AES’EA – Ever After We Lived, The End

It’s really good to be home. I woke up very tired and mildly hungover, which makes a lot of sense giving how much I must have drunk the prior night. Moreover, there’s a non-zero percent chance that there was something extra in the last couple drinks I had. So, all in all a great start to a full few days of traveling.

Regardless, the show must go on (or rather, the show must end), so I pulled myself together and we headed out to the Chiang Mai airport. We left ourselves plenty of time because our first flight technically marked the beginning of an international trip, but had no problem getting through security and departing immigration in under an hour. I lounged around the airport for a few hours, spending the few remaining baht I found in my wallet and binging Steven Universe, my new guilty TV obsession. When did Cartoon Network get so trippy and randomly super deep? It’s nothing like the Cartoon Network I remember from my childhood, and yet oddly reminiscent of what it was, somehow.

Regardless, we eventually got on the first plane and began the journey home. All told, my trip home included:

  • Four flights – CNX -> BNK (Bangkok) ->AUH (Abu Dhabi) -> JFK -> IAD (Dulles)
  • Going through security four times
  • Going through some form of international customs twice
  • A two hour uber ride from Dulles airport to home in Charlottesville

Summed up, the trip took a grand total of 41.5 hours. I arrived at the Chiang Mai airport at noon on Saturday the 2nd, and got home at 6:30pm on Sunday the 3rd. Additionally, Thailand is eleven hours ahead of the eastern United States (and thus there are eleven hours of travel not accounted for by the time differences between arrival and departure). Thus 12:00-6:30 + a day lost + 11 hours of time change = 41.5 hours. The trip wasn’t so much bad as just unbelievably long. By the end I was falling asleep on my feet, but somehow managed to make it home.

The vacation on the whole was amazing. I would wholeheartedly recommend anyone considering a longer, less traditional vacation to jump at the chance. If you have the ability to take the adventure of a lifetime, don’t pass that chance up. In that direction, here are some tips should you decide to take a trip that is in any way similar to mine.

Pack smarter, not more. One big thing I didn’t realize is that the standard bag weight of 50lbs is only an American thing. Many of our flights throughout the trip had a 15kg bag weight limit, which converts to just over 33lbs. Thus if you truly do pack a 50lb bag, you’ll either have to throw out a third of it, or pay an extra $100 for each 15kg-weight limited flight you take. I was lucky enough to have only packed around 38lbs, but I did have to carry a very heavy carry-on through a bunch of airports, which is never fun. Also, on a larger scale, vacationing on the go means physically moving your own luggage a lot more often than a single destination vacation. Every pound of luggage you leave at home is a pound you aren’t carrying from location to location. Make sure to bring what you need, but try to avoid the “I’m not sure when I’ll use this but it can’t hurt to pack it” mindset.

Second, hostels are awesome. There are of course the simple arguments for such: hostels are usually cheaper and usually more centrally located than their hotel competitors. If both (or even only one) are significantly true, picking a hostel is an easy decision. Even if the hostel you are evaluating is equivalently priced and located to a hotel, I would even still push for the hostel. Whereas hotels are focused on an individualized vacationing experience, hostels naturally push the current occupants together towards a more group oriented experience. When your goal is to get out and experience the area, there’s little better than having a group of similarly-minded new friends who will both nag you away from spending the night doing nothing on your computer and also accompany you on your adventures. Each new person you add to your traveling group reduces the likelihood that you waste a day or night, and because you aren’t even technically traveling together you can break away from them at any point if you discover you have different vacationing goals.

Finally, ahead of the vacation, think about how full your want your vacation to be. In an average day, how many activities are you going to try to do, how many activities would you be satisfied doing? Just one? Two or three? For whole day activities, how long can they be? Are you ok with twelve hour activities? Sixteen? Are you ok with having a day to sit by the pool, read and drink something cold? Or is the very suggestion offensive? Different people vacation in different ways, and thus have different expectations of what a vacation should be. Personally, I need a chiller vacation. I’m perfectly happy doing one main activity each day and filling the remaining time with aimlessly walking around the area and relaxing. Moreover, I tend to need a lot of sleep, so after a few early mornings and heavily physical activities, I need a lazy day. I am able to persist, but it stops being fun and stops being interesting once I’m tired the moment I wake up. You, of course, will have your own travel-related quirks. Remember that the point of vacationing is, ultimately, to have fun and at least mentally (if not physically) relax. If you ever catch yourself thinking, “I need a vacation after this vacation”, you probably packed it too full. It’s your vacation! There’s nothing stopping you from just doing fewer things per day. Alternatively, if you’re just not enjoying doing nothing as much as you imagined you would when you were overworked and planning the vacation, get off your ass and do something else!

So, that’s it. Thanks to all who kept up with my travels along the way! This marks both the end of the vacation, and the end of semi-daily posts. For next time, back to the regularly scheduled programming.

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AES’EA – Ethics

By this point, we were on a roll with cramming in touristy things at the last minute. Given that we finally made it to the city, we decided to spend our last morning taking a six hour biking tour. The tour (through the company Grasshopper) was a bit light on biking but immensely enjoyable. I felt like we actually saw the city as our tour guides weaved us through back alleys and through crowded marketplaces.

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Fresh squeezed, 100% fruit juice. Delicious, nutritious, less than $1
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The three kings who built a large chunk of Chiang Mai, if memory serves. The one on the right seems displeased by something, but the one on the left is like “bro chill it’s k”
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The pyramids here seem to be much more similar to those found in Central America. This particular one was damaged in an earthquake not too long ago.

The tour even included lunch, eaten in traditional style for Chiang Mai. The dishes are served in small bowls in the center of the table. Each person gets a personal basket of sticky rice, with which they make balls and eat the dishes from the center using the rice as a spoon. It was quite fun, and as is seemingly the case with all non-American eating traditions, it forces you to slow down.

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All of the dishes were made white-person spicy, which was a thoughtful touch if a bit sad in its necessity. Really really tasty though!

We passed a few hours lounging at the hotel, and then our final night of our trip was upon us. For dinner we found a.. wait for it.. all you can eat sushi + Korean BBQ style place for 399 baht a person, about $13. We definitely got our money’s worth there.

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You know what’s even better than unlimited amounts of food? Unlimited amounts of food that is endlessly paraded past your seat. By the time I was done I had a stack of plates a foot tall. 

Now we get to the part of the trip that got a bit dicey. Do know in advance that it all ended well and it’s in the past, so no need to worry; I’m fine. We went out to a bar throwing a superhero-themed party, and over the course of the night I was very nearly sucked into a scam of some kind. I’m not sure what the scam was for, or how much I stood to lose, but suffice to say that I caught on to what was happening just in the nick of time and got out entirely unscathed. The only money I lost was an extra few dollars on a tuk tuk that I didn’t properly negotiate.

Looking back on the night and trying to figure out where the scam began, I’m both angry and sad. There was a long string of social interactions, each (in retrospect) designed to push me towards the next. Was every single person I talked to that night part of the same scam, each promised a cut of whatever they could extract from my wallet? Was not a single interaction I had genuine? I’m honestly not sure. The most telling factor was when people were fully avoiding questions. I really dislike the “if it feels off there’s something wrong” rule of thumb, because sometimes people are just awkward and I (as one of those people) feel bad for thinking less of people because of it. Still, it seems that sometimes being willing to go with the flow comes back to bite you.

I made it home safely and collapsed into bed. Tomorrow, back home.

AES’EA – Sunk Costs

The best thing about vacationing at my age and in a very small group is the flexibility it allows. After two days at the Panviman resort, Ethan and I decided we’d rather just book another hotel down in the city itself. We managed to find somewhere quite cheap ($35/night) and, being smart and rational people, weren’t bothered by the sunk cost of leaving our existing reservation. For those of you who haven’t taken or don’t remember introductory micro economics, it’s quite worthwhile to do a bit of research on what sunk costs are and how to think about them. Having correct mental accounting will prevent you from making many bad decisions that resulted from wanting “to get your money’s worth”.

But now, back to the trip! On our second to last day we followed through on our hotel transfer. Thus, we spent the morning packing up and checking out. For the early afternoon we decided to check one big Thai box – we had to see some elephants!

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We paid ~$1 for the privilege of feeding them bananas and sugar cane logs. It was pretty clear that the elephants knew exactly what was up, as they all started vying for attention as soon as we walked close enough to feed them.
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Yes the elephant is being guided by a trainer, but the whole painting thing is still really impressive. I’d also love to show one of these to an art critic and have them tell me what the artist must have been thinking while painting.

I’ve always felt a little uneasy at zoos, and this experience was no exception. For most zoo animals, elephants included, you can very easily tell that they aren’t really suited to the zoo life and are heavily influenced by their surroundings. We tried our best to pick an ethically upstanding elephant viewing location, but honestly every location claims to be perfect and there didn’t seem to be any official seal or other telling mark that we could use to break the tie. If the ethical treatment of animals is extra important to you, and you plan on seeing any in Thailand, I would recommend that you do your research ahead of time and have locations already picked out; once there, it’s impossible to tell.

We were satisfied after seeing the show, and so returned to our resort, grabbed our luggage, and headed down into town. After fighting with the desk attendants about the type of room we had, we decided to walk around town for the rest of the afternoon and evening. For dinner, I was (and have been for a while) really craving wings. As luck would have it, we passed an American-style BBQ place called Big Daddy’s relatively quickly after leaving the hotel.

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Any place that randomly adds a few onion rings to your order is A-OK with me

All of the travel was finally catching up with us, so we returned home to our new, non-resort but much more conveniently located hotel.

AES’EA – Tapping Out

Ahh, another lazy morning. I love summer vacation. We both naturally woke up early, but spent a few hours just watching TV/browsing the internet. Finally, our hunger outweighed our laziness, so we got dressed and walked down to the lobby for a buffet breakfast. In particular, I’ve found that everything passionfruit flavored is simply the best. Tangy, sweet, and with small black seeds that burst with tartness when crushed. It’s like nature’s candy.

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This isn’t even my final course!

We unfortunately just missed the early van down to town, so we spent a few more hours exploring the resort. It had a number of interesting and fun facilities to enjoy, such as a outdoor fitness center, a putting green, and a boxing bag. Unfortunately, most of them were in some state of minor disrepair, rendering using them difficult or impossible.

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I hereby claim this area in the pursuit of time wasting.
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Ethan is “bad” at darts. And yes this is an archery target.

Finally the second van came, we hopped in, and rode down to town in blessed silence. We found ourselves hungry once we arrived, so we found a nice place for dinner. Both Ethan and I asked for our dishes to be made spicy, and for once truly regretted our decision. Ethan limped over the finish line, whereas I was unable to keep eating and had to give up.

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So delicious, but so unbelievably spicy. I wanted to love it, but I just couldn’t

From there we went to meet up with some friends we made in Bangkok. They showed us around to a couple of local bars, all of which were pretty cool and nice, but seemed to be underpopulated as it was still early in the evening. At our final stop before we went back for the night we went to a nice hotel bar where the bartender (a friend of our friends) made us each a tom yum flavored cocktail. We were all very dubious about basing a alcoholic drink off of the spicy and citrusy thai soup, but were all very pleasantly surprised to find it both delicious and an accurate homage to the dish.

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Garnished with mint, chili pepper, and galangal. I doubt I’ll ever have another drink like it again.

At this point it was getting very near 10pm, the departure time for the last van back up to our resort. Ethan and I said quick goodbyes and jogged off to towards the pickup location, making it there with a few minutes to spare.

AES’EA – Final Destination

Today we bid Bangkok goodbye and headed off to our last stop, in Chiang Mai. We navigated a Bangkok airport successfully (somehow) and made it to our gate with just enough time for breakfast and some coffee.

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Airport lines, the international equalizer
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Let’s talk about bread (a little bit, little bit)

The flight wasn’t long, but the seats were clearly designed for the average Thai-sized person. I was mildly uncomfortable, and Ethan was doubly so. After we jumped off of the plane we got into a taxi and rode up to our resort. Forty minutes of driving up into the mountains with a very talkative driver later, we arrived at our beautiful destination for the next four nights, the Panviman Resort.

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The place seems like it was built for weddings/honeymoons
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The main dining room is one large balcony, with 270 degree views

As we are want to do, we immediately settled in and ordered drinks by the pool. Unfortunately, we seem to be here in the off season, and half of the resort was unmanned. Instead of finding a bar attendant by the pool, we found a drink menu and a phone to call the front desk. Regardless, we ordered our drinks and stretched out while waiting for them. The drinks were delicious and reasonably priced, and gone all too quickly.

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The wonderful view from the poolside
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…and that same view five minutes later as it started heavily raining

We finished up as it started to get dark. After relaxing in our room for a while we went back to the lobby for dinner. I got green curry, while Ethan got massaman curry.

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Rice served with a dunce cap..? IDK

We were happy to have it be an early night, so we headed back to our room and fell asleep.

AES’EA – Exquisite Detail

Today was our last day in Bangkok, so we knew we had to actually get out and see the tourist-y parts of the city. It feels a little bit like box checking (which I usually try to stay away from), but so far we’ve only seen things within a twenty minute walk from our hotel. So at least I can agree with the results of being touristy, if not the rationale behind why. We ordered brunch room service and headed down to the river to get a boat towards the Grand Palace.

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It’s got an egg in it, therefore it is breakfast
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The boat was about the same price as a taxi for a party of two, but faster for the same distance of travel, assuming you arrive at the dock at the right time.

We peeked around the Grand Palace a bit but decided not to pay the 500 Baht entry fee to see the inner parts. It wasn’t so much that the price was high (it’s not), but that there were so many other temples on our list of things to see that we may as well continue onwards.

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All of the buildings were heavily ornamented with regal, golden spikes

We wandered back outside and into a heavily populated market square packed with street vendors selling both food and souvenirs. I got a passionfruit gelato popsicle while Ethan opted for a bottle of pomegranate juice. All through these types of areas I keep wondering how street merchant regulation works in Thailand – do people have to get a permit in order to sell goods here, or anywhere else in the city? If so, how is it enforced? If not, why isn’t everyone moving towards the areas with higher foot traffic? I should do more research, both about Bangkok and at home for cities like NYC and SF.

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The blurriness of the photo represents the chaos of modern life. It also represents my inability to take a stable photo of moving people.

Happily munching away at our fruity cold refreshments, we walked back to the street and continued to the next stop at Wat Pho. Here we paid the (much) relatively cheaper entry price of 100 Baht to see the whole temple.

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The Reclining Buddha. This statue was absolutely massive – notice the people in the bottom right corner for scale. Even more impressively, the detail throughout was impeccable, and the whole thing was in excellent shape. 
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Just to prove the point, here are the Reclining Buddha’s feet. I’m not sure quite what they’re made of, but it’s extremely pretty and light reflective.
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Up close you can tell that the hundreds of triangular roofs are all mosaics, both on their tops and sides. It’s mind-boggling to think about how much effort went into designing and building all of it.
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Here’s an even better look. The attention to detail continues fractally inwards.

We walked around for another half hour or so, but eventually were worn out and decided to start back towards the hotel. We didn’t know enough history to appreciate the differences between the different temples, and so felt that we saw enough from the one and a half that we visited. Moreover, we were quite hot at this point and longed to be back in the hotel pool. It didn’t help that visiting the temples required wearing long pants instead of shorts, which by this point were soaked with sweat. We started heading back, stopping along the way to grab a few more bites of fresh fruit and anything cold.

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Coconut ice cream! Coconut here is a much more mild flavor than what I remember from home, which I don’t mind at all. It makes me wonder if coconut flavored things from the US are artificially enhanced or strengthened, like the difference between a banana and banana flavored things.

After walking about halfway back, we became unsure of our exact location, and so hopped in a cab for the rest of the ride. We reached the hotel, changed into swimsuits, and hopped in the pool. We became hungry after a few hours, and decided to walk back out of the hotel towards a small open air restaurant not far away that we had passed on our earlier ventures.

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Shrimp pad thai and green fanta. The pad thai was quite good, but nowhere near what we got at May Kaidee. There were three fruit flavors in the fanta, and unless you’re already familiar your first three guesses will all be wrong.

We had a few more hours to kill before we could reasonably go to bed, so on the way back we once again stopped in the little hole in the wall where we had lunch yesterday. Right as we got in and ordered it began to torrentially rain again, so we settled in for a while and slowly sipped our wonderfully delicious drinks.

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On left, Ethan’s butterbeer, and on right my iced latte. Both mild, both cold, both delicious.

With the rain slightly thinning out, we paid and continued walking back towards the hotel. Our final stop for the night was a massage shop where we each purchased an hour long leg massage. Mine was heavenly, complete with stress release caused by mild pressure-based pain. Relaxed and de-stressed, we headed back to the hotel, grabbed a few more snacks from 7-11, and holed up for the night. Tomorrow, Chiang Mai!

 

AES’EA – (Even Cheaper) Street Food is Best Food

Our past couple days emboldened us, so we decided this day to venture out along the street and see what there was to see, and to eat!

Our first stop was a small, literal hole in the wall. We ate and drank slowly while watching the Thai national volleyball team compete on TV.

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Fried pork with rice and an egg, plus Thai iced tea. I’m a fan of putting fried eggs on everything.

From there we continued onwards to a department store. The prices were a little lower than the US equivalent but not much so. We were mostly happy just happy to have air conditioning.

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It feels just a little weird to see American chains literally everywhere

We decided not to buy anything and continued walking, eventually passing the fairly impressive State Tower. I found out later that the bar at on the 64th floor was featured in the highly cultured blockbuster The Hangover 2.

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The view from the top is really stunning at night. The drinks are a bit pricy though.

It was getting hot at this point so we stopped for another tea. I got kiwi and found it delightfully tart, while Ethan’s Apple yoghurt tea was smoother and sweeter.

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Only the beginning of our steady stream of iced drinks

We were happy with our travels at this point, and so walked back to the hotel to reward ourselves with more time in the pool. We ate an early dinner at the hotel restaurant, now quite tired; it’s probably the heat.

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Our break from Thai cuisine, wonderful that it may be. Both the pizza and (Ethan tells me) the steak burger were pretty good, but not nearly as cheap as their Thai food

Despite doing relatively little (compared to our New Zealand leg of the trip) we were fairly tired, so we settled in for an early night.