Third and final blog of the day


If everybody had a birthday party like the King of Thailand, every day would be a full out bash. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, having already seen what Bangkok is capable of, but this was slightly insane. I stepped out of the restaurant I had dinner at (amazing falafel and hummus) to a busy, but not-unusual Khao San road (where all the tourists congregate). A little farther down, though, I came to a stage where young Thai girls dressed up in fancy, glittering, traditional Thai costumes with perfect faces painted on, performed for a throng of foreigners and Thais alike. I was handed a yellow candle and soon everyone as far as I could see had a lit candle in their hand. After the performance was over I thread my way through the crowd thinking that I’d make my way back to the hotel. As soon as I turned the corner, though, I was met with thousands of bodies swarming the sidewalks and streets, white Christmas lights adorning everything, and fireworks going off above my head. It was crazy. I stayed for a little while to watch the fireworks, snapped a few photos, then squirmed my way between food vendors selling everything imaginable, men in pink shirts, and piles of trash waiting to be picked up in the morning.

It’s the kings birthday


Which means that entrance into all the temples is free, Tuk Tuk rides anywhere in the Old City are 20 baht (about 80 cents), the army marches down the street in full regalia (including 2-foot high furry hats), and everyone is walking around in pink polo shirts – apparently the color of royalty, resembling his good health.

I know I just posted a blog, but after being dropped off at 5:30 this morning and not being able to get into my room until 12 at the earliest, I decided to explore a bit. My plan was to go to Wat Pho, a temple that is also home to a massage school. I did make it to the temple eventually, but is was a circuitous route. Let me explain. About ten minute after leaving the hotel, I stopped on a street corner to consult my map and determine the best way to get to Wat Pho (which I knew included hazardous street crossings, traffic fumes, littered sidewalks, and hot, sticky air). I must have looked lost because a young Thai man came up to me and asked me where I wanted to go. He promptly took my worn map and circled several temples in the area and told me I should visit them because it’s the kings birthday, and they’re free to get into. Then he hailed a Tuk Tuk and told the driver to take me to the sites for 20 baht – no more. I spent the morning riding from one temple to the next (with several souvenir and tailor shops in between because the companies have a deal with the Tuk Tuk drivers if they bring tourists – we “only have to look – no buy”). After four different temples, I finally found myself at Wat Pho and said goodbye to my Tuk Tuk driver – giving him a generous tip that amounted to $3.50. The Wat is quite big and impressive and I was surprised that there weren’t many tourists. I spent about an hour walking around, but decided against the massage since I was hot and tired and wanted a shower more than a massage. So I walked back to the hotel and thankfully was shown to my room.

I’m already going through yoga withdrawal, so I’m meeting two friends tomorrow for a Mysore class at 9 and possibly for dinner as well, depending on what my Gap Adventures itinerary look like. I guess I’m back to my busy life!

Another Adventure


I’m sitting, once again, in the middle of nowhere on a pair of old car seats that have been reassigned as chairs. A mangy dog is sniffing for leftovers and sunburned tourists are snacking on junk food. I left Yoga Thailand at 12:00 this morning (afternoon?) after a last led yoga class in the shala and a brunch of fresh carrot-apple juice, corn pancakes with ghee and honey, and sweet fried rice with raisins. After saying goodbye to my fellow yoga teachers, I climbed into a taxi with four others headed to the ferry dock in Nathon. There I had to say goodbye to them as well, over mango and papaya shakes, since they were taking a train to Bangkok and I’m arriving by bus. Three of them are going north to Chiang Mai and Pai, then India, and one is headed to the Philippines and eventually South Africa.

The ferry ride was nice. An hour and a half of sitting on the deck with the sun shining down and little fish jumping out of the wake. I did some breathing exercises and before I knew it we were pulling up to the Suratthani pier. I boarded a large coach bus, which took us a hour to where I am now… Wherever that is. I was told a hour wait for the next bus that I’m hoping will take me all the way to Bangkok.

12 hours later…

Well I made it to Bangkok easily enough. Only one bus this time (compared to the four it took me to get down to Koh Samui). We were dropped off on a street corner at 5:30 in the morning somewhere in the city, so I was pretty glad that I had made a hotel reservation before I left Yoga Thailand. I climbed into a Tuk Tuk, still half asleep and took a short ride to my hotel, where I am now, drinking coffee and catching up on e-mails. I can’t get into my room yet since it’s so early, but I’m happy to relax until then. Tomorrow I meet up with my Gap Adventures group and begin my journey down south through southern Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia!

Paradise


Complete and utter paradise. That’s where I am. After a long and slightly sketchy trip south from Bangkok (I’ll explain more later), I arrived on Koh Samui, an island in the gulf of Thailand where my yoga teacher training will be held. I hailed a taxi and was relieved when he nodded and he said he knew where “the yoga place” was, because I wasn’t sure of the exact address. 20 minutes later I arrived in paradise. The friendly receptionists took my bags and sat me down at the desk to check in and a moment later I was handed a cold towel to wipe my face and a sweet refreshing iced tea. My room wasn’t ready yet, so one of the attendants showed me around the retreat. We passed a nice gift shop stocked with yoga clothes, mats, props, books, and some beautiful locally made jewelry that I might have to splurge on. Next on the right was the wellness center where we can sign up for massages, detox treatments, etc… They look tempting, but a little pricey after my 7 dollar foot massage. After the wellness center was the juice bar and restaurant/lounge. The juice bar offers (for an extra price) fresh juices, smoothies, whole coconuts with a straw and a few sweets. The restaurant is buffet-style and is open for several hours, so you can come and go as you want. There’s a nice open-aired place to sit with comfortable cushions on the ground that looks out over the ocean. Across from the restaurant is the yoga shala where I’ll be spending much of my time, I’m sure. And finally, just before you reach the white sandy beach lined with palm trees, there’s a blue tile pool with lounge chairs and a steam room.

Not having eaten a real meal since lunch yesterday (Cabbages and Condoms!), I browsed the buffet before choosing granola, homemade yogurt, and toast. It tasted great after having eaten greasy noodles and rich curries this past week. There were a lot of people milling about, so I introduced myself to a few. In all there are 39 students in the yoga teacher training course, plus more just here for a retreat. I met Caesar from Brazil who now lives in Australia, another video game programmer originally from New Hampshire, Eva from Holland, a girl from Ireland, and Janet, who happens to be my roommate as well as a massage therapist. She was born in Holland, but now lives outside of Banff.

Now when I say roommate, I mean we share an entrance and a bathroom. Oh, and a balcony looking out at the palm trees and water (are you jealous yet Mom?). Our ‘rooms’ are more like suites. There’s and upstairs, where Janet sleeps, and a downstairs, where I am. We have a refrigerator that gets filled with fresh water every day, lots of closet space, an outdoor shower, safes to lock our valuables, and a wooden Buddha at the head of our beds that gets illumined when we turn on the reading lights. I don’t even care that it’s raining out right now.

To take a step back, though, let me tell you about how I got here. I take back what I said about easy traveling in Thailand. It may be relatively easy, but it’s definitely not straightforward or fast. After being dropped off on a street corner last night and told to wait, I stood there for two hours with Ariel from Barcelona and Mark from England for the supposed bus that would take us south. After an hour I began to get worried, but then other (white) people started to arrive and I succumbed to the wait. At 7:15 the double-decker bus finally arrived and we all boarded and found seats. One advantage of traveling alone is that I usually get my own seat, which were actually pretty comfortable when reclined all the way. At around 11:30 we stopped at a roadside… restaurant isn’t the right word… for a half hour break, then got back on the bus for another few hours. I think I must have slept a fair bit because the next time we stopped we were told to get off and change buses. Since there were people going to several different places, they divided us up and sent us off in what seemed to be random vehicles. Myself and two other guys had to wait an hour before our minivan arrived. Then we were taken five minutes down the road and told to board another bus, this one full of travelers bound for the islands. An hour on that bus brought us, finally, to a dock where the ferry would transport us to Koh Samui. It was a nice ride even though the sky was grey and it looked like it might rain at any second. I sat outside on the deck and enjoyed the cool breeze and rocking of the waves.

We arrived in Na Thon just past 11 and I didn’t have to walk far to get a taxi. Like I mentioned before, he knew where I wanted to go and even the price was expensive (relatively, I guess. It was only $17), I was ready to be done with traveling.

So here I am now, resting a bit before we all meet in the yoga shala for introductions and an opening ceremony. Did I mention I was in paradise?

Cabbages and Condoms


I had a few hours to kill before I needed to head to the bus station, so I searched the guidebook for a nice place to have lunch. I found a restaurant called Cabbages and Condoms and of course I had to try it out. The restaurant was established by a sex-education/AIDS-prevention organization who’s mission was to make safe sex and contraception as easy and available as buying cabbages in the market. As I walked in I was greeted by mannequins dressed in clothes made out of condoms (one with a cape and C on his chest in a yellow triangle – aka Super Condom) and a Santa Claus made entirely out of them as well. Rubber covered globe lights hung from the ceiling and decorations such as birds and flowers adorned the walls.

The restaurant itself was a little more upscale than I thought it would be. I had anticipated it targeting more of the lower class people, but it definitely catered for the tourists and people with money to spend on a nice meal. It was still great, though. I had tofu and mushrooms in a curry sauce over white rice. My mouth is still burning!

(When walking back out I noticed a cafeteria-style restaurant for the locals, so that was good to see)

Out Of Bangkok


I have to admit, Thailand is an easy place to get around. I just had to learn to get off the roads and out of the traffic jams. This morning I took the sky-train to Lumpini Park in downtown Bangkok. Then, after walking around there for a bit and photographing a giant (although not nearly as giant as they can get) monitor lizard, I went underground and took the MRT (aka the subway) to the train station.

A modern, crowded place, full of Thais and foreigners alike, the train station offers service pretty much anywhere in Thailand and beyond. I was headed to Ayutthaya for they early afternoon, an hour and a half (and .50 cents) north of Bangkok. Ayutthaya was the Thai capital over 400 years ago. It served as the ruling center for 33 kings and several dynasties until 1767 when the Burmese ransacked and pillaged its temples and palaces. Now Ayutthaya is a place of ancient ruins, but still spectacularly beautiful and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991.

Along the way to Ayutthaya I saw first hand the extent of the flooding that occurred in then past few weeks. Trees stood in the middle of what looked like lakes and the roofs of buildings were just visible above the roiling surface of the swift moving Chao Phraya river. I thought it humorous when we passed a flooded field, then a manicured golf course surrounded by freshly dug ditches and sand bags to keep the water out, then more flooded fields. I guess they like their golf.

I arrived in Ayutthaya around one and crossed the busy street to the ferry dock that would take me across the river to the island of Ayutthaya. Today, Ayutthaya is actually a large, modern city. It’s spread out along the banks of the Chao Phraya as well as on the island where the ruins are located.

After a short ride, I arrived at the other side. The guidebooks say that the best way to see the ancient city is by bike, so I hired a green and white beach cruiser with a basket (I wish I had gotten a picture because I know I looked ridiculous) and was on my way. The first temple I came to was Wat Maha That. I was in awe. It was so amazing to see the tall, crumbling brick ruins and know that hundreds of years ago they were part of a resplendent city. Part of me wished I had stuck with my desire to be an archaeologist. I meandered among the ruins, taking photo after photo and climbing up and into the more preserved temples. In one, you could go down a steep staircase into what was probably a crypt, but is now home to a family of bats.

Back on my bike, I peddled to some of the other sites, each equally beautiful and each as breathtakingly majestic. All of the temples and palaces once had hundreds of stone carved Buddhas lining the walls, gracing places of worship, and overseeing entrances. But when the Burmese attacked, they cut off all the Buddhas heads because they believed it would weaken their enemies.
Only a few statues remain whole and others have the severed heads lying by their sides. In Wat Maha That there is a Buddha head entombed in tree roots.

I spent about 4 hours wandering among the ruins, biking over wooden bridges and admiring the beautiful sites. Then it was back to the train station and back to Bangkok for my last night in the city. Tomorrow I board a bus that will take me south to Surat Thani and then a ferry over to Koh Samui!

Rooftop Yoga and Bangkok Chaos


It was a long voyage from Portland to Bangkok (via Seattle and Korea), but I finally arrived at my hotel around 2:00 am this morning. The flights weren’t horrible, just long and tiring. I flew Asiana Airways, which is now my new favorite airline. The stewardesses handed out warm hand towels, slippers, nice blankets, and pillows. Plus there were toothbrushes and toothpaste in the bathrooms as well. The seats were comfortable and reclined far enough to feel like you were sort of lying down, but I still didn’t get much in the way of sleep.

Korea (Seoul airport) was interesting. There were so many people and they were all shopping. I couldn’t believe how many duty free, jewelry, and clothing stores there were and they were all full! I thought Americans were bad…

After a one hour flight, a 11 1/2 hour flight, and a six hour flight, I was finally in Thailand. A half hour taxi ride brought me to my guesthouse and I pretty much dropped my bags and fell into bed. I’m staying at a place a little farther outside the city center, but near the skytrain and bus routes. My room is a dorm with six beds, but it’s quiet and has air conditioning.

I woke up early (jet lag…) and made a few calls home, then I rolled out my yoga mat on the rooftop terrace and did my practice while looking out over the city. After a cup of coffee and some quick map studying down in the common area, I headed out to explore the city. Having a semi-destination in mind, i took the #44 bus into the city center. But then, having no idea where I was (and wondering how I would get back), I got off where a little old lady who spoke no English told me to get off – in hand gestures and Thai mutterings. I spent the next few hours wandering the streets, walking through open markets and trying to figure out where I was. Finally I hailed a tuk tuk and asked him to bring me to Khao San Road, world famous for its backpacker scene. Tuk tuk drivers have deals with tour agencies, so despite my arguments, I was taken to a travel agency “with no pressure to buy anything” before my driver would drop me off at Khao San Road. It worked out though, because I was able to buy my bus and ferry tickets to and from Koh Samui.

After walking around a bit there, I decided to go to the Grand Palace, a walled temple city not too far from where I was. The temples were beautiful, in a gaudy way, and the architecture and details were very impressive. I spent about an hour there and by that time I was starving (I had only eaten a banana coconut smoothie and some tofu on a stick), so I headed to May Kaidee’s vegetarian restaurant for an early dinner. It was so good – fresh spring rolls with a peanut sauce and a tofu peanut coconut curry over rice noodles. May Kaidee also does daily cooking classes, so I think I’m going to sign up for that on Wednesday. Full and tired I hailed a taxi to take me back to my hotel (too exhausted to try to figure out the bus system again).
The taxi ride turned out to be an hour due to traffic – but still only cost 7 dollars. Early to bed tonight, then tomorrow will be another full day – I’m doing a bike tour of the countryside around Bangkok!