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Thailand, Bali & Gili

A few months ago I was in need of a change of scenery and through a suggestion from a friend I took a last minute trip to Thailand. It was my first trip to Asia and I really enjoyed my short stay there. The people were very friendly and I had fun exploring Bangkok while getting a taste of what Thailand had to offer. My trip lasted only 5 days, but I saw enough to know that I wanted to go back again to see the rest of the country. I’ve been fortunate to travel to many different countries, but I really enjoyed the culture in Thailand and was anxious to see more of it. When I returned home I quickly made plans to go back in July for another stay, but this time I would plan to stay a full month to allow me to travel all over the country without feeling rushed.

During my initial visit to Thailand I met a woman named Rotchana. Everyone calls her “New”. It seems that most Thai people have nicknames that they use rather than their formal name. Some of them are rather funny, such as Toy, Fon, Foi, Pan, Nok, and so on. It does make it easier to remember names. Anyhow, New and I hit it off well and we spent the last couple of days together on my trip. She was helpful with the language issues since she speaks English well enough for us to have a conversation as well as help with ordering food and getting around the city. Once I returned home we kept in contact and speak to each other on the phone at least once a day. She likes to practice her English and I enjoy the conversation so it’s been nice.

I had planned on coming back to Thailand in July, but as it turns out New’s birthday is in April and there is also a big celebration in Thailand called Songkran that takes place a few days later. Songkran is Thailand’s New Year and it’s pretty much a big water party that takes place over several days. During one of our conversations New made a comment that it was too bad I couldn’t come back to enjoy the celebration. After thinking about it and doing a little looking online I found a really cheap flight and decided to come back to Thailand. The following is about my trip back to Thailand in April:

After 30 hours of travel I made it to Bangkok on April 2nd. My flight left San Francisco on the 30th of March, but I had a stop in Seoul, South Korea and a change of planes in Singapore after a 6 hour layover. Everything went smoothly, but it was a long day of travel to go along with the time and date change. New has a 14 year old son named Foi and they both met me at the airport upon my arrival in Bangkok. It was nice seeing a familiar face. We took a taxi to the hotel I was to stay at and then headed to New’s home to meet up with her family.

We spent the first day hanging out and also took time to go to a park. Having left my home when it was 40 degrees and foggy it was nice to be outside in the warm weather. It was a pretty lazy day as I tried to adjust to the time change.

During my first night at the hotel I woke up around 4:30am to the sound of water. I got out of bed and made my way to the bathroom in the dark only to be stopped just short of the door by getting a shower of cold water from the ceiling. I managed to get a light on to discover that the air conditioning unit had sprung a bad leak and was pouring water into my room. I shut off the air conditioning and called the front desk and they sent someone up to take a look. Not being able to do much at that time I went back to sleep and was told they’d move everything to a new room for me the next morning. They took care of everything as promised and even gave me an upgraded room so it all worked out.

The next day New and I went with her family to a Crocodile Farm just outside of Bangkok in Samut Prakan. It’s basically a zoo, but there are thousands and thousands of crocodiles on display to go along with all the other animals. You can feed the animals including the crocodiles and there’s a show to watch a couple of men actually stick their heads and arms into a crocodile’s mouth. Crazy, but fun to watch.

The next couple of days we just hung out around Bangkok. We ate at a lot of the various beer gardens and enjoyed a few late night meals on the various street corners where food can be found late into the night. It didn’t seem to matter if it was 10:00pm or 3:00am as the streets were always busy with people going back and forth. It’s quite a different experience that I hadn’t seen before. Even places like LA that are open late don’t have the same atmosphere. I hadn’t had much experience with Thai food prior to my visits to Bangkok, but I’m finding that I like the food quite a bit. I can’t eat anything too spicy, but usually I can get a milder version. Most of the dishes consist of noodles and/or rice, pork, chicken, seafood and different types of curries. I can’t say that I found anything I didn’t like, which is nice.

New’s birthday was on the 8th and she had a friend that was spending time down in Bali with her boyfriend at the time. She asked New if we could join them for a few days so we decided to make the trip. We knew what town they were staying in, but we didn’t know the hotel since they were moving around the island quite a bit. We flew down to Bali on the 7th and took a one hour taxi ride to the small town of Ubud, which is located inland away from the beaches. Once we arrived we found that our cell phones weren’t finding any service so we weren’t sure what to do about meeting up with her friend. After having lunch we stopped by an internet cafe and I found an inexpensive hotel in town to stay at. We decided to just check in so we didn’t have to carry our bags around and figured we’d find her friend later in the afternoon.

Once we got settled in to the hotel we decided to venture out a bit to see if we could find her friend. Ubud is basically one street that stretches for about a mile or so with shops, restaurants and bars on both sides. There are a lot of artists in Ubud and you could find a lot of shops selling the various kinds of artwork. My favorite part of the town was the homes, though. Each home had a small temple in front and they were quite elaborate. Mix the architecture in with the green moss growing on all the rocks and brick and it made for a nice scene.

Later in the evening we managed to get one of the cell phones working and we contacted New’s friend. They were just up the street and within a few minutes we met up with them. Som is New’s friend and they do everything together in Bangkok so they were happy to see each other. Som’s boyfriend is named Laurent and he’s from France. He was a friendly guy and he also enjoys photography. We had a good time talking about photography and we got along great despite me having a Canon and him having a Nikon. We had a nice dinner at one of the restaurants close to their hotel and then went to a lounge to hang out. We didn’t make it back to our hotel until about 2:00am so we were pretty bushed by then.

The next day we checked out of our hotel and took our bags to our friend’s hotel. We decided to stay there that night since it was convenient and very cheap. We spent the day walking around town and at a place called Monkey Forest. It’s right at the edge of town and is pretty much what the name says. Dozens and dozens of monkeys can be found along the many footpaths that work their way through the forest going past several temples and other monuments. It was a very pretty area and the monkeys were fun, too. We were warned to make sure we didn’t have any food with us, but they also sell bananas to feed the monkeys. New had put a banana in her front pocket and sure enough a monkey jumped onto her leg and took the banana out of her pocket. She was a little startled, but she had fun with it and everyone got a good laugh. At various times during our walk we had monkeys come up to us begging for food, and a few even jumped onto our shoulders, or in my case sat on my head for a few minutes. Due to the time of year we were visiting we also saw many newborn monkeys with their mothers. They were a little funny looking since they didn’t have much fur yet.

After another late night of going out and then playing card games back at the hotel we checked out of the hotel and caught a bus at 7:00am that took us about an hour’s drive to a port where we were to catch a high speed boat for a two hour ride to a small island named Gili Trawangan. Although it was early when we left everyone was looking forward to getting on the island and enjoying the beaches. The bus and boat rides were pretty uneventful and before we knew it we were dropped off on the tiny island. They literally back the boat up to the beach and you hop off into the water and wade your way up to the beach. The water is very warm and beautiful so it wasn’t a problem. Once we got our bags a couple of young men approached us about getting a hotel. Not having reservations and not wanting to waste time looking we listened to their pitch and decided it would work for us.

The hotel was about a five minute walk from the beach so that worked for us. The rooms were individual bungalows with thatched roofs. It looked like something you see in a travel magazine. The only downside was there was no air conditioning and the humidity was up around 95%. We all just decided it was going to be a sweaty couple of days so we made the best of it. The rooms were nice otherwise and we enjoyed them. The showers were outside, but there was privacy so it made for a different experience. They also used salt water, which was a bit of a surprise the first time I brushed my teeth. Bottled water took care of the rinsing after that first experience.

We took a long walk through town and up a dirt road that took us along the water. The water was really pretty and the beaches had nice white sand and crushed coral. Close to town there was a lot of debris scattered about so it took away from the scenery a little, but farther out of town the beaches were clean. Later in the evening we found a good restaurant to eat at and then spent a couple hours having drinks at a table near the beach. We had a good time and enjoyed the drop in humidity once the sun went down.

New and I had to leave the island the next morning in order to catch our plane the following day. There was only one boat each day and it would leave too late to get us to the airport on the same day. We had a good time even though it was a short stay. After taking the boat back to Bali and another shuttle drive of about an hour we arrived at our hotel in Kuta near the airport. The hotel was very nice and much more fancy than the price would suggest.

While we were getting checked in a huge thunderstorm moved in and it began to pour huge buckets of rain. Within minutes the streets were filling with water. We made it to the room and after about an hour it died down enough for us to go out and get something to eat. We walked along the main street in Kuta and found a place to eat. The food was good and then we took our time heading back to the hotel stopping to look through the shops. Once we got back to the hotel it started to pour again so our timing was good. The next morning we woke up to blue skies so we walked around the hotel grounds taking some photos before heading to the airport.

When we got back to Bangkok we spent some time with New’s friends and got ready for Songkran. Songkran is a big deal to Thai people and even though I thought I knew what was going to happen I had no idea. From early in the morning until late in the afternoon/evening people of all ages are out in the streets with water guns, buckets, hoses, etc., all with the sole purpose of getting everyone and anyone wet that happens to pass by. There were signs at the hotel warning people that if they didn’t want to get wet or would get upset they should stay inside. It was no joke. Tens of thousands of people gather in various spots around the city and just go at it all day. In addition to water being doused on everyone they have a type of chalk that dissolves in water like paint and people will gently rub it onto your cheeks and forehead while wishing you a happy new year. With all the activity going on and the masses of people I was quite impressed at how civil everyone was. I didn’t see anyone getting upset. All I saw was smiles and strangers having a great time together. I wondered if that would be the case here in the US if we did the same thing. Sadly, I think not.

The first afternoon we spent down in a place called Soi Cowboy. It’s a nightlife area, but during the day it just has a lot of people. The water fights were in full swing when we got there and I was completely wet within minutes. New hid inside a bar and watched through a window, but I was in the middle of it with her sister, Nok. After a couple of hours of dumping water on people and getting the same returned I went back to the hotel to change into dry clothes so we could go to dinner with our friends that had returned from Bali that afternoon. Somehow I managed to get back from the hotel without getting wet again, although it did require crossing streets and running past crowds before they could get me.

The next day we went with our friends to Khao San Road where there were a ton of people ready to partake in the water fights again. This time New stayed outside and took part in getting drenched. After a few hours of going up and down the crowded streets we took a tuk tuk to the Silom area of Bangkok where there were even more people out in the streets. We fought our way through the masses and then called it a day after a few hours. We had a lot of fun and did our fair share of getting people wet so it was all fun. The only downside was that some people were tossing ice water onto the crowd. I don’t care how hot it was outside, it’s still a shock to the system when the cold water gets you from behind.

On my last day in Bangkok we took it easy and went out at night with our friends. We went to a nice dinner and then to a couple different clubs before calling it a night around 2:00am. Fortunately my flight didn’t leave until late in the evening the next day so we could sleep in a little. We checked out of the hotel at 11:00am and then went to New’s home until I had to leave for the airport. I had joked with New about her taking my passport and hiding it so I wouldn’t be able to leave, but as it turned out I left the passport sitting on a table at her home. Luckily we hadn’t gone too far in the taxi when I discovered that I didn’t have it and made it to the airport with plenty of time.

I had a great time during my two weeks and I got to do some fun things on my trip. It wasn’t a typical trip in that as much as we did it was more about just spending time with New, and getting to know her family and her friends. It’s hard being 8,000 miles away from someone that you enjoy being with, but the daily phone calls help and knowing I’ll be back in July makes it better. I don’t know what the future has in store, but hopefully it’s more fun times ahead.

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