I know everyone has been waiting anxiously for the next installment of my travel internet article thing, so I'm excited to announce that you're already reading it. This time, we're vising a corner of the world called Thailand. Famous for its temples, tigers, and tourists, Thailand is also home to tens of millions of people who don't identify as being any of those things. At the start of this trip I didn't know anything about Thailand. I actually thought I typed "Tennessee" when I booked the tickets, but being the adventurer I am, I'd never admit a mistake like that publicly. I actually caught my mistake on the plane after we transferred through Taiwan.
My normal travel companion, Hana, unfortunately couldn't join me this time as she thought it was more important to camp out in line for days in anticipation of that new Godzilla remake. Knowing the difficulty of breaking oneself out of a foreign prison, I thought it best to bring my friend Justin with me. Justin and I first met a few years back at a Halloween party, he showed up in the front half of a horse costume, and I was acting like an ass, so naturally we hit it off well.
We arrived in Bangkok on a cheerful Wednesday morning. Despite Americans loving to make jokes about the name of this city, the locals didn't seem to be familiar with such jokes or want to hear them a third time. Rats. Once we got out of the airport, the first thing that was very apparent was the hot weather. The unforgiving heat gave me brief flashbacks to Thanksgiving 2016 when I catastrophically ruined family dinner. On this particular year, I started on the wrong foot by neglecting to defrost the turkey. But the real mistake was when instead of putting the turkey in the oven, I accidentally crawled inside and fell asleep. My little sister came around periodically to splash me with the baster, but carelessly failed to notice that I wasn't a turkey. Anyhow, if you can manage not to drown in your own sweat, there's much excitement to be had in Thailand.
The first thing we were greeted with in Thailand was this mega-billboard that said "LONG LIVE HIS MAJESTY THE KING". I admire Thailand's tireless dedication to The King, even all these years after he put his blue suede shoes back into the great shoe box in the sky. There is one big rule in Thailand regarding The King. You aren't allowed to say anything bad about him, or you'll be imprisoned. I heard a rumor that in Thai prisons, everybody in the whole cell block dances to Jailhouse Rock as part of their rehabilitation. So basically, you either love him by nature or you love him by force. Either way his records must be flying off of the shelves. There are pictures of The King all over the country, but it must have been of some of his later years, because the resemblance to the man I thought I knew was anything but uncanny.
We stayed at a charming little hotel right on the Chao Phraya river. At breakfast, we watched the boats endlessly pass by. In Thailand, it is quite typical for a boat to be used like a city bus, a fancy floating dance party, or a means of keeping those staying by the Chao Phraya river awake late into the night. We rode on the boat several times, which proved to be much more convenient than riding under it. For the equivalent of about a 25 cents, you can go across the river or to one of many interesting destinations. The other local-favorite way of getting around is by taking a little three-wheeled car, called a tuk-tuk. It seems you can hardly walk six inches without seeing one. Although, seeing one isn't actually as memorable as the drivers' attempts to get your attention. They desperately yell "TUK-TUK?" at anything that can fog a mirror. Even if you aren't trying to go anywhere, they'll recommend places. They'll even give you a special offer negative discount if they think you're from out of town. How thoughtful!
Justin wanted to go see the Grand Palace, and I didn't just want to sit around and make smart-ass remarks to nobody, so our first destination was there. The first challenge with going to the palace is you need to cover yourself. Not only are nudists forbidden, but you also can't go in wearing a wife beater and short shorts. I didn't test the waters on inflatable sumo wrestler costumes, but that's probably not welcome either. I bought some cool pajama pants with dragons and flames on them, because this is less offensive than letting others know you have knees.
If the architecture of the Grand Palace didn't impress you, you were probably too busy taking pictures of yourself blocking the view. Each building was more elaborate than the next, and the first one was even more elaborate than the last! Some of the buildings seemed to be made of solid gold, but it could have just been the heat playing tricks on me. Around the perimeter of the first area was a mural that seemed to go on forever. If you look closely, you'll see there are humans, monkeys, and demons. The monkeys are furry like you'd expect, and you can recognize a demon because it wears a golden headband. Justin told me that the mural was depicting the story of how good triumphed over evil, but I mostly saw a bunch of people who had misplaced their heads, giant monsters that were being used as bridges, and naked kids poking Tigers with sticks. Could this just be an ancient ad for Tiger Kingdom?
After the palace, we went to well-known attractions like the lazy Buddha, and the Temple of Don. I must have made too many jokes, because the gods decided that it was time to start pouring down rain. When it rains in Thailand, it really rains hard. They call it a ลมมรสุม (or unpronounceably in white people letters, "Lm mrsum"). Back home, we call it a monsoon, though in truth it never happens so we don't call it anything.
Before we left Bangkok, we went to Chatuchak market. My portable internet rectangle told me that it was the biggest market in the world, but I think Costco is still bigger. To further differentiate it from Costco, Chatuchak is a place where small businesses can operate successfully and not be pulverized. The things sold there run the gambit from plants to paintings, from silk to statues, from creepily realistic life-size meditating old guy statues.... to... uh, I didn't ask if they sold elephant aphrodisiacs. That was probably somewhere in the tea section.
It was now time to go to our next destination, Chiang Mai. Time flies, but we opted to take the train. On our way to the station we saw some of the local wildlife, a monitor lizard. If you're wondering if this is normal or not, here's an amusing discussion from a person in Thailand about a monitor lizard living in their backyard. Google Translate and I asked one of the locals if they eat cats. The answer was a definitive yes. Tough luck for the numerous cats running around.
An overnight train to Chiang Mai takes about 13 hours to arrive, so you should try to get comfortable and make some friends. I sat next to an Australian fellow who said his name was "Dahyve". He sat next to an American fellow whose name was the same as mine. That sounds like a strange coincidence, but it happens to me all the time. We slept on the train. Getting good sleep was a challenge for me, but Justin has a special gift for sleeping in transit: he could be thrown feet-first into a woodchipper without waking up. It's really something. He uses a guillotine as an alarm clock. When we woke up in the morning, we were in the jungle. Er, on a train in the jungle. I was told we should expect the latter, but nobody thought to warn me about the train part.
Chiang Mai had some cool temples and a street market. We walked down a street with some very aggressive massage girls. In the US, they generally prefer you to first schedule an appointment, then get comfortable, and finally they start with all the rubbing and stuff. In Thailand, they stand in the street and hoot at you. They don't hesitate to do open with the last step and follow it up with the first. I suppose the "get comfortable" step takes a bit of time and a professional therapist. While they were hooting, they groped me a few times and one lady even pinched my nipple. Unfortunately, I was too shy to return the favor. I've never received so many catcalls. I guess I'm handsome here, too.
The tuk-tuks here are different than the ones in Bangkok. Imagine a pickup truck with a toolshed stuck on the back. Catching one is easy, just go outside. At this point you're immediately being hounded by four tuk-tuk drivers. I don't know how they do it, I think it's an elaborate network of cameras and geosynchronous satellites. Next, tell them where you want to go. They'll make up a silly number and you make up another silly number. A skilled negotiator will know whether you're supposed to make up a higher number or lower number. Just repeat this step until someone learns how supply and demand works and then get in the back of their shady truck. You can go anywhere for a very small amount of money. I'm pretty sure we could have made it all the way to Stockholm if we gave the driver a shiny enough nickel.
We went to a few temples, one of which had some cool stone sculptures of lizards and elephants. We also went to a waterfall that you can more or less walk up, even though it's steep. It's called the sticky waterfall, I think cause it's made of Velcro. I don't know, I'm not a scientist. Unlike the temples, we were allowed to have knees at the waterfall. I think that's cause over there God is an elephant with ten legs and if God can't get custom pants to cover all of his knees, it's not fair to make everyone else find ten-legged pants. God is pretty agreeable until you run out of peanuts or try to ride on his back.
Temples give you a very interesting view of the past. For instance, we saw lots of fantastical beasts portrayed in statues that have since been hunted to extinction for various reasons. We also saw a very unlikely celebrity playing music on the streets.
Unable to get our divine elephant ride, we had to take a plane to our final destination, Phuket island. To avoid embarrassing yourself when you go to Phuket, you should know that "Phuket" is pronounced like "bucket" if "bucket" were pronounced "boo-kit". In other words, the "h" is just for decoration. Phuket is the site of many famous beaches. I even got an inside tip that famous celebrities like Audrey Hepburn and J. Edgar Hoover choose to have their vacations here! We went to the most famous beach, Patong Beach. At Patong, if you have money, the world is your frat party. There's a bar on every corner, a bar between every corner bar, and a bar between every bar. The hotels are bars, too. And you're never too old, too touristy, or sporting too many anchor tattoos to hook up with one of the bar girls. In fact, they find fanny-packs very attractive.
The beach itself is nice if you can imagine everyone else on some other island. The sand was so fine and so pure, the water so flawless, and the solicitors so unobligated to pretend they were either of those things. Here, the tuk-tuks are jetskis and instead of "TUK-TUK?", the drivers yell "Heyjetskibro?". I don't exactly know what that means in Thai, but when I noticed that you have to drive these tuk-tuks yourself, I decided to walk instead.
Patong is also famous for its nightlife. They have lots of places called GoGo Bars, but I couldn't tell if the name was inviting me in or telling me to leave so I just hung around the entrance indecisively. Everyone was so eager to talk to me. I even got invited to play ping pong by a bunch of folks, but I lacked the right equipment to play according to their rules. Eventually I got tired of refusing ping pong matches and decided it was time to turn in for the night. I have a big adventure ahead of me tomorrow.
For my last day in Thailand, Justin and I decided to go on a tour called the "Phang Nga Bay See Cave Tour". For those who are wondering how the heck to pronounce that, it's something like "Puh-hang nuhh-GAH". I was excited because the webpage said we were going to see caves, but unexpectedly, all of the caves were flooded! In fact, the entire bay was filled with water!! I asked the boat captain if it was common for Puh-hang nuhh-GAH Bay to be flooded with water and he looked at me like I'd just eaten his pet lizard. Because the caves were flooded, we had to explore them with little yellow inflatable rafts.
Justin and I shared a raft with our tour guide, Amad. Amad wasn't a very big guy, but he was strong enough to row us both around a lot. Justin and I decided not to pick a fight with him because this was a tour and not a prison riot. Phang Nga Bay has lots of strange looking islands, and Amad took us underneath many of them. Some of them have lagoons in the middle, which I learned is what they call a body of water that's surrounded on at least one side by more water. I saw colorful birds, giant spiders, and even other tourists in the cave; a healthy reminder that this land really belongs to the tourists that came before us. The last cave was the most amazing of all. It was so large that if we were to take all the other caves, and put them inside of this one, we could have done the whole tour in just 20 minutes. I was too busy swimming when the captain was telling us about the cave, but Justin later informed me that the water in the cave is filled with a substance called guano. Unless you are a zookeeper or a vampire or something, you probably know guano by its more colloquial name, "bat shit". My more delicate readers might be asking themselves, "Ew, why were you swimming in bat shit?". The answer is simple, I was swimming in bat shit because the ceiling of the cave is covered with upside-down bats. Even though they are upside-down, the guano still falls downwards into the water, much like how even though Australians are upside-down, their bars of soap still fall into space when they drop them. It's just gravity. Because of the gravity, the cave water ends up having a smell that is reminiscent of other kinds of shit. Special thanks to soap-dropping ex-convict friend Dahyve for the science lesson.
Believe it or not, we didn't come all this way just to tread in bat shit, though. The cave water is also filled with plankton that glows when you move your hands through it. I couldn't get a nice picture of the plankton because the plankton was Amish, so I'll have to describe it. Whenever you move your arms and legs, it's like you leave a thick trail of little white fireflies behind you. They go dark again in about a second. I was so captivated by this magical experience that I accidentally drank a few lungfuls of salty bat water. When the tour was over, we gave Amad a very sincere thank you for teaching us about lagoons and sharing his guano with us.
What a way to spend a week. It took us several plane rides to get all the way back to California. The first few were with AirAsia, which is Asia's answer to America's United Airlines. By that, I mean that if you're given the choice between flying with them and overdosing on horse laxatives, that you should strongly consider the latter. On the plane ride home, I watched a very moving film about Ted Bundy. Justin mostly moped that Night at the Museum didn't have a Lego remake yet. He ended up watching the non-Lego masterpiece instead. I think the lesson is that whether you're watching Ted mercilessly slaughter a bunch of innocent young women or watching Ben Stiller do the same to American cinema, it's really neat to be able watch a movie when you're flying over the Pacific Ocean. Justin still thinks we went to Tennessee, so if anyone sees him, just play along. He was so excited and I wouldn't wanna let him down.