Wednesday, September 29, 2010

alright now

After sufficiently stuffing myself with noodles and spring rolls in Vietnam, I headed over to Thailand to continue stuffing myself with more noodles and spring rolls. Really, you would think I would get tired of the ‘same same’ meals, but no. Authentic food always tastes best in the country it’s made in and I never plan on taking that for granted. Lord knows when I’m back in the States griping about the lack of spiciness and paying eight times the price, I’ll remember fondly the street pad thai, made fresh and delicious for less than a dollar.

For no one reason in particular, Thailand has always been my number one destination. Since I first split off form convention and dedicated myself to discovering the world, I said I’ve wanted to go to Thailand more than any other place. But even at that time, I knew it had to wait. I knew I would go when the Universe told me to, and I knew I had to actively work on my spice tolerance.

Thanks to the Food Network, I learned early on that Thai food has been considered some of the spiciest in the world. I was unfortunately born with a highly sensitive palate and could rarely take even the hint of chili powder. But when Thailand became my top destination, I knew I had to work on that. I purposely tortured myself with spicy food for years, thinking “it’s all for Thailand”. It soon became one of the top three on my must-do list: to eat Thai food with the locals and as spicy as they eat it. And six years after I began practicing, I was ready for the challenge.

And damn is Thai food spicy and delicious! While cuisine from the north to south is widely different, it all plays with a mixture of tastes: salty, sweet, sour, and spicy. What this means is everything you eat will be super tasty. But I’ve been insisting on spicy with every meal and have subsequently burned the taste buds off my tongue, meaning I now want everything I eat to be extremely spicy. Oops, overkill. But on the bright side .I accomplished my goal of eating like a local. And one papaya salad (the spiciest of all, yet continually makes my mouth drool like Pavlov’s dog just by writing it) was even finished without any water. None during or even after (I didn’t have access to it one time).

Luckily, pretty much every place in Thailand can make a mean pad thai. This means from 3 am street snacks to sitting at an actual restraint, cheap and delicious pad thai is nearly on call. And don’t forget the spring rolls, fresh fruit on a stick, or curries. Amazing food is so cheap and easy to come by, I have yet to eat a bad meal or break the bank. I suppose that isn’t a good combination for my waistline, but I’d rather blame the daily Chang beer.

I suppose before I indulge too much into the food (too late), I should continue with the storyline of my journey. The day we arrived in Bangkok it just so happened to be some Buddhist holiday (or so we’re told) which meant they were running a deal with the government tuk-tuk drivers. First, what’s a tuk-tuk?

Tuk-tuks are a cross between taxis and petty cabs; a driver on a motorbike pulls a covered cart that can hold approximately three people. They’re fun, cheap, and uber Thai. At first when the locals were coming up to us and trying to help without being prompted, we assumed there would be compensation involved. But no, the land of smiles has been running low in the tourism department; a combination of political strife and the world’s foul economy. Subsequently, both the government and the general population have tried their best to give tourists a great experience. And so far I’d agree that Thai people are a very warm, helpful, and friendly group of people.

So this first day in Bangkok we were aiming for a huge market that happened to be closed and all the locals were telling us about some holiday and a tuk-tuk deal. We had to grab specifically a government run tuk-tuk and for only 20 baht (70 US cents) we’d get a tour of the area, including all the temples we wanted to see. The only catch was we had to stop and look at a tailor’s and a tour agency, neither of which we wanted to see. The funny (and annoying) part was when walked out after not much time, we had to return later and agree to stay 20 minutes or else the driver wouldn’t receive his government funded gas money. (He had to get a signature from the agent we spoke with to guarantee he held up his part of the deal.) It was all some crazy scam, but not a scam at all really. Because we still got to see what we wanted to, had a personal chauffeur all afternoon, and all for super cheap.

That evening we were joined by the missing link friend, Dana, and our first night on the crazy Khao San Road ensued. Dana and I met in Malta and have probably spent more time together in different countries (four of them) together than in our own country. She is also a fellow Chico chica and that’s probably why we have so many hobbies in common.

Our night out though was nothing compared to the legendary craziness and drunken debauchery that is Khao San Road. During high season, it’s jam packed with lady boys, barmen shouting their drink deals, unending food stalls, and drunk farang (foreigners) having the time of their lives. It’s all a bit over the top, but something that must be experienced, that’s for sure.

During the day, Khao San is much calmer and great for shopping, but still a bit nuts. There food stalls remain as well as some crazies, but mostly the street is lined with vendors selling cute singlets (tank tops), jewelry, and kitschy stuff. But mostly great clothes and you can’t help but indulge in the cheap prices. But no matter how cheap something is, you always bargain for half, then work your way to the middle. It’s apart of their culture really, and if you don’t participate, you’re missing out. But there is only so much time I can spend at a market. Up and down endless isles of the same, same but different crap. People talking at you, pestering you to come over. It gets to be too overwhelming.

One of the night markets we spent some time in was interesting for another reason: the infamous ping pong show. What’s a ping pong show you ask? Well, you don’t really want to know. But since you asked…. There are these “sex shows” in which girls shoot ping pong balls out of their, umm, you know. Ho-hahs. Weird, right? Well that’s not all. These guys are constantly coming up to you in the street advertising “you want see ping pong show?” and holding out a (laminated?) list of everything his girl can do with their vaginas. I’m not even sure what they do exactly, because the list just read ‘cigarettes, fish, pool ball, razor blades, electric, etc.’. Electric? Electric what? And hamsters? Really? It gives me the creeps. Yet I’m not going to lie, I’m a little curious. I haven’t had the opportunity (or the stomach) to experience one yet, but wouldn’t cross it off my list.

The ping pong shows were at Khao San Road (obviously) as well as the night market, but oddly enough the market was set up on a street of strip clubs. And all their doors were open. It was weird, watching the girls lazily dance or just stand there staring back at you. I would wonder what they were thinking; what their lives must be like. And then I’d get distracted by a cute pair of earrings and continue along the market. It’s a crazy world, that is Bangkok. That’s why it was a good thing to get out of there in two days.

We quickly made our way to Sukothai, a town 7 hours north, chalk full of ancient ruins and oozing with charm. Maybe it was great because of the hostel we stayed in where it was quiet, comfortable, and had everything we needed. We were floored about the free bicycles to ride into town or out to the ruins, even though they were kind of jenky. Really jenky actually. In two days we used seven bikes, six of which broke down in some way or another. But if it wasn’t for that flat tire, we never would have had such a great encounter though.

After some Jimmy-guided off-roading, both Dana and I got flat tires in which we had to walk our bikes to town (not the most enjoyable task in the intense heat of the sun). But eventually after asking around, we found the bike fix-it shop where a wrinkled and hunched over little lady came out not saying a word. She directly put the bike on its side and ushered us to have a seat. She got to work right away, peeling off the tire, sorting out the hole, fixing it and blowing it back up. Even filled the other tire as well. The woman who fixed my bike was not as old, but just as quiet and mysterious as well. In a matter of moments our frustrating situation was fixed, and while I assumed they could charge us whatever they wanted, it was still only 70 cents. Amazing!

The ancient ruins of Sukothai were well worth the effort of getting there though. Stretched out over miles, a bike is best if you want see everything quickly. Plus, it’s part of the adventure. The monolithic Buddha statues have near but all crumbled down, yet their lingering grandiosity still leaves one with their jaw-dropped. Everyone who visits becomes mute as they individually wander around and snap as many angles as they can. Luckily, it wasn’t crowded so most of the shots are without people in them. Although, it did seem to be school field trip day… for everyone. All in all, it was an active, interesting, and fabulous day. But those don’t run dry in Thailand at all really.

On the last night in our new, sleek, and cushy bungalows, our roof started to leak. I was awake reading when I started to notice the foot of the bed sopping wet. It was storming outside and it must have been going for awhile. It wasn’t a big fuss; we just slept in another room for the night. But it’s the point that matters. Sometimes in life, a little rain must fall.

While traveling with Jim, Mandy, and Dana had been fun, it had also been at a much different pace and energy than I prefer. They had less than one month to spend in the whole of Thailand and I knew I’d be longer. So we parted ways after Sukothai, they to go camping, see Chang Mai, and then head south. I headed north to Pai, to figure out where I was going.

Now I already wrote a whole blog about the love that is Pai, but I could really continue into infinity. Now more than ever, being that I’ve spent two and a half weeks here. I find it frightening to think of leaving, so I just have to trust that I will be back. One day for sure, and two weeks won’t be enough.

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