Week 14 (June 5-11) : Thailand with friends

Monday: bababa, ba?
I went to Mall of Asia (MOA for the cool kids) for the first time, were I met up with the girl I mentioned a few entries back when I was hiking mount Amuyao. We bonded over injuries on the hike helping care for each other in the evenings while most of the other we’re having a merry time. We met up this week for a language exchange: she works in a call centre and has an interest in improving her English but most of all, I wanted to learn Tagalog, and she seemed into teaching me. My favourite word/expression so far is bababa, which when turned into a question becomes bababa, ba? It means descending, going down. Incidentally, in a hiking context we use this often. For instance, after taking a break at the summit for some time, someone will ask bababa, ba? It makes me think of my mother tongue, French, where under/below is “bas” and I generally just like the sound/repetition. I really enjoyed learning with this friend, who I found out is trained at a teacher, which very quickly became apparent as patient as she was and clear in her instructions on pronounciation and meaning.

June 8: A recap on Thailand and Bangkok more precisely
Tonight I am on a train going from Bankok to Chiang Mai, both popular tourist destinations in Thailand. Facing some weird mental block around taking a travel leap out of Luzon Island (where I live in the Philippines) I was sitting around reading through my Facebook feed, when I noticed a post by Chloe, an acquaintance from Montreal, stating that she would be leaving for Vietnam-Laos- Thailand that same week. I wrote to her asking, if by chance she might want some company. I didin’t think she would be into it, but I got a response the next day inviting me to join her and her four high school guy-friends, on their trip. She even sent me their itinerary. Based on this itinerary, the best time to join them was on the last leg o their trip, in Thailand, as the week prior was a bit too short notice for me to buy plane and train tickets and figure out accommodations. So a week later, two days ago, I made it to Thailand and met up with Chloe. I wasn’t sure about travelling with a bunch of high school buddies and even less a bunch of guys. To me this can often be synonymous with bro’s who’s implicit sexism makes me have to work hard to enjoy myself, having to disguise my discomfort at some crass humour and censor myself and my politics. Turns out Chloe and her friends are super lovely and the dynamic is perfect, re: my travelling needs.

We spent the first two days in Bangkok. Wednesday, taking it easy, eating pad Thai at the hotel and then walking around for quite an extended period of time, more or less getting lost in the city. We ended up at an historical garrison on the river. The surrounding Parc and abandoned (?) temple was beautiful. We ended in pausing there taking some pictures and having a jolly time. After that, as we were walking in a random somewhat residential area, we came across a Thai boxing club where members, including the club’s champion were training in the outdoor ring. The owner graciously invited us to sit down and watch, offering water, rather then us just kind of lurking in the corner like intruders. He even invited us to test out the punching bags. Chloe decided to try it out, and everything on her face suggested this to be be a therapeutic, joyous experience. The previous evening we had been talking about her having had a difficult year. It looked like she was taking it out on the punching bag with glee. That is one of my favourite things travelling: fortunate chance encounters. All you have to do is allow yourself to take it in, and take the risk of being made a fool; which is almost always completely worth it.

It took us forever to get home as we had walked all afternoon to get to where we now were. At that point is was about 7pm. Tired and quite ready to get some food, we ended up grabbing 1 Tuk Tuk for the 6 of us which resulted in my second favourite moment of the day: being utterly crammed in the Tuk Tuk while watching the Bangkok night life become alive around us as we zoomed by. We giggled and oohhed and awed the whole way back to the hotel. We then went to the infamous night market, when one can find a ridiculous super cheap, tourist trap filled with wonderful keepsakes to take home and remember Thailand by. I mean there is something fun about the night market and the vibrant tourists being tourist meeting together in one party spot. The thing is though, it’s the same everywhere in the world, these touristy spots somehow stopping individuals connecting with the uniqueness and at times, sameness/blandness of the places they travel to.

On day two (today) in Bangkok, we got an early start: we were out of the bed and breakfast by ten. We went to Wat Pho temple. It took the first 45 minutes for it to sink in, but at some point the strong spirit of the place sunk in. The effort required to build this amazing tribute to a shared collective Buddhist faith, tile by tile and in the case of the giant reclining Buddha, mortar and pilar, stone by stone, making the gold paint and applying it is truly striking. What is more, I can begging to imagine the invisible work involved in the the upkeep of the structures and maintenance of immaculate cleanliness of the temples, considering hundreds of tourists go there everyday.

After Wat Pho we took a boat ride across the river to go and see What Arun temple. Very different, it was equally awe inducing. We also got a bit lost trying to get out of the shrine area and ended up meandering around in alleys framed by whitewashed row houses. We realized we were in the residential sector of the adjacent monastery when we saw numerous monks comming and going from what was obviously their homes; a good reminder of how little I can ever fully comprehend the places I travel to, how much I will inevitably always miss.

We then stopped and had lunch at the Horse’s House, which was delicious. The air con of this more upscale restaurant allowed me to put my feet up as the edaema had been growing worst across the day.

We then went home to the hotel, I packed and said goodby for now to my new found friends. Originally, they had meant to take the train to Chiang Mai, the one I am on now, but they found a flight for a similar price and decided for the switch. I am kind of glad for my own time though and to talking to different people and have a bit of writing/reading/thinking time.

It turns out I seem to be developing edema in my ankles most times I spend the day walking in the heat. It’s really uncomfortable and feels inevitable. I am not really sure what, if anything, to do about it anymore. I enjoyed my two days in Bankok but I am glad to be spending 10 hours in a sleeper car, in a train headed to Chiang Mai with my feet level or elevated, which is the only thing that seems to alleviate the swelling in my ankles

Tomorrow morning I will land in Chiang Mai before the others. I will test my sense of direction, how organized I am etc. And try and get my way to the air bnb we are staying at.
June 11: Bangkok to Chiang Mai and back

I spent two days in Chiang Mai. On June 9th I arrived and it took me some time to get to the hotel. Essentially, I didn’t take the name of the hostel from the guys but I had the adress. Similarly to what happened when I attempted to find the hotel in Bangkok, turns out it is better to have a name then the adress in many instances. So, I got a taxi that got me very close to the inn but it took quite some time walking around until I could actually find the actual hostel. The way I did this was by arriving at the main road with many accommodations, landed at the Stamps hostel. They were very welcoming and let me use the Internet. Chloe finally was on Facebook and was able to tell me the name of the hostel and it was right down the street. In the mean time, I had met with the owner of the Stamps hostel, a cool Canadian guy married to a Thai woman. We chatted a bit.

I made it to Kamala inn and settled in. Chloe and the guys ( Andrew, Avery, Eric and Henry) arrived a few hours later, before which time I took a shower and organized my stuff in the room. I also when to get some money out and see the neighbourhood a tiny bit. Once they arrived, we went for food, and explored the city. The guys then decided to go pet tigers, something which Chloe and I felt uncomfortable with, specifically because it seemed unethical to us. We had meant to go exploring together and had a few ideas of things that might be fun to do, but instead we kind of just ended up sleeping off the travel fatigue throughout the late afternoon. The guys came back for about 5pm. Chloe and I had a good chat between 4 and 5. She inspires me. I wish I had had some of my shit figured out like she does when I was her age. Anyway, wen they came back, we went for diner at a nice place where I had sweet and sour prawns and a squid salad. The food here in Thailand is amazing and inexpensive. The curries, the sea food the padthai’s I just can’t get enough of.

Afterwards, the others’ seemed really tired. So, I went out to have drinks at Stamps’ on my own. I just wasn’t ready to call it a day. I then chatted with the owner for an hour or two about travelling in Thailand and invited him to get in touch when he knew his itinerary in the Philippines, where he will be travelling with his wife soon. I drank way too much and puked a good portion of the night. I don’t think Chloe ever noticed. It wasn’t my greatest moment.

I woke up hung over but enthused for our day at the Elephant sanctuary. This will be part of my highlights of my year in South East Asia, no doubt. I would be really interested in reading about the ethics of it, even though we chose carefully the place we went to. There, there is no elephant riding and while we got to play with them, there was still a clear effort to allow the elephants alone time, etc. But I still think that animals don’t exist for the enjoyment of humans and just shouldn’t be captive and domesticated to that end. That being said, it was amazing to take a mud bath with elephants and pet them and be sprayed by them in the water. I can’t begin to express the feeling of happiness and elation that accompanied this experience. They say that swimming with dolphins makes you feel happy due to the sonar echoes, I can’t help but think that elephants must offer something similar if I think about how I felt the whole time we spent with them.
After about two hours with the elephants, we had lunch, so flavourful, fried rice and egg, with fruits and dessert (bananas wrapped in sweet sticky rice, cooked in banana leaves). It was very flavourful. We then went for an hour hike to a waterfall. I even got to climb on the side of the falls. Dunking my head under a waterfall in the heart of the jungle just never gets old. The last two months have been filled with waterfall day trips and I’d do it everyday if I could.

After spending an hour there, we hiked to the river were we went meandering along in bamboo rafts and hit a few, tiny, tiny rapids (more like sections with more current that sped up our little trip). We got to watch the jungle get denser around us and admire it as we floated by. The smells and sounds also changed as we went along.

We then took a covered truck back to Chiang Mai, went to the hotel to put on some dry things and then went out for diner near by. Throughout the trip I have made friends with Chloe and her men. They are super sweet and I would travel with any of them again. Last night over diner we talked about happiness and contentment, their differences and growing into adulthood resulting in an increasing desire for the latter over the former. Basically, I was talking about being in a long term relationship and how in some ways once the excitement of a new love fades, relationships can get, in some ways, boring. But there is something incredibly wholesome in the stability that a long term partnership can offer, a kind of happiness that isn’t necessarily always obvious, at least not as much as momentary elation puppy love brings, but that is also more certain and lasting.

We continued some of the discussion back at the hostel over some beers and went to bed. Then I woke up early and took the red truck to the train station. Back to Bangkok here I come.

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