Tag Archives: Chiang Mai

Flight leaves today? Chiang Mai, Thailand

28 Nov

The Chedi. By Night. From my Balcony.

Phone rings. It’s dark. Blue lights from clock spell out 5:45 am. Phone rings again. Reach for phone. Drop it. Pick it up. “Yes?” Voice sings to me. “Ahhhh.. Ms. Amanda… taxi is here for you… take you to airport… send help for bag?”

Eyes flew open. What day is it? Is it the 30th? My travel calendar is based on weather and dates. What number is it today…

I sit up. “ Taxi? Wait, what? What day is it? Today is 29th,?”

“Nooooo. Ms. Aman-DA. Today 30th day. Check out day. Taxi here to take you to airport. You request, no?”

“Give me 10 mins. I will be there.” FUUUUUUUU…

I knew this day would come. It’s only a matter of time when you sleep through an alarm, a train stop, or the last call for alcohol… Well, today is my day.

Body bolted. Heart’s racing. Took a deep breath. I can do this. Eyes darted around the room. Quick assessment of my tossing, throwing, thrashing these last four days at The Chedi hotel in Chiang Mai. Four days is the longest time I’ve stayed in one place since July – excluding my time in London visiting brilliant Mary and her posh husband. The positive here is I properly unpacked, meaning my clothes were free from their imprisoned life in zip-locked bags hanging in the closet or stuffed in scented drawers. I knew where they lived.

The clothing concern is purged. I stood up. Eyes scanned for placement of THE chief necessities – adapters, EQUAL, battery charger, coffee creamer, instant coffee, writing pen, laptop cord, notepad, toothpaste, razor, brush, hair rubber bands, detergent… Items at the local Dollar Store.

Stripped off the boxers and Habitat for Humanity t-shirt. Reached for the bulkiest clothes. More I put on, more room there is for packing. Wiggled on the jeans. Thank you God they still button. Punched my arms through the thick long sleeve brown shirt. Reached for the flowy wool wrap. Couldn’t find my socks. Opted to go without. Forced my feet into my pink hiking boots. Got the scarf. To remember, I chucked my purple PTA-styled rain jacked at the door. Dressed. Box checked.

This was my first pack & jam feast. Prior to this, my track record for packing for air travel was around 45 mins. It takes time to push the life out of cottons, polyesters and wools using an over-sized, vacuumed pack, Zip-locked bag. And, keep in mind flights only allow 20 kilos – equated to 40+ pounds – per person. So the heavy equipment – electronics, shoes, pills, books – is allocated to the carry on case. Ragged apparel and used toiletries are checked. You ask about transport via a train, bus or camel? Weight is irrelevant. Here, the chief concern is accessibility to soap, toilet paper, flip flops, clean t-shirt and underwear.

Mind raced. There’s a Coke Zero in the micro-mini fridge. Couldn’t go to waste. Spent less than $2 on it. Grabbed it from the re-fridge. Flipped the lid. Started swigging. Nice. Love the sensation of carbonation hitting an empty stomach. Inhale. Time to start jamming.

First, I went for anything on a hanger. Next, emptied the drawers. Shoes. Damn, where were my shoes? Located the furry boots bought in Poland. Where’s my black Chinese “wanna-be” Todds. I knew they were here. I wore them the other day. Which day? Damn, right about now I was feeling annoyed with the Thai custom of de-shoeing when walking into a home or room. Neglected the rule, so God only knows where the black flats landed. I opened the hotel door. No flats. No shoes. No nothing. Shoe search put on hold. Back to concentrating on packing.

Night before, I transformed the jumbo-sized tub into my personal laundromat. Biked, hiked, whitewater rafted and road an elephant earlier so scrubbing and soaking the J-crew not made for bike-riding pants, bathing suit, t-shirt, underwear and socks were a glamor-do. Now, where did I hang the stuff. From the looks of it, everywhere. I walked the room and balcony and snapped up the soaked items. No time for plastic bags. Figured it will dry in humid Southern Thailand.

Now, time to locate all the Dollar Store supplies. I heard myself say, “don’t forget about the weight and liquid factor.” Question to self. Do I say, “screw it” and check both bags and swallow the unnecessary $50 luggage fee charge or take the harder, cheaper route? I hated being ripped off. You know the answer.

Bathroom. All SPFs and lotions must go into separate zip locks for the high altitude, explosive factor. Where were the 7-11 plastic bags? Did Thai Molly-Maid toss all of them? Guessing yes. OK, needed to think fast. Shower caps. Nabbed them. Tightly wrapped the explosive toiletries into the thin plastic shower caps. I just hit the ten minute mark. Almost there.

Door knocks. Little Thai boy with no shoes smiles. I smile. He started apologizing to me. Loved the Thai graciousness, service and hospitality. But, there was no need to apologize. I asked him to help me find my black wanna-be Todds.

I blurted, “black shoes. Dark in here. Poor lightening. Can’t find black shoes. You help.” Yes, I’ve started talking like English is my 4th language. He got it. I looked over and he’s searching blindly on his hands and knees for the black flats. Little Thai boy found my flip flops instead. SCORE. Would have forgotten those.

Meanwhile, I dumped my tall self on top of the ginormous brown backpack masquerading as a suitcase. Anxiety adrenaline rushed through me. The infamous sweat mustache formed. Flight will shoot in the air in 45 mins. I struggled. The zipper appends itself to some piece of cloth. I tugged harder… It zipped. Little Thai uttered “I sorry… Help you…taxi waiting…?” I pointed to the bathroom. “Please. Look. No leave nothing. Please. Look one more time.” He’s been here for 2 mins, and now I’m annoyed. Get him out of here.

“Have you found black shoes?”

“Yes. Found sandals.”

“No, black flats. No heels. Sparkles. You find. I happy.”

Damn, this place is dark. NOT going to leave without my shoes. As I write this blog, I truly can’t remember if I found them nor not…It will be a Southern Thailand surprise.

Now, where’s the passport and money? In the safe. Good job Amanda! Surprised I remembered. Running off without the passport and $$ would be very typical. I could see myself packing old hotel soap but forgetting to pack the passport. So me. Thank you God! It was then, I started to pray. “Ok. Need help here God. Don’t want to miss the flight to Southern Thailand. This is in Your hands – with or without my black flats. Help me stay focus and calm…” I felt my body relax – a notch. I smiled at little Thai boy and used a sweet voice – not my bark voice – to please take the brown, hairy monster suitcase to the taxi.

I did a quick scan. All packed, dressed in 14 mins. Oh, yea – needed to wash my face. Washed off the eye gel or random lotion residue.

Took a deep breath and looked in the mirror. Wow. This was a bad one. Looked like I was bit by a vampire. Where’s eye drops? And, what did I eat last night? Face looked like I opted for salt instead of food. Eyes darted from eyes to hair. Damn. Matted frizz served up and in-style… It dawned on me as I was reaching for a hair band that I was to shower first thing in the AM. What was the reasoning? Oh, I laundered clothes instead.

Earlier in the day, I hiked, biked, whitewater rafted and rode an elephant for nine hours in the rain. So, it makes perfect sense to forgo a shower for doing laundry. Sometimes I want to put my logic in timeout. What’s staring back at me was ripe, river rank and elephant aroma. Pray a stunner does no sit next to me on the plane.

Turned on faucet. Wet down the bangs. Matted them over. Tried for the severe Latin look. Washed my face with left over soap. No time for the teeth. Time check?

Scanned the room one last time as I was touching my passport. Brain saying, “remember the passport, credit cards, cash, laptop…other than that, GO!” Touched it all and ran out the door. Watch said 6:08 am. Plane leaves at 6:55 am.

Ran to counter. Thai receptionist said, “Oh, Ms. Aman-DA…how you stay? Fill out questionnaire?” Didn’t he just call me a few minutes ago about my taxi and I shouted…”WHAT!” I breathed. “Thank you. No time. Late for plane. We good.”

“Oh, but Ms. Aman-DA. Please fill-out form, please.”

I responded, “I love hotel. Body forgot what day it was. So relaxing. So beautiful. Want to stay forever and ever and ever. We good?” I forced a smile. Let’s go buddy.

He says, “Oh. Oh. Oh. Need your your credit care for buy-one-get on free spa treatment. You have spa, no? Fill out form about spa?”

I handed him my credit card and ignored him. I looked for Mr. Taxi man. Signed the slip. Screamed thank you and took off for the taxi.

To taxi man, “How long to airport.”

“Ten minute.”

“Seven minute? Five minute? Faster? Late for airport.”

He pushed the accelerator. Car lurched from 30 mph to 35 mph. Really? This is going fast at 6:15 am on a Saturday morning… God was in charge here. Calm down. I’m fine. As my fellow world traveler Stephanie would say when we were in these types of travel predicaments, “We’re fine… everything is Fiiiiiiiinnnnnneeee.” I thought of Steph. She would have LOVED this.

I searched for a car light. Wanted to see what I threw into my LL Bean blue backpack. Hoped I packed my flight information. Dumped everything onto the backseat. Started to reorganize. My three-ounce liquids were thrown everywhere. Stuffed my cover girl cover up cream, chap stick, SPF, toothpaste, hand lotion and eye drops into the zip lock. Laptop and Kindle were there. Found flight information. OK. Good.

We pulled up. There’s a line at Bangkok Air. Check-in gate was open. When Thai taxi asked if the flight was domestic, I had a flash back of Poland. In Poland, I was going to St. Petersburg, Russia. I told Polish taxi man my flight was an international flight. Wrong. On that day, Russia was domestic and I landed at the wrong terminal. So, when I responded to Thai Taxi my flight to Southern Thailand was domestic, I took a wild leap of faith, praying it was still part of Thailand.

Paid the taxi. He had no change. This gets me. You give them a large bill. And, they claim no change. Not going to budge. Might miss my flight, but he was already robbing me for the taxi charge for 8 minutes. Loath getting ripped off. I just looked at him. And, said, “Problem? Get change inside?” Then, I smiled and waited. He looked around. Went to another taxi man and got the change. OK. It was all of $2, but it was principal here. Was I really going to miss my flight over $2? Maybe. I could have seen it happen.

Got in line behind more Norwegians. This is the travel year for Scandinavia. They’re everywhere. The family of four was traveling with four kilo-sized bags of Thai chips. I mean these bags put American-style, super-sizing to shame. What was it? Major munchies on domestic flights? I could not stop starring.

I checked in at 6:42 pm and flew to the gate. No line at security. Actually,there was no nothing at security. As I start to strip, I call out…“Laptop..liquids..shoes?” He said, “no worry.” Thank you GOD! Wow, I could have brought my Coke Zero through X-ray security without a problem. I told myself just to be grateful and forget about the Coke Zero.

Last call for the flight. I asked the agent if I had time to go to the toilet. She said, “yes.” Went to the restroom and looked in the mirror. I must do something about my eyebrows. I can’t even see my eyes or my face. When I get on the plane, I’m locating my eyebrow pencil. Or, any pencil. This must be fixed ASAP.

Last one to board the plane. Two happy Bangkok Air attendants welcomed me with freshly brewed coffee, EQUAL and fruit. I exhaled. Settled into my window seat. Thank you God! You got me here.

We’re to go to Bangkok.  I have an hour lay over.  Then, I’m to jump on a plane to Krabi, Southern Thailand. I sipped my coffee. Looked out the window. Let my mind wonder. Bad idea. Mind goes to dark places. I started itemizing everything I forgot.  Time to think positive.

It’s not bad. Really. I have been needing to change out a few t-shirts. Talking about it for weeks. God’s way of pushing me to purchase. Even the night before as I was scrubbing my pastel peach t-shirt – trying to get the elephant mud out – I told myself, toss the pastels t-shirts and replace with brown or black. I will be trekking, hiking, biking and kayaking these next few months and don’t have the time or energy to scrub dirt. Dark colors wear dirt better. Besides leaving the pastel shirt, I may have gifted my J crew pants made for tall people. I’m OK with the shirt. But, replacing pants in the land of the little will be more difficult.

My mind ran through items I don’t recall touching. Bra? Hankie Pankies? No memory. Confident I touched the soaking wet bathing suit. I don’t recall touching my black, bullet proof, mini-purse I carry for day trips. Ugh. I think I tossed it in the dark corner of no lights in the hotel room.  What else was in that corner. That’s right. Postcards. Written too. I even bought stamps. The more I tried to remember the time between 5:45 am and 6:10 am, it all turned to mush. Brain is out of order. Perfect.

Think positive. Positive is the pink-now-gray bra was on its last leg anyway. Can switch to the black bra. And, since I’ll be buying a dark t-shirts, we are good. Postcards can be rewritten. Stamps are not that expensive. Bullet, terrorist purse can be substituted for a plastic 7-11 bag. And, I have been complaining about style. When I get the islands, I’ll go the market and buy some t-shirts and a long flowy skirt to go with my pink hiking boots. I’m fine. Plus, when I open my brown backpack, it will be like Christmas. “Let’s see what Amanda brought me from Chiang Mai!” It is all good. God is good.

I landed in Bangkok an hour later. Back to my home away from home. Bangkok airport. I need a shot of my addiction – a super-sized fountain drink. Head to Burger King. I forgot they sold beer. It’s 8:05 AM. No beer for me. Just my Coke Zero. Sit down at my favorite place overlooking the green park and mini-Buddhist temple cozening up next to concrete structures. A family of four walk by. The husband is carrying a pitcher of Chang beer and one mug. Mom has coffee. Kids have Burger King fries and burgers. Where are they from? And, was the flight that bad that Dad had to go solo on a pitcher of beer at 8 AM. Now, I’m curious. The majority of the people in this food court are drinking beer. One dude is drinking coffee and beer. In Bangkok, it’s stimulants and depressants before 8 AM. Got it.

In order of importance. Sugar. Depressent. Stimulant. Rehydrate.

Bangkok Airport. View from Food Court.

Go to the gate. Board a mini-plane. The airline baggage carriers are sportin’ the terrorist fashion. Whole head is covered in a black mask. This look wouldn’t go over in the states, regardless of air pollution index.

Just took off. Heart stopped again. Damn, bad karma day. The pilot said we’re going to Samui. I’m not going there. I’m going to Krabi. Am I on the wrong plane? They were laxed through security. And, Bangkok Airways gate lady did not really look at my boarding pass. I swear I went to the correct gate. My brain is so scattered right not, I could be on a flight to Ho Chi Minh City and not know it. I catch the eye of the Thai flight attendant. Smile. Just smile. I tell him I’m going to Krabi. Smile. Keep smiling.

I watch his expression. What do I see. I’m holding my breath. I can feel it. Wrong plane… He smiled. “Oh, we go to Samui first. We get off. Get next plane. Go to Krabi.” I need to repeat what he said. I’m not trusting my synapses. “What I hear you say … I get off this plane. Go to Samui airport. Wait for next plane to Krabi. Same flight number and same seat, no?”

“I go to Krabi too. You follow me…”

I exhale. Body relaxes. Thank you God. Thank you for sending me another travel angel. Yes, I’m in need of a lot help today. Need a travel angel to carry me from point A to point B… wherever that leads. My journey continues with the help of travel angels.

Land in Samui and greeted by Disney-like, colorful tram to transport us to the airport. The air is thick with humidity. I’m sweating through the layers. No matter. I’m in the islands baby. I smile. Tram man drops me off at the best airport gate in the whole wide world. Pictures have to describe it. I mean, the ladies room has an aquarium in it. Bangkok Airways offers complimentary pizza topped with can vegetables – peas, carrots and potatoes. There’s an all you can drink juice and coffee, and water bar. And a table full of complimentary cakes and coconut jellies. Love this!

I plop myself down in a chair. Taste the cold pizza. Smile. A few mins later, we’re back on the colorful tram in route to the same plane. Boarded. And, behind me sat a young German couple with a 2 year old. Little girl is NOT happy to be on the plane. Neither is the mother. We took off and she reached for a barf bag. I’ve never seen or heard anyone use a barf bag before. You are not missing anything.

About 45 mins later, the plane bumps into Krabi airport. Two hotel greeters welcome me. I don’t even know where I’m staying. They have my name on a card. I go with them. Again, they could be Armenians posing at Thai greeters wanting to sell me to an underground sex market and I would not know the difference. The more I think about it, I don’t even know the name of the hotel. Nor, do I have a brochure. I booked this two weeks ago based on price and a friend’s recommendation. I just followed them. Folded myself into the back of their recalled Toyota. Little Thai lady handed me a bottle water and cold towel. I sat back. Made it.

A hotel brochure was perched next to me. Guess it’s time to read about where I’m going, where I’m staying and where I am. The name of the hotel is Nakamanda. Wait. That is my name. Nak-Amanda. It means Sacred Sea Dragon of the Andaman Sea. This is fortuitous.

We pull up. Wow. Kari and Patrick were right. (Friends from grad school living in Singapore). It’s small. Boutique. Beautiful. My room has its own private, bodacious balcony. We’re talking chairs, couch and tile. Bathroom is the size of my car port at home. When checking-in, the owner greeted me. Served me tea and showed me around. Before, he opened NakAmanda, he was in the Seafood business. This resort was his dream.

I’m surprised this place does not cost more. I mean, this is paradise. I’m more surprised more Americans don’t travel to Thailand. It’s easy. Inexpensive for what you get. The word is “value.” Good for kids. Customer service focus. Best food ever. And, they have over 6,000 7-11s. Love Thailand! Thank you God for getting me here safely. Thank you. Thank you. And, Thank you. Tomorrow, I’m off to island hoping. But before that, I need to unpack… Let’s see where the day takes me.

Bangkok Airways. From Bangkok to Krabi.

Outfit for Bangkok Airways baggage handlers..

Airport Tram. From plane to gate.

Nak-AMANDA hotel in Krabi, Thailand

It’s Expensive to Die in Thailand

28 Nov

It’s expensive to die in Thailand.

Found out it costs major bank to die in Thailand. Who knew.

I was mounted on an elephant, being guided by a 12 year old, meandering down a muddy trail, when we stumbled upon music, laughter and smoke. I asked the soon-to-be teen elephant driver, “what’s this?” He responded, “Die. Die. Die.” I rephrased the question and the response was the same. Die? These people are partying, eating and playing. They’re not killing. It must be a funeral.

Of course, I was mortified to be that random American tourists on an elephant kicking-up dust at their funeral party. They see this a lot – a tourist on top of an elephant. But, still.  Look, I would NOT want some random out-of-towner walking through my fiesta for the dead on large animal. I mustered a smile. Nodded at them. And, pretended to be invisible riding a mammal weighing a few tons.

Much later, I asked Bae – my English speaking Thai guide – more about funerals in Thailand We had a 2 hour car ride in front of us to get back to Chiang Mai. Needed a “hot topic.” Plus, Bae’s English was very, very good.

Bae: “Guess how much Buddhist funeral costs in Thailand?”

Me: “No clue. $500 US dollars?”

Bae: “No, cost between $3,500 and $7,000 US dollars. And, if you are rich, it costs more.”

Me: “You have GOT to be kidding. For what? Is the body dipped in gold?”

Bae elaborated…

Bae: You are very funny, Ms. Aman-DA. Buddhist believe when you die, your spirit needs help. There is a lot of preparation. If you are poor, then Monk says need three days to prepare. If you are rich, need seven days or ten days. Monk come to house to tell you.

Me: What happens to the body during this time? In morgue?

Bae: No. Dead in house. In the bedroom during preparation period. On last day, dead goes to crematoria. If you are rich, you can rent space at the Buddhist temple and not put dead in bedroom. Monks charge a lot for the space.

Now, if you die in accident and not by natural causes, then the body can not come home. It must go to the Buddhist temple and the Monks charge you rent – poor or rich. Buddhist believe if you die in accident – like a motor-bike wreck, knife fight or elephant stomping – then there is bad Karma or bad spirits around you. Accidents to Buddhist mean you were not suppose to die then. A bad spirit came and got you. So, to protect the family from bad spirits, dead body goes to the temple. And, yes, Monks make money. Lot of accidents in Thailand.

Me: What happens during the three days when dead body is sitting’ in the bedroom?

Bae: During these three days, everyone from the village stop by home to show respect. You – the host of the dead – must prepare food for village when they come by house. You cook breakfast, lunch and dinner and feed all village these three days. Last day, is celebration. You pay and cook for big party for village. Pay for food. Pay Monk. Pay for whiskey and soda. Very expensive.

Stop right there. All I heard was the family of deceased has to pay for Monk time and food/drink for three days for EVERYONE in the village. And, booze costs? We’re talking about some serious cash. Thai people LOVE to party and drink.

Me: “Wait. You mean to tell me the family has to pay for everything? What if they are poor? What if they have no money for monks or whiskey?”

Bae: “You find a way. Our culture is about respect. Saving face. We don’t question Buddhist belief systems. Or, how things are done. It’s about respecting the dead, monks and tradition. You find a way. My mother-in-law died. We had to pay over $6,000 US dollar for food, drink and Monk ceremony. This is a lot for Thai person. Costs more than a car and two motor-bikes.”

Me: “My God. It’s expensive to die in Thailand.

I mean, in the states, weddings are a big business with feeding and liquoring up the masses. Funerals? Not a big business….yet… It could be because we Christians and non-Christians bury the dead in one day. And, getting married can be a two night, three day affair – excluding honeymoon and the pre-prep costs. Weddings, not funerals, are big business.

For funerals, a family spends dough on the church, casket/cremation, plot, flowers, hired cars… And, because the family is in a state of grief, its the neighbors, friends, church ladies or relatives are the ones who prepare the food for the gathering after the funeral. This is a time for people to support the family, not gouge them. Seriously Don’t die in Thailand”

Bae: “Very different in Thailand. Monks need money. Family needs merit. Very different.”

Now, here we get into the real discussion. Bae broke Thai funeral down day by day. After listening to him, I was exhausted and figured you need a second job when there’s a death in the family.

Day 1:

Body comes home. Dead rests in bedroom. Feeding the village is contingent on when dead body arrives. Dead arrives before lunch, the host family must serve lunch and dinner on Day 1. After lunch, we’re talking dinner only. No whiskey or sodas are offered, yet.

Around 8 pm you get a knock on the door. Monks (PLURAL) arrive for prayers and to perform ceremonies. The number of monks is based on your pocket book. Expect Monks to come in odd numbers. “One” is not odd. So, minimal, you’re looking at three Monks in orange robes. If you are rich, expect more like five to eleven….

Monk performs ceremony in San-script for host family and relatives. No clue what the Monks are saying in ceremony. They do remind the host family about the five main precepts (rules) in the Buddhism practiced in Thailand. If you follow them, then you will be closer to enlightenment and not be reincarnated into a rabid dog.

  1. Don’t kill humans or animals.
  2. Don’t steal.
  3. Don’t lie.
  4. Don’t commit adultery.
  5. Don’t drink.

Don’t drink? We will come back to that one later. Bae said when the Monks get to #5, everyone in the room puts their head down for they all either drunk or intend to be drunk in a matter of hours.

After the ceremony, the host family pays Monks $$ for merit. Merit is an uncommon word for me. I found out merit is what you earn for doing “good” deeds. So, when you die and the “universe” is deciding your next life form the more merit – good deeds – you stacked up in this life, the higher likelihood you’ll be reincarnated into a 7-11 franchise owner instead of a elephant taking around tourists. I’m sooooo overly simplifying all of this.

Point here is that the host family is buying merit – or a hall pass – for themselves and for the dead peacefully resting in the bedroom. When Bae was telling me about how each night the family needs to offer money to the Buddhist Monks for merit, Luther sprang to my head for Catholics tried to pull the same thing. Martin Luther, a catholic monk, criticized the Pope for pardoning people in exchange for money. Luther believed it was wrong for the church to earn money by selling forgiveness or pardons, instead of praying to God and asking for forgiveness. Long story short, after the scuttle between Luther and the Pope, a new denomination was founded – Say hello to protestantism.

And, once again, I find it entertaining how man is so uninvented when it comes to swindling money in the name of God. It’s the same story, different century. Get creative people…

Day 2

Host family of dead prepare breakfast, lunch and dinner for entire village.

Monks come by again for the same ceremony. Underscoring the same FIVE precepts.

Host family still drinks.

Monks get the same money. Host family gets the same merit.

Dead body still in the bedroom. Host family lights incense

Day 3

Big spending day for the host family. They prepare breakfast, lunch, dinner and booze.

Monk(s) must eat before noon. It is a Monk rule that they can not chew anything after the noon hour. No gum. Nothing. Only liquids. So, the monks must be fed between 11:00 – noon.

Monks eat first.

Villagers eat after.

Monks kick off ceremony after everyone, including the dogs and water buffalo, are fed.

Host family says some simple words. This all take place at the home.

If host family has a son of a young age, watch out on Day 3. The monks require the son to shave its head – regardless if they have a future in the monk-hood – and put on an Orange sheet. The son is considered a Monk novice on this day. Little novice goes with the Monks and takes dead from bedroom and places him/her in a coffin.

Monks and novice boy are draped in orange and pull the the coffin down the road to the crematoria. (Yes, they use cars too). It is believed the color orange helps lead the dead spirit to “it” or Buddha. They don’t believe in heaven, so I’m not sure where their highway is taking them.

Next stop. Crematorium. They cremate bodies in Buddhism. There’s another ceremony, meaning coughing off more $$ to the Monks. This is your last chance for one more photo with the dead. The crematorium charges extra for pictures.

The monks do another ceremony for merit. Again, charging you more. They wheel the dead to the fire. The crematoria charges for burning. Meanwhile, it’s time to light the fireworks and get the village party started. Villagers are waiting at a park, home or central location for you to feed them and booze them. Fireworks cost a lot too. Monks are the only ones allowed to light the fireworks. It can run you around $100 to $500 US dollars. If you are rich, expect to pay the Monks more.

Next, host family provides the holy water for the monks and the crematoria. They do NOT want any evil spirits from the cremation to follow them back home. Monks charge for the holy water too. Monks do another ritual.

Next on dock is  The Part-ay. Everyone in the village comes. You are expected to pay for it all. We’re talking 50 to 500 people, if not more. If you are considered wealthy, then randoms will show up too. It’s a booze fest. Music. Food. Party… It goes late into the night. All you can drink Whiskey.

Day 4

Host family is hung over.

Day 5

Host family goes to the crematoria and pick up the ashes. Time to blast these babies into the spirit world. No joke. The monks come. Perform a ceremony. They charge you for it.

Monks put the ashes, some coins and GUN POWDER into a bottle and light it. Blast it into space. They want these ashes to get to “it” ASAP. They don’t want the spirit to get distracted. It is in everyone’s best interest to make sure dead makes it to “it.” Can’t have him/her linger around.

Day 6

You are poor.

Monks stop by to be paid.

You need much more than merit. You need a new job.

Moral here. Don’t die in Thailand.

Bikes. Elephants. Rafting. Orchids. Military. Chiang Mai, Thailand

27 Nov

I had to get out of my hotel room. Out of my head. I’ve been in the glorious Chedi Hotel in Chaing Mai for two days now editing China. It’s consuming. And, I believing biking, white water rafting and elephant riding are in order.

I called  my new BFFers at a local travel agent for Asia. The day prior I scared the shit out of their Chiang Mai office by knocking on their door. That’s right. I went to their physical location. Apparently, people don’t go to the office. They only email. American girl does not email when wanting information about travel and transport in communist countries.

I hired a Tuk Tuk to take me to their offices. Off I went in a Hello Kitty motor-bike with a covered seat. The Tuk Tuk driver dropped me off at someone’s house insisting it was an office. I thought, “fine. I’ll knock.” Got out of Tuk Tuk and she raced off. I knocked on the door. Two young women peered out. I peered at them. Smiled. And, said, “I need travel help…”

Thirty mins later, after my face to face with them, I’m emailing my travel ideas. Looks like the Chiang Mai office is for operations only. Hey, website did NOT say that. I gave them something to talk about for the day… But, they did help me with a day bike trip exploring Chiang Mai.

My tour guide picked me up at 8 am and we’re off. My tour guide’s name is Bae. It is short for a very long Thai name. Bae was on fire. He’s highly irritated with his government, royal family, military, corruption, education, health… you name it, he’s mad.

I told him “Welcome to America… We’re all mad too…” I have not found one Thai who would speak the truth on how they feel about their government. Not one. So, I was surprised at his spewing. Taken back actually. And, I LOVE talking politics and learning about other country’s governments.  It says so much about the energy of the people.  And, his rage was another birthday present. Yes, I’m still celebrating my birthday a month later.

In my opinion – and take this with a grain of salt for I only rested my head in this beautiful country for a few weeks and I’m NO expert – Thailand could implode economically or politically in the forseable future.  I’m not talking Chinese future, like 1,000 years.  I’m talking US future, like 2 to 8 years.

Why? Well you have two old farts running the country. The King and the Military General are in their 80s…  on their last leg.  So, what the Thai people are up against is the elite ruling from a place of fear….  It’s your typical fear — Fear of change.  Fear of their legacy. Fear of being found out.  When one manages and leads from a place of fear, then expect the worst.  And, we all know what that is like for we have had bosses who use fear to motivate, lead and direct their employees.  Not a happy place to spend 8 to 10 hours a day.   So, in my pee-size brain opinion, Thailand is a ticking tomb bomb.

According to Bae, this mess started about six years ago. And, it’s complicated and simple in one breath. The Prime Minister at the time – forgot his name – was from Northern Thailand. Smart man. Business man. Studied in the states. Made a lot of money in Thailand. Owned the largest telecoms business. I believe he brought wireless mobile phones to Thailand.

He ran for Prime Minister. Overwhelming majority. The country was progressing. He invested in infrastructure, education, tourism and business.

Goal was to open up Thailand. And, it was working. More business was coming in. Tourist flooded in. Thailand was moving. Then, the opposition started asking more and more questions about his business dealings. The kick-backs. Bae, my tour guide, went in detail, which I don’t recall now. In essence, the Prime Minister was getting $$ under the table. But, it could not be proven. His supporters do not believe it is true.   He said he would sell his business to avoid future conflict. And, he ended up selling the largest Telecoms/wireless company in Thailand to a S. Korean company or to another government.  Details escape me…

At any rate, the Thai people could not believe that a foreigners owns their Telecoms company. Found this disrespectful. It became a scandal. The opposition and military said they were going to arrest him for corruption.

New elections were held. And, he fled for the new party in control wanted to arrest and try him. His wife is still in Thailand.  Now, the Northern Thailand political contingency and the poor call themselves the RED Shirts. It’s all about the color shirt you wear in Thailand. Either you’re a Red Shirt or a Yellow Shirt. They keep it simple in Thailand.

This was six or so years ago. The new government came to power. Military backing. This new Prime Minister is just a puppet for the military. There was a quote in the Bangkok Post that said he is just a pretty face. The military has grown stronger and stronger. Their goal is to wipe out any opposition and try the old Prime Minister. They want old Prime Minster to go to jail, thinking if they show he’s corrupt – unlike them – then his followers will join their side. Easy Breezy. Cover Girl.

The military has been suppressing freedom of speech and freedom of assembly for the last few years.

The Red Shirts had enough. In 2009, they protested against the military (governments) policy. And, riots broke out. Military came in and with their big, bad guns. CNN aired the riots. So, the world thought these people were hooligans. US State Department posted travel warnings. I read some place that almost 100 people died in the riots and over 2000 were injured. After that, the military went crazy. Shut down everything. They shut down TVs, newspapers, blogs – anything against the government. The World Press Freedom Association downgraded Thailand to 153 on their list, below Democratic Republic of Congo and Palestine. Hello, Houston, we have a problem??? Democracy to military dictatorship in a matter of days. Though, Thailand still calls herself a democracy. Another example of using the wrong word to describe a government. Communism in China. Democracy in Thailand.  Both get the ax in Websters.

Oh, after these riots, the King Bhumibol Adulgadij – longest reigning King in Thai’s history and the world – had a nervous breakdown. Couldn’t deal. Guy is 83+. Broke him that people might be a wee bit upset. He has been in the “hospital” since 2009. When Thai’s say the word “hospital” their voices convey doubt. So, the military, in essence, is running the country.

Let me give you some perspective. Right now, a Thai Editor for a newspaper/blog is facing 70 years in prison for remarks she made about the monarchy. The government claims she breached some computer law and Thailand’s majestic legislation, prohibiting criticism of the royal family. Can you imagine the US pulling that one? What would Glen Beck and Morning Joe talk about? All the advertising dollars lost because NO ONE can speak ill of Obama, Palin, Biden, Bush or Clinton.  Again, raise a glass to our country! Thank GOD we have freedom to rant and rave.

Back to editor. So, I read that ANY Thai can make an accusation of insulting the monarchy and the police MUST investigate. You are guilty until they prove you innocent. When I was in Bangkok, the UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon came for a visit. The Army Chief had some fab quotes in the Bangkok Post. He told the “bad people and outlaws” not to rally. Not to embarrass Thailand. See if our local police, or Obama for that matter, could get by with quotes like this…

Army Chief  quoted in the paper…

“Do what civilized people do….They must NOT show up in masses or cause trouble before the eyes of foreigners. I think that is embarrassing.”

“There are two groups of Thai people: the good and the bad, normal people and outlaws. The bad and outlaws must be prosecuted, no matter what they do, and they can later defend themselves by legal means.”

“Young kids should not protest. You should not do that. If you do not know, you can ask your parents.”

“All people, from their grandparents’ generation down have been blessed by the royal institution. From past to present, Thailand has existed thanks to the royal institution. So no matter what the political expression, do not involve the royal institution.”

Bae talked in length about the government corruption. They take bribes. Take the people’s money. Once again, there is no social safety net. The outsiders think Thailand is an nice place. To travel, yes. For freedom. To raise a family, no. Bae was raised on a farm. He was the youngest and was in charge of feeding the water buffalo every morning and harvesting rice. He came from a very poor family. I asked him how he learned English? How he broke out of poverty?

Summary of Bae’s story: “I have three sisters and two brothers. I was the youngest. My father was a farmer. We grew tobacco, rice, corn, vegetables to sell in the market and to feed our family. I did not want to be a farmer. Very hard life. I went to primary school. Did not graduate from high school because my father said we could not afford college. He told me I must become a farmer.

My sister worked in Bangkok. She worked in a bar. Served drinks to foreigners. I went to live with her. I was 16. I learned to make drinks and worked in a bar. I worked all night. My sister said I must learn English to get a better job. There was an English school down the street. She made me go. I was so tired. I worked until 3 am. And, had to be at English school at 8 AM. I would study English until 2:00 pm. And, start work at 4 pm. Other students dropped out. I was the only one that stayed. I studied English for three years. Worked in a bar. And, practiced my English with foreigners. Always practicing.

I worked at the bar for many years. My other sister was working at a travel agency. She helped with reservations. They needed English speaking guides to answer tourists questions. My sister gave me the job. I went to tourism school. You have to be trained and certified to be a guide in Thailand. I took classes for two years. Passed the test and became a guide. I know everything about Thailand. I love my job.

I’m married. Have two daughters. My wife works as an accountant. I have two Labradors. I jog with them everyday. And, very happy that my sister made me learn English. I have a good life. I’m not a farmer…”

Of course, tears welded up in my eyes from the backseat. I love his story – story of perseverance, faith, struggling and overcoming GREAT odds. And, he had the support of his family. Love Bae.

We biked through the countryside. We stopped at a rice house. I really don’t know what they call it, but I’m calling it a rice house. A woman about 70 was cleaning the rice with a machine that costs $4,000 US. It’s old. Rusted. And, amazing.

Farmers bring her their rice. She puts it through the grinder. It takes off the brown stalk. Cleans the little rice, turning it to white, and dumps into a 20 kilo bag.   There is NO bleached or random products applied to turn rice white.  For whatever reason, I thought that was the case.  White rice is natural.  And, there a billion-and-one types of white rice…

Back to rice lady.  She charges $1 to clean (take mini-stalks off each rice grain) one 20 kilo bag of rice. Dumbfounded. She needs to charge MORE. She said, she can’t because the farmers would get mad. Mad, who cares. Again, it gives me a greater appreciation of rice.

Next, we stopped at a random shack. It started to rain, of course. When I was in Thailand, they were experiencing the worst floods in 50+ years. Nice.  A family of six were sitting in their house with no doors cutting up marigold yellow flowers. They were going to sell the pedals in the market. People will buy and make it into tea or  wreaths for the dead or Buddha.

They had a small radio playing Thai music in the background to keep them going. They will make $4 for all their work, if that. The family seemed very joyful. Happy to be together. They offered us tea. Out of dirty glasses.  We drank.  Sat.  Talked.  Even the men joined in the conversation, which was unique for they are the ones that sit back in a corner and stare at foreigners with distrust.  I tried my hand at cutting too.  Didn’t work out so well — Cutting pedals with a dull knife  and bike helmet is HARD work.

As we trekked on, the roads became more and more muddy. Our next stop was the elephant farm. This is a “must do” in Thailand. My elephant was PMSing or something.   She growled.

I did NOT think elephants growled. She got really pissed at the teen who was sitting on her head making her move. He would talk, cluck and them hit her. When he used the stick, she growled. I tapped in the shoulder and waved my finger – “Don’t do that… No hit.” I felt better. We walked a mile, which took a good hour. Very slow. And, it was raining. I was over the elephant ride about 4 mins into it. Check to box on riding an elephant in Thailand…

Next on the docket was white water rafting down a polluted river. I love rafting. Right up my ally. We loaded up and off we went.  I asked what “class” river this was.  And, they did not know.  They said, “fast because of the floods.  A lot of water.  A lot of rocks.  A lot of  fun.”  Got it….

We hit the first rapid and Bae, my guide, flipped out. I mean, flipped out of the boat.  Yea, it’s fast and rough all right.   Bae landed in water that was teaming with sewage and other random particles I learned in chemistry.  Glad it was him, not me. No skin disease today please.

After white water rafting, we biked to an orchid farm. As we biked, he vented more. He was linking military life with monastery life.   According to him, both were the same. Really?

The monastery is for lazy boys or poor kids, according to Bae. People really don’t have a “calling” to be a monk, per se. At least, I did not hear it. If a family can’t support a child or the child is not that motivated, the family sends him to a monastery.

Everything is free for the boy. Free food. Free housing. Free orange robe. Free education. Free. The poor see this is an insurance policy. The boy spends nine years in the monastery. I asked about what the kids learn. I mean, this education is “free” but what are the filling their brains with?

He said 80% is Buddhism. 20% is math, science, Thailand history/culture. And, they are starting to teach them English. That is good. When the boy is around 20, there is a ceremony. He “graduates” into monk-hood. He has learned his 227+ rules. Remember, the plebs or commoners only have 5 rules. Monk have a few more. Their Buddhism they practice is from India – so it is very restricting. Bae said around this time is when the Monks leave to go into the military, go to university, find a job or get married. He said about 95% of kids who graduate from the monastery leave. But, they leave armed with knowledge.

The Thai military is compulsory for all Thai boys. But, there are some rules there too.

You have to be over 160 cm (not short), be built, have good coordination and not be a Lady Boy. What is a Lady Boy? Google it. I beg you. Then, you will understand why Thai Lady Boys are not permitted in the military. The govt has a supply and demand issue. More and more boys are voluntarily enrolling in the military after university or later in life. They see it as job security. Especially, given the Thai economy. So, there is a large chance that you will not have to serve time in the military right after high school or college. In other words, the military is full.

If you do serve time, then your life will ONLY be complete if you also do time at the local monastery. Boys are encouraged to enter into a monastery for 3 months or 15 days to learn more about Buddhism. The story goes, once they do military and monastery time, there life is complete. That is all it takes for a male in Thailand. A little M&M – military and monastery – then you’re good to go.

We ride up to the orchid farm. All I can think about is my stepmother Dewease and my Mom. They would DIE. I mean this is orchid heaven. I took a zillion pictures to share with them when I return. Amazing. The grow and export these babies all over the world.

Bae was a gift. His rants, raves and remarks made me curious. And, opened my eyes to another Thailand. I could tell he was unconformable sharing all of this when we parted. He apologized. I told him I LOVED every minute of it and gave him a nice tip. Thank you Bae for your honesty!

Just a Crying. Chiang Mai, Thailand

27 Nov

In Northern Thailand. Just flew into to Chiang Mai from Bangkok. Booked a room at the Tamarind Village Hotel. Love my little room. Love Thailand’s design and architecture.

Well, I’m in bed.  And, crying.  Actually, bawling. Can’t stop crying and laughing.

I have not seen a movie since July. Embarrassed to admit this. The movie causing my eyes and nose to inflate is The Proposal with Sandra Bullock and the male actor – forgot his name…You know the one… The hottie married to Scarlet someone.

Anyway, the movie’s is a COMEDY! I’m crying to a comedy. But, you don’t understand. These people are clean. Their white shirts, are truly white. There are no dust bunnies flying across the room. And, their movie-family seems like so much fun. Oh, this movie makes me miss my family. I’m feeling homesick. For my family. For my friends. For my dog (not cat). For EQUAL. For a fridge full of FRESCA. For clothes hangers. For an iron. For Ziploc bags. For bleach. For new undergarments…. I’ve been washing my bras, underwear and t-shirts in the sink since July. You can only imagine. So, yes, I’m bawling.

Turned on my computer to write about it. Why not. This will be a different type of blog. No talk of politics, religion or economics. But, just emotions. Tears. Am I really crying to The Proposal?   This is starting to scare me…

Trying to think back to the last time I bawled. Can’t remember. It feels good to cry. Not sure if the source is homesickness or sheer exhaustion. If I’m really going deep. Ask the question of what is triggering this. I need to mute the TV. Close my eyes. And, write the first thing that pops in mind. OK. Here it goes. I really don’t want to do it because I know this scene – it’s funny. OK. Focus. I will turn the TV on mute. What do I hear?

“God is breaking me again.”

Great. Great. Great. Fab-u-los-a. My question back is… are we talking about a rebuild or remodel job? I pray we’re talking about a few new additions to the soul. A total rebuild is just too painful. And, I don’t have time for a rebuild. I can with some new additions though… I know this feeling for God shredded me while living in Honduras working with street kids. Shredded me to pieces and had to start from scratch. That was an intense project for Him. And, I did not willingly oblige to the process either.

Yea. TV still on mute. So, this pain. This crying. What is it. It is reminiscent of Honduras shredding, yet different too. I’m not living for a year in a country where despondency, desperation and depravity are the norm. No, I’m moving through places glimpsing noxious despair and surprising hope not from one country, but from multitude of people. I believe that’s the difference. Places are not remodeling me. It’s the world’s people with their hammers, nails and measuring tapes building new additions for them to settle into my soul. Unfortunately, I’m not privy to their plans – size, shape and function. I do wonder what will these new additions hold? And, what does it hold for me? It truly excites and scares me. Yea, more excited than anything. Bring it on… Build it baby! OK. Stopped crying.

I look at the movie again. Watch it for 20 mins. I truly am embarrassed I’m crying to The Proposal. I hope Sandra Bullock never finds out. The next thing that pops to mind is how I’m going to talk about this journey. Friends back home assume it’s about running away, finding a husband or finding me. Survey says, “XXX.” (XXX is from Family Feud not a porn shop…)

For better or worse, I know me. I’ve been traveling with me for 39 years. It’s more about knowing others. Seeking their ideas. Probing their thoughts. Understanding their culture. Respecting their way of life. And, figuring out a way to communicate it back to the world that we’re all very similar. Souls do not discriminate. We do. And, all of us are trying to navigate through the ups and downs of this unfair, discriminating world. Now, how do you sum that up at 2 for 1 Happy Hour at Hooters? I think I’m going to cry again…

OK. Took a break from writing to finish the movie. Now, a Drew Barrymore and the star who overdosed on meds movie is on. I think it is about Boys Driving in Cars. Not a good flick. But, I’m crying again. Why? This move is about friendship. I now miss my friends. Damn, I have a lot of emotions pent up inside. If I was traveling with a boy, they would be reaching for the Jack Daniels and a gun right about now. It makes me laugh. One thing that sucks about all this crying is my eyes will be super puffy tomorrow. No matter. I don’t know ANYONE in Thailand. So, we’re good there. Thai’s will just think, “Oh, your typical puffy American…”

Speaking of tomorrow, I check out of the Tamarind Hotel and have upgraded to a five star for a reduced price. It’s interesting because Bangkok has reported massive flooding in Northern Thailand. It hasn’t rained here for days, but tourists are canceling their trips. Good thing I’m here – ripe and ready – to take advantage of weather gone wrong. YEA! This means, I need to pack. Hate packing. I’ve been leaving stuff behind at the hostels, hotels and rest stops. Did toss the Naturalizer flats. Exchanged them for a pair of Chinese-made, look-a-like Todds loafers. The lady put a match to the loafers to ensure “its real leather.” Could care less. I was only going to pay $15 – real or fake.

OK. That is all I’m going to write now. I can go on and on about this random crying. But, it’s ran its course. Drew Berrymore’s character just found out she is prego. I’m starting to like this movie..

Sorting it out in Chiang Mai, Thailand

28 Oct

The Chedi Hotel in Chiang Mai. My resting retreat.

I’ve decided.  If I every make a long term living in writing or doing something awe-inspiring, life changing and highly meaningful –  I will negotiate in my contract… must be around clean, pristine architecture to inspire creativity and brain cells.

I’ve decided I write and edit best in a places with clean lines, hard wood floors (no carpet),  over-sized tubs, 7-foot shower heads, ironed sheets, white comforters with snazzy red pillows, crisp robes, firm and mushy king-size pillows, balconies with reclining couches, near any body of water, proximity to a spa, full breakfast buffet, freshly brewed coffee with whole milk, plethora of tall trees, lotus flowers  and featured in some Architecture magazine… It’s the little things that inspire “us” creatives…

My room. View from bathroom.

Checked into The Hotel Chedi in Chiag Mai, Thailand to edit/write about China and Bhutan.  As you can see, LOVING it…  Went from bunk beds and zero stars to five star overnight.  The hotel is having a special due to the recent floods sweeping Bangkok and Northern Thailand.  But, guess what.  There’s no rain. No flood.  And, no one is here.  Five star hotel for $99 – free buffet and buy one get one free massage.  Sign me up.  I even have a butler who checks on me WAY too much.  He probably thinks I’m a sloth since all I wear is a robe and slippers.  Not complaining.  He comes to refill my Equal, water, coffee, tea and milk.  Yes, that’s right, FREE whole milk in the mini-bar.  Went tot he 7-11 yesterday and bought some coco-puffs to go with my rich, creamy milk.  Midnight snack…

Been editing my super blog.  Damn, I write too much.  Verbal vomit.  What to post.  What do you want to know about is the question.  Every single day there is an inspiring story to make you smile or cry.

So, I’m doing the “I hate talking and need to be in a cave” thing in order to process, reflect and write.  I’m half way through my journey.  SHIT.  It’s moving all to fast.  Freaking out.  Everyday is such a gift – even on those days where I’m lost, poor, dirty, inconvenienced, annoyed and…..

Cave dwelling by night.

I had a revelation the other day…I actually really, really like traveling with me.  Sounds sooooo strange…. Yea, there are days where my indecisiveness, impatience and leaving behind important items like my Gillette razor, Velcro rollers, bang cuttin’ scissors, underwear, zip-lock bags, SPF zinc-oxide, adapter, maps does escalate the annoyance factor.  Issue there is I have NO one to blame but me — which super sucks because a perk traveling with others is you are privy to playing the “blame” game.

But overall, I enjoy traveling with me.  Again, this sounds strange.  Talk about how strange it is to write it… But, I’ve met people who have asked “how can you be by yourself for so long… I couldn’t do what you are doing.. I would get bored.. I don’t like being by myself… how can you stand being alone…”

There is a difference between being alone and lonely.  I enjoy my alone time.  I like me.  But, when the black shadow of loneliness creeps in, well…that is a DIFFERENT story.  I learned the difference of the two while living in an orphanage in Honduras.  Never felt so lonely among so many people as I did while living in Honduras.  Loneliness can break your soul. It broke mine.

Enough of that deep crap.  I just wanted to write a quick blog about this beautiful place.  And, my fantasy of writing …aka…”what am I going to be when I grow up” matter at hand.  Tell you one thing — “I ain’t no editor.”  My sister keeps calling me out on grammar and spelling, and she is dyslexic and as all the acronym issues — ADD, ADAAYH, ADAH, AA..AAA… So, I do apologize.  I will one day read this and probably hurl with all the conjunction..conjunction… conjunction what’s your function mistakes..

Yea, I’m inspired here.  I guess, once you go clean, crisp and creative — you won’t go back to clutter and confusion.   Just say no to writing on bunk beds in rail cars traversing across Siberia.

Oh, if anyone has any ideas as to what I should “do” when I grow up.   We’re talking about March 2011.  I’m ears.  You can always email me at Aday1010@gmail.com.  I probably should put my email address on my blog someplace.  Need to figure that out.. Now, on to posting the blogs.  Have a wild ride…

Cave dwelling by night.

Cave dwelling by day.  Lobby of hotel.