Memories of Thailand

In comparison to today’s insistence on the instant, more than a month is forever. Here are some photos from my visit to Thailand, forever ago.

Wat Arun

Two days into Bangkok, we visited Wat Arun. Across the river from a majority of the city’s other sights, it was thankfully not nearly as crowded as the Grand Palace. Any attempt I made to capture its entirely failed, but even from just this detail, you can see it’s an amazing structure.

Wat Mahathat

A day trip to Ayutthaya is definitely recommended if you have time. This is a glimpse of Wat Mahathat, the most famous wat among many in the ancient Thai capital. It’s where the buddha head rests among roots.

Forgotten Pieces

We rented bikes while in Ayutthaya and got hopelessly lost trying to find a floating market by following a series of arrows. Only near the end did a sign have the date: 2005. The reward for our journey was to discover a completely out of the way wat. The only people we saw were a few children playing near the broken structure. Inside the wat without a roof, behind what’s left of the altar, was the broken buddha’s torso. On top rested these broken golden pieces.

Preserved

The next day I was determined to visit the Grand Palace and one of the roads on the way there was decorated with these shops on both sides. Altars and statues stood facing the street, including some scarily life-like ones. The monk is a statue. The guy next to him is not.

Angry Bird iPad - CLICK

I won’t scare you with other photos from the Grand Palace because almost every one is filled with ‘people mountain, people sea’ (unless it was only of the roof). With luck, there was only one person in here – a little girl stopping to take photos with her iPad. The future in action.

Aftermath of a Market

After a week in Bangkok, we headed for Chiang Mai. We arrived on a Sunday evening, just in time to catch the last hours of the Sunday Market. It was a grand affair and spanned almost the entire width of the old city. I was determined, and dragged my friend all the way to the other end, oooh-ing and aaah-ing at all the offerings on display. By the time we headed back, it was after midnight and the market had disappeared with amazing speed. This was one of the views on the way back.

Chiang Mai Streets

Chiang Mai is the perfect city to bike in and I spent at least two days getting lost in and around the old city. Some people prefer motor bikes because they can see more and go farther, but there’s nothing like wandering and stumbling upon hidden treasures. Although if you’re on bicycle, stay away from the major streets near the river to the east! It takes much bravery.

Fishing, fishing, fishing, fishing and fishing

The road we took out to the river wasn’t too crowded and we ended up spending a good while lazing in the shade of an ancient tree by the water. There, we spotted this man as he fished, fished, fished, fished and fished.

Market in Progress

Later, wandering the streets on bike again, I came across another market only just being set up this time. People were all business and concentration and didn’t seem to notice a stranger slowly passing through.

Blue Skies

Having been in China this past year, the weather in Thailand soothed my soul. The air was pristine to me and skies have never been so blue.

Park Sunset

Near the end of one of our Chiang Mai days, we came to a part at the southwest corner of the old city. There were ponds, people finishing up picnics… and an entire army of pigeons. There, we caught this sunset.

Lanterns for Wishes on New Year's Eve

Chiang Mai was a fantastic place to spend New Year’s Eve. The square itself was too crowded and we opted to sit just south of it by the water. Paper lanterns filled the sky as more and more wishes were sent. Then there were fireworks. A lot of fireworks.

The Gold of Doi Suthep

The temple atop the hill west of the old city, Doi Suthep. When no camera can capture it all, I focus on the details. The colours, gold of the stupa, red of the temples, blue of the sky, were so rich and bright and it was an amazing place to be for New Year’s Day.

Chiang Mai in general is an amazing place to be, any time. It was tempting to stay there forever and our guesthouse especially was a wonderful place to be. The city has everything you could ask for including (but not limited to) history, exploration, markets, friendly people, calm side streets, unique shops and cafes, an active nightlife and most importantly, spectacular food. And it was affordable too! Looking through photos now only makes me wish I were there…

The wind, the road, the bus and the kindness of strangers

I’m on a bus right now from Chiang Rai to Chiong Khong in northern Thailand, with the plan of heading into Laos later today. The windows are open and the journey is bumpy, so no journal today – iPad instead. A part of me wants to focus on the scenes flying past the opened windows. We’re on a rural country road, sometimes passing fields, sometimes passing homes and sometimes passing long stretches of untamed nature. We’ve just stopped to let a person off somewhere along the way, I’ve no idea where, only a sudden surprise at the silence from a lack of wind and engine. It wasn’t even a minute, we’re on our way again. Palm trees. Wood piles. Rusty gates. Finally, a person! She has a stall by the side of the road. Fields again. I smell something burning. Wind again… with an empty, twisting road ahead.

The journey was scheduled for yesterday, but we took the 3pm bus from Chiang Mai which arrived half an hour too late for the last bus to Chiong Khong. So, we spent a night at a recommended guesthouse and lazed away. I can’t help but think of the alternatives. What if we had left earlier yesterday, or today, or taken a different bus? The difference comes from our state of mind and the time left behind. Without richness in money, I have only the richness of time.

Though I still have a terrible temper, getting very angry very quickly, a week of reflection and peace in Chiang Mai has reinforced my conviction that anger is useless. The hostel where we stayed seemed sheltered from the world. It had a swing and a hammock and sold fresh, cold coconuts and giant, heaping fruit salads. The people were incredibly friendly and some visitors came back year after year. It was a week well-spent. I appreciate their kindness so much more now, after being shocked and screamed at on the streets of Chiang Rai last night.

A friend and I had sat down to dinner at a roadside stall, foolishly not asking for the price beforehand. After our meal, the stall woman quoted a high foreigner price, knowing there wasn’t much we could do about it after the fact. 170 baht for a roadside meal in Chiang Rai? I’ve spent 60 baht for two people in Bangkok, a much more expensive city. We asked her for a breakdown of the price which she provided by snapping at us and jabbing her finger towards the dishes on our table. Then she freaked the fuck out. She started yelling, right there on the streets. Her English wasn’t very good so she kept screaming and repeating herself. I asked her to calm down and she started giving me the bitch eye and switched to Thai. I imagine she has a very colourful vocabulary and wish she understood all the things I wanted to say to her, naturally nothing pleasant. She made such a scene that a passerby stopped to assure us that the majority of Thai people weren’t like her. We paid. We left. She followed a few steps and continued her muttered curses. We passed the bitchstall on the way back and she swore loudly when I walked by. How is it that such a person can exist?

The events are now an interesting anecdote in my life and I can’t be bothered to wish her stomach ulcers. Karma will likely take care of that. If I’d met with the same situation at an earlier point in life, I would have smacked her upside the head with little hesitation, never mind fighting in foreign lands is just a terrible, stupid idea. Or at least shouted back and imprint on her mind that travelers aren’t people she should mess with. But I’d like to think I’m just a bit more mature now, reflecting on the events a day after. My lesson from this? Appreciate the kindness of strangers and never take it for granted. And always know the price before ordering, always. The bitchstall is located on the east side of Chiang Mai’s main road, north of the bus station. The first thing she asks is if you speak Thai.

The bus has stopped again and a lot more people are getting on. The seats are small, very small. My knee hits the seat ahead and there’s barely room for my bag beside me. Hopefully more people get off. It’s been an hour and sixteen minutes thus far.

New Year in Chiang Mai

In a blink of an eye, 2012 has come and gone and we spent its last day biking around Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. The weather is all sunshine and blue skies and it’s been such a contrast to our time in Bangkok. I really should change the subtitle of this blog to something travel related… Because my current state of mind can only keep updated with the happenings of the world but reality here, before me has captured all my attention, in the most delightful way.

New Year’s Eve was spent by the side of a river marking the eastern old city wall here, with friends and strangers alike joining in the celebration. Skies were remarkably clear with just the right amount of wind to fill all that we could see with the glows of wish lanterns. People would cheer when a lantern took flight and shout words of encouragement in cases of unsteady progress. “C’mon, just a bit higher!” “Gogogo!” The countdown took place in a crowded square some 5, 10 minutes away and we simply sat enjoying the seemingly endless fireworks flashing in anticipation. No one around us knew when the exact moment was, when that second hand in our time zone proclaimed 2013… But when fireworks continuously exploded right above our heads and cheers echoed down the street, we too toasted in celebration of a brand new year. It was amazing and so completely different from new year’s past. A day later, we still see stray wish lanterns floating on carrying with them another hope, another dream.

The day went by steadily and at one point, I literally fell on my face. It was the excitement of seeing friends again and running with flip flops on uneven grass, they led to my (harhar) downfall. From what I heard and what I remembered, it must have been an epic fall. I now have battle scars from the adventure. All a person can do in that situation is to laugh it off and hope no one caught it on tape, though being a 10 minute YouTube star does have it’s appeal, and definitely not dwell on how completely embarrassing that was. A fellow hostel guest commented that she’d never heard anyone laugh so much after falling. I took it as a compliment.

We saw what a temple is suppose to be like at Doi Suthep, an amazing complex perched above windy roads overlooking the city. Multitudes of believers held lotus blooms and offered prayers for the year to come. The respect simply was, simply existed, and not forced upon visitors by an army of guards. Dancers performed before a captivated audience, adult and children alike. No camera could capture it all.

Now, I am back at the hostel and it’s 2am, Chiang Mai time. 2013 brought with it a promise I’d made to maintain a website of sorts, one new addition per day whether it be post or photo or poem. Though it’s past new year day, I cling to Toronto’s timezone as justification. No lateness here! And even if there were, I would lead yesterday no differently. Many times, I would pick up a pen to write or my electronic device to type, but the people and conversation always deserved my time more, and I knew in the quiet of darkness I could gather my thoughts. With different people we talked about different things, from interracial couples to the weakness in public regulation to the impacts of our choices. At so many points I thought to my journal. So philosophical, what we’re saying! But the words were lost in an overall experience and now, not remembering every detail of many hours here, I let those words sink into my mind like seeds into soil. The ideas, the experience, the friendships, I’ll nurture them all.

Tomorrow, I’ll buy a sketchbook and spend my day in the sun. I’ll climb ‘my’ tree and nap by the river and eat my own weight in food. Nothing but good times ahead!

Thoughts from Bangkok

It’s Boxing Day and I’m in Bangkok, Thailand. Actually, a friend and I arrived yesterday, Christmas Day, from Hong Kong. With the hour difference, we still managed to say Merry Christmas to the many people working throughout the airports. The holiday is important because we give it importance. If we choose to treat it as just another Tuesday, then it’ll be just that and nothing more, like yesterday was for me.

I miss meeting new people and listening to their stories, laughing about silly things and planning more adventures. I learn from people I would have otherwise never met and they open new doors and provide inspiration and it’s just… a wonderful feeling to have. I’ve missed it. Another part of me is already planning to throw in the towel. Why is that? It’s just a feeling that’s come over me. Maybe I’ve grown old or I’m not at my best to enjoy the most this adventure has to offer or I’m getting a sixth sense…

We got lost twice today, once in an endless clothes market and another after we got off the bus prematurely and had no idea where our hostel was. We kept asking for directions and looking at signs but nothing was familiar and the night was dark. When we were close to giving up and hailing a taxi, we made one last attempt to ask for directions. A group of office ladies confirmed our direction and we just kept walking. Not even 5 minutes later, not even, the hostel light was shining in front of us. It was amazing. So close, but so far away! What if we’d turned right before, or gave up, or a billion other possibilities that have no impact on my current existence? What then? No answers now, only plans for the future. Museum, tomorrow, 9:30, and go!