Bangkok

Bangkok, the mother of Southeast Asian cities. Nick and I spent 4 days in Bangkok over the course of a month. We flew from Mandalay, Myanmar to Bangkok, worked our way south by land to Singapore, then spent 2 days in Bangkok as a connection when flying from Singapore to Calcutta, India.

Bangkok was definitely the most developed southeast Asian city we visited before Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. The traffic was hectic and we found the taxis, trains, and buses all unorganized. Similar to Western culture the consumer focused society was obvious. Locals and foreigners alike flooded in and out of enormous shopping malls and shopped not out of neccessity but luxury. Advertisements for Listerine (what would have been unfathomable in Myanmar) were plastered on the walls of the sky train and “massage parlors” could be found every 50 feet. Although we had a good time in Bangkok, it didn’t live up to it’s hype. I’ve listed some of our highlights below:

file_000-3

The Grand Palace & Emerald Buddha – Although quite expensive and touristed, Nick and I spent an afternoon touring the Royal Palace and Emerald Buddha. The temples inside of the complex were intricate, regal and lavish (but not gaudy). The number of tourists were overwhelming and we soon learned that the thousands of Thai tourists dressed in black were there, waiting in queues to pay respects to the king. 3 months after Bhumibol Adulyadej’s death, it still hung in the air. The Thai people were in a year of mourning. The king’s face was on t-shirts, billboards, banners, posters and statues all reminding the people of his good deeds.

img_0022
Phra Mondop
img_0009
The gallery and Ramakien story

img_0011

img_0017

Later, we took a boat across the river, saw the Hindu Temple of Dawn and a more quaint Bangkok. We roamed the old town and stumbled upon another amazing market. My favorite things in Bangkok included getting lost, the delicious food and the transgender community.

img_0785

Khaosan Road – Young drunk western tourists. This 3 block strip consisted of bars, live music and street food. It looked the same as a college bar street. 5 friends sat around a table drinking overpriced beers taking in the scene, however the scene was a little different. The difference, locals walked down the street selling balloons full of laughing gas, scorpions on sticks, and tickets to “ping-pong” shows. Transgendered females wore short skirts and were grinding to dub step. Dreadlocks, cornrows, henna, ice cream and ” I love Khaosan Road” t-shirts were all sold. The scene reminded me a bit of the New Jersey shore.

Chinatown – Nick and I wandered through Chinatown and watched as the locals prepared for Chinese New Year. Special clothing, decorations, firecrackers and foods were being sold. We passed vendors selling dumplings, teas, spices, and indulged in homemade popcicles. Some of the flavors included: Black bean in sticky rice, taro, sticky rice and mango, durian, Thai tea, banana in coconut milk, coconut custard, mung bean, Thai muskmelon in coconut milk, longan in sticky rice, tamarind, pumpkin in coconut milk, pink milk, grass jelly, corn, and Thai custard.

On the way back to our guesthouse we decided to take a ferry down Bangkoks’s canal, known as the “Venice of Asia”. The cool water misted our faces until the locals abruptly pulled a lever that raised a plastic curtain. Ahhh, the canal was Bangkok’s sewer. We began to smell it and see the holes from the cement walls feeding into the river. There was garbage and street art and although not the most romantic, we were pleased to have had the experience.

img_0023
“Venice of Asia”
“Sewer of Asia”

Food- Bangkok came alive at night. As soon as the sun set, countless night markets opened selling pad thai, mango sticky rice, fresh fruit, fresh fruit juice, fresh fruit smoothies, fried chicken, processed meat on sticks, bao, corn on the cob, and waffles. Some of the markets, especially the weekend farmers market, had a hipster vibe. Thais sure know how to eat.

img_0788-2

 

Tonsai & Railay

What a strange place.

Let me begin by trying to paint a picture. Tonsai is a beach on a peninsula of southern Thailand and it’s more affluent neighbor is Railay. Tonsai can only be reached by boat as no roads have been developed. On one hand it is picture perfect. I wrote the majority of this blog laying on the beach under a shady tree. The waves were crashing, the sun was shining and climbers passed me by. The emerald clear water was salty and warm. Rock faces lined the beach and glowed as the sun set. Nick and I watched monkeys swinging from tree to tree, saw spiders the size of an adult hand and spotted a 4-foot long Monitor Lizard.

img_0767
low tide & a setting sun over Tonsai Beach

img_0775

DCIM101GOPRO
One of the many rock faces that dominates Railay Beach

img_0019

Sure, you could pay hundreds of dollars to have as slightly more luxurious Thailand experience on Railay beach, however the rest of the budget travels stay in 250 bhat ($6.99) bungalows in Tonsai. The majority of the beach front in Tonsai is owned by some entity that instead of building, has walled off everything but the beach to the outside. This has resulted in a perfect beach with a rapidly expanding bohemian village into the jungle. Avoiding electric wiring, watching sewage pumped into the ocean and cement walls that blocks ocean views are common.

img_0847
Sunset on Railay Beach
img_0772
The cement wall that separates the beach from Tonsai “village”

Electricity was only available from 6 pm – 2 am, when the town’s diesel generator was operating. Most people stay here for multiple weeks to months and this becomes their reality. Climbers stay here to train and festival hippies come here to relax and slackline. Everyday the routes get more polished and people get sick. Climbers are warned to properly treat wounds as seawater and gray water is contaminated. Infections are common as well as “Tonsai Tummy” which is either an unknown bacteria or virus that gets almost every traveler sick. Unfortunately, Nick wasn’t lucky enough to avoid this phenomenon. There is no law enforcement in Tonsai. In Thailand, drug offenders can be sentenced to death, however in Tonsai, mushroom shakes are sold, marijuana is smoked and there seems to be no order. Frankly, it’s a strange place. Oh, and did I mention the hundreds of stray cats?

img_0020

img_0771
A common virus or bacteria that gets most travelers sick

The majority of our time in Tonsai we spent climbing. Although Nick did most of the climbing as my ankle was still healing, he said the majority of the routes were hard, and polished. Monkey poop littered some walls, but once on top the views were phenomenal. It’s been difficult for Nick and I because climbers train everyday then come Asia for holiday and crush. Whereas, we aren’t able to train and find getting use to new areas, grading and maintaining our strength more difficult than expected. Nonetheless, Nick had a blast on a multi-pitch Humanality (6b+) pictured below.

DCIM101GOPRO
View from Humanality 6b+
DCIM101GOPRO
Nick working a 6c+ on Tonsai Beach
DCIM101GOPRO
Introducing Nick’s pony tail to the world!
img_0846
Climbing with our new friend, Ryan

Average days included waking up in our bungalow and sitting on our porch. We would wander our way to town and enjoy a pot of coffee and muesli bowl. Then we would either climb or on rest days head to Railay beach and swim. We enjoyed delicious Thai food, met new people and saw familiar faces. It seems the traveling climbing community is relatively small as we see faces from previous areas and countries. In the evening, Nick and I would enjoy a delicious Thai curry and relax at the Viking Bar (1 of 3 Rasta bars in town) where we played with wooden puzzles and watched slackliners. Although an odd scene, it was relaxing staying in one place and enjoying the beach before heading to Malaysia.

img_0770
Bungalow View – 650 bhat ($7)
img_0778
Put your hands in the air if you have hairy pits & just don’t care!

Favorite Local Eats:

Thai Food Restaurant – cheapest REAL coffee in town, 1 pot for 60 bhat

The Green Restaurant – best wifi and highest quality food in town (BBQ offered at night)

img_0829
Breakfast rice with milk and fresh fruit
l1080798
Breakfast muesli bowl

The Viking Bar – fun staff and funny scene, don’t forget to check out the burger cart outside in the evenings.

img_0021
Nick’s favorite chicken burger

Australian wraps & shakes (Riley) – try the banana passionfruit smoothie with NO sugar and the Thai chicken wrap

Transitioning Countries & Genders

Nick and I entered Myanmar through Mai Sot, which has only been open to foreigners for a year. We found this border crossing to be the least regulated and least developed we’ve experience. As we left Thailand, I was surprised that no one checked the first page of my passport to make sure that it was mine. As we walked across the bridge over no man’s land, we observed a homeless family and watched boats illegally (and obviously) take people across the river. As we entered Myanmar immigration there were no ques, no other foreigners, unexperienced workers and my passport was stamped upside down. Although, the process seemed unorderly for foot traffic, the truck loads of produce, motorbikes, toys and other goods seemed to be more regulated.

Illegal border crossings

After crossing the border, Nick and I arranged a ride to Mawlamyine in a car full of bananas. During the 3 hour ride we must have stopped 10 times to grease some hands at military checkpoints. We drove past water buffalo, pagodas, and thatched homes (these homes used large dried leaves to construct the roof). My first observation was the drastic difference between Thailand and Myanmar. It’s was night and day. It’s unfathomable how one day someone decided to draw a line on a map, call it a border, and now it changes the way people live. The amount of opportunity and development in Myanmar lacks without hesitation in comparison to Thailand. Myanmar is dirty, poor, the roads are outdated and there is civil conflict. However, what this country lacks in development makes up for in generosity and curiosity among the people.


We arrived to the small town of Mawlamyine (Myanmar’s 3rd largest city) just in time to observe the sunset over the river. We didn’t know what to expect, some people said traveling in Myanmar was off the beaten path, while others said it felt like the rest of the Southeast Asia tourist loop.

Here were some of our first impressions:

–  Woman and children wear white paint on their face which is made from ground bark (Thanaka). It is believed to be fragrant, cosmetic, contain natural spf, is an anti- fungal and helps to promote smooth and blemish free skin. Some wear it as makeup and it’s painted on in designs (large circles on their checks and forehead, lines under their eyes, or swirls) while others simply paint their entire face.

– Men and woman (most commonly the older generation but also seen among young adults) have stained black teeth. This is from chewing betel nut which is a dark red nut mixed with other spices wrapped in a banana leaf and provides a similar buzz to chewing tobacco.

– We’ve seen traditional skirts worn by women throughout Southeast Asia, however not only does the majority of the population  in Myanmar wear them, the majority of men wear them. They are called Longhis and are quite stylish. Locals more freely express their individuality through their dress and hairstyles in comparison to any other Asian country we’ve visited.

– There is an enormous Indian influence as the British brought people from Indian to Myanmar to work during colonialism.

– The older generation (mostly males) can speak English, due to American’s presence during WWII.

– The locals are interested in discussing politics (when they feel it’s safe) and will pull over on their motorbike to ask you about Trump, Putin, etc.

– Woman carry goods on their head, and as in the rest of Asia, seem to do all of the work.

– Pagodas cover hill tops and every poor town will have a large gold pagoda peaking out above the trees.

– Nick and I question our choice to travel in Myanmar. By traveling here we are financially supporting the government. Should we have skipped the country entirely? The local newspapers are a constant reminder of the darker issues at hand.

– Everything is done by hand in Myanmar. We’ve watched woman and children create, asphalt and pave roads and sidewalks.

Manual Labor

Th next morning we walked around the market while locals smiled, waved or simply stared. Although there are a handful of tourists in this city, their presence is extremely low. We walked around town and watched horse and buggies transport goods or people. We observed a mosque located directly across the street from a Buddhist temple and children monks collecting their daily offerings. Later, we loaded onto a large canoe with 20 locals and headed to Ogre Island. Here we experienced how locals made rubber bands, coconut rope, coconut mats, bamboo hats, and wooden pipes. We returned to Mawlamyine to enjoy some delicious dollar Indian food.

Mawlamyine Market
Handmade Pipe

The local ethnic minority group, Karen’s, celebrated their New Years a week earlier and Nick and I were unsure how we’d celebrate our New Years, if at all. We saw a slip of paper at our guesthouse that was printed in English, “You are cordially invited to our New Years celebration!” and listed some details. We didn’t know what to expect. Maybe there was a small expat community or maybe it would be a small local party? We arrived at an extremely wealthy gated home that doubled as a fitness gym, salon, custom dress design and modeling agency. What was this place? We were greeted with excitement by some local women in extravagant dresses and told to eat, drink, dance and enjoy. There ended up being 5 other foreigners and after about a half an hour, it clicked. We were among Mawlamyine’s transgendered community watching a talent show in the yard of a home that catered toward women in the industry. We were baffled as we did not think the people of Myanmar or government would be accepting, however because we were so close to the Thai border maybe they were more open to it. We rang in the new year with the largest fireworks in town, ate freshly made dosais and danced on stage with 15 ladies. It was a fun, funny, and an unique experience that I will never forget. Here is to a 2017, a new year, hopefully full of world peace, compassion and environmental improvement.

img_0332-1
New Year’s Party!

Sukhothai

The ruined capital, Sukhothai, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site constructed over 700 years ago. The word Sukhothai means “rising happiness” and is regarded as the blossoming of a unique Thai artistic identity. Here we saw Buddha figures, gravity warped towers and brick stupas.

By day, we roamed and relaxed in a park and were thankful for the free admission (due to the mourning of the king). However, by night, the relics came alive. Between December 3- January 3, the main chedi and stupas are sprinkled with candles and decorated with colorful lights. As music played it was easy to get lost in the magical and romantic scene of twinkling ruins.

Vote: What’s your favorite Buddha photo below?


Wat Si Chum

Wat Mahathat

Chiang Mai

Nick and I spent a week climbing and eating in Chiang Mai. It was relaxing spending a few days in one place and we were able to celebrate our own unconventional Christmas.

15730899_10207675474512615_1312606009_n
At my previous job in Colorado, my company sponsored 2 strong climbers from Chiang Mai that I continued to stay in touch with. During our visit, we met up and it was a blast to some familiar faces and get some local insight. Although they had to work, we had fun climbing with their friends.

van
Heading to Crazy Horse Buttress

We climbed 6 days at Crazy Horse Buttress, the rock 21 miles outside of the city. The rock was limestone (as all rock is in Southeast Asia) although extremely diverse. We climbed a dirty 4 pitch route up through a cave that rewarded us with a view and various other sharp overhanging routes. Of the 30 plus routes we climbed, our favorite routes were on heart wall which had sustained climbing up to 30 meters.

Tamarind Village
Heart Wall
Abort mission … bees!

Nick and I decided to take a rest day on the 26th and celebrated Christmas! We spent the morning at a Thai cooking class (Asian Scenic Thai Cooking School $28) and ended the evening with a Thai massage (Lila Thai Massage $7). At the cooking class, we visited the local market and picked up foreign ingredients that I’ve never seen before (eggplant the size of a pea, coriander leaves, kaffir lime and tamarind sauce). We picked herbs and vegetables from the garden and before we began to cook were treated with an appetizer. This dish was called Meang Kim or Thai welcome snack as it’s traditionally used to greet guests. A dish with diced shallot, sliced lime with the skin, roasted peanuts, toasted coconut meat, ginger, chilies, betel leaves and sweet syrup (palm sugar, ginger, water, salt and shallot) were placed in front of us. We were told to fold the leaves to form a cup and place all of the ingredients inside. We drizzled the sweet syrup on top and ate it in one bite. As we slowly chewed we could taste all of the flavors at once. It was spicy from the ginger and chilies, bitter from the lime and betel leave and sweet from the toasted coconut and syrup. It was fascinating as I’ve never felt all of those sensations in one bite.

After, we began to cook. We made pad thai, cachew and basil stir fry, spring rolls, green curry, red curry, panang curry, massaman curry, mango sticky rice, deep fried bananas, and bananas in coconut milk.

15801262_10207696307313422_247730570_n

Nick vs. Stacia (spring roll challenge) … not even a competition

I’ve only ever made Thai curry from store bought curry paste, so it was interesting to make it from scratch. Did you know red curry paste and green curry paste use all of the same ingredients (kaffir lime skin, shallot, garlic, turmeric, coriander seeds, ginsing, lemongrass and galangal), only different chili peppers? Green curry uses fresh small young green chilies making it more spicy and red curry uses dried large red chilies. Did you know the only difference from red curry and panang curry is that panang curry uses peanuts to take away some of the heat? And Khaw Soi (northern Thai curry served with egg noodles) is red curry with added chili oil and curry powder. Masaman curry (which has more Indian origin) is made from dried red chilies, peanuts, star anise, cinnamon, cardamom pods, kaffir lime skin, shallot, garlic, turmeric, coriander seeds, ginsing, lemongrass and galangal. We had a blast at the cooking class and though it was money well spent.

15781964_10207694663312323_236656263_n
Making red curry paste

There are so many markets in Chiang Mai, morning markets, night markets, Saturday markets, Sunday markets, night bizzares, etc. Nick and I explored as many as we could and ate our brains out. We also ate at Chun Kurn, a classy vegetarian buffet that I’d highly recommend and A Taste of Heaven. We had a blast in Chaing Mai and are heading Sukhathai then Myanmar before returning to Southern Thailand. Happy New Year!

Pad Thai Street Stall

Chiang Rai Province

Nick and I really enjoyed our time in Laos and stayed longer than anticipated. We left 2 days before our visas expired, totaling 28 days. We crossed into Thailand by land and experienced the most relaxed border crossing thus far. There was no fee, no passport photo, no fingerprint, no vaccine history, no visa, no passport photocopy and no health check. We arrived to Chiang Kong, the border town, which was noticeably more developed than most of Laos, less expensive and had delicious food.

The next day we rented a motorbike and headed south to Phu Chi Fa Viewpoint. We drove for a few hours in thick fog and when we hiked to the lookout, couldn’t see more than a few feet in front of us. We spent the night among hundreds of Thai tourists and woke up at 5 am to try the viewpoint again for sunrise. While leaving our “hotel”, Nick asked me to hold the break of the motorbike while he buckeled his helmet (we were on a hill), as I grabbed the break I revved the throttle. I flew off the back of the bike while Nick almost crashed into a police office. This was a great start to our day! We eventually arrived to the vewpoint and were rewarded with a beautiful sunrise above the clouds. The Thai tourist scene was almost more exciting than the sunrise and was a refreshing change from backpackers. As we headed back to Chiang Kong we drove over passes and down into settling clouds.



We immediately headed to a Chiang Rai with only 1 breakdown as the bus ran out of gas halfway. Our bus driver borrowed an empty barrel from a neighbor, jumped in a tuk tuk and returned with enough gas to get us to our destination. Chiang Rai is a small modern city with a cat cafe and many 7-11s. We explored the day market, night market, Hilltribe Museum, White Temple and Black House. The Hilltribe Museum was extremely educational and had exhibits on opium (golden triangle), the 5 main Hilltribes, uses for bamboo, and traditional clothing. We learned that the ethnic minority, long neck Karens are actually from Myanmar and have been solely brought to Thailand for tourism. They have been exploited for tourist visits and homestays and unable to leave these created villages. If in Northern Thailand, do your research and please do not visit the long neck Karens.

On our second day, in a Chiang Rei, we visited the White Temple or Wat Rong Kuhn. In 1997, this Buddhist temple was bought by artist, Chalermchai Kositpipat and he turned it into art exhibit. As you enter the temple you walk over a sea of hands which represents temptation. As you enter the beautiful white temple with reflective details you notice the paintings on the walls. The art was a combination of Buddhist and modern cartoon art. The most unique section of the wall showed the world trade centers on fire, wrapped by a constrictor, as the bottom of the snake turned into a gasoline pump and Pikachu (Pokémon) was pumping gasoline into the mouth of a dying man. The contemporary art was very confusing and hard to understand it’s connection to Buddhism.



After, Nick and I took a local bus to the Black House or Baandam Museum, which also depicts Buddhism through contemporary art. The artist, Thawan Duchanee, took 40 years to build over 40 houses on his property, and each are pieces are of art themselves. It resembles Thai spirituality tinged with oriental and western philosophy. Some houses resemble black temples while others look like thrown porcelain pottery. Each house holds his art and collections of bones, skins, fur, horns, shells, silver, gold, and bamboo from around the world. Although I had a hard time understanding the meaning of the art, I enjoyed contemplating his mental state while creating the work. Overall, I thought this exhibit was remarkable and although Nick wasn’t as excited as I, he was impressed nonetheless.

“Do not seek for understanding

in the temple of mysterious

feel them my friends from heart to heart

Do not ask the meaning of the stars in the constellation

Smile of the baby in the cradle of mothers

Sweet fragrance in the pollens of flowers

it is the work of art,

my friends in the deepest of my mystic mind,

Come closer to my spirit

Listen to the heartbeat, without word.” -Thawan Duchanee

Nick and I just arrived to a Chiang Mai where we will eat, climb and spend Christmas. We wish everyone happy holidays and a happy new year! xo