Ihave to start this by sharing my small world story! 1 night after I got to my new hostel, a group of us were out to dinner casually talking. I hadn't yet met the girl across from me so we introduced ourselves (Kristen) and it wasn't long before we were staring at each other in disbelief...she graduated from Rice in 07...2 years after me. Although I didn't reconize her straight away, we did know of each other in school. She was actually close friends with Kelly...which is even crazier! What are the chances!
ANYHOO... After my last blog, I relocated to Spicy Thai backpackers b/c I just wasn't feeling the other hostel. As soon as I pulled up, I couldn't help but smile. "Noom", the young owner who opened the place about 2 years ago came out front to greet me and instantly made me feel at home. It's in a converted house, with common "shoes off", "self-clean up" type rules, in a quiet neighboor and is full at all hours with fun backpackers keen to do anything. The first day here, I had a lazy day. Watching House episodes with some others and studying. That night, I went out to dinner with 2 Scottish guys I met and enjoyed one the best nights (weather wise) since I've been here. (Not that weather has been bad...but it was nice and cool). Sunday morning, there was a hostel trip planned to a Wat (Wat Doi Suthep) and a Lake. A few of us loaded up the SpicyThai truck and headed up the windey roads to the Wat. Noom gave us the history (and 'wat edicate') and I'm convinced we had the best tour of the whole lot (b/c Noom not only runs this place, he's a crazy fun taxi driver, tour guide and all around entertainer!). The Wat was beautiful and I still can't get over the extravant designs and gold finishings. I got a monk blessing and am super excited to explore this Buddist culture further (am thinking of doing a meditation retreat once my class is over). We headed back to the hostel to pick up the late-risers before heading to the Lake. Although the lake was a far cry from the clear waters that the pictures show (the clear waters are in Southern Thailand), it had a beautiful view of the mountains...and the tiny huts along the edges are a great local hangout...offereing shade, food, and drinks. Noom started off ordering some food for us all...and I couldn't help but notice the grin on his face. When the bowl of "dancing shrimp" came, it all made sense...live shrimp---a Thai favorite. After Noom shook 'em up to get them nice and spiced, he took a spoonful for himself and then offered them to us farangs (foreigners). While I couldn't bring myself to take a whole spoonful, I gave it a whirl! Why not! I have to say...they were pretty tasty (or the spices that covered them were anyways)...though, that wasn't the first word that came to mind when I pulled an antenna from my mouth a few seconds after I swollowed the poor guy down! After spending a few hours at the lake eating, swimming, playing frisbee, etc, etc, we made our way back to the truck and I got to ride rooftop!! The pictures will give you a clear picture but there is a rack on the top of the truck...4 people are allowed up top and it's AWESOME!! Mom and GG...stop reading...but we sat up there, holding on to the rack bars as Noom went over bumps, around circles and under tree branches in the park! Of course the particular branch he went under was loaded with red ants...so for the next few minutes, Lus and I were frantically trying to flick the ants off of each other and off the roof (as were driving down the normal road now!)! Hilarious. Driving in Thailand is interesting enough...I have yet to figure out why there are lines painted on the roads...no one pays attention to those. SO, riding rooftop was an entirely crazy experience! When we got back home, it was a mad rush for the showers before loading up the truck again and heading to the night market (not to be confused with the night bizaar). It was an adorable strip of vendors selling beautiful things...unfortunately, we only got to walk around for about 5 mintues before there was a mad scamble...the rain came with little warning so we followed suit and found selter with the rest of the crowds. It wasn't long before the rain was a full on monsoon....the lights went out and water was rushing everywhere...but just as quickly as it came, the rain past....but not in time for us to stick around. It was off to dinner with the group and then bed...which, on that particular night was the couch! Yep...the couch! The beds were all previously booked up before I showed up here...so they offered me (and 4 others that night) a place on the couch or in the living room! It was like a college sleep over! So fun! The next morning, I met Danielle and Lena at the airport and our whirlwind adventure began. After we settled on a "family vehicle" b/c the jeep that Dan reserved was taken, we headed off to do a scenic loop of Northern Thailand. Turns out we did a scenic loop of the city first...about 3 times! 3 smart cookies and we couldn't find the roads we needed! By the end of the trip, we realized it was the maps (we are pretty sure they are made up as a joke) and not our horrible sense of direction! We eventually got on the right roads and were headed off to Chiang Doa....passing lots of beautiful mountains, rice fields, wats and villages on the way. We made a stop in Chiang Doa to get some "ahaun" (food) and had a blast putting my Thai phrasebook to use! Outside of the city, English speakers are rare so we really had to manage...which we did quite well. I have to say, there is nothing more satisfying that successfully communicating! After our roadside lunch (a pork and noodle stew), we headed to the caves...complete with our lantern and tour guide, the 3 of us made our way through the bat-filled caves...often crawling though spaces in which our tour guide would say "too small" then immediately start making her way through! Oh, the beauty of language barriers! We carried on driving after the caves, occassionally stopping to take in the sights....which many times consisted of small, adorable children that I wanted to kidnap....and occassionally rolling very slowly through road checks/blocks....even though no one seemed interested in stopping us...we didn't want to upset the small men with the big guns so we gave them plenty of time to wave us down as we passed! We made it back to our hotel around 11:30 that night and took off the next morning for Doi Inthanon National Park...another scenic route (mountains and waterfalls) up to the highest peak in Thailand. The road that we took to our next destination was hardly a road...and I commend Dan's "4-wheel driving in a 2-wheel drive vehicle" skills! It was actually scary at times...and we were unsure if the road would just vanish at any moment. But, we made it out safe and sound and I have now become familiar with the Thai maps, roads, and signs....or lack thereof! It was great to see Dan and Lena and was awesome to get out of the city for a bit. I came home last night in time to go to an all-you-can-eat Thai BBQ with the hostel clan...which was crazy interesting! Rows and rows of cooked food, raw food, veggies, meats, fruits...a small charcoal cooker between a few people which you use to cook the meat (and other things that may or may not have been cooked already!). You fill the outer edges with water which eventually becomes a very tasty brooth...and enjoy! Not sure what's on the schedule for the next few days...maybe a Thai cooking class...maybe riding elephants...maybe just studying....maybe soccer with Noom and other locals...but surely more entertaining times with Spicy thai backpackers and staff!
Taste of "dancing shrimp", pork intestine, Banana pancake, Leechi fruit, waffle wrapped banana (on a stick), roadside cafe meal (x2)
encounter with a squatting toilet (see pictures)
Roadside Elephant sighting
Successfully communicated (in Thai...not gestures):
Toliet, Cave, yes, no, right & left (direction), food, pork, chicken, thank you, hello, how much
Will attempt loading pictures onto my shutterfly in a few minutes: http://www.janellecrowley.shutterfly.com/
Love to all!