September 29, 2008

Thailand: What's for dinner? Rice and Cabbage

I have been at the orphanage in Chiang Rai for a week now and it has been quite the experience. We are required to do fundraising online at a local internet cafĂ© which is completely unorganized and we have no idea what we are doing. Emailing Crest toothpaste and hope they respond to a random email from Thailand asking for donations... ya right. I have bailed on this and watch Gossip Girl instead. A much better use of my time.

Anyways, I currently live off of cornflakes and peanut butter sandwiches because the food at the orphanage is rice and something green (cabbage or water vegetables) for every single meal and it's gross. It might not sound that bad to you but you just had eggs for breakfast, a turkey sandwich for lunch and a steak for dinner... so do not judge me because I have bailed on the orphanage food. The thought of having another bite of soggy cabbage makes me want to run away. In addition to the food situation, I have been sleeping on a bunk bed and not the kind that pops into your mind. My bunk bed is- 1. so squeaky it sounds like someone is killing a family of mice 2. at any moment it might go crashing down on Antonia (from Australia) 3. if I even move a leg in the middle of the night it feels like an earthquake and 4. my bed is a piece of wood with a thin foam pad and then some fake sticky leather covering it.

September 23, 2008

Thailand: Butterfly the Size of a Crow

I arrived in Chiang Ria last night after waiting at the bus station for four hours because all the buses to Chiang Rai were booked. Popular place, I guess. When I was on the bus I had the realization that I had know idea how to get to the orphanage once I got to Chiang Rai. I had the directions but they were in English, which is no good for a tuk tuk driver who only speaks Thai. With a few complications and a few concerns that I was soon going to be homeless I found a way to contact the orphanage and the other volunteers came and picked me up in town. I will be volunteering at the orphanage for the next two weeks.

When I arrived all the children were so welcoming and we all started arm wrestling... I mean why not? The most exciting thing about the night was that a butterfly the size of a crow flew into the common area (its all open so the inside is also the outside). It was amazing! I felt like I was in the middle of the Amazon. The children were playing and holding it but as children do (which I am definitely learning here) they sometimes play with things a little too much and killed it. The orphanage also has a kitty and a puppy. One of the other volunteers advise not getting too attached because once they're a little bigger they might just turn up on your plate.

{ Common area and one of cooks weaving }
There are four other volunteers- 2 Americans (NY and San Diego), 1 Australian and 1 Brit. We are all pretty much in the same boat- they had some extra time on their hands so they decided to head to Thailand and volunteer, however, they plan on staying a year! Two of the girls just got to the orphanage in the last month. It's like being a camp counselor but in Chiang Rai, Thailand. We have our own house where we all sleep in bunk beds.

Most everything here is what you would expect but the toilet is a squat toilet and the shower consists of cold water with a medium size bucket and then a smaller bucket that you use to "shower" with. Instead of saying "I am going to go shower" we say "I am going to go bucket."

September 21, 2008

Thailand: Kissed By an Elephant

| Chiang Mai |

I have been looking forward to this day since I started planning my trip to South East Asia. Elephants! I was easily able to book a bareback elephant ride through Julie Guesthouse. 

I met the group (three Australians and two Japanese/French) at 8:30am and we drove out to the elephant park. Before we could meet the elephants we had to change into a full jean outfit (you are welcome). We then watched the elephants play music and dance, we fed them bananas and sugar cane, two elephants would tie their trunks together creating a chair so that we could sit down and the same two elephants would also wrap there trunks around your face and then kiss your cheeks. After that we learned how to command our elephant and how to get up on it- you use the front right leg of the elephant as a ladder and sit right behind the elephant's ears. After we were trained we got to go for a ride but not until we had a home cooked Thai meal for lunch.

My elephant was Christina, a mother and the biggest one out of the six... I mean huge. I practically towered over the other elephants, which made it extra challenging to climb up her but I managed. They elephant ride was hilarious. The elephants were always getting distracted by eating. We took them to a well and they soaked us. The elephants would suck up the water with their trunks and then flip it around and blow it right at you, one after another. I was drenched and I truly have never laughed so hard in my entire life while trying to keep my mouth shut so that I did not get some stomach eating disease.  One of my many worries. After we went for our 1.5 hour walk we had to bathe them in a lake/river. The elephants would lay down and we would scrub them and then they would flip over. And when I say flip I mean slowly stand up and slowly lay down again all while we were not trying to get squished. This was a huge process. After that we played with them in the water. We would splash them and they would blow massive amounts of water at us, we would splash them and they would aggressively bob their heads under the water waving their trunks around causing quite the entertaining scene.

{ Christina, big mama. }

September 20, 2008

Thailand: Chiang Mai

Last night in Bangkok I woke up at 3am, I couldn't sleep. I decided to walk around the hostel and looked over the hall balcony to the street and was surprised to see this city never sleep. The streets were busy with street vendors and people.

At 5am I woke up again and took a taxi to the airport. I was off to Chiang Mai but not without a few airport complications. The month before I left for South East Asia I had credit card fraud so I was issued a new card and new number. While checking into my flight to Chiang Mai my new card did not match the card I purchased my flight with. I guess, Thai Air did not allow this. I had to buy a new ticket on the spot. After all the check-in sweats I landed in Chiang Mai an hour later (on the flight I watched What Happens In Vegas- as you could imagine, I was very very happy).

I am staying at Julies Guesthouse and have met a girl from New York and a girl from Holland (thank god for some fellow travelers). We spent the day exploring the city. We stopped at a temple where we ended up talking to a monk for 2-3 hours, as it poured rain. We sat under a tarp and he taught us about his lifestyle. We were all silent listening. We then went to a prayer temple with him and learned about Buddhism, which is fascinating. I wish I could explain/remember everything about our conversation with the monk but what I took away was to live day by day and moment by moment. What great advise for my trip ahead.

I just had my first papaya salad which was so good and even though my mouth was on fire and my nose was running I could not stop eating it. Tonight my new found friends and I are going to go the night bazaar!

September 19, 2008

Thailand: Day One

I landed in Bangkok at midnight and was feeling overwhelmed trying to leave the airport so I rented a private car to my $6/night hostel. The room is very small and dirty. Last night I slept with my backpack on my bed, I didn't want it to touch anything. I have a feeling I will not be changing out of my plane outfit for a few days. I can't imagine unpacking.

This morning started a little rough as I tried to adjust to the crowds, the heat, calling internationally from a payphone and finding my way around on a hand drawn map but by the afternoon things had really turned around. 

My first South East Asia sightseeing mission was the Emerald and Reclining Buddha. After thinking I was lost I luckily bumped into them (my hand drawn map wasn't getting me too far). Both were amazing. I then went off to the Grand Palace which was so gold and gorgeous. Before entering I had to wrap a skirt made out of Thai fabric around me. I had not followed palace dress code and my dress was above the knee. Overall, I was really having a pleasant morning but I adjusting to being alone and not being able to share these moments with anyone. After my overpriced fruit for lunch (I went to a restaurant, the food stalls are intimidating) I started walking back to my hostel so that I could lay down (I was a bit of an emotional wreck at the time so I thought it was best to get out of public). On my walk back a tuk tuk driver offered to drive me around to see Bangkok's top sites. What the heck, 20 baht to see a bunch of sites sounds like a great deal to me!

{ The tuk tuk driver }
As I was about to go inside the first stop, a marble Buddha, my tuk tuk driver showed me the sites on his map again but this time he also pointed to a gas station. This extra stop terrified me and I was wondering what I had gotten myself into. As I walked into the temple worried, there was another tourist couple walking out and getting into their tuk tuk. For some reason this calmed my nerves even though we were in totally different tuk tuks.  I also asked a Thai man inside the temple who spoke excellent English if it was okay if my tuk tuk driver took me to the gas station and he said that it was a Monk holiday and the gas stations were giving them discounts if they had passengers with them. Tourism, I tell ya. By the third or fourth stop I started looking forward to riding around the city with him... he was an excellent tour guide and driving around the crazy streets of Bangkok really was exciting. Along with the sites he also stopped at high end fabric/ jewelry shops where he told me I had to go look around, I did not have to buy anything I just had to go inside. The hilarious part was whenever we were arriving or leaving one of these shops there would be dozens of other tuk tuks coming and going with tourists. It made me laugh knowing we were all getting shuttled around the city to these shops in between sightseeing Bangkok. 

I would have never guessed that my tuk tuk driver, Neon (that is how you say his name, I have know idea how to spell it), would have really turned my day around!