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Tropical Critters

Josh and I divided our time in Thailand with a brief hiatus to Khao Yai National Park through Greenleaf tours. We took a nice air conditioned bus to get to the Packchong and then did tours for a day and a half. The first night, we saw tarantulas, vipers, and cave bugs. At dusk, we watched an undulating and neverending stream of bats leave their cave to get food. During the day tour, we saw gibbons, snakes, centipedes, scorpions and even a crocodile, all in the wild. Oh, and a few waterfalls as well. (Sadly, we didn’t get to see any elephants.)



We stayed at the cheapest hotel of the trip, which was only $22/night. Guess what? No cockroaches! We did have a little pond outside our room, where every night, we could watch bullfrogs swim and call out to each other, their throats ballooning up and down.

P.S. I’m posting from Japan, which has no three-pronged outlets (poor planning on my part), so photos are unfortunately limited to the ones on my phone until we get back to the USA when I can pull the rest from my computer.

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Shit happens. And then it doesn’t.

Consumerism! Luxury! I’ve contradicted a few core assumptions about myself in Bangkok.

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For one, I usually hate shopping. I’ve never liked the sanitized endless store choices found under hard white fluorescent lights at malls, and I bristle whenever I have to pay more than $20 for an item of clothing (seriously — I very rarely do this, and when I do, it’s painful for me). Ergo, I usually shop at my tried-and-true discount and thrift stores, or score free hand-me-downs from friends.

There are still endless choices in Bangkok, and yes, they too have fluorescent lights, but at places like MBK (our first stop after dropping our bags at our hotel, sweaty and warm) and the Chatuchak weekend market (our first activity on day two in Bangkok), there’s this chaotic organization to everything, and, when compared to USD, everything is cheap.

MBK contained hundreds of stalls/stores (I’m not sure what to call them) set up indoors, with  narrow walkways for shoppers. When we ventured off the main drag, we had people soliciting us, trying to sell us an old iPhone 5 at a discounted rate. There were bright flashing lights and stacks on stacks of stuff, and it was somewhat easy to get lost if you weren’t paying attention; for us, it was frenetic and fun. While there were many options, we saw that many vendors were selling the same items for the same prices, so it became a matter of who spoke English (or who wanted to try to sell to English-speakers).

Did you ever see that episode of Community where the make the giant blanket fort? That’s immediately what came to mind at the Chatuchak weekend market. Again, it was easy to forget your relative position as we navigated the open-air narrow corridors between stalls. When we would want to venture off the the main streets, we’d turn to the other and say, “Let’s dive in here.” Dive in. That was the best way to describe it, side-stepping and pushing past the throngs of people to the relative calm inside the blanket fort-esque market (for the record, there was a roof — it was not a blanket). There was more variety there than at MBK, but I don’t think it was nearly as wild as we anticipated (we tried and failed several times to find where they sold the live animals). We had one traveller tell us that the Chatuchak market was too touristy and expensive, but I loved seeing beautiful jewelry and clothing for 100 baht (approximately $2.75 USD). And yes, I did buy myself a pair of Thailand tourist pants because I had always wanted a pair and it seemed like the thing to do.

2017_01_13_0940Sampling a delicious coconut treat at the Chatuchak market

 

Secondly, I’ve never considered myself high-maintenance (and, as recent evidence of this, see the Bumdra Trek post). When booking a hotel, especially while traveling, I’m apt to say, “Don’t book anything nice; we won’t be spending much time in the hotel room anyway.”

Josh obviously didn’t do that with our first hotel in Bangkok, SO Sofitel.

2017_01_13_0968Chilling in the lobby with our welcome drinks at check-in

 

Holy moly, was it fancy! And hip, too. They played this mellow techno music in the lobby, and perfumed it with lemongrass so that it hit you like a sweet-smelling club the moment you stepped off the elevator. The whole place touted a design theme of elements (earth, wood, water, and metal), and their claim was that no room looked the same. Lil’ old austere me was giddy.

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Our first hotel room in SO Sofitel. I gleefully snapped and shared a pic the moment we arrived. 

 

Unfortunately, this is where the shit happens. We came back after our first full day out and about (Chatuchak market) to find three dead/dying cockroaches in our room. Our bed was freshly made and our fridge stocked (they stock it with free bottled water), so we figured that the hotel had recently sprayed for cockroaches. They were cleaning the room next door to us, so when I asked one of the women to come over, she repeated, “I’m so sorry!” when she saw the roaches and hastily scooped them up with a trash bag. No harm, no foul. We were both shrugging, assuming that cockroaches were normal in a warm climate like Bangkok’s.

However, as we were getting ready for our dinner plans, a very much alive cockroach scurried out of the bathroom. As Josh attacked it with one of the hotel slippers, I ran downstairs to notify the front desk. They were absolutely horrified and told us that they would immediately move us to a new room.

2017_01_13_0329New room on an even swankier floor — our windows overlooked Lumphini park
2017_01_13_0327There were cool lights outside the door of our new hotel room — like a new media installation in the middle of our floor.

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The next day is when shit didn’t happen. Tune out now if you’re squeamish about bodily functions .

Basically, I hadn’t pooped for 7 days and was starting to panic a little. When we were up on the mountain, I had taken some pills to stop some traveller’s diarrhea, and hadn’t had a BM since.

To help things along, Josh and I went for a humid run in Lumphini park. Then, I grabbed a grande hot coffee from Starbucks, and we lounged at the pool, drinking lots of water. On Instagram, I did a little social media makeover, posting a pic of me at the pool and saying that we were having a lazy day. In reality, we basically put one day in Bangkok on hold for my body to figure shit out.

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Instagram is full of partial truths, amirite?

Great news: shit happened! I’d like to thank that hot, strong cuppa joe from corporate America.

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D*ck pics, and other photos

The content of this post is cultural, I swear!

Josh and I had two more days in Bhutan without Kevin. After stomaching some car sickness on the twisty tiny mountain roads, we arrived in a town devoted to the Divine Madman. While the wikipedia page is delightful, I’ll sum him up as best I can: The Divine Madman was a monk that eschewed the traditional strict and staid lifestyle of religious men at the time, choosing instead to find enlightenment by drinking, carousing with countless women, and singing around the town half-naked. He subdued some very evil demons, and performed some miracles, which made people believe he was actually divine and not just a crazy hedonist. As the story goes, he subdued the evil spirits with his, well, phallus.

Now, people in Bhutan use wooden phalluses to ward off evil spirits. When we visited the Divine Madman’s monastery, the monk there tapped us both on the head with a small wooden phallus as a blessing. A visit to the monastery is supposed to help couples who are having trouble conceiving finally get pregnant. There were also pictures of phalluses everywhere around the town, I think to do the same thing (ward off bad spirits/bless people/bring fertility to the household on which it is painted).

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2017_01_06_0038.JPGJosh didn’t know that I put him in the picture, too. He was trying to get me to take a picture of the 3D art…

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2017_01_06_0028.JPG2017_01_06_0023.JPGPhalluses for sale

Josh and I visited other monasteries, did a few more hikes, and ultimately ended up back in Paro where we originally started. I’m posting images rapid fire because as I’m writing this, we’ve already had two full days in Bangkok and I have yet to post about that wonderful city!

2017_01_06_0049In front of the Dzong (or fortress) in Punahka
2017_01_06_0099A beautiful monastery designed by Sonam’s Swiss architect husband(!)
2017_01_06_0004While driving on the mountain roads, we saw monkeys!
2017_01_06_0383The Dzong in Paro, at night

The night before we left, we were back where we started, at that first room at the Gangtey Palace in Paro 

We have a very soft spot in our hearts for Bhutan, but we’re ready to get out of the relatively chilly temps for some warmth in Thailand.

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Happy New Year from the Land of the Thunder Dragon

Bhutan has thoroughly charmed us.

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It captured our attention from the moment our plane descended into the valley, completely surrounded by mountains. Stepping out into bright sunshine and a temperature of around 40 degrees felt refreshingly brisk after the haze of Bangkok. The plane was parked outside the airport door — the most beautiful and austere  international airport I’ve ever seen. There were some desks, two baggage claim belts, and a few chairs on the side. No gates, no Starbucks, no frills or rampant commercialism whatsoever. Come to think of it, I didn’t see any other planes other than the one we arrived on.

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Our guide, Chador, met us on the other side of the airport and drove us to our hotel, which used to be a palace. The rooms inside are far from opulent. Instead, they’re elaborate in an old world sense, with colorful Bhutanese designs on the wall, painted carvings along the trim, embroidery in the comforters, dragons on the rugs, creaks in the wooden floors and that fantastic almost cabin-esque wood smell permeating the air.


Bhutan is the only country in the world to measure its success in GNH, or Gross National Happiness. I’m not sure if that’s supposed to apply to tourists as well, but I certainly couldn’t stop smiling. We did a short run through the town, where I couldn’t stop staring at the peaks encircling us. After the best lunch of the trip thus far (IMHO), we visited a monastery, toured a fortress (called Dzong here), and watched local men exhibit fraternity and terrifying skill during archery practice.


Simple lunch, yet so satisfying 

2016_12_31_0057At each stop, Chador gives us a tour, and fields all of our questions

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Archery is the national sport of Bhutan. At this practice, two targets sit 140m apart. One group stands at one end, the other group at the other, and each side takes in a turn, like you would in a game of shuffleboard. Teammates are split between the two sides, so when someone hits the target, the member on the receiving end informs his partner of his victory by doing a little jig in front of the target, accompanied by jovial exclamations that must travel 140m. 

Chador and our driver Harka ferry us around in an 8-passenger van devoid of seatbelts. Stray dogs nap in the sunlight. Cows lumber up curvy 2-lane mountain roads. There are no stoplights in the country after their recent implementation went poorly. TV was first introduced to Bhutan in 1999. This is certainly the most remote country I’ve ever visited, and yet there’s wifi.

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Tomorrow we start our 3-day trek. We’re exhausted from today and feel no shame in making this the earliest New Year’s Eve of our adult lives. Cheers 🙂

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One Night in Bangkok

Our 12 hour layover before Bhutan 🇧🇹 
We parted ways with Sam at the airport. He’s headed to a hostel in the city for NYE; we’re crashing at an airport hotel, resting up before we begin our trek in the mountains.

It’s very warm here! It was at least 80 degrees when I climbed into the pool at 5pm. Best winter ever. 

We imbibed on poolside drinks (mine was actually called One Night in Bangkok) before a quick dinner where Kevin and Josh debated the qualities of what constitutes a good life. Nothing conclusive, but for now, it looks like this:

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Hello from Hong Kong 🇭🇰 

Hello from the balcony of our Airbnb!

Josh and I didn’t sleep a wink during our 16-hour direct flight, but we watched plenty of movies (favorite was definitely the recent-release suspense film 10 Cloverfield Lane). We saw daylight, darkness as we approached the arctic circle, daylight as we flew over barren Siberia (yes, we could see Russia!) and then darkness again as we landed in Hong Kong at 7pm.

We hoppped on the airport link train and were downtown in 24 minutes. Navigating downtown proved to be surprisingly intuitive/lucky. We followed an open-air pedestrian walkway all the way to our neighborhood. Finding the airbnb was slightly difficult (the street was winding and g-maps defaulted to the wrong location) but we figured it out. 

As you can see, our neighborhood isn’t shiny or perfect or even bustling, but it is clean despite its dinginess, and it feels very safe. Initially, Hong Kong feels so much more compact than comparable cities like New York. The streets are tighter, the noise seems more contained, and the neighborhood is filled with skyscrapers containing apartments.

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