Thailand was a whirl of sensations, emotions, and experiences.
About a week before I was supposed to leave, I decided to google "thailand travel tips." something I should have done weeks prior. But, procrastination.
Better late than never, so the nice lady at the health department gave me a packet of instructions and a handful of shots (take that, Typhoid!). I came to regret my over-dose of immunizing, as I woke up the next morning with severe muscle spasms in my back and hip. I can't definitely say the vaccines were the cause of my crippling pain, but a systemic reaction seems plausible. Live and learn, and at least I'm not worrying about Diphtheria.
Days later found me at 25,000 feet above the Pacific, ordering the most American meal that the Korean Air flight attendant offered, mostly because I had no idea what my options were. I heard the work "chicken" and said yes. Two hours to San Francisco, with a six hour layover. Twelve hours from San Fran to Seoul, South Korea (seated next to a very grumpy Korean man who glared at me until I powered down my iPhone upon takeoff, and whose name turned out to be Steve). Barely an hour to go through Korean customs and board our next flight to Phuket (pronounced "Poo-ket"), Thailand. Six hours later (that's 20 hours of flying, if you're keeping track), and I stumbled out of the Phuket airport, into a crowd of people (mostly men) shouting "TAXI! YOU NEED TAXI? WHERE YOU GO?"
I frantically scanned the area for an "information booth" with a phone to call my hotel (a cheap spot to crash, which I'd already paid for online), and suddenly abandoned those plans in favor of taking a chartered bus with my friends. A nice lady was holding a sign with my travel buddy's name, and she spoke English. Screw the $40 I paid on my hotel. I'll split the cost of one night at a resort if it means I don't get left here by myself.
It was so warm. I struggled to stay awake through the lady's explanations of what we were seeing in the dark as we drove to the hotel. I remember something about rubber trees and temples. My travel buddies (two other military spouses, traveling to see their husbands as well) checked into their rooms, and I remember seeing an alarming number of large bugs EVERYWHERE before we reached a room that had a bed waiting just for me (hard as a rock, but hell, I could stretch out flat, which was a vast improvement over previous sleeping positions).
I fell asleep immediately and slept through the night. Check one worry off my list (mostly): jet lag, conquered.
After breakfast the next morning, I said goodbye to my travel buddies and had my first experience negotiating a price for a tuk tuk (an open air taxi / truck). Bartering tip: if you literally only have 400 Baht, that's all you can pay. Instant discount.
I left the two girls in resort-town in favor of meeting up with Amelia, who'd been backpacking Thailand for a week already. She was 45 minutes away in Phuket-Town, the least touristy part of Phuket. I'd met her once or twice, but we hadn't really talked. Like, ever. But her style of travel appealed to me, so we emailed a few times (days before I left!) and I altered all of the plans I'd made.
Best decision. Ever.
It was still early, so I had second breakfast, hobbit style. The "restaurant" where we ate set the tone for the next few days. Local. Cheap. Completely new for me. Totally out of my American comfort zone. Totally awesome.
Pretty sure no one spoke English, but it didn't matter. Amelia pointed out what we wanted (basically the only thing they served... some sort of flatbread with mashed bananas and sweetened condensed milk poured on top... DELICIOUS), and that was it for me.
My new criteria for trying a place to eat: are Europeans absent? are locals abundant? Then, yes. Eat there.
That night, we spent the night at a hostel. Our private room (with A/C) cost about $10 total. Aside from the kinda gross bathroom, it was the perfect place to crash.
The view from our room:
Armed with a guidebook that I found for about $1.50 USD, we set out to explore. Laughing at our own ignorance, learning simultaneously about Thailand and each other- Amelia was the best travel partner I could have imagined.
|An altar with Strawberry Fanta, an offering we saw over and over|
It was so hot, I constantly had sweat dripping down my back, my butt, my legs. European women really stood out in their shorts and tank tops, so I tried to wear things that kept my shoulders and knees covered (easy, since I live in the PNW and don't really own summery clothes anymore...). It was the start of monsoon season though, so a brief, hard rain cooled things down considerably.
|Sitting out a rainstorm|
|a steep walk ended here, at the world's creepiest, Lost-esque (think Dharma Initiative, weird) restaurant|
Our second day was a Monday, and shops that we'd walked by the previous day were open. The shops were most often the owner's homes as well, so if you walked too far into the store or asked to use the restroom, you might suddenly be in someone's living room.
|"oldest herbs shoppe"|
|we brought home some "chinese herbal soup..." still have no idea what's in it|
We ate over and over at the confusingly named "China Inn and Restaurant," which served traditional Thai food. The service was very good, the prices extremely reasonable, and the atmosphere... Oh, what a lovely spot. In the middle of downtown, we sat in the shade of a quiet courtyard, surrounded by lush fauna and oscillating fans.
|rosebud iced tea|
|prawns with noodles, fried ... YUMMMM|
Our guidebook brought us to some interesting spots... When I read the description, "These cookies will change your life," I knew we had to find this place. At the end of a residential street, we finally found Cookies House.
The cookies (small, almond-flour, covered in poppy seeds) came in two varieties, salty and sweet. We ordered the mixed 1 box. 40 Baht is just over $1 USD.
The lady making the cookies (and her two year old daughter) were pleasant, and even though we couldn't talk, she was friendly and we laughed as her daughter too-willingly accepted money for her mother.
We visited a number of temples, I believe all Bhuddist. There were different styles of temples, some having a Chinese influence (with lots of ornate dragons), others with Hindi influences (evidenced by the style of Bhudda depicted within the temple).
Our other favorite restaurant was Raya. Again, cheap. Filled to the brim with locals, only locals. Open air, with a cat wandering in and out of the dining room, we ordered too much food every time we ate there. The lemongrass fish was a consistent winner, teeth and all.
Breakfast again, we ordered a rice porridge with chicken (which came ground up) and an egg. It was not my favorite thing, very salty and the ground chicken kind of grossed me out. But I was happy to try what everyone else seemed to be eating.
My favorite beverage that Amelia introduced me to was milk tea. Cheap, sweet, and cold- I ignored how many calories must be in the sweetened condensed milk and enjoyed every glass.
Milk tea is the best when made by street vendors. It's one of the only drinks they serve, and they've got it down to an art. Strongly brewed Thai tea, mixed with the sweetened condensed milk, poured over a huge glass of ice (which melts almost instantly, and waters the beverage down to a palatable flavor).
Amelia and I tried to make Thai milk tea last week, with... interesting... results. It's damn hard to make just one serving, and we have only one bag each of the Thai tea leaves. I tried to find more at the Asian market in Seattle, but either I missed it or they don't carry it.
Okay, it's about 11 PM on Sunday right now, so I think I'm going to head to bed. Part 2 of my Thailand trip will be up eventually... :) Thanks for reading this far!