Sunday, April 10, 2011

Random facts we learned

After dinner Monday night, they brought us the bill.  Several people at the table reviewed what we ordered, what was on the bill, etc.  The cost was pretty low and I couldn't understand why they would haggle over it.  Shawn leaned over and told me that it is a cultural thing.  It shows respect to review the bill and, if possible, to have a member of the group who is Thai review it.

The lady next door is very nice.  She seems to be the entrepreneur of the street.  She sells bottled water, rents bicycles, leases the building to the boys, coordinates laundry services, organizes English classes for her kids and their friends with Andy.  In the morning I wonder if she sells coffee!

Toilet paper is used here for everything except wiping your butt.  At restaurants rather than napkins, they bring you a roll of toilet paper.  It is soft but not durable.  Many places have round holders with lids.  They remove the center cardboard roll and you pull from the center like a tisssue box.  And if you  need to wipe your butt, there is a sprayer hose (like I have on my kitchen sink) in every bathroom, public and private.

Speaking of toilets we haven't seen any "squatters" but we wanted to.  Most toilets flush but those that don't have a bucket of water with a bowl in it to use.  You dip the bowl about three times for a good flush.

As Andy had told me, there are dogs everywhere and none of them on leashes.  Some are mean so you need to just steer clear of them.  On Ko Chang the dogs seemed a little nicer but still we didn't go close to them.  Some of them just plop down and sleep in the middle of the rocky loop that goes down into the bungalow area, off the main road.

Seven 11 is the convenient store of choice and there is one on almost every block!  The sign is the same as in the U.S. and the inventory is similar, just all written in Thai.

When a person says "ha, ha, ha" the response is often "5, 5, 5" - the number five in the thai language is ha.  Sort of like their form of LOL!

Our complete photo album is available here.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Traveling Home

Andy went to the bus station to get a song-taew to pick us up.  We were packed and ready to go but I was starting to get very sad!  We rode to the bus station and while Andy was buying our tickets, we were surprised by the arrival of Pe Meaw and Rahn.  We said good-byes again.

As hard as I tried to stay awake, I did nap on the bus.  I didn't want to miss one minute with Andy.  We got to Bangkok around 2 a.m., plenty of time to catch our flight.

We caught a taxi from the bus stop.  The little taxi driver had a beaten up car and strapped our suitcases in the trunk with bungee cords.  He drove through part of the city until we got to the freeway.  We were the slowest car.  He talked to Andy who was in the front seat and had him read a postcard to him that he had received from someone in St. Louis.  I'm not sure if he understood it or not.  We passed a cab with a flat tire, which he giggled about.  He was really cute.

We checked in at the airport and spent our last minutes with Andy.  I told him how brave he was by going to Thailand and how proud I am of him.  I hugged him, kissed him, and cried.  I tried hard not to fall apart too much because I want him to know I am happy that he is so happy.  He stood at the entrance to security for a while and we waved goodbye.

Our flights home were uneventful.  We mostly slept, watch parts of some movies, had a horrible flight attendant from Tokyo to Detroit.  I can say that the Tokyo airport was very nice and had the nicest smoking lounge I have ever seen anywhere.  The restrooms have toilets with remotes for flushing, bidet, etc. which were pretty cool.

And as I arrived home and looked at my house and belongings, I was embarrassed by the excess we have in our lives.  I remember the words of Inga from Astoria/Berlin - "I have enough."

And most of all, I am so thankful I was able to take this trip which would not have been possible without my brother Mike!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Day Seven - Last Day

Last night I slept with Andy.  I wanted to be able to be as close to him as possible since it would be such a long time before I see him again.  I woke up with some stomach issues, the first and only problems since being in Thailand.  It didn't last long, thanks to the Imodium Andy brought with him.

Ian made french toast again and omelets.  He is very talented in their kitchen!  They seem to need utensils (because the floors are tile, anything that is dropped is broken so I think they have lost some glasses and dishes that way).  I asked Andy about it and he said they go to the 10 Baht Tent at festivals (where everything is 10 Baht or about 40 cents) to buy that stuff.  It's kind of like the Dollar Store here!

Shawn left on her bicycle to mail some stuff and run some errands.  She returned with gifts for us to take home.  She is so sweet.  She was also a valuable resource for us, letting us know cultural things that came up, how people think in Thailand, things like that.  She is also busy working on a manual for volunteers that Meaw wants to use for her company.

Andy checked on the bus schedule and the last bus to Bangkok is at 9:30 p.m. which allows us the entire day in Trat and just a few hours in Bangkok before our flight at 5:40 a.m.  He also went to the store where Tiger Balm is made and bought us several bottles to take home with us.

In the afternoon it stormed and the power went out for a while.  It was the first time that had happened since they have lived there.

When Shawn returned she was with Meaw and we said our good-byes.  I promised that I would return someday.

Ian made dinner of chicken livers, stir-fried vegetables and rice.  It was delicious as usual and a nice way to end our visit!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Day Six - Back to Trat

Our last day in Koh Chang we went to the beach.  We brought along a young girl from the bungalows.  Andy said she was excited to be with the folongs but the truth is we were excited to be with her!

On the way there she started saying "ying!" and Andy told us there were monkeys somewhere.  Sure enough up on the electric line there were monkeys.  If you look closely you can see that one of them  has a baby holding on in the front.

When we got to the beach we setted on a spot for our stuff and quickly got in the water.  Walking out there were many rocks under the surface of the water for a few feet but then just sand under our feet.  We played in the water for a while, then noticed the topless sunbathers on the beach.  First time for everything but definitely not for us.  Our little friend found it quite entertaining!


I was sad to say good-bye to Koh Chang and my new friend, Khun.  I drank coffee and chatted with her as best I could.  I showed her pictures of my family at home.  I told her I am Andy's America Ma and she is his Thailand Ma.  I also told her he is my heart and I am very sad to be away from him.

We took the ferry back to Trat and the song-taew back to their house.  By the time we got there it was dark. Andy and I went to the market and picked out several things to have for dinner.  We looked for Tiger Balm to bring back but didn't have any luck.

We had a nice relaxing evening at home along with a few Leo beers!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Day Five - Koh Chang

Sleeping in the bungalows is wonderful!  There is a breeze from the sea, the sound of the waves, and the faint sound of music from a nearby restaurant.  I slept later than I have on any other day. Andy woke up before we did!

The first thing on the agenda is to set up the elephant riding adventure.  Khun has tickets and will arrange for our transportation to and from the place.  We are going at 3 this afternoon.

Ian bought a dragon fruit for us to try.  He cut it open and we peeled the pink peel off.  It was white with little dots and tasted kind of like kiwi.

Breakfast and then off to the main road for shopping.  We want a few things to take home that are unique to Thailand (and made in Thailand).  I feel a little more comfortable shopping now after seeing Shawn negotiate yesterday.  Andy went with Jody and me to a few shops where I purchased a pair of pants (loose fitting with ties that wrap around to the front and tie), a gauze dress, a large silk scarf, and a green cloth purse with elephants on it.  We browsed the shops for several hours.

Andy showed us this really cool plant that closes when you touch it.

I like sitting in the "outside cafe" at the bungalows, watching people, eating snacks of Thai vegetables and fruit, and relaxing.  This is how we spent the rest of the time before going to the elephants.

We took a song-taew to the elephants.  (This is not the actual one we rode in but it is a picture of what they look like.)

A couple went with us who were also staying at the bungalows.  Later we would learn that they were Inga from Astoria and Edgar from Columbia, both of whom now live in Berlin.  They had originally been going to the south but because of the flooding had changed their plans and gone to Koh Chang.  They liked it so much, they extended their stay for several days.

On the elephant trekking, Jody and I rode together and Andy rode one of his own.  At first we were one seats on the elephants with a driver but later had the opportunity to ride on the neck (which Andy and I did not do).  The drivers ride on the neck and steer the elephants by putting pressure behind their ears.  They have a large hook to hit on the elephants head to keep them in line (which seemed somewhat cruel).

The elephants are able to walk through unbelievably rocky terrain.  The are careful where they step and if the one in front poops, the next one is careful not to step in it.

We walked through the jungle up and down the mountains.  There are lot of rubber trees which Andy had pointed out a few days before on the bus ride.  The trees are scored in a spiral down the trunk with a contained at the bottom to catch the sap to make latex.

At the end the tried to sell us ivory jewelry and framed pictures of us on the elephants which made the whole thing a little commercialized but it was an experience just the same.

Walking back to the bungalows from the main road, there was a young man walking into a store.  He looked back at us and Andy said "Oh my god, Elliott!"  It turned out it was a person he had met in Bangkok when they were on the way to Laos.  They had taken him with them to the 4000 Islands on the Mekong River last October.  When they left, he stayed there a while and them traveled to India.  They had lost contact with him and wondered what happened to him so both Ian and Andy were glad to reconnect with him.

That evening we went to a Korean barbecue in the next town.  The owners are parents of their students and both boys rushed over to greet Ian and Andy when we got there.

The food was mostly raw that you take to your table and cook on a grill set up on a bucket of hot coals.  The meat goes in the center and drains down into water around the sides where vegetables simmer to create soup.  Ian was the main cooker and did a great job!  We saw some other people (folongs - or foreigners) trying to use the grills.  The staff was very helpful instructing people but one guy put his clump of noodles (like ramen noodles) on the grill section rather than in the simmering broth.  We didn't watch but I have to wonder how that turned out.

Afterward we walked along the main street, browsed the shops and had a few beers.  The hardest part for me was crossing the street because the cars drive on the opposite side of the street.  I finally just decided to look both ways until no cars or motorbikes were coming at all.

We went back to Lonely Island, to the Banana Leaf bar.  It was quieter than it had been the night before but it was still nice to be there.  The only problem was the slight smell of diesel fuel which we discovered later had been spilt near our table earlier in the day.

We went back to Ian and Shawn's bungalow for a few more beers.  When we got there the couple we met elephant riding were sitting on the porch across the path!  Andy invited them to join us and we all stayed up and talked for several more hours.

This island is definitely a place for the most adventurous people in the world!  Everyone you see and meet is a person that is experiencing life to the fullest!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Day Four - To Koh Chang

I rode to the market this morning on the motorbike with Ian.  There are so many foods and smells, some good and some not so good.  Ian knows exactly where to go and what to buy.  He is a great cook and has accumulated utensils, spices, and even a burner so he is well-equipped.  Andy is pretty much the same as always - he loves to sleep in!

Around noon we were ready to head to the island of Koh Chang.  The lady next door called a song-taew to pick us up and take us to the ferry.

We took the ferry across and then another song-taew to Lonely Beach.

On the ferry there was a Coke advertisement with some very happy people on it.  We especially liked the person that is second from the left.

Koh Chang has several different areas.  We passed several resorts and went through a few small places.  The people who visit seem to be a wide range of ages and economic background.  The island has many mountains and was formerly a jungle.  The roads wind up and down but the drivers seem to be very familiar with them and go quite fast.

At Lonely Beach we checked into the bungalows we would stay in for two nights.  The lady who runs them is so sweet and loves Andy, Shawn and Ian.  We got two bungalows but she had an open one the first night that she let Andy stay in for free so he wouldn't have to sleep on the floor both nights.  She made us lunch at her little outdoor hotspot.

Khun calls me MaMa since I am Andy's mom.  She wears a fanny pack which is what she uses for all monetary transactions.  She has two daughters, the youngest of which hung around alot and warmed up to Jody and me quickly.  She had two little animals (Pygmy Treeshrew) she was caring for them because they fell out of a tree.

Lonely Beach is a location that attracts a lot of backpackers traveling through.  When we arrived several people came through looking for a place to stay.

The bungalows are pretty cheap but comfortable.  They each had one room with a bed and a bathroom.  The floor is all tile and you never wear shoes inside.  The porches have canvas hammocks on them.  Our bungalow was one row back from the waterfront  however it isn’t really a beach because there are so many rocks.

We all went up to the main road to shop but as Jody, Shawn and I entered the first store, Andy and Ian went back to the bungalows.  We went in several stores and got to watch Shawn negotiate the price to purchase things.  She explained that they expect you to try to pay a lower price and they do sell items for less than what they start with.  Most items do not have prices on them so as soon as you find something you want you have to ask "How much?"  Jody and I didn't buy anything the first day.

We found Ian and Andy back at the bungalows.  We waited too long to travel to another part of the island to eat so we settled on a place in the loop off the main drag.  The loop is mostly rocks and dirt and not so great to walk on.  Because it rained some, there were also puddles to navigate. Walking along the loop there is a variety of shops including mini marts, restaurants/bars, thai massage and bamboo tattoo places.  The tattoo places always had someone laying down receiving the extremely painful bamboo tattoo.

At the restaurant, we sat on pillows on the floor at a short table.  Jody, Ian and I ordered Thai food while Andy and Shawn had cheeseburgers and french fries.  On the menu it said "How are you doing tomorrow."  I'm not sure what that meant.

We left and went to the Ting Tong bar which was full of people from all over the world, mostly young adventurous souls.  Again we sat on pillows on the floor, however these were damp.  There was a guitar player who played and sang in what we think was Spanish.  As we left we walked past the Banana Leaf Bar which looked fun and we decided to go there the next day.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Day Three - Trat

We woke up this morning feeling great!  Jody woke up first and was on the computer with Scott on Skype for quite a while.

Ian made us French toast after he and Jody went to the market on his motorbike. And Ian is quite the cook!  He made omelets later this morning also.

Jody loved going and I can't wait to go.  I rode past it today but haven't been there yet.  When she went with Ian they bought eggs, fruit, bread and some other stuff.  One of the fruits was durian which smells horrible but doesn't taste bad.  Unfortunately they had to buy the whole fruit which looked the size of a soccer ball.  Meaw took it to her brother since everyone agreed they wouldn't eat any more but were glad they tried it.

Later Jody and I watched Ian and Shawn hand wash their clothes this morning out in front of the house while we waited for Andy to wake up.

Shawn, Jody and I had Thai massages today.  A one-hour massage was 120 baht ($4).  It was great!  Andy and Ian sat in the chairs drinking tea and watching but we couldn't talk them into doing it.

When we got back Jody talked Andy into letting her drive his motorbike.  She rode it just to the end of their rode.  It is just too much to learn to drive it and learn to drive on the opposite side of the road all at one time.

Our Thai phrases have improved - both of them!  We can now greet people most of the time with "sah wah dee kah" and thank people with "kob koon kah."  However when the lady next door (who is the landlady) introduced us to her little girl who wai'd us (pronounced like the letter Y and consists of a slight bow, with the palms pressed together in a prayer-like fashion) we both said "kob koon kah" so it seems we aren't that great yet.  We all laughed!

We went to dinner at the "river" as Andy, Ian and Shawn refer to it.  It is an outdoor restaurant, actually four restaurants, by the river.  We ordered several different dishes and shared them between us.  Meau and Rahn met us there.

We had drinks and sat outside for a while but the mosquitoes were not kind.  Luckily I had insect repellent but I'm not sure Jody used it soon enough.  She is now using Tiger Balm (the yellow ointment) to get rid of them!

Tomorrow we are heading to Koh Chang for a few days.