Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Last 30 Days In Southeast Asia . . .

This is going to be my last Dandygram . . . from my time in Southeast Asia that is!

I still have so much more to share about my adventures since I've been home--traveling across country, visiting friends and family, and more to come in the next few months while I live and work in Washington, D.C. , but I must conclude the best way I know how on my final days in Southeast Asia. So, I will do my best to wrap up my summer trip in this Dandygram as well as briefly reflect on the highlights . . .

With my time on Koh Phi Phi coming to an end after one last hoo-rah for July 4th, Andres and I made our way back to Bangkok for the next few nights before his flight back to Argentina. Honestly, we were both very happy to get back to Bangkok. As for me, I had made friends that I looked forward to reuniting with; Andres wanted to hang out on Khao Sarn Road for a few days. Both of us just really wanted to watch the remaining matches of the World Cup on Khao Sarn Road with all the people from the countries still alive in the tournament.

Only a few last days together, we made the most of it--making friends with some wonderful new Thai friends, reconnecting with the English teachers from Maryland, and staying out very late each night in order to catch every World Cup game possibly aired. It was a fun couple of days, and here are some pictures to highlight our final days together.

Danielle and Nina--my new friends from Maryland.

A good turnout for Holland's semi-final match while on Khao Sarn Road.

Mr. Andres Guidobono.

New Thai friends who are studying at various universities in Bangkok.

Never a dull moment with Andres. Never.

Me, Pim, and the remains of a few Flower Games.

The night of the World Cup championship on Khao Sarn Road.

Meeting Tukkie--a comedian, TV and Thai movie star!

Alas, my time with Andres came to an end. He left on July 10th, and now, I was very much on my own for three more weeks in Thailand. I had a few options available for my remaining time in Asia. I considered going back up to Chiang Rai and then taking a slowboat down into Laos as well as traveling into Cambodia. I considered going back to the islands and visit the ones I hadn't seen before (and maybe attend another Full Moon Party). Finally, I considered staying in Bangkok for the rest of my time in Southeast Asia.

Ultimately, my decision was made for me. Due to the fact I was still babying my foot injury and patiently waiting for the cut to close up, I could not go into water. So, traveling back to the islands in south Thailand was out.

Then, after talking a lot to other tourists and travel agencies about the conditions and modernity of Cambodia and Laos, I decided to not travel north and risk infection in either of those countries as well as not having access to quality medical care. So, with both of those alternative plans no longer viable options for my last three weeks, I stayed put right there in Bangkok and in my hotel near Khao Sarn Road.

Three weeks on my own in Bangkok was quite an unexpected opportunity since I wasn't able to participate in the summer program at Thammasat University in Bangkok. I also hadn't yet taken advantage of the numerous resources available in that city to learn about Thai history, culture, and Buddhism. With an amazing group of new Thai friends and nothing but time, I took full advantage of my last few weeks in Bangkok by visiting museums, Buddhist temples, reading books, and asking questions or just talking to my Thai friends any chance I had. Needless to say, I learned a LOT.

As far as sharing pictures from all the places I visited during those weeks in Bangkok, I (unfortunately) lost my camera shortly after Andres left. I wasn't being irresponsible, but I definitely managed to lose it as the result of minor negligence. You must understand that a common mode of transportation in Bangkok are motorbike taxi. However, the one I was on when I lost my camera was when I was on my way to the Royal Barge Museum--my first cultural destination in Bangkok.

You see, this particular motorbike taxi ride was not like any other I had been on before. It was even scary compared to the rides I took in Hanoi, Viet Nam (see the video). A new friend (Sebastian) and I had taken a ferry across the river one day to visit the museum--home of the Royal Barges that are used in the processions for the King: a very big ceremony to honor both the 50th and 60th anniversary of the current king's succession to the throne. An important side note: King Rama IX has reigned longer than any other monarch in Thai history (64 years!).

Anyway, after getting off the ferry, we each jumped on the back of a motorbike taxi for a ride to the museum. Although this was a rather short ride, it was one I'll never forget because we went through walkways, sidewalks, and allies that were barely wide enough for the motorbike to squeeze through let alone wide enough for me on the bac--knees sticking out on either side. I hung on for dear life, squeezed my legs in at every turn, and feared collision every time we passed someone walking or another motorbike. How it was even possible for us to navigate through those "streets," I'll never know. After incredible maneuvering on my driver's part, a few readjustments on my part, and one or two death-defying turns, we arrived safely (for the most part--my heart was racing).

Now at the museum, I noticed there was an extra fee if I wanted to use my camera and take pictures, so of course, I intended to pay. This triggered me to check my pocket for my camera, and once I did, I noticed that pocket--my back left--was now empty! It was at this moment when I realized that my camera must've worked itself out of my pocket (probably not the best choice for storing my camera on the motorbike ride), and with three weeks of my stay left, I was now without a camera. Juuuust great . . .

The days following that unfortunate incident consisted of numerous afternoons relaxing and drinking coffee at my hotel's cafe, mornings spent visiting museums and temples, and evenings going out to eat or to movies with my friends--both American and Thai. I had many days to myself where I would read, type up overdue Dandygrams, or just watch movies on my MacBook in my air-conditioned room. Eventually, I had no regrets about not going to Cambodia, Laos, or the islands because I had the best time getting to know my new friends and Thailand better. As well, I was able to see and experience parts of Thai culture, religion, and cuisine that I know I would not have had the chance to experience if I left Bangkok. It was an incredible month. I really want to take a moment to thank Pim and her friends for their patience with my inability to speak Thai and their amazing ability to use English and teach me many things about Thailand. คุณขอบคุณ

With my time in Thailand and Southeast Asia quickly coming to an end--and now being back home--I have many things I want to briefly reflect on during my time abroad (these are in no specific order whatsoever):

~I fell in love with Chiang Rai (a beautiful city in northern Thailand).
~I gained a greater appreciation for the simple pleasures in life.
~I love when it rains (for example).
~I realized the difficulties of learning a language with very little similarities to English.
~I did, however, manage to learn (some) Thai and Vietnamese.
~I taught the ABCs to a group of wonderful Thai children on a Saturday morning--twice.
~I rode an elephant and then cuddled a tiger in Chaing Mai.
~I am really proud of my cousin Rachel and her husband Nate.
~I made new friends from all over the world.
~I became better friends with Ruben, Elliott, Christa, and Brady.
~I have a new love for French Bulldogs--especially deaf ones.
~I played a new game (That's What You Did)
~I invented a new game (The Flower Game).
~I am very fond of the game Apples to Apples.
~I have a new all-time favorite Thai dish: Cow Soi.
~I became addicted to Papaya Salad.
~I cut my foot open from jumping on a big bottle of Chang on Koh Phangan.
~I spent three nights in a hospital and got nine stitches.
~I racked up a $5,000 bill at the hospital on Koh Samui.
~I went to one of the biggest parties in the world . . . on crutches.
~I won money betting on my friends' Muay Thai matches on Koh Phi Phi.
~I lost . . . my camera, my watch, my awesome fedora, my bandanna, 5 million VND ($250), my BlackBerry, numerous pairs of fake RayBans, and at poker.
~I watched a Thai movie after meeting the leading actress.
~I became a much bigger fan of soccer . . . and Holland.
~I now like more Canadians than just my extended family who lives there.
~I spent way too much money for 10 weeks in Southeast Asia.
~I will never tell everything that happened.
~I did not spend enough time in Viet Nam.
~I ate the spiciest meal of my life with my friend Pim.
~I now have a very dear friend in Thailand (Pim).
~I cried (a few times) when I said my goodbyes.
~I bought way too many shirts from Khao Sarn Road.
~I drank way too many Changs and Singhas.
~I did not eat enough street food.
~I did not (and will never) go to a Ping Pong Show.
~I did not bring back enough presents for my friends and family.
~I am very thankful for Skype, Facebook, and email.
~I only paid $3/night for an amazing hotel accommodation in Hoi An, Viet Nam.
~I can finally walk without limping.
~I like Bangkok.
~I dislike everything about the roads and driving in Viet Nam.
~I hate human trafficking and child prostitution.
~I love The SOLD Project and everything they have done, are doing, and will do.
~I love Thais.
~I admire Buddhism.
~I miss a lot of people.
~I am happy to be home.
~I am glad I still have both of my feet.
~I can't wait to go back to Thailand.
~I will go back to Thailand.
~I am now much happier and alive because I went to Thailand.

Next up on The Dandygram: California to D.C. in 30 Days or BUST!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Our Final Days on Koh Phi Phi

Well, I definitely waited (or procrastinated) waaaaaay too long to write this Dandygram and be able to include detailed stories of my last few days on Koh Phi Phi with Andres, but what I can tell you is that it only got better as time went on.

Once the rain finally let up from the first few days, we were able to get out on the beach (although I still could not get into the water), soak up some rays, and go for a walk to see all the places we frequented after the sun would go down. It was actually a long stretch of beach on the one side of the small strip in the middle of the island (see pictures below), and with an abundance of places to stop and wet our whistles, we needed a nap under the shade in some of the numerous beach chairs. Plus, it was getting VERY hot at that point in the afternoon.

Andres and I only had a few more days on the island before heading back to Bangkok, so we made the most of it--typically spending our nights trying to find something different to eat, watching Muay Thai at Reggae Bar, and wondering down the beach for a bucket (or two) and some dancing under the moon.

While the remaining nights went the same, there were always small surprises along the way. For the sake of getting this Dandygram out, I'm going to now flood you with a few pictures highlighting my remaining days on Koh Phi Phi in order to get on with stories of my last month in Southeast Asia. Also, my foot was healing up quite well with the stitches in . . . well, sorta.

My foot--eight days after the incident.

Our group watching Muay Thai in Reggae Bar.

The most economical way to drink.

Still smiling even with 9 stitches and a bit of a limp.

Three straws, one bucket, too much fun.

The best photo for 100 Baht ($3).

Moments before Andres' Muay Thai match. He won--of course.

Self explanatory . . .

Koh Phi Phi from the viewpoint . . .

. . . and then moments later.

The best way I could celebrate July 4th.

I wasn't the only one who had a foot injury!

Leaving Koh Phi Phi was a sad, sad day indeed.

Leaving the same way we came.

Getting ready for the World Cup games back in Bangkok--go HOLLAND!

So, there you have it. My time on Koh Phi Phi had come to an end. I had made more friends, had reunited with Andres, watched numerous Muay Thai matches, danced until I couldn't feel my foot, purchased a few too many buckets, and created memories that would last a lifetime.

At this point, I had a month left in my trip and yet I still had to baby my foot, so I decided to cut my time on the islands short and return to Bangkok with Andres. There, we would watch the remaining World Cup matches and championship before he left to go back to Argentina (July 10th). So, with only a month left, I think I can wrap up my trip to Southeast Asia in a final Dandygram . . . but don't hold me to that.

Next up on The Dandygram: 30 Days in Bangkok.