A Travellerspoint blog

Chiang Mai

The Rose of the North

sunny 38 °C

The second largest city in Thailand (Bangkok is #1), it immediately feels more relaxed and less smog-filled than its bigger sister. It's up in the hills of northern Thailand, but from the city itself it feels as if  it's in a valley. Since it's the dry season, the vegetation does look dry and gives the city more of a "fall" look than the lush green tropical pictures in the travel guides. 

We took an overnight train to get to Chiang Mai from Bangkok. Sounds harmless, but no one expected it to be a 15 hr ride; we arrived 3hrs late! How does that happen when there's one track to follow? We stopped in almost every train station! The sleeper cabins (2nd class for us) were interesting . It's set up to sleep two people in bunk beds. During the day you sit facing each other, and at night the attendants (doing all the work for you) pull down the top bunk and push together the benches facing each other on the bottom to make the beds. Unfortunately they leave the lights on all night. Also, if you're sleeping on top, you feel every bump and sway of the train so much more; a sleeping pill is highly recommended! Also, there's a small grocery store in the train station in Bangkok where you can load up on drinks (beer!) and snacks. They serve meals on the train, but it's mediocre food at best!
Night train

Night train


 
Highlights in Chiang Mai

Elephant Conservation
There are several elephant conservation parks in northern Thailand, we went to the one in Lampang. It was awesome to see this incredible large animals, out in their natural habitat. We even got to ride them through the lakes and hills of the conservation. Elephants are still poached, mostly by the Chinese, for every part of their bodies, but especially the tusks. The thai consider the elephants a holy animal and the conservation uses all proceeds from visitors to rehabilitate them and care for them. Each elephant forms a bond with their trainer, able to recognize their voices and follow commands to start/stop, kneel and lay down. (they can pretty much perform tricks like a dog!) they can even learn how to paint! With repetition they can be taught to do incredible things. It was great to see so many healthy elephants in their natural habitat!
Elephant Conservation

Elephant Conservation

Khan toke Dinner & Show
- you arrive for dinner at 7. It's a beautifully decorated outdoor eating area; all seating on the floor (cushions provided)
- it's a set menu and the servers efficiently bring out a tray of food before you can get yourself comfortably seated on the cushions. 
- the meal is a taste of traditional northern Thai cuisine, consisting of 6-8 dishes. 
- right about the time you're finishing your dessert,  the show starts at 8pm
- It's a series of 10 thai folk dances performed by young men and women in traditional dress. 

We stayed at the Chiang Mai Plaza Hotel, which was perfectly situated walking distance to the famous night market. It's a lot like the weekend market in Bangkok, but it's completely outdoors and lit up with lights and lanterns hanging above the streets. Much of the same trinkets and clothing are available here as any other market in Thailand, so if you had doubts about buying that fake Chanel in Bangkok, you get another chance to make a decision here.

Thai Cooking class
What a treat!! Seriously one of my favorite parts of the trip. In half a day you learn to cook 4 traditional Thai dishes. Who knew one of the best meals this trip would be made by me! After scarfing down our meals we headed to the local market where we could buy all the Thai spices and ingredients to bring back home. I can't wait to cook these dishes for my roomies :)
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Doi Suthep Temple
Situated in the hills overlooking Chiang Mai, the temple's golden rooftop shines like a beacon over the city at sunset. It's a steep 12.5 km climb via car, then brave another 309 steps to the top of the temple. There's also an escalator-like system that will pull you up those stairs if need be. The temples are beautiful, especially at sunset. You also get the best panoramic view of the entire city.
Doi Suthep Temple

Doi Suthep Temple

Kids in traditional dress

Kids in traditional dress

309 stairs to the top

309 stairs to the top

Posted by Noemad 18:14 Archived in Thailand Tagged elephants chiang_mai cooking_class doi_suthep Comments (0)

Bangkok

The sights and sounds of a big city

sunny 38 °C

What are the chances that on a small group tour of SE asia with a major International Company (G-Adventures), 40% of the poeple on it would be from Romania? Talk about a small world, I feel like six degrees of separation is overshooting it by a couple degrees. Of the 10 people in our group, there's us 3 nurses; Mark, who owns a Nurse staffing business out of LA; a RO couple from Canada (Daniel and Mihaela); Mircea, a RO hotel owner from Costancza; Sam & Rachel, lovely young couple from the UK, and the only odd ball is Micheal: a retired Irish guy, who still thinks this tour will take him to Phuket.

Sights in Bangkok
Travel guides love to lure visitors in by describing the climate in jan/feb as "pleasant with little rainfall." So far, 98 degree weather has made it all but pleasant, I really wouldn't want to know what the rainy season (April -Oct) is like! But time is preciously limited, so we threw on some hats & sunscreen and braved the weekend market in the midday heat!

The public sky-rail station was easy enough to figure out and packed with other tourists and locals, a no-brainer for major sights in the city compared to taking the taxis that will try to rip you off.
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The weekend market was pure insanity. I've never seen anything more fascinating in my life. It's a giant market, with thousands of vendors selling everything from fake designer purses, to shoes, spices, meats and vegetables, dry goods and fabrics. You can have it all, and all for less than 3-5$ if you're brave enough to haggle the price, but that is the fun of it. IMG_2349.jpg

Claustrophobics should avoid this place at all cost; if not the scorching 98 degree heat, then the sights and smells will hit you like a 40 foot wave. Not to mention thousands of other people, locals and toursits, shoving and scurrying up and down the inner maze like they might get a prize if they can do it quickly enough. Weekend Market

Weekend Market

Klong Canals
A great way to see the city from the river. Though not evident in the city center, the floods definitely did some damage to the thousands of people who live on the river, in stilt houes. Many of them a re barely standing, there's lots of debris everywhere. We were told that 70 percent of the country lives in poverty, and it couldnt be more obvious than seeing those houses on the river. The middle class is only compirsed of 10 percent, and the upper makes up the other 20 percent. In the future its a great idea to bring a dry bag on this tour! there are many speedboats touring the river and the drivers don't pay too much attention to how close they get to another boat, or whether they splash you. Unfotunately one of our group members got soaked, including the bag holding an iPad and smartphone :(
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The Grand Palace
This was our first exposure to the beautiful temples of Thailand. First off if you ever visit, just know the dress code is strictly enforced: you have to be covered from mid arm down to the ankles (and tights don't count). Clothes are avaialable for rent if you don't come prepared! The Grand palace is where the king and queen live, so some areas aren't available to the public. It also houses the emerald buddah (actually made of jade). Thailand has had a long history of war and conquests with different parts of SE Asia, therefore it has had 4 capitals. Currently it's Bangkok. Each capital has temples built to out-do the others in size and beauty. The Emerald Buddah has also been moved from place to place depending on which city or land has conquered it most recently. It's kind of like a team mascot that keeps getting stolen for power and prestige.
Grand Palace

Grand Palace

Grand Palace

Grand Palace

Posted by Noemad 00:42 Archived in Thailand Tagged market bangkok weekend Comments (0)

Hello from Bangkok

sunny 30 °C

26 hrs of travel later, we finally made it to our destination: Bangkok, Thailand! It was as seamless as any trip that long could be. More on that later.

First let me introduce my lovely travel buddies:

Lisa -A CRNA originally from Connecticut, she just moved to FL 6 months ago and joined our Anesthesia group at Baptist. She's an avid traveller and didn't hesitate to join me on this trip half way around the world when she heard I was planning it on my own. I'm so thankful she did, because as "go with the flow" as I am, I probably would have shown up in Thailand without my necessary shots, malaria pills, or visas that needed to be arranged prior to arrival!

Kyle- Also a CRNA from CT, her and Lisa have been BBF's for around forever. She also jumped aboard easily and I met her for the first time at JFK airport on the 2nd leg of our trip. Randomly enough, we both have a sister 10yrs younger that we're super close with!

Well, it seems the three of us will get along just fine, we made a beeline for the closest bar and quickly bonded over two rounds of mimosas and bloody mary's at breakfast :)

A quick highlight of the ups and downs so far:

1. No flight delays! Everything ran according to plan and right on time.
2. We got super lucky with a kick ass flight attendant (Karen) on the longest leg of our trip JFK > NRT, a 14hr flight. Karen, was just as excited for our vacation as we were. She snuck us an entire bottle of premium champagne from first class. Followed by several rounds of Chardonnay, Jack and Sake. Unfortunately, and not that we were disruptive in any way - just...chatty -  But we did get cut off about 3hrs later by another flight attendant (the anti-Karen)  :-/
3. Ambien and Xanax made for great sleep aids. I slept a good 16hrs or more all the way over, waking up for some meals or drinks only. A great way to get ahead on jet lag!
4. We had a two hour layover in Japan, not enough time at all, but still a very cool airport. I've been very impressed with the orderliness of people's dress, friendly and helpful attitude and overall compassion with everyone we've come in contact with or observed in the airports.

One the other hand,

5. Yes well, I've had good luck in travel before, so it was bound to happen: Lisa and I's luggage somehow didn't make the transfer in JFK - All we have is our carry on luggage. We're told they got on the next flight and should arrive by midnight tonight (24hrs after us). Honestly even if it doesn't arrive, there's plenty of easy shopping here. The dollar goes very far! No wonder all our "designer" labels are made here! We took public transport, shopped and ate like lunatics; all for 30$!

All in all, not a bad start and happy to have arrived safely ;)

Posted by Noemad 07:34 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Ready, set, catch that cab to the airport!

So here it is, the final countdown. My bags are packed! All these quotes are swimming through my head like "It's not the destination, it's the journey..." (every anonymous traveller); yet I know that for the next 24 hours all I have to look forward to is http://theoatmeal.com/comics/airplane

Even then, there's nothing but excitement. It may only be 3 weeks, but no matter how much time it is you spend away from home, the outcome is an experience you never could have planned for. I'm excited to learn of new cultures, hear new languages, and most of all - eat some delicious street food - mystery meat? Bring it on! (~ my sis would not approve) But that's all a part of the experience, right?

I have never blogged before, so this will be a very new experience for me, but what I hope to get out of it is (in its most selfish form) simply a chronicle of what went down. But also, an idea of what life is like for those not living with the luxuries of american life. What are they doing to stay alive? Human trafficking is a term seldom heard and always associated with a shudder. Unfortunately it happens everyday - and YES, it's very prevalent in southeast Asia; it's also full force in our own backyards. I don't know exactly why, but this is a topic that really hits home. It seems so unjust that people should suffer the consequence of modern day slavery with so much of global networking going on. So, as best as I can with this experience, I would hope to shed some light on that part of travel which isn't obvious, but always hiding in the background.

Thanks for reading!

Noemi

"Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” – Miriam Beard

Posted by Noemad 18:54 Archived in USA Comments (0)

T minus 7 days til takeoff.

It's getting close and the excitement is definitely beginning to infuse its way into my daily thoughts and activities. This is by far the biggest and most planned trip I have yet to take. Twenty days away from the routine. Close to 60 hours of travel time round trip. No, I don't even want to think about the return trip yet, I just want to focus on the getting there.

I may be seven days out but I am very close to actually start packing. I may even try on every outfit just to make sure it fits the way I hope it does. One of my most unique and understated qualities is to underpack. Luckily I've never been in a situation where I missed any of the things I had decided to leave out of my suitcase. If I could take any trip with just a backpack, I would do so happily. Just think...No checking bags, bag fees, lost luggage headaches. No "Oh crap! I really wanted to read that book on the plane but instead its in my suitcase and I wont be able to access it til I'm at my destination, at which point I wont even need it because I will be too tired to read, and now its just taken up unnecessary space in my luggage." as it rolls away from you on the conveyor.
I have heavily considered bringing just a backpack and large tote even for this trip. But then I thought about how much shampoo I use with each lather and realized that sometimes that wouldn't be very practical for a 3 week trip.

Here's the short list of necessities already packed:

  • 30% Deet insect spray...stay away malaria-ladden mosquitos!
  • Camera - including extra sD card for all those pictures I just couldn't stop myself from taking but will erase when I get back.
  • Strei-Pen water sterilizer and TWO sets of extra batteries (clean water should never be underestimated)
  • Electrical outlet converter for Asia (crossing my fingers its the right kind)
  • A Smorgasboard of drugs. All necessary in the unfortunate event of unmentionable contractable diseases, and of course as sleep aids!

This sums it up nicely:

When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money. Then take half the clothes and twice the money. ~Susan Heller

Posted by Noemad 17:52 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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