I haven’t written about Thailand until now, because I haven’t been sure what to say about it. The pad-thai was delicious, if a little tiresome. The Thai people were uptight, if not unwelcoming. And the backpackers – out of control.
With a few days spent in Bangkok, mostly on Khao San Road, which features classy places such as the We Don’t ID Bar, we grew tired and made for Chiang Mai. After an interesting 12-hour bus ride, we were dropped off on some random street corner only to realize that it was freezing cold outside. The weather wasn’t really an issue, though. We were glad to be out of Bangkok’s overwhelming heat and smog. Besides, it was pretty hot before we knew it.
We spent a few days in Chiang Mai and had a pretty good time of it. The city is quite beautifully located and besides the early morning chill, the weather couldn’t have been much better and as far as food goes, it was one of our favorite places in Thailand.
From there we skipped Pai, and went to Pang Mapha to the Cave Lodge which is run by an English ex-pat who is definitely not as cool as he thinks he is where we went on a six-hour kayak trip through and to several amazing caves. From there, we made our way to Chiang Dao, where we saw one of the prettiest mountains we’ve ever seen and proceeded to have the coldest night of our lives. In the morning, we decided we couldn’t spend another night so cold. And so, before we knew it, we were on a train 24 hours south in search of warmer weather.
We got to the islands, skipped Phi Phi, Samui, and Phuket and went for the less well known Koh Tao and Ko Muk. We had a good, but long time on the islands – Nina went on an amazing snorkeling trip and we ate great food. Wherever we went, though, we just couldn’t escape the backpacker scene with partiers mostly looking for all-night parties. We left feeling like there should have been more.
Have you been to Thailand? What did you think? Impressed, unimpressed surprised? I would love to hear your stories.
We’ve been away for about two months now. One month in Thailand and one month in Vietnam. I’ve also been to the hospital. Twice. Both times in Vietnam. The first time was within a few hours of a meal we had at an expensive hotel. I kept feeling worse and worse, until I couldn’t stand it any longer. The taxi took us to the hospital in town. I was taken right in and immediately given an IV. It was difficult. They didn’t speak much English, but Nina was by my side and helped communicate what was wrong. A few IVs, lots of pills, three days later, and lots of love from Nina, they finally let me leave.
The second time, was a little less serious. I had been sick for about a week, at first getting worse, then better, but then not totally better. We were hanging out with our friend who is a medical student and after coughing so much, he said I should go to the hospital. So, I went. In about 50 minutes, I was seen, right away, by two doctors, given a chest x-ray and a blood test. I left with a few prescriptions and am now feeling much better.
I left both experiences feeling extremely positive. At both hospitals, doctors were available immediately, and I felt like they really wanted me to feel better. My experiences provided quite a contrast to that of my family members and friends, five of which have recently been in an American hospital with less than perfect experiences. I felt like the staff at both hospitals was completely competent. I was shocked to learn that the cost of the first hospital, per day, was less than our hotel.
Some people have suggested that we just go home, but the experiences at the hospitals leave me feeling both safe here and welcome.
Trains in Thailand are super nice. AC, comfy beds, curtains… what else could one ask for on an overnight train? Not much. Overnight trains are easy, get on at the first stop and get off at the last stop. Shorter journey trains are a little more difficult…
We don’t speak Thai. We were at a train station trying to get tickets to Trang. The person at the ticket counter clearly did not understand how we were saying Trang. Afterwords, we realized that he must have thought we were saying train over and over again as in, “we want to go to train.” And he must have been thinking, “idiots, you’re at the train station. Stop asking me.”
We finally made some progress. After about the fifth or sixth time going back and fourth, we finally pulled out our guide book and showed him exactly where we were trying to go. He immediately said, “OOOOH, Ko Muk.”
Now, Ko Muk is an island and Nina and I were both pretty sure you had to go to Trang and then take a ferry, but the ticket man’s response made us think that the train actually went there via some bridge or something.
When we were finally on the train, we realized we wouldn’t know when to get off the train. There weren’t any announcements and we wouldn’t have understood them even if there had been. So, we showed a conductor our tickets and he used gestures to assure us that someone would let us know when we reached the station.
Not much later, the train stopped. Nothing unusual, Thai trains stop all the time… coffee breaks, stopping to wait for cars to finish crossing the tracks, etc. There wasn’t a station, so we didn’t think anything of the stop. But then, the conductor motioned at us in a way that indicated this was our stop. We were pretty clearly in the middle of nowhere, but I suddenly started thinking, “well, this must be right, because they’re telling us it’s our stop.” Then, I rationalized that I must have misunderstood how rural the island was and that we must have gone over a bridge when I wasn’t paying attention.
We put our backpacks on and hopped off the train. Sure enough, there was a sign exactly where we got off that read Ban Ko Muk. We were standing in the middle of a cow field without a person in sight. We must have been there. The sign said we were there.
As the train pulled away, we started walking out of the field not sure exactly what to do. We started walking down the first road we found. There were a few houses, but no sign of activity. Suddenly, a woman greets us. She asks us where we’re going. Understanding her broken English was a little difficult, but we were able to understand that not only had we not crossed a bridge onto an island, but that we were also definitely not near the ocean or for that matter a hotel or even a taxi to take us somewhere where there might be a hotel.
She told us to wait one minute. She dialed someone on her phone and after a long conversation, no doubt deciding what she should do with us, she told us to wait twenty minutes. The next thing we knew, we were invited inside her house and shortly we were drinking coffee and eating sweets. After fielding some questions about where we were from, and what we did, apparently it was time to walk across the cow field. Before we knew it, we were out of her house, across the field and in her brother’s pickup. They drove us down a road the the nearest town where she helped us book two tickets to the right destination and then drove us to the only hotel in town.
She drove off with a smile. We were so thankful. Offering coffee and sweets was so nice of her. Without her help, we never would have made it to the town. We went into our hotel with such positive feelings. It’s so good to think that someone would take an hour out of their day to help two foreign strangers who just happened appear next to her house. Her helping us made us feel like next time we encounter a stranger with a problem we should help them. Her help went a long way for us.
There we are, sitting there, Nina’s parents and me. We’re having dinner together when Nina’s mom said,”So, Julian, why isn’t Nina here?”
On this Black Friday, instead of pepper spraying fellow shoppers, take a second and think about what’s really important.