Wednesday, September 2, 2009

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

so I'm back from Thailand, it's 5 am and I'm wide awake because there's a 13 hour time difference. I have to go into work tomorrow for a meeting at 2 pm. I'm going to be a mess.

So first of all, it takes 22 hours to get to Thailand, not counting plane changing time. Consequently, I discovered some new ways to sleep on airplanes:

1. Simply lying down on the floor. This is by far the best way, but requires that the person sitting in the third seat doesn't mind that you steal their legroom, although it is also possible to tuck your legs under one of the seats. I got 12 hours of sleep on the outbound trip using this method.

2. Lying on your back with your head under the seat in front of you, knees and hips bent 90 degrees, and your calves and feet lying horizontally on your seat. If I had a slightly shorter torso, this would have worked perfectly. It has the extra advantage of being dark.

3. Kneeling on the floor in front of your seat, bottom resting on heels, head resting on arms on the seat itself. This is good when you have three vodka tonics in rapid succession after not eating for twelve hours.

I should mention that in general, I had a very healthy holiday: very little alcohol, meat, coffee, processed food, or dairy products, and lots of vegetables, water, rice, exercise, sunshine, and sleep. I felt terrific and perpetually cheerful. I didn't freak out at all, except for one pms-related crying spell in the Chaing Mai airport, but I think that was hormonal and thus doesn't count. I also started dreaming every night, which I haven't done at all* in several years.

The first few days we spent in Chiang Mai, staying at a guesthouse recommended in my guidebook. I'm a big believer in not over-planning vacations -- you should just buy a plane ticket and a guidebook and go. It's way more fun. I spent those days walking around the city, visiting Wats (=temples), getting massages, and shopping.

Massages were 200-300 baht/hour (=$6-$9), so we tried to get several a day. You could usually choose between oil massages, Thai massage (you change into loose fitting pants and a shirt they give you and it's more like shiatsu-- they lean on you and bend you around), a foot massage, and a head-shoulders-back massage. Getting a massage is very common-- Thai people seem to do it often also, and the quality varied between good and really terrific.

I'm not normally much of a shopper. I think it's bad for me to get pleasure from spending money, plus it's bad to spend money, but everything is so cheap in Thailand, so I caved. I got a bunch of presents for friends and an entire new work wardrobe for myself. Plus some awesome t shirts and a necklace.

We spent one day on an excursion, which consisted of riding an elephant, going to a mountain village and meeting some Karen people (Burmese refugees), hiking in the forest, swimming under a waterfall, and rafting down a river. This was all great fun, and there are a bunch of pictures of it in the Picasa album.

After four days in Chiang Mai, we went to Phuket to spend a week in a resort there. Don't ask why I have a timeshare -- it's a touchy and very bad subject-- but I do and so the week was part of that. It turned out to be glorious-- we had a whole enormous 2 bedroom apartment with kitchen, living room, deck, laundry room, 2 bathrooms, enormous tub, etc. Truly, I felt like a king. Also the resort itself (Marriott!) was incredibly tastefully decorated, was right on the ocean, and had many swimming pools, gardens, restaurants, etc. They also had nice activities for adults: yoga classes, pilates, introduction to Thai massage, biking trips, trapeze classes, etc. I'm going to try to sell you guys a week of my time share in a later post, so we'll come back to the details then.

I spent my days in Phuket mostly reading by the pool and going to activities. You could get massages on the beach itself, still only $12/ hour, so I did a lot of that too. Once I went to Phuket Town to wander around. Another day we spent on a snorkeling expedition, which was pretty fabulous. The fish and the coral reefs there are spectacularly colorful. Alan got very ill for most of that week, but I was fine. Books I enjoyed included: Lush Life (Richard Price), Beautiful Children (don't know the author, gave it to someone in Phang Nga), The Hospital for Bad Poets (JC Halliman), and The Damage Done: Twelve Years of Hell in a Bangkok Prison (Warren Fellows).

For the last couple days, I decided we should go to a nearby town, Phang Nga, and go on a sea-canoeing expedition. I managed to figure out how to take the local bus there, and we stayed in a small guest house. Phang Nga had a hilarious tourist center, staffed by extremely friendly, chatty high school girls. It's a tiny town with no real tourist facilities, so they had no helpful advice, and also couldn't really speak English, but were very cheerful and welcoming. I found the Cave of Heaven and Hell, which wasn't listed in my guidebook at all, but was on a map I got at the bus station. It had some great gory statues (again see photo albums).

Canoeing in Phang Nga was one of the best parts of the trip. There was a guy who took you around in a small boat-- you didn't actually have to do anything yourself-- and the day included swimming in the sea, picnicing on the beach, exploring caves both on foot and in a canoe, and a lot of sitting in the boat, looking at the beautiful weird island seascape.

It was a wonderful trip and I definitely recommend Thailand to everyone. The people are amazingly friendly-- it's not like a lot of countries where every stranger who speaks to you is trying to rip you off somehow. Maybe it's because most people are Buddhist, but everyone there seems happy and genuinely kind-hearted. Plus it's cheap (except Phuket) and the food is great.

Next up: back to work (I'm even looking forward to it and miss the kids), trying to keep up my exercise routine (I went to yoga or pilates every morning in Phuket), playing for Queens and blogging about it, I have a couple USCS articles to write, and I'm going to try to learn 1. d4.

* I know they say you always dream, you just don't remember it.


Marc Widmaier said...

I am so completely jealous. :) But seriously, you "sound" joyous and invigorated, so I am extremely happy your vacation turned out so well.
All the best, and love the pics!

ben daswani said...

beautiful children is by charles bock.

incidentally, the book had probably the most disturbing (yet effective) viral marketing campaign of all-time (warning for the innocent masses: very unsafe for work/do not visit if easily upset -

Anonymous said...

Heh heh ... she said "Phuket"...

Anonymous said...

38 pictures of the same tree?