Thailand: The White Temple

We get up early to catch a van that will take us closer to Laos. We won’t actually reach Laos for 2 more days, and will be traveling mostly by boat, but today we take a van further north-east in Thailand. The van fits 10 people so we share the space with some other groups of people. There is a group of girls (3 American and 1 Canadian), a German couple, an older French guy, and a younger guy who looks Scandinavian, but I don’t know for sure where he’s from. It’s a quiet ride to the hotel.

Thailand: Doi Suthamp Temple

Doi Suthamp Temple is the most famous in Chiang Mai, so I have to see it. We wake up relatively late and go downstairs for our delicious croissant breakfast creation. I am set on seeing this temple, which Ilona has no desire to visit, so instead of dragging her up 300 stairs (we’ll get to the stairs) and instead of missing it, I choose to go alone. As directed by the front desk guy downstairs, I hop into a tuk tuk that takes me to the Chiang Mai Zoo, which is right at the bottom of the mountain heading up to the Temple. From the Zoo I get in a big red truck/bus crossover thing that is another form of taxiing in Thailand.

Thailand: Chaing Mai Sunday Market

After breakfast we decide to use this day to get some things done. I haven’t done a laundry yet since we’ve arrived, Ilona needs to send a package of things home (which I was lucky enough to have Dolly do for me when I was in India), we have not decided on a way to get to Laos yet, and we have yet to book a place to stay in Koh Phangan for the Full Moon party, so most of our afternoon consists of those sorts of things. Not too exciting, sorry.

Elephants, Long Necks, and Tigers

This is a post I wrote when I was on my first backpacking trip. I was young, naive, and didn’t understand the terrible consequences of participating in tours like these.
I struggled with wether to remove this or not, but to erase this post and pretend I never went would do no good. I had to learn from this mistake, but as I look back I am embarrassed and full of shame for being so blind to the treatment of these poor animals.

I in no way support animal tourism, and now do my best to be a “woke” traveller wherever I go in the world.

Old City – Chiang Mai

It’s 6:45am before our train pulls into the Chiang Mai station. This is a bad thing, because it means our 16 hour train ride has turned into an 18 hour train ride, but kinda a good thing because it means we are not going to be roaming around the city looking for a place to stay in the dark.

Train to Chiang Mai

We wake up at noon to a phone call from the front desk asking us if we will be checking out. Shit. We slept in WAY too late and now we’re not only late for check out, but late for our train to Chiang Mai!

Thai Halloween

I wake up to the sound of rain falling against the rusty rooftops just outside my window. It’s a beautiful sort of rain. The kind that comes crashing, refreshes the air, and then leaves. I fall back to sleep, but when I wake up the air is as hot, sticky, and humid as it had been yesterday. The rain gave a false sense of hope.

Ilona and I plan our day around figuring out how and when to go to north. We visit a travel office by our hotel and find two tickets for an over-night train to Chiang Mai. The trip is 14 hours long and we leave at 12:45 tomorrow, which has us scheduled for a 4:30am arrival. What we are going to do in Chiang Mai at 4:30am is a mystery to me, but we have our trusty Lonely Planet guidebook so hopefully it will offer some suggestions…

After booking our tickets we walk around the streets of Bangkok through markets and down busy streets with lots of shops and tailors. I buy some fresh watermelon from a portable cart on the sidewalk as a snack while we’re walking around. We find two costume masks for 100 baht ($3ish) and each get one because tonight is Halloween!

We go back to our hotel and get ready to go out to a celebration at a nearby bar. Obviously Halloween isn’t big in Thailand but we’re on Khaosan Road with a bunch of backpackers. There was bound to be something going on.
When we leave our hotel wearing our masks, we can’t help but notice that we are the only people in any form of costume. It’s still early though, so we continue onto the bar, being stopped a couple of times by people taking photos of us and our “costumes”. Even when we arrive at the bar our server asks if she can take a photo of us on her cell phone to print out and post in the restaurant, which I think is pretty adorable.

We run into the same guys we met last night and sit down to have a beer. We all leave the bar when we get hungry, and walk down a couple streets over to a pizza place. I am more than happy to agree to eat something as boring as pizza for dinner tonight, if my other options are anything like the fried crickets yesterday. The menu has many Asian-influenced pizzas with seafood toppings, and I consider ordering one of these because I am in Thailand after all, but can’t bring myself to do it. I am still too mentally scarred from the bad experience I had with seafood pizza in Hong Kong so many years ago (ie. got so sick I thought I had SARS). Instead, I order a Hawaiian pizza, which takes forever to get to the table, but exceeds expectations taste-wise. After dinner we go for a walk around the area where the Halloween festivities are now in full swing. Lots of people have gotten their faces painted, or are wearing masks but I don’t see a lot of full-on costumes. We pass countless massage places that have chairs set up outside on the sidewalk so you can people watch as you get a massage, so we do it. A half-hour massage in Thailand costs 150 baht (5 dollars), and it is SO relaxing that I think I might fall asleep. Ilona and I manage to stay awake, but the boys start to feel tired afterwards and go home.

The night is still young, so we sit down at another outdoor bar while huge crowds of people flow past us through the busy street. They have blocked the road from use for cars, (I’m not sure if this is just for the Halloween festivities or all the time) though the odd motorbike will crawl by, stuck behind groups of slow moving people. We meet two more guys, this time from Ireland, not Scotland, while we are sitting at our table. They have been to Thailand a few times before and have also lived in Australia, so they give us lots of suggestions for where to stay, where to go, and what to do. They invite us to come with them to a nightclub that is just a short tuk-tuk ride away. On the way there our driver is popping wheelies, at the request of one of the Irish boys. It’s slightly terrifying…but no one dies so it’s fine. We get to the club and it’s… well… it’s a club. Colourful lights, flashy bar, top 40 remixes, sweaty people, the usual. I’m not usually a club goer, but it’s fun all the same.

People here party until 6am on a regular night, and I don’t dare stay up long enough to find out if it’s longer on special occasions, so when Ilona and I get tired we leave the club and go back to our hotel. We have a train to catch to Chiang Mai tomorrow at 12:45, and my bag is still half unpacked and all over the room, so I need to get up early enough to pack everything back up. Living out of a backpack is not as easy as it looks! But I’m loving the challenge to keep myself more organized, and so far, I haven’t left anything behind!

Bye India!

I have to wake up early because my flight to Thailand is at noon! I can’t believe my time in India is already up, it seemed so short, but I know I will be back again.

I look forward to returning, but I also can’t wait to get to Thailand and check out a whole new culture that I know absolutely nothing about. I really hadn’t researched anything about Thailand until our days in Goa, when I picked up the Lonely Planet guide for the first time. That’s all I have to prepare myself for what awaits over the next 45 days, but I like it that way! That, and I watched the Hangover Part 2 which takes place in Bangkok, so I fully expect to return with a tattoo on my face.

Ilona left for Bangkok yesterday afternoon, and is now happily settled into a hotel. She tells me that the city is beautiful, warm, and friendly, which makes me even more excited to go!

Bye Delhi!! It’s been wonderful… and weird.

Delhi in a Day

I wake up to an incredible breakfast, which has been cooked for me by the young girl who let me into their home, and cooked me dinner last night in Dolly’s absence. It has become clear to me now that she is their live in housemaid, which is very common in other countries. I had stayed with a friend of my father when I was traveling in Greece, who had a live in housemaid as well. I have to admit, I find it a little uncomfortable asking people to do things for me (I know, that doesn’t sound like me at all) but the whole concept is beginning to make sense to me, and I’m becoming more comfortable with it. I was pretty awkward about it to begin with. For one, I was helping her do the dishes last night… but that was before I was certain that she works here.

The breakfast she cooks me is the best breakfast ever. I would probably eat breakfast on a regular basis in Canada if we had this. Dolly tells me it is a traditional Indian breakfast and it consists of a whole grain naan bread stuffed with cauliflower and chives (or another herb), topped with a bit of butter and served with plain yogurt. They serve me not one, not two, but THREE of these naan breads one at a time. I am satisfied after one, but they keep coming so I keep eating. I only get through half of the third one, and am pressured to eat more but I absolutely can’t. I tell Dolly how delicious it is many times, but she seems concerned when I can’t finish my third piece of naan bread. I think it’s funny how different cultures and generations feel about food compared to how we regard it now in western culture. The older generations are always wanting us to eat more, have dessert, stuff our faces if we love it. Now, in western culture it’s looked down upon to over eat. With North America’s obsession with weight, it’s extremely rare to have someone tell you to keep eating when you say you’re full, but this has happened to me so many times in the last month while being in Denmark and India especially.

After breakfast Dolly calls a driver to take me around Delhi and see all of the sights I would like. She suggests that I go see The Lotus Temple, The Red Fort, Quatab Minar, and Connaught Place.
First, the driver takes me to Quatab Minar which is the tallest building in Old Delhi, and was built hundreds of years ago. Some hindi singer is filming a music video on one section of the grounds so I go to watch for a little bit. I love Bollywood style everything! All the acting is so cheesy, and even the song they are dancing too sounds cheesy, though it is in Hindi and obviously I can’t understand what it’s about. It was fun to see how they film the video in any case.

I notice much later in the day that I was ripped off at the Qutub Minar, when I gave the man at the counter a 1000 rupees for a 350 rupee ticket, and was only given 350 rupees back. I don’t notice at the time because people are swarming me, asking if I needed a tour guide, or need to buy postcards, need a photographer etc., as I am paying. It’s very clever of them, to distract you like that, and the 300 rupees I lose is not the end of the world, but it’s the moral aspect of it that hurts my soul. At first when I arrived in India I thought it was hilarious and I came prepared to be ripped off at least once or twice, but it really does become tiresome after a while. I don’t enjoy feeling like I have been taken advantage of… Especially 10 times a day. However the flip side to it, is that when I do catch someone trying to rip me off, and call them out, I feel like a champion.

After the Quatab Minar I planned to go to The Red Fort and Lotus Temple but they are both closed, so the driver makes some suggestions about where to go. I have heard that sometimes tour guides and cab drivers will lie to you about monuments being closed in order to lure you to other activities that they earn commission for bringing you to. At first I think that’s what he is doing because I have learned to assume the worst, but he takes me to The Lotus Temple anyway to take pictures from the outside and I see that it is in fact closed, so that makes me feel better.

However, after The Lotus Temple he drives me to a textile shop without asking me if I’d like to go (but he doesn’t really speak English so if he did ask it’s possible I wouldn’t have understood him anyway). The next thing I know we are pulled over and someone from the shop has come to collect me from my car. It’s all very confusing and a little bit scary because I don’t know where I am… this doesn’t look like sight seeing to me. I notice a lot of other tourists around who are all smiling and looking at scarves and dresses, which puts me at ease. It becomes obvious very quickly that I have been brought here with the sole purpose of purchasing something. They sit me down on a very luxurious purple couch, offer me a tea, and begin their schpiel. “Great quality” “best price” “many more colours” “feel the silk”. They are trying to sell me saris, pashminas, pillow cases, everything and anything they can. I keep explaining that I do not need or want anything, but of course they keep pushing. In order to get out quickly, I find a pashmina I like and tell them that I’ll take it and then leave. They try to lure me over to other sections of the shop but I firmly tell them all I would like is the pashmina. When I ask how much it costs, the response I get is “very good price”….. Okay…. How much is a very good price?

The pashmina is 50 Canadian dollars, and they refuse to haggle with me when I tell them that it’s way too expensive. “Fix price” they keep telling me, but I know that NOTHING in India is “fix price”. I find a cheaper pashmina that I like less, but agree to buy it anyway just to get out of the store (it just seemed too impossible and very awkward to just leave with nothing, which I’m sure is their intent). On my way to the cash, they take me the long way around weaving through separate sections of the giant store where I am stopped numerous times and told to look at the good quality jewelry, traditional indian style shoes, broaches for your saris etc. I tell the man leading me on this ridiculous walk to the cash register (which I had passed on the way in and therefore knew I did not need to walk through all of this to get back) that I do not want anything else, and that I’d just like to pay and leave. Growing more annoyed with every step we take towards the cash, I decide to just duck out and leave as soon as I see the front door. I hear the man calling after me, but I just ignore him and b-line back to my car.

I am absolutely sick of feeling like a cash cow everywhere I go. I don’t like people thinking they can take advantage of me and make me buy things I don’t want to buy, or pay more for things I don’t even want in the first place. For example, people asking me to take a picture of them, and then demanding a tip. I didn’t ask them for a picture, they asked ME. It happens literally everywhere I go. I think what annoys me the most about this textile shop situation, is that my driver took me there without asking me. I wanted to go sight seeing, Dolly had given him a list of places I wanted to see, and this textile shop was not one of them. I feel angry for a long time, thinking about the textile shop and how it was filled with unsuspecting tourists and almost no locals that I could see. It makes me think about my visit to the textile shop in Jaipur, where I had purchased a sari and bed sheets. I was given a tour of how they make all the fabrics and dyes, so it seemed more like a tour at the time. It makes me wonder if I had been ripped off there too, even after haggling. I just never know. The whole experience now feels dirty and unwelcome, as opposed to exciting and unique, as it had felt in Jaipur. As we drive to the next monument, I begin to cool off and feel less angry about the situation. I remember how much I loved buying my sari and sheets, and how the textile shop in Jaipur had made a brand new one for me after taking my measurements, and had even brought the sari to my hotel along with the man who had sewn it, to make sure everything fit perfectly.

I start to think that even if I had been lead there on false pretenses, with the sole purpose of paying too much for a sari, it was still extremely inexpensive in comparison to what I would have paid at home, and felt like a very special experience at the time. I just find that I am constantly struggling with how to know what is actually a good deal, and what is a mistake, which really is extremely exhausting and disheartening after a while.

Next, my car takes me to The India Gate, which looks a little bit like the Arc de Triomphe, in Paris. This is the most touristy-vibed place I have been to yet, including the Taj Mahal. At the Taj, there were no vehicles allowed anywhere near the entrance, and I only encountered a very small number of people selling trinkets and things, who were only allowed to stand out front of the entrance to the Taj, not anywhere inside the gates. Here, at the India Gate, I am still in my car when a crowd of children start swarming my doors on both sides, knocking on my window, asking me to buy things or begging for change. I manage to squeeze out one side of the vehicle and start walking towards the monument but of course they all follow me. When I reach the surrounding area of the gate, a very old woman comes up beside me, smacks a sticker of the Indian flag to my arm, and demands a donation. I come up with the lamest lie, and tell her that I have left all my money in the car. She angrily removes the sticker (as if I had wanted it on my arm in the first place) and mutters something in Hindi under her breath.
I still have a pack of children following me.

On top of that, a young woman has now grabbed me by the back of my arm, and is requesting that I take a picture with her. I have learned to say no to this question every time I am asked because for one, I don’t want or need a picture with random people, and secondly they always want money afterwards, so it’s a lose/lose situation.
I politely tell her no and try to keep walking, dodging small children with trinkets in my face as I go. She does not like my answer, continues to grab me, and starts saying “please”. Not in a begging tone, but in a “you’re being a bitch just take a damn picture with me” tone. I have to physically remove her hand from my arm, and tell her no in the most stern way possible. I feel awful but it is also SO ridiculous to have someone I don’t even know grabbing me like that while I’m minding my own business. Beyond those encounters there are a million food and drink carts scattered around the circumference of the gate, people making bubbles (and selling the little machine that blows them), people selling postcards, cotton candy, keychains, weird little squeaky toys, and any other trinket you can think of. It was absolute madness. I get in, take a photo of The Gate, and run out, back to the safety and tranquility of the car.

Finally, the driver takes me to Connaught Place, which is a main market area of Delhi.
I shop around for a little while, still slightly angry from being dropped off at the textile factory earlier, and make it very clear to all shop keepers that I encounter that I do not want to buy ANYTHING. I stop into a little café and order a chicken sandwich that honestly, tastes exactly like an Indian version of a Subway sandwich, which means I adore it.

I return back to Dolly’s house where it is just me, the housekeeper, her baby and her husband. Something delicious is cooking, and I wonder if we will be eating in again tonight, or if I will be meeting Dolly somewhere for dinner. Both sound like fabulous options to me.

I am served dinner at home and my mouth is watering, it smells SO delicious. I would try to explain all of the yummy things that I have, but I am too busy eating them. I took a picture and thought about posting it to the blog, but then I thought about how much I don’t like when people post pictures of their meals on instagram, so I delete it. Sorry folks.

Back to Delhi

Our final day in Goa! My desire for the lazy atmosphere of beaches and pool side vacationing has long passed. I am excited to get back to the bustling city of Delhi where I hope to find something with a bit more air of adventure. That is why I planned this trip, after all.

Check out is 11am, and our flight doesn’t leave until 3:30, but Ilona is feeling well enough to leave the room so we go for a long breakfast down the street from our hostel. The one thing I will actually miss about Goa is the Indian Kitchen. The quirky room we stayed in was so sweet, and I can’t pretend I didn’t like having a pool in the backyard for me to take a quick dip in when I was overheating, which was more often than not.

After our breakfast we get in a taxi to the airport. We are slightly concerned because the ticket they gave us when we booked our flights only had my name on the return ticket. We were preparing for the possibility that Ilona would be stuck in Goa forever. Luckily the airport staff members figured it out and let us both board the plane, but it took a few of them to look it over before they decided to accept it. Close call.

While we’re waiting for the plane to board, Ilona buys a lychee drink with chunks of white lychee fruit floating around in it. It reminds me of those Aloe drinks that I tried once and hated, solely because of the chunks. She can’t stomach the juice because it is too sweet, so I try it, thinking I will also hate it. Wrong. It is probably the most delicious, heavenly juice I’ve ever had. Ever. The chunks of lychee are strange at first, but I start to welcome the surprise of texture and extra flavour in my yummy pink juice. I read the label to find that it is produced in Thailand, so in other words I will be drinking this juice every day… for the next 45 days. Perhaps I will bring a case home. That’s how much I love it.

The plane ride, like all of the planes I’ve been on, was awful and filled with people kicking chairs, crying children and even one child who decided to become physically ill when we were landing… At least that was at landing, not take off, I would have died.

We are due to meet Dolly (family friend living in India) for dinner tonight, and she has also offered us the option to stay at her home, which is extremely kind of her and of course I accept. We call to let her know that we have landed in Delhi, ask her where we should meet, and she gives me her home address. Ilona is concerned that she will offend Dolly with her inability to eat any food at dinner, so decides to opt out of the dinner and accommodations for the night, and goes to room in the hotel we had previously been staying at in Delhi. Her plane leaves for Thailand tomorrow and I won’t see her again before she goes, so we say goodbye for now, until I arrive in Bangkok on the evening of the 30th to meet her.

I get in a cab, and hand the driver a piece of paper with Dolly’s address. I am to stop there and drop off my things, then go for dinner. As per usual the cabbie tells me he knows where he is going, but starts to get lost as we approach the area. After about 10 minutes of aimless driving around and asking people on the street to help us, the cab finds Dolly’s apartment. I am greeted by a young girl about my age wearing a long green shirt and matching pants, both with traditional gold Indian embroidery stitched into the fabric. She helps me with my bags into the house, but I do not see Dolly anywhere. I ask the girl if Dolly is at home, and do not get a response. I ask her where Dolly is, hoping that re-wording my question will help her understand, if it is an issue due to the language barrier. She looks at me quite blankly, but tells me (in broken English) that Dolly has already gone. I call Dolly to let her know I have arrived at her house and to ask where to meet her for dinner. She informs me that one of her close friends children has just passed away, and she is unable to meet me for dinner, but that she will be home later tonight and we can plan to do lunch tomorrow. The young girl has prepared a meal for me which consists of rice, spiced potatoes, beef on the bone in a brothy sauce, and a curried vegetable soup. Everything is delicious and I am starving, having missed lunch, so I appreciate it even more. I am so happy to finally have a true, and fantastic India meal!

I see a very cute baby in a cradle at the top of the stairs, and I ask if the baby is hers. She says yes, and tells me that he is 6 months old. I ask her name, but she doesn’t understand me. At this point I am unsure of wether or not she is Dolly’s daughter, or just a woman sharing the living space because it is a large apartment style building and I know Indian living is much more crowded than Canadian living… It’s all very confusing. I don’t know how to ask, mostly because of the language barrier, so I help her clean the dishes in silence. Afterwards I go to my room and watch Vampire Diaries and Grey’s Anatomy dubbed in Hindi.

I am alone and awkward, but so happy to have been invited and welcomed into their home after only having met Dolly twice before.
She and her husband arrive home and make me eat more food even though I’ve already had dinner, but it’s hard to say no because it’s so good! Dolly arranges for me to do some sightseeing and market shopping in Delhi tomorrow which I look forward to. I barely got to spend any time in this city when I first arrived, so I’m happy that I have the extra time now to fit in all that I can before I go off to Thailand, on an entirely new adventure!