Monthly Archives: March 2015

Tokyo! 

At some point about 9 months ago my parents and I decided it would be great for them to meet me in Japan on my way back to the States since they visited SE Asia only a few years ago. I arrived in Tokyo and made my way on one their numerous subway/rail systems to the hotel in the Asakusa neighborhood. Everyone was very helpful and willing to help which is something I had heard about the Japanese people. In fact even if they can’t help they feel obligated to try and help so it’s important to tell them that you can find the information if they can’t help or else they will stay with you from start to finish. 

On our first full day together my parents and I went to the Meiji shrine (also a brand name of dairy products, including the yogurt I ate everyday for breakfast in Thailand). It is important for visitors to “cleanse” themselves before entering the shrine. There is a water fountain area outside where they will use a scoop to sip some water and then spit it out in a separate area. They will also wash their hands. We witnessed a wedding as a whole parade of people made their way into the shrine area. The bride dressed in a kimono. There is a garden on the premises as well that is probably beautiful in spring. Large sake barrels were outside of the shrine no meant as an offering. They were beautifully decorated. 



Across the street is Takeshita Street home to the Harajuku style of dress. This is a very unique style of dress that Gwen Stefani has brought to the attention of many Americans through songs and use of Harajuku girls in her music videos. They have frills in their hair, platform shoesm and short skirts. 



In the Asakusa area there is the famous Asakusa Kannon Temple featuring its signature big red lantern that is especially beautiful when lit up at night. The temple is home to a statue that was found in the river. The fishermen who found it tried to put it back in the river but it kept reappearing so it was housed in the temple. 



Mai Khao, Phuket, Thailand

The final part of my beach vacation had me hanging out at a resort in Mai Khao in the north part of of Phuket. It is a very isolated area which is exactly what I was looking for. I had a balcony overlooking both the Andaman Sea and the hotel pool. All I did for two days was read a book and relax. 













Can you spot any crabs?

Phang Nga Bay, Thailand

From Railay I took a ferry over to Phuket Town and took a day trip to Phang Nga Bay. During the day we explored different caves that took us into lagoons that you never would have known were there. We went into one cave appropriately called  bat cave that was filled with sleeping bats. Only noticeable when we shined our headlamps on them. 

In the higher tide these lagoons would have only been accessible by helicopter or an extreme rock climber. With such a low tide there were times that our sea kayak was in only inches of water. A thick layer of mud was evident as were an enormous amount of mudskippers and a few monkeys. 

When we paddled along the towering rock walls we found crabs and snails.  The crabs and mudskippers reminded me of ants in that you might not notice them at first glance but just stop and stare and all of the sudden there is movement all around. 

In the evening we went into the caves again and the sea was lit up with bioluminescent plankton. 



Railay Bay

Beautiful Beaches and Relaxation. That was all I was looking for during my final week in Thailand. My school said we didn’t have to work the final week so after seeking advice from a friend and picking my destination I began to plan. 

Railay Bay is part of Krabi in Southern Thailand. A coworker had spoken about the area a lot and until I actually looked at photos of it I had no idea just how beautiful it was. Railay Bay is accessible only by long tail boat so I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone with mobility problems as arrival on the island can sometimes involve walking in the water. 

There is a lagoon and two viewpoints that one can climb up to. After looking at the start of the trail for the lagoon and a viewpoint I decided that I would just sit on the beach and read my book. It begins with an almost completely vertical ascent. A rope is available to help pull you up though. 

The area also has some small bars and restaurants. 90 percent of these establishments have a water view as the unique location allows one to see both the sunset and the sunrise. For instance, I stayed at the Railay Bay Resort which spanned the width of the land area. It took maybe 3 minutes to walk from one side to the other. 

There are three different beach areas. One on the east side that isn’t as great and then two on the west side. One on the west side is only accessible by boat or by following a path that begins on the east side of the island. There are a lot of monkeys along the path which follows the side of a big rock wall. At this beach there you can see the Phranang caves that contain numerous phallic statues as an ode to fertility and the protection of fishermen. 





Toilets in Thailand

There are both squat and “Western” toilets in Thailand. A unique feature of toilets in SE Asia is that they feature a water hose to aid in cleaning. It’s quite refreshing to use and also practical as typically there isn’t any toilet paper. I’d argue that experienced travelers know to always carry around some tissue, particularly in Europe where at times there is no toilet paper nor is there a hose. 



A parting gift 

Villa Market is an import market in Thailand and home to Pop-Tarts, Honey Bunches of Oats, and Fritos (among many other name brand items). I signed up for a customer reward card with them and was “rewarded” in my final week in Thailand. Unfortunately I was unable to take the gift home with me but I’m sure one of the maids at my building will love another large water bottle (although bottle doesn’t quite seem like the right word for this contraption). This style is quite common for use as a water receptacle. 



Karaoke

One thing that was emphasized to me during my first week in Thailand was how big of a thing karaoke is. I haven’t experienced the same craziness with it as some others but I have noticed how often popular songs are reworked into “elevator music” versions. The songs are tamed down some and played all the time. In malls, restaurants, actual elevators, etc. 

Well an obsession with karaoke may not be noticed an obsession with reworked music definitely is. 

Customer service and tallness

I judge airlines based on their flexibility. I am tall. It’s a fact. And the best customer service I have experienced in relation to my tallness was when I lived in Spain and as soon as I approached the counter the agents would ask me if I would like a seat in “la salida de emergencia” (exit row). This happened consistently and usually on budget airlines. 

In Thailand I have found that of the carriers I’ve flown only one and a half have told me ‘no’ straight away when I asked about an exit row. AirAsia is very consistent with their policy even when it means that there is no one even sitting in their exit row upon take off (doesn’t that somehow seem like a safety hazard on its own). Tiger Air told me no once but yes the other two times which makes me think it depends more so on who you talk to. Other airlines have given it to me as soon as I asked. Well almost, I’ve noticed that usually a phone call is placed and they tell the other person “mak soong” (very tall) as their eyes move from my torso to my head, then any charges are voided. 

I wish that other carriers would do the same thing. I understand the concept of making money but I also think it is quite evident that I am not your average sized female (an average female is around 5’5″) or even male (5’10”) by a lot of inches. I’ve been fortunate to have status for the past few years and been able to choose my prime exit row seat in advance thus avoiding extra charges. 

So to those carriers and ticket agents out there that ask before I even have to say anything and to those who void charges – THANK YOU!

Expectations when traveling 

A few days ago I was sitting at my hotel’s restaurant situated on a beautiful beach accessible only by boat. A couple sat down next to me and told the wait staff that they needed to get something quick as their tour left in 20 minutes. They then tried to order pizzas. The wait staff of course told them that pizzas were not possible in 20 minutes. They settled on something else. 

Meanwhile I sat a few feet away wanting to tell them to just go grab kebabs further down the beach and silently seething at their behavior. I know it shouldn’t bug me too much but it did especially because of the beauty of where we were and because of the amazing hospitality that the restaurant and hotel offered. A beach vacation is for relaxation not rushing. 

I would argue that everywhere other than the United States, eating is an experience. Wait staff don’t bring a check until it is requested and a table is considered yours until you depart. 

I recognize that there were not a lot of food options where we were but better time management would have provided a better overall experience for everyone. I just hope that they tipped the wait staff well. 

The ants go marching one by one

Ants are a remarkable insect. They are strong, community based, and EVERYWHERE!

I’ve never had to deal with as many ants as I have in SE Asia. They find their way into everything and everywhere. For instance, you think you’ve cleaned your counter but then a few hours later there are a few ants suckling away on the one tiny spot that still has a taste of the sweet spiciness of som tam. Or there is nothing that even seems remotely enticing but they just decide that they will march along the shower wall. My best story is when they took over my toilet. I have no clue what they found so special about it but they were everywhere! In the tank, in the bowl, on the sides. Everywhere!

One of the most important things to do was take out my garbage and keep my eating spaces clean. Of course once I forgot to take out my garbage. I always leave it hanging on my door handle. A space that is away from my bed and usually not surrounded by anything. As I approached my room I could see the army of ants matching outside of it. I knew straight away what I had done…. 

Fortunately there weren’t too many times when a complete invasion took place and I more so found myself facing solitary ants. One on my desk, on my bed, on my foot. 

Over this past year I’ve come to have a strong appreciation of the strength and family of ants. They take care of each other. When an ant is trampled all of the other ants swarm around in panic and then carry away the body. Their strength is amazing. I watched a group carry away a big popped piece of popcorn. Not only did they carry it away but they carried it up a wall!!!!!

Ants have impressed me this year. However with that said I hope that I never encounter this many ants again!