Phuket, Chiang Mai, and Pattaya

Phuket

Phuket is a province of Thailand that includes the country’s largest island (51 km or 31 miles long & 20 km or 12 miles wide), as well as some other smaller islands in its vicinity. From Bangkok it’s a quick hour-long flight, and the airport at Phuket is very close to the resort where Sean, Tori, Kitty, and I stayed over four days at the end of October. We got to stay at the JW Marriott, which is absolutely gorgeous. It was a very nice escape from city life.

Something I really enjoyed about Phuket is that just by chance we planned our vacation there during the Phuket Vegetarian Festival, which is a really big deal for Chinese and Thai-Chinese Buddhists. For nine days, they purify themselves by eating a strict vegan diet, wearing all white, and abstaining from smoking, drinking, bad language, and sex. Sean and I were able to attend one night of the Vegetarian Festival in Bangkok’s Chinatown just a few nights before we left for Phuket.

In addition to the FABULOUS food (of which I can eat it all!), there are some big events that take place — fire-walking, jamming swords through their lips and cheeks (to redirect evil spirits, of course), and bladed ladder-climbing. I printed out a schedule of these events before we left, and we planned to be able to see the bladed ladder-climbing on the night we took a taxi to Phuket City (about 40 minutes southwest of our resort). It was quite a spectacle. The giant crowd outside a beautiful and ornate Chinese temple was enough to excite me. (I have a thing for big crowds. Poor Sean…hates ’em. He made it his mission to get us a cab to get back to our hotel after the ladder-climbing, thus avoiding the crowds and ensuring that we’d make it back! We’re a good team.) Tori, Kitty, and I found a good place to watch the Buddhist monks climb a giant ladder whose steps were actually knives. It was pretty wild. They have some good techniques for distributing their bodyweight on those blades.

After being completely worn out by all the walking, crowds, heat, rain, and bladed ladder-climbing (not to mention the frightening ride back to the resort with a cabbie who was either on drugs or needed his fix), we were all very thankful to have non-street-food, hot showers, and a fancy resort to chill out in for the next couple days. The four of us did yoga in a gazebo, we ordered coconuts and pina coladas poolside, swam, went on beach walks, saw a baby elephant playing in the waves, and chased after sand crabs on the beach. The ocean had jellyfish, so we had to be careful, but they weren’t enough to keep us out of the 84-degree (28) Andaman Sea. Oh how I love swimming in the ocean!

The morning of the day we left, I went on a morning jog with a couple other hotel guests. It was a run organized by the resort gym. It was fun to get some fresh morning air at the coolest time of day (it may have been under 80/27!) and I saw a couple scary-looking monitor lizards near a pond.

Overall, it was a fun vacation. We were glad Tori and Kitty were able to see a Thai beach, and it was good for them to be able to relax before taking off for Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

Chiang Mai

Tori and Kitty flew back to Bangkok from Cambodia on a Friday afternoon. As soon as they landed, Sean and I were at the airport with Tik, the driver, and he drove the four of us from one airport to the other. Bangkok traffic on a Friday night really could have messed with our plans to drive across the city to make our flight, but we miraculously made it!

Chiang Mai is a province 700 km/435 miles north of Bangkok, and it’s the largest city in Northern Thailand. It’s surrounded by Thailand’s tallest mountains, and it has an awesome history. It was once the capital of the Kingdom of Lanna, and to this day its Old City is surrounded by a moat and a wall.

 

I have to admit something here. On the plane to Chiang Mai from Bangkok (another quick hour-long trip), I was in tears. It had been a busy week, we had barely unpacked from Phuket, my students were coming back from their 3-week holiday that following Monday, and I was more homesick than I had been thus far. So what was meant to be a weekend packed with outdoor adventure became a weekend of R&R. In addition to feeling homesick, I started suffering from tendonitis in both hands/arms, so though we were planning to go on an elephant adventure with Tori and Kitty, we ended up eating pancakes instead. All in all, it was a wonderful weekend, but Sean and I both feel that we need to go back up there to get the full Chiang Mai experience.

So while I didn’t do everything I had envisioned, I got to know Chiang Mai enough to know that it is a really cool place. The four of us noticed immediately upon exiting the airport that we could breathe! Yes, there is fresh air in Chiang Mai! We got a taxi to the Libra Guest House (recommended to me by a co-worker), and settled in for a good night’s sleep. The Libra Guest House, while hospitable and convenient, is a far cry from the JW Marriott. The bed was hard as a rock and the bathroom was a stark cement room with a toilet and a shower with no bathtub, door, or even a curtain in between. It felt a little like prison, but for $15/night, we figured we’d live.

 

The first morning we stumbled upon the best banana pancakes in Thailand, served alongside the best coffee in Chiang Mai. Their sign said it, and we can now attest to it. Excellent pancakes with coffee roasted on site, the Libernard Cafe is somewhere we will certainly visit again. The cafe is the patio of an elderly man and woman’s house, which made it very homey and comfortable and welcoming. Needless to say, we went there for both of our two breakfasts in Chiang Mai.

On Saturday afternoon, we took a “taxi” (really it was just us sitting in the back of a pick-up truck; they gave us little bench seats and handles) up to Doi Suthep, which is a mountain with a big temple on top. It was a beautiful temple with a spectacular view of the city. I also met some Spanish tourists, so I was happy to practice some espanol in Thailand! We saw little girls dancing a traditional hilltribe dance, and we enjoyed being in the mountains. Living in Bangkok is making me want to live somewhere rural more and more!

  

 

 

On Saturday night, we found a really tasty vegan restaurant. They make fresh-squeezed juices, excellent spring rolls, and really good curry and other Thai dishes. We then went to the night market, which was pretty cool. I’ve gotten a little sick of the heat and crowds and same old stuff of Thai markets, but this one had some nice things. The best market was the Sunday evening one that we went to the following day. I bought a few things there, and really enjoyed the atmosphere more. Maybe because we went a little earlier than all of the crowds, and also because Chiang Mai is known for its artsiness.

On Sunday after pancakes, Tori and Kitty went on their elephant adventure. They got to bathe, groom, and ride elephants. Sean and I talked and read and enjoyed coffee until the early afternoon. It was nice to sit still for a while. We then went for a walk to check out more of the wall that surrounds the Old City, and we took a tuk-tuk to get all the way around. We saw kids jumping off part of the wall into the moat to cool off. Once reunited with Tori and Kitty, we treated ourselves to blissful foot massages and fresh coconuts. The prices in Chiang Mai are much friendlier than in Phuket. We got fresh young coconuts on the street for less than a dollar, and our foot massages (1 hour) were about $8 including tip.

Before dinner, we perused the market I mentioned above, and for dinner we had Burmese food. It was a lot like typical spicy Thai food, but hotter…if that’s even possible. Everyone’s mouths were on fire, but we enjoyed it! We talked to our waiter in Thai, and he had to tell us to stop because he knew less than us! He told us how to count in Burmese, but we instantly forgot. It’s way harder than Thai!

Chiang Mai was really cool, and I look forward to returning. It’s a quick flight from Bangkok, but a world away. Next time: hiking, more temples, and some yoga.

Pattaya

We didn’t actually go to the city of Pattaya, but we were very close (just a few minutes south). Pattaya is the closest party beach to Bangkok, so it is frequented by many tourists. My co-worker is a screenwriter and director, and he’s trying to get a sitcom off the ground here in Bangkok. The show, “Thai Beach” is about farongs (foreigners) visiting and living in a resort town in Thailand. It’s all in English, and many of the jokes are sort of inside jokes for ex-pats here. Lots of references to “Tinglish” and the laid-back lifestyle that Westerners seek out in Thailand. One character is a caricature of the boozing white dude who came to Thailand to escape the rat race. Sean and I were cast as male lover and female lover, respectively, a couple who have come to Thailand on their honeymoon. In our first scene, we are overly lovey-dovey and kiss on camera. The Thai clerk at the hotel (played by a cool guy named Wasin) is SHOCKED by our public display of affection, because it is absolutely against Thai culture to make-out in public (or even hug).

In our second scene, we are enjoying the view at the resort atop a little bridge. We wondered if the Russian children in the pool below us would make it look like we weren’t in Thailand, but it’s all part of the Pattaya experience. All Russians and Germans — a woman actually started speaking in Russian to me and I just looked confused. Our third and final scene was at sunset. We just had to order wine from the beach bar and gross out the white boozer (played by another co-worker of mine) who’s been married so many times he “signs the marriage certificate in pencil.” Good times.

What was very nice about having such small parts was that we got to just hang out at a resort for most of the day. Sean’s friend, Keisuke, who is on an around-the-world adventure, was with us for the day, which was super fun. We had great food right on the beach, Keisuke got to touch the Gulf of Thailand for the first time, and we took long naps on the beach. We also had pina coladas and pizza at this great little cafe, which played Jimmy Buffet and everything. It was nice to get off the resort grounds for a little while to see some actual Thai people. After all, we are in THAIland. But the Jimmy and the pizza were pretty awesome.

Our trip to Pattaya (well, Jomtien Beach, to be exact) was fun for so many reasons: our first on-screen performance, hanging out with Keisuke, meeting new people (both Thai and American), relaxing on the beach, and seeing a new place in Thailand.

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