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All By Myself (don’t wanna be…)

8 September 2008
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This past weekend I went to Thailand. Considering the kind of craziness I’ve gotten up to in the last year, that might not amaze you all that much. But really, it should, because I went by myself. Yes, I know, it may seem like I’ve traveled to a number of places by myself before, so really this isn’t that incredible. However, what I have done in the past is get on a plane alone bound for a place with people I knew or at least had a strong connection to. This time, though, on three-days’ notice, I decided to jet off to Thailand with only a slight email connection to someone who worked for my organization and whom I’d never met. For all intents and purposes, I was going it alone. And I hate to travel alone.

I know I should pretend I like to travel alone, that I should be all independent, I’m not going to let this world scare me and all that hooey. But I’m going to be honest: Traveling alone sucks. Really, for me, it’s not about fear. It’s about wanting to have someone to share the adventures with. And having someone to keep me from doing crazy stuff, like spending 30 minutes trying to get the perfect picture of a lion or seriously considering still eating a Dunkin’ Donut even though it’s covered in ants because my wacky brain starts thinking Dunkin’ Donut depravation may be a debilitating condition. (Don’t worry; I didn’t really consider eating the donut. I pretty much freaked out as soon as I realized there were ants on it and threw the donut across my hotel room… um, yeah, something else I probably wouldn’t have done if I weren’t alone.) Anywho, I can fixate when I’m on my own and do really stupid things. And my brain goes a little crazy. (I’m going to write another blog post about one specific topic that I fixated on while in Thailand… it drove me a bit nuts honestly.)

One good thing about traveling alone, though – I take a lot of pictures. So, without further ado, here is my Thailand trip.

DAY 1

I flew out of Chennai early, early Friday morning, about 1 a.m., so I wanted to get some sleep on the plane. This plan was slightly waylaid by one of the first consequences of traveling alone – sometimes people want to talk to you and there’s no one around with whom you can pretend to be in a deeply private and therefore highly uncomfortable conversation. And by people wanting to talk to you, I mean that kinda creepy guy from Dubai sitting next to me on the plane. My tactic usually is, tell him I’m from Canada, and once he realizes that Canada has snow and therefore is probably highly undesirable as a point of relocation, he’ll leave you alone. Didn’t work this time, though, so I had to endure about 30 minutes of conversation (during which I mentioned about 10 times that I had a husband, mind you) about how I should come to Dubai and maybe he could visit me in Canada. Eventually, my desire to sleep overcame my concern about appearing rude, and I just put my headphones on and said, “Excuse me. I’m going to sleep now.” And then I slept to Bangkok.

As I waited for my connection to Chiang Mai at the Bangkok airport, I had to continually fight the desire to turn to someone sitting next to me and exclaim, “What is up with all the Australian men in wife-beaters and camo shorts?! And, by the way, do you know how much I hate the term ‘wife-beater’ but cannot stop myself from using it?” Really, there were so many Aussies in faux ‘Nam-era military apparel; you should have been there to see it. And I wish you had been because then I wouldn’t have scared that Scandinavian five-year-old with the crazy-lady cackle that I emitted while trying to keep my snark to myself. I basically spent a lot of time in the bathroom examining the dark circles under my eyes and taking pictures, so as not to terrify little children. Though taking pictures in a bathroom might be a little weird in itself, I guess.

So, apparently, when I travel alone, I take pictures in bathrooms. Case in point, compare the picture on left from a rail station in England, circa October 2007, with the more recent picture on the right from 10 days ago. Apparently, on my own, bathrooms are very amusing.

So, it seems, when I travel alone, I take pictures in bathrooms. Case in point, compare the picture on left from a rail station in England, circa October 2007 (the "male operative" bit made me think about James Bond at his day job), with the more recent picture on the right from 10 days ago (at what age do you get to start using this stall?). Apparently, when I'm on my own, bathrooms are very interesting.

My flight to Chiang Mai finally took off, and I landed around 9 a.m. and took a taxi to my hotel, a little guesthouse surrounded by what appeared to be cute little gardens on the website, but in reality, turned out to be a mosquito-infested jungle. Singapore’s campaign against standing water started making a lot of sense to me that night when my elbow swelled to 150% its normal size from one well-placed bite. It also had me thinking those Aussies might be on to something and that the ‘Nam-era military garb might not be that out of place.

After depositing my bags in my thankfully non-infested room, I decided to wander the streets of Chiang Mai. It was very quiet and very clean. (I realize I go on a bit in these posts about cleanliness, but seriously, if you lived in a place where everybody throws garbage on the ground, cleanliness would be next to godliness in your book also. Okay, maybe that’s going a bit too far, but the lack of stench of rot in the air cannot be underrated.) So I just walked around the city, enjoying the blue skies and nice weather. Everything was so quiet that it was hard to believe, in Bangkok, there were anti-government rallies at the government compound and riots in the streets and that protesters had taken over the runways at the Phuket and Krabi airports. It was a bit like Chennai that way – the rest of the country seems to be falling apart, but Chiang Mai just shrugs its shoulders and says, “Whatcha gonna do?”

You can't really tell, but this arch is covered in pictures of the Thai king. He's playing the saxophone in one of them. Thais love their king.

You can't really tell in this picture, but that arch is covered in pictures of the Thai king. He's playing the saxophone in one of the pictures. Those Thai people, they love their king. Not so much the Prime Minister right now, though, hence the riots.

At about 3 p.m. I headed back to my hotel and took a much needed nap. Then around 6 p.m., my email acquaintance showed up, and she was exactly what I needed at that moment when I was starting to think about what was I going to do with myself for an entire weekend. O. was full of energy and so very nice and had planned our entire Chiang Mai weekend.

Most of this plan consisted of visiting markets, as Chiang Mai has a market for every night of the week, and in case you’re bored with those, there’s always the Night Bazaar (where we went that first night). I’m not going to say much about the markets because, to me, they all started to look the same after a while, but O. is a shopping machine and has apparently perfected the art of shop till you drop. After three nights straight of markets, I was ready to drop about two hours earlier than O. but just kept running on fumes, trying to make it to the end. (I cried “Uncle!” a little earlier than she had hoped though, and she told me on Tuesday that she went to the Monday market as well.) Still, I am sincerely grateful to O., and I definitely would have missed out on a lot without her help. So I can’t complain.

Random first-day photos:

Mini-bar options at my hotel - and before you ask, I didn't try them. I was a little worried about my seafood allergy and would have preferred "Magic Masala" Lays from Chennai.

Mini-bar options at my hotel - and before you ask, I didn't try them. I was a little worried about my seafood allergy. But they did make me crave Magic Masala Lays from Chennai.

Anyone know what kind of bird this is? My friend said she had never seen it before and was confused as I was. Prize for the person who answers correctly first.

Anyone know what kind of bird this is? O. said she had never seen it before and was as confused as I was. Prize for the person who answers correctly first.

DAY 2

Saturday started early with a morning trip to the Maesa Elephant Camp. O. recruited their office intern to come with us so that I wouldn’t have to go alone. (O. had just recently gone with a group of people, and besides, there were a number of shops near the camp.) J. and I had met previously, at our training in September, so it was nice to catch up, but I think he was a bit mystified by the number of pictures I took of the elephants.

I think I mentioned in my Africa blog that I seriously love elephants. I think they are the most brilliant animals (and I mean “brilliant” in its most British sense). And I know, for someone who loves elephants as much as I do, that there should be at least a part of me a tad appalled by the manipulation of these magnificent beasts for our entertainment purposes. I guess, deep down, there is that part of me, but honestly, it’s getting jumped on and drowned out by the six-year-old part of me that is screaming, “I WANT TO SEE THE ELEPHANTS!!! ELEPHANTS ARE AWESOME!!!” Sometimes I’m a terrible person.

Oliphants!

OLIPHANTS! THEY ARE AWESOME!

The best part of this day, though, was the opportunity to ride the elephants. J. and I were put on a hugantic elephant named Mae Bo, who was 30 years old. Mae’s caretaker and driver (that’s the only word I can think of for him) was this older, mostly toothless man who didn’t speak a word of English but smiled non-stop. He smiled even when Mae decided she wasn’t going to do this whole walking thing and stopped numerous times on a cliff with a perilous drop to dig holes into the side of the mountain with her trunk. The driver would just turn to us, smile, and then lean over into Mae’s ear and say (according to J. who knows some Thai), “Mae, you can go now.” Um, not so much. Our hour ride became an hour and a half, and just as J. and I were trying to decide how much damage a jump off a 10-foot-tall elephant into foot-thick mud could do to us, Mae finally obliged us with a loud harumph and lumbered back to the starting point. We were already 45 minutes late for meeting O., so with a quick pat to Mae’s head, we had to run off. It was still a highlight of my trip, though.

Maybe I spent a little too much time at the elephant camp. I'm even seeing elephants in the clouds now.

Maybe I spent a little too much time at the elephant camp. I'm even seeing elephants in the clouds now.

The rest of Saturday was spent eating delicious pad thai and crispy garlic duck from street vendors and, of course, visiting the Saturday Market. I didn’t get back to the hotel until nearly midnight, and after two days, my feet already ached.

DAY 3

Sunday started out with a trip to O.’s church (an experience I’m thinking I’ll write about another time). Then O. took me to a park called “Royal Flora 2006.” Basically, Royal Flora Ratchaphruek was a flower festival held in late 2006 It was one of the grand celebrations being hosted by the Royal Thai Government in honor of King Bhumibol, the world’s longest reigning monarch. (Thanks, Wikipedia!) Countries from all over the world contributed flowers and native plants. However, since 2006, it’s been kept open with little maintenance, and now it looks like an abandoned Disney World. I kept looking over my shoulder for the zombies or wondering how I could have possibly missed the nuclear holocaust.

The Royal Palace at the Royal Flora - Built with absolutely no nails. Notice how very few people are there. It felt abandoned.

The Royal Pavilion at the Royal Flora - Built with absolutely no nails. Notice how very few people are there. Except for the zombies, of course.

After Abandoned Disneyland, O. and I took in not just one, but two markets. And then my feet fell off.

DAY 4

On Monday, O. had to work, so I was again on my own. Before I left Chennai, I booked a trekking trip into the mountains around Chiang Mai. This trip included a zip-line tour through the forest canopy, something I’ve always wanted to do because I have no fear of heights and must always seek to prove this through doing stupid stuff like jumping off of bridges or leaning my forehead against the glass of the Sears Tower observation deck so I can’t see the floor and feel like I’m floating in space. (I cannot do the same thing at an aquarium though, because, fish, they just freaky.)

So I headed off into the woods on my own with a group of people I had just met to have an incredible experience that no one really wanted to talk about. It really took some of the fun out of it, knowing that, when I was hooting and hollering as I zipped through the air 100 feet above the ground, I was pretty much just doing it for myself, since the three girls from Saskatchewan wearing their 100% Single shirts weren’t going to share the excitement with me.

Pretty Waterfall

Pretty Waterfall

I insert this photo against my better judgment, since I think I look like an absolute pinhead.

I insert this photo against my better judgment, since I think I look like an absolute pinhead.

No one to take pictures of you. So instead you get this random dude flying.

Problem with ziplining by yourself: No one to take pictures of you. So instead you get this random dude flying.

Throughout the trip, I had started a few conversations with my fellow fliers but nothing significant, so by the end, I was just feeling a bit lonely. My one big regret about Thailand (besides not getting a picture of me in a spangled leotard lifted high in the air on Mae Bo’s trunk at the elephant camp – latent desire to run off with the circus apparently) was canceling my plan to do a homestay at the hill tribe village near the trekking tour. I just couldn’t do it, spend an entire night out in the woods in a place where no one understands me. It was just too lonely to think about. Mike and I will go back someday though, I’m sure.

DAY 5

My final day in Chiang Mai was again spent alone, but by this time, I was starting to get the hang of it. After throwing my breakfast across the hotel room, cleaning it up, and then finding different breakfast, I headed out to the Chiang Mai Zoo. I love going to zoos or wildlife reserves in different countries because every place has different animals from other countries. I saw gibbons and South Indian givets and taipurs and pandas (PANDAS!!!). It was awesome. Of course, again, there was the same problem as I wrote above about the elephants – conflicting emotions, blah blah blah, six year old wins again. And so I spent all day wandering around the zoo, taking way too many pictures, making faces at the gibbons, and just relishing my time with the animals.

Panda!

Panda!

Pretty Fly for a White Guy

Pretty Fly for a White Guy

Errr.... Could I get some Aussies in faux 'Nam-era military apparel to help with this one?

Errr.... Could I get some Aussies in faux 'Nam-era military apparel to help with this one?

I ended this day with a massage at a nice spa (a requirement for any trip to Thailand) and lounging at the airport.

And that was Thailand. Sorry to write a novel, but I had to share it with someone and that Scandinavian five year old wasn’t at the airport on the way back. Neither was the creepy guy from Dubai. Maybe next time you’ll go with me and then I won’t have to write so much. Silly me.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. 8 September 2008 10:43 pm

    Hi! The bird is a guinea fowl….where do I pick up my prize???

    Your husband just asked me if I knew the difference between “Reply” and “Reply All”….I have sent him about 3 messages in 6 months…perhaps too many??

  2. 9 September 2008 12:06 am

    Sigh…not so hotties from Dubai. You are such a man killer! Hee hee. What a fun adventure! I need an Ariana wandering blog, but first I’d have to wander. (details, details)

  3. Unity permalink
    9 September 2008 12:34 am

    Thanks for the account of your adventures! I love that you were going it alone, but totally hear ya on how that can get lonely. Oh & hey the 6 year old who lives in me usually wins out too–which is why I get in so much dang trouble!

  4. 9 September 2008 4:22 am

    Hi – I don’t know why I know it, but the bird is a Guinea Fowl….perhaps too much TV with my kids watching Animal Planet…

    Your trip sounds wonderful.

  5. Mike permalink
    9 September 2008 9:06 am

    No, No, No, The bird is a Zoom Chicken. A close relative of the Turbo Turkey. Recently estranged from the Puttering Peacock.

    *pakawwww*
    Are you threatening me?
    *pak*
    *pak*
    *pakawwww*

  6. Mom permalink
    13 September 2008 3:52 am

    I think the penchant for taking bathroom pictures is innate. Have I ever shown you my collection of toilet pictures from Japan? And then, there’s your Uncle David…

    Anyway, it was great reading about your adventures.

  7. D.A.D. permalink
    18 September 2008 5:49 pm

    Your great grandmother raised guinea hens on her farm, so I recognized the bird immediately. I would have won the ID award but have been too busy reading bad writing at school. Thanks for taking me into the world, again!

  8. 19 September 2008 8:51 am

    Guinea fowl–that was the bird served at the first dinner in “Notting Hill”. Do you remember that?
    Zach was far more excited about riding those dang elephants than Isabella. And I have to say, I’m glad I haven’t had to use one to travel anywhere I cared about…

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