*Note this is a live blog post that I will be updating during my trip
My trip to Thailand is tied deeply to my desire to learn more about patience, as I wait for my work authorization for the United States. It was a spontaneous decision as I visited Hong Kong. It’s been three years since I’ve visited my family in HK and I wanted to spend time with them during then Mid-Autumn Festival and see my niece who is only under a month old.
The whole experience to chase after my dream in San Francisco has been quite rewarding, but also in the last month, helped me realize how impatient I truly am for most of my life as the documentation and application is taking longer than expected. It makes me feel anxious and frustrated because I’d like to be certain and plan out my next step for everything.
This trip to Thailand is unplanned for the most part. This is the first time I have no hotels planned for more than half of the trip and no concrete itinerary.
If I don’t go to Thailand now, I don’t know when I can go. I know instead of waiting impatiently for what comes next that’s not within my control, I should actively pursue what I can control, and that is….pursuing other goals in my life that enriches my soul.
Let’s cross another country off of my bucket list!
Day 1 : First Encounter with Thailand and Bangkok
I got the Suvarnabhumi Airport at 4:00 am. The airport was extremely quiet, and there were lots of signage, so don’t be afraid of getting lost.
However, since I decided to go on this trip at the spur of a moment, I’ve done one day of research and almost no research on things I wanted to do. All I’ve got are the first two days planned out and some transportation methods secured.
At 4:00am, and with only 2 hours of sleep and maybe a total of 10 hours added all up in the last 3 days, I was very tired and could not function well. For almost 10 minutes, I thought I would have to arrange for a visa on arrival, but it turns out Canadians and several other countries have the privilege of visa exemption for a certain amount of days.
Next, I crossed customs and then looked for a way to get to my hotel, Dewan Bangkok. At one of the booths in the airport that looks like is open 24 hours is a place where you can get a SIM card for your unlocked phone for close to $299 Baht. It gives you unlimited data, calling and texting for 8 days.
It turns out that there was an Airport Link for 45 Baht will take you to the heart of the city and so I took it to the final stop and transferred into an Uber because now I shaved half of the cost it takes to take a taxi all the way (normally 400 Baht).
Getting out of the Airport Rail Train was a little bit daunting for me. A lot of the signs in the city did not have English and was in Thai, so I could not comprehend where to go or where I was. There was a lot of decoration to celebrate the royal family, and shockingly, Bangkok was not as developed as I thought it would be. The streets were dirty, traffic was heavy and disorganized, busses don’t stop for you, motorcycles and Tuk Tuks were a common form of transportation, citizens didn’t speak English very well nor do the cab drivers and were quite aggressive as I stood like a sore thumb with my luggage in hand. I was experiencing culture shock
My hotel Dewan Bangkok was wonderfully accommodating. For only $50 Canadian a might, it was very much a steal as I was staying in the area of Khao San where all the ancient monuments were located. Dewan was Moroccan themed and gave me a great sense of comfort. Not only did they let me check in early because I got to Bangkok in the early morning, but they also helped me look for different places that I’d like to explore.
After dropping off my luggage and refreshing for a bit, I grabbed a map and wandered into the city. I was met with some disappointment because a lot of the monuments like the Grand Palace and the Emerald Buddha were closed off to the public today as the Royal Family make preparations to look for a new successor. The Thai citizens were all dressed in black for the year as a way to mourn the Thai King who passed away. Also, I forget to put on any mosquito repellant and was bit all over my legs. There is also no easy way to get to all the places I wanted to see because traffic was crazy and routes are very complicated with all sorts of modes of transportation mixed together like crossing the canals on ferries and more.
But all was not lost.
I needed a little dose of westernization, so I stopped by a guesthouse a.k.a. a Poshtel where a lot of backpackers and westerners would stay. I ordered a Train Station (fried rice with chicken or pork mixed in) and a Thai Iced Tea to tie me over.
While I was sulking about how I can make alternative plans, someone by the initials JJ came by to my table and as we connected as solo travelers, we decided we should hang out for the day in Bangkok.
Although there was a lot I wanted to do like see a cabaret, check out the museums, and the floating markets, I was too tired to do all of those and all of these attractions were very far apart although they’re in the city and takes around 40 mins to 1 hour to get to. The weather was also threatening with thunder, lightning, and rain in the forecasts.
So, after a good nap, JJ and I wandered walked to a Ferry Pier and took a local ferry for 15 Baht to see Wat Arun, a famous Thai Temple. The ferry ride itself was a treat as you got to see a lot of the sights from the boat and and was quite thrilling as we rode with a lot of the locals.
After a good two hours of exploring the temple and surrounding area, we took the ferry back to Khao San where we explored the markets, shopped, and ate. We grabbed a table at a make shift restaurant run by a Thai family and ordered Pad Thai (60 Baht) and Tom Yum Soup (60 Baht) which are famous Thai delicacies. It was extremely affordable for what we got and delicious!
Next after we cured our hunger, we wandered to a bar on Khao San Road to listen to live music, drink Tiger Beer, and munch on salty and spicy deep fried cockroaches.
Yes, I ate cockroaches. It was quite the experience.
JJ and I had a good day, we clicked in several ways although she’s from Australia and I’m from Canada.
So after a great day, we decided to go our separate ways. She got herself a Swedish massage for 300 Baht and I got Coconut Icecream on my back to my hotel.
Hopefully, JJ and I will meet again in Chiang Mai.
Day 2: Bangkok Transfer to Chiang Mai
I slept in until 9 am today, which is pretty good considering the jet lag! I woke up to the bustling city below and packed up to get to the airport known for its domestic flights called Don Mueang Airport.
I’m relieved that I’m heading to a Chiang Mai today.
For the first time, I downloaded the app called Grab, which is like Uber but predominantly used in Thailand. It’s much cheaper than Uber, but the cost was still around 400 Baht to get to the airport and took almost an hour sue to heavy traffic. Catching a local cab might have costed less, as the meter came up to only around 300 Baht.
This airport is very new with a lot of incredible facilities, definitely better than the other main airport. Be warned that the shops and restaurants are very overpriced. A burger at McDonald’s costs 200 Baht, so I settled for a plate of chicken curry at Mr Cup instead.
For 1500 Baht, I grabbed a seat on the budget airline Nok. It was actually quite comfortable, easy to book because you can literally buy a ticket at the airport and time to get from Bangkok to Chiang Mai is only 1 hour and 30 minutes.
I booked one night at the WeRun Hometel for $23 USD which is on the cheaper end, but I also get my own room. It is comparatively cheaper than the hostels in Europe where you would be paying the same price but only get a spot in a dorm.
It’s been a few days since I last updated this blog as I recount my experience thus far. A lot has happened. Many good things, but also unexpected mishaps.
I was at the Chiang Mai Airport and grabbed a taxi from the approved taxi stand for 150 Baht. When I got to my guesthouse and had booked all my tours with O, the receptionist and host, I realized with great horror that my phone was missing! It was nowhere to be found.
When I travel, my phone is my everything because I use it to map my way around a foreign city, call a taxi, and book flights and tours. So… you can imagine how stressed out I was.
I’m very forgetful and I cannot multitask, and so I realized that when I was being dropped off at the guesthouse, I had left the phone on the seat on the taxi.
In a panic, I cancelled my plans for that evening and O helped me arrange a ride back to the airport taxi stand in search of my phone.
They asked me for the taxi number and oddly enough, the only number I remember is 151 on the taxi receipt that was all written in Thai, and so I told them what I remembered from the my conversation with the taxi driver that described him. And 151, turns out was the correct number identifying him.
The taxi drivers who were at the stand were very nice and reassured me that everything will be okay. And thus, I rushed to my canceled show as there was enough time to do so while I waited for the driver to return my phone to me at my guesthouse.
I learned, there was simply nothing I can do in that situation. I still wanted to enjoy myself and I couldn’t let that ruin my night.
Though the Tuk Tuk driver (my first ride by the way) overcharged me at 200 Baht for one ride to the performance, I got experience the city in a different way, riding up close to other motorcyclists and sightseeing at the same time.
When I got to the traditional Thai performance and dinner, the lady at the front desk upgraded me from a table that was far away and near the back to front row views of the show. And, because I was only one person, I enjoyed the entire culinary experience to myself which was a 2 person portion.
In Northern Thai culture, it was common to sit on the ground with cushioned seating and a table that suited that experience.
So, for the entire evening, without my phone and picture taking as a distraction, I surprised myself by realizing that I could still have fun without technology and being connected. The Thai performance was interesting and a great introductory to traditional Thai style clothing, dance, and martial arts.
And for the record, I learned that people can be kindhearted in Thailand, in a place where people did not make a high income. True to his word, the taxi driver drove by where I was staying, and returned my phone to me. He even refused the money I had offered him but I insisted anyway.
All in all, all was not lost on day 2 because I made a new friend with O who helped me unrelentingly although it was not part of her job description.
That day, I was able to go to sleep in peace and learning to cope with having a room in an unfamiliar place all to myself. There are a lot of superstitious beliefs in asia, and yes, ghosts and spirits always creeps into my thoughts in the dark of the night.
Day 3: Temples, Chiang Rai, Golden Triangle
I woke up bright and early… early as in 6:30am. There was no negotiation for sleeping in late or being lazy when you have to stick to a schedule. It was a true demonstration of self discipline because there was no one to usher me or push me to do so.
However, the mornings in Chiang Mai were quiet, you can even hear the crickets and smell The mustiness of the morning dew.
Today, I had booked a bus tour to go to Chiang Rai. I am guilty of not fully researching what I was going to see or even what’s on the itinerary. I’ve always been a discoverer. I liked to learn as I encounter a new situation… it makes things more exciting don’t you think?
However I learned things the hard way with the hotels. You definitely need to book ahead of time because the prices shoot up if booked last minute, and there’s no guarantee that I was going to get a room. When I woke up I also had to change to a different room and pack up everything, adding to my anxiety level in the morning.
But, the rooms were clean and spacious at Werun and so I woke up comfortably. Gop is the owner and he was sweeping away furiously. He liked things clean.
He’s only 28! He studied marketing and ended up opening his own guesthouse because he didn’t want to work for anyone else. What’s also interesting for animal lovers is that Werun is home to 4 cats and 2 kittens, strays that Gop started feeding and now, well the cats never left.
So, after chatting with Gop, my tour bus came by to pick me up. The first stop was at a hot springs which was in my opinion, nothing special, then to see two famous temples in Chiang Rai: White Temple and Black Temple. They’re also referred to as Heaven and Hell by the locals.
Simply breathtaking in the intricacies of its architecture and decor, yet the two temples were each so different in style. Aside from the massive amount of tourists, it was a sight to see…. the style of temples are so different than European styled churches and cathedrals. You could also purchase a silver leaf and make a wish by hanging it on a wishing tree. And of course, your experience won’t be complete without using the golden toilets.
We then stopped at a local village restaurant to eat a simple meal of vegetables, tofu and chicken.
It was there that I made friends with the others in my tour group. There was a couple from Guang Zhou, two girls from Beijing, a couple from Spain and then another couple and a sister tagging along from Shanghai.
Literally, it was the first time I had to switch between all the different languages I had learned over the years. I never had to speak Cantonese outside of speaking to local immigrants from Hong Kong or in Vancouver! I didn’t even know what other Chinese provinces spoke Cantonese others than those who were from Hong Kong. And, most definitely, there was never a chance that I got to use my Mandarin while traveling, and here I was, using it to the best of my ability and to my surprise, it was very good because the Mandarin speakers understood me without much difficulty. I also spoke a mix of English and threw in a few simple words in Spanish.
By the end of the day, I was rotating between 4 different languages while speaking to this interesting mixture of people. It was the first time I realized, how important it was to know languages and to be functional at it.
The favourite part of my trip is crossing over to Laos by a 16 passenger speed boat and seeing a popular market, monkeys, and cattle being herded. The boat also took us to the Golden Triangle, the point where three countries (Laos, Thailand, and Myanmar) meet at sea.
We were transferred to our hotels at close to 9pm and as soon as I got back, I showered and spoke with O, 27, who typically works from 2pm to 12am to support her university education in French.
We traded social media information and we agreed to stay in touch as I wasn’t going to see her the next day.
Today, I learned that I am very disconnected from my culture and family roots. I realized how unfamiliar I was with China and Dong Guan where my family was from. For the first time, I came to a place where there were a lot of Chinese people like I am and for most of my life, I’ve always felt a divide. I never felt that “I am a Chinese person” (a.k.a. 我是中國人） kind of pride and the acceptance of me from the other Chinese tourists made me break down those walls a little bit further.
Day 4: Chiang Mai Elephants, Safari, Night Bazaar
I woke up bright and early today once again. I was filled with excitement because I was going to make my dream come true! One of the biggest reasons for why I wanted to visit Thailand are for the elephants! I was going to go to Bamboo Elephant Home to bathe, feed, and ride elephants.
The driver and guide, I could tell, were not the most professional. They were nice, but I realized they see things differently than I do.
Cee, a 37 year old teacher from Singapore, was the other person on the trip with me. We both bonded over riding elephants, and to our dismay, the treatment of these elephants.
You see, there’s been talk about how elephants are treated cruelly for the sake of tourism. And, yet it was happening right in front of my eyes.
I had thought I had signed up for an elephant camp that was focused on fair treatment of the gentle giants, but I was wrong.
When I got there, the elephants were chained by the ankle and rocking side to side.
The tour guides gave us each a bag of bananas to feed our elephant, Minoi, a 27 year old female elephant.
I could tell Minoi was very hungry as her elephant trunk frantically reaches for the bananas.
The trainers and owners pulled out a little sickle to get Minoi to kneel down so we could ride her.
I could tell she was unwilling. My heart was hurting a little bit.