Thursday, February 12, 2009

Last Stop: Thailand

On February 7th, I finally had four months worth of stuff—both brought and accumulated, packed up, had said good bye to all my friends in Colombo, told Velu how much I was going to miss his cooking and his company, and made my way to the airport for a 1:30am flight to Bangkok. I was on my way home via a vacation in Thailand (you know, because I needed a vacation after four months of loafing around Sri Lanka). My friend Cheryl met me at the hotel in Bangkok for the beginning of a twelve day stop-over in Thailand on my way home to Seattle. We were both really tired that first day in Bangkok; I hadn’t slept at all the night before because of the middle-of-the-night-flight, and Cheryl’s connection in Tokyo had been cancelled so she was actually late getting to Bangkok and had been traveling for a day and half by the time she got there. So we napped much of our first day. Eventually we got up though and made our way to a lovely Thai restaurant which had been recommended by two different friends and had a lovely dinner before heading back to the hotel. Really good Thai food here.

On our second day in Bangkok we made our way via taxi and river boat, to the Grand Palace, former royal residence and current Buddhist temple. Cheryl has never been to Asia before and while I had been to the Grand Palace a couple of times, it was really fun to go there with someone who had never seen any Asian temples before. We wandered around the palace grounds, checked out the jade Buddha and the other lesser Buddhas, took tons of photos of the various buildings with their crazy, gilded, tiled walls and details, and then made our way down the road to the temple of the giant, reclining, gold Buddha. I don’t know if that’s it’s official name, but take a look at the photos, what would you call it? After that we were tired and hot so we made our way back to our hotel for a rest and then got up and headed to one of the night markets in Bangkok to try and find some food on a stick for dinner. The market we ended up at (via sky train) wasn’t terribly exciting so we ate at a Thai restaurant that we passed on the way, no tourists in sight, and pretty good Thai food. Then as we were walking from the sky train station back to the hotel, we passed the kazillionth road-side massage parlor and decided we needed foot massages. These massage places are EVERYWHERE, and they are CHEAP, and they are NOT fronts for prostitution (although there are plenty of those two, although not right where we’re staying). We were in a room that looked like a hair salon except instead of hair cutting stations, the room had a long row of reclining chairs with footstools in front of them. We plopped in chairs, side by side, and the little Thai ladies went to work on us. What we expected to be a one-hour foot massage turned out to be a one-hour foot, leg, shoulder, back, skull, arm, and hand massage – for $9.00. It was a much slower walk back from the sky train station than it had been to it.

The next day we left for Chiang Mai. Chiang Mai is a one hour flight north of Bangkok, a great town that had been recommended by friends who had been here; it’s main draw for us was a Thai cooking class that sounded like a lot of fun. We arrived Tuesday and spent most of the first day just wandering around town. We passed a bunch of temples, walked through some markets, found the cooking school we wanted and signed up for a class, came back to the hotel to rest, and then made our way to the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar which is a bustling night-time market. Neither Cheryl nor I are much into shopping right now so it was fun to see the sights and the booths and all the crazy stuff for sale, but we didn’t buy anything, just ended up eating some pretty decent Indian food for dinner there ($6.00 for the two of us). On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at another road-side massage place and had much the same treatment as in Bangkok—a big open room, but thick, foam mats on the floor this time instead of recliners, some Australian dude on one side of me, Cheryl on the other, and again, tiny Thai ladies who started on our feet but worked their way up. This massage was more in the “Thai massage” style, in that it was very physical—basically the person giving you a massage is contorting your body into yoga poses while you lie there like a flounder. Frankly, this is the only way I ever want to do yoga. This was also a good massage experience but there was a bit too much chatter going on in the room for my taste. I like it quiet when someone is rubbing me all over. We paid $6.50 for an hour this time.

The next day was dedicated to the Thai Farm Cooking School. We were picked up from our hotel and driven about 30 minutes out of town to the school which is part of a small, organic farm. There are cooking stations for three classes of twelve students and we had a great time with all the people in our class. Our teacher’s name was Nice and she was a lovely young Thai woman who did a great job of conducting our class. One of the cool things about this particular class was that we got to choose the dishes we made from a small selection of options. Cheryl and I both made green curry with chicken, coconut milk soup with chicken, chicken with cashew nuts, pad Thai, and sticky rice with mangos. It was all delicious and fun – starting with our trip to the market where Nice gave us a tour of ingredients and shopped for our supplies. We were tired by the end of the day and since half our food was sent back with us as leftovers, we didn’t have to go out for dinner that night.

Which brings me to today… today we went to Tiger Kingdom. Cheryl has had a life-long dream to pet a tiger and here was the opportunity staring us in the face, how could we not? Tiger Kingdom is a place where you very simply pay to pet a tiger. You pay by size. I petted a small one ($15), Cheryl petted three different sizes ($30). And sure, arguments can be made that people should not be petting wild tigers, but the fact is these tigers are bred in captivity, raised by humans, are part of a zoo-breeding program, and exist in order to perpetuate the species. And yes, it’s possible that they’re all on giant doses of Xanax, and/or could rip our throats out at any given moment (Roy-style), but… we really wanted to pet a tiger, and managed to do so without getting maimed.

Tomorrow we head for the beach.