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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Figuring Things Out- Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai has been a blast. It has been so nice to take it easy, do tons of shopping and sample all sorts of food. Plus, it is cool to figure things out on our own. We have done a lot of relaxing, but that isn't to say we have been completely lazy either. We explored old town Chiang Mai, shopped for hours along Saturday and Sunday Walking Streets, spent a day with elephants, ate "authentic" mexican food, took a cooking course, planned out our next leg in Cambodia and enjoyed Thai massages. It is easy to highlight the major things we have done, but as many of you world-travelers know, it is the small things that make up a country and its culture. I feel like we are really starting to appreciate these intricacies, and I am excited to become more aware as time progresses.
We have grown up as Thai tourists here in Chiang Mai. We would walk the streets and converse with local people about our trip, exciting events, their lives and then take advice on what we should do next. Allison I would just smile and look at eachother and think how nice everyone is. While I absolutely believe that the hospitality of this country is phenomenal, we were a little naive. A couple overtly nice locals pointed us in the direction of what we thought was the Tourist Authority of Thailand (known as TAT), the most trusted, recognized and accountable agency of tourism in Thailand. Not to say that all others are bad, but if you want the most fair prices, no gimmicks and only honest opinions, you have to go with them. We were pointed in the direction of T&T (also TAT on their signs) which took advantage of us as we booked our Cambodian get away. All in all, I think we were cheated out of $50, but it could have been worse. I could go into more boring detail, but it doesn't matter. Live and learn, right? I am still a little bitter about it, but now I know I shouldn't be so trusting and believe everyone is my friend, even though I love that disposition.
Even with that small misfire, so many things have been too amazing to really be down about. I honestly feel like I can cook half a dozen Thai dishes. I easily consider elephants my favorite animal, and I consider Mekwon, my elephant, a close friend. Shopping was great, our fellow travelers have been wonderful to talk to... life is good in Thailand. I think that this trip was considered audacious by some, but, compared to what youths from Canada, Australia and especially the UK it really isn't that exciting. Three European girls that we cooked with today are in the middle of a 1-year world-wide holiday, taking apopular "Gap Year." I wish that this was more common in the States, and I hope that our generation can propel the idea forward more and more.
Some funny things about Thai culture that I thought I should share: the people here are all skinny; woman obsess about fashion and looking good in public, no matter the occasion (no sweatpants/casual look here); no matter the service, you always pay after it is obtained (pay after you finish your coffee, fast food, internet use, etc.); shoes must be taken off when entering many businesses, eatings areas and especially temples; so many people know English (tourism is a MAJOR part of their GDP, so it makes sense, but it's still surprising); the food isn't terribly spicy- I haven't found anything here that is as spicy as Pearl Cafe in St.Louis; before taking money/tips, the provider will put their hands together in a praying motion and bow while saying thank you; you don't tip at restaurants at all; you can stay in an air-conditioned, wireless internet-having, cable TV flaunting guest house for $5 a night and you can get dinner for less than a dollar.

We are headed to visit the historical ruins and the second capital of Thailand, Sukhothai tomorrow. Then we have a night in Bangkok followed by the Cambodian border crossing, four nights in Siem Reap and a visit to the majestic Angkor Wat (please look it up if you haven't heard of it before, it looks incredible). We are ahead of our original schedule, so we might have time for something we hadn't anticipated. Stay tuned for more. I hope all is well back home.

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