Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Travelogue: Thailand, Days 2 - 3

Originally, I expected to write a single entry for each day, but after ending Day 2 with an experience that was awful, yet character-building in retrospect, I had to temper it a little with an outstanding third day.

Most of the morning of Day 2 centered around settling into a new environment. Breakfast at the hotel was great. Then, I ventured out into the streets and realized what I probably should have done for breakfast, mostly from a cultural and cost-saving standpoint:

Moving on...like New York, Bangkok seems to have an awful lot of scavenging birds. And then you notice where the rice came from...

These same temples are placed within half a block from both Christmas trees and culturally correct Ronald McDonalds. I was a little confused, but shrugged and accepted it after taking a few pictures that probably pegged me as "tourist" even from far away. Camera aside, people kept assuming I was Thai and greeted me accordingly. Awkward.

After a rather yummy lunch at Erawan Tea Room, I made a series of mistakes that essentially destroyed the remainder of my day. For one, I chose to save the equivalent of $1 USD and walked to the MRT station to Hualamphong Train Station. By the time that I finally found the station and boarded the subway, I was a hot, sweaty, flustered mess. This proved to be unfortunate when I chose to take the train staff's word for it that my train was at 1535, instead of 1515 as stated online, and 1510 as stated on my ticket. After chatting 2 hours with a backpacker from New Zealand as I waited for my (presumably late) train, I boarded only to find that instead of the express, I was on a regular train that would take twice the time to arrive at Hua Hin. Since seats are assigned, I was essentially bounced from train car to train car until I was finally dumped in an open bench in the lowest class train car, which was what I had chosen to pay for. The lesson has been learned: at a certain point, saving money isn't necessarily worth it. The benches were essentially wood wrapped in broken vinyl, the light made me think of horror films, and the open window, with its tilted metal shade, let in more than one mosquito along with its lovely, contacts-drying breeze. Without any overhead announcements, I sat for six anxiety-ridden hours, terrified of falling asleep and missing my stop. At each train station, I had to stick my head out the window to catch sight of the one station sign that may or may not be anywhere near my train car.

By the time that I arrived at my bare-bones hotel room, I was about two incidents short of a panic attack. Looking back, I suppose that it was good to experience cheap travel firsthand, and to discover that such mistakes can happen and I'll still be alive, healthy, and safe at the end of the day. In any case, I forewent the night market across the street and settled in for a rough night's sleep on a mattress with very palpable springs. In the morning, I woke up and discovered that I forgot to pack a breakfast and an extra shirt.

You may recall at this point the hour-long, sweaty walk and six hour train ride from the day before. Smelling my shirt, I certainly did. With an hour to my scheduled pick-up time, I decided to wash it out with hand soap in the sink. After the water finally ran clear, I proceeded to wring the shirt out until my fingers hurt, then rolled it up in a towel and stomped on it in order to pull out whatever liquid I could. After that, I swung the shirt around and around in the air like a maniac until it was only reasonably damp, at which point I decided "screw it" and put it on. I then inhaled a random candy bar sitting in the bottom of my bag.

After checking out, I sat in the hotel lobby for over an hour, waiting for the ride that never came. The lady at the front desk of the hotel tried both numbers that I gave her twice, only to find a busy signal with each attempt. At this point, I was starting to regret this whole venture. In another ten minutes, I tried again and finally got through. As it turned out, the driver had gone to the wrong hotel, and it would take 20 minutes or so for someone to get me. Fabulous.

One taxi ride later, and I finally arrived at what would end up being the highlight of my whole trip: the wildlife rescue centre. Here be rescued primates, cats, bears, birds, and of course, elephants.

It seems that Thailand's sense of wildlife protection is pretty shoddy, as the government doesn't particularly care about the non-native species that many have taken on as pets. Not shown are a monkey shaped more like a chihuahua thanks to the tiny cage in which it was housed; a young male elephant resigned to a lifetime of celibacy as the rescued females are all old with bad backs that would not support being mounted (thank you, elephant-riding tourists and illegal logging industry); and a gibbon left on her lonesome after her mate and baby were taken on a government raid. The staff provided a very thorough tour and know each of the animals and how they were rescued. I met two lovely couples from England and Germany during lunch, and together we walked with one of the elephants, bribing it along with fruit, and gave it a standing shower. After a quick visit to the other elephants on the compound, along with a first-hand view of monkey feeding time, they left and I received the rest of the tour that I had missed from one of the long-term volunteers. Three hours later, I was back at the Holiday Inn Bangkok.

Perhaps it would be prosaic to call this two-day venture "life-changing", but I can't think of another phrase to truly describe it. Others, including "horrified", "heartbroken", and "appalled" don't quite cover the more life affirming aspects of spending a day surrounded by those who seek to rescue these creatures and, if possible, rehabilitate them so that they can rejoin their wild counterparts. It's shocking how the tourism industry can really wreck local ecosystems and hurt animals, and seeing it in person makes me want to be more responsible as a traveler. My stomach turns as I realize that these atrocities are occurring in places besides Thailand, and we're likely feeding into them without realizing that they're even occurring. Time to hit the books, I suppose.
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Sunday, November 17, 2013

Travelogue: Thailand, Day 1

As a new resolution involving adulthood and independence, I've decided to start taking international trips on my own. The first was intended to be a visit to Machu Picchu, but with the arrangement of a friend's wedding in Thailand, those plans were put on hold. And so, I submitted myself to what amounts to 7 days in a foreign land, with 30 hours of travel each way.

It's telling how long it's been since I've traveled to a country besides Canada. First off, the movie selection has improved drastically, which is critically important on 13.5 and 6.5 hour flights. I managed to work my way through most of the animated features on my "to watch" list, along with other random movies such as Man of Steel. If I'm staying up >24 hours in hopes of preempting jet lag, at least I should make good use of my time, right? Well no, not really. With USB and standard wall outlets on the back of each seat, actual productivity is also an option. My jaw dropped when I realized that I could review Thai phrases off my phone without sucking the battery dry. Oh, happy days.

Over the course of said super long flights, I was able to meet other single female travelers, which took a great load off my mind. To be honest, the thought arranging activities, managing money, and coming up with worst-case-scenario contingency plans, I managed to work my way up to the panic that hits Type A people when they realize that the "best laid schemes o' mice an' men gang aft a-gley." So there we go. The woman beside me for the longest leg swapped travel tips that she had gleaned from her own research. These ultimately turned out to be helpful when my taxicab driver required prompting to turn on his meter.

As a sidenote, the food options at Tokyo Narita Airport is pretty fantastic. Too bad my body was convinced that it was 2 am and felt like it had recently been run over by something heavy.

The hotel was perhaps a surprise. I walked in the door to discover that one corner of the restroom is formed by a combination of window and wooden blinds. Granted, my friend will not be joining me until later this week, but it just seems a little odd, unless you're working under the idea that visitors are couples or singles and really won't care. For now, I suppose I'll enjoy the sight of a vacant hotel room as I stand under the rain shower head...right. Really, the shower and the bed were the highlight of my day. While the latter is heavenly soft, to be honest, I could probably have slept on a wooden bench and been fine, if only because I could finally stretch out. It's the little things in life =)

Speaking of little things, internet at this hotel costs 200 THB/2 hours, so I suppose this will have to be cut short. More to come!
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