Josh – Chiang Mai
When I used to think of Thailand I thought of shacks, farms, elephants, and Pad Thai, of course. I always thought that not being a first-world country meant people had a terrible standard of living. Upon first glance, I believed Chiang Mai was a bit worn down; the buildings themselves were well-constructed and laid out, but it was clear that the last time they were painted was when they were built. However, getting to said buildings is an entirely different matter. When you see people constantly crossing the median, parking to get their lunch and blocking the entire lane, and trying desperately to merge onto narrow bridges that have pedestrians walking in half of the two existing lanes because it was not built with a sidewalk, it’s hard not to feel like the city has outgrown its own streets.
Chiang Mai was our first stop in Thailand and we could not have picked a better city. Chiang Mai just felt authentic. There were no sky-scrapers and the streets were full of crazy scooters that whizzed by so closely you would think you were supposed to jump on. People would walk everywhere, carrying groceries, running home after school, setting up stalls/stands/blankets on the floor. The night markets were definitely just thrown together by these everyday people, with plastic chairs and card tables being the norm as you walk through the sidewalk/parking lot/restaurant.
My favorite part of the city was how entrepreneurial the people were. Early on the morning of our second day (hooray, jet lag!), we walked through a morning market that seemed to be set up in a warehouse of some kind, everyone selling something different. There were different kinds of bananas, sweets wrapped in bamboo leaves, hot steaming things I couldn’t possibly identify (though we did try a few). Every shop you went to didn’t feel like a large chain, but rather just a mom and pop roadside stand. In Thailand, everyone is a business owner.
Overall, I felt a lack of structure in the city, seeing 4 people on a 2 person scooter really gives a sense that the city has no rules. I found it quite stressful just to cross the street, cars and scooters will not stop for pedestrians even at the crosswalks (basically, there’s never a good time to cross, so you just walk out and hope no one hits you). Drivers do not care at all about lane markings, and will frequently drive within inches of other cars, swerving through traffic.
And the temples were very peaceful, and beautifully decorated
For me, Chiang Mai will always be the place with the best Pad Thai. I am not just comparing this to American Pad Thai. Even just a few hours south, in Pattaya, the style of Pad Thai was completely different. Pattaya’s version of Pad Thai had squid and octopus, which wasn’t terrible, it was just too chewy and the flavors didn’t mesh very well. On the other hand, our favorite restaurant in Chang Mai could actually cook rice noodles, which are apparently really hard to cook correctly, as evidenced by multiple vendors in Pattaya, but…maaaan, the cooks in Chang mai can make the noodles have soooo much flavor. The texture was perfect everytime; not soft and not crunchy but just perfect (we’re not going back to Thailand JUST for the Pad Thai…that would be ridiculous…).
(We are also going back for the delicious pork we found on Koh Larn)
(and the curry….don’t forget the curry)
(we would have a picture of Pad Thai, but we could never stop ourselves from eating it long enough to take a picture, woops…just trust us, we ate A LOT)
We decided as we were planning our trip that we would go to an elephant sanctuary while in Thailand, so that’s what we did. After paying online, a taxi which was a pick-up truck with a roof over the back, picked us up from our hostel, and after driving for a couple hours on half-erroded bumpy roads, we were in the middle of nowhere, with elephants.
As soon as we arrived, we listened to a suprisingly good lecture about elephants. Our guide had a lot of interesting things to say about the ethics of the elephant industry which really challenged our opinions: first, he told us about a charity that wanted to free the elephants; the chairity ended up buying 3 elephants who were all about 40-50 years old and released them into the jungle. Which sounds wonderful in theory, but in practice those elephants were domesticated…for 40 years, and didn’t know how to survive in the jungle any more than a 40 year-old mom from the suburbs would. Simply put, he was tired of having tourists accuse him and other Thai handlers of cruelty towards the animals that had literally been in their families for generations (there’s a whole debate to be had about the ethics of elephant-handling in Thailand, but we’d rather not get into that here).
In their current “captivity” with absolutely no walls and 2,000 lbs. of free watermelon & suger cane everyday, the elephants seem to be suffering through rather well. All of the elephants we saw seemed rather happy to take a bunch of pictures with tourists, provided the tourists came armed with pockets full of watermelon (yes, we shoved a bunch of watermelon into our pockets because that’s how you make friends). We did get quite a few nice pictures of us with the elephants (see above), but the most memorable part was the mud pit. The rest of our group emerged from the mud hole with mud on their fingers and between their toes, but we were determined to make the most of the “natural sunscreen” (“spf 1000!” said one of the guides xD). After a short mud fight, one of the Elephant trainers noticed a spot on me that didn’t have mud, my back. He grabbed a handful of the questionable brown mixture found at the floor of the pool, (after watching them grab the floating elephant poops out of the water with their hands I had realised too late what we had stepped into) and said in a thick Thai accent “Don’t move. Or you won’t be beautiful!” I never saw what he drew on my back, but from what Rebeccah told me it was of two elephants(and that we shouldn’t show grandma). Then we washed off in the river which was WAY colder than I expected (I think the guide’s favorite moment is the scream he gets when he dumps a bucket over the head of an unsuspecting tourist).
So my take aways from the city: eat Pad Thai, drive into the mountains to see elephants, and the buildings need paint. I really would love to go back (“not JUST for Pad Thai…but that MIGHT be a factor…”-Rebeccah) and considering we would only spend 60 baht for an amazing plate of Pad Thai (about $2) It will not be hard to budget another trip in the future.
Rebeccah – Pattaya
Aaaaand then, we flew to Pattaya….yup.
Where do I even begin with this city? Well, we took a taxi from Utapau Airport (45ish minutes) to get to the city, and can I just say…drivers are nuts in Thailand. We were speeding along at what felt like 60mph down single lane roads, swerving wildly past scooters, narrowly missing signs and pedestrians, and sometimes going off-road with 2 tires because the road wasn’t wide enough to allow another car to pass going the other way. If we were expecting a highway to lead from the airport to the city….just no.
So, we arrived at our hotel, everything seemed nice, the staff spoke English well enough and showed us our room, but then…we went out to the street with all the restaurants they recommended. Let me just say, I wasn’t expecting Pattaya to be a super ritzy city, and it isn’t a very pretty city
in…pretty much any way, but we discovered why Pattaya would be my least favorite city ever when we got to that street. We started walking along, trying to find a place to eat…and there were lots of options. Steak, hamburgers, McDonalds, mexican food…lots of options. However, this is
Thailand. And not only was there not a SINGLE restaurant serving Thai food on this street. ALL of the menus were 100% in English. Not only that, but the patrons were nearly all white, specifically, white men in their 50s and 60s…many with 20-something year-old Thai women. Yikes.
The streets of Pattaya are dirty, the air stinks of pollution, the cracked and neglected sidewalks are SOMETIMES wide enough for 1 person, though often crowded with stuff from shops overflowing onto them. And even though we were not actually in the red light district (that was 3 streets over, next to the nasty, litter-encrusted beach), the feeling of seediness and exploitation could be felt in every English sign catering to tourists, every “massage parlour” we passed. It just felt like the culture of Thailand had been distilled and marketed to the point where it was a caricature of itself.
So, we spent a lot of our time in our hostel in this city, playing video games, which I can’t say I minded. xp
Our best experience by FAR in Pattaya was the morning we took the earliest ferry to the nearby island of Koh Larn. The ferry was pretty pleasant at first, of course, it was hot, even at 7 in the morning but the breeze off of the ocean was nice. Then…we kinda sailed into a storm. xp There were 2
decks on our ferry, luckily we were on the upper one when the ferry started to rock crazily and rain and seawater started spraying wildly into our previously calm seating area. (There were no solid walls on the seating areas, just glassless windows that had tarps that could cover the gaps) I guess the lower area got it worse than we did, because several other passengers escaped up to our deck (I was literally dripping with water as it was). xD
Once we arrived at the port in Koh Larn, the rain still hadn’t let up, so we had to kinda make a run for it to a covered area…not that it mattered, since we were already drenched anyway. It didn’t look like it was going to stop anytime soon, so we decided to just go ahead and start our walk to Monkey Beach (we didn’t see any monkeys, but there were nearly a dozen dogs just chilling there). There were motorcycle taxis, but the walk was only half an hour or so it just seemed silly to take one.
We arrived at the beach early enough that we were literally the only tourists there (well, us and like 2 others) for nearly 2 hours. The rain had let up by that point and the weather was AWESOME. It was warm, but not hot, the water was pleasant, the beach was beautiful, and it had DOGS. WHAT ELSE DO YOU NEED?!
Definitely the highlight of our trip. I would say that the best part about Pattaya was leaving it, but I think Koh Larn might have been worth it. xp