Sunday, March 23, 2008

Amari Watergate & Night Bazaar

We decided that we would stay in a nice hotel in Bangkok. We haven't been exactly roughing it for the whole trip, but we wanted to stay in a place with a pool, ac & where we could actually flush toilet paper down the toilet. We checked some of the luxury hotels, Oriental & Peninsula, but realized that we could only afford to stay there about one night. Instead we chose the Amari Watergate, which was reasonable enough that we could stay there our remaining three nights. We have been pleased with our decision so far. Our room has a huge flat screen TV, came with robes & has a bathroom that is bigger than some of the bungalows we stayed in. Another plus is that in addition to a pool it also has a state of the art gym (Jen was getting tired of Levi doing crossfit in their 10x10 living spaces). Last night we went to a huge Night Bazaar and spent hours wandering around looking at all the stalls. The Bazaar was so big that Ken told us he often had trouble trying to find the same stall twice.

Saturday, March 22, 2008


To split the 12 hour bus ride from Chiang Mai to Bangkok we decided to stay one night in Sukhothai and visit their spectacular ruins.

5 hour bus ride from Chiang Mai to Sukhothai, hottest city we've experienced yet.

Muay Thai Boxing & Saxophone pub in Bangkok

We took a 6 & 1/2 hour bus from Sukhothai to Bangkok. Levi met up with his friend Ken (Thai law student) again to go watch some Muay Thai Boxing. Levi & Ken ended up sitting ringside for the fights, which involved some weird negotiating. Ken spoke with the ticket booth lady in Thai for about 5 minutes, then said to Levi in English that they could both sit ringside for a pretty good deal, but Ken had to pretend he was Levi's "driver." The pamphlet for the boxing stadium was pretty humorous because it featured pictures of Steven Seagal & Jean Claude Van-Damme watching matches.

There were several interesting things about Muay Thai boxing. The boxers train at camps & take the camp's name as there own last name. Each match pits blue shorts versus a red shorts. The boxers do a 5 minute stretching/praying routine that involves going to all four corners of the ring. Each fight has five three minute rounds. The first round is very low key, almost like a continuation of the warm-up. Outside the ring there was a 3 man band with the lead guy playing a flute like instrument. The music corresponds to the action in the ring. The music really speeds up in the second round when the ass kicking starts. Muay Thai boxers use their hands, shins, elbows & knees. The second fight was the best between two 20 year-old boxers that weighed about 120 pounds. They were pretty equally matched and were both landing some pretty wicked punches so by the fourth round their faces were bloody. With about 30 seconds left in the fourth round the red boxer attempted a kick & lost his balance. The blue boxer delivered a blow so hard it knocked the red boxer into the ropes, then he collapsed. Blue won by knock-out.

After the match Levi & Ken met Jen at a bar called the Saxophone pub. It featured a live Thai band playing blues. The lead singer was a heavier Thai guy with an amazing voice, when he started singing he sounded like black guy straight out of New Orleans. Ken pointed out that there was a Thai movie star in the bar, the movie star was wearing an American flag tank top so he was hard not to miss. Ken said the movie star was famous for playing villians. At one point in the night, they introduced the Thai movie star & then he sang "Johnny be good."

Friday, March 21, 2008


We took a 5 hour bus from Chang Mai to Sukhothai. Sukhothai was Thailand's capital at one period and has many ruins that are so impressive it was designated a UN Heritage site. Our friends Adrian & Kerry had recommended this stop (they came back with some incredible photos). When we got off the bus in Sukhothai we realized we needed to make some room on our camera's memory card. Unfortunately we were unable to find any internet cafes that had the ability to burn our pictures onto a disc. We checked into our guest house & did our best to delete some old pictures before taking a bus out to Old Sukhothai.

The ruins are spread over 45 kilometers so there are many bike shops that you can rent from to pedal around the park. By the time we got our bikes and into the historical park it was about 4:30pm. This was good because the sun was starting to go down, making for some more bearable temperatures. We had a great time riding from each spot to the next, several of the wats were accessible by tree-lined paths around vast ponds. We noticed several professional photographers taking advantage of the amazing scenery. One looked like he was shooting a calendar or something with some models dressed up in some very colorful traditional clothing. (pictures to come later, we are posting from a slow internet cafe)

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Elephant Conservation Camp & Thai Cooking Class

On our checklist for Chiang Mai was to ride an elephant through the jungle. Chiang Mai has elephant camps all over, however Jen specifically wanted to visit the Elephant Conservation Camp in Lampang (1 1/2 hours away via bus) because it is focused on ecotourism, had a good reputation for the treatment of the elephants and provided free medical care to all elephants in Thailand. Instead of the show being gimmicky it's more educational. The show featured 20 well trained elephants, & Jen was chosen to be part of the show, with an elephant putting a hat on her head. We learned elephants were used for logging, for royal transportation and by warriors, they can live until 100 years old. Today many of these domestic elephants are no longer needed in these areas, so these camps are set up to provide refuge for the elephants. We also learned we weren't supposed to feed elephants in urban markets (which we had done the day before- oops). We saw the elephants demonstrate previously used logging techniques - dragging/stacking logs.

Our elephant ride was a disappointment. Besides Levi spending our bus money home on a 30 minute ride (take our word for it, a 10 minute elephant ride is as good as a 30 minute elephant ride), our Mahout (elephant caretaker/trainer) had an angry disposition.

Met the baby elephant, so cute - surprisingly strong - grabbed out for Jens hand and nearly tugged her over the railing.

Thai cooking class - trip to the market, explanation of all the mysterious fruits/veggies we've been eating the last few weeks. Saw how they made fresh coconut milk. Class was with 5 other travellers from England, Ireland and a mom/daughter duo from the Philippines, all together decided on 4 dishes: Spicy Papaya Salad, Red Curry Chicken & Rice, Cashew Nut Chicken Stir fry and Chiang Mai Noodles. Only in Thailand would someone not be opposed to cooking in a kitchen with a plastic tarp floor, peeling wallpaper, etc. Food was delicious, instructor was awesome. Levi really enjoyed this, surprising Jen by saying it was his second favorite activity behind diving that we've experienced so far in Thailand. We think we may take a few other cooking courses together in the future.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Wats & Night Safari

Chiang Mai is a very historic city in northern Thailand that served as an important Chinese trading route. It was originally protected by a brick wall surrounded by a moat. The moat still surrounds the original city footprint & is called the "inner-moat" area. Most of the brick wall has crumbled, but the corners and a few of the main entrances still remain. We spent the morning walking around the inner-moat area exploring several Wats (temples) that were built 800-1000 years ago. Some of the structures have been refinished, while others have been left to age (sidenote, we lost our Lonely Planet so we can't remember the names of the Wats, we will have to come back and add those later).

Our favorite Wat was a huge pyramid type structure that had been partially restored. On each side were different creatures that stood as sentinels. One side had dragons, one side had king cobras & one side had a herd of elephants. We also enjoyed entering in the restored Wats that were still functioning as Buddhist temples, one had at least 50 Buddha statutes.

Our plan for the evening was to visit the Chiang Mai Zoo's "Twilight Period," which our LP said occurred from 6-9PM, we really wanted to go to this zoo because they have Giant Pandas. We flagged down a taxi (in Chiang Mai they are red trucks w/canopies with bench seating in the back). The taxi drove us out there, we paid him, he left, then we found out that the Twilight Period is no longer operating. We were stuck 12 kilometers outside of town & had a stinging feeling the taxi knew all along that he was driving us to a closed zoo. There were a few other taxis outside, offering to take us to Chiang Mai's latest attraction on the other side of town called the Night Safari. We had been scammed alright, but we figured what the hell, so we took another taxi to the Night Safari.

Thailand's old Prime Minister (the one that got overthrown in 2006), was from the Chiang Mai province & he funneled a bunch of the country's money back into the area. One of his pet projects was the Night Safari, which cost millions. When we arrived the grounds looked like Jurassic Park, there were beautiful buildings adorned with animal statues everywhere. The Night Safari consisted of four things: 1) a 1 mile walking loop around a lake with animal enclosures on each side (highlights were rare white tigers, black leopards & pygmy hippos), 2) a 30 minute tram ride called "predator prowl" (highlights were lions, tigers & Asian bears- oh my), 3) a 30 minute tram ride called "savanna safari"(highlights were white rhino, giraffes & zebras) & 4) a laser-water fountain show in the middle of the lake set to classical music. The laser show was pretty ridiculous, but awesome at the same time. The differences between this zoo and one you might find in the US is all the libability induced protection measures that an establishment in the US would take and that the Thai totally disregard - for example, when our tram stopped at the tigers one was standing on his platform which was of equal height to the 4 foot fence that enclosed him, so by standing on the platform the tiger could've easily jumped over it and devoured us, this was true for most of the animal's enclosures. While a bit scary this meant all of the animals were really close to us and easy to spot. Downside of the night was when we went to get a taxi home it was an unnegotiable 250 baht (which was an over three times the 70 baht it had cost to get out there). We concluded the night cursing the Chiang Mai taxi mafia (we ended up negotiating the ride back down to 200 baht with the help of an older Thai gentlemen).

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Chiang Mai

Levi and I have been telling ourselves that the broken a/c bus rides between cities adds character and adventure to our trip, we've come to feel like we've had so much of it, character is bubbling through our pores, for the next leg of the trip we boarded a quick 70 minute lux flight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. On just this short trip we were served a small lunch, water, coffee, juice, pillows, blankets and a comfortable temperature - this was a well appreciated break from our backpacking style - awe.
Chiang Mai is a larger city, we're staying in the hub-bub of it all with a pool and an unnecessarily a/c'ed room. We arrived here late afternoon and decided to have a chill evening which consisted of a small romantic dinner cruise through the city and a long stroll through the night market to refine our bartering skills. The details are escaping us now but the evening was mellow, the food was delicious, the scenery was beautiful and the haggling was... interesting. Oh and Jen delighted in the opportunity to feed a random small elephant in the middle of the street for 20 baht.
We learned we're not the best at bartering - sure we get the price down but we're unclear about how we feel about it. Prices vary wildly here so there isn't really a good measure to determine a fair price, also most the people at the market are poor so you're torn between not wanting to deprive the family of the appropriate hard earned profit and the desire to avoid getting ripped off, because we're unclear of this line we're also unclear to as if we should feel angry for being ripped off, guilty for undercutting a starving family or satisfied with our excellent bargaining skills. Our friends Adrian and Kerry visited Thailand and had a similar blog (which actually inspired this one), one of their many entertaining entries depicted their similar struggle and final implementation of a good cop/bad cop bartering strategy. We've decided to give this method a go on our next Night Market visit :)