Now I'll recall some of the unhappiest moments of my four weeks in Thailand in 2007. But I also went up the most astonishing and unforgettable staircase on Earth and saw some amazing views.Surprisingly, I don't seem to have written anything about the amazing 560 steps which go way up to a wat (temple), Wat Tham Pha Plong, halfway up the side of the mountain -- I had some good photos but since I'm an incorrigible slob, I can't locate them. There was hardly anybody else up there. Check out this guy's photos instead. Plus there's these. Lots of monks live up there and walk down the stairs very early every morning to collect alms from villagers.
So here's what I wrote at the time:
15 Aug 2007: Staying at Malee's Bungalows 74 km N of Chiang Mai. Nice and cool up here in Chiang Dao
, but still sickeningly humid, with amazing views of a 6000-ft. mountain right above us.
Met some cool Tennesseans who currently live in Manila and two Londoners who said I should look them up on Facebook. [Of course I totally forgot to do so, and now that I'm transcribing this in 2009, it seems a bit late. One was named Dan... Smith? maybe? of Morgan Stanley and the other was Carla Cohen.]
Earlier the two Tennesseans and I met while we were both trying to find a nature trail marked on the map near the bottom of the amazing stairs. The beginning of the trail was so overgrown that we just had to guess its location across a field and into the woods. Then the trail became easier to discern but as it plunged slightly in elevation and entered the rainforest-like depths, it became startlingly dark and foreboding. As we ventured farther into the forest, we passed a totally mystifying little area with some kind of chemistry experiment (maybe?) and a scary sign with a skull and crossbones, and a warning written only in Thai. Yikes! We almost turned back there, but the sign seemed to be warning people away from the turn-off area and not the trail itself. We hoped. Then the trail went upwards. Did some slipping, sliding, and falling in the mud of this trail. What a mess.
Had to turn back as we weren't making much progress and darkness was approaching. I must've fallen on my ass six or seven times. Fortunately the slippery mud that made me fall so many times also cushioned my fall repeatedly. It became like a ridiculous sloppy version of a water park, or more accurately, a mud park. A rowdy seven-year-old would've loved it. It took some serious scrubbing to get all those stains out. Anyway, the three of us met the Londoners later over dinner at one of the Chiang Dao Nest restaurants. [The food was pretty good but nothing amazing. It was a little gussied-up and highfalutin. Some was a bit bland by Thai standards, probably toned down for western tastes. The place was a bit fancier than most I'd tried and I felt a little out of place. When you get used to eating at outdoor Thai markets on plastic chairs on the street, then eating at a nicely-furnished real
restaurant seems odd for a slobby backpacker like me.]
Ugh. Two nights later, 17 Aug 2007, I'm slowly recovering from food poisoning. Or I assume that was the problem. Hardcore vomiting for about 18-24 hours. Mostly feeling better now, but still very nauseous sometimes, but that goes away when I belch. No more vomit. I assume I got this food poisoning from the Chiang Mai sausage I ate at a middling, empty restaurant on the north side of that city, about 14-18 hours before I started vomiting. Or maybe some off-brand bottled water poisoned me.
A couple of times there, I wondered if I was going to get so dehydrated that I'd have to go to the hospital, because I couldn't keep anything down, not even water for a few hours there. Fortunately they have some sports drink mixture here at Malee's and they were happy to sell it to me. That stayed down.
Can't quite finish my meal of tom ka gai. They made it bland for me, since I'm recovering from food poisoning. [That was probably the first and last time I actually asked for my Thai food to be bland.] Good
mushrooms. Malee's little brat is really starting to annoy the shit out of me, though. [I'm not keen on screaming children.]
Earlier today, after I woke up at around 1:30 p.m. and didn't have a headache for the first time in seemingly eons, I took a shower, had some of Malee's thick home-made whole wheat toast, then walked 1 or 2 km down the road to the Chiang Dao Caves. I was a little startled to see so many other whiteys there. Not too many other people are here at Malee's.
Caves were great. Went up into the unlit part with a guide with a gas lamp and two Afrikaaners. Couldn't recognize their language until they told me what it was. [Where the HELL are all my other damn photos of these caves?!? I had a great photo of some bright electric signs featuring mangled Thainglish deep within the caves, and colorful reclining cave Buddhas.] Exhausted by the end of that. Disappointed to find that the vendors just outside the caves closed, but not surprised -- they turned the lights off on me just before I emerged from the caves, so clearly people were closing up. Out on the road, a few very rustic shops were open. Bought some Nori seaweed-flavored Lays chips. Couldn't taste much seaweed, as expected. Oddly, they also carried Mexican BBQ flavor.
It's several degrees cooler up here in Chiang Dao than in Chiang Mai, but I feel frustratingly cut off, and it seems more rainy up here. Certainly more muddy and mosquito-ridden. Escaping the heat wasn't really worth this bother. I wonder if my Tevas will ever be truly clean again.At some point after that, I started to plan a humorous e-mail called "10 Things You Probably Didn't Know About Thailand." Unfortunately I never finished it. This is how my rough draft started out:
1. Legions of stray dogs wandering around. [They're not fixed, so their big balls are just dangling there for everybody to see.]
2. Legions of ants
3. A 7-11 every 100 ft., all with A/C
That's where the rough draft stopped, but I think I would've added:
4. Some of the rural ATMs are mysteriously huge and sometimes their rear-ends swallow up massive amounts of space in a convenience store or whatnot. And many of them are made by Diebold. Yes, that Diebold. For a while, I joked that Diebold must've been hiding legions of cryogenically-preserved heavily-armed dwarfs inside their ATMs and plotting to defrost them to conquer Thailand at some future point. But Diebold probably also makes all the voting machines in Thailand, so why bother with dwarfs when you have control over the voting?
5. Some of the soy milk is "enriched" (or from a lactose-intolerant person's standpoint, poisoned
) with whole milk powder! I had to look very carefully at the mostly-Thai-script label on the back of the bottle of one brand of soy milk to discover this. In many instances, the bottles have little or no English at all, and you just have to hope that there's no dairy in it.
As I understand it, southeast Asians never used to consume dairy, except for eggs. But in recent decades, various milk-based desserts, drinks, milky bubble teas, etc. have made inroads there. And so:
6. A lot of kids there are drinking weird milky fruit dessert drinks from plastic bags with straws sticking out of them. Not from bottles, not from cans, not any other kind of container -- just a loose, limp, clear little plastic bag with a straw. The drinks usually contained little bits of fruit and were reminiscent of milky Indonesian desserts like es teler
, and I believe they all contained condensed milk. But who knows?
Big Dairy must be pushing hard to open this market further. At the well-known Chatuchak Weekend Market in Bangkok, women in fake pink nurse's uniforms were handing out free samples of "cultured milk with collagen." Pretty strange stuff -- like drinkable yogurt but with little bits of collagen in it (tasted like coconut). I figured I'd give it a try, since yogurt doesn't usually bother me. And generally, you can buy more milk and yogurt than soymilk in the local 7-11s. I think I've only seen rice milk in one place if at all.
7. Americans will see some familiar brand names in Thailand, but also lots of unfamiliar ones. One big brand name widely seen in Thailand is Dannon
: They make a lot of bottled water there. Plus there's Nestle. And it usually only costs about 8-15 ฿
(about 24 to 45 cents U.S.). Or you can get off-brand bottled water for about 4-8 ฿
(about 12 to 24 cents).
I can't really explain this. The picture says it all.
9. Stores in Thailand sell a mysterious powder called Snake Brand Prickly Heat Powder. My first reaction was, "What the fuck is that?!" But then I tried some. It's talcum powder with some nice additives -- and it's great
for absorbing sweat and dealing with the insane humidity of Thailand. The lavender variety is especially nice. I still have some.
More to come! I'll have to think up a #10 later.