Bye Thailand! Hello Cambodia!
It has been one month to the day since we left LAX and became Bangkok bound. In that time we have traveled from central to far northern Thailand and back again. Tomorrow we leave for Cambodia and while we have both started various pieces about some of the specific experiences we have had in Thailand, in honor of our one month (and while we get those ready to post), here is a list of our top 10 (in no particular order) experiences from our first month of travel:
Teague’s top 5
- We went out for a quiet night walking around downtown Bangkok and and while sitting at a park along the Chao Phraya River we were approached by a middle aged Thai man who ended up talking to us for almost four hours. His name is Mook and he is a former monk, active skateboarder and a guest professor at a local university where he teaches his students English through playing hip hop on vinyl. He taught us about what it means to live as a monk in Thailand, as well as what it was like to work in the film industry in Japan, surf in Australia, be an avid fingerboard enthusiast, how to focus on the breath while meditating, what it was like being a monk at his mother’s deathbed, and where the best spicy curry in Bangkok can be found.
- We spent several days in Pai, a small mountain town in Thailand that reminds me of a hippy version of Ruidoso in New Mexico. Everyone rides scooters and there are only three street lights in town. You walk everywhere and the entire experience looks and feels like a postcard. We rented scooters and less than an hour in Sofia gave me a heart attack and had a minor wreck.
- On our last night in Bangkok we had a beer at Mulligan’s Pub on Khoa San Road and met three Brits who were a few drinks in. They bought some of the scorpions on a stick that are constantly being offered to tourists. We helped film them as they ate the scorpions. It was very crunchy and loud and the guy from Whales puked in the alley after eating his. It was the only place I’ve found that has full sized pints, and for that it is special, but I have no desire to ever eat a scorpion.
- We went to Chinatown in Bangkok twice. The first time was while we were living in the far east side, so we took two trains to get there. We walking up and down the entire strip several times at night. Chinatown alternates, almost step by step, between smelling like the most amazing cuisine and sewage in the gutter and then back again. The crowds are intense and unrelenting. The traffic will run you down in a second if you aren’t paying attention. The second time we went was during the day and we spent several hours walking up and down the tiny alleys. Tuk-tuks and scooters loaded with impossible loads of boxes wiz by you in alleys narrower than a sidewalk, while hundred year old Chinese ladies cook entire chickens, completely impervious to the traffic. The alleys twist and turn and you can’t keep track of where you are or where you’re going. We walked there from our hostel on the north end of the city, hiking through miles of shops where people were making doors, milling metal, rebuilding brake pads and selling Buddhas. Hundreds of scooters, taxis, tuk tuks, trucks and people on foot all contributing to the absolute chaos and craziness that is Bangkok. You really don’t know the city until you’ve been where the inhabitants buy tires, rebuild engines, and eat everyday.
- We spent a day in Chang Rai where we hired a truck to take us to the White Temple and Baan Dam, the Black House. Both are privately funded art compounds focused on contemporary expressions of classic Buddhist themes. The White Temple, as the name implies is an arctic crystalline compound, built like a traditional Buddhist temple, but whitewashed to the point that it’s difficult to look at directly. And instead of the normal Naga fin, or flame accents on the temple edge there was endlessly intricate and complex white fire shooting off in every direction, to the point that the structure was almost fuzzy with detail. Surrounding the main building was a moat of upraised hands, some holding skulls, the burning and thirsty in hell over which you stepped on a glacier white bridge. Inside the main temple the walls had hellscape murals which included 9/11, Neo from the matrix, Kung Fu Panda, Transformers and what I assume were similar Thai pop culture references. Two men with bullhorns corralled the crowd, making sure that women’s shoulders were covered, shoes were taken off and no photos were taken of the inside. It was bizarre. Baan Dam was equally bizarre, but for very different reasons. Instead of Mount Olympus-esque perfection, the compound looked like the stomping grounds of a Thai Conan the Barbarian. There were forty or so buildings, each pitch black and filled with alligator pelts, ox skulls, giant furs and skins, impossibly large drums and canoes built from single hollowed out logs. The entire time a deep booming drum beat sporadically, giving a feeling somewhere between being in an orc camp prior to the battle at the gate of Mordor and being transported to a Frazetta-esque proto-history where the beasts were grander, the jungles blacker and deeper and the heroes and villains impossibly grand and menacing. Sofia didn’t care for it, but it struck a primal chord with me. We got a small print with our entry and I’m trying to keep mine intact in my backpack while we travel. We’ll see if it makes it home.
Sofia’s Top 5
- Landing in Bangkok on our first day only to find the person who had the key to our apartment was nowhere to be found. As we frantically wandered the high-rise complex (fresh off a 20 hours flight), three well dressed Bangkok natives took an interest in us and made it their mission to get us into our apartment. Through broken english and a lot of pantomiming they escorted us to an air conditioned building with Wifi where we were able to contact someone with a key to our apartment. When I tried to say “thank you” in broken thai, they laughed, hugged me, took my picture and left.
- While trying to visit a temple complex, we were quickly intercepted by a man claiming that all temples were closed today. He claimed to be a history teacher at a nearby school and abruptly pulled us aside. We handed him our map and he immediately began to scribble all over it about all the cheap muay thai fights and suit shops he could take us to instead. He than led us to a tuk-tuk and tried to rush us into the cab. Knowing this was a scam (as we had learned from two Swedish roommates the night before) we refused. He called us “stupid” and walked away.
- Watching my mom experience her first thai market and then sitting on the canal while I ate corn on a stick and she and Teague split a beer.
- Shooting pool with some surly French hostel mates at a seedy Bob Marley themed bar in Chiang Mai. We talked about Donald Trump, cigarettes and the absurdity of the travel life. Teague and I lost the pool game.
- Watching Jumanji dubbed over in French and subtitled in thai while drinking dollar beers with an apathetic thai bartender. The language barrier took nothing away from the excitement of the movie and the bartender was so into the story that it’s my new favorite way to watch Jumanji.
Teague Williams & Sofia Eliett