status

Fire in the Sky

On our first night Couchsurfing with Kevin in Chiang Mai, he took us to his favorite annual event: the Yi Peng festival.

The evening was hot and sticky and the thousands of people crammed into the Maejo University grounds inspired a bit of claustrophobia.

The crowd

And then. The monks began to chant.

Smoke at the front of the crowd

And then. The oil lamps staked all over the grounds were lit.

Oil lamp

And then. Everyone held the wax rings wired to the bottom frames of their khom loy to the fire.

Begin to light the lanterns

Lighting the khom loy in front of the Buddha

Girl lighting a lantern

Alicia

Tony

Lanterns filling with hot air

Beginning of the release

AND THEN. A sea of glowing paper lanterns rose, along with our hearts, and for a minute or so, the world was perfect.

Lanterns through the bamboo

Joyful crowd

Sea of lanterns

Lanterns fill the sky

27
Dec 2012
POSTED BY admin
POSTED IN

Thailand

DISCUSSION 2 Comments
status

Couchsurfing with Kevin in Chiang Mai

Night train bunks Tony's bunk

We took the night train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai.  We had nice bunks, the bathroom (a squat hole that emptied directly on the tracks) was clean, and the dining car remains a vividly surreal memory.

Chiang Mai from Doi Suthep

Chiang Mai is one of Thailand’s larger cities, although nowhere near the size or speed of Bangkok, and it’s known for being artsy and laid back.

Wat against blue sky and clouds

Alms bowls

Kids playing in an alley

Vendor bathing a baby

Naga silhouettes

Moped riders

Statue at Wat Chet Yot

Moped rider outside a red gate

Monk climbing a pole

The first few days in Chiang Mai were very pleasant. We ate our fill of good food, visited some of the 300 wats, enjoyed the night markets and the Sunday market, and walked all over the old city and around the moat. But we were having difficulty meeting people.

We switched from a guest house to a hostel, but everyone there seemed to already have their own friend groups established.  We were starting to wonder if we should just move on to some other part of Thailand, but we decided to give it a few more days. We moved into a cheap hotel and soon met some fun Australian girls at the does-this-look-like-what-I-think-it-looks-like?-shaped pool.

Unusual pool

We also turned back to Couchsurfing.  We hadn’t Couchsurfed since our great experience in Iceland.  We sent some requests while we were in Europe, but in most of the big cities, it’s difficult to find a host unless you send dozens of requests, and all of those requests require careful reading of profiles and personalized messages for each.  We tried to find a host in Istanbul, but based on the quality of the personal profiles (and a certain indecent proposal we received), it seemed more like people were using it as a dating site.

But with hope blossoming in our hearts, we were willing to try Couchsurfing again.

Tony has a pretty flower

And we found Kevin.

Kevin and Tony on a tuk-tuk

Kevin is a photographer from New Zealand who has lived in Chiang Mai for ten years. His most obvious trademark is his handlebar mustache, although you quickly notice his other prominent feature which is an unfailingly cheerful and kind disposition.  He’s done photography and documentary videos all over southeast Asia and China and has some pretty good stories to tell.

Kevin near Warorot Market

Although Kevin joined Couchsurfing ten months prior to our arrival, we were his number 80-somethingth guests.  We helped him mop up his kitchen when his ceiling leaked after a rainstorm, had fun in his studio and around town being models for his personal and stock photo portfolios, ate a lot of good food cooked by friends and fellow Couchsurfers and vendors in his neighborhood, and attended multiple days of the local Yee Ping and Loi Krathong festivals.

Kevin in a songtaew with Couchsurfers

We ended up staying at Kevin’s place for nine days and left friends for life. (And he’ll show up again in this blog for sure.)

1 2 3

27
Dec 2012
POSTED BY admin
POSTED IN

Thailand

DISCUSSION 6 Comments
video
status

On Bangkok and Good Advice from Bad People

We thought for sure we’d be ready to flee as soon as the plane touched town.  A city of legendary heat and humidity, swarming with chaos and 9.5 million people… no thanks.

Bangkok at dawn

And first day does overwhelm all the senses.  Nothing looks or feels familiar.  There are cockroaches.  Rats of unusual size.  With every breath you inhale exhaust fumes and and the heavy scent food in various states of deliciousness and decay.  Trash collectors dump and sort the contents of their trucks on the street and you learn to play a bold and decisive game of Frogger against taxis and tuk-tuks and mopeds pretty quickly.

Bottle collector

Multicolored taxis

Alternative transportation

Side saddle, no hands

Building decor

Not gonna lie: our first full day was spent exploring the malls. And the day after.

Beard Papa's

Mall Christmas tree

But after that, we began to see and appreciate some of the beauty.  It can be as obvious as a towering golden chedi, as commonplace as a woman selling offering flowers, or as inconspicuous as a cat napping on a wall. So we stayed for a little bit.

Woman selling flower offerings

Alley behind dried fish market

Dried shrimp for sale

Monk walking past Grand Palace

Phra Siratana Chedi

Prasat Phra Dhepbidorn - the Royal Pantheon

Kitty at Wat Pho

Wat Pho

Plumeria

Florists making offerings

Bangkok sidewalk at night

Mass of power wires

Cat faceoff

Bangkok traffic

BBQ street vendor

While we do enjoy taking it slow and getting to know a place for at least a week or more (versus the usual 2-4 days that most other backpackers average), if we’re being honest, our lack of speed is also due to reluctance to make a decision.

The downside of this habit is that we’ll visit fewer places overall and sometimes pay higher prices by booking last minute transportation.  On the upside, we’re more relaxed and get a better sense of a place than we would have if we were just zipping through.  We find the good restaurants with the best prices, can easily say “yes” to unexpected opportunities, soak in the little details, and feel more like honorary residents rather than faceless consumers just passing through.

Bangkok is renowned for its tuk-tuk scams and assorted schemes to part the naive from their money, but only one of its citizens thought we looked like a good target.  Luckily, he was just a guy sitting at the table next to us in a sidewalk restaurant, and it wasn’t a big deal.  While we were disappointed that his friendly chit-chat quickly turned into an attempt to get us to visit his friend’s shop that is having a “big gem sale for tourists today only,” he did suggest that we head north for the mountains before visiting the islands.

We took the latter advice and hopped the night train to Chiang Mai the next day. As we write this six weeks later, we’re so glad we did. Our northern path brought wonderful people and unbelievable experiences into our lives. So thanks, scammy guy. You’re the best.

Democracy Monument at night

26
Dec 2012
POSTED BY admin
POSTED IN

Thailand

DISCUSSION No Comments