…but different

To Chiang Mai from Bangkok I took an overnight bus. It’s not the greatest option at a 9 hour ride, but also not the worst. The train system in Thailand is nice but it has a few downfalls: one being that tickets must be bought at the train station, another that tickets often should be bought far in advance. I couldn’t be bothered to navigate myself to the station in Bangkok and my hostel sold bus tickets at the front desk, so whatever they sold me is what I took.

A 9 hour ride sounds long but before I knew it there I was at half five in the morning, completely disoriented, in Chiang Mai and not totally convinced of it.

I noticed a lot of backpackers in SE Asia just rock up in a city with no arranged accommodation and find something when they arrive. That’s completely bold – the last thing I want to do in 90F 90% humidity is wander with a 40 pound sack on my back looking for a cheap room. I applaud those more adventurous than I. That method is not for me. It’s enough that I’m standing here in Chiang Mai with no clue where the bus has dropped me and all the other passengers scattered like ants. I asked a few local people if they could show me where we were on a map I had, but the English this morning was non-existant, so like a bumbling idiot I stood instead until a tuk tuk driver appeared to take me to my destination. For the entire trip I had been seeing tourist shirts with the text “same same” written on them, but it had been completely lost on me until this moment:

“How much for a ride to Deejai’s Hostel?”
“100 baht.”
“Can you do it for less?”
Same same. But lucky morning. 80 baht.”

I got “Same Same-d” at 5 in the fucking morning. I almost fell over before climbing in the back of his tuk tuk. It’s all same same, but different. Lucky morning indeed.

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One [too many] night[s] in Bangkok

I really didn’t want to go to Bangkok at all. Big foreign cities annoy me unless I plan to immerse myself in them for a number of days to really figure things out, but Bangkok didn’t have enough to offer to make me want to do that. Nevertheless, it was my gateway to Thailand and the ghettobus there from Siem Reap was only $10, so to Bangkok I had to go.
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As with other places I’ve traveled to in SE Asia I had no idea where I was when I arrived off the bus, so haggling with a taxi driver to get me to my hostel was partially useless. I had a slight idea of prices to know that the 1,000 baht ($30) he asked for was outrageous, but I was pushing for 300 baht and couldn’t get him below 350. After the journey from Cambodia I had little patience for the chaos and couldn’t find another driver to even give me a price so I got stuck with the first guy, and in addition to feeling a little ripped off to the tune of only a few dollars, the driver didn’t even drop me off in front of my hostel and I couldn’t find it. I showed some Thais the address and eventually one was polite enough to walk me in the right direction – that’s all she could do since I can’t understand the language and the correct building was actually several blocks away. Not the best intro to Bangkok, guys.

I received the hostel recommendation from a girl who had been in my room in both Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, and upon arriving there it was positively the cleanest place I’d ever stayed in. Although it really didn’t change my mind about Bangkok, I decided to add a second night there so I wasn’t racing to my next destination without ever unpacking, and I desperately wanted to use the opportunity to organize the next few days and get laundry done. Other than that, it was hot and incredibly humid. I did not want to be in Bangkok.

The first night I met two English girls on their way home after a year doing working holiday in Australia. They asked if I’d like to go to Khoasan Road (the Westernized backpacker district) with them, and since my plans looked more like going to sleep at 9 (god, I’m boring) I accepted – but sadly it’s really nothing worth seeing. Top 40 music blares in the streets, flimsy print t-shirts are for sale, and creepy old men advertise a “ping pong show” (that whole concept had to be explained to me later. Ew.)

The following day felt more promising: I met two lovely ladies named Robia and Rebecca who were from North America but studying abroad in Hong Kong. I asked them what there was to do in Bangkok anyway, “Shopping!” they replied, and shopping with them I went.
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Although we wandered through a few ritzy malls, they were looking for the bargains and we headed to a multilevel center called Platinum. The prices were clearance and clothes decent, but the stores don’t offer changing rooms so everything is a bit of guesswork and then praying it looks flattering when you arrive home. I already know I’m not the size of an Asian, but it was fun to look.

In the late afternoon during shopping I began to feel increasingly off. My muscles ached and my eyes felt like they were staring through things. I had absolutely no appetite and the curry I ate for a late lunch felt like dead weight in my stomach. I did get some mosquito bites a few days ago, Oh my lanta, do I have dengue? Convinced I was dying in the truest form, I ran home from the malls alone in all the rush hour congestion and holed up in my bed for the night, feeling horribly feverish and bracing myself for the onset of something bad that was about to come. I looked up hospital addresses in case anything really started to go wrong. I hate you, Bangkok. I don’t even want to be here.
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I tossed and turned most of the night, but in the morning nothing had progressed into anything worse, so I dragged myself out of bed to get out and see some things with Robia and Rebecca. The ferry ride we took made me super queasy, but at least I made it out of bed, at least I don’t have dengue fever after all. Later that night I caught the bus to Chiang Mai, laundry clean and completely relieved… Finally out of Bangkok. boatbangkok

A wrap on Cambodia

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My last day in Siem Reap I spent being sufficiently lazy – a good thing since reception messed up my reservation and I spent several hours fighting with them about it in the middle of the day. All I really wanted was to walk to the night market and have Cambodian curry, which I eventually did and it was by far the best meal of the whole trip. By the time I returned back to the hostel it was witching hour at the sandy upstairs bar, so despite my plan to have one beer I got dragged out to Pub Street with these young guys anyway – Phil I had already met in Phnom Penh, along with two Danish travelers and a muscly English guy.

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Here’s a clip of a pack of Cambodian kids attacking the guys on a walk to Pub Street. Kids can’t take us down, just take our wallets.

 

Trip midpoint: glass half empty or half full?

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I’ve been away for over 2 weeks now. I feel like I’ve not wanted to write because I’ve spent so much time trying to figure out where to go after Thailand. Wait and figure out later? Perhaps an option if I had more than a 15 day visa and trains and planes weren’t all booked. I guess if I have to crawl to Malaysia I will.
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After Chiang Mai I was excited to get to the islands – Thailand has been a challenge for me. Obviously not everyone speaks English, but this is the first time I really had to interact with so many people I couldn’t understand. Most of the problems are trivial and I’m fine, but it’s incredibly frustrating trying to get somewhere and spending hours to do it unsuccessfully. In Cambodia I felt that although people were pushy, they were honest. The tuk tuk driver in Siem Reap wasn’t trying to rip me off – he was forcefully trying to find work. In Thailand, prices are jacked up because you’re foreign and sometimes it feels like no amount of bartering is going to get you the price that is fair. I try to make up for it in other ways – huge rice meals at the guesthouse for 40 baht (about $1.30), large bottles of water at 7-11 for 13 baht (45¢) and walking absolutely anywhere possible. I haven’t so much as had a beer in days as I felt like shit in Bangkok and in Chiang Mai I felt like I’d be chasing after some sort of uncertain amount of fun that may or may not actually occur. Hopefully I’ll feel more alive on the islands – for most of these two weeks, I’ve had absolutely no guilt about going to bed before 11.

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Couple short things

Everyone looks at me funny when I say “bug spray”. Sorry. INSECT REPELLENT. And I won’t miss practically eating DEET with my breakfast rice.

Backpacking the tropics is one big camaraderie of “holy shit all my stuff smells terrible”

Asians don’t coat their food in soybean oil the way Americans do – I can’t read most ingredients on labels but generally haven’t had a problem with my food intolerance issues. Plus eating vegetarian here is incredibly easy AND delicious.

Water comes in small and large sizes, ~16 oz and 1.5 liters. The large usually costs less than 1 USD. I’ve probably spent over $20 on water already. And I’m still dehydrated.

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Siem Reap: Legends of the Sweaty Temple

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Backpacking Southeast Asia is nothing like backpacking Europe. In Europe you always know where the bus or train station is, but here it seems that I pretty much turn up in any city and have no idea where I am. This was the case for Siem Reap, and after stepping off my bus, before I knew it I was not only in a new city but a tuk tuk driver at the “bus stop” got me to commit to his tour services for the following 36 hours. Being from the New York area it’s usually easy to turn down anything – we are incessantly bombarded with hard sells and it’s something we learn to ignore quickly. Needless to say I really surprised myself when I actually felt bad for the driver after he pulled out a map, started pointing at things and told me it would be $25. I don’t even remember how I finally agreed or what specifically made me unable to say no, but two hours after he originally dropped me off at my hostel he was ready and waiting again – off to Phnom Bakeng he drove me – the perfect hilltop place of all the area temples to watch the sun go down.
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The following day my driver (he was named Robbie) was waiting for me at 8am. The sun was already scorchingly hot, so although I would have preferred to go riding bikes around the temples instead of riding in a cart, it was easy to feel how actually miserable it would have been and I was happy that Robbie (or Rabi or Robi or who knows) had hard sold me the previous day at the “bus stop”. I spent the next 6 hours temple-traipsing throughout Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom and the surrounding ruins, marveling both at the incredible architecture and how much I was sweating compared to the locals (sweat? They don’t.)

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Some people claim they spend an entire week exploring the temples, but for me two days was enough. Some of the temples have stairs so steep it’s like climbing huge ladders – it’s really quite exhausting. Bruised and broken, I opted to spend the end of my day in Siem Reap in linen elephant-print pants sipping Cambodian drafts on the sandy hostel rooftop.

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