Archive for the ‘travel’ Category

Thailand, Days 5 and 6

Monday, November 14th, 2011

The next two days were mostly spent conferencing, so the day time wasn’t super exciting. Thursday night was the conference banquet, which I skipped due to the expense, so instead I wandered around town more and ate a bunch of street food. That night was the start of the Loy Krathong Festival, during which people release lanterns into the air and into the water. You’re supposed to make a wish as you release the lantern into the air – sort of letting go of worries or something. There was yet another parade tonight as well. It was very similar to the previous night – I think each of the floats in the parade is made by a different local group or business, so they’re fairly interesting and different from each other. One of them had a very bored looking monk on a throne with a large bronze cauldron in front of him. People stood on either side of the street and tried to throw coins into the cauldron.

Lantern pictures! These photos are particularly bad because of they’re night shots …

Friday was the last day of the conference and didn’t really have any presentations I was super interested in, so I ended up skipping the afternoon session and going back to my room to nap. For dinner, I met up with a bunch of people from the conference. On the way there, there was once again another parade and more lanterns being released. One of the groups that had a float in the parade was the Chiang Mai Night Safari (some sort of tourist thing, I assume), and they had a bunch of people with antlers on, which was pretty cool. There was also a float with with a three-headed elephant statue on it, and some sword fights.

Thailand, Days 3 and 4

Thursday, November 10th, 2011

Going to lump days 3 and 4 together so I’m less behind. Also because day 4 wasn’t that interesting, since it’s the day the conference started.

The third day of my trip to Thailand was the one day I had actually planned out – I had booked an “Elephant training day” with one of the elephant camps around Chiang Mai. The place I chose was Baan Chang, which I chose because it’s against the practices that a lot of the other camps have of teaching elephants to paint and dance and play music for visitors. I was scheduled to be picked up from my hostel at 8:30, so around 8:10 I went out quickly to pick up breakfast before they showed up. When I returned, I was ready to go, except I had forgotten that it was also the day that I was supposed to check out of the hostel and move to a new hotel. I ended up being late because I had to very rapidly pack up my room, but after that mishap, it went pretty smoothly.

After driving around Chiang Mai for a bit to pick up the rest of the people who were visiting the park that day, we drove for about 30 minutes or so north of Chiang Mai and reached the elephant park. They provided us with bananas, coffee and tea for breakfast, so my 7-eleven sandwich went uneaten, and then the first task of the day was feeding the elephants. We weren’t providing them with their usual food, which appears to mostly be leaves and parts of the plant life around the camp, but treats of bananas and sugar cane. It turns out that (unsurprisingly), elephants eat an absurd amount of food. According to the mahout in charge of our group, they have to feed the elephants at least once an hour, and the elephants are always ready for more food. After feeding, the mahout explained a bit about Baan Chang and how it got started and what their philosophy on raising and caring for elephants was. After that, he taught us how to get on an elephant and what voice command to use to tell it to lay down, and then we learned to ride them in a circle around a tree. There were eleven of us, practicing on three elephants, so this took a while. After we had all practiced both getting on and off and guiding an elephant in a circle both clockwise and counterclockwise, we had a lunch of fried chicken, vegetable soup and vegetables and chicken in a sweet sauce with pineapple for dessert. We had a short nap in hammocks, and then it was time to ride the elephants more seriously. The next couple hours were spent riding the elephants up a mountain and then down again. It turns out that riding an elephant is actually really hard work, and your legs get really sore. Our ride ended in a shallow pond, and then we washed our elephants and ourselves and then headed home.

Upon reaching my hostel, I grabbed my stuff from storage and got a tuktuk, which are these sort of hilarious three-wheeled vehicles to my new hotel: the Porn Ping Tower (yes, laugh. It’s a really strange name – one letter away from being really really bad). Turns out the tower is right up against the night market, so I wandered that again for the rest of the night. I made a very serious search of the area for mango and sticky rice, but couldn’t find it and had to settle for some mango gelato (in Thailand. I know, the shame).

While I was out, there was a parade going through the Night Bazaar, probably in preparation for the Loi Krathong Festival, which I think is on Friday. It was really interesting to watch, although a bit difficult due to the crowds, especially since the only other Asian festivals I’ve really seen were in Japan. The Thai parade was actually much more modernized than the Japanese ones I’ve seen – the floats were made of modern, lighter materials like plastic and lit with electronic lights and a lot of the music was blasted through speakers on trucks. The floats were carried by fewer people than in Japan, since they’re lighter, or on trucks, and trucks with generators followed everything, with extension cords trailing everywhere. (I’ll try to find photos online to post later – I don’t have my camera with me this trip, so all the photos I’ve got are terrible pictures taken with my phone).

Wednesday was the start of the conference, so I woke up early again, got breakfast from my hotel and took a tuktuk to the Shangri-La, which is an incredibly posh hotel. I’d expected registration to be a hassle, but there was no line and it was really fast. They gave each of us a handmade bag and a small ceramic replica of a traditional Thai plate along with the usual conference stuff, which was pretty cool. I attended the Machine Learning and Text Mining talks, some of which were more useful than others, and ate lots of really fancy food. During the coffee breaks, the conference actually provided mini pastries along with the coffee and tea. I managed to meet some random people during the poolside cocktail reception, and a PhD student from Austria and I ended up wandering off and exploring the city some after the conference. It was raining, so not much was happening, but it was nice to hang out with someone.

Thailand, Day 2

Tuesday, November 8th, 2011

I’m a day behind on writing about my trip, and I expect I’ll get more behind as the week goes on, but I’ll try to keep up.

Monday was my wander around the old city day. I woke up surprisingly early, given how tired I was after all the travel and the night market, and walked to the east gate of the wall, which was about 10 minutes from my hostel. Right inside the wall, I found a place that sold mango and sticky rice for 40 baht and grabbed that for breakfast. I then started to wander around, hoping to find random interesting things.

It turns out that being in a foreign country doesn’t actually stop people from wanting to grab my arm and look at my tattoo. As I was wandering around the city, a Thai man stopped me and asked about the tattoo, grabbed my arm and started turning it to try to see it better. He told me that he lived in Australia and taught Muay Thai boxing there and was in Chiang Mai on vacation with his family, which seemed sort of suspect given that he was alone. He showed me his business card, which said his business was in Melbourne, but it was rather old and yellow. He then showed me a picture (also old and yellow) of his wife, who he said died twenty years ago of diabetes. He then proceeded to ask how old I was (???), say I was short compared to his 19 and 15 year old kids (thanks, dude) and then ask if I wanted a jungle hiking tour (yeah, I doubt he was a tourist visiting Chiang Mai). I finally managed to shake him and spent the next three hours or so wandering around on my own, visiting temples and random museums. And I managed to find a random place for lunch where I got a full lunch and a Coke for less than the Coke would have cost me in the States.

Around noon, I decided it was actually way too hot to be wandering around outside and figured I’d head back to my hostel to drop stuff off, get a massage and then visit the market where the locals shop instead of the tourist center. As friends can attest, however, I have a terrible sense of direction, and it took me much longer than it should have to make it back to the east gate of the city. I eventually made it back to my hostel, cooled of for a while in my room and then went out for a massage. After a couple of attempts and with help from one of the people in my hostel, I managed to find one of the places that I had found recommended online. I proceeded to then get an amazing hour long massage for less than a fifth of the cost of an equivalent massage in the US. My feet and legs felt so much better, and I was feeling boneless and ready for a nap.

I ended up heading back to the hostel instead of the to the market since it was getting late enough that I wouldn’t have much time there before it closed. The Night Bazaar was supposed to open soon, anyway, and was much closer to where I was staying.

After heading back to my hostel again and laying around for another couple of hours (the massage made me much sleepier than I thought), I headed out to the Night Bazaar. The bazaar is actually kind of a weird place. It’s mostly only full of tourists and is not unlike shopping in the Tibetan stores in the Haight, only at a fraction of the cost. Stalls line the sidewalks for many blocks, leaving enough space for only one person to walk.

Another thing that was sort of weird about the Night Bazaar is no one quite seemed to know what to make of me. It’s full of merchants hocking their wares, calling out to passing tourists to come look and buy. But people couldn’t figure out what language to use with me. One merchant greeted me in Japanese, Chinese and then Korean in rapid succession, and even when touts had picked a language to use. the first thing they usually did was ask where I came from. The one person I actually talked to thought I was Japanese.

Also, I’m sort of creeped out by the number of people who keep asking me if I’m traveling alone. Makes me not feel totally safe …

Thailand, Day 1

Sunday, November 6th, 2011

After a long day of travel, I’ve reached Chiang Mai, Thailand. I’m here for an NLP conference, but I decided to show up a couple days early and play tourist.

The travel was really grueling. The first leg was an over 12 hour flight from San Francisco to Taipei, most of which I spent sleeping. The man in the seat next to me was really unpleasant. First he tried to take my window seat and seemed really shocked when I wouldn’t let him have it, acting like asking was just a courtesy and my giving it to him was a foregone conclusion. Then he was really rude and demanding to the flight attendants. I did feel bad about accidentally dumping a cup of water on him, although it really was his fault …

The hour layover in Taipei went pretty much without incident. The terminal really took me back – it’s been a long time since I’ve been in that airport. I should visit Taiwan again.

Flying into Thailand, I was actually able to see the flooding. It was a little distressing. The layover in Bangkok was less pleasant than the one in Taipei. Part of the problem was just that it was really long. I landed around 11 and my flight to Chiang Mai wasn’t until 15:50. Also, I was early enough that they didn’t know which gate I my flight was out of. So I wandered around for a while in search of power and wireless, since they said my gate should be determined around noon. I found neither, but did find a place to sit and watch some Doctor Who. Around 13:00, I went to check my gate, only to find that it still hadn’t been decided. I figured I’d go through security anyway and maybe find power and internet inside and possibly get food. After I got through security, I discovered that they had picked a gate, found it and then went to get food, since the domestic terminal is very small. I was surprised to discover that there was no Thai food in the terminal and that at least 50% of the people in the domestic terminal were foreign. I guess Thailand has a lot of tourists, and they all route through BKK. I got some chicken nuggets (McDonald’s strikes again!), cup noodles and green tea and managed to snag one of the only two outlets I saw in the entire airport. Still no internet though, so I watched more Doctor Who until about an hour before my flight was supposed to board and then headed to my gate.

Once I got to my gate, there was no indication that I was in the right place, so I asked one of the women at the counter. First they checked my ticket, which of course didn’t have a gate marked down since it hadn’t been determined when the ticket was issued. So they called someone on the walkie-talkie (apparently it’s not in the computer) and then took more than 30 minutes to confirm I was in the right place. While I waited for my flight, I watched even more Doctor Who. I rewatched “Blink” and I’m pretty sure that the guy next to me thought I was mad. He kept glancing at my screen. The flight was apparently delayed, but they didn’t actually tell us anything. We started boarding about 10 minutes after we were scheduled to take off, and we didn’t actually start taxiing until about 16:40.

The flight to Chiang Mai was really short and relaxed. I grabbed a taxi from the airport to my hostel, but it turns out that 1000 baht bills are way too large to use to pay taxi drivers. The people at the hostel also couldn’t break my 1000 baht bill, so I ended up having to borrow 100 baht from a girl at the hostel. After showering and discovering that my failure to bring an adapter with me actually is a problem, I spent about an hour wandering around the city looking for a three-prong to two-prong adapter. I finally found one at the third 7-Eleven I came across, and then went back to the hostel and then out again to the Sunday night market. I ended up getting really lost while there and spent more time than I wanted. My feet are now killing me, and I think I’m going to get a foot massage from the billions of massage places around.

Pictures of my hostel room and key (sorry the photos are terrible – I left my camera at home on accident and had to use my phone):

The night market entrance – I think all the glowing stuff was for the festival, but I’m not sure:

So I spent most of my trip watching a lot of Doctor Who. I’ve almost finished Season 3. It’s actually kind of weird because (1) I’ve started talking in a fake British accent in my head and (2) I’ve actually watched enough stuff that I’ve started recognizing some of the actors. There was Mark Gatiss (who was naked! He’s got freckles and chest hair – hehe), the guy who played Sebastian Wilkes (still a smarmy bastard), the actress who was Sally Donovan, and the kid from Love Actually. An episode from Season 2 also had an actress from Love Actually.