Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Touchdown in Thailand

Bangkok seems like a blur.

It’s not too often in life when you can say something like that. However, that is definitely the quote of the day as I sit tableside at The Sanctuary on Had Thien in Koh Pha-Ngan. In other words, at a little bamboo table, in front of a hippy hideaway, on the beach in a little cove, on a little island of the coast of Thailand. Don’t get me wrong; it took a lot of work to get to this little paradise.

Let me explain.

So, Robin and I landed in Bangkok at 3am Saturday morning after a long flight from San Francisco, with a stop in Taipei. From there, we zoomed down the expressway in a taxi to our first hotel in Bangkok, the Bossotel. We checked in to our hotel weary eyed and in a blur.

The next day, we took a boat taxi up the Chao Phraya River to Wat Pho where the enormous, golden, reclining Buddha rests his head. The beautiful, reclining Buddha is encased in a large building surrounded by other smaller buildings and towers detailed with gold, mother of pearl, ceramics, gardens, and guardian statues worth fearing, if not just standing in awe of.

After Wat Pho, Robin and I wandered up the side of a traffic-congested road to Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha) and The Grand Palace. These grounds are chock full of history, faith, and beauty. From a museum full of royal jewels to a building so detailed with gold and mosaic that it makes your jaw drop one hundred times within the hour. Pictures can’t begin to give you a sense of the majesty of this place. You really have to be there to take it all in together. Everywhere you look, you can see one amazing wonder after another, and it is all within a few acres. Here, I began to realize something about the Thai people that I had not known. I was in awe of the level of respect, pride and faith displayed by the detail in the sculptures, paintings, buildings, and jewelry. I just gotta’ give them props. I am in search of that kind of faith and focus myself, the kind that just makes you work, love, and play with an intention that doesn’t stop.

I could go on and on in detail about every little realization, sight, sound, and smell I have experienced in these last few days, but I am afraid that much happens when I travel, and covering 5 days in one entry in the kind of detail I would like to express would take more time than I would like right now. Hopefully, I can get in more typing more regularly in the future.

I will, however, cover the basics. Keep in mind that we wanted to head south to the beaches and out of Bangkok ASAP.

On the second day, we discovered that our hotel was fully booked and we had to spend most of that day looking for new accommodations; especially after we found out that all of the trains heading south were fully booked as well. Oh, and then we found out all of the planes were fully booked too. Hey! I though this was Thailand and tripping around any direction you choose at any time you chose was possible. Word to the wise; PLAN YOUR TRIP, during the high season anyways. We did get a cab driver that took us to a super little hotel called Silom City Inn down a local side street. Fortunately, they had a reasonably priced “superior room” for us. However, the next day, we had to change rooms to a less swanky room with a less super view. But hey, at least they had a room!

During all of this traveling about, we did manage to ride in many tuk tuks, eat lots of Thai food, see Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn), ride the skytrain, ride the subway, ride the ferry, ride the river taxi, visit the IH Bangkok office in Bangkok (the school I am going to go to), get hounded by guys trying to get us to see the “Ping Pong (and other small objects) Pussy” show, get taken to the wrong place several times by taxi and tuk tuk, drink lots of beer, dance in the Bangkok hip hop bar, get turned away from “fancy places” because I was wearing flip flops and Robin was wearing shorts, practice speaking Thai, go to an Irish pub, see some traditional Thai dancing, meet other travelers, walk A LOT, take many pictures, cry, and laugh!

We did end up getting a flight to Koh Samui (an island with a short ferry ride to Koh Pha-Ngan, our current place of residence), but it was much more expensive than the train we had planned. But, hey, we’re here, and I must say that the Koh Samui airport was worth the experience, like something out of the Tiki room at Disneyland. From the airport, we took a tourist bus to the ferry port, and rode across the ocean to the little piece of paradise known as Koh Pha-Ngan. From the ferry, Robin and I hopped aboard a long tail boat for a very wet journey through the choppy waters, to The Sanctuary.

This place is straight out of Swiss Family Robinson. Hippies, hammocks, vegetarian food, and yoga galore all set on a beachside hill, with trees and boulders growing through the rooms, restaurant, and spa. Yes, please. They have an enormous, yummy, family meal where you can sit with everyone else and eat as much veggie food as you can for a pretty inexpensive price. They even project a movie on a big screen afterwards, and you can lie out on the floor on pillows and mats. Last night, we watched Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, very eye-opening. I urge you to see it and pass it along to your friends. I guess the whole thing isn’t a very “Thai” experience, but it sure is fun for a few days.

We are much more travel-savvy now. I think that at this point, we have our accommodations planned for the next 4 nights and our train tickets bought for the remainder of our vacation.

Oh, and I promise to write more often, especially since Robin and I now have to spend less time and energy looking for a place to sleep, and a way out of town. Yes, Captain Kirk, we have finally landed.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Aaand, I’m off!

(Picture of me in front of the Los Angeles Thai Consulate)

(I don’t know if this is the ‘right’ post to be my first post, but I have to start somewhere!)

Well, it’s finally for real. I now have a Thai visa in my passport, so that I can stay in Thailand for longer than thirty days.

(Of course, anyone could drive down to Los Angeles to get a Thai tourist visa just for kicks, if they really wanted to.)

After finally sitting down to read about the whole business of Thai visas, with only twelve days before my departure date, I realized that not only did I have to apply for a special visa at the Thai Embassy if I wanted to stay in Thailand for forty-five days, but that the closest Thai embassy was in Los Angeles; and the only way to get this visa (other than in person) is to toss your real passport into the mailbox and hope for the best.

With only twelve days left, I had no time for hoping.

So, last Wednesday, I found myself wiring about two thousand dollars to Thailand for the CELTA, getting a tan, borrowing some language cds and audio books from the library, getting two vaccination shots and Typhoid pills, and then driving down to Santa Barbara so that I could then drive to L.A. the next day to get my visa. Whew!

But, I made it.

I was also able to turn my sudden visa run into a lovely visit with my step-sis and family in Santa Barbara. They were the fantastic hosts that they always are and made a long ugly drive into a fun trip. And after two days of lots of time with family and about twenty minutes at the Thai Consulate, I had my visa and I was back on the road to San Francisco.

Now, I am doing everything in my power to take care of everything. (Everything is a lot of stuff.) My most important focus, however, is completing the pre-CELTA task booklet before I go to Thailand. The pre-CELTA task booklet is about thirty-two pages of a lot of hard work, self-teaching, and re-thinking the English language. Now I really know what they mean they say that English is the hardest language to learn. English is my native language and I am starting to find out that I don’t even really know how I speak, read, and write it; I just do.

So, it’s on. I am really going to fly to Thailand in three days. I will do my best to share the experience of all of it and everything after with you.

They say I’ll be an ESL teacher when I’m done with the CELTA. I have a feeling that it will take a lot more than a month-long course to turn me into a travel-savvy, grammar-spouting, classroom-handling, word-confident, guru.

I wonder what else it will take.