With a little extra free time on my hands, I decided to take another vacation before beginning my new teaching job. Of course I chose Thailand again, the Land of Smiles. This time I circled my way around the country, making some new friends along the way.
During my first trip to Thailand back in July, I didn’t get the chance to explore the lively city, so I spent a few days there. The condo I rented, calm and cozy, was just the right size for one person. It was far enough away from the ‘action’ that I could get a good night’s rest, while close enough to the BTS (Bangkok Train Station) that I could easily explore the city.
After ‘taking it easy’ my first day in Bangkok, I headed to the famed Khao San Road. Khao San Road is said to be the backpacker’s paradise. Filled with outdoor restaurants serving delicious, inexpensive food, live music on every corner, and cool local souvenirs, it’s one of those places where locals and foreigners come together. I have to say I was on the search mainly for dinner, but after having a meal it was quite enjoyable to walk around and watch the festivities.
While the rainy season weather prevented me from visiting the floating market, I was able to visit the Chatuchak Weekend Market. Said to be the largest outdoor market in Thailand, I had no idea what I was walking into that Friday afternoon. Stall after stall was filled with everything imaginable, from priceless porcelain tea sets to oriental rugs to massages to bubble tea. As I walked around, completely mesmerized by all I was seeing, I thought to myself, this is where all those candles and incense infusers back home come from! From West Virginian country time festivals to Caribbean vendors, I’ve seen my share of outdoor markets, but Chatuchak was truly the biggest I’ve ever encountered. Maps being nearly useless, I would turn down one alley to look at a silk Thai scarf, only to find 10 more alleys pointing in 10 different directions. One could truly furnish their entire house with the wares at this place. Somehow, I managed to only purchase some floral string lights and a green iced tea.
Perhaps my favorite activity in Bangkok was Terminal 21. I read in my travel book that the Food Court at this Mall is the Food Court of all Food Courts. Man, they weren’t kidding. After finding this place, I must have walked in a circle twice, just collecting myself. I don’t know which was more astonishing: the beautiful displays of food or the rock bottom prices. Of course with the exception of mango sticky rice, everything was foreign to me. I just pointed at some photos of food, handed over my prepaid charge card, and dug right in. In Thailand, it’s really hard to make a bad choice anyway. The noodles, egg pancake, mocha nut ice cream, sticky rice with mango and coconut sauce, crab dumplings, and sugar cane juice were all DELICIOUS! I seriously could have spent the day at that place. I did have quite a sobering moment when I looked around and realized that with food that delicious and cheap, no one in this world—no one—should be going hungry. As an example, for all the food I mentioned, I don’t think I spent $10. Truly an experience you have to taste to believe.
After I had my fill of incredible food, I headed to the train station where I would travel up to Chiang Mai around 6:00pm to arrive around 7:00am the next morning.
Got my ‘golden ticket’. I purchased it the day after I arrived in Bangkok to be on the safe side, September 3, 2016
Since Bangkok brings the city life that city goers love, Chiang Mai brings the peaceful mountain views the country folks dream about. When I woke up on Sunday morning, I peered out the train window to see sweeping mountain views and vast grasslands. The ride reminded me slightly of my train rides through the Netherlands six years ago. The difference is, in Chiang Mai there are mountains and the feel is more tropical and developing (as in developing country style).
Upon arrival to Chiang Mai, Kiwi, the guy whose home I rented for my Chiang Mai stay, graciously met me at the train station. He gave me a little tour of the Old City (the historical Chiang Mai city center) and took me to a cafe to get some breakfast. After settling into the house, I remember sleeping—alot! The train’s best feature was scenic views and the fact that you’re sleeping on a train. For real rest, I needed sleep in a real bed.
Once I woke up and got my bearings, I took the bicycle out for a little ride around the city. By evening, it was time to head to the Sunday Walking Market in the Old City. All I can say is, if Chatachuck is the largest Market in Thailand, the Sunday Walking Market has to be a close second. Once again, alley after alley was flooded with people, local handicrafts, and enough stuff to decorate your house, complete your wardrobe, and fill your stomach. After buying lots of tasty treats, headbands, silk scarves, and some amazing winter clothing from the Hmong village people, I had to stop myself. I literally just told myself I had to stop and go home! Really amazing experience.
On my last full day in Chiang Mai, I visited the Sankampaeng Hot Springs. A natural geyser that springs from the Earth, at the Hot Springs I was able to boil eggs, soak my tired feet, and really enjoy the beauty of God’s creation. Even the hour ride up to the Springs was peaceful and pleasant.
That evening, Kiwi, his stepfather, and I headed to the Sukontha Buffet for dinner. This Buffet boasts a seating capacity of 2000 people! Again, I’ve been to my share of buffets before, but never anything like this. The outdoor buffet presented table after table of raw seafood, various Asian Jelly teas and drinks, ice cream, fried and cooked foods, and dessert. A traditional charcoal-type cooking pot was also provided in which Kiwi made a warm Thai-style soup. Being from West Virginia, Kiwi’s Stepdad and I had great conversation about life abroad and at home. To my surprise he had also visited Ghana! Chatting with him about Accra also brought back some great (two year old) memories. It was a great evening of fun and dining out and I was very glad to have their company.
The next morning, after Kiwi said goodbye and gave me a ride to the airport, it was time for the third and final leg of my journey—to the beautiful island of Phuket. Not knowing much about Southern Thailand, I relied on the little research I had done and booked a hotel at Patong Beach. Well, it was enjoyable, but way too touristy for me. The hi lights of the trip were visiting Surin Beach and the Night Market. I was fortunate to meet—of all nationalities of folks I could meet in the heart of Southeast Asia—a Spaniard and a Russian who had visited and lived in Thailand for years. Their navigation of the island made my stay all the more pleasant.
And of course, the night market scene was also incredible.
Perhaps the most fascinating experience during the trip was getting my hair braided by Thais. You heard me right! I was amazed to walk down street after street and see hair mannequins outside beauty parlors sporting box braids, cornrows, and even beads! Well, as a child, my sister and I would always get beads put on our hair after mom braided it, but we were children of course. While grown folks in Thailand were walking around with tons of beads on their hair, I wasn’t going to be that bold. I had, however, longed to get my hair done since I left home and wasn’t going to miss the opportunity. After finding a decent salon and negotiating a price, two Thais did the work of one and in a few hours had given me a stellar hair style. I was quite pleased! As I sat in the salon chair all I could think was, now I’ve seen everything.
By Monday evening, I had mixed feelings about leaving Thailand. Of course it’s hard to say goodbye to such a gorgeous country full of warm, kind-hearted people and warm weather, but I also had a lot of business to take care of in Korea.
No doubt about it, I’m already dreaming about my next trip to the Land of Smiles!