Wednesday, August 28, 2013 0 comments

On the Mountaintop

I survived the trek up the mountain tired but no worse for wear. Unfortunately, walking to the shower building (down hill a bit) in flipflops did not go so well. 

It had rained a bit right after we arrived in the village, button the sun was shining on a beautiful late afternoon.  The paths, however, were still muddy.  I guess I stepped in a puddle; one second I was enjoying the view and the next I was sliding and falling.  I slid first into a small bush, but it was too flimsy to grab onto. I fell sideways off the trail about four feet down into the muddy courtyard of the village shop/someone's home, where a lady was busy giving her husband a haircut. 

Courtney, one of the other Americans, saw me go over the ledge from the bungalow porch and yelled down to ask if I was okay.  I could tell from the pain that I was not alright.  All of the others, except for Saori who was in the shower, and our guide rushed down to check on me. 

They tried to help me up tight away, but I was in too much pain to think of moving just yet.  Everyone started asking after my ankles and wrists, and considering the way I fell I'm surprised I didn't sprain a wrist.  I guess grabbing for the bush kept them out of the way.  The pain was in my back and sides; all the muscles in my lower back felt like one big cramp. 

Since I was content to stay in the mud a bit longer, Johnnie, our guide started collecting my scattered belongings.  I had had my camera out to take pictures of the village, and that had landed near me in the mud.  He found a rag and cleaned most if it off and tested it out to make sure it still worked.  It did, and thanks to his testing I now have two shots of me sitting in the mud.  I am refraining from posting those, though. 

I have always thought that if I was falling or going overboard, I would protect my camera first, tossing it to safety as I went.  Turns out when it really happens that the camera was left to its own devices to fall in the mud if it wanted.  I was too busy trying to figure out which way was up to even consider the camera. 

Finally I felt I could move, more because I knew I needed to get out of the mud than really feeling any better.  Johnny and Larry helped me to a chair nearby. I sat for awhile there.  The others finally left as the children wanted to give them a tour around the village.  Johnnie brought my purse in from the mud, and it turned out that I had ripped the strap clean off on one side.  Johnnie gave me a plastic bag to empty most of the stuff out of it; then he borrowed a sewing kit from the lady still calmly clipping at her husband's hair and sewed it back on.  He did a good job; it's held well.  I used baby wipes to clean some of the mud off of my purse, but it's going to take more than one round in a washing machine if it ever does come clean.

I finally got the energy to continue to the shower, where I washed as much of the mud off as I could with cold water.  I took a large dose if ibuprofen; as long as I didn't move I was okay. 

Later note: after googling my symptoms, I believe I had a lumbar sprain. It's when you pull or strain the muscles or ligaments that connect to the spine, and it's a common back injury. It is often caused by twisting badly, which is what I must have done as I fell.  It took nine days to feel somewhat normal again.  Thank goodness every pharmacy in Thailand has tiger balm and ibuprofen. 

Monday, August 26, 2013 0 comments

Evening in the Village

After our little elephant excursion, it was time fir the trekking part of our jungle trek.  I'd asked about it at the hostel, and she assured me it wasn't too hard, and not rushed.  I've always loved hiking and I've done a lot of it; I'm really trying to get back in shape because I love it but right now it's harder than it ought to be.  I prefer hiking alone, so that I can stop and take pictures, or rest if I want to without holding anybody up.  It's embarrassing to always be at the back of the pack. 

For some reason, I had an idea of winding around trees in a nice flat Amazonian type of jungle. I don't know why; I've seen a map of Thailand. 

Both misconceptions combined to make the trekking rather unpleasant.  It was humid, it was hot, and it was straight up a mountain.  And it was, all but a short section of clambering  over boulders, on a muddy access road. 

Fortunately, the group of people I was with were, although all super-athletic mountain goats themselves, were very nice about my slightly slower pace and were very encouraging.  It's just a bit embarrassing that I needed the encouragement in the first place.  Pride goethe before a fall, I suppose;  after hiking Yellow Mountain in July, I had been feeling in pretty good shape.  That wasn't too difficult at all.  And last October I did just fine at Jiuhuashan; but then again, I was alone there and wasn't comparing myself to anyone.  And it was a mix of up and down, instead of straight up like this one.

I am, as always, grateful I live on the fifth floor, because at least I get a lot of leg exercise that way.  It could have been much worse, since I live in a completely flat city. 

Anyway, we finally made it.  At least tomorrow will be all down hill. 

Our destination was a little village on the very top of the mountain.  There we found waiting fir us a thatched bungalow with pallets inside to spend the night in.  The front porch had a view out over the valley and surrounding hills that made everyone, once we caught our breath, start to feel that the long slog was worth it.

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Fried rice in a banana leaf

After our elephant ride, we stopped for lunch.  People have been carrying food since long before ziploc and tupperware, and around here the usual way is to wrap it in banana leaves. 

We unwrapped our banana leaves to find surprisingly good fried rice.  Along with it was a large platter of fresh pineapple, grown nearby.  It was some of the best pineapple I've ever had. 

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Elephants!

After the orchid nursery, we made another stop at a market, which had a convenience store as well as open stalls.  We stocked up on snacks and drinks and gawked for a bit at the various fried bugs and strange fruits for sale.  Now, we were finally headed to the jungle. 

As we drove further out into the countryside, we started to see elephant barns along the river. And  who doesn't like elephants?

We paired up-of course, Saori, the Japanese girl, and I were together since we were the only two single people.  She speaks some English, though not a lot.  Unfortunately, Japanese is a language I have no experience with.  I did learn that she is an occupational therapist from a small town I've never heard of.  She was also traveling alone.  I'm proud of her for that-it seems that most Japanese tourists I see travel in herds. 

Anyhow, we rode the elephants for a short trip down a very muddy road.  I road an elephant before in Laos, but elephants are always fun.  The best part was that the lead elephant in our group had a baby tagging along.  Adorable!

Monday, August 19, 2013 0 comments

The Best Ever

Okay, I've been traveling a long time.  I've taken more overnight trains that I can remember, ever since the days when we called them couchettes back in Belgium.  And that--it seems crazy--was nine years ago now.  I've taken them all over western and central Europe, and I've taken them around China and India.

But this...this is how it ought to be.  I'm in love with Thai railways.  The only bad part is that I don't have time to take more trains. 

To begin with, the seats, before being folded into the lower bed, were wide enough for two, which means that when folded out the bottom bunk is about the same width as a twin mattress, rather than the usual narrow bench that you have to wake up to turn over on.  Then, there's a foam pad that makes this bed softer than the hostel bed I've spent the last few nights in.  

The curtains are also a nice touch.  No lights in your face to wake you up, and actually a bit of privacy.  I have my cozy little cave.  

Sigh. :) 


Edit: I wrote this post in my little cave on the train. There was one little downside I realized later--because there were curtains, they never turned off the overhead lights.  The curtains weren't quite thick enough to block it out, so there was rather a blue glow...but still, really good night train!  
Thursday, August 15, 2013 0 comments

Wat Phra Singh

One of the most important wats in Chiang Mai is Wat Phra Singh.  It was established in 1345.  It is also the center of religious festivities during the Thai new year, Songkran, which is held in April. 
One of the temples has these life-size statues of famous monks who have served there.  They are so life-lime that they're creepy.  I almost wanted to touch one to make sure he wasn't alive, but at the same time I didn't want to just in case he was. 
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Chiang Mai

I spent my first full day in Chiang Mai wandering around the central part of the city, looking in shops and seeing a few of the many wats.
Several were very nice, although after seeing the grandest ones in Bangkok they had lost their wow factor. 
I'll post a few pictures of the biggest and most popular wat in the next post.
I made my way out by the east gate of the old walls, and found a plethora of restaurants.  There was a brand new Burger King, with the nicest bathrooms I've ever seen in a fast food restaurant.  I finally stopped to eat at a Mexican restaurant.  Yes, Chiang Mai is filled to the gills with backpackers, and the locals have figured out what they want.  And, rather surprisingly, my chicken burrito was really good. 
Wednesday, August 14, 2013 0 comments

Southern Food!

My first evening in Chiang Mai I went rambling around, exploring the area until I found somewhere that looked appetizing for dinner.  My turns-going whichever way seemed to have more traffic-took me out the north gate of the old city and across the canal.  I found (of course) a 7-11, and all sorts of sidewalk food stands. I know I probably should have been a good traveler and sampled the local food, but rice just wasn't what I really wanted at the moment.  I wandered along, and thought about stopping at a place that looked like some Thai version of hot pot.  It looked like a big production of a meal just for one person, though.  What else is down here?
Then I saw it.  "New Orleans Gumbo,Special! BBQ! Po'boys! Southern Cooking!"  I read all the signs outside.  It was a little place called Three Little Pigs
I went in, and immediately saw something on the menu that definitely sounded good.  Fried okra! I don't even know when the last time I had fried okra was.  I've never even seen okra in China.   
I ordered bbq pork, which was good but nothing to get excited over, hush puppies, which unfortunately turned out to be not that great (needed onion, notion), and the okra.  Thankfully the okra was every bit as good as I'd imagined it to be.  As a bonus, they had good sweet tea with free refills.  
Since I live outside the US, it's a special treat while traveling to find food from home.
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Another day, another bus

Moving on, a little further north.  Only about five hours this time, up to the backpacker haven of Chiang Mai. 
At the bus station, a huge portrait of the king and queen adorns the ticket hall;  the royal family is very popular here. 
Tuesday, August 13, 2013 0 comments

Sukhothai Part 5

From Wat Si Chum, I biked along some quiet country backroads past a few lesser known ruins.  This one in the pictures was especially crumbling, and the grass around it is kept short by grazing cows. 
Exhausted by a long day of exploring, I made it back to the bicycle rental place, which involved biking along the road with traffic, and they drive on the other side of the road in Thailand; it wasn't bad at all, though.
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Sukhothai Part 4

Just across the road from the ticket booth and entrance to the historical area, there are a couple of bike rental places.  For thirty baht (just under a dollar) you can rent a bike all day.  This is what all the guides I've read said to do, and they were right. 
The ruins at Sukhothai are of a whole city, so they are scattered out over a fairly large area.  It saved a lot of time to bicycle between the major clumps of ruins. Also, on such a hot day, bicycling means a bit of wind in your face, so it was nice to cool off a bit.  There were areas to park the bikes near the major temples, and the rental place provided a bike lock. They also let me borrow a small bungee cord to fasten the bag I was carrying my shoes in to the back seat, since the bikes didn't have baskets.
After I explored the main section of the old city, I biked out a couple of kilometers to the northern section of the ruins.  I explored several areas up there; the most important being Wat Si Chum, with its tall Buddha peeking out of a narrow door.  The buddha's hands are painted gold; you can see the pictures below. 
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Sukhothai Part 3

There are so many pictures I like from this day that I don't know which to put.  I know looking at someone else's vacation photos can get tedious, so I'll try to restrain myself.
One fun part of the day was meeting quite a few local 12-year-olds. A nearby school was on a field trip to the ruins. But not for history class-for English class. The students had an assignment to interview a certain number of foreigners, and where better to find them than at a famous historical site?
They practiced basic questions-what is your name? How do you spell that? Where are you from? What do you do? Do you like Thai food? They didn't know much else, but they were enthusiastic in accosting any foreigner who came by.  I did have longer conversations with a couple of the teachers. 
It must be a bit of a challenge for the kids, though, to hear so many different accents of English.  There was my American English, and I saw a British family, but it seemed that most of the tourists were French or Italian.  So the kids were getting English from those not too sure of it themselves. 
On a side note, I did really enjoy hearing people speaking in Italian.  I couldn't think of an excuse to talk to many of them, but just hearing was nice.  I miss speaking the language; I certainly haven't found anyone to talk to in Wuhan. It did remind me, though, how much my accent has suffered on the four years (!) that I haven't used it. 
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Sukhothai Part 2

As you can see from the pictures, the weather was absolutely perfect the day I went out to poke around the ruins of the old capital.  Blue skies and bright sunshine, crystal clear with no haze, and enough fluffy clouds to keep it interesting.
What you can't see, but can probably guess, in the pictures is that it was, as we say in the south, hotter 'n blue blazes. I don't remember what the weather channel said the actual high was supposed to be, but the heat index was 105. I went through several bottles of water, and successfully sunburned an outline of my purse strap across my front. 
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Sukhothai Part 1

http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/574
The ruins at Sukhothai are now a Unesco world heritage site.  If you want to read more about it, see the above link. 
Sukhothai is considered to be the first capital of Thailand.  The kings who reigned from the city controlled most of modern Thailand from 1238 until the last half of the 1400s, when the monarchy moved to a new capital further south at Ayutthaya. 
Now the old city is just a scattered collection of ruins, with crumbling brick columns and the remains if temples and large stone Buddhas.  There are remnants of city walls, as well.  The houses and markets were all built of wood, so it's only the important public buildings that remain. 
There is now a new town, New Sukhothai, about 12 kilometers from the ruins, which is where I stayed. 
Monday, August 12, 2013 0 comments

Thai Food

Trying another dish I've been seeing on menus...chicken in garlic sauce.  Yum.  One of the best things I've had yet.
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Lunch from 7-11

My lunch-two croissants with ham and cheese.  7-11 sells plenty of sandwiches and microwaveable dinners, and they even microwave them for you. These are pretty good. 
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Off again...

And I'm off again...still heading north.  About six and a half hours this time, from Bangkok up to Sukhothai to see the ruins if the old capital. 
I'm still rather amazed at how easy it is to get around here.  At bus terminals, the ticket windows are clearly labeled with the destinations, in both Thai and English.  The staff always speak a few words, at least, in English.  There are frequent buses to just about everywhere.  After being in Thailand, I understand why westerners are often advised to go to Thailand their first time to Asia; it is less of a culture shock thanks to the well-established tourist infrastructure and especially because of the friendly, no-hassling people. 
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7-11

It's unbelievable how many 7-11s there are in this country. Seriously, it seems you're never more than a five minutes' walk from one in town.  This one was across the street from my hostel in Bangkok; there was another just across the intersection (I guess it's too much trouble to cross the road?).  One night I walked about half an hour down the road to the night market, and I passed three more.  There were a couple in the other direction, going towards the river, too.  But, they all seem to stay busy. 
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Friendliness

I've been impressed with the taxi drivers and Tuk Tuk drivers here.  Well, they aren't all perfect.  There  are some who don't want to use the meter, so they can charge a bit extra. And there was that one who talked to himself and made weird noises. 
But when you walk by a tuk tuk, they ask if you need a ride.  When you say no thank you, they accept no for an answer and don't hassle. And a couple of times, I've told a driver no, and then he added where I was going anyways.  I was expecting then to hear a spiel about how. it was a long way, and I really should hire him.  But no-he just wanted yo help. He ggave me good directions, in English, on how to walk there.  Wow, usually drivers lose all interest in you once they realize they aren't getting a fare out of you.

Taxi drivers in China haven't been like that, although to be fair they might be if my Chinese was better.  Very few there speak any English at all, but many here do.  
Sunday, August 11, 2013 0 comments

Mile Map Hostel

So far on this trip, I have stayed in private rooms, because they seemed to be easier to find. However, I know I'd be staying in dorms at least part of the time to save money. 
I stayed in the dorm in the Mile Map Hostel in Bangkok. I knew I'd be there several nights, and the dorm was only about nine dollars a night. 
It's fun to stay in the dorm sometimes, especially when you've been traveling alone a while. People in dorms often introduce themselves and chat. 
I don't mind staying in the dorm;  it's just like camp growing up.  For those of you who haven't stayed in a hostel dorm, here's a couple of pictures from the Mile Map Hostel. 
 
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