers I never even knew about were on sale here. Everything was fresh and looked and smelled great. This market must have gone on for the better part of a mile.
Katie headed back after that, and we took the water taxi further upriver (though you could barely tell which way it flowed) and tried to find the Grand Palace. Rule of thumb for tourists in this situation … follow the crowds! The signs were ok, but everyone was headed where we were and I knew it was nearby, so we just popped out of the back streets where the water taxi’s station was and found ourselves facing a large wall. Then we just guessed the crowds were likely headed to the entrance, so we followed them along!
No pictures could do most of these places justice, at least not pictures I’m capable of taking. The buildings weren’t necessarily immense, but they were incredibly ornate, glittered in the sun, and were packed close together. A photo from a distance might capture most of the shape of the building, but a close up photo of the detail work would only capture a small piece of the whole. It was pretty incredible.
I had a funny moment here where a Chinese tourist really, really wanted to take a picture with me. He was all excited and had his girlfriend (?) photograph the two of us together, then shook my hand afterwards. He was wearing one of the straw cowboy hats with “Thailand” written on the band that you could buy on the street, and his only English word to me was to point at his hat and say “cowboy” with the biggest grin I saw all trip. I loved this guy.
After the Grand Palace, we walked about a kilometer to Wat Pho. Outside of it, there was a street market with lots of food stalls, so we got some pad thai and fruit drinks there for lunch, which was both delicious and cheap. It’s possible I miss the food experience more than anything!
Wat Pho was also amazing. Ornate, large, and one of the bigger Buddhas we saw, the reclining Buddha.
After that, we found our way home through water taxis and trains, showered (we were pretty sweaty walking around all day in the sun), and went out with everyone to have a big dinner at a Thai restaurant in a different mall (there are a lot of malls around these guys). The whole dinner for the whole family was $30.
Then we went with Ravi to Lumpini Boxing Stadium for a Muay Thai tournament. We saw ten matches starting with young adults and getting younger, all the way down to pre-teens (which seemed to be the highlight of the event). There was a ton of betting going on (which isn’t legal, but no one seems to care) handled by waving hands and making signs all through the match. Each side would scream for their champion on every hit they made. Definitely a lot of energy in the arena! A couple of the fights were decided by knock-out, but otherwise, it was very hard for us to tell who was going to be declared the winner. The whole time, they had a two person band playing the Sarama, the traditional music for Muay Thai. Very repetitive, but a lot of this was about ceremony, including the elaborate introductory dance each fighter did. I think those ten matches took about two hours.
When the fights were over, we went to one of the areas of town that had a bunch of bars and night life. We were pretty exhausted from our day, so we didn’t linger too long, but it was obvious there was a lot of live music (mostly American music, interestingly), lots of bars, plenty of food (including fried bugs), and “other” entertainment (like “ping pong shows” … probably shouldn’t google that) to be had. So we walked around a bit then probably dozed as Ravi drove home.
Day 5 – Shopping, relaxing, and in-house massages
Katie took us to the Chatuchak market which is an incredibly huge outdoor (though “lightly” roofed) market. It’s sectioned off into 27 different sections where things like clothing, furniture, art, pets, and many other things are sold. You can definitely get lost in there as it’s just packed with narrow alleys that are mostly all at right angles to each other. To find out way around, besides having Katie who mostly knew where she was, we’d pop to the outside of the market and figure out what streets we were on.
By lunch, we had found a few things to bring home and were ready to be done. Ravi met us for a nice lunch of delicious thai food (including giant prawns) and smoothies in huge glasses.
We made our way home via rail while Ravi had a minor adventure with his car (parking problem that was solved by his diplomatic status, but brake failure possibly caused by an overzealous parking attendant using a boot on his car initially), and spent the afternoon at the pool on the top of their condo building with the kids.
In the evening, we kept on relaxing with homemade dinner, a movie, and having four masseuses come into their home to give massages as we watched the movie.
I definitely dozed off for a while!
Day 6 – Travel to Koh Chang
A taxi ride back to the airport where we spent a while wandering around to get to the right places (Bangkok airport is huge, but actually well labeled) and found a nice lounge that was included in the price of our tickets where we sat with some scones, orange juice, and wifi until the flight.
Every flight in and out of Bangkok had a meal included, by the way. I wouldn’t have guessed this, but even the little puddle-jumping flights had a meal as you hit the top of your arc between cities and you just had enough time to eat it and have a quick sip of a drink before you were down again.
I had thought Bangkok was muggy. Oh my. We landed and I thought I might be swimming already! We worked our way through another security checkpoint (they had these at every airport, going in or out, it seemed) and then queued up to get in a small van that would take us to the resort.
It was about forty five minutes to the ferry, a fifteen minute ferry ride, and then another ten minutes or so until we reached our destination late in the afternoon. We were greeted with cold towels and cold sweet tea (purple tea … I still don’t know what it is!) and were given an orientation to the resort and then escorted to our “room”. Our room was basically hotel room sized, but felt like a little cabin. It had a nice size shower, a separate bath (that drained directly outdoors!), a king size bed with treats and towels folded up like swans on it, and a small balcony that looked out to the grounds. There were no beach-side buildings other than the restaurant, and we aren’t sure why, but suspect it may have something to do with weather. The resort priced out at just $100 per night, which included a huge breakfast buffet. Certainly couldn’t beat that price for what we got!
We spent the evening walking around the resort, signing up for various activities for the next few days, and having dinner and drinks at the restaurant and the bar. There were mosquitos to contend with, so we learned quickly that we’d have to wear our bugspray when out and about here. We’re told that it takes a few weeks to a few months, but your body eventually acclimates to the mosquitos so that they stop stinging you (mostly), but they sure loved us while we were there.
Day 7 – Wedding Anniversary, Yoga, Cooking, and Muay Thai
Part of this trip was to mirror our honeymoon, so we planned to be hanging out on a beach resort for our first anniversary!
We woke up to go take a “yoga” class. The class was set in a room atop the spa, which is a very pretty outdoor building and looks out over the jungle in the area. The class itself (once we tracked some people down and found it) was actually just stretching, but that’s ok. It’s “resort yoga”! The instructor then caused the next mix-up for us. He told us he’d be teaching the muay thai class later in the afternoon, so told us where and when to meet him. At the time, we thought that was very helpful given our difficulty finding him for yoga.
We then (after more relaxing on the beach and in the room … a theme for this part of the trip) went for our cooking class, but found the chef had thought it’d be at 2 instead of noon. An easy mistake maybe, but our muay thai was to be at 3 according to the instructor (instead of the 2pm we’d scheduled it for), so they agreed to have everything ready at 1 instead. I was a bit worried about eating and then working out, but figured it was probably “resort muay thai”, so we went ahead with it.
The cooking class was a lot of fun. We made green curry, spring rolls, and pad thai, and did a pretty good job of it! The ingredients are pretty simple, and I think we could actually make this at home … if we went out to find a couple of the ingredients that aren’t as common in King Soopers.
We went to our muay thai class on the beach at 3, only to find no one was there. They were apparently waiting for us at 2, but we didn’t show. I still have no idea what the yoga instructor was on about, because apparently he’s not the one that ever teaches muay thai, so in reality, we were just late. They went ahead and got us an instructor anyway.
His english wasn’t good, but that’s ok. He got us started by just trying the various punches and kicks, which are pretty simple. I tried to tell him I wasn’t new to the sport, but he didn’t seem to be following. By twenty minutes in, he was panting and kept telling us our “basics are very good” (Thanks, L.A. and Mike!). It was a pretty good workout, held out in the grass in a light rain. He’d hold pads for me and then Liz and go through basic punches and kicks and then combos and we’d just drill ten or twenty of them at a time. Lots of fun, though I felt bad for the instructor who I don’t think was feeling well to begin with and certainly wasn’t expecting some Americans who actually knew a little bit of what they were doing … we kept him on his toes!
Then another night at the restaurant, this time with a Mongolian BBQ style (they served all kinds of styles of food here), and some more night time strolls along the beach … one of our “norms” when it’s available.
Day 8 – SCUBA
We’d found a well rated SCUBA outfit: Scuba Dawgs. This time of year, they said, it was tough to say what sites would be available or what the weather was going to do, so we were just to call when we got to Koh Chang and schedule a day to come out. That day was day 8!
They came to pick us up early in the morning and drove us out (while picking up three more folks) to the dock they used. They walked us through some gear selection since Liz and I brought only our snorkels and masks. We didn’t want to carry our fins, boots, etc through a whole trip just for a single day or two days of diving. We got some 2mm dive suits, barefoot fins, and all the rest fitted there. Then we walked out to the boat with a truck taking the rest of our gear out. It might have been a half mile or so along a colorful wharf with lots of shops along the way!
The boat itself was an old fishing boat and was the captain’s home, so like in any other home, that meant shoes off and stored. It started out a bit rainy in the bay, but cleared up nicely as we went out to sea. We took the boat out towards the first dive site (of up to 3 planned) and that’s when the trouble started. Liz had taken some seasickness medication, but I didn’t. I don’t recall ever really being seasick … at worst feeling a little queasy. This trip got me seasick. The waves weren’t terrible, only two to four feet at most, but the boat really emphasized them. By the time we got to the first dive site, I was ready to be sick, but still thought I’d manage. I made it into the water, and once we were about five or ten feet down, I felt great again. Phew.
The first site was a shipwreck. An old tanker that was sunk here for divers. There was all kinds of life on it and coral growing all over. There were scorpion fish (so we had to be careful what we got close to as they mostly look like the rust on the ship) and we even saw a huge tuna fish! We swam all around the bow of the ship and through some of the deck and cargo areas, but had to stick to the front as a fishing boat had started trawling the bottom a mile or so away, making the stern of the boat really low visibility. Apparently they aren’t supposed to do that, but no one really stops them.
As we got back up towards the surface, almost immediately, the seasickness came back, and was just worse on the boat. Getting onto the boat was tricky as the ladder on the back which must have been six feet tall was sometimes almost submerged and other times lifted completely out of the water. The boat really emphasized the waves. Not good.
We made it to the next site, all five of us completely seasick by that time (and most of us for the first time really being that sick), but Liz and I were well enough to still get in the water. The others stayed out, and no one ate much of the great looking fruit and curry that was provided for us to eat, sadly.
The next tour was nearly an hour at very low depth. We crawled all around coral and sandbars looking at eels and fish and plants of all kinds. That was the longest I’d been underwater, and a lot of it was following the bottom up and down, so it kept me pretty entertained on a technique level alone.
But again, getting out of the water did us in. I learned that lying down on your back with your eyes closed is a much better position than sitting or standing. Not long into the drive to the next site, all of us told the dive leaders (who were great, by the way) that we weren’t feeling up to diving the next one, so they brought us all in. They even reimbursed us for missing out on whatever portion of the dive we missed, which they by no means had to do. I’d definitely recommend the company and the folks there, even though we had a tough time of it that day.
The other unfortunate part for me was that apparently my feet are a little sensitive! I managed to cut them open from rubbing on the fins, which added to the already existing blisters from wearing my dress shoes all day flying to Bangkok. My feet were in sad shape for most of the trip, but most of the time I could wear flip-flops, so it wasn’t as bad as it could have been!
We were driven back to the resort, and just relaxed again the rest of the day. Initially we thought we might go out for two dives, but after the day we had, we decided on a new plan for the next day instead.
Day 9 – Walking around
We decide a complete relaxing day was in order. So we got up for breakfast, then just walked out of the resort and around the town in the area. The visible area (shopfronts mostly) was only a mile or two long along the main road, so it was easy enough to see the whole thing. There were a lot of curbside restaurants and food carts (a staple, it seems), plenty of areas to get tours or rent scooters, several general stores, and lots of specialty stores … especially for clothing.
The entire morning was very rainy, so we got pretty soaked, even under our umbrellas, but spent some time in the shops. Liz got some seaweed flavored potato chips and some bean paste candies that we tried later (and liked!) and I got a liter of coka cola. I probably ended up having a (smaller than a liter) bottle of cola every other day on this trip. It definitely seems to help settle my stomach with all the traveling.
We ate lunch at one of the local areas where we’d spotted one of the resort’s managers eating earlier that day. We didn’t get what we ordered (or at least, what we thought we ordered), but they only made two things there, and both would have been fine, so we ended up sharing a very large bowl of noodle soup for about $1.
Even though it was wet, and I think Liz was a little tired (and annoyed with the rain), I think this is one of my favorite memories from the trip. Just walking around in the rain, buying a soda and having a simple lunch on the side of the street. Just being. Hanging out together and doing simple things on a not perfect day is perfect, to me.
Afterwards, we spent more time walking along paths towards other resorts in the area and seeing one of the tributaries where there was a big cooking school at one of these resorts. It seemed you could walk just about anywhere you liked here, though we were trying to be attentive and not randomly walk onto someone’s property if we could help it.
We ended up back at the resort for happy hour and more walking along the beach and a late dinner. We saw incredibly bright green lights way out on the water that evening forming what looked like lines, but I didn’t think there were any bridges that long or anywhere near us (hence the ferry), so I asked about it at dinner. Turns out the fishermen out there are using very bright light to draw the fish out at night and then trawling for all kinds of fish! Probably not the most environmentally friendly way to fish, but it seems like it’s sustainable in this area (so far). I’m more surprised that you don’t see lots of fish on the menu anywhere. Mostly it’s shrimp or chicken anywhere you go.
Day 10 – Back to Bangkok, First Class Movie Tickets
Finally time to leave Koh Chang, so we reversed the process. Mini van to ferry, then back in the van, on to the pretty airport, and fly back to Bangkok.
The taxi ride back to the condo was interesting. Ravi had suggested (mostly wisely) that we go to the drop-off lane and get one of the taxis there instead of standing in the 30 minute or longer lines to pick up one in the pick-up lane. We did this every time, and it worked pretty well, but it’s off the books somewhat, so they don’t use the meter and aren’t quite as up front about things. The charge is about the same everywhere, but this driver needed to get gas first on the way out (minor annoyance), and then didn’t seem to know where he was taking us (bigger annoyance). He was on the phone with friends of his obviously asking directions and then was taking us ways to try and avoid the tolls on the highway. We got there after he missed the turn and we spent another ten minutes in traffic on an already long trip back (biggest annoyance), and by then I was glad we weren’t on the meter and he certainly wasn’t glad about that, but like I said … we got there.
After getting some laundry going and having supper out with the family (another great spot with a full table of thai food that I couldn’t find again if I wanted to), Ravi took us to a movie. We decided to watch The Martian, and I’m glad, because all three of us loved that movie. But the real treat was the movie theater. Tickets weren’t cheap, but our $20 each bought us cocktails (alcohol free) before the show, finger foods before the show, soda and popcorn throughout the show (we got buttered, salt and pepper, and cajun if I remember right), and the biggest, comfiest full reclining chairs I’ve ever seen … plus blankets. It was amazing.
This was all on the top floor (8th!) of the “fancy” mall near them. They had all the designer stores, cars parked inside as showcases, etc.
Quite a fun evening!
Over the time we were gone, Ravi had decided we ought to go to Chiang Mai instead of a more local area we had originally planned on going, so he and Katie had figured out the logistics and we finalized details and then headed out the next morning!
Day 11 – Chiang Mai, Galae Restaurant, Wat Doi Suthep, Lanna Cultural Show
What a busy day! We went back to the airport and flew to Chiang Mai with Ravi’s family (the kids are seasoned travelers now and did great!). Ravi and Katie had arranged a multi-floor condo along the river that had three bedrooms and two bathrooms for $120 a night. Tons of space, activities (including movies and games you could borrow as well as a pool), and close to town. They’d also arranged for a chauffeured van, which worked out to be cheaper than renting a car, and worked great with this size of a group.
So we were picked up at the airport by the driver and taken to our lodgings. He spoke English pretty well, but was very impressed with Ravi’s near-fluency in Thai and commented on it frequently.
After getting our stuff situated, we went up to the Galae Restaurant after driving through Chiang Mai University, which was a sprawling university much like any we’d find in the United States. The restaurant is situated on a reservoir that, I believe, was part of a royal project for the area, and has great views and great gardens as part of it. A very pretty place to sit in the shade, take in the flowers and the views, and have a relaxed, quality lunch.
Then we drove further up the mountain to Wat Doi Suthep and this was the highest altitude we got on this trip at about 3500 feet above sea level (we thought it was closer to 5200 feet at the time, but it turns out that’s the height of the mountain, not the height the temple is at, at least, according to Wikipedia).
The temple is a holy site with relics, and it is reached by climbing over 300 steps to get to the temple itself. Once there, the “normal” wat description applies as we saw very ornate buildings and statues, throngs of tourists (mostly Chinese, it seemed, which was also normal), but the difference here were the Hindu artifacts and the views of Chiang Mai off the side of the mountain. It was like being in the foothills at home. Chiang Mai is about the size of Colorado Springs with a similar “spread” to it, but the downtown area houses old temples, forts, and a large city wall from back when it was the capital of the Lanna kingdom. So, you know, a little different.
After finishing our tour there, we drove back down, cleaned up, and made our way to a Lanna cultural festival / dinner. There we sat and watched dancing and shows, and ate well into the night before finally heading back to our new digs and crashing for the rest of the evening.
Day 12 – Street Food, Khao Soi, Wat Chedi Luang, Cultural Center, Karen Village, Live Music, and Massages
We began the day by heading into the city for a food tour that Katie had found and organized! Our guide took us around various markets. Each market area had specialties, from vegetables, to fruits, to the meat market that was also a butchery. He fed us little bits of many of the local foods and explained where they came from and what people liked, including some fried bugs that he said would be a good salty snack to have with a beer. Once we’d finished touring the area, he cooked up a lunch of the various foods for us to eat, and of course, was disappointed that we couldn’t eat it all after having snacked all morning long.
He then took us to a few areas nearby, first to get some Khao Soi that Katie was craving (a yellow noodle dish with crispy bits in it and whatever protein you like … very tasty), then to show us the the Chedi Luang wat and the nearby temple. He didn’t go in to the temple with us, as he explained, because he’s from a Christian tribe in the area and didn’t feel it was appropriate for him. At this temple, the monks were out having conversations with everyone they could about anything at all so they could practice their English. Finally, he took us to a local coffee grinder where Katie could get a good amount of fresh coffee beans that they like. He was a good guide and was happy to show off the city any way he could.
Ravi was taking care of the kids (mostly playing in the pool and watching movies, I think), so we stayed out a bit longer and visited the cultural center where we took a self-guided tour that described the history of the area for a dollar or two each.
We finished up the afternoon by traveling to the Karen village, which, sadly, we think was a mistake. These are the famous “long neck” women who have metal rings that extend the length of their neck. They’re a displaced Burmese tribe, and you can visit the site for 500 baht (about $15). It was a dirt village where we just felt like we were there to gawk at the people and have their wares pushed on us out of guilt. We weren’t very comfortable with it.
The driver was also pushing for us to take the “tiger tour” or one of the many elephant tours. Unfortunately, a lot of what they do with those is not good for the animals, so as much as we’d love to see some tigers and elephants, we decided to pass. The “good” tours are few and far between and many of them are both expensive and are filled up with reservations. Had we known we were going to Chiang Mai, we probably would have looked into this before coming and booked reservations in advance for one of the “good” tours, but as it was, Liz was going to feel very uncomfortable with any tour we took, so we skipped them entirely.
We got back to the apartment and went out for a khao soi dinner, then split up our little group along different lines. This time, the ladies stayed back with the kids and got in-room massages and had a nice evening in. Ravi and I headed back downtown to meet up with another U.S. Army guy who was going through some of the same programs Ravi went through and we had some beers and listened to very well performed live covers of a lot of US music that ranged in genre from country, alt, rock and roll, and modern pop. Lots of fun!
Ravi and I took a tuk tuk back to the apartment … the only one I took the entire trip (why bother when taxis are about the same price, aren’t generally going to rip you off, are covered from the weather, and are faster) … but it’s lots of fun after a few drinks to be zooming down the road in the wind with your friend behind a loud and smelly gasoline engine.
Day 13 – Pool time, Khao Soi, Baan Tawai, Night Market, Paper Lanterns, and Massages
We did the guy/gal split again, this time with Ravi and I keeping the kids. The ladies went to Baan Tawai, a handicraft market and went and spent time in the handicraft / furniture area where they have a lot of teak furniture and other wood carving. Liz got some great vases, and had either of us known a) that this was here, b) planned to go here, c) that prices were so low, and d) knew dimensions for the new house, I think we would both have gone there and ordered desks, a bed, and nightstands to be hand carved there and shipped back to the States … very inexpensive to do this! It’s probably cheaper to fly there and have the furniture made and shipped back than it is to just buy decent quality furniture here in Colorado!
Ravi and I, in the mean-time, were spending lots of time in the pool, and we walked down the road with the kids to a local khao soi place for lunch (Ravi and Katie seem to love this dish, and to be fair, it is really good).
Once Liz and Katie returned, we had a little more relaxing in us (and nap time for the kids), and then went to go out to the night market for some more shopping. The plan was to take the boat downtown, but it broke down (looked like it got the propeller stuck in the mud, then they flooded the engine), so we ended up in a local taxi, which was nothing more than a pickup truck with seats in the back and a covering built over the top. Not the most comfortably way to travel, but it’s cheap, gets you where you need to go, and most importantly, it was available immediately! Apparently the items at the night market were just more of the same (it all is, to me), so we quickly changed gears, had another big thai food dinner, and made our way back to the apartment.
There, we released Chinese paper lanterns, two of them. The kids weren’t as interested as we thought they might be, but it was definitely fun releasing the lanterns out by the river. Maybe we’ll all get what we wished for!
After that, we headed back inside and picked out a movie from their collection. “Paul” in this case, which is a relatively funny movie about an alien trying to escape Area 51 with the assistance of some British Comic-con fans. During the movie, the others had more Thai foot massages, but this time I passed. I get that it’s only $10 for an hour’s massage, but I just don’t like them!
Day 14 – Back to Bangkok, Spice Shopping, Speakeasy, and Fancy Italian
We strolled around Chiang Mai a little more in the morning, then flew back to Bangkok.
Liz and I again lucked out with a cab driver who didn’t know where he was going, but who undercharged us greatly to get there. We still beat Ravi and Katie by a few minutes, so it didn’t really matter.
Ravi took us out to the supermarket so we could get some easy to make meals to bring home and some Thai spices to bring home (much cheaper there than here). We had to pack our suitcases tightly again to get everything back home!
That evening, Ravi took us to a very fancy Italian restaurant where the food was, perhaps unsurprisingly at a place that fancy, seemingly very authentic. Beforehand, we wandered up to the top floors where there’s a speakeasy hidden behind a painting hanging on the wall that offers more rooftop views of Bangkok.
We enjoyed some nice wine, food, and deserts on our last night there and had a blast just hanging out and talking more. We had to say our goodbyes that evening since while Liz and I were leaving fairly early, Ravi was going to have to be at work at 5am, and we weren’t quite planning on getting up to see him off just a few hours later.
Day 15 – Home again, home again
Another fairly uneventful 27 hours of travel later, we were home. We left Ravi and Katie’s place early in the morning and finally got home in the late evening, our time.
I always think the best way to re-acclimate is to get where you’re going late so you can go right to bed, then wake up with the sun and be out and about all day, but it didn’t work on the way back. I probably wasn’t out with the sun enough. The jet lag stuck with me for a good two weeks where I’d get randomly exhausted in the mid afternoon or early evening. Oh well! Well worth the price of admission!
Liz and I often talk about retiring to a place where our money would go a lot further. That would mean being able to retire a lot earlier than if we stayed put in Colorado. I don’t know if we’ll ever actually do that, but Thailand is pretty high on the list of places we’d consider going, and who knows, maybe some day we’ll go back just to be there for another couple weeks or years.