Hey, everyone. A quick note from Bangkok. We arrived here safely on Monday evening and made our way into the city to our hostel, called Lub'd (meaning "good sleep" in Thai), where my friend Annie had also booked to stay. She'd agreed to wait in the lobby for us since her flight got in earlier, but when we arrived, no Annie. We were a little earlier than I'd expected, so we took our bags to the room, freshened up, and went back to the lobby--still no Annie. So I signed into facebook and sent her a message. She replied that she was in the lobby. I looked around the lobby again, went outside where a few people were hanging out, and still couldn't find her. After a few messages back and forth, we realized that we'd booked at two different locations of the same hostel! Thankfully, this is the biggest mishap Thailand has thrown our way so far, so I'll take it.
We were able to meet up with Annie for dinner on Monday evening and again for lunch on Tuesday, after which we all went to a spa for a traditional Thai massage (a one-hour massage for $8!) It was so different from the Swedish massages I've had at home, but such an interesting experience. You lie on a mat on the floor instead of on a table, and the massage therapist is down on the floor with you, not only massaging you, but also bending and stretching your limbs, twisting your torso, and cracking your back. It's definitely a full-body workout for the massage therapists! Also, you wear scrubs, so there's no oil or lotion used, as much of the massage is through the scrubs. I'm really glad we did it and there were parts that felt amazing, but others that were pretty painful, so I'm not sure I'll be back for a second round!
On Wednesday Ian and I hit the city to see some of the temples. We took a water taxi up the river to the Grand Palace, but we were told that it wasn't opening until afternoon because of the Buddhist holiday. So a man (who we thought worked there) showed us on the map some other sights in the area that we should go to for the morning and flagged us down a tuk-tuk who agreed to take us around to all three of them for only 40 baht (just over a dollar)! We jumped in and were whisked away to several temples (we've seen enough now that I'm starting to get them mixed up). Unfortunately, our tuk-tuk driver eventually took us to a travel agent and then wanted to take us to see Thai silks and to some other shops. After we refused, he left us at the last temple instead of waiting to take us to the Grand Palace as we'd agreed! But, after a little rain and a few minuted trying to hail a cab, we made it back and bought entry tickets just three minutes before the window closed! The Grand Palace was absolutely beautiful, from the giant ornate buildings and halls to the temple where the Emerald Buddha is (unfortunately we weren't allowed to take a photo of it, but it's a Buddha carved out of one solid stone of emerald--if you google it I'm sure you can find a pic!) The whole place was really amazing.
Yesterday we explored Chinatown, where we found lots of markets and lots of food (live snakes and frogs in bags, roasted chestnuts, goji berries, and many, many things we couldn't identify). We also stumbled upon a Chinese tea shop that had an extensive list of teas and a knowledgable connoisseur who helped us choose what we wanted to taste and showed us how to brew it how Chinese traditionally brew it. Ian had a blue tea (never even knew there was such a thing!) and I had green. A very cool experience.
Today we went to a Thai cooking class, which was one of my favorite things we've done so far on the trip. First we visited a market and learned about different Thai vegetables and spices and then headed to the school. We learned how to make several dishes and many things from scratch, including coconut milk and green curry--no curry paste at this cooking school! And we also got to eat each of the five dishes we made and a cookbook to take home. So I hope you're all ready to sample some of our new cooking skills! :)
Originally our plan from here was to head south to the beaches tomorrow, but when we went to book our train tickets yesterday, all of the trains were booked because of the holiday weekend. So we decided to rearrange our itinerary a bit and will take a train tomorrow evening to Vientiane, Laos, stay there for two nights, and then head to Luang Prabang, Laos. From there we will come back into Thailand and see the northern cities of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, and then head to the place outside of Chiang Rai where we're volunteering starting on the 12th. Once we're done with the volunteering, we'll head to the beach to wrap up the trip.
I will hopefully be able to upload some Thailand pics later this evening, and will write again when we're settled in Laos!