My voyage back to Asia was a long one. I first rode a plane to Brisbane where I had a 3 hour stopover, rode a plane to Auckland, went through customs, slept in the airport for 5 hours and then took an 11 hour flight to HK. Immediately, I was re-introduced to the Chinese concept of personal space. Next to me was a man who elbowed me every time he wanted to adjust his entertainment system, opened his legs so wide they were touching mine and it was clear he didn’t brush his teeth before embarking the plane.
I stopped in Hong Kong for two days so I could buy my precious face cream not knowing if it would be available in Thailand. It is an extreme pain to be a traveller with eczema and sensitive skin. First, your bag is heavier from all the special toiletries you need to carry. Second, it’s more expensive since you need specialized items. Third, your skin condition is heavily contingent on weather patterns.
Stupidly, I stayed in the same guesthouse I was in last time. I figured that all HK dorms were crap and at least I knew what I was getting myself into. What a mistake. Again, I was grouped with weird creepy men. The first was this drugged out, truculent wannabe hippie. The other was way too talkative and inquisitive and gave off a creepy vibe.
I arrived in Bangkok and was immediately greeted with a smile by the immigration officer. What a change from the businesslike attitude in East Asia. I stayed near Khao San Road which is notorious for being touristy but I didn’t mind much since it’s just one small road. I walked around the neighbouring area and was surrounded by noisy vehicles, pollution, dirt and traffic. I decided that I was not ready for Bangkok yet and headed to the old Siamese capital of Sukhothai.
On the bus ride over, I met a Canadian artist who’d been living in Thailand for the last 5 years and his American friend. We arrived in the late afternoon and attended a local food festival. We spent the next day exploring the ruins. It was so hot! You needed to take a rest every couple hours or you’d die from exhaustion. The Old City is beautiful: it is centered around a body of water where you see reflections of buildings and trees. Many buildings have not been restored yet so you get a sense of its age, its grandeur and its demise.
He also showed me his house outside of the city, gave me a tour of the countryside via his motorbike and took me to a grand temple on the top of a mountain. It was my first time riding a motorbike and it was fun! The Thai people are adept at riding their motorbikes. I saw one woman holding her baby with one kid in front and one kid in the back. If that were to happen in Canada, there would be an uproar, but this is Thailand and the safety standards are different.
He also showed me around the night scene in Thailand. First, we went to an area filled with farang (foreigners). The Thai girls were dressed extremely provocatively, either to attract customers or to find a boyfriend. It’s not unusual for some Thai girls to have multiple farang boyfriends or both a farang and Thai boyfriend. After, we went to a Thai nightclub which was remarkably different from the tourist places. There was a local band playing some tunes, and people of all ages dancing and singing. The Thai know how to have a good time.
Last place was another farang joint where I witnessed many old men and their young Thai girlfriends. I consider myself very open-minded but this is something I still have trouble accepting. While I’m sure some relationships are legitimate, most are dubious at best. But I guess it’s like Marilyn Monroe says in Gentleman Prefer Blondes, “Don’t you know that a man being rich is like a girl being pretty?”. It’s become an acceptable part of the culture and my friend explained that many young Thai women want an older man because they believe they will take better care of them and their families. There were also many “ladyboys” around this joint and it’s clear that Thailand is much more progressive than many countries out there, despite being less developed and more conservative in other ways.
I also attended the night market in Thailand where there was some beautiful merchandise. However, it got very crowded and after a few hours, I felt claustrophobic and got a foot massage instead. I opted against doing a hilltribe trek in Chiang Mai. Every business is a travel agency in Thailand: the hairdresser, internet cafe, masseuse etc. It’s too touristy and packaged and I felt it would lessen the authenticity of the experience. Let’s face it, a tourist will never get the real deal but I think there are better ways to get a sense of the lives these hilltribes are living. I will try in Laos or Vietnam.
After a night in Chiang Rai, I headed up on a most uncomfortable bus ride to Chiang Khong and crossed the border to Laos via a boat. Another country, another post to come (hopefully more interesting than this one!).