Breweries and Churches

I have a random Thursday off work! Yesterday was ANZAC day (Remembrance Day) which is a public holiday so it’s like I’m having a little weekend mid-week. Life in NZ is good.

Rotorua to Lake Taupo

As I have previously mentioned, it’s frustratingly difficult to get around here without a car. My fun German companions from yesterday have all checked out of the hostel, which means I’ve also lost my wheels.

Rotorua – Redwood Forest

After arriving in Rotorua in the late afternoon, I didn’t have much time to do any exploring yesterday. I settled into my hostel, The Spa Lodge (which is mad cute, by the way) and went to a local pub, Pig and Whistle, for some live music in the evening with my dorm mates.
Ohhhh, my dorm mates.

Rangitoto Island

Guys. I have to tell you about how much I love this cafe. It’s my new home. There’s a “take a book, leave a book” shelf, couches, solid wifi, a decent selection of teas, a giant window I can sit in with my laptop, and a random little vintage pac-man arcade game in the corner. I’m obsessed. This is where I spend every morning.

Piha Beach

Wandering around Auckland has been fun, but I’m dying to see some of what New Zealand is most famous for – it’s beautiful wilderness and beaches! I’ve found that getting around is almost impossible without a car, and while I made sure to get my international driving permit before I left Canada…I’m still not sure I’m ready to drive on the other side of the road. I still haven’t even gotten used to walking on the opposite side, much less driving. 

Goodbye Thailand, Hello Australia!

Today is 12/12/12. What an awful day to choose to fly. If there is going to be an end of the world, it’s surely now. The choice is not mine to make though, and I will be getting on that plane and out of Bangkok no matter what. Even if there is to be an apocalypse. I would rather spend my final moments in life eating stale airplane food than being heckled by a suit salesman on Khosan Road, even just once more.
I actually don’t really know much about the predictions of the end of the world, besides the fact that it is due to happen this year and I guess by default, this month. I don’t believe in any of it anyway, but I have to say that if such a thing were to happen, I would be content in the fact that I spent the last months of my short life doing exactly what I’ve been doing.

I pack up my things and check out, but oh how I have time to waste. I don’t need to be on my way to the airport until at least 5:00pm and it’s only noon now. I walk down and find some breakfast where I can also charge my phone. I have a long plane ride ahead of me and will need some music.

After breakfast I walk back over to the clinic I visited yesterday so that the doctor can check on my ankle and bandage it back up before my journey. It’ll be cheaper to visit a doctor here too, instead of Australia, not that it matters because OHIP’s got my back. I am obsessed with getting as many cheap things squeezed in as I can before the shock of having to spend normal amounts of money again. I’m not ready.

I decide to waste some time by getting a Thai massage. I had planned on trying to go back and visit Wat Pho Temple but forgot to wear pants and a shirt that covered my shoulders when I was getting dressed this morning. I could easily buy another pair of comfy pants from a market stall on Khaosan, and I came prepared with a thin sweater in my bag for the plane, but it seems like so much effort when I could just lay on a mat and get a massage instead. So I do. It costs me 220 baht ($6) for one hour. The only thing about Thai massages that I forget every time I walk into one, is that they are not in any way relaxing. They actually hurt a little bit, but then I always feel fantastic afterwards so it’s worth it. I spend one hour of my day getting a massage and then another hour getting my legs waxed, because they are atrocious. I roam around Khaosan one last time, refraining from buying anymore tank tops, which I already had trouble shoving into my bag this morning. I require two pieces of carry on luggage for the plane ride this evening -my backpack as well as my purse- because I’ve already got too many things. Some backpacker I am.

I find a cab and hop in quickly because he’s blocking traffic. He says he will take me to the airport for 400 baht. It seems expensive, and I try to haggle with him once I’m already in the car, but he won’t budge. The drive is an hour long and traffic is bad around this time, so I accept. I feel like he probably isn’t trying to rip me off, he seems like such a nice man, but he didn’t even try to bargain a little bit. Sometimes I feel like if they are unwilling to haggle down a price, it’s probably a fair one. I will emphasize the “sometimes”.
At the end of the day I’m paying 12 dollars for an hour long cab ride. I can manage. I feel like I’ll never be able to take a Toronto taxi again after seeing how cheap they are here.

I arrive at the airport, extremely early for my flight, but I feel better at least being here instead of roaming Khaosan aimlessly. Now I can aimlessly roam here, but with checked baggage. The airport is expensive though, that’s the downside. No $4 comfy pants here. I get a snack and then hangout and wait for my flight. By the time I’ve made it through baggage and security I’ve only got 2 hours to waste. I am so eager to get to Australia!

I am simultaneously very sad to be leaving Thailand and excited to be getting to Australia. The classic ‘one chapter is ending but a new one beginning’ scenario. I spend my aimless time in the airport thinking about all the awesome people I’ve met and the cool things I’ve done while in Thailand and Laos, and find myself missing it already. Like I said though, a new chapter is beginning in Australia! New people and new adventures. I look forward to exploring a different part of the world, even though I am prepared that it won’t feel as foreign and exciting as Asia has. I am mostly excited that I will have the opportunity to wear high heels again. Oh what an fantastic moment that will be!

I am finally able to board the plane. It takes off on schedule and to my delightful surprise, the seat next to me stays vacant! There shall be no apocalypse after all! Today is a good day. I do have another neighbour on my left, who is around my age and lives in Sydney so he is kind in telling me what there is to do and see. I have a very long list that I have acquired along my way after meeting many Australia-loving travelers.
I start the 9 hour journey off by watching some TV. I choose Wilfred, a comedy on FX which is the same channel that plays one of my favourite shows, American Horror Story. I’ve never seen Wilfred before, but heard that it’s good so I give it a shot. I am literally laughing out loud during the first episode. The guy to my left probably thinks I’m nuts, but I wasn’t prepared for such a hilarious show!!
Half way through my pilot episode, the pilot (no pun intended, it just happened, and I’m leaving it) makes an announcement that he will be re-booting the entire tv system because some people’s tvs aren’t working.
Well after re-booting it, mine doesn’t work. Just great. Thanks a lot. For nothing. Now I will have to wait to finish watching Wilfred. I am displeased. But seriously, if you have a sense of humour, or like dogs, or Elijah Wood, watch this show.

I try to sleep but am restless as always on plane rides. Even with an extra seat beside me for leg room, I can’t seem to get comfortable. I listen to the carefully selected music of my travel and sleeping playlists, and finally I fall asleep, right up until we’re landing. Perfect timing, because it’s 10:30am when we land and now I’ve rested enough to start my day!

Miss you already Thailand. We’ve had some good times.

“Mom Guesthouse”

I wake up to someone rapping outside my door. And not like, rapping along to some Jay Z or something that’s already been produced, but just free stylin’ without any music.
It was awful. He kept rhyming swear words by changing the way he pronounces them…. and taking a long time in between versus to think about it. Extremely bizarre at 7am, BUT I am in Bangkok so I shouldn’t be surprised by this.
I lay in my rock solid bed trying to fall back asleep, and reading my books when I can’t. At 10 I decide it’s time to venture out into the world and look for a clinic. My ankle is a god damn mess.
It takes me about 2 hours of wandering around Bangkok before I find something. I keep asking shop keepers and wait staff at restaurants I pass by, but they either don’t understand what I’m asking, don’t know where it is, or don’t care. Some point in various directions and I follow their advice but I find no clinic. I even come across a street sign pointing me in the direction of the “Bangkok international clinic” which is exactly what I need, but when I follow the signs I still end up lost. Finally I do manage to stumble upon it, WAY further down the road than I ever expected it to be. Whatever. I’m here.

The doctor is very nice and cleans my ankle for me before bandaging it up and telling me to return again tomorrow. They give me some antibiotics for the infection as well, which is awesome because I need this thing to heal STAT. I have already accepted that I’m going to have a scar, but I don’t want a nasty scab on my ankle for my first few weeks in Australia either. Unfortunately that is my fate.
The good news is that when I ask her about my leech bite, she laughs and says the head is not lodged in my ankle (MOM!) but that the small bite wound was infected by my ankle. It should go away quickly with the antibiotics. Thank the baby Jesus. I really didn’t want to cut off my foot.

I return to Mom Guesthouse (what a name) where I have to sit in the hallway on the floor in order to charge my dying phone. They didn’t find it necessary to add any sort of wall plugs to the room I’m in. Not a one. The one thing this place is good for though, is wifi. It’s free and fast and doesn’t cut out every 10 minutes like some of the places I’ve stayed. So that’s a plus. I hang out in the hall until my butt is numb from sitting on the hardwood and decide that my phone has charged enough for now. I go back to my room and rest my ankle while I finish reading the mystery/thriller novel that Ilona had been given by one of the girls we met on the slow boat. It’s called The Executioner if you’re interested, but I don’t really think I’ll be reccomending it to anyone. It was okay, but I also haven’t read very many mystery novels.

When I’m done reading, I decide I should probably go back out into Bangkok to find some food. I only have a few Asian meals left so I want to make it a good one, but there’s so many choices! Street food stalls are abundant on Khosan, so I make a couple of stops instead of choosing just one. I buy some watermelon, which comes in pieces inside a small plastic sac with a long, thin wooden stick for cutlery. I eat the watermelon on my way over to another food stall where I buy spring rolls, which are ungracefully cut with big scissors into smaller pieces before being placed on a plate, so that I can eat these too, with a thin wooden stick. Finally, as I walk around I decide on pad thai, which I knew I would all along but thought I’d take a look to see if anything else caught my eye first. I order a pad thai with chicken and watch as they fry it all together in a large black wok right there in the street. This one, thankfully, comes with a pair of chop sticks instead of a thin wooden stick. That would take far too long for me to figure out how to eat.

I take a look at some of the street stalls on my way back towards my guesthouse, because I would really like to purchase a painting before I go. Now is the time to do it, because I wont have to worry about it being crumpled in my bag while I tote it all over the place, but I only have 1000 baht left, and do not want to have to use an ATM again until I’m in Australia, so I decide to save my money for tomorrow.

I come back to the prison cell of a room in Mom Guesthouse where I pick up where I left off in Life of Pi. What an appropriate novel to be reading on my travels!
While I read, the silence in my room is frequently interrupted by horking guests outside in the hallway and in the washroom next to me. Charming. I have noted that if theres one thing I truly hate it’s people who hork. I don’t think I find anything more offensive than when I’m walking down the street and a man horks in my pathway. Please refrain from making that awful noise and spitting where I am about to put my feet, until I have passed. I say ‘man’ because I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a horking woman. Not yet. I am sure they exist, but it’s definitely something I see A LOT of men doing as opposed to women, and not just abroad but back home, too. Though it’s much worse here, and even worse in India. I just don’t understand the point of it at all, but I digress. I just can’t help but wonder ‘WHY’, and then hate it.

I leave later in the evening to visit the Wat Pho Temple and Grand Palace, which I read on trip advisor as being even more beautiful at night. I leave around 8:30pm. If theres one thing I have learned as a backpacker, it is that taxis and tuk tuks will always, ALWAYS try to take advantage of you. When they see a white tourist they try to charge as much as they possibly can. I have no idea how much it should cost me to get to this temple because I don’t even really know where it is, and therefore decide to ask a couple tuk tuks about a price and try to haggle to see what the best deal is before actually choosing one. I must ask 6 different tuk tuks or taxi drivers what the cost would be to get to Wat Pho Temple, before finding one who will take me for 50 baht (which honestly still seems a little bit pricey, but it’s better than the 100 I’ve been quoted numerous times).
I hop in the tuk tuk for a 3 minute drive down the main road where he turns off onto a dark and quiet street. I’m a little sketched out, but I’m still not far from the main road and he seems like a nice man. He pulls over and points at a gate on the side of the road and says “Wat Pho”. I pay him his 50 baht and get out. There is a security guard having a cigarette outside the gate and I ask him how much the entrance fee is. He points at the sign informing me that Wat Pho Temple closes at 6pm. I am too late.
Why not even one of the taxi drivers I asked to take me to Wat Pho thought it would be helpful to mention that it’s actually closed, is beyond me. But now I am here so I try to make the best of the 50 baht useless tuk tuk ride. I kindly ask the guard if there is any way he would let me step inside the gate walls and take some pictures and he is kind enough to let me. When I am finished I ask him where the Grand Palace is, because I’ve heard that they’re very close. He points to the end of the street, where I can see some lights still on outside another gate, and smiles at me. I try to confirm the fact that it is still open and he nods. I make the short walk down to the gate, which is obviously not open. I don’t even know why I tried. I’m not even sure if this is the Grand Palace. The guard was extremely nice, but he didn’t speak a word to me. Just a lot of smiling and nodding. Oh well. I take some pictures from the outside, across the street where I can get a shot of the temple or the palace or whatever it may be, sitting behind a relatively low gate wall. It’s quite classic Asian architecture, with pointed tips on its roof top and gold trim. But it also features a beautiful brown and gold shimmer on portions of the building. In the night sky and reduced lighting, in combination with the gold trim around the edges of the palace/temple, it is absolutely stunning. I snap some photos on my new camera and take one with my cellphone as well. I’m hoping I can later try to mark my location on Instagram and have it give me options for where I actually was. I have to assume it was the Grand Palace. However, the other day when returning from the Siam mall in a tuk tuk with Ilona and Carrie, I had pointed at a building covered in sparkling lights and giant photos of the King on display, and asked if this was the Grand Palace. Carrie informed me that it was the train station…where I have been twice before. So who knows where I could have been tonight. The pier?
I find another tuk tuk who tries to quote me 100 baht to take me home, and I am sure that I still over pay when I talk him down to 50. I don’t care, I just don’t want to walk.

I get back to my guesthouse and walk upstairs past fellow backpackers pre-drinking before going out to the madness of Khosan road. I wish I had the energy or the desire to go out to the street party tonight, but I simply do not. I am more than ready to leave Bangkok tomorrow, and I look forward to packing my bag, maybe trying to re-visit Wat Pho temple when I know it is open, and then getting on my plane to Sydney.

Wandering Khaosan

We wake up and check out of the hotel. Ilona is leaving to Australia this evening and I cannot afford to stay in a double room all alone, so I’m going to go try find a hostel. First, breakfast. Carrie joins us, and as per usual we go to our regular Khosan breakfast spot. It’s just so good. Chancing breakfast is the worst. You don’t want to start your day with a crappy meal, ever. Especially when traveling. I feel weird stating this, because at home I don’t even eat breakfast, so what do I know? But out here I know my days are usually better when I’ve eaten something yummy in the morning.

Carrie goes to meet a friend she met while traveling earlier on in her trip who happens to be in Bangkok, so Ilona and I stay on Khosan and look for a new hostel for me. She carries a pink elephant shaped balloon, kept from the first night we got back to the city. I’m not sure why/how he’s survived this long but he gets carried around with Ilona all day. Normal social rules don’t apply here, and no one bats an eye when she brings it inside restaurants/shops/hostels.

I have trouble finding a good place to sleep. Mostly because I’m poor and lazy, but also because Bangkok has some really awful hostels. I find some that are literally jail cells with mouldy walls and no electricity, and then others that are lovely, but 600 baht ($18) for one night. Pffffft. Way above my price range.

We give up our search for a while because I’m getting nowhere, and can always look later. I have no fear because I know that I will always find SOMEWHERE to sleep, even if it sucks.

We get hair wraps on the street, where I get two different shades of blue and one lilac purple string braided into a small section of my hair. I’m not really sure how I feel about hair wraps yet, but I decided to try it out anyway.
We walk around Khosan a little longer before the fatigue hits me and I want to nap. Ilona leaves to get to the airport to catch her flight, and I go back to my search for a hostel. I find one with extremely basic rooms for 250 baht ($7.50) a night. That’s expensive for what it is, but I’m right on Khosan road and the room looks clean so I take it. The room is legitimately a small rectangle with just enough space for a single bed and some space for my bag. There is a fan on the ceiling and a long horizontal “window” on top of one wall. The “window” looks into the bathroom, which I share with everyone else on the floor. Luckily there’s a small curtain so I can pretend it isn’t there. None of this really bothers me, but it’s definitely not mon my top list of places I’ve stayed.

I fall asleep on the rock hard bed and wake up in the early evening. I know it’s my last few days in Thailand but I am just SO tired, and I like having nothing to do for a change. I take advantage of it. I don’t leave the room except to walk down the road and grab a quick dinner, and spend the rest of my time reading, updating my journals, and trying to repack my bag to fit more stuff in it.

Carrie comes to visit me around midnight when she is on her way home from a bar. She is leaving for Cambodia tomorrow morning and we haven’t said a proper goodbye so she drops by for a few minutes before going to bed.

After she leaves, I make the mistake of Web MDing my symptoms for my ankle because I’m 90% sure it’s infected. I should seriously delete this app and block the web page from my phone because I always regret it instantly. The results suggest that I have a sciatica, and I will spare you the details but it was not pretty to read about. I know I probably don’t actually have it but… now I’m all grossed out.
I Facebook my mother and ask her to look at my wound. I send her a picture and even she thinks it’s gross. She also suggests that it’s possible that the leech that bit me in Koh Sok left its head behind IN MY ANKLE when I pulled it off. Now I need to just chop off and toss away my whole god damn foot. I plan to go to a clinic first thing tomorrow morning. Ugh.

Out in Bangkok

I’m leaving for Australia in a few short days, where my parents will be meeting me to visit over Christmas. I need to buy presents, STAT. I have been trying to pick things up for them along the way, but honestly the thought of carrying anything around in my backpack that I don’t need to, wins out most of the time.

Ilona, Carrie and I head out downtown to the Siam Paragon Shopping Centre…again. Realistically, I don’t plan to find any gifts for family there because it’s all regular priced items in stores where I can’t haggle (what?) but I need a new camera and some make-up from a real make-up store, so it needs to happen. We shop around a little bit in stores that we cannot afford, admiring all of the things we cannot have. Ilona actually buys a pair of shoes that are expensive for backpacker standards, but cheap for normal people.
I make the mistake of walking into a shoe store… just to look. Seriously I wouldn’t go into any stores in which I didn’t think could contain myself, I skipped coach entirely, but this store catches me off guard. I did not know that they would have Julian Hakes heels laid out on display in an array of colours in the middle of the store. I have never ever seen a pair of these in any stores before, and I’ve been in love with the signature ribbon-like design ever since I saw them about a year ago on the Internet. Damn StumbleUpon. I must try a pair. I ask the sales woman for my size, which, because I’m in Asia, is the largest they have. Ugh.
She brings me a white pair with red soles, which is a little too Christian Louboutin knock-off for my taste, but I slip them on just to see if they’ll fit anyhow. They fit like a glove. Well actually, the shoe only really fits me on my left foot, but I know that it’s only because my right ankle is still swollen af from my motorcycle incident. When I realize that I am trying a pair of these absolutely gorgeous shoes on, in a fancy store in a fancy mall, while my legs are prickly, my ankle covered in bandages, and my feet almost permanently black on the bottom, I am mildly embarrassed. I realize the sales associate has no real interest in helping me because I clearly look like I’m not going to buy anything, and she’s right. I try on another colour anyway (just plain black but with a green sole) and walk around looking at my feet in a mirror, doing the math in my head and trying to figure out how I could successfully stuff these in my backpack, until Ilona and Carrie come to join me in the store. They are good friends, who talk me out of a completely unnecessary purchase. Alas. I leave the store, plotting ways to make enough money in Australia to order a pair.

Next, we walk into H&M which I think is silly, because we’re in Asia and I can shop at H&M every day (and do) if I want in Toronto. It’s massive like all H&Ms are, and when we exit the store we’re in an entirely different place from where we came in. It has lead us into a department store, which is somewhere between the Asian equivalent of Holt Renfrew or a good The Bay. I use the opportunity to purchase some make up that I know hasn’t just been pulled out of a cheap bottle and then stuffed into MAC container,. like I see on the streets all the time.
On our way out we walk through the electronics department where I find an array of waterproof cameras. I fall in love with one in particular, a blue Panasonic that is both a good price and seems like perfectly good quality. Most importantly it is not just waterproof but shockproof, dustproof, and sandproof too, which I definitely need. Almost entirely Naomi-proof, except for the fact that it does not float… which would have come in handy on my last camera when I was paddling down to Vientiane….

I play with it in the store for a while before actually buying it, after remembering what happened to my father when he bought a “good” camera in HongKong a few years ago, which was a total piece of garbage. I feel like the department store cannot possibly be ripping me off, so I buy it. I can FINALLY take more pictures! The ones on my phone just aren’t the same and it must be getting close to full with over 1,000 pictures on it already. I am so happy!

We go back to our guesthouse where we get ready to go out on Khosan Road again tonight. It’s Ilona’s last night in Bangkok before flying to Australia, so we want to make it a good one. We meet up with Jake again and go to all the usual bars on the street where they all play the same 3 songs on repeat. You cannot escape. I swear to god, I didn’t think I’d get sick of them so quickly, but I will be content if I never hear Gagnam Style, Starships, or The Whistle Song ever again. The street is not as busy as it was last night, and I realize later into the night that it’s because it’s a Sunday. I never know what day it is, but I guess I’ll have to go back to reality when I get to Australia.
Jake is staying at the hotel where they filmed
The Hang Over Part 2. Not the shitty one they wake up in, but the fancy one where they have a meeting with that famous guy. I can’t remember his name… You know the one. Not Mike Tyson. He’s in Barney’s Version. It doesn’t matter, it’s a fancy ass hotel. He invites us all to go check it out, and tells us about his fabulous room while we’re sitting in our basic double bed square box of a room, but it’s really far away from Khosan so we don’t go. I know I will regret this later in life. Probably tomorrow.