TLDR: US politics weighed on our lives, my first Loy Krathong holiday was beautiful, we found reasonably priced salads, rode the local buses, knitted, rigged up a bird-cam, ate unusual 7-11 potato chip flavors, attended a cheese night, ate lunch in a Thai Airways flight inspired venue, visited the airplane graveyard and a flower market, and took a quick trip to Krabi.
Presidential election time
Do you know who is unimpressed with the US elections? Our refrigerator…
From the year that brought us 6 months of April, get ready for Tuesday part 4! Holy election paralysis! The 2020 presidential election dominated our head space for more time than we would have liked. When was the last time that we were concerned for a solid week while votes were counted and states were called? On the bright side, monitoring social media led us to an article of a beaver dragging a small tree across a street and the title was “Canada begins construction on a wall at the Canada U.S. border”. Some humor is appreciated during such an unsettling week. We will be happy when the election is behind us and we return to boring politics (assuming things settle down).
Loy Krathong holiday
This year (2563 in Thailand), Halloween and the Thai Holiday of Loy Krathong fell on the same day, but that doesn’t mean much in Thailand. Halloween is not widely celebrated here. Loy Krathong is a celebration to give thanks and pay respect to the water goddess. It’s also a time to float away any anger or negativity from the past year and start anew. To give thanks, people make beautifully decorated biodegradable floats, called krathongs, and place them in a body of water (typically a river). The krathongs are usually lit and carry a small offering (small amounts of money). If your krathong goes beyond your field of view before the light goes out, you should have a year of good luck. Our krathong made it out of our sight before burning out. Yay! Yi Peng is another Thai holiday that is often confused with the Loy Krathong holiday. Yi Peng is celebrated before Loy Krathong and the biggest celebration is in Chiang Mai with airborne lanterns (I hope to see it eventually). We had originally planned to attend a Loy Krathong celebration at Asiatique–a riverside outdoor shopping area–then move on to a Salsa Halloween event. However, we ended up stay at the Loy Krathong event for the entire night because we were having such a good time. We bought a bootleg krathong from a “shop” hidden in the shadow of two buildings because all of the ones that were being sold inside the event area were sold out or had a huge line. We let our krathong loose in a giant kiddy pool. Then, we went to the nearby concert and ate pad thai washed down with blended coconut shakes. We tried to beat the crowd home, so we got on a boat that we thought was headed to a BTS station upriver, but it just circled back to the same dock where we boarded. Fail. We learn something new every day.
Dance and oddly flavored chips
We are becoming regulars at Mambo Mambo. We went dancing and ended up being the only two people there for at least 30 minutes. The DJ even asked us if we wanted to play our own music. We still had a great time and I left soaking wet, as I normally do. After dancing, the best way to end the night is with a trip to 7-11 for some oddly flavored snacks and coconut water purchased with their cartoon reward stamps.
Alright is not All Right
Fun fact: “Alright” is not an official word. Neither is “alot.” The official words are “All right” and “A lot.” Please, enjoy the source…
Thai health insurance
Along with our fun, we have to do some adulting. Since we know that we will be here for a while, it is time to get real health insurance. To give an idea of what “very good” insurance costs here, a one year plan for global health insurance (excluding US and Singapore) costs ~$1500 per year for me.
Where are the salads?
In general, nearly anything that you would want in the US can be found fairly easily in Bangkok (except a high quality yarn selection). There are endless shops for clothes, things and food around every corner. If you want to see a movie, buy a car, visit an aquarium, get a massage, or book a trip, it could all in the same building. However, getting a salad here is more challenging than in the States and is about 3-4 times the price of a typical meal (typical meal ~$2. Salad, small ~$7). We have not uncovered the reason for this yet, but we have been trying different salad spots around town. We recently discovered a Sizzler in our neighborhood and is now our preferred salad location for overall salad value (especially because it is all-you-can-eat for only ~$4.60).
Bus-t a move
In an effort to reduce daily transportation costs and get more exercise, we have been experimenting/adventuring by riding the local buses. Like most information here, published information is simply a guideline, not a rule. A few examples. We read the signs at the bus stop, got on a bus, and were asked to get off before the posted route was completed and only about halfway to our destination. We thought that all buses were 10 baht per trip (about 31 cents). Apparently, bus costs range from 8 baht (~25 cents) to 26 baht (~ 80 cents) depending on which company owns the bus, how far you are going, and the class of the bus (can you see through the floor to the street below because of holes/cracks/separated wood planks? Does the bus fully stop for you or do you leap in at a slow roll like a celebrity stunt double? Does the bus have AC?). So far, we believe the sweet spot is the 14-18 baht AC bus where you cannot see through the floor.
School is done! (for now)
Since we have taken some time off from school, we feel free again. It is a relief to completely own the days. This is the first time in three months that I have knitted. It feels good to swear at my mistakes again. They say knitting is relaxing and therapeutic. The therapeutic aspect of knitting reminds me of golf. It’s great to enjoy the beauty and peace of your surroundings when you are having a good golf game, but when you’re not doing well, you want to break all of your clubs and throw them into the lake (see Happy Gilmore movie for great example, picture below). On the other hand, Jyn has been a knitting machine lately… A quiet and tranquil knitting machine.
SpaceX launched more people to the ISS!
SpaceX has done it again! They have sent another group of astronauts to the International Space Station. Once again, I watched the launch with a bunch of my former coworkers to share our collective success for contributing the transport of humans in space. Seeing everybody on Zoom is just as awesome as the launch itself.
A bird cam
Usually, in the morning-ish, when we are having breakfast-ish, we frequently hear cooing coming from just outside the window. It seems that the area where the AC is mounted is desirable pigeon real estate (potentially pigeons). We enjoy the cooing as we go about our lives. To investigate and be a bit of a creeper, I rigged up my GoPro to be a remote bird cam with a piece of duct tape. Real life NatGeo. Now, for 1-2 hours at a time, we can see what is going on out there, live, from my phone. So far, we have seen 1 pigeon waddling around. Exciting, I know. This is entertainment in 2020.
In Los Angeles, we regularly purchased fancy or ordinary cheeses to have as a snack. Fancy cheeses are less available here, but we did discover a wine and cheese night at the Sofitel Hotel on the first Friday of every month (except for the first time we went on the first Friday. It was moved to the second Friday that particular time.). We ate enough cheese to feel terrible and happy simultaneously.
One of the unique places to visit in Bangkok is the Airplane Graveyard. Three partial large planes have been abandoned in a field. You can crawl around the planes for an “entrance fee” of 200 baht each (payable to the families that live in part of one of the planes). Super unusual.
Flower and fruit markets
Among the recommended things to do around town are the flower markets and the fruit markets. We explored both. Imagine a few city blocks covered with flowers or fruit. That will give you an idea of the scale of these markets. The OKT fruit market is known for imported and expensive fruits. Some fruits are polished and individually wrapped. It is not considered a market that average Thai people visit.
Take me to Krabi!
Domestic travel time! We decided to take a 5-night trip to Krabi, which, in my opinion, Krabi is the quintessential Thailand postcard image that is all across the internet. The karst landscape juxtaposed with varying shades of tropical blue/green water is gorgeous, while the water near the shoreline is bathwater warm. We stayed in a beachfront resort in Railay West, which is accessible only by boat and feels like an island even though it is on the mainland. We spent most of our days exploring the area, touring the nearby islands on a boat (Phi Phi Don, Phi Phi Leh, Maya Bay (featured in “The Beach” with Leonardo Dicaprio), Bamboo Island), climbing 1260 steps at the Tiger Cave Temple, eating delicious crab curry, and spotting wildlife (monkeys all over, birds, frogs, snails, millipedes). Note: As of now, tourists aren’t permitted to access the beach at Maya Bay.
Steep hike to Princess Lagoon in Railay West
I read about a short but difficult hike to Princess Lagoon that seemed like an adventure. We went to the trailhead and were greeted by a sign that said “danger” and “do not climb”. If Thailand puts a warning sign somewhere, I recommend that you believe it. Various blogs said not to attempt the path in the rain and I can see why. At first, we were confused by where the sign was warning us about because there was only a near vertical rock wall behind it. That wall was the trail. Jyn confirmed with a human that we were allowed to “hike” the path. Ropes had been attached at strategic points most of the way up the wall/path, so intrepid adventurers can use them to facilitate the climb up and down. Most of the journey to the lagoon was a scramble where you are using your hands and feet to climb up rocks and tree roots. At the halfway point, you can go right to the lagoon or left to a viewpoint. We decided to head to the lagoon first, but when Chinda discovered that the lagoon was accessible only via rope down a nearly vertical wall (think belaying without the harness), she decided to wait at the top. I went ahead, but it turns out the lagoon itself is not particularly beautiful. As a matter of fact, I did not enjoy it. It felt like a hostile and uncomfortable place with sharp jagged rocks, slick mud, and murky water. The rewards were in the journey itself, which I enjoyed. After the lagoon, we headed to the viewpoint, which we both enjoyed 🙂 If you are planning to do this hike all the way to the lagoon, definitely use real closed toe shoes, do not consider going during the rain or shortly after, and if you do not like the first 20 minutes of the trail, be warned that the last 20 minutes is tougher.
More Krabi fun, but Krabi closes very early
Krabi is my overall favorite beach destination in Thailand so far. Plus, there aren’t many tourists visiting now, and the hotels are deeply discounted. Krabi has enough infrastructure to be convenient-ish, plenty of dining options, a downtown area, and lots of activities. We went into downtown Krabi for food after the hike at Tiger Cave Temple. A friend recommended Poo Dam restaurant (looks ridiculous in English but means black crab in Thai). The restaurant doesn’t look like much, but the food was incredible. I ate 1.5 bowls of the best crab curry that I have ever had! Unfortunately, many businesses and transportation services close around 6pm so we had to race to make the last boat… which we missed because our song tao (2 rowed pickup truck taxi) decided to wait 20 minutes before leaving and went to the farthest destination in the route first. We ended up in Ao Nang to catch our boat after 6pm and all of the public boats were already gone. We walked half a mile in the rain to a pier that was supposed to still be open, but that was also closed already. There was a seemingly random group of three people waiting near the tourist information area. It turns out that they owned the only remaining boat. We asked the captain if he would take us back to Railay West (about ten minutes away by boat). He quoted us 800 baht, and added that his boat currently had no roof. We were expecting 600 baht for a private charter, max. We said no, but how about 500 baht (~16 dollars). The captain’s 10ish-year-old son was like “Yes! Do it!”. The kid’s reaction was great, so the captain reluctantly agreed. We walked down to the dark beach to the only boat, hopped in from the shore, and returned to our hotel. This was fun.
Trying to get back to the airport
Sadly, our return to the airport was not as fun as the adventure home from the night before. Just in case something went awry, we planned for a 1-2 hour buffer, in addition to our expected transit duration. We are glad that we did because both legs of our journey were not pineapples (Thai idiom for “not good”). We expected to take a public boat for 100 baht each, but the public boats only leave when they reach ~6 passengers. We waited for an hour and not a single other person was heading in our direction. Really? Again, we had to hire a private boat to Ao Nam Mao pier for 500 baht. Then, we were supposed to have a 100 baht each public van ride to the airport. We reserved it online a day earlier. Well, that didn’t show up so we had to hire a private car to get us to the airport. Alas. At least we made it to the airport on time. Our entire Krabi trip, including everything (airfare, hotel, food, activities, transport, etc…), worked out to be ~$389 per person, total, for five nights. Not too shabby.
Dining inspired by Thai Airways
Nostalgic for the delights of air travel? Would you want to have airplane food, in cramped seats, complete with screaming babies? We sure did too! Similar to many airlines during the pandemic, Thai Airways needed another way to generate additional funds. Around two months ago, they set up their extra airplane seats, staff (actual flight attendants and pilots), and food service at their Bangkok headquarters. We met new friends here for lunch, and it was a great experience. The food was delicious and everyone was very nice. It was very similar to a flight experience except you could walk around more and they had a band playing live music (also Thai Airways staff).
From asinine politicians, airplane dining outside of an airplane, climbing over karsts, to stinky cheese gatherings, and humans in space, we have completed level 11 of Jumanji and look forward to the exciting climax of 2020. Next month, we expect to visit one of the other provinces, celebrate Christmas, put 2020 behind us, and continue to make the best of this strange time in our lives. There is a seriously low bar for 2021. See you next year!