Friday, April 6, 2012

Update and THAILAND!

Hi friends and family,

Writing March 19th, 2011:

It's been a while! We've been keeping busy, and now are resting at the top of the World. We had our first sighting of Everest today! It was pretty exciting since we have been hiking for 9 days at high elevation from early morning to evening. We started our trek or hike as we say in the U.S. in Shivalaya and finally made our way to Namche Bazaar. If you're not familiar, you should google map our trek. Pretty crazy stuff, but really beautiful. We have many photos, but sadly Jonah did not think we would have a good internet connection. Who knew you could find nice computers and even wifi at one of the remotest and literally highest posts of the World? So photos will come later. Before I get ahead of myself with the Himalayan adventures, we'd like to update y'all on our adventures through Thailand. It's nice to go through things in chronological order :))

Our last blog post ended at Auroville. So much has happened since then!

Writing April 4th, 2011:

Whitney: We are in Pokhara, Nepal about a 6 hours bus ride west of Kathmandu. Pokhara is a lovely place situated on the Phewa Lake, Nepal's second largest lake. Its calm and quiet here with many nice restaurants, and tourist friendly streets, which come as a relief to us, it seems like a good time to relax and process the last 7 months of traveling.Nepal and Thailand have been stunning.

The flight to Thailand was shorter than I had imagined, and before we knew it we had flown from South India to Chiang Mai, a very different locale indeed. There may not be two more different parts of Asia for us to see such a contrast. The poverty and low standards of living in South India were starkly contrasted with Thailand. I was in ecstasy the first time we looked at the bathroom in our guesthouse. "You mean there are hot water heaters in every bathroom?? Hot shower?? For free?!!" And then there is the food... Oh the Thai food! Heavenly coconut Tom Ka soup, young green coconut juice, mango STICKY RICE! And, to top it off, the streets were clean, the ice cubes were edible, I could have ICE! AND in Chiang Mai there are cheap thai massage venues on every street, and I do mean every street. So, Thailand was every bit it's own culture shock for us. I liked it, I loved it. And yet, now that we are in Nepal, somewhat similar to Indian culture in many ways, Thailand feels like a dream. Almost as though I can't believe we were there, in the chilled out tropics, for a whole month. Yes, we were, and are, blessed.

We arrived in Chiang Mai the day before the annual flower festival, which is also one of the largest Orchid flower festivals in the World! We saw the parade, complete with Thai beauty pageant, and strolled amongst the orchid prize stands. Tiny tiny orchids the size of which could fit in a two year olds palm, and massive blooms the size of my face, all the different shapes and colors I had never even imagined existed in flowers, and they were right there about 10 blocks from our guesthouse. The royal Flora gardens were a strange place to wander on one of our day trips. Like a theme park without rides, and frankly without many nice flowers. They had sections that were supposed to represent some different countries of the World and their unique flora, but it was poorly done, and the one for Canada was so funny because they were selling waffles with syrup of all things. Random. Some things we did like about the Royal Flora park was it's weird light show at the end of the night, it's semi-believable "Go Green" theme, and the giant paper lanterns we sent off into the twinkling night sky at the end.

Chiang Mai was a nice place to spend a week, and I (Whitney) was able to recover from a nasty lung infection alla South India. While in Chiang Mai Jonah and I were able to do some much needed research on the rest of our Thailand trip possibilities. We decided to head North to Chiang Dao and do our second trek of our trip. Chiang Dao mountain is the third highest in Thailand, and we heard from many people that you should only go if you will be camping, and that a guide and porter are highly recommended. We thought camping was a fun idea, but we wanted to save some money by doing it ourselves. We arrived in Chiang Dao area and found a great guesthouse away from the small town. There we met a young couple, one local Thai woman and her German husband baker, they were really amazing and helpful. They encouraged us to go it alone, rented us a tent, and later helped us find some less expensive Thai islands to go to.

First though, we heard there was a music festival going on nearby called "Shambhala in the heart," which ended up being a very interesting time. Jonah and I spent our second night at the festival, camping amongst a hundred or so Japanese hippies, many of whom were sleeping in giant tepees. That night we also witnessed our first ever all Japanese boy-band salsa group... Very very strange! Chiang Dao was full of surprises. The following day we left the hazy festival for Chiang Dao mountain, which is far outside the town so we ended up renting a motorcycle and driving through the jungle landscape to the park ranger station. There we were issued permits and started our ascent on the steepest road Jonah or I have ever ridden on, and this was with both our backpacks and tent on! Jonah gripping the handle bars with the weight of me, our backpacks, the tent, and the force of gravity all hanging onto him. It was absolutely un-real how steep this road lined with Banana trees and tropical flora was. Where were we going? Would we even make it? We were off the beaten track most definitely. We made it... fwewww... Annnd we found a place to leave our motorcycle for a couple of days, by divine grace a big party was pulling into a village house somewhat near to the trail and were amiable enough to let us leave it in their lot. We re-stocked on water for the trek, as the days were really heating up around that region, and we set off on our trek a little later than we had planned, around 1PM. The hottest part of the day was probably not the best time to set out, but we had underestimated the amount of driving time necessary. All we set out with information wise was a tiny overhead map on my iPod, and the words "when you come to the signs in Thai, always go left." The first day we really had no idea how long we would have to walk in order to reach the campsite, as the only information online was given by an expert trekker, a very fast expert trekker. And so we set out and hastened our steps. At this point neither Jonah nor I had done much trekking for a while so we weren't in the best of shape, but the lowering sun on the horizon kept us moving. We reached the first camp site around 4:30PM, though we didn't know until the next day that it was only the first of many sites we could have camped at... woopsies. We passed through huge bamboo groves, a large field of wild banana trees, tall grasses, and large trees dotted the hillsides. It was beautiful. The bird-songs were amazing, and we saw no-one, which was great! And a little scary too. Were we alone in the jungle wilderness? The night was really cold, but the stars that came out so clearly made it all worth it. The next day we summited Chiang Dao, and sheepishly walked passed many other campsites in use by Europeans with guides and porters. They were a little surprised to see us "wanderers" in them parts alone, but the guides were impressed by our ability to get that far, so one took sympathy and told us the right trail to take to the top, which was really the only confusing bit of the trek. The views from the top were AMAZING! We took many photos which I will upload at a later time. All in all, we highly recommend doing this trek, and taking a recorder with you to remember the birdsong later.

We made it back to the village and left for Pai within two days. Pai was just a place we were passing through to reach the Burmese border villages however, and besides being a very touristy hippy sort of place one could relax in, we don't have much to tell about it. We left Pai for Mae Hong Son via a tiny tourist van, and the windiest road that we have ever ever been on! In Mae Hong Son Jonah even bought a T-Shirt which describes the turns in number which one takes on the journey between the two locations. I almost threw up... And I don't get car sick... Susan, you would've been outa luck! Mae Hong Son was very nice, and even now there is something I miss about it. It was very Asian, in the way that we slept in rooms with thin bamboo walls, with windows overlooking a very beautiful park in front of a lake, in front of a buddhist temple. Each afternoon the park would fill with ladies of all ages who would perform some traditional Qigong moves to a very old recording of Chinese music with a squeaky eeky voice which would eep out the directions. I even saw a few women wearing mumus and hair curlers! So cute! After dusk would fall a couple of young Thai Indie singers would strum guitar and sing "Sawasdee Kap! Sawasdee Ka...." in front of the temple, and a large night market would start up along the main roads of the town.

We liked Mae Hong Son very much, but were determined to make it to Mae Sot, or "little Burma." Annnnd to get to Mae sot, from Mae Hong Son you have to take the red pickup truck taxi called  "Songthaew," whih is an adventure in itself, as the trip takes about 6 hours. Honestly though, it wasn't so bad. We enjoyed seeing the locals, the villagers with their vegetables and giant bags piling up in the back of the truck. We had bench seats to sit on, and smiled when the new people would jump on and the others would jump off. It seemed we were the only tourist types to travel that way for a long time, and we liked that. We passed the Burmese refugee camps at one point and saw how the simple huts were crammed together for miles on end. There must have been thousands living there from the number of roofs we saw spanning the distance. That really brought it home for us. In Chiang Mai we had seen the movie "The Lady" which happened to be about the situation in Burma and Aung San Suu Kyi, who was and now is again (yay!) the rightfully and Democratically elected leader of Burma. It's now one of my favorite movies, and I recommend it to everyone! The best thing about that movie is that it is hopeful, not tragic, and what's best is that between the time we saw it in Chiang Mai, and now, Aung San Suu Kyi has been re-elected and is now assuming power in Burma! This is a great article from CBS on the issue if you want to read more, and here's a nice snippet from it I liked:

"The former junta had kept Suu Kyi imprisoned in her lakeside home for the better part of two decades. When she was finally released in late 2010, just after a general election that was deemed by most as neither free nor fair, few could have imagined she would so quickly make the leap from democracy advocate to elected official — opening the way for a potential presidential run in 2015.

But Burma has changed dramatically over that time. The junta finally ceded power last year, and although many of its leaders merely swapped their military uniforms for civilian suits, they went on to stun even their staunchest critics by releasing political prisoners, signing cease-fires with rebels, relaxing press censorship and opening a direct dialogue with Suu Kyi, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 while under house arrest."

So at the time we decided not to go into Burma because we didn't want to support the military regime, but now if we went back, I think we might consider going to visit. We are both hoping and praying that she will win the Presidential election of 2015!!

We left Mae Sot and traveled for the first time to the mega city of Bangkok via VIP overnight bus, which is quite the opposite experience from Indian local! Can you say thank Goddess there's a bathroom on board?!! Yes!

Jonah: In BKK we certainly felt the bustle of a BIG city. Pushed our way through the tourist packed street of Khao San road, ate our fill at the kings old chefs restaurant, felt the culture shock of Bangkok's mega million dollar malls, watched a Hollywood movie in a massive/plush movie theater.

The Islands were wonderful! The first we went to was little Koh Chang, a recommendation by a lovely German man and his Thai wife, two bakers we met in Chiang Dao when we hiked Chiang Dao Mt. and stayed at their families Guest House. The Island is located in the Northern Andaman Coast. It had a very laid back feel, partly because of its seclusion, size and having no roads on it. We stayed in a simple Bungalow, in one of the Islands small resorts if you can call them that. The water was not clear nor the sand perfect white, yet that's not really the draw of the island. It was more the place to get away from the development, sit under some palm trees or swing in a hammock. We spent only a few days there and then traveled down the coast to Lao Liang Island. Lao Liang is a part of the Trang Islands, near to Krabi. Lao Liang is a tiny Island with a small stretch of perfect white sand, and clear blue water. The reason we went here is because its supposed to be one of the best places in Thailand to snorkel right off the beach. The fish were spectacular! Beautiful Clown fish families, Regal Tang, Moorish Idol, Small Puffer Fish ect. There is only one resort on the Island and you stay in big tents with beds and electricity, it was fun. We also took a long Kayak ride to a nearby Island and snorkeled there as well. Unfortunately about 3 years back there was a big coral bleaching that took place one hot summer. Because of this almost all of Thailand's soft coral is now grey. We sadly could really see global warmings affect on the sea life, as beautifully brightly colored fish swam past grey corals. However not all the corals were grey, in some areas we saw beautiful hard corals that still had their pinks, reds, and purples.

Whitney: While at that island Jonah lost his choco sandals to the sea while hoisting the kayak into a boat that luckily was headed all the way back to our island, and was helpful to give us a ride back. Otherwise we would have missed the boat back to the mainland, and our quick flight back to Bangkok. The next day after we arrived in Bangkok from the islands we were off again, this time to the mountainous region of Nepal.

It seemed all too surreal, how did the time go by so slowly in South India, and so quickly in Thailand. I can feel myself begin to pout even as I sit in the beautiful Pokhara, Nepal... How strange is travel! We will definitely be going back to Thailand someday...

Next blog post already in the works will be an exclusive on NEPAL!!!!

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