The Thais that Bond Us

Tyler and I are blessed/fortunate/lucky for any number of reasons, but one of our most highly valued life-possessions are our relatively numerous but equally important ‘best friends.’ T&I have a lot (relatively speaking) of them, and if you’ve heard us mention these impacting relationships, we usually preface with something like “one of my best friends from ______.” My brother used to tease me incessantly for my inability to name just one – seemingly defeating the meaning of the title (we can’t all have a Mark in our lives, Jay)– but even with a gun to my head, I wouldn’t be able to really truly give you an answer (at the moment though, I’d go with Tyler). It’s not that we’re lazy or indecisive – when each member of this group of best friends is equally important to your life and generally impossible to live without, you cannot choose one arbitrarily and anoint them THE bestie.

You might be wondering why I’m rambling about this particular topic when I really should be regaling you with stories about Thailand. Well, it’s because of 2 of T’s best friends (and their charming, kind, intelligent, and hilarious better halves), that our Thai adventures were so special. We don’t have words to express our gratitude and happiness for your visit on our leap, Gecans and Chas & Angela, but hopefully this little bit of hopeless sappiness explains our sentiments.

Our adventures together began in Bangkok, a city with a certain notoriety and seedy reputation. My expectations were low – until Tyler’s visit to India in 2009, Bangkok was his least favorite city in the world due to its pollution, population density, busy insanity, hawkers, sex trafficking businesses, and general character flaws. It’s certainly not on the list of “favorite destinations of the year”, but I was pleasantly surprised by Bangkok. Amid the crazy lies a certain charm difficult to find in large Asian cities. The people, though outwardly friendly, will dupe and cheat you, the city has its dirty/smelly parts (though in my experience, less so than Mexico City, Managua, Phnom Penh, Mumbai, Delhi, and every city in China), and you don’t really need to spend more than 2 days there unless you plan on doing a lot of shopping at one the city’s many mega-malls.

For a relatively short period of time, we packed in a lot. Before the visitors arrived, T&I spent a couple days roaming the city, the highlight being a visit to the Chatuchak Market (also known as JJ Market) which covers 35 acres of land with over 5,000 stalls and is only open on the weekends. It’s estimated that the Market gets 200,000 visitors/day, which we did not experience because it was a long weekend for New Year’s and not as busy for locals who went home (to various villages within Thailand) to visit family instead. It’s easily the best market we’ve seen on our travels, and if I’d been prepared and wasn’t on a budget, I would’ve spent a fortune. Many of the stalls were like actual stores (with A/C occasionally) and sold unique boutique clothing, accessories, trinkets, and more. There was a wide variety of food stalls and mini-restaurants as well, and each was packed with locals and tourists alike.

With ‘the crew’, we did all of the following in Bangkok:
1. eat a delicious set menu on New Year’s Eve at Ruen Urai – a restaurant in an old, traditional, Thai Teak house. other patrons included the gayest group of cross-dressing Europeans on this side of the world. Jen & Kevin joined us from Malaysia for the evening’s festivities.
2. watch the incredible fireworks displays (put on by the many 5-star hotels) along the Chao Phraya River from the fire escape of our hotel, the Sheraton Royal Orchid, while drinking booze purchased at 7-11
3. Bangkok clubbing, where Kristin almost got in a fight and Usher’s “Yeah!” had me reppin’ the A
4. visit a floating market, which turned out to be more entertaining than educational, quite touristy and over-priced, and required inhalation of lots of gas fumes. But C bought a robot, so it was well worth the visit.
5. T&I went to the hospital for the first time on our trip while the rest visited the Golden Palace and Reclining Buddha. Hopefully our visit will keep T from ever biting his fingernails again.
6. eat at Cabbages&Condoms – wouldn’t really recommend – though it is dining for a good cause (i.e. the distribution of birth control) – and decorated with condoms
7. watch professional Muay Thai fights (for a few hours) at Lumpinee Boxing Stadium. highlights included a couple knock outs, taking pictures with the fighters, and K&I talking to a fellow tourist (male) while his girlfriend looked on, unamused by our harmless conversation
8. drinks, McDonald’s hookah run by some really adorable Nepalese guys who were excited about my brown-ness and wanted to take pics with us, and street pad thai on Khao San Road (i.e. the backpacker district)
9. venturing up to Sky Bar at the Dome for a great view (but no drinks – way too expensive)
10. wandering around MBK mall (everyone needs to experience the big Asia mall) and Asiatique riverfront area

On January 2nd, we headed to Krabi for some beach time R&R. We stayed at the lovely Sunda Resort, a Muslim-run establishment which despite its lack of alcohol (no big deal since you can bring your own) included an elaborate East meets West breakfast spread with such varied offerings as muesli and stir-fried beef & vegetables with oyster sauce, a lovely pool, and the quintessentially Southeast Asian indoor/outdoor bathroom. We spent one day island hopping and snorkeling, including a visit to Koh Phi Phi (of “The Beach” fame) with its powder white soft sand (softest in the world!), gorgeous blue water, and hoards of Chinese tourists. Jim got his first massage, the boys fulfilled a life-long dream of being in a motorcycle gang together (flower helmets and all), everyone except S&K tried durian (the absolute smelliest fruit in the world – T said it tasted like onion – J loved it), and we found the best hookah & falafel place in the world at Cleopatra on Ao Nang beach. After a death ride in the taxi-shuttle to Phuket airport (a drive that should take close to 3 hours only took 1.5), we headed to our final destination, Chiang Mai, in northern Thailand, for a more spiritual, nature-ific experience.

We stayed at the grandiose Le Meridian (I should really write a thank you letter to Deloitte for making T live in a hotel for 2-ish years), which was perfectly situated next to the night market and near a variety of CM’s many attractions. Each of us (except for K with her super-powered immune system) was some form of sick, and J got the worst of it the last couple days of their trip and was pretty much bed-ridden with the flu. We all tried to be troopers and push ourselves and managed to see a lot despite our limited time and health. CM is the 2nd largest city in Thailand, but is quite charming in the walled, moat-enclosed old city, and is home to something like 300 wats (Buddhist temples).

Highlights & recommended activities include:

1. Dinner at Dash! Restaurant and Bar. Especially recommend any of the curries with pork and a roti.
2. Coffee at Ristr8o – 6th best barista in the world (apparently they have competitions for these kinds of things)- if you’re lucky, you’ll get an angry bird design in your coffee
3. visit the Elephant Nature Park. If you want to see an elephant draw a picture or balance on a ball or do other things elephants shouldn’t be doing, this isn’t the place for you. If you want to ride on an elephant’s back (which is actually really bad for the elephant), this isn’t the place for you. If you instead want to actually see elephants in what is as close to their natural habitat as possible after being rescued from horrible working conditions and learn how to care for them properly and feed and bathe them and generally enjoy a day in the beautiful Thai mountains, this will be one of the most amazing experiences of your life.
4. Visit Wat Chedi Luang – nicest (maybe largest) wat in the city – the ruins of the old temple are the best part. We also liked Wat Phra Singh.
5. Sunday Night Walking Market – less interesting if you’ve visited a variety of markets, but a good one nonetheless. Lots of food and the usual suspects sold at all markets in this region of the world.
6. Walking along the river, grabbing a drink at the Bus Bar, and listening to the terrible live music (all covers of English songs sung by people who may not actually speak English) at various outdoor bars

We visited some other sights and places, but the above were the best experiences.  Aside from our various illnesses, I think everyone had an incredible time and hopefully felt like they got to see a lot without it being overwhelming – after all, vacations should be relaxing too. Despite really enjoying our 30 days in Thailand (we literally left on the last possible day of our visa’s validity), we were ready to venture to ultra modern, clean, safe, chic, expensive, and food-filled Singapore as everyone else went back home. Ending this year of countless adventures and priceless experiences could have been sad, but by ringing in 2013 in Bangkok with close friends, we are ever-more confident that this new year will be equally exciting, though perhaps in different ways.

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