Saturday, July 9, 2011

Chaing Mai to Pai

After waiting around the bus station at Chaing Mai for an hour I got on a bus and headed off to Pai. There were a few other foreigners on the bus, some Canadians, an Aussie, and a Spanish couple who were celebrating their honeymoon by traveling around Thailand. I've been warned about the bus from Chiang Mai to Pai.....that it was to quote the Lonely Planet Guide Book "a 4 hour gut-wretching trip that is not for the faint of heart. It started out alright, but than about 2 hours started to get a bit rough. Up through the mountains, some hairpin turns, it was a rough trip, but thankfully everyone in the bus kept it together. Arriving in Pai I was struck by the sheer number of guesthouses and hostels around town. I spoke to a guy last night about it and apparently there are over 600 guesthouses in and around the town. The town itself is pretty small and easy to find your way around. There were tons or fellow travelers all over the place as well. It reminded me a bit of Kenting in Taiwan....but more chill and laid back. I've been here just about 3 days and I absolutely love it. It's got a very cool and laid back vibe and everyone here is extremely friendly as well. Coffee houses and bars are all over the place and everyone has a relaxed attitude. I can definitely see myself spending a solid 2 months here just chillin and taking it easy.

Bangkok to Chaing Mai

It's been a while since I updated so I figured I'd update little by little...

In order to get to Pai, I had to first go to Chaing Mai. There are a bunch of different ways to get from Bangkok to Chaing Mai but I figured I'd try the overnight train. For about 800 Baht (25 or so bucks) you get a sleeping compartment and it only takes 13 hours.

I was at the Bangkok train station early and as I'm coming out of the bathroom, which was as gross as you'd imagine a bangkok train station bathroom would be, I ran into an old co-worker from Taiwan. He was one of the co-teachers at my school and was in Thailand en route to Malaysia for a meditation type of retreat. It was completely random and I was definitely not expecting to see him there, but as he said English teachers are all cut from the same cloth so traveling around southeast asia is the norm for most. We talked for a while and it turns out my old kids' school in Taipei might be shutting down due to a lack of students. It's a shame because that was by far one of the best schools I've seen in Taipei....still it was good to see a familiar face in Thailand.

As for the train itself, it was clean, new comfortable ...all aside from the bathroom which didnt have a tank and I'm pretty sure whatever was flushed down the toilet just went down the tracks. Around 9 the crew came around and set up some of the beds and I had a solid 9 hours sleep. We left Bangkok at 6pm and got to Chaing Mai at 9 am the next day.

All in all a good experience and I was able to be up for the sunrise and get a few nice shots!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Happy birthday America

For me the Fourth of July is not as big of a deal as it used to be when I was younger. Maybe that has something to do with the fact that for the last for 4th of July's, I've been out of the country (2008-2009, Taiwan, 2010 Kenya, 2011 here in Thailand). I haven't had a genuine and legit 4th of July in years, and I miss it. Last year, despite being in Kenya I had an amazing fourth of July. I stayed with my cousins at their apartment in Nairobi, we had some great food, some beers and I met a lot of cool people. There's something about traveling or rather living abroad that brings out the best in people. Everyone is excited to reconnect with traditions, people are just closer, more open with each other because they are so far from home. Last fourth of July, despite being on the otherside of the world, was a welcoming, exciting and awesome time. For the fourth of July this year I went to a bar in Bangkok that had an American theme going on for the night. Drank some Buds, ate some really crappy hot dogs, watched a little baseball action and chatted with some fellow Yanks. But it wasn't the same as a real fourth of's all about the people, family, friends and good company on the 4th. Granted there is something cool and exciting about meeting new people in a strange place and sharing a tradition with a roomful of strangers...but it's just not the same as spending it with some good friends and family.

I'm heading up to Pai on Wednesday...taking the overnight train from Bangkok to Chaing Mai and then a 4 or five hour bus up to Pai. To be honest, I'm really looking forward to getting out of Bangkok. I'm not a big fan of polluted and overcrowded cities....and I'm excited to just chill out in a peaceful village for a few months. Plus, I've been battling an annoying stomach bug for the last few days (I'm not sure where it came from; I've been avoiding street food, eating lots of rice etc... but I did drink some Coke with ice in the glass so who knows)....been spending a lot of time in the hotel just feeling not so good... I hope it'll get better with some clean air and good living up north, we'll see how it goes...

As for the election yesterday, everything seemed to go smoothly and it was really quiet walking around the city, mostly just foreigners walking around the markets and shops. Hopefully I feel better before my overnight train up North....but happy fourth of July everyone!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

First impressions of Thailand

I arrived here in Bangkok safe and sound and is my custom with every country I go to, I try to get a general idea of what the country is about based on first impressions.First off, it is hot and humid here. I arrived last night at about 10 pm after a 12 hour flight to Dubai, then an 8 hour flight to Bangkok. It was a long flight but I met some cool people on the plane which helped make the time pass quicker...

First impressions of Bangkok, hot humid, lots of foreigners (my first days in Taiwan I didn't see any other foreigners, here I saw at least 30 so far), clean efficient subway, lots of malls (I've seen 4 Auntie Annies in just about a day), 7-11s and High Life Convenience stores everywhere (there is an office depot on the corner of my hotel)! All of the signs are in English and Thai and even My first day here was pretty standard. I had some street food, a little fried rice, got a phone, changed some money. To be honest I'm looking forward to heading up north to Pai where it is a little smaller, and less filled with malls. Anyway so far so good, tomorrow is the big Thai election and I've see a few of the candidates riding on trucks with loud speakers talking abut why they are the best. Everything good so far....going to explore the city a little more tomorrow and see if there is more to Bangkok than Auntie Annies and Office Depots....


Thursday, June 16, 2011

Long time no blog format... new country

ANnnnnnnnnnd we're Back! Been a loooooong time since this blog has been updated, just about a year I guess. There are many reasons why I haven't updated it....mainly this started out as a travel blog to document my time and keep my family and friends updated on my time and adventures in Taiwan and I'd like to keep it a travel-related blog. Since September, I've been back in NYC, doing the grad school thing, seeing family and friends.....but unfortunately not doing much traveling. Let's face it, no one wants to read a blog about the mundane, repetitive NYC commuter experience. Wake up, take the subway, go to class, go to work, watch Sportscenter, go out to the bars....and so forth. On the plus side...I have been teaching ESL to adults at an amazing school in Flushing, but other than that, life has been filled with routine, and classes and reading.

However, this summer I'll be living in Thailand, in a little town called Pai up in the North near the Burmese border. I decided I'd keep the same blog (but new more user friendly format!) from my time in Taiwan....sort of do a continuous travel blog thing here, each trip building on the last, until this whole internet fad finally goes out of style.....
Looking over some of my old posts has gotten me really excited about a long trip abroad again.

The reason I'm heading to Thailand is that I got a great chance to do some research, teaching and ground level development work in and around the town of Pai working with the local Burmese refugee population. I'm leaving on June 30th and I'll be back to NYC on August 30th. I'll be working with an amazing organization called The Burmese Refugee Project ....... I have to thank them for such a unique opportunity to get ground level experience. They're a small organization based out of New York. They work on educational projects, health initiatives and projects aimed at improving the lives of Burmese refugees in Thailand. It is just the type of grassroots, micro-level approach to development work that is philosophically and theoretically most appealing to me.

This trip has also been made possible thanks to a small Colorado based NGO called the Lauren Project This NGO is a small organization dedicated to providing funding for development work, human rights work and educational programs in developing countries. I am really grateful for their grant and thankful to the wonderful organizers at the Burmese Refugee project. Please check out both of their websites!

I'll update more in the next few days....I've got a lot to do to get ready for my trip, visas, vaccinations, studying Thai, etc. But I figured I'd get this blog up and running. More posts to come soon. I'll be in Bangkok from July 30th until July 6th, to get my bearings, take care of a bunch of logistical things, like getting a phone, changing money, getting some things for my time up North etc...Then I'm gonna head up to Pai on July sixth until the end of August. I'm very excited about this trip and hope it goes smoothly.

- B

PS I realized that I haven't updated this since I landed in Kenya. Chalk that up to slow and often inaccessible internet connections in the neighborhood where I was staying. But here are some pictures of my time there last summer:
Rafting Pics

Teaching in Kenya

Random Kenya