Last day abroad!

Well, as expected we spent today lazing at the beach. I got a Thai massage (for about $7) at the beach, and T got a henna tattoo (lasts for two weeks). Not much else to report, because we basically sat under an umbrella for six hours or so.

There's this pack of dogs that shows up at the beach right around when everyone is leaving (like 5pm). It was really interesting to watch them. They're like a pack of domesticated dogs, so they'll wag their tails and want you to pet them, but at the same time you can watch their pack behaviors towards each other. I thought it was really fascinating!

Anyway, tomorrow is our big day of flying. We'll be arriving at LAX at 9:40pm Thursday. Mom & Dad, I guess I'll meet you at the curb or wherever the international arrivals meeting area is. It will probably take some time to pick up baggage and go through customs or whatever we have to do -- I bookmarked the Cathay Pacific website so you can check if my flight is on time. See you then!

--Jessica

kata beach

Well, we spent today lazing at the beach. After spending quite a while last night watching TV, we slept in (until 9, not too late) this morning. We had breakfast at the restaurant on the beach where we had dinner last night, then went to sit at the beach itself. They have all these beach chairs with umbrellas out on the beach, and we paid 100 baht (about $2.50) for two chairs for the day.

On the way to the beach I had picked up a beach towel, which came in pretty handy for laying on on the chair (the covering was like plastic or something and so it was sticky). After we got ourselves set up, the first order of the day was spending money, of course. T went parasailing (I wussed out, but I got pictures of her!), and then we both rented jetskis (lots of fun -- may be repeated tomorrow). Each of those was 1000 baht (about $25, for 30 minutes on the jetski). I then rented a boogie board for the day for 100 baht (refreshingly cheap after the jetski), and we proceeded to loaf.

Some things I will miss when getting home: fresh pineapple juice most of all, meals for $2.50, beaches that are not covered with a million people and a ton of trash, and how cheap everything is (hotel rooms for $15 a night).

I thought I had avoided getting burned, but somehow in the span of when I got up from under the umbrella until I had rolled my towel up and put it away, I seem to have burned my arms. I guess I should have reapplied sunblock. Oops! I think it will probably be gone by tomorrow.

Right now we're wasting time in an internet cafe because it's air conditioned and it suddenly got really hot outside. When we're done here, it will probably be dinner time, then more movies on HBO.

See you in a couple days!

--Jessica

made it to Phuket

Just a quick note to let you know we made it safely to Phuket (pronounced poo-KET). It turns out the hotel we had made reservations at went out of business! We managed to find a different place at the same price though. We're staying at a place at Kata Beach, which is one of the three popular beaches of Phuket island (Patong is the most popular, and the most developed).

So far all we've done is walk down to the beach (which is REALLY pretty) and have dinner (at the beach). The plan for the next two days is basically to sit at the beach and "unwind" (as T put it). They have rentals of boogie boards, surf boards, and snorkelling equipment, so I think we'll have stuff to do. We're also considering a canoe trip, depending on how much it costs.

Unfortunately, our hotel isn't one of these right-on-the-beach resorts. Instead, it's up on this steep hill, and our room has a balcony overlooking the parking lot and dumpster. Well, at least it's air conditioned, and it has HBO! (Though that's the only English channel it has . . . ) It's less than 5 minutes walk from the beach, though. I'm curious how much the beach resorts cost.

Hopefully it won't rain much while we're here -- last night in Chiang Mai there was some sort of tropical storm, and after we got drenched getting back to our hotel from dinner, we could hear the rain really loudly (it sounded like a plane taking off or something). Pretty crazy! It had stopped by this morning.

Our plan for right now is to wander around the town a little and try to find the other beach (Kata beach is apparently actually two beaches). And after our two full days here, a really really really really long day of traveling to get home: Phuket->Bangkok->Hong Kong->Los Angeles! I'm looking forward to sleeping in my own bed and having a really nice shower at home.

--Jessica

Chiang Mai, day 2

Yesterday afternoon, we spent a while sitting in a restaurant. Basically, it was around 3:30 and we hadn't had lunch yet, but we didn't want to eat and spoil dinner, so we decided to look around for a coffee shop or something. We found a place that advertised "Italian and Mexican Food" and popped in for nachos. Not as good as California Mexican food, but better than nothing! We hung out at that place for a while, and eventually ordered dinner. T got quesedillas and I got ravioli -- yum! I'm wondering if the people running the restaurant used to live in the US or something. After that we went to check out the "night bazaar", which was basically just like the shopping in Bangkok but at night. It's sort of like the valley indoor swap meet, but outdoors.

This morning we went to the Chiang Mai Zoo. It was okay -- kind of dirty, and they let cars drive through the whole zoo. However, they had some interesting animals, and a pair of giant pandas! We got some exercise walking up and down the hills there, and saw more of the fuzzy caterpillars that I saw in Hong Kong (I took a picture of one this time).

After that we went to the Chiang Mai National Museum, which is pretty tiny. As expected, they had a lot of Buddha images, and not much else.

Back at the hotel, we had another mid-afternoon snack (missed lunch again, didn't want to spoil dinner again) -- this time fruit salad and french fries, instead of nachos. After that we wandered over here to check our email and such.

We rode in a tuk tuk last night (they're these three-wheeled motorized taxis, sort of like a motorcycle with a seat hooked up behind it), which we designated as a "real Thai experience." Today we rode in the "minibuses" that serve as taxis in this city (rather than regular metered taxis). Basically it's like a pickup truck, but in the truck bed they put this covered thing with bench seats on the sides, so you climb in the back and sit there hoping you don't fall out. We got covered with nasty soot and stuff from all the exhaust fumes -- just like being back in Beijing! :P

Anyway, we've run out of things to do in Chiang Mai, with prety good timing since we're off to Phuket tomorrow. The only things we really want to do for sure in Phuket are get a Thai massage and go on a canoe trip. The canoe trips go around these islands, and you get to go into caves and stuff while the tide is out. It looked pretty neat! T still needs to buy a swimsuit though.

Hopefully there will also be an internet cafe near our hotel in Phuket, but if not we'll be back on the 15th!

--Jessica

Chiang Mai

Well, I had typed almost everything up when I hit a wrong button and deleted the entire entry. :P Anyway, our last day in Bangkok was spent shopping for souvenirs, then we successfully made it to the airport for our flight to Chiang Mai. Last night we walked around and looked at some of the wats (there are 300 in Chiang Mai even though it's a very small city).

Today we booked a car (and driver, of course) from the hotel travel agency. They took us first to an orchid and butterfly farm, which was pretty neat. We got to see the butterfly cocoons, which were twitching around while the butterflies tried to get out.

After that we went to the elephant camp! We got there just in time to watch the elephants bathing in the river, and then the elephant show. The most impressive part of the show was the elephants painting pictures! (The elephant soccer was pretty impressive too.) They trained the elephants to paint pictures of flowers. Pretty neat!

Next we got to go on an elephant ride (using a special elephant saddle!) through the surrounding jungle (in the mountains). It was pretty awesome, and a great value for the money (about $7 for a half hour ride).

After that we stopped at a monkey center where we got to play with a little monkey and we watched a monkey show. Apparently monkeys are used in Thailand for harvesting coconuts, because they can pick twice as many per day as people can!

Finally, they took us around to some factories, where basically they talk to us for two minutes and then we shop for overpriced goods. We didn't buy anything, and they took us back ot the hotel. It was a little interesting to see how lacquerware is made though.

Now we're back, and I guess we'll have to figure out what we're going to be doing tomorrow. Only a few more days!

--Jessica

Bangkok, day two

Yesterday we made our goal to visit the National Museum. We didn't get as lost this time, so it was a pretty quick walk! We stopped at the National Gallery on the way to check out traditional and contemporary Thai art. It was pretty cool! Unfortunately, like nothing is air conditioned, so we were baking the whole time.

After that, we made it to the National Museum, which is pretty big! Unfortunately, all the really cool stuff was photography prohibited. They had a hall about Thailand's history, then artifacts from all over Thailand and other parts of Asia. Particularly cool were the royal burial chariots and the Buddha images. We stopped for lunch at the museum's kind of sketchy restaurant.

There was a pretty big variety of stuff, from prehistoric ceramics to Thai clothing from the 1920s. There were so many Buddhas we were starting to get sick of them! They had an entire room full of fancy elephant seats (for the royal family to ride comfortably on elephants) and stuff like that.

We spent pretty much the whole day at the gallery and the museum, then headed back to the hotel. We stopped for dinner at a nearby restaurant (pretty tasty), then went up to our room to while away the evening watching TV and reading.

Our plan for today is shopping for souvenires. I bought some postcards at the museum shop yesterday, so hopefully I'll get around to sending them tonight. Our first challenge is to figure out how much to bargain down a taxi driver to take us to the shopping area!

Also, in case you were wondering, we're watching the news about bird flu and such.

--Jessica

Bangkok, Day 1

We slept for about 12 hours (after having gotten up at 4am the previous day). Our hotel is nice and the beds are comfy! We also have a real shower, with real hot water and real water pressure. So nice!

We went down to the buffet breakfast, which is included with our room. It was pretty good -- they have both Western and Thai dishes. We checked our email (didn't post because we had nothing to say yet) -- there's an internet cafe across from our hotel, luckily. After that we hung around the hotel for a little while, had lunch at the hotel restaurant (another buffet, very tasty), and got ready to go out.

We went to the Palace and its attached wat (a Buddhist temple). The Palace was built in the 1700s by a King who decided the last palace wasn't good enough. We got pretty lost on the way there, and were broiling in the heat, so we stopped in 7-11 a couple times to cool down in the air conditioning. Finally, we made it! The Palace/wat has a pretty specific dress code (long pants or skirts, closed toe/heel shoes, shirts that cover your shoulders), but we had prepared in advance.

The place itself was really awesome. It has these huge buildings and spires and such that are covered with gold and colored stuff. There were some really awesome murals all over the place, as well as sculptures of lions and Buddhist images. Inside the wat is the "Emerald Buddha," which is actually made out of jade (a really really big piece of jade!). The Buddha is at the top of a very complicated golden altar, and the rest of the room is covered with murals depicting Buddhist legends.

We didn't linger too long, because we were baking in the heat and about to die of heat exhaustion, but I took a lot of pictures! We grabbed a taxi back to the hotel and paid way too much (think of it as a lesson in bargaining -- next time someone tells us it will be 150, we should respond with "10" instead of "75"), but at least it was air conditioned.

We stopped by 7-11 (there are like a million 7-11s here -- sometimes there will be two across the street from each other!) for some soda and ice cream, then went back to the hotel.

After our brief foray into the heat of Thailand, we decided to stay in the rest of the day (it was around 4pm). Luckily, we have a choice of about 3 TV stations in English (as opposed to 1 in Beijing), so we watched TV and sat around. In our extreme laziness (and feeling like we were in the lap of luxury with a nice shower, soft beds, and air conditioning), we ordered room service for dinner (which was actually cheap, like less than $2 per dish). Unable to stay awake, we went to sleep around 10, and slept until 8 this morning.

Our plan for today is to make it to the National Museum, which is supposed to be the biggest museum in SE Asia. Here's hoping we don't get lost on the way to this one!

--Jessica

Bangkok

We made it safely to Bangkok! Obviously we haven't seen much more than our (nice) hotel yet, but so far it's far less nasty than Beijing, but a lot hotter. Tomorrow we're going to try to buy plane tickets to our other Thailand destinations (Chiang Mai and Phuket), and maybe see a wat or a museum or something. We're planning to mostly just take it easy in Thailand.