All of the best things to be seen in Bangkok are safely tucked away from the main streets.
It’s a familiar story.
Girl goes to live abroad in Thailand, girl gets a 4-day weekend.
Girl gets dropped off in the middle of nowhere, gets caught in a freak monsoon and irked by a pig.
Alright, maybe I have your attention now.
This is how my first weekend in August started out. This trip to Koh Mak was, without a doubt, the strangest getaway I have been on to date.
For the amount of foresight that went into planning this trip (scanning the internet for routes of transport to the island, best guesthouses on the island, most beautiful beaches, the usual) nothing turned out right. At least at first.
Stephanie (friend & volunteer with the organization I work for), Adam (by now, a familiar face on the blog), and I decided on going to Koh Mak, a tiny island in far southeastern Thailand near the border of Cambodia. Koh Mak is known for being isolated, rustic, and free of the hoards of tourists that clog the beaches of the more well-known Thai islands. It sounded perfect. We made plans to take a overnight bus from Nakhon Ratchasima to Trat Province, where we would meet up with Adam.
Once again, I was shuttled onto an overnight bus that had oversold tickets and crammed people into aisles for the 7-hour journey. Luckily, Stephanie and I managed to get the last seats on the bus.
I popped motion sickness pills, not because I get motion sick, but because it’s an excellent way to ensure sleep on less than ideal, mobile sleeping environments. I’ve received sage advice that listening to the Planet Money podcast has similar effects.
I woke up around 4 in the morning, the bus having pulled into the Trat bus station. We crawled into a song taew packed with Thai and foreign tourists (everyone else was going to the popular island of Koh Chang). Half an hour later, Stephanie are dumped at what can only be described as a backpacker holding pen.
MY WORST NIGHTMARE.
Dreadlocked, wayward youths sipping beers, taking drags from their cheap cigarettes, and downing beef & basil at 5 in the morning. I looked around with contempt and got pretty disappointed in myself that I had ended up here (even though there was really nowhere else to go). We waited in line and bought ferry tickets to Koh Mak from a company that probably doesn’t even exist. We were given vague details of where to find the dock with our boat. I felt pretty duped, taken advantage of.
Stephanie grabbed some breakfast and I sit and cheerily seethe in a way that only I can imagine doing. I decided to go looking for the mythical dock, as the sun had started to rise. Stephanie and I walk for about 10 minutes and find could only have been our dock. There were a few people milling about, but no boat companies to speak of.
This whole time we had ventured outside, we had a conversation that will go down as one of the dumbest conversations I’ve had in my life. We walked along commenting on the sky – “Wow, the sky looks really weird right now!” “Oh, look how black it is over there.” “This is so strange. The dock and the sky. What are we doing?”
What the heck were we thinking?! LOOK AT THIS SKY!
Somehow, we did not manage to put 2 and 2 together to figure out that we would soon be stranded outside in a really intense storm, without shelter.
Really dumb, I know.
As you would easily be able to predict, we got soaked. Every inch of our bodies, our hair, our clothes, our backpacks. And there were no boats either. We were told to go back.
Cranky and wet, we retreated. I squeezed the water out of my skirt and warmed up with some instant coffee.
Then I noticed this pet pig who kept on wandering around and wiggling his piggy nose.
And as much as I insist that my life in Thailand isn’t very exciting, I had to admit that this morning with the dock and the rain and the pig, this morning that was going on forever was truly surreal. I had to stop and say to myself, “Okay, this isn’t normal. My life is strange.”
After some lounging and minimal drying out, we went back to the dock. And waited. We didn’t know what boat company would take our tickets, and none of them did. We watched boats come and go for 6 hours. And Adam still hadn’t shown up from Bangkok.
I was getting irritated at how unrelaxing this relaxing beach vacation was turning out.
And then I turned my head and saw Adam not 5 feet from me! “Adam!” I yelled.
He had taken a chance and gotten off his bus early. Had he not gone with his gut, we would have missed him entirely! 10 minutes later, we had all found seats on the crowded ferry. Tired by the morning’s events, I slept most of the way (sleeping on boats is a special talent of mine).
Like most islands, you step off the ferry and are greeted by touts and trucks taking you to their guesthouses. There was one guesthouse we wanted to stay, but for some reason the driver wouldn’t let us get on. We boarded another truck with the name of a guesthouse I had recognized from my online research – Baan Koh Mak or something like that. Since it’s the low season, guesthouses and accommodation can be harder to come by on the islands, so we had to take what we could get.
Driving through the island, sitting in the back of the truck, I could see how thoroughly off the tourist trail we were.
We were taken to a remote corner of the island. We were only guests on this beach, at this guesthouse. Our bungalow was right on the beach, the waves crashed right outside our doorstep.
This all might have felt perfect, but because of the day’s events, it just felt a little creepy.
We spent the afternoon reading aloud to each other on the porch of the bungalow and played cards and drank lao pun. We wanted to eat fish given that, you know, we were on an island, but for some reason, there were no fish to had on the entire island. This might have been the weirdest thing of all.
The night was stormy and we slept unsoundly thanks to the cracks and gaps in the walls, our proximity to the sea, and the fact that all three of us were crowded onto a bed that was definitely not built for 3 non-Thai-height people.
The mosquito net was kind of dreamy though.
It was quickly decided that we would look for more centrally located accommodation the next day.
Our first full day on the island shook off all of the weird vibes we had accumulated from the day before. The sky was perfect and the sea was clear and it was exactly what we needed. We easily found a new place to stay. We shared our new guesthouse with a group of high schoolers on a tour and we spent a great deal of time watching them and speculating about them.
We coated ourselves in coconut oil, not for better bronzing, but because it’s a natural sand flea repellant. I learned that sand flea bites don’t hurt but will leave a small red dot that fades quickly.
Much laying out and lounging in the warm gulf waters was done. It was finally shaping up to be the beachy vacation we were all hoping for. We laid down on the sand and let the water lap the backs of our legs, our backs, our arms.
Rosy cheeked and tired from the sun, we spent the afternoons curled up in hammocks, reading. This is all I ask of any vacation, ever. Copious amounts of reading time.
At night, we lay under a different mosquito, reading more stories and having hours-long conversations.
For all of the strangeness, it turned out as peacefully and restfully as I had hoped.
Except, really, how could an island not have fish? Tell me, please.
day & sunset from our favorite view of the ocean from Koh Mak:
Sometimes I wonder what kind of friend I am. I mean, obviously, to most of my friends, I’m “the friend who’s living in Thailand.” And what kind of friend-who’s-living-in-Thailand could I be if I don’t provide people with many pictures to drool over?
More than pictures to velvety rice paddies, lushly dense jungled mountains and pristine beaches, people seem to go nuts over bad translations and unfortunate spelling. And I see them all of the time! I should stop holding out on all y’all.
This comes from a walk down the vegetable aisle at Tesco Lotus. I go to “Lotuh” twice weekly, mostly to stock up on apples, yogurt, and yogurt milk. If I’m lucky, there will be some sugar snap peas or cherry tomatoes. Yesterday, there were no peas, but I did find these translations (right next to one another):
I’m realizing that I don’t share enough the charms of my everyday life here. There are some really great, silly, crazy things that happen to me here. They might not be exciting, but they also might not be a part of everyday life in America. So I’m thinking I should document more of them.
I went to Paris, I went home, I went to DC.
It was time to go back to Thailand. But I couldn’t get there before a ridiculously long, 10-hour layover in Frankfurt.
While it’s no secret that Paris has a magical reputation (a reputation that it upheld exceptionally well, I have to say), Frankfurt’s reputation was less than stellar.
“The most boring city in Western Europe,” one website offered. They were making it sound so great for me and my layover.
Nevertheless, I was determined to leave the airport during my layover (I had from noon-10pm between flights – prime city time). Unfortunately, as good as I am at figuring out rapid transit systems, I had the hardest time trying to navigate the arteries of the Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof.
A scruffy, kindly man took it upon himself to show me how to buy my ticket into the city from the airport. I slowly dug through my wallet to scrounge up leftover Euros from Paris. As soon as I purchased my ticket, he wanted money from me, saying he didn’t have any for himself. Even though I think of myself as a mostly kind person (with feisty tendencies), I never know what to do in situations like this. I had very little money for my time in Frankfurt so I smiled apologetically.
I hopped on the train, feeling more out of place than I had in a very long time. Though a significant part of my family on my mom’s side has German heritage, it’s not anything I’m connected to in any way. My mom’s maiden name is as German as our family gets in any way, shape, or form.
It was strange to be so uncomfortable in a place where I blended in, when I am so comfortable living in a country where I stick out (“like a turd in the punch bowl!” in the words of my dad) everywhere I go.
I tried my best to decipher the garbled German voice, announcing the stops toward the city center. I made the connection at the central HBF and took the U to Römerplatz, the most gimmicky, touristy area that Frankfurt am Main has to offer!
Römerplatz was pretty lame. I felt like it was me & a whole bunch of classic tourists, snapping shots of themselves in front of the once-authenthic/now-rebuilt-for-tourism-purposes building façades.
With my cheesy tourism obligations fulfilled for the day, I turned my attention to more pressing matters at hand.
Finding myself a meal.
Being the girl that I am, I was already thinking about what German food I wanted before I set foot in Frankfurt.
Here’s a list:
1. Sausage (Frankfurter? Are those even real things in Germany?)
2. Beer from a glass boot
That’s it. I am the picture of originality with this list. Unfortunately, I didn’t see any beer in a glass boot during my oh-so-brief time in Germany.
I settled for some sausage and potato salad instead. I took bites off of both ends of the dog before I remember to capture the picture for posterity.
I felt the same darn apprehension ordering food in Frankfurt that I did while in Paris (but I didn’t have Sophie with me to order for me). I get really self-conscious and flustered when I’m supposed to be ordering food and people are looking at me like I’m supposed to be speaking the language and all I can eke out is unintelligible, muffled sounds and “I’m sorry” and some pointing. It’s much easier for me in Thailand, where I’m able to respond to strangers in Thai, much to their delight, “Oooh-wee! Put Thai gang!”
So I ended up with this sausage and some potato salad somehow.
I wandered around a lot, not feeling very impressed with Frankfurt.
I found the Kleinmarkthalle and bought a hard pretzel. I wandered around some more, making my way slowly back to the central HBF.
I passed through the Indian shops and by Occupy Frankfurt. Feeling more apathetic than tired, I went back to the airport to while away the time I had left before my flight.
I read The Art of Fielding and then fell asleep at a table for the better part of an hour.
I watched a drunken, irate Irishmen get dragged away by Interpol while screaming obscenities at the sassy Lufthansa staff.
I found some currywurst and Hefeweizen and scarfed them down before my impending plunge back into all Thai food, all the time.
I browsed the duty free, as I am growing increasingly more likely to do these days, and bought a big bag of Haribo gummy bears (I then proceeded to polish off the bag of bears at 5:30AM in my room a few days later, in a fit of jetlag and homesickness and whattheheckismylifeness).
And last, maybe most importantly, I admired the Frankfurt sunset, streaked by the airplane trails of the departures and arrivals at the Frankfurt airport.
Some day in the distant future, this blog will once again post timely pictures and anecdotes about what’s going on in my life.
But until then, you get to look a pretty, mouth-watering pictures of fattening food that I took over a month ago.
I knew that when planning a trip back home to the US, a trip to some cool city where my friends now live would be requisite. Without much hesitation, I settled on Washington, DC – chosen city of many of my dear friends. While I was sad to say goodbye to my family (who I rarely ever see anymore), I was delirious at the thought of spending quality time with some of my closest friends.
One of the things I miss the most about living in a city in America is the constant access and availability to free cultural events. Before making it to DC this time around, my friends and I had already made plans to participate in the Post Hunt, which is more or less a downtown-DC-wide riddle/puzzle/scavenger hunt on steroids designed by Dave Barry, run by the Washington Post and for the overeducated. Definitely my kind of thing.
Thanks to a lot of DC-know-how, my team made a good showing. We successfully found the answers to the 5 main clues of the day but we weren’t quick enough to snatch the final prize. As the Post Hunt was coming to a close, our brains were tired. I was supposed to be counting over 600 words on a page, but in my head, I have given up.
I was only thinking about one thing.
As I am wont to do, while at home, I was scrolling through one of my favorite foods blogs, Serious Eats, and found a picture of a glorious sandwich from the ChurchKey in Washington DC.
In food legend, the Luther is the monstrous combination of a cheeseburger sandwiched between two doughnuts acting as buns. Without having tasted it, the sandwich haunted my time at home and haunted my time in DC. It was always at the back or my mind until I knew that it would be mine.
ChurchKey took that idea, and instead of one-upping it, they 3,000x-upped it. Crisp, tender fried chicken breast filled the space between fresh, glazed (and dare I say, bordering on cakey?) brioche. The sandwich was drizzled in maple syrup and festooned with walnuts. As if this sandwich wasn’t cool enough, it wasn’t even on the menu. We were a table of cool kids with doughnut sandwiches and the diners around us wanted to know what magical creations we had ordered.
I know I can die a happy girl.
If that wasn’t enough brioche for a day, we decided to hit up DC gelato mainstay, Pitango, for some dessert. If there was ever a meal that didn’t deserve dessert, the Luther was it. But I do love me some Pitango and it would’ve been a shame to go to DC and not go to Pitango.
The Pitango we visited in Logan Circle offered brioche-gelato sandwiches. Apparently this is an Italian tradition? I know that in Thailand, I can easily buy homemade coconut ice cream nestled between two slices of baby-sized white bread, but I figured that Italy was too classy to mix their starches and sugars in such an offensively tasteless way.
I was already beyond stuffed at this point, but I went for the brioche sandwich anyway. I carefully selected dark chocolate and Earl Grey gelato.
I’m afraid nothing could compare to the perfection that was the ChurchKey Luther brioche. The gelato was tasty (and the flavors were refined and subtle), but the brioche was too dry to enjoy the sandwich. I wouldn’t order it again.
Did I learn anything through my overindulgence of brioche? Yes. Never order two in the same day. One is bound to be dry. And it’s usually best to keep your breads away from your cold desserts.
“Corndogs aren’t for every day, you know. They’re for special occasions too.” – my Poppa
Like a lot of father-daughter relationships, my dad and I have a relationship built on love and an extremely squirrely sense of humor. Unlike a lot of father-daughter relationships, our relationship is strengthened by a mutual love of corn dogs.
So it was only fitting that I spend one of my last days at home going on a strange cultural journey with my father. We went to Franciscan-sister-run llama farm to procure organic beets and check out some corn that my dad was growing for the nuns. We then made our way to the thriving metropolis of Springfield, Illinois to visit the Cozy Dog Drive In, the self-proclaimed originator of the “cozy dog” (really, the corn dog). The Cozy Dog Drive In is situation along the original Route 66 and is a point of pride for many people in the area.
Wow, do my dad and I love corn dogs. He always suggest having corn dogs for lunch whenever I’m home. And when I was at college in corn dog-deprived state of Rhode Island, a friend made a nostalgia-themed documentary on my statewide search for the elusive corn dog. I never found one in Rhode Island (though, upon writing this, I realized that I found a corn dog in Bristol a couple of years later).
You can find corn dogs under many different names. Corn dogs. Cozy dogs. Pronto pups. My dad and I like to intentionally switch the ‘r’ and the ‘o’ and call them ‘cron dogs.’No matter what you call them, they all taste great. Just writing this and looking at pictures of corn dogs made my eyes hungry. My dad promised that he wouldn’t go to Cozy Dog Drive In without me, so I’m going to hold him to that.
(Or, more accurately, “The Story of My Life”)
I thought it would be something different to share with you. A snapshot of my life doing what I do best – waiting. In a space of transit. I copied this out from my journal that I kept that night. Almost everything is word-for-word.
Oh man, oh man. I have 5 ½ hours to go in an outside bus terminal and it’s already my workday bedtime. I need to pass the time carefully so as not to fall asleep. Maybe I can go to 7-Eleven and find a pack of cards and some water to keep my mind occupied. That might be a good plan for now. I can’t say enough how I’m so looking forward to my Parisian adventure!
HOW TO KILL 7 ½ 8 HOURS IN A THAI BUS STATION (CHIANG MAI, TERMINAL 3)
7:45PM – See friends off to their bus.
7:47PM – Double check which gate and terminal my bus leaves from. Realize I’m in the wrong terminal and cross the street to get to the right one. Find it bustling and clean and full.
7:54PM – Find an internet café! Check Gmail, Facebook, & Google Reader (in that order) for the next hour. Mostly just read Mormon blogs. Make a note of articles to reader later.
8:56PM – Head out to the waiting area. Brace myself for a long, strange night.
9:07PM – Decide that now is as good of a time as any to write in my journal. Do so for the next hour.
10:04PM – Written the thoughts that I want to write now. It helps to keep things on paper.
10:07PM – Think that this is one of the more annoying times I’ve had to kill and decide to document it (with pictures) for blogging purposes.
10:25PM – Strike out for 7-Eleven
10:27PM – Due to the preponderance of 7-Elevens in Thailand, I come across one quickly (there are two next to the bus station). I find a new wonder every time I go to 7 (as it’s shortened when talking about in Thai). Tonight, I buy a new tube of travel-sized toothpaste, a type of ice cream cone I’ve never seen before, and some fruit juice.
10:35PM – I head back to my table I previously occupied and took stock of my bounty. My ice cream cone was going to start melting soon, so I unwrapped it and went to town on it. Because I don’t want to run out of things to do, I didn’t multi-task at all while licking the ice cream. I finish it within 10 minutes.
10:45PM – At this point, I have to go to the bathroom. Unfortunately, the lobby to the inside part of this bus terminal is locked up for the night. So is the bathroom in the outside part of the terminal. Not having access to a bathroom is every sane person’s nightmare. (After writing this, I’m thinking that it’s every privileged person’s nightmare.) I walk over to the bus terminal next to mine. On the way, my bag full of Chiang Mai souvenirs and a box of Pop Tarts breaks. Great. I get there and I find that terminal 2 is boarded up as well. Things aren’t looking pretty.
All the while, I’m propositioned by the tuk tuk drivers, eager to chauffeur me back into the heart of the Chiang Mai. In my not-so-politest Thai, I decline their offers.
10:58PM – With a stroke of luck, I find another bus terminal (the main Nakhon Chai one) that has a few workers milling around, setting up shop for the night. I’m in luck! They have a bathroom, and an almost immaculate one at that! I do my business, wash my face and brush my teeth, finishing off the herbal salt toothpaste I’ve been carting around in my toiletry bag every since my trip to Cambodia in January.
11:05 PM – I depart the bathroom and stop in another, different 7-Eleven to ask for a new, big plastic bag in the politest Thai I can muster (mii sai toum yai mai kaa?). The gracious, giggling girls of 7-Eleven are able to save my day. I walk back to the terminal, fending off more tuk tuk drivers on the way.
11:09PM – I settle myself for the long haul on a stretch of 4 seats. There are at least 9 other people in the terminal, but that’s it. I’m still grateful it’s well-lit and clean. I’m outside, so in addition to ‘glistening,’ I’m also being feasted on my mosquitoes (I have a biological predisposition toward super delicious blood). I pull out my citronella balm and apply vigorously on my arms, hands, and feet. This is the smell of my late night, outside, cricket-chirping skype chats and I’m thankful I brought it with me. At this point, I’ve taken a good half-hour to detail the minutia (I keep on thinking of it as micro-blogging – is that weird?) or the last half hour or so.
11:40 PM – A bus is here! Is it my bus? If it was, it would be about 4 hours early. However, I would not [I just leave it cut off there for some reason]
11:43PM – Bus pulls away. I’m heartened by the fact that although I know precious few Thai characters, I can discern the timetable for the bus line between Chiang Mai and Nakhon Ratchasima.
เชียงใหม่ – Chiang Mai
นครราชสีมา – Nakhon Ratchasima
Most of the Thai letters I’m familiar with/know the sounds of, I know from karaoke videos on inter-province buses.
11:50PM – The old man nodding off next to me has just let out the loudest fart. I flip through my Lonely Planet Thai phrasebook until 12. I can feel my Thai improving more, my understanding improving, possibilities for me finally learning how to read seeming more and more possible.
12:00 AM – I stretch myself out on a row of seats. I listen to dogs barking in the night. I start Sh*t My Dad Says (the book, from Abby). [Since it was late at night, I couldn’t read anything too heavy]
2:10AM – I finish Sh*t My Dad Says and try to delve into The Corrections again. Another bus arrives, this time a Chiang Mai – Nakhon Ratchasima one, the one I’m supposed to take an hour and 20 minutes from now. It’s just unloading, however. My biggest concern is where to pee before the journey. This darn bus leaves at 3:30 in the morning AND it doesn’t have a bathroom on it! I have half a mind to squat in a quiet, secluded corner. I’m so thirsty but I can’t be filling my bladder with anything else at the moment.
Also, the mosquitoes are driving me nuts. And 2-3 more buses have arrived. Nakhon Chai Air bus, get here soon!
2:22AM – Hark! A light in the darkness. The Nakhon Chai ticket counter seems to have opened up, bless them. It will be their job to find me a bathroom before the bus moves. I think it might be futile, trying to restart The Corrections tonight. It’ll be my project for tomorrow, in Chakkarat.
Okay. Going to scope out the possibility of an available bathroom now.
2:24AM – I write postcards to fill the time. I send postcards frequently and at a rather high volume. I love sending them, I love being able to brighten people’s days. I picked up some really beautiful ones at the Saturday walking street. I addressed them to [a friend, an elementary school teacher, my family]. Maybe I can try and send them in Khorat.
2:45AM – The bus arrives and it’s looking real janky. No bathroom. The lobby is unlocked and lit again but when I went inside, some security guard guy was like, ‘We open at 6.’ And the lady in the Nakhon Chai booth could offer no further help.
I see the bus attendant bring a round of amphetamine drinks for herself and the driver.
I still feel angry about not having a bathroom, but I board anyway.
And my National Bank of Petersburg pen ran out. [They are my favorite pens to write in my journal with.]
3:30AM – I’m off. See you in 12 hours, Khorat.
[14 hours later, 4 poptarts, 1 orange juice, and 1 or 2 bathroom breaks later, I made it back to the familiarity of the Khorat bus station.]
 The city and province of Nakhon Ratchasima is popularly referred to as “Khorat,” so that’s what I call it as well.