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Return to Bangkok

Eventually, we had to say farewell to Kevin, leave Chiang Mai, take the train back to Bangkok and get ready to repatriate.

Train to Bangkok

Women on a motorbike

Train going around a bend

Hand on the train window

Sunset blur

Waking up to palm trees

Waking up on the train

Morning landscape

Lopburi station

Golden monkey statue at Lop Buri

Arriving in Bangkok

Grafitti

It’s a really strange feeling to return to a massive “foreign” city like Bangkok and have it seem familiar.  The same old train station, which by this point we had routed through enough (three times) that we knew which vendor sold the cheapest croissants.  The same skyline and smells, the same busses and taxis and touts.  This time, we stayed near Chinatown and got to explore a different section of the city.

Duck noodle soup street vendor

Wat Traimit

Blessing seekers

Chinatown

Tuk-tuk

Monk gift basket

Buddha near Chinatown

Chili spoon

One afternoon, Alicia heard a familiar-sounding jangle and met Khun Thorn, the banjo player for a Thai bluegrass band called the Blue Mountain Boys.  We already knew that there was a Thai cowboy subculture, I guess we shouldn’t have been surprised that Thai bluegrass was a thing, too.


Thorn the banjo player

BKK airport

The day came to leave.  We spent a total of two months in Thailand and had come to love it.  But after 11 months away, it was time to go home.  Well, almost.  One more major world city to add to the list…

Tokyo bound

02
Jun 2013
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Thailand

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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.)

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27
Dec 2012
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Thailand

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Budapessssht?

That’s right, Budapest. (The s makes a “sh” sound in Hungarian.)  We were considering the cost of train tickets from Maribor to Prague or to Budapest, and Budapest won. It turned out that return ticket was actually cheaper than one-way, so we reasoned we would probably run across someone who was on their way to Slovenia and we could sell them our return segment. The beauty of not planning ahead and having more time than money is that you can look at each other, say “why not Budapest?”

One great thing that happened back in Maribor is that we picked up a stray Australian named Leah. We met her briefly at our last guesthouse, then we were pleasantly surprised to find her sitting on the platform waiting for the train to Budapest. She was traveling Europe solo in between high school and college and had all the spunky free spirit you’d expect from an 18 year old, blended with mature and nurturing qualities that always made us forget that we’re closer to twice her age. Leah’s friend Sky, an equally sweet person whom she met the month prior in Turkey, flew from Rome to join us a few days later.  The four of us soon became a traveling family and we had heaps of fun with our newly adopted sisters.

The Four

 

Reading on the train

The ride from Maribor to Budapest was our favorite train trip so far.  We had the entire compartment to ourselves, and we reclined all the seats and chatted and read our books and ate our snacks for the next eight hours.  Hungary looks a lot like Iowa, and it was easy to pretend that we were not in Europe at all and instead traveling on the hopefully-someday-soon-to-be-reality Iowa passenger rail route.

Hungary? Or Iowa?

Budapest!  The glorious merger of the cities Buda and Pest on either side of the Danube.  We were always looking up at the architecture and finding it looking back down at us.

Chain Bridge

Margaret bridge

Chain bridge

Parliament

Terror Museum - outside

Terror Museum - inside

Terror Museum - wall of faces

Building on Andrassy

Magyar Museum - detail

Heroes Square

faun light

We are being watched

Metro

Szent István

street to St. Stephens

Magyar University

Budapest skyline

Budapest Skyline

Matthias Church

Mathias Church and Fishermens Bastion

King Istvan

Matthias Church roof

Tony and the Cop

St. Stephens Square

Courtyard - Vajdahunyad Castle

Metro rail

Kerepesi Cemetery

Corner building

B&W mural

typical street

typical entryway

Orange building

15
Nov 2012
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Hungary

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Lake Bled (Trains, Hitchhiking, and Rowboats)

While we were staying with Marie in Kobarid, we also spent some time with her friend Rudi. Rudi is an engineer who drives a car train through the mountain tunnels. We had never heard of a car train before, so in case that’s also unfamiliar to you, it’s basically the same concept as a ferry. Except instead of a boat taking your car across the water, the train is taking your car through the mountains, which saves you almost an hour of driving and lots of petrol burnt on steep switchbacks.

A map on the wall of the Most na Soči train station

Rudi - profile

Rudi invited us to ride with him from Most na Soči to Bohinjska Bistrica in the engine of his train. Marie drove us down from Kobarid to meet the train, and after the requisite coffee at the station cafe, we climbed aboard.

engine - front

Most na Soči train station

engineer Tony

Rudi told us that the engine was American made.  The sections of track that didn’t go through the 100 year old tunnels wound along rippling rivers and valleys and small towns.

tiny town

looking forward

Tony and Rudi

controls

dead man's switch

controls

unloading cars

arriving in Bohinj

Time passed all too quickly and soon we were at the end of the line at Bohinjska Bistrica.  We parted ways with Rudi and walked through the edge of town until we came to a pizzeria where we ordered a soup and a spicy venison sausage pizza for lunch.

pizzeria for lunch

After lunch, we walked back to the north of town on the road to Bled and stuck our thumbs out. We were told that it was very easy and safe to hitchhike in Slovenia, and we positioned ourselves in an area with a nice place for a driver to pull off the road, across from a petrol station. Nearly forty minutes passed with hardly any drivers giving us a second look and we were beginning to doubt the advice we had been given. But soon, an elderly Slovenian couple in a white sedan pulled over. As we climbed into the slipcovered back seat with thankful smiles and several hvala lepa!s, the woman turned and indicated that we should buckle up. “Policija!” After they asked where we were from, the rest of the ride was spent in contented silence, and when we arrived in Bled, there was another round of smiles and hvala lepas and adijos.

It was a warm afternoon, and we wished we had brought our swimming suits. Since we kept our transportation costs at an all-time low for the day, we decided to splurge on renting a boat. Tony rowed us out to the island. We climbed the 99 steps to the church at the top and rang the bell.

our boat

rowing to the island

99 steps to the top

tower

Bled Castle - from a distance

Church of the Assumption - ringing the bell

the island

church and mountain

rowing back

model of island

island - late afternoon

We took another train back to Most na Soči as the sun disappeared behind the mountains.

(Watch a short video of our train ride and rowboating)

02
Nov 2012
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Slovenia

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