Dec 20 - midnight - Arrive Bangkok

Liz and I left Fukushima on the 8:30 am bus and met Renea and Ben at Narita airport. Somehow Narita stands for New Tokyo Airport. The way there was rough, there were terribly strong winds and it was snowing pretty heavily. The snow was fine since we knew we were going to warm weather. We timed it right and made it to the terminal about 45 minutes before departure, only to hear "we're sorry flight UA 837 has been delayed for two hours with mechanical problems". I didn't need to know there were mechanical problems causing the delay, anything else would have been fine. So I call Niramon, my Thai college friend, and tell her we will be there around midnight to 1am Thai time. She had already agreed to pick us up, so now it was just inconvenient, but she said she's be there.

It was really windy so the take off was pretty turbulent, which I always love. I actually don't really like flying. There's something not right about being in a small metal tube six miles above the ground. I still don't understand why planes fly. I know about the Bernoulli Effect, but I don't understand why metal shaped a certain way lifts hundreds of tons in the air. The movie was Finding Nemo, which I had not seen and actually wanted to. That killed a good hour and a half or so, plus there was the drink service and dinner at some point. It was a 6-7 hour flight going there, but the time seemed to go by pretty fast. It was a huge plane so once it was at cruising speed it was pretty stable.

We were all freaking out about what to declare and what not to declare. I had about $100 worth of gifts to give to Niramon and Ben was trying to say I should. Some guy near us was saying don't bother. So I opted to not bother. Luckily I did that because customs was a mad house. There were about 1000 people forming a big triangle, the peak being the single file line going through one guy at customs. He was doing his best to simply grab as many forms as possible. If he had stopped anyone there would be a line forever. So we whizzed on through with no delays. Then we popped out and saw Niramon. We exchanged greetings and then she drove us to her apartment for the night.

Her apartment. What a story. I asked where we would stay for the night since the next morning we were going to Pattaya, the beach city, to stay at her family beach house. She said we could stay at her apartment. Her family owned an apartment and we could stay there. Ok sounds fine. I asked how many people lived in the apartment, and she said many people. Hmmm, ok. So then she said it was a studio apartment, and it's very small. Oh crap, we are going to have to quietly sneak in and sleep on the floor and then in the morning all these people will be waking up and argh. So then she points and says it's right near here and goes down this crappy alley. Man I was sweating.

So then she points to this white structure and says that's her parents house. I can't really see a house. I see a large group of buildings, but no house. Then she points to the apartment. Her English was slipping, because she meant to say apartment building. It was about 5 stories high and eight units wide. There were two of them actually. So the girls get one and the guys get one. As we pull up, a figure starts walking toward us. I didn't know who it was but he opens the back door of the SUV and grabs ALL our bags. She said he was a person that worked for her father. Meaning a servant or whatever. Ok, cool. So she leads us to the apartments and we get settled. A few minutes later the servant guy named "Deep", knocks and brings us some bottled water and cokes. You can drink the water there since it's nasty. Thais can, but foreigners will get dysentery, which basically means you lose about 10 pounds of water weight since your body can't hold anything in.

The apartment was simple. A 12x12 room with a desk and cabinet and small bathroom. The bathroom was the most interesting. There was no hot water, and the toilet was quite the sight. I even took a picture. I will explain below.

So it's pretty simple as you can see. The toilet is not broken, that's how it is. Sadly this was one of the nicer toilets in Thailand. You squat inches above it and take care of business and then dip water from the big black bucket and wash your business down the toilet. No flushing. Notice there is no toilet paper. See that white tube coming out from the wall? That's called Thai Toilet Paper, or the Poor Man's Bidet. It's basically connected to those sprayers you might find beside a kitchen sink. You use it instead of paper or a bidet. I still can't use it correctly, and I hated it. Moving on.

Dec 21 - go to friend's beach house in Pattaya

We get in about 2:30am and Niramon says we are leaving at 8am so not much sleep. The weather was great. I managed to doze off for a few hours until stupid Mr. Rooster started doing his early morning thing. The sun wasn't even up and yet he was waking up the neighborhood. So Ben and I are up before 8 and then Niramon knocks and we pack up and go outside. We finally get to see her house, or estate as we call it. It was huge. Several buildings including two apartment buildings and a factory or something.

When we go outside we meet everyone who lives there. Apparently her brothers and sisters like to marry and hang around the place. There were brother in laws and sister in laws and kids and others. There were guards, and helpers, and drivers. Then her parents came out and said hello and we thanked them and got in a super nice van, on the verge of being a limo van, really nice. We ate breakfast somewhere and it was great. I had a semi-American style breakfast, but Niramon and her sister had some rice porridge type thing. Then we were on our way to Pattaya. It was about a 3 hour drive and I tried to sleep but it was my first day in Thailand so I was taking everything in. We were on a huge raised highway, which I didn't think could support itself. The top looked too heavy for the base, but I am no engineer so I guess I was wrong.

We finally made it to Pattaya and first went to this Elephant park called Nong Nooch where we saw a few shows. The first one was an intro to Thai culture and had many different little skits and dances. Then they did some Thai boxing and some Thai fighting from the old days. Then some elephants came out and fought for a minute. One went to the bathroom, which sadly was quite interesting, because he dropped more than I physically weigh.

So then they escort us to an elephant show where the elephants do tricks and stuff. It was pretty cool. They rode this ele-bike and kicked soccer balls and threw darts popping balloons. Then a woman walking around was selling big bunches of bananas for 20 baht, which is about 50 cents. So I bought some. After the elephants did their thing they would come over to the crowd and grab the bananas. They would get right in our face and we could touch them, it was quite fun. Two people from our group were pulled out there to get a massage by the elephants. First Renea got slapped on the back by an elephant, then Ben got felt up in the crotch area by one. It was funny and Ben played along and squirmed all around. After that the elephants took out paint brushes and painted some pictures. I bought a few as gifts.

We finally make it to their beach house, which was actually a condo but about 500 feet from the beach. It was 3 stories and pretty nice. We spent an hour on the beach and I decided the next time I go there I am going straight to the southern islands and getting some relaxing beach time. We ate some Thai fruit that looked like raw chicken, but was tasty. Then we went to eat at this great place on the beach. Our tables were out on the beach. the Thais ordered for us and there was more than we could eat. It was all great. We drank a few Thai Singha beers and some bottled water. The total bill was about 75 cents a person. It would have been over $30 each in the US.

The entertainment for the evening was a World Famous Drag Queen show. The place was oddly nice, like a nice theater or concert hall. The performers, for the most part, were really attractive. I wouldn't think twice if I saw them on the street. A few were obvious, but mostly they were quite attractive. The show itself was a bit strange. They sang and danced in all languages. There were people of all ages in the crowd. A few times the performers looked like they didn't want to be there, but for the most part it was well scripted.

Dec 22 - Return to BKK

We get back to Bangkok and check in to our nice hotel, which was only about $20 USD a night, but in the US it would have been around $80 for the same quality. I think they even marked up the price for the peak season. She dropped us off around noon and we check in and nap a bit then explore the immediate area. We stayed in Farang-Central, Khao-sarn road. Farang means foreigner in Thai and there were plenty. My favorites were the wanna-be pseudo neo hippies. They don't bath, dress like crap, have long nappy hair, stand for nothing really, come from upper class homes, and listen to Phish. They walked around trying to look like locals, but the fact that they were even on this road thereby cancels out them being locals. If they were, they would stay away from the marked up price area. Even with prices marked up they were dirt cheap.

Niramon's Sister, Ling (if you say it with an up tone at the end it's right, if you say it flat it means Monkey) showed us around while Niramon had class. I also went to college with Ling so I knew her as well. She took us to the Grand Palace. First we had lunch at an authentic place near the GP. We each had a huge lunch and paid less than $1 for it. Crazy. At the Grand Palace we had a tour guide who spoke English and walked us around and told us the history of it all. I took too many pictures to put them here so I created a separate page for the Grand Palace tour.

Our hotel had a few nice shops in the lobby area. One was a discount suit place that I really wanted to get a suit from, but I simply couldn't afford it. It was only about US $90, but you get two complete silk suits tailored to your exact fit. I plan on losing some more weight so I can get it another time. There was also a Thai friendly McDonald's:

Then there were two tattoo places, which I refrained from. I am not opposed to getting a tattoo, but it would have to be something that really meant something to me. There was also a book store / coffee shop, where I would occasionally get a caramel ice coffee in the morning. We had free buffet breakfast as part of the hotel, which was super tasty and American style.

That night we had a great dinner on Khao-sarn road. I had this tasty soup called Tom Kung something. It had some spicy lemon grass and I couldn't stop eating it. I had it, as well as Pat Thai about 10 times while I was there. After dinner we walked around more. Ben and I had a beer and then found $2 foot massages. Actual massages not "me love you long time" massages. It was a little strange though. We go in, and pay, and then go to a woman at the edge of a shower who's sole job in life is to wash people's stinky feet. Man you think your job sucks.

Then we are led to the 2nd floor and a dimly lit room with about 20 people laying on mats on the floor. Then a girl came out and really did a job on my feet. Man for $2 it was great. Heck I'd have paid $50 for it. Then I went to the hotel and crashed.

Dec 23 - Ancient City, free day.

We had some different ideas about what to do in Thailand. Different opinions I should say. I wanted to see and do as much as possible since we were only there from 11 days, 9 really since we get there late and leave early. So Tuesday came around as a free day and Renea chose to lay by the pool and read, which we can't  do in Japan. I chose to go to the Ancient City and a Crocodile Farm. We took a taxi and then the nice Sky Train and then another taxi. It cost about $6 total to go over 55 km, whereas in the US it would have been at least a $30-50 trip via taxi. First we spent about an hour trying to catch the 511 bus. It would drop people off all around us, but never stop to get us. We would run back and forth and could never get on it. Finally we caved and took a taxi.

The Ancient City is a strange place. It's shaped like Thailand, and where there are actual temples or shrines or monuments in Thailand, there are life sized recreations in the same place here. Like a small scaled map of Thailand. These things were huge. We had to rent bikes to cruise around. Liz had a bike with a broken seat and it was quite funny. Mine made an annoying clicking sound when I peddled and had no brakes. I'll set up a page to the Ancient City pics soon.

After that we went to the Crocodile farm with, supposedly, the worlds largest crocodile, being 20 feet long. We could only see part of it, a huge hip poking out of the water, and we don't fully believe that was actually it. I paid 20 baht (about 50 cents) for a bucket of internal organs, they actually looked like a human liver and heart, and I threw them into the masses. There were something like 20,000 crocodiles at this place and they went berserk when I threw it in. Then we took the worlds crappiest taxi all the way back to Khao-sarn road. I swear it was about to fall apart, yet it went about 100 Km per hour, eventually. I had another $2 foot massage and then went to bed early because we had an early morning lined up.

Dec 24 - Tour Kanchanaburi - Bridge over River Kwai

Kanchana buri

I wonder where they urinals are. If only they had a little sign.
Nope, this must be where I grab my tinky-winky and squeeze.

Dec 25 - Tour Ayutthaya

Ayuttaya

Dec 26 - Fly to Chiang Mai

We went to a shopping exhibition in this HUGE convention hall. It really put most anything I'd seen in the US to shame. It took about 30 minutes to walk, briskly, from end to end. There were thousands of local merchants from all over Thailand displaying the main products of their communities. I bought nothing, but everyone else bought a little. Then we headed to the airport and waited. We had sushi, which I thought tasted nothing like real Japan sushi, though the others made it a point to constantly make note of how authentic it tasted. It really didn't taste all that authentic, and them disagreeing was silly. I eat so much sushi I am nearly an expert, they eat like 2 plates once a month. I'm creating a philosophy section to discuss that more.

The flight to Chiang Mai was interesting. It was a Thai airline, in Thailand, flying between two Thai cities, and yet they played cheesy English American Pop Music as we boarded and departed. The flight was only about 45-50 minutes. They said it would last 48 minutes, and I commented about how strange it was for them to say an exact time. Renea, the ex-flight attendant, said maybe they had it down to an exact number. I maintained it would be pretty hard to predict a flight time to the minute so just round up to 50 and say we got in early. She timed it from lift off to touch down and sure enough it wasn't 48 minutes. It was like 45, as I predicted it wouldn't be right on the button.

We were met at the hotel by Poon, who I was supposed to know from college, but I didn't. Later I learned he actually went to UC Boulder and only came to GSU visit Niramon occasionally. I didn't feel bad then. He planned on driving all of us to our hotel in his little car and the trunk was already full, so I suggested we take a Tuk Tuk, which we did at about 80 mph down the expressway. I am holding my big backpack and it's about to fall, but we made it. We stayed right on top of the Night Bazaar, which is basically another big shopping area. But prices are much lower in Chiang Mai for some reason. I bought a lot up there, all at about half price what they wanted in Bangkok.

Our hotel in Chiang Mai was 800 Baht, half the price of our Bangkok hotel, and had about half the amenities. I hate the new concept of getting one key and having to stick it in the socket to conserve electricity. The lights won't work without the key in a little slot. That way one person has to leave with no key and hope the other stays in the room so they can get back in. I hate it and wish they would figure out another way. If you stay together it's fine, but if you separate, it's awful.

We ate dinner at this big open air market where you have to buy food coupons so the merchants never deal with cash. A little annoying, but I could see the point. At least they buy back coupons if you don't use them. I had Pat Thai and a beer, because I couldn't find soft drinks. Sadly, all that was less than $2 total. then I had a foot massage and they went off to buy more stuff. Niramon's cousin just opened a shop in the night market area and they all went there, and bought stuff because they felt compelled to. Then we went back and hit the sack.

Dec 27 - Temples with Poon

Chiang Mai

Dec 28 - Chiang Mai

We were supposed to go hiking and see some other sights in Chiang Mai this date, but Poon had planned it to leave at 6am and everyone, not so subtly whined about that being too early. They said they'd rather walk around and shop. You can never shop too much. Things never start looking the same. So I cancelled the hiking trip, although I really wanted to go and I knew Poon had put a lot of effort into planning it. We ended up sleeping late. I love flying all the way to Thailand to sleep late everyday. Later Ben and I took a long boat ride up the river to see some sights and eat fruit at a riverside garden farmer's place. It was quiet and interesting. The funniest thing about the trip was the deck we sat on to eat. It was tilted at a steep angle. So steep my plate kept sliding and I had to hold it. Look at the picture, it looks like I tilted the camera for the effect, but look at Ben's glass and you'll see the water is tilted in the glass making the camera level.

After we returned, we learned that Poon was having us over to his house for an authentic Thai dinner. It was good. He had servants as well. His father was a pharmacist and had developed something along the lines of a Word Tank or pocket translator thing. Either way Poon was loaded as well. He invited some friend over who owned a factory that made rice crackers and he exported them all over the world. Later the factory guy's girlfriend came over, who spoke a little Japanese. After that feast he dropped us off at a special night market that happens on every Sunday. I bought a few small gifts because they were dirt cheap. Then Ben and I had a craving for something and we saw it. Mexican Food. There was a shop across the way and we made a bee line toward it.

It was owned by some old guy from California who apparently moved here because he was bored of the US. Which I can totally understand it. The culture is so different here and if you moved here with just a little money in US standards, like $10,000 you could buy whatever you wanted and start a business like he did. $1,000 US goes a long way here, especially if you are being thrifty. Then we headed back and went to sleep since it was about 10pm already.

Dec 29 - Return to BKK

The girls went to a Thai cooking school all day, which initially sounded boring to me, but if I had more time I might consider it. Though I rarely cook, it would be fun to know how to make foods from all over the world. Ben and I went with Niramon and her cousin and looked at more ruins and things. The cool ruins we went to were only recently discovered since they were buried by a river a few hundred years ago. The sad part was they took up several hundred square miles, but were cover until recently so there are houses and buildings all on top of them. We were only able to see about 1/100th of what was discovered. The cool thing is if something is discovered on your property you get money when each tour goes to it and they name it after you. Everything below here was buried until recently.

Then we went to a place that made Parasols from scratch. It was interesting watching each craftsman do their little part to make the entire thing. I ended up buying one as a gift for someone. Probably my Mom. Here are some pictures.

After that we picked up the girls and headed to the airport to fly back to Bangkok. Here are some irrelevant pictures worth posting. The first is a hotel in Chiang Mai, look at the name of it. The second is a typical touring bus in Thailand. They are colorful and huge. Two complete decks with bathrooms and kitchens and who knows what else.

Dec 30 - Last Bangkok day

I had actually given up on this day and didn't really want to do anything. I was tired of trying to plan things and have people say they'd rather sit by the pool and read a book. Not my idea of fun while having a limited time in Thailand. So I slept late, had the free breakfast, then some caramel coffee and went back to the room to pack and chill for the day. Ben was in a really do something mood and kept bugging me to get up and let's go somewhere. I really didn't care about going anywhere so I just wanted to stay there and do nothing. Finally he convinced me to go to Jim Thompson's house.

We took a Tuk-Tuk, which is a 3 wheeled open aired motorcycle. It was only $2 and a long way. The driver took us to a tailor and told us to go in and look around. If we act interested he gets money. I was really tired of this since I had no money and the sales guy was too pushy. Finally we got back in and he took off. If he stopped at one more place I was going to grab a taxi and say Jim Thompson's house please, since the Tuk Tuk was taking us everywhere but there. Finally we get there.

Apparently, Jim Thompson was CIA or something and moved to Thailand in the late 50's. He built a huge house and hired people to make silk. He was rich and famous and did a lot for Thailand. Then he went to Malaysia and disappeared. His sister was murdered around the same time. Today people think he was hit by a truck by accident and the driver hid the body so he wouldn't get in trouble. His house was really cool. It was all open air and raised up a level. It would rock to live there, especially before all the pollution of Bangkok came. It was right on a canal.

That night we went to a Chinese restaurant in Chinatown. We had shark fin, which wasn't all that great and then this whole roasted baby pig. First we ate the skin and it tasted like bacon, then they took it back and cooked it up and we ate the meat in various forms. We had all sorts of different Chinese-Thai things and I was so full. Her parents paid for it although they couldn't attend. Then we head back and try to get some sleep. I finally doze off around 2 and have to be back up at 4:15.

Dec 31 - Arrive Tokyo, NYE in Tokyo

We had a 7am flight back which really sucked, but we made it. We had to wake up around 4:15, pack up, check out, grab a taxi and zoom to the airport. The taxi driver was doing 150 Kph, which we estimate to be around 90-100 mph. So we made good time, since there was no traffic. We were on a huge 747 or 777 and it was packed to the brim. We had the usual seats in the back, which was good since one girl in the group was a Flight Attendant at one time and said if anyone survives a plane crash it's people in the back. First Class is First to Go, being at the head of the crash, er.. I mean plane. We had the Jet Stream behind us so the flight back was just under 5 hours, very quick I thought. I watched Legally Blond 2 (oddly entertaining) and read my Dan Brown - Angels & Demons book and tried feebly to doze off. The flight went by pretty quick.

During the flight Ben spilled his entire coke on his pants in a way that looked like her wet his pants. As we were boarding I realized how stupid people are. Some people brought more luggage on as carry on baggage than I checked, and I checked a lot. A guy had a huge bag that wouldn't fit anywhere and kept causing a scene. A woman brought two huge bags that wouldn't fit anywhere then threw a fit when they had to check it. Some guy had a metal box strapped to his back. Come one people check this stuff already.

Then we had a field day filling out the Embarkation / Disembarkation forms. What the heck does that mean anyway. Disembarkation? It means returning. At least we think. We did find out you can use the much smaller Japanese Passport line when you have a re-entry permit. Sweet.

That night I slept on the floor of the hotel that Renea reserved. It was for two people, but I figured there would be room. There wasn't. There was a double bed and about 2 feet of floor space. I didn't get much sleep so I spent the next night in my favorite Tokyo accommodation, a Japanese Capsule Hotel. New Years Eve we did manage to find rather authentic Mexican food and then an Irish Pub where we counted down with several other drunk foreigners.

Jan 1 - Show newbies around Tokyo

Complete waste of a day. Spent an hour waiting in line with 10,000 other people for Meiji shrine and then left because it was too crowded. Then we walked around until I said I was leaving and went to the capsule hotel.

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