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November in Thailand

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I spent my first 20 Novembers in Seattle. I’ve had six in San Francisco and two in New
York. November 2002 I was in Thailand. It’s my first time traveling alone and during a
season typically full of family and friends I look forward to meeting strangers and finding
a little more of myself. My month long adventure begins in Bangkok, a city distinguished
by it’s ornate temples and scathing sex scene. I take Lonely Planets advice and I visit the
reclining Buddha and the floating markets, both beautiful as anticipated. With the
obligatory sight seeing out of the way I decide to simply wander the streets for the rest of
my time there. This is the way I travel best, aimlessly touring the city and keeping an
active eye on the daily life. The steaming sidewalks of Bangkok cook the urban grim and
an overwhelming fishy tang marinates my hair. I now curse the Lonely Planet guide that
advised me to leave all perfumes at home. It’s a chaotic city, one of skeptical
infrastructure. The maps don’t match the street signs, switching back from Thai to
Sanskrit in no apparent order and the worrisome traffic scene has me believing I’m in a
real life Frogger game. As I gallivant around the city I literally make my way in front of,
just barely behind, and alongside a barrage of vehicles. As curious as Bangkok appears
it’s apparent that those who call it home find comfort in the madness, and that comforts
me. It took Murray Head “One Night in Bangkok”, it takes me seven and unlike the
popular band from the 80’s, I will make it a priority that Bangkok not be a one hit
wonder.


From Bangkok I head north to a perfect little place called Pai. About four hours west of
Chiang Mai and accessible via a one-lane road that resembles a gumball machine. The
giant kind of gumball machine, the one you see at pizza parlors that circle around and
around and after you’re sufficiently dizzy you finally get your reward, a yellow piece
when you wanted a red. Thankfully Pai was just what I wanted and I spent the next two
weeks in my little green heaven. In Pai, everyday is Sunday. Anything that requires
leaving your hammock becomes a chore. Unless, of coarse, it’s to cruise around on your
motorbike. (Note-to-self, invest in a Vespa.)


Pai lies in what is best described as the center of a giant jungle wok. Lush green hills 360
degrees around makes cruising this area an epic days event. After a week of lounging and
a couple novels later, a dear friend of mine joins me. Jamie had just finished a 12day
silent retreat in the Northern hills. We share a hut in the trees and some necessary
conversation. A sturdy ladder leads us to our Swiss Family Robinson accommodation.
Equipped with two twin beds and matching mosquito nets our cabin brings us back to
summer camp ‘82 and we revert to everything silly. Between us a simple wood table and
little lamp to read by, only we didn’t read, instead we fell asleep playing games like ‘do
your best celebrity impression’ and ‘tell me a time when you pee’d your pants.’ We
giggled the nights away, and I dozed off knowing that’s the only time of the day I go
silent.


So you’d think that after a few weeks in Thailand I’d know some Thai right? Not so
lucky, I never graduated past ‘sawa tee kah’ which mean ‘hello’, but my Tonto English
definitely improved…want to learn? Regular English (to someone not English); “I’m
going to cruise into town and get some dinner, I’ll see you later tonight.” Tonto English;
“I’m going to cruise (make moto handle bar movements) into town (point to direction of
town) for food (point to belly), I come back (point to ground).” It’s no use learning Thai
anyway, it seems I only said a few sentences a day anyhow like; “this food tastes so
good” and “is that snake deadly?” and “wow, this is cool”. At least with the Tonto
English I’ll finally be able to better understand our nation’s president.


I reluctantly left Pai and Jamie behind and headed into Chaing Mai. I arrive in Chiang
Mai during the heat of Loi Krathon. Loi Krathon is a three day festival around the full
moon of November where Krathong’s, beautiful flower arrangements on bamboo rafts are
set free into the Mai Ping river with intentions of warding off evil. There was a parade
every night and colorful floats would host painted ladies and dancing dragons. Gangs of
kids filled the streets lighting off an endless supply of firecrackers. A game ensued and
teenage jokesters would look for the weariest of traveler and light a firecracker off right
under their feet. I saw them, I avoided them, I was accosted by them. Having just
experienced a bombing in Bali a month prior I was highly leery of anything resembling a
‘bang’, but by the third day of this festival, I was paying them about as much attention as
my millions of mosquito bites.


With December looming I made the best of my time left in Thailand. My last three nights
were literally ‘spent’ as I blew the rest of my wad at the Chaing Mai night market. Buying
bamboo place mats and big wooden bowls made me a bit lonesome for the first time all
trip. I think about the dinner parties back home and the great Thanksgiving feast I had
missed this year. There’s nothing better than little time away to make you appreciate
what lives so close. I return home with big stories to tell and a greater appreciation for my
family and friends. Speaking of big I also rode an elephant, “wow, this is cool.”

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