Category Archives: Thailand

Trekking through Northern Thailand

King Kong and her little sister in the ‘shower’.

Just returned from trekking through Northern Thailand in the jungle for three days, where I spent my first night in a Burmese long neck village playing (and failing at) card games by candle light with some friends (recent Yale law school grad who just passed the bar, a first year uni couple from the UK and a kid from the UK who just taught in China and plans to move to Switzerland) villagers looked on. Our trek the next morning was led by a 14-year-old villager with tattoos from bamboo and who wore sandals through the dirtiest, muddiest roads but managed to keep his feet clean as a whistle, where as my Nikes are now various shades of mud.

We went on another elephant trek, for which he was one of the mahouts, then went on a bamboo raft rie (sounds cooler than it really was), for which he was one of the drivers and would periodically take breaks to do backflips off the raft and into the river.
We headed out again, and this time our trek through Northern Thailand was led by a 12-year-old girl who called herself King Kong and was one of the most memorable people I’ll ever meet. I sang some Justin Bieber for her (she had no idea who he was), and we kept up a march: sai, hhwa, sai, hhwa – left, right, left right. We arrived at the second village some time in the early evening on Saturday, and we were all smelly, sweaty and dirty beyond comprehension from a few spills along the way. We finally settled into our accommodations, which was another bamboo hut but this time had a “hallway” that ran the whole way through the middle without doors on either end – a safe, secure and utterly luxurious lifestyle for backpackers.
King Kong said, “Alex, shower?” and pointed the river which her house was situated on. It had a small waterfall at one point of it that probably went a bit higher than my shoulders, and it ran probably about 10 feet I’d say. The seven of us looked at one another, got into our underwear and headed into the river for our bath. King Kong and her 6-year-old sister, Sang, were jumping every which way into this water, which was shallow and filled with rocks, without any fear. The little sister amazed me. She had her ears pierced with weeds and was climbing this waterfall to the top of it and just jumping off it or jumping back from one of us to the other. King Kong gave me some shampoo and a scrubber to clean off my feet, and as I stood at the top of the rock beside her, watching all of my friends playing around with this little Thai jungle girl who never hesitated in her steps or jumps or had the littlest bit of fear, I had one of those, “This is the best night of my life” moments. It sounds so simple, but that half hour we all spent ‘taking a shower’ in the will be one of my favorite memories of all trips – past and future.
I am heading on a 2 day boat ride to Laos in a couple of hours. Don’t worry. This time I’m not penniless, and food was included with our package.
If I don’t get to write again, be sure to watch my older brother Michael’s first World Cup game on September 11th, live from New Zealand, for which he will vice captain the USA team against Ireland. GO MIKEY!

Category: Asia, Thailand

Cooking courses in Chiang Mai

Our cooking course in Chiang Mai, Thailand, left us more satisfied than any Thanksgiving meal on the planet. Taking cooking courses in Chiang Mai is at the top of the touristic experience in Thailand.
Category: Asia, Thailand

Driving scooters in Thailand

Me, Laura and Molly. Despite the radiance of both my smiles and my lime green bike
and helmet, I was 100  percent shaking to my core as this photo was being taken.

The hardest thing about traveling is relaying every moment to everyone you know back home. So much of what happens is a fleeting emotion or thought or realization of, “Holy crap, I’m in Thailand”, because it is such a peronal experience. I don’t really know how to describe it.

One of the things they all wanted to do at some point in our trip, though I was hesitant to do, was driving scooters in Thailand.
We rented our mopeds on Monday, drove around the city and about 20 kilometers outside of it to this enormous temple at the top of the hill, which was stunningly beautiful. But, for me, one of the best points of the day was when I was weaving in and out of traffic, slowly coming around bends in mountain roads and looking beside me at the family of 3 speeding past me on one motorbike, or the school girl sitting sideways on the back of the moped, her posture so at ease. It is just so strange how differently people grow up. I remember seeing that little boy in Malayasia on his way to school one morning, sitting in traditional Islamic dress on the back of his dad’s moped. It really just makes you stop and think.
But yesterday was probably one of the most mind blowing days of all time. Riding an elephant is something I’ve wanted to do for as long as I can remember. They’re my favorite animals, and the closest I ever came to an elephant was the made up story I used to tell growing up that I rode an elephant on my kindgarten class trip to the zoo. (We went to the aquarium, by the way.)
So, to say I was excited was an understatement. I didn’t really know what to expect, but in my mind I do tend to blow things out of proportion and, even though we were in Northern Thailand, when I closed my eyes I pictured the three of us in the middle of a jungle in Africa with the elephant running wild and free. Totally not possible, but my imagination gets the best of me.
Laura, Molly, our new UK friend Emma , 2 girls from Amsterdam and I headed about an hour outside of the city with Wood, our Muay Thai boxer/elephant raiser/trek guide who would bring us to his family’s home, where they raise 8 elephants. Lots of commas in that sentence.
The morning started off with learning different Thai commands, because we’d be riding these elephants bareback with a guide walking alongside of us, not with us on the elephant. It felt a bit nerve racking, because Thai is similar to Chinese in that it is very tonal. We thought we were saying the words correctly, until we’d hear Wood or the two other guides (his brother and long time friend) say the same word totally different. We got the words down as best as we could, and when he felt we were prepared, we went outside to meet the elephants.
It was such an intimidating thrill, if that makes any sense. You’re standing before these enormous, gigantic creatures (no person is ever allowed to compared herself to being as fat as an elephant ever again p.s.) that were incredibly gentle and calming at the same time.
Let me start with a few things, because this is probably going to be one of the most difficult blogs to write without making it as long as a book. First, elephants never stop eating. They sleep only for 3 hours a day, and the other 21 hours are spent endless eating. I kid you not. They DID NOT stop for a second. Their trunks are just always feeling around for something edible. One of the elephants grabbed a sandwich wrapped in plastic and shoved it into her mouth, which I found to be pretty funny.
But, what was even funnier, as gross as this sounds, is when the elephants go to the bathroom. It’s sounds like a waterfall when an elephant pees, and it look like one, too. All the while, the elephant is just standing there, staring straight ahead and looking for food. When an elephant goes to the bathroom bathroom, it isn’t nearly as funny other than the fact that it just stands there and lets loose, goes as its walking – so completely like, non chalant (can an elephant be non-chalant?) about the whole process.
Anyway, we took it slow in the morning. We met the elephants, pet their trunks, fed them and they gave us a kiss with their trunks, which actually wasn’t in the least bit slimey or gross. It was so incredible to see our guide, Wood, have such an affectionate relationship with the elephants. The baby elephant, Baifun (sounds like Typhoon), would reach out for him with his trunk, sort of like when a dog kind of sits at your feet, its head tilted to the side and looking up at you with those puppy eyes because it wants to play. It’s a crazy dynamic and relationship to see from the outside – another one of those things that make you stop and think, “I definitely wasn’t rolling around with pet elephants in Brooklyn when i was growing up.”
It was a bit difficult to climb up the elephant’s back and get onto its back, and most of the time it took me one or two or three jumps before I was able to pull myself up. Laura and Molly had equally as difficult of times, and one of the Dutch girls had a little cry before feeling comfortable getting onto the elephant.
I didn’t realize the elephants would have so much hair on them, apparently to keep of mosquitos, so it’s definitely quite prickley. The skin is thick but not rough and tough like that of an alligator. The only thing that made me sad was the elephants; eyes; they looked heavy, like there was a lot weighing on them. I felt like if they could talk, they could tell story after story after story. I guess that’s kind of with all animals – a lot of their life is written in their eyes.
We took a break, ate lunch and relaxed on this veranda at the back of his house in the middle of the jungle. The house was so worn and torn, filled with cob webs and bugs and animals and creatures and the sounds of a river and the breeze from the trees and endless things that spoke volumes of our different backgrounds.
Riding the elephant bareback through the jungle was H O T as hell, because not only was the sun out and shining strong, but we had to wear these long sleeve shirts and these pants made of the world’s thickest material. I swear I don’t think I have ever smelled so bad in my entire life, including the time when Christiana and I made a bet about who could go longest without showering when we were in like 8th grade.
It wasn’t absolutely lifechanging, but it was filled with laughs from start to finish. The elephants constantly eat everything along the way, and the guide that walked alongside Laura and I was pretty funny, even though he spoke no English. He played a trick or two on us and sang different Thai songs the entire time without any bit of shame. Our elephant was Christina, a 24-year-old female who was nine months pregnant (elephants are with child with 22 months), so we think she stopped to eat more than the other two elephants. Her endless pit of a stomach held us up a bit, as we were in the front and our Thai commands really didn’t get her moving once she stopped to munch on some green.
After doing the trek through the jungle, we led the elephants down to a river to give them a bath, which resulted more in a large-scale water fight between our guide, the younger brother, Laura, Molly and I - oh, and the elephants, too. I can officially say I’ve used an elephants’ trunk as a water gun.
But the elephants just layed down and rolled over onto his side, and we climbed right on top and scrubbed it down with a brush. I was a bit nervous to hurt Christina’s baby, but I don’t think that I made too much of a dent in her side.
Giving them a bath in the river was tons of fun, but giving them a bath in the river was also filled with tons of something else. That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, the elephants just go to the bathroom in the water, which the guides scooped up and underhanded them off to the grass like human catapults. So, as we played around, splashed one another with water, dumped bucket of water on one another, pushed one another off the elephants and into the water, I’d stop for a second and think, “Shit – literally”. We all said that if we ended up waking up with pink eye or some other illness, we’d know why.
After riding elephants bareback, swimming with them in the water, swinging on their trunks and spending a long day in the jungle in Northern Thailand, we headed back to our hostel to shower and get nice and clean. On the drive back, Wood stopped at a little road side fruit stand and bought about 10 melons from this waspy, skinny, old lady without any teeth. We watched from inside the car as he took out his little pocket knife – a change from the machete he carried through the jungle – and watched as he cut through this huge melon, cut it up and handed it out to us. I dunno – it was just nuts to me to see him doing that. Again, it’s like, we could not be any more different.
I can officially cross elephant trekking off my bucket list. I want to do it again in Nepal and any other country where they do it. It isn’t the fastest adrenaline rush, but it is like a reality check with every dip of the elephants’ shoulders.
Anyway, we’re heading off to a night market tonight, where we are hoping to not spend too much money because of doing too much shopping. We are backpackers, you know. Gotta be on a budget.
By the way – a monk at the temple tied a bracelet to my wrist, which isn’t coming off ever.
Category: Asia, Thailand

A cross off the bucket list: Riding Elephants

Ride an Elephant? Check

I’m in Chiang Mai, Thailand, right now after a 12 hour long bus ride. Wasn’t too terrible, as it was over night, and arriving at 6 a.m. yesterday after a long trip to this city didn’t keep us from doing something all of us have dreamed about at one point: renting a MoPed and driving around the city.

But I achieved my ultimate bucket list goal: riding elephants!

Chiang Mai went beyond my expectations. From the moment we walked through these old city streets, dotted with monks collecting their daily rations from the locals, I knew I found my heart in Thailand. Bangkok, you were cool, but Chiang Mai, you made my mouth drop within just a few minutes.
It was an awesome first day, but today is a day I’ve been waiting for. It is now 7:30 a.m., and it is already so hot it feels like you could fry and egg on the sidewalk, and today is the day where we go to the nature park to ride elephants, train them and play with them in the water. This is literally going to be one of the best days of my life.

Category: Asia, Thailand

Welcome to SE Asia

So I have only been in Bangkok for a few days, but I can most definitely say it is the opposite of what I imagined it to be; however, at the same time, it hasn’t left me disappointed by any means.
For the past however many years I’ve wanted to go to Bangkok, I always envisioned it to be this glowing, golden city with these sprawling markets that made the street look like rainbows.
Upon arrival, I realized rather quickly that I am in SE Asia, and that pretty and beautiful takes on an entirely different form here.
Bangkok is definitely a down-and-dirty city, with no super tall buildings or clean, organized streets – basically, it is a world away from what I think of when I think of a city. This place is a backpacker heaven.
But, at the same time, in the middle of these
filthy streets lined with people, there are these incredibly huge, beautiful and enchanting temples. The tops of the temples are so elaborate and decked in these deep reds and these vibrant golds with all these intricate designs and carvings into them. It is mind blowing to pass them when you’re just walking down a crowded street.
The food is incredibly delicious. Every time you take a bite, you pray it never ends. It’s packed with a punch, and after spending a year in Korea, I really appreciate the rich flavors and the delicious smells.
We are headed North tonight to go to Chang Mai, a city where we can do Thai cooking courses and boxing and ride elephants – a bucket list dream of mine.
I am so excited!
Don’t be surprised if I come back with my arms lined in so many bracelets that I won’t even be able to bend my elbows.

Category: Asia, Thailand