Thailand, more 7-11's than you can shoot a ping-pong ball at.
I was really looking forward to se Asia and Thai in particular. I know it's been done to death but I couldn't wait. I was really looking forward to a change from India and we got it. From the minute you land the vibe was just much more welcoming and familiar I guess. On the drive into Bangkok the huge highway and neon bilboards harkened a more modern country and the level of cleanliness was the most we'd seen in quite a while. And even though this took the edge off the town it was ok. We stayed on Kho San road which in retrospect was a mistake, but nothing that ended up being too bad. If you are going to visit and you're not 18 best to avoid it. Stay more central and you'll avoid being overcharged from everything from taxi rides to bootleg movies. The food is also lesser quality and it's not too near anything besides the royal palace which is amazing, but we'll get to that in a second.
So we arrive on khosan and it the crowd of backpackers hits us like a wall of patchulli and braids. I gotta tell you there is nothing more disturbing than white people with dreads, it just irks me to no end. Anyway I digress. The street is full of street food tattoo parlors, massage houses, bars and hotels and tourists. And 7-11's which was a trip. We had one next door and one across the street and another 2 on our block surreal since I hadn't seen a 7-11 in a long while, even back in the states. We find our place and it looks like a good spot. Modern, clean and with a rooftop pool, we're all fancy now. We check in and I am dying to eat, I love Thai food and I'm not disappointed. I immediately go for some street chicken to tie me over until we find a restaurant to get some Thai food. We find another street place with tables and good looking noodles so we grab a seat, order some beer and food. Our first official Thai meal is great, cheap and fun. 3 for 3. The next day we sleep in. It'd been a while since we'd been able to do that since we've been catching overnight trains and buses etc we were short on sleep. So around noon we wake up and make our way outside. By the light of day Kho San is a bit of a letdown. The corners that are so hidden by night can't escape now and the ugliness shows. But that's how it is in every night spot, that's why they're called night spots. We took the next day to get the lay of the land and sort out what was near us and eat more. Indian food is great but we needed a bit of variety. So more street chicken and noodles galore, I took out a bunch of chickens thank you very much.
We had heard that some of the best food was in the food courts so off we went to a big mall. The food court was incredible there was food from all over the world and it was delish! Really impressive but a lot costlier than the local food It also gave us a peek into the extraordinary shopping culture that exists the Bkok. I haven't ever seen as many shops as there are there, every inch of this city has somehing to buy and the night markets! Oh man they are little cities jammed with alleys full of everything you could buy, from puppies to bootleg movies to motorcycle parts.
We stopped at the royal palace which was an incredibly impressive complex. Oh yeah they also love their king here, pictures and statues in almost every store and corner so the palace was off the hook. Beautiful Thai architecture and amazing gardens. I'll put the pictures online when I get a chance so you'll see what I mean. You have to dress appropriately when you visit the palace so that meant no shorts or exposed shoulders. As you walk to the palace there are people on the street that tell you that you won't get in dressed as u r so you should buy some gear at their store, but of course they don't tell u that you get free smocks as you enter the palace! Cheeky devils.
So the palace was unreal, gilded and austentatious Ns fit for a king. There were buddahs and golden lotus everywhere.
Now later that night we decided to go see some kick boxing. Muy Thai is the national sport so we figured we had to check ot out. We went to one of the national stadiums and bought our tickets. Going into the place was a bit like walking into thr Thumderdome. There were three sections that each placed you further above the ring. We were in the highest one and in between there was a huge metal fence and some netting. There were about 12 fights on the card and thy went by pretty quickly thanks to a few knockouts that sent guys home on a stretcher! It was crazy that the guys would get smacked with an elbow in the head get knocked out and two minutes later he was getting thrown on a stretcher and the next fight was getting underway. I think the most dangerous opponent was the scorpion that walked by our feet before being squashed by a guy next to us! He looked so fierce as he repeatedly stomped on the bug with furious anger and quickly sat back down to watch the fights. At any rate that was a great night, got to see a bunch of Bangkok up close and personal. The next few days were spent explorig the city and eating as much as we possibly could. The 20 pounds that I lost in the previous countries was being found in SE Asia.
After a quick couple of days here we went to Chiang Mai in the north. We'd heard that it is a bit cooler up north and that the food and art scene is great, so off we went. It was an overnight bus ride that was heaps better than any of the other night travels that we'd taken so far. A quick albeit wobbly bus ride deposited us in the walled city. We quickly decided that we were fans of the place and proceeded to check into a little place to crash. Luckily it wasn't the hot season so we weren't dying as apparently it is brutally hot and humid during the summer, so we rented some bikes to explore the town. It's nice and flat so there wasn't a whole lot of fitness needed (thank god). We rode all around and found the art galleries on the other side of the river and some interesting spots to gain weight. Over the next day or so we took a cooking class which was awesome since we got to go to the market to do some shopping for veg and fruit and we got to try our hand and some Thai cooking. I must say that we both did a great job and we bravely tested the limits of spiciness that we could tolerate. We had found that most places curb the spice to suit most western visitors een if you tell them to go for it. Well now we had the wheel and we were feeling ballsy. I think I may have surprised myself with the amount of chillis I devoured, Nicky on the other hand had no problems with the spice, bless her iron guts.
The last day there we decided to take the scooter as far out of town as we could. We'd heard about a tiger sanctuary on the edge of town and some amazing scenery in thr hillsides so we were settin to do some exploring. (note to other visitors. Unless you can read Thai street signs buy a map). So about 30 minutes after we left town center we buzzed down a highway and found Tiger World! Ordinarily I don't like zoos or places like this and we did spend a good half hour outside the place debating whether we should go in or not. I mean who's to say that the tigers are happy or treated well or have enough room to stretch their legs, guilt and dubiousness were rattling in our heads but in the end we decided to go and see these beasts. Nicky opted to go visit the cubs and I went for the big fellas. Well Nicky got the better end of that deal as she got to go in with these little twins guys that were as cute and playful as twin tiger cubs can be. They were runnig around playing with ea h other and climbing all over Nick. Luckily it was close to feedng time and Nicky got to bottle feed one of the little buggers. I had to stay outsid the room but it was all glass and managed to snap lots of pics. Grinning from ear to ear she left the twins to greet their next lucky visitor. I on the other hand went to see the big boys. These guys were about 350 lbs and pretty fucking intimidating. Luckily it was mid day and they were laying about after their meal. I walk into the enclosure with the guide and we stroll on over to a huge female named Paula. She's enormous, her paws are the size of my head and her head is the size of my chest so of course he has me lie next to her and rub her belly and put my head on her. Of course why not what bad could come fo this. Well apparently nothing as she simply rolled a little to give me better access to her belly. I gotta say it was a pretty incredible thing to be that close a creature that huge and powerful, but all in all I would have rather seen them in their natural habitat, unfortunately there aren't enough of them left to make that too easy. After the park we decided to test the limits of our little Yamaha scooter and see what there was to see in the Thai highlands. Well a lot is what there is to see. Beautiful valleys and lush, tropical mountains and rice paddies. And steep as hills! We got a little turned around at one point and decided that a winding little "road" was the way back to town. We took the turn and as we climbed the road turned to what I would describe as a slight foot path that must have been 35-40 degrees steep. The little scoot came so close to puttering out and rolling backwards but I think I can, I think I can it made it up the steepest part only to discover that this isn't the road back to town. So back down we crept, brake squeezed as tightly as possible and my midsection squeezed by nicky equally. Eventually we found our way and rewarded ourselves with a fabulous dinner. All in all we loved our time in northern Thailand and since we were off to meet nickys friend in the southern islands in a couple weeks we decided to go to Laos in between. But that's another chapter.