Saturday, March 29, 2008

Thailand day 3- Chaing Mai

March 25.
I'm behind in this blog because of spotty Internet access. We were unable to go on our 3 day bike tour because Jurij was suffering in bed. Luckily they postponed the trip one day and let me go for a day trip. There was only one other person on the trip. A Danish gal named Kathrine. She was 37, cute, an engineer for an oil company and traveling by herself. She was strong on her bike and confident on the crazy one track and mountain bike trails ( I was not). I was even thrown off my bike once by a mean little pebble, luckily no major damage.

Before our ride we were taken to an elephant farm where we watched the elephants bath in the river and then perform some circus tricks. I felt a little embarrassed for these majestic creatures. But consoled myself with the fact that these elephant camps generate money from tourism to protect them. Elephants are endangered in Thailand with only 5000 left in the wild. There were also thousands of domesticated elephants that used to work for the timber industry. When lumbering was outlawed in 1989, these elephants were "unemployed" and homeless.
The elephant is the symbol of Thailand and after the show everywhere I looked, at the leaves on the trees, clouds in the sky, foods that I ate, I saw the shape of an elephant.

Before we left the elephant farm I caught a lizard. Yes I thought I am my brothers sister and was very proud. And then I saw the shape of an elephant on the lizards back...

Afterwards we visited a cave. It was well lit and contained your average limestone stalactites and stalagmites. The stalactites hang from the ceiling and the stalagmites grow up from the ground. This is a mental note to myself because I keep forgetting which is which! And yes I saw and elephant shaped stalactite. I've seen more beautiful caves than this one, like for example Carlsbad Caverns which is really one of the most beautiful caves in the world. But Carlsbad didn't have a Buddhist statue in every nook and cranny! I learned from the tour guide that the here to the left people make offerings to the lion statue for fertility. People make offerings to the different spirits that inhabit places and animals.

Outside the cave the cicadas were deafening. Where was the forest mute button? The sky was clear but felt a mist while walking under a tree. Not a rain cloud in sight. Then I learned from a monk that actually I was just peed on by one of those noisy cicadas. Some nerve.

This reminded me that I needed to use the "bathroom". Really, squatting over a hole is easier on the back.

Finally we began our ride in the heat of the day, 2pm. We covered only 25 miles on either paved roads through farmland and rice paddies or dirt paths and one track mountain bike trails. We rode through a village that looked like it hadn't progressed on a 1000 years. Except some of the women sold me souvenirs that were definitely made in this century!

The scenery was beautiful but I think it was 100 degrees and humid out. The forests around us were burning from slash and burn agriculture and the sky was gray from the smog. When we finished the ride, I looked up at the sky and saw that it was raining ash. For the first time since I lived in NYC I felt asthmatic.

Perhaps it was for the best that I could only ride for one day.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Thailand day 2- Chaing Mai

After stuffing myself silly with an extravagant hotel breakfast Jurij and I set out for a day on the town. I saw my first lizard half a block from the hotel, some sort of anole like creature. I was very excited. Its very hot and humid here and we need to consume a bottle of water for every block we walk or else we might pass out. The streets are bustling, lots of concrete and dirt. It reminds me vaguely of the Bowery or Canal st. in New York City where you can see piles of products stacked everywhere inside the open store fronts and that are bursting out into the street. I'm fascinated by the "telephone" poles along the street. Hanging from them are more than just the one telephone wire that we are used to in America or Europe. The wires hang like hair knotting and bunching around each pole. Again I feel like I'm in some distopic blade runner scenario.

Its strange to be in the minority as a white person. It makes me want to yell hey bro! Hey sis! every time I pass a white person on the street. There's this awkward dialog we say to each other with our eyes while we pass, "ya were tourists too and were white too but this doesn't mean we have to be friends, be friendly and start a conversation". Perhaps I'm just unfriendly

I'm still amazed by everyone wearing loose flip flops riding motorbikes. I'm surprised that there aren't lost flops littering the street.

Jurij and I walked the streets, saw a couple of Watts, or Buddhist temples. We had a bite to eat at a restaurant catering to an international crowd. On the menu next to the Pad Thai and curries was a club sandwich.

At on Watt you could talk to monks. They like to practice their English and answer questions about Buddhism. We talked to 2 young monks in their early 20's. The one said to me that one of their purposes is to spread the teachings of the Buddha to the common people. When I asked him what the major tenants of Buddhism were, he just smiled and said um. Then a gust of wind tore up our conversation and that was the end of that!

There was a garden by the Watt with sayings tacked to the trees, like Time and tide wait for no man and good to forgive, the best to forget. Sometimes I thought ya totally dude, other times I thought the saying were complete its good to forgive and best to forget!

We could here the monks chanting from the garden. I think I might have even like had something like a spiritual experience. Its very peaceful here.

In the evening we walked around the night bazaar. Carts with goods line the streets from 6 to 11pm. Its mostly tourist crap selling the same stuff, knock off purses, stupid tee shirts like the one that said "i pood" and a picture of someone on the toilet listening to music. But every once in awhile you would find a real artisan or artist selling there wares and that was something to look out for.
We went to sleep early in a city that never sleeps. The 7-11 on every corner is open 24 hours. Businesses are open 7 days a week and all night long. Not like Germany where everything closes at 8pm and on Sunday!

Jurij is still sick. I think he has the flu. And our room number is creepily 911.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Thailand- Chang Mai

So hi everyone. Its been awhile. Today is the first full day of Jurij's and my 2 week vacation in Thailand. We got a nice direct 9 hour flight on LTU from Munich to Bangkok. We spent a couple hours at the lovely modern Bangkok airport before flying to Chaing Mai in northern Thailand. Its wonderful to see palm trees and feel the heat and humidity. Our hotel picked us up at the airport which was really nice. After such a long trip it was great not to have to think about directions. They drive on the "other" side here. The drivers seat is on the right. It feels very strange like we are going to crash into every oncoming vehicle. Remember Barbados Molly?! We are in the minority driving in a car. Most people ride motorbikes. An entire families, small children smooshed in between parents without helmets were the norm on the bikes. It gave me a heart attack just to watch them! Also on the road were many tuk tuks, basically a motorbike taxi with roof and two seats in the back. We passed many street markets, even the fruit is arranged differently. The place is so exotic I felt like I was driving through the set of the Blade runner or my crazy Asian dream last week. Its a bit unnerving when the atmosphere of your dream becomes reality! Except I think all the street advertising in my dream was in Chinese and here everthing is in the Thai script and in English thank god. Im realy glad English is my first language. It really makes it easier to get around the world.
The hotel we are staying at, D2, is the most amazing hotel Ive ever been to. Visually its beautiful, very modern, simple, elegant. stylish. It would fit in very nicely in Soho or in a spread of architectual digest. The room comes with all kinds of toiletries and various products I can take home. Like the nice umbrella with D2 written on it. I love all the goodies! The service is totally amazing. Its great to be pampered right now because Jurij is in bed with a fever and muscle aches. I think he got sick the moment we stepped into the Munich airport. The staff has been very helpful with bringing us extra blankets, bottled water and dinner to our room. They drove me to the pharmacy to get drugs for Jurij. They talked to bike tour people for us and helped us sadly cancel our 3 day bike tour. Did I mention they have this fantastic chic restuarant here witht he most amazing food. I had the best Thai food ever last night. Also breakfast is included with the stay. Breakfast was a real wowzer. It was a Thai/American/ German buffet. Eggs any style, banana pancakes, waffles, french toast made to order on the spot. Cheese, cereal, fresh fruit, delicious pastries, juice, smoothies and great coffee. I just wanted to sit there and eat the rest of the day. Did I mention how friendly the staff is? Everyone is smiling. When you greet someone you bow slightly. press your hands together and say Sawadee ka if your a woman and Sawadee krap if your a man. Its very nice. I like it. I havent stepped outside the hotel to experience Chaing Mai yet except for the car rides but already I feel like yes I could live here for a couple years. I think every 2 years one should move countries. Newness in someway is necessary for the soul. Hopefully Jurij will feel better soon so we can go out and explore. If not this hotel with its free internet, and its free happy hour with drinks and appetizers between 5 and 7 and the pool and spa on the second floor that I have yet to visit and the talkative English spreaking staff and guests will keep me contented for now. But soon I think I will have to get out and walk around.