Sunday, May 10, 2009

Thailand Update

I have had many requests to write more I will try and honor those requests. My own parents even mentioned that they had gone to the site to check for updates....and if my parents are wondering what I'm up to then I better feel guilty enough to take the time to write.

Thailand was fantastic! I would definitely recommend it and go back there. Almost everyone we met had been there before, so obviously there is a charm to this place. A couple of things to know if you visit: 1. Toilet paper is non-existant, so plan ahead ladies! They do have these little gadgets that look suspiciously like kitchen-sink sprayers installed next to the toilet. I guess you are supposed to 'spray yourself clean' but as Laura so aptly pointed out, that still leaves you 'wet.' Hmmmmm. We never quite got used to that practice, so we stuffed bits of Kleenex into our pockets and wondered how the Thai women managed. 2. Everywhere you go, you take off your shoes/sandals and leave them at the door. This is pretty easy when you wear flip flops everywhere. Imagine going into a shop or a restaurant and seeing a pile of random flip flops at the entrance. You simply kick off your flip flops and enter like everyone else. The floors are immaculately clean, so no worries there. No one steals your shoes (this is NOT Africa) and they are waiting for you when you return; although sometimes you have to find them in the pile. One bonus of this custom--when you return to your rented Bungalow and you notice your son's size 10 flip flops outside the door, you know he is inside waiting for you even though you have not even seen him yet; his footwear leaves a clear calling card! 3. Thai taxi drivers will always try and take you to the famous custom clothing shops or the jewelry shops--whether you want to go there or not. They suspiciously stop there on the way to the famous sites of Standing Buddha or Reclining Buddha, so that you will buy something--they get a cut of the proceeds from the shop owners. You must be FIRM and say no, or all your vacation time will be spent in these places. 4. Thai open- taxi drivers may claim to know where you want to go (even when you give them a printed business card of your hotel with attached map!) but they will inevitably NOT really know and drop you off in a strange place where you have to find your own way back. Laura and I spent one evening walking the dangerous streets of Bangkok under just such circumstances. When I started to notice gang graffiti on the walls of the alley, I knew we had to risk hiring another taxi to get us out of there. Laura was pretty upset (and we were both tired of walking), but even as I kept my cool, I felt angry and vulnerable at being in a city I didn't know. Simple Freetown, with it's 3 major streets was starting to look pretty good. 5. Thai New Year: a very interesting custom. I think the date was April 12 or 13. Basically, it's a National Holiday involving lots and lots of well-wishers throwing water on you for good luck. Hmmmm. It actually felt pretty good because it's very hot in Thailand. But this custom does have it's drawbacks if you are a tourist. During the day, everyone is making merriment and you expect the dousing of water as you walk or drive by a native Thai person. But as night wears on, you sort of forget about the holiday. Laura and I took the motor scooter into town in the evening to do some last minute shopping. We were driving on a sort of dark side street and I noticed this man standing in the middle of the street. Laura was driving and I thought to myself; what is that man doing--standing in the middle of the road when he can clearly see a motor scooter coming right at him? Too late I remembered the Thai New Year and just at that moment he threw a huge bucket of cold water on us--drenching us both! Imagine being completely surprised, soaking wet, at night, riding a motor scooter and then going shopping. I'm sure we were a sight; two wet white girls wandering the streets of Tungsala with our clothing sticking to us. I was relieved I was not wearing a white shirt; as I had long before abandoned the practice of wearing lingerie in Thailand--just too darn hot!

For everyone worried about the violence that occurred while we were there; we missed it completely-thank God. The day we left Bangkok for Koh Phan Ghan, there were protesters lining the streets of downtown Bangkok. It looked like a sea of red shirts snaking along like a caterpillar from our view on the upper deck of the freeway. Unfortunately because the protesters had taken over the city streets, the traffic was that much worse on the freeway and we missed the first plane to Koh Phan Ghan. As Laura and I bickered our way through the five hour wait at the airport for the next plane, we had no idea what was happening downtown. We boarded the plane for the hour-long flight to the southern islands and were happily ignorant of all the violence in Bangkok. It wasn't until we read the newspapers the next day, that we realized how bad things were. We stayed in Koh Phan Ghan for the next week and by the time we returned to Bangkok, things were relatively calm. There were policemen in riot gear posted at every corner on the streets near our hotel. That mistake was actually ours; we didn't realize that the charming hotel we booked was only a couple of blocks from the State House--where all the violence had occurred. We were ok and the hotel--Shanti Lodge--was really quaint. All part of the adventure, our family is known to muse.

Well, I'm back in Freetown now and since it's Sunday, it might be time to hit the beach. For two weeks in Thailand, I saw the ocean almost every single day. I loved hearing the roar of the surf and once at night, I even dared go for a midnight swim. Life is what you make it. Make it good.