Bangkok ⇒ Khao Yai National Park

I would never have guessed that I’d be convincing myself about rock
ergonomics, embracing my newly-acquired backpacker lifestyle while knowing that–whatever the challenge– I could do it. Three hours later I wake up as damp as the grass around me, freezing.

My travels continue. To see how my first two days went, see previous post

While staying at Some Rest Hostel in Bangkok,  I connected quite well with a Chilean brother and sister. I met the brother in the morning. I laughed to myself while I sat on the top bunk as he kept getting up to go to the bathroom; I remember wondering whether he had made a poor choice in the food he ate the previous night, like I had on my first day in BKK. As we exchanged words and made light conversation, I learned that he was still filled with beer from the evening. We laughed and spoke in Spanish, waiting for his sister to wake up. A few minutes later she hobbles down the stairs, clearly having a hard time putting weight on her feet. Working in a fish factory in New Zealand, where the pair had spent the previous three months, the shifts were long– standing. Her feet were still swollen.

The fact that I spoke decent Spanish allowed us all to connect quickly. In fact, I don’t think anybody else in the hostel spoke or understood Spanish. Being sick the entire day before– alone– I welcomed their company. Speaking Spanish after having just been in Mexico (pictures here) allowed things to flow easily. The dynamic between the two of them, so characteristic of the Latin-America siblings, was one of familial love. They worked well together. 21765740_1867251349981682_4377369394548890645_oThey reminded me of my own siblings who were going about their lives in Brazil at that point in time. I must say though, Chilean Spanish tested me; everything was called something else. It was almost like a different language. Growing up in Los Angeles and San FranciscoSpanish was the second most spoken language but it was the largely Mexican or Guatemalan. We made due and truth be told, it made for some pretty funny moments. They mentioned going up North to Khao Yai National Park and invited me. The South was hit by deadly floods. I feigned hesitation but, having nothing planned and relief from the food poisoning, I accepted, eager to explore.

Khao Yai was as beautiful as any national park. There was lots of wildlife, including alligators and elephants, although we only saw monkeys and the occasional bird. We did hear a lot more animals than we saw. Several parts of Danny Boyle’s film The Beach, which featured a young Dicaprio, were shot here. We stopped a taxi driver outside to ask if he could give us a lift to bus station. Admitting it was a slow day and he needed some money, he offered to drive us all the way to the park for practically the same cost of the bus fare for the three of us. With the sister’s feet still swollen, the brother hungover, and my stomach churning in the heat, none of us argued. Thanking him, we hopped in.

About two hours later, just after entering the entrance to the park, it began raining. The roads were quite steep and slick. While swerving around monkeys in the road, his car started to have increasing difficulties making it up the stretches of pavement as the rain continued to pour. Removing our weight and giving the car a push, the brother and I continually hopped out to ease the car up. After the fourth time doing that, his car started smoking and he pulled over, clearly distraught. I don’t know much about cars and the language barrier prevented me from understanding what was actually wrong with it. It’s possible even he didn’t know. Despite being at a loss, far from his Bangkok, he was apologetic. After insisting on taking us and tempting his engine one more time however, he conceded and flagged down a passing car, explaining the situation and sending us off towards the camp-sites.

dsc_0496
The Duo

Stuffing ourselves and our large packs among camping equipment and boxes, we sat on the rainy floor of the pickup and began our two-day hitch-hiking excursion in and out of Khao Yai National Park through refreshing fits of tropical rain durin the day.

As we got closer to the camping areas, we realized that it was quite full. Still hitch-hiking in the pickup truck that intially picked us up, the first two sites were at capacity. It was the weekend. We had no tents and relied on rentals. Of course, the rental people spoke absolutely no English and were clearly unsympathetic to the fact that we spoke no Thai. It was unclear whether they had no more rental tents or what. A kind Thai man in front of us, who spoke English well, told us that if we waited there items would likely be returned by campers who were leavin. HE was right. But, only one tent surfaced before it was getting dark. One, two-person tent.

As you can imagine, the night was rough– more for me than the siblings, who had each other to lay on. The brother and sister slept like rocks, quickly and easily. I was amazed. My siblings fall asleep just as fast. Living with them in Brazil, I would listen to their breath, jealous of them and anxious for sleep. There I was, crammed against the side of the tent with a rock poking me in the back. It was hot and none of us had showered. But most of all, I just didn’t have space and the brother was in the middle, between us. Knowing there weren’t many mosquitoes out, I gave up and decided I’d rather sleep outside.

As I walk outside, looking for a spot, I realized tha the dew has made every outside surface damp and wet. As I walked around weighing my options my stubborness got the best of me. I masked the stubborn attitude by telling myself it was under the banner of self-reliance and adventure. I ended up sleeping a flat, cement  bench whose surface molded quite well with my body, ever so slightly. Three hours later I wake up as damp as the grass around me, freezing. With no choice, I squeeze back into the tent and nudge myself in the corner. As usual, I was the last to sleep and the first to wake.

During the day, the brother and I trekked for some hours, moving through the jungle-like terrain running parallel to a river. The trekking was nice.DSC_0572.jpg By that time, my ability to understand and respond in Chilean Spanish was compromised and my travel partner noticed. Whenever we talked, to practice, I spoke in Spanish and he in English. We laughed about it and admitted how exhausting different languages can be when we are not wholly proficient in them– his English was worse than my Spanish. We spent the rest of the day hitch-hiking from different trekking and view points while his sister rested her foot at the camp. By three, we packed up camp, returned everything, and flagged a car to get us out of Khao Yai towards Pak Chong, where we planned on taking the train. DSC_0561.jpgA group of older female teachers from Northern Thailand picked us up. We stopped, ate lunch together, and continued on our way. It was raining again, which made the ride in the pickup more of an experience and, somehow, more enjoyable. We arrived in Pak Chong and waited a few hours until the train left, drinking beers and playing cards.

We purchased tickets for the commuter train, a local train. We had no idea what to expect. The train journey, however, will be left for a future post.

Please, subscribe and stay tuned for the next part of my trip!

Khao San Road, Bangkok

It’s January 24th, 2017. I arrived in Bangkok twenty-two days ago. The twenty-hour flight was my longest to date and was facilitated by a mind-numbing number of movies watched. The fifteen-hour time difference was a curious string of thoughts I kept having. The act of moving through time lead reminded me of Interstellar, a movie in which time travel causes hours in one place to be equivalent to years in another, much farther off place. I’d imagined myself in that situation as my plane was being escorted. Imagine coming back home and everybody was twenty years older. Then I remember it’s Thailand, not another galaxy. The time difference is just fifteen hours.

That same night I questioned my first few decisions since arriving in Bangkok’s Khao San Road. Immediately, the scorpions I ate come to mind. khao-san-roadThat could’ve done it. Perhaps it was one of the dishes that I never even got a name for. My fun-half denies that it was the beer, while my rational-half isn’t buying it; the ice-cold towers of Chang were tall, after all. It was none of those things. After fifteen hours of puking and sitting on the toilet, I had plenty of time to contemplate. By the time I was good enough to get of the hostel’s top-bunk and walk into the furnace that was Bangkok during the day, I had pinpointed the culprit: a casual pad thai stand. There, I had my first meal: chicken pad thai. It was over-priced, I would later find. However, for me, the financial cost of the meal was the least of my troubles. Until then, I believed that my time spent in Brazil had granted me some sort of immunity, making me at least less prone to illnesses. I opted out on any shots, medications, etc.

Those first forty-eight hours in Bangkok were as tiring as they were exciting.

Between my dorm at Some Rest Hostel and the dirty alleyway to Khao San Road was a house filled with ladyboys. I don’t know if it was just a living situation, a brothel, both, or something altogether. imagesOne of them helped me find the hostel but beyond that our interactions weren’t many. It was in that hostel, bordered by a ladyboy house and Khao Son, that I met several people with whom I connected. I I was surprisingly tired from the food poisoning, time difference, and heat. I spent an odd amount of time in the hostel, in the AC, determining what my next move was, where I’d go, how I’d get there, what to bring and what to leave, etc. I ended up connecting with the owner of the hostel and going out with her friends that night.
While out and about, I realized two things that didn’t affect my future travel decisions as much as I expected them to. First, drinking in Thailand will drain your money faster than anything else. A large, 500ml beer is double the price of a delicious, mouth-watering Pad Thai. Second, I was not here for this. It got me thinking about the question many of you asked me. “What am I actually doing here?” I thought. Was this a sort of spiritual quest or just a fun travel adventure? All I knew is that there were many paths to explore here, whether spiritual, social, or otherwise. Perhaps I just wanted to see the world a bit.