Thailand, Day 10

Valentine’s Day was the longest day of my life. Literally. I’m having hard time doing the math with all of the time changes, but I think it lasted almost 2 days.

We left the hotel in Pattaya at 7 AM to arrive in Bangkok with enough time for our noon flight. The airport was chaotic. There were people in the bathroom brushing their teeth and washing up. We waited in several long lines.

My eye was killing me. Both my eyes burned. My right eye felt like someone was sticking a pin in it. They felt dry yet watered spontaneously. The pollution that was hanging in a smoggy haze over the city was finally getting to me. I wore my sunglasses. The light sliced in my eyes like banging rock music during a migraine. The pain lasted several hours and it worried me.

Other than that, I didn’t spend a lot of time worrying. I don’t know why. I think it was because we were so busy on the tour that I didn’t have a lot of time to overthink. Keeping busy fends off worry. I didn’t even have time to write. I know it sounds lame, but I only wrote on the coach bus on the way to the airport. That is why it was so important to write this story before I forgot all of the winding intricate details of our journey.

Also, I felt less worried because our family at home was sleeping while we were awake. It almost gave a peaceful feeling that I was somehow watching over them. Then they lived their lives during the day while I slept at night. If I didn’t hear anything when I woke up, then everything was fine.

What control would I have if something happened while we were home or while we were away anyway? Although it would be a lot easier to deal with at home. Something did happen less than 24 hours after we got back though. My son and his girlfriend got into a car accident. Although they exited the accident unscathed, her car was totaled. I don’t have control and that is what bothers me. I want to play God. But is that what I really want??

Paul and I had the row of seats to ourselves on all of our flights home. I slept. I watched a movie and fell asleep during it. I was barely roused from sleep to eat and then slept again. I tried to stay awake and fell asleep. I awoke when the dog came to sit by Paul. Who would take a dog on a 16 hour flight? What if she has to go to the bathroom? These were my foggy thoughts as my mind slipped back into sleep.

We were going to be early, but ended up being late. There was a lot of air traffic in Chicago. We sat on the plane at least a half an hour before we were able to pull up to the terminal. We were in jeopardy of missing our last flight home. We raced as fast as we could through immigration only to wait another half an hour for our luggage to arrive. We had to find a bus from the international to the domestic flights. Since it was later in the day, we were able to breeze through security pretty fast.

We ran as fast as we could in full sprint across the airport. We got to our last flight as it was boarding. We made it! But our luggage didn’t.

We finally made it home at 11:30 PM. I was wide awake and ready to go on a tour. But I had to be up in another 6 1/2 hours for work. Going to work the next day was awful. I felt like I was hungover and drunk. I was tired. I couldn’t concentrate. My words didn’t make sense coming out of my mouth. I felt like I had a mouthful of cotton balls. Paul fell asleep at his desk. I came home for lunch and ended up falling asleep for 2 1/2 hours.

The jet lag was a lot worse on the way home than it was on the way there. It took a week to get back to our normal routine. I found myself falling asleep by 8 PM, having a restless night, then waking up at 4:30 AM. I seemed to fall into a schedule, but it was the wrong one.

We had a wonderful time in Thailand. I seemed to calm my fear of flying after spending 20 hours one way on a plane. Anything less than 10 hours seems like a short flight now. I was able to check off traveling to my first continent outside of my own off of my bucket list. I have a lot of wonderful memories, photos, and stories to tell. If anything, my time in Thailand is making me more anxious to see the rest of the world.

Thailand, Day 7

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Today we left paradise and headed to the city of Ayutthaya. On the way we stopped by several street vendors. The first place was selling chickens and rats. They were out of snake.

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Our tour guide purchased a rat and said that we could sample some for lunch after it was cooked some more. These rats were from the patty fields, but with the accent of the tour guide it sounded more like pedophile rats. I did not try this Thai delicacy, but Paul did. He said it tasted like beef. I wimped out after watching the documentary about rats not too long ago. But I assume there is a big difference between NYC sewer rats and Thai rice patty rats.

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I did try the sticky rice made with beans. When I think of rice and beans, I typically think of Mexican food. This tasted like an extra sweet rice pudding.

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We also sampled a burrito with what looked like my hair wrapped inside. It was almost too sweet.

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We watched the vendors make the burritos and hair by hand. Our tour guide said that it was their version of cotton candy.

A few things happened today that are worth mentioning. First, our tour bus almost got hit by a semi. I wore my seat belt on the bus every time after that. The tour guide said that the country has a problem with the drug speed, especially with semi drivers. They take it so they can work long hours. When they get into accidents, they run off. Not too long after our close call, we saw an abandoned semi tipped over on the side of the road.

Also, when we went to the rat vendor, there were birds and a squirrel locked in cages. The squirrel was really agitated and wanted to get out. I thought that was peculiar. Was it next in line to be cooked? I mean, they eat rat. Why not squirrel? Our tour guide said that the Buddhist people will come and pay money to set the caged animals free. Then at night, the birds fly back into their cages only to be sold and set free again the next day.

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The next stop on our trip was to the Summer Royal Palace. It was a breathtakingly beautiful place.

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This is where the royalty stayed in ages past. In the middle left of the picture is an area where the royalty could see who was coming by looking through the slated windows, but no one could see in.

Centuries ago, no one was allowed to touch royalty. Then one summer day, the queen had a boating accident. The people watched her drown because if they touched royalty generations of their family would be killed. The king was so heartbroken that he abolished the law.

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This lizard found his way inside by the other animals.

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I don’t have a lot of pictures by the Royal Palace. Today was the hottest day (over 100 degrees). I was not allowed into the palace with the shirt I was wearing. I had to buy another shirt to wear over my shirt. I already bought the pants I was wearing. First of all, all of the wild pants I bought were not worn by locals only tourists. I think it boldly proclaimed that I was an idiot that didn’t bother to pack pants or acceptable clothing.

To tell you the truth, I was getting very irritable at this point. I never wore so many clothes on such a hot day before. I felt overheated, sluggish, and weighed down by all of the crap I was carrying. Don’t let my smile fool you. I think I was suffering from WAT (What, another temple??) syndrome. At this point in the journey, I was starting to feel a little templed and palaced out.

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In the evening we went to see the ruins of the former capital. It was beautiful at sunset.

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Look at the back of my shirt. The back has a knitted material that you can see my skin through. Oops. At least I had something that matched the wild pants though.

If you look to my right, you can see the statues of the Buddhas with their heads cut off. The heads of the Buddhas were made of gold and were stolen when the city was raided.

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We loved visiting the ruins, but for others it was their backyard.

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Thailand, Day 6

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We started off day 6 by hiking through Hellfire Pass.

This was the actual location that the POW’s from WWII and general laborers from Burma worked day and night to build a railroad through rocks and jungle. They were forced to work very long hours with very little sleep or supplies. If the men were too sick to work, they did not get fed at all in the attempt to get them back to work. Many men got sick with various serious ailments due to the harsh conditions. Many died of starvation.

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The workers were treated poorly and punished severely if they didn’t work fast enough. One hundred thousand people lost their lives building the railroad. The fires lit at night made the workers think of hell, hence the name Hellfire Pass.

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We took a train ride on a part of the Death Railroad that was still in use. We left the train and explored a cave that was set up as a medical aid station during the war. A shrine is set up there now. If you explore the cave past the shrine, there are a lot of bats in it.

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We stopped at a waterfall. It was a slippery climb, but I didn’t see anyone fall.

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In the afternoon, we visited the elephants. This was not included in the trip. It used to be included as an option, but the tour company got flooded with complaints saying that it wasn’t humane to ride an elephant. Unfortunately, the elephants survival depends on tourists dollars.

Many years ago the elephants were not treated humanely. They were given amphetamines to work long hours clearing brush and doing heavy lifting. After this was outlawed, the elephants could not be released into the wild. They would die. They created a sanctuary for these elephants and their families. Tourists can go to the sanctuary and pay to feed the elephants. Or they can ride the elephants, go on a river cruise, and swim with the elephants.

I was very nervous about riding an elephant at first. Look at them! They are huge. I was worried about falling off. The little seat on top of the elephant was held up by a couple of ropes that I was concerned wouldn’t hold our combined weight. Going up and down hills, I felt like I was falling. It was big time out of my comfort zone, but I decided to do it anyway.

After riding the elephant, we took a ride on a bamboo raft up the River Kwai. On the way back down, we jumped in the water and floated down the river. I couldn’t see or feel the bottom with my feet. When we got back, the elephants were waiting for us in the river. I had a hard time standing up as the current was fairly strong and the rocks under our feet were sharp. The elephants themselves are very gentle but whiskery with rough skin. They were only soft on the tip of their trunk.

I was a little nervous in the water too just from the sheer size of the elephants. Paul had an elephant fall in love with him. The elephant kept touching his bald head with her trunk. They gazed into each other’s eyes. Animals love him. The elephant seemed to sense my nervousness.

It certainly was a remarkable experience. I’m really happy I decided to go there.

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There are a few elephants that live in the wild. Some people on our tour bus saw one as we were driving through the jungle.

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We stopped on the way back to see some wild monkeys that were fed leftover food from the market.

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We were not allowed to touch the monkeys. The tour guide had to close the doors on the bus so they wouldn’t get inside and raid our food. It was unbelievable seeing hundreds of monkeys out in the open so close that I could touch them.

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We arrived back at the hotel in the evening and decided to eat outdoors at the romantic table. It was gorgeous outside. The average high temps were in the 90’s and it didn’t rain once the whole time we were in Thailand.

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Nearby was a table with a large extended family. Two little girls from their table danced to American music that played through the speakers. Either we didn’t hear any music at all or it was remade American hits from a few years back made into elevator music sung by a mediocre female singer. She even sang a song by Nine Inch Nails elevator style. I wonder if they even understood the words. I don’t specifically recall hearing any Thai music on our whole trip. I thought that was rather odd.

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Today was our favorite day of the trip.

Thailand, Day 5

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The morning of day 5, we left Bangkok early and started making our way to Kanchanaburi.

We stopped on the way to visit a market set up next to the railroad tracks.

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We were there when the train went through. What an awesome experience!

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Our next stop was the floating market of Damnoen Saduak. Before I visited the floating market, I had a lot of misconceptions. The biggest one was that people were selling items from a boat and we would have to take a boat to be able to buy things. That was not true at all. The market was bigger than I expected, but totally accessible by foot.

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One of the things that Paul did at the market was pay to hold a snake. He said it felt cool and refreshing on this hot day. Paul bought himself a silk shirt for about $7 and I bought a pair of dragon pants and a couple more shirts. I bought some mango sticky rice for lunch.

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Then we visited the famous Bridge over the River Kwai. We also stopped at the war museum and cemetery. I won’t go deep into the historical significance today. The bridge was rather long. We didn’t spend all our allotted time walking across the bridge and back, although the thought did cross our minds.

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This isn’t a great picture, but I wanted to show you the tree with the ribbons around it. I mentioned a few days ago that the Buddhists believe in reincarnation. They also believe that loved ones can come back in the form of a tree. When a loved one comes back as a tree, they wrap ribbons around it and the tree cannot be cut down. They also have a little shrine set up which is not an uncommon sight outside of homes.

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Here is the view from the bridge.

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We arrived at our hotel by suppertime. It was very remote and downright beautiful. This was our view from the front of our hotel. Today was the first day I had the feeling that I was very far from home. This was my favorite hotel stay on the trip. I wished we could’ve stayed longer, but there really wasn’t anywhere to go or anything to do in walking distance. The employees of this hotel spoke very limited English. They wanted to charge us for ice to be brought to the room. It was hard to communicate.

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The hotel swimming pool was breathtaking. We went swimming the first night we were there. I wish we had more time to spend there. The next day was going to be filled with sightseeing. We were told to wear mosquito repellent at all times, but surprisingly it was not very buggy.

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That night Paul ordered fried fish. He got a fried fish alright. He said that it was excellent. I was craving Western food. I ordered a ham and cheese sandwich with fries. The sandwich came out on white bread with the crust cut off. The ham was the cheap sandwich meat kind, the cheese was the cheap processed kind. Let’s just say that all of the American or Western food that I ate out East wasn’t all that good. I don’t know what I was expecting.

The service at the restaurants was unusual too. The servers seemed to have a hard time picking up our cues that we wanted another drink or that we were finished with our meal. We never had to wait for a table and never felt that we were rushed out of anywhere. I mentioned before that the servers also would not drop off menus and come back. They would stand at the table and wait until you ordered something unless you told them to come back.

All of the meals had a gratuity of 10% added to all of the bills. That made it easier converting dollars to bahts. However most Americans only tip 10% if they receive poor service, crappy food, or go to a buffet. For an excellent meal and service, most Americans happily tip between 15% to 20%.

We went back to our room exhausted from our long day and fell asleep to Thai boxing that came in poorly on the TV.