Thailand

31: Bangkok, Ayutthaya, Chiang Mai, Phuket, Phi Phi, Krabi

Just another Thai sunset.

Chiyo from Thailand, Ernie and Hads!

I don’t know where to begin with Thailand, guys, except to say that I promise promise promise to try to make this the shortest written entry in some time – hell, maybe ever. The fact is, if I wanted to tell you how I really feel about Thailand, it’d take two of your lives at least, maybe three of Ernie’s with those arteries of his.

As you’re both well aware from asking me week in and week out, the most difficult question to answer – for me and nearly every traveler I’ve met – has been “What is your favorite country so far?”

It’s an almost impossible question for far too many reasons to list. Or it was. Sometime around late Africa, maybe in Zambia, I finally got my first answer. And then my second. And third…and fourth. In no particular order those answers were Thailand, Thailand, Thailand, and Thailand.

It only took a week or so in this stunning country before those answers began to make a helluva lot more sense, guys. The weather, the people, the food, the welcome – not to mention the countless gorgeous sunsets, beaches, mountains, and temples.

Bangkok’s Grand Palace, Chinatown, Lumphini Park, the gritty and outrageous madness of Sukhumvit Alley, Nana’s, and the infamous “backpacker slum” known as Khao San Road. It was a lively and intriguing start, indeed!

A train would then take me to the peaceful, serene, ancient temple city of Ayutthaya, followed by the gorgeous city of Chiang Mai, a nearly perfect mix of historic, spiritual, urban, mountain, and jungle.

A $50 flight from Chiang Mai dropped me in the quaint Old Town of Phuket, its main street shops reminding me of Stonington Borough. A couple days later, a short GrabTaxi ride would drop me in the town of Karon, where the Andaman Sea meets the Malacca Straight, with that stop followed by the beachy madness of Phuket’s Bangla Road, which is possibly more Bourbon Street than Bourbon Street itself – no paddles needed for ping pong here, guys.

I would then find relief from my exhaustingly immature ways on the stunning island of Phi Phi…Well, sort of. Sure, Phi Phi is an outdoor lover’s playground by day – jungle and forest hikes, kayaking, snorkeling, and more, but by night its beaches become a fire-juggling-techno-dance-club-party-under-the-stars-and-moon.

Phi Phi was tough to leave, but I would eventually take a scenic ferry ride north to Krabi, with its own stunning beaches, bath-warm waters, lush green forests, beckoning mountain peaks, jungle trails, and great live music scene. Krabi offered something new around each and every corner.

And did I mention the food? My lord. This country is the home of Pad Thai, guys, THE. HOME. And no, Hads, that’s not all I ate. I ate everything. I ate like a champion. I ate like I was going to the electric chair. I ate, well, like Ernie. I ate a lot is what I’m saying.

And every Thai horizon – morning, noon, and night – was gorgeous and dramatic, every sunset leaving me more and more convinced that Buddha might actually be “the” one, guys, rewarding his believers with gloriously painted skies each and every evening.

But always, always making the difference between memorable and unforgettable, no matter where I’ve traveled, were the amazingly kind and welcoming and beautiful people of Thailand. Whether on a beach or boat, at a temple or on a trail, on a corner or in a café, conversation and smiles were more than casual, more than simply being polite, they were sincere and personal and full of appreciation for the moment.

But I feel like I’m forgetting something…

Oh, right, THE CATS!

When I declined the ridiculously expensive rabies inoculation in preparation for my trip, I promised Dr. Demick I wouldn’t go near any cats or dogs. I lied, Doc.

This is your Mecca, Ernie and Hads. Thailand, but especially the island of Phi Phi. Now, I know what you’re thinking, probably something like “Whoa-whoa-whoa, slow your roll there, Pops, we already live in paradise here on Lakeview Drive in Narragansett. No jobs. Free food. You fill feeders to attract birds for us to pounce and bat around. You give peanuts to squirrels so we can chase them the hell back outta the yard. You pick bloated ticks off us, and then brush us smooooth so we look good for those 2AM romantic interludes outside your bedroom window. You literally pick our poop out of the sandbox with a little plastic spoon, like some sort of indentured servant, whenever we simply don’t feel like walking our lazy asses outside. You buy us weed for god’s sake – we’re already living in Mecca, baby, WOOOOO!”

True. True. And I’d be even more appreciative if you actually uttered those words one day, but without the snark. But then, you’re cats. And even if you could, you wouldn’t. Because you’re fucking cats. And cats can be dicks sometimes.

But then, that’s on me, because I took you in. And really, when you think about it, we’re kind of the same.

Bangkok

Thailand isn’t just the land of cats – they’ve got one or two temples as well. These are just a few of the ones I saw in Bangkok alone.
Monitor Lizards live freely in Lumphini Park in Central Bangkok, though sometimes their numbers get out of hand and a few require relocation (I shipped one in a box to Grandma so she can take care of it until I can bring it home for you guys to play with. It should have arrived yesterday…shit..which reminds me that I need to tell Grandma to expect a Monitor Lizard...The lizards coexist with humans (within reason), their bite rarely fatal unless you’re super lazy and allow it to progress to infection, which is something I like to call Natural Selection. I saw a dozen or so here (and elsewhere in city ponds and streams), with at least one around seven feet in length. Komodo Dragons, a member of the monitor lizard family, can reach ten feet and 300 pounds, which means even Ernie would be little more than a snack. Watch a video of a monitor lizard coming ashore here.
A fifty-cent ferry ride got me across the Chao Phraya River to the famous Wat Arun Buddhist Temple, begun in the 1600s, added to in the 1800s, and last renovated around 2017.
The sacred Emerald Buddha, housed within the Grand Palace grounds, was created in 43BCE and has a fascinating history of blended fact and fiction. It’s believed that the safety of the entirety of Thailand depends on this icon, which is why I was surprised at how high up that thing I was able to climb before someone told me to get hell down.
Samanera monks worshipping at Wat Benchamabophit (aka The Marble Temple). At this most holy site, while I observed this most holy moment, my Tuk Tuk driver – having realized he’d be making no commission when I turned down his offer for a tour of the silk warehouse, where tailors would have been happy to make me a brand new suit – scampered off into the night like a rat, leaving me at the farthest possible point from room. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t ruin my Moment of Zen, but I’d also be lying if I said I didn’t have a touch of appreciation for his game (slow clap, you SOB).
Coming in a 150′ long is the Reclining Buddha of Wat Pho, located on grounds that not only house the largest collection of Buddha images in all of Thailand, but is also the birthplace of traditional Thai Massage. Speaking of which, my dogs were barkin’, and staring at those toes wasn’t helping…
Lady, I’ve had a long day walking from temple to bar, temple to bar, and I’m not paying you $7 for sixty minutes of foot massaging so you can watch Rong Phyābāl Thạ̀wpị, capiche?
NO REGERTS.

(relax, Ma, it’s just henna)

Ayutthaya

From Wat Mahathat and Wat Ratchaburana, which were literal steps from my wonderful Tamarind Guesthouse, to Wat Na Phra Meru Rachikaram and Wat Chaiwatthanaram in central Ayutthaya, this was a treasure trove of temples from as far back as the 14th Century, when Ayutthaya was the second capital of the Siamese Kingdom.
Not one to be left out of the latest fashion trends, I would immediately buy a knockoff outfit and wear it for the rest of my visit. I’ll wear it to The Ganny when I get home.
Wat Phra Ram.
Wat Mahathat.
Buddha Head in Tree Roots, from Wat Mahathat.
Wat Phra Si Sanphet.
Worshippers at Wat Na Phra Meru Rachikaram.
The Reclining Buddha of Wat Lokaya Sutha, believed to have been created in the early part of the 14th century (it has been reworked since), measures nearly 140′ in length, and 26′ high.
Watch gripping video here.
Fisherman and barges shared the muddied waters of the Chao Phraya River. Crossing over a bridge to see Wat Chaiwatthanaram I was able to watch some locals hook a large catfish in the heavy current. That was only half the battle – lifting the fish up was something else altogether.
Non-vegans can watch here.
“How soon it too soon? Not soon enough. Laboratory tests over the last few years have proven that babies who start drinking soda during their early formative period have a much higher chance of gaining acceptance and ‘fitting in’ during those awkward pre-teen and teen years. So, do yourself a favor. Do your child a favor. Start them on a strict regimen of sodas and other sugary carbonized beverages right now, for a lifetime of guaranteed happiness.”
– The Soda Pop Board of America.

Chiang Mai

So my first night in Chiang Mai and I was walking down a side street after dark when I saw something move down by my feet. I thought, okay, maybe a cockroach?

I imagine Hadley would be fascinated until it stabbed her in the eyeball.

I was in sandals, and spent the rest of the evening walking like I was hot coals.
The Inthakin City Pillar Festival at Wat Chedi Luang is an opportunity to pay respects to all images of Buddha – and more – including the sprinkling of water on the Fon Saan Has Buddha image in return for rains for the crops. Watch video here of the music and dancing inside the walls, while outside countless locals and visitors shopped for trinkets and enjoyed local streetfood.
Inthakin Pillar Vhiara.

Sorry ladies – no women allowed (as it should be).
During the evening festival at Wat Chedi Luang, worshippers made water offerings to Buddha, which were then pullied up and sprinkled onto the temple behind me by the local monks. Watch here.
Peter in Tree Roots (along the Hoi Suthep Monk Trail). If I stand there long enough maybe I’ll be as famous as the Buddha Head – our noggins are around the same size, so I got that goin’ for me…
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, the end goal of my hike. I would add Dad’s name to a sacred scroll here.
While revered in places like India and Thailand, elephants are still terribly mistreated. They’re used primarily for labor, but when labor crosses into tourist entertainment, that’s where human beings become part of the problem, or part of the solution. For people to ride or “bathe with” elephants, training needs to occur, and that training requires cruel punishment, not to mention an elephant being forced to bathe several times a day with hundreds of gross covidy human hands all over them.

Just stop it.
At Chang Chill, the elephants have been saved from a life of “retirement” having fancy chairs strapped to their backs so dopey tourists can pretend they’re royalty. Here, tourists aren’t allowed to touch the elephants at all, though close viewing is pretty much guaranteed. In this video, one elephant, Mae Mayura, had blocked our trail from behind, when her mother, Mae Gohge, decided to come our way – leaving us nowhere to go. The gentleman guiding Mae Gohge is her caretaker, who spends each day, all day, in her presence.
A St. Andrew’s Cross Spider brought his lunch to ours at Chang Chill Elephant Sanctuary.

Phuket

Ahh, the infamous Bangla Road. Don’t worry, Mom, your youngest and by far most favorite child is all grown up and mature now. And besides, what could possibly go wrong?

Well, more mature, anyway. And I have proof I did one or two other things as well, though for the life of me I don’t remember being at any of these places…

Chop-chop, lady, I’m paying eight bucks for this one.

Phi Phi

Shark Point at Long Beach, Phi Phi Island.
Heading for Monkey Beach…
…which reminds me, Ma, watch for a second large wooden crate, this one marked “Bananas.”
I would hike the thick forest trails for hours, get off trail, take diggers, find my way again, swim, hike back, have a beer or two, and then do it all over again the next day.
A little Thai Boxing with the additional entertainment of drunken audience members climbing into the ring to duke it out between fights. I thought about it, but then figured I’d get the one dude who is a Thai boxing weekend warrior at home who ragdolls me and ruins my night.
Phi Phi Beach came to life each night with fire jugglers, fireworks, cheap drinks, ganja from the bartenders (so I heard), and beach clubs rocking until early the wee hours.
It was a Dark and Stormy Day…
So. Ehem. Bare with me a moment…(see what I did there?)

This is not included for your (or my) cheap entertainment. This is included only as a mature, responsible, and important PSA for all of those wonderful ladies in my life…If, say, there’s the slightest chance you just might, maybe, possibly ride that new mechanical bull in your local beach bar, what I’m saying is choose your outfit carefully. And also, make sure people don’t have their phones out, because you never know who might be videotaping your drunk ass.

It’s me. The answer is me.

Video Copies: $10 each. I accept Venmo, PayPal, Zelle…
Phi Phi was one of those magical places. Jungle hiking. Beach hiking. Kayaking. Monkeys. Monitor Lizards. Swordfish. Gorgeous sunsets. Beach DJs. Fire jugglers. Thai Boxing. Incredible food, and beautiful, amazing people…
So a Toast To Phi Phi…and a toast to the sweet and beautiful Poppy.

Krabi

Krabi was sneaky gorgeous, looking a little more “urban” upon arrival, some of its beaches obscured, but walk or scoot around almost any corner…
Every single night, without fail, offered an amazing sunset, from the one that opens this post to the one above, the one below, and a dozen more…
My travel mate, Spalding.
A fifteen minute longboat ride to Railay Beach and more paradise…
Funny story…ehem…yes, those are penises…
Phra Nang Cave (Princess Cave) is tied to multiple legends, but today locals still visit to make offerings for good luck, safe seas, and as it relates to the hundreds of phallic carvings – fertility.

For the kids out there, here are some Macaque monkeys: Monkeys!
Diamond Cave, one of countless cool cave systems throughout Thailand. This one, like many, included thousands of resident bats.

But more importantly, what the hell is going on with my Adam’s Apple? It’s hypnotic…
Atop Tiger Cave Temple, 1,237 steep-ass steps, but the temple and the view were totally worth it.
There were dozens of monkeys lazing about on the steps on the walk up to the temple, so many that I had to step over or around more than a few. But it was at the bottom when something about a monkey I call “Old Pigeon Toes” didn’t look quite right, the least of my problems being that what he has is actually called “out-toed.” I’ve been calling it the wrong thing my entire life.
video
Behind Tiger Cave Temple mountain was a forest area called Wonderland. The hike here was stunning, with a huge Buddhist temple under the eaves of the mountain base, along with a series of Buddhist meditation huts, many at ground level, and a few built into the mountainside, like this one.

So, guys, it didn’t take me long to discover why Thailand was suddenly the popular backpacker answer to “Which is your favorite country?” And I’d be lying if I said it hadn’t become my answer too – for now, anyway. But with only three country’s left on this yearlong adventure before we’re all together again, it’s gonna take something pretty goddamn special to beat this water, these views, and these sunsets…

Until next time, be good, and nap well.

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