Thailand (5/14-5/18 and 5/23-6/26)

Upon returning to Bangkok (which is starting to feel like home to us) from Central Asia, we relaxed for a few days in the air-conditioned comfort of the shopping mall, and then we met up with Kitty and Nathaniel. We took a one-day tour to the royal summer palace and Ayuthaya, the ancient capital of Thailand before Khmer destruction a few hundred years ago. Despite the guidebook's less-than-enthusiastic review of the palace, I rather enjoyed it. It has been well restored, the grounds were beautiful and I got a good sense of the abundant opulence that the royalty lived in and probably still does (oh you know, ivory carvings, exquisite inlay, gorgeous Chinese tiled floors, etc.). Ayuthaya was interesting, but it really was overshadowed by the magnificence of Angkor Wat, Cambodia (our next stop).

Upon returning from Cambodia, we headed north by train to Chaing Mai, a sweltering city in the heart of the jungle. We took a one-day Thai cooking class. Its so easy (well it looks so easy) and we learned a lot of great tips (e.g. smash your lemon grass). Hopefully I won't forget everything we learned because I still love Thai food! (Yes, I'm eating it almost three meals a day.) One of the highlights of the class was going down to the local market where we were taught how to identify ingredients, saw coconut milk being extracted (world's deadliest machine), sampled gooey sweets and wrinkled our noses at the less-than-hygienic meat displays.

The next day we decided to take mom on a four-hour local government bus ride to Pai, a small, relaxed town higher up in the mountains. Five hours later we were standing on the side of the road in the rain waiting for the next bus (hopefully with working brakes) to come along. It did, eventually, stuffed with backpackers. We crammed on (never full!) and we made our way to Pai by late afternoon. Mom handled the ordeal with aplomb.

Northern Thailand is known for its treks through the jungle to visit hill tribe villages and it sounded like a good idea to us. Being short on time we went with the guy at our guesthouse, Che-Coon. I had no idea I was such a poor judge of character. Our "guide" turned out to be a drunken ex-communist insurgent who constantly "forgot" that the money we paid was to include the little things like a car and food. He was constantly trying to get some extra money out of us, which got old pretty quick (as did his drinking habit). Luckily he backed down easily when we called him on it.

The trek itself, freaky guide aside, was pretty good, certainly interesting. We first went to Cave Lod, an enormous series of caves with a river running through it. At one time in the '70s the cave housed Che-Coon and his merry little band of rebels fighting the monarchy (with, as he hinted, CIA support). The cave was full of caveness - screaming swifts, squealing bats, acrid smells, stalagmites, stalactites - as well as some 2000 year old petroglyphs and wood coffins. We rafted through the cave on a barely adequate bamboo raft which was incredibly creepy, not because we were in a cave, but because there was guano constantly raining down around us. Although it was a neat experience, I confirmed to myself that I'm really not a cave kind of girl.

Our trek to the Lahu village, Che-Coon's hometown, was mercifully shortened by a landslide that we had to drive around, but we huffed and puffed and sweated plenty. The village was very rural - basic houses on stilts with bamboo floors and thatched roofs with all manner of barnyard animals running about. Our dinner was very labor intensive and tasty but it was awkward with the family's 12 children and their friends watching us eat seated on the kitchen floor. We were the only tourists to come by this village and the village children made a point of dressing in traditional costume for us.

After dinner the children sang and danced for us. As part of a fair cultural exchange we taught them the Hokey-Pokey ("You put your right foot in...") which was great fun. Kitty also taught them how to ro-sham-bo and Cookie Monster's "C is for Cookie" song. Well, that village is culturally tainted for sure.

We spent the night on the floor of the village meeting room. Che-Coon delivered on his promise of a mosquito net which turned out looking like something from a Monty Python skit with a tiger-sized hole in the side. It took every ounce of self-control to not pee my pants laughing. Even funnier was the 4a.m. barnyard animal chorus - first the roosters, then the cows, followed by the pigs, dogs, and people - an unreal amount of noise (oh give me the peaceful silence of Bangkok!).

The next day we hiked, sweated, picked mushrooms and visited a Lisu hill tribe village. Finally we made it back to Pai and freed ourselves from our guide-from-hell. We spent a couple days relaxing and getting cheap massages and then it was time to see mom off and head south to the BEACH!

After a couple days of incredibly organized and efficient travel, we made it to Hat Rin beach on the gorgeous little paradise island of Ko Pha-Ngan. There we met up with a fair sized sample of friends from home (9! you know who you are) and settled in to await the famous full moon party that would be taking place in a few days. What a party town Hat Rin is! Bars lined the beautiful white sand beach, Internet available every third shop and raver clothing stores filled in the gaps. Our vacation within a vacation was shaping up to be a lot of fun.

We spent our days partaking in the popular 'traveller' pastimes such as drinking Red Bull, watching bootlegged copies of newly released movies, and relaxing in the sun, shade and water. Occasionally we would get a surge of energy and hire a boat to take us to a different beach to lay around and do nothing on. Once we managed to hike to a waterfall.

The full moon party itself was a blast, and having our friends around really made us feel at home. The beach turned into a full-blown dance party with sounds systems going at every bar. The weather was perfect, the water warm, and the soft sand began filling up early with victims of the bars' infamous 'bucket' drink, to our amusement. We danced, we swam, we talked and laughed the night away. We watched the sunrise and smiled. It was a good party. (But it did make us miss all our friends at home, terribly!)

We stayed on the beach for another week after the party and spent a lot of time in hammocks or on the beach. Once the gang left, Geoff and I made our way up to the north side of the island with the intention of trying out our new scuba certification. Unfortunately, Geoff had a terrible head cold and the weather had turned something foul, so we had to postpone our diving plans. We did some nice snorkeling and kept up the R&R until island fever began setting in. Then we headed north to meet Derende in Thailand's most famous beach town, Pattaya.

Pattaya was um …interesting. It's a vacation hot spot resembling Wikiki for ex-pats, Europeans and Russians. It's extremely developed and there is no shortage of dangerous activity to participate in (paragliding, jet-skis, prostitution). We had a great time with the people watching. (Look! There's another old white man with a young Thai lady. Hmmm…) The highlight of our visit (and truthfully our reason for going) was seeing the Alcazar cabaret show. Amazing! Incredible costumes, amazing sets and a stunning cast of talented transvestites. It was a lot of fun, especially when Geoff got singled out by one "gal" for special attention during one of the acts. From Pattaya we returned to Bangkok for, what is it now, our sixth time. We decided to finally do some sightseeing. Derende and I went to the Royal Palace which was full of stunning, sparkling, dare I say gaudy, architecture. The place had more gold gilding and mirrors than Vegas. It was beautiful. We also saw Wat Pho, a Buddhist temple containing an enormous golden reclining Buddha, 46 meters long! At night we saw the world's worst movie (yes, The Mummy Returns) in the most deluxe theater ever. For less then the price of a ticket at home, we were in a theater for 40 with huge, comfy lazy boy chairs with waiters serving us. Ah, the good life...

The next day the three of us ventured into Chinatown where we nearly suffocated in the sweltering lanes of the fabric district (oh but 6 yards of fabric for $4, be still my beating heart!). Derende then treated us to a luxurious night at the Bangkok Shangri-La, which we enjoyed to the fullest (Oh my God! This shower has hot water!). We even took advantage of the steam and sauna rooms which is funny considering Bangkok is just one huge sauna.

And that pretty much sums up Thailand. Next up on Lisa and Geoff's World Tour 2001 is Laos!

<-- BACK | UP | NEXT -->

The Royal Summer Palace, Bang Pa In

The old Thai capital, Ayuthaya

The jolliest Buddha

Nice Toes!

Lisa gets in the spirit of Ayuthaya

It's huge! (inside Cave Lod)

Lamu village in Northern Thailand

Every kid in the village turns out to perform

This is relaxation!

The Royal Palace, Bangkok

Lisa gets the grasshopper in...

...but just can't choke it down

Bangkok from 84 floors up

<-- BACK | UP | NEXT -->