Last day in Bangkok

Before heading to Nepal, I have one more day and two nights in Bangkok, Thailand. Having come down with a bit of a cold over the last couple days, I want to take it easy to try to increase my chances of being as healthy as possible for the start of my Himalayan trek only a couple days away. I return to the hostel where I spent one night at the beginning of my Thailand adventure called WE Bangkok. Amazingly, they remember me and are very friendly when I enter. It’s already relatively late so after a quick snack and some small talk with my dormmate Heather, it’s time for bed.

Grand Palace, Bangkok

The next day, Heather, a couple other backpackers from WE Bangkok, and I head off to explore the Grand Palace. The Grand Palace was home to Thai Kings from the 18th century onwards; however, the present King of Thailand, King Bhumibol resides elsewhere at the Chitralada Palace. At the Grand Palace, the architecture was stunning, the guards were numerous, and the colors were vibrant and varied. After lunch, I eventually split with the group so that I could prepare for my trek including getting a few essentials along with a new haircut. On my way to MBK, the central mall in Bangkok, the Tuk Tuk driver explained the journey would be free if I would be willing to stop for 10 minutes in a tailor shop, which would then supplement the driver with gasoline tickets. I wasn’t in a rush and decided it could be fun to learn more about the many tailor shops scattered around Bangkok. With no intention to buy anything, I look through their catalog, feel their many fabrics, and ask several questions. After ten minutes, I leave not having purchased anything and having saved myself one Tuk Tuk ride fare.

Thai-Cambodian Conflict

When traveling, it can sometimes be difficult to stay up-to-date with current events; however, when those events are happening in the same part of the world as my travels, all of the locals will be talking about them. This is true of the fighting occurring between Thailand and Cambodia over sacred temples near their border. While in Thailand in Koh Samui, the grandparents at Chaweng Tara were listening to a television program that was anti-Cambodian, and while in Cambodia, the locals cannot understand why Thailand won’t leave them alone as it has already been decided that the temple is on their land is of mostly Khmer architecture. Here is a BBC article from April 23, 2011 with more information:

Thailand and Cambodia clash again along border

At least four soldiers have been killed in fighting along the border between Thailand and Cambodia, raising the death toll to 10 in two days.

Troops exchanged artillery and gunfire in jungle around Ta Krabey temple, which both sides claim.

The area is about 200km (125 miles) west of the disputed 900-year-old Preah Vihear temple, the scene of deadly clashes in February.

Thousands of civilians have been evacuated from the area.

The BBC’s Rachel Harvey in Bangkok says it is not immediately clear what sparked the most recent violence.

Both sides blamed each other for the fighting.

“Fresh fighting started at around 0600 (2300 GMT Friday) with rifles and mor

Our Boutique Hotel

Close to the Chaweng Noi Beach, Nithya, Sangita and I loved our small hotel, Chaweng Tara, run by a caring and fun family. One evening, we even played cards with the grandparents as everyone showed off some of their more impressive tricks. With the staff very friendly and the location convenient, this was a great choice; however, to get our super fancy Koh Samui boutique hotel experience, the three of us made friends with the wait staff at such a hotel just next door. The friendliest of the staff, Toom, let us use the vanishing edge pool, enjoy cocktails at happy hour, and simply lounge around the beach side of the hotel. They may have thought we stayed there because we were always asked for our room number to pay for the drinks; however, we would respond that we wanted to pay with credit card explaining that it was “more easy.” In short, we had the best of both worlds with the small friendly place to stay in the evenings and the exorbitant (from $250 to $800 per night) hotel to enjoy during the days.

Vanishing edge pool Koh Samui

Full Moon on Koh Pha Ngan

In an attempt to set the mood for these Thai Islands, I read “The Beach”, which in 2000 was adapted into a film starring Leonardo DiCaprio. Although I do not plan to sneak to out-of-bounds islands with people I just met and join a self-sufficient community after dodging several obstacles including Thai guards surrounding a secret Marijuana field, I will go to the infamous Full Moon Party that takes places on Koh Pha Ngan every full moon. And in the meantime, “The Beach” spoke of Bangkok, Khaosan Road, Koh Samui and Koh Pha Ngan–all places that I have been or am going to visit.

Full Moon Designs

After taking a short boat ride hopping from Koh Samui to Kho Pha Ngan, Nithya, Sangita and I find some dinner all the while feeling like outsiders looking in on something about to happen. After a couple drinks, some bright clothing purchases, and some body paint, we feel more confident and ready to find the main attraction. The Full Moon Party is no longer a Thai party, and instead, on this island, it is an international party with people coming from all over the world mostly between 20 and 30 years old, all prepared to have an epic evening. The USA was underrepresented in all areas except for the music selection blasting out of speakers from competing waterfront clubs.

Getting ready for full moon party

With water on one side, clubs on another, and everywhere else a dense population of people probably numbering around 10,000, the three of us made our way up and down the beach absorbing the scene before picking a spot. On our way, we see buckets being sold everywhere, we see fire stunts ranging from a flaming jump ropes to to fire juggling, and we see platforms, on which this international crowd can groove. We eventually find a place with a little less trance and a little more hip hop, and we choose to split another bucket and practice some of our moves.

Full Moon Party dancers

Full Moon Party is a wild scene happening once a month attracting people from all over the world; therefore, although it may not have been an authentic Thai experience, it was an incredible traveler’s experience watching these different cultures and people interact and celebrate something as simple as the moon. Throughout the night I continue to remember that most years, I would’ve celebrated this full moon around the dinner table with extended family telling the Passover story. This evening was spent slightly differently, but the message of cultures coexisting, of peace, and of freedom, even if not in a traditional sense, was still on display.

Rest, Relaxation and Raging

Rest, relaxation, and raging are all highlights of Thailand’s Koh Samui Island, and during my several days here, that is exactly what is on the agenda. Between lying on the beach to getting massages to eating fabulous food, life is relatively easy along this turquoise coastline. For a small dose of adventure, Nithya, Sangita and I parasail one afternoon above said coastline and enjoy the postcard-like view from another perspective.

Chaweng Beach, Koh Samui

Curry in Koh Samui

Parasailing in Thailand

The nightlife of the islands is young, exciting and bucket-filled. In Thailand, a bucket refers to a plastic beach bucket filled with vodka, red bull, and coke. Drink substitutions are fair game such as whiskey instead of vodka or sprite instead of coke. Although not the most delicious cocktail, its goal is clear and is usually met. Trying these buckets only in an attempt to embrace our surroundings, the three of us had a month’s worth of excitement one night on a nearby island, Koh Phangan as many came out to celebrate April’s full moon.

Koh Samui, Thailand

Upon arriving at the “boutique” airport on the island, I soon meet up again with Nithya and Sangita, the same two with whom I had my quick yet full morning in Bangkok just a week ago. I arrive at our hotel, Chewang Tara, owned by the nicest family complete with grandparents and a 2-month year old, and then we have quick showers and enjoy a couple minutes of air-conditioning relief before heading out to to the beach to the find dinner. Although already dark, the beach is beautiful, the food delicious, and the mood just right. The next couple days are going to be some of the most relaxing of the trip.

Nithya, Sangita and me

One Morning in Bangkok

I have a long layover in Bangkok between arriving on the overnight bus and departing on a plane to Vietnam later in the day. I realize that college classmate Nithya and her cousin Sangita are in Bangkok, coordinate a plan to meet up, and we make the most of the morning. In a short time, we wander through the Bangkok Flower Market, see the largest golden Buddha in the world at Wat Traimit, and window shop at the several story MBK in the center of town, all before settling down to a Thai lunch.

Bangkok market
The Flower Market had more to offer than just flowers
largest golden buddha
This 3 meter tall Buddha is made of solid gold

Goodbye, Chiang Mai

I have been in and around Chiang Mai for about two weeks and am sad to leave but ready to move to my next destination.  Before leaving, there are a couple more sights, sounds, and smells that I want to experience.

At one stop in the Warorot Market, I have a chance to shop as the locals do. There are less wooden elephants, more practical items, and many fabrics. The colors coming from the fabric shops almost make me wish I know how to make something with it all; but instead, I am happy to realize that the clothing I already bought was sewn from those colorful rolls. When my feet began to tire, I take a break upon finding a stand selling sticky rice with mango, which I eat while watching a seemingly important Muay Thai boxing match on a television with other emotional locals. Rice, mango, Muay Thai, hot temperatures, humid weather, the smells of food from an open market, sights of cloth, and shops selling everything from kids toys to motorcycles made me feel like I am starting to better understand Chiang Mai.

Fabrics at Warorot Market

In addition, in my last 24 hours in Chiang Mai, I visit the Women’s Prison. Rumor has it that many of these women are being taught translatable skills that they can then use to get their lives back on track, and one of these skills is that of Thai massage. The money that the women earn while massaging gets put away and then is given back to them when they leave the prison as an aid in getting their lives restarted. Surprisingly, the atmosphere of this massage spa is one of the nicer I’ve experienced since away. Although the massage isn’t great, I am happy that I learned about the programs happening at the prison and had a chance to contribute a small amount while getting an extra massage in the process.

Lastly, I visit the Chiang Mai Zoo and Aquarium. The other visitors are mostly Bangkok tourists as becomes obvious when the tram driver only speaks in Thai. The zoo is a typical zoo, where the animals are placed in areas a bit too confined and many onlookers wait for the animals to do something spectacular like Mumble’s dance from Happy Feet. The Aquarium, on the other hand, I really enjoy from the fresh water tunnel to the obscure and beautiful sea creatures to the scuba diver feeding some of the larger fish. I also notice some fish, such as the stone fish and clown fish, that I had seen just several weeks ago while scuba diving in Bali. In the afternoon, sun turns to rain, everyone rushes for their cars and taxis, and back at the guest house, I do my last preparations before my sleeper bus.

Feeding at the aquarium

Stone Fish at Chiang Mai Aquarium

As with most places I’ve already visited, the people I met during these two weeks made the experience. These include the silent yet smiling other meditators at Doi Suthep, Aurelieu, my French friend, Beth, another meditator who I randomly ran into on the street after the retreat, Earl, a local from Chiang Mai, as well as those I had spent time with pre-monastery. I leave my second guest house, Grace House located on Soi 9 of the old city, watch out for any water-spraying Songkran celebrators, and make my way back to the bus station.

Songkran Begins

Songkran, as celebrated in Thailand, is the traditional New Year’s Day and includes a celebration that lasts almost a week. In each of my last two days in Chiang Mai, this festival began, the music got louder and more abundant, and the water wars were beginning in full force. Tradition is that people cover each other in water to celebrate the clean slate given to all at the beginning of a new year. All weapons are allowed from water guns to buckets to garden hoses, and every street I walk down, I try to spot any potential threats. I don’t mind the water guns, but it’s the buckets of water that can really do damage. Unfortunately (or fortunately because of the 95 degree weather), I was hit by a bucket right next door to my guest house while my guard was down.  From a safe distance, here she is smiling while holding her weapon of choice.

Ready for Songkran

I am dripping in water and many faces from around the street are smiling and some are laughing. I look at the culprit, and she is probably a little over 10 years old and has the biggest grin of anyone. I smile back, and continue walking down the street missing my guest house because I am understandably flustered. A little farther down, a couple, who witnessed the whole bucket-drenching event shot me benignly with their water guns and ask if I want to borrow one to get a little revenge. I take the biggest one I can find, the one where you stick the end in water and fill the gun like a giant syringe. I hide my weapon behind my back, approach the girl who is still smiling, wait for her to dump her water on the next unsuspecting passerby, and I get a clean hit on her back. My dignity is saved and I now feel I had a chance to play a role in the water wars of Songkran.


Strawberry, dragon fruit, passion fruit, papaya, pineapple, guava, and my favorite mango! My post-monastic life has been spent eating and smoothie-ing. The day I left the meditation retreat, I never turned down a smoothie and stopped for any and every snack I could find. Several curries and pad thai’s later, I again feel energized to see what’s out there, until I find another stand selling rotis or sticky rice with mango. The rotis with banana, egg, chocolate, icing, sugar all in a thin pancake then soaked in oil, butter and more oil are the perfect morning, mid-afternoon and bedtime snack. Good thing these treats fit in the budget as most smoothies and snacks can be found for 20 baht ($0.67 USD).

Roti Cart
About to cook up a delicious Roti
sticky rice with mango
Sticky rice with mango made to order