northern thailand

Monday, November 23, 2015

This is the fourth installment of a series of travel blog posts adapted from my journal I am sharing from my time spent traveling around Asia this summer. If you wish to start from the beginning or check if you have missed out any, you can view them as a set here. The photos published in this blog post are only some photos taken throughout my trip, so if you wish to view more photos (including unedited ones), you can find them on my Facebook page here.

(July, 2015)

The week has been all sorts of exhausting and eventful; I have been in three countries since. Kiat and I spent our last day in Manila wandering among the slums of San Juan with Riza and visited the San Juan cemetery and went out at night with Erika, Jane, Christian and one of their friend whose name I have unfortunately forgotten. We had an early flight to catch, and so we decided to go clubbing before catching my plane in the morning with Kiat. Kiat and Gelo were supposed to come with us, but they were not feeling well so they rested at home while I came back home with Erika and friends drunk. I hazily booked flights to India at four in the morning, and then Kiat and I left Manila.

We flew to Kuala Lumpur for a layover after some delay at the decrepit Manila airport. We were completely worn out upon arriving in Chiang Mai, so we decided to take our first evening in Thailand easy. We walked along Watrotrot Market, famished but unable to find a decent eatery within the midst of countless food stalls. We really wanted a huge meal instead of street snacks due to our state of starvation, but we couldn't find food so eventually gave up walking and hired a tuk-tuk to the Night Bazaar Market Place where we finally settled down after finding an empty restaurant with the cheapest food prices in the Market Place. It was an empty eatery, and our server is an immigrant who came from Pakistan and spoke four different languages, including English, Malay and Thai. We both agreed that the fried rice we had in that eatery was hands-down the best fried rice we had ever tasted in our lives, and it cost less than $2.

We spent the next day, our first official day in Chiang Mai exploring the city, visiting the temples, and being scammed by a tuk-tuk driver. He approached us outside a temple innocuously and offered to take us on a tour around the main city area to visit the sights and the temples. We were free to stop whenever we wanted and for as long as we wanted, all for 400 baht, which is about $11. We thought it was a a good deal and he seemed trustworthy and friendly, so we agreed. It was too hot and it seemed like a good alternative to spending the entire day walking around the city. However, we were conned as he decided to take us to tourist trap stores selling leather, jewelry, pottery, silk, cloth, gold, and silverware instead of seeing the temples and sights that we had agreed to. He brought us to a couple of temples, but he was grossly impatient with us and I was just feeling uncomfortable the entire time I sat in the back of his vehicle. It was difficult to be all right with a stranger taking you to places I didn't know of in a new city that I have never been to. I was trying my best not to panic in the backseat with Kitty by my side. Kitty's equanimity helped me maintain my composure.

Ted, a schoolmate of mine in SUA arrived in Chiang Mai later that night from Chiang Rai, Thailand. Ted is a Vietnamese student who, like me, is an international student in California, and he was spending part of his summer volunteering in Northern Thailand, so we had planned to spend the weekend together. We had initially planned to arrive on the same night, but things didn't work out as planned. I consoled myself by looking forward to spending the next day with Ted too, but once again, we failed to spend time together in Thailand although we were in Chiang Mai together at the same time and Ted had slept in the same room as Kiat and I in our travel lodge. But we promised to meet up in Vietnam in August, so that was my final consolation.

It was our third and final day in Chiang Mai. It seemed like such a short time to spend in the city, but Chiang Mai was tiny and I only wanted to travel in Northern Thailand as I have visited other major cities in Thailand like the capital, Bangkok, and its idyllic southern islands. Kiat has also been to Thailand, so he wasn't too excited about it. We began with our day to the National Park of Chiang Mai for an elephant ride. We bathed the elephants, fed them, and rode them. Riding an elephant was a thrilling and frightening experience, something we completely did not expect. I don't know what Kiat had expected, but I had imagine an elephant ride to be smooth, calm, and relaxing. But it was the complete opposite. Kiat and I, two grown ass men, were screaming constantly and holding each other in terror. I was cold-sweating the entire time and nearly cried. I even felt my heart about to jump out through my throat a couple of times. I definitely do not recommend elephant-riding for the weak-hearted. 

I was really excited about elephant-riding and it was one of my main motivations for wanting to visit Northern Thailand. By the time we had completed our elephant-riding journey in the trail however, Kiat and I felt an almost overwhelming remorse over the elephants, who were whipped continuously throughout the journey. Our elephant, was whipped more frequently, as it was older and grumpier, and unwilling to co-operate with its trainer. We wondered how the elephants were treated when tourists like us weren't around, then I realized that these elephants were made to have these tourists like us sit on them, one ride after the other, probably everyday for the rest of their lives. And then I felt completely disgusted with myself for supporting this negative aspect of the tourist industry and decided to be more conscious, critical, and wary of the activities I engage and participate in when I travel, and how my actions, although seemingly unthreatening and innocent, could be deleterious in many ways that may not be exceedingly apparent.

We returned to the Old City of Chiang Mai for lunch, when I had finally tried the traditional Thai dish, mango sticky rice, for the first time in my life before heading up to the mountains to visit the highly renowned and revered Wat Doi Suthep Temple. We were supposed to meet Ted there, but we missed him due to rain, and had no way of contacting each other, so we spent the night having dinner with two Californian girls our age we met in our hostel - Hayley and Caitlin.

On our fourth day in Thailand we did a guided group tour to Chiang Rai. I typically do not do guided tour, but it seemed like a good deal, it was easy, and Kiat wanted to do it. So we thought, might as well try it. They took us to a hot springs location, the eminent and pristine but ominous and disturbing and also a little satirical White Temple in Chiang Rai, and some local village tribes. I found the entire tour an abominable tourist farce, especially the White Temple, but I shouldn't have expected something else from a cheap group tour. I spoke to a classmate who also visited Chiang Rai with her mother a couple of years ago, though, and she offered a different opinion on her experience and it allowed some cutback in my disparaging judgment about Chiang Rai. But we also visited the famous Golden Triangle, where Laos, Myanmar, and Thailand meet, which was nice. Thailand was so pleasant that it felt good to be in that country anyway.


Wednesday, November 11, 2015

This is the third installment of a series of travel blog posts adapted from my journal I am sharing from my time spent traveling around Asia this summer. If you wish to start from the beginning or check if you have missed out any, you can view them as a set here. The photos published in this blog post are only some photos taken throughout my trip, so if you wish to view more photos (including unedited ones), you can find them on my Facebook page here.

(July, 2015)

Erika, Kiat and I travelled from Manila to Kalibo by plane before taking an unexpectedly long van ride followed by a short boat ride to arrive in Boracay. Kiat and I were worn out by our travels that we slept through our entire journey from Manila to Boracay, but we were wide awake with excitement when greeted by the renowned clear waters of the island. We had finally arrived in Boracay! Needless to say, we were all super excited about spending the next couple of days on this island. We've heard about Boracay so much that the reputation and name precedes the place itself. What did Boracay have to offer? 

Well, for starters, I wasn't extremely thrilled about the weather. I'd assumed the weather would be really great and sunny, since it was, you know, well, an island. And also because it was also summer! However, due to my lack of preparation and research, it was actually monsoon season in the Philippines and I had failed to consider that or prepare for that. So that meant typhoons and thunderstorms instead of idyllic sunny days by the island beaches. Welp. (I screwed up similarly when we started our trip on Gili Trawangan, another island in Indonesia where I planned to began with by partying hard but I went there during their villagers' fasting month Ramandan, failing to consider the timeline and the culture of the people in that country. This time I failed again with the timeline by failing to consider the seasons. Lessons you learn.)

Anyways, the skies were all grey and cloudy, which would have been less of a big deal if it was in huge, depressing cities like London and Paris...but this was Boracay. So I was really bummed and a little mad at myself the entire time, but thankfully I had my friends with me to make it a ballin time despite that. We got in pretty late the first day and didn't do much, but we went on a snorkeling trip on our second day! Erika caught her first fish after becoming Kiat's fishing disciple, while I succumbed to impatience and frustration, as usual. I didn't have the patience or chill to fish, and I still really don't. We also ate a whole bunch of free food despite being really broke (thanks to the travel package deal Erika's lovely and resourceful Aunt manage to get us). We walked for like an hour around the island to try to find this restaurant bar where we could get free pizza with a voucher from our tour packet, despite our starving tummies because I was really broke. Erika and Kiat ordered food which took forever to come, and when the food did arrive, they were not palatable, especially for Kiat. Kiat did not like the chicken rice at all. He made sure the chef knew.

Erika and I also got cocktail even though it was 5p.m., because it was happy hour and because why the fuck not when you are on an island. I convinced her to try a Long Island, which I loved, but she wasn't a huge fan of it. Erika took a couple of initial, hesitant sips and thought it was too strong, so she finished the rest of the cocktail in a gulp, like any person would. Erika also got the runs from trying street food, since she had copious amounts of it. I didn't have much of because I wouldn't have eaten them even if they weren't street food (and we prepared the way I was used to). They were just food I wouldn't eat because I'm not a fan of seafood or intestines. But Erika loved them and she started feeling unwell so we went back to the hotel to shower and relax and then swooned over how perfectly compatible Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield were and that they should have lasted together forever.

We decided to get some food since it was getting late, and we were going to go to this place that was a few minutes' stroll from our hotel. But it was storming torrentially, so we got entirely soaked from head to toe, in every sense possible. It was a fancy little eatery, and everyone in there with their nice little clothes and forks and spoons just stared, or even glared, at us incredulously. We were a bunch of inappropriately drenched teenage brats, and we should not have been in that restaurant the way we were. It was really awkward. But I couldn't give a fuck, because honestly who gives a shit. I walked in anyways, with my twisted, rolled up Nirvana tank (with the sleeves cut off), folded beach shorts, bandana on. We sat on the bars, unbothered, unfazed, and ordered our cocktails. Erika ordered two of the strongest cocktails, didn't finish her dinner, downed them drinks, and headed back to the room. Boracay was a short adventure.

We headed to Kalibo the next day and had an unexpected long time to spare there, since our flights were cancelled several times due to weather conditions. I knew it couldn't be helped, but that didn't sit well with me. Being the brat that I am, I just sulked and had a terrible time in the shitty Kalibo airport. I was in so much agony that I had to call my best friend in Singapore to tell her how terrible of a time I was having. She let me know that I was being a fucking ingrate, which is why you have best friends - to remind you that you're extremely fortunate and you need to stop being a brat. I felt better after that, and we paid this trishaw driver to take us around Kalibo. 

I was really not interested in Kalibo, it seemed like a dead ass boring town with nothing at all. There was not even a convenience store. But like, we had a couple of hours till our flight right, so why the fuck not since Kiat and Erika were paying. But I actually enjoyed it. In fact I had a hella great time. Sitting in the back of the tiny trishaw going no faster than the average speed of a bicycle, we breezed through the lazy fishing village of Kalibo, visiting parts of the town typically unvisited and unexplored by most tourists. Our trishaw uncle took us around the village, driving aimlessly. We just went wherever we wanted and stopped whenever we wanted. We stopped and sat by the ocean, by a lake, and by a straw hut of a village where I made eye contact with a little girl who elicited a smile from me. That girl returned the favor before allowing me to snap some photos of her, before I walked away as she ran back into her house. She resurfaced momentarily with her mother, which prompted me to change my mind and turn around to say hi. Erika was with us by this time, aptly so, as she started conversing with them in her native tongue. 

That little girl was named Ardilla, and she was four. Her convivial mother invited us into her house, which I'd initially declined out of respect, fear of imposing them and missing our flight. But Kiat had joined us by this time and decided to enter, so we followed suit. Erika remained her usual endearing self, chatting animatedly and unreservedly with Ardilla's mother as Ardilla stepped into the kitchen to show me some of her doodles and drawings. She showed me a drawing of a flower pot, and I nodded to show my approval before taking some more photos of her as she sat silently atop the kitchen table.

Our short, unexpected time spent in Kalibo was so bomb I was even feeling poetic without being high. Words were forming in my head again as I watched the village of Kalibo slowly drift by while I sat at the back of the trishaw. I just sat and watched. A girl running into her house with the ends of her little white dress flying up. A little boy making his way home from school, dragging his school luggage along the unpaved road with one hand and licking the ice cream stick on the other hand. A young teenage couple strolling quietly alongside each other, shoulders just a mere inch apart from each other under an umbrella, although it was neither raining or sunny. An old man standing on the porch of his handmade hut, staring out into his surroundings. A group of kids sitting on a bus stop enjoying their ice cream after school. These were the things I saw on our short ride back to the Kalibo airport from the village. This was a quiet town, still and unmoving except for the lives of its inhabitants. Their lives revolve in this peaceful town, and we were mere passerbys who happened onto this town and received a rare glimpse into their lives because of a delayed flight.