Starbucks has become an integral part of of our lives here in Guiyang. We sometimes go to other cafes, because they are closer to home or because they have cats to keep us company, but nothing really compares to the atmosphere at Starbucks. The Baristas now all know us by name and we’re always welcomed warmly when we visit. It’s nice being somewhere that not only has indoor heating, but where the customer service is good and the coffee is always fresh. Signs like these are an added bonus:
But Starbucks isn’t just a place to relax. I do most of my blogging and journaling here as of late, and Dave has been working hard to complete is TEFL certification, so that he can do some teaching if he so desires. Teaching is an excellent way to meet people, after all, and the extra income means we can take more trips, so there are really no downsides 🙂
Onto Bangkok, Ayutthya and Chiang Mai!!
The Best of Bangkok First, I must state how much I LOVED Bangkok! There was something about that city that I can’t exactly explain. It’s modernity, liveliness and history all combine to provide the experience of a lifetime. It’s actually very difficult for me to summarize the best things quickly, but I will do my best to try.
As is often the case, the food was a highlight for us. Our first dinner in Bangkok was an incredible array of seafood that was about half the price of the cheapest food we’d eaten in Phuket (where we never actually had a seafood dinner because the prices were so high!). The best meal we had though was at a western style bakery near our hostel. I was actually able to order a smoked salmon sandwich (with capers, REAL mayonnaise and everything!!!) on a toasted EVERYTHING bagel!! They also had cream of broccoli soup, which I hadn’t even dared to hope for in Asia. Once more, this may not be exciting for all of you back home…but good bread is enough to get me excited…never mind a proper smoked salmon bagel!!! And as though the food wasn’t enough, I also found A&W root beer at 7-11! I sipped it and savored every drop!!
But there is so much more to Bangkok than good food! There is a great deal of culture there, and in the markets you can find everything from clothing and souvenirs, to flower offerings and seafood.
The most adventurous thing we did in Bangkok happened our last night there, on Kao San Road (it’s the backpacker’s party road). Although culturally irrelevant, Bangkok has become known for it’s ‘deep fried bugs’. Just as Cuba is known for their wooden carvings (although they are not popular within the culture itself…just among tourists), people flock to Kao San Road to try deep fried scorpion, tarantula, cockroach and grasshopper. The Thais we met thought it was quite funny that tourists will pay to try to these things, but we figured we may as well give the fried critters a try!
The Worst of Bangkok
I actually had to ask Dave what the worst of Bangkok was, because I couldn’t really think of anything myself. In Phuket our options for getting around were to use the shuttle bus (which stopped running at 8pm every day), hop in a tuk tuk, or hop in a taxi. The taxis and tuk tuks there all refused to use meters, and instead just charged a flat rate that they’d all agreed on at some point, so you couldn’t get a better deal from using one over the other. But in Bangkok, taxi drivers are far more honest. They will sometimes try to use a flat rate, but if you request that they use the meter, they do. As a result, the tuk tuk drivers can’t get away with being as greedy, so the prices are generally a lot better.
The only exception is at the Grand Palace. There, the tuk tuk drivers run several scams that involve getting tourists to go with them to jewelry stores and clothing shops, where they are given a cut of your purchase by the shop owners. They’re quite sneaky with this scheme as well…they tell tourists that the grand palace is closed until *x*pm, but that they (the generous tuk tuk driver) will drive you around the city for a nominal fee until the palace is open again. It’s gotten so bad that there are actually announcements played outside the palace, warning tourists of the scams. We had one guy try it with us, but I’d read about it ahead of time so we just walked right by him, but one of the teachers I work with, who also visited Bangkok, did not get off so lucky. He was taken to several stores before he caught on and nearly had to get into a fight with the driver before he finally agreed to drive them back to the palace.
The Grand Palace was also a bit of a downer. Although it’s incredibly beautiful and unbelievable ornate, the crowds are ridiculous, and in the heat of Bangkok in February, it was a little too much for me to handle. Add on the fact that you have to be wearing a long skirt or pants and that your arms can’t be showing, and I was ready to pass out from the heat. We didn’t spend much time there, but I did get quite a few amazing pictures that I’ll be sharing in a future post 🙂
The Best of Ayutthya
Although we only spent 1 short day in Ayutthya, it gets a spot in my ‘overview’ post due to its sheer awesomeness. I encourage anyone who visits Bangkok to take the 1 hour train ride (that only costs 40bhat round trip!!!) to the old city to see the sights. We loved our day there and I wish we’d been able to spend the night. The best part of the city was definitely its ruins. It was once Thailand’s capital city, before the Burmese burnt it to the ground, and has since become a UNESCO World Heritage Sight. We got so many beautiful pictures there!! Plus, we rented a motorbike, so we had a lot of freedom, going where we wanted when we wanted, which was a nice change after all the tours we’d done in Phuket.
The Worst of Ayutthya
I never thought I’d consider seeing elephants and tigers as being the worst thing about a city, but in this case it was. The elephants weren’t terribly abused (from what we saw), but the Mahoots did have long hooks out, ready to hit the elephants in the head with them if they misbehaved. The little shops there also sold toy Mahoot hooks for children, which, to me at least, is horrifying. Teaching children from a young age that it’s appropriate to hit an animal in the face with a sharp hook is not something I think should be done. But it is…
Worse yet, we saw several jewelry shops that were selling curious white rings and necklaces. I went over at one point and tried to look interested. A woman approached me and said ‘Elephant bone. Very beautiful’. I asked ‘oh, they aren’t ivory?’. She replied ‘no, but THESE are ivory!!!’. Dave pulled me away before I could tear her apart too badly, but she did get an earful, and at the very least, she knew that I was NOT impressed. I have a feeling that they weren’t legit ivory, because if they were, they wouldn’t be sold out in the open that way, but just the advertisement that they ARE ivory, perpetuates the trade, and that is not something I can stomach or tolerate.
The Best of Chiang Mai
Anyone who knows me at all, knows where this is going! We probably wouldn’t have visited Thailand’s second largest city if it hadn’t been for Elephant Nature Park. When we decided to go to Thailand for Spring Festival, Dave knew that it would kill me if we went and I didn’t get to spend some time with elephants, so we started doing some research. We are both very against cruelty against animals, and consider the use of animals for human entertainment to be a form of cruelty (I’ll be discussing why I feel this way in an upcoming post), so we were very picky on where we would be spending our money in Thailand (the best thing an individual can do to stop injustice is to vote with their dollar. It’s also why I don’t support companies like Apple and Nike, who have been proven to use child labor in their factories). After a great deal of reading, we found Elephant Nature Park. Instead of riding the elephants and watching them paint pictures (which may seem harmless, but the training they are given to do such things is unspeakably cruel), you get to watch them BE ELEPHANTS. We signed up to stay the night and had the experience of a lifetime. Please believe me when I say I have pictures and stories to share that will be worth reading!!
But the elephants weren’t the only perk to staying at Elephant Nature Park. We were surrounded by animals our whole stay there! We even had a ‘pet’ dog who stayed at our cabin. When we came back in the evening to grab some bug repellent, he ran down the road to greet us…thoroughly happy to see us back! ENP truly cares about animals. They’ve rescued over 40 elephants, 400 dogs, 100 cats and even 70 water buffalo! It was so nice to see animals that were well cared for and who are being given good homes and learning that not all humans are cruel.
The Worst Of Chiang Mai
Like Bangkok, I had do some thinking to think of a bad part of our time in Chiang Mai. We both enjoyed ourselves so much during our stay at ENP, as well as during our time IN Chiang Mai, that it’s hard to think of a negative thing to say. We did have one rather irritating experience though…
We rented a scooter so that we could visit a waterfall near Chiang Mai. About 20 minutes into a trip, we were pulled over by a police officer who asked to see our licenses. We were both wearing helmets and in China, you don’ t need a license to drive these scooters (nor do you in Thailand…we saw many many foreigners riding them and I can’t imagine any of them having international drivers licences). We told him that we had Canadian drivers licenses, but that they were at the hotel (we make a point of never traveling with all our ID in the same place. We had our passports with us, so we left our drivers licenses at home, thinking they wouldn’t be needed).
It turns out the cop only wanted a bribe. He told us we’d have to leave my passport with him, go to the police station and pay a 1000bhat fee for a license. I was not about to leave my passport with anyone I didn’t know (I learned my lesson in China. All of a sudden they don’t know which passport you’re talking about, but if you give them some money, it might help them remember…), so instead we offered to pay him. We knew that’s what he was getting at anyway.
We didn’t have a whole lot of cash left, as it was the last day of our holiday, and he made fun of us for being ‘broke foreigners’. It took everything in me not to tell him off for taking advantage of his position as cop. I wanted to tell him that he should be ashamed for robbing people and leaving us with such a bad impression of a country we’d otherwise really loved. But instead, I shut my mouth and we went on our way. I’ve learned through my travels that lipping off to authority is almost never in your best interest…
So that concludes my overview of our stay in Thailand. There will be much more detailed posts to come, with stories about our Snorkeling Tours (the bad…), our time in Ayutthya (the good) and our day in the James Bond Hongs and at Elephant Nature Park (THE AWESOME!!)
My apologies for the delay in this post. I’ve actually had it done for days, but haven’t had the internet to post it (or to add the last couple of pictures). I had originally planned on posting a lot more this week…but fate seems to be working against me. Or at least the Chinese internet companies seem to be working against me…
Until next time!