Monday, December 12, 2016
Thailand, Thailand

Shalom from Thailand!

We arrived in Bangkok on the night of Dec . 3rd. As Kippy said during a meeting, it was funny to compare this arrival in Thailand to our first one way back in mid September. This time the city seemed so calm and organized, where as before it seemed like the taxis were going to drive off the road and we would all die from heat stroke. 

We stayed at a swanky guest house in a quiet part of the city. Everyone explored the 7-11s, that seem to be more frequent here than Starbucks in the States. 

The Fourth was Juliet's 19th birthday, so the team woke her up by showering her with Thai snacks and singing happy birthday. 

After this the team went to Chawni Chawk, Thailand's largest weekend market. It seemed like we could have spent our whole trip in that market. Everything from puppies to furniture is sold there. Everyone got a delicious lunch from the food stands, and then tried to tackle the never ending shops. 

From here, by boat, the team visited the temple of the reclining Buddha . Most people were blown away by the detail. That night the team visited a cat cafe. Everyone happily sat and played with fat fluffy kitties while drinking sweet drinks. Next the team went to one of Thailand's massive malls, where everyone experienced a little bit of reverse culture shock. Most people found it overwhelming to be surrounded by such wealth and intense consumer culture. Some people wandered the high end shops while others sat in awe in the food court people watching. It was here in the food court where the team presented Juliet with two cakes and more loud celebratory singing. 

The 5th was the former kings birthday and so the whole city was in black for mourning. To start the day off most of the team went to a snake farm to watch a show, which included a Burmese Python, king cobra, Siamese Cobras, and many more. At the end of the show everyone who wanted to got to hold the Burmese Python. The rest of the day was spent on free time. Some team members got massages, some shopped, and others wandered the lively city

That night the team boarded a Thai sleeper train, everyone was blown away by the comfort and cleanliness of this train compared to the Indian sleeper trains. On the morning of the 6th the group woke up in the south of Thailand. A two hour van ride took us from the east coast to the west. 

Everyone was glued to the vans windows as we watched muddy swamps transform into lush rain forest broken up by mysterious gumdrop mountains. The rainy world we had woken up in was now transformed into a screensaver worthy beach. 

That afternoon the team boated from island to island, and watched the sunset on Phranang beach. This beach is known for its spectacular rock climbing, caves, and Shrine to the God of fertility. 

The next day the team packed up and went to a Thai village were we all slept in open air bungalows. That day everyone explored caves in awe and then went swimming in a fresh water spring . For dinner that night the team ate a delicious meal of fresh fish and fruit. 


Hello friends and family, 

I'm currently writing this at our guest house in Bangkok, waiting for the rest of the team to be packed and the time is 1:44 AM. At 2:30 we will depart for the airport for our final two plane rides before our team departs to our separate corners of the map. 

The past few days have been a whirlwind of Thai culture and experiences that have been tinged with the sadness of the impending demise of the incredible experiences my team members and I have been enveloped in for the past few months. 

My section of this blog begins with our awakening to the sound of roosters, breakfast, and our Thai contact, Sunni, telling us the day had begun . We arose from our side by side mattresses underneath the freshly built bungalows that had been built for us, in addition to future visitors to this Palm tree plantation. We broke our fast on eggs, toast, and seemingly endless pineapple that dwarfed the sweetness and crunch of any pineapple I'd had before. 

Our day then began with a trip to the local backwaters for a kayaking adventure. We paired off into 7 double kayaks (and a single operated by Charlie) and attempted to race down the river. After much splashing of other boats and playing at pirates, our guide led us to one of Thailand's many caves found within the karst formations that jut out along the skyline everywhere in this part of Southern Thailand. The cave was a huge above water cavern filled with a number of stalagmites and tites. Though, the most fascinating part of the cave was the ancient cave paintings that were spread across the walls and ceilings of the cave. The most baffling painting seemed to be the caricature of two human hands that featured a hand with six fingers . This naturally induced conversations about alien visitation and other potential causes for such an anomaly. 

After kayaking back to our drop off point and enjoying yet another delicious Thai meal of various chicken dishes (much to the chagrin of our vegetarian members) we headed off to observe some of the agricultural features of Thailand's economy. We first visited a pineapple field where everyone was allowed to cut their own pineapple from the midst of its spiny protective cage. We later cut up these pineapples for one of our many pineapple desserts.

Following this foray into tropical fruits, we headed to a field of a less delicious variety, a grove of rubber trees. Here we were allowed to see where, as our guide pointed out, Michelin tires came from. To harvest this valuable resource, members of the team used a special tool to shave the bark off the trees such that the rubbery whit sap would pool down into the bowl used to collect the precious life force of these profitable trees . Our day was then rounded out with more Thai chicken and a gathering around a fire in this paradise.

The next day began in a similar fashion to the previous with breakfast and friendship. We took the first of many boat rides to a region in the beautiful cliff ridden Thai ocean for another kayaking trip. 

We arrived at our destination and once the team realized we could, a flurry of explosions erupted from the water as everyone vaulted over the edge of the boats and then climbed into their respective kayaks. My partner and I hurriedly kayaked, in sync, towards the lagoon where we were headed. This lagoon was exactly how so many screen savers have looked to me in the past, just as so much of Thailand has looked to me. The vast cliffs surrounding all sides of the cove humbled me and I, not for the first time, felt I was in a place too beautiful for someone who had grown so dirty after these many months. We walked around the shallow waters and were awe struck by the burgeoning sea life and crabs with one massive claw compared to the rest of their body

Then we returned to the boat and headed to another beach for some swimming. As the sun set we arrived at our hotel rooms on another island (by hotel rooms I mean individual huts scattered around a lush field). The day was concluded with a session of night swimming underneath the moonlight. It was a good opportunity to feel connected to the friends we had all grown so close to as this trip approached its close. 

The third day was a huge montage of boating and visits to four unique islands in the Andaman sea. This day was when I gained some tiny perspective on the vast quantity of sea life that exists in the 70 percent of the world that humans are so unable to thrive in. I gained this perspective through the very lame sounding activity of snorkeling! At 3 of the 4 islands there were beautiful and fascinating coral ecosystems to surround oneself in, that is once you got over the fear of breathing through a tube for such an extended period of time

The ocean was an abstract painting with randomly flitting fish filling the sun ray pierced waters with green, black, blue, and sometimes the occasional prism of the rainbow fish. The coral beneath us would sometimes open and close inciting dozens of the huge surrounding fish to engage in a feeding frenzy that only intensified the colorful landscape splayed out underneath the turquoise waters.

In addition to experiencing the excessively unique waters of the Ocean, the team had plenty of time to relax on our speeding boat, some members enjoying the hammock strung along the ceiling of the boat. This allowed plenty of time for bonding amongst the team. So much that many individuals neglected proper sunscreen application and woke the next day with tremendous red welts all across their bodies. Further relaxation was had at our return to the first Thai beach we had visited, the extraordinarily picturesque Phranang Cave Beach. Some members of the group attempted to continue their swimming in the less intense sun of the late day, while others (such as myself) went to enjoy some Thai delicacies of fried bananas and mango pancakes

The team was then transported via truck bed to our final home stay of the trip with one of the many Muslim families that populate about fifty percent of southern Thailand. Albeit, home stay may be too strong off a word since compared to our prior experiences this home stay was more like a bed and breakfast. However, we did not sit completely idle; the team helped to prepared the massive dinner by completing numerous tasks. The kitchen was abuzz with activity as Kippy and Maddie ground garlic, chilly, pepper, and various other spices into a paste, Allison and myself cut up baby corn, Charlie and Emma stirred various woks full of delicious Thai spiced meats and veggies, and Jack heroically tried every flavor of Fanta in the fridge. The result was a delicious assortment of every manner of Thai food from sweet and sour chicken to tom yum soup to fried fish. Needless to say it was a good night.

The following day was initiated with an early morning walk through the local town, seeing many of the local plants and fruits that are used in the Thai tradition . Then we enjoyed a number of sticky rice related dishes, as well as some more American style pastries. Unfortunately, we then had to return to Ao Nang to prepare for our overnight train back to Bangkok. The team had a few hours of free time and everyone spent their time on different pursuits. Some of those pursuits included Thai massages and pedicures involving carnivorous fish while others opted for more relaxation by the beach and coconut smoothies. Eventually it was time to depart this paradise and return to Bangkok for our final day of our journey.

Our last day was a bit of a layover of sorts, seeing as we weren't even in Bangkok for 24 hours before departing for Beijing. Still though we attempted to make the best of it. Our first venture of the day involved the visiting of the much hyped floating market. Many Thai delicacies were to be imbibed and a jovial time was had by all. Then the group rendezvoused and some enjoyed each others company and their companions while others (Emma and myself) decided to take naps to lessen the horrific jet lag to come . I was roused from my slumber by a screaming Jack and headed to the final group dinner of the trip. 

Once more we enjoyed delicious Thai curries at the appropriately named "Queen of Curry" restaurant in downtown Bangkok. Many great conversations were had as we prepared to say our final goodbyes after our various flights to LA. 

After exploring the surrounding market the team headed back to the hotel for a final meeting before we headed home. This special meeting included a compliment circle of sorts as we went around in a circle and said what we loved about each person in the group in a very touching display that I feel rounded out the trip very well. 

Then, after two hours of frantic last minute packing we were all en route to our homes. And,after about twenty hours of plane rides, a teary goodbye was had by all in the baggage claim of the LA airport. 

I know this trip has been a life changing journey, but I truly feel it would have been nothing without the friendship and love that was forged over these three months. I certainly did not expect to feel so strongly and as I finish up this blog in my uncle's apartment in LA I only wish I could extend this trip for another three months with these amazing people. 

Sorry for being long winded and bye bye!