The Lost Horizon – Chiang Mai, Thailand

I came back to my hotel room last night after a great meal and saw that the staff had come into our room to turn down our bed. They also must have noticed my books on the nightstand next to the bed, so they thought that this would be the perfect opportunity to give me a book mark. It had a memorable quote on it that went…

“He was enjoying the pleasant mingling of physical ease and mental alertness which seemed to him, of all sensations, the most truly civilised. So far, the appointments of Shangri-La had been all that he could have wished – certainly more than he could ever have expected.” – James Hilton

At first glance, it might seem that this kind of sentiment should be reserved for the greatest of hotels, a place where relaxation is the appointment of the day, and the greatest need is collect one’s self so they can return to the grind from whence they came. But then it does make sense that the hotel I am staying at takes its name from that mythical place that James Hilton created in his iconic novel, Lost Horizons, the Shangri-La. This is not the typical place that I search for when I look for a place to stay on my vacations. It is considered one of the more luxurious places that a person can stay in, and I don’t usually travel for the hotels, but it is fun to treat one’s self from time to time. It also helped that the room was booked at the last minute so we were able to find a pretty good deal on the room, even though it still was a little bit more of a splurge than what we usually are willing to do.

Because of this, we decided that our first full day of this vacation would be spent not leaving the hotel and getting the most out of the place. Of course, this did not mean spending the day locked in our hotel room, ordering room service and watching bad movies on cable. The Shangri-La has a lot more to offer that we were able to entertain ourselves throughout the day.

And we were in Thailand at the end of the rainy season.

The view from the poolside at the Shangri-La in Chiang Mai, Thailand

This meant enjoying the pool, and they have a beautiful pool here in Chiang Mai. There are numerous lounge chairs all around the deck with the shade of palm trees allowing for a relaxing spot to watch the ripple play in the calm water. There are many other amenities that the place has to offer, such as a spa, and small shops as well as two restaurants, and a couple of bars, but the things that caught my attention was the pool. There is no better way of spending a day than relaxing by a pool, and jumping in the water to cool off whenever I get too hot. It even featured a waterslide that I thought was for children, but soon found out that it could be enjoyed by all ages. I did have to pay attention to the big barrel of water at the top of the slide that would tip over every ten minutes and drench whoever stood up there at that time, but it was still fun to go down every once in a while. It made for the perfect day.

Some would claim that this is a wasted day of vacationing. The purpose of traveling some place new is to experience new things, and see new cultures. Why would anybody want to spend the day sitting by the pool getting pampered? Because vacation cannot be all about going around and seeing stuff. Yes, I do enjoy being a tourist and experiencing different cultures, but I also need some down time. Some people only get to travel a couple weeks out the year, and part of that time is spent visiting family and friends. I find myself very fortunate to have created a life for myself where I get to take these trips on a regular occasion. Just because I go some place does not mean that I do not wish to have some downtime as well. In my profession, I have found that it is a much needed thing to do every few weeks. And though I like to spend my time seeing different parts of the world, I also like the time that I get to spend recharging my batteries. This one day at the Shangri-La allowed me to do that.

James Hilton understood this completely when he said, “The appointments at the Shangri-La had been all that he could have wished.” I needed that day-long appointment with the pool. I will get back to exploring the world again in a day, and go back to the places that are more speed, but for one day, I enjoy feeling like I deserve the others taking care of me. It makes for the perfect way to start any vacation.

I Wonder How Many People Are Named John Here – Chiang Mai, Thailand

Travel days are always interesting. You get to go from some place where you are comfortable to some place you have never been before, and in the process there are a lot of transfers from taxis, buses, planes, and trains. The whole time you can feel the excitement about getting away and seeing that new part of the world, but at the same time you have to squeeze into tight spaces, and spend time with a bunch of your instant friends who are also going through the same experience. And when you finally get to your destination, you want to drop everything off and go explore, but you do not have enough time to really dig into the new location and check out what the place has to offer.

What I like to do with this short amount of time before I really start to enjoy the place I find myself in is to find the center of town and start to wander. Any place that looks interesting is a place I will stop at, have a bite to eat, and a drink, and get a little more comfortable with the area. This brings me to the best marketing strategy that a restaurant can do to bring in those random stragglers, name it after a really popular name.

We have all seen the places. I have seen my fair share of them, and on my first night in Chiang Mai, I ran into another one, John’s Place. I went with my first instinct to get my picture with the sign to show to everybody that I know that I somehow now own a restaurant in this small corner of the world. But then I found out that the place had a rooftop bar, so I had to take the experience one step further, and go upstairs to eat and have a drink.

It wasn’t like the rooftop bars that I can find in Bangkok, but it was the perfect place to spend a part of this cool evening. I was given a place that overlooked the moat that was at one time dug out. I got to watch the other travelers that I had found themselves in a different part of the world as they explored as well, and enjoy some spring rolls. But I also wondered if I would have stopped here if the place was not called John’s Place. I might have, but the fact that I had that small strange connection with the place made the choice that much easier.

I started to look around at the other patrons that night, and started to wonder how many of them shared the same name that I had, and had also fallen for the same marketing scheme. There had to be at least one John at each of the tables. It also made me think how many times I had ended up in places that had the name John in the title or at least JC (there is a JC in Bend, Oregon and I have been there a couple of times, partly because of the name). Would I make the same choice again the next time I came across a John’s Place, or has the realization allowed me to grow as an individual and not be so easily manipulated.

In all reality probably not. So the next time you hear that I am in town, just stop at your local John’s because you know that is where you will find me.

A Weekend on the Coast – Hua Hin, Thailand

An aerial view of Huua Hin looking over the Bintabath section of the town

It had been awhile since I felt like I had gone on a real vacation. I had taken a night or two to spend some time in downtown Bangkok and explore that area, and before that I had visited my family back in the United States, but it had been a long time since I had gone to a new destination and enjoyed the comforts of that place. I didn’t think much about this as I left Bangkok for the first time, and made the three-hour trek down the coast to the town of Hua Hin, but what I found when I finally arrived there was a great city with lots to offer that I was able to enjoy a wonderful experience at this great destination.

The wide open space available on the beaches during the off season months

The most obvious attraction in this city is of course the beach. It stretches all the way down the main strip with many hotels perched above its sandy shores. I went down here during the perfect time. Even though it was a national holiday last weekend, there were still not a lot of people enjoying the beach. I could easily find a spot where I would be comfortable enjoying the sun and warm water, and still feel like I had the beach to myself. I do not know if this would be the case during the height of tourism season in January, February and March, but in October, it was perfect.

The view of the beach from one of the restaurants found there

If got too sunny, I could go to one of the various restaurants along the beach and park myself underneath their umbrellas, and enjoy a drink or a bite to eat. The food wasn’t that great, but the shady spot where I could watch the tide come in and sip on a beer was the perfect way to enjoy the afternoon. My favorite part of this was watching them taking the umbrellas down and replace them behind me as the water threatened to get them wet. I started the time in this shady retreat in the back row, but by the time I left I found myself almost able to put my toes in the water, and I didn’t have to do a thing to get closer to the water than just sit there.

A food stall in the Cicada Market

Hua Hin also has two night markets that it can boast about. The first one is the older market closer to town that has most of the traditional things that you can find at a market in Thailand, clothes, various household items, and street food. The nice thing about this market is the restaurants that line the street behind the vendors. They have set up places along the street where you can sit down and watch the various people shop while enjoying some of the street food that you have found.

The dining area in the Cicada Market

I liked the Cicada Market on the southern end of town a lot more. It was a little more upscale, and most of the people working the booths were the artists that produced the items that they are selling. If you are looking for that unique gift or memento from this part of the world, this is the perfect place to find it. They also have to amphitheaters where bands or acts will play to entertain you in between the moments of shopping. In the center, you can also find various stalls selling their versions of Thai street food. This place had some of the best street food that I have fond in Thailand, and it was still pretty inexpensive. I had a hard time stopping myself from eating too much because there was too much good smelling food that was being offered.

The Black and White platter from Prime Steakhouse

This isn’t the only place to find good food in the city. There is the bar section of town Bintabath. This is a fun place to go barhopping because they all seem to be located in this area. Besides finding a good drink or a nice pool table, you can also get an amazing sit down meal. My favorite place was the Prime Steakhouse. It was a little pricey, but the meal could easily have been in my top five for steaks I have eaten on all of my travels in the world. It also has a beautiful, relaxing and comforting atmosphere that makes the time you spend here just as good as the food.

A marching street band I came across on my last day in town

I only got to spend one weekend in Hua Hin, and every corner I turned there was a new site to see, or a new experience to be had. I know that I had barely scraped the surface of what this little corner of Thailand had to offer, but after spending a couple nights here, I know that I have found a gem that I want to return back to soon.

A view of the sunset from the bar on top of the Hilton Hotel along the beach

Most of my attention was directed towards the shore while I was out there, and it was only the sunset on my last night there that allowed me to see that there was another side to this place that I had not even seen, the mountains and the fun hikes that hid themselves over there. I know I will be back someday because it is so close and the perfect little retreat for those long weekends I get, but until then, I will have to explore the rest of Thailand and see what it has to offer me.

 

Being Indiana Jones – Hua Hin, Thailand

I know that there is only one Indiana Jones movie that takes him into Asia, and for most people, it is not the best installment in the series, but thanks to recent efforts, it is not longer considered the worst by some people. Despite this fact, I had a great morning adventure that made me feel like I was Indiana Jones, exploring the wilderness of some forgotten forest in search of a secret temple. It made me feel the magic that I have heard about the country of Thailand for the first time since I have moved here, and it is truly one of the hidden gems that the country has to offer.

I have taken a weekend trip down to Hua Hin, a beach resort town on the eastern coast about three hours south of Bangkok. And even though the town has a lot to offer, and I have had a lot of fun exploring its nightlife, it is this morning side trip that will probably stick in my mind longer than any other event, and be the thing I remember about the place. I got up early and grab a taxi to go see the wonder of Phraya Nakhon Cave, and I do not regret the decision.

Basically, the forty-five minute cab ride from town costed me 700 baht, and took me down to Sam Roi Yot National Park which is the entrance to a path that would take me to this hidden cave. For another 200 baht, I was able to buy entrance into the national park, and I had a choice to make. I could take a half an hour hike over a rocky out cropping to get to the trailhead, or rent a boat that would take me there in ten minutes.

I went with the later choice, and I am glad that I did. There is a big collection of water taxis that sit on the edge of the beach, and the take people back and forth to the beach on the other side of the mountain.

They were constantly going back and forth, and I didn’t have to wait for a second to catch a boat either way. It always fun to travel by boat as well. Smelling the fresh salt water as the boat skims over the mild wake helps to build up anticipation for the experience that is going to follow.

When the boat landed on the other beach, it took a little while of walking through the sand before I reached the trailhead. This is where the ease of the boat ride really paid off. I had gotten to the trail head at about 9:30 in the morning, and even though it is starting to cool off a bit in Thailand, it is still really hot and humid as I traversed up the rocky stone path that took me to the entrance of the cave.

It was also nice that I went early. There were a couple of people that were on the path as I went up, but they were far enough between that it made it feel like I was out there by myself. On my way back, there were a lot more people coming up, so I was glad that I had started early so I would not have to deal with these crowds as I made it to the treasure at the end.

As I went through the trek, I was amazed by the natural surroundings. I was definitely in the tropics as the foliage crowded in around me, and the humidity made me sweat. Monkeys jumped from above in the trees, and every once in a while they got close enough where I could see them. Rock formations poked out from the overhanging recesses that I found along the trek, and I really thought that I was getting some place where very few people had ever seen. From time to time, I would come across something that would remind me that this was a sacred place for the people of Thailand as I would see a statue or a sign indicating that I was still going in the right direction.

As I made it further into my decent, the landscape changed even more. I found myself in a natural cave carved out by the wind, rain and spraying ocean water. It started to cool off a bit more as I found myself surrounded by the cliff faces, and I could marvel more at the natural way that things were carved above, around and below.

Finally, I turned a corner, and for the first time I could see the treasure that I had come down here to see in the first place. It was like Indiana Jones standing at the edge of a long hallway in which the end of it stood the golden statue bathed in a shimmering light. What I had found was a lot bigger, and only pictures of it would be the things that I would be able to bring back with me. And I wouldn’t realize how stunning those pictures would be until I made that final turn.

There it was, the temple that was framed in the morning light from the opening of this cave out in the middle of the hills in Thailand. It was the perfect time of the day to come out here to see this as well because the lighting was perfect. I could see how an hour later, it would not be as dramatic, but it really stood out during the time that I was there. The strange thing was not that many people were out there to look at as well. I could move around and pick the perfect shots and not have to worry about some random tourist getting in the way of me snapping that picture. I couldn’t understand why this was true except for maybe the fact that it took about an hour and a half to get to from Hua Hin, and it would take people away from the comfort of the beach and convenient bar street. And even though it does require some physical exertion and does take away the whole morning, it was completely the trek that I made. It is a must go see if you ever find yourself in Hua Hin, but you do have to plan ahead for it because it is best experienced in the morning. I am glad that I made the voyage.

A Woman in the Rain

The puddles have overcrowded the roads,
Singing symphonies of collected rain.
I watch the sky as my grey cloud explodes,
Washing away the city’s dirty pain.
I find that now the streets belong to me,
Sharing it with the random umbrella.
They hide the faces that I wish to see,
Protecting each individual’s flaw.
We can find safety in this day’s deluge
Of living up to the fashion’s standards.
The precipitation turns into rouge
Which from society’s sharp teeth, it guards.
The freedom I find here is most pleasing
By myself in Bangkok’s rainy season.

America in the 21st Century

Rats are ruling over our government,
Claiming that they do it for this nation.
Preachers tell me that I need to repent,
Sticking out their hands for a donation.
Law man patrols in a bullet proof vest,
Keeping order through the use of his gun.
The honest man cannot get any rest
Because of the lawyer’s exploitation.
Business man lives in his tower of greed,
Looking down at mankind’s desperation.
Injured sit outside hospitals in need,
Being denied saving medication.
I look forward in anticipation
To leave behind all of this corruption.

Chatachuk in the Rain – More from Bangkok

The view of the rain from the BTS

I have been told that the month of September in Thailand is part of the rainy season, and even though, I have seen more rain storms during the short time I have lived out than I would ever experience in five years in Colorado, they have been short bursts of heavy rain that moves on, and I can go back outside to enjoy the heat. Yesterday was the first time that I saw the day-long deluge that I envisioned when I heard about the term rainy season. The rain started early in the morning and continued all day long, and it wasn’t a little drizzle that I get to experience in Portland during the holidays. It was a dumping

The main road that winds its way around the market

But I am on my first three day weekend since school started almost two months ago, and I wasn’t going to waste it watching bad television in my hotel room or playing Exploding Kittens on my tablet. I wanted to get out and explore this city that I have lived in and learn more about what it has to offer. One of the things that this city is well-known for is its street markets, and the biggest one sit on the edge of town and draws in tourists from all over, Chatachuk Weekend Market. It is a crazy maze of tiny shops that sell everything from fresh food and clothes to iPhone cases and Thai art. It is a must come to place for anybody that is visiting the country, and it was my plan for the day. I wasn’t going to let a little rain from allowing me to enjoy this experience.

The view from one of the many aisles

I have been to this market once before, and there are many ways to get down there. I would recommend either taking the BTS to the Mo Chit station on the green line, but you can also take the blue line on the Metro to the Chatachuk Park station. Both of them drop you off right there. You can also take a cab down there, but cab drivers will try to play with tourists to get a little more money out of them. Make sure that they are using their meters, but they still might try to take the long way around to get you there. The best way is by train.

When you get there, know that there are different parts of the market. The fun one takes up four city blocks and has a big ring that you ca follow on the outside of the market, but if you come you want to venture into the skinny aisles that take you to the insane part of the market. It is designed to keep the like things together. They have a section for clothes, a section for gardening supplies, and even a warehouse where furniture designers can show off the new creations that they have made. But as soon as you walk down the aisles, you do not know what you can find. If you see something that you like but you don’t know if you want to get it, make sure you find out the section and the soy it is in because it is really easy to lose the little booth, and it makes it almost impossible to find again.

The strange things that sellers put in front of their shops to attract shoppers

But the real treasure of Chatachuk is not about what things you can go out to buy; it is all about the weird things that you will find that sellers will do to have their place be distinguished from the one next to them. I did not come to the market to buy anything. I am still trying to unpack all of my stuff from moving here, and I do not need to add to the collection yet. I came down here to laugh at the weirdness, and to be a part of the Thai experience. I saw t-shirts with saying that still make me laugh. I saw some incredible artwork, both 2D and 3D. And I enjoyed watching the people as they ate, got massages, shopped or got a haircut. It is a market alive with humanity, and this is the reason that it becomes a must-see place on any visit to Bangkok.

There is even shopping for hip teddy bears.

The rain did not take away from the fun. If anything, it made it more fun. The crowds that would usually come down to experience the market stayed home to avoid the mess that was being dumped from the sky, and it opened up the streets, and the aisles to make it easier to get around. The sellers were still there, and my fun could still be had by the cheap purchase of an umbrella. I would recommend coming down here on any visit to Bangkok, but more so when it rains.