Wednesday, April 16, 2014

China: Thailand Edition

I escaped China for ten days, and it was incredible.

The past month or so in Kunming has been pretty uneventful. The program keeps us all fairly busy throughout the week, so by the time the weekend rolls around I have no energy for travel, and uh… blog posts. But excuses are lame, so I’ll skip to the good stuff.

Early in March, my close friend, Brianne, came to visit me. She had just finished a yearlong teaching gig in Korea, so the timing was perfect. She flew to Kunming and stayed with me for almost two weeks. I never factored the language pledge into this visit, which made for some really awkward moments when running into my friends or the program director. At times it felt like she was my secret lover, sneaking into each other’s rooms for some forbidden encounters. I also felt a bit guilty leaving her when I had to go to class or get some studying in, but I think we did a pretty good job of making it work. It was great having someone already accustomed to Asian culture, giving us a chance to make fun of all the weird stuff the Chinese and Koreans do.

He is NOT having it with our selfie. 

A few days after the train station tragedy, we were given permission to leave our lockdown and head over to Hong Kong. That city is amazing. I was so ignorant towards anything about Hong Kong before coming to China, so the entire weekend was filled with exciting surprises. The best surprise for me was by far the fact that parts of Hong Kong felt like Manhattan placed in the middle of a rainforest, with entire blocks shrouded by large canopies and mist. It was a great weekend of shopping, sightseeing, speaking English; I will definitely be returning.

There are so many trees like this right on the sidewalk.

After Brianne left, I zombied through midterm week and awaited my next excursion, Thailand.

These little guys (def a girl here) are all over the beaches

Thailand is amazing. I don’t know why I never knew anything about this part of the world. I had vague images of Bangkok from “The Hangover” films, and knew that southern Thailand was scattered with islands from “Survivor”. I’m also not ashamed to admit knowing that the Kardashians were in Thailand the week before I arrived; but, apart from my excessive TV knowledge, Thailand was never really on my radar. I got the idea from Max, who had already visited the country, and joined my friend Lillian, who went to Harbin with us and was also in CET Beijing, for the Best.Spring.Break.Ever.

Practicing my Muay Thai skills. 

Our trip started off a bit shaky when our plan to meet in the Bangkok airport backfired. Lillian’s flight was delayed a few hours, leaving me to think she had abandoned me and was preparing myself to go off on my own. After a few hours, I had the brilliant idea of reading the giant sign in the airport, informing me to chill the f out until her plane came. Thankfully, she landed and our trip began. Our first day in Bangkok was also a bit of a mess. During my airport freak-out, I spent some time reading about the tourist scams in my travel book. One of them warned about rickshaw drivers that will offer to take tourists around the entire city and stop off at important attractions for only about 30 cents. If it sounds too good to be true, it is. Midway through the tours the rickshaw drivers then take you to some warehouse and pressure you into buying junk. So, as the well-read traveler I am, I was fully prepared to take on Bangkok. First rickshaw we see: “Whoa! What a great deal! Oh, it’s a holiday special? Yeah I believe him, lets do it!”. I’m proud to say I didn’t buy any of the suits at the warehouse, but it actually was a great deal and Lillian wasn’t sold into the sex trade, so whatevs.

Rickshaw, tuk tuk, from hell.

Our second day in Bangkok was much safer since we spent the day derping around in some temples and palaces. You’d think over the course of Thai history that they would have abolished the rule that you must completely cover up in the 90° heat, but nah. One of the temples contained an emerald Buddha, which they actually have outfits for and change him depending on the season. It was a little silly, but fascinating. We also spent some time in the markets of the city and attempted to haggle in their famous “floating markets”, which are basically loads of boats along the river filled with goods.

It was so hot and we definitely made his job 10x worse.

We spent hours in this market. It was huge.

After Bangkok, what Lillian and I liked to call the “real vacation” began. That Monday, we flew down over to Krabi, a province in southern Thailand. Immediately after arriving at our hotel, we were picked up by an elephant trekking company and taken over to the elephant reserve. At the reserve, we rode elephants, fed them bananas, and even got to bathe with a smaller one. It was a great a day, but part of me felt bad for the animals because I wasn’t entirely sure how well they were treated. While riding and bathing them, some Thai dude had a giant hook he would use to control them, and I could have sworn I saw a tiny tear and a look that said, “kill meeeeeee”. The other people in my tour group said it doesn’t hurt them, so I’ll just have to feign ignorance to feel better about myself.

Elephant hates us too. 

Tuesday was one of our many relaxing beach days. Early in the morning, Lillian and I rented motorbikes and drove an hour or so to Ao Nang, which is a smaller beach town in Krabi province. On the way there, we turned into a gas station for a quick stop, and Lillian ate shit. She was going maybe 2mph during her turn and completely wiped out and flipped over her bike, knocking the wind out of her and trashing up her leg. It was so funny though. I never told her, but throughout the drive to Ao Nang I would occasionally play back her fall in my head and start dying of laughter again. When we arrived to the beach, I got off my bike, inhaled the fresh sea air, turned around, and saw Lillian sprawled out on the pavement surrounded by some couple that happened to have an entire Rite-Aid in their bag. I don’t know how she survived that trip, but she was a trooper and was all pumped for the rest of day. We didn’t do much else that day, but the beaches were spectacular. Also, the food in Thailand is unbelievable. I tried Thai food for maybe the second time a few weeks before leaving for China, but now I am officially hooked.

What a champ
Coconut rice and mango. Simple, but delicious.

Maybe five minutes after Lillian's wipe out. I realize now this wasn't the best idea. 

Ao Nang, Krabi Province, Thailand. 

The next day was my favorite day. We were picked up by a zip lining company in the morning and driven over to the rain forest. The group was just Lillian, two really hung-over British girls, and me, so we kind of had the jungle to ourselves. The locals gave us a quick tutorial, and then we were left to swing around the trees. They had so many different kinds of ropes courses, and at times I was high enough that I was unable to see the jungle floor. I was in heaven. Immediately after the jungle, we were dropped off in Ao Nang, and picked up by a sunset cruise boat. We boarded around 3pm, and had the entire evening to sail around, snorkel, drink, swim, chat, and drink. I honestly would live on an island if I could, so that sailboat ride was one of the coolest things I have ever experienced.

I have no idea what I am doing.

Tree top chillin.

After Krabi, we took a bus a few hours further south to Trang. In Trang, we didn’t have much planned, so we just spent two days hanging on the beach and motor biking around the hot springs. Lillian lost her motorbike privileges, so she rode behind me. Trang was ok, but we probably would have had a better time if we had stayed in Krabi.

So hot right now.

Our last day was originally planned to just be a layover night in Bangkok; but, to our surprise, we had flown back just in time for the Thai New Year. The Thai people really know how to party. Entire blocks were closed off and turned into a giant water fight dance party. The street vendors sold us water guns, and it became an all out water battle. For this celebration, nobody is off limits. I was soaked in about five minutes and we had hours of fun just dancing around and attacking people.

I’ve now returned to Kunming and classes are back in effect. It’s nice being able to communicate with the locals, which was something I had a really hard time doing in Thailand. I suppose I underestimated how convenient it is to understand the language in a foreign country. So, Brianne, I give you major props for surviving Korea.

I’m going to lie again and promise a new blog post soon, so just bare with me. Happy Easter, everyone!

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